Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is another of my favorite bloggers, Janice from Specfic Romantic! As indicated by her blog’s name, Janice often reads and reviews speculative fiction with a romantic element or subplot, though she also reads a variety of interesting books in general. I met Janice at the first Book Blogger Convention and was delighted to discover we had similar taste in books. She’s enthusiastic and fun to talk to and it comes through on her blog. It is a joy to read, and always features  thoughtful reviews, good taste, and a friendly atmosphere. You can also follow her blog on Livejournal.

Janice is here to give us a quick tour of some of the great science fiction and fantasy books by women that she remembers fondly as her early introduction to SFF.

Specfic Romantic

When Kristen asked me to post here for Fantasy Cafe’s Women in SF&F Month, it got me thinking about the authors that I first read when I was discovering this genre. I grew up somewhere where we didn’t have the biggest library, but by the time I graduated high school, I knew the four rows of shelves that housed the Fiction section backwards and forwards and I’d tried ALL the SF&F I could get my hands on. I’m probably similar to a lot of readers in that my introduction to Fantasy was when someone give me a copy of The Hobbit. I think that was in fifth or sixth grade. A couple of years later, my brother, and maybe 2 or 3 boys would share copies of Dragonlance books and talk about the latest David Eddings. Throughout high school I was a reader – I liked to just have quiet time to myself during lunch by slipping off to the library and reading for a few minutes. I know I just name-dropped a lot of male authors, but there were a lot of women writers that I was exposed to and they all left an impression too. I think when something is your “first” anything, it stays with you for a long time. Here are some of the SF&F books by women that made an impact on the early years of my reading life:

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy – Laura Chant knows her little brother’s sickness has a supernatural cause – so she asks for help from a boy at school that she thinks is a witch. Mahy writes some of the best coming-of-age scary-first-love-and-burgeoning-sexuality stories out there. The Changeover sits somewhere between contemporary fantasy and YA, and is the one I reread the most, but I remember reading and liking The Catalog of the Universe and The Tricksters too.

The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley – These were books I was obsessed with. I remember that the fact that a GIRL was a hero out there doing physical things made an impression on me with Aerin, but I may have related to Harry a little bit more for her “quietness”. Years later I still dream of having a window seat to curl up in like the one in Harry’s room at the Residency.

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – I’m the oldest of three and a reader, so I was a little sick of fairy tales where the youngest was always the ‘fairest’ and the one having adventures. I liked that Howl’s Moving Castle deliberately goes against that trope, and does so without it just being about an ‘eldest child’: Sophie’s sisters got to defy their pigeonholes too. I know that Howl gets a lot of the love (I like him too), but it’s Sophie’s character arc that got me. After this I went and read Fire and Hemlock and Dogsbody and loved them both, but Castle in the Air didn’t quite leave the impression the first book did. I think that was the sum total of the Diana Wynne Jones books our library had, so I didn’t read her other offerings until college.

By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey – I bought this at a school fair and I don’t think I ever read any of the Valdemar books (even though this one is a side story to that series) because they just weren’t available. I probably would have gone through them all like a knife through butter, because this was pure swashbuckler adventure. I adored reading about mercenary life from a female point of view, and I adored the Companions. Also, despite the bright colors of the cover, I liked its composition, with Kerowyn in front, sword out, protecting those behind her.  You don’t quite see many covers like that.

Star of the Guardians series by Margaret Weis – I already mentioned the whole Dragonlance thing, which explains why I read Weis’ Star of the Guardians (it was a full on glom for both Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman for a few years there), and this is where I fell in love with space opera. I haven’t read this series in years so it’s all very vague in my head but it involves an orphaned heir to the throne of the galaxy and his protectors who have a very complicated relationship. It was epic and awesome and I wonder if it holds up. I remember it all with happy nostalgia – just talking about it makes me want to go out and find myself copies.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey
The Lost King by Margaret Weis

That’s my list and it probably reflects when I was in school (eighties/nineties), and it has me wondering what’s on other people’s lists of their first SF&F reads written by women. Do yours overlap with mine, or are they completely different?