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200 Significant Science Fiction Books by Women

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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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2 thoughts on “200 Significant Science Fiction Books by Women

  1. Hmm. 25 read and 33 on the TBR pile. And I haven’t made a point of specifically seeking out and reading sf by women writers; just (generally) books which I or others have considered to be good or noteworthy sf. Which probably says something about the calibre of women writers generally… (And there are others I possess or have read which aren’t on that list…)

  2. Sorry to hear Mr. Hartwell’s list didn’t satisfy you. He’s great at picking horror stories in a favorite anthology of mine, The Dark Descent, but I guess quality in one area doesn’t define all circumstances. Curious–I don’t expect you to do 200, but what are some of the books would you’d include if you made a woman science fiction writer’s list?

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