10 Women Who Changed Science Fiction

A well-known maxim that has been said for many generations now says that knowledge is power, and one of the ways to gain knowledge is to spend time reading books. The more books read the more knowledge one acquires. Reading is fantastic. It takes you to different dimensions. Reading builds and shapes the mind. It exposes you to worlds that you can create and to be a better writer, reading is highly necessary. Writing alone is not just an activity, it is an art and a lifestyle. You may start from being just a good essay writer or writing short poems or stories, but the art and passion for it will drive you towards exploring your creativity and imaginations beyond every limitation. These imaginations are known to be the wild and free centre of our brain, and once they are let to explore and break free from every boundary, the unique ideas manifested from within are always true gifts to the world. Writers are known to leave lasting impact and legacies in the world just by their thoughts penned down on paper. With the power of imagination, several women in time pasts have broken the norm and excelled in history as phenomenal science fiction writers.

  1. Mary Shelley

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With one of the most outstanding stories, Mary Shelley is one writer the world will never forget. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born Mary Godwin on a beautiful day on August 30th, 1979 to a political philosopher father and feminist and philosopher mother. Mary had always been living in the shadow of her father who had published his book. She loved to read and sometimes wrote but always felt her pieces were never good enough. She fancied the idea of ghost stories as she would have nightmares and wake up to write about them. She received worldwide recognition for her Gothic novel Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. The death of her mother just a month after Mary was born was devastating as she grew older. She was brought up by her dad who encouraged her to follow his strict political rules. At age four, Mary’s father had married their neighbour. This caused a lot of problems for Mary. Her stepmother never pretty much encouraged Mary and Mary was left to form a bond with her stepsister Claire Clairmont. In 1814, the winds of romance sept Mary's feet as she met with the brilliant poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. He was one of her father's political followers. Their romance grew stronger and fonder even though Percy Shelley was married. Together with her stepsister, she and Percy fled to France and travelled through Europe. The couple had spent their summer of 1816 with Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Clair Clairmont near Geneva, Switzerland. This was the time of the conception of her debut novel Frankenstein.

Most of Mary’s life with Percy was filled with debts and ostracism. She had lost to children and is survived by only one. Percy Shelley and Mary eventually got married after his first wife Harriet had committed suicide. Percy later died in a boat accident, and she returned back to England to focus on her only child and her writing.

Mary spent a lot of energy trying to publish her works and that of her husband who was also a writer. The novel Frankenstein which she wrote as a teenager in 1817 has so many films and theatrical adaptations today. Other of her works include the historical novel Valperga and Perkin Warbeck and her last two novels Lodore and Falkner.  Mary Shelly is reputed to have been very independent of which her father attested to. Mary also practiced her mother’s feminist principles by constantly helping women that the society had rejected. Although she had different suitors, she never remarried until she died as she spent most of her time working and taking care of her child. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley finally died in February 1851 at the age of 53 of a brain tumour.

2. Ursula K. Le Guin

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One of the greatest Sci-fi authors was Ursula, with her book the Left Hand of Darkness, she shook the world of science fiction. Ursula was originally born Ursula Kroeber to an anthropologist father and a psychologist mother who later turned to a writer in her sixties. Being born into such an intellectual family, they were surrounded by books and quickly grew an interest in reading them. Ursula had three siblings- older brothers of which they spent a better part of their childhood reading books from thrilling wonder stories to astounding science fiction. She particularly was interested in Norse Mythology, and at the tender age of nine she wrote her first story and by the age of eleven submitted her first short story to astounding science fiction which was rejected.

Ursula influenced a lot of people with her work. Writers such as Salman Rushdie, David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, and Iain Banks are all ardent prodigies of her work. She has won the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and the World Fantasy Award all more than once. With all the accolades and recognition, Ursula was made the Grandmaster of Science Fiction in 2003. She has been highly commended and has inspired over four generations of young adults to read the beautifully constructed language and given them insight into fantasy worlds that even inform them about their own lives.

After several rejections of her previous works like “An die Musik” and all other novels which were set in her fictional city of Orsinia, she turned to science fiction. “April in Paris" was a science fiction short story she wrote that God published in 1962. Her first published novel was Rocannon’s world in 1966 and A Wizard of Earthsea in 1968. The book “The Left Hand of Darkness” received much more widespread recognition as it shocked science fiction critics worldwide. That book won her the Hugo and Nebula awards thus making her the first woman to win it. The Books were described as revolutionary and life-altering, some described it as her initial input to feminism. Alas, Ursula took her last breath on January 22nd, 2018 in her home at Portland, Oregon. She had lived 88 fruitful years of age. It was believed that she died of a heart attack. Still, the resounding imprints of her legacy live on.

3. Kate Wilhelm

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Another award-winning writer who changed Science fiction was Katie Gertrude Wilhelm. Best Known for her Hugo award-winning book where late the sweets birds sang. She was a phenomenal and exquisite writer who put effort into making her writing the best. Katie, as she was commonly called, was born in Toledo, Ohio on June 8th, 1923 to simple parents. She graduated from high school and worked several jobs as a model, telephone operator amongst others, and she married Joseph Wilhelm in 1947 and had two kids with him of which they were later divorced.

Katie published her first short fiction The Pint-Size Genie in 1956 and in the following year her first story The Mile-Long Spaceship. Her work has been published in Quark, Orbit, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Locus, Amazing stories, Asimov's science fiction, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Fantastic, Omni, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Redbook to mention but a few. She was inducted in 2003 in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. She has even been named as an award. In 2016, the Science Fiction Writers Award renamed the Solstice Award the Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award. This was significantly a very honourable moment for her.

The Clone was the title of her first science fiction novel to be recognized, and t was part of the finalist for the 1965 Nebula awards. More Bitter than death was her debut Novel- a murder mystery that also received widespread recognition. Part of her renowned works includes the Barbara Holloway mysteries which was about a semi-retired lawyer father, Frank and his daughter who solved mysteries that combined detective fiction with courtroom drama. She and her second husband Damon Knight established the Clarion Writers Workshop, a platform to help and mentor writers. She was inducted into the Science and Fiction and Fantasy Hall of fame in 2004 and received a solstice award from the science and fiction fantasy writers of America in 2009 recognizing her noteworthy influence on science fiction. Tragically, Katie Wilhelm died this year on March 8th, 2018 in her home situated in Eugene, Oregon.

4. Joanna Russ

Although she started writing from when she was very little, and by the end of her life she had published over 50 books. She is widely recognized for her contribution to feminist science fiction. As a matter a fact she was a radical feminist. She was born Joanna Zinner in February 1937 in The Bronx, New York City to a lovely couple who were teachers. For many years she had begun creating fictional works and filling the blank pages of her notebooks with poems, stories, comics, and illustrations. She would usually bind them with a thread to keep them together. She was an open lesbian and not afraid to speak her mind. She herself became academician becoming a full professor at the University of Washington after obtaining a degree from Cornell University and an MFA from Yale Drama School.

Joanna came into the limelight for science fiction in the late 1960s at a time when this field was largely dominated by males. She was very outspoken and daring taking on her male counterpart in the science fiction field. She was not just a prose writer, she was an essayist, a playwright and an author of a number of non-fiction works. Her works were ironical in nature, and they mirrored her emotions and her sense of humour.

Russ was widely recognized for her mind-blowing work on The Female Man a novel that combines utopian fiction and satire. Now, this was not her first science fiction, but she wrote other works that would go on to receive awards such as the popular book Souls and When it changed. Till her end, Joan lived a life of influence dying from Chronic fatigue syndrome.


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5. Justina Robinson

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Born in Leeds, a small city in Yorkshire located north of England, Justina Robson was a phenomenal writer with a passion to write all the time. She was born on the 11th of June 1968 and spent most of her life in Yorkshire. She attended the University of York where she studied philosophy and linguistics. Justina is known for her wildly imaginative writing. Before delving into novel writing, she worked some jobs that included secretarial duties, technical writing and even as a fitness instructor. After this, she had then decided to become a full-time writer.

Justina first publication appeared in a small British press magazine in 1994. She was aptly referred to as a novelist. Her debut novel ‘Silver Screen’, was shortlisted for two awards; the Arthur C Clarke award and the BFSA Award in the year 2000. Her novels are very peculiar and are well noted for her well-crafted characters. They depict an intelligent and deeply thought out approach to the genre of Speculative fiction. Justina Robson is uniquely described as one of the finest and best of the new British hard science fiction writers. Among many of her treasured works are Mappa Mundi, Glorious Angels, The Switch which all had nominations in the British Science Fiction Award and the Arthur C Clarke Award.  Although Justina Robson has never won an award, she has been nominated for more than the two awards previously mentioned. Other award nominations she has received are the Campbell Award and the Philip K. Dick Award. Her debut series have also been published in the London Gollancz.

The renowned writer identifies herself as a ‘mystically inclined person fascinated by all things being human’. A very creative series of hers was the Quantum Gravity. The series is a five-part novel that has grasped her readers to her work. The book contains a series of five books that have been set in the future Earth where worlds of the imagination have been made real by a singularity event. She admits that the inspiration for this particular novel was just a daydream. Her latest book, The Switch was released just last year in 2017. Presently, she reveals that she has two other books in the works titled Hell’s Ditch which is going to be a sequel to Glorious Angels, and a humorous science fiction novella that features Foxy (a fox) and Tiggs (a velociraptor) which form a pair of far future wildlife rangers that want to solve a mystery.

6. Octavia Butler

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The mind of Octavia Butler was filled with ideas, and as she birthed them to reality, she revolutionised the world of science fiction. Octavia was born on the 22nd of June in 1947. She was an African-American who thrived as a science fiction writer and was born in Pasadena, California in the United States of America. Octavia tragically lived for 58 years and died on February 24th, 2006. However, her accolades were numerous as she received the Hugo and Nebula awards and in 1995 became the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. Before all this spotlight on Octavia, she was raised by her widowed mother and had a very shy demeanour. She found her solace in reading fantasy fiction at the library and writing. This was where it all began. During her teen years, she had already begun writing science fiction and participated in many local workshops to build her new found gift.

Octavia struggled in her early days but this all furnished her to become one of the greatest writers of all time. Asides the tragic loss of her father, and her crippling shyness, she felt like an outcast in school thinking she was stupid, clumsy and socially hopeless. This birthed her gift. She whirled away the time by reading frequently and developed an interest in science fiction. Her aunt discouraged her blatantly saying that negroes can't be writers. This, however, did not kill the fire in Octavia.  She kept at it, and by the time she was graduating from high school, she was able to publish her first write-up in a magazine, and she earned $15 (her first profit).

Her first work ever was published in 1971 in the Clarion Workshop anthology. The piece was titled Crossover. Butler had worked tirelessly selling some of her short stories and getting so many rejections. Nevertheless, this never stopped her from writing. In 1974, she started working on a series of novels that would be later collected as the Patternist Series. Octavia Butler has made her way in a genre that has been previously dominated by white men. As a black woman, she explored issues of empathy, social normativity, self-destruction, conservation, and tribalism. Her novella ‘Bloodchild’ had won the Hugo Award and her short story ‘Speech Sounds’ and the novel ‘Parable of the Talents won her the Nebula prize twice. The works of Octavia Butler are far beyond prizes, she is known to be the godmother of Afrofuturism and is identified by some as a ‘dominant artistic force’. She has also written a brilliant trilogy titled ‘Xenogenesis’. Alas, Octavia struggled in her last years with depression and high blood pressure until she finally died of a fatal stroke. Leaving a legacy for much contemporary science fiction and afro futuristic writers, Octavia Butler has made her mark and proved to the world how a woman could change science fiction.

7. N.K. Jemisin

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Among this great list of sci-fi writers is Nora K. Jemisin. She was born on September 19th, 1972 and is known as American science fiction and fantasy writer. She has won several awards including the Locus Award and recently in August, the three books of her Broken Earth Series have won her the Hugo Award for Best Novel in three consecutive years.

Jemisin’s short story Non-Zero Probabilities was a finalist for the Nebula and Hugo Best short story Awards in 2009 and 2010. Her books have been nominated for many awards, and her debut novel was also nominated for the Hugo Awards. In 2016, The Fifth Season, a novel by Jemisin won her the Hugo Award for best novel and made her the first African American writer to win the Hugo Award in that category. In the following years, her sequels The Obelisk Gate and the Stone sky on the Hugo Award for Best Novel again. 

8. Nnedi Okoroafor

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The Nigerian- American writer Nnedi Okoroafor has revolutionized sci-fi. Her writings take after the renowned Octavia Butler in her afro futuristic write-ups. Born on April 8, 1974, this Nigerian-American writer writes fantasy and science fiction for both children and adults. She is best known for Binti, Who Fears Death, Zahrah the Windseeker, and Akata Witch. Her works reflect her West African heritage which she portrays so well in every piece. Nnedi aimed to fill a gap in the science fiction genre and brought some diversity by writing books of these genres set in Africa.

Since 2005, she has been winning numerous awards. I'm 2016, her novella Bintu won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Awards. She had also won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature for Zahrah the Windseeker in 2008. Asides that, she is a mother and asserts that her work and parental responsibility relates to each other because "writing and being a mother is a part of me, so they are mixed together and balance each other out."

9. C.J. Cherryh

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Carolyn Janice Cherry is one of the women who has put the science in fiction. She was born on September 1, 1942. She is an American writer of the speculative genre fiction and has written more than 80 books. The author has an asteroid, 77185 Cherryh, named after her. Referring to this honor, the asteroid's discoverers wrote of Cherryh: "She has challenged us to be worthy of the stars by imagining how mankind might grow to live among them."

She began with the publication of her first books in 1976, Gate of Ivrel and Brothers of Earth. Ever since then, she has published over 80 novels, which included short-story compilations, with continuing production as her blog attests. She has also received the Hugo and Locus Awards for some of her novels. The style of her novels is divided into various spheres, focusing mostly around the Alliance-Union universe, The Chanur novels, the Foreigner universe, and her fantasy novels.

10. James Tiptree Jr.

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Born on August 24, 1915, and died May 19, 1987, James Tiptree was an American science fiction author who wowed the world with her words. She was very controversial as she was most notable for breaking down the barriers between writing perceived as inherently male or female. It was not until 1977 that James Tiptree Jr. was publicly known as a woman.

Also known as Raccoona Sheldon, she published her first short story titled “Birth of a Salesman" in the March 1968 issue of Analog Science Fact & Fiction. She never made any public appearances, but she did correspond regularly with fans and other science fiction authors through the mail. In 2012, she was inducted in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. She also won several annual awards for particular works of fiction. Her books won the Hugo awards in the following years; 1974 novella, "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" and the 1977 novella, "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?". She has also won the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Jupiter Award. She is a legend in the world of science fiction.