Is there anything better than a good Sci-Fi? Sure is! How about the ones with strong women taking the helm? It’s becoming more commonplace in fiction now, but not too long ago, “hard” Sci-Fi almost always featured men as the hero. It was rarer still, to find books like this written by women.
Please welcome Savannah to Reads & Reels! Today she’s going to share a few of her favourite books featuring, you guessed it, bad ass female characters in Science Fiction.
7 Badass Female Protagonists in Sci-Fi Written by Women
My first real exposure to science fiction was at seven years old, when my father gifted me his mega-retro, hard-cover copy of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Having never read — or even watched a movie — concerning the speculative plight of humans vs. aliens (E.T. scared me out of my wits, for once-logical reasons that now elude me), I tore through Ender’s Game in three days. The worldbuilding was brilliant, the dialogue sharp, and the character psychology hauntingly profound.
However, though I followed Ender’s adventures with a disciple’s devotion, I also found myself inexorably drawn to the narratives of two other characters: his sister Valentine, and his Battle School classmate Petra. The connection I felt to these characters awakened a craving in me for strong female characters in sci-fi… and not just strong, but main characters. Heroines who were not only capable of carrying their own stories, but who actually did so, with great aplomb.
Luckily, in the intervening years, I’ve found countless female protagonists who fit the bill. And though I’m overjoyed to have discovered so many, I’m afraid that sharing them all with you might be a bit overwhelming — hence the single-digit number on this list. With that in mind: here are just seven of the most badass female protagonists in sci-fi, written by women, for women (as far as I’m concerned).
Lessa from Dragonflight
Lessa from Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series is no doubt one of sci-fi’s original female badasses — Dragonflight, the series’ first installment, was published over fifty years ago in 1968. But Lessa is no ordinary second-wave feminist: she’s a member of a noble ruling family on the planet Pern, and possesses telepathic abilities that she uses to protect herself when the rest of her family is killed.
Hmm, telepathic young girl who has to fend for herself without familial support… sound familiar? You wouldn’t be wrong to say that Lessa is something of a Matilda predecessor. You might even draw a connection between Lessa and Khaleesi, given Lessa’s link with dragons. Though she’s left traumatized and helpless after the deaths of her parents, Lessa manages to claw her way back into power by manipulating those around her, ultimately becoming the “Weyrwoman” of her region’s dragon clan. As a headstrong, indomitable fighter, Lessa was the antithesis of what women were expected to embody back in the sixties — which makes her place in the sci-fi canon all the more significant.
Janet Evason from The Female Man
Not to be confused with Janet from The Good Place. However, some might say that Janet Evason comes from an actual “good place”: a hypothetical future in which men no longer exist. As a result, this Janet knows nothing of patriarchal oppression, and acts accordingly. She’s happily married to a woman in a society where same-sex marriage is the only kind possible. And when she travels from her future home back into the past (which is essentially our present-day), her automatic response to a man’s unwanted attention is to push him away.
Yes, Janet’s distance from male-influenced history — she’s born about 800 years after men are eradicated — does make her naïve in some ways. Yet it’s also what makes her so refreshing; she’s never considered men’s opinions or reactions to her existence whatsoever. She’s never censored herself for fear of contradicting a man, or tried to act more feminine to please them. And if that isn’t badass, I don’t know what is.
Cordelia Naismith from Shards of Honor
Cordelia Naismith is a self-reliant ship captain who eludes death countless times in this book, largely through her own tactical brilliance. Indeed, Shards of Honor begins with her being injured and abandoned by her crew on an unknown planet, meaning she has to use all her mental and physical faculties just to stay alive.
Following this, Cordelia becomes involved in war on the planet Escobar, where she is instrumental in protecting the Escobarans from total annihilation. Then she becomes the leader of the all-female POW camp where she’s imprisoned, helping keep them secure until the war ends. Yes, Cordelia is no doubt the beating heart of this thrilling space opera — and though Shards of Honor does include a romance between Cordelia and a former-enemy captain, their relationship is by no means her only purpose.
Kivrin Engle from The Doomsday Book
Get ready for this one, because it’s a doozy: we meet young medieval historian Kivrin Engle just before she travels back in time to 1348, right at the peak of the Black Death. Of course, she doesn’t realize that it’s 1348, because she was supposed to be transported back to 1320 — long before the disease ever came to Europe. Kivrin (under the medieval-appropriate pseudonym Katherine) is taken in by a local family, whom she bonds with and begins to observe for her research… that is, until a plague-infected monk arrives in their village.
As dozens of people sicken and die, Kivrin and her future-boosted immune system come to the rescue. She steadfastly nurses the family and villagers that she’s come to love as her own, refusing to desert them, even when she cannot be certain of her own survival. I won’t tell you how it ends, but suffice to say that Kivrin is probably the most hardcore heroine on this list: no matter how you slice it, nothing can really compare to battling the Black Death itself.
Torin Kerr from Valor’s Choice
Similar to Cordelia Naismith (who probably inspired this character, come to think of it), Sergeant Torin Kerr is an expert soldier in the treacherous combat zone of space. As a protector of the Confederation — an intergalactic organization whose stability is threatened by the opposing “Others” — Torin has devoted her whole life to battle, and she’s both seen and doled out some pretty brutal stuff. When she’s asked to serve as an “honor guard” on a diplomatic mission, she thinks it’ll be a walk in the park… little does she know what’s truly in store for her.
Luckily, Torin is sharp-minded, swift-moving, and unafraid to get her hands dirty. For example, in the first chapter of Valor’s Choice, she casually comments as she’s getting dressed for a formal military appointment: “[At my last field promotion], I was covered in Staff Sergeant Guntah’s guts and the only thing black on me was my fingernails, where frostbite had started to set in.” Can you say “badass”? That doesn’t mean her journey in Valor’s Choice is easy, but trust me that she’s more than qualified to take it on.
Paama from Redemption in Indigo
You’ve gotta respect Paama, a woman who leaves her gluttonous, lazy husband because she’s fed up with his disgraceful character. This impressive power move attracts the attention of the djombi (undying spirits) who grant her possession of the Chaos Stick — a totem that allows Paama to control certain elements of the universe. Of course, there’s always someone who wants to thwart our mighty heroines; in this case, it’s a malevolent djombi, an indigo-skinned spirit who believes the Chaos Stick rightfully belongs to him.
But just as she showed her husband, Paama will not bend to his selfish will. She goes on to change her world as she knows it, using her brain rather than the brute force of the Chaos Stick — ironically proving she’s much worthier to wield the Stick than her opponent.
Rosemary Harper from The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
And now for my personal favorite, Rosemary Harper: the protagonist of Becky Chambers’ wildly imaginative 2014 debut. Rosemary is a young woman who’s fiercely determined to leave her old life behind. Hence why she joins the mission of the Wayfarer: a spaceship bound for the titular planet, complete with a colorful multi-species crew to take her mind off her problems.
With perhaps one of the most complex inner lives of any woman on this list, Rosemary is highly independent and guarded; even the reader doesn’t know what’s happened to her until a good portion through the book. And in a slight departure from our other heroines, her badassery comes not from her bold attitude or ruthless battle tactics, but from her cool-as-a-cucumber approach to problems that arise onboard the Wayfarer. Rosemary grows to become one of the most valuable members of the ship’s crew, and continues to prove herself time and time again.
So there you have it: seven truly incredible, impressively strong female protagonists in science fiction. If you’ve never read these books before, consider giving them a shot! And for even more amazing sci-fi, check out this list of the 100 best sci-fi books ever (which naturally includes all the titles mentioned here). Happy heroine hunting!
Savannah is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.