Last week I wrote about the dearth of female protagonists in stories about time travel. This is somewhat less true for the cluster of subgenres with space as their setting — women rarely get to travel in time, but they at least occasionally travel in space. Part of this may be due to the fact that stories that take place in space are more likely than most to have ensemble casts, where a total absence of women in action would be pretty damn noticeable. However, it seems that stories where women primarily drive the action are still relatively rare. And it remains the case that you can find more of it in short fiction than in novels, though I hope Ancillary Justice has broken this barrier once and for all.
These novels, anthologies, and stories all come with the highest of recommendations from yours truly (except for the last, which isn’t unrecommended but is from the TBR pile). And besides being light on the dudes, each features prominent female characters from the LGBTQ spectrum.
Space opera: The Other Half of the Sky edited by Athena Andreadis and Kay T. Holt (2013)
This anthology featuring stories with entirely female protagonists excises the assumptions derived from western culture that usually inform space opera, from Manifest Destiny to heteronormativity. The resultant stories are wholly inventive in the ways they transform science and civilization — from space technology derived from studying local ecology to a planetary penal colony run by women. Aliette de Bodard’s Nebula winner “The Waiting Stars” is one of but many reasons to read this book.
Space Fantasy: “The Bonedrake’s Penance” by Yoon Ha Lee (2014)
A bonedrake raises an orphaned human in this lovely novelette about motherhood and childhood, alienation and peace. Mythic fiction set in a fortress at the center of the universe, in the space that archives the births and deaths of stars and civilizations, a mother and daughter attempt to understand each other in the face of the monumental distance between them.
Military Science Fiction: Ammonite by Nicola Griffith (1996)
Anthropologist Marghe is sent to determine what happened on Planet Jeep, a colony in which a virus killed a few of the women and all of the men centuries before. She must unravel its mysteries before time runs out, as well as decide where her loyalties ultimately lie. A love story unfolds as Marghe attempts to understand her new world as well as her role within it.
Various: Solaris Rising 3 edited by Ian Whates (2014)
This anthology, while a mix of science fiction subgenres from time-traveling vampires to dystopian human experiments, includes several stories that ace the Bechdel test (metric: a female protagonist that talks to mostly female characters, mostly about things besides men), from women astronauts exploring one of Saturn’s tiny moons and having a baby in a spaceship as an aside to a story from Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya universe evoking the tragedy of real-world minefields.
Space Opera: Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi (2013)
A chronically ill spaceship mechanic stows away on a ship looking to hire her sister, who’s in mortal danger. This novel features both filial and romantic relationships between women, and between that fact and the author’s story from Phantasm Japan in which the protagonist is the spirit of the heat death of the universe, holy shit this book has a firm spot in my TBR pile.