March 8 is International Women’s Day, and just because it’s an Earth holiday, that doesn’t meant we can’t celebrate it with tales set on other planets or in other, more fantastical realities. Here are 10 recommended reads to celebrate the day, and recognize fabulous stories, books, and essays by and about women in the speculative fiction genre. They are for any reader who wants to gauge the true measure of women’s contributions to fantasy, science fiction, and horror.
Recognize: Women have always been in a part of these genres, both as readers and creators.
Sword and Sonnet, edited by Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler
Sword and Sonnet contains 23 fantasy and science fiction stories about women or non-binary battle poets. That theme might sound too narrow in scope, yet Sword and Sonnet is one of the richest anthologies I’ve read in recent years, featuring stories celebrating the power and magic of words, music, and song in a multitude of ways. It includes A.C. Wise’s uniquely imagined “Words In an Unfinished Poem,” about a gunslinger who can kill with an utterance; C.S.E. Cooney’s devastatingly beautiful “As For Peace, Call It Murder,” a story of resistance and survival; and Khaalidah Muhammed-Ali’s compelling “She Searches For God in the Storm Within,” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List. The anthology is a 2018 Aurealis Award nominee in the Best Anthology category, and two of its stories—“Heartwood, Sapwood, Spring” by Suzanne J. Willis, and “Eight-Step Koan” by Anya Ow—are also Best Short Story finalists. If you want to get a taste of what to expect, you can listen to Victoria Sandbrook’s contribution, “El Cantar de la Reina Bruja,” at Podcastle.
Mother of Invention, edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts
The theme for this speculative fiction anthology is gender and artificial intelligence, and the stated intention is to interrogate and subvert the trope of the male genius as the creator of AI and robots. To that end, the authors imagine worlds and futures where the inventors are women, non-binary, or agender, and the results are both powerful and thought-provoking. Mother of Invention delivers complex, challenging stories about humanity, science, consciousness, and memory. This anthology is also a finalist for a 2018 Aurealis Award, and Lee Cope’s story “A Robot Like Me” is also a finalist in the Best Young Adult Short Story category. Standout stories include Seanan Mcguire’s riveting “Mother, Mother Will You Play With Me,” about a child growing up with Mother on a screen; Bogi Takács’s “An Errant Holy Spark,” about an artificial intelligence able to communicate with aliens; and Meryl Stenhouse’s piercing “Tidefall,” about an intelligent spaceship.
Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up to No Good, edited by Joanne Merriam
Broad Knowledge is billed as “a feminist anthology of dark fiction and darker knowledge” about “bad” women, and “good” women who just haven’t been caught yet. It contains 35 stories by writers who identify as female, non-binary, or a marginalized sex or gender identity, which covers some of the best working writers in genre fiction, including Nisi Shawl, Angela Slatter, Rati Mehrotra, A.T. Greenblatt, and Sonya Taaffe. Broad Knowledge is part of the Women Up To No Good series of anthologies, which also includes the 2015 dark fiction anthology Choose Wisely and the upcoming Sharp And Sugar Tooth, a horror anthology of “dark fiction and darker appetites” edited by Octavia Cade. Sharp and Sugar Tooth is set for release March 26th, and is available for preorder now.
Battling In All Her Finery: Historical Accounts of Otherworldly Women Leaders, edited by Dawn Vogel and Jeremy Zimmerman
This anthology from the team at Mad Scientist Journal (a mad-scientist themed e-zine) includes “twenty-one tales of otherworldly women leaders. Some are born to power, while others find the spark of power within themselves. Their leadership crosses the boundaries between the military and political world, while also making stops in music, the boardroom, and civil movements.” Co-editor Dawn Vogel states in her foreword that part of the inspiration for the book was a desire to share stories about women as leaders and rescuers rather than the ones being led or rescued by others. Battling In All Her Finery includes fiction by D.A. Xioalin Spires, Priya Sridhar, and L. Chan, as well as artwork by Rhaega Ailani, Errow Collins, A. Jones, Leigh Legler, Justine McGreevy, and Ariel Alian Wilson.
She Walks In Shadows, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles
“Defiant, destructive, terrifying, and harrowing, the women in She Walks in Shadows are monsters and mothers, heroes and devourers.” It’s hard to beat that description, taken from the official blurb this anthology of “Weird and Lovecraftian horrors” published in 2015. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in dark fiction, fresh takes on Lovecraftian lore, or horror. With stories by Molly Tanzer, Nadia Bulkin, Gemma Files, and others, it received well-deserved laurels from readers and reviewers, with John Langan describing it as “vivid, unsettling, and resonant” in Locus, and SQ Mag praising its “deliciously existential darkness.” The winner of a World Fantasy Award, it was also a finalist for Best Anthology in the Locus poll. Several stories from it have been reprinted in various “Best of …” anthologies and other venues, including The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016, Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 3, Wilde Stories 2016: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction, and Nightmare Magazine. An American edition, called Cthulhu’s Daughters: Stories of Lovecraftian Horror, was published in 2016, and features the same stories with a different cover.
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Sisters of the Revolution, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer
Sisters of the Revolution is an anthology of feminist speculative fiction covering a wide spectrum of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and beyond. Curated by the highly respected editorial team of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, it truly provides a sense of the depth and scope of women’s contribution to genre fiction. Included are stories spanning the 1970s to the present day, and its mission is to “expand the conversation about feminism while engaging the reader in a wealth of imaginative ideas.” Both newer and veteran authors are featured, all of them standing alongside the best and brightest lights in genre fiction. Notable names include James Tiptree, Jr., Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia E. Butler, Angela Carter, Nnedi Okorafor, Tanith Lee, Karin Tidbeck, Rose Lemberg, and Leonora Carrington.
Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler, edited by Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal
Octavia E. Butler was one of science fiction’s greatest writers, and her influence on the genre reverberates to this day. Reading her works Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents (set in a future ravaged by climate change, growing wealth inequality, and corporate greed), you get the feeling she saw the approach of future we now live in with a clearer eye and a sharper mind than most. Inspired by Butler’s legacy and influence, Luminescent Threads is a book of original essays and letters exploring “Butler’s depiction of power relationships, her complex treatment of race and identity, and her impact on feminism and women in science fiction.” It also includes a reprinted interview with Butler herself. The anthology highlights the ways Butler’s writing has continued to inspire writers and readers years after her death. Luminescent Threads won the Locus Award for Best NonFiction and was a nominee for both a Hugo Award and a a British Fantasy Award.
Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, edited by adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha
This anthology, featuring short stories, essays, and excerpts from longer works of speculative fiction, also takes its cue from Octavia E. Butler’s legacy, exploring “the connections between radical speculative fiction and movements for social change.” To quote editor adrienne maree brown, “All social justice work is science fiction. We are imagining a world free of injustice, a world that doesn’t yet exist.” The book includes essays by Tananarive Due and Mumia Abu-Jamaland fiction by LeVar Burton, Mia Mingus, and Tara Betts. It’s a powerful, genre-spanning work, moving across fantasy, science fiction, horror, and magical realism. The further work it has inspired in communities around the United States and elsewhere is featured on the Octavia’s Brood website, where the editors pay homage to Butler as a writer who “explored the intersections of identity and imagination… the gray areas of race, class, gender, sexuality, militarism, inequality, oppression, resistance and most importantly, hope.”
Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing, with David Naimon
When Ursula K. Le Guin passed away in 2018, it was a loss that intensely felt by countless writers and readers of speculative fiction. For decades, Le Guin was one of the genre’s foremost authors, and her lecagy will forevr define her as a woman who influenced science fiction and fantasy in deep and enduring ways through her short fiction, poetry, essays, and her longer works like The Books of Earthsea and the Hainish series. This nonfiction book, published by Tin House Books in 2018, compiles a series of interviews between David Naimon and Le Guin in which she discusses her own craft, including her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. As sharp and opinionated as ever, shealso sounds off on other subjects that were on her mind in her later years: “the genre wars, the patriarchy, the natural world, and what, in her opinion, makes for great writing.” The book also includes excerpts from Le Guin’s books, and some of the works that inspired her.
The Geek Feminist Revolution: Essays, by Kameron Hurley
Hugo-award winner Kameron Hurley is a prolific author of speculative fiction, but she’s also an insightful essayist who regularly shares her knowledge of, and passion for, genre fiction and the craft of writing on social media and elsewhere. Published in 2016, The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of razor-sharp essays that slice through the cords that tie together feminism, genre fiction, and geek culture. Included are several of Hurley’s previously published blog posts, including “We Have Always Fought” (a 2014 Hugo Award winner for Best Related Work), and nine essays written specifically for the collection. In his review of the book for The Guardian, Damien Walter called it a, “loving call to arms for geek culture’s deconstruction and rebuilding in a new image.” The Geek Feminist Revolution won the British Science Fiction Association Award and the Locus Award for Best NonFiction in 2017, and was a Hugo nominee. For more of Hurley, check out her recent collection of short stories, Apocalypse Nyx, published in 2018. Her next novel, The Light Brigade, is set for release on March 19.
What books are inspiring you this International Women’s Day?