These days you can find countless examples of strong and powerful women on any given shelf you glance at. I propose that some of the best characters you’ll ever read, you’ve likely never heard of before. These authors and their crime fighting, book smuggling, space travelling ladies deserve your attention too. I present to you the obscure women who live in the corners of popularity, hidden in the shadows of the Sarah Conners, Hermione Grangers, Katniss Everdeens, and yes, even Elle Woods! All well-portrayed and complex women deserve to be celebrated and read.
Her name is Jenelle “Elie” Baker written by Alechia Dow in The Sound of Stars. Categorized as Young Adult and Science Fiction, Ellie is the young girl who smuggles books. She’s stuck in an apartment building, one of the last ones occupied on earth. It is controlled and heavily monitored by the aliens that are conquering Earth. They won’t even let the humans still alive read or watch anything. This girl, young and alone, with her brainwashed parents as guardians, does everything in her power to make sure the people stuck in the building with her have something to keep them preoccupied from their inevitable dire fate.
It is important to note that men are also capable of writing impeccable women leads. A. Lee Martinez is one of my favorite authors for two reasons. One: humor and fantasy seamlessly combined. Two: he learns and grows. I don’t want to make this entire entry about him because this is meant to center Women. I think it is necessary to mention, though, that learning from past mistakes is how we improve as a society. Since Gil’s All Fright Diner, his very first book and one in which he isn’t entirely kind to the only woman in the story, he has written a plethora of books that make up for it. The Constance Verity series, The Nameless Witch, Chasing the Moon, Too Many Curses and Monster, all of which feature astounding women with their oh so satisfying flaws that come with any character properly written. I swore when I sat down to write this, I was going to pick one or two of his works, but I failed. I love A. Lee Martinez and the worst part about that love is that no one knows who I’m talking about! Read all of it!
Becky Chambers wrote the Wayfarer series of books that features a diaspora of space women. A Long Way to the Small Angry Planet is the start of the series with an ensemble cast, featuring women of both human and lizard kind. The second book, A Closed and Common Orbit, pays specific attention to one woman who overcame all odds to find freedom with the help of an effeminate computer. The first book completely, and single handedly I might add, sucked me into not just the series, but an entire genre. I have yet to read the last one, Record of a Spaceborn Few, but it sits anxiously waiting for me on my bookshelf. People say things about Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and the stupendous Douglass Adams. I will rant on, sitting comfortably on my high horse about A. Lee Martinez, but let me tell you about Becky Chambers. This trilogy is what propelled me to read all these different funny guys. Of course, comedic sci-fi starts and ends with Mr. Adams his graciousness, may he rest in peace, but these books sold me on humorous sci-fi before I found out that the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is… 42”.
On the opposite end of the silly science fiction genre, the darkly obnoxious Gideon sits confidently. This book gained quite a bit of recognition, but I loved it – loved the character of Gideon, really- so much that I just had to include it. Gideon the Ninth, written by Tamsyn Muir, is an action-packed mystery set upon a backdrop of a unique world. Gideon is a tough fighter who doesn’t bother with a filter. Gideon’s complex relationship with Harrow, which can be described as foe-forced-into-companion, may just be the cause of both their deaths, but you’ll have to read it to find out!
Let’s polish off this list with a 2021 release just for adults. Honey Girl by Morgan Rodgers is a twist on the drunken Vegas wedding. You may have to work to find it, but it is an excellent empowering read for women of all types. The leads of this story are astrophysicists, radio hosts, nurses and tea servers. It is a romantic story, but also a poetic dedication to the importance of women’s friendships and professional relationships with one another.
As with every time I compile a list of books, I feel compelled to say something like; Read Everything. But that’s not true and it adds quite a bit of undue pressure. So, I will leave you with this: Whatever you read, do it for fun and although it seems contradictory, with a critical lens. You may find, on your reading journey, countless stories with good intentions that maybe don’t make you feel so good. Put those down and pick up something that makes you smile and shows everyone, particularly women, a decent helping of respect.
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Being reminded of the strong women characters presented in speculative fiction sparked me to add a word about one of my favorite writers, Neal Stephenson. One of his books is called Seveneves, or, minus his trick spelling Seven Eves. The premise: a solar system scaled disaster is about to destroy Earth. Scientists scramble to save what they can. In the end, only seven strong women manage the job. It is an epic achievement of the imagination told on an epic scale –and
like many of Stephenson’s books, it might take epic strength merely to lift. Well worth the effort, though for any fan of either speculative fiction, strong female characters or both. – Craig Magee