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Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Books by Women Writers


After all the arguments over the results of the Guardian poll of best/favourite sf novels, it seems the US’s NPR has decided to have a bash here: “Best Science Fiction, Fantasy Books? You Tell Us”. Sigh. I’m not going to bother trawling through the 1700+ comments (as of the time of writing of this post) to see what the gender ratio is. I fully expect it to work out to about 5 – 10% female.

Instead, what I am going to do is suggest an alternative poll: your favourite five novels by women sf/fantasy writers. Leave a comment listing them. Let’s see how we do.

To start with, here are mine:

Kairos, Gwyneth Jones
Ash: A Secret History, Mary Gentle
Angel with the Sword, CJ Cherryh
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin
The Grail of Hearts, Susan Shwartz

This proved harder than I expected. There are a lot of genre novels by women writers I like a great deal, and many I have have read several times. And quite a few I’ve read recently which I expect I will return to one day. But actually picking the best of that long list? To make it a little easier, I’ve limited myself to one book per author, though there’s no reason anyone else need do so.

EDIT: and if you’re stuck for suggestions, check out the SF Mistressworks blog.

29 thoughts on “Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Books by Women Writers

  1. This all may change. Off the top of my head, I’d go with:

    The Dispossessed, Ursula Le Guin
    The Journal of Nicholas the American, Leigh Kennedy
    Dreaming in Smoke, Tricia Sullivan
    The Female Man, Joanna Russ
    Bold As Love, Gwyneth Jones

    Still working at increasing the pool of novels to choose from, but I am happy that this task was harder for me than it would have been a year ago.

  2. Brackett, Leigh – Book Of Skaith,The
    Bull, Emma – War For the Oaks
    Cooper, Susan – Dark Is Rising,The
    May, Julian – Many-Coloured Land,The
    Rice, Anne – Interview With the Vampire

  3. The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell
    The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Le Guin
    Bright of the Sky – Kay Kenyon
    Downbelow Station – C.J. Cherryh
    Zoo City – Lauren Beukes

  4. A somewhat standard list…. but all GREAT BOOKS!

    The Left Hand of Darkness — Ursula Le Guin
    Cyteen — C. J. Cherryh
    And Chaos Died — Joanna Russ
    Downbelow Station — C. J. Cherryh
    The Dispossessed — Ursula Le Guin

  5. Joanna Russ – We Who Are About To…
    James Tiptree Jr. – Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (not a novel, obviously, but undoubtedly one of the five best books)
    Diana Wynne Jones – Fire and Hemlock
    Gwyneth Jones – Life
    Karen Joy Fowler – Sarah Canary (it is Science Fiction if you squint very hard)

    • >Karen Joy Fowler – Sarah Canary (it is Science Fiction if you squint very hard)

      Damn right it is, and one of my favourites too.

  6. The Word for World is Forest – Le Guin
    The Handmaid’s Tale – Atwood
    Dervish is Digital – Pat Cadigan
    Moxyland – Beukes
    Maul – Sullivan

  7. 1. The Many Coloured Land – Julian May
    2. The Hollow Hills – Mary Stewart
    3. Liveship Traders triology – Robin Hobb
    4. Temeraire – Naomi Novik
    5. Swordspoint – Ellen Kushner

  8. C.S. Friedman – In Conquest Born
    Patricia McKillip – Fool’s Run
    P.C. Hodgel – God Stalk
    Mary Stewart – The Crystal Cave
    Paula Volsky – The Wolf of Winter

  9. As you say, picking five isn’t easy, but here goes.
    1. We Who Are About To…- Joanna Russ
    2. The Journal of Nicholas The American – Leigh Kennedy
    3. Tourists – Lisa Goldstein
    4. Ash – Mary Gentle
    5. The Secret History of Moscow – Ekaterina Sedia.

    And one that is too recent for me to justify including, but that I fully expect to be a future classic amongst those who find it.
    Redwood & Wildfire – Andrea Hairston (Aqueduct Press, 2011)

    • And if you’d asked for a top 10, Josephine Saxton, Gwyneth Jones, Judith Moffett, Pat Cadigan, Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Hall would be fighting for places.

  10. Ursula K. LeGuin. The Left Hand of Darkness.
    C. S. Friedman. This Alien Shore.
    C. J. Cherryh. Foreigner.
    Sheri S. Tepper. Grass.
    Catherynne M. Valente. Palimpsest.

  11. Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler
    The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
    Queen of the States by Josephine Saxton
    Tourists by Lisa Goldstein
    Phoenix Cafe by Gwyneth Jones

  12. The Snow Queen by Joan D Vinge
    Oryx and Crake by Atwood
    The Earthseed Trilogy by Octavia Butler
    Woman at the edge of Time by Marge Piercy

    worth a second mention:
    Grass by Sherry Tepper
    The Left Hand of Darkness by LeGuin

  13. Grail by Elizabeth Bear
    The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin
    Ash by Mary Gentle
    The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip
    The Orphan’s Tales, Catherynne M Valente

    Gaaaah, it’s hard to keep to five…

  14. Angel With a Sword Cherryh
    Barrayar et al. Lois McMasters Bujold
    Apprentice Assassin series Robin Hobb
    To Say Nothing of the Dog Connie Willis
    The Lathe of Heaven Ursula Le Guin

    Really hard to do justice with only five and a frantic memory

  15. Hermetech – Storm constantine
    Woman on the Edge of Time – Marge Piercy
    Empire of Bones – Liz Williams
    Lightborn – Tricia Sullivan
    Natural History – Justina Robson

    Really hard with just 5!

  16. Top 5 in no particular order:

    Tricia Sullivan – Lethe
    CS Friedman – This Alien Shore
    Margaret Atwood – A Handmaid’s Tale
    Nicola Griffith – Ammonite
    Mary Doria Russel – The Sparrow

    Honourable mentions to Mary Shelley, Scarlett Thomas, Kate Griffin (not SF I know, but I love her work) and Sarah Hall.

  17. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
    The Anubis Gate by Tim Powers
    Vorkosigan Saga (series) by Lois McMaster Bujold
    The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper
    Valdemar series by Mercedes Lackey

  18. Alphabetical by author, one per author, “best” = “most enjoyed”

    Mirror Dance by Bujold
    A Mask for the General by Goldstein
    Howl’s Moving Castle by Jones
    Beggars in Spain by Kress
    The Left Hand of Darkness by LeGuin

    I found the list at to be a really great memory-jogger.

  19. For me, “best” here means “most memorable right now:”

    Kindred – Octavia Butler
    Woman on the Edge of Time – Marge Piercy
    Red Spider White Web – Misha
    Midnight Robber – Nalo Hopkinson
    Salt Fish Girl – Larissa Lai

    Bonus pick: Anything written by Ursula LeGuin!

    YA choices:

  20. Oops … for YA choices I would include:
    The House of the Scorpion — Nancy Farmer
    Earthsea Series – Ursula LeGuin

  21. That’s easy! J K Rowling any five from seven!

    Sorry let’s try again –

    Annals of the Western Shore – Ursula K. Le Guin
    Briefing for a descent into Hell – Doris Lessing
    Foreigner series – C. J. Cherryh
    The Speed of Dark – Elizabeth Moon
    The Moon and the Sun – Vonda McIntyre

  22. Oh, goodness, let’s see… I don’t know about ‘best’, but these are the five that leap most strongly to mind and which I know I’ll keep re-reading.

    Pamela Dean – Tam Lin
    Molly Gloss – The Dazzle of Day
    Hope Mirrlees – Lud-in-the-Mist
    Diana Wynne Jones – Howl’s Moving Castle (today, and that may change to another DWJ tomorrow, but she needs to be on the list somehow)
    Connie Willis – To Say Nothing of the Dog

  23. Pingback: Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Books by Women Writers « It Doesn't … « Best Science Fiction Books

  24. 1) Ursua K. Le Guin – Anything. best woman writer in both genres. A lot of good contemporary work such as Woman on the Edge of Time, The Handmaid’s Tail etc addressing gender issues but Le Guin is above them all.
    2) Julian May – Many Coloured Land. The Saga of the Exiles is excellent. Well spotted those above. Eminently rereadable, unlike say Butler, McKillop or Cooper. How can it be out of print!
    3) Mary Shelley – Frankenstein! Come On! The first Sci-Fi novel by many accounts! As to other old stuff. Lud-in-the-Mist was a very cute read. Herland is a bit dry though, in the mould of Bellamy etc.
    4) Anne McCaffrey – Anything. She gets picked over over Andre Norton. But these two are the big recognised female writers after Le Guin. I’ve read most of McCaffrey’s work – only Short stories by Norton, that’s why.
    5) I have to pick something new and cool! Someone else tipped Suillivan’s Maul (which is great), so I’ll go with Holly Black’s Tithe. Or Holly Phillips’ The Engine’s Child… Doh!

  25. Mary Shelly – Frankenstein
    Ursula K. LeGuin – The Left Hand of Darkness
    Diana Wynne Jones – Howl’s Moving Castle
    Beggars in Spain – Nancy Kress
    A Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

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