There is a world of choices out there for books written by women. Some books had to be written under a male pseudonym, others were written in times where romance was only the place women were allowed to write. Most of these women are trailblazers whose writing and storytelling allowed future generations to stand up and demand to be heard. 

One of the most difficult parts about compiling this list was finding the lack of diversity and female writers in general in 1970’s and earlier. I did not find a single female published writer with any diversity at al 1960s and earlier and only Octavia Butler who happened to publish kindred 1n 1979, making the cut. The majority of her great stories are from the 1980s.

Maybe this is on me and I am not looking in the right places. I would love to add more diverse authors with great works to this section of the list as I come across them. It was wonderfully gratifying to see that as SFF expanded and time marched on it became less of a boys club, more varied writing got out there. The genre as a whole is so much better. Tomorrows list denoting the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s has much more diversity with LGBTQIA folks starting to be heard in large numbers. Only writers who are women are on this list, which includes the trans community as they are women. Writers who are queer, or non-binary will be featured in another similar list in August when I will be dedicating the site to the LGBTQIA community and its many great stories. 

The following selections were chosen either because of the strength of the writing or its impact on the genre as a whole. Each of the next three days I will be highlighting a set of 30 books with the third day having 40 books.  If you have additions to the list, I am all ears! 

pre 1950

The Little White Horse
100

The Little White Horse

by Elizabeth Goudge (1946)

In 1842, thirteen-year-old orphan Maria Merryweather arrives at Moonacre Manor, her family’s ancestral home in an charmed village in England’s West Country, and she feels as if she’s entered Paradise. Her new guardian, her uncle Sir Benjamin, is kind and funny; the Manor itself feels like home right away; and every person and animal she meets is like an old friend. But there is something incredibly sad beneath all of this beauty and comfort, that shadowing Moonacre Manor and the town around it. Maria is determined to learn about it, change it, and give her own life story a happy ending.

The enchanted valley of Moonacre is shadowed by a tragedy that happened years ago, and the memory of the Moon Princess and the mysterious little white horse. Determined to restore peace and happiness to the whole of Moonacre Valley, Maria finds herself involved with an ancient feud, and she discovers it is her destiny to end it and right the wrongs of her ancestors. Maria usually gets her own way. But what can one solitary girl do?

A new-fashioned fantasy story that is as wonderful as the best classic fairy tales.

Carbonel: The King of the Cats
99

Carbonel: The King of the Cats

by Barbara Sleigh (1955)

“Rosemary’s plan to clean houses during her summer break and surprise her mother with the money hits a snag when an old lady at the market talks her into buying a second-rate broom and a cat she can’t even afford to keep. But appearances can be deceiving. Some old ladies are witches, some brooms can fly, and some ordinary-looking cats are Princes of the Royal Blood. Rosemary’s cat (“You may call me Carbonel. That is my name.”) soon enlists her help in an adventure to free him from a hideous spell and return him to his rightful throne. But along the way Rosemary and her friend John must do some clever sleuthing, work a little magic of their own, and—not least— put up with the demands of a very haughty cat.”

98

Bed-Knob and Broomstick

by Mary Norton (1943)

The Magic Bed-Knob and Bonfires and Broomsticks in one volume. These are the exploits of the three Wilson children; Miss Price, the apprentice witch; and the flying bed. A tale of a witch-in-training and trouble of the most unforgettable kind.

97

Mary Poppins

by Pamela Lyndon Travers (1934)

A stunning, full-color illustrated edition of the classic novel about the magical nanny who has delighted children and adults the world over. Experience the fantastical adventures of the magical nanny who inspired the classic film, stage show, and young imaginations the world over in a whole new way. 

96

The Barrowers

By Mary Norton (1952)

The Borrowers is a children’s fantasy novel by the English author Mary Norton, published by Dent in 1952. It features a family of tiny people who live secretly in the walls and floors of an English house and “borrow” from the big people in order to survive. The Borrowers also refers to the series of five novels including The Borrowers and four sequels that feature the same family after they leave “their” house.

“The child is right," she announced firmly. Arrietty's eyes grew big. "Oh, no-" she began. It shocked her to be right. Parents were right, not children. Children could say anything, Arrietty knew, and enjoy saying it-knowing always they were safe and wrong.”

The Barrowers by Mary Norton Tweet
95

shadow on the hearth

judith merril (1950)

Written in 1950 this is an early science fiction look at the after effects of a nuclear war. A typical day in a Westchester suburb of New York for a family of four is shattered by a nuclear attack on New York City.

94

Swastika Night

by Katharine Burdekin, (1937)

Published in 1937, twelve years before Orwell’s 1984Swastika Night projects a totally male-controlled fascist world that has eliminated women as we know them. Women are breeders, kept as cattle, while men in this post-Hitlerian world are embittered automatons, fearful of all feelings, having abolished all history, education, creativity, books, and art. The plot centers on a “misfit” who asks, “How could this have happened?”

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93

The Haunting of Hill House

Shirley Jackson (1959)

It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, the lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own. 

pipi longstocking
92

Pippi Longstocking

by Astrid Lindgren, Florence Lamborn (Translator), Louis S. Glanzman (Illustrator)(1945)

Tommy and his sister Annika have a new neighbor, and her name is Pippi Longstocking. She has crazy red pigtails, no parents to tell her what to do, a horse that lives on her porch, and a flair for the outrageous that seems to lead to one adventure after another!

91

Frankenstein

Mary Shelley (1818)

Mary Shelley’s seminal novel of the scientist whose creation becomes a monster

This edition is the original 1818 text, which preserves the hard-hitting and politically charged aspects of Shelley’s original writing, as well as her unflinching wit and strong female voice. This edition also includes a new introduction and suggestions for further reading by author and Shelley expert Charlotte Gordon, literary excerpts and reviews selected by Gordon and a chronology and essay by preeminent Shelley scholar Charles E. Robinson.

1960s

90

a wrinkle in time

madeleine l'engle (1962)

It was a dark and stormy night.

Out of this wild night, a strange visitor comes to the Murry house and beckons Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe on a most dangerous and extraordinary adventure—one that will threaten their lives and our universe.

Winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal, A Wrinkle in Time is the first book in Madeleine L’Engle’s classic Time Quintet.

“Neither the mouse nor the boy was the least bit surprised that each could understand the other. Two creatures who shared a love for motorcycles naturally spoke the same language.”

89

dragonflight

anne mccaffrey (1968)

HOW CAN ONE GIRL SAVE AN ENTIRE WORLD?

To the nobles who live in Benden Weyr, Lessa is nothing but a ragged kitchen girl. For most of her life she has survived by serving those who betrayed her father and took over his lands. Now the time has come for Lessa to shed her disguise—and take back her stolen birthright.

But everything changes when she meets a queen dragon. The bond they share will be deep and last forever. It will protect them when, for the first time in centuries, Lessa’s world is threatened by Thread, an evil substance that falls like rain and destroys everything it touches. Dragons and their Riders once protected the planet from Thread, but there are very few of them left these days. Now brave Lessa must risk her life, and the life of her beloved dragon, to save her beautiful world. . . .

88

A Wizard of Earthsea

ursula k. leguin (1968)

Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.

Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.

87

witch world

andre norton (1963)

Andre Norton enthralled readers for decades with thrilling tales of people challenged to the limits of their endurance in epic battles of good against evil. None are more memorable than her Witch World novels. Simon Tregarth, a man from our own world, escapes his doom through the gates to the Witch World. There he aids the witch Jaelithe’s escape from the hounds of Alizon, only to find himself embroiled in a deeper war against an even deadlier foe: the Kolder. 

86

The Mouse and the Motorcycle

by Beverly Cleary (1968)

“Pb-pb-b-b-b. Pb-pb-b-b-b.” With these magic vocables, Ralph the mouse revs up a dream come true–his very own motorcycle. Living in a knothole in a hotel room, young Ralph has seen plenty of families come and go, some more generous with their crumbs than others. But when young Keith and his parents check in to the hotel, Ralph gets his first chance to check out. He has always fantasized about venturing beyond the second floor, maybe even outside. Curiosity overcomes caution, and Ralph must have a go at Keith’s toy motorcycle. Soon, the headstrong mouse finds himself in a pickle, when all he wanted was to ride a motorcycle. Lucky for him, the boy understands how it is. When he discovers Ralph in his thwarted attempt to abscond with the toy bike, Keith generously encourages the rodent to ride. He even teaches him the simple trick of starting the motorcycle: “You have to make a noise… pb-pb-b-b-b.” The subsequent situations Ralph motors into require quick thinking and grownup-sized courage.

85

the left hand of darkness

ursula k. le guin (1968)

A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose – and change – their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters.

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.

84

The Winter of Enchantment

Victoria Walker (1968)

Through a magic mirror Sebastian travels from his Victorian world of winter snow and Mrs. Parkin to a magic world of Melissa, Mantari the cat, a wicked Enchanter, and many other exciting people. Melissa, a pretty young girl, has been imprisoned in a large house by the wicked Enchanter. Sebastian first meets Melissa through the magic mirror and resolves to do everything in his power, and with the help of a little magic, to free her. First published in 1968, this wonderful children’s classic is back in hardcover!

83

the serpent

jane gaskell (1963)

In the lost world of prehistory, a girl is born. Is she a Goddess? Cija herself believes that she is. For 17 years her mother, the Dictatress, has kept her imprisoned in a tower. She releases her, with one object in view: to seduce Zerd, the snake-scaled “Dragon-General” of an occupying army, then stab him to death.
Thru the forests of the sling-using Fouls, among the reptile birds, in lands where half-human hybrids are kept as pets, Cija travels with the Northern Army. In the great vicious City of the South, Zerd makes plans with the Southerners to attack the fabulous Continent of Atlan, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Cija escapes & is pursued. She finds a lover; there is fighting between the Northern & Southern armies; she suffers rape at the hands of two very different men…
This fantastic story of love, jealousy & sudden death is unlike anything you have ever read. It grips the imagination from start to finish.

82

shadow on the hearth

judith merril (1950)

Written in 1950 this is an early science fiction look at the after effects of a nuclear war. A typical day in a Westchester suburb of New York for a family of four is shattered by a nuclear attack on New York City.

1970s

81

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

Patricia A. McKillip (1974)

Sixteen when a baby is brought to her to raise, Sybel has grown up on Eld Mountain. Her only playmates are the creatures of a fantastic menagerie called there by wizardry. Sybel has cared nothing for humans, until the baby awakens emotions previously unknown to her. And when Coren–the man who brought this child–returns, Sybel’s world is again turned upside down.

80

the crystal cave

mary stewart

Fifth century Britain is a country of chaos and division after the Roman withdrawal. This is the world of young Merlin, the illegitimate child of a South Wales princess who will not reveal to her son his father’s true identity. Yet Merlin is an extraordinary child, aware at the earliest age that he possesses a great natural gift – the Sight. Against a background of invasion and imprisonment, wars and conquest, Merlin emerges into manhood, and accepts his dramatic role in the New Beginning – the coming of King Arthur. 

79

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast

by Robin McKinley (1978)

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78

the dark is rising

susan cooper (1973)

“When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back, three from the circle, three from the track; wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone; five will return, and one go alone.”

With these mysterious words, Will Stanton discovers on his 11th birthday that he is no mere boy. He is the Sign-Seeker, last of the immortal Old Ones, destined to battle the powers of evil that trouble the land. His task is monumental: he must find and guard the six great Signs of the Light, which, when joined, will create a force strong enough to match and perhaps overcome that of the Dark. Embarking on this endeavor is dangerous as well as deeply rewarding; Will must work within a continuum of time and space much broader than he ever imagined.

77

Deryni Rising

Katherine Kurtz (1970)

In the kingdom of Gwynedd, the mysterious forces of magic and the superior power of the Church combine to challenge the rule of young Kelson. Now the fate of the Deryni — a quasi-mortal race of sorcerers — and, indeed, the fate of all the Eleven Kingdoms, rests on Kelson’s ability to quash the rebellion by any means necessary . . . including the proscribed use of magic!

76

The Grey King

Susan Cooper (1945)

“Fire on the Mountain Shall Find the Harp of Gold Played to Wake the Sleepers, Oldest of the Old…”

With the final battle between the Light and the Dark soon approaching, Will sets out on a quest to call for aid. Hidden within the Welsh hills is a magical harp that he must use to wake the Sleepers – six noble riders who have slept for centuries.

But an illness has robbed Will of nearly all his knowledge of the Old Ones, and he is left only with a broken riddle to guide him in his task. As Will travels blindly through the hills, his journey will bring him face-to-face with the most powerful Lord of the Dark – the Grey King. The King holds the harp and Sleepers within his lands, and there has yet to be a force strong enough to tear them from his grasp…
 

75

Interview with a vampire

anne rice (1976)

This is the story of Louis, as told in his own words, of his journey through mortal and immortal life. Louis recounts how he became a vampire at the hands of the radiant and sinister Lestat and how he became indoctrinated, unwillingly, into the vampire way of life. His story ebbs and flows through the streets of New Orleans, defining crucial moments such as his discovery of the exquisite lost young child Claudia, wanting not to hurt but to comfort her with the last breaths of humanity he has inside. Yet, he makes Claudia a vampire, trapping her womanly passion, will, and intelligence inside the body of a small child. Louis and Claudia form a seemingly unbreakable alliance and even “settle down” for a while in the opulent French Quarter. Louis remembers Claudia’s struggle to understand herself and the hatred they both have for Lestat that sends them halfway across the world to seek others of their kind. Louis and Claudia are desperate to find somewhere they belong, to find others who understand, and someone who knows what and why they are.

Louis and Claudia travel Europe, eventually coming to Paris and the ragingly successful Theatre des Vampires–a theatre of vampires pretending to be mortals pretending to be vampires. Here they meet the magnetic and ethereal Armand, who brings them into a whole society of vampires. But Louis and Claudia find that finding others like themselves provides no easy answers and in fact presents dangers they scarcely imagined.

Originally begun as a short story, the book took off as Anne wrote it, spinning the tragic and triumphant life experiences of a soul. As well as the struggles of its characters, Interview captures the political and social changes of two continents. The novel also introduces Lestat, Anne’s most enduring character, a heady mixture of attraction and revulsion. The book, full of lush description, centers on the themes of immortality, change, loss, sexuality, and power

74

Night's Master

Tanith Lee (1978)

NIGHT’S MASTER is the first book of the stunning arabesque high fantasy series Tales from the Flat Earth, which, in the manner of The One Thousand and One Nights, portrays an ancient world in mythic grandeur via connected tales.

Long time ago when the Earth was Flat, beautiful indifferent Gods lived in the airy Upperearth realm above, curious passionate demons lived in the exotic Underearth realm below, and mortals were relegated to exist in the middle. Azhrarn, Lord of the Demons and the Darkness, was the one who ruled the Night, and many mortal lives were changed because of his cruel whimsy. And yet, Azhrarn held inside his demon heart a profound mystery which would change the very fabric of the Flat Earth forever…

Come within this ancient world of brilliant darkness and beauty, of glittering palaces and wondrous elegant beings, of cruel passions and undying love.

Discover the exotic wonder that is the Flat Earth

73

The Bloody Chamber

Angela Carter (1979)

Angela Carter was a storytelling sorceress, the literary godmother of Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Audrey Niffenegger, J. K. Rowling, Kelly Link, and other contemporary masters of supernatural fiction. In her masterpiece, The Bloody Chamber—which includes the story that is the basis of Neil Jordan’s 1984 movie The Company of Wolves—she spins subversively dark and sensual versions of familiar fairy tales and legends like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Bluebeard,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” giving them exhilarating new life in a style steeped in the romantic trappings of the gothic tradition. 

72

Godsfire

Cynthia Felice (1979)

Heao is a member of Academe, a future group of intelligentsia on a planet in the throes of a receding ice age. She and all her people have been conquered by a primitive king whose dreams of destruction haunt him, and may doom all her kind. Heao is intelligent and loving, a devoted helpmate and mother. But Heao is not an ordinary woman. She is a member of a feline race, and her body, along with those of her peers, is covered with fur and ends in a long busy tail. She is a member of the master race of Shadowland, the race that keeps human slaves to do their work for them, the race that stands in powerless awe of the fiery ball of light she sees once a year—Godsfire!

In Heao’s world she is a pathfinder, a mapmaker, and she is the Galileo of her world, determined to bring light and wisdom to her shadowed world where most folk see slaves not as merely different but inferior. Heao knows better and won’t deny her belief that slaves are intelligent and if not human, certainly more than animals. Her temple adversary, Tarana, would subdue and control, the young pathfinder to steal her dream-goal, or kill her if that fails. The king-conqueror, with tortured dreams of his own, needs Heao’s mapmaking skills as much as he needs the Temple’s support. Even Heao helper-in-life, Baltsar, and her trusted slave, Teon, are affected by the unintended consequences of Heao’s convictions and her quest to follow her dream-goal. It will take all of them through the Evernight Mountains to discover the truth about her world and the blinding vision of—Godsfire

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71

Kindred

Octavia Butler(1979)

The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given…

70

The Faded Sun Trilogy

c.j. cherryh (1979)

They were the mri – tall, secretive, bound by honor and the rigid dictates of their society. For aeons this golden-skinned, golden-eyed race had provided the universe mercenary soldiers of almost unimaginable ability. But now the mri have faced an enemy unlike any other – an enemy whose only way of war is widespread destruction. These “humans” are mass fighters, creatures of the herd, and the mri have been slaughtered like animals.

Now, in the aftermath of war, the mri face extinction. It will be up to three individuals to save whatever remains of this devastated race: a warrior – one of the last survivors of his kind; a priestess of this honorable people; and a lone human – a man sworn to aid the enemy of his own kind. Can they retrace the galaxy-wide path of this nomadic race back through millennia to reclaim the ancient world which first gave them life?

5 Comments

  • I love this list so much!! I’ve read a few of these (like Dragonflight, the Borrowers, and a few more) and I have other on my TBR. I’m excited to find more to read.

    I don’t think much about how few women broke through in publishing in previous generations. I’m glad it’s better now though.

  • peatlong says:

    Great list and lots of names I need to check out, starting with Norton – I’d throw out C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry and Hope Mirrlees’ Lud in the Mist as worthy potential additions to pre 60s fantasy. I’ve also got Joy Chant’s Red Moon and Black Mountain to try out, as well as Evangeline Walton’s Island of the Mighty which would fit into this period.

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