The first science fiction book I can remember reading was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'engle, and I recall how immediately upon finishing it, I begged my mother to drive me back to the library so I could check out every other book L'engle had written. The strangeness of the book bent my mind in new directions, and I had vivid dreams about it for weeks after. After I finished L'engle, I found Lois Lowry, William Sleator, C. S. Lewis's space trilogy, Jurassic Park, and before I quite realized what was happening, I'd become irreversibly entrenched in science fiction.
When I'd devoured the juvenile fiction section of my little public library, I ventured into the adult shelves (secretly at first -- I weirdly thought that librarians would frown on kids browsing the adult side of the library,). There I found a new wealth of stories: Heinlein, Atwood, stacks and stacks of those Star Wars spin-off books. My dad, a lifelong SF geek, was thrilled with my new obsession, and pressed into my hands copies of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin and Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.
So I guess it was only natural that my own writing reflect the books I grew up on, particularly stories about science experiments gone wrong. When I began writing my first published book -- Origin -- I didn't even plan for it to be science fiction. That part just happened, because SF had seeped so deeply into the DNA of my imagination.
Some of the best science fiction out there has been penned by women, and we could go on for hours naming all the female writers who have contributed to and changed the landscape of SF. These are just a few of the works written by women in SF that have impacted my life and writing, some of them from childhood and some more recently:
Margaret Atwood: Oryx & CrakeAtwood is an indisputable queen among SF writers. Her works alone could easily fill every slot on this list, but if I had to choose one, I'd go with Oryx and Crake. It was the first Atwood book I read, and found it utterly haunting.
Lois McMaster Bujold: The Warrior's ApprenticeIf I had to choose a favorite on this list, this would be it. Imagine if Tyrion Lannister and Ferris Bueller had a love-child in a galaxy far, far away -- the result would be Miles Vorkosigan, the hyperactive, brilliant, vertically-challenged hero of this award-winning series. Bujold is one of the most decorated female SF writers out there, with four Hugos and multiple Nebulas. She's basically one of my all-time heroes.
Nancy Farmer: House of the ScorpionIt would be a mistake to think Farmer's National Book Award Winner is just for kids. This book is haunting and beautiful, with a unique setting and cast unlike any I've seen. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm is equally fascinating with its strange but believable science and unusual Zimbabwean setting. Her books have had a great influence on me, and I admire so strongly her ability to incorporate not only deep questions of scientific ethics, but also of diversity and family.
Madeleine L'engle: A Wrinkle in TimeI would be remiss not to include L'Engle in this list. This is a book so wonderfully weird, I remember having vivid dreams about it all through my childhood. Meg Murray is a fantastic heroine, and her relatable nature makes even the strangest aspects of this series accessible to young readers just whetting their teeth on sci-fi.
Lois Lowry: The GiverAnother of my early favorites, The Giver and its sequels are staples of any SF lover's library. These are books you can read again as an adult and find even deeper insights in their pages. No wonder Lowry launched a new generation of dystopian fiction! Her work still echoes through the sci-fi shelves of bookstores.
Mary Pearson: The Adoration of Jenna FoxThe science in this fiction creeps up on you slowly and chillingly. For a shorter book, it packs a powerful punch, and raises probing questions of human identity and ethics in scientific/medical advances.
Lydia Kang: ControlThis is a newer publication, but definitely not one to be overlooked. Kang's background in the medical field inform her writing, with the result that her near-future science is extremely believable and detailed. Her characters are colorful and bold and diverse, and she asks fascinating questions about the nature of humanity and how we might change and grow as a species.
Beth Revis: Across the UniverseAs much a murder mystery and dystopia as it is science fiction, Revis's Across the Universe trilogy is a wholly satisfying SF read. It has all the right notes: spaceships, interstellar voyages, genetic experimentation, new planets. This is a more recent publication that I am certain will stand for a long time, drawing more and more readers across the universe.
Jessica Khoury is the author of Kalahari.
The Stakes Have Never Been Higher