Concluding our A-Z of women sf writers for International Women’s Day (not quite a full alphabet, there’s a shortage of names beginning with I, Q and X), we move on to:
Kit Reed has been producing stories for well over half a century now, and they are united only in one thing: their ability to upset our sense of what it is we are reading. Though she has written crime stories and horror, as well as science fiction, her restlessness as a writer means that she is always trying something new. This is, perhaps, most apparent in her short stories, and the very best stories from more than a dozen collections have been gathered in one monumental volume, The Story Until Now. Her novels have been similarly eclectic, with four of her early science fiction novels being gathered in an omnibus edition, Four Futures, which consists of @expectations, Thinner Than Thou, The Baby Merchant and Enclave. Her more recent novel, Where, is the story of a small island community where all the residents disappear overnight and find themselves in a strange desert town. Her new novel, Mormama, is due later this year.
When Tricia Sullivan won the Arthur C. Clarke Award with her third novel, Dreaming in Smoke, the story of colonists being overwhelmed in their attempts to conquer a new planet, it confirmed the arrival of one of our most interesting new writers. The abiding themes in her best work were laid out in her second novel, Someone to Watch Over Me, in which characters swap identities in an oppressive near future. Questions of identity and oppression recur in Maul, which features gang warfare in a near future shopping mall, and in Double Vision, where a woman on present-day Earth shares her identity with a flying creature on another planet in the midst of war. Questions about individual identity morph into broader questions about the nature of reality in Lightborn, about a zombie-type plague spread by light, and most recently Occupy Me, in which an angel from another dimension tracks down a killer who has taken over the body of another man in a world distorted by quantum mechanics.
A former soldier, Karen Traviss brings military experience and expertise to the six volumes of her Wess’har Wars sequence, in order of publication: City of Pearl, Crossing the Line, The World Before, Matriarch, Ally and Judge. The stories follow a human diplomat as he attempts to deal with a multitude of alien races, each part of a complex web of alliances and conflicts, while Earth itself is not so pure. The final volume, Judge, sees Earth standing at the bar of interplanetary justice.
Science fiction isn’t an exclusively Western literature, nor is it necessarily written in English. So to remind ourselves that this is an international literature, let’s take the opportunity to look at Japan’s long and distinguished record of science fiction. Here Sayuri Ueda is a force to be reckoned with, winner of a number of Japanese science fiction awards. Among her numerous novels, only one has so far been translated into English. The Cage of Zeus is set aboard a space station orbiting Jupiter which is home to the “rounds”, artificially created for life in space, they have the organs of both sexes and so are despised by the majority of people. The rounds and the “monos”, as normally gendered people are called, keep their own separate societies aboard Zeus, until a terrorist outrage threatens the uneasy peace.
Another writer whose work is available to us in translation, this time from the French (she was born in France and is a naturalised Canadian). The Silent City and The Maerlande Chronicles are linked novels set in a future where people live in an underground city sealed off for centuries from the outside because of a war. It is a society in which women far outnumber men, but when one woman leaves the city and discovers the wild tribes living on the surface, she sets in motion changes that will transform her society. Slow Engines of Time is a collection of short stories set in the same future as these two novels. Dreams of the Sea is the first part of a series of planetary romances set upon a colony world where the sea may be sentient, affecting the dreams of the colonists as they gradually come into symbiosis with their new home.
Kate Wilhelm has won a fistful of awards, including Nebula Awards for “The Planners” (included in The Downstairs Room), “The Girl Who Fell Into the Sky” (included in Children of the Wind), and “Forever Yours, Anna” (included in And the Angels Sing), not to forget the Hugo and Locus awards she won for her novel, Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang, a haunting account of a remote community trying to use cloning as a way to escape the apocalypse. Even without awards, there are brilliant stories in The Infinity Box and startling novels such as Juniper Time, Welcome Chaos and Huysman’s Pets. She has tended to concentrate on crime and mystery novels recently, but there’s enough great science fiction in her back catalogue to keep anyone satisfied.
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has spent most of her career writing vampire novels, detective stories and Mycroft Holmes pastiches, but for a time, back in the 1970s and well into the 1080s, she was one of the writers you turned to for reliably dark and unsettling science fiction. Typically her worlds were ravaged by disease. In her first sf novel, Time of the Forth Horseman, children are deliberately infected with disease as a way to counter overpopulation. In False Dawn, post-holocaust survivors have to battle a range of mutated diseases, while Taji’s Syndrome is a near-future medical thriller in which doctors have to battle to identify and control a new disease. It’s not exactly a disease, but the same interest in the darkness in human society is reflected in Hyacinths, a dystopian novel of mind control. All of these themes come out in her short stories also, collected under the appropriate title of Cautionary Tales.
Sarah Zettel’s four space operas, Reclamation (which won a Locus Award), Fool’s War, Playing God and The Quiet Invasion (together available as The Sarah Zettel Collection), are yet another proof of how well women writers handle the baroque complexities of high-concept science fiction. Reclamation shows widely scattered humanity, an oppressed minority among the races of the Galaxy, standing up to a powerful authority. In Fool’s War, a jester has to save humanity, while Playing God features a plan to save a planet that has been shattered by centuries of war. The Quiet Invasion comes closer to home with settlers attempting to colonise Venus when they encounter the first evidence of alien life.
And for now that’s it, over the last three days we’ve pointed you towards more than 20 women writers of science fiction that will well repay your investigation, but this is barely a drop in the ocean. We could run the same exercise over and over again many times without ever needing to repeat any of the entries. By the way, leave a comment if you know of any writers we’ve missed out beginning with I, Q or X, and we’ll be able to incorporate them next time.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.