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Today I’m thrilled to welcome Bridget McKinney from SF Bluestocking! She writes about science fiction, fantasy, and feminism, and she not only covers books but also movies and television shows such as Game of Thrones and The Expanse. SF Bluestocking is one of my favorite sites because of her thorough, thoughtful, well-written reviews and commentary—and it is quite deservedly one of this year’s Hugo nominees for Best Fanzine!

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The Future Is Female

Let’s not be coy. 2016 was a garbage year, for me personally, and for women (and humanity) in general. After a year of death and disappointment and disillusionment, this year hasn’t, for the most part, started off much better. The theme for 2017, and possibly for the next four or so years, is destruction, and for many of us it’s already turning into a year of depression. And anxiety. And anger. And plenty of other negative emotions not even starting with “A” or “D”. For me, and I suspect for many of us, fiction has been a much-needed solace in these times, and as an avid reader of new releases I find that reading helps to keep me focused on the future instead of dwelling on the past or becoming too mired in the present to function.

The future is often on my mind, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of science fiction and fantasy and that’s something it’s hard to do without considering the incredible work that women are doing in those genres. Women are producing some of the most original, timely, compelling stuff on the market these days, and when I think about where sci-fi and fantasy are going, the future is most definitely female. No matter the subgenre, women are forging new roads and leading the way forward. If you’re looking for something to add to your reading list, here are some of the titles that I think represent the best and brightest of their genres and may offer some hope in a dark time.

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer Borderline by Mishell Baker

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

Amberlough is a fantasy novel where the only magic is that of excellent worldbuilding and storytelling. Set in a world that’s roughly analogous to ours in the 1930s, it follows the fortunes of several characters as they work to survive during the birth of a fascist regime. It’s sadly more timely and relevant than anyone involved in its publication probably hoped it would be, but this is also a great boost to the book’s significance. My very specific sub-subgenre of choice these days has been “badass ladies having political awakenings” and Amberlough’s Cordelia Lehane is an exemplar of the type. Her story will make you want to punch a Nazi or five hundred, a feeling which might come in handy over the coming years.

Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

Crossroads of Canopy is another story of political awakening, but its protagonist, Unar, isn’t motivated by experiencing a revolution. Instead, she’s a character who, by the end of the novel, is fixing to start a revolution. Crossroads is epic fantasy, with gods and monsters and magic, but it has a unique setting: a whole human society built in the tops of trees in a vast rain forest. It’s a groundbreaking novel that eschews the medieval fantasy tropes more commonly associated with fantasy epics in favor of crafting something wholly original. That Unar is one of the most delightfully difficult and complex fantasy heroines in recent years certainly helps as well.

Borderline by Mishell Baker

Speaking of difficult and complex heroines, Borderline’s Millie Roper might be their queen. Urban fantasy has a reputation for being cliché-ridden, low brow comfort-reading, but Mishell Baker’s Arcadia Project series breathes new life into the genre by telling the story from an underrepresented point of view and ditching a bunch of tiresome tropes. Baker’s L.A. setting is diverse and naturalistically portrayed, a perfect antidote to the often white-washed and overly-romanticized settings that plague urban fantasy. Baker hasn’t rewritten the book on the genre, and there’s plenty here that will be familiar to connoisseurs, but she’s certainly raised the bar.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

I honestly don’t know how much longer I can wait for the sequel to Zen Cho’s lovely debut novel (2018, apparently, according to Goodreads). Sorcerer to the Crown is a brightly original fantasy of manners that I haven’t gone a week without thinking of since I read it prior to its release in 2015. If romping homages to Jane Austen starring POC, magical school girls, Malaysian vampires and dragons aren’t major features in the future of fantasy, I’m going to be deeply disappointed.

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is one of the most popular writers of Afrofuturist fiction, and her novella, Binti, in which a young Himba woman goes on a dangerously fraught journey to attend university on another planet, won last year’s Best Novella Hugo Award. The sequel to Binti is even better than its predecessor, bringing Binti back to Earth, where she and her friend Okwu struggle to communicate their experiences and their connection to Binti’s people. The conclusion of the series—Binti: The Night Masquerade—is scheduled for a September publication, when we should find out if and how Binti can integrate her multiple identities and remain true to herself and her family and culture.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Sometimes, you just want to read a whimsical story about two weirdos growing up and falling in love and growing apart and finding each other again during an apocalypse, and if you’re lucky All the Birds in the Sky is the book you grab. With Patricia and Lawrence, Charlie Jane Anders manages to create a pair of protagonists who feel both mythologically archetypal and often painfully real, and their journeys together and apart are remarkably well-realized stories of self-discovery. Anders explores the relationship between science and magic in the modern world with humor and heart and an epic showdown reminiscent of the end of Good Omens, though without any bikers.

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy is almost certainly the most important work of epic fantasy to come out this decade, and if it doesn’t become as widely read and influential as Lord of the Rings, there’s no justice in the world. The Fifth Season is a beautifully written, intricately woven story that draws its inspiration more from literature, history and science than from other notable works within the genre, making for a truly novel reading experience that can’t be adequately explained without spoiling its surprises. Dealing with themes of slavery, oppression, and apocalyptic crisis, The Fifth Season is sometimes harrowing, often bittersweet, but always marvelous.

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Social sci-fi has long been due for a renaissance, and with her Terra Ignota series Ada Palmer seems keen to kick it off. Told as a written history from the point of view of the convict Mycroft Canner, Too Like the Lightning (and its recent sequel, Seven Surrenders) tell the story of a world no longer governed by nation states. Instead, people in the future have organized themselves into Hives that adhere to various styles of government founded on principles of Enlightenment philosophies. After three hundred years of peace and prosperity, however, someone (or someones) decide to look the gift horse in the mouth. It’s a cleverly imagined, near-perfectly realized vision of a future that is fully rooted in identity of humans as denizens of the Earth. Rather than exploring how we might screw up the galaxy if we leave our planet, Palmer has decided to explore the ways in which we might succeed or fail right here at home.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

There was never any way that I wasn’t going to fall hopelessly in love with Becky Chambers’ vision of the future. Chambers’ books are smart, funny, warm and optimistic enough that they border on cloying, but they’re also full of sincerity and basic human decency and found families finding each other. They’re a little bit Star Trek and a little bit Firefly and a lot their own, uniquely charming thing, and they’re best enjoyed curled up in your favorite blanket with a cup of your favorite drink for the ultimate sci-fi comfort-reading experience. Goodness knows we can all use that from time to time and as much now as ever.