Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is Shara from Calico Reaction, an amazing site with lots of reviews! Calico Reaction can be found on both WordPress and LiveJournal where Shara mostly reviews various types of speculative fiction. She also hosts a book club with one selection per month to discuss. This month’s selection is In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield, and Downbelow Station by C. J. Cherryh and God’s War by Kameron Hurley are next if you’re interested in reading along.

Calico Reaction is one of my favorite review sites simply because Shara writes fantastic, very thoughtful reviews – and lots of them! They’re very detailed and in-depth, but don’t worry, she will warn you ahead of time if there are spoilers and she always includes a spoiler-free overview.

Please welcome Shara today as she talks about her personal quest to read science fiction written by women and some of the wonderful books she discovered!

Calico Reaction Header

Women writing science fiction used to be a cause near and dear to my heart, for reasons that were obvious anyone who knew me at the time: I was a woman writing a science fiction novel, so it was a moral imperative for me to read the same. And I’m not going to sit here and preen and say I sampled every single female author writing in the SF genre. Heck, I didn’t get around to Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkogisan saga, nor Nancy Kress’ Beggars in Spain until 2011, and I’m still working on James Tiptree, Jr! But this quest started in 2006, and I remember all the times I’d go to the bookstore and prowl the science fiction and fantasy shelves for a new-to-me science fiction novel penned by a woman. I remember the frustration and the tiny flame of fury when I was looking for a particular author but couldn’t find her on the shelves (Molly Gloss’ The Dazzle of Day stands out most in my memory, as do Karin Lowachee’s books). I remember the joy of discovering a new author, and I recall how reading any science fiction by a female author was akin to a personal quest: as a woman writing science fiction myself, I wanted to see what other women were doing in the genre. I wanted to prove I could somehow join their ranks. I didn’t have any illusions that I would knock them out of the park or anything, but what I wanted was to fit in.

Why was it so personal? What sparked this feverish desire to read more science fiction written by women?

Because I was told, by a male member of the species (species being a science fiction author) that what I was writing wasn’t science fiction.

And I wanted to prove him wrong.

That particular tale is a long one, but not particularly ugly. In fact, when he saw the omega of my draft, he told me, two and a half years after uttering that horrible, pugilistic phrase, that my science fiction novel would excite readers of Catherine Asaro and Linnea Sinclair. Lovely words, but I don’t believe him. For starters, I’ve read Catherine Asaro. I haven’t read Linnea Sinclair, but I’ve had fans of both read my omega draft, and while they were wonderfully encouraging, I know deep in my marrow that my draft still needs a lot of work.

So what does this have to do with women writing science fiction? With women blogging about science fiction and fantasy?

Because it inspires. No, I’m not saying that I am an inspiration, you silly people. As flattering as that is, I’m not that vain. No, what I’m saying is that I needed to be inspired, and I needed to learn, and the only way I could do that and still keep what I felt was my own unique voice was to see what other women in the genre were doing.

And to see what other women in the genre were doing, I had to read their work.

And in order to read their work, I had to know it existed.

So I browsed the stores. I visited SFF forums and begged for recommendations. And I read book blogs.

And I learned. In learning, I posted my own thoughts on my own blog, just in case there was someone else out there in my shoes, so that they might have an easier time finding female authors to inspire them. But even if that didn’t happen (even if that never DOES happen), at least I know I’ve been promoting some pretty rocking books to my readers, books that I know for a fact some of my readers would’ve never heard of without my review.

What books did I discover on my personal crusade? Why, I’m glad you asked! Let me share them with you! Here are some absolute jewels that I think anyone interested in women in SF should get their hands on. Even if it means you have to order from the evil giant Amazon, or if it means you have to scavenger hunt in as many used bookstores as possible. Please note this list is ONLY science fiction (and a little bit of genre criticism). If I listed all the wonderful fantasy novels penned by women that I’ve discovered, we’d never get out of here.

For genre history and a bit of genre criticism and how all of that relates to women writing SF, you’d be remiss if you didn’t add Justine Larbalestier’s Daughters of Earth and The Battle of Sexes in Science Fiction to your TBR pile. And while you’re at it, get your hands on Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Language of the Night.

Daughters of Earth by Justine Larbalestier The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction by Justine Larbalestier The Language of the Night by Ursula K. Le Guin

For the books that made me fall in love with reading science fiction, as opposed to just watching it in film or television, try reading Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

For space opera and/or military SF, check out Karen Lowachee’s Warchild (out of print, but easily my most favorite science fiction novel EVER); Chris Moriarty’s Spin State; and Karen Traviss’ Wess’Har Wars series, which starts with City of Pearl (note: this is not a series to read out of order).

Warchild by Karin Lowachee Spin State by Chris Moriarty City of Pearl by Karen Traviss

For a really fun read, something that’s a cross between the movie Pitch Black and the television show Firefly, you’ve got to get your hands on Ann Aguirre’s Grimspace.

Grimspace by Ann Aguirre Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre

For soft, social SF that deals with so many mind-blowing themes like language and race and gender and the ethics of humanity in a science fictional world, check out anything by Octavia E. Butler (two good gateways for her work are Kindred and Lilith’s Brood), Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, Nicola Griffith’s Slow River, or Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler Slow River by Nicola Griffith The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Lastly, if you’re looking for SF that takes place right here on Earth, either in history or the near-future, check out Justina Robson’s Mappa Mundi, Mary Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox (which I read twice in one month), or Kathleen Ann Goonan’s In War Times.

Mappa Mundi by Justina Robson The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson In War Times by Kathleen Ann Goonan

Of course, this is barely a starting point if you’re wanting to find rocking science fiction by rocking women. Another trick I used to find women writers I hadn’t heard of was perusing Philip K. Dick Award nominees, and that has always yielded fascinating and interesting results. Never hesitate to try an award-winner or nominee especially if penned by a woman in the genre. You never know what kind of gems you’ll find, and what those gems will lead you to discover.