100 Great Sci-Fi Stories by Women Writers (Read 20 for Free Online)

Image by Frankie Fouganthin, via Wikimedia Commons

Since 2009, the organization VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts has sought to bring balance to the representation of female authors in the literary world. As revealed by the 2010 controversy begun by author Jodi Picoult over the gushing treatment Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom received in the New York Times, the disparity, and the bias, are real. Author Jennifer Weiner chimed in as well, writing: “when a man writes about family and feelings, it’s literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it’s romance, or a beach book.” This fracas—involving a number of mostly New York literati and the death of the term “chick lit”—didn’t split evenly down gender lines. Both male and female writers lined up to defend Picoult and Franzen, but it did open up legitimate questions about the old (mostly white) boys club that claims the upper echelons of literary fiction and the brass ring that is the New York Times book review.

What received no notice in the popular media during all this chatter was the place of women writers in genre fiction, which mostly lives outside the gates and rarely gets much notice from the critics (with the exception of a handful of “serious” writers and the Young Adult market). Well, there is a discussion about gender parity in the science fiction world taking place now on the blog of sci-fi critic and writer Ian Sales. Sales curates SF Mistressworks—a blog for women sci-fi writers—and after reviewing a 1975 anthology called Women of Wonder, he asked readers over at his blog to submit their favorite short fiction by women writers. His goal? To collect 100 stories and novellas as a counter to the classic, and almost wholly male-dominated collection, 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories, edited by Isaac Asimov. You can read the full list of 100 over at Sales’ blog. Below, we’ve excerpted those stories that are freely available online. If you’re a science fiction fan and find yourself unable to name more than one or two female authors in the genre (everyone knows, for example, the fabulous Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood, pictured above), you might want to take a look at some of the great work you’ve missed out on.

Sales’ list spans several decades and, as he writes, demonstrates “a good spread of styles and themes and approaches across the genre.”

1 ‘The Fate of the Poseidonia’, Clare Winger Harris (1927, short story) online here

12 ‘The New You’, Kit Reed (1962, short story) online here

13 ‘The Putnam Tradition’, Sonya Dorman (1963, short story) online here

16 ‘The Heat Death of the Universe’, Pamela Zoline (1967, short story) online here

24 ‘The Violet’s Embryo’, Angélica Gorodischer (1973, novelette) online here (excerpt)

28 ‘The View from Endless Scarp’, Marta Randall (1978, short story) online here

51 ‘The Road to Jerusalem’, Mary Gentle (1991, short story) online here

71 ‘Captive Girl’, Jennifer Pelland (2006, short story) online here

79 ‘Spider the Artist’, Nnedi Okrafor (2008, short story) online here

81 ‘Eros, Philia, Agape’, Rachel Swirsky (2009, novelette) online here

82 ‘Non-Zero Probabilities’, NK Jemisin (2009, short story) online here

85 ‘Blood, Blood’, Abbey Mei Otis (2010, short story) online here and here

88 ‘Amaryllis’, Carrie Vaughn (2010, short story) online here

89 ‘I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno’, Vylar Kaftan (2010, short story) online here

91 ‘Six Months, Three Days’, Charlie Jane Anders (2011, short story) online here

93 ‘The Cartographer Bees and the Anarchist Wasps’, E Lily Yu (2011, short story) online here

94 ‘Silently and Very Fast’, Catherynne M Valente (2011, novella) online here, here and here

96 ‘A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel’, Yoon Ha Lee (2011, short story) online here

97 ‘Immersion’, Aliette de Bodard (2012, short story) online here

98 ‘The Lady Astronaut of Mars’, Mary Robinette Kowal (2012, novelette) online here

* Please note: an earlier version of this post was titled “The 100 Best Sci-Fi Stories by Women Writers (Read 20 for Free Online).” As this list’s curator, Ian Sales, points out unequivocally below, this is not meant to be a definitive “best of” in any sense. Our apologies for misreading his intentions. 

via Metafilter

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Comments (13)
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  • Marcel says:

    …can’t see Frankenstein…

  • Ryan says:

    I found this perspective the other day: http://whowritesfor.com/archive

    I can’t wait to get reading!

  • Ian Sales says:

    The title of the list is 100 GREAT Science Fiction Stories by Women, not “best”. In fact, my post categorically states, “The stories are by no means the best by each writer”.

  • Margie Stoked says:

    Where is Andre Norton nee Alice Norton

  • Susan Arthur says:

    When It Changed by Joanna Russ. It is always the first story I think of when short sci fi comes up.

  • Marc Emmelmann says:

    I became a #scifi lover in my 20’s. Now I’m in my 30’s and have started a website to promote sci-fi painting.


    I’m seeking painters(who paint Sci Fi)and want to market their work for free on this website. We will sell your works for you for a reasonable commission.

    And course, if you appreciate SciFi and paintings – our featured piece is extraordinary! :)


  • Josh Jones says:

    Hi Ian,

    Thanks so much for stopping by and pointing out our error. I’ve amended the title to reflect your intentions.

    All the best,

  • Dave says:

    I strongly suggest that for sites like Gutenberg.org and Archive.org you link to the work’s main page rather than one particular format.

    Links for the two works in question:

    Also, the links to infinityplus.co.uk are all dead as it appears the site is offline.

  • Ian Sales says:

    Hi Josh. Thanks. And thanks also for the signal boost.

  • StNaija says:

    Wow, this just beautiful! My only plea is that you add Romie Stott–A Robot Walks Into A Bar And Says. She wrote it for ARC. It is an AMAZING story with a human element and lot’s of guts.

  • Ming on Mongo says:

    There is no ‘secret plot’ to suppress female sci-fi writers. It just happens to be a literary form that tends to disproportionately attract males and male writers, whose brains are simply ‘wired’ differently from female brains, not unlike the way that science in general tends to attract males. So ironically these kinda “women only” lists just serve to imply that women writers can’t make it on their own, and somehow need extra “help”, analogous to the “Special Olympics”.

  • Shruti says:

    Men and women’s brains may be wired slightly differently but there is no authentic and scientific study proving that men’s brains are more scientifically inclined than women’s brains. It could be due to social conditioning as men are traditionally encouraged to show an interest in and to pursue science not women. There is no secret plot because it’s out in the open for everyone to see. The science fiction genre is dominated by men as is evident. Women are at a disadvantage in the sci-fi genre as they are overlooked and so to level the playing field, women writers of this genre need to be encouraged. Yes they might need a little extra help but only because men have been getting it for a long time now.

  • Tim says:

    Not sure who all these authors are, but I tend to look for longer books – 100K+ words and so won’t get to the above stories.
    I don’t care if a book was written by a man or woman – I rarely look at the author’s name – I just want to read an engaging story, which for me has been scifi for the past 40+ years.

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