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5 Great Science Fiction Writers (Who Are Women)

Updated on October 23, 2011

There are many genres of literature that remain dominated by men. In fact, literature overall remains dominated by men despite the fact that women tend to read more fiction than men do on average. Science fiction has become a genre that has largely been associated with a male point of view. There are many reasons for this. Science fiction movies tend to be built around action and violence and are geared toward a young male audience, even though science fiction literature has moved away from catering exclusively to this audience a long time ago. There is also the stereotype that women just aren't that interested in science. I find this to be mostly false, though it still seems young girls are discouraged to have an interest in science in some circles. The list of women who have made their stamp on the science fiction genre is disappointingly short but not insignificant. Some have even argued that the genre was created by a woman, calling Mary Shelley's Frankenstein the first science fiction novel.


Atwood is considered mostly a literary novelist but many of her novels have flirted with fantasy by embracing magical realism, and a few others have been outright science fiction. Atwood herself dislikes the term, preferring speculative fiction, but has become more comfortable with it. Her breakthrough novel, The Handmaid's Tale, is a Dystopian novel from a feminist point of view. In the near future America, women have no control over their reproductive rights and they are repressed by a theocratic government. It is telling that Atwood's novel is set in the US, since most of her other work takes place in her native Canada. Written in the 80s, Atwood's novel seems to be an allegorical response to the rise of "the moral majority." Atwood flirts with science fiction again with The Blind Assassin, which won her the Booker Prize after years of being shortlisted. The novel isn't outright science fiction but combines meta-fiction, historical fiction, romantic melodrama and pulp sci-fi in a kind of intricately woven story within a story narrative. Oryx and Crake and After the Flood both take place in a post-apocalyptic world destroyed by man's excesses and desire to manipulate nature.


Being among the small group of writers writing science fiction from a female perspective, Butler was also among the small group of writers writing science fiction from an African American perspective. She won two Nebula Awards and two Hugo Awards, and was the first science fiction author to receive a MacArthur Fellowship Grant. Among her most acclaimed works are Parable of Sower and Parable of the Talents both portraying the life of a young African American woman in ravaged future United States. Her collection, Bloodchild and Other Stories, features her acclaimed and award winning novelette Bloodchild and her Hugo award winning short story Speech Sounds. In addition to her "Parable series", Butler wrote two other series of books, the "pattern series" consisting of six novels portraying an alternate history of human civilization and Lilith's Brood, a former trilogy now published as one volume. Two stand alone novels, Kindred, a realistic fiction novel and Flegling, her last book, and originally intended to be a third Parable novel, are also worth reading.


Another giant of science fiction, who just happens to be female, Ursula K. Le Guin. Le Guin has managed to gain a great deal of respect from mainstream literary critics while writing almost exclusively in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. Le Guin's main academic interest was anthropology, so her fiction shows an interest in the history and development of different civilizations, many of which exist on other planets or in fantasy realms. Her "Hainish cycle" is a series of novels and stories that revolve around the planet Hain in someway, and use this fictional planet and its history to explore anthropological and sociological issues. The novels The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossesed are considered the best novels in the series ad both won both the Hugo Award and Nebula Award for best novel. One of Le Guin's most acclaimed "stand-alone" novels is The Lathe of Heaven, a story about a man who can literally change reality with his dreams and the psychiatrist who seeks to use this ability to better society.


Russell did not stick with science fiction very long, only her first two novels were in the genre, but they have had such an impact that it would be a shame to leave her off of the list. Both The Sparrow and Children of God involve the first contact of human beings with other intelligent species. What most interests Russell about this story is how this can be explored from the perspective of a religious nature. In The Sparrow it is Jesuit priests that encounter an alien civilization and they must deal with how this discovery impacts their faith. Children of God expands this idea further, exploring the misunderstandings of two civilizations and the implications of their meeting, sociologically, spiritually and scientifically.


Willis has currently won eleven Hugo Awards and seven Nebula awards, which is a level of acclaim that few male writers have ever gotten from the science fiction community. What is also impressive is that Willis is one of those rare writers in the genre that can be seriously funny without sacrificing any of the depth in her writing. When criticized for not dealing with "women's issues" in her work, she wrote Even the Queen, a tongue in cheek story about "the future of menstruation." She is most famous for her novels about time traveling historians, like Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog but she has also written novels like Remake, a satirical look at the future of the film industry, and Passage, a novel about scientists studying near death experiences.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Hi Lizzy I downloaded this and read it very qulkicy since it was only 35 pages. I really enjoyed it as a short story, but then something was mentioned that it was part of a compilation of short stories and I was wondering if the short stories were written by you or if it was a montage of writers in one book. Do you happen to know what I'm talking about?

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      That's hard work. It's difficult to fill an empty page. Once you know what you want to write, in broad stokers, just pound out material. Doesn't need to be perfect. Figure on twice what the final length is to be after editing. Good luck! I know Tynan has written several shorties about 100 pages each. I actually have one of them somewhere.

    • Amber Vyn profile image

      Amber Vyn 

      5 years ago

      Thanks for introducing me to Octavia Butler. Voted 'up' and 'interesting'!

    • profile image

      Elizabeth Baxter 

      7 years ago

      I've just written a post about this very topic! Don't know how I forgot Ursula Le Guin but I've not read the works of the others. Great post, thanks.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 

      7 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      thank you for writing about women in scifi! for far too long it's been a "man's sport." nicely put together. :)

    • SimeyC profile image

      Simon Cook 

      7 years ago from NJ, USA

      A couple of others to look at: Tamara Pierce - romantic magic based fantasy; Naomi Novik - has a series based in the Napoleonic times - but there are Dragons in the world too.


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