February 4, 2012

Flavorwire's Not-So-Great 10 Great Science Fiction Books for Girls

Normally I love Flavorwire's lists. But the recent 10 Great Science Fiction Books for Girls by Emily Temple falls down on the job.

I'll start with the title. Lots of gender imbalance issues have been noted among readers. More male science fiction readers; more young female readers for instance. Labeling things "for girls" or "for boys" doesn't help bridge the gap. Perhaps "10 Great Female-Friendly Science Fiction Books" would be more inclusive?

Book Cover
Book CoverNow, there are several great books on the list. The 50-year-old A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L'Engle, THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K. LeGuin, and THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood cover the classics. Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN gives the list literary cred. NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND by Hayao Miyazaki gives the list foreign, arty cred. (Believe me: NausicaƤ is not the problem with this list. NausicaƤ is never a problem.) THE WINDUP GIRL by Paolo Bacigalupi shows attention to modern work. THE FEMALE MAN by Joanna Russ may not sound as familiar as some of the other titles, but it's an excellent trailblazing feminist work. DUNE by Frank Herbert may not center around women, but there's several memorable ladies in the series.

So what are the problem books?

ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card and STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Robert A. Heinlein should not be on this list. I love both. I know other women who love both. But Temple admits "Though the female characters in [STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND] aren’t particularly inspiring." Anyone who has read much Heinlein knows that he gets pretty weird about the ladies. And by weird I mean misogynistic. For ENDER'S GAME she notes, "While it’s true that the only two prominent women in Orson Scott Card’s masterpiece are relatively weak (Petra is the only one to crack in the final battle, Valentine is by definition a softer version of Ender), they’re both still pretty amazing geniuses."

They're great books. But if you want a list of science fiction to get women and girls interested in the genre, don't list books you have to justify. Don't say, "The women in this book are lame, but you should read it anyway because it's a classic. It's not like how the author depicts women is that important."

What books could have been on the list instead?

Book CoverBook CoverMost of the commenters are championing Octavia Butler. PARABLE OF THE SOWER is not only a female and POC-friendly classic, it also fits in with the current dystopian trend.

For my second pick I considered other women authors mentioned in the comments, as well as a few not. (For example, Elizabeth Moon's military science fiction is an excellent example of how women in science fiction can be hard.) But my ultimate choice is THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION by Nancy Farmer. It can replace ENDER'S GAME as the token boy's book while also representing a female author and a complex female character in the cook Celia.

What are your choices?


  1. "Anyone who has read much Heinlein knows that he gets pretty weird about the ladies. And by weird I mean misogynistic." I hear you! I took a couple of SF literature courses, and a few of the classic male writers have recurring issues with how they portray women. Ever read Larry Niven? His misogyny is disguised as "girl power". :-)

    It's not really a girl-centered SF book, but I always loved "Neuromancer" because of Molly's character. She's tough as nails, and utterly fascinating.

  2. I haven't read any Larry Niven, although I have a few of his on my shelf. (One day . . . )

    I am a huge fan of cyberpunk, so I agree with your choice. Molly is terrific.

    You might enjoy SNOW CRASH by Neal Stephenson - YT is another great, tough female character living in a cyberpunk world.

  3. I wish I had a ton of books to put on this list but much of the SF that inspired me is old and male-centric. I loved Ray Bradbury and think that girls can still take inspiration from him, regardless of the gender of his characters; same with Asimov. His work was tremendous and transcends gender-specificity. How about Douglas Adams? :) Trillian is a great character!

  4. All fine choices! I don't think old and male-centric is bad in and of itself, I just think actually-not-girl-friendly shouldn't be on a great SF for girls list.


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