Science fiction has a long history of being predominantly written by males for male readers. One of the indicators of this situation is that early science fiction stories exclusively featured main characters who were men. But science fiction has come a long way since its early days. Even the oldest sci-fi trope of all—space travel—has been depicted in stories that have women as their main protagonists. Here's a rundown of science fiction books that feature women...in spaaace!
It's Not Easy
The path to becoming a starship pilot is hardly ever an easy one. Superluminal by Vonda N. McIntyre is about a woman's desires to become a starship pilot. To do so, she must replace her human heart with an artificial one. Additionally, McIntyre's Starfarer series, which follows a ship powered by solar sail on a quest to search for alien life, includes women in its starship crew who encounter hardships: alien contact specialist J.D. Sauvage and physicist Victoria Fraser.
Space is also not a piece of cake for the main protagonist of Ann Aguirre's Sirantha Jax stories (beginning with Grimspace), despite her gift. Sirantha is born with a rare genetic trait; she has the ability to jump ships through grimspace. Her abilities make her a sought-after navigational asset for space travel, however, that just lands her in increasingly dangerous adventures.
Also down on her luck is the female protagonist of Rachel Bach's Paradox series (beginning with Fortune's Pawn). Devi Morris is a mercenary who intends to jumpstart her career by spending a year on a notorious trade ship. She finds more than experience...she finds trouble and extreme danger.
Spotlighting personal relationships between diverse characters over traditional space adventure is Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi. It features Alana Quick, another down-on-her-luck protagonist. She's a spaceship mechanic who stows away aboard a ship owned by the company who produces the latest spaceship technology. Alana soon discovers that the crew is actually searching for her sister.
Take Back Plenty by Colin Greenland is the first in an adventurous space opera series starring Tabitha Jute, a woman who is hiding from the law, in need of money and about to lose it all when she is hired to transport someone to the world of Plenty in her spaceship.
Just Another Day at the Office
Several books that put women in space make it their job to be there.
C.J. Cherryh's classic novel Downbelow Station (part of her massive Union-Alliance future history) is named after the space station on which it takes place. In this complexly drawn universe, space exploration is led by private corporations who build the stations as stepping stones to colonize further solar systems. The conflict in the stories derive from the tension between the company and the ever-increasingly rebellious colony worlds.
Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds begins an imaginative, densely-packed space opera series that's full of big ideas in space. The first book features two female main characters: Ilia Volyova, the paid caretaker of the ship Nostalgia for Infinity, who's searching for a megalomaniac named Sylveste who holds the cure for a killer virus; and Ana Khouri, a paid assassin hired by a mysterious faction to kill Sylveste.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Diving series (beginning with Diving Into the Wreck) features a tough-as-nails woman referred to only as "Boss" by the people that work on her team. They salvages derelict space vessels for their historical value, a dangerous task that—fortunately for the reader—is usually associated with suspenseful danger, engrossing mystery and dramatic intrigue.
Speaking of mystery, Elizabeth Bear's stories about Jenny Casey (starting with Hammered) are near-future mysteries with a trajectory toward space. The series features corporate espionage, political intrigue, reconstructed bodies, artificial intelligences, near-future crime and fast-paced action as it ultimately recounts the story of how mankind makes the jump into space travel.
Jack McDevitt writes a series of novels (the latest of which is Starhawk) that posits the idea that long ago the universe was filled with intelligent alien life. By the time humans have joined the space travel party, all that remains are their abandoned artifacts. Pilot Priscilla Hutchins, the central character of many of these stories, makes her living by exploring this universe.
Discord in Space
The best stories feature conflict of one kind or another. There's plenty of that in Battleground by Terry A. Adams. The main character, Hanna Bassiano, comes from a line of humanity genetically altered to be telepathic. She uses her powers to become an expert in alien first contact situations, thus attempting to foster peace. That makes her the perfect choice to lead a team of explorers to find a legendary race of aliens. But what happens when the aliens have no intention of peace? Conflict!
A chase is a conflict waiting to happen. Against A Dark Background by Iain M. Banks features Lady Sharrow, former leader of a personality-attuned combat team. But now Lady Sharrow is on the run from the Huhsz, a religious cult which believes that she is the last obstacle before the faith's apotheosis.
A few books set in the Star Wars universe, a setting known for its space spectacle, feature women characters front-and-center. In Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells, we find Princess Leia acting as a rebel against the evil Empire. (The book takes place during the time of the original film trilogy, between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.) When the completion of a new secret rebel base on the ice planet Hoth is put in jeopardy due to limited supplies, Leia and Han Solo lead a delegation to negotiate a deal for more. But what they find is a group of desperate refugees from Leia's recently-destroyed home world Alderaan who are at the mercy of space pirates.
Speaking of Star Wars, another character from that expanded universe also gets some space time: Leia and Han's oldest daughter, Jaina Solo. Jaina's adventures begin with Heirs of the Force by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta, first book in the young adult series Young Jedi Knights, which is set against the backdrop of a training academy for Jedi, a group of spiritual knights...with lightsabers. Jaina also appears in the New Jedi Order series (which begins with R.A. Salvatore's Vector Prime), the series name a reference to the now-rebuilt order of Jedi. Here, Jaina gets to show off her piloting abilities.
More Conflict to Come!
In compiling the data for this article, I've realized I've thus far only scratched the surface. Next week, I'll look at military science fiction that puts women in space.