Science Fiction by Women: Three Classic Books That Need to Be on Your Reading List

Trigger warning: The books recommended here may have content that triggers in some readers, including but not limited to depictions of violence, abuse, death, discrimination, and mental health issues. Please be advised to use your discretion.

Those who try to convince you that masculinity is synonymous with rational thinking continue to cling to the redundant thinking that Science fiction is a kind that is ‘by men and for men‘, despite endless examples proving otherwise. To claim that the female imagination is incapable of transcending current scientific and social realities is to completely erase the history of this genre.

Science fiction and fiction based on futuristic and imaginary worlds have often been the perfect setting for feminist thought and philosophies to reach people. Just take a look at how the symbolism of Margret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale found its way to signs worn in women’s marches and speeches made in political spaces to see the real impact of this genre.

If you like to be on the edge of your seat and read books that are both exciting and thought-provoking, it is recommended that you add the following three titles by female authors to your to be read pile:

1. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1818)

This classicwhich is popularly credited with laying the foundations for the dystopian science fiction genre, was written by Mary during a friendly competition between Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and herself, to see who would write the best horror story . Spoiler alert: Mary won that competition and simultaneously created a narrative whose impact on the literary landscape would be so lasting that it would remain alive in the creative imagination to the present day.

If you’re only familiar with the pop culture version of Mary’s creature, Frankenstein, who speaks in monosyllables, growls, and is a larger version of a zombie, then this book is sure to surprise you. It follows the journey of a creature created from the organs of corpses by Dr. Frankenstein.

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It asks philosophical questions about responsibility and personality and brings to the fore conversations about the ethics of scientific research and experimentation. Frankenstein is not so much a collection of spooky jumps as it is an investigation into what it means to be alive through the prism of the human versus nature theme.

As Eoin Dara, one of the curators of a recent exhibition based on Le Guin’s work, told The Skinny, “Unlike his contemporaries, (Le Guin) updated his politics throughout his life and revisited the idea of ​​gender as it appears in the book. She wanted to have these conversations about her failures as a writer.” Le Guin’s later works actually featured same-sex relationships and took nuanced approaches to addressing gender and sexuality.

2. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)

Considered one of the pillars of the modern science fiction genre, Ursula K. Le Guin is widely recognized for writing one of the first books to be well-known ‘feminist science fiction‘. His story in The left hand of darkness uses an anthropologist’s perspective of interacting with a race of ambisexual beings on a different planet. It raises questions about the influence of gender and sex concepts embedded in the binary fabric of our society’s culture.

As Le Guin puts it, she eliminated gender in this book to find out what was left. If you are a fan of alternate universes in literature, then The left hand of darkness can serve as the perfect introduction to the fictional world of Le Guin- Hainish universe– on which many of his stories are based.

Although this is technically the fourth story set in this universe, it reads well as a standalone book. Unlike many science fiction writers, Le Guin does not suppress religion or simply make it ‘present‘ background. Instead, she uses the religions in her fictional universe to critically analyze the dominant systems of Western theology.

Fair warning: the book was criticized for seeing heterosexuality as the norm and following the ‘bury your gays‘trope. Le Guin spoke about it in a later essay and apologized for it. As Eoin Dara, one of the curators of a recent exhibition around the work of Le Guin, said LeanUnlike his contemporaries, (Le Guin) updated his politics throughout his life and revisited the idea of ​​gender as it appears in the book. She wanted to have these conversations about her failures as a writer.” Le Guin’s later works actually featured queer relationships and took nuanced approaches to addressing gender and sexuality.

Read also : Lessons from strong women in science fiction

The author, however, expressed that she disagreed with her imagined future being called utopian, as she felt that this banner kept it from seeming achievable or realistic. The narrative places a lot of emphasis on the importance of personal freedoms and agency while emphasizing the importance of standing up for each other.

3. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy (1976)

A part of the ‘speculative‘subgenre within science fiction category, woman on the edge of time takes the readers through a rollercoaster of emotions juxtaposing a possibly utopian future with a chaotic present. Through the perspective of a woman trapped in a mental asylum, we access time travel and the possibilities of what society can be without prejudice, discrimination, misogyny, and queerphobia (among other evils).

However, the author indicated that she didn’t agree her imagined future being labeled as utopian, as she felt this banner kept her from appearing achievable or realistic. The narrative places a lot of emphasis on the importance of personal freedoms and agency while emphasizing the importance of standing up for one another.

We meet characters across the queer spectrum, and she employs the use of neutral pronouns for everyone (the pronouns “ze” and “per” are goes up often to this work of fiction.)

Whether Piercy’s protagonist travels through time or not is up to the reader. If you’re looking for something to give you a ray of hope in these very troubling times, this should definitely be your new read.

Read also : We Need More Angry Women in Fiction: “Female” Rage and Her Inner Worlds


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About Marcia G. Hussain

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