Female Leads in Science Fiction Novels

In a discussion with book reviewer Shaun Duke on Twitter, he made an interesting comment.

He said that he couldn’t think of any lead female characters in Science Fiction books. When I tried to respond right away I realized all the books that were coming to my mind were more Fantasy or Speculative than true Science Fiction.

So I went to my Library to see what I could find, and I found -and will share with you- 10 science fiction books (or series) with female lead characters. Now, to be completely honest only books 1 – 8 are actually in my library, but since I was so close to ten I ran a quick Amazon search to come up with the last two. This is anything but an exhaustive list, but it’s ten books – most I like and recommend – that show women in a leading role.

Let me know your thoughts. Are there other books you know of that should be on a list like this?

A Top Ten List of Science Fiction Novels With Female Lead Characters:

#1) A six book series called “Venus Prime” by Paul Preuss and Authur C. Clark (1987 – 1991).

From the back of the first book:

“Her code name is Sparta. Her beauty veils a mysterious past and abilities of superhuman dimension, the product of advanced biotechnology.

When the injured freighter Star Queen arrives at Venus station with a lone survivor on board, Sparta must risk her life to investigate what really happened during its deadly voyage in space.

She must solve this mystery  even as she unlocks another truth – the truth behind her own identity…”

The series is a science fiction – crime blend written primarily by Mr. Preuss but with the concept provided by Mr. Clark. Our girl Sparta becomes an inspector with the Board of Space Control, originally so that she could gain access to information that might lead her to her past. But of course there are some great crimes to solve along the way.

#2) The four book series by Anne McCaffrey starting with “Freedom’s Landing” (The Catteni (Freedom) Series) (1995 – 2002).

Freedom's LandingFrom the back of the first book:

“Kristin Bjornsen lived a normal life, right up until the day the Catteni ships floated into view above Denver. As human slaves were herded in the maw of a massive vessel, Kristin realized her normal life was over, and her fight for freedom was just beginning…”

The series follows Kristin and a cast of aliens and humans that are “dropped” onto an uninhabited world – the Catteni way of colonizing new worlds. We see them struggle to survive the elements and each other, and against the odds strive for freedom. And you can count on Anne McCaffrey to throw in a touch of romance.

Another good Science Fiction series by Anne McCaffrey with a female lead is the three book series starting with “Crystal Singer“.

#3) The stand alone novel “This Alien Shore” by C. S. Friedman (1999).

Summarized from the back of the book:

The first age of humanity’s space colonization ended in disaster when it was discovered that Earth’s superluminal drive did permanent genetic damage to all who used it – mutating earth’s far-flung colonists in mind and body.

Now, one of Earth’s first colonies (Guera) has given humanity back the stars but at a high price. For the Outships can only be piloted by members of Guera’s Outspace Guild – giving the guild control over all human commerce. Many would give anything to topple Guera’s stranglehold on the stars.

On Shido Habitat, a satellite in Earth’s outer orbit, lives a girl names Jamisia. Protected by her biological brainware systems, and accompanied by the many voices in her head, she has grown into a resourceful if unusual young woman. When Shido is viciously attacked, Jamisia flees to a ship bound for the Up-and-Out. Speeding across the galaxy, pursued by ruthless but unknown adversaries, Jamisia must unravel the mystery of her identity and her importance. This odyssey of self-discovery will lead her to uncover a secret which is buried deep in her psyche – a revelation the universe may not be ready to face…”

Not much I can add on that. Self-discovery, political intrigue, adventure, deception… A little bit of everything in this book.

#4) canadian-flag-heart20 The three book series started by Julie E. Czerneda’s 1st novel “A Thousand Words for Stranger” (Trade Pact Universe) (1997).

From the back of the first book:

“Ambushed by unknown assailants, cut off from her escort, and on the run with no memory of who she was, what she was doing on a world known as Auord, or why she was driven to find a specific ship and head for an unknown destination, she was forced to accept the help of a space trader named Morgan. Captain Morgan gave her the name Sira and berth on his spaceship, but there was something about his she couldn’t trust. Something he was hiding from her.

Yet, sought by the Enforcers of the Interstellar Trade Pact, by representatives of the Clan of which Sira herself was a member, and by a mysterious pursuer determined to use Sira for his own ends, she had no choice but to ally herself with Morgan – even though each might well prove the other’s doom…”

Just to get it out of the way, I hate how this back cover reads. Run on sentences anyone? But if you overlook that this book, and the two that follow, take a unique look at the star-crossed lovers theme and place it in well thought out worlds and beautifully structured societies.  An easy read, even if the cover isn’t :).

Also, Julie is in the middle of working on a prequel trilogy to this series (called “Stratification“) and has two other trilogies (“Species Imperative” and “Web Shifters“), all of which have female lead characters (I just haven’t read these ones).

#5) canadian-flag-heart20 The new Trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer starting with the book “Wake” (WWW) (2008)

From the back of the first book:

“Caitlin Decter is young, pretty, feisty, a genius at math and blind. Still, she can surf the net with the best of them, following its complex paths clearly in her mind. When a Japanese researcher develops a new signal-processing implant that might give her sight, she jumps at the chance, flying to Tokyo for the operation.

But Caitlin’s brain long ago co-opted her primary visual cortex to help her navigate online. Once the implant is activated, instead of seeing reality, the landscape of the World Wide Web explodes into her consciousness, spreading out all around her in a riot of colors and shapes. While exploring this amazing realm, she discovers something – some other – lurking in the background. And it’s getting smarter…”

If an artificial intelligence were to evolve naturally from the chaos that is the World Wide Web, what would it look like? Robert J. Sawyer tries to answer that question and does a brilliant job of it if you ask me. The second book in the trilogy doesn’t come out until next year, but I can’t wait to read it.

#6) A stand alone novel by Pheobe Wray called “JEMMA7729” (2008).

From the back of the book:

“The Government’s dossier on Jemma 7729 flags her as “independent thinking” of a “rebellious nature” exhibiting inappropriate behaviour. On the day Jemma is to freely choose what she will be for the rest of her life, the state intervenes and choses for her — committed to custody without parole!

But Jemma escapes, criss-crossing the country, avoiding recapture, and destroying the chemical plants used to “alter” women the government can’t control. Jemma knows she has made the best choice of all – freedom!”

A frighting look into a possible near future were women have had all rights taken away from them, under the guise of protecting them. It’s Jemma against the system, and while at first glance it looks like a very feminist novel this is a fast paced action story that will make you think.

#7) The stand alone novel “Forbidden Cargo” by Rebecca K. Rowe (2006)

From the back of the book:

The Imagofas are revered by many as the next step in human evolution – a nano-DNA hybrid: part human, part machine – but to the Council they are a dangerous aberration and a threat to the very existence of humankind.

In their quest to prove this crime against humanity, the Council plans on abducting specimens from the Order sanctioned research facility on Mars.

When the kidnapping takes an unexpected turn and the Imagofas are forced to become fugitives, the Council vows to destroy them – while others plan to capitalize on their existence.

The Imagofas, in a determined bid to return to Mars, must draw upon their still developing and unique skills to survive the dangers of Earth.

Two female Imagofas are kidnapped and brought to Earth because of power struggle between two political powers. The characters are all very thought out and believable.  While a little slow at times, it is a truly engaging concept.

#8) canadian-flag-heart20 The stand alone novel “Darwin’s Paradox” by Nina Munteanu (2007)

From the back of the book:

“When an intelligent virus and an intelligent machine conspire to seize North America’s largest city then threaten to spread world chaos, the only person who can save humanity is the woman who started it all.

Compelled by the ambitious virus stirring inside her, Julie Crane returns to the city from which she fled – accused of atrocity – to fulfil her final destiny as Darwin’s Paradox, the key to the evolution of humankind.”

The plague that gives??? In a time of H1N1, it’s interesting to look at a virus that is spreading across a future world and the steps people take to protect themselves.  While the main character is Julie Crane, supposed creator of the virus, this is also Julie’s daughter Angel’s story. And when the main character’s best friend is an AI, you know it’s going to be an interesting read.

#9) The “Stardoc” series by S. L. Viehl, up to nine books already (2000-2009)

From the back of the first book:

“Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil leaves Earth and accepts a position as a physician at Kevarzanga-2’s FreeClinic. Her surgical skills are desperately needed on a hostile frontier world with over 200 sentient species–and her understanding of alien physiology is nothing short of miraculous.

But the truth behind her expertise is a secret which, if discovered, could have disastrous consequences between human and alien relations…”

From wikipedia: “She (S. L. Viehl) has described herself as primarily a writer of romance: no matter what genre she is working in, an element of romance will always be present”.

I am very interested in reading this series now, even though there are very mixed reviews. Apparently there is a lack of science behind her fiction, but a good story (and hopefully it is) can overcome this. Book ten has been bought (the last book in the series) and should be out next year sometime.

#10) The standalone novel “Beyond Infinity” by Gregory Benford (2003)

From the back of the book:

“A billion years into the future, a human female is recreated from data held within the vast archives of the Library of Life. But the Earth to which she is born is far different to that of her long-extinct race. Finding it impossible to adapt to this timeless and rigid society she flees her creators and her home world.

A rogue element in an increasingly unstable universe, she draws the attention of a mysterious alien breed. Already masters of travel between parallel universes they believe this girl is the key to changing all reality. And if they track her down, the effects on the galaxy will be cataclysmic.”

From Publishers Weekly: “When a vicious attack by transdimensional life forms leaves Cley the last Original alive, the Supras blame an extradimensional race known as the Malign. Cley knows, though, the Supras aren’t telling her the whole story. Her journey quickly takes on an Alice-in-Wonderland quality, as she and Seeker traverse bewildering multidimensional spaces and encounter the immense Leviathan, a living ship that roams the solar system. Cley won’t be safe until she solves the secret of the Malign-a secret whose truth lies far back in the past, when the human race first set out to explore the galaxy. With its thoughtful extrapolation and mind-bending physics, this book reinforces Benford’s position as one of today’s foremost writers of hard SF.”

Hard science fiction with a female lead character? It fits on this list.  Not sure I’d read it but it definitely looks interesting.

8 Responses to Female Leads in Science Fiction Novels

  1. Paul July 27, 2009 at 1:38 pm #

    It's probably more speculative than sci-fi, but John Wyndham's Trouble with Lichen has an incredibly strong female lead character.

  2. George July 27, 2009 at 2:36 pm #

    The main character in Steven R. Donaldson's trilogy-in-progress “The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” is female (Linden Avery)

  3. dcroe05 July 27, 2009 at 4:50 pm #

    Connie Willis writes many female leads. Not everything she writes is pure Sci-Fi but much of it is. Off the top of my head I can recommend Doomsday Book, but there are many others by Willis.

    That said, your right. There is a dearth of good female sci-fi characters.

  4. dcroe05 July 27, 2009 at 4:52 pm #

    Connie Willis writes many female leads. Not everything she writes is pure Sci-Fi but much of it is. Off the top of my head I can recommend Doomsday Book, but there are many others by Willis.

    That said, your right. There is a dearth of good female sci-fi characters.

  5. Paul July 27, 2009 at 8:38 pm #

    It's probably more speculative than sci-fi, but John Wyndham's Trouble with Lichen has an incredibly strong female lead character.

  6. George July 27, 2009 at 9:36 pm #

    The main character in Steven R. Donaldson's trilogy-in-progress “The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” is female (Linden Avery)

  7. dcroe05 July 27, 2009 at 11:52 pm #

    Connie Willis writes many female leads. Not everything she writes is pure Sci-Fi but much of it is. Off the top of my head I can recommend Doomsday Book, but there are many others by Willis.

    That said, you're right. There is a dearth of good female sci-fi characters.


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