We recently read Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s interview with Samuel Delany in the new issue of The Paris Review and it got us thinking about all the things we think we know about science fiction writers and how wrong we were. Though we might first think of Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, or Ray Bradbury, it’s good to remember that the field has widened in the past thirty years or so to be more inclusive. Now there are women, people of color, and writers of all different kinds of sexualities getting involved in the genre. Before, people would point to Ursula K. Le Guin as the token women of the boys’ club, but now you have so many other options. So enjoy, readers, and maybe you can discover a few writers to geek out to before the new sci-fi blockbuster makes it to the theater.
Samuel R. Delany
Queer, black, and challenging — Delany’s brain is massive, and he is constantly investigating the world through a critical lens. His grandmother, Sarah Louise “Sadie” Delany, was a civil rights pioneer, and co-wrote the bestselling memoir, Having Our Say, with her sister Bessie. Samuel has also received his share of accolades: in 2002, Samuel was inducted into the sci-fi hall of fame. His latest book, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders , will be out this October.
Lois McMaster Bujold
Bujold is one of the best known female sci-fi writers out there today, which makes sense, since she is a four-time Hugo Award winner–sci-fi’s most prestigious award. (Take that, Robert Heinlein!) She’s the daughter of a Robert Charles McMaster, an engineer and pioneer of nondestructive testing (which sounds like a good thing, right?); his influence is featured in her late ’80s novel, Falling Free .
Butler was incredibly tall at a young age — 6 feet by the age of 15 — which would have made her a commanding presence in any room if she wasn’t so shy. A few years prior, she discovered sci-fi, and decided to pursue a career after that. By 1995, she was the first sci-fi writer to receive a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. She passed away in 2006 leaving a trail of speculative fiction books in her wake.
Alice Sheldon aka James Tiptree, Jr.
For ten years, James Tiptree, Jr., a charismatic Midwesterner, wrote about free will and biological determinism and corresponded to fans via post until it was revealed in 1977 that he was actually the pen name of Alice Bradley Sheldon, a former CIA agent. Carmela Ciuraru discusses Sheldon’s sexuality and origins of her pseudonym in her book, Nom de Plume. Since 1991, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award is given to an author who explores and expands our understanding of gender; last year’s award winner was Dubravka Ugrešić
Hopkinson is a Jamaican-born writer and the author of Brown Girl in the Ring, a dystopian novel set in a future Toronto which won Warner Aspect’s First Novel Contest. Her second novel, Midnight Robber, was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, and James Tiptree Jr. awards. For her next novel, which is also set in Toronto, she writes, “As part of my research…I may need to take classes in clown dance, krumping and poppin.” What’s not to love here?
Somtow Sucharitkul aka S.P. Somtow
Sometow is both an avant-garde composer and writer, and he hails from Thailand. He began his horror and sci-fi career in the early ’80s when he experienced a severe case of musical burnout, though he returned to composing music in the ’90s, and continues to this day. He’s probably best known for Vampire Junction, though he’s written over forty novels (many of them sci-fi) as well.
Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin is a prolific and award-winning sci-fi writer who has been on all of the genre’s top lists since the 1960s, although her first story was rejected for publication (she was 11 at the time). You can read Steve Lafreniere’s interview with Le Guin in Vice Magazine here. In it, she comments on the idea of “soft” science fiction: “These guys find stories based on the ‘soft,’ or social, sciences to be a debased and squashy form of the genre. They see it as chick lit for geeks. So, OK. If anybody wants to build a ghetto inside the ghetto and live there, fine with me.”
Chiang was born in New York but traded coasts to work as a computer nerd in Washington State. Junot Diaz gushed about Chiang’s short story collection, Stories of Your Life: and Others , by saying, “I always suggest a person read at least 52 books a year for proper mental functioning but if you only have time for one, be at peace: you found it.” We don’t know about you, but that’s about as much of an endorsement as we’d ever need to read something from a relatively unknown author.
Ghosh is an internationally known author of historical novels, but he’s also written some pretty impressive sci-fi works as well. The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium, and Discovery marks the beginning of his career as a sci-fi writer, and won him the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
Russ was a radical feminist writer who died earlier this year. Her 1960s novels involving a female assassin named Alyx kick-started her sci-fi career, though her best known work is probably The Female Man , which was written a few years after she publicly declared herself a lesbian. (This was the beginning of the 1970s, mind you.) In college, she studied under none other than Vladimir Nabokov. By 1985, she wrote a study about queer “slash” fiction called Pornography By Women for Women, With Love. You can find her slash collection at the Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University, if you ever find yourself in Ohio.