First there was the meme

Back in March, I put together a list of 91 science fiction works by women writers and presented it as a meme. This was a result of a conversation on several blogs and Twitter. And, as memes do, it spread. This was good. However, the list had a couple of mistakes on it – a couple of books were fantasy not sf; and one author proved to be male.

In the past few days, the conversation about women sf writers has reached a wider audience. Last Monday, Damien G Walter asked Guardian readers to name their favourite science fiction novels, and from this generated a list of 500 titles (which tellingly labelled them “the best science fiction novels”). But the very small number of books by female writers on the Guardian’s list prompted both Cheryl Morgan and Nicola Griffith to rightly point out how shockingly imbalanced the situation was. The Guardian added to the debate with another article on the topic of women writing sf – the comments of which sadly prove exactly how bad it really is.

When I put together the list mentioned above, it was with the help of several people. Knowing I was not especially well-read in the area, I’d also hoped the list would evolve as some of my choices were debated and replaced with better books. And the list did indeed go on to generate two comprehensive lists of women genre writers – one here by oursin and one here by Kev McVeigh. But it seems the nature of the meme-lists is that they stay constant as they spread. And the items on the list soon get forgotten…

Hence this: the SF Mistressworks Project. I am hoping this blog will comprise reviews of sf books by women writers, reviewed by divers hands (yes, volunteers needed!), sf books which are as good as, if not better, than those by male writers which appear in Gollancz’s SF Masterworks series. This site, it is hoped, will be a resource dedicated to books by women sf writers.

For the record, here’s the original meme, in order of year of original publication.

1 *Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818) – review
2 Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1915)
3 Orlando, Virginia Woolf (1928)
4 Lest Ye Die, Cicely Hamilton (1928)
5 Swastika Night, Katherine Burdekin (1937)
6 Wrong Side of the Moon, Francis Leslie Ashton (1951) – actually a male writer
7 The Sword of Rhiannon, Leigh Brackett (1953) – review
8 Pilgrimage: The Book of the People, Zenna Henderson (1961) – review
9 Memoirs of a Spacewoman, Naomi Mitchison (1962) – review
10 Witch World, Andre Norton (1963)
11 Sunburst, Phyllis Gotlieb (1964)
12 Jirel of Joiry, CL Moore (1969) – I’m reliably informed this is fantasy
13 Heroes and Villains, Angela Carter (1969)
14 Ten Thousand Light Years From Home, James Tiptree Jr (1973)
15 *The Dispossessed, Ursula K Le Guin (1974) – review
16 Walk to the End of the World, Suzy McKee Charnas (1974) – review
17 *The Female Man, Joanna Russ (1975) – review, review, review
18 Missing Man, Katherine MacLean (1975) – review
19 *Arslan, MJ Engh (1976) – review
20 *Floating Worlds, Cecelia Holland (1976)
21 *Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm (1976) – review, review
22 Islands, Marta Randall (1976) – review
23 Dreamsnake, Vonda N McIntyre (1978)
24 False Dawn, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (1978)
25 Shikasta [Canopus in Argos: Archives], Doris Lessing (1979)
26 Kindred, Octavia Butler (1979) – review
27 Benefits, Zoe Fairbairns (1979)
28 The Snow Queen, Joan D Vinge (1980) – review
29 The Silent City, Élisabeth Vonarburg (1981) – review
30 The Silver Metal Lover, Tanith Lee (1981)
31 The Many-Coloured Land [Saga of the Exiles], Julian May (1981)
32 Darkchild [Daughters of the Sunstone], Sydney J van Scyoc (1982)
33 The Crystal Singer, Anne McCaffrey (1982)
34 Native Tongue, Suzette Haden Elgin (1984) – review
35 The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (1985) – review
36 Jerusalem Fire, RM Meluch (1985) – review
37 Children of Anthi, Jay D Blakeney (1985)
38 The Dream Years, Lisa Goldstein (1985)
39 Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind, Sarah Lefanu & Jen Green (1985)
40 Queen of the States, Josephine Saxton (1986)
41 The Wave and the Flame [Lear’s Daughters], Marjorie Bradley Kellogg (1986)
42 The Journal of Nicholas the American, Leigh Kennedy (1986) – review
43 A Door into Ocean, Joan Slonczewski (1986)
44 Angel at Apogee, SN Lewitt (1987) – review
45 In Conquest Born, CS Friedman (1987)
46 Pennterra, Judith Moffett (1987) – review
47 Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988) – review, review
48 Cyteen , CJ Cherryh (1988)
49 Unquenchable Fire, Rachel Pollack (1988)
50 The City, Not Long After, Pat Murphy (1988) – review1, review2
51 The Steerswoman [Steerswoman series], Rosemary Kirstein (1989) – review
52 The Third Eagle, RA MacAvoy (1989) – review
53 *Grass, Sheri S Tepper (1989) – review, review
54 Heritage of Flight, Susan Shwartz (1989)
55 Falcon, Emma Bull (1989)
56 The Archivist, Gill Alderman (1989)
57 Winterlong [Winterlong trilogy], Elizabeth Hand (1990) – review, review
58 A Gift Upon the Shore, MK Wren (1990) – review
59 Red Spider, White Web, Misha (1990) – review
60 Polar City Blues, Katharine Kerr (1990)
61 Body of Glass (AKA He, She and It), Marge Piercy (1991)
62 Sarah Canary, Karen Joy Fowler (1991)
63 Beggars in Spain [Sleepless trilogy], Nancy Kress (1991)
64 A Woman of the Iron People, Eleanor Arnason (1991)
65 Hermetech, Storm Constantine (1991) – review
66 China Mountain Zhang, Maureen F McHugh (1992) – review, review
67 Fools, Pat Cadigan (1992)
68 Correspondence, Sue Thomas (1992) – review
69 Lost Futures, Lisa Tuttle (1992)
70 Doomsday Book, Connie Willis (1992) – review
71 Ammonite, Nicola Griffith (1993) – review
72 The Holder of the World, Bharati Mukherjee (1993)
73 Queen City Jazz, Kathleen Ann Goonan (1994) – review
74 Happy Policeman, Patricia Anthony (1994)
75 Shadow Man, Melissa Scott (1995) – review
76 Legacies, Alison Sinclair (1995)
77 Primary Inversion [Skolian Saga], Catherine Asaro (1995) – review
78 Alien Influences, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (1995)
79 The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell (1996) – review, review
80 Memory [Vorkosigan series], Lois McMaster Bujold (1996)
81 Remnant Population, Elizabeth Moon (1996)
82 Looking for the Mahdi, N Lee Wood (1996) – review
83 An Exchange of Hostages [Jurisdiction series], Susan R Matthews (1997) – review
84 Fool’s War, Sarah Zettel (1997)
85 Black Wine, Candas Jane Dorsey (1997) – review
86 Halfway Human, Carolyn Ives Gilman (1998) – review
87 Vast, Linda Nagata (1998)
88 Hand of Prophecy, Severna Park (1998)
89 Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson (1998)
90 Dreaming in Smoke, Tricia Sullivan (1999) – review
91 Ash: A Secret History, Mary Gentle (2000)

Books with asterisks are in the Gollancz SF Masterworks series.

Just because a book is on the list does not necessarily mean a review of it will at some point appear on this blog; just because a book is not on this list does not mean a review of it will not appear on this blog at some point.

EDIT: I will keep the list updated with links to reviews of the books on this site.

40 thoughts on “First there was the meme

  1. Thanks for the list! I’ve been looking for some of these for some time. And lets not forget that Cherryh’s list of SF works is a long one…Faded Sun vs. Dune comes to mind…

    1. For this blog, it’s specifically sf novels by women writers, published before 2000, no YA or children’s fiction. But they don’t have to be on the list – you might feel, for instance, that they actually belong on the list. And don’t worry if any book has already been reviewed, as I’m hoping to get multiple reviews for books.

  2. May I sign up for *Memory*? (I can find it easily on the shelf; I’ve read many of the others, but not recently.)

    1. You can send me a review of any eligible book, even if there’s already a review for it on the site (er, not that there are many at the moment). If you want to review Memory, I’ll be happy to take it.

  3. I could add The children of men by P.D. James (1992)and The Canopus in Argos: Archives Series by Doris Lessing (first book, Shikasta, published in 1981), both authors from outside the genre but SF books nonetheless.

  4. Sandy, thanks for the offer but I was hoping for something around 500 words or more. If you want to expand your review, I’ll be happy to take it.

    1. Yes, I have been watching the progression of (much longer) reviews being posted. I will rework one of my eligible, longer reviews and be back in touch later.

  5. As this list keeps being repeated, I will just point out that # 7 and # 12 are both included in the Fantasy Masterworks series, as parts of large compendia of the authors’ work.

    Ironic, isn’t it, that the “shocking imbalance” of the Guardian list was in a small way exacerbated by your recommendation of Paul Park’s excellent COELESTIS, in preference to a book by a woman?

    1. Point taken on #7 and #12. I’ll have to read the latter myself to determine whether it belongs on a sf list, however.

      As for the Guardian list… I foolishly thought I was allowed to pick only a single work, and Coelestis remains my absolute favourite sf novel. I make no apology for that. But women sf writers number among my favourite sf writers, and books by women sf writers number among my favourite sf novels. Liking books by women sf writers is not exclusive; putting together this site to celebrate women’s contribution to the genre does not mean I can no longer enjoy, or admit to enjoying, science fiction written by men.

    2. Gosh, Malcolm, two books on a list of 91 are already on the Masterworks list and you have an issue with that?
      Maybe if you were a little less defensive and stopped seeming to take this whole discussion as a personal attack you could see that these various bloggers demonstrate a clear demand for books that just aren’t being published, and from a commercial point of view is that not an area you would want to exploit? The free PR is out there if you want it.

      1. Gosh, Kev, I point out two errors of omission in the notations to Ian’s list and you have an issue with that?

        Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think it’s important in the era of web-disseminated misinformation to get one’s facts right. I am not in the least defensive about anything, and am reading the reviews of books I haven’t read with interest.

        1. Fair enough Malcolm, errors should be corrected, and I’m glad you’re taking an interest.

  6. If you are looking to add to this list, I would say Octavia Butler’s work should be on there. If not Parable of the Sower, then her Xenogenesis trilogy or Wild Seed.

  7. I guess you’re not looking to expand the list itself so much as to add any available reviews of eligible works that are not on the list? I have no review of it as I haven’t read it yet myself, but a friend commented that Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World from 1666 merits inclusion. On searching for info on it (I had a vague hunch that it had appeared in Alan Moore & Kev O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Book but knew nothing else) I found this interesting and useful list that you might like, especially as it includes links to online versions of pre-1923 works.

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