SF CORE Best Lists
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- The Alternative Top 25 Best Science Fiction List
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OTHER Best Lists
Best Science Fiction by Women
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Books in Storyteller Series (2)
Books in Imperial Radch Series (2)
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.
Books in The Company Wars Series (10)
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.
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.