The best fantasy and science fiction novels with feminist themes and strong female lead characters

Why am I passionate about this?

When writing fantasy and science fiction, I enjoy writing about strong female characters and strong female leads. I also like exploring fundamental questions such as what it means to be human. I grew up reading all the science fiction and fantasy I could get my hands on, and that vast landscape of stories has influenced my writing in many ways. I love to explore the limits of consciousness and darkness. I hope the books on this list inspire you and make you think. They have all influenced me in one way or another and made me a better writer.    


I wrote...

Crystal Warrior

By Mike Cooley,

Book cover of Crystal Warrior

What is my book about?

Larissya’s life changes forever when her grandmother gives her a magic crystal that shows her glimpses of the future. From the magic swords Shakari and Antare, to the gigantic reptilian bird, Taradahn, to the mysterious worm of power, Ishak, to the magnificent tree city of Frizl, Larissya’s story is full of wonder—and darkness. 

Will she triumph over the forces of evil? Will she obtain the power of the crystals? Will she be able to save her friends? Or will they die at her side?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Meet Me at Infinity

Mike Cooley Why did I love this book?

James Tiptree Jr. is really Alice Sheldon. She wrote under a male pseudonym for many years due to the male domination of science fiction at the time. Meet Me at Infinity is a great introduction to her work, as it contains both fiction and biographical pieces. She’s a tremendous writer who I found to be very inspiring. Her ability to craft impactful stories with strong female characters is amazing. The Tiptree Award is named after her. 

By James Tiptree,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Meet Me at Infinity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of the writings of Alice B. Sheldon (1915-1987) who produced science fiction under the name of James Tiptree Jr. It includes an early story published under her own name in the New Yorker and many of her colourful non-fiction pieces.


Book cover of Kindred

Mike Cooley Why did I love this book?

I met Octavia in 1999 at a science fiction convention. She was so intelligent, friendly, and inspiring. Her novel Kindred features a strong female lead character, and time travel. The way she writes is very visual and compelling and I love her voice. She weaves messages and social commentary into her stories, but in a way that brings you along for the ride. It is sad that Octavia left us so soon. I’m sure she had many more books to write that we will never see.

By Octavia E. Butler,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked Kindred as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Parable of the Sower and MacArthur “Genius” Grant, Nebula, and Hugo award winner

The visionary time-travel classic whose Black female hero is pulled through time to face the horrors of American slavery and explores the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now.

“I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.”

Dana’s torment begins when she suddenly vanishes on her 26th birthday from California, 1976, and is dragged through time to antebellum Maryland to rescue a boy named Rufus, heir to a slaveowner’s plantation. She soon…


Book cover of The Left Hand of Darkness

Mike Cooley Why did I love this book?

Ursula was an amazing person and writer. I met her at WisCon, and she was still going strong in her 80s. She was a force of nature, just like her writing. The Left Hand of Darkness is one of the first fantasy novels to explore gender identity and fluidity in new ways. It’s a classic of feminist fantasy and presents a compelling and original view of how different cultures interact when they regard sexuality and gender in different ways. It portrays gender as a continuum, rather than a binary thing, which makes a lot of sense to me. 

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked The Left Hand of Darkness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION-WITH A NEW INTRODUCTION BY DAVID MITCHELL AND A NEW AFTERWORD BY CHARLIE JANE ANDERS

Ursula K. Le Guin's groundbreaking work of science fiction-winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

A lone human ambassador is sent to the icebound planet of Winter, a world without sexual prejudice, where the inhabitants' gender is fluid. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the strange, intriguing culture he encounters...

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an…


Book cover of Babel-17/ Empire Star

Mike Cooley Why did I love this book?

From the strong female protagonist—who is telepathic and a poet—to the use of language as a kind of mind weapon, to the non-traditional exploration of sexuality, I found this novel to be original and interesting. It also explores the nature of perception, which is something I have always been interested in. Samuel is a genius, and I very much enjoy the way he writes. 

By Samuel R. Delany,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Babel-17/ Empire Star as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Nebula Award Winner: “By looking at a typical space opera adventure from a different angle, Delany . . . give[s] us a weird, welcoming book” (Tor.com).

 At twenty-six, Rydra Wong is the most popular poet in the five settled galaxies. Almost telepathically perceptive, she has written poems that capture the mood of mankind after two decades of savage war. Since the invasion, Earth has endured famine, plague, and cannibalism—but its greatest catastrophe will be Babel-17.
 
Sabotage threatens to undermine the war effort, and the military calls in Rydra. Random attacks lay waste to warships, weapons factories, and munitions dumps,…


Book cover of Light on the Sound

Mike Cooley Why did I love this book?

Light on the Sound is a fascinating story and was a big inspiration for me. From the teenage, female protagonist who resists her oppression, to the fantastic creatures and imaginative ideas, this story has everything. Somtow writes with a vivid style that works well for the story, and he weaves everything together in unexpected ways.  

By S.P. Somtow, Mikey Jiraros (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Light on the Sound as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Inquestor Series was a classic science fiction series of the 1980s — and has now been reincarnated for the 21st century, with more adventures, more spectacle, and more extras.  Tachyon bubbles, people bins and galactic empires — and profound family conflicts — Greek tragedy writ large.  Light on the Sound, the book that started it all, begins with one lonely planet and three lost souls, and ends with galactic revolution.

For twenty thousand years, the godlike Inquestors have held sway over the one million worlds of the Dispersal of Man.  S.P. Somtow’s limitless imagination has created a universe of…


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The Wallace House of Pain: A Novelette

By S.M. Stevens,

Book cover of The Wallace House of Pain: A Novelette

S.M. Stevens Author Of The Wallace House of Pain: A Novelette

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Why am I passionate about this?

Author Animal lover Renewable energy advocate Alternative music lover Mother

S.M.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Activist Xander Wallace and his straitlaced father do not have an easy relationship. Jim’s views on race, immigration, gender, sexuality, and even Millennials alienate his son no matter how hard Xander tries to find common ground. Toss in Jim’s second marriage ten months after Xander’s mother died, and it’s a volatile cocktail. How, against this backdrop, will Xander ever dare to bare his soul and reveal his greatest secret?

Winner of a 2023 American Fiction Award, a First Place prize in the Chanticleer International Book Awards, and a 5-Star Readers’ Favorite review.

The Wallace House of Pain: A Novelette

By S.M. Stevens,


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