From the Library: Let's Talk Sci-Fi

library logo: black and white text reads Community Lending Library. To the right of the text there is an open book with a pair of glasses on it.

Here at the library, we're spending the summer reading feminist sci-fi. We'll be meeting in Portland to discuss Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy on June 21st. Then we'll be discussing Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler on August 16th. If you're in Portland, come to our book clubs! If you can't be here in person, perhaps you'll consider joining us from afar as we read some of the staples in feminist science fiction.

Woman on the Edge of Time book cover: red and yellow book with illustrated letters made of brickThe Handmaid's Tale book cover: An illustration of two women in red robes and white bonnetsParable of the Sower book cover: A photograph of hands holding a book

Here's what I love about sci-fi (and speculative fiction in general): it sometimes shows us worlds in which we've found creative ways to overcome oppressions that we struggle with today. But more often, it allows for stories that explore futures and alternative realities in which sexism has gotten even scarier than it is now, rendering women completely subservient. These kind of stories provide us with an opportunity to reflect on the world we live in today, to question just how close we might be to these fictionalized realities, and to consider the work that we must do to ensure that these stories don't become our reality.

In 2005, Margaret Atwood wrote a piece for The Guardian in which she discussed why we need science fiction. She ended the piece with these words:

We want wisdom. We want hope. We want to be good. Therefore we sometimes tell ourselves warning stories that deal with the darker side of some of our other wants...Literature is an uttering, or outering, of the human imagination. It lets the shadowy forms of thought and feeling—heaven, hell, monsters, angels and all—out into the light, where we can take a good look at them and perhaps come to a better understanding of who we are and what we want, and what the limits to those wants may be. Understanding the imagination is no longer a pastime, but a necessity; because increasingly, if we can imagine it, we'll be able to do it.

Hear, hear. We're looking forward to spending time with some feminist sci-fi. In the meantime, what are your feminist sci-fi picks? Let us know in the comments!

by Ashley McAllister
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10 Comments Have Been Posted

The Shore of Women by Pamela

<p><em>The Shore of Women</em> by Pamela Sargent--the best feminist science fiction novel no one's ever heard of.</p>

He, She and It - YES!!! I

He, She and It - YES!!! I love the juxtaposition of the original Golem story and the futuristic cyborg creation - a great parallel.

Atwood is a goddess

Anyone who enjoys feminist sci-fi, or just sci-fi, or just really well told stories, should pick up Oryx and Crake and it's companion, The Year of the Flood. I look forward eagerly to her promised 3rd piece of this series.

Joanna Russ

After her recent passing, I'm going back to Joanna Russ and her amazing text, The Female Man.

My Pick

I loved "The Left Hand of Darkness" by Ursula K. Le Guin. I read most of it in a day and was bawling by the end.


ursula k le guin (who's been living in portland since 1958) is a perfect author for this. The Telling is a favourite of mine right now, and would be my first pick for this. The main character is an half indian half english lesbian who grew up on future earth dominated by a repressive regime of 'Unist Fathers' (extreme evangelical patriarchy) but found a way to go to a foreign (alien) school to become a cultural observer for a peaceful organization, and the planet/culture she goes to observe is in extreme transition...there's so much that would be great for group discussion-- even the physical/emotional differences between processed foods and slow homemade meals. There's a whole lot more to it but i don't want to be a story ruiner. Please choose it for the book club!

if not, my runner up suggestion from le guin-- four ways to forgiveness.

More books, more!!!

OK, for the sake of an expanding list of awesome feminist SF, I'm not going to repeat the wonderful suggestions above.

Nnedi Okorafor's tough and wonderful adult SF <i>Who Fears Death?</i> (Apparently it is being made into a movie!)
I'm still reading my way through her YA SF, and enjoying it...

I am quite fond of the pomo-literary <i>Black Wine</i> by Candas Jane Dorsey.

<i>Native Tongue</i> by Suzette Haden Elgin is great for those who like their future dystopias filled with issues of language.
Or, go for the rural, alternative-Christian world of her <i>Ozark Trilogy,</i> and their secretly woman-run society in <i>Twelve Fair Kingdoms, The Grand Jubilee</i> (the best one), <i>And The There'll Be Fireworks.</i>

Nalo Hopkinson's Carribean-infused world in <i>Midnight Robber</i> is soooo good! And read her other books too!

Nicola Griffith's lesbian-centric <i>Slow River</i>.

Any Terry Pratchett Fans?

I love love love Terry Pratchett. (Did I mention I love him?) His writing isn't feminist per se, but he knows how to write strong, believeable female characters. If there is a feminist character out there, its Granny Weatherwax.

I completly agree! I think

I completly agree! I think Pterry won a few feminist writer awards actually... hmm...
My favourite character's Angua, she's a bad ass werewolf cop, but also helps her fellow female (who happens to be a dwarf) 'come out' and identify herself as a female, thus sets off a wave of other female dwarves to do the same. Cheery is also awesome, a sweet, geeky, dwarf feminist. Well I think so anyway.
And I adore Tiffany Aching and the witches books. I think Terry Pratchett said the Tiffany Aching books were the best he's ever written.

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