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The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 037): Who Are The ‘Big Three’ Female Science Fiction Authors?

In episode 37 of the SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester asks the panel:

Q: Which 3 female authors had the same impact on science fiction as the “big three”: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark and Robert A. Heinlein?


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About Patrick Hester (527 Articles)
Patrick Hester is a writer, blogger, podcasting dude, Denver transplant and all around Functional Nerd. Don't hate him cuz he has a cool hat.

14 Comments on The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 037): Who Are The ‘Big Three’ Female Science Fiction Authors?

  1. Okay, here is my list:


    Lois M Bujold: I think that while she is more recent, she belongs here.  Why? Miles Vorkosigan showed that women writers could play in a sandbox dominated by men.

    Andre Norton: All about the juveniles

    Ursula LeGuin: It is impossible to name the top three without her in it. Period.

  2. This is dangerous territory for me – I’m no SF historian.

    (Also tricky, because the “big 3” is in some ways narrow and rather arbitrary, itself. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells (and Mary Shelley!) who defined the genre aren’t on this list of later luminaries who emerged during a self-defined golden age. What list of luminaries omits Ray Bradbury, etc.)

    Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, James Triptree, Jr.? Both McCaffrey and Le Guin are too recent for the golden age, aren’t they? 

    Triptree, Norton, Judith Merril? 

    I give up.


  3. I don’t think it’s the feminism in Joanna Russ’s The Female Man that would put off readers, but the experimental new wave style.


  4. Ursula LeGuin – Of course – she MUST be there…  Her particular brand of character led adventure broke all sorts of moulds.

    Julian May – Her astonishing Saga of the Exiles series was a keynote piece of work that set a benchmark for science fiction.

    C.J. Cherryth – Her writing style paved the way for breaking away from screeds of omnisicent descriptions to showing invented worlds in slices only through the eyes of the protagonists.

    As for the timescales – well of course the women would be behind the men… the ‘golden era’ of pulp science fiction was almost wholly male, so it’s inevitable that the women lagged, somewhat.  However, only in time – not in talent…

    and then of course, you’ve got Andre Norton, Lois McMaster Bujold, Anne McCaffrey, Kage Baker, Diane Wynn Jones, Sherri S. Tepper and Marion Zimmer Bradley…

  5. Tiptree, Le Guin, Russ, Sargent, Tanith Lee

  6. By the way, you can get a wired headset for $30.  Although I just got the more expensive logitech wireless one.


  7. encgolsen // March 30, 2011 at 1:31 pm //

    This was great–I wasn’t familiar with all the authors mentioned and I look forward to seeking out their work.  Looking at the question differently, as in who will be influential and continuously read for the next hundred years, I think Octavia Butler is definitely among the top 3.  Her books rise to the level of literary fiction and the issues she addresses are timeless.  

  8. How about DC Fontana, Leigh Brackett, and Octavia Butler?

  9. Matte Lozenge // March 30, 2011 at 2:43 pm //

    I was surprised to learn Ursula K. Le Guin submitted her first sf manuscript for publication in 1940. She was 11 years old, but still…

  10. Michael Croteau // March 31, 2011 at 3:19 pm //

    I have a comment that is slightly off topic, and that is about the Big 3 themselves. Sadly, if you ask most science fiction fans under the age of 35 who the Big 3 are, you will probably just get a blank stare.

    And those are the science fiction fans who actually read.

    Ask most people who call themselves science fiction fans, because they watch it on TV and in the movies, and the majority have not even heard of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke or Robert Heinlein.

    Seriously, try this yourself. Ask people if they know who the big three science fiction authors are. The best guess you might get is Orwell, Verne and Wells, but you’re more likely to hear names like: Douglas Adams, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Stephen King, or Kurt Vonnegut than any of the actual big three. You will certainly find more copies of their books on the shelves at big box book stores these days.

  11. Randy Stafford // April 2, 2011 at 5:47 pm //

    Assuming by “impact” you mean influential, I think some of the suggestions aren’t defensible. Influence can take many forms. Commercially, it would mean getting people interested in science fiction. Literarily, it would, in effect, mean being copied to one degree or another.

    So, Andre Norton definitely belongs on the list. She got a lot of people into the genre and continued the line of science fantasy and expanded it.

    Ursula K. Le Gein belongs. Lots of writers did stories of male-female relations (or, if you prefer, “the war between the sexes” or “gender roles) before her. But she did it in a non-melodramatic way heavily influenced by her background in the social sciences. She did influence others to follow with similar stories.

    But Joanna Russ?  I must have missed the torrent of angry lesbian stories that clogged the bookshelves in the seventies and eighties. Again, a book may be a masterpiece of expression for a certain idea or plot, but it must be copied in theme or style by others to be influential.

    Connie Willis?  Time travel and screwball comedy is Willis’ forte. She does it well, but she has broken no new ground idea wise or in plot.

    I’d suggest C. J. Cherryh, but I’m haven’t read enough to know. I’ve heard it said that she approaches John W. Campbell’s ideal that a science fiction story should be told as if it was being published in a magazine of the time — in other words, subtle exposition and making the reader put a lot of clues together. But I don’t know if she stylistically inspired many. Kipling, in his two science fiction stories, did the same as did Heinlein.

    I’m tempted to go for Nancy Kress not just for her interest in plausible stories on the implications of genetic engineering — many authors are doing that — but her conscious effort to write stories that include characters not normally seen in science fiction — parents with kids and old people. However, I think it’s too soon to spot her influence.

  12. I wish you would just publish an article at least in addition to a podcast. I read faster than I can listen, so I don’t have the patience for this. Most of us are *readers,* no?

  13. Also, btw, if there are three women who have had “the same” impact on SF as “the big three” (male) writers, why is it a given that these male writers are THE big three, and why is it a given that we all know who they are, while we have to have a debate about who the big three female writers are? If they’ve had the same impact, then it’s the big six, right? And we all know who these six are.


  14. Jenny Pulczinski // June 6, 2012 at 6:24 pm //

    I can’t count to three I guess.


    However, if you are keeping to the same timeframe, Russ and Cherryh are too new, and even LeGuin and Tiptree were not around during the Golden Age, although they wrote two of the best SF stories out of any SF age, “The Word For World Is Forest” and “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?”.

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