The best science fiction and fantasy books about or by women

Stephanie A. Smith Author Of Asteroidea
By Stephanie A. Smith

Who am I?

I am a professor of English at the University of Florida, and an author of SF/F myself; I teach it both as a creative writer, and as a scholar of both American Literature and feminist thought. This is my subject and I am passionate about it, and I’ve been teaching SF/F, American literature of the 19th and 20th centuries for thirty years, so I know my topic well.


I wrote...

Asteroidea

By Stephanie A. Smith,

Book cover of Asteroidea

What is my book about?

Asteroidea is about regeneration: personal, professional, cellular. As the novel opens, marine biologist Claire Holt is at a crossroads. Having spent her career experimenting on starfish, seastars or asteroidea, to transfer their regenerative capabilities to mammals, she’s grown depressed.

With her grants running dry, and her two daughters facing their own life changes, Claire feels defeated. To cope, she takes a journey back to her childhood home, only to discover several destabilizing facts about her past. As she tries to handle the resulting intergenerational and emotional fallout, a graduate student arrives at her lab with a newly discovered species of asteroidea. Juggling emotional and familial upheaval, as well as this fresh direction for her research challenges Claire to re-engage in both her work and in life.

The books I picked & why

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The Left Hand of Darkness

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of The Left Hand of Darkness

Why this book?

Ursula K. Le Guin is a consummate master of storytelling and awe-inspiring imagination, surpassed by none other in SF/F. I love this book because of the prose because the world she built was so dense and wonderfully challenging and the characters, wholly unforgettable—every time I teach this book, the students are bowled over. Le Guin was my teacher, my mentor, my friend of thirty years and I never tire of her powerful voice, urging us all on to make the world a better place.


The Exile Waiting

By Vonda N. McIntyre,

Book cover of The Exile Waiting

Why this book?

Vonda N. McIntyre is an often over-looked science fiction and alternate history author whose prose is lush, whose imagination is daunting, and who was unfailingly generous to the fan community, and to the community of writers she knew and supported; she was also my teacher, my mentor and my friend of thirty years, and she knew how to make you laugh! Exile is back in print after being out of print, and it is a terrifyingly beautiful, thought-provoking read.


Kindred

By Octavia E. Butler,

Book cover of Kindred

Why this book?

Octavia E. Butler is now recognized as the ‘mother of afro-futurism’ and I think Kindred is possibly her best novel—taut, searing, heartfelt, Kindred makes the past of race-slavery startlingly present, and her protagonist must deal with some very difficult yet insightful issues as she time-travels from the 1970s to the 1830s. It also asks the reader to reconsider what it means to be family, as the protagonist, Dana is repeatedly confronted with a white ancestor she had previously not known about. My students always rave about this novel.


The Female Man

By Joanna Russ,

Book cover of The Female Man

Why this book?

The Female Man gives the reader a slice of the 1970s up close and personal from the perspective of young women who don’t fit it, who don’t want to be used as an object, who both come from and see into a different way of life. A challenging read, but as one of my students said when you get finished, you have so much to talk about you could talk for days. Russ, too, is somewhat overlooked today, which is a shame because she was brilliant, funny, and angry, really, really angry and somehow, I appreciate the depth of that anger—and share it. Joanna was also a dedicated teacher/scholar and her book How to Suppress Women’s Writing still hits the nail on the head.


A Wrinkle in Time

By Madeleine L'Engle,

Book cover of A Wrinkle in Time

Why this book?

I read this book as a child and have never forgotten it; it holds up well, the characters are utterly memorable, and the story still breaks my heart. About the nature of time and space and what love, friendship, courage, and morality are about, the novel is at once simple and profound, suspenseful, and thoughtful. It won all sorts of prizes for good reasons, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.


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