21 SF/F Authors Project: What’s It About

Books & Mags, Inspiration

Long post warning. TL;DR – Last year I consciously (and successfully, I’m happy to say) tried to read more books written by women. This year I’ll try a similar project with a slightly different focus.

I shared this io9 list of 21 influential science fiction titles elsewhere in social media. It sparked quite a discussion! Prompted by the exchange, I decided to write a list of my own: 21 new-to-me SF/F authors who happen to be women.

Feel free to use the list with the caveat it’s the product of my preferences and hang-ups. If you enjoy it, I’m glad; if not, that’s ok, too. I’m not even trying to claim universal appeal.

To make my list, I first selected an author I’ve been curious about and then picked something from her production. To begin with, I wanted to include all four female Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) Grand Masters of SFF. (In case you’re wondering, they are Andre Norton, Ursula LeGuin, Anne McCaffrey and Connie Willis, and marked with an asterisk in my list below.) This is the only exception to my “new authors only” rule – I have read LeGuin and Willis before. After the SFWA Grand Masters, I picked a few early SF/F authors more or less randomly, a handful of names from before my time and, finally, topped my list with more recent writers.

I chose titles that I found interesting, challenging and – hopefully – influential for my thinking. (Or, at the very least, things that I have a good chance of finishing.) This includes topic as well as format – I tend to prefer novels over short stories. In general, I also tend towards scifi as opposed to fantasy, and prefer a balance between plot-driven and character-driven stories as well as noblebright and grimdark (with a slight preference for noblebright) but I’m not an absolutist reader. There are a few things that bore or turn me off, including sloppy language / editing, good plot peppered with paper-thin characters and/or gratuitous violence, but I try to keep and open mind.

I looked at the big SF/F award winners (Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy Award) and considered personal recommendations. (I went back and forth so many times it felt that I’d never finish!) Since this list was about new authors, I read author bios and skimmed bibliographies and reviews to guide my decisions. If a title was included in several “suggested reading” or “best of” lists found online, I gave it slight preference. Lastly, in some instances my choices were affected by availability through the local library system.

Most of the authors on the list are native speakers of English, but I tried to include women of various backgrounds. I did decide to exclude new-to-me Nordic writers simply because, in general terms, they’re not a novelty for me. Perhaps another time.

Edit: I had to replace one author on my list. Instead of Jane Loudon’s The Mummy, I’ll read Herland by Charlotte Gilman Perkins. This is because it turned out to be prohibitively expensive to get Loudon’s book, and nothing by her at all is available through interlibrary loan in my area. The list below has been updated & rearranged accordingly. Also, a typo in the publication year for Sultana’s Dream has been fixed.

Finally, here’s my 21 authors list, in a chronological order:

Here’s my updated 21 authors list in a chronological order:

  1. Cavendish, Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle: The Blazing World (1666)
  2. Shelley, Mary: The Last Man (1826)
  3. Hussain, Roquia Sakhawat: Sultana’s Dream (1905)
  4. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins: Herland (1915)
  5. *Norton, Andre: The Time Traders (1958)
  6. L’Engle, Madeleine: A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
  7. *LeGuin, Ursula: Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
  8. *McCaffrey, Anne: The Ship Who Sang (1969)
  9. Russ, Joanna: The Female Man (1975)
  10. Tiptree, James, Jr. [Alice Sheldon; Raccoona Sheldon]: The Starry Rift (1986)
  11. Bujold, Lois McMaster: Falling Free (1988)
  12. Lowachee, Karin: Warchild (2002)
  13. Hopkinson, Nalo: The Salt Roads (2003)
  14. Mohanraj, Mary Anne: Bodies in Motion (2006)
  15. Lanagan, Margo: Tender Morsels (2008)
  16. Shawl, Nisi: Filter House (2008)
  17. Okorafor, Nnedi: Who Fears Death (2010)
  18. *Willis, Connie: Blackout / All Clear (2010)
  19. Walton, Jo: Among Others (2011)
  20. de Bodard, Aliette: On a Red Station, Drifting (2012)
  21. Samatar, Sofia: A Stranger in Olondria (2012)

*) Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Masters of SFF.

I’m excited with my list – so many books I have an “official” excuse to sample! Other authors / titles I desperately wanted to add include The Clockwork Man by E.V. Odle (pseudonym of Virginia Woolf, apparently, whom I haven’t read but feel one ought to, to claim a well-rounded general knowledge) plus Karin Boye, Elizabeth Bear, Angela Carter, Louise Erdrich, Carol Emshwiller, Elizabeth Hand, Kij Johnson, Malinda Lo, Kat Richardson, Tansy Raynor Roberts, Amy Thomson, Henrika Andersson and Leena Krohn, for example.

My goal is to read the books in order and finish by the end of 2015. This may or may not be possible, because I want to get roughly half of the titles through my local library and their availability may be unpredictable. We’ll see how it goes. And since I plan to keep this reading project going in addition to my regular routines (I’m starting later than I’d like as it is because of Hugo Awards reading), there’s no way I’ll run out of things to do this fall!

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