(A monthly Read Along book group for those who want to explore science fiction written by women.)
I did a panel event at the Women of the World festival in London with the title Do Women Dream of a Different Future: Women and Science Fiction and it didn’t take much research to find that women have always dreamt of a different future. Those of us who are writing within and around sci-fi today are standing on the shoulders of authors such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Joanna Russ and Octavia Butler, and they have been dreaming for a long, long time already. It just feels like not everyone has been listening.
While checking out what is considered the “most famous works of science fiction”, I became increasingly disconcerted by the dominance of male authors on the lists. In one Top 50 I skimmed through, only four women made the cut. FOUR. What’s up with that?!
I was also aghast to realise that although I could reel off a whole stream of luminary male science fiction authors without really thinking about it, I began to stall after maybe seven women. It made me feel awful. As a woman, and as an author, I want to be shouting about women writers. I want to champion them, because it’s only when we all raise our voices together that we can be lifted up and given a fairer share of the spotlight. In another ten years, I hope to Christ we can have more than four women sci-fi authors in a Top 50 list.
With that in mind, for the rest of 2018, I will be reading science fiction written solely by women (and by “women” I mean anyone identifying as a woman), and I encourage you all to join me! It’ll be FUN. We’ll learn new things! We’ll have debates! Maybe we’ll find some new favourite authors! And during it all, we’ll be sharing the book and author love on social media so that everyone can enjoy it, too.
I’m predominantly a Twitter user, so I’ll be polling on there for what books to read each month (our first read started the April 1st), but I will post updates on my Facebook page, too, if I can remember. The hashtag we’ll be using is #ReadWomenSF because I couldn’t think of anything better and sometimes being literal is the best option. It kind of sounds like an order, too, which I quite like. We’ll do a Twitter discussion on the last Monday of every month (barring any annoying scheduling conflicts) to chat about the book and whatnot. And I’ll write a review and post it on here, too. Bam!
It’s a free-for-all Read Along, so you can read or not, skip a month or not, it’s totally up to you (I predict I’ll be reading alone some months, but that’s okay! I do all my reading alone anyhow). Just remember to use the hashtag or follow me (@gemtodd) so you can keep track of everything.
#ReadWomenSF Book Selection
(Amazon links in titles. I always try to pick books where there are cheaper buying options but it’s not always doable. Always worth asking your local library if they have copies.)
In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS. AGAIN.
Three terrible things happen in a single day.
Essun, masquerading as an ordinary schoolteacher in a quiet small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Mighty Sanze, the empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as its greatest city is destroyed by a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heartland of the world’s sole continent, a great red rift has been been torn which spews ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
But this is the Stillness, a land long familiar with struggle, and where orogenes — those who wield the power of the earth as a weapon — are feared far more than the long cold night. Essun has remembered herself, and she will have her daughter back.
She does not care if the world falls apart around her. Essun will break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
Often compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Naomi Alderman’s The Power – Woman on the Edge of Time has been hailed as a classic of speculative science fiction. Disturbing and forward thinking, Marge Piercy’s remarkable novel will speak to a new generation of readers.
After being unjustly committed to a mental institution, Connie Ramos is contacted by an envoy from the year 2137, who shows her a utopian future of sexual and racial equality and environmental harmony.
But Connie also bears witness to another potential outcome: a dystopian society of grotesque exploitation. One will become our world. And Connie herself may strike the decisive blow…
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (our May 2018 read)
An award-winning literary author enters the world of magical realism with her World Fantasy Award-winning novel of a remarkable woman in post-apocalyptic Africa.
In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways; yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert, hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the colour of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different – special – she names her Onyesonwu, which means ‘Who fears death?’ in an ancient language.
It doesn’t take long for Onye to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her conception. She is Ewu – a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by her community. But Onye is not the average Ewu. Even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, and during an inadvertent visit to the spirit realm, she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.
Desperate to elude her would-be murderer and to understand her own nature, she embarks on a journey in which she grapples with nature, tradition, history, true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately learns why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death.
The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is travelling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution. As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion. Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation – the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world. Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion’s destruction – and its possible salvation.
Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
Lou is different to ‘normal’ people. He interacts with the world in a way they do not understand. He might not see the things they see, however, but he also sees many things they do not. Lou is autistic.
One of his skills is an ability to find patterns in data: extraordinary, complex, beautiful patterns that not even the most powerful computers can comprehend. The technology company he works for has made considerable sums of money from Lou’s work. But now they want Lou to change – to become ‘normal’ like themselves. And he must face the greatest challenge of his life. To understand the speed of dark.
SPEED OF DARK is a powerful near-future science fiction thriller, the theme of which is both universal and intensely personal. It is dedicated to the author’s own autistic son, and to other parents of autistic children, ‘in the hope that they also find that delight in difference’.
In 1976, Dana dreams of being a writer. In 1815, she is assumed a slave.
When Dana first meets Rufus on a Maryland plantation, he’s drowning. She saves his life – and it will happen again and again.
Neither of them understands his power to summon her whenever his life is threatened, nor the significance of the ties that bind them.
And each time Dana saves him, the more aware she is that her own life might be over before it’s even begun.
Octavia E. Butler’s ground-breaking masterpiece is the extraordinary story of two people bound by blood, separated by so much more than time.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Set in the 21st century – a number of decades from now – The Sparrow is the story of a charismatic Jesuit priest and talented linguist, Emilio Sandoz, who – in response to a remarkable radio signal from the depths of space – leads a scientific mission to make first contact with an extraterrestrial culture.
In the true tradition of Jesuit adventurers before him, Sandoz and his companions are prepared to endure isolation, suffering – even death – but nothing can prepare them for the civilisation they encounter. Or for the tragic misunderstanding that brings the mission to a devastating end. Once considered a living saint, Sandoz returns alone to Earth horrifically maimed, both physically and spiritually, the mission’s sole survivor – only to be blamed for the mission’s failure and accused of heinous crimes.
Written in clean, effortless prose and peopled with memorable characters who never lose their humanity or humour, The Sparrow is a powerful, haunting fiction – a tragic but ultimately triumphant novel about the nature of faith, of love and what it means to be ‘human’ and widely considered to be a classic of the genre.
The Female Man by Joanna Russ
A landmark book in the fields of science fiction and feminism.
Four women living in parallel worlds, each with a different gender landscape. When they begin to travel to each other’s worlds each woman’s preconceptions on gender and what it means to be a woman are challenged.
So there we have it. We have three titles to choose from every month and then vote for what we’ll read. The Poll for which is normally pinned to my Twitter (@GemTodd) for a few days at the end/start of each month so you can cast your votes (or comment on my FB post or on here if you don’t use Twitter). And please, please share this book group with your friends so we can get as many people as possible to read along and appreciate all things women and sci-fi! Cheers.