Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction that contains elements that do not exist in our world. While the earliest origins of science fiction are contested, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is widely recognized as the first in the sci-fi genre. Much like fantasy literature, sci-fi credits white men with being its best and well-known writers. However, BIPOC and marginalized authors have been penning impactful sci-fi stories for decades. In the same vein of my feminist fantasy post, what follows below is a collection of feminist sci-fi books to diversify the SFF section of your bookshelf and just in time for our upcoming FBC Read-a-thon at the end of the month!
Listed in no particular order, these books are set in dystopian futures, outer space, and in gender fluid societies. Characters in these stories exist on a deep and wide spectrum of the universal human experience, perhaps even more so than stories set in our reality. While it is not clear that any or all of these books were written with a feminist agenda in mind, themes and issues that concern feminists frequently arise.
War Girls (2019) by Tochi Onyebuchi
CW: Violence, Death, Gun violence, Body horror, Drug use, Animal death. Set in a futuristic Nigeria, War Girls features two sisters who must fight their way back to each other through a war-torn country. Climate change and nuclear disasters have wreaked havoc on civilization, leaving people to focus on survival. Battles forged by bionic soldiers are fought in the air. It has been said that the story is inspired by Black Panther (one of my favorite movies of all time). Readers have also mentioned that the book is based on the Nigerian Civil War that took place in the late 1960s. In a recent online event with Macmillan, Tochi Onyebuchi has stated that he frequently explores racial/social economic divides in his writing, as well as how state violence ties into environmental violence.
Dawn (1997) by Octavia Butler
CW: Confinement, Rape, Xenophobia, Sexual assault, Violence, Sexual violence, Homophobia, Cancer, Car accident. In Dawn, Lilith Iyapo wakes up many years after losing her family in a fire that consumed Earth. She finds that she is at the mercy of the Oankali and is aboard their massive alien spacecraft. It turns out that they have been watching and preserving humans for years in an effort to save humanity. In order to survive, the Oankali merge with more primitive life forms-whether they are willing or not. This is the first in Butler’s Xenogenesis series, which includes three books. It goes without saying that Octavia Butler’s books are must-reads, even if sci-fi might not be your thing.
Future Home of the Living God (2017) by Louise Erdrich
CW: Forced institutionalization, Pregnancy, Confinement, Miscarriage, Infertility, Child death. In Future Home of the Living God, the possible end of humanity is near. A reversal of evolution has caused the births of a more primitive species of human. Cedar Hawk Songmaker, a newly pregnant woman, is shocked and uncertain, as is the rest of America. Panicked lawmakers enact martial law confining pregnant women. Essentially, anyone is eligible to be rewarded for turning them in, at any time. To protect herself and her unborn child, Cedar searches for her birth mother, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, in order to learn more about her origins. In an interview on this book Erdrich was asked about state control over women, to which she stated: “Anti-choice is about controlling women’s bodies period. It’s about seizing control of young women. That’s it. That’s what it’s about. Period.”
Brown Girl in the Ring (1998) by Nalo Hopkinson
CW: Violence, Body horror, Torture, Domestic abuse, Drug abuse, Ableism, Addiction, Child death. “She must bargain with gods, and give birth to new legends.” Brown Girl in the Ring is set in a future Canada where society has collapsed. A dark-magic-wielding crime lord rules over society, and does what he pleases. The privileged have left, and the people who remain must return to old ways of living, including farming and bartering. A young woman turns to her elders for direction, as well as to learn more about herself. Hopkinson’s work frequently draws on and explores Caribbean heritage and language.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (2014) by Becky Chambers
CW: Death, Grief, Violence, Xenophobia, Terminal illness, Medical content. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a light-hearted space opera featuring main character Rosemary Harper, a lone ranger-type who joins the crew aboard the Wayfarer. When they are presented with a lucrative job offer that is also somewhat dangerous, Rosemary must learn to rely on the crew of misfits. What ensues is adventure and feelings that Rosemary was not expecting. This LGBTQ+ book was Chambers’ debut, and is the first in the Wayfarer’s series, which consists of four books.
The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) by Ursula K. Le Guin
CW: Death, Confinement, Incest, Misogyny, Suicide, Sexism. When a lone human travels to Winter in hopes of getting them to join a growing intergalactic civilization, he learns that gender on the planet is fluid, a concept that is entirely new to him. In order to create unity and build with the rest of the galaxy, he must learn more about Winter and its culture. At the time of its publication, The Left Hand of Darkness was groundbreaking and solidified Le Guin as a leading voice in science fiction. She has said of writing this book: “I eliminated gender to find out what was left.”
Claudia’s Science Fiction Recs from FBC Members
What is Science Fiction Writing?
The History of Women in Sci-Fi isn’t What you Think
Monster, She Wrote: the Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson
Nina, you (and all of y’all, of course) need to come up to WisCon in Madison in May. A lot of the folks on this list are past and present attendees of WisCon, the world’s first and largest feminist science fiction convention; and they are the kind of folks we celebrate and talk with and emulate.