The best sci-fi novels featuring awesome female leads

Why am I passionate about this?

In school, science and reading were always my favorite subjects so is it any wonder that I grew up to be a scientist who writes? Before I entered my teens, I entered the realm of science fiction through the stories of Asimov, Bradbury, and Le Guin, and I never willingly left that realm. Back then, the one thing I hungered for but so rarely found was a compelling female character. Avid readers all want to find that character to identify with, don’t we? Fortunately, our sci-fi world is now populated with many great female MCs so I’m sharing five of my favorites here with you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. 


I wrote...

We Have Met the Enemy

By Felicia Watson,

Book cover of We Have Met the Enemy

What is my book about?

Naiche Decker left her peaceful Chiricahua Apache life behind to join Earth’s war against alien aggressors known as the Eternals. Her people say this isn’t her fight, but Naiche craves revenge against the race who murdered her mother. Lt. Decker is recruited by her CO, Conroy Kennedy, to join a deep-space mission aboard the Command ship Lovelace. The Lovelace is on a desperate search for the origins of the Eternals –information needed to defeat them and save humanity. Only for Kennedy could Decker overcome her aversion to the captain of the Lovelace, Matteo Ricci, and join his crew. Decker wages a personal battle – struggling to make peace with Ricci so their hidden past doesn’t derail their mission and doom the human race.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Downbelow Station

Felicia Watson Why did I love this book?

C.J. Cherryh‘s Hugo-winning Downbelow Station is on a lot of people’s TBR pile but I suspect due to its intimidating size, it never gets any further. Which is a damn shame. Once you get into it, the story is completely absorbing. Cherryh’s world-building is outstanding, presenting a convincing 24th Century society, with just enough enriching detail to draw you in. The politics and tactics of the warring factions are familiar yet not derivative. If you loved Alien’s Ripley as much as I did, then I suspect you will love the character of Captain Signy Mallory. She is presented as a badass in the best possible way: tough, smart, resolute, and unfailingly loyal to her crew. Though this is classic space opera, filled with war, intrigue, and politics, the emphasis is on the people not the pew-pew space battles. If that’s a plus for you like it is for me, don’t sleep on this one.

By C. J. Cherryh,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Downbelow Station as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Hugo Award-winning classic sci-fi novel about interstellar war.

The Beyond started with the Stations orbiting the stars nearest Earth. The Great Circle the interstellar freighters traveled was long, but not unmanageable, and the early Stations were emotionally and politically dependent on Mother Earth. The Earth Company which ran this immense operation reaped incalculable profits and influenced the affairs of nations.

Then came Pell, the first station centered around a newly discovered living planet. The discovery of Pell's World forever altered the power balance of the Beyond. Earth was no longer the anchor which kept this vast empire from coming…


Book cover of Slow River

Felicia Watson Why did I love this book?

This Nebula winner is amazing for many reasons, not the least of which is that it’s almost 25 years old, is set in the present era and gets so much right. It’s certainly the only sci-fi novel you’ll read where wastewater treatment plays such a starring role. The writing is gorgeous, with a skillfully presented narrative, interweaving three stages of the life of the MC, Lore Van Oesterling, from a privileged child, to a wounded (physically and mentally) young woman eking out a life in the gutter, and finally to a mature, self-reliant heroine. Her story demonstrates the resilience of the human spirit and triumph over trauma. Along the way, Griffith challenges the reader to consider the all-consuming yet fluid concept of “identity”. 

By Nicola Griffith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Slow River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nicola Griffith, winner of the Tiptree Award and the Lambda Award for her widely acclaimed first novel Ammonite, now turns her attention closer to the present in Slow River, the dark and intensely involving story of a young woman's struggle for survival and independence on the gritty underside of a near-future Europe.
She wakes in an alley to the splash of rain. She is naked, a foot-long gash in her back was still bleeding, and her identity implant is gone. Lore Van de Oest was the daughter of one of the world's most powerful families...and now she is nobody. 
Then…


Book cover of Cold Welcome

Felicia Watson Why did I love this book?

Cold Welcome is the first book in the Vatta's Peace Series by Elizabeth Moon (a sequel series to Vatta’s war), but it stands alone and can be read by a newcomer. The MC, Kylara Vatta, rejected a place in her powerful family’s space trading business and instead elected to join the military. Our war hero returns home to find not the accolades she was given to expect but an assassination attempt. The sabotage of her shuttle leaves Vatta and her crew fighting for survival, first in an icy sea and then a frozen wasteland, for history buffs this is a definite nod to Shackleton. Vatta manages to find a clandestine underground facility, which provides somewhat risky shelter for the group since the builders of the facility will do anything to keep their secrets. This is an engaging, fast-paced read; though not actually set in space, it has a classic space-opera feel.

By Elizabeth Moon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cold Welcome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Admiral Ky Vatta should return to her childhood home a war hero, but on the way her shuttle is downed by sabotage.
Marooned in a hostile landscape it'll take every bit of wit, skill and luck she can muster to lead her fellow survivors to safety, knowing that the mysterious enemies who destroyed the ship are on the hunt, and may have an agent in the group ready to finish the job at any moment. And was the sabotage an attempt on Ky's own life, or someone else's?


Book cover of The Future of Another Timeline

Felicia Watson Why did I love this book?

If you are a fan of alt-rock and alternative history, then this book is for you. It features two MCs: Beth, a Riot Grrrl fan from the 1990s, and Tess, a time-traveling scientist from the future, both of whom are trying in their own way to fix the past. Beth is dealing with the aftermath of using deadly force to defend her friend from a rapist while Tess is hellbent on changing the timeline to fight the "Comstockers” – a group of men who used time travel to change history and remove all women's rights, especially those of the reproductive sort. Newitz manages to thoroughly entertain while telling a riveting story that deals with admittedly heavy subject matter.

By Annalee Newitz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Future of Another Timeline as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A revolution is happening in speculative fiction, and Annalee Newitz is leading the vanguard."--Wil Wheaton

From Annalee Newitz, founding editor of io9, comes a story of time travel, murder, and the lengths we'll go to protect the ones we love.

1992: After a confrontation at a riot grrl concert, seventeen-year-old Beth finds herself in a car with her friend's abusive boyfriend dead in the backseat, agreeing to help her friends hide the body. This murder sets Beth and her friends on a path of escalating violence and vengeance as they realize many other young women in the world need protecting…


Book cover of Midnight Robber

Felicia Watson Why did I love this book?

This captivating novel draws its imagery and themes from Afro-Caribbean folklore, a refreshing change from the surfeit of Greek/Roman mythology-based stories. The MC, Tan-tan, is ripped from her comfortable life when her father forces her to join him in exile on a prison planet. In her struggle for survival on a brutal and lawless world, Tan-Tan’s greatest enemy proves to be her own father, an abusive monster. After she kills him in self-defense, Tan-tan finds refuge among the douen, an alien race drawn from Caribbean mythology. Here she evolves into a semblance of the Robber Queen of legend, and finds she can be free when she gives back two lives for the one that she took. Following Tan-tan as she makes an amazing journey from victim to hero makes this poetic novel an unforgettable read.

By Nalo Hopkinson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Midnight Robber as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's Carnival time and the Caribbean-colonized planet of Toussaint is celebrating with music, dance, and pageantry. Masked "Midnight Robbers" waylay revelers with brandished weapons and spellbinding words. But to you Tan-Tan, the Robber Queen is simply a favorite costume to weart at the festival -- untiel her power-coprrupted father commits an unforgivable crime.

Suddenly, both father and daughter are thrust into the brutal world of New Half-Way Tree. Here monstrous creatures from folkklore are real, and the humans are violent outcasts in the wilds. Here Tan-Tan must redeach into the heart of myth -- and become the Robber Queen herself.…


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Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

Book cover of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

Gabrielle Robinson Author Of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired english professor

Gabrielle's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Gabrielle found her grandfather’s diaries after her mother’s death, only to discover that he had been a Nazi. Born in Berlin in 1942, she and her mother fled the city in 1945, but Api, the one surviving male member of her family, stayed behind to work as a doctor in a city 90% destroyed.

Gabrielle retraces Api’s steps in the Berlin of the 21st century, torn between her love for the man who gave her the happiest years of her childhood and trying to come to terms with his Nazi membership, German guilt, and political responsibility.

Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

What is this book about?

"This is not a book I will forget any time soon."
Story Circle Book Reviews

Moving and provocative, Api's Berlin Diaries offers a personal perspective on the fall of Berlin 1945 and the far-reaching aftershocks of the Third Reich.

After her mother's death, Robinson was thrilled to find her beloved grandfather's war diaries-only to discover that he had been a Nazi.

The award-winning memoir shows Api, a doctor in Berlin, desperately trying to help the wounded in cellars without water or light. He himself was reduced to anxiety and despair, the daily diary his main refuge. As Robinson retraces Api's…


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