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The other POV


A couple of days ago on Twitter, Requires Hate tweeted that she would no longer read science fiction with male protagonists. Not a problem, you would have thought – there must be plenty of sf with female protagonists. And so there is. But not as much as you’d expect. The majority of science fiction novels are told from a male point of view. Some might have female POV characters – Gareth L Powell’s The Recollection, for example – but the story is shared with a male character. Sf novels, whether by women or men writers, with a single female protagonist are not that common.

So I tried to come up with list of some:

By women writers:
Spirit, Life and Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (SF Mistressworks reviews of Kairos here and here)
Alanya to Alanya and sequels, L Timmel Duchamp
Ash: A Secret History, Mary Gentle
Arkfall, Carolyn Ives Gilman
Angel At Apogee, SN Lewitt (SF Mistressworks review here)
City of Pearl, Karen Traviss (my blog post here)
God’s War and Infidel, Kameron Hurley (my blog post on God’s War here, review of Infidel here)
Debris, Jo Anderton
Dancer of the Sixth, Michelle Shirey Crean (SF Mistressworks review here)
Correspondence, Sue Thomas (SF Mistressworks review here)
Solitaire, Kelley Eskridge (my review here)
Zoo City, Lauren Beukes (my blog post here)
The Female Man, Joanna Russ (SF Mistressworks review here, here and here)
Winterstrike, Liz Williams (my blog post here)
The Steerswoman’s Road, Rosemary Kirstein (SF Mistressworks review here)
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (SF Mistressworks review here)
Keeping It Real and sequels, Justina Robson

By men writers:
Take Back Plenty, Colin Greenland (my blog post here)
400 Billion Stars, Paul McAuley
Stealing Light, Gary Gibson
The Restoration Game, Ken MacLeod (my review here)
Synthajoy, DG Compton (my blog post here)
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
The Caryatids, Bruce Sterling
The H-Bomb Girl, Stephen Baxter
The Ophiuchi Hotline, John Varley (my blog post here)

I may have got some of these slightly wrong as I’m going on my memory of the books – they might not be as exclusively female POV as I remember them. It’s unsurprising that I can think of more women writers who use female protagonists than men writers. I suspect this would be true for most people. Second, most of the books I could think of were relatively recent. Back in the Golden Age even the likes of Leigh Brackett and CL Moore wrote books with male protagonists.

Anyone else have any suggested titles?

39 thoughts on “The other POV

  1. Kage Baker’s The Empress of Mars has one of my favourite female protagonists (or any kind of protagonists) ever.

  2. Golden Witchbreed by Mary Gentle
    Woman On The Edge Of Time by Marge Piercy
    Mission Child by Maureen McHugh
    The Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood
    The Rapture by Liz Jensen
    The Heritage by Will Ashon
    The Reapers Are Angels by Alden Bell
    The Age Of Zeus by James Lovegrove
    Against a Dark Background by Iain Banks

  3. Stephen Baxter’s Voyage has the first woman to land on Mars as the main protagonist (though I recollect that there are other major protagonists);Greg Bear’s Queen of Angels and its sequel, Slant; Greg Benford’s Artefact (though a ‘competant man’ steps into the story and I don’t recollect how far he takes over the action); Orson Scott Card’s Wyrms; C.J. Cherryh’s Rimrunners (and Downbelow Station has a major female POV character, Captain Signy Mallory) (we could count all the Chanur books with the Hani matriarchy, but I tend to think of those as cats first and females second – my copies in LT are tagged ‘cat fantasy’), the Clarke/Gentry Lee extensions to the Rama story; Nicola Griffiths’ Ammonite and Slow River; all the intelligent dinosaurs in Harry Harrison’s West of Eden sequence are female; Gwyneth Jones’ Divine Endurance; Ursula le Guin’s Four Ways to Foregiveness; Rachel Pollack’s Unquenchable Fire; Jack Mc Devitt’s Slow Lightning (and others), Ian McDonald’s Chaga, Kirinya and Ares Express, Robert Reed’s Marrow, Melissa Scott’s Five-twelfths of Heaven and sequels (and quite a bit of the rest of her output) – and those are just the ones I can see from my computer!

    • I was trying to think of ones with almost entirely female protagonists, which rules out the Baxter. Should have remembered the Griffiths. I wasn’t sure about Divine Endurance – it’s been that long since I read it, though I may be getting confused a bit with Flowerdust, which does have a male POV character. I didn’t think the McDevitt Priscilla Hutchins books were good enough to mention, and the only Scott I’ve read is Shadow Man.

      • Yes, I’d forgotten your rider about the books that are fit to list (your later response refers). Given that and debates I’ve contributed to in other places regrading McDevitt, I fully understand your reasoning…

  4. Undertow – Elizabeth Bear
    Hammered, Scardown, Worldwired – Elizabeth Bear
    First Flight, Grounded!, Sundowner – Chris Claremont
    Code Noir, Crash Deluxe, Nylon Angel and Sentients of Orion series – Marianne de Pierres
    Friday – Robert A. Heinlein
    Podkayne of Mars – Robert A. Heinlein
    Polar City Blues, Polar City Nightmare – Katherine Kerr
    Beggars In Spain – Nancy Kress
    Blue Silence – Michelle Marquardt
    Dragonflight – Anne McCaffrey
    Time Future, Time Past – Maxine McCarthur
    Souls in the Great Machine – Sean McMullen
    Familias Regnant series – Elizabeth Moon
    Remnant Population – Elizabeth Moon
    Judgment Night – C. L. Moore
    Spin State, Spin Control – Chris Moriarty
    Those Who Walk In Darkness – John Ridley
    Silver Screen – Justina Robson
    Queen of Denial, Recycled – Selina Rosen
    Strange Robby – Selina Rosen
    Chains of Freedom – Selina Rosen
    The Demon Breed – James H. Schmitz
    Legacy – James H. Schmitz
    The Lion Game – James H. Schmitz
    A Week In the Future – Catherine Helen Spence
    The Diamond Age – Neal Stephenson
    Vacuum Flowers – Michael Swanwick
    Starfish, Maelstrom, Behemoth – Peter Watts
    On Basilisk Station etc. – David Weber
    The Dark Imbalance, The Dying Light, The Prodigal Sun – Sean Williams and Shane Dix
    Freehold – Michael Z. Williamson
    Fool’s War – Sarah Zettel

    • I should have got a few of those. But not the Schmitz – if they’re anything like The Witches of Karres, they’re best avoided. Surprised I missed Spin Control as I was discussing it only yesterday. The Claremonts and Heinleins are rubbish. The only de Pierres I’ve read is the first of the Sentient of Orion series it has male POV characters.

      • Just reread the Claremont books [which are actually a bit rocket sciency ;-)] – not remotely rubbish. Neither are the Schmitz.

        Certainly better than Debris, or the Caryatids (which is poor).

        Friday is rubbish, I agree. :0)

        Thought your point was a list. Not a list of stuff that Ian approves of. 🙂

        • I can’t speak for the Schmitz, tho I thought The Witches of Karres was awful. Wasn’t much impressed by the Claremonts either.

          Debris was a bit meh, but The Caryatids was one of the best books of 2009.

          You should know by now that all lists of books on this blog are lists of books I approve of 🙂 (unless they’re lists of bad books, of course)

  5. And as I remember them

    Pick any Melissa Scott book pretty much, given she was mentioned – Dreamships, Burning Bright, Trouble and Her Friends, etc. etc.

    The Clockwork Rocket – Greg Egan

    Century Rain – Alastair Reynolds
    Pushing Ice – Alastair Reynolds

    Diving into the Wreck and sequels – Kristine Kathryn Rusch

  6. The Infinite Battle – David Bischoff
    Sliding Void – Stephen Hunt

  7. The Hurley books are out because Rhys gets chapters, and the Robson books are out because Zal does. (Among others; other men get occasional chapters here and there as well.)

    Others off the top of my head: Song of Time by Ian R MacLeod; Embassytown and The Scar by China Mieville; The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers; Air by Geoff Ryman (and The Child Garden, I think); Colony by Jillian Weise; Evolution, Ark, and Voyage, by Stephen Baxter; Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor; Double Vision and Sound Mind by Tricia Sullivan; Far North by Marcel Theroux; Lifelode by Jo Walton (I think); Watermind by MM Buckner (I think); Blonde Roots by Bernadine Evaristo; UFO in her Eyes by Xiaolu Guo; The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall; Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi; The End of My Y by Scarlett Thomas; The Fade by Christ Wooding; Hav by Jan Morris; Bareback by Kit Whitfiel; The Cassini Division by Ken MacLeod (I think); Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds.

    • I had an inkling some of the books I’d named had male POV chapters. What about earlier Robson ones – Silver Screen, Mappa Mundi? Doesn’t Baxter’s Voyage have male POV too?

      Some of your others I should definitely have remembered – especially since I’m currently reading Embassytown, and have read The Testament of Jessie Lamb…

  8. Almost everything by Octavia Butler counts – Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, the Xenogenesis trilogy (okay, one of those has a human/alien hybrid POV), Kindred, Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Fledgling, Clay’s Ark.

    Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany.

    Passage and Bellwether by Connie Willis. Doomsday Book ALMOST counts, but the modern chapters are male POV.

    An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe.

    One of the Helliconia books by Brian Aldiss had a female POV. I can’t remember which.

    Friday by Heinlein counts, though it’s not terribly PC, and maybe I Will Fear No Evil, which is about a man’s mind transferred into a woman’s body, depending how you fall on gender issues. Podkayne of Mars too.

    Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi.

    There’s a huge list of female SF protagonists here, though that doesn’t guarantee female POV:

    • Should have thought of the Delany. I’ve not read any Butler, tho I had planned to. Didn’t want to mention the Heinleins as they’re not very good. And I wanted to avoid men writing men-turned-into-women POV characters, which would also include John Brosnan’s The Opoponax Invasion and Sean Williams’ Astropolis trilogy.

      • There’s a whole can of worms out there regarding men-turned-into-women characters – but it’s bad enough in real life (specifically feminist politics), without considering how the subject gets treated in fiction.

  9. Grimspace etc. – Ann Aguirre
    Chaining the Lady – Piers Anthony
    Sunrise Alley etc. – Catherine Asaro
    The Interplanetary Huntress – Arthur K. Barnes
    Queen of Angels – Greg Bear
    Orbital Burn – K. A. Bedford
    Hydrogen Steel – K. A. Bedford
    Ragamuffin – Tobias S. Buckell
    Quest for the Well of Souls, Exiles at the Well of Souls etc. – Jack L. Chalker
    Glory – Alfred Coppel
    Doomstalker etc. – Glen Cook
    Animatronica etc. – J. D. Crayne
    Babel-17 – Samuel R. Delany
    Stealing Light – Gary Gibson
    The Legend of Banzai Maguire – Susan Grant
    Marsbound – Joe Haldeman
    Darkship Thieves – Sarah A. Hoyt
    The Engines of God etc. – Jack McDevitt
    The Outback Stars – Sandra McDonald
    Starfarers etc. – Vonda N. McIntyre
    Paragaea – Chris Roberson
    The Sagan Diary – John Scalzi
    Queen of Candesce – Karl Schroeder
    Saturn’s Children – Charles Stross
    The Snow Queen – Joan D. Vinge
    Evolution’s Darling – Scott Westerfeld
    Slave Trade etc. – Susan Wright
    Bitter Angels – Sarah Zettel

  10. This made me look at my own books. Two are exclusively female pov: Memory, and Skye Object 3270a (YA), while Tech-Heaven has a rare, brief alternate viewpoint. All the others but one are split.

  11. Clearly the books are out there. They need to be a lot better known. If the average sf fan’s idea of a female protagonist is Heinlein’s Friday, then they definitely need to start reading more books…

  12. My memory may deceive me, but there’s also:
    The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five – Dorris Lessing
    The Sirian Experiments – Dorris Lessing
    Memoirs of a Spacewoman – Naomi Mitchison
    Consider Her Ways – John Wyndham
    Turning Point – Lisanne Norman
    The Monstrous Regiment – Storm Constantine

    Again, I’m late to this, but what all this proves is that there are plenty of novels with a female POV out there but making lists is a peculiarly male trait.

    • Needing to be reminded may be a male trait. There have been plenty of complaints that the books don’t exist, but there’s plainly a lifetime’s worth of reading available.

  13. Do Killishandra (Cheryh) and Witch World (Andre Norton) count?

  14. The first few things that spring to my mind are already listed here, but a few more…

    Diving into the Wreck and City of Ruins by Kristine Kathryn Rusch– the latter is on my Hugo nominating ballot this year.

    Spaceling by Doris Piserchia

    Crystal Singer and Killashandra by Anne McCaffrey

  15. Diadem from the Stars et al by Jo Clayton

    Skeen’s Leap, Skeen’s Return, and Skeen’s Search, also by Jo Clayton

    The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey

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  17. Ash has email exchanges between a man and a women in between the parts of the main story, so I don’t know if that disqualifies it.

    A few more:

    Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games and sequels.

    Gaie Sebold – Babylon Steel. It says “fantasy” on the cover but could be read as SF if you squint at it in the right way.

    Ian Watson – Alien Embassy and God’s World are both first-person-female.

  18. Oh and I forgot one – I haven’t read it but apparently Alexei Panshin’s Nebula winner Rite of Passage has a female first-person narrator.

  19. If I memory serves, the Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld.

  20. The Snow Queen series by Joan D Vinge springs to mind.
    Also Friday by Heinlein, and Marrow by Robert Reed.

    • Is The Snow Queen exclusively female POV? Isn’t there a male POV character. I vaguely recall the same being true of Marrow as well, but I may be mistaken.

      As for Friday, well, I was limiting it to good books…

      • Its been a while since I read it, but certainly the 1st one in the series is from the Queen’s POV. Marrow again I read a while back so will have to check. Friday…point taken LOL!

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