When Breaking the Glass Slipper was asked to identify some of the issues facing female writers in genre, the very first thing that each of us replied was ‘discoverability’.
Why is it that, with the exception of long-established authors, books by women do not seem to be as widely publicised as those authored by men? Our first episode considers ‘best of’ lists, which certainly play a part in discoverability. They also remain the clearest example of inequality. Why, we wondered, do these lists not feature more than the token woman? What material are the makers of such lists drawing from? Where exactly is the problem?
Well, admitting that there is a problem for starters.
Ignorance is as bad as outright sexism when it comes to the struggle facing female writers. Discoverability is a huge issue. Our sales and therefore careers depend on our ability to reach as many readers as possible. When a great swathe of the population is closed off to us, it isn’t only our finances that suffer; it’s genre fiction too. Female voices are desperately needed if SFF is both to flourish and to retain its longstanding distinction as the genre that challenges the status quo.
So today we at Breaking the Glass Slipper have put our own list together. What follows is just a tiny percentage of the women currently publishing works of genre fiction. If you aren’t yet familiar with the following books, why not pick up a few? From sword and sorcery to space opera, we’ve got you covered.
This is epic fantasy condensed, refreshingly, into four hundred superbly-written pages. It opens with Smiler’s Fair, which follows five protagonists as they navigate their way through a shifting, fully believable world of diverse peoples with diverse motivations. Levene takes the comfy old trope of prophesised hero reborn and clothes it in darkness and ambiguity, so as to make it unrecognisable. Definitely a boundary-pusher.
Jen Williams: The Copper Cat Trilogy
If you haven’t heard of Wydrin of Crosshaven, incorrigible rogue and expert mead-drinker, you have now. An exciting reinvention of the sword and sorcery genre popularised by D&D, this trilogy’s strength lies in its memorable characters and the way in which Williams honours the genre’s founding tropes, while ditching unrealistic notions of gender. New old-school fantasy with heart.
Naomi Novik: Uprooted
This novel takes familiar fairytale tropes and turns them upside down. The forest is not the residence of evil – it is evil, and as much of a threat as the creatures it contains. While Uprooted’s protagonist could be said to conform to the “chosen one” trope, she is not a traditional heroine. Instead, she manages to be clumsy and powerful, and her journey is fascinating. Spellbinding prose, a fresh take on magic, tentative romance… all wrapped up in a standalone.
Samantha Shannon: The Bone Season series
A cut above the usual hero-against-the-government fiction, Shannon’s series, set in a dystopian London, is led by a young, flawed, female protagonist who refuses to be defined by the men around her. Shannon deals with big themes: the oppressed are fighting for the very right to be considered human beings, a fight that chillingly echoes the years of British colonialism, the slave trade, and racial and religious persecution. An exciting, compelling read, it’s also an ominous example of where intolerance and corruption can lead.
This excellent graphic novel about a (secretly reluctant) supervillain and his (not at all reluctant) sidekick rejects gender conventions in lots of ways. Featuring a female sidekick main character who doesn’t resemble the big busted, tiny-waisted norm, and two very distinct kinds of relationship, Stevenson has created a funny, unique and heart-warming story that’s honest and intensely real.
Laura Lam: Pantomime, Shadowplay, Masquerade
Standing out for its exploration of transgender in a genre that tends to shy away from the subject, this soon-to-be-complete trilogy blends circus intrigue with a deeper world mystery. Led by a likable protagonist, Lam’s fast paced adventure never loses sight of its central theme, which shines a spotlight on societal notions of gender and our own understanding of our identity. Watch out too for False Hearts, Lam’s new thriller published this June.
Charlie Jane Anders: All the Birds in the Sky
A standalone tale in which magic clashes against science, it’s also a double-layered narrative exploring man’s troubled relationship with nature. Through likable protagonists, refreshingly understated magic and plausible near-future tech, Anders has crafted a deeply human tale that’s both topical and compelling.
Jo Walton: Among Others
Winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, Among Others is something truly special. Part realistic story of a genre fan, part eerie magical tale, the book feels impossible to categorise definitively. Mori escapes into her love of reading science fiction and fantasy to move on after the death of her twin sister. Mori may have escaped her black-magic wielding mother then, but nothing will stop her mother from getting revenge.
Nnedi Okorafor: Lagoon, Binti, Who Fears Death, The Book of Phoenix
In other words, do yourself a favour and pick up anything written by Okorafor. Focusing on female protagonists of colour, Okorafor is like a modern version of Octavia Butler (another favourite of mine). From science fiction to supernatural fantasy, she’s covered it all.
Stark Holborn: Nunslinger
If the phrase ‘a nun with a gun’ doesn’t bring a smile to your face, then quite frankly there’s something wrong with you. Holborn brings the Wild West to life through the eyes of Sister Thomas Josephine: a nun with a gun, on the run. Through the harsh, inhospitable, and contested territories of America in the 1860s, her faith is tested as she is forced to lie, kill, and steal in order to stay alive.
Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis: Lumberjanes
I realise we’ve mentioned Noelle Stevenson earlier, but Lumberjanes is a brilliant series. Part adventure, part mystery, part teen coming of age tale, it follows a group of girls at camp who are basically badass versions of girl scouts. The Lumberjanes are determined to have a great summer, no matter what weird, wonderful, and supernatural occurrences crop up!
A Calculated Life is a rare and refreshing example of near-future SF. Set in Manchester, it tells the story of Jayna: a organic simulant, rented by a big business for her more-than-human statistical abilities. Like all the best near-future speculative or science fiction, it treads the blurry lines of morality, ownership, self-determination, and what it means to be human, all within a setting that's disturbingly familiar. It's an original, accomplished book, in places restrained and pensive, in others, explosive. Charnock is without a doubt one of the most interesting SF writers working today.
Emma Newman: Planetfall
The best science fiction extrapolates on known science, which is exactly what Newman does in Planetfall. We already have 3-D printers in the International Space Station printing new parts, so a space colony based on such technology is easily imaginable. While grounded in this realistic technology, Newman crafts a tense tale of mystery and murder while throwing in plenty of mind-bending questions for the reader to mull over.
Becky Chambers: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
From humble roots as a Kickstarter-funded novel to an Arthur C. Clarke shortlisted title, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet looks back to science fiction’s earliest stories while creating something utterly modern. With humanity looking beyond Earth, beyond our galaxy, the crew of the Wayfarer take the job of a lifetime, building a hyperspace tunnel. But a spacecraft is small and confined, and they have an awful lot of war torn space to pass through before their work can even begin…
Sarah Pinborough: Mayhem and Murder
Pinborough is receiving a lot of good reviews for her newest novel 13 Minutes, but her earlier works also deserve recognition. Of particular interest is her marvellous duology, which comprises Mayhem and Murder and charts the exploits of Dr Thomas Bond, Victorian police surgeon. Both gruesome and gripping, these fabulous books will appeal to lovers of horror, crime and historical fiction alike.
Hosted by Megan Leigh, Charlotte Bond and Lucy Hounsom, Breaking the Glass Slipper is a bi-monthly podcast (publishing every other Thursday) focusing on women in genre. We're available on SoundCloud and many other podcasting platforms.
Episode 2 - out now! - contains an exclusive interview with Jen Williams, author of The Copper Cat Trilogy. Jen joins us to chat about mead, sword and sorcery, kick-ass women, gender tropes and the importance of a good tavern.