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Best Science Fiction by Women

The 25 Best Science Fiction Written By Female Authors

Science fiction can appear to be a very masculine genre, all that technology just makes it seem like toys for the boys. But that is far from the truth. There have always been women writing science fiction, indeed some of the best and most important works of science fiction have been written by women. There are even those who would argue that science fiction wouldn't exist if not for a woman.

So get your head around stories that will seriously change the way you see the world. These are stories that have shaped science fiction, stories that explore the new in a way science fiction was always meant to do but so rarely achieves. Even so, the 25 novels and story collections we've brought together here barely scratch the surface of the great sf by women that's waiting to be discovered.

It is the 1970s. Joanna lives in a world much like our own, where the feminist movement is just beginning. In Jeannine's world, however, there was no Second World War because Hitler had been assassinated, but the Great Depression is still going on. Janet lives in a peaceful, utopian world known as Whileaway, where the mendied of a plague 800 years ago and women give birth by parthenogenesis. Jael is in a world where there is a literal battle of the sexes, a war that has been going on for 40 years already.The four are versions of the same woman, and when they are brought together it gives Russ the opportunity to dramatically examine the different relationships with men and with other women experienced in the various worlds. The novel displays both the anger and the irony that are characteristic of her work at its best. James Tiptree once wrote to her: "Do you imagine that anyone with half a functional neuron can read your work and not have his fingers smoked by the bitter, multi-layered anger in it?" The result, often violent and always challenging, is the most powerful work of feminist science fiction ever written.Why It's on the ListAlways controversial, The Female Man is credited with starting feminist science fiction. It is one of only three novels to have been awarded a Retrospective Tiptree Award.Alternative Choice Kindred by Octavia Butler is another work that poses complicated questions about gender, but with the added puzzle of race. It is a time travel story of a young black woman who moves between contemporary California, and pre-Civil War Maryland, where she meets her ancestors, a black slave woman and a while slave owner. Ever since it was first published, Kindred has been a mainstay on both women's studies and black literature courses.

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Joanna Russ's work is never easy, she deliberately undermines our expectations, shifts perspective, and challenges our prejudices. But the result can be refreshing and invigorating. 

The way she subverts the comforting myths of science fiction is vividly displayed in We Who Are About To which tells the familiar story of a small group of people stranded on an uninhabited planet. The men, as always in such stories, dream of colonising and repopulating the planet, but the woman doesn't believe that survival is possible. In a famously bleak ending she has to kill the men in order to defend herself against rape.

We was written in the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution, and though Zamyatin was himself a Bolshevik, the novel expressed his disquiet at the structuring of society that the Soviet Union was planning; it was, therefore, the first novel banned by the Soviet censorship board. As a result, Zamyatin had the manuscript smuggled out of the country, so it was published in an English translation long before it ever saw print in Russia.Set in a police state where everyone is under constant surveillance by the secret police, We tells of an engineer who meets and falls in love with a free spirit whose independence leads him to question everything he has always assumed about the state. But in the end the state proves all powerful and this suggestion of independence is crushed.Why it's on the listAldous Huxley confirmed that We was part of the inspiration that led him to write Brave New World; and George Orwell, who reviewed We on its original publication in the UK, modelled 1984 very closely on Zamyatin's book. But if it had not had such a major influence on subsequent dystopias, We is a powerful work that deserves to be recognised as one of the great novels of the 20th century.
It is the summer of 1816. Mary Wollstonecraft is 18, and is travelling through Europe with her lover of two years, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The couple arrive in Geneva in May to stay with Lord Byron, who has rented a villa there along with his mistress, Claire Claremont, and his young doctor, John Polidori. But it turns out to be a miserable summer, and they spend the rainy evenings telling each other ghost stories. Then, they challenge each other to make up new stories. Polidori produces The Vampyre, a precursor of Dracula. Mary, after a nightmare, and recalling the current experiments by Galvani, comes up with Frankenstein. The novel was published, anonymously, two years later, then a revised edition under her name appeared in 1831.The novel is the story of a young and impatient scientist, Victor Frankenstein who, experimenting with electricity, manages to bring life back to dead flesh. He makes a living being from bits of dead men, but he sees the creature as ugly and so abandons it. Alone and terrifying anyone who sees it, the creature still manages to teach itself to speak and to read, and eventually he seeks out Frankenstein to persuade him to make a mate. Frankenstein agrees, but destroys the female before animating her; in revenge, the creature kills Frankenstein's fiancÃée on the eve of their wedding. Eventually the two, creator and created, disappear into the wastes of the North Pole. Why It Made the ListAccording to Brian Aldiss, Frankenstein was the first science fiction novel. Even if you don't accept this, there's no denying that it was one of the most influential books in the entire history of the genre. Everything from Jeckyll and Hyde to Isaac Asimov's I, Robot, owe a debt to Frankenstein.

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Frankenstein has been called the first science fiction novel, but there are several other contenders for that title. For instance, you might try Utopia by Thomas More, the original work about a perfect land, and a book that has been even more influential than Frankenstein.

Or there's The Man in the Moone by Francis Godwin, about an anti-hero shipwrecked on a remote island, who tries to escape by building carriage powered by wild geese. But the geese, as it was then believed, migrated to the Moon, so he is swept along, experiencing weightlessness along the way, and then discovering a noble society on the moon.

Or, again, there's The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish, in which a lady is kidnapped by pirates, abandoned at the North Pole, finds another world joined to ours at the pole, and in time becomes empress of that world.

Meanwhile, Frankenstein has inspired very many books as sequels or variations of the story. There is, for instance, Frankenstein Unbound by Brian Aldiss, in which a 21st century politician is transported back to Geneva in 1816 to meet both Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein.

Or there's Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop, in which the immortal creature survives the Arctic wastes and reappears in the Deep South of America during World War Two playing minor league baseball.

Science fiction isnât always meant to be comfortable or easy reading. Quite the opposite, any literature so based on ideas must challenge the reader, make them think differently (if only for as long as it takes to read the book), and that is what Octavia Butler did with her fiction. Being both black and a woman shines out in her work, which constantly makes us rethink our notions of gender and race. This pattern of daring us to think the unthinkable comes out particularly in the three volumes, Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago that make up this sequence, later retitled Lilithâs Brood. It starts with military adventurers unleashing a nuclear war that wipes out most of Earth. The few survivors are rescued by an alien race, the Oankali. The Oankali are physically repulsive, instead of eyes, ears and other familiar sense organs, their bodies are covered with tentacles with which they perceive the world. Moreover, they have three sexes, male, female, and a third sex, ooloi, who are able to directly manipulate genetic material. When, centuries later, the humans are roused from stasis, they find the Oankali have made the Earth habitable again. The Oankali are ready to help the humans survive on the planet without their old technology, but in return they want to interbreed and raise a hybrid race. The balance between the repulsiveness of the aliens and the survival of humanity lies at the heart of the work. When the Oankali and the humans do settle on the renewed Earth, the ooloi make sure that humans are infertile so that the only children born are hybrids. This leads to inevitable tensions between the two races until, by the end of the trilogy, the genetic value of the hybrid race is proved.  Why It Made the List Octavia Butler received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the PEN American Center and a MacArthur Genius Grant, which shows how highly regarded her work was. And this really is a genius of a story that makes you think harder than just about any other science fiction.

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The themes that run through all of Octavia Butlerâs work are perhaps at their clearest in Kindred, a time travel story in which a black woman from the present finds herself back in 19th century Maryland, where she meets Alice, a black woman who was born free but forced into slavery, and Rufus, a vicious white slaveholder, both of whom prove to be her ancestors.I

f you are interested in the ways that biology can shape us, you should also try A Door into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski. Set on a world entirely covered by water, the inhabitants of Shora are all women, who use genetic engineering to control the ecology of their world. But when contact with an alien race threatens their society, they have to find out if someone from outside can adopt to their way of life in order to protect their world from invasion. A Door into Ocean won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.
In the late 1960s stories suddenly started to appear from a writer no-one had heard of before, and no-one had met. But the stories were just too good, too quirky, too powerful to come from a complete novice. So all sorts of rumours began to spread. Because the stories came from Langley, Virginia, Harry Harrison decided that the author must work for the CIA. Robert Silverberg, meanwhile, declared that there was something ineluctably male about them, a view that, to be fair, most other people agreed with, even those who were in communication with the mysterious James Tiptree. Then, inevitably, the truth came out: Tiptree was really Alice Bradley Sheldon, daughter of a writer, who had worked analysing reconnaissance photographs during the war, had briefly been an unsuccessful chicken farmer, and was currently studying to become a psychologist. She was also the most original, most surprising and most powerful short story writer in the genre.Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is as close as we have to a definitive collection of her short stories. It includes all her award-winning fiction, including "The Screwfly Solution" which won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette and which suggests that male violence against women is actually the result of a virus; "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" which won the Hugo Award for Best Novella is a precursor of cyberpunk, it tells of a cruelly deformed girl who becomes a global media celebrity thanks to an avatar that she controls remotely; "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella, it tells of the three male astronauts whose ship is somehow displaced in time, who return to Earth to find that all men have been wiped out and they have to come to terms with a peaceful all-female society; and "Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death" which won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story, which tells of an alien creature that tries to resist its violent primal urges.The collection also includes other classics such as "The Women Men Don't See", in which, following a plane crash in the Amazon, two women choose to go off with aliens rather than stay with their male companions; and "And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side", which explores sexual obsession with the alien. Tiptree won a fistful of Hugo and Nebula Awards and was, for a while, the most celebrated writer in science fiction. Her work is individual, explores gender issues in a way that no earlier writer had ever done, and is consistently challenging and absorbing. You don't forget a Tiptree story.

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Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is a wonderful collection, but it doesn't come anywhere near to giving you all of Tiptree's inimitable stories, so you'd be very well advised to seek out all her original collections, especially Ten Thousand Light Years from Home, Warm Worlds and Otherwise, Star Songs of an Old Primate and Out of the Everywhere.

Tiptree was primarily a short story writer, but she did produce two novels. The better of them is probably Up the Walls of the World which describes a psychic invasion of Earth by aliens, while an entity larger than the solar system becomes tangentially involved. But to be honest, the novels really don't match the stories.

Synners are jacked-in outlaws, hooked on the astonishing worlds of virtual space as an escape from the grim, depressing industrial reality around them. But, hot-wired in to cyberspace, they have unleashed a wildfire virus that doesn't just trash the system; it can trash your brain as well.The battle between streetwise cyberpunks and the emergent AI that is starting to kill off their friends and colleagues makes for one hell of ride. It's a world overwhelmed by the sheer noise of what is going on, an incessant pounding of information and rock music and advertising that makes for the dark, mean, dystopian streets of this thriller. A vision of the future that feels far too close to reality today.Intricately plotted, fast paced, utterly convincing, this is the epitome of the cyberpunk thriller. Synners won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. It is everything that cyberpunk set out to be but so rarely achieved, a brilliant thriller and a chilling vision of a digital world not that far from our own.

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Pat Cadigan is one of the most important science fiction writers of the last 30-odd years, so it is, frankly, a disgrace and a mystery that she didn't win a Hugo Award until she picked one up for her novelette, "The Girl Who Went Out For Sushi", in 2013. But at least she made up for this oversight by being the first person to win two Arthur C. Clarke Awards. Which brings us to our Alternative Choice.

Fools was the novel that Cadigan wrote after Synners, and it is filled with the same dense detail, the same confident handling of its digital future, and the same ability to whip up a gripping adventure plot. It's set in a world in which memories can be bought and sold. When one woman wakes up with a memory of a murder that she didn't commit, she has to find out who's memory she has, while trying to dodge the assassins who are now chasing her. But in this world everyone can have several different personalities lodged in the brain and it's not easy even for Marva to know who she is.

Right from her debut as an adult novelist with Divine Endurance (she has an equally long and successful career as a children's writer), Gwyneth Jones has been a writer to watch. Her plots are complex and politically charged, you need to have your brain in gear when you're reading her work, yet her writing is vivid and engaging. Though Divine Endurance is probably her most popular work, it is the Aleutian Trilogy, White Queen (winner of the James Tiptree Award), North Wind and Phoenix Cafe that is her most arresting. It is an alien invasion story, but what is most interesting is not the invasion itself but what happens afterwards. When Earth is colonised by the Aleutians, we are presented with all the problems associated with that. There are linguistic differences which make it difficult for coloniser and colonised to understand each other; there are problems with the fact that the Aleutians have a sort of immortality; and above all there is the new sense of inferiority that leads many humans to have themselves surgically altered so they look more like the aliens. Why it's on the list: Colonialism has been a theme of science fiction at least since the work of H.G. Wells, but no-one has spelled out exactly what it means to be colonised the way that Gwyneth Jones does here.

Books in Storyteller Series (2)

In the Pacific North West of the 1880s a strange, silent white woman suddenly appears in a camp of Chinese workers. Where she comes from, who or what she is, no-one knows, but she has a profound effect on everyone she comes into contact with. From the inmates in the local insane asylum to the pioneering feminists in the nearby town, Sarah Canary is drawn to the outcasts and the downtrodden in this rough frontier territory. Yet she never speaks and she remains a mystery, even after the transcendent ending we cannot be sure whether she is an escaped lunatic or an alien, or possibly even an angel. Painting a remarkably vivid portrait of this very particular place and time in American history, Karen Joy Fowler manages to make it seem mysterious, so that the mystery of Sarah Canary seems to belong naturally here and it is only afterwards that we start to ask ourselves what she could possibly be. Why it's on the list: Depending on how you interpret the ending of the novel, Sarah Canary may not even be science fiction, and yet it feels profoundly science fictional. It is an extraordinary balancing act that Karen Joy Fowler has managed to perform in much of her best work. As a result, she makes us question what we believe science fiction to be.
The big space opera series of the moment is Ann Leckie's multi-award-winning Imperial Radch trilogy, consisting of Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and the forthcoming Ancillary Mercy. It's set in a high-tech future where Breq, the central character, is an ancillary, a body that houses a portion of the AI that once controlled a spaceship, "Justice of Toren". But the ship has been destroyed by treachery, and Breq is the sole surviving ancillary who is now seeking to find out what happened and get revenge. What Breq uncovers involves her in a civil war between different aspects of the ruler of the Radch, and she finds herself on one side of the resulting conflict while still trying to work for her revenge.   Ancillary Justice won just about every award going, including the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, BSFA and Arthur C. Clarke Awards, and Ancillary Sword added another Locus and BSFA Award. It's been a long time since space opera won such universal praise.

Books in Imperial Radch Series (2)

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The sequel to the novel is already out. Ancillary Sword gives Breq control of a new ship, and sends her across the galaxy to protect the family of the lieutenant she once murdered in cold blood.

Other powerful space operas with a contemporary feel include Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh, a fast-moving story set in research stations around the toxic planet Cyteen. The story includes clones and rejuvenation, faster than light travel, wars and murder. It won both the Hugo and Locus Awards.

Dust by Elizabeth Bear is set aboard a generation starship that was badly damaged ages before. Over the centuries, the crew have divided into warring factions, but now the nearby binary stars are on the verge of falling into each other, and a way must be found to unite the warring factions or the whole ship will be lost.

By the time Burroughs came to write the first of his Barsoom novels, the idea of Mars presented by Percival Lowell had been pretty much dismissed, but that didn't matter. Because for Burroughs the idea of a dying desert world was just the setting he needed for a fast-paced adventure story full of sword fights and derring-do and lots of ridiculous escapades. John Carter, a Civil War veteran, is escaping from Apaches in Arizona when he is suddenly transported to Mars. Here the lower gravity means he has super powers, which gives him a real advantage when he becomes involved in the war between the green, six-limbed Tharks and the red humanoid Martians. Of course, there's a beautiful Martian princess, Dejah Thoris, for him to rescue and fall in love with. And there are all sorts of big set piece action scenes to keep the whole story rushing along. Why it's on the list: A Princess of Mars was just the first in a series of 11 Barsoom books that Burroughs would write over a period of some 30 years. Let's face it, you don't read them for literary quality or scientific verisimilitude, but they are incredibly readable, and created the colourful planetary romance that was one of the most popular forms of science fiction over the next half century or more.
Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, sometimes known as Mad Madge, was an amazing figure, a friend of major thinkers like Descartes and Hobbes, she was an early exponent of atomism, and persistently tried to join the Royal Society though women were not allowed to be members at the time. Above all, she was one of the first women in England to publish books under her own name, and to make a living at it. The Blazing World is full of incident. Our heroine is kidnapped by pirates, shipwrecked at the North Pole, finds another world attached to ours at the pole, crosses to that other world where she encounters a host of strange animals, then she goes into the interior of the world which is ablaze with jewels and has herself made Empress. On top of all of that, she then starts to communicate with the Duchess of Newcastle in our own world, so that the author thus becomes a character in her own novel. We might wonder whether The Blazing World might have been acclaimed as a precursor for postmodernism if it hadn't been written by a woman. Why it's on the list: This is the earliest substantial work of fiction written by a woman that is recognisable as science fiction, and it is still fascinating to read today.
Downbelow Station is well known among science fiction readers. It's part of a sprawling set of novels - though each reads as a standalone, it's worth reading a few should you find out that it really is your thing. And trust us when we say it will be. This is a tale of conflict, drama and political intrigue. Of course, plenty of books tell these stories, but what makes it such a special piece of fiction that we've placed it at number ten on our list of top hard science fiction novels? Cherryh's solutions to colonising planets - or rather, making use of planets that we can't quite colonise - are ingenious and the world she builds is totally believable (though that fact may well turn you into quite the cynic!). That, combined with a vibrant and varied cast pushes this novel into our top ten. Also, there's a board game based on it, so you multi-fandom geeks can have even more fun with this universe!

Books in The Company Wars Series (10)

We often tend to slip into the notion that before the advent of writers like Ursula Le Guin and Joanna Russ, science fiction was an exclusively masculine domain. But that couldn't be further from the truth. There have always been women who played a prominent part in the literature. C.L. Moore is a case in point. With her very first sale, "Shambleau", in 1933, she created one of the creepiest and most effective of all weird tales, with a story of a planetary adventurer and his encounter with a beautiful but deadly alien vampire. She was just as adept with straight science fiction stories, such as the wonderful "No Woman Born", which tells the story of a glamorous and celebrated performer who is killed in a fire but her brain is preserved and put into a specially-designed robot body. For the men in her life she thus becomes an object of fear, a powerful woman that they cannot control, but for the performer herself she suddenly realises that she can achieve so much more than she ever did before. With her husband, Henry Kuttner, Moore also collaborated on classic stories such as "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" and "Vintage Season", which were written as by Lewis Padgett or Laurence O'Donnell. Practically everything she wrote was at short story length, and as the title suggests the best of them have been brought together in this collection. Why it's on the list: From the 1930s through to the 1950s, C.L. Moore was one of the leading genre writers who had a profound influence on the shape of weird fiction as well as "golden age" science fiction.
There was a time when stories of isolated communities surviving after the apocalypse were all over the place. There was also a time when stories of clones were everywhere, driven by the curious uncanny interest in what it might be like to meet yourself. But it took Kate Wilhelm, in what is easily her finest novel, to bring the two ideas together.There is no one cataclysmic event that destroys the world, just a series of problems, viruses and wars and increasing levels of radiation, that slowly become insoluble. The Sumners, a wealthy extended family, decide to ride out the cataclysm in their remote farm, until they discover that one of the side effects of the various problems in the world is that they have all become infertile. In order for the family to survive, they decide to clone themselves, imagining it is a temporary measure and that some years down the line the clones will be able to breed naturally again. But the clones have other ideas. They quite like being clones, and choose to continue cloning, creating anything from four to 10 offspring from each individual. The consequence of this is that the clones lose all sense of individuality, they become dependent on each other, tied together by an empathy that is almost telepathic. Eventually, they lose their creativity, their ability to cope with changing circumstances. Only an offshoot community that has restored natural childbirth and with it the sense of individuality continues to thrive. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang won the Hugo Award. A humane, sensitive work, typical of Wilhelm at her very best, it is one of the most interesting treatments of cloning in science fiction. U. A humane, sensitive work, typical of Wilhelm at her very best, it is one of the most interesting treatments of cloning in science fiction.

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Other than Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Wilhelm was probably at her best at shorter length. Try her collection The Infinity Box, particularly the title novella. This is a disturbing story in which a man finds he is able to enter and control the mind of a vulnerable woman who moves in next door. But the more he controls her, a psychologically abusive sexual relationship, the more he slips into madness.

There are any number of other novels about cloning. Among the more interesting, Cloned Lives by Pamela Sargent is worth reading. It tells of an experiment with cloning told from the point of view of different clones and the father, and it is interesting that it doesn't stress the similarity between the clones but the differences.

More recently, stories of cloning have concentrated on the idea of the clone being harvested for organs and body parts to keep the original alive. This notion crops up in Spares by Michael Marshall Smith, in which the clones go on the run; and in Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, in which the clones are raised to feel honoured to donate parts.

New technologies are the life blood of science fiction as we imaginatively explore the effect they are likely to have upon the way we live our lives. One of the new technologies that started to attract interest in the 1990s was nanotechnology. In fiction, however, it was all too often presented as a sort of magic, a click of the finger and anything is transformed into anything else. It was Kathleen Ann Goonan's enthralling Nanotech Cycle that first began to picture how we would live, what society would be like, in a nanotech world. The first of the four novels to be published (though not the first by internal chronology) was Queen City Jazz, and encountering the book for the first time was a shock to the system. Everything had been transformed, so that the reader is constantly having to ask whether we are witnessing a disaster or a benefit, whether each new thing we meet is a threat or an aid. Often it could be both at once. Written in a free-flowing, jazz-tinged prose that would become typical of her work, the central story tells of the quest of a clone to revive her dead boyfriend and recover her telepathic dog. In a world where even the cities seem to have acquired a sort of transcendent sentience, the novel is crowded with invention and strangeness. It was one of the most arresting sf debuts of the 1990s. Why it's on the list: The novelty, the quality, the imagery, everything that we look for in science fiction is in this novel.
Science fiction is filled with writers who have a devoted coterie of admirers, yet who seem to have missed out on the awards and honours that normally come with such success. Kit Reed is a little like that, she is what you might call a writer's writer. Her fluent control of the language takes the breath away of anyone who is trying to be a writer themselves, her stories always catch you off guard; and she's been doing that consistently since the 1950s. By rights her shelves should be groaning under the awards she has amassed. The fact that they are not is more of a failure on the part of the genre than it is on her part. Of course, it doesn't help that she does not limit herself to one genre. Read through the stories gathered in this career retrospective and you'll find crime stories and weird fiction, mainstream and horror, alongside the science fiction. And within the science fiction you'll find everything from monsters to dystopias, mysterious disappearances and women going to war against their stultifying existence. Themes do recur, and yet every story feels different. Why it's on the list: This is an essential collection for anyone who wants to know how much the science fiction short story can achieve.
In the early 1980s a young girl escapes the witchcraft of her controlling mother for a girl's boarding school, where she discovers science fiction. There's magic in the novel, though it feels low key and domestic; yet this is combined with a realistic account of school life at the time, and a recollection of the science fiction an eager and undiscriminating reader was encountering then. It's a curious mixture that shouldn't work; yet it does, as is shown by the awards that were showered on the book. Above all, it is a testament to science fiction. Jo Walton writes fluently about the sf novels she reads at the Tor.com website, and there is something of the same quality replicated in this novel. But here we see the books Mori reads, everything from Asimov to Delany to McCaffrey, as a way of confronting and dealing with the various horrors in her life. Because on the one hand she must lay spells to protect herself from her mother who may be a witch or may be insane, or may be both, and whom Mori blames for the death of her sister; on the other hand, she has to cope with the day to day experience of a school where she doesn't fit in and where she has few friends among the other girls. We see science fiction, therefore, not as an escape, but as the key to growing up. Why it's on the list: Science fiction about science fiction has a curiously long tradition, but rarely has it been as direct, as affectionate, and as affecting as it is in this novel.

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If there is one overused cliché in science fiction, it is the alternate history novel in which Hitler won the Second World War. But this is a novel about the Nazis triumphant that is not clichéd for the very simple reason that it was written even before the war began.Burdekin was an early feminist writer who saw fascism as an ideology that extolled the masculine, and following Hitler's proclamation of the "thousand-year Reich", she wrote the novel to show just how far such an ideology might go in a thousand years. The novel was published under the name Murray Constantine, a pseudonym designed to protect her family from the sort of attack her strong condemnation of fascism was likely to generate. It was 20 years after her death before it was discovered that Constantine was really Burdekin.It is 700 years after the Nazis won the Twenty Year War, and Hitler is revered as a tall, blond god who personally won the war. The Jews have been eliminated long since, Christians are marginalised, and women have been deprived of all rights. The rise of a misogynistic society has led to the physical degeneration of women, and with that the race has declined, becoming ever weaker so that they are struggling to continue their perpetual wars against the only other superpower, Japan. This is, quite simply, one of the finest works of science fiction from between the wars, a stirring, passionate denunciation of fascism at a time when appeasement was popular.

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There are many tales of Hitler winning the war, some of the more interesting examples of which are:

The Sound of His Horn by Sarban tells of a British Prisoner of War who is transported to a Nazi dominated future where genetically-modified women are hunted for sport.

The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad presents an alternate history in which Hitler failed as a politician and became a pulp novelist, whose sf novel The Lord of the Swastika reflects much of Hitler's ideology in the form of a lurid post-apocalyptic tale.

Fatherland by Robert Harris is set in 1964 when a detective, investigating the murder of a high-ranking Nazi official, uncovers a conspiracy that leads him back to the Final Solution. There's a similar plot in SS-GB by Len Deighton, in which the investigation of a murder in Nazi-occupied Britain leads to a plot to help the king escape.

Resistance by Owen Sheers is set in a remote Welsh valley where all the men have gone off to join the resistance and have presumably been killed, leaving the women to tend the farms and cope with the occupying German troops.

Josephine Saxton was one of the stars of the British new wave during the 1960s, writing a string of intriguing off-beat short stories and complex, challenging novels. But she has had a chequered publishing history. After her third novel, Group Feast, she disappeared from the scene for the best part of a decade, only returning in the 1980s with a series of novels that used science fiction as a means of exploring ideas taken from Carl Jung. The best and most intriguing of these was Queen of the States, which was shortlisted for both the BSFA and the Arthur C. Clarke Awards. The states of the title could refer to the USA, since the heroine, Magdalen, believes she is reigning in the White House. But it more accurately refers to her states of mind, because Magdalen is also a patient in a mental hospital. On yet another level, she has been abducted by insect-like aliens, who are busy exploring her various states of mind. What makes the novel work so well is that Magdalen moves freely between these various realities, and none is privileged, none is clearly and consistently identifiable as either truth or delusion. What emerges, through Magdalen's engaging voice, is a sharp and revealing insight into what it is like in someone else's mind, someone else's view of the world. Saxton's writing is never easy, we don't know from one moment to the next where she is going to take us or what we are supposed to believe. But that is precisely what makes this novel so fresh, so intriguing, and so good.Why it's on the list: There is no-one quite like Josephine Saxton. This novel can be read as straight science fiction, as a mainstream novel, or even as a UFO abduction narrative, or as all three of these at the same time.
Pat Murphy is another writer who has not produced nearly as much fiction as we might like, but what she has written has a distinctive feel to it that makes each novel welcome. The one that perhaps best represents her work is The City, Not Long After, in some respects a love song to the artistic bohemia of San Francisco. At the time, Murphy was working at the San Francisco Exploratorium, a museum designed to give a hands-on experience of the relationship between arts and sciences. And something of that sense is conveyed in this novel also. Set after a plague that has depopulated the city but left it largely intact, it tells of a group of artists who make the whole city the focus of their art. When a military force arrives, intent on establishing a police state, art becomes the principle weapon used to defend the city against the threat. Through art, reality is changed, and it is this change that allows San Francisco to retain its peaceful independence.Why it's on the list: There are any number of science fiction books about art, but none appreciate the way that art can change our reality the way that this novel does. The fact that it is so firmly and lovingly rooted in San Francisco also adds to the book's appeal.
Search the sf award shortlists for 2013 and you will look in vain for this novel. It wasn't even submitted for any of the juried awards. Yet it is arguably the best sf novel of the year, and perhaps the best sf novel of the decade. The problem is, it wasn't seen as science fiction (the book did win one award, for historical fiction). It's the story of one woman's life during the twentieth century: surviving the flu epidemic of 1919, marrying an abusive husband, meeting Hitler in pre-war Germany, helping the rescue services during the Blitz. But these aren't all in the same life. Because the flu kills her, the abusive husband murders her, she attempts to assassinate Hitler, she is blown up in the Blitz, and every time she dies, she is born again and lives a slightly different life. The result is a glorious and enthralling account of the different ways a woman might experience the twentieth century as she slowly starts to become aware of the multiple lives she has led.   Kate Atkinson won a major literary award with her first novel, and has also written a series of highly regarded detective novels, but although there was a hint of time shifts in Human Croquet she had not really tackled science fiction before this book. The result is one of the most original and most beautifully written novels in the genre.
One of the most fascinating things that science fiction can do is serve as a distorting mirror to the world we see around us. By shattering and twisting the image, it forces us to see the familiar in a completely new way, and that can be very revealing. That was especially the case with Lauren Beukes's Arthur C. Clarke Award winning Zoo City. Set in Johannesburg, especially in the inner city area of Hillbrow, the novel captures the social and criminal problems of the city by rendering them surreal. In this universe, anyone convicted of a crime is "animalled", that is, they are magically bonded to an animal familiar which, rather like the familiars in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, reflects the inner character of the criminal. Journalist Zinzi December has been animalled to a sloth after causing the death of her brother. Now she ventures ever deeper into the fractured Johannesburg underworld as she attempts to find a missing pop star while also struggling to pay off her debt to a drug dealer. The psychic zoo proves to be a sharp and disturbing way of illuminating the city's many social problems. Why it's on the list: Lauren Beukes's background in South Africa comes out in the strange and powerful imagery that informs her novel, taking us into places that we were not previously familiar with.
What is the most characteristic thing in our contemporary urban lives. It is not the computer or the mobile phone or any of the other digital devices that surround us, it is the shopping mall. Here is the natural habitat of modern consumerism, a place for outings and social meetings as much as for buying. It is the hub that draws us all in at some time or other, and it is the all-encompassing magnetism of the place that lies at the heart of one of the two linked stories in this novel. The mall is the dystopia that all our lives are building towards, the setting where gangs of teenage girls engage in bitter warfare amid the goods that are forever beyond their reach.That is the near future strand of the novel, but it is balanced by a strand that takes us to a more distant future. Here men have all but disappeared, and the girl gangs of one future have turned into the ruling sisterhood of the other. A world without men has become a cliche of feminist science fiction, but though there is a feminist message underlying Sullivan's book, it is not an easy or a straightforward one. On the contrary, Sullivan constantly subverts and questions the notion, particularly by juxtaposing the seeming utopia with the violence and malice displayed by the girls in the dystopia. Why it's on the list: Feminism is a fundamental if sometimes unstated element in all of the books on this list; it is, after all, the different light that these authors have to shine upon the world. But no ideology should be unquestioned, and what makes all of these books interesting is the way they disturb and overthrow any simplistic notion of what feminism is. One of the things this particular novel does so well is dramatise the nature of that questioning.
Beggars in Spain sounds like some awful pulp fantasy - or even worse, some heartwrenching modern societal tale designed to make us all feel guilty and concious of the dreadful state of the world. Well, it's not. Beggars of Spain is good old hard science fiction, this time with genetic modification and a nice dose of biology. It began life as a novella, before being expanded due to its just how well received it was. The premise is simple, and one we're sure you've all thought of - what would we be like if we didn't need to sleep? Of course, what we expect science fiction to do here is to show the horrible effects of a lack of sleep, and have the world spiral into some dystopia. And that's exactly what happens, except it isn't. The horrible effects of a lack of sleep? Entirely social. This is a great book for examining society on a large scale, intertwined with some incredibly intriguing and forward thinking technological advances, hence why we've placed it in our top 25 hard science fiction books. The author has described it as attempting to wrangle with Ayn Rand and Ursula Le Guin, so if political science fiction is your thing, make sure to pick this up! While science has proven the science behind Tau Zero as not possible, the book can still be appreciated as a great science fiction book without the actual pure science part being correct.

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Sugar and spice and all things nice? Don't let Victorian misconceptions about women fool you. Open this novel and you are in a predominantly female world that is as nasty and brutish as anything. When a novel opens with the heroine casually cutting someone's head off, you know you are in for a book that takes no prisoners. There's a war that has been going on for generations, and it has sucked nearly all the men out of society and into the front line. So women have filled the niches left behind, including Nyx, our heroine, who is a bounty hunter and who spends large portions of the novel giving or receiving beatings, torture or other violence. Gender doesn't define how people behave, social context does. And as Nyx's adventures bring her up against the implacable forces that rule this world, we see how her environment has necessarily made her tough. Elements of military sf are incorporated into an account of the plots, betrayals and assassinations that emerge from a matriarchal society divided against itself. The result is a fast-paced, hard-edged novel of breathless action and cruel violence. Why it's on the list: It is refreshing to find a novel that demonstrates that women are equal masters of the sort of tough-guy story usually considered to be the exclusive preserve of men. And one of the points of this list is to overthrow any and all preconceptions about women writers.

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