Fantasy and sci-fi are booming right now with diverse stories written by people of diverse backgrounds. Although the genres are historically very white and very male, people of other backgrounds have taken the hallowed halls of SFF by storm with books that defy readers’ expectations of what the genres can be.
It’s no wonder that many women who have penned great fantasy and sci-fi novels also received recognition for them, with many female Nebula Award winners and nominees, Hugo Award winners and nominees, and recipients of many other awards appearing on the SFF shelves.
If you’re looking for your next great read—whether fantasy or sci-fi books by female authors—we’ve got you covered. Here are just a few of the great voices out there, waiting to whisk you away.
by Fonda Lee
Jade City combines so many elements, from magic to gangster violence to political intrigue, in such a seamless way that it creates one of the most unique reads of recent memory. Jade, an element highly sought after for its ability to enhance the magic of Green Bone warriors, can be found in abundance on the island of Kekon. The Kauls, one family of warriors, has begun using their family's clout to amass political power on Kekon, taking tight control of the jade market. This is the spark that begins a story that finds Kekon at the center of a conflict over who has the right to control such extraordinary power.
Ursula K. Le Guin; Charlie Jane Anders (Afterword by); David Mitchell (Foreword by)
Some classics simply never go out of style. They will always be there on your shelf, ready to be read and re-read, with the same intrigue as the day they were published. Books that speak across generations are a rarefied bunch, but among sci-fi books by female authors, there is no novel like The Left Hand of Darkness. It is both a Hugo and Nebula Award winner, and widely considered a landmark of the genre.
Although Binti is a slim book—just under 100 pages overall—it packs a lot of natural-feeling world and character development into its slight length. The trilogy follows the title character, Binti, as she navigates life as one of the first of her people to be offered a place at a prestigious university.
by Ann Leckie
Ann Leckie is a writer who seemingly knows no bounds. After becoming a Hugo and Nebula award winner (as well as the recipient of Arthur C. Clarke and Locus Awards) for her excellent sci-fi trilogy Imperial Radch, the author followed it up with Provenance, a new story set within the same universe. Following Ingray, a young woman on a quest to regain her people's stolen artifacts, this companion novel is both a great accent to Imperial Radch, as well as a great novel in its own right.
The beginning of N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy packs a serious punch. On a post-climate change planet, Seasons are violent climate cycles that threaten the lives of the few people left inhabiting it. Orogenes, the powerful magic users who control earthquakes and prevent Seasons, are nevertheless marginalized, and one Orogene becomes incensed to the point of fracturing the planet's sole continent as punishment. Jemisin is an amazing writer, and this is one of the best sci-fi fantasy series out there.
Thief's Magic takes place in a world at the intersection of magic and industry. When an archaeology student discovers a sentient book that used to be a young girl who worked with a renowned sorcerer, and another young woman is being primed to use magic to steal from a powerful ruling class, a plot is slowly uncovered that causes the young people to question everything they've been taught to value and trust.
Octavia E. Butler is, without exaggeration, one of the best sci-fi and fantasy writers of the past century. Having been both a Hugo and Nebula Award winner, it's easy to quantify that claim. Fledgling is among Butler's less-talked-about books, but it packs just as much of a punch as any of her more famous series or standalones. Plus, it features biting social commentary and vampires. What more could you ask for?
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D.R. Baker is a writer and musician based in New York City. Their work has appeared at Book Riot, Submittable, HowlRound, and others.