SFF in Conversation is a new monthly feature on The Book Smugglers in which we invite guests to talk about a variety of topics important to speculative fiction fans, authors, and readers. Our vision is to create a safe (moderated) space for thoughtful conversation about the genre, with a special focus on inclusivity and diversity in SFF. Anyone can participate and we are welcoming emailed topic submissions from authors, bloggers, readers, and fans of all categories, age ranges, and subgenres beneath the speculative fiction umbrella.
Please give it up for Andrea, everyone!
Shelves Full: the 99 Author Challenge
“Women don’t write science fiction”. “The majority of fantasy writers are men.”
How many times have you heard that? I’ve lost count.
The response to these worn and yet strangely inevitable statements is almost invariably a list. Lots of lists to call attention to a vast and jostling horde of books, apparently invisible to a portion of the reading populace.
When I make lists myself, I tend to produce a short selection of favourites, despite the possession of bookshelves full of many more SFF books by women: books I’ve accumulated through decades of reading, and chosen to keep and lug about (despite moving house on average every two and half years). My criteria for keeping physical books is simple: “Is there a vague chance I’d want to read this again?”
Many of these books never seem to pop up on any list, despite their undeniable existence, and the fact that I liked them enough to keep. And it becomes one of those self-defeating circles: many of these books were not talked about, didn’t get enough buzz or sales, and never show up on any lists.
When asked to write a post recommending female SFF authors, I decided to remove my own self-imposed bias of favourites, and stick simply with “authors of books I kept”. And so here is a list of “Female authors with a physical book on my SFF bookshelves”.
Yes, this post will be long.
One of the founders of the classic shared world Thieves’ World, Lynn Abbey has written sword and sorcery, high fantasy, and one of the earlier urban fantasy series (about a librarian turned hunter-witch – a rare heroine in her fifties).
Availability: Lots of lovely ebooks waiting for you to try. Paperbacks primarily at used bookstores. (Goodreads).
Best known for her work for children, Joan Aiken was a prolific writer. As well as her middle grade/young adult books, she produced a series of Jane Austen sequels, gothic thrillers, horror stories, and period romantic thrillers.
But for me Aiken is all about Dido Twite, one of the major characters from the Wolves Chronicles, who is introduced as an undersized brat sticky with jam, and gets by through sheer indomitability.
Availability: The Wolves books are readily available in most formats, while most other books are paper only. (Goodreads).
Ash wrote the Horsegirl trilogy – fantasy novels that focus, as you may have guessed, around a girl rider. The second book even involves dancing horses performing in an opera!
Availability: Secondhand paperbacks. (Goodreads).
I really enjoyed Baird’s Crashcourse trilogy, and expect it will appeal to fans of Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Gritty and pacey cyberpunk that holds up well for their adventure aspects despite the evolution of technology.
Availability: Secondhand paperbacks. (Goodreads).
Bradley was one of the early powerhouses of SFF, published since the 1950’s. She’s best known for her world of Darkover science fiction (dozens of books!), and for her retelling of the Arthurian legends entirely through the eyes of women. I also have almost an entire stretch of shelf devoted to her Sword and Sorceress short story collections.
If you want to try her Darkover books, you could start at the chronological beginning – Darkover Landfall – and work your way forward, but may find it better to pick up, say, Hawkmistress or The Heritage of Hastur. You could think of Darkover as “Pern without the Dragons”, since the worlds start from the same “lost colony of Earth” concept, although the feel of the books is distinctly different (and involves far more psychic powers).
Availability: The Avalon books are widely available, and much of Darkover is available in both paper and ebook versions. Most of the Sword and Sorceress collections are available as secondhand only, but more recent volumes are more widely available (a search for Elisabeth Waters will bring them up). (Goodreads).
Brown produced a seriously enjoyable set of books known (at least to Goodreads) as the Pigs Don’t Fly series. These books will hit a sweet spot for anyone who likes girls/women off having adventures, plus talking animals. There’s plenty of humour, but be wary of the occasional hand grasping your heart and squeezing!
Availability: Only secondhand copies for paper, but books 1 to 3 of the series are available in omnibus ebook format under the name Here There Be Dragonnes. A definitely recommended series for those who like fantasy adventure. (Goodreads).
Bujold is one of the better-known female SFF writers, producing series in both fantasy and science fiction.
The SF ‘Vorkosiganverse’ has some meaty character study work and a great deal of interesting extrapolation of future science and society – and lashings of adventure! Her two main fantasy series are the Chalion trilogy (a universe where gods are a tangible part of life) and the Sharing Knife series (which focuses on cultural exploration and character interaction).
Availability: Readily available in multiple formats. (Goodreads).
Emma Bull is probably best known for War for the Oaks, arguably the first urban fantasy novel (the Seelie and Unseelie Courts at war in Minneapolis, with a big dose of rock music). Other novels range from Urban Fantasy to post-apocalyptic cyberworld, and not to forget the Shadow Unit shared world, dealing with the paranormal unit of the FBI. European history fans will definitely want to check out Freedom and Necessity (co-authored with Steven Brust), set in the 19th century and brimming with spies and revolutionaries and ladies in disguise!
Availability: A large variety of formats available (though secondhand only for some of the less-known books). Ebooks available for the Shadow Unit books (nice and cheap!) and most of Bull’s sole author books, but not for Freedom and Necessity, sadly. (Goodreads).
I first encountered Pat Cadigan with Tea from an Empty Cup, and quickly collected a small stash of books that explored the intersection between being human and living virtual (with bonus murder mysteries). Although technology has rolled on since the early books, the thought and craft of Cadigan’s work endures.
Availability: Secondhand paper copies, but most of Cadigan’s work appears to be (suitably) available digitally. (Goodreads).
Cherryh is one of the major writers of SFF, with such an extensive output that a newcomer might feel like they’re facing a wall of where-do-I-start?
One of the great worldbuilders and deeply interested in exploring what it means to be human or to be alien, Cherryh’s books also have plenty of military and political meat – along with women getting stuff done. [If you're a fan of Mass Effect and FemShep, you're probably going to love Cherryh's SF.]
Since we’re talking over 60 books here, in both fantasy and SFF, I’m just going to suggest starting points. One of my favourite books is Cherryh’s Angel with the Sword, which is SF with a fantasy feel. The Cyteen trilogy is a nice introduction to her style, and delves into the implications of cloning. The Pride of Chanur is great fun, especially for the entertainment value of a human man thrown into a sexist female-dominated cat society – and bonus scads of adventure! Downbelow Station, which gets called space opera but I think of as hard SF (the primary focus is actually people being ground up by politics). And, finally, try The Gate of Ivrel, which is the start of the Morgaine saga (again a SF base in a fantasy feel book, with a strong dose of dedication and sacrifice).
Or you can be brave, take a deep breath, and plunge into the massive and ongoing evolving SF world which begins with Foreigner (15 books and counting!). [These books are written as a series of trilogies, so you can tackle the first trilogy without fear of being swallowed.]
Fun fact: Cherryh has an asteroid named after her!
Availability: A wide variety of formats, although the books from the less well-known series are harder to obtain. Only a small number of books are available as ebooks. (Goodreads).
Jo Clayton produced over 30 books in multiple series including the Skeen books, and the Diadem books. Her work combines SF and fantasy elements and they hit, for me, a similar note to Norton’s Forerunner/Zero Stone books (but with far more women). I’d definitely recommend readers who are Norton fans to check Clayton out.
Availability: Almost all only secondhand. Sadly. (Goodreads).
Clough’s Averidan series is fantasy with a humorous touch without descending into farce, while her Suburban Gods duology takes an interesting and somewhat dark approach to becoming superhuman. Those interested in fish-out-of-water time travel will definitely want to check out Revise the World.
Availability: Primarily secondhand, but has started to release her backlist in ebook format. (Goodreads).
Louise Cooper’s Indigo series made a big impression on me. The main character is the flawed Princess Anghara, who does stupid things and then spends seven novels fixing her mistakes. It’s very rare to see a female character in the “flawed wanderer on an epic quest for redemption” role. [Her naivety in the first few novels might make you want to shake her, but you do get the pleasure of seeing her mature over the series.] Like Cooper’s Time Master series (and related sequel trilogies), the tone is sombre and serious, but the plot is very eventful and often painful.
Availability: Primarily secondhand. The only ebooks are the Time Master series and a more recent middle grade mermaid series. (Goodreads).
Julie Czerneda has produced more than a dozen SFF books, primarily science fiction, with a notable flair for alien races – and page-turning plots (space opera or space adventure, or even space anthropology, depending on your preferred terminology). Try starting with A Thousand Words for Stranger, or Beholder’s Eye. If your taste is more for fantasy, check out A Turn of Light.
Availability: Wide availability of paper books. Some audio, and most books available as ebooks. (Goodreads).
It’s rare that I’m drawn to urban fantasy, but the Check Your Luck serial, set in Singapore and Malaysia and drawing upon the wealth of mythology mixing in those two countries, definitely captured my interest. A sensible heroine (and a snarky ghost) only added to my enjoyment.
Availability: Ebook only. (Goodreads).
Pamela Dean’s The Secret Country trilogy could be described as Narnia-esque, but instead of Christian allegory, these books explore the division between fantasy and reality, as five children discover that the world they thought they’d created in stories is all too real. Along with this trilogy, Dean has a handful of standalone books based on classic traditional ballads and stories, such as Tam Lin and Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary.
Availability: Secondhand for paper, and The Secret Country trilogy is available in ebook (though not for Australians). (Goodreads).
I thoroughly enjoyed Devenport’s Eggheads and Godheads SF books, which use one of my favourite SF tropes: exploring the ruins of lost alien civilisations. There’s a whole lot of interesting things in Devenport’s other books, such as Broken Time (about a janitor at an asylum on another planet), and the more recent The Night Shifters (paranormal dream event) and Spirits of Glory (colonial mystery on another planet).
Availability: The earlier books I mentioned are secondhand only, while the more recent appear to be ebook only. (Goodreads).
Along with a handful of standalones, Susan Dexter has two series that will particularly appeal to lovers of fantasy with a focus on horses (and other animals), adventures leavened by a touch of gentle humour, and flawed characters in sore need of redemption (or a swift kick ). Try Prince of Ill Luck or The Ring of Allaire for starters.
Availability: a combination of secondhand, republished print, and some ebooks. (Goodreads).
Primarily co-writing with James D Macdonald, Debra Doyle touches on several different SFF sub-genres. Her Mageworlds series dials space opera up to eleven (start with The Price of the Stars), while the Circle of Magic books (aimed at middle grade level) are classic wizarding school (and are occasionally, hilariously, accused of jumping on the Harry Potter bandwagon by people who don’t look at publication dates). Then there’s the young adult Bad Blood series, about the complications of being a teenaged werewolf.
Availability: Primarily secondhand. Most books, excluding the Circle of Magic series, appear to be available in ebook format. (Goodreads).
While best known for her Young Wizards series (start with So You Want to be a Wizard), Diane Duane has some serious classic SF chops as well, particularly in the Star Trek universe. Not only is she a novelist, but she has also produced an enormous number of scripts for many TV shows.
For those looking for something different, check out The Book of Night With Moon (cat wizards in New York), or The Tale of Five series (exploring, among other things, the impacts of a thoroughly pansexual world).
Availability: The Young Wizards in a variety of formats, and most books have been converted to eformat (although it appears there’s some regionality bars on purchasing The Tale of Five). (Goodreads).
I discovered Teresa Edgerton with her high fantasy The Green Lion Trilogy (with its bones in Welsh mythology) and follow-up Celydonn Trilogy. On a somewhat different basis is the Goblin Moon< ?em> duology, with a fantasy world that brings into conjunction the sensibility of 18th Century Europe, the decadence of cities, and a moon on an elliptical orbit. Or try the dark world of the Rune of Unmaking series.
Availability: Goblin Moon is available in eformat. The majority of books are available as new or used paper copies. (Goodreads).
Publishing under two names, this author offers a wide variety of genres to sample. My favourite is probably the Bast Mysteries, a short series of murder mysteries based around a practicing witch and providing a wealth of detail about alternative communities. Under the Edghill name she has also published the Twelve Treasures series, about the perils of librarians rescuing elves in New York. Under the name eluki bes shahar she has released the Butterfly St Cyr space opera trilogy, which starts with Hellflower. Edghill has also co-written a number of books with Mercedes Lackey and Andre Norton.
Availability: The majority of solo-authored books appear only available as secondhand paper copies, but the co-authored books are more widely available. (Goodreads).
Claudia J. Edwards
Edwards wrote a variety of high fantasy that’s a particular favourite of mine: plunking a competent female soldier in a situation, and having her fix it. My favourite of these books would be Taming the Forest King, and though there are one of two things that niggle me in terms of gender dynamics, Edwards’ books are definite keepers for me. Unfortunately there’s only four, including part 1 of an unfinished series.
Availability: Secondhand only. No ebooks. (Goodreads).
Egan’s excellent books unfortunately suffer from her extremely popular screenwriting career (she’s written for House, Smallville, etc). The space fantasy Ivory trilogy, written under the Egan name, is complete, but you may wish to consider carefully before going on to the Emerson book, City of Diamond – because it’s an excellent book, but also sets up for more books in a series that was never written. Very nice intergalactic politics and spaceships book, though.
Availability: Secondhand only. No ebooks. (Goodreads).
Felice created a half-dozen SF of the spaceship and planetary adventure variety, along with a couple of collaborations with Connie Willis. [She's also got a couple of really spectacular old-style covers.]
Availability: Primarily secondhand, but a few novels have been released as ebooks. (Goodreads).
Cheryl J. Franklin
Franklin produced two series, the Tales of Taormin (it’s never fun to be a mage when that could get you executed) and the Network/Consortium SF series starting with The Light in Exile, for high-stakes interstellar intrigue.
Availability: Primarily secondhand. No ebooks. (Goodreads).
A prolific writer, Friesner can bring some very humorous twists to her novels (such as the Faerie King confronted with a divorce lawyer in her New York series). More recent books are YA retellings of the lives of princesses of myth and history (Helen, Nefertiti, Maeve, Himiko). Friesner is also known for a number of Star Trek novelisations and editing the Chicks short stories collections
Availability: A variety of new and secondhand, along with a variety of ebooks. (Goodreads).
For those looking for some epic fantasy, Furey has two series: The Artefacts of Power (mage wars!), and the Shadowleague series about a world divided into sections by magical barriers.
Availability: Paper books only. (Goodreads).
If you’re a lover of epic fantasy, and likes your worlds gritty, you’ve no doubt already heard of Mary Gentle. Ash, where a historian explores the life of a female mercenary in the fifteenth century, makes very clear that war is not fun or romantic. On the lighter (or darker) side, is Grunts, a go-for-the-guts parody where you’ll want the Halflings to kill the elves, and wince as you cheer for your protagonist orcs, rejecting their traditional cannon fodder role with the aid of modern weaponry. Gentle also has her SF Golden Witchbreed series – tackling alien politics, and corporate interference. Or try the occult-based world of Rats and Gargoyles. If you read Gentle you can expect complexity, and detailed and intricate world-building.
Availability: A good spread of ebooks, and primarily secondhand for paper. (Goodreads).
It can be difficult to find copies of The Book of the Painter and Greenbriar series, but for lovers of high fantasy, Gilluly is definitely worth tracking down – particularly The Boy from the Burren.
Availability: Primarily secondhand only. (Goodreads).
Along with an array of Star Trek novels, Karen Haber has two original SF series: War Minstrels (empaths and intersteller politics) and Fire in Winter (co-authored with Robert Silverberg and centring around mutants v ‘normals’).
Availability: Primarily secondhand, with an ebook of The Mutant Prime. (Goodreads).
Lucky readers who discover Barbara Hambly will be rewarded with plenty of material to go on with. Check out the Darwath and Windrose series for fun (and often scary) portal fantasy. Try the Sun Wolf and Starhawk series for high fantasy (with plenty of women), or the James Asher series for its Oxford don detective meeting murderous vampires. Hambly also has a number of standalones along with the excellent non-SF Benjamin January detective series set in New Orleans.
Availability: Paper books widely available, extensively republished in ebook format, and now with audiobooks available. (Goodreads).
Both of Harper’s series feature animal companions. Wolfwalker is science fantasy (planetary adventure with space travel lost), revolving a telepathic link to wolves. The Cat Scratch books use a link with enormous cats.
Availability: Primarily secondhand for paper. Some region-restricted ebooks. Some audio cassette editions. (Goodreads)
I first encountered Heydt with Point of Honour, an SF novel featuring one of my favourite tropes – a virtual game world. I also really enjoyed the Cynthia (daughter of Euelpides) stories in the Sword and Sorceress anthologies. The Interior Life, her novel published as Katherine Blake, can’t quite be called a portal fantasy, but a different take on combining a person from our world with a fantasy world.
Availability: Some short stories available in ebook, otherwise secondhand only. (Goodreads).
Helen Mary Hoover (H M Hoover)
Middle grade dystopia! The book that made the biggest impression on me was The Delikon, where the alien overlords are quite kindly…but still overlords. Parents looking for middle grade SF might want to check out the relatively more recent Orvis (two kids on a post-apocalyptic road trip with an obsolete robot).
Availability: Secondhand only. (Goodreads).
Huff has books for paranormal, high fantasy and science fiction lovers. The Confederation series is her SF work (planetary marines meet diplomatic manoeuvres with aliens). For fantasy readers you have a choice of the Quarters series (bards, assassins [a brother and sister sharing one body!]) and the Wizard of the Grove series. For paranormal, you have the Gale Women series (charm magic family), the Keeper Chronicles (guest house with ghosts and gates to hell), and the Henry Fitzroy books, with the Tony Foster and Victoria Nelson sub-series (cops, urban wizards, vampires).
Availability: Wide paperback availability, some audiobook, (region-restricted) ebooks for most but not all books. (Goodreads).
I’ve spoken previously at length about Diana Wynne Jones, so will only say that I’m both excited and sad about the approaching publication of her final book, The Islands of Chaldea.
Availability: Widely available in most formats. (Goodreads).
An Australian writer who writes densely poetic novels, most set in Australia, or fantasy worlds with Australian landscapes. Her books include the Riverworld series (politics and adventure from the pov of a member of a not-entirely-positive matriarchy), the Rihannar Chronicles (a morality of mages series, another of my favourite tropes), and the Blackston Gold duology (a Queensland lawyer meets a ghost and a minefields mystery).
Availability: Paperback and ebook. (Goodreads).
Katharine Kerr writes in both the high fantasy and urban fantasy genres. In high fantasy, start with Daggerspell to begin the Welsh-sourced Deverry saga (where destiny and tragedy come along to smack the reincarnated in the face). Alternatively, check out the Nola O’Grady series, where the government secret agents are psychic, and a serial killer is hunting werewolves. SF fans will be glad to know there’s something with this author for them – check out Polar City Blues, for a cop dealing with the murder of an alien.
Availability: Wide range of paperbacks, a variety of ebooks (though some seem to be region locked). (Goodreads).
Kirstein’s Steerswoman series begins with the mystery of an unnatural jewel. The concept of steerswomen (travelling loremasters with strict rules about questions asked and answered) is a really fascinating one. Theirs are battles fought with knowledge.
Availability: Paperback only. (Goodreads).
Kress has produced both standalones and a number of hard SF series, including the Sleepless series (advanced humans engineered not to sleep), the Probability trilogy (military hard SF with alien contact), and the Crossfire duology (planetary colonisation gets complicated). Most recently is the cross-time catastrophe After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall.
Availability: Paperback, some audible, most in ebook format. (Goodreads).
With a writer as prolific as Lackey, it becomes not a question of what’s available so much as where to start. Arrows of the Queen is very early Lackey, but it’s a strong representative and a fun read.
Availability: Widely available in multiple formats. (Goodreads).
Lawrence’s young adult science fiction is primarily post-apocalyptic or dystopic. The style of these books will ‘read young’ compared to current YA, but still do interesting things, and are great for those looking for a different read. I think the one I’d recommend as a starter is Calling B for Butterfly, about kids stranded on a lifeboat falling toward Jupiter.
Availability: Secondhand, except for Children of the Dust, which is available as an ebook. (Goodreads).
Tanith Lee’s voice is lush, dark, poetic and distinctive – she’s a writer unlike any other. She has also produced over 90 novels. Ignore the temptation to be overwhelmed, and instead sample the following three books. The Silver Metal Lover: forget those stories about robots trying to kill you, and shred yourself internally with this tragic look at artificial life. Night’s Master: first of the Flat Earth series and a grand, beautiful and painful piece. Kill the Dead: I’ve seen this described as ‘Byronic’ – check it out for the dry wit of the ghost slayer, out to take on an undead town.
Fun fact: Lee wrote two episodes of Blakes 7!
Availability: A mix of new and secondhand paperbacks, and a number of ebooks. (Goodreads).
I’m fairly sure I don’t need to tell anyone who Le Guin is, so instead I’ll mention one of the her less-known series, the charming children’s Catwings series (cats with wings – what’s not to love?).
Availability: Widely available in many formats. (Goodreads).
Writing cyberpunk (in Venice), planetary romance, and courtly fantasy, Lewitt only has a few books available, but they are interesting and different and well worth checking out.
Availability: Mostly secondhand, and some ebooks. (Goodreads).
Jacqueline Lichtenberg will be familiar to many readers thanks to her Sime/Gen SF novels, where humans have developed into two separate species tangled in a symbiotic relationship. Other series include the Dushau books (aliens that can maintain a group telepathic link) and the Luren books (vampires with an extra-terrestrial origin).
Availability: Most books have been republished in paper and ebook, with some audiobook. (Goodreads).
With multiple SF and fantasy standalones and series, Linkskold has been published since the early ’90s. Her Firekeeper Saga begins with a girl raised by wolves (and thus not necessarily well-equipped to face court intrigues), while her Breaking the Wall series takes mah-jong and the Chinese zodiac and brings them to the United States.
Availability: A mix of new and secondhand paper, plus some mostly region-restricted ebooks. (Goodreads).
Lisle writes primarily in fantasy, but has several SF novels available. The Arhel trilogy deals with a mage society divided by gender. The Secret Texts places a trainee diplomat/shapeshifter in a post-magical-apocalypse world, while The World Gates trilogy is a portal fantasy with the interesting twist that the magic of the portal world has a negative effect on ‘our’ world.
[I thoroughly enjoyed my recent reread of Hunting the Corrigan's Blood (an SF thriller about a professional finder) and was pleased while researching this article to discover a 2012 release of a sequel. Win!]
Availability: A mix of current and secondhand paper, and some ebooks. (Goodreads).
Lively’s The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy was one of my earliest introductions to the wild hunt myth. The feel of this story has some similarities to the Dark is Rising series. Other fantasy children’s books by Lively include Astercote (where the lives of children in the Cotswolds are complicated by a chalice), and The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (the ghost of a seventeenth-century sorcerer wants an apprentice).
Availability: Both paper and ebook. (Goodreads).
Along with a number of standalones, Logston created the Shadow & Dagger series, focusing around the adventures of a quick-witted elven thief.
Availability: Both paper and ebook. (Goodreads).
Lyle’s first series is the Night’s Masque series, which takes an alternate world approach to the reign of Elizabeth I, and focuses on the travails of the spy Mal Catlyn, giving readers a strongly set alt-history world, along with magic and the complexities of a non-human race.
Availability: Widely available in most formats.(Goodreads).
New Zealander Mahy wrote books for younger and middle-grade children, and crossed into young adult territory. The families she creates are vivid, individual and very alive. Primarily creating standalones, her best known book is probably The Changeover, but there are many others to discover. Try Maddigan’s Fantasia for middle-grade readers, with its strange and wonderful circus.
Availability: Very few ebooks. Many of the books are available as secondhand only. (Goodreads).
Marks combines beautiful writing with fully fleshed out worlds that don’t fall into the same-old same-old cultural expectations of our own. Along with a very small number of standalones, she’s written two trilogies. The Elemental Logic series deals with warring nations, and elemental aspected individuals caught up in those wars. The Children of the Triad books start out with, substantively, an ugly duckling story, and delves deeply into non-human races, and the question of identity and belonging.
Availability: Secondhand. The Elemental Logic books have been reissued in eformat. (Goodreads).
Maxwell’s Fire Dancer series sadly stops at book 3 (as Maxwell went on to a highly successful career in a different genre), but the books are definitely still worth picking up, to enjoy the travels of the last survivor of a planet’s fiery destruction.
Availability: Out of print. (Goodreads).
Reminiscent of Andre Norton’s fantasy, Mayhar’s early books combine aspects of fantasy with science fiction. There’s also The World Ends in Hickory Hollow, a Utopian post-apocalyptic novel. She also contributed a book to the “Little Fuzzy” series, retelling the story from the Fuzzies’ point of view.
Availability: Primarily secondhand. (Goodreads).
Another of the major planetary adventure science fiction writers, McCaffrey needs no introduction. Instead she is responsible for introducing vast numbers of readers to science fiction. The Firelizard Song at the beginning of Dragonsinger remains the only piece of poetry I can recite from memory!
Availability: Widely available in multiple formats. (Goodreads).
Like many, I first encountered McIntyre through her post-apocalyptic Dreamsnake, and then moved on to the intriguing Starfarers series (a strong focus on scientists in space). Star Trek fans will also absolutely know McIntyre from her novelisations of the second, third and four Trek films. YA fans should check out Barbary (twelve year old on a space station), and fans of alt history will be all over The Moon and the Sun, set in the court of Louis XIV, with added sea monsters.
Fun fact: The Moon and the Sun is heading for film!
One of the giants of fantasy, McKillip combines beautiful prose with stories that read like undiscovered fairy tales. Many of her books are standalones, or duologies. Her Riddle-Master trilogy is not as well known as Earthsea, but should be.
“Imagination is the golden-eyed monster that never sleeps. It must be fed; it cannot be ignored.”
Availability: Paperbacks. Very few ebooks. (Goodreads).
Another major fantasy author. My favourites will always be The Blue Sword and Beauty, eternal re-reads. I’m a little surprised to see only a handful of her books are available in eformat.
Availability: Primarily paperback. (Goodreads).
An Elfrock band! It makes me wonder if all that big 80s rock hair was hiding any pointy ears in our world as well. ? Pity the unfortunate human PI hired as a bodyguard to protect this lead singer from death threats. And don’t be fooled by the cover to Cold Iron: this is an urban fantasy interested in some of the harder facts of life in the big city.
Along with the two Rosie Levine urban fantasies, Michaels has a “complications of crossing alternate realities” book, World Walker, and the Skyrider series (about a hotshot spaceship pilot becoming embroiled in a Colonial war).
Availability: Secondhand only, but apparently with intentions to release the backlist as ebooks. (Goodreads/Goodreads).
Moon divides her time between a fantasy world (three related series: Legacy of Gird, The Deed of Paksenarrion, and Paladin’s Legacy), and military and trader space fiction (The Serrano Legacy and Vatta’s War). Outside these series there’s Speed of Dark, about a generation ‘left behind’ by advancing medicine, and Remnant Population (one of the rare SF books from the POV of an older woman, who has chosen not to be removed from her now-abandoned colony).
Availability: The majority of books available in a wide range of formats. (Goodreads).
Classics of the genre, Nesbit is as readable today as ever. Reading books written over a century ago has two advantages: they’re like time travel in themselves – and they’re usually out of copyright, so you can get them all for free from Project Gutenberg!
The Ugly-Wuglys in The Enchanted Castle are sure to give your kids nightmares – and maybe you as well.
Neumeier combines originality of plot with a beautiful prose style. Try the standalones The Floating Islands, House of Shadows or The City in the Lake, or travel into the beautiful and vivid world of the Griffin Mage trilogy. Upcoming is something different, Black Dog, an urban fantasy that ranges from Mexico to Vermont, with what sounds like a new take on werewolves.
Availability: Both paper and ebook . (Goodreads).
Norton, Grandmaster of SF and published author since the 1930s, has been a massive influence on me (and countless other SFF readers). When I think weapons, I think Norton’s weapons: blaster, stunner, tangler, needler. When I think transport, I think Norton’s transport: skimmer, flitter. When I think aliens, I think Forerunners, and lost advanced civilisations, and the occasional Star Gate (Norton’s book of this name was published in the 50s).
My favourite of Norton’s books is Catseye, which combines a large number of Norton’s favourite tropes: alien ruins, intelligent animals, and displaced loners searching for a place to belong. It’s also a good place to start for readers new to Norton. Other options include Sargasso of Space, or for the more fantasy-minded, The Crystal Gryphon.
Availability: The earliest of Norton’s books are now in the public domain, and can be found on Project Gutenberg. Her estate appears to be republishing a large number of her in-copyright work as ebooks, and it appears they’re exploring publishing a number of never-released works. (Goodreads; Project Gutenberg).
Nye’s books range from the humorous fantasy of the Mythology series to the Taylor’s Ark books, where Dr Shona Taylor travels to colony worlds providing medical services and bringing with her a menagerie of specially-adapted animals (such as a dog who can synthesise vaccines). Nye also co-wrote a number of books with Anne McCaffrey.
Availability: Paperback, a range of audible and ebook releases. (Goodreads).
Fans of mythology will want to check out The White Raven, a retelling of the story of Tristan and Iseult. Paxson’s other books also reflect her interest in this mythological tradition, and include the Hallowed Isle series (Arthurian), The Chronicle of Fionn mac Cumhal, and the Westria series. She also continued Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon series.
Availability: Secondhand and many books republished as ebooks (though a large number appear region-restricted). (Goodreads).
Along with her two series, the Darkangel Trilogy and Firebringer Trilogy, this incredibly evocative writer has several standalones. Treasure at the Heart of the Tanglewood reads like a brand new fairytale, while The Woman Who Loved Reindeer is set in a tundra landscape and has a sense of old Norse myth.
Availability: Primarily secondhand, with a couple of backlist ebooks. (Goodreads).
Tamora Pierce has been the introduction for many a reader to fantasy books where a girl gets to contribute to the fight. Most of her books are linked into the 20 volume Tortall sage (which contains multiple distinct series). Keen readers will also be glad to find a separate series in her Emelan (Circle) books.
Availability: Widely available in multiple formats. But the ebooks are region-restricted. (Goodreads).
Radford released multiple books combining fantasy and science fiction elements in the series The Dragon Nimbus, The Dragon Nimbus Histories, and The Stargods, while Merlin’s Descendants gives a well-known wizard a multi-generational saga. As P R Frost she writes the Tess Noncoire series, about a writer/demon fighter.
What’s a girl to do when her friend is kidnapped by alien bounty hunters?
(c)Win friends and influence intergalactic politics.
(d)All of the above.
Rasmussen has republished her Highroad Trilogy under her pen name, which makes for rather confused bookstore searches but does lead you to discover a lovely array of fantasy novels to go with this SF trilogy.
Under the name Deborah Wheeler there are two science fiction novels: Jaydium (combining time travel and possibility) and the planetary adventure Northlight (where a ranger in exile tries to track down a lost friend and discovers layers of conspiracy).
As Deborah J Ross, along with a number of books in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover world, the author has recently embarked on a grandly epic fantasy series revolving around a broken shield that is the key to keeping the whole world in one piece.
Rusch is a prolific writer working in many genres. In science fiction she has released the Retrieval Artist series (person recovery in an alien-complicated universe) and the Diving books (space salvage). Her fantasy Fey series sees a lone island holding out against a determined invasion. For fans of this-world magic, try the Seavy Village series, starting with witches attempting to fight off a mer attack.
Availability: Available in most formats. (Goodreads).
Russ’ handful of science fiction novels (and collected short stories) take many of the conventions of early SF and invert them. And while How to Suppress Women’s Writing might not be technically classed as SFF, it expands the mind in the same manner.
Availability: Primarily secondhand, with one ebook. (Goodreads).
Along with a number of collaborations with Anne McCaffrey, Scarborough has several fantasy and science fiction series. I found her through the Songs of the Seashell Archives series, which are delightfully fun, gently humorous fantasy. Also available is the Godmother trilogy (urban fantasy in Seattle, with a fairytale element), the Valentine Lovelace Western fantasy duology, and the Songkiller Saga (the devil vs folk music).
If you’re a fan of the Seashell Archives, you’ll want to check out Scarborough’s Kickstarter campaign to publish another book in the series. The campaign successfully finished on 26 December.
Availability: A variety of new and secondhand paper. Many books are available as ebooks. (Goodreads).
Scott’s highly realised worlds feature in both her science fiction (planetary adventure such as Burning Bright and Mighty Good Road) and her historical fantasies/police procedurals such as the Astreiant series with Lisa Barnett (late Renaissance equivalent world with two suns). Recently she has begun a new series with Jo Graham called The Order of the Air, where post WWI aviation and archaeology and the occult combine to equal Adventure!
Availability: New and secondhand paper. Some but not all books are available in ebook format.(Goodreads).
Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares novels takes a streetwise sorceress with a talent for finding the lost (and trouble!). At the end of the year she’ll release the first in a new series, The SPI Files, “described as Stephanie Plum meets Men in Black”.
Availability: New paper, audible editions and (sadly region-restricted) ebooks. (Goodreads).
Along with a number of Star Trek novelisations, Sherman’s books include contributions to the pre-teen Secrets of the Unicorn Queen series, and fairytale retellings (find a copy of The Shining Falcon if you can).
Availability: The Star Trek novelisations are available in new paperbacks and ebook. Secondhand for many others. (Goodreads).
Shwartz’s books include Byzantium-set fantasy and a number of science fiction novels, including the particularly grim prospect of a corporate future in Hostile Takeover.
Availability: Mostly out of print, but with some recent ebook and Audible republication. (Goodreads).
You’re in for a treat if you’ve not sampled Smith before. Hook-your-curiosity-and-pull plotlines, combined with some serious worldbuilding chops, and plenty of variety in genre.
For the middle-grade readers, start with the Wren series (for those who read the first three books during their original release, a conclusion to the quartet was released in 2010). In the YA fantasy sphere you have options such as Spy Princess, or the Crown Duel/Court Duel duology. [Girls having adventures!]
Space opera fans will be right there for Smith’s collaboration with Dave Trowbridge, the Exordium series. Space Empires, murder, heirs on the run, starships…
Epic fantasy lovers should hunt down the Inda series, with its layered politics and society, or try the richly absorbing Banner of the Damned (set later in the same world). Those with a taste for contemporary fantasy can check out the Dobrenica series, where a California girl finds far more than she bargained for during a visit to Europe.
Availability: A wide variety of new books, audible and ebooks (unfortunately a sizeable portion of the ebooks are region-restricted). (Goodreads).
Snyder’s handful of books range from Renaissance Venice (The Innamorati), the Texas frontier (The Flight of Michael McBride), the edges of myth (Soulstring) and, in the Oran Trilogy, an occupied kingdom – a fantasy gem that should be far better known.
Availability: Some books out of print, and no ebooks. (Goodreads).
Along with her Alaskan-set murder mysteries, Stabenow wrote the Star Svensdotter science fiction trilogy. Svensdotter’s job is to oversee the construction of a space station – something that wouldn’t be easy on a good day.
Availability: Secondhand and republished as ebooks. (Goodreads).
Stevermer is best known for her fantasy work – the College of Magic series (magic, wry humour, politics and adventure in an early 1900s setting), and for the Cecilia & Kate books co-written with Patricia Wrede (humour, comedy of manners, Regency, epistolary). For something slightly different try the post-apocalyptic YA River Rats, about a group of orphans and their paddle wheel ship.
Availability: Some out of print, but the series are available both new and in ebook (College is region-restricted). (Goodreads).
Tarr (along with knowing horses backward and forwards), puts a thorough historical education to work in multiple series. The Hound and Falcon series brings together the Crusades, Richard the Lion-hearted, Byzantium, and an elven monk. Queen of the Amazons and Bring Down the Sun focus on the time of Alexander the Great, while the Epona series delves into the Celtic horse goddess.
Availability: Mostly secondhand, but wide release of ebooks. (Goodreads).
Tepper has written extensively in both fantasy and science fiction. Major works focusing on ecology and gender include Grass, The Gate to Women’s Country, and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall (a book about reproductive rights that seems to become more relevant every year). Fantasy fans will be rewarded if they hunt down the True Game, Jinian and Mavin trilogies.
Availability: Tepper’s science fiction is available in multiple formats. The fantasy trilogies are out of the print, with some possibility of eventually being re-released self-published. (Goodreads).
Best known for her Snow Queen cycle (epic planetary science fiction), Vinge also released the Cat trilogy (streetwise psychic outsider working as an undercover agent for an interstellar government), along with collections of space and post-apocalyptic novellas.
Availability: In print, along with (region-restricted) ebooks. (Goodreads).
Paula Volsky/Paula Brandon
Volsky’s fantasy world is set in a parallel of our world, so Illusion places a girl’s court debut in a version of the French Revolution, The Wolf in Winter resembles pre-Revolution Russia, and the Sorcerer trilogy echoes Venice. The Grand Ellipse even sees an around-the-world ballooning race.
Volsky has begun producing books again, now under the name Paula Brandon, with the recent release of the Veiled Isles trilogy, bringing to mind the wars of Italian city-states.
Availability: The Volsky books are mostly out of print (with a couple of region-restricted ebooks). The Brandon books are available new or in Audible. The ebooks are region-restricted. (Goodreads).
Like many others, I ate up the Dragonlance Chronicles back when they were released. I’ve kept the first two trilogies. Her current series is the Dragon Brigade. And, hey, she seems to own a tabletop gaming company now.
Availability: Widely available in multiple formats. (Goodreads).
Wells’ Books of the Raksura take us into entirely non-human territory, focusing on a shapeshifter wanting to belong, while the Ile-Rien books take us into gas-light territory with magic, mystery and war. YA readers with a penchant for steampunk should check out the Emilie books.
Availability: Widely available in multiple formats. (Goodreads).
Wentworth’s Heyoka Blackeagle books focus on a human/alien space ranger partnership from the pov of the seven foot tall, furry and clawed Heyoka. The House of Moons books feature a heroine accused of murder, caught up in a greater conspiracy.
Availability: The Heyoka books are available in eformat in the Baen library, but I can’t see them elsewhere. Most other books are out of print, though Moonspeaker is available in e-format. (Goodreads).
Wilder wrote in both fantasy and SF. In Second Nature and Signs of Life she deals with planetary colonisation, while in the Rulers of Hylor trilogy deals with three different rulers whose lives are far from simple, starting with a princess fighting to free her people from slavery. Readers interested in gender exploration will especially want to hunt down the Torin books, beginning with The Luck of Brin’s Five (marsupial people).
Availability: Sadly almost entirely out of print. (Goodreads).
Writing for middle-grade readers, Wilkinson’s Ramose series focuses on an Egyptian prince, while her Dragon Keeper books are set in China’s Han Dynasty.
Availability: Paper only. (Goodreads).
Willey’s Argylle trilogy (with some links to Shakespeare’s The Tempest) focuses on the problems of extended mage families. You may wish to read books 2 and 3 before book 1, as the first book published (The Well-Favoured Man) is the last chronologically.
Availability: Out of print. (Goodreads).
Willis is well known for her time travel books, but don’t forget her less Earth-focused science fiction, such as Uncharted Territory or Water Witch (with Cynthia Felice).
Availability: Most books available in multiple formats. (Goodreads)
Many readers know Wrede from her young reader Enchanted Forest series, her Cecilia & Kate books with Caroline Stevermer, or the more recent Frontier Magic series. My personal favourites are the Mairelon books (I’m a complete sucker for a girl-disguised-as-boy trying to steal from a magician).
Availability: Widely available in multiple formats. (Goodreads).
Wurts is the author of a major epic fantasy series (made up of several sub-series arcs) called the Wars of Light and Shadow. A separate (shorter) series is The Cycle of Fire. If you want a standalone book to sample Wurts complex worldbuilding and characters, try To Ride Hell’s Chasm, where two loyal kingsmen race to unravel the mystery of a missing princess. Wurts has also co-written a number of books with Raymond E Feist.
Fun fact: Janny Wurts is also an artist, and the cover paintings on her books are her own.
Availability: Available in paper and ebook. Some Audible editions. (Goodreads).
Yolen is an extremely prolific author writing for children, teens and adults. Young adult books include the Pit Dragon series (gladiatorial dragon matches), the Stuart Quartet (historical fiction in the Stuart era) or the Foiled graphic novels (girl fencer!). Adult readers could start with Sister Light, Sister Dark (women able to call up their shadow/mirror selves) or the SF Cards of Grief (space anthropology).
Availability: A wide variety, including an increasing range of ebooks. (Goodreads).
Zettel writes both SF and a variety of fantasy. Her Isavalta series is portal fantasy, but catches attention immediately by making our portral traveller a lighthouse keeper from Lake Superior in 1899. For Arthurian fans, try The Paths to Camelot series. For SF readers, Zettel’s Fool’s War takes a thoughtful look at intercultural pressures through the travails of the Muslim chief engineer of the ship the Pasadena, while her most recent release, Golden Girl, brings an American fairy to Hollywood.
Availability: Some out of print, but wide re-release in ebook. (Goodreads).
And there we have it, 99 female authors. I actually only had physical books by 95 female SFF authors, but I added four more to round out the numbers.
This post has probably felt like it’s gone on for a lifetime, and yet I look at this list and count up how many female writers I haven’t mentioned and shake my head in wonder that anyone could ever think that SFF was not a genre full of female authors.
So here’s my challenge. If there’s a female SFF author you’ve read and liked, and she’s not on this list already, add her in the comments, with a brief description of her books. Because these 99 authors are only the beginning.
About the author: I am an Australian author. I write what I like to read: stories about worlds where magic is real, women aren’t relegated to the background, and expectations are twisted slightly out of skew.