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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…


56 thoughts on “Toward 100 Great SF Short Stories by Women

  1. I’m going to be very very cheeky and suggest one of my own… “Agents of Repair”, published in Jupiter issue 29 (July 2010). It got very good reviews across the board… otherwise I wouldn’t dare be so brazen…. ahem… said she tiptoeing away…

  2. Well, in that case, here’s another. 🙂 “Nahiku West” is a novelette published in the October 2012 Analog that was included in several best-of-the-year anthologies and came in second for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. Email me if you’d like me to send you a copy.

  3. “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” by James Tiptree, Jr.
    “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson (maybe not quite SF)
    Almost anything by Yoon Ha Lee

    Just a few off the top of my head. I can probably think of more later…

  4. Hello!

    Gregory Feeley has asked that I forward his comments to you. Here they are:

    ‘You haven’t defined “short story.” Some of the entries listed (“Weyr Search,” “Protection”) are novellas. Is a story that is, say, eighty pages long a “short story” by your criteria? You will have to decide.

    ‘Also: You haven’t defined “best.” Does historical importance count? (“Weyr Search” reads today like tosh, but it is the first piece of fiction by a woman to win a Hugo Award.)

    ‘Also: Do you give weight to variety of authors? If it came down to a twentieth entry by Kate Wilhelm and a entry by a writer not otherwise represented, would the latter fact give the second story some weight?

    ‘These are all issues you have to decide.’

    • First, bit of reading fail there, I think – I quite clearly state that short stories, novelettes and novellas are eligible. And, in fact, I’ve labelled each of the stories I’ve named with their category. And this is despite me thinking the novelette is a completely useless category and should be expunged from existence…

      Second, for stories I’ve not read myself, and given that I don’t plan to spend too much time on this exercise, then I’m happy to accept winning a major genre award as sufficient qualification as “best”. However, if anyone can think of a better McCaffrey story than ‘Weyr Search’ – for all her faults, I feel she deserves to appear on the list – then I’m happy to consider that instead.

      Third, also quite clearly stated is one story per author, which renders this point irrelevant.

      So there you have it – issues decided. Now how about some suggestions?

  5. Well, it isn’t exactly self-promotion, but I have had the privilege to edit a few:

    “The Harvest” – Chrysanthy Balis (Stories of the Apocalypse, 2011)
    “Chislehurst Messiah” – Lauren Beukes (Stories of the Apocalypse, 2011 – now back in print in Paula Guran’s After the End)
    “Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion” – Archie Black (Stories of the Apocalypse, 2011)
    “Ashen Light” – Archie Black (The Lowest Heaven, 2013)
    “A Dance of Light and Dust” – Aliette de Bodard (Stories of the Smoke, 2012)
    “The Krakatoan” – Maria Dahvana Headley (The Lowest Heaven, 2013)
    “Enyo-Enyo” – Kameron Hurley (The Lowest Heaven, 2013)
    “Inspector Bucket Investigates” – Sarah Lotz (Stories of the Smoke, 2012)
    “Not the End of the World” – Sophia McDougall (Stories of the Apocalypse, 2011)
    “Golden Apple” – Sophia McDougall (The Lowest Heaven, 2013)
    “Uranus” – Esther Saxey (The Lowest Heaven, 2013)
    “Saga’s Children” – E. J. Swift (The Lowest Heaven, 2013)
    “Air, Water and the Grove” – Kaaron Warren (The Lowest Heaven, 2013)

    These are the overtly science fictional ones, others would qualify more as fantasy. There are a few by S.L. Grey as well, but they’re a m/f writing team. Enjoy!

  6. I have no idea how you’d publish it in a printed book, but Shelley Jackson’s “Patchwork Girl” is SFnal in both form and content.

    I also think Vandana Singh ought to be on this list, but I’m having trouble picking a particular story.

  7. And some more…

    “The Ecologist and the Avon Lady” – Tricia Sullivan (Myth-Understandings, 2008)
    “Rock On” – Pat Cadigan (Mirrorshades, 1986)
    “Ped-o-Matique – Jane Rogers (Hitting Trees with Sticks, 2012 – but first published 2009 in the New Uncanny)
    “The Green” – Lauren Beukes (Armored, 2012)

    Also thinking… good, contemporary short SF… Sarah Pinborough, Nina Allan, Jennifer Egan, Ekaterina Sedia, Molly Tanzer, Genevieve Valentine, Tama Janowitz and Kim Lakin-Smith… I’m sure there’s more!

    • Noted. I didn’t think Sarah Pinborough had written anything that qualified as sf, though I’m happy to be corrected. I have Nina on the list, but I’ve yet to decide which story. Likewise Kim. The others I know the names but haven’t read, so am open to suggestion.

  8. “Infinities” by Vandana Singh is a good story. It was selected by Dozois for his annual selection of best sf stories some years ago.

  9. Eleanor Arnason’s “Knapsack Poems” is probably my very favorite, the best SF story I’ve ever read; but “Mammoths of the Great Plains”, a novella, is also very good.

    If Kage Baker is on here, I missed it. I pretty much love everything she wrote, but “What Tyger Told Her” is excellent. Also “Noble Mold.”

    Also E. Lily Yu, “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” — an amazing story.

    • I have a copy of ‘Knapsack Poems’ in a best of somewhere. I’ll give it a reread. I’ve only ever read one story by Kage Baker, and the cod English accents in it annoyed me, but I’ll note down the two titles you mention. The Yu is good… but is it sf? 🙂

  10. On behalf of Australian women writers, her’s all the short stories by women that have won or been shortlisted for the Aurealis Award for Best Short Science Fiction Story from 2002 to 2012:

    Sue Isle – “Amy’s Stars”
    Kaaron Warren – “State of Oblivion”
    Barbara Robson – “Absolution”
    Cat Sparks – “Home by the Sea”
    Leanne Frahm – “Skein Dogs”
    Lyn Triffitt – “The Memory of Breathing”
    Kim Westwood – “Terning tha Weel”
    Cat Sparks – “Hollywod Roadkill”
    Penelope Love – “Whitey”
    Cat Sparks – “Arctica”
    Margo Lanagan – “The Fifth Star in the Southern Cross”
    Tansy Rayner Roberts – “Fleshy”
    Lezli Robin & Mike Resnick – “Soulmates”
    K. J. Bishop – “The Heart of a Mouse”
    Penelope Love – “Border Crossing”
    Tansy Rayner Roberts – “Relentless Adaptations”
    Joanne Anderton – “Flowers in the Shadow of the Garden”
    Penelope Love – “SIBO”
    Cat Sparks – “Dead Low”
    Margo Lanagan – “Significant Dust”
    Kaaron Warren – “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Club”

    Taken from here:

    Some of these, to me, are closer to the fantasy side of the spectrum, but I’ve never been an Aurealis judge so it isn’t my personal definition that counts! Good luck in your quest 🙂

  11. This is self-promotion, but my own story “Cold Words” (Analog, Oct. 2009) was anthologized by Stan Schmidt in his “Into the New Millennium” anthology of favorites.

  12. Two current-ish sci-fi stories that have completely amazed me are: Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente and Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck.

  13. This far without Rachel Swirsky? 🙂 “Eros, Philia, Agape” is one of my favorites of hers.

    “Jirel Meets Magic”, oddly, always struck me as science fiction — gates between worlds, etc. Arguable, though.

    Pick any Leigh Brackett Mars story…

    Will think more on this, about to head out the door, but wanted to add that one.

    This is a terrific topic idea!

    • Noted on the Swirsky. I think Moore’s entry is likely to be ‘No Woman Born’. Unfortunately, most of Brackett’s Mars stories are classified as novels – The People of the Talisman, The Sword of Rhiannon, etc – but I’ll have a look through my collections of her fiction.

  14. I’d recommend “Vintage Season,” by C. L. Moore, and “The People of the Talisman,” by Leigh Brackett (although, as Erin Hoffman suggests, Brackett offers many choices).

  15. Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett, so are Queen of the Martian Catacombs and Enchantress of Venus is a novella.
    Borderline and Rain Season by Leanne Frahm
    Computer Virus and Saviour by Nancy Kress
    Merlusine by Lucy Sussex

  16. Glancing through Justine Larbalestier’s Daughters of Earth, I’d put forward Clare Winger Harris’s ‘The fate of the Poseidonia’ (1927), which famously came third in Gernsback’s first story competition for Amazing. Can’t compare it with the rest of her output but it’s a good story in its own right. There’s also Leslie F. Stone’s ‘The Conquest of Gola’ for 1931, historically interesting but not, to my mind, as good as the Harris.

  17. The original novella of ‘Beggars in Spain’ by Nancy Kress? Or is that too long to qualify?

  18. I’d personally like to nominate Vylar Kaftan’s absolutely brilliant ‘I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno’, which appeared in the first issue of Lightspeed, was nominated for the 2008 Nebula, and has stuck in my mind ever since as one of the most perfectly constructed short stories I’ve read. It’s online here:

  19. I like how in many of these cases there are multiple contenders for best story by each author. ‘When it changed’ may be the obvious choice for Russ, but it is hard to ignore ‘Souls’ for instance.
    And suggestions above have reminded me of collections which deserve a Mistressworks entry too. Cadigan’s Patterns being a particular favourite of mine.

    I’m still agonising over which story to suggest by several authors, notably Ekaterina Sedia, Lisa Goldstein, Josephine Saxton and Kit Reed. Meanwhile here are some ideas.

    Elizabeth Bear – Tideline
    Catherynne M Valente – A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica
    Charlie Jane Anders – Six Months, Three Days
    Zenna Henderson – Come On, Wagon
    Pamela Zoline – Heat Death Of The Universe
    Andrea Hairston – Griots of the Galaxy
    Octavia Butler – Bloodchild
    Michaela Roessner – Inside Out

    • Some authors it’s a little difficult to settle on a single story, but for Le Guin I think I’m going to plump for ‘Coming of Age in Karhide’. I’ve also just read ‘Out of All Them Stars’ by Kress (in one of my Dozois Year’s Best anthos) and I think that’s a better choice than ‘Beggars in Spain’. The Butler and Zoline above I’ve already mentioned. Someone else mentioned the Anders, so I’ve added it to the list. I’ll check out the Valente, the Bear I think I’ve read and didn’t like much but I may be mistaken. I’ll add the others to the list. Ta.

    • Just read ‘Come On, Wagon’ – it’s in the Sci Fiction archive – but it’s all a bit to Huck Finn and obvious for my tastes.

  20. Think I recommended “Black Box” by Jennifer Egan on twitter. Probably not on most people’s radars because it was published in the New Yorker and Egan is a lit-fic type “slumming” in SF/F. But this really was a remarkable (and original) story…the kind of thing possible when someone engages with science fiction but without the weight of norms and expectations from within the genre.

  21. Not entire sure how you’re categorising things, but it’d be handy if you collected all the responses somewhere (even the ones you don’t like / haven’t read / don’t make your list). Be very helpful and interesting and such. They could even be graphed somehow! GRAPHS!

    • Graphs sound like fun, and I’ll certainly look at doing some pie charts of the final list. I’ve not actually been keeping track of those I’ve knocked off the list – which has pretty much been because I’ve had a few to choose from for a specific author, or I’ve tracked down a copy of the story and it’s proven to be fantasy rather than sf. The final list will contain stories I’ve not read and I’ll be basing their selection on recommendation or award nominations/wins. Um, I could graph the number of awards… or original publication venues…

  22. “It Takes Two”, by Nicola Griffiths (2009)? I read it, then immediately bought one of her novels afterwards, it was that good.

    See the review by Abigail Nussbaum here:

  23. Hmm, I suggest Merril’s Daughters of Earth (1952)… A brilliant view on the colonization of other worlds from ONLY the perspective successive generations of women. I reviewed it a while back. It’s so obvious how she is turning traditional tropes on their heads.

  24. Great idea. But sometimes to pick the best of a single author is too hard for me. But as far as Vandana Singh goes – “Infinities” is an excellent choice, but my favorite is “Distances” a novella published by Aqueduct Press.

    • Agreed. And in many cases, I’m not familiar enough with the author’s oeuvre in order to determine which is their best piece of short fiction. So I’m going by award wins or nominations, recommendations, or whether or not I’ve read it and think it is good. Which should at least provide some variety and result in some good stories.

      • That’s the only way to do it. You could read every day for 24 hours and still miss some. I applaud your intent and can’t wait to see the results.

  25. Pingback: The list: 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women | It Doesn't Have To Be Right...

  26. hi, i’d like to suggest:

    C.L. Moore, “Shambleau” (1933) – not only a good story, but an important one for the genre too

    U.K. LeGuin, “The Author of the Acacia Seeds” (1974) – a difficult choice (i’m a lifelong leguin enthusiast, so there were many candidates), but one of her most fascinating texts for me since i first read it almost thirty years ago.

    James Tiptree jr., “Slow Music” (1980) – another very personal choice, but i love the stories’ mood and the characters.

  27. Pingback: The 100 Best Sci-Fi Stories by Women Writers (Read 20 for Free Online) | wine making

  28. Pingback: Фантастичният интернет с Александър Косулиев (август 2013) | Сборище на трубадури

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