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Women-only science fiction anthologies

Men-only sf anthologies are hardly rare, and anthologies where the male writers hugely outnumber the female writers on the table of contents are sadly commonplace. But there have been attempts in the past to redress this. As far as I can discover, there have been thirteen women-only sf anthologies published since the 1970s, and one that describes itself as a feminist anthology and has mostly female contributors. Late this year, of course, we get Alex Dally MacFarlane’s The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what stories she has chosen. But for the time-being, there are…

venusThe Venus Factor, Vic Ghidalia & Roger Elwood, eds. (1972) This is the earliest women-only sf anthology of which I’m aware. It appears to have been sold on the fact it contains “Agatha Christie’s only science fiction story”, ‘The Last Séance’. The remaining stories are by Cynthia Asquith, Gertrude Atherton, Miriam Allen deFord, and the more familiar Zenna Henderson, Anne McCaffrey, Judith Merril and CL Moore. It covers most of the decades from sf’s beginnings to the book’s publication, with Christie’s story from the 1920s, three from the 1930s, one from the 1950s and three from the 1960s.

wowWomen of Wonder, Pamela Sargent, ed. (1975) Perhaps the most celebrated of the women-only sf anthologies – or rather, the trilogy which this book begins is perhaps the most celebrated. Sargent lays out her agenda in an excellent introduction (in fact, all three Women of Wonder anthologies are worth getting for Sargent’s introductions) – this is more than just science fiction “by women about women”, it’s about women’s place in the genre, and in the history of the genre, as both protagonists and writers. There are no obscure names in the table of contents, and one story even won a Nebula Award. The stories are by Sonya Dorman, Judith Merril, Katherine McLean, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, Kit Reed, Kate Wilhelm, Carol Emshwiller, Ursula K Le Guin, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Joanna Russ and Vonda N McIntyre, and date from 1948 to 1973. I reviewed it on SF Mistressworks here.

mwowMore Women Of Wonder, Pamela Sargent, ed. (1976) Although the Women of Wonder anthologies were plainly intended to demonstrate that, “Look! Women write science fiction too!”, Sargent does seem to draw her contributions from a relatively small pool. Admittedly, she explains that the anthologies are as much about sf stories about women as they are sf stories by women. Appearing in this volume are CL Moore, Leigh Brackett, Joanna Russ, Josephine Saxton, Kate Wilhelm, Joan D Vinge and Ursula K Le Guin, three of whom appeared in the earlier volume. I reviewed the anthology on SF Mistressworks here.

auroroaAurora: Beyond Equality, Vonda N McIntyre & Susan Janice Anderson, eds. (1976) This billed itself as a “feminist science fiction anthology” because its contents were not contributed wholly by women – three of the stories in the anthology were by men, David J Skal, PJ Plauger and Craig Strete. The remaining stories were provided by James Tiptree Jr (twice), Mildred Downey Broxon, Ursula K Le Guin, Joanna Russ and Marge Piercy. The stories are all original to the anthology.

crystalThe Crystal Ship, Robert Silverberg, ed. (1976) Although a male sf writer’s name appears prominently on the cover of this book, it actually contains three original novellas by women: ”The Crystal Ship’ by Joan D Vinge, ‘Megan’s World’ by Marta Randall and ‘Screwtop’ by Vonda N McIntyre. The last also appeared in The New Women of Wonder (see SF Mistressworks review here), and was published in 1989 as one half of a Tor double with James Tiptree Jr’s ‘The Girl Who Was Plugged In’.

millennialMillennial Women, Virginia Kidd, ed. (1978) Kidd was a member of the Futurians and an influential editor. While this anthology is perhaps not as strong as any of the Women of Wonder anthologies, it does present a wide variety of sf stories – provided by Cynthia Felice, Marilyn Hacker, Diana L Paxson, Elizabeth A Lynn, Cherry Wilder, Joan D Vinge and Ursula K Le Guin. Some editions of the book were sold as Le Guin’s short novel, “Eye of the Heron and other stories”, with Le Guin’s name most prominent on the cover. I reviewed it on SF Mistressworks here.

nwowThe New Women of Wonder, Pamela Sargent, ed. (1978) The third and final Women of Wonder anthologies until their 1995 reboot. Sargent once again turns mainly to women writers she has previously published – only Eleanor Arnason, Pamela Zoline and James Triptree Jr are new in this volume. Mind you, their three stories are pretty much stone-cold classics of the genre. Also inside are stories by Sonya Dorman, Vonda N McIntyre, Josephine Saxton, Kit Reed, Carol Emshwiller, Joanna Russ, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Joan D Vinge. This volume is the strongest of the three. I reviewed it on SF Mistressworks here.

cassandraCassandra Rising, Alice Laurance, ed. (1978) Not an easy book to find, this anthology contains nineteen original stories by Ursula K Le Guin, Kay Rogers, Joan Bernott, Zenna Henderson, Katherine MacLean, Kathleen Sky, Rachel Cosgrove Payes, Josephine Saxton, Grania Davis, Raylyn Moore, Alice Laurance, Anne McCaffrey, Steve Barnes, Barbara Paul, Sydney J Van Scyoc, Beverly Goldberg, Miriam Allen deFord & Juanita Coulson, Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Steve Barnes, incidentally, is not male writer Steven Barnes but the pen-name of Margaret L Barnes (an introductory note explains she uses it “as a way of preserving her family name, Stephenson, lost in marriage”). Judging by some of the introductory comments to the stories made by Laurance, this was an open submission anthology, which may explain the presence of the more unfamiliar names. There is also a foreword by Andre Norton.

spaceAsimov’s Space of Her Own, Shawna McCarthy, ed. (1983) As the title indicates, this anthology contains women-authored stories originally published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Asimov’s regularly published themed anthologies of contents drawn from the magazine – McCarthy herself edited four of thirty such anthologies. The contents date entirely from 1981 to 1983, and are provided by Connie Willis, Mary Gentle, Leigh Kennedy, Sydney J Van Scyoc, Ursula K Le Guin, Pamela Sargent, Joan D Vinge, Julie Stevens, Mildred Downey Broxon, Cyn Mason, PA Kagan, Sharon Webb, Pat Cadigan, Lee Killough, PJ MacQuarrie, Tanith Lee, Stephanie A Smith, Cherie Wilkerson, Janet Asimov, Beverly Grant and Hope Athearn. None of the stories are especially well-known.

despatchesDespatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind, Sarah LeFanu & Jen Green, eds. (1985) During the 1980s, The Women’s Press published a number of science fiction paperbacks by women writers, all in similar grey livery. This was the only anthology. It contains original stories by Josephine Saxton, Margaret Elphinstone, Joanna Russ, Gwyneth Jones, Beverley Ireland, Tanith Lee, Lannah Battley, Pamela Zoline, Mary Gentle, Frances Gapper, Lisa Tuttle, Pearlie McNeill, Naomi Mitchison, Zoe Fairbairns, Penny Casdagli, Raccoona Shedlon (AKA James Tiptree Jr) and Sue Thomason. Many of the authors also had novels published by The Women’s Press, reprints and original. The Zoline is a coup – she has only ever written five stories… and one of them was original to her collection, Busy About the Tree of Life. Jack Deighton reviewed Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind on SF Mistressworks here.

newevesNew Eves: Science Fiction About the Extraordinary Women of Today and Tomorrow, Forrest J Ackerman, Janrae Frank & Jean Marie Stine, eds. (1994) An excellent introduction to science fiction by women from the genre’s beginnings through to the year of publication of the anthology – indeed, the anthology is organised by decade. The editors’ introduction is mostly good, but sabotages itself with a final section which undermines the quite sensible argument presented in the preceding pages – no doubt the lone male editor insisted on this. The stories are organised into sections by decade: ‘The 20s & 30s’, ‘The 40s’, ‘The 50s’, ‘The 60s & 70s’ and ‘The 80s – and Beyond’. Not all of the older stories work for modern readers, but it’s good that they’re documented – works by Francis Stevens (AKA Gertrude Barrows Bennett), Leslie F Stone and Hazel Heald, for example. Later authors may be better known but there are still many who have been unfairly forgotten. I reviewed the anthology on SF Mistressworks here and here.

wowcalssicsWomen of Wonder: the Classic Years, Pamela Sargent, ed. (1995) The first of a pair of reboots of the Women of Wonder series, it actually contains more stories than the the original three volumes – and, in fact, contains many of the stories from those anthologies. Zenna Henderson, Margaret St Clair and Lisa Tuttle are new to the volume, and CL Moore, Leigh Brackett, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Joan D Vinge are all represented by different stories than those in the Women of Wonder trilogy. As for the rest… The stories by Judith Merril, Katherine McLean, Anne McCaffrey, Sonya Dorman, Kit Reed, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Joanna Russ and Vonda N McIntyre all originally appeared in Women of Wonder; those by Josephine Saxton, Kate Wilhelm and Ursula K Le Guin were in More Women Of Wonder; and the stories by Pamela Zoline, James Tiptree Jr and Eleanor Arnason were in The New Women of Wonder. There is enough of a difference to consider buying this book if you own the original trilogy, perhaps less of a reason to track down the three Women of Wonder anthologies if you have this one.

wowconWomen of Wonder: the Contemporary Years, Pamela Sargent, ed. (1995) While the “classic” volume covered the years 1948 to 1977, the years covered by Sargent’s original trilogy, this one covers the following two decades – with stories from 1978 to 1993. Contributions are provided by CJ Cherryh, Tanith Lee, Suzy McKee Charnas, Carol Emshwiller, Sydney J Van Scyoc, Angela Carter, Mary Gentle, Octavia E Butler, Jayge Carr, Rosaleen Love, Sheila Finch, Pat Cadigan, Pat Murphy, Karen Joy Fowler, Judith Moffett, Connie Willis, Lisa Goldstein, Nancy Kress, Storm Constantine and Rebecca Ore. Although there are names in common with New Eves: Science Fiction About the Extraordinary Women of Today and Tomorrow, there is very little overlap – only the Van Scyoc story, in fact. I reviewed it for SF Mistressworks here and here.

doeDaughters of Earth, Justine Larbalestier, ed. (2006) Unlike the other anthologies in this post, Daughters of Earth is a mix of fiction and non-fiction, as each of the stories is followed by an essay discussing that story and/or its author. Daughters of Earth also covers the widest spread of time of all the anthologies named above - the earliest story is from 1927 and the latest from 2002. The fiction is provided by Clare Winger Harris, Leslie F Stone, Alice Eleanor Jones, Kate Wilhelm, Pamela Zoline, James Tiptree Jr, Lisa Tuttle, Pat Murphy, Octavia E Butler, Gwyneth Jones and Karen Joy Fowler. Some of these stories have appeared in other anthologies mentioned in this post; one or two of them I consider personal favourite sf stories. The non-fiction is provided by Jane L Donawerth, Brian Attebery, Lisa Yaszek, Josh Lukin, Mary E Papke, Wendy Pearson, Cathy Hawkins, Joan Haran, Andrea Hairston, Veronica Hollinger and L Timmel Duchamp. If this anthology has a fault, it’s that it could do with being much larger – it contains eleven pieces of fiction, but I can think of at least another dozen I think deserve the same treatment.

I’ve mentioned throughout this post where reviews of the anthologies on SF Mistressworks exist, and I’ve linked to those reviews. The ones that have yet to be reviewed… will be some time during this year – as I own copies of them all. For those interested in reading more on the subject, there is Partners in Wonder by Eric Leif Davin, The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction by Justine Larbalestier, Decoding Gender in Science Fiction and, if you can find a copy, Future Females: A Critical Anthology by Marleen S Barr. There are probably many other books on feminist science fiction, as well as books on, or by, individual feminist writers – for example, Joanna Russ: On Joanna Russ by Farah Mendlesohn or The Country You Have Never Seen by Russ herself. And, of course, everyone should own a copy of Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing

ETA: Despite owning copies of them, I managed to miss out both Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind and Cassandra Rising, as noted in the comments below. I have now added them. Other people have pointed me in the direction of themed all-women anthologies from major publishers and small presses, many of which include both science fiction and fantasy. Those, I think, are a post for another day. The above are explicitly science fiction anthologies, covering the historical spread of the genre and demonstrating that women have been writing sf since its beginnings.


The SF Mistresswork list, revised

Who remembers the SF Mistressworks meme, a list of science fiction by women writers from the twentieth century (and earlier)? I originally posted it in March 2011 (see here), and it then inspired me to create the SF Mistressworks website. Which is still going strong.

But that original list had a few problems. A couple of the titles I’d proposed turned out to be fantasy and not science fiction; and one writer even proved to be male – well, I never can remember which is male and which is female from Lesley and Leslie… The list also contained only 91 books, as I’d not managed to think of 100 suitable titles.

But three years later, I’ve read a lot more sf by women writers, and I’ve done more research on the topic. So I felt it was time for a new version of the list. Also, many more of the books are now available once again – either published by small presses, or made available on Kindle by the SF Gateway or the authors themselves self-publishing their back-catalogue.

The list below mostly unchanged from the original – I’ve simply expanded it to 100, removed the fantasy novels, made a few alternative selections for a couple of writers, and added some more writers I’d unfairly missed off first time around. It now looks like this:

  1. Frankenstein*, Mary Shelley (1818)
  2. Herland†, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1915)
  3. Orlando, Virginia Woolf (1928)
  4. Lest Ye Die, Cicely Hamilton (1928)
  5. Swastika Night, Katharine Burdekin (1937)
  6. Shadow on the Hearth, Judith Merril (1950)
  7. Judgment Night, CL Moore (1952)
  8. The Sword of Rhiannon, Leigh Brackett (1953)
  9. Agent of the Unknown, Margaret St Clair (1956)
  10. Pilgrimage: The Book of the People, Zenna Henderson (1961)
  11. Catseye, Andre Norton (1961)
  12. Memoirs of a Spacewoman†, Naomi Mitchison (1962)
  13. Sunburst, Phyllis Gotlieb (1964)
  14. Heroes and Villains, Angela Carter (1969)
  15. Armed Camps, Kit Reed (1969)
  16. Darkover Landfall, Marion Zimmer Bradley (1972)
  17. Ten Thousand Light-years from Home, James Tiptree Jr (1973)
  18. The Dispossessed*, Ursula K LeGuin (1974)
  19. Walk to the End of the World†, Suzy McKee Charnas (1974)
  20. Star Rider†, Doris Piserchia (1974)
  21. The Female Man*†, Joanna Russ (1975
  22. Missing Man, Katherine MacLean (1975)
  23. Arslan*, MJ Engh (1976)
  24. Don’t Bite the Sun, Tanith Lee (1976)
  25. Floating Worlds*, Cecelia Holland (1976)
  26. Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang*, Kate Wilhelm (1976)
  27. Islands, Marta Randall (1976)
  28. Dreamsnake, Vonda N McIntyre (1978)
  29. False Dawn, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (1978)
  30. Shikasta, Doris Lessing (1979)
  31. Kindred†, Octavia Butler (1979)
  32. Benefits, Zoe Fairbairns (1979)
  33. Leviathan’s Deep, Jayge Carr (1979)
  34. A Voice Out of Ramah, Lee Killough (1979)
  35. The Snow Queen, Joan D Vinge (1980)
  36. The Silent City†, Élisabeth Vonarburg (1981)
  37. The Many-Coloured Land, Julian May (1981)
  38. Darkchild, Sydney J Van Scyoc (1982)
  39. The Crystal Singer, Anne McCaffery (1982)
  40. Native Tongue†, Suzette Haden Elgin (1984)
  41. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (1985)
  42. Jerusalem Fire, RM Meluch (1985)
  43. The Children of Anthi, Jay D Blakeney (1985)
  44. The Dream Years, Lisa Goldstein (1985)
  45. Last Letters from Hav, Jan Morris (1985)
  46. Queen of the States†, Josephine Saxton (1986)
  47. The Wave and the Flame, Marjorie Bradley Kellogg (1986)
  48. The Journal of Nicholas the American, Leigh Kennedy (1986)
  49. A Door into Ocean†, Joan Slonczewski (1986)
  50. Angel At Apogee, SN Lewitt (1987)
  51. In Conquest Born, CS Friedman (1987)
  52. Pennterra, Judith Moffett (1987)
  53. Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988)
  54. Cyteen, CJ Cherryh (1988)
  55. Unquenchable Fire*, Rachel Pollack (1988)
  56. The City, Not Long After, Pat Murphy (1988)
  57. Carmen Dog†, Carol Emshwiller (1988)
  58. The Steerswoman, Rosemary Kirstein (1989)
  59. The Third Eagle, RA MacAvoy (1989)
  60. Grass*, Sheri S Tepper (1989)
  61. Heritage of Flight, Susan Shwartz (1989)
  62. Falcon, Emma Bull (1989)
  63. The Archivist, Gill Alderman (1989)
  64. Winterlong, Elizabeth Hand (1990)
  65. A Gift Upon the Shore, MK Wren (1990)
  66. Red Spider, White Web, Misha (1990)
  67. Polar City Blues, Katherine Kerr (1990)
  68. He, She and It (AKA Body of Glass), Marge Piercy (1991)
  69. Sarah Canary*, Karen Joy Fowler (1991)
  70. Beggars in Spain, Nancy Kress (1991)
  71. A Woman of the Iron People, Eleanor Arnason (1991)
  72. Hermetech, Storm Constantine (1991)
  73. Synners, Pat Cadigan (1991)
  74. China Mountain Zhang, Maureen F McHugh (1992)
  75. Correspondence†, Sue Thomas (1992)
  76. Lost Futuress, Lisa Tuttle (1992)
  77. Doomsday Book*, Connie Willis (1992)
  78. Ammonite*, Nicola Griffith (1993)
  79. The Holder of the World†, Bharati Mukherjee (1993)
  80. Dancing on the Volcano, Anne Gay (1993)
  81. Queen City Jazz, Kathleen Ann Goonan (1994)
  82. Happy Policeman, Patricia Anthony (1994)
  83. Shadow Man, Melissa Scott (1995)
  84. Legacies, Alison Sinclair (1995)
  85. Primary Inversion, Catherine Asaro (1995)
  86. Alien Influences, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (1995)
  87. The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell (1996)
  88. Memory, Lois McMaster Bujold (1996)
  89. Remnant Population, Elizabeth Moon (1996)
  90. Looking For The Mahdi, N Lee Wood (1996)
  91. An Exchange of Hostages, Susan R Matthews (1997)
  92. Fool’s War, Sarah Zettel (1997)
  93. Black Wine, Candace Jane Dorsey (1997)
  94. A Thousand Words for Stranger, Julie E Czernada (1997)
  95. Halfway Human, Carolyn Ives Gilman (1998)
  96. Vast, Linda Nagata (1998)
  97. Hand of Prophecy, Severna Park (1998)
  98. Brown Girl In The Ring, Nalo Hopkinson (1998)
  99. Dreaming In Smoke, Tricia Sullivan (1999)
  100. Ash: A Secret History, Mary Gentle (2000)



Although there were around sixty women actively writing science fiction or fantasy in the 1940s, I can’t find a sf novel written by any of them which was published in that decade. Several of the writers on the list are better known as writers of fantasy, but they have written science fiction and that’s what I’ve listed. Books in Gollancz’s SF Masterworks series I’ve marked with an asterisk (*) – many of these were added to the series after I posted the original list three years ago. Books that were published by The Women’s Press back in the 1980s/1990s I’ve marked with a dagger (†).

Myself, I’ve read 49 of the books, and have a further eight on the TBR. Forty-eight of the books have also been reviewed on SF Mistressworks, some of them several times.

Finally, are there any writers I’ve missed who really belong on the list? Don’t forget it’s books published up until 2000. Perhaps some of the books on the list are not the author’s best work, perhaps another title would better. One or two were, I admit, judgement calls – for example, Marge Piercy’s He, She and It (as Body of Glass) won the Clarke Award in 1992 but is no longer in print; her Woman on the Edge of Time, however, is (but it was also first published in 1976, and I felt I had more than enough books from that year). There are, as far as I’m aware, only two cheats on the list – Tiptree is represented by a collection rather than a novel; and Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind is an anthology  - and, to be honest, there are a good number of women-only sf anthologies which might be better choices.

ETA: removed Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind as it’s an anthology, and added Joachim Boaz’s suggestion of Kit Reed’s Armed Camps. I’ll be posting a list of women-only sf anthologies shortly.

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Popping up here and there in 2013

I meant to post this last weekend, but never managed to. Anyway, I didn’t spend all of 2013 reading, or reading for and then writing a book of the Apollo Quartet. I also managed to contribute some non-fiction here and there – and I don’t just mean reviews on SF Mistressworks, in Interzone, or here on my blog. Or the occasional article-ette/rant I posted here – on topics as diverse as  An epistemological model of (speculative) fiction, gateway sf books, and deep sea exploration and deep sea exploration in science fiction.  In fact, I did the following…

I contributed to The Books We Didn’t Love mind meld on SF Signal.

I gave a talk at the National Space Centre, with Chris Becket and Philip Palmer. See here.

I spoke about “the science in science fiction” to the University of Sheffield Natural History Society. See here (includes the text of my talk).

I contributed to The Successors of Orwell’s 1984 mind meld on SF Signal.

I also contributed to the Great SF/F Stories By Women mind meld on SF Signal, which was prompted by my 100 Great Science Fiction Short Stories by Women list on my blog.

And I wrote an introduction to Set it in Space and Shovel Coal into it, an anthology of steampunk(-ish) fiction by the Sheffield SFF Writers’ Group.


I contributed to the What’s On Your Mount To Be Read Book Pile mind meld at SF Signal.

I wrote a guest post on Why I Turned My Back On The Masters for the Nerds of a Feather blog.

I also wrote a guest post on Women in Science Fiction for the Little Red Reviewer blog.

I wrote a guest post on Iain Banks for Fantástica – Ficción – they were kind enough to translate it into Spanish. The post includes a never-seen-before photograph of Banks I took at the 1990 Eastercon in the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool.

And I guest-edited issue 61 of Focus, “the British Science Fiction Association’s magazine for writers”, on the topics of self-publishing and social media. Contributions were provided by Geoff Nelder, Gary Gibson, William King, Tony Ballantyne, Colin Tate, Keith Brooke, Vaughan Stanger, Darren Nash, Joyce Chng, RB Harkness, Berit Ellingsen, Jonathan McCalmont, Del Lakin-Smith, Donna Scott, Danie Ware and Helen Arney.


Ancillary Justice

Every couple of years, a science fiction novel appears which seems to generate a tremendous amount of positive buzz among my online genre friends and acquaintances. In 2011, it was Kameron Hurley’s God’s War, the first of a trilogy, which went on to win the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award and appear on the short list for the Nebula Award. This year, it’s Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, which is also a debut novel and the first book in a trilogy. I’m also seeing a lot more word-of-mouth for Ancillary Justice than I remember seeing for God’s War, and I suspect it will do better in the various genre awards than Hurley’s debut.


But then Ancillary Justice is located much closer to genre heartland than God’s War, and the interesting things it does – and it does a number of interesting things – are, I suspect, more generally acceptable than those in Hurley’s book. Both suffer structurally, but where God’s War had a choppy start, Ancillary Justice has a weak ending… and I have to wonder if that is felt to be a more forgivable sin. Having said that, Ancillary Justice is a richer brew in heartland sf terms than God’s War – richer, in fact, than a great many 2013 science fiction novels – but I don’t feel it fully explores everything it has to say. God’s War at least aggressively interrogated its tropes. Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Ancillary Justice or feel it is a bad book. It is a very strong debut, and I have every intention of picking up the remaining two books in the trilogy when they are published.

First of all, let’s get the gender thing out of the way. Throughout Ancillary Justice, “she” is used as the default pronoun. This is allegedly because the narrator, Breq, comes from a culture which speaks an ungendered language. The problem here is that an ungendered language by definition possesses no gender, whereas “she” is very much a gendered term. The effect on the reader in English of using the word “she” as a default is not the effect it has on the characters within the story. Cause and effect are uncoupled. However, the effect on the reader does force a specific reading of the story. Leckie is making the reader interrogate their own perceptions of gender by using “she”, even if the argument for its use in the world of the story is weak. When Breq deals with speakers of other languages, ones that do use gendered pronouns, she frequently exhibits confusion over which pronoun to use. She uses visual clues to decide which is appropriate – there are, for instance, several references to clothing making this process difficult. But gender is not biological sex – and this is something that has been explored by science fiction over several decades. Numerous people have drawn comparisons between Ancillary Justice and Samuel R Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand which, I think, interrogates the concept of social gender more rigorously than Ancillary Justice. I like that Leckie has forced the reader to examine their own gender defaults, and I think that’s an interesting thing to do… but I’m not totally persuaded the world Leckie has created fully explores that aspect of the story.

Breq is the only surviving “ancillary” of an AI. Ancillaries are human bodies used as avatars – real-life “meat puppets”, if you will. As a result, AIs operate in effect as distributed intelligences. It’s a neat idea, but Leckie only skims the surface of it. Admittedly, for much of the book Breq is confined to a single body – once she was an avatar of the controlling AI of a warship, but now she is as effectively human as the person whose body she hijacked. Leckie plays the ancillaries as single intelligences with simply a much vaster range of sensory inputs. When Breq was One Esk, a troop of ancillaries on the troop carrier Justice of Toren, Leckie makes numerous references to the narrator’s ability to know what is happening in various different places, to call up information at will, and to monitor in great detail the human officers under whose command she serves. I’m not entirely convinced by Leckie’s presentation of an AI character, or its distributed nature – but then, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever found the presentation of AIs in science fiction especially convincing. Further, the plot of Ancillary Justice is actually hung from this incomplete version of a distributed intelligence – although how incomplete, or indeed different, is difficult to judge as unlike Breq we do not see that character from the inside.

While the gender thing and Breq’s once-distributed nature are the two most obviously arresting aspects of Ancillary Justice – and also appear to be the most remarked upon in reviews; as, er, I am doing in this review myself – there are a number of other elements to the story and world-building which I think are much more fascinating. I said earlier that Ancillary Justice was a rich brew, and it’s the combination of tropes Leckie has used, tropes which are not normally thrown together, or on which she has put a different and original spin, that I think make Ancillary Justice such an interesting sf novel.

Justice of Toren, the ship Breq-as-AI originally controlled, was operated by the Radch, a human civilisation led by Anaander Mianaai. Like the AIs, Mianaai has many bodies, thousands of them, and so rules the Radchaai by effectively being ubiquitous. The Radch is fervently imperialist, and has been operating a campaign of “annexation” on other human-populated worlds for over a thousand years. The Radchaai economy demands this – the Radch seem themselves as “civilised” and superior to all others (especially non-humans), and obviously they cannot maintain a society based on such a view without an ever-expanding underclass. There are many ways of reading the politics embedded in Ancillary Justice – an attack on neoliberalism, on neocons, on contemporary US politics… They all work. Nor do they overwhelm the story.

Which, such as it is, is presented in a format which hides its simplicity. Justice of Toren becomes inadvertently embroiled in an internal Radchaai struggle, kicked off by a pair of historical incidents involving alien races, most especially the Presger who are more powerful than the Radch. Ancillary Justice tells its story in two narratives strands. One is set in the present. Justice of Toren now survives only as Breq, a single ancillary survivor from thousands that had been used, or held in storage, on the ship. A second narrative takes place years earlier, when Breq was One Esk and is policing a city on a world that has been annexed. A Radchaai conspiracy intrudes, and One Esk and her officer, Lieutenant Awn, are caught up in it. Breq is the sole survivor of the fall-out from that incident and vows revenge on Mianaai. to that end, she travels to the world of Nilt to find a special undetectable gun which renders Radchaai armour useless. On Nilt, she stumbles across Seivarden, a Radchaai lieutenant recently revived after a thousand years frozen following the loss of her ship in battle. Seivarden is also now a drug addict. Breq remembers Seivarden, and decides to help her return to Radchaai space, although Seivarden is initially reluctant and ungrateful.

The two narratives build one upon the other, the historical one revealing the motivation for the present-day one, and the present-day one in turn making clear the actual events in the past. While it makes for a slow start, the structure actually allows Leckie to dole out exposition without interrupting the flow of the story. As the novel progresses, so its pace increases until the point where the two narratives meet – or rather, one is folded into the other – at the climax. Leckie’s world-building throughout Ancillary Justice is superb, and she manages to evoke multiple distinct cultures in detail. Perhaps at times the novel feels a bit like a Le Guin story crashing into a Susan R Matthews one, but that’s no bad thing – both are authors whose works I like and admire. Some have also remarked on an element of Iain M Banks to Ancillary Justice‘s world-building, though that may have been prompted by the presence of the AIs (ie, Minds) and the names of the characters. I don’t see a Banksian sensibility at work in Ancillary Justice, even though Ancillary Justice and Banks’s Culture novels are, beneath their space opera patina, both political sf.

Ancillary Justice is novel whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And yet some of its parts still manage that intellectual punch to the head – a “wonderpunch”, if you will – you expect in the best science fiction. There is a point in John Varley’s The Ophiuchi Hotline (1977) where the main characters travel out to the Oort Cloud and discover why aliens have been transmitting the eponymous beam of free information at the Solar System. In a meeting with these “Traders”, Varley throws away entire science fiction novels in a handful of lines -

“A few thousand. To get a representative sample. After that, we can learn humanity from each other.” He paused. “We know this is a strange request. The fact is, it is the only thing your race has to offer us. It is the only reason we have bothered to send you the things we have discovered and collected over seven million years.” (p 222)

Such a massive change in scale, delivered offhand in a few lines of dialogue, can’t help but provoke sense of wonder. Leckie does something very similar in Ancillary Justice, and it is the implications of this which I think proves one of the novel’s more fascinating elements:

When most people spoke of Radch, they meant all of Radchaai territory, but in truth the Radch was a single location, a Dyson sphere, enclosed, self-contained. Nothing ritually impure was allowed within, no one uncivilized or nonhuman could enter its confines. Very, very few of Mianaai’s clients had ever set foot there, and only a few houses existed who even had ancestors who had once lived there. (p 235)

Bear in mind that a Dyson sphere with a radius equal to the Earth’s distance from the Sun would have a habitable inner surface equivalent to 550 million Earths. Imagine the size of a civilisation which filled that and still needed to expand in order to fuel its economy. I would also guess the Dyson sphere is an artefact colonised by the Radch, since nothing in Ancillary Justice suggests they are capable of building it.

Not everyone has reacted positively to Ancillary Justice, although it’s hard to see how in comparison to other science fiction novels published this year it can’t fail to stand out. If I was afraid that the success of James SA Corey’s Leviathan Wakes meant that space opera was regressing, then I’m glad to say that Ancillary Justice shows that progress is still possible and desirable. Leckie’s novel gives me hope that science fiction is a genre it is still worth reading. Recommended.


Goings on and off

Last weekend saw numerous awards handed out in science fiction and fantasy. Sadly, Adrift on the Sea of Rains didn’t win the 2012 Sidewise Award for Short-Form Alternate History. That went to Rick Wilber’s ‘Something Real’, first published in Asimov’s and apparently about a baseball player who turns spy during an alternate WWII. Still, I was surprised, and very pleased, to be shortlisted – and while The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself may be predominantly hard sf, Then Will The Great Wash Deep Above is pretty much pure alternate history… So maybe next year.

Of course, the best-known award handed out over the weekend was the Hugo Award. In sixteen separate categories. The Hugo is a popular vote award, and its results reflect that. The winner was John Scalzi’s Redshirts, a book I will admit appeals to me not one bit, nor from the reviews I’ve read would it seem to qualify as the best science fiction novel published in 2012. But that’s the way the award works. Good to see Pat Cadigan win a long-deserved Hugo for best novelette, though I think it’s long past time the category was hurled into the outer darkness. The short story ballot contained only three stories and I was disappointed Aliette’s ‘Immersion’ didn’t win, but Ken Liu’s brand of sentimentality seems to be serving him well – this is his second Hugo win in two years. I’m not much interested in the other categories, especially those which cling to old modes of fandom for dear life and are being badly distorted by recent years’ results.

Other big sf news includes the death of Frederik Pohl at the age of 93. He wrote a huge number of books, and I think I’ve read around a dozen of them. Some of them I remember as pretty good, possibly even genre classics – like Gateway and Man Plus – but others seemed very forgettable, such as Narabedla Ltd, Mining the Oort or Homegoing. But that’s an occupational hazard of being so prolific, or having so long a career. However, Pohl was also an influential editor and like a lot of sf authors and editors of his generation helped shape the genre of science fiction as we now know it – for good or ill. Pohl is the second author of his generation to die this year. The other was Jack Vance, who was also very prolific. I think I’ve read about two-thirds of Vance’s sf output. He died back in May. Vance’s fiction had a very distinctive voice, and while his novels were of variable quality they were also very recognisable. He wrote pulp, but it was better-than-average pulp, and occasionally it transcended its pulpish origins. While it’s always sad when writers whose fiction has brought you pleasure die, the books of the late Iain Banks meant far more to me than those of Vance or Pohl.

On a personal note, I recently dropped the price of the paperback edition of The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself for UK buyers by £1 on the Whippleshield Books online shop, so order your copy now. I’ve dropped the ebook price as well – across all platforms and sites. Also, you can now listen to the audio version of Adrift on the Sea of Rains on Starship Sofa (part one is currently up, I assume part 2 will appear this week). Rather than have narrator Logan Waterman read out the glossary, we agreed I would post it online – you can find it here.

I also decided a couple of weeks ago that Whippleshield Books is going to publish a series of mini-anthologies in paperback and ebook, each one containing no more than four or five stories. The submission period doesn’t open until 1 November, and I’ll post more about it then, but here’s the original announcement. I’m also playing around with an idea for a non-genre-specific ebook-only mini-anthology series, but we’ll see how Aphrodite Terra goes. Meanwhile, Apollo Quartet 3 Then Will The Great Wash Deep Above is taking shape nicely. I hope to be able to post the cover art and the back-cover blurb soon.

SF Mistressworks has had to go to a fortnightly schedule. I’ve been providing every other review for the last twelve months, and writing a book review once a fortnight was affecting all the other things I have – or would like – to do. Every other review will still be by me – at least until I build up a bigger backlog of reviews – but now I only have to write one a month. I’d been hoping to get more short fiction done this year but had been finding it difficult. This should help. Incidentally, I have no plans to let SF Mistressworks lapse or close. It’s been going now for over two years, and I plan to keep it running until there are no more eligible books to review – although given its policy of allowing multiple reviews of books, that might never happen…

My list of 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women continues to get hits every day – in fact, it’s the most popular post on this blog by quite a margin. I never managed to figure out how many times it was reblogged on Tumblr, but I think it was in triple figures; and it was also linked to by a number of blogs and other sites. Perhaps it’s time to start working on a 100 Great Science Fiction Novels by Women list… though I’d expect that to prove a lot more contentious (“where’s x?! How dare you miss out y?!). We shall see.

Meanwhile on this blog, I shall continue to write about the books I’ve read, post photographs of the books I’ve bought, try and define science fiction, post pictures of cool aircraft, ships, submersibles, cars, Brutalist buildings and futurist fashions… and write posts on any other topic which takes my fancy at the time. Blogging is allegedly on its way out – why generate original content when you can just reblog someone else’s content? why comment on something when you can just click “like”? – but I think I’ll carry on doing it for a while yet…

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More on 100 great sf stories by women

SF Signal have taken my idea of a list of 100 Great SF Stories by Women and run with it… and today they’ve posted one of their Mind Melds on that very subject. They extended the criteria to include fantasy and horror as well as novel-length fiction. And they’ve invited a host of interesting people to contribute (including, er, me). There’s lots of excellent suggestions for reading material, so go check it out.


Analysis: 100 Great sf stories by women

I have to admit the list of 100 Great science fiction stories by women has done considerably better than I expected, and seems to have gone a little bit viral. Loads of people tweeted a link to it, someone posted it on reddit (where a typically clueless number of discussions subsequently took place), it’s been linked from several blogs and sites (including and SF Signal), and has even appeared on several tumblrs. The hits here have gone through the roof – it is officially my most popular post, with even more hits than the one in which I wrote that Asimov was a shit writer. I was expecting people to turn the list into a meme, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. But it’s not like I’m complaining…

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to stick up a few charts about the list.

The list is slanted a little toward the twenty-first century, but there are more women writing sf now than there were in the first half of last century.

Unsurprisingly, more than half of the list are short stories – ie, 7,500 words or less.

I used the tables of contents of several year’s best to find titles for the list, so these numbers come as no real surprise – but I was surprised to discover that some of the earlier stories had appeared in year’s bests of the 1950s and 1960s.



Again, I looked at award shortlists for titles, so the high number of nominees and winners is not unexpected.

I didn’t use the Locus poll at all, so the number of stories which appeared on it – nearly a third of the list – came as a surprise.

Quite a few of the older stories have been reprinted a huge number of times. The most-reprinted story is Judth Merril’s ‘That Only A Mother’, with 24 reprints, including Women of Wonder – and in my review of that anthology here, I called it “a bona fide classic of the genre”. It seems I’m not the only person who thinks so…


The list: 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women

Now let the arguing begin…

The list below contains 100 pieces of short fiction – short stories, novelettes and novellas – by women writers, published between 1927 and 2012. Each author appears only once. The stories are by no means the best by each writer. In most cases, I’m simply not familiar enough with an oeuvre to choose the best; in other cases, I’ve picked a story I’ve read and thought good, and yes, there are a few of my favourite stories in the list too. I’ve not read them all – some came from suggestions on Twitter or on an earlier post on this blog (many thanks to all who contributed), others I took from various award lists or Year’s Best TOCs. One or two fantasy stories might have sneaked through the net, because I couldn’t find copies to read and check. However, the list should all be science fiction – and it should also demonstrate a good spread of styles and themes and approaches across the genre.

The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that women have been writing good science fiction since the beginnings of the genre – a point signally ignored by the table of contents of the 1978 anthology 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories, which contained only five stories by women. The first story on this list, for example, came third in a competition in Amazing Stories during the magazine’s second year of publication.

1 ‘The Fate of the Poseidonia’, Clare Winger Harris (1927, short story) online here
2 ‘The Conquest of Gola,’ Leslie F Stone (1931, short story) available in
3 ‘Water Pirate’, Leigh Brackett (1941, short story) available in
4 ‘Space Episode’, Leslie Perri (1941, short story) available in
5 ‘No Woman Born’, CL Moore (1944, novelette) available in
6 ‘That Only a Mother’, Judith Merril (1948, short story) available in
7 ‘Contagion’, Katherine Maclean (1950, novelette) available in
8 ‘Brightness Falls from the Air’, Margaret St Clair [as Idris Seabright] (1951, short story) available in
9 ‘All Cats are Gray’, Andre Norton (1953, short story) available in
10 ‘The Last Day’, Helen Clarkson (1958, short story) available in
11 ‘Captivity’, Zenna Henderson (1958, novella) available in
12 ‘The New You’, Kit Reed (1962, short story) online here
13 ‘The Putnam Tradition’, Sonya Dorman (1963, short story) online here
14 ‘Lord Moon’, MJ Engh [as Jane Beauclerk] (1965, short story) available in
15 ‘Weyr Search’, Anne McCaffrey (1967, novella) available in
16 ‘The Heat Death of the Universe’, Pamela Zoline (1967, short story) online here
17 ‘The Steiger Effect’, Betsy Curtis (1968, short story) available in
18 ‘The Power of Time’, Josephine Saxton (1971, novelette) available in
19 ‘And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side’, James Tiptree Jr (1972, short story) available in
20 ‘When It Changed’, Joanna Russ (1972, short story) online here
21 ‘Sheltering Dream’, Doris Piserchia (1972, short story) available in
22 ‘Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand’, Vonda N McIntyre (1973, novelette) available in
23 ‘Clone Sister’, Pamela Sargent (1973, novelette) available in
24 ‘The Violet’s Embryo’, Angélica Gorodischer (1973, novelette) online here (excerpt)
25 ‘Stone Circle’, Lisa Tuttle (1976, short story) available in
26 ‘Eyes of Amber’, Joan D Vinge (1977, novelette) available in
27 ‘Cassandra, CJ Cherryh (1978, short story) available in
28 ‘The View from Endless Scarp’, Marta Randall (1978, short story) online here
29 ‘Scorched Supper on New Niger’, Suzy McKee Charnas (1980, novelette) available in
30 ‘Abominable’, Carol Emshwiller (1980, short story) available in
31 ‘Sea Changeling’, Mildred Downey Broxon (1981, novelette) available in
32 ‘In the Western Tradition’, Phyllis Eisenstein (1981, novella) available in
33 ‘Her Furry Face’, Leigh Kennedy (1983, short story) available in
34 ‘Bloodchild’ Octavia E Butler (1984, novelette) available in
35 ‘Symphony for a Lost Traveller’, Lee Killough (1984, short story) available in
36 ‘All My Darling Daughters’, Connie Willis (1985, novelette) available in
37 ‘Webrider’, Jayge Carr (1985, short story) available in
38 ‘Out of All Them Bright Stars’, Nancy Kress (1985, short story) available in
39 ‘The View from Venus: A Case Study’, Karen Joy Fowler (1986, novelette) available in
40 ‘Reichs-Peace’, Sheila Finch (1986, novelette) available in
41 ‘Daily Voices’, Lisa Goldstein (1986, short story) available in
42 ‘Rachel in Love’, Pat Murphy (1987, novelette) available in
43 ‘Forever Yours, Anna’, Kate Wilhelm (1987, short story) available in
44 ‘Stable Strategies for Middle Management’, Eileen Gunn (1988, short story) available in
45 ‘War and Rumours of War’, Candas Jane Dorsey (1988, short story) available in
46 ‘The Mountains of Mourning’, Lois McMaster Bujold (1989, novella) available in
47 ‘Tiny Tango’, Judith Moffett (1989, novella) available in
48 ‘Identifying the Object’, Gwyneth Jones (1990, novelette) available in
49 ‘Loose Cannon’, Susan Shwartz (1990, novelette) available in
50 ‘Dispatches from the Revolution’, Pat Cadigan (1991, novelette) available here
51 ‘The Road to Jerusalem’, Mary Gentle (1991, short story) online here
52 ‘The Missionary’s Child’, Maureen F McHugh (1992, novelette) available in
53 ‘The Story So Far’, Martha Soukup (1993, short story) available in
54 ‘The Good Pup’, Bridget McKenna (1993, short story) available in
55 ‘California Dreamer’, Mary Rosenblum (1994, short story) available in
56 ‘Last Summer at Mars Hill’, Elizabeth Hand (1994, novella) available in
57 ‘Coming of Age in Karhide’, Ursula K Le Guin (1995, novelette) available in
58 ‘De Secretis Mulierum’, L Timmel Duchamp (1995, novella) available in
59 ‘Merlusine’, Lucy Sussex (1997, novelette) available in
60 ‘Noble Mold’, Kage Baker (1997, short story) available in
61 ‘All the Birds of Hell’, Tanith Lee (1998, novelette) available in
62 ‘Rain Season’, Leanne Frahm (1998, short story) available in
63 ‘Echea’, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (1998, novelette) available in
64 ‘Patient Zero’, Tananarive Due (2000, short story) online here
65 ‘Knapsack Poems’, Eleanor Arnason (2002, short story) available in
66 ‘State of Oblivion’, Kaaron Warren (2003, short story) available in
67 ‘Inside Out’, Michaela Roessner (2004, short story) online here
68 ‘Griots of the Galaxy’, Andrea Hairston (2004, novelette) available in
69 ‘Riding the White Bull’, Caitlín R Kiernan (2004, novelette) available in
70 ‘The Avatar of Background Noise’, Toiya Kristen Finley (2006, short story) available in
71 ‘Captive Girl’, Jennifer Pelland (2006, short story) online here
72 ‘The Bride Price’, Cat Sparks (2007, short story) available in
73 ‘Tideline’, Elizabeth Bear (2007, short story) online here
74 ‘Arkfall’, Carolyn Ives Gilman (2008, novella) available in
75 ‘Legolas does the Dishes’, Justina Robson (2008, short story) available in
76 ‘The Ecologist and the Avon Lady’, Tricia Sullivan (2008, novelette) available in
77 ‘Infinities’, Vandana Singh (2008, novelette) available in
78 ‘Chica, Let Me Tell You a Story’, Alex Dally MacFarlane (2008, short story) available in
79 ‘Spider the Artist’, Nnedi Okrafor (2008, short story) online here
80 ‘Cold Words’, Juliette Wade (2009, novelette) available in
81 ‘Eros, Philia, Agape’, Rachel Swirsky (2009, novelette) onine here
82 ‘Non-Zero Probabilities’, NK Jemisin (2009, short story) online here
83 ‘Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast’, Eugie Foster (2009, short story) available in
84 ‘It Takes Two’, Nicola Griffith (2009, novelette) available in
85 ‘Blood, Blood’, Abbey Mei Otis (2010, short story) online here and here
86 ‘The Other Graces’, Alice Sola Kim (2010, short story) available in
87 ‘Agents of Repair’, Rosie Oliver (2010, short story) available in
88 ‘Amaryllis’, Carrie Vaughn (2010, short story) online here
89 ‘I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno’, Vylar Kaftan (2010, short story) online here
90 ‘Flying in the Face of God’, Nina Allan (2010, short story) available in
91 ‘Six Months, Three Days’, Charlie Jane Anders (2011, short story) online here
92 ‘Nahiku West’, Linda Nagata (2011, novelette) available in
93 ‘The Cartographer Bees and the Anarchist Wasps’, E Lily Yu (2011, short story) online here
94 ‘Silently and Very Fast’, Catherynne M Valente (2011, novella) online here, here and here
95 ‘Jagannath’, Karin Tidbeck (2011, short story) available in
96 ‘A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel’, Yoon Ha Lee (2011, short story) online here
97 ‘Immersion’, Aliette de Bodard (2012, short story) online here
98 ‘The Lady Astronaut of Mars’, Mary Robinette Kowal (2012, novelette) online here
99 ‘The Green’, Lauren Beukes (2012, short story) available in
100 ‘Significant Dust’, Margo Lanagan (2012, novelette) available in

No doubt there are stories and authors I’ve missed off the list, and which/who you feel strongly should be on it. Tell me so in a comment. Also, feel free to disseminate the list as a meme – you know, bold those you’ve read, italicise those on the TBR; or something like that.

For the record, I’ve read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 47, 48, 53, 55, 57, 58, 64, 65, 70, 73, 74, 75, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 87, 89, 90, 91, 93, 94, 96, 97, 98. Which I make to be sixty-three in total. Not too bad a showing…

This is a list of short fiction – short stories, novelettes and novels. If you’re interested in novels by women sf writers, then check out SF Mistressworks.

This is the easy summary for those on reddit who seem to have trouble understanding the purpose of this list:

  1. It is not novels, it is short stories, novelettes and novellas.
  2. Each writer appears only once.
  3. It is not a list of “best” or “top” sf stories by women. It is “great” because it was inspired by the anthology 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories.
  4. The list demonstrates that women have been writing good science fiction since the genre was created in 1926.
  5. There are many more than 100 excellent women sf writers, but I chose 100 because of the anthology named in point 3.
  6. The gender of the author is not irrelevant. Find me a list of great or top or best sf stories where at least half were written by women. You will fail.
  7. The stories were chosen from a) my own favourites, b) suggestions by other people, c) award shortlists, and d) the tables of contents of Year’s Best anthologies.
  8. I have read 63 of the stories on the list.
  9. There are several authors on the list who have yet to have novels published – ie, new authors.
  10. If there’s someone missing you feel should be on the list, tell me in a comment.
  11. I’m happy to defend all my choices – leave a comment.
  12. Finally, why not click on the links in the list and read those stories which are available online?


Toward 100 Great SF Short Stories by Women

In my review of Women of Wonder, a women-only sf anthology edited by Pamela Sargent, on SF Mistressworks here, I mentioned the anthology 100 Great Science Fiction Short Stories, edited by Isaac Asimov, Joseph D Olander and Martin H Greenberg. It occurred to me it would be a good idea to put together a list, of meme-like properties, of 100 great sf stories by women writers. I can’t do this on my own – I’ve simply not read enough short fiction to pick out enough good stories. So I’m asking for suggestions. There was a bit of a conversation of Twitter today, using the hashtag #100WomenSF. Feel free to suggest there too.

The rules are simple – written by a woman, science fiction only, published in any year up to and including 2012, any length (ie, novelettes and novellas allowed). The list will feature only one piece of fiction per author but don’t let that stop you. Some authors are going to be easier than others, but may well present different problems – everyone can probably name a suitable story by Ursula K Le Guin off the top of their head, but which is her best one?

I had a quick go and managed just over fifty – including some authors appearing more than once (such as Le Guin) because I’ve yet to decide which story belongs in the final list…

Stories I’ve read that I think belong on the list
‘The Conquest of Gola’, Leslie F Stone (1931, short story)
‘No Woman Born’, CL Moore (1944, novelette)
‘That Only a Mother’, Judith Merril (1948, short story)
‘Brightness Falls from the Air’, Margaret St Clair (as Idris Seabright) (1951, short story)
‘The Last Day’, Helen Clarkson (1958, short story)
‘The Heat Death of the Universe’, Pamela Zoline (1967, short story)
‘And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side’, James Tiptree Jr (1972, short story)
‘When It Changed’, Joanna Russ (1972, short story)
‘Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand’, Vonda N Mcintyre (1973, novelette)
‘Scorched Supper on New Niger’, Suzy McKee Charnas (1980, novelette)
‘Bloodchild’, Octavia E Butler (1984, novelette)
‘All My Darling Daughters’, Connie Willis (1985, novelette)
‘Webrider’, Jayge Carr (1985, short story)
‘Out of All Them Bright Stars’, Nancy Kress (1985, short story)
‘The View from Venus: A Case Study’, Karen Joy Fowler (1986, novelette)
‘Reichs-Peace’, Sheila Finch (1986, novelette)
‘Rachel in Love’, Pat Murphy (1987, novelette)
‘Tiny Tango’, Judith Moffett (1989, novella)
‘Identifying the Object’, Gwyneth Jones (1990, novelette)
‘The Road to Jerusalem’, Mary Gentle (1991, short story)
‘Coming of Age in Karhide’, Ursula K Le Guin (1995, novelette)
‘The Avatar of Background Noise’, Toiya Kristen Finley (2006, short story)
‘Arkfall’, Carolyn Ives Gilman (2008, novella)
‘Legolas Does the Dishes’, Justina Robson (2008, short story)
‘Immersion’, Aliette de Bodard (2012, short story)

Stories I’ve read that maybe should be on the list
‘Cassandra’, CJ Cherryh (1978, short story)
‘Abominable’, Carol Emshwiller (1980, short story)
‘Symphony for a Lost Traveller’, Lee Killough (1984, short story)
‘Forever Yours, Anna’, Kate Wilhelm (1987, short story)
‘Stable Strategies for Middle Management’, Eileen Gunn (1988, short story)
‘California Dreamer’, Mary Rosenblum (1994, short story)
‘The Lady Astronaut of Mars’, Mary Robinette Kowal (2012, novelette)

Stories I’ve not read
‘Captivity’, Zenna Henderson (1958, novella)
‘Lord Moon’, MJ Engh (as Jane Beauclerk) (1965, short story)
‘Weyr Search’, Anne McCaffrey (1967, novella)
‘The Steiger Effect’, Betsy Curtis (1968, short story)
‘Nightlife’, Phyllis Eisenstein (1982, novelette)
‘Her Furry Face’, Leigh Kennedy (1983, short story)
‘The Mountains of Mourning’, Lois McMaster Bujold (1989, novella)
‘The Power and the Passion’, Pat Cadigan (1990, short story)
‘Suppose They Gave a Peace…’, Susan Shwartz (1991, novelette)
‘Protection’, Maureen F McHugh (1992, novella)
‘Danny Goes to Mars’, Pamela Sargent (1992, novelette)

Duplicate stories
‘Souls’, Joanna Russ (1982, novella)
‘Over the Long Haul’, Martha Soukup (1990, novelette)
‘Nekropolis’, Maureen F McHugh (1994, novelette)

Are these sf? I don’t know
‘The Warlords Of Saturn’s Moons’, Eleanor Arnason (1975, novelette)
‘Stone Circle’, Lisa Tuttle (1976, short story)
‘Red as Blood’, Tanith Lee (1979, short story)
‘Spidersong’, Susan C Petrey (1980, short story)
‘Sea Changeling’, Mildred Downey Broxon (1981, novelette)
‘Dog’s Life’, Martha Soukup (1991, short story)
‘The Nutcracker Coup’, Janet Kagan (1992, novelette)
‘All Vows’, Esther M Friesner (1992, short story)
‘Alfred’, Lisa Goldstein (1992, short story)
‘The Good Pup’, Bridget McKenna (1993, short story)

New additions
‘The Fate of the Poseidonia’, Clare Winger Harris (1927, short story)
‘Space Episode’, Leslie Perri (1941, short story)
‘The Putnam Tradition’, Sonya Dorman (1963, short story)
‘Automatic Tiger’, Kit Reed (1964, short story)
‘The View from Endless Scarp’, Marta Randall (1978, short story)
‘War and Rumours of War’, Candas Jane Dorsey (1988, short story)
‘Patient Zero’, Tananarive Due (2000, short story)
‘Knapsack Poems’, Eleanor Arnason (2002, short story)
‘State of Oblivion’, Kaaron Warren (2003, short story)
‘Inside Out,’ Michaela Roessner (2004, short story)
‘Griots of the Galaxy’, Andrea Hairston (2004, novelette)
‘The Bride Price’, Cat Sparks (2007, short story)
‘Tideline’, Elizabeth Bear (2007, short story)
‘Infinities’, Vandana Singh (2008, novelette)
‘Spider the Artist’, Nnedi Okorafor (2008, short story)
‘Chica, Let Me Tell You a Story’, Alex Dally MacFarlane (2008, short story)
‘Cold Words’, Juliette Wade (2009, novelette)
‘Eros, Philia, Agape’, Rachel Swirsky (2009, novelette)
‘Non-Zero Probabilities’, NK Jemisin (2009, short story)
‘Blood, Blood’, Abbey Mei Otis (2010, short story)
‘The Other Graces’, Alice Sola Kim (2010, short story)
‘Agents of Repair’, Rosie Oliver (2010, short story)
‘Amaryllis’, Carrie Vaughn (2010, short story)
‘I’m Alive, I love You, I’ll See You in Reno’, Vylar Kaftan (2010, short story)
‘Six Months, Three Days’, Charlie Jane Anders (2011, short story)
‘Nahiku West’, Linda Nagata (2011, novelette)
‘The Cartographer Bees and the Anarchist Wasps’, E Lily Yu (2011, short story)
‘Silently and Very Fast’, Catherynne M Valente (2011, novella)
‘Jagannath’, Karin Tidbeck (2011, short story)
‘The Green’, Lauren Beukes (2012, short story)
‘Significant Dust’, Margo Lanagan (2012, novelette)
‘Black Box’, Jennifer Egan (2012, short story)

More new additions
‘Water Pirate’, Leigh Brackett (1941, short story)
‘Fireship’, Joan D Vinge (1978, novella)
‘The Missionary’s Child’, Maureen F McHugh (1992, novelette)
‘All the Birds of Hell’, Tanith Lee (1998, novelette)
‘Riding the White Bull’, Caitlín R Kiernan (2004, novelette)
‘Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast’, Eugie Foster (2009, short story)
‘Flying in the Face of God’, Nina Allan (2010, short story)
‘A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel’, Yoon Ha Lee (2011, short story)

So, more suggestions needed, please. Especially of twenty-first century sf, but also by authors who are not represented here – what is Margaret St Clair’s best story, for example? And tell me about the stories I’ve not read – how good are they? The stories in the last section, are they sf or fantasy? I can’t tell from the title. I picked them from the shortlists of the Hugo and Nebula awards, neither of which actually differentiates between the genres.

Let’s see if we can do a good representative meme-list of 100 pieces of sf short fiction by women writers. I’ll post the final list here and on both SF Mistressworks and Daughters of Prometheus.

Have added Leslie F Stone and Margaret St Clair to the first list. Have also settled on ‘Out of All Them Stars’ for Nancy Kress and ‘Coming of Age in Karhide’ for Le Guin. Likewise, ‘And I Awoke And Found Me Here On The Cold Hill’s Side’ has always been a favourite story of mine so I’m going to choose that as Tiptree’s contribution.

ETA #2
Added New additions section, from comments here and on Twitter. Some of them I’ve read. Of the ones I’ve not read, some might not be sf – I need to check that. Also moved a couple of stories to Stories I’ve read that maybe should be on the list since I found copies and read them.

ETA #3
More new additions added. I don’t want the list to be too twenty-first-century heavy, but it is sort of leaning that way. At present, it breaks down by decade as 1920: 1; 1930: 1; 1940: 4; 1950: 3; 1960: 6; 1970: 8; 1980: 20; 1990: 15; 2000: 19; 2010: 17, which adds up to 94 (and still includes more than one entry by a couple of authors). I think the list needs a few more suggestions for the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. And it would be helpful if anyone can confirm if all of the stories actually are science fiction and not fantasy. Nonetheless, a list is starting to come together…


200 Significant Science Fiction Books by Women

Yesterday someone tweeted the following list from the New York Review of Science Fiction – 200 Significant Science Fiction Books by Women, 1984–2001, by David G. Hartwell. The list was published on 15 February this year and was apparently put together for a panel at a convention or something. And what a peculiar list it is too. A selection of the best-known women sf writers leavened with a handful of obscure names. Every book published by CJ Cherryh during the period, for instance, is apparently significant. There are some YA titles, and some which are not science fiction by any definition of the term – Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, which is a straight secondary world fantasy, for example; or The Silver Kiss, a YA vampire novel. Hartwell’s decision to exclude books “published out of genre” means no Clarke Award-winning The Handmaid’s Tale, but he still includes The Journal of Nicholas the American, which wasn’t published by a genre imprint. Neither was Sarah Canary, but that’s also on the list.

There are indeed many good books on the list, but it’s a baffling piece of work nonetheless. It doesn’t give a true indication of the contribution made by women writers to science fiction as it focuses only on those who won awards or appeared on “best of the year” lists during the seventeen years in question. Exceptionalism is not representational. Vast swathes of genre fiction have been overlooked and ignored because it was written by women, and Hartwell’s list does nothing to address this.

It doesn’t help that the choices appear so random – no The Sparrow or Children of God, nothing from Tepper between 1990 and 2000, the first two books of Jones’ Aleutian trilogy but not the third, no Mary Gentle or Tricia Sullivan or Josephine Saxton, and all but a couple of the titles which appeared under The Women’s Press sf imprint completely ignored… Hartwell’s decision to include collections also skews the list, since many likely include stories written before 1984. James Tiptree Jr is a case in point: she’s represented by one novel and three collections, and yet only two of the books listed were actually published during her lifetime.

I’ve re-sorted the list alphabetically, which better shows how some writers dominate it. (And I’ve corrected the mispelling of Susan M Shwartz’s name.) I’ve also asterisked those books which have  been reviewed by SF Mistressworks (some more than once). Still, at the very least, any self-respecting sf fan should be aware of, or have read, most of the books on this list. In that respect it should make quite a good meme. I’ve had a go and done the usual – bold for read, italics for TBR…

Brother Termite, Patricia Anthony (1993)
A Woman Of The Iron People, Eleanor Arnason (1991)
Ring of Swords, Eleanor Arnason (1993)
Primary Inversion*, Catherine Asaro (1995)
The Last Hawk, Catherine Asaro (1997)
The Quantum Rose, Catherine Asaro (2000)
Unwillingly to Earth, Pauline Ashwell (1992)

Crash Course, Wihelmina Baird (1993)
In the Garden of Iden, Kage Baker (1998)
Sky Coyote, Kage Baker (1999)
The Best of . . ., Marion Zimmer Bradley (1985)
The Warrior’s Apprentice, Lois McMaster Bujold (1986)
Borders of Infinity, Lois McMaster Bujold (1989)
Falling Free, Lois McMaster Bujold (1988)
The Vor Game, Lois McMaster Bujold (1990)
Mirror Dance, Lois McMaster Bujold (1994)
Cetaganda, Lois McMaster Bujold (1996)
Dreamweaver’s Dilemma, Lois McMaster Bujold (1996)
Memory, Lois McMaster Bujold (1996)
A Civil Campaign, Lois McMaster Bujold (1999)
Falcon, Emma Bull (1989)
Bone Dance, Emma Bull (1991)
Dawn, Octavia Butler (1987)
Adulthood Rites, Octavia Butler (1988)
Imago, Octavia Butler (1989)
Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (1994)
Bloodchild and Other Stories, Octavia Butler (1995)
Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler (1998)

Mindplayers, Pat Cadigan (1987)
Patterns, Pat Cadigan (1989)
Synners, Pat Cadigan (1991)
Home by the Sea, Pat Cadigan (1992)
Dirty Work, Pat Cadigan (1993)
Promised Land, Pat Cadigan (1999)
Dervish Is Digital, Pat Cadigan (2001)
The Furies, Suzy McKee Charnas (1994)
The Conqueror’s Child, Suzy McKee Charnas (1999)
Chanur’s Venture, CJ Cherryh (1984)
Voyager in Night*, CJ Cherryh (1984)
Cuckoo’s Egg, CJ Cherryh (1985)
The Kif Strike Back, CJ Cherryh (1985)
Chanur’s Homecoming, CJ Cherryh (1986)
Visible Light, CJ Cherryh (1986)
Cyteen, CJ Cherryh (1988)
Rimrunners, CJ Cherryh (1989)
Heavy Time, CJ Cherryh (1991)
Hellburner, CJ Cherryh (1992)
Foreigner, CJ Cherryh (1994)
Invader, CJ Cherryh (1995)
Rider at the Gate, CJ Cherryh (1995)
Inheritor, CJ Cherryh (1996)
Precursor, CJ Cherryh (1999)
Defender, CJ Cherryh (2001)
Mainline, Deborah Christian (1996)
Mutagenesis, Helen Collins (1993)
Beholder’s Eye, Julie Czerneda (1998)
In the Company of Others, Julie Czerneda (2001)

A Paradigm of Earth, Candas Jane Dorsey (2001)

Native Tongue*, Suzette Haden Elgin (1984)
Jaran, Kate Elliott (1992)
City of Diamond, Jane Emerson
The Start of the End of It All and Other Stories, Carol Emshwiller (1990)
Rainbow Man, MJ Engh (1993)

Infinity’s Web, Sheila Finch (1985)
Artificial Things, Karen Joy Fowler (1986)
Sarah Canary, Karen Joy Fowler (1991)
Black Glass, Karen Joy Fowler (1998)
In Conquest Born, CS Friedman (1987)

Halfway Human*, Carolyn Ives Gilman (1998)
The Dazzle of Day, Molly Gloss (1997)
A Mask for the General, Lisa Goldstein (1987)
Queen City Jazz*, Kathleen Ann Goonan (1994)
The Bones of Time, Kathleen Ann Goonan (1996)
Mississippi Blues, Kathleen Ann Goonan (1997)
Crescent City Rhapsody, Kathleen Ann Goonan (2000)
Flesh and Gold, Phyllis Gotlieb (1998)
Ammonite*, Nicola Griffith (1993)
Slow River*, Nicola Griffith (1995)

Winterlong*, Elizabeth Hand (1990)
Æstival Tide*, Elizabeth Hand (1992)
Icarus Descending*, Elizabeth Hand (1993)
Glimmering*, Elizabeth Hand (1997)
Last Summer At Mars Hill, Elizabeth Hand (1998)
Midnight Robber*, Nalo Hopkinson (2000)

Divine Endurance, Gwyneth Jones (1984)
Escape Plans*, Gwyneth Jones (1986)
Kairos*, Gwyneth Jones (1988)
White Queen*, Gwyneth Jones (1991)
North Wind, Gwyneth Jones (1994)
Bold as Love*, Gwyneth Jones (2001)

Hellspark, Janet Kagan (1988)
Mirabile, Janet Kagan (1991)
The Journal of Nicholas the American*, Leigh Kennedy (1986)
Polar City Blues, Katherine Kerr (1990)
The Silver Kiss, Annette Curtis Klause (1990)
Trinity and Other Stories, Nancy Kress (1985)
An Alien Light, Nancy Kress (1988)
Brain Rose, Nancy Kress (1990)
The Aliens of Earth, Nancy Kress (1993)
Beggars in Spain, Nancy Kress (1993)
Beggars & Choosers, Nancy Kress (1994)
Beggars Ride, Nancy Kress (1996)
Beaker’s Dozen, Nancy Kress (1998)
Probability Moon, Nancy Kress (2000)
Probability Sun, Nancy Kress (2001)

Dreams of Dark and Light, Tanith Lee (1986)
Night’s Sorceries, Tanith Lee (1987)
Always Coming Home, Ursula K LeGuin (1985)
Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences, Ursula K LeGuin (1987)
A Fisherman of the Inland Sea*, Ursula K LeGuin (1994)
Four Ways to Forgiveness*, Ursula K LeGuin (1995)
Unlocking the Air and Other Stories, Ursula K LeGuin (1996)
The Telling, Ursula K LeGuin (2000)

Arachne, Lisa Mason (1990)
Summer of Love, Lisa Mason (1994)
An Exchange of Hostages*, Susan R Matthews (1997)
The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall, Anne McCaffrey (1993)
The Girl Who Heard Dragons, Anne McCaffrey (1994)
China Mountain Zhang*, Maureen McHugh (1992)
Mission Child*, Maureen McHugh (1998)
Nekropolis, Maureen McHugh (2001)
Murphy’s Gambit, Syne Mitchell (2000)
The Ragged World, Judith Moffett (1991)
Remnant Population, Elizabeth Moon (1996)
Once a Hero, Elizabeth Moon (1997)
The City, Not Long After*, Pat Murphy (1989)
Points of Departure, Pat Murphy (1990)
Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, Elizabeth Moon (1988)
Lunar Activity, Elizabeth Moon (1990)

Deception Well, Linda Nagata (1997)
Vast, Linda Nagata (1998)
Limit of Vision, Linda Nagata (2001)

Becoming Alien, Rebecca Ore (1987)
Being Alien, Rebecca Ore (1989)
Alien Bootlegger and Other Stories, Rebecca Ore (1993)
Gaia’s Toys, Rebecca Ore (1995)

The Annunciate, Severna Park (1999)

Little Sisters of the Apocalypse, Kit Reed (1995)
Silver Screen*, Justina Robson (1999)
Synthesis and Other Virtual Realities, Mary Rosenblum (1996)
Chimera, Mary Rosenblum (1993)
The Drylands, Mary Rosenblum (1993)
Alien Influences, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (1994)
Extra(Ordinary) People*, Joanna Russ (1984)
The Hidden Side Of The Moon, Joanna Russ (1988)

Venus of Dreams, Pamela Sargent (1986)
The Best of . . ., Pamela Sargent (1987)
The Healer’s War, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (1988)
The Game Beyond, Melissa Scott (1984)
Trouble and Her Friends*, Melissa Scott (1994)
Shadow Man*, Melissa Scott (1995)
Night Sky Mine, Melissa Scott (1996)
The Shapes of Their Hearts, Melissa Scott (1998)
Reef Song, Carol Severance (1991)
Heritage of Flight, Susan M Shwartz (1989)
Legacies, Alison Sinclair (1995)
A Door into Ocean, Joan Slonczewski (1986)
The Children Star, Joan Slonczewski (1998)
Code Of Conduct, Kristine Smith (1999)
Other Nature, Stephanie Smith (1995)
The Arbitrary Placement of Walls, Martha Soukup (1997)
Alien Taste, Wen Spencer (2001)
Chance and Other Gestures of the Hand of Fate, Nancy Springer (1987)
Larque on the Wing, Nancy Springer (1994)

After Long Silence, Sheri S Tepper (1987)
Grass*, Sheri S Tepper (1989)
Raising the Stones, Sheri S Tepper (1990)
The Fresco, Sherri S Tepper (2000)
Virtual Girl*, Amy Thomson (1993)
The Color of Distance*, Amy Thomson (1995)
Through Alien Eyes, Amy Thomson (1999)
Brightness Falls from the Air, James Tiptree Jr (1985)
Tales of the Quintana Roo, James Tiptree Jr (1986)
Crown of Stars, James Tiptree Jr (1988)
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, James Tiptree Jr (1990)
Lost Futures, Lisa Tuttle (1992)

World’s End, Joan D Vinge (1984)
Phoenix in the Ashes, Joan D Vinge (1985)
Catspaw, Joan D Vinge (1988)
Opalite Moon, Denise Vitola (1997)
The Silent City*, Élisabeth Vonarburg (1988)
In the Mother’s Land, Élisabeth Vonarburg (1992)
Reluctant Voyagers, Élisabeth Vonarburg (1995)

Whiteout, Sage Walker (1996)
Mother Grimm, Catherine Wells (1997)
Children of the Wind, Kate Wilhelm (1989)
And the Angels Sing, Kate Wilhelm (1992)
The Ghost Sister, Liz Williams (2001)
Sea as Mirror, Tess Williams (2000)
Fire Watch, Connie Willis (1985)
Doomsday Book*, Connie Willis (1992)
Impossible Things, Connie Willis (1993)
To Say Nothing of The Dog*, Connie Willis (1998)
Passage, Connie Willis (2001)
Looking for the Mahdi*, N Lee Wood (1996)

Sister Emily’s Lightship and Other Stories, Jane Yolen (2000)

Reclamation*, Sarah Zettel (1996)
Fool’s War, Sarah Zettel (1997)
Playing God, Sarah Zettel (1998)
Busy About the Tree of Life, Pamela Zoline (1988)

I make that 48 read and 5 on the TBR. Not a good showing out of 200. But there are several authors with multiple entries that I don’t normally read – like Nancy Kress, Pat Cadigan, Connie Willis or Lois McMaster Bujold. A lot of the books were also never published in the UK. A large number of the titles, however, are on my wishlist, and I will eventually find copies and read them. And review them on SF Mistressworks, of course.


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