It shouldn’t be surprising that female authors are continuing to create huge contemporary classics of science fiction and fantasy! Today is arguably the best time to be a fan of genre works- not only do we have widespread access to great works of the past, but there are writers creating compelling works for every given mood, subgenre, and idea you can imagine. The women whose books we’ll be looking at in this article include some of these most talked-about bestselling authors as well as cult favorites you might not have checked out. Take this as your guide to some of the sharpest minds in the field, whether you’re seeking female authors in particular or just a really great read!
If you’ve been paying attention to what’s new in speculative fiction, you’ve almost certainly heard of N. K. Jemisin and her Broken Earth Trilogy. Blurring the lines between science fiction and fantasy, the series is set in a world on the verge of collapse due to both natural disaster and human malevolence. Through war, magical catastrophe and religious madness, a woman named Essun searches for her lost daughter and faces the prospect of the apocalypse. What will be left of the world when the supernatural shattered everything humanity thought we knew? These books swept awards with each installment, and we have all three in one box set!
Equally popular and attention-grabbing, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (and its Locked Tomb series) also merges genres to create an entirely unique world and context. Gideon is a swordswoman and Harrowhawk is a necromancer; both are recruited to the service of the crown, and their relationship and enmity (which might be mixed with a little love…) is perhaps the biggest challenge they’ll have to overcome. Set on a planet that mixes ancient customs and future technology, Gideon the Ninth mixes wonder and horror, optimism and grim darkness, in a way that has compelled fans and kept them waiting on the edge of their seat for the next installment.
Another series to dive into is the Centenal Cycle by Malka Ann Older, starting with Infomocracy. In a cyberpunk dystopia that unfortunately resonates with our own, an election looms on the horizon as the next big thing to fight over. Different characters fight for their parties for reasons of principles, career advancement, or a desire to maintain the status quo for fear of something worse. What starts as a matter of policy soon becomes a matter of life and death, campaign canvassing becomes espionage escapades, and human politics ventures into the realm of artificial intelligence. Who knows what’s best for us? If we knew what was best for us, would we even want it?
Lesley Nneka Arimah gives us a whole bundle of different ideas in her collection What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky. Magical realism is an often-defined but difficult to describe genre whereby fantastical concepts live right alongside real world problems; and both put each other into greater examination. Arimah’s stories exemplify this; childless women create children from available material, generational trauma becomes generational ghosts, and feuding gods bring monumental changes to the shape of the earth. There’s plenty to explore here, and all of it will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo (previously reviewed on this blog!) also plays with magical realism as it reimagines the story of The Great Gatsby in a version of 1920s America where demon blood can intoxicate you and monstrous bargains can be struck to grant you what hard work cannot. Jordan Baker was born in Vietnam but adopted into the United States, and her outsider status is compounded by her bisexuality and the ability to bring paper creations to life. She loves both a flighty woman and a weak-willed man, she lives in fear of a deadly sorcerer, and it’s only a matter of time before her life will come tumbling down. Can she save anyone around her, or even herself? The Chosen and the Beautiful is lovely and mesmerizing, whether you’ve read The Great Gatsby or only pretended to in school.
And if you want some good, classic space exploration, check out On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden. This beautiful graphic novel flashes back and forth between the heroine’s coming of age in boarding school and her joining the crew of a spaceship bound to reconstruct decaying artifacts of the old world. Mia awakens first to her sexuality and then to the universe as she searches for her lost love, and the vastness of space is not enough to keep her away. Perfect for young and older readers, On a Sunbeam takes you on an unforgettable trip through the skies and through the human heart.
Go out there and explore! There’s lots of wonderful female authors and the field, and this list is only a start!