20 Top Female Sci-Fi Authors You Should Know
20 Female Authors Setting the Standard for Great Science Fiction
Science Fiction from J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter), Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), and Diana Gabaldon (Outlander) has inspired some of the most popular film and television of recent years, but there are countless other female Sci-fi authors who fly slightly more under the radar just waiting for their stories to become the next big thing. Here I have tried to assemble 20 of the most notable then and now female authors that you should have on your reading list. Everyone knows Margaret Atwood, but do you know A.J. Bass? Or M.J. Locke? V.E. Schwab? No worries if not and congrats if yes! Again, I am sure this list leaves out many other deserving authors, but honestly, I had to stop somewhere. Conclusion? Women authors rock. Here is your proof. Pick one, read one, and pass it on!
The Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley
The Stars are Legion is set within a system of decaying world-ships travelling through deep space, this breakout novel of epic science fiction follows a pair of sisters who must wrest control of their war-torn legion of worlds—and may have to destroy everything they know in order to survive. Hurley’s first novel only debuted in 2010, but she’s made a quick name for herself as a top sci-fi/fantasy writer with the series, The Worldbreaker Saga; the Bel Dame Apocrypha Series, which she dubbed “bugpunk”; and her 2017 standalone space opera, The Stars are Legion. She has won two Hugo Awards and a Locus and been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke and Nebula Awards. Hurley has made a distinctive mark with her novels that interrogate gender identity through a sci-fi lens, and she recently published an essay collection entitled The Geek Feminist Revolution. Click on the book to buy!
The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin
The Obelisk Gate is the sequel to The Fifth Season and the 2nd book in The Broken Earth trilogy. Beyond the meticulous pacing, the thorough character work, and the staggering ambition and revelations of the narration, Jemisin is telling a story of our present, our failures, our actions in the face of repeated trauma, our responses to the heat and pressure of our times. Her accomplishment in this series is tremendous. She also broke new ground when she became the first black author to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel. It pole-vaults over the expectations I had for what epic fantasy should be and stands in magnificent testimony to what it could be. Again, what a great book and well worth the read. Click on the book to buy!
All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders
All the Birds in the Sky is a book full of quirkiness and playful detail from an author that Entertainment Weekly listed as one of 27 Female Authors Who Rule Sci-Fi and Fantasy Right Now. Founder and co-editor of Gawker’s science fiction blog io9, Anders turned to novel writing full-time in 2016. An ancient society of witches and a hipster technological startup go to war in order to prevent the world from tearing itself apart. To further complicate things, each of the groups’ most promising followers (Patricia, a brilliant witch and Laurence, an engineering “wunderkind”) may just be in love with each other. Can you say, Romeo and Juliet, modernized for us nerds? YES! Click on the book cover to buy!
The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen
In The Queen of Tearling magic, adventure, mystery, and romance combine in this epic debut in which a young princess must reclaim her dead mother’s throne, learn to be a ruler—and defeat the Red Queen, a powerful and malevolent sorceress determined to destroy her. When Johansen’s The Queen of the Tearling trilogy debuted in 2014, it quickly drew comparisons to The Hunger Games for its futuristic dystopia and a strong-as-nails heroine, Kelsea Glynn. The series came to its thrilling conclusion with last fall’s The Fate of the Tearling, earning praises for its continued dedication to depicting female characters with multiple avenues of empowerment. Click on the book to buy!
A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab
With her Shades of Magic series, Schwab introduced the world to Four Londons – Grey London, a world without magic, and Red, Black, and White London – three parallel universes that are home to very different and potent types of magic. Scwhab cast her spell over three novels, ending with 2017’s A Conjuring of Light. Entertainment Weekly called the series “addictive and immersive,” with Schwab creating a vivid set of magical universes and two unforgettable heroes in Lila and Kell. "A Darker Shade of Magic has all the hallmarks of a classic work of fantasy. Schwab has given us a gem of a tale...This is a book to treasure."—Deborah Harkeness, New York Times bestselling author of the All Souls trilogy. Click on the book to buy!
Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
Ancillary Justice is the first of the NYTimes bestselling trilogy of the Ancillary World. Is it me or do all of these Hugo awards authors cash in and write a few more books in the same world? Anyway, Ancillary Justice is the only novel ever to win the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. That should be named something like the Trilogy Crown or something. I like that. Copywrited. On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren - a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance. Action - Intrigue - Strong Female Lead. I'm sold. Click on the book to buy! Or Buy the Trilogy Here.
Legend, by Marie Lu
Legend is an undeniably great book. What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbours. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem. The buy line is "impossible to put down and even harder to forget." I would totally agree with that statement. Click the book cover to buy!
Paige's Story, by A.J. Bass
Paige's Story is the first in the Fort Thomas trilogy and what a start! This was an absolute pleasure to read and an amazing book. Sure the heroine is a 14-year-old girl but honestly, she is written to be any one of us. Modern and relatable. Bass dives head first into the world politics, society, and deep-rooted prejudices when she puts man against robot. Think of this book as the distant sequel to I, Robot. Synthetic humans after being infected by a digit virus experience 1 of 2 side-effects: Sentience or Corruption. 30 years later, the military and governments of the world are still struggling to cope with the shock. Synthetics are met with distrust by most, subjugation by some, and acceptance at arms-length by the rest. When soldiers start to malfunction and a strange little girl arrives, Paige and the scrappers of Ft. Thomas soon find themselves swept up in a mystery that, left unsolved, may mean the end of the already fragile peace between humans and synthetics. Click the book cover to buy!
The Shore of Women, by Pamela Sargent
The Shore of Women is a dystopian tale of a power struggle between the sexes in the post-nuclear future, perfect for readers of Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin. Winner of the Nebula award, science fiction author Pamela Sargent is known for writing alternate history. In addition to co-writing four Star Trek novels with George Zebrowski, Sargent’s series (including the Seed Trilogy, Venus, and Watchstar) all feature strong, independent women facing different obstacles in very different realities. Her stand-alone novel, The Shore of Women, takes place in a world run by women—where men have been completely expelled from society, only occasionally brought back to reproduce. Click on the book cover to buy!
The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale is a classic in anyone's list. Atwood is a queen. She is one of the most well known feminist writers out there. She often focuses her books around women dominated by a patriarchal society. Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid's Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and literary tour de force. The Handmaid’s Tale follows the story of Offred, a young woman living in the military dictatorship of the Republic of Gilead following the collapse of the United States. Offred is a handmaid, the term for a slave who is forced to reproduce with men who have sterile wives. Click the book cover to buy!
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Left Hand of Darkness is about the lone human ambassador who is sent to Winter, an alien world without sexual prejudice. There the inhabitants can change their gender whenever they choose. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the strange, intriguing culture he encounters... Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction. Le Guin has had an immense impact on the science fiction and fantasy genre throughout her career. An influencer of many prolific writers, she herself has also won the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, Locus Award, and World Fantasy Award multiple times. Additionally, she’s one of the only female authors to be a Grandmaster of Science Fiction. Le Guin’s work is sometimes classified as soft science fiction, due to her exploration of social and psychological identity within her books. However, Le Guin rejects this classification. Click on the book cover to buy!
And Chaos Died, by Joanna Russ
And Chaos Died, a Nebula Award-nominated “work of awesome originality” (Robert Silverberg), is a mind-blowing exploration of telepathy and power on an Earth-like planet. The author of feminist literary criticism, in addition to science fiction and fantasy, Joanna Russ influenced readers throughout her life since she was first noticed in the late 1960s. During her career, she challenged the male-dominated world of science fiction—both in authors and audience. She published And Chaos Died in 1970, which tells of an overpopulated planet where nature scarcely exists and creativity and individualism are suppressed. But there are other ways of life out there. And as the novel progresses, they come into conflict. Click on the book cover to buy!
The Long Tomorrow, by Leigh Brackett
Leigh Brackett was one of the most influential sci-fi writers of the 20th century—if you know nothing else about her, you likely know that she wrote the original script for The Empire Strikes Back. Her celebrated 1955 novel is post-apocalyptic, set in a United States after a horrific nuclear war. Unlike most such stories, in which society immediately begins rebuilding its technologies, the people of the world instead blame technology for the devastation. Religions that shun technology swell in membership, laws are passed restricting the maximum size of communities and what technology they can use, and people are stoned to death for using forbidden devices. It’s a bleak story, and in some ways dated by modern standards, but every post-nuclear war story that followed owes it a debt. Click on the book cover to buy!
Downbelow Station, by C.J. Cherryh
One of the greatest space operas ever written, this novel won the Hugo Award and is oft-included on genre best-of lists. Although set in the same universe as Cherryh’s Company Wars stories, it’s an excellent stand-alone novel detailing humanity’s exploration of nearby star systems, funded not by governments but by a corporation that builds a series of space stations in systems without planets. Pell’s World is the first habitable world the company finds, and the people living on the station built to orbit it call it Downbelow—and their home, Downbelow Station. The story is set at the end of the wars sparked by the company’s harsh policies towards its stations and Pell’s World, and it is rich in detail and populated by fascinating characters. Click on the book cover to buy!
Fullmetal Alchemist, by Hiromu Arakawa
This Japanese manga, written and illustrated by Arakawa, is set in an alternate universe where alchemy is the main force of science, governed by the Law of Equivalent Exchange, which requires that in order to create something, something of equal value must be used. Alchemists are forbidden to transmute gold…or human beings; attempting the latter results in horrifying disfigurements and punishment for the alchemist—something our protagnists, two brothers, find out the hard way. Epic in scale, the story grows incredibly intricate and emotional across its 26 volumes and has proved to be incredibly influential to sci-fi writers the world over. The series doesn’t shy away from dark themes and real-world issues and is notable for the presentation of complex female characters in shonen (or “boy’s”) manga, typically considered a male domain. Click on the book cover to buy!
Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received. But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin -- barely of age herself -- finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history's darkest hours. Five years in the writing by one of science fiction's most honored authors, Doomsday Book is a storytelling triumph. Connie Willis draws upon her understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering and the indomitable will of the human spirit. Click on the book cover to buy!
Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
This is Volume I of The Dragonriders of Pern®, the groundbreaking series by master storyteller Anne McCaffrey. On a beautiful world called Pern, an ancient way of life is about to come under attack from a myth that is all too real. Lessa is an outcast survivor—her parents murdered, her birthright stolen—a strong young woman who has never stopped dreaming of revenge. But when an ancient threat to Pern reemerges, Lessa will rise—upon the back of a great dragon with whom she shares a telepathic bond more intimate than any human connection. Together, dragon and rider will fly . . . and Pern will be changed forever. Click on the book cover to buy!
The Many Colored Land, by Julian May
Julian May’s entire Pliocene Exile series is essential, really; in its future, mankind develops a one-way time travel portal that sends people back to the Pliocene Era, long before the dawn of history. Humanity doesn’t know what else to do, so it begins using the portal as an exile—dissidents and criminals sent back in time can never return, making for a great out-of-sight, out-of-mind way to rid society of bad seeds. When a group of exiles arrives in the past, however, they are shocked to find that Earth is populated by two related alien races who were in turn exiled from their own planet and crash-landed here. These aliens use special devices to unlock mental abilities, and the steady supply of arriving humans become their slaves and toys. This series is in turn part of an even larger story May is telling about humanity’s own emergence into a wider universe and is incredibly detailed as it breaks genre barriers between high fantasy and sci-fi. Click on the book cover to buy!
Up Against It, by M.J. Locke
Locke’s only novel—under this name, anyway (the author is also known as Laura J. Mixon)—is seemingly a story of simple survival, and that narrow focus makes it truly compelling, though the SFnal ideas on display (including one of the most fascinating depictions of emerging consciousness we’ve ever encountered) mean it is also much more. It’s a tightly-written narrative set on a colony settled within an asteroid that sees a series of small disasters make the survival of its residents in jeopardy. Jane Navio is Phocaea’s Resource Allocation Chief, in charge of saving the day. Dealing with an accident that was arranged by organized crime, a rogue artificial intelligence infecting their systems, and the constant limitations of a low gravity environment that was never meant to support life, the story has the tension and crackle of a thriller without sacrificing the slew of great sci-fi ideas that flesh out the universe. Click on the book cover to buy!
The Vor Game, by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Vor Game is the Hugo Award-Winning Sequel to The Warrior's Apprentice. New-minted ensign Miles Vorkosigan faces enormous challenges as he leads a mutiny against his military commander's criminal orders, rejoins his Dendarii mercenaries, and attempts to rescue Emperor Gregor after Barrayar's royal scion has run off straight into trouble. The Vor Game continues to attract new readers to this internationally acclaimed series that Publishers Weekly described as "among the most enjoyable and rewarding in contemporary SF." Lois McMaster Bujold is THE American speculative fiction writer. She is one of the most acclaimed writers in her field, having won the Hugo Award for best novel four times, matching Robert A. Heinlein's record, not counting his Retro Hugo. Click on the book cover to buy!
Thanks for reading SF Brian’s recommendations of women authors. Feel free to support our efforts to bring you only the best. Click on any of the items of interest to buy through Amazon. Check out SF Brian’s personal blog HERE.
Disclaimer: SF Brian is a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. A small (very small) portion of every sale goes to his morning coffee. However, the Amazon price you pay is unchanged from the very low value. Happy Shopping!
In need of other suggestions? Maybe Mystery or Thrillers? Check out our other great selections HERE.