Need a new book? Here are three female authors you might want to consider
Finished reading the books on your bookshelf or phone? Looking for something else to get your teeth into? Have you ever considered science fiction?
American author Mary Robinette Kowal, who won the 2019 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel for The Calculating Stars and British writer Temi Oh, author of Do You Dream of Terra-Two, were guests on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour. Keep reading to find out which female authors they recommend trying out.
1. Octavia Butler
Popular works: Kindred (1979), Speech Sounds (1983), Bloodchild (1984), The Xenogenesis Trilogy - consisting of Dawn: Xenogenesis (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989).
“I discovered Octavia Butler when I was 16 and I went to Kenya," says British author Temi Oh. "I was telling people, ‘I’m really interested in science fiction’ and everyone was like, ‘oh well, obviously you’ve probably read everything by Octavia Butler’. It was one of those really awkward moments when you know you should have read something but I hadn’t ever heard of her. But now I realise that she’s really big in Kenya but not so big in the UK.”
“She began writing in the 1950s, she’s black, a woman and American. She’s really prolific, a lot of people compare her to Ursula K Le Guin, or to Toni Morrison and I would say that both of those comparisons are fair."
“One of her first books was called Kindred. It’s about a woman who lives in the 1970s and she time travels back in time to the slave South and her job is to protect a slave owner who eventually becomes her great-great-grandfather. I think one of the great things about the book is the fast pace of the plot, but also from some accounts that I’ve read, it’s the first sci-fi written by a black woman. It’s really accessible and amazing so I was really inspired by her, especially as a young writer. You sort of look for people who are a bit like you and it tells you that you can do it too.”
2. Ursula K. Le Guin
Popular works: The Wizard of Earthsea (1968) - part of a fantasy series, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), The Lathe of Heaven (1971), The Disposessed (1974).
“I grew up with the Earthsea chronicles and I really loved that," says Temi Oh. "She’s one of the foundational people in science fiction, who’s hugely prolific and she’s been writing for years. She also has books for children and she was also, in a way that reminds me of Margaret Atwood, kind of prophetic in lots of ways.”
“She was really good at talking about race and gender and equality. I think she’s quite accessible for people who haven’t read much science fiction as well. She has lots of short stories. There’s this one that I really love called The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas about a utopian society that hinges on one person suffering. It poses a philosophical question, which I feel the best sci-fi does.”
3. Emma Newman
Popular works: Planetfall (2015), After Atlas (2016), Before Mars (2018), Atlas Alone (2019).
“Emma Newman really inspired me while I was writing my book, Do You Dream of Terra-Two, because I was looking for a book set in space that was really introspective and sensitive and really focused on characterization and how the technology affects the characters and their inner life," says Temi Oh. "Emma Newman’s books, especially the Planetfall series, are a really good example of that.”
“When someone is looking for something which is intensely character driven, an Emma Newman book would be a great book to pick up," says American author Mary Robinette Kowal. "Emma draws these intimate character portraits and uses science fiction almost as a metaphor for a larger societal thing. This is something a lot of science fiction allows an author to do - to tip the natural world to its side so you can see the interconnecting tissue. That’s something Emma does in her books to wonderful effect.”
Getting inspired? Here are some other female science fiction authors and books to try
Suggestions from: Elizabeth Bear, author of Ancestral Night; Becky Chambers, author of the Wayfarers series; and Marina J. Lostetter, author of Noumenon.
C. J. Cherryh - Downbelow Station (1981), The Pride of Chanur (1981)
Ursula K Le Guin - Changing Planes (a 2003 short story collection)
Nicky Drayden - The Prey of Gods (2017)
Megan O'Keefe - Velocity Weapon (2019)
Emily Suvada - This Mortal Coil (2017)
Listen to the full Woman’s Hour discussion about women and sci-fi here.
Woman's Hour is on BBC Radio 4 on weekdays at 10am and at 4pm on Saturdays. You can catch up with all episodes via BBC Sounds.