In honor of Joanna Russ

In honor of the recent passing of author and critic Joanna Russ, I thought I would put together a short list of just a few of my favorite feminist science fiction and fantasy stories. For those of you who are not familiar with her work, Joanna Russ was one of the most ferocious and fearless science fiction authors around. Her approach to speculative fiction may have been too forceful and political for some readers, but it was this same unbridled passion that made her such a treasure in the field.

Only a MotherA powerful short story by Judith Merril, who at the time of publication was married to science fiction legend Frederick Pohl. Though most of Merril’s novels have gone out of print, her short fiction is so singular it is definitely worth tracking down. “Only a Mother” is a chilling tale you won’t soon forget.

Parable of the Sower– Octavia Butler filled every one of her stories with strong, Black female protagonists, but she wasn’t interested in only making a allegorical commentary. Her stories are as thrilling as any popular page-turning author, but always in the service of deep sociological explorations.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever – James Tiptree, Jr. was not only one of the most revered science fiction writers of the past 50 years, he was really a she!  Alice Bradley Sheldon used the famous pen name in order to create a gender-free judgement of her work.  These 18 darkly complex short stories and novellas touch upon human nature and perception, metaphysics and epistemology, and gender and sexuality, foreshadowing a world in which biological tendencies bring about the downfall of humankind.

There is certainly no dearth of female writers with incredible talent in the science fiction genre, but I’d like to hear your suggestions. Add your favorite feminist science fiction authors or stories in the comments!

One thought on “In honor of Joanna Russ”

  1. Andre Norton has long been a favorite of mine. I always assumed she was a woman, although eventually (when my naivete was breached) I wondered if she had chosen a nom de plume that was sexually ambivalent. Her protagonists were both male and female and she introduced me to psi-fi (psychic powers sci-fi) and fantasy worlds with strong women characters (as opposed to Tolkein.) Marion Zimmer Bradley (Avalon and Darkover) and Anne McCaffery (Dragonriders, Crystal Ship, etc.) probably need little introduction. Just this morning my son reminded me that Mercedes Lackey even introduces gay and lesbian characters without fanfare in her Valdemar books. I also enjoy Julian May (another ambivalent first name) especially for her Pliocene Saga and Galactic Milieu trilogy. Now you’ve got me wondering if I can come up with enough gentlemen to equal the ladies!

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