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MIND MELD: Who are Your Favorite Women in Genre?

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In celebration of Women in Genre Month we ask some of our favorites about some of their favorites!

We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: Who are your favorite women authors in genre? What are your favorite books written by them?

Here’s what they said…

Nancy Kress
Nancy Kress is the author of numerous science fiction and fantasy titles, including Beggars in Spain, Nothing Human, Probability Space, Stinger, and her bestselling Write Great Fiction series. She is a recipient of the Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and John W. Campbell Memorial awards, and her work has been translated into 16 languages. She lives in Rochester, New York.

My favorite female author is Ursula K. LeGuin. I started reading her in the late sixties and have never stopped. Her best work combines genuine, multi-dimensional characters with “thought experiments” about how societies are organized, and with what consequences. My favorite of her works are The Dispossessed and the collection of related novellas, Four Ways Into Forgiveness. Brilliant, compassionate, believable, these books truly eplore what it means to be human, in human societies, striving for the things human beings care about.

Tansy Rayner Roberts
Tansy Rayner Roberts is a writer and mother living in Tasmania. Author of the dark fantasy Creature Court trilogy and the short story collection Love and Romanpunk, she also has her first crime novel coming out in 2013 under the pen-name Livia Day. She received her first Hugo nomination in 2012 for the feminist SF podcast Galactic Suburbia. You can find Tansy on Twitter as @tansyrr and at her blog.

My teenage discoveries of the fantasy genre were full of amazing, inspiring female authors. I started writing an actual novel for the first time when I was fourteen because I was dizzy with joy about the shapechangers and dynastic politics of Jennifer Roberson’s Cheysuli series. Robin McKinley’s fairy tale novels are imprinted on my heart forever. Discovering Diana Wynne Jones, book by book, in second-hand shops here and there throughout my life was one of my great quests, and the mass reprinting of her books in the post-Harry Potter blaze of YA glory still makes me happy inside to remember.  Tamora Pierce made me look at fantasy traditions and values in a different light, and is always the author I will recommend (still) to show how women can be strong and interesting protagonists in patriarchal history-based societies.

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean keeps telling me that it is my favourite book of all time, and that sounds about right to me. I have re-read it so many times that I can close my eyes and sit in one of Janet’s lecture theatres, or run my fingers along the books on her shelf.

I struggled with many of the authors and books that my high school friends adored – I never could love Raymond E Feist’s Magician series, which I found dull and uneventful. But the Empire trilogy that he co-wrote with Janny Wurtz was beyond wonderful – I still hold that in my head as the perfect fantasy trilogy, for its complexity and political savvy and marvellous, beleaguered female protagonist, Mara.

That makes me think about David and Leigh Eddings. The Belgariad, Malloreon, Elenium and the Tamuli may in retrospect be problematic, cheesy and have a bunch of gender issues that I don’t want to prod at too closely, but they were hugely significant to my teen years, as part of my long training in what fantasy fiction looked like, and how addictive it could be. I had long stopped reading and rereading those books when it was revealed that Leigh was a co-writer of those books, and I didn’t really stop to think about the significance of it at the time, but it was important enough to them both that the bylines of the books were changed, and adds to my pattern of mostly appreciating female authors. (A similar revelation occurred after Dick Francis’ death when it became known that in fact, his wife largely wrote the books he was my David Eddings of crime fiction!) It’s frustrating that we know so little about Leigh and David and how they worked together, but it’s important I think to reclaim Leigh’s share of the work (based on the bylines it’s fair to assume 50%) and to make sure she is not rendered invisible in the history of the genre.

I could keep talking about female authors all day – I’m paying particular attention to short fiction at the moment because I long to write better in that form, and so writers like Nalo Hopkinson, Rachel Swirsky, Mary Robinette Kowal, Catherynne Valente, NK Jemisin, Aliette De Bodard and Delia Sherman are my heroes. I like many of their novels, but love them best for their short fiction. Among my Australian peers, I am also deeply envious of the short work of Cat Sparks, Thoraiya Dyer, Deborah Biancotti, Kaaron Warren and of course Margo Lanagan, the queen of everything. If you haven’t read her recent micro-collection Cracklescape, you’re missing out.

Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, the threefold historical fantasy about Rapunzel and the women who told/wrote her story is the 2012 book that I wish that more people outside Australia had read, because it’s spectacular.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch
International bestselling writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch has won or been nominated for every major award in the science fiction field. She has won Hugos for editing The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and for her short fiction. She has also won the Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine Readers Choice Award six times, as well as the Anlab Award from Analog Magazine, Science Fiction Age Readers Choice Award, the Locus Award, and the John W. Campbell Award. Her standalone sf novel, Alien Influences, was a finalist for the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award. I09 said her Retrieval Artist series featured one of the top ten science fiction detectives ever written. She writes a second sf series, the Diving Universe series, as well as a fantasy series called The Fey. She also writes mystery, romance, and fantasy novels, occasionally using the pen names Kris DeLake, Kristine Grayson and Kris Nelscott.

This is a tough one for me because I have so many! The list below is truly incomplete. (I apologize to the women I’ve missed; I can never come with these lists on such short notice and without research, and I’m not researching here.)

Long-time favorites from before I got into the field: Andre Norton (impossible to pick a book), Ursula K. Le Guin, (The Left Hand of Darkness), Octavia Butler (Kindred)

Other favorites: Connie Willis , Nancy Kress, Linda Nagata, Esther M. Friesner, P.N. Elrod, Jane Yolen, Annie Reed, Kate Wilhelm.

My favorite Connie Willis book is Blackout/All Clear which I consider one book. I prefer both P.N. Elrod & Kate Wilhelm when they’re doing straight mystery short stories, but I immediately grab their sf/f as well. Nancy Kress’s novella, Beggars in Spain (not the trilogy) is my favorite of her works. With Linda Nagata, Jane Yolen, and Esther M. Friesner, I prefer their short fiction. (Two favorite Esthers come to mind: “A Birthday” and “Jesus at the Bat”. Annie Reed writes a Diz & Dee fantasy detective series that’s wonderful (up there with P.N. Elrod’s, in my opinion.)

I know there are more. I did a quick search and couldn’t think of them. I know when I see other people’s lists, I’ll be slapping myself on the forehead wondering why I hadn’t remembered this story or that novel.

Ellen Datlow
Ellen Datlow has edited more than 50 anthologies, including The Dark, The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Inferno, Little Deaths, Poe, Twists of the Tales, and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She co-edited The Coyote Road, Salon Fantastique, and Troll’s Eye View and has won the Locus, the Hugo, the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement, the International Horror Guild, and the World Fantasy awards for her editing. She lives in New York City.

I mostly read short stories and always have. The following writers exemplify for me, some of the best contemporary writers of short science fiction, fantasy, and horror:

Elizabeth Hand is one of my favorite writers in any genre. She’s written science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Her dark crime novels are engrossing. Her short stories and novellas
luminescent. I’ve read most of her novels but my current favorites are Generation Loss and Available Dark. Pick up any of her four short story collections and you’ll be wowed:

  • “Last Summer at Mars Hill”
  • “Bibliomancy”
  • “Saffron and Brimstone”
  • “Errantry”

Pat Cadigan, who won the Arthur C. Clarke twice for her novels is another exceptional writer who moves easily among genres. For sf try Synners. I love her sharp, edgy short fiction collected in three collections:

  • Home by the Sea
  • Patterns
  • Dirty Work

Caitlin R. Kiernan’s 2012 novel The Drowning Girl (A Memoir) demonstrates her continuous evolution as one of our best writers. She often combines her background in paleontology with dark fantasy and Lovecraftian themes. Although she eschews the “horror” label, her work can be very dark indeed. The two volume collected works will give the reader a fine appreciation of her short fiction.
Her most recent collections are:

  • The Ammonite Violin & Others
  • Two Worlds and in Between: The Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan (Volume One)
  • Confessions of a Five-Chambered Heart

Elizabeth Bear also writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I’ve only read her short fiction, which I love for its variety and energy. I’ve been publishing her in webzines and anthologies and she rarely disappoints.
The two collection of her short fiction so far:

  • The Chains That You Refuse
  • Shoggoths in Bloom

Kelly Link is one of the few speculative fiction writers today (along with Ted Chiang) who has made a name for herself with only her short fiction. Her stories are mysterious, sometimes foreboding,
always engrossing and she always amazes me as I watch her brilliantly maneuver one of her more labyrinthine stories into a perfectly-formed and satisfying conclusion.
Her Collections:

  • Stranger Things Happen
  • Magic For Beginners
  • Pretty Monsters
Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. This, coupled with a childhood tendency to read the dictionary for fun, led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, the mispronunciation of common English words, and the writing of speculative fiction.

I’m glad this question is “favorite” female authors, because that sets a limit. Of course, I could probably be here all week anyway… and I know I am going to miss some people. But here goes nothing….

Vonda McIntyre has been a deep favorite of mine for a long time, especially her novel Dreamsnake, based on the everything-winning novella “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand.” I love her characters, the way her women are people rather than stereotypes, and the humanity of the postapocalyptic landscape. Her world rings much more true to me–much more like accounts of life in frontier or wilderness conditions–than the usual juvenile Mad Max fantasies.

I love the work of Emma Bull, Pamela Dean, Caroline Stevermer, and Pat Wrede, all of whom have been bookshelf staples for me since college.

Octavia Butler, especially “Speech Sounds” and the Xenogenesis/Lillith’s Brood books.

I loved Anne McCaffery when I was younger; I sort of grew out of her books, but I read at least two copies of Dragonflight to destruction.

Barbara Hambly, whose work I love with a deep and sincere and lasting affection–especially Dragonsbane, the Benjamin January books, the first Darwath trilogy, and the whimsical and wonderful Bride of the Rat God.

Diana. Wynne. Jones. There are still a bunch of her books I have not read. I am saving them.

Phyllis Anne Karr’s The Idylls of the Queen, my favorite bit of deconstructionist Arthuriana.

Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s Tomoe Gozen and sequels.

Nancy Kress’s Beggars in Spain.

Nalo Hopkinson, especially The Salt Roads and The New Moon’s Arms.

Amanda Downum’s Necromancer Chronicles.

Caitlin Kiernan, especially The Drowning Girl, which I think was the best SFF novel published last year.

Ellen Klages, especially The Green Glass Sea.

The books of my writing partner, Sarah Monette, both under her own name and the forthcoming The Goblin Emperor, written as Katherine Addison.

Holly Black, everything.

C. J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station.

Karen Lord, who is new and shiny and amazing.

Aliette de Bodard–her short science fiction even more so than her longer historical fantasy.

Leah Bobet’s Above… see, it gets hard here, because so many of the people writing *now* are friends and acquaintances. And I could cheerfully go on for a week and a half, listing awesomeness. I had better leave some for other people.

About Nick Sharps (85 Articles)
Nick is the Social Media Coordinator and Commissioning Editor for Ragnarok Publications and its imprint, Angelic Knight Press. He is a book critic and aspiring author. He is the co-editor of Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters from Ragnarok Publications. He studies Advertising and Public Relations at Point Park University.

21 Comments on MIND MELD: Who are Your Favorite Women in Genre?

  1. Since you don’t specify what you mean by “in genre”, I’d love to give a shout-out to some of the many amazing women who review and write about SF/F: Jo Walton, Farah Mendlesohn, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Aishwarya Subramanian, JoSelle Vanderhooft, Elizabeth Hand, Justine Larbalestier, Nisi Shawl, Jaymee Goh, Brit Mandelo, Foz Meadows, Abigail Nussbaum, Catherynne M. Valente. I’m sure I’ll think of more as soon as I hit “submit comment”. There are some splendid women editing SF/F magazines and webzines, too, including Susan Marie Groppi, Liza Groen Trombi, Sheila Williams, Shweta Narayan, Rose Lemberg, and Amal El-Mohtar. Our field is the richer for their keen eyes and strong, smart opinions.

  2. Jeff Ford // April 17, 2013 at 8:48 am //

    A few I don’t think are mentioned here whose work I always try to seek out — Ekaterina Sedia, Mary Ricket, KJ Bishop, Joyce Carol Oates, Yoko Ogawa, Kaaron Warren.

  3. Ellen Datlow // April 17, 2013 at 8:57 am //

    And others of my favorites who I didn’t mention above:
    Karen Joy Fowler, Priya Sharma, Kij Johnson, Livia Llewellyn, Tanith Lee, Gemma Files.

  4. For June, will we play fair and get Favorite Gay Men and Lesbian Authors?

  5. Ellen Datlow // April 17, 2013 at 9:09 am //

    Why separate them out, Steve? There are sf/f/h lesbian authors mentioned above.

  6. Kai Ashante Wilson // April 17, 2013 at 9:48 am //

    Well, writers can be considered fruitfully from a variety of perspectives, in light of various affiliations. (The technical term being “intersectionality.”) I too look forward to what possibilities June may bring.

  7. Holly Phillips. Her collection “At The Edge Of Waking” is simply astonishing.

  8. R A Deckert // April 17, 2013 at 12:17 pm //

    Alma Alexander, Glenda Larke, Mary Victoria, Irene Radford…

  9. I find Jennifer Pelland interesting.

  10. Lois McMaster Bujold. Just an amazing writer, one of the best.

  11. Paul Connelly // April 17, 2013 at 7:49 pm //

    For beautifully written prose, Ursula LeGuin and Patricia McKillip are very hard to match. (Probably the only men who come close are John Crowley and Alan Garner.) For old fashioned adventure, C. L. Moore and Leigh Brackett. For originality, Catherynne Valente, Greer Ilene Gilman and Margo Lanagan. For putting you uncomfortably deep into life as experienced by the protagonist, Caitlin Kiernan and Maureen McHugh. For making you pray that they get to finish their series before civilization ends, P. C. Hodgell and Rosemary Kirstein. And that still leaves a lot of categories I could make up for Andre Norton, Octavia Butler, Elizabeth Hand, Mary Gentle, Liz Williams, N. K. Jemisin, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Joyce Ballou Gregorian, et al.

  12. Leslie H. // April 19, 2013 at 1:38 pm //

    I want to recommend author Layne Wong, historical romance writer, and has recently published the book, “Shanghai Love” ( It is an unlikely love story between a Chinese herbalist and a Jewish refugee looking for safety from Nazi Germany. The herbalist, Peilin, was betrothed to a man who was killed before their wedding but tradition and honor forced the marriage along anyways. She is sent to Shanghai to manage his family’s herbal shop. Shanghai is also Henri’s destination as he has graduated from medical school as Hitler is rising to power. He flees to Shanghai where he’s befriended by Ping, Peilin’s brother.Through her kindness, Henri becomes fascinated with Chinese herbs as well as the exotic culture surrounding him. The historical aspect of the book is fascinating as well as the characters and their difficult pasts. Peilin is such a strong, inspiring lead character you really want her to be happy! A novel needs to have characters that you care about and this one accomplishes that with ease 🙂 She’s an author that needs to be commended!

  13. Jennifer Pelland definitely deserves a shout.
    Tricia Sullivan (Maul, Lightborn) deserves one as well.
    Raphael Carter* (The Fortunate Fall). Only one book, but it’s fantastic.

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