Science fiction has been my go-to genre for about two decades now. For a number of years, it was the only genre of books that I read. This is part of an ongoing series on my personal guide for science fiction staples.
My wife pointed out to me the other day that a few of my lists have been pretty short on female representation, and mostly full of old white guys. So, I decided to write a post focused solely on the women who have made science fiction a great genre.
Ursula K. LeGuin
LeGuin may be the most recognizable name among women science fiction authors. With over 20 novels, hundreds of shorts stories, children’s books, and poems in print, she was a prolific writer. Her works are also critically acclaimed, with 24 Hugo nominations (7 wins, 18 Nebula nominations (6 wins), and 22 Locus awards, she was named a Grand Master in 2003 by The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. LeGuin regularly dealt with social issues, and her novel The Left Hand of Darkness is often considered one of the best science fiction novels to ever deal with gender politics.
Lois McMaster Bujold
One of the most awarded novelists in science fiction, Bujold has a record 4 Hugo awards for best novel. She’s also won 2 Nebula awards and 3 Locus awards, all for science-fiction and fantasy novels. Bujold is mostly known for her Vorkosigan series, a massive 16 book saga, plus numerous novellas and short stories. Bujold is also known for combining genres within science fiction, so while many of her books are space operas, some are reminiscent of regency romances or mysteries.
Cherryh has over 80 books to her name, many of which fall into her well known Alliance-Union universe. While she doesn’t have the same quantity of awards as the others on this list, her influence in the genre is great enough that she earned the title of Grand Master, and is the only female science fiction author to have an asteroid named after her. Her writing style is heavily defined by her use of extremely limited 3rd person point of view, and her realistic approach to world-building, which includes vastly different languages and cultures.
The winner of more major science fiction awards than any other author, Connie Willis has 11 Hugo Wins, 7 Nebula wins, 4 Locus awards, a Campbell award, and the title of Grand Master. She also boasts 27 additional nominations for major awards. Willis’s novels are incredibly diverse in style. She is well known for injecting humor into her works, many of which are described as being akin to “screwball” comedies, but she also digs deep into social sciences and the impact of technology. One of her writing mainstays has been time-travel, and her immaculate historical research gives those works an undeniable realism.
McCaffrey has the dual distinction of being the first woman to win a Hugo award for fiction, as well as being the first to win a Nebula award for fiction. While she never wrote to a specific audience, McCaffrey’s works are often classified as young adult literature, and she received a lifetime achievement award for her contribution to young-adult literature. Her style may best be described as science fantasy, as she uses many of the themes and narrative tools of fantasy writing to tell science fiction stories. Another hallmark of her work is her use of female protagonists, which was unusual for science fiction during the time she began her career.
Ever since her breakout role of Ellen Ripley in 1979s Alien, Sigouney Weaver has been a staple of the science fiction genre. Whether it’s more action movies like the rest of the Alien franchise, comedies like Ghostbusters, Galaxy Quest, or Paul, or even voice work like Futurama or Wall-E, Weaver has become one of the most recognizable artists in all of science fiction.
Hamilton’s roles over her career have a huge variety, but she became iconic for playing Sarah Connor in the Terminator franchise. That single role has led to cameo or recurring roles in a good number of science fiction and fantasy television series.
Who can forget Princess Leia from the Star Wars franchise. Carrie Fisher’s performance in the role was instrumental to the success of the franchise and solidified her standing as one of the greatest women in science fiction. Unlike many of the other actors listed, Fisher rarely stayed within the genre, but her role in Star Wars is so significant that despite a 40-year acting career, it’s still her most recognizable performance.
Her first big science fiction role was as the perfect being Leeloo in 1997s The Fifth Element. Not long after that, she claimed the lead role in the Resident Evil franchise, which solidified Jovovich as one of the best action sci-fi actors in the world.
Johansson’s likely best known for her character Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but her science fiction career extends far beyond that franchise. She’s been in action movies like The Island, Ghost in the Shell, and Lucy, comedies such as Eight Legged Freaks, and plenty of voice work, including the critically acclaimed Her.