Speculative Fiction Heroines

All my favorite heroines from Science Fiction and Fantasy. Both new finds and old favorites. This is by no means a complete list, but my personal favorites so far (and probably missing a few)! Enjoy :)
Nights At The Circus
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Nights At The Circus

by Angela Carter

About the book:  WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY SARAH WATERS Is Sophie Fevvers, toast of Europe's capitals, part swan...or all fake? Courted by the Prince of Wales and painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, she is an aerialiste extraordinaire and star of Colonel Kearney's circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity. Dazzled by his love for her, and desperate for the scoop of a lifetime, Walser has no choice but to join the circus on its magical tour through turn-of-the-nineteenth-century London, St Petersburg and Siberia.


Notes:  I read this for a class on magical realism and, with that lens, really enjoyed it!

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Kindred
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Kindred

by Octavia E. Butler

About the book:  Kindred is Hugo and Nebula Award winner Octavia E. Butler's 1979 masterpiece. An essential read which explores themes of racial and gender identity with insight and originality. 'A shattering work of art' Los Angeles Herald-Examiner On her 26th birthday, Dana and her husband are moving into their apartment when she starts to feel dizzy. She falls to her knees, nauseous. Then the world falls away. She finds herself at the edge of a green wood by a vast river. A child is screaming. Wading into the water, she pulls him to safety, only to find herself face to face with a very old looking rifle, in the hands of the boy's father. She's terrified. The next thing she knows she's back in her apartment, soaking wet. It's the most terrifying experience of her life ... until it happens again. The longer Dana spends in 19th century Maryland - a very dangerous place for a black woman - the more aware she is that her life might be over before it's even begun.


Notes:  Reading this for a course on African American experiences of slavery made this book even better! I recently read a graphic novel adaptation of this, but it was not nearly as beautiful as the original.

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He, She and It
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He, She and It

by Marge Piercy

About the book:  In the middle of the twenty-first century, life as we know it has changed for all time. Shira Shipman's marriage has broken up, and her young son has been taken from her by the corporation that runs her zone, so she has returned to Tikva, the Jewish town where she grew up. There, she is welcomed by Malkah, the brilliant grandmother who raised her, and meets an extraordinary man who is not a man at all, but a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions - and the ability to kill... From the critically acclaimed author of Woman on the Edge of Time, comes another stunning novel of morality and courage. A Pygmallion tale for the modern age, this classic feminist speculative novel won the Arthur C Clark Award.


Notes:  There are so many things to love about this book, the parallel golem story, the present story, Yod. It is a joy.

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vN
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vN

by Madeline Ashby

About the book:  Amy Peterson is a von Neumann machine, a self-replicating humanoid robot. For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother's past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, little Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive. Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she's learning impossible things about her clade's history - like the fact that the failsafe that stops all robots from harming humans has failedÉ Which means that everyone wants a piece of her, some to use her as a weapon, others to destroy her.


Notes:  I did use this for my master's thesis and I am glad I did. A great modern take on the cyborg girl.

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The Windup Girl
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The Windup Girl

by Paolo Bacigalupi

About the book:  Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's calorie representative in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, he combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs long thought to be extinct. There he meets the windup girl - the beautiful and enigmatic Emiko - now abandoned to the slums. She is one of the New People, bred to suit the whims of the rich. Engineered as slaves, soldiers and toys, they are the new underclass in a chilling near future where oil has run out, calorie companies dominate nations and bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe. And as Lake becomes increasingly obsessed with Emiko, conspiracies breed in the heat and political tensions threaten to spiral out of control. Businessmen and ministry officials, wealthy foreigners and landless refugees all have their own agendas. But no one anticipates the devastating influence of the Windup Girl.


Notes:  This ending makes the whole book take a different light!

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The Stone Gods
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The Stone Gods

by Jeanette Winterson

About the book:  The Stone Gods is one of Jeanette Winterson's most imaginative novels about love. On the airwaves, all the talk is of the new blue planet - pristine and habitable, like our own 65 million years ago, before we took it to the edge of destruction. And off the air, Billie and Spike are falling in love. What will happen when their story combines with the world's story, as they whirl towards Planet Blue, into the future? Will they - and we - ever find a safe landing place? Jeanette Winterson OBE, whose writing has won the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel, the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize and the E.M. Forster Award, is the author of some of the most purely imaginative and pleasurable novels of recent times, from Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit to her first book for children, Tanglewreck. She is also the author of the essays Art Objects. Visit her website at www.jeanettewinterson.com


Notes:  Jeanette Winterson never ceases to disappoint me.

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Native Tongue
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Native Tongue

by Suzette Haden Elgin

About the book:  A brilliant cult classic of literary science fiction--back in print.


Notes:  Being a little baby Linguist enthusiast, I really enjoyed this. Also you have to read it like a dystopia or the rage will burn the book between your hands.

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Moxyland
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Moxyland

by Lauren Beukes

About the book:  Weißt du, wer wirklich die Kontrolle hat? Kapstadt in der nahen Zukunft: Eine neue Form der Apartheid hat Einzug gehalten – zwischen Arm und Reich, zwischen Online und Offline. In dieser repressiven Welt kreuzen sich die Wege von vier grundverschiedenen Menschen: der Fotografin Kendra, die nach einer Injektion mit Nanobots als lebende Werbefläche herumläuft; des hedonistischen Videobloggers Toby, der in den Sog eines mysteriösen Online-Computerspiels gerät; der systemkonformen Programmiererin Lerato – und von Tendeka, dem romantischen Antikapitalisten, der nichts Geringeres plant, als das System zu stürzen ... Ein Zukunftsthriller von einer der aufregendsten Autorinnen des Genres, und ein Roman mit erschreckend aktuellem Thema: der Verlust der Freiheit in einer technikhörigen Welt - nominiert für den Sunday Times Fiction Prize. Von der Autorin der internationalen Bestseller «Shining Girls» und «Broken Monsters». «‹Moxyland› tut Dinge - und das meisterhaft - von denen Autoren anderer Science-Fiction-Romane nicht einmal träumen. Sehr, sehr gut.» (William Gibson)


Notes:  I read this for a science fiction course in college and thought it was pretty cool!

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Bloodchild
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Bloodchild

by Octavia E. Butler

About the book:  Years ago a group known as the Terrans left Earth in search of a life free of persecution. Now they live alongside the Tlic, an alien race who face extinction; their only chance of survival is to plant their larvae inside the bodies of the humans. When Gan, a young, boy, is chosen as a carrier of Tlic eggs, he faces an impossible dilemma: can he really help the species he has grown up with, even if it means sacrificing his own life? Bloodchild is Octavia E. Butler’s shattering meditation on symbiosis, love, power and tough choices. It won the Hugo, Locus, Nebula and Science Fiction Chronicle awards and is widely regarded as one of her greatest works.


Notes:  Loved this collection of stories

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Sister Mine
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Sister Mine

by Nalo Hopkinson

About the book:  WINNER OF THE 2013 ANDRE NORTON NEBULA AWARD Nalo Hopkinson--winner of the John W. Campbell Award, the Sunburst Award, and the World Fantasy award (among others), and lauded as one of our "most inventive and brilliant writers" (New York Post)--returns with a new work. With her singular voice and characteristic sharp insight, she explores the relationship between two sisters in this richly textured and deeply moving novel . . . SISTER MINE We'd had to be cut free of our mother's womb. She'd never have been able to push the two-headed sport that was me and Abby out the usual way. Abby and I were fused, you see. Conjoined twins. Abby's head, torso, and left arm protruded from my chest. But here's the real kicker; Abby had the magic, I didn't. Far as the Family was concerned, Abby was one of them, though cursed, as I was, with the tragic flaw of mortality. Now adults, Makeda and Abby still share their childhood home. The surgery to separate the two girls gave Abby a permanent limp, but left Makeda with what feels like an even worse deformity: no mojo. The daughters of a celestial demigod and a human woman, Makeda and Abby were raised by their magical father, the god of growing things--a highly unusual childhood that made them extremely close. Ever since Abby's magical talent began to develop, though, in the form of an unearthly singing voice, the sisters have become increasingly distant. Today, Makeda has decided it's high time to move out and make her own life among the other nonmagical, claypicken humans--after all, she's one of them. In Cheerful Rest, a run-down warehouse space, Makeda finds exactly what she's been looking for: an opportunity to live apart from Abby and begin building her own independent life. There's even a resident band, led by the charismatic (and attractive) building superintendent. But when her father goes missing, Makeda will have to discover her own talent--and reconcile with Abby--if she's to have a hope of saving him . . .


Notes:  I need to confess, this is the only one here I have not read. BUT I always wanted to and it is high on my list.

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SPIRITS ABROAD
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SPIRITS ABROAD

by Zen Cho

About the book:  Here there be dragons ... and aunties. Campbell-nominated author Zen Cho's short story collection SPIRITS ABROAD "refreshingly reimagine[s] the idea of home and tradition and family without offering tidy or pat resolutions" (The Star). Crawford Award winner. A Datin recalls her romance with an orang bunian. A teenage pontianak struggles to balance homework, bossy aunties, first love, and eating people. An earth spirit gets entangled in protracted negotiations with an annoying landlord, and Chang E spins off into outer space, the ultimate metaphor for the Chinese diaspora. The ebook edition of Zen Cho's Crawford Award-winning SPIRITS ABROAD features 15 speculative short stories, author commentary, and an ebook-only cover by artist Likhain (likhain.net). (Buku Fixi) (Fixi Novo)


Notes:  This is a fantastic anthology that I cannot even pick one of my favorites!

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Fortune's Pawn
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Fortune's Pawn

by Rachel Bach

About the book:  Fans of Firefly and Elizabeth Moon will lap up this action-packed military science fiction series. Welcome to the start of a thrilling new space adventure, starring female mercenary Deviana Morris . . . Deviana Morris isn't your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. One of those is going to get her killed one day - but not just yet. Not when she just got a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn't misnamed: it likes to get into trouble. And with a reputation for bad luck that makes one year as security detail on this ship equal to five years everywhere else - Devi knows she's found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn't give up its secrets without a fight, and one year might be more than even Devi can handle. Review for FORTUNE'S PAWN: 'This book kicked ass . . . I just loved it!' - FELICIA DAY 'Devi is hands-down one of the best sci-fi heroines I've read in years' - RT BOOK REVIEWS 'Rollicking space opera starring a tough, sexy, armor-clad space chick . . . [Bach] does a nice job of painting a scenario that, if familiar - think the space marines of the Alien franchise or the motley crew of Firefly - allows her plenty of room for action. And action aplenty is what she delivers . . . Lots of fun' - KIRKUS REVIEWS


Notes:  This to me, is what it would have read if this was from Battlestar Galactica. That is the best reference I can draw. She took names and kicked some serious galactic butt.

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Sabriel
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Sabriel

by Garth Nix

About the book:  The first thrilling installment of Garth Nix's bestselling OLD KINGDOM series Sabriel has spent most of her young life far away from the magical realm of the Old Kingdom, and the Dead that roam it. So when a creature from across the Wall arrives at her all-girls boarding school, she surprises herself with her ability to deal with it. The creature carries a message from her father, the Abhorsen - the magical protector of the realm whose task it is to bind and send back to Death those that won't stay Dead. Since the demise of the Royal Family the Dead have become stronger and more fearless, and now it seems their forces are threatening to overwhelm the Old Kingdom. Sabriel's father has been trapped in Death by a dangerous Free Magic creature. He urges her to return to her homeland, and to discover who or what is behind this uprising. Armed with her father's binding-bells and sword, she soon finds companions in Mogget, an ancient spirit bound into the body of a cat, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage whom Sabriel frees from a long, magical imprisonment. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death - and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny. The ebook edition is packed with bonus content like a "How I Write" essay and, for devices that support audio, 12 clips of an exclusive interview with Garth.


Notes:  I fell in love with these books, even though this one may have to be my favorite of the three/four!

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Lirael
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Lirael

by Garth Nix

About the book:  The second incredible installment of Garth Nix's bestselling OLD KINGDOM series Lirael has never felt like a true daughter of the Clayr, a powerful group of clairvoyant oracles responsible for assisting the Abhorsen and the Royal Family in keeping the Old Kingdom safe from the threat of the Dead. Not only does she look completely different to everyone else, she is long past the age that she should have received the Sight. She feels alone, abandoned, and utterly unsure of who she really is. Meanwhile, across the Wall in Ancelstierre, Prince Sameth is equally lonely. He knows he has a great role to fulfil - he must one day take over as Abhorsen from his mother, Sabriel - but the prospect horrifies him. He fears the Dead, and after a terrifying incident with a rogue Necromancer, he is mortally afraid of his own destiny. But unbeknownst to Lirael and Sameth, they are part of an even greater future plan. The forces of evil are growing once more in the Old Kingdom, and Lirael and Sameth will find themselves at the heart of a desperate mission to stop them. This ebook is packed with bonus content like the original handwritten prologue and, for devices that support audio, 7 clips of an exclusive interview with Garth.


Notes:  I loved her companion in this book. I also read this at a time, when I was growing up, where this book was the perfect one.

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Winter Tide
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Winter Tide

by Ruthanna Emrys

About the book:  After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future. The government that stole Aphra's life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race. Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature.


Notes:  Recently having read this from Netgalley, I enjoyed the different aspects of the Yith (you may know about it if you are a Lovecraft fan). They were so interesting in the way that they destabilize the boundary between inside and outside. A formal review will be posted on my blog!

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Virtual Girl
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Virtual Girl

by Amy Thomson

About the book:  Arnold Dexter breaks the law when he creates Maggie, a robot companion who seems perfect in every way, but when Maggie is separated from her creator, she begins to become a sentient being. Original.


Notes:  I read this as background research for my masters thesis and really enjoyed the twist at the end.

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Alanna: The First Adventure
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Alanna: The First Adventure

by Tamora Pierce

About the book:  “From now on I’m Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I’ll be a knight.” Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places. Disguised as a girl, Thom heads for the convent; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page. But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to learn who her enemies are. Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna’s first adventure begins . . .


Notes:  I had to give a shout out to the first strong female heroine I encountered in fantasy.

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The Bloody Chamber And Other Stories
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The Bloody Chamber And Other Stories

by Angela Carter

About the book:  WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY HELEN SIMPSON From familiar fairy tales and legends - Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires and werewolves - Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories.


Notes:  I am a total sucker for retellings! Especially ones that are this good :)

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Dawn
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Dawn

by Elie Wiesel

About the book:  An alien race calls on one woman to revive mankind after Earth’s apocalypse in this science fiction classic from the award-winning author of Parable of the Sower. Lilith Iyapo has just lost her husband and son when atomic fire consumes Earth—the last stage of the planet’s final war. Hundreds of years later Lilith awakes, deep in the hold of a massive alien spacecraft piloted by the Oankali—who arrived just in time to save humanity from extinction. They have kept Lilith and other survivors asleep for centuries, as they learned whatever they could about Earth. Now it is time for Lilith to lead them back to her home world, but life among the Oankali on the newly resettled planet will be nothing like it was before. The Oankali survive by genetically merging with primitive civilizations—whether their new hosts like it or not. For the first time since the nuclear holocaust, Earth will be inhabited. Grass will grow, animals will run, and people will learn to survive the planet’s untamed wilderness. But their children will not be human. Not exactly. Featuring strong and compelling characters and exploring complex themes of gender and species, Octavia E. Butler presents a powerful, postapocalyptic interplanetary epic, as well as a ray of hope for humanity. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Octavia E. Butler including rare images from the author’s estate.


Notes:  I wrote my whole bachelors thesis about this series with good reason (I am biased). I love the character of Lilith, including her namesake and backstory. I think the series only gets more intellectual as it goes on.

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