27 Female Authors Who Rule Sci-Fi and Fantasy Right Now
Here at EW, we’re always looking for the next great sci-fi or fantasy epic. Consequently, a much-maligned National Review article, which dismissed the Bechdel Test and wrote off an absence of women in blockbuster films as a result of the lack of women writing blockbuster-worthy stories, had us raising our eyebrows. The article says, “Have a wander through the sci-fi and fantasy section of your local bookstore: How many of these books’ authors are female? Yet these are where the big movie ideas come from.” Well, actually, quite a lot of the authors are female (and many of them already have sold the film/TV rights to their books). Fiction from J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter), Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), and Diana Gabaldon (Outlander) has inspired some of the most popular film and television of recent years, but there are countless others who fly slightly more under the radar just waiting for their stories to become the next big thing. Here are 27 female authors who rule sci-fi and fantasy right now.
Rainbow Rowell had already made a name for herself as a YA author with the highly acclaimed novels Eleanor & Park and Fangirl when she went super meta with 2015’s Carry On. In her novel Fangirl, a series of books about a boy magician named Simon Snow is central to the plot – Rowell later decided she wanted to tell Snow’s story herself. With heavy homage to Harry Potter, Rowell crafted an enthralling YA novel about a wizarding school and Snow’s trials as “The Chosen One.” Though this was her first full foray into fantasy, Rowell already had major genre cred for writing about the inner workings of fan culture and fan fiction in her previous YA novels.
Hurley’s first novel only debuted in 2010, but she’s made a quick name for herself as a sci-fi/fantasy writer with fantasy series, The Worldbreaker Saga; the Bel Dame Apocrypha Series, which she dubbed “bugpunk”; and her 2017 standalone space opera, The Stars are Legion. She has won two Hugo Awards and a Locus and been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke and Nebula Awards. Hurley has made a distinctive mark with her novels that interrogate gender identity through a sci-fi lens, and she recently published an essay collection entitled The Geek Feminist Revolution.
Okorafor excels at writing both adult and YA fiction, weaving together science fiction, fantasy, and magical realism in an African setting, heralded for her ability to intertwine that culture into her work. Her first adult novel, Who Fears Death, won the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Just this week, she announced it’s been optioned by HBO with George R.R. Martin set to executive produce – the network may not have to look very far for the next Game of Thrones.
After building a career as an entertainment writer for AfterEllen, Lo burst onto the literary scene with 2009’s Ash, a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, which collected a bundle of awards nominations, including the Andre Norton Award for YA Science Fiction and Fantasy and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. After writing a companion novel to Ash called Huntress, she penned two contemporary science-fiction thrillers, Inheritance and Adaptation. Lo’s books are celebrated for their inclusion of characters often left out of science fiction. She runs the website “Diversity to YA” to extend her mission to encourage and promote inclusion in young adult fiction. Her next highly anticipated release, A Line in the Dark, drops this October.
South African novelist Lauren Beukes nearly defies her genre, having jumped between fantasy, urban thriller, cyberpunk dystopia, and more. Broken Monsters, released in 2014, was described as an “urban Grimm’s fairytale,” while 2013’s The Shining Girls tracks a time-traveling serial killer. If you’re looking for something that stretches the limits of genre, Beukes’ novels are just the thing (and if you need something even more off the beaten path, she’s also written short stories, nonfiction, comics, and more.)
Looking for a sci-fi novel that hits a little too close to home? Malka Older’s Infomocracy, named a “Best of Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016” book by the Washington Post, follows characters who work for various political parties and election bodies (and who use their power and the system to manipulate and influence the voting public). Older has used her years of experience as a humanitarian aid worker (and PhD candidate) to bring the machinations of inter-government dealings to life. Her next book Null States, a sequel to Infomocracy, debuts later this year.
Jemisin’s amounted a long list of awards nominations for her fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction writing over the past decade, but she broke new ground in 2016 when she became the first black author to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel. She won for The Fifth Season, the first book in The Broken Earth trilogy, which will conclude with The Stone Sky this August. The trilogy follows Essun, a woman who fights to save her daughter at any cost, as a post-apocalyptic war rages around her.
Leckie had one hell of a debut with her 2013 novel Ancillary Justice — it won the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Novel, as well as the Nebula Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the BSFA Award. The novel launched the best-selling Imperial Radch trilogy — the story of Breq, the sole survivor of her destroyed starship, who seeks revenge on the ruler of her society. Leckie returns with a new story, Provenance, this September.
Khorana’s debut novel, 2016’s Mirror in the Sky, was a YA science fiction novel meets Perks of a Wallflower. When NASA discovers a mirror planet, essentially an alternate earth, it rocks the lives of those here on Earth, particularly that of Tara, an Indian-American high school junior struggling to find her place in the world. With her upcoming July release, The Library of Fates, Khorana slightly switches gears from sci-fi into romantic fantasy with a YA tale steeped in Indian folklore.
Drawing on her background as a Somali-American and a language scholar, Samatar stunned readers with 2013’s A Stranger in Olandria and its sequel, 2016’s The Winged Histories. The sequel follows four women caught up in different sides of a rebellion – using a fantasy lens to examine feminist and anti-colonialist themes. A Stranger in Olandria won the British Fantasy Award and World Fantasy Award, while its sequel was a 2017 Locus Award finalist.
Wecker shot to the top of best-seller lists with her 2013 hit The Golem and the Jinni. Set in 1899 New York City, the novel combines elements of Jewish and Arab folk tradition as it follows the titular Golem and Jinni as they navigate the challenges of a new life in the city and find themselves on a collision course when their paths cross by chance. The long-awaited sequel, The Iron Season, is slated for a 2018 release.
When Johansen’s The Queen of the Tearling trilogy debuted in 2014, it quickly drew comparisons to The Hunger Games for its futuristic dystopia and a strong-as-nails heroine, Kelsea Glynn. The series came to its thrilling conclusion with last fall’s The Fate of the Tearling, earning praises for its continued dedication to depicting female characters with multiple avenues of empowerment. Johansen proved that YA dystopic female driven fiction was as fresh as ever with her chilling trilogy.
Looking for sci-fi/fantasy novel with a heavy dose of steamy romance? Look no further than Amanda Bouchet’s The Kingmaker Chronicles, which will conclude its trilogy with Heart on Fire in January 2018. Following the adventures of Cat Fisa, a soothsayer in a traveling circus, and Griffin, an ambitious warlord, Bouchet has devised a magical series. Drawing on the traditions of Greek mythology and weaving in powerful magic, Bouchet crafts a story that earned a spot on many Best Romances of 2016 lists and drew comparisons to Game of Thrones.
With her Shades of Magic series, Schwab introduced the world to Four Londons – Grey London, a world without magic, and Red, Black, and White London – three parallel universes that are home to very different and potent types of magic. Scwhab cast her spell over three novels, ending with 2017’s A Conjuring of Light. EW called the series “addictive and immersive,” with Schwab creating a vivid set of magical universes and two unforgettable heroes in Lila and Kell.
Baker made a compelling and unique debut with 2016’s Borderline, a novel Barnes and Noble named one of the best science fiction and fantasy novels of the year. Both Baker and her protagonist Millie have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, making Millie a rare disabled heroine. Phantom Pains, the next book in the Arcadia Project urban fantasy trilogy, hit shelves in 2017 and the final entry, Imposter Syndrome, is slated for 2018.
Shawl had a long career as a short story writer before the debut of her first novel, 2016’s Everfair. The novel, which probed questions of race and colonialism, was a finalist for the 2016 Nebula Award. Set in the late 19th/early 20th century, the book is an alternate history of the African Congo where steam technology has come to Africa a bit earlier, creating a utopic haven in Everfair. Combining elements of fantasy and science fiction, Shawl weaves a unique steampunk tale.
Link has made her mark on the fiction world with her remarkable short stories that use a heavy dose of magical realism to flit between fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, and more. Her 2016 collection Get in Trouble was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, while many of her short stories have won Hugo and Nebula Awards. Link’s an expert in her genre – she and husband Gavin J. Grant co-edited St. Martin Press’s Years Best Fantasy and Horror anthology for five years.
Charlie Jane Anders
Founder and co-editor of Gawker’s science fiction blog io9, Anders turned to novel writing full-time in 2016 following the success of All the Birds in the Sky, a quirky, witty novel that toes the line between science fiction and fantasy. Named one of the Top 10 Books of 2016 by Time, the novel follows childhood friends Patricia and Laurence, who grow up to study magic and become a mad scientist, respectively.
With 2013’s The Art of Wishing, a YA novel about a young girl who finds herself in possession of a genie, Ribar marked herself as a unique new voice in the genre. She dove into paranormal suspense with Rocks Fall Everyone Dies, a novel described as “Twin Peaks meets Stars Hollow.” Ribar steps slightly outside her genre with 2018’s The Pros of Cons, a YA novel by three authors that delves into the world of fan conventions.
When Hardinge’s 2015 novel The Lie Tree won the Costa Book Award in Britain, it became the first children’s book to do so since Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass. Drawing on Biblical tradition and plenty of magic, The Lie Tree charts a tale of a world where lies and truths have an inverse relationship (and effect). Hardinge’s made a name for herself over the past decade with her spooky, twisted YA fantasy novels.
Barnhill won the 2017 Newbery Medal for her novel The Girl who Drank the Moon. A coming-of-age fairy tale, the children’s book follows a kind-hearted witch Xan and her magical adopted child, Luna, the moon-drinking girl in question. With touching and charming books like The Witch’s Boy and Iron Hearted Violet, Barnhill has carved herself a place in the world of children’s fantasy and science fiction literature.
With her Wayfarers series, Chambers has built the intricate universe of the Galactic Commons – a sci-fi world full of spaceships, aliens, and folks just trying to make it through the day. Her second novel A Closed and Common Orbit was shortlisted for the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Novel. It defined itself as a unique entity with its tale of a genetically modified orphan and a ship’s artificial intelligence housed in a humanoid body, making the tale one of acceptance and identity rather than a war of the worlds.
Harkness became an international best-selling author when she moonlighted from her day job as a history professor to write the time-traveling fantasy novels of The All Souls Trilogy. When witch/historian Diana Bishop meets vampire/scientist Matthew Clairmont, the pair set a century-spanning mystery in motion. Harkness channeled her expertise as a historian into a nuanced and compelling adult fairytale. She concluded the trilogy with 2014’s The Book of Life, but a TV series is in development and more books are on the way, including an untitled follow-up to the trilogy, a Matthew-focused prequel The Serpent’s Mirror and a companion book to the original series.
Shortly after graduating from USC, Aveyard became a best-selling author with her Red Queen series, a dystopian YA fantasy tale of commoners (Reds) versus elites (Silvers). Mare Barrow, a Red who possesses deadly magical powers, finds herself at the heart of political intrigue and rebellion. The third book in the series, King’s Cage, just released this year and it's set to conclude with a currently untitled fourth entry in 2018. Red Queen is currently in development for the screen at Universal.
With The Mortal Instruments trilogy, beginning with 2004’s City of Bones, Clare built herself an intricate and elaborate world. Following the tales of human-angel crossbreeds known as Shadowhunters, Clare’s contemporary YA fantasy novels track a supernatural war beneath the streets of modern-day cities like Manhattan. A fourth trilogy, known as The Dark Artifices, set in Los Angeles is currently in the works – Lord of Shadows, the second book in the series, hit shelves in April. Clare’s influence stretches to TV and film with a cinematic adaptation of The Mortal Instruments and Freeform’s ongoing series Shadowhunters.
With over 45 titles to date, Caine is quite prolific with her sci-fi/fantasy series that follow everything from those with the power to control the the weather to vampires. Most recently, she’s published a fantasy trilogy about the Great Library of Alexandria, a new entry (Red Hot Rain) in her Weather Warden series, which has been ongoing since 2003's Ill Wind, and the first book (Honor Among Thieves) in a new sci-fi series she’s co-authoring with Ann Aguirre.
CBS Films snatched up the rights to Marie Lu’s Legend before it even hit shelves. The novel, the first in a dystopian YA series, follows the journey of June Iparis, a 15-year-old prodigy in the vein of Divergent’s Tris. Lu worked as an art designer in the video game industry before turning to writing – her upcoming September release, Warcross, centers on this world with a tale of a girl who hacks into a game threatening to consume the planet.