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Mar 03

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Awesome Women

There is a recurring theme in not only science fiction and fantasy, but generally in literary circles, of recording the deeds of amazing female writers as something of an after-thought.  A great many debates have raged on this topic, which I won’t go into here because this is not the purpose of the post.

All I will say is that yes, I do believe that there is still something of a gender imbalance in both the portrayal of female characters and female writers across all genres, and a great many groovy people are campaigning to change this, and as always the dream, for me, is reaching that point where gender doesn’t matter.  Until then, and in the interest of balance, I thought I’d mention a few female authors who defined my childhood reading and my modern loves.

Ursula K. Le Guin remains one of the all-time greatest science fiction and fantasy writers of the 20th century, in my opinion.  Her voice, her style, her stories, her characters and her big, big ideas about identity, humanity and morality make her one of the names that deserve to read for centuries to come.

Anne McCaffrey.  I grew up reading the Dragonriders of Pern series, but a word should also go to The Ship Who Sang, one of the most elegant short stories in science fiction.  Prolific, with humour and drama woven through great big narratives and epic adventures, she was one of the childhood authors that I devoured and kept on devouring.

Thinking of childhood authors, Diane Duane and Tamora Pierce were my two go-to books in the library when I first started reading properly.  I confess, I haven’t read much of their stuff for a while, but their influence on my love for fantasy and joy in books when I was young should not be underestimated.

Ann Leckie and Ruth Ozeki were worthy winners of the Kitsches 2013, and only by coincidence were they women.  Indeed, the matter of their gender wasn’t discussed, since frankly, who cared?  Their books were fantastic – intelligent and progressive – and that was the only thing that mattered.  A noble shout-out should also go to Anne Charnock, who was shortlisted for the same award, and who is clearly someone to watch in the world of science fiction writing.

No exploration of the fantasy bookshelves would be complete without a foray into Arthurian legends, and for my money Mary Stewart and Marion Zimmer Bradley did Arthurian action far better, and with far more delicacy and skill, than any other attempt I’ve read.

N.K.Jemsin and Lauren Beukes also stick in my imagination as stand-out examples of awesome writers who should and hopefully will come to be big names of science fiction and fantasy.  Big ideas told in wonderful ways – who could want anything more?

Permanent link to this article: http://www.kategriffin.net/2014/03/03/awesome-women/

9 comments

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  1. Andy

    IMO, Lois McMaster Bujold fits in this category too. I actually have trouble getting into the mental headspace of someone who declares “Wimmen don’t write science fiction!” because my introduction to the genre was Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern and Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series.

  2. David Brider

    For me, one of the standout authors of science fiction & fantasy is Julian May – her interlinked Saga of the Pliocene Exiles, Intervention, and Galactic Milieu Saga, are excellent, witty, wonderful and inspired.

    Two other writers whose work transfixed me in my early years were Edith Nesbit (granted, she may not have written exclusively fantasy works, but The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Enchanted Castle were both huge favourites of mine, mainly thanks to their 1970s TV adaptations) and Mary Norton (The Borrowers. Enough said.)

    R.J. Anderson writes some wonderful fiction in the fantasy & SF genres too. And then there’s J.K. Rowling.

    And let’s be honest – your own novels are rather excellent, IMO. (Otherwise I wouldn’t be on this page commenting on one of your posts!)

  3. Tim S

    Can I add Diana Wynn Jones to the list of fantastic authors who I read in my younger days and are (incidentally) female! Her childrens/YA books are both thoughtful and fun.

  4. Eastar

    Madeleine L’Engle, is my nomoneee for the list!
    Wrinkle in time is one of the first “Sci-Fi” books I ever read
    And Just sooo much awsome in her stories

  5. Jacob

    I love that you are a fan or Ursula Le Guin and Anne McCaffrey, two of my favourite writers. I never got into The Ship that Sang, or even the less mainstream of Le Guin’s work, but I think a shoutout to City of Illusion is called for; the reason being that in my limited experience, the short-story format (or at least short novel) has always been dominated writers/artists of her ilk, though not necessarily her gender.
    I wonder if you (or any of the posters here) have come across Time and Again, by Simak? Heartily recommended for introspection purposes.
    Kind regards,

  6. AdrianH

    I loved The Ship Who Sang, and also the Killashandra Ree books, about a Crystal Singer, which I think, IIRC, the title of the first book.
    One of my favourite female authors though, is Barbara Hambley, who wrote a lot of fantasy novels, on different subjects. Possibly my favourite books of hers are the Silicon Mage trilogy, The Silent Tower, Silicon Mage and Dog Wizard, with the loosely connected The Stranger At The Wedding.
    There’s also a brilliant book, Bride Of The Rat God, set in Hollywood in the Twenties/Thirties.
    I implore everyone who loves great character development, strong females, and creative storytelling, which I assume everyone on here does, otherwise why would they be here, to track down these books, and others of Ms Hambley’s, they’re available as ebooks, but print copies may be tricky to track down now, they’ve been out of print for some time.

  7. Maya

    Robin McKinley writes amazing stories with female protagonists set in vivid worlds with snappy dialogue. I re-read “The Blue Sword” and “The Hero and the Crown” regularly. Young adult stuff that adults can enjoy as well. Sharon Sinn’s Samaria series is gorgeous, on parr with Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. Patricia McKillip writes the most haunting fairy tales, her “Riddlemaster” trilogy is one of my favorite books of all time.

  8. Paul Littlefield

    From the older generation, my favorite women writers are LeGuin, Andre Norton, and James Tiptree, Jr. C. L. Moore was active a bit before I started reading sf, but whenever I find one of her stories in an anthology, it is always worth reading. Of current writers, my favorites are Cherryh, Bujold, and Willis. Connie Willis’ most recent novel, Blackout/All Clear, is a tour de force.

    In fact, I think of the last three as writers, period, not women writers. I tend to look for a certain quality of writing in the sf I read, and the sex of the writer doesn’t really enter into my thinking. In fact, I was deeply engrossed in A Madness of Angels before I even thought to check the author’s name. So now I have a new favorite writer who also happens to be a woman.

    When I was a young man, all those years ago, the big debate was whether women could write convincing male characters–no one, of course, ever questioned whether a man could write convincing female characters, unbelievable as that sounds today. It was even believed at the time that an astute reader could infallibly tell whether a work was written by a man or a woman, and one famous male sf writer made a fool of himself asserting that Tiptree had to be a man, because of the muscular quality of “his” prose. I’m glad to see how many sf writers who happen to be women have since proved that women and men write pretty much the same, and that a good writer is a good writer is a good writer.

    A bit off-topic, but a male writer I like because of his promotion of sexual equality is David Weber. I got hooked on his Honor Harrington series while browsing through one of the early books in it. I was reading about some admiral of a space navy for (what I remember as) three pages, when suddenly the pronoun “she” popped up, and I realized that “she” was the admiral. Though chagrined to have been confronted with the reality that I was not yet prejudice-free, I was also delighted to find a writer who could write convincingly about someone in a way that made his or her sex irrelevant to the action.

    We may not yet be at the point where “gender doesn’t matter,” but I am grateful to all the writers who are getting us closer and closer to that point.

  9. Paul Littlefield

    That post somehow got posted before I’d quite finished editing it. Please forgive the missing HTML tags.

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