Today’s guest is Heidi, who runs the excellent blog Bunbury in the Stacks! I discovered her blog last year and it quickly became one of my favorites. Heidi is very friendly and responsive to comments, plus I love her reviews and the insightful observations she makes about the books she reads (and as a bonus, she has stellar taste in books!). I also find interesting books highlighted in her “With Bated Breath” feature, and I’m a fan of her feature “Salute Your Shorts”—which is, of course, dedicated to reviews of short stories and novellas. I’m excited she’s here today discussing exposure to science fiction and fantasy written by women and recommending some books that sound incredible!
Growing up, the nearest bookstore was (no exaggerating) 180 miles away. Needless to say, my exposure to books was largely restricted to the library and friends’ bookshelves. Imagining this, it should come as no surprise to you that I was allowed into adulthood with some massive blind spots as to women in SciFi and Fantasy. I devoured Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Jennifer Roberson–that was what my library had, and I loved them. When on rare occasion I did enter a bookstore, I became intimidated by the sheer number of possibilities and usually selected something from one of these authors I knew rather than trying something new. And so, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I didn’t so much as hear staple names like Ursula Le Guin, Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, or even Margaret Atwood until college or later. Forget about being exposed to any lesser-known or established authors.
It wasn’t until somewhat recently that I realized a lack of exposure to women in SciFi and Fantasy wasn’t just a reflection of my childhood, but of the general reading culture. When I began dating my boyfriend a few years ago, I was horrified to hear him say he didn’t really read female authors. I was appalled at what I immediately saw as sexism coming from this person I had immense respect for. How could you not read these women who had become my lifeblood? These authors that speak to my heart and connect me to characters in ways unparalleled. But then I realized it wasn’t that my boyfriend was being sexist, it was that he really didn’t know anything about women in SciFi, and didn’t care for Fantasy. As far as he knew, there really weren’t women SciFi writers–in a way his childhood had been every bit as restrictive to him as mine had to me. I shoved Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood in his hands immediately, and am happy to report that it was a successful experiment (we’re still working on getting him to read Fantasy).
When Kristen asked me to participate in Women in SF&F Month I remembered this occasion and became curious about the exposure to women in SciFi and Fantasy among my other reading friends not in the blogging community. I asked around, and was shocked to find that the predominant response I received was that they don’t really pay attention to who wrote a book period, unless it’s so amazing they must instantly read everything by said author. On the one hand, I’m happy to know that not caring about/noticing the gender of an author doesn’t result in gender playing into their reading choices, but on the other hand it makes me sad to see how few female authors’ names they could even list. They knew J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer, Mercedes Lackey, and Anne McCaffrey, but that was about it (one blessed friend did tout her love of Patricia Briggs, a woman whose writing I’ve only just begun to devour myself).
Residing in the online bubble of my own personal book community, I read predominantly female authors and predominantly female-run blogs. It has become easy to forget that women are still the underdogs in SciFi and Fantasy, and that there are so many amazing contributing writers out there that are underknown and underread. So today I will endeavor to share and recommend a few of the women authors in SciFi and Fantasy whose work has most struck me in recent years.
Kathleen Duey’s A Resurrection of Magic Series
Kathleen Duey’s books are heartbreaking and desolate, but strangely beautiful. The type where the tiniest kernel of hope forces you to hold on and keep turning the pages. Completely unique, some readers will find A Resurrection of Magic too bleak to stomach, but those who do will be rewarded with a stunning prose, a plight so real it will grip you, and the growth of power and strength that one woman can endure.
Susan Jane Bigelow’s Extrahumans Series
Susan Jane Bigelow’s series is a wonderful amalgam of SciFi and Fantasy elements, blending them marvelously to create a futuristic superhero minority struggling against government misuse and oppression. Bigelow’s work takes on topics of gender and sexuality, conformity, identity, and free will. Despite having many elements of dystopian/superhero stories I’ve read elsewhere, Extrahumans manages to stand on its own as an utterly original creation.
Connie Willis’ Oxford Time Travel Books
Despite being one of the bigger female names in SciFi, I myself wasn’t familiar with Willis’ work until the past few years, and find far too many SciFi/Fantasy fans who haven’t picked her up. These books all work as stand alones (with the exception of the duology Blackout and All Clear), but also tie into one another in a fantastic blend of SciFi and Historical Fiction. I think this is a fantastic series for readers who enjoy Historical novels and are looking to read a bit outside of their comfort zone (or vice versa for SciFi fans).
And All the Stars by Andrea K. Höst
Despite my proclivity for both SciFi and Fantasy, I’ve never much gone for the alien books. Andrea K. Höst blew away all of my preconceptions of the niche by infusing her story with a character-driven humanity and a completely surprising plot. Höst writes in both SciFi and Fantasy, and quite frankly I don’t know a soul who’s read her and not wanted to pick up more of her work–she has that Aussie author magic.
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
Make that anything (and everything) by Frances Hardinge. Hardinge creates these fantastical worlds that will leave readers gasping in awe. Yes, she is technically a Middle Grade writer, but the absolute best kind. The kind that challenges young and adult readers alike through story, setting, and character. Hardinge’s heroines move from grudgingly naive to intrepid leaders, identifying in words that bittersweet function of the heart and mind that is coming of age.
Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland Series
If we are to talk of Fantasy authors who create books that can span generations, I would be remiss not to mention Cat Valente’s Fairyland series. Though again, absolutely anything by Valente is recommended–she writes for various age groups in both SciFi and Fantasy, tackling short fiction and full-length novels with consistency, receiving many accolades. Valente is able to reflect how the world looks through so many varying sets of eyes, and is a gem for those of us who love to see folklore infused in our books.
Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters Series
Finally, another hard hitter and popular name in the Fantasy world, Juliet Marillier is not to be overlooked. Her Sevenwaters series has revolutionized who I am as a Fantasy reader–it has made my standards higher by capturing my heart utterly and completely. Marillier understands that heroines cannot be put into neatly labeled boxes. That strength and resolution comes in many forms that need not always be in agreement with one another.
I’ll leave you there, hoping that you will sit up and take note when a woman has written a book you love, and that you will seek out more. A huge thanks to Kristen for organizing and playing host to this wonderful event, and for letting me take part!