10 Best Sci Fi Books and Graphic Novels To Read For Women’s History Month
Science fiction as a genre across film, television, and literature is historically known for its gender imbalance. Fans of science fiction are often imagined to be young men - typically white - aged 18 to 28. However, this stereotype is rapidly becoming outdated. While historic surveys portray a demographic dominated by young male readers (93.3% male in 1949, average age 29 years) there has been a shift in gender and age ratios more representative of the general population (only 59% male and aged 43.5 years in 2011).
Research shows there are several major cognitive and psychological benefits to reading science fiction, including higher sense of empathy, ability to better understand science principles, and mental resilience. I can personally attest to the last benefit after surviving eleven seasons of the Walking Dead!
We're loving the abundance of sci fi and graphic novels with female authors and feminist values at our fingertips these days. Here are the ten best sci fi books and graphic novels you should definitely check out for Women’s History Month.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelly
You have probably watched one of the scores of Frankenstein movies, spin-offs, and cartoons. However, have you read the book? Fun fact: Shelly started writing Frankenstein at the age of 18 and it was published in London when she was 20. Prior to writing the novel, Shelly traveled through Europe, which included a visit to Gernsheim, Germany, which is 11 miles away from Frankenstein Castle, where two centuries before an alchemist engaged in macabre experiments.
Early reviews of Frankenstein were mixed from an "extraordinary tale, in which the author seems to us to disclose uncommon powers of poetic imagination" by Walter Scott to "a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity" by John Wilson Crocker. Further reviews of Frankenstein would critique Shelly’s gender. Recently, the New York Times Book Review described Frankenstein as, “A timeless, terrifying tale of one man’s obsession to create life—and the monster that became his legacy. If ever a book needed to be placed in context, it’s Frankenstein.”
Of One Blood; orThe Hidden Self by Pauline Hopkins
Less than 100 years after Frankenstein, Pauline Hopkins would publish the first novel written by an African American author to both feature African characters and take place in Africa. A reader described it as, “a ghost story, Frankenstein, and Wakanda” combined. The novel is infused with the hopeful optimism of a post-Civil War America where chattel slavery is officially outlawed while characters still live in the wake of the horrific violence of the antebellum period.
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas (The Wind’s Twelve Quarters) by Ursula Le Gruin
Le Gruin is a legendary and prolific science fiction and fantasy author. Her body of work included 23 novels, 12 short story collections, 11 volumes of poetry, 13 children’s books, and five essay collections. The author earned six Nebula awards, seven Hugo awards, and was named a Damon Knight Grand Master by SFWA (Science Fictions and Fantasy Writers of America) in 2003.
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas was published in 1973 and centers around a summer festival in the utopian city of Omelas, whose prosperity depends on the perpetual misery of a single child. NK Jemisin wroteThe Ones Who Stay and Fight (How Long 'Til Black Future Month) as a response to Le Gruin’s short story. Writer Rhonda Watts notes that Jemisin responds to the powerlessness of Le Gruin’s citizens of Omelas with a powerful call to action, “So don’t walk away. The child needs you, too, don’t you see? You also have to fight for her, now that you know she exists, or walking away is meaningless.”
Parable of the Sower/Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
Many consider Butler the grand dame of Afrofuturism. The Parable series remains her most popular work, and continues to be the center of political and literary conversations nearly three decades after its publication date in 1993.
In Parable of the Sower, we meet Lauren Olamina, a 15-year-old living in southern California in 2024. In an America grappling with years of drought, a drug pandemic, and dangerous housing displacement, Lauren develops the religion of Earthseed to build community. The foundation premise of the religion is the premise that “God is Change,” an idea that continues to be revolutionary in its simplicity and boldness. The book has been adapted into a graphic novel and an opera. In addition, A24 has tapped Garrett Bradley to direct the film adaptation.
Midnight Robberby Nalo Hopkinson
In 2020, Nalo Hopkinson was named the 37th Damon Knight Grand Master by the Science Fictions and Fantasy Writers of America. Hopkinson, a Caribbean-Canadian currently living in California, is the youngest person and first woman of color to earn this distinction.
In an interview with Toronto Public Library, the author described her reaction to earning the honor, “It not only tells me that my peers are seeing what I do, but that SFWA is doing some work of its own to recognize the diversity of voices in science fiction and fantasy. And it tells me there's a long way to go. This award is decades old, yet I'm only the 8th woman author to have ever received it.”
Brown Girl in the Ring is Nalo Hopkinson’s first published book, and was adapted into a movie in 2018. However, Midnight Robber excels in merging Caribbean culture and new visions of the future, space travel, and technology. The novel was nominated for Hugo Award and shortlisted for the Nebula Award, the Tiptree Award, and the Sunburst Award.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
An Unkindness of Ghosts is a rare gem of Afrofuturism - a subgenre of science fiction. It is a dynamic book that represents all the intersectionality that is celebrated, not simply accepted, in speculative fiction by diverse writers. Aster, the main character of An Unkindness of Ghosts is neurodivergent and gender non-confirming, in addition to being Black. While Aster is living in a society working hard to keep them disenfranchised, Aster learns to reclaim their power.
Amal El Mohtar’s response to the book published in NPR was emotional, raw, and poignant, "What Solomon achieves with this debut--the sharpness, the depth, the precision--puts me in mind of a syringe full of stars. I want to say about this book, its only imperfection is that it ended. But that might give the wrong impression: that it is a happy book, a book that makes a body feel good. It is not a happy book. I love it like I love food, I love it for what it did to me, I love it for having made me feel stronger and more sure in a nightmare world, but it is not a happy book. It is an antidote to poison. It is inoculation against pervasive, enduring disease. Like a vaccine, it is briefly painful, leaves a lingering soreness, but armors you from the inside out."
We selected the Kingdom of Souls trilogy — which includes Kingdom of Souls (2019),Reaper of Souls(2021) and Master of Souls (which will be released in 2023) — because it a great example of the West African young fantasy sub-genre that has grown since the success of Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of the Blood and Boneseries. Like its better known peer, Kingdom of Souls have been optioned for movie adaption. The production company that secured the rights is none other than Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society. Fans of Child of the Blood and Bone will enjoy the reference to the Orisha-based system of magic, a young princess battling her nefarious mother, and a core of highly compelling characters.
Other books we would recommend for fans of West African young adult fantasy are the A Song of Wraith and Ruins duology by Roseanne A. Brown, theRaybearerseries by Jordan Ifueko, and The Gilded Oneduology by Namina Forna.
Black Panther: World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay
Any must-read list of science fiction and fantasy must include graphic novels and comic books. We selected Marvel’s Black Panther: World of Wakanda for two reasons: the groundbreaking success of the theatrical release of Black Panther and the numerous firsts associated with the series. In addition, it is an intriguing story that centers around the powerful Dora Milaje.
Roxane Gay (who authored issues 1-5) and Yona Harvey (who collaborated on issue 1) became the first two Black women to author a series for Marvel. With illustrators Alitha Martinez and Afua Richardson as part of the Black Panthers: World of Wakanda creative team, the series was entirely helmed by Black women when it launched in 2017.
Far Sector by NK Jemisin
Fans of DC Comics’s Green Lantern and long-time readers of NK Jemisin's immersive world-building fantasies will love Far Sector, a graphic novel illustrated by the talented Jamal Campbell and featuring a protagonist, Green Lantern Sojourner “Jo” Mullein, that gives Janelle Monae energy.
When we meet, she is tasked with solved the first murder in The City Enduring in over 500 years. She must follow the facts, and navigate a society where few people authentically feel and express their full range of emotions for the protocol of The Emotion Exploit.
Readers have described Jo as the superhero we need right now. They feel that the story is exceptionally creative, and the art is exquisite.
Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys
Surprise! New York Times bestselling author and 15-time Grammy Award-winning artist Alicia Keys wrote a young adult graphic novel! The main character is Lolo Wright, a high school student navigating the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, gang violence and police brutality. In the midst of all this, Lolo learn that she has the power —or rather the super power — not to just survive but to thrive. The graphic novel is co-written by Andrew Weiner and illustrated by Brittney Williams.
Julia fromNerds and Beyondsays “Girl on Fire is an engaging story bursting with heart and emotion. Keys and Weiner boldly tackle difficult subject matter that skillfully balances both reality and fantasy. The beautiful art created by Brittney Williams and the art team bring visuals that will further immerse readers.”
What, in your opinion, are the best sci fi books by women? Which of the books above are you most excited to read? Tweet us @BritandCo and let us know, and don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more book recs!
Isis Asare is a serial cultural entrepreneur with over a decade of finance and business development experience at Fortune 500 companies such as T-Mobile, Microsoft, Shutterfly, and Amazon. She officially launched Sistah Scifi February 2, 2019 with a celebration of Jewelle Gomez's 25th Anniversary edition of The Gilda Stories.
Isis is also an alum of Selfmade! Her bookstore Sistah Scifi is a cauldron of all things afrofuturism; Black mysticism, science fiction noir, and traditional voodoo; casting spells to uplift literature written by Black women.
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