Science fiction isn’t gendered anymore

I like reading space opera when I have the free time, but did not realize how many space operas were written by Cisgender Women, Non-Binary, and Trans People. That link will take you to a spreadsheet listing 750 authors meeting those criteria.

I’ve got a lot of reading to do.

Maybe I should have been aware, because looking over the list I’ve read a lot of Cherryh, Wells, Jemisin, Martine, Leckie, Okorafor, Bujold, and Hurley, and my taste runs to a lot of non-cis-male writers. And now I have more to read!

I remember a time when most of the popular SF writers were men (with notable exceptions). I think the tide has changed.


  1. StevoR says

    A few more recommendations albiet older era SF writers would be Anne McCaffrey notably The Ship Who Sang and sequel(s) plus her Crystal Singer & Pern series whichy I read probly decades ago but remember fondly so hope they still stand up. Elizabeth Moon – who I actually met at my local writer’s group and so am biased but do think is really good too and Pamela Sargent who wroe about terraforming Venus in a brilliant and fascinating trilogy before KS Robinson did the same to Mars and included queer heroes too and also her Earthseed among other novels.Dunno how many here might already be familiar with these but still..

  2. whheydt says

    My wife wrote SFF. She had two books and 30+ short stories published. The books are “The Interior Life” (originally under a pen name, Katherine Blake) and “A Point of Honor”. Those, plus a patch-up novel of stories she sold to MZBs “Sword and Sorceress” series, “The Witch of Syracuse” and a miscellaneous story collection, “Stories You Never Heard Of” can be downloaded from her web site. Just do a search on “Dorothy J. Heydt” and you’ll find it.

    As for the cover image PZ chose to use…I have that edition with that very cover.

  3. gijoel says

    You should try the MurderBot diaries. It’s about a rouge security bot who’s a complete failure at being a remorseless killing machine. It does find solace in watching soap operas, though it fast forwards through sex scenes as sex has absolutely no meaning for it.

  4. lakitha tolbert says

    I am not a huge Sci-Fi reader. I know enough to find my way around and I’ve read at least one book by each of the authors listed above. I mostly prefer Horror and Dark Fantasy, but I will get down with the occasional Space Opera, if it sounds intriguing enough and female authors are really the only ones who seem to be working for me in that regard. I don’t dislike male authors (I’ve read a few) but women authors are writing the kinds of stories that resonate with me more.

    I’d like to rec a couple of the most influential female sci-fi writers I know of:
    Karen Lowachee, who wrote the Space Opera Warbird Universe series, along with Cagebird, and Burndrive, and Ann Tonsor Zeddies, who wrote two of my favorite sci-fi novels Sky Road and Deathgift.

    I also like to give a shoutout to an Asian Sci-Fi writer: Aliete De Bodard who writes an Asian diaspora Space opera with sentient ships that are genetically related to the humans they carry.

    Okay, one last author, who only wrote the one book I liked: Katie Waitman wrote an intergalactic interspecies romance called The Merro Tree. I generally dislike romance novels so this should tell you that the story was very compelling for me. I haven’t read it in years but I still have fond memories of it.

  5. Erp says

    Women have been writing SF for a long time, but, they tend to disappear from the history of the field. Further back there was C L. Moore and Andre Norton.

  6. raven says

    I followed the link to the spreadsheet and found the spreadsheet.

    But no list of authors.
    There is a few paragraphs explaining what they are doing, dividing the authors up by time.
    I clicked a lot of boxes and still nothing.

    I’m using Google Chrome browser.
    Anyone have any ideas here?

  7. raven says

    Never mind.
    I was randomly clicking boxes with little hope and got it to work.

    For anyone else who has this problem, you click one box and another box appears at the bottom of the page. You click that one as well.

  8. John Harshman says

    How is it possible that nobody so far has mentioned Ursula K. Leguin?

    And how about Naomi Novik?

  9. silvrhalide says

    How did Ursula Le Guin not make the list except for Rocannon’s World but not The Dispossessed or Left Hand of Darkness?!
    The grande dame of SFF who wrote Left Hand of Darkness arguably one of the earliest nonbinary books (awarded NB no less–Nebula, Hugo & Locus) and more recently, Four Ways to Forgiveness (feminist, intersectionality)?!
    Sure, she’s best known for her fantasy Earthsea series but a LOT of her short stories are feminist and/or NB or queer. A personal favorite is Winter’s King, which is both space opera AND hard SF with functional time travel as an added bonus.

    Sheri Tepper didn’t make the list either. Technically, her True Game series meets fabulist, fantasy and SF (there are in fact spaceships and it is made clear that humans came to the planet from Earth, in said spaceships). The Gate to Women’s Country is more than a little problematic but pretty much all her other SF is hard SF as well as space opera. How did she not make the list?!

    Melanie Rawn’s Exiles series is largely fantasy but technically meets the criteria for space opera due to humans coming to the Exiles world in a spaceship. Definitely feminist and definitely opera though.

    What kind of list is this anyway?! Joan Vinge made the list for multiple entries (yay!) but Ursula Le Guin only gets the nod for Rocannon’s World?!

    I get why Marion Zimmer Bradley didn’t make the list (Breendoggle) but technically all of her Darkover novels are space opera. Unfortunately, once you know about the Breendoggle, you really can’t unsee that running all through her works.

  10. birgerjohansson says

    StevoR @ 2
    The Chrystal singer trilogy was uneven, especially the second book was bad.
    And MacCaffery had problems depicting how real people might react. But A for the concept.
    BTW the idea of people with symbiotic organisms that require them to return to the biosphere at regular intervals to avoid catastrophic health consequences also turns up in Neal Asher’s novels about the people that live on Spatterjay.

  11. michaelvieths says

    When I was in 10th grade, our English class had a section on women and minority authors. The list of women authors the teacher gave us was very short, and the only scifi/fantasy author was Anne McCaffrey. I’d been an avid sci-fi reader for years (my sister had a Science Fiction Book Club membership and I read everything), so while I read ‘Dragonriders of Pern’ since it was on the list, I turned in my paper with a long list of other writers (Vonda McIntyre, Katherine Kurtz, Ursula LeGuin, and others I don’t recall since that was 30some years ago). The teacher was very pleased. :)

  12. birgerjohansson says

    KG @ 5
    As Brian Aldiss has noted, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus was the first science fiction novel.

  13. Jazzlet says

    @ whheydt

    I love your wife’s work! I found Point of Honor after reading the Witch of Syracuse stoeris in the S&S anthologies*. I searched for more, but this was before I had access to a computer, possibly before most authors had websites, so I was searching the small SFF sections in run-of-the-mill bookshops and on work trips down to London tring to fit in a visit to Murder One which had a decent SFF section.

    Those Sword & Scorceress anthologies introduced me to a lot of good writers.

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    Julie Czerneda.
    Elizabeth Bear.
    Catherine Asaro.
    Suzanne Elgin.
    Linda Nagata.
    Nancy Kress.
    Julian May.
    Rebecca Ore.
    Joan Slonczewski.

    That is NOT all.

  15. says

    Don Sakers was a dear friend and member of our organziation who passed away a few months ago. He was the superb book reviewer for Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine for years. He also wrote a number of science fiction books and anthologies. His gay perspective only enriched his stories. One of my favorites is ‘The Leaves of October’. Also, the May/June 2020 issue of Analog has a wonderful editorial by Emily Hockaday on women science fiction authors.

  16. raven says

    Don Sakers was a dear friend and member of our organziation who passed away a few months ago.

    I really liked his book reviews.
    He made reading book reviews fun by his vast knowledge of Science Fiction and his engaging writing style.
    I was shocked and dismayed when he died suddenly at a young age, of 62.

    Another Science Fiction writer/editor who I just found died an hour ago, was Gardner Dozois. He edited the anthology The Years Best Science Fiction for decades. Our library carried it and sometimes I bought it.
    This was a large book of new short stories and a really good way to keep up with the field and find new authors.
    Our library quit carrying it and I thought it might have something to do with the pandemic.

    It turned out that he died in 2018 at age 70.

    If you live long enough, you will watch a lot of your favorite artists, writers, and musicians die.
    Whenever I hear about Intelligent Design, I at least know it has nothing to do with our world.

  17. outis says

    Urrrm, I did read some Cherryh (Downbelow Station) and i remember being rather unimpressed, so I did not follow up.
    But if one is looking for female SF writers, the choice is VERY rich, in spite of the field’s reputation as something of a prissy male reservation.
    Apart from the towering Le Guin, I’d suggest Katherine Kerr (Polar City Blues), Elizabeth Moon (Remnant Population), Karen Joy Fowler (Artificial Things), Julian May (telepathic space opera galore). Joanna Russ wrote staunchly feminist SF with her Whileaway cycle, and let’s not forget that none other than Doris Lessing left us the excellent, dense series of Shikasta.
    Just dig in, many pleasures are there to be discovered.

  18. gjm11 says

    Science fiction fans and authors of a more … let’s generously say “traditional” … frame of mind have been complaining for some years now about how their world is becoming less of a boys’ club. A group calling themselves the “Sad Puppies” tried to overwhelm the Hugo award nomination process with right-leaning military-SF-heavy ideas-and-spaceships-and-explosions stuff written by Real Men. In 2015 they got a lot of their pet works nominated by having all their pals submit identical lists of works … and then in the actual final vote basically all of those were voted below “No Award” so they won nothing to speak of. (One of their nominations did win, but it was a very popular movie and might well have won anyway.) The next year, they achieved even less, and after that the Hugos changed their voting system to be harder to manipulate. From the outside it was all kinda hilariously pathetic, though it must have sucked for people who had created actually-award-worthy things that never made it past the nomination process in 2015.

    In keeping with the general principle that to a lot of men equality looks like being overrun, these folks claim that nowadays science fiction (and especially science fiction awards) is dominated by women and lefties and nontraditionally-gendered folks and other similar degenerates. In the 2022 Hugos the awards for Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, Best Short Story, Best Series, Best Graphic Story or Comic, and Best Related Work were all won by people with female-sounding names (at least some of whom I know are actually female, but I don’t recognize all the names) so maybe they kinda have a point? If so: meh, SF was dominated by men for multiple decades, it’ll survive a bit of overcompensation if that’s what’s happening now, and my impression is that the works that are winning are in fact really good.

    silvrhalide, I think the reason why Rocannon’s World is in the list and Le Guin’s more major works aren’t is that this isn’t a list of science fiction written by not-men, it’s a list of space opera written by not-men, and e.g. The Dispossessed is definitely not space opera.

  19. gjm11 says

    Ahem. Not quite a list of things written by not-men, but a list of things written by people other than cisgender men. Sorry about that.

  20. whheydt says

    Hmmm…. No mention yet of Wilmar Shiras. Who here read “Children of the Atom” and didn’t see themselves in at least one character?

  21. silvrhalide says

    @22 It’s been awhile since I read The Dispossessed (wasn’t one of my favorites, tbh) but there’s no way you can convince me that Left Hand of Darkness and Four Ways to Forgiveness isn’t space opera. And she’s got a ton of short stories that are definitely space opera, like Winter’s King. So how is it that she’s only on for Rocannon’s World? Four Ways to Forgiveness didn’t make the cut?

    Yes, I watched the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies with a lot of eye-rolling. A bunch of whiny also-rans largely supported by incels and Nice Men TM who miss the days of Joseph Campbell preeminence. Boo hoo. Grow the fuck up and learn how to write something somebody might actually want to read. (Hope the detestable Vox Day is enjoying the collapse of Castalia House and Amazon’s termination of the account for the same.)

    “Science fiction fans and authors of a more … let’s generously say “traditional” … frame of mind have been complaining for some years now about how their world is becoming less of a boys’ club. ”
    Yeah, Maria Dahvana Headley has some thoughts about that.

    @20 “I did read some Cherryh (Downbelow Station) and i remember being rather unimpressed”
    Well, her libertarianism does come through a lot of her science fiction, some more than others. Did not like the Cyteen stuff at all but did enjoy her Foreigner series, especially the prologue of the first book. Truthfully, I like her fantasy much better (The Dreamstone books and also The Paladin.)
    But if you are looking for something more along the lines of steampunk fantasy, try Marjorie Liu’s Monstress. (Eisner winner.)

    @16 I still have Julian May’s Pleiocene Exile series sitting on my shelf. And Nancy Kress’s Unto The Daughters is a particular favorite.

    @24 Actually have it shipping from eBay. Looking forward to it.

  22. silvrhalide says

    Bonus round of Ursula Le Guin:
    “Q: Nicholas Lezard has written ‘Rowling can type, but Le Guin can write.’ What do you make of this comment in the light of the phenomenal success of the Potter books? I’d like to hear your opinion of JK Rowling’s writing style.

    UKL: I have no great opinion of it. When so many adult critics were carrying on about the “incredible originality” of the first Harry Potter book, I read it to find out what the fuss was about, and remained somewhat puzzled; it seemed a lively kid’s fantasy crossed with a “school novel”, good fare for its age group, but stylistically ordinary, imaginatively derivative, and ethically rather mean-spirited.”

  23. StevoR says

    As a kid I also loved Andre Norton ( who it turns out used a couple of male pennames too & very vividly recall reading and rereading Children of the Dust by Lousie Lawrence which was a very powerful nuclear apocalpse novel too. Turns out she has a different real name too but also a female one. ( ) Plus Jan Mark’s The Ennead’ young adult SF novel especially its opening. Gather she’s written quite a few other good books too. ( ) Most of thsoe aimed at kids & written long ago but still..

  24. John Morales says

    Well, each to their own.

    “The Chanur novels are written as unusually realistic space opera, with much less ship-to-ship shooting than coercion, manipulation, politics, pride contests, and clashing economic interests interspersed with species-to-species miscommunication and misunderstanding.

    The realistic handling of linguistic and psychological barriers is one of the stronger aspects of the books (especially compared to the genre as a whole). The character development is another, which is also closely connected to the inter-species relations. As the (usually involuntary) exposure of the characters to different cultures goes on, they are pushed to probe other ways of thinking—and together with constant pressure of both economical and immediate hazard that drives them to opening new levels of themselves. Even the “enemy” side is quickly brought from the level of incomprehensible faceless danger into viewing them as a formidable yet admirable opponent. The books are a metaphor of breaking mental barriers, finding oneself in adversity, and growing above petty interests towards global strategies and greatness. ”

    Sounds super-boring to me. I might have tried one of those once, not sure.
    Give me action and adventure in space opera, none of this character and relationship crap.

    Actually, I remember when the “new wave” came along and this sort of boring stuff became normative.

    (I literally snickered when I read “unusually realistic space opera”, BTW)

  25. chrislawson says


    The worst thing about the Sad Puppies was not just their awful regressive views, but their decision to sabotage the Hugo voting process to wreck it. If they had truly believed that they were the true voice of science fiction fandom, they would have not have felt the need to do that. At the very least, they could have set up their own award for their own preferred style of sf. After all, there are tons of awards to promote specific subgenres/writers/themes, for instance the Otherwise Award (for stories that “expand or explore understanding of gender”), or the Gaylactic Award (no prizes for guessing what that one’s for), or the Robert A Heinlein Award (for inspiring space travel). Wikipedia lists dozens of them. And interestingly, not one of those awards is run by people who felt the need to sabotage the Hugos.

  26. Silentbob says

    @ 28 John Morales

    Well, each to their own.

    See, this is where you should have stopped. Literally, nothing you said after this was of the slightest interest or importance to any reader whatsoever.

  27. Kagehi says

    I tend to read a fair bit of Urban Fantasy, which sometimes edges into sci fi as well, but a lot of female authors in that. Have read some of the ones listed above, and including CJ Cherryh. And, have read some “female centric” series, but by male authors. Probably should read more sci fi, but tend to get my fix with that via streamed series now. lol

  28. John Morales says


    Literally, nothing you said after this was of the slightest interest or importance to any reader whatsoever.

    Clearly, you found that so remarkable that you had to remark upon it.
    That does not evince a lack of interest or importance, quite the contrary.

    After all, this is your only comment on this thread, and it was not about the topic at hand, unlike mine. Presumably, that means that my comment itself is more interesting to you than the topic at hand, though you took pains to make it clear that my comment had no interest whatsoever.


  29. hillaryrettig1 says

    The enormous and massively overlapping romance / erotica space is burgeoning with female, BIPOC, and queer voices, stories, and themes. And, obviously, there’s a massive subset of both devoted to sf and fantasy. TBH the worldbuilding is often shallow (“OMG, we crashed on a jungle planet full of sexy men / women!”), but sometimes it’s solid — and in many of these books the point is less worldbuilding than “personbuilding.”

    Recommended Example: Gail Carriger’s The Fifth Gender.

    Years ago I was told that 25% of all books purchased are romance, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the % is higher now.

    PS – I will die an obsessed Joan Slonczewski fan girl, and also @whheydt – that is very cool.

  30. hillaryrettig1 says

    Did anyone mention the phenomenal contemporary author Becky Chambers? She should not be omitted from a discussion like this!

  31. birgerjohansson says

    With SF using the perspective of aliens or AI traditional gender roles would be very odd.

  32. whheydt says

    Re: hillaryrettig1 @ #34…
    I read the first couple of Chambers. I had occasion to ask her about her inhabited moon in the second book, as the claimed orbital mechanics (rotational phase-lock to both the gas giant planet and to the system star) completely broke the willing suspension of disbelief for me. Her explanation: Because I wanted it that way. Okay. Fine. Just makes the system completely unbelievable to me, and that pretty much wrecks a lot of her set up.

    Re: silvrhalide @ #25…
    I think you mean John W. Campbell long time editor of Astounding/Analog. Joseph Campbell is the guy who wrote “The Hero with Thousand Faces”, and you can see traces of his theses in the Star Wars movies, e.g. the hero is betrayed as meal or feast. Tell me how Vader is going to eat the food set in front of him with that breathing mask on when Solo is brought before him?

    Re: gjm11 @ #22…
    Well… Having grown up with a mother who was a force of nature and would leave her-sized holes in anything that got in her way (which was quite useful in high school, as the counselor had tangled with her once and come off a very poor second, so all I had to is hint that she’d back what I wanted to do and he caved…), two older sisters both exceedingly sharp, and a wife I still think was smarter than I am (though she didn’t agree, mostly because we were good in quite different areas), I’m not one to even hint at male intellectual superiority.

  33. Ichthyic says

    ” (Hope the detestable Vox Day is enjoying the collapse of Castalia House and Amazon’s termination of the account for the same.)”

    oddly, seeing the title of the article made me wonder whatever happened to that detestable dickflute.

    wiki sez:

    “In 2019, Beale put together a campaign to crowdfund Rebel’s Run, which was to be an “anti-woke” superhero movie.[50][51] The campaign exceeded its original goal and collected slightly over a million dollars in funding,[51] which was to be held in escrow while Beale worked to secure additional funds to make the movie. In 2022, however, Beale announced that he had put the funds in an investment with Ohana Capital Financial, which allegedly spent the funds on an unrelated business undertaking.”

    right then. nothing new. still a liar, still scamming people out of money. still should be in jail.

  34. StevoR says

    @ 36. whheydt :

    I read the first couple of Chambers. I had occasion to ask her about her inhabited moon in the second book, as the claimed orbital mechanics (rotational phase-lock to both the gas giant planet and to the system star) completely broke the willing suspension of disbelief for me. Her explanation: Because I wanted it that way. Okay. Fine. Just makes the system completely unbelievable to me, and that pretty much wrecks a lot of her set up.

    Intresting scenario that does make me wonder if it could actually be possible. Got me curious here. How did she explain it and set it up exactly?

    Thinking that to have that you’d need a very close orbit around a dim enough star – red, brown or white dwarf? Maaaaybe an old neutron star tho’ .. how a planet could get that close in and survive that much radiation initially (pulsar planets are a real if very rare thing but .. yeah.) Then there’s the gravitational tidal effects which could be good at generating internal heat and activity but balancing that between Io-style vulcanism and sustaining life.. again.. yeah, tricky as.

    Did she allow for and use the rocking / wobbling effects of libration* I wonder?

    Was it a big plot point and investigated hard SF style or aminor thing thatdidn’t make any real significant diofference to the story? Might have toasee if Ican find /read that somewhere. Novel / story title please?

    That also reminds me of the intricate fctional planetary set up Isaac Asimov used for his Nemesis novel :

    Although I cannot recall if the (bacteria kinda?) inhabited natural satellite world there – Erythro – was doubly tidally locked to its superjovian planet (Megas) as well as its sun the eponymous Nemesis with the inhabited space colony Rotor orbiting and , I think, memory serving, locked to the moon-planet Erythro geosynchronous orbit style.

    .* See NASA animation illustarting it here plus as seen for the lunar farside here also by NASA for a couple of good short visual clips.