Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1980s, Part I

The number of women active in SF continued to grow in the 1980s, despite pushback that ranged from angry tirades to attempts to erase women from SF history. One can get a sense of the trend by comparing the master lists of woman authors that I have compiled: Women authors who debuted in the 1970s: five pages. Women authors who debuted in the 1980s: sixteen pages.

There was a time when it was possible for a single person to read everything in the field. That changed in the late 1970s and 1980s; more publishers, more titles published. The upside: readers with particular genre tastes were more likely to find something they liked. The downside: it became easier for authors to suffer the mid-list death spiral and vanish.

In a spirit of inclusivity, I am including any woman who debuted in speculative fiction in the 1980s, even if they were active in other fields beforehand. Because I am monolingual, I am only focusing on people who published in English.


Kathy Acker

Punk feminist Kathy Acker was active in a number of fields. She wrote essays, plays, novels, etc. Her work tends to be avant-garde and literary (but also genre). Her William S. Burroughs-influenced strengths work nicely in her Don Quixote (Which Was a Dream), a novel in which a modern-day would-be knight engages in quests during the twilight years of the Nixon administration.


Sharon Ahern

Most of Sharon Ahern’s published works are collaborations with Jerry Ahern. I’ve only read one of hers, The Takers. It’s a fast-paced secret history adventure in which would-be Nazi grave looters get punched in the face (or shot). If that’s your thing, you might enjoy this book.


Kathleen Alcalá

Kathleen Alcalá would probably be classified as an author of historicals. She specializes in 19th century Mexico and what is currently the American Southwest. IMHO, some of her works are also spec-fic. For instance, Spirits of the Ordinary follows a Jewish-born, Catholic-wed protagonist who becomes a prospector and a shaman.


Vivien Alcock

Vivien Alcock wrote children’s books. Quite a number of them, in fact, of which at least one, The Haunting of Cassie Palmer, was adapted to television. I am embarrassed to admit that the only work of hers that I have read is The Monster Garden, in which the young daughter of a (possibly mad) scientist inadvertently creates a creature that she must then protect from a hostile world. Which, I will point out, makes her about ten thousand percent more responsible than Victor Frankenstein.


Patricia Anthony

Patricia Anthony was one of those authors who appear in SF, have a brief, incandescent career, and then vanish. In many cases, their absence is merely a hiatus; lamentably, Anthony died in 2013 before returning to the field (The Sighting was published after her death). In her lifetime, she published Cold Allies, Brother Termite, Conscience of the Beagle, The Happy Policeman, Cradle of Splendor, God’s Fires, Flanders, The Sighting, and the collection Eating Memories. They’re all slipstream and all bleak. If that sort of thing is to your taste, you will probably like them. Other readers may bounce off. If you want to dip your toe in the water, consider Cold Allies, which depicts a climate change-driven invasion of Europe complicated by the appearance of aliens.


Kim Antieau

Librarian Kim Antieau writes for a variety of audiences, adult and teens. Any teens reading this are advised not to start off with her post-apocalyptic wanderjahr The Gaia Websters, which is far too steamy for today’s innocent youth.


Constance Ash

Constance Ash is an author about whom I know little. The exception is her The Horsegirl, a coming-of-age, secondary-universe fantasy novel in which a young woman’s love of horses allows her to escape the unpleasant patriarchal society into which she was born¹.


Nancy Asire

Nancy Asire has published frequently, for the most part in shared universe series, such as Heroes in Hell (a series off which I bounced hard) and Cherryh’s Merovingen Knights (which still sits in my Mount Tsundoku). I have read one solo work, Twilight’s Kingdoms, in which the forces of light find that their insistence on embracing principle rather than short-term gain hampers the struggle against evil. Suffice it to say that I was not gobsmacked.


Jean M. Auel

Jean M. Auel is the best-selling author of the Earth’s Children series. It is set in a European pre-history populated by Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals. Protagonist Ayla is Cro-Magnon, but she was orphaned as a child and adopted by Neanderthals. She is unhappy in her new tribe (cultural differences, Neanderthal leader acting like a jerk) and eventually leaves to find her Cro-Magnon conspecifics. Which proves difficult. Ayla is a Paleolithic genius who invents a double-stone sling technique, the sewing needle, and various other tech. If she were alive today, she would have made millions from a startup. Start at the beginning: The Clan of the Cave Bear. (Note: it’s not great art, but Auel can write page-turners.)


The list of shame. I have not read any works by the following people. If you are familiar with their fiction, please share what you know:


1: There are sequels, but the vagaries of 1990s book distribution seem to have kept them out of Waterloo Region. I haven’t aggressively searched online for used copies.

In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is surprisingly flammable.


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