Weekend Question

Before I dash off again, John Joseph Adams has a question:

In the Guardian, Gwyneth Jones has a Top Ten list of SF novels written by women. It’s an interesting list, though I note that only two of them are from the 21st century. Which is fair enough, considering it’s a Top Ten of all-time sort of list. But seeing the list made me wonder: What would this top ten list look like if we restricted the timeframe to books published in 2000 or later? So let’s hear it: What’s in your top ten? (Keep in mind we’re specifically talking about SF here, not fantasy.)

Funnily enough, I was having this conversation over dinner not too long ago (after the Gresham symposium, if memory serves). Unfortunately, I’ve lost the bit of paper we wrote down our conclusions on, but I remember feeling that for every novel I was sure should be in a top ten — Tricia Sullivan’s Maul; Gwyneth Jones’ Life; Sarah Hall’s The Carhullan Army; Justina Robson’s Living Next-Door to the God of Love; Jan Morris’s Hav — there was one I hadn’t read — Susan Palwick’s Shelter; Maureen McHugh’s Nekropolis; Jo Walton’s Farthing; Kathleen Ann Goonan’s In War Time; Elizabeth Bear’s Carnival. (It’s probably not a coincidence that none of the books I haven’t read yet have UK editions; they’re all on my shelves, but it’s only in the last few years that I’ve started acquiring many US editions.) So I pass on the question by way of generating a reading list, as much as anything else: what would be in your top ten?

19 thoughts on “Weekend Question

  1. First thing to point out is that Gwyneth’s List appeared in December 2003 which explains the lack of more recent works.

    As to her actual list, its flaws maybe down to personal taste in a couple of cases but two predictable entries caught my eye.
    1. conventional wisdom has always had it that Tiptree wasn’t a great novelist but that her strength was those incredible short stories. You couldn’t ever produce a list of Great Short SF without considering her, but including her novel in this list weakens the list dramatically.
    2. As far as I am concerned, Sarah Canary isn’t SF, but that’s a debate
    that has been ongoing since it came out and won’t ever be resolved.
    3. Gwyneth is of course too modest to include her own work but either White Queen or Bold As Love should be there.

    Personal favourites from the last century missing could include
    Josephine Saxton — the Queen Of The States
    Leigh Kennedy — The Journal Of Nicholas The American
    Sue Thomas — Correspondence
    Mary Doria Russell — The Sparrow
    Mary Gentle — Ash
    Judith Moffett — Pennterra
    Michaela Roessner — Vanishing Point
    Maureen McHugh– China mountain Zhang

    Elizabeth Bear — Carnival
    Gwyneth Jones — Bold As Love
    Sarah Hall — The Carhullan Army
    Kit Reed — @Expectations
    Andrea Hairston — Mindscape

    Glancing at my shelves though I realise that a lot of my favourite novels by women seem to occupy the curious interstitial hinterland between SF and Fantasy and Realism (eg Lisa Goldstein’s Tourists, Patricia Geary’s Strange Toys and, I suppose, Ash and Queen Of The States from my lists.)

  2. I can’t think of more books to add to this list, except Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark, so I’m going to use this as a recommended reading list as well.

  3. For recent books :-

    Bold As Love
    Castles Made Of Sand
    Nylon Angel
    Code Noir
    Crash Deluxe
    Rainbow Bridge
    Blue Silence
    Time Future
    Spin State
    Silver Screen

  4. I don’t think in my life I have read ten SF books by women, but I have read Speed of Dark and agree with LIz; I would have thought that that one surely deserved to be up there.

  5. For those who don’t want to spend time on Google, Undertow, Carnival, Hammered, Scardown, and Worldwired are all by Elizabeth Bear; Silver Screen is Justina Robson’s first novel;Bold as Love, Castles Made of Sand and Rainbow Bridge are all part of Gwyneth Jones’s Bold as Love sequence; Nylon Angel, Code Noir and Crash Deluxe are by Marianne de Pierres; I think Blue Silence is this book by Michelle Marquardt and Time Future is by Maxine McArthur.

    Of these, I have read Hammered and Scardown and thought they were ok, but not amazing, having read more of Bear’s short fiction I suspect she’s only been getting better as a writer and I should get hold of her later novels. I have my own problems with the Bold as Love sequence (and the problem is called Fiorinda), but I think the first book is the best. I haven’t read the others, with the latter two books it’s probably because I am even less likely to come across an Australian publication than I am a US one.

  6. So I went through my LibraryThing account, checking everything I read. For each author/book the flow went like this:

    Is female? (lose 80%)
    Is SF? (lose 80% of remaining)
    I liked it? (lose 70% of remaining)
    Was published post-2000? (lose 50% of remaining)

    (All percentages approximate)

    The survivors are:
    Hammered, Scardown & Worldwired by Elizabeth Bear,
    Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon,
    Warchild by Karin Lowachee,
    Spin State by Chris Moriarty,
    City of Pearl by Karen Traviss,
    Passage by Connie Willis,
    and if you let in short story collections, Birthday of the World & Other Stories by Ursula K. LeGuin.

  7. I’d probably go with Jones’ choice of Natural History for Justina Robson, or even Silver Screen or Mappa Mundi, over Living Next Door To The God Of Love. I’ve really liked all her books, mind you.

    Tricia Sullivan should certainly be in there, but I’ve only just started reading her(! – for shame!)

    I’d also probably go with Light Music, or just put the whole nanotech series in for Kathleen Ann Goonan. I haven’t read In War Times yet, though. Nor Palwick’s Shelter

    The main person I think is missing from here is Linda Nagata. She hasn’t put anything out in a while, but The Bohr Maker is stunning, and I just read Vast, which is also fantastic.

  8. I’d sooner go with Life than Bold AS Love for Jones. I’d also add L Timmel Duchamp’s Marq’ssan Cycle – Alanya to Alanya, Tsunami, Renegade, Blood in the Fruit, and Stretto. I’m surprised Elizabeth Hand hasn’t been mentioned (who I’d say was better than Bear and Moon). Linda Nagata… I found Vast very dull. And surely we should at least mention Lessing’s Canopus in Argos?

  9. Vast is strange in that it has very little narrative drive for a lot of the book, but I felt it made up for that in concepts galore. I’d definitely vote for The Bohr Maker above it though.

    How about Nancy Kress – Beggars in Spain or something? I’ve read a lot of her short fiction, but not any novels as yet…

  10. Karen: ok, sell me Warchild. I have to admit it sounds like generic military sf.


    I’d probably go with Jones’ choice of Natural History for Justina Robson, or even Silver Screen or Mappa Mundi, over Living Next Door To The God Of Love.

    Yeah, I thought that might be a controversial choice. I can see an argument for Natural History as her best book, but Living seemed to push its arguments further. I didn’t really like Mappa Mundi at all.


    I’m surprised Elizabeth Hand hasn’t been mentioned

    I imagine this would be because she hasn’t published any science fiction novels this decade. Similarly, The Bohr Maker, Beggars in Spain and Canopus in Argos are all too old for the list I’m trying to put together here … I think Nagata’s Memory was 2003-ish, though, wasn’t it? (I haven’t read it.) And good point about Duchamp’s series.

  11. Niall — Warchild, or possibly the sequel, has space pirate geishas. That might not be enough for you now, but you’d have loved it when you were fifteen.

  12. Niall – my Heavens, Warchild is anything but normal nil-sf. The opening involves the ship that a young boy is on being attacked by pirates. His parents, and most of the people he knows, are killed. He’s captured by the pirates, but eventually gets to safer space. The rest of the book involves him seriously dealing with the consequences of what happened to him, both the things he consciously remembers and the things he’s consciously forgotten. It’s very intense, and isn’t insulting to the reader’s intelligence.

    You know how in lots of sf books, the heroes suffer horrible things (before winning, of course) and then move on to the next adventure as if this stuff has no emotional/psychological repercussions? Warchild is the opposite of that.

  13. OK, onto the wishlist it goes. Thanks! (What is it with not mentioning the space pirate geishas in the blurb, eh? Neal Stephenson’s new one has ninja monk scientists, but they don’t tell you that in the blurb, either …)

  14. I liked the fella who said he wondered if he had read 10 SF books by women in his life. Seriously, the obscurity of the titles tells the story of the male-domination of this genre.

    Constructive: I have read Picnic on Paradise or whatever it’s called by Russ. Not trying to make some big comparative argument that it’s great, but it seemed decent and was by a woman. And I haven’t read any of the ones on that list…

  15. The intersection of “female”, “SF” and “post-2000” is smaller for me than it doubtless should be too. I’d definitely agree with “speed of dark”, which is just magnificent. After that I’m left picking novels out of Cherryh’s “Foreigner” series, which while I love it is no “Cyteen” (one of my favourite novels of all time, and by far my favourite of the original list).

    I’d love to mention some Bujold for sheer enjoyability, but nothing post-2000 is SF apart from “Diplomatic Immunity” and that’s just not deep enough.

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