What’s better than a book with a complex female protagonist? I’ll tell you what’s better: a book with a complex female protagonist in space.
Though I have sadly come to accept that I will never achieve my dream of being part of a band of intrepid galactic adventurers, there’s no reason that I can’t at least live my truth by proxy. For too long, our space fiction has been relegated to Hans and Lukes; but in the era of Rey and Jyn, we need to celebrate the books that put women at the forefront of their own space-bound vessels. Here are my five favorite books about ladies livin’ large among the stars.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Easily my favorite book of 2015, Chambers’ debut novel is equal parts Firefly and Mass Effect, a perfect combination. On the run from her past, Rosemary joins a rag-tag space crew on their wormhole-tunneling ship as their on-board accountant – but life catches up quick in the darkness. With a diverse cast of fully-realized characters (human, alien, and robot alike), it’s hard to not fall in love with every single member of the Wayfarer. The follow-up, A Closed and Common Orbit, is out this month, and it will break your heart. I know you’re into that.
Lightless by C.A. Higgins
If you like your space fiction with some serious authenticity, look no further than Lightless, written by a woman with an IRL physics degree. Althea is the resident engineer and computer scientist on-board the Ananke, an experimental military spacecraft on a secret mission. When the Ananke finds itself boarded by thieves, it is up to Althea to save her precious vessel. The book is written from a series of shifting perspectives, and has one of the most compelling female antagonists I’ve ever read. The sequel, Supernova, will leave you messed up in the best way.
Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
The first in Bach’s Paradox Trilogy, Fortune’s Pawn follows Devi, a bad-ass space merc for hire with a power suit that would make Master Chief jealous. Devi is tough, crass, unapologetic, strong, intelligent, everything I could possibly want in a protagonist – and when she finds herself caught up in a conspiracy of galactic proportions, it’s up to her to save as many people as she can. I’m not kidding when I tell you that Bach’s prose is addictive: I devoured this book in one cross-country plane ride, and stopped at the nearest bookstore I could find on my way to my hotel in order to grab the sequel so I could keep going.
Planetfall by Emma Newman
How many books about space star an engineer who also happens to be a bisexual neurodivergent woman of color? Meet Planetfall’s protagonist, Ren. Part of a planetary expedition, Ren is her colony’s 3D-printer engineer, responsible for creating almost all of the materials the humans need to survive in their new environment. But Ren is keeping a massive secret, and as things in her life begin to unravel, she starts to search for meaning outside of the bounds of science. An impossible-to-put-down book with an unbelievable conclusion.
Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman
One of the rare sci-fi books that takes into account the time one would lose by traveling lightyears away from home, exoethnologist Sara is a nomad, a sociologist banished to the farthest reaches of space for that one time she accidentally caused a planetary rebellion. Now, she’s tasked with exploring a newly-discovered planet, never before touched by humanity – or so they think. Dark Orbit is a fascinating look at how a truly alien culture might evolve, both sociologically and biologically. I am desperate for a sequel. Wait, this is Tor, right? Can someone confirm a sequel? C’mon, guys, do me a solid. Hello?
Do you have a favorite book about awesome ladies in space? I’m always looking for new recommendations, so please let me know in the comments. And enjoy your galactic travels through fiction!
Top image: Alien (1979)
Sam Maggs is an assistant writer for BioWare and the author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy and her newest book, Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History. She has written for Marie Claire, PC Gamer, the Guardian, National Post, the Mary Sue, and more. You can geek out with her about Mass Effect or Jeff Goldblum on Twitter @SamMaggs.