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Okay, we're over 280 comments on the "what do you think is the most important novel of the past 10-and-a-bit years (published since January 1st 2000)?" thread.

A couple of observations have leapt out and bit me on the nose, but I'm not going to state them explicitly yet. However, here's a follow-on question suggested by my #1 observation:

What do you think is the most important novel of the past 10-and-a-bit years (published since January 1st 2000)? All male authors are disqualified. (No men. I'll also accept suggestions for books by transgendered/intersex authors. Moderation note: misogynist trolling and attempts at topic derailing in the comments will be nuked, ruthlessly.)



This is going to be brief, and interesting...


The Margarets by Sheri S. Tepper (2007)


The one that springs to mind is N K Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (2010)


Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010). There are probably more highbrow answers, but it's extremely readable, sincere, did some interesting things with style and structure, and, with an HBO adaptation in the works, will probably leave a lasting impact.


Oh dear. I've just come to a shocked realization that i haven't read any female authors in the last 10 years.


I've just come to a shocked realization that i haven't read any female authors in the last 10 years.

Neither, judging from the feedback in the previous entry, have most of my readers.

Given that around 55% of authors are female, I found the 5-10% in the suggestions dismaying, to say the least.


Charlie, what is the % of females among Science Fiction authors? My guess is a lot less than 55%.


Lauren Beukes / Moxyland - SF from a decidedly non-standard point of view

Some of the books by Elizabeth Bear, for rewriting space opera (Dust etc.) respective whateverpunk (New Amsterdam)

Maybe, even if I'm not a big fan, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. For forming a genre on its own.

I did enjoy the newer books by Ursula K. Le Guin, but I read same rather as "more of the same" than as something new and important.

I'm not sure about the publication dates of the newer C.J. Cherryh books I read.

Other books I found quite important are definitely out of the date range - Marge Piercy's He/She/It comes to mind, as well as Maureen McHughs China Mountain.

But the point is definitely one to think about - almost all of my favorite SF writers are male (O.G.H., MacLeod, Robinson, Gibson, McDonald, Banks) - even if they nowadays feature strong women and child-caring males (Robinson in the science and the capital trilogy).


When you just come out and ask it that way, it's fairly sobering to think about...


C'mon, this isn't so hard. Then again I found it quite hard to make up my mind.

Justina Robson, Natural History


Wow,I just sold 99% of my books so I can't go to the shelf and check.People are mentionong sci/fi type titles,is that what you wanted or is ANY novel written by a female OK? I'll keep thinking on this and ask a mate what he thinks as he reads lots of fantasy and sci fi the way, I am looking forward to the release of your latest 'Laundry' book.Any idea when it is due out in Australia? Ok,out of here.Bye bye...


Oryx and Crake - not sure it would be the most important, but a damn fine book nevertheless.


Yasmina Reza: "Adam Haberberg"


Oh, another book that moved genres: Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, 2004. Not sf, but some quite interesting mixture between the Baroque Cycle and Harry Potter.


Again, my excuse is the slowness of my reading. Over the last ten years I've been reading Tiptree, Russ, Gish Jen, Banana Yoshimoto, Salmonson, Lian Hearn, and I'll fess up to Rowling. Though most of the books were more than ten years old. Lately I've been buying a lot more women authors, E. Bear, J. Vinge, Cherryh, McHugh, and other non-SF writers who tend to be Jewish or Asian-American. Most of which I haven't had a chance to read yet. With the SF writers it's partly playing catch up on writers I've missed, and of course with all of them, the stories sounded interesting--or I wouldn't have bothered.


Okay, most important novel of the past 10-and-a-bit years by a female author for me was "Obsidian Butterfly" (pub 2000) by Laurell K Hamilton - because it was the one which got back to some of the stuff I liked about the Anita Blake series (zombies, characterisation, plot that wasn't just the main character angsting about her love-life for multiple hundred pages) and made me realise I was wasting my time and money paying approximately $20 a pop for these novels when I could generally get better porn and better plot reading fanfic for free.

No, truly. And "Narcissus In Chains" was the one which decided me to stop buying any more of the series for good.


Jonathan Strange, yes. But more so - Ash, Mary Gentle. (Does it hit the cutoff date)?

And I'm halfway through Blackout/All Clear, so I'll reserve judgement, but it's pretty d'd impressive.


There are definitely some female writers who have blown me away, but not within the last ten years for whatever reason. Isek Dinesen comes to mind, as does Gloria Naylor. I've read them both voluntarily, BTW, not as a result of taking classes. Nina Kiriki Hoffman writes prose which is literally so good it hurts. Of course there's Bujold, and I really miss Octavia Butler.

The sole exception to "not in the last ten years" was Elizabeth Bear with the short story called Shoggoths in Bloom, which BTW, is available online. (Everyone should stop whatever they're doing and go read Shoggoths in Bloom immediately. It's just that good.)

I suspect - and I'd have to spend an hour taking notes in a library or bookstore to validate this - that there aren't many female writers doing science fiction these days. (I tend to read SF almost exclusively.) However, I see a lot of female writers doing paranormal romance, which I've learned to avoid like the plague, and doing fantasy, which I avoid unless I trust the author explicitly, as it's way too easy to fall into a smelly piece of EFP and the back of the book will never help you distinguish between EFP and good fantasy.

Yesterday I bought Carrie Vaughn's After the Golden Age, and I have high hopes for that one. It looked like a fun take on superheroes, and the first chapter, which was available online, looked very good.


I was kind of surprised to find I hadn't recommended a female author given about 75% (actually closer to 80 looking at the recent books in the pile for shelving here) of the books I read are by female authors.

Keeping It Real by Justina Robson (well the whole of the Quantum Gravity series really) is definitely right up there. It's a well realised world with lots of apparently conflicting histories and some good ties to various fun ideas.

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey would be my second one. In many ways it doesn't do anything new - rather it takes a series of standard fantasy romance tropes to the extreme and then makes a good story around them. The one thing it does deliver, in wonderfully realised detail, is a country where their religious doctrine is "Love as thou will" and if that's poly, same sex, other sex, kinky or whatever, it's OK by them. Add layers like the nobles trying (at least sometimes) to have more political than loving marriages and there's an interesting world there, as well as a good and novel story.


Now that I think about it... the only book written by a female that I can remember written on the specified timeframe is Flores Azuis ("BLue Flowers"), by brazilian/chilean author Carola Saavedra that i tried to get through last year. Didn't like it at all, you know how some "lit" novels just ooze pretention and try to cover it up by being formally weird? This is the epitome.

However, my literary gateway drug was fanfiction, and about 80% of fanfics are written by females, so I always sorta expected that women would by now be the absolute majority of published author's...

I'll be reading this thread closely; lot's of catching up to do...


I still have not read much outside of genre and am therefore still missing a large part of what is out there and is important.

From the previous thread Lavinia by Ursula LeGuin still stands as important.Other work, with different levels of importance could be:

Ash by Mary Gentle, for combining strong characters engaging alternate history and mixing it with well constructed science fiction.

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, for its depiction of some aspects and forms of autism from the perspective of the autistic protagonist while honestly considering the aspects of curing it (the book was mentioned in the previous thread).

The books by women (published in this period) I have read are largely part of a conscious effort to broaden my reading. The resulting lack of more direct references does make it more difficult to determine the importance of some books.


Oh, and J.K freaking Rowling! How could I forget her? Probably the writer with the most influence on my generation (early-twentys). Goblet of Fire is probably my favorite piece of YA fiction ever.


And yes, at least some of what I was on about in #16 was slightly tongue-in-cheek. However, there's a bigger point hidden in there.

Firstly, as an Australian, I'm paying more for each book I buy than someone who lives in the US or the UK. This has pretty much been the case throughout my lifetime, and yeah, it's something I'm pretty used to. However, over the past decade or so, I had a major shift in my text-addicted lifestyle, and it's come mainly from the internet. All of a sudden, I don't have to pay a regular sum each day or each week to obtain a new source of text to put in front of my eyeballs (such as a daily paper). I don't have to go to a library to borrow textual material I haven't seen (I haven't had a library card since I moved out of my parents house in 1998... and for someone who'd previously had every single library subscription they could get chronically maxxed out, that's saying a lot). Instead, all I need to get my regular fix of new text is access to the internet - and I don't even have to head out of my own house to get it.

These days, I read a lot of fanfic and blogs. A lot of the people I read are female (or at least seem to be female online) - not all of them, but a lot. I suspect a lot of this has to do with the way that there are less obstacles to publication online - all you need is a space to publish (such as a journal or blog), some content to put there, and a way to get your stuff noticed by other interested people. A lot of the authors I've heard about I've heard of through friends of friends, via archives, or through recommendations from other authors I read. So there's also the networking and social interaction side of things working there. The gatekeeping is still there, although it's on a more informal level (my own system works on the principle that if I trust an author to be able to write decent plots, reasonable characters and grammatically reasonable content on a regular basis, I'm more likely to trust their recommendation of another author as able to do same as well).


I've read most all of the authors in your list, but I have the problem that the books that stuck in my head from them are older than 10 years (maybe I am too old for this question and my idea of important is based on ideas I encountered before I was 30).

Raphael Carter had me crying and so hyperfocused on The Fortunate Fall that I couldn't hear my roommate yelling my name at me trying to get my attention. I don't know how to explain why it was important to me. aside from the technology and the world, the love and injustice hurt so much. that book is so old by now. The other day I tried to discover whether Raphael Carter has written anything lately. She blew my mind with her short stories.

Recently I've read N K Jemisin, and Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. and just discovered Nnedi Okorafor. I don't know why Nnedi didn't leap to mind right away. Maybe because I only read her about a month ago. I think her books are going to stick in my head. also NKJ. I can tell because she's one of the authors I've gone back and reread.

Does anyone know if there is a tool that can filter a list of books based on gender? I have content in librarything and amazon has a history of purchases.


Gotta be Connie Willis for the "Doomsday Book".

It's so unremittingly depressing it's absolutely brilliant. I killed myself at least 8 times while reading it though admittedly I got better.

If you don't know the book, the plot involves a historian time-traveling to the "safe" middle ages and accidentally ending up at the start of the black death. There's various sub-plots regarding academic territory fights and so forth which academics will appreciate.


Important Novel. That gets a bit meta for me. Importance is hard to define, and even harder to generalize. Additionally, my reading spectrum is fairly narrow, so there is likely a huge population of books out there that I have missed.

In the sense of general social impact and motivating people to read, its hard to beat Harry Potter. Which has introduced words into the English language, and become part of the pop culture. OTOH, it has relatively little to say -- it is not particularly novel does not really make one think new thoughts, nor does it offer a commentary on the current world.

In the sense of impact with commentary, probably "Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. Also not a brain bender, it offers a fairly barbed and direct commentary on society.

In the sense of game changing or brain bending, I am sure that I am not qualified to make a fair judgement, but relative to me there are a few. "Speed of Dark" by Elizabeth Moon or "Johnathan Strange & Mister Norell" possibly.


I really, really liked Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. It may not be important, and it's certainly well-publicized, but it was well written and I really liked the the viewpoint of the main character.

Not important, but a very good read, Kate Griffin's Matthew Swift series. I liked the first one best, as it was most unexpected, but all three are good.

Heidi liked Marisha Pessl "Special Topics in Calamity Physics". Haven't gotten to it yet.


Romance sf&f really gets hated on and marginalized. geez people. I feel like apologizing for reading the genre for some reason. I like Sharon Shinn.


Depends. My favourite, by a long way, is Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrel, but the most important has definitely got to be whichever of the Potter books came out first, or maybe Amanda Hocking's first one (someone managing to make a living by self-publishing ebooks at $1 might turn out to have a lot of influence...)

The thing I found interesting about the replies to the last post was how many of them assumed you meant specifically SF/F novels...


Oh crap. I forgot to mention Robin Hobb in the other thread. I don't know how she slipped my mind, when in fact, I had listed her in some of these other "past 10 years" posts that have been going around lately.

Likewise P C Hodgell.


Zoo City was a very good book, and I will definitely be looking for more by Lauren Beukes, but I'm not sure it qualifies as "great." However I do think that Beukes is definitely capable of producing a great book.


Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon probably wins for me. But my reading has been pretty sparse in many ways.


Connie Willis an important writer to me, but the way I've defined important to myself, it's here books pre 10 years that are the important ones. I'm pulling No True Scotsman on myself.


Lionel Shriver, who wrote We Need to Talk about Kevin (WNTTAK), is a woman. I read the book because of the name (I don't usually read fiction outside SF) and was please at how good it was.

Haven't read Ursula le Guin or CH Cherryh for awhile but the former writes regular reviewsfor the guardian and is usuallt woth reading there.

In the "1632" series which was mewntioned as an interesting experiment in storytelling and publishing, Virginia deMarce has written or co-written several novels.

I also like Elizabeth Moon, Connie Willis, Tanya Huff. There are plenty of female writers in SF (the ratio M:F isn't 1:1 but I suspect its closer to that than you might guess) but none of the present crop seems to have matched the current generation of male in terms of sales/profile - yet.

Connie Willis is an interesting case - she has won more Hugos & Nebulas than any other author (including all the male "greats"), but I had never heard of her until I casually bought a book of hers a couple of years ago in the US. I'm not particularly keen on her work, but it has a certain style.

WNTTAK is an important book for me personally, the others not so much.


The selection criteria for the thread is important, not great. I am not sure, but Zoo City might end up being important. I don't know if it will be important and great, or just important and high quality.

The characters living or succeeding despite their marginalization and the concrete evidence of their "sins".


I don't like Virginia deMarce much. She tends to introduce too many characters too fast, and then bog them down in policy discussions. I think she has the potential to be a good writer, but she needs some larnin' about the basics.


Again, Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl.


Sadly, most of my reading for a while now has been sf&f.


Yes, I would have an easier time giving a list of great books in this category than important books.


I don't think any new book I've read in the past decade is "most important". I just don't classify things in that manner ("favourite movie?" don't have one; "favourite book?" nope; "most important?" in what aspect...).

I find it a curious phenomena to have people classify things in this way.

I've read some interesting books by female authors, though, so 1-line summaries of them :-) I'll try not to spoiler any of these.

My girlfriend recommended Connie Willis "To Say Nothing Of The Dog" (which is slightly outside of your window - 1998) but I found the Asprin/Evans (I don't know if you count collaborations where a woman shares authorship with a man) "Timescout" books better done. I was underwhelmed by Willis; maybe because there was too much "comedy of manners" type stuff going on in Oxford.

I really enjoyed Nancy Kress's "Probability moon/sun/space" trilogy. Indeed Nancy Kress is now mid-rank on my "must read" list.

Weber/Evans (huh, Linda Evans again) Hell's Gate had the makings of a good epic series, with a number of interesting character viewpoints.

I'm not sure why, but Esther Friesner now seems to spend more time editing short story collections ("chicks", "strip mauled" etc) than writing novels, which is a shame 'cos I found her earlier work to be good competent humour-fantasy; stuff I really enjoy (not "important", but fun). I'm getting tired of short-story collections.

Similarly, I think it's a shame that Jody Lynn Nye appears to be focusing on continuing Asprin's "Myth" series; she was on my must-read list in the 90s.

But, anyone, none of these would even be close to "most important novel of y2k+". Nothing I've read would have been!


Yes, I would have picked Doomsday Book, but it's older than 10 years.


Charlie, what is the % of females among Science Fiction authors? My guess is a lot less than 55%.

Funny you should ask this ...

Among SF and Fantasy authors, the percentage of females is 55%.

Among SF authors, it's around 45%, if I remember the survey correctly.

Among hard SF authors, it's lower ... but, per discussions in a forum for working SF/F novelists, a lot more women want to write hard SF: it's just that their publishers steer them away from it "because hard SF readers won't read books by women". Although around 40-45% of hard SF readers are women ...


Thanks for the Shoggoths in Bloom reference - I'd not read that before, and it was great.


So it looks like my suggestion of blog-based novel "I Work on a Starship" survives.



Blackout/All Clear is carpet-chewingly dreadful.

On the other hand, I'm British; we don't read that book the same way as Americans do.

(TL;DR version is that Connie tried to get cute with the most important period of British history in the past couple of centuries -- about as important as the US Civil War, in terms of nation-building mythology, but with survivors still among us: my parents' generation fought in it -- and got it badly wrong.)


My poor brain immediately started singing "Working on a Starship" to the tune of "Working in a Coal Mine."


Well, I haven't answer at the previous post because I find the question ambiguous. "Important" for what or who ?

If it is from an economical perspective or from bringing new readers to book so I would probably said that J. K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer have written the most important novels of the past 10 years.

If it is from literary perspective, well I certainly don't think myself qualified enough to tell taht.

From a personal perspective "The Dew Breaker" by Edwige Danticat (in non SFFF) and "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" by Susanna Clarke are the two novels who strike me as more important.

Now I haven't follow the comments of the initial question (too much comments), but if from an economical perspective my answer would have been the same, from a personal perspective I would have answered male authors (China Miéville's "Perdido Street Station" and "The City & the City", and "The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz). No sexism in this I believe, I don't look for gender when I choose books.


Pat Hodgell's series has been going since, IIRC, 1980, although she's sped up a lot since she retired from the day job about five years ago (from a book a decade to a book every 1-2 years).


Oh and I forgot : Léa Silhol (a French writter) "Contes de la tisseuse" and "Musique de frontière"


I'm being deliberately ambiguous, in the hope that people will explain why they think a given book is important, including their definition of "important".

Alas, too many drive-bys!


I really don't think in terms of "the most important X," just because I have a hard time judging that. Ask me in 30 years what the most important recent books are. :)

But, one book that still sticks in my mind strongly is In the Company of Others, by Julie Czerneda, 2001. It won various awards, so I'm not the only one who found it memorable.

I'll back up the people mentioning Moon's The Speed of Dark.


Normally I'd whine about moving the goal posts, but I think this exercise is a good one. OK, I've read a lot of Elizabeth Bear, and while I've enjoyed her works and having my mind bent, I never thought of them as important. So, which ones qualify? Carnival comes to mind with a neat setting and having the guts to have two gay protagonists. Dust does as well (though I found myself disappointed in the sequels).

Who else? Karen Traviss City of Pearl and early sequels qualifies. It's got some uniquely alien civilizations, an ecology that's fragile and a non-FTL set up. Again, I liked the first three books, but the last two felt like work to get through.

P.C. Hodgell's Seeker's Mask was a lot of fun and a nice continuation of the Kencyrath series after almost two decades of silence. And yes, Charlie, I know you're likely to have read it. What makes it important? High action married to a sense of whimsy. Globally important events driven (and marred) by all too human natures.

Now, my problem is that I've been 'discovering' (yeah, I know I'll find fire and the wheel next) authors that are new to me who's works I'm reading (note: not all their works) were published outside the period Charlie specifies. Joan Vinge. Tanith Lee.

Then there are works that I wish were in the time period - Bujold's Memory and a A Civil Campaign spring to mind.

Finally, I'm open to suggestions on recent female authors who've done good SF and fantasy, with an emphasis on science fiction please.


Sorry, Charlie, it's all too easy to think of the UK as mythological ("There is no Easter Bunny. There is no Tooth Fairy. There is no Queen of England. This is the real world, and you need to wake up!"). I find Willis's writing really variable - she's written stuff that just doesn't speak to me, she's written the Doomsday Book that ripped my heart out, and she's written To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is among my top 10 and pages falling out from rereading. Both of those are older than 2000, I suppose, as is Bujold's A Civil Campaign.

Another drive-by, I guess, except that "important", to me, is anything that shows me something of the world, including its odd H. sapiens inhabitants, that I hadn't previously considered. Emotional writing - love, really - tends to stick in my mind as important; gets me through the down bits. Undoubtedly why I tend to prefer light comedy with strong characterization... But specific titles? Recently?


I read Blackout while reading Andrew Roberts "The Storm of War", and not long after reading the BBC compilation "War Report". So, yes, it's an American trying to re-create that period from outside, but it did give me a weird deep sense of immersion in it. And doing alternate-history on WWII always entertains - I read "By Tank into Normandy" as a 'A Year in Provence' pre-parody anyway.


The drive-by accusation is fair enough.

I'd have trouble explaining why Ash without spoilers, except to note that the layers of story and the cross-time complications caused me to take my archaeologist brother to the book and make him drink.


Well, in terms of marketing changes, the women are definitely leading:

JK Rowling (put the young adult shelves in the big box booksellers), Laurell Hamilton and Charlaine Harris (made a bloody mess of the fantasy aisle, and/or made the bookstore safe for paranormal romance, depending on how you feel about vampires), and Amanda Hocking (scored big on direct publishing, possibly showing the way for other authors).

Thing is, while I loved Harry Potter, I'm not a fan of any of the others. This isn't so much about books as about series, and more importantly about creating new markets for everyone else. In a real way, this is more important than having a Monumental Book.


I certainly have enjoyed Cherie Priest's Boneshaker and other novels in her Clockwork Century series. It's interesting for steampunk in that it's set in the historic US wild west rather than Victorian Europe. And it has plenty of zombies too.

Though not authors, some of my favorite SFF editors are certainly female; notably Ellen Datlow and Ann Vandermeer.


OK, I'll try to define "important."

First of all, the book has to be well-written in all the major areas; plot, characterization, pacing, and description. The prose must be written at a high level. These factors alone do not qualify a book as important, but I can't think of a book I'd consider important where these fundamentals aren't properly covered.

Second, I want to see the world in a new way after reading the important book. Neuromancer is a good example. Looking backward, Neuromancer doesn't seem all that special. The VR approach it takes to viewing information on the Internet hasn't taken off for both technical reasons and reasons having to do with how humans absorb information... but when the book came out it was a gigantic game changer. Suddenly it was possible to imagine a world where we could not just talk to each other, but immerse each other in information. Coincidentally, I first read Neuromancer just as I was beginning to use a computer.

Third, for a book to be important it must have impact. Neuromancer didn't merely suggest that we could successfully swim in an ocean of information, it used that idea to make me go "Wow." It filled me with that idea. It overwhelmed me with that idea. Reading Neuromancer was like being hit by a truck and my perceptions of the world were permanently changed.

Another good example of this is Bailey's Cafe by Gloria Naylor. Once you've read a certain line, ("...that's only the beginning...") about 2/3 of the way through the book, you can never go back.

Fourth, an important book needs to inspire. It needs to take me out of my job and my kids and tell me that I'm more than some slob who works too hard and worries about my taxes. I don't necessarily mean "inspire" in a happy, positive way. Octavia Butler's "Parable" books didn't make me feel good. But they did make me feel I should do something...

Fifth, an important book needs to tell me something about who I am. For me the important book that way was Komarr by Bujold. I had to ask myself if I was like the female lead's husband. It caused a good bit of soul searching...

I think that covers the important stuff about importance.


And I go and forget another favorite: Pat Cadigan. But haven't seen anything recent by her.


Another vote for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. As for why it's important? I would say it's the characters. I kept thinking "I've heard of this guy" but when I went to look it up, they never existed. It's also simply a good story.

Monkey Trap, by Lee Dennings is co-written by a woman (psuedonym for 2 authors). It's not especially important, but when I was done, I said, "That was a good book, I want to read the next one." It explores many of the same questions as Darwin's Radio, but it's much more accessible to readers new to sci-fi from action books, or fantasy. So that's important, introducing new readers to the ideas of Sci-Fi.

There was one more, who writes biology based Sci-Fi. The interaction between different races and the difficulty that different evolutionary backgrounds might cause. But for the life of me, I cannot remember her name or that of her books, so she must not have been that important.


I haven't read Blackout/All Clear. I liked Firewatch, it didn't raise any moments where stuff didn't fit. But it was iirc quite short.

Passage is very interesting , it's been a while since I read and it was enjoyable as a whole - but there where moments when reading it I feared where it might end up. Interestingly and all credit to Connie , it never went to those places - which would have been an easy cop out for the story .

Is it important though ? Possibly - I think it is one of the most personally, meaning it engaging on a personal not a technology level, engaging stories about scientific research albeit social science that I've read.

Again IIRC, most of the conflict comes from the nature of the research and not outside events which is more common in research stories.

I would also like to give a mention the Bujold's Challion series which have a very interesting and well thought thorough (read: consistent) religion/Mythology.

I'm not sure any of these are what I normally think people mean when they talk about 'important works' - which is that they create or redefine their own sub-genre. But they are to me definite markers in the landscape.

(Ooh, and part of me thinks you are secretly trolling for definitions of 'important works').


Can only second (or third or whatever) Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and Special Topics in Calamity Physics - both (in my opinion) standing out in the last decade; also very much liked Justina Robson's Living Next Door to the God of Love and the Quantum Gravity series on the SF side.
Important? Well, like others - ask me in 20 years...


It seems that many people are reading "important" to mean important in a literary sense (breaking new ground in the genre, doing something stylistically daring, etc.).

That is not what I'm calling important. I'm hearing the question as asking "important to your view of the world, or even your life." Not that literary style can't do or be that—at its best, that's what art does. But because SF can also be used (ala Future Shock) to predict and prepare for the future (while remaining fun and fictional) it has a second, more potent value of "important."

Vinge, Gibson, Sterling, (and though disqualified, you, Charlie) are excellent for delivering up novels that are important in this sense.

I literally have seen no female science fiction authors who do that in the last ten years. There are slews of non-fiction female writers who fit the bill, but I haven't read any female sf authors who I would classify as important (value=2) this decade. Lauren Beukes is a good author, and her books are entertaining, but I don't get a vision of the future out of them. More like an 80s cyberpunk vision. Which is of course now passe.

I'm chalking this up to my own ignorance. I'll be very interested to see if any of the women authors listed in this forum turn out to be important in the second sense.


Gwyneth Jones' series which starts with Bold As Love made a big impression for me. I'm also enjoying Steph Swainstons series which starts with The Year of Our War.


Wow, I laughed out loud at your description of Blackout/All Clear. I loved them. To pieces. I didn't want them to ever end. My father loved them too. And yet I can certainly see how you would react the way you did.

I think Connie Willis is exceptional; I've been reading her since the very early days. I enjoyed Lincoln Dreams; The Doomsday Book blew me away. She has some weird mannerisms in her writing; people tend to do weirdly and obviously stupid things, and she signals that to the reader in a way that some might find offputting, but on the other hand, people do do weird and stupid things. It's not entirely lacking in verisimilitude.

I would second the vote for Dust, and also recommend Hammered. I managed to choke down New Amsterdam, but haven't gotten through the sequel. Linda Nagata's Memory was fantastic, and if you're willing to go a little farther back, Tech Heaven was very good, although she sees politics through a very weird glass, darkly. All of her books are out as electronic editions now, and I've been working my way through them and enjoying them a lot.

I'm sorry we can't mention Andre Norton, because I still remember visuals from The Last Planet decades later.

I think Mira Grant, a.k.a. Seanan McGuire, is an amazing new talent, and if you haven't read her Newsflesh books, you are in for a real treat. Really fantastic writing.

Emma Bull is an obvious person to mention, although again some of my favorites of hers are more than a decade old. But her most recent novel, Territory, is a really enjoyable twist on urban fantasy, and she and some of her friends have been experimenting with a new genre in the Shadow Unit series, which is packaged as a TV show without any actual media other than writing. My favorite of her books, by far, is Finder, and Bone Dance comes in a close second.

C.E. Murphy, Kelley Armstrong, Carrie Vaughn and Diana Rowling all write very enjoyable urban fantasy; I'm particularly fond of Kelley Armstrong's work, although she's been getting side-tracked into YA recently. I'm sure I'm failing to mention other writers in this genre that I like, but these four are definitely standouts in my mind.

Obviously Cheri Priest is a candidate, although I think her zombie books in Chattanooga are better than her zombie books in Seattle—I enjoy steampunk, but good old Southern-fried spooky is somehow more believable, if such a thing is possible.

I'm a bit surprised to hear that so many of your readers haven't read more female authors. I don't mean to dis male authors, but I am pretty sure I read more women than men, and it would be an absolute disaster in my mind if all the women whose books I read stopped writing.


Alright, I'll expand a bit. If one took 'important' to mean 'influential' then I suppose one would have to pick the Twilight books. But I couldn't bring myself to do that.

I picked Robson's book because it seemed to me to be a novel spin on hard SF, but it's hard to put the finger on why exactly. In particular, you have a high technology which is believably and complicatedly emotionally affecting to the characters. It's not just "tech" which you can "use", a neat take on quantum mechanics' involvement of the observer. More importantly, this is less described from the outside (as is typical in hard SF) but from the inside, and without the typical SF flaw of writing from a stance of ultimately explaining everything. This distancing is not allowed. File under "should be important and I hope people noticed."


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susana Clarke (2004)

It is as good as books get, and yet it also delivers all the promised genre goods and then some. That is not only the white whale of fantasy and SF, but it also seems to be where literature in general is headed.


It also gets footnotes right.

Last author to do that was Jack Vance.


I'm not sure what makes a novel "important", but I enjoyed Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" so much I read it twice. I liked Lauren Beukes' "Moxyland" more than "Zoo City", though I can see that Zoo City was more fully realized.


A poor showing by the regulars here, to the point where I feel obliged to delurk. Vagueness and errors due to books being boxed and me being lazy.

Chris Moriarty's "Spin *" books. I am intensely jealous of you lot, who have yet to read them for the first time. The first is great, I'd argue innovatively cross genre (but to explain would spoil it), the second is just brilliant (in fact I think I might just read it again). The third is right up there on my automatic-buy-even-in-silly-format as soon as I can get my hands on it list (and that's a very short list).

Justina Robson's "Natural History", mentioned above, is very good, but "Living Next Door to the God of Love" which deals with the consequences is just fabulous. I impulse bought "Silver Screen" because of the cool cover, and have bought everything by her since. I get the impression that her recent series was an attempt to be more commercial, and although it was definitely superior formula it was still formula. Now it's finished I hope she'll write something more ambitious again, but she's definitely on my always buy list. I think my only criticism is that she has a tendency to weak endings (or maybe bad deadline discipline).

I'm trying to remember if the late Octavia Butler's final book qualifies as recent enough; it was a serious attempt at reimagining the vampire novel in a semi-believeable way in wake of populist fever on the subject. It was good, but I don't know if it was important, however, I can report that she broached the idea that intelligence+hierarchical behaviour is not a survival trait (for humans) in three of her earlier books, so it's not a new idea in "Blindsight" as implied in the previous thread. She was, I understand, a very influential writer in the larger literary sense too, especially in the US. Her prose is certainly pellucid.

And yes C.J. Cherryh, I'm gonna have to buy the fourth "Foreigner" trilogy when the last one reaches paperback. It's not earthshaking, but is reliably enjoyable space opera, which is important when you need to just turn off and have a holiday from the world with some familiar characters. More generally, Cherryh has a massive track record as the best alien imaginer in the business, which has to count for something. Her political milieu have always seemed more believable than most people's, which may also have been influential long-term.

If you are allergic to FTL/AI, you may wish to avoid most of these, but Moriarty and Robson both invoke somewhat plausible physics (to the point where I wouldn't like to have to disprove either, and these are subjects I did at Uni). Moriarty in particular pays serious attention to all the scientific underpinnings; Robson's more serious stuff tends to concentrate more on hitting the "soft" science ones. Allow yourself some benefit of the doubt suspension of disbelief: or miss out on two of the coolest, best written future visions so far this centuary.

Finally, "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" by Susana Clarke strikes me as a consequence of Pottermania influencing mainstream literature. I'm not a big fantasy novel reader any more, and this is not in that "genre" as I understand it. If I had to describe it, I'd say it is a great slab of period whimsy.


Not a novel, but a book that prepared me for the Bush future, and that I re-read regularly: Bethany McLean's The Smartest Guys in the Room.


Well, I didn't comment on the previous post, because I hadn't worked out for myself what most important book meant (not a criticism of Charlie's question - importance is in the eye of the beholder). I still haven't, so I'll go for books I've been impressed by & enjoyed. Also, I've not read any Beukes yet, although I do intend to.

The two standouts for me were Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall. Both in their way very English, both, the Hall book in particular, rooted in the English landscape.


I want to say Mary Doria Russell's the Sparrow as that book changed the way I read stories & kicked me in the gut. But that's outside your 10 year rule.

So instead: Elizabeth Bear. All of her books, but her Grail series in particular takes tropes, sets them on their end, and changes the way I see the world. That is what defines "important" to me.

Also, for those that are saying they don't know women sci fi writers, I wonder how much you are unconsciously limiting your selection based on cover. I've noticed a definite difference in cover art for women written scifi, particularly the older books.


I'm surprised no one has mentioned Maul by Tricia Sullivan. It's got the usual hard sf tropes if that's your thing. It's also got a protagonist who's an intelligent (relatively) non-neurotic teenage girl.

Yeah, it's been done before you say, at least as far back as Heinlein. Except that it hasn't. How many legs does a dog have if you call a tail a leg? Four - calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg is the usual reply. And so it goes with those early attempts; trust me, Heinlein didn't know squat about teenage girls and it shows. Painfully.

Maul, otoh, is at the least written by someone who used to be a teenager herself. The voice of most the characters is also - a rarity! - dead on. I think that as time reels by in the 21st, you'll see more and more of this type of thing, where the supposed "posthuman" is just a little bit more than a white male with prosthetic head bumps and a good memory.


A big thumbs down for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Maybe it's because I know something of the English magickal tradition and this just pissed all over it.


I know it's a horrible admission, but I think the only female SF novelists I've read in the last decade and have written within that time period are:

Connie Willis, Kathryn Rusch and Nancy Kress.

I wouldn't call any of their works important as defined in a variety of ways.

I'm sure I've read more authors via short story anthologies, but that hasn't motivated me to buy any novels - so far.

Le Guin I've not read since the 1970's.

For me, James Tiptree Jr. was the standout important author of the 1960's and more's the shame that her career was ended so quickly. She's almost like the Roy Batty (candle burning brightly..) of that generation of authors, both male and female.

I've just scanned the last 5 of Dozois' "The Year's Best Science Fiction" on Wikipedia. The content contributed by women is far below 45%. (I calculate 20% at best, although the last 2 years are closer to 30%) So either the stories do not match up to the male author equivalent, or Dozois is biased, or the content is selected to match audience expectations [bias].

So if 1 in 5 Dozois-selected authors is a woman, reading 3 in the last 10 years means that I should be reading 12 male authors in that time, which is low, but probably not far off what I actually read given my predilection for relatively few SF authors.


You missed things like one protagonist trying to figure out what date they'd arrived in 1940 by checking the postmark on a locally mailed letter ... posted with a five cent stamp? Or the other protag getting around London in 1940 on the Jubilee line? Or how nobody in Oxford in 2061 has heard of (a) mobile phones or (b) laptops? (Here's a hint; circa 2006, there were 70 million active mobile phone accounts in the UK ... and only 60 million human beings to own them.)


Re: Heinlein on teenage girls. I tend to agree with you, with the exception of Podkayne of Mars, where I think the protagonist represents the superego, and doesn't act like a teenage girl because she really isn't one.


Yes, I admit I missed them completely. Which, in hindsight, is a complete surprise, but says something about the level of immersion I had in the story.

And the editing, obviously.


Not a novel, but Anne Carson's Nox is one of the most powerful pieces of writing I have read in the last ten years.

Isabel Allende for pure fiction


Didn't realize Chris Moriarty is a woman. She's exceptional. Spin State was very good, if a bit difficult; Spin Control was fantastic, and much easier to wrap my brain around. I'm looking forward to the next in the series.

As for the Jubilee line bit, that is pretty surprising. As a non-native, my awareness of the dates when various lines went in is not sufficient to allow me to notice mistakes like this, which probably helped me to properly enjoy the book. Despite this, my mental picture of what happened in these two books was quite clear. I don't think a mistake like this is really all that important to the book, unless you're unlucky enough to trip over it. The bit in Bletchley Park was a lot of fun for me, having visited fairly recently.

It's easy to believe that by 2061, we will be over the interrupt-me-when-you-like model of interaction that plagues our present culture. Perhaps the next generation will revive the old tradition of leaving calling cards.


It's easy to believe that by 2061, we will be over the interrupt-me-when-you-like model of interaction that plagues our present culture. Perhaps the next generation will revive the old tradition of leaving calling cards.

Damn straight!


'pologies for the drive by, Cadigan just popped into my head. At least I haven't mentioned the other authors I keep remembering.

Defining 'Important', can't really do it. I keep going between Important in the literary sense and the personal sense. One thing that I don't think makes something important is sales. Bestsellers come and are forgotten, so that by itself doesn't make a book important. Combine sales with having lots of people talking about it and you get closer. I suppose.

I like what someone said earlier about the Potter books adding words to the language, I know people who now refer to people as Muggles rather than Goyim. But that sort of thing can also fade. I think we'll know in 15-20 years when the kids who waited in line for the books start reading them to their kids, if theirs love then I'd say they qualify.

I also disagree with the person who said the Potter books aren't relevant. The last couple books did a decent job in bringing a post 9/11, 'War on Terror' feel to the series, with the Magic World's government getting conservative, verging on fascistic. At least as an introduction of those topics for young readers they did well.

Nuts, now I've forgotten what else I was going to say. Couldn't have been important.


Charlie Said:

I'm being deliberately ambiguous, in the hope that people will explain why they think a given book is important, including their definition of "important".

Probably guilty.

I think the Connie Willis's Doomsday Book is important because in my experience sometimes, rarely, you end up under circumstances or in situations where you can do absolutely nothing to reduce or end the unremitting suffering and pain you pecieve no matter what you try or do.

As pretentious as it sounds I think it's useful to have this pointed out in theoretical sense.


Alex: I've just scanned the last 5 of Dozois' "The Year's Best Science Fiction" on Wikipedia. The content contributed by women is far below 45%.

There has been some discussion of the representation (or lack of it) of women in SF anthologies in recent years. A number of male editors are systematically -- almost certainly unconsciously -- under-representing women in the material they buy. Gardner Dozois is, unfortunately, one of them.


Didn't mean to imply she wasa great writer, though agree she has potential. But she is definitely a woman publishing novels in SF. None of her novels (so far) are what I would define as important in or of themselves, only in the context of the ongoing experiment that is 1632.


Important to me personally, or to the wider world?

Greer Gilman's Cloud and Ashes ... did things with language and myth that I didn't know you could do. (From her Tiptree acceptance speech: "I just did everything James Joyce did, only backwards and in high heels.") It changed how I look at writing and words. It's also unbelievably dense and difficult, and o so very rewarding. (Adam Roberts's not wholly positive review is instructive.)

But honestly, few people other than the Tiptree committee even noticed its existence. For 'important to the wider world' you'd have to go with either Oryx & Crake or Strange & Norrell, for reasons given adequately above.


The Bletchley Park thing was, for me, the single worst thing in a book full of bad things, since it required us to believe that a historian, at Oxford University, whose specialist period is World War II, would be unfamiliar with the name "Bletchley Park".

As for "I don't think a mistake like this is really all that important to the book, unless you're unlucky enough to trip over it."

It is if there's one on every single page of the book. She makes errors of history, errors of British English language usage, errors of geography,doesn't understand the class system... she has a plot point turn on there being a book called Murder On The Calais Train without realising that in the UK that book's called Murder On The Orient Express, she thinks Manchester's in the Midlands, she thinks we have skunk cabbage and garter snakes...

The whole thing reads, frankly, like a calculated insult to the British, and that's even before we get to the idiot plotting and lack of characterisation...


Those were minor details I picked up on. Believe me, the academic historians and Oxford graduates are foaming at the mouth. (Oh yes: history students on field trips who lack the equivalent of age-14 school history syllabus knowledge about where and when they're going ...)


One of my favorite books barely edges into the time period:

Bujold's The Curse of Chalion

I listed a different book as most important for the decade because I thought it played well off the trauma of 9/11, but my personal favorite, I'll go back and keep re-reading it book is Curse. It's a fantasy, not SF, and very genre, and I don't think it exactly shook the world, but it did a couple of things extremely well. It was not yet another coming-of-age story. It handled the notion of gods in the world better than any other novel I can think of, save perhaps The 100 Thousand Kingdoms. And it portrayed the cost of leadership in a way that felt both accurate and very, very human.


Mr Stross do you have any idea what the gender breakdown of your readers is? I ask as it may hint as to why we were biased in favour of male authors.

For a book to be important it must either offer insightful comments on a matter of societal importance or influence mass discussion in some way. Unfortunately, Sci-Fi is never going to do that. Sci-Fi might offer interesting philosophical viewpoints or predict interesting social change, it might be the vanguard for discussion, but its not going to be the vehicle which leads to debate.

My vote for this one would be My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Piccoult. The books is basically a soccer mums guide to bioethics. Its far from a brain stretch, its basically , but i know that it lead to some pretty intense debate, even if it was as simple as "I could never do that". It forced people to think about a complicated ethical topic even if it was in a very soapy way.

In a commercial sense the book has also shaped the publishing industry, as the definitive chick lit/bookclub book.


Maul didn't speak to me. Moriarty on the other hand, is potentially great.


For a book to be important it must either offer insightful comments on a matter of societal importance or influence mass discussion in some way. Unfortunately, Sci-Fi is never going to do that.

I have Margaret Atwood on line one, and she doesn't sound happy.


I don't like to pick on other writers because I know what it's like to be on the receiving end, and because folks reading my comments may attach undue weight to them. Also, I like about half of Connie's books -- a lot. Most of the others are okay. It's just that Blackout/All Clear ...

It's not just the mistakes, although The cover of BLACKOUT is full of fail. (Look at the bombers in the top left corner. They have four engine nacelles, don't they? They are, in fact, not Heinkel-111s, such as might have been seen over the skies of London in 1940; they are Boeing B-29 Superfortresses, which first flew in 1942 and certainly didn't bomb London.) Covers are NOT the author's responsibility, but it suggests a lack of attention to historic detail at the publisher which may point to Connie's editors being asleep at the switch ...

How to explain a British reading of Blackout/All Clear to an American?

Here's an analogy:

Imagine that a highly respected British SF author -- someone of the stature of Mary Gentle or Iain Banks -- decided to write a time travel novel set during the US Civil War. It's a major project, takes them eight years, and gets bestseller promotion in the USA.

How plausible is it that the young American time travellers going back to, say, Gettysburg, would expect to run into General Sherman commanding the US Army there? (Note that they are studying US history at university level, not random idiots.) How plausible would it be for them to see all the slaves being manumitted on the spot everywhere in Union territory on July 3rd, 1863, right after a certain speech, and that all the white folks in the Union side would unanimously applaud this? How likely is it that our intrepid time travellers might have adventures in Baltimore under Confederate occupation in the wake of Gettysburg?

Now imagine that this pile of mistakes flying in loose formation has won the Clarke Award, the BSFA Award, and the Booker Prize. You might feel a little insulted, too -- especially after the author discusses at length the enormous and detailed research that went into the book!


do you have any idea what the gender breakdown of your readers is?

I only know what the gender breakdown of the commenters is: if about 45% of them went for gender reassignment surgery, we could reasonably call it balanced.


Right. The thing about Domesday Book though is, if you can get past the first 150 pages it is a rollicking good read. But most people in the UK will lose it sometime before that when a protagonist takes a tube to Oxford, or for some other reason. But the secind half is fantastic storytelling.

And she's from Denver. Denver is . . . about as differnt from Oxford as you can imagine.


Hope I didn't seem too harsh in my comment (and feel free to delete it if I did). I've not read anything Ms Willis wrote other than Blackout and the first third of All Clear, and so can't judge her other work. But your analogy is pretty close, yeah...


Or meaning to say Hendon when what was actually said was Duxford? Or writing Manfred instead of Roger [Jorgenson][1]?

It's not just the mistakes, although The cover of BLACKOUT is full of fail. (Look at the bombers in the top left corner. They have four engine nacelles, don't they? They are, in fact, not Heinkel-111s

Well, you know what they say: when the Germans shoot the British duck, when the British shoot the Germans duck, and when the Americans shoot everyone ducks...

Now imagine that this pile of mistakes flying in loose formation has won the Clarke Award, the BSFA Award, and the Booker Prize.

We are clearly not living in the datum universe.

/[1]. Brilliant story anyway!


OK. Important.

Important books are QUIT rare. They cause major shifts in literary style. (This doesn't include Harry Potter. There are other reasons why it might be considered important, even though I gave up on the series rather quickly. I wasn't the target audience.)

My list of "important books" would be something like: "The Selfish Gene", "Stranger in a Strange Land", "Lord of the Rings", "Future Shock", perhaps "True Names". None of those are since 2000. As it happens, none are by women, either, though IIRC "Future Shock" was both Tofflers. Possibly "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" or "Consciousness Explained". These are books that work their way into your mind and change things. (If, of course, you are accessible.) That none of them are since 2000 isn't surprising. That none are by a woman is, though I don't know whether that's a comment on women or on me. FWIW, "Singularity Sky" wouldn't have made the cut, since that would count as a development from "True Names". "Lobsters" was more important, but still wouldn't have made the cut, even though I must have read it five or more times. (Important isn't "I really like this", or "This speaks to me!", though obviously a book that nobody reads can't be important.)

N.B.: I didn't list "The C Programming Language", or even "The Art of Computer Programming". They were/are important within their field, but this isn't the same as general importance.

But even if I add them I don't get any important books by women. Besides, the original comment was for important novels, which would not only exclude the technical and philosophical works, but even "True Names".

So my feeling is that anything important published since 2000 must be a sleeper. Whether or not published by a woman. But that I haven't though of ANYTHING in ANY TIME FRAME published by a woman (as a sole author) that was important. I don't know whether this is a comment on me, on the publishing industry, or on women. (I suspect that it's on me, and what I consider to be important, but this is just a [highly probable] guess.) It's also true, however, that women are generally more risk averse than men, and important books are EXTREMELY rare, so it might not be a comment on me, but something to be expected..


(re the ratio of male/female authors in response to your initial post: There's some self-selection going on here -- we're all here because of a certain male author. Have some female author ask the same question on HER blog.)


Is this a particular problem in Britain? Female SF writers in the US seem to do pretty well in the awards at least, and I can think of quite a few with a fairly high profile, but it's more difficult to think of a British Connie Willis (bad research notwithstanding).

The UK SF scene is a fairly small pond with only a handful of big fish in it: Banks, Reynolds, Hamilton, Asher, MacLeod, McAuley......and Stross. One thing these have in common is that they're all reliably prolific, you can expect on a book a year from most of them. Some of the best female SF writers seem to be less so. Pat Cadigan, who I absolutely love, hasn't put out a book since 2001 for instance (is she ill?) Where's the follow up to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell for that matter?


"Where's the follow up to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell for that matter?"

Susanna Clarke did a book of short stories in about 2007, The Ladies Of Grace Adieu. Nothing since though.


The Sharing Knife series by Lois Bujold. While they have plenty of flaws, they are to me a hugely ambitious literary experiment. That it fails in a several of those is less important to me than that it really tried to stretch what fantasy is and can be.


You know, that's how it feels to read any book that's set in the parts where I live; the most recent (well publicized) examples that come to mind are The Historian and The Tiger's Wife -- both laughably wrong on so many counts and both, interestingly, written by persons who are supposed to know what they're talking about, only they very obviously don't.

But if you want an important book from the last decade that was written by a woman, I'd suggest anything by Ekaterina Sedia, particularly The Secret History of Moscow and The Alchemy of Stone, which may just be the greatest overlooked steampunk novel of them all.


"For a book to be important it must either offer insightful comments on a matter of societal importance or influence mass discussion in some way. Unfortunately, Sci-Fi is never going to do that. "

I think SF books did do that on a large scale, at least in terms of inspiring a generation or two of scientists and engineers. It's when SF became "respectable" that its influence diminished.


Before anybody says anything, I wasn't implying that female authors don't work as hard, clearly many of them can churn them out with the best of 'em. It just seems like they have more trouble in maintaining a consistent career, for whatever reason, than some of their male counterparts (I was reading the problems the brilliant Linda Nagata has had staying in the writing business on her blog).


In that case, you owe it to yourself to find a copy of Jerome K. Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat", and a copy of Connie Willis's "To Say Nothing of the Dog" (which is a loose sequel to it, with added star-crossed time travellers).


It took until comment 87 for anyone to get to Cloud and Ashes? Hands down "important," and more fun than Special Topics.... (I can't be the only one who couldn't finish the Pessl.)

Geez, you'd think Connie Willis wasn't doing her Asimov/Clarke/LeGuin imitation and producing reflections of earlier--let's be nice and not say "better"--works.

Otherwise, I'd point to Karen Joy Fowler's What I Didn't See and Other Stories and pretend I didn't see the word "novel" in the restrictions.


interesting observation

Also be interesting to know what the gender breakdown of SF author sales have been, if publishers are subconsciously pushing males then quite likely the marketing is too. Which would mean that the sum of SF books in circulation might be written by males even though the count of distinct authors is closer to 50/50, which would explain the skew in perception of importance

Also, the sciences are notably skeweed toward men which might explain a skew in hard scifi writers


I've read Three Men In A Boat, of course... if To Say Nothing Of The Dog is that much better than Blackout I'll try it, though I can't say I'm over-eager to read anything else by Willis after Blackout. But I suppose her reputation must have come from somewhere...


I don't know why you even bothered to reply. The whole "Science fiction isn't serious literature" bit is trolling at best. At worst, it's the kind of arrogant ignorance that says Beowulf is more important to understanding our modern age than the bizarre ideas of those ridiculous adolescents Wells and Verne. (People like that don't even know that C.L. Moore exists, much less Ellison, Niven, or Stross. Ignore them completely.)


I have no idea why you deduced exactly the opposite of what I actually said. I think SF has been the preeminent literature that has changed the world. I also believe that was mostly in the past, and it's influence now is more marginal as it has become more mainstream.


Octavia Butler - Parable of the Talents


Hi Dick,

You replied to this comment:

"For a book to be important it must either offer insightful comments on a matter of societal importance or influence mass discussion in some way. Unfortunately, Sci-Fi is never going to do that. "

You should not ever dignify stuff like that with a response. I'm not commenting on what you said, I simply don't think you should reply at all to that kind of cluelessness. It's like someone claiming that the world is flat and disease comes from miasmas. You just ignore it and go on (unless the speaker is a politician from the US, in which case you vote against them, then ignore them as they sink into irrelevance.)


It just seems like they have more trouble in maintaining a consistent career, for whatever reason

Read: endemic low-level sexism.

There are a whole bunch of hurdles you have to jump in order to have a writing career, or indeed to publish an individual book.

To prevent women from "maintaining a consistent career" does not require a conspiracy of moustache-twirling male chauvinist pigs consciously trying to trip them up, it just requires that every hurdle be set 5% or 10% higher than for a male writer. The individual obstacles present no great problem, but when you have to jump a dozen of them, the probability that you will trip up rises towards a near-certainty.

Some of the obstacles are obvious: to have a career you need to punch out a novel every 12 months -- which doesn't mix well with pregnancy and the first 18 months after giving birth. (This obstacle is common to most of our society, and so unthought-of that we don't even notice it. Authors, however, are particularly vulnerable to it because they're self-employed contractors paid piece work rates and don't have luxuries such as maternity leave.)

Some of the obstacles are less obvious. For example, the folks in marketing -- many of them female themselves -- who know that hard SF written by women doesn't sell well, because the male chauvinist pig readers won't pick up books with girl cooties: this is actually a self-fulfilling prophecy (fuelled by a small but vociferous bunch of elderly MCPs who were probably shocked and appalled when they discovered that Chris Moriarty or S. L. Viehl were niggers women) but it's the loudest folks whose voices are heard, and it's always easier to blame the customers for not buying than the marketing department for not selling. Again: editors (many of them female themselves) who try to steer female authors towards areas where they can be more successful -- read, ghetto-ized writing paranormal romance or high fantasy. Again: the marketing folks who just know that the big chain book buyers think the SF readership consists of spotty 14 year old males who will be put off by girl cooties, and therefore will under-order SF books by female authors, and who anticipate this low-balling by not promoting their authors.

Yes, there are exceptions to these phenomena. But they form a series of hurdles, and if some of the hurdles are set higher for one category or another of author, then that category will ultimately be under-represented.

PS: No, I cannot account for J. K. Rowling, other than pigeon-holing her as a black swan. But as she earns 2-3% of the total profits earned by writers in the UK, I don't think she's a useful model for analysing the typical female SF/F writer's career.


OK Charlie, sorry about the inaccuracy of the Willis books. Your analogy of a Brit writing about the Civil War is right. However, Willis acknowledges the help of a number of Brits. I wonder where they were.

Important has absolutely nothing to do with quality. Like them or not, Reagan and Thatcher were very important. Their influence on politics is till being felt today, unfortunately.

Rowling, whatever her skills as a writer, is extremely important. If for no other reason than she may well have brought a whole generation to reading. The influence of her books on virtually all forms of entertainment media has been huge. If that isn't "important", what the hell is?

CharlesH, your sheer ignorance of women in literature is simply appalling. In both genre and non-genre books, women have been extraordinarily influential. Oates, Gordon, Tepper, Robson, Willis, Walker, Angelou, Z. Smith etc. I could make a list of dozens of women over the past decade whose writing, both fiction and non-fiction, has been as important as any male. And, by the way, I thought we were talking about fiction. Introducing non-fiction would open the.

That's enough for now.


I still say Twilight, simply because of the impact it has had.


No, I was quoting someone else. That explains the "..."


Hi Dick,

I'm aware you were quoting someone else. I'm objecting to the fact that you dignified their twaddle with a reply.


Sorry, I didn't mean to minimize the experience of dissonance that comes from reading a novel with a lot of errors in it. I completely understand why you wouldn't enjoy the books. However, as someone who is fortunate enough not to have stumbled over all those errors, the book was quite good.

I was unable to complete Mary Gentle's Trouble And Her Friends, because I found the portrayal of the "hacker community" completely implausible, and it kept tripping me up, page after page. It's a real problem; I wonder how many novels that are ever written don't suffer from this problem for some reader.

Sheri Tepper's The Family Tree, Gibbon's Decline And Fall, and Beauty are all tremendous books, although somewhat over the event horizon for this particular question.

I think looking for a "most important book" is succumbing to the myth of the lone inventor. The SF and Fantasy genres evolve over time, as does the art as a whole. To point to any one book and say "that book changed everything" is to ignore all the incremental changes that led to the tipping point that that book represents. It really gets the creative process badly wrong to think of things this way.


I quite like Margaret Atwood but don't find any of her novels since 2000 to be "important."

The Road Home by Rose Tremain may be the most important book by a woman that I have read in the last 10 years. Important for me anyway as it lifted a few shutters and allowed me to reflect on a previous career from a distance.


Odd thing about Three Men in a Boat: I just finished reading it, because I couldn't pass up something a hundred years of serious Brits think is one of the funniest books ever written. My reaction? Meh.

Don't get me wrong; I do think that The Importance of Being Earnest, also a source for Willis, is fucking brilliant. And I think P. G. Wodehouse, a bit later, is the funniest writer in the world. But Jerome K. Jerome simply doesn't do it for me. It's a one-joke book, though the joke is a good one, and the alternation between silly-twittishness and lordly historical overview works well enough. But the true test? I didn't actually laugh once.

To get back to your theme: Important? Not many books are that. Maybe a dozen novels in the century just past. In the last decade I can't think of one (though there are many I like a lot).


I want to say something cunning and insightful, but duh… Lots of my reading now a days occurs in books stores, so I don't remember everything I read. But I'd hazard I have a fair comprehension of the typical tropes of the genre, so I'm not looking for New Idea TM I want a sufficently different/ well played interpretation of said trope. So not Book N of the 'crude rehashing of Old World History' (Not a fan of LOTR.) /Space Opera unless its got something else going to recommend it. I don't have many RL people to refer books to me, and the Saturday Guardian can't be everything so it's not easy finding the next best read in all the out put.

Can I put Tove Jansson's Winter and Summer Books into the ring. The translations are less than a decade old even though the titles aren't.

They are beautiful little jewels. That are very much like looking into an alien world (from here anyway) and at the same time are all about everyday frustrations and joys.

Normally she'd suffer the double wammy of what Charlie describes in 115 (that makes me very cross and wonders how many psuedomyns there are out there Is George Eliot in the house?) being both a girl and a children's writer, but as she's both famous and ded it makes it all all right.

This was probably less helpful than my post on the last thread. Important books (along with lots of other kind of input), stay with you, change you, become part of you so that might not be able to articulate i(section it out) later. It might be that to lots of people and may or may not be indicated by sales at the time. How big a market share were C, Bronte and J Austen at the time of writing and how many of their female contemporaries have fallen by the way side since then?


I think looking for a "most important book" is succumbing to the myth of the lone inventor. The SF and Fantasy genres evolve over time, as does the art as a whole. To point to any one book and say "that book changed everything" is to ignore all the incremental changes that led to the tipping point that that book represents. It really gets the creative process badly wrong to think of things this way.

That's a very important idea. Certainly there were a lot of predecessors to Neuromancer, for example, just as Neuromancer preceded some of the later "important" stuff like Snow Crash, which preceded other good books.

Neuromancer talks about being able to immerse someone in information. Snow Crash talks a lot about where we get that information, and what we do with it. Accelerando tells us about someone who is using those immersive techniques from the other two novels and how they will change the world and how they will be changed by those immersive techniques. You're quite correct that it's an ongoing process. That's not even considering all the subsidiary bits of inspiration that make stuff happen.

Plus I suspect that Charlie would tell us that Accelerando wasn't the descendant of Snow Crash or Neuromancer as much as it came from Charlie's own research into the technologies and cognitive techniques of the real world, which is doubtless also true, but Accelerando couldn't have happened without Gibson and Stephenson greasing the way.


I think a bunch of comments are dancing around a rather big point in re the paucity of women writers and "important" sf:

Important books are QUIT rare. They cause major shifts in literary style. (This doesn't include Harry Potter. There are other reasons why it might be considered important, even though I gave up on the series rather quickly.


I think SF books did do that on a large scale, at least in terms of inspiring a generation or two of scientists and engineers. It's when SF became "respectable" that its influence diminished.


I actually said. I think SF has been the preeminent literature that has changed the world. I also believe that was mostly in the past, and it's influence now is more marginal as it has become more mainstream.

I'd say that if you were thinking of "important"="big ideas", well, that well is just about dry. The standard tropes have been with us for a loooong time now and not much that is really new has been added. Much less radically new and unexplored. Given that women didn't really enter the field in large numbers until most of the big ideas had been trotted around the block a few times, there's just not going to be that many "important" new sf novels by women. Or men for that matter.

Yeah, I know, that "big idea" thing is hard to pin down definitionally speaking, and what counts as the legitimate antecedent of a popular trope is the source of endless dispute[1]. But that's my two cents, and why I think the more "important" books are going to be about something more than the latest big gee-whiz factor.

That's why I look at things like Maul or Blindsight as being important: they're arguably some of the best attempts at post-human characterization I've seen in a while in a genre where "post-human" is usually shorthand for "white bread male nerd who has a Napolean Dynamite sense of what sort of Skillz chicks dig."

[1]For example: Only robots can really get out there and Explore the Universe. Seems like a (newish) trope, doesn't it? Except that this idea arguably goes back to "The Jameson Satellite" by Neil R. Jones . . . in 1931. I think that Egan can be given credit for giving that particular schtick a new coat of paint; the shorts that were expanded into Diaspora. But that's all they are in this regard - something just like what your Dad may have read, only more up to date.


I was unable to complete Mary Gentle's Trouble And Her Friends

Ted, if you were unable to finish that book, then it's proof positive that you've wandered in here from a parallel universe, because Trouble and Her Friends was written by Melissa Scott.

I ... do not get on with Sheri Tepper's work.


I was actually going to suggest Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell as an answer to the original post, but didn't because I'm not at all sure what makes a novel "important" as opposed to (or above and beyond) "brilliant" and "really good."




Heh! Sorry, should have googled rather than relying on my memory.


I don't think this is a common response, but Steph Swainston has gone back to teaching and cites among other things the publishing schedule - she doesn't want to be putting out a book a year. Not sure I would characterise her Castle cycle as important, but I really enjoyed spending time in the Fourlands with those characters.

I am a de-lurking female commenter, but I'm afraid I can't answer the question Charlie as I really don't know how to define important. Really interesting threads to read, and I'm excited to see there are PC Hodgell books past the trilogy I've had since I was a teenager.


Agreed on all of that and more. These were the first books by that author that I had encountered so I don't have your tendency to excuse the sheer sloppiness of the damn things as .. an aberration?

Careless is the kindest term that I can find and I'm tempted to call the two vol. /really one novel Fantasy Chick Lit thinly disguised as SF.

I tend to regard SF as being an off shoot of fantasy and so I'm quite tolerant of the entire magic pony/ pulled by mini black hole FTL space ship/time machine genre if the characters are interesting, and the story is compelling and I'll even make huge allowances for series novels like Ted Tubbs " Dumarest of Terra" for which I have a sentimental attachment, but, but .. how could a competent author do this? Has she reached the point of Sciffy Eminence in which an author thinks that the readership will swallow anything that she deigns to produce and then shriek for More, awarding Hugos as they go?

Oh, wot the Hell ..can we have a very brief diversion to look at decent Scientific fantasy's set in the period of the Second World War ? I know that I'm being more than a little cheeky in , er, alternate worldliness ..its Your Playground and your topic but the enthusiasm - mostly American? - for Blackout/All Clear leaves a nasty taste, so ..

You are allowed ONE Book Charlie . My Choice is ..

Len Deightons " SS GB "

In the mean time I'll have to look out for other books by Connie Willis ..she is Highly Regarded ..she just can't always be this bad ..can she?


Leaving aside the question of what counts as "important", this question sent me running to my bookshelves and revealed a worrying lack of female authors among the books I've been reading. My odds of reading an important work by a female author are pretty low if they only make up 2-5% of what I'm reading.

Is it just inertia, pushing me to read the usual suspects, or do I have an unconscious bias? Is there any excuse for me to have not read any Elizabeth Bear, or Cherie Priest? I don't think there is. By all accounts they should be right in my wheelhouse. My wife went to high school with Elizabeth Bear, for crying out loud!

I think I will away to the Amazon-mobile. Thanks for raising the question, Charlie.

For example, the folks in marketing -- many of them female themselves -- who know that hard SF written by women doesn't sell well, because the male chauvinist pig readers won't pick up books with girl cooties:

I suspect that some of the big stuff done by women isn't really noticed until some guy does the same routine, at which point he is credited with the "innovation". Case in point: Le Guin's slower-than-light Hainish civilization and her instantaneous communication device, the eponymous "ansible". Yeah, I know, stl societies predate Le Guin's stuff. But not by much, and were in those cases, not really much more than throwaway background. I credit her with being one of the first to really make stl work as a key part of her world-building.

And how much harder do you get than saying up front that there's no ftl to propel the story?

Nevertheless, it wasn't until, um, Orson Card I think it was, that this sort of trope really caught on. And when it did, I noticed a bunch of fans crediting him (and in a somewhat awestruck way) with that dazzling new device. Not that girly-girl Le Guin who wrote stories about magic flying dragons. You can be sure that's the one thing most of these hard-sf lovers knew about her.

So it goes.


Sorry, the flying dragons were Anne McCaffery.


I think you'll find dragons in the Earthsea Quintet and one of the most frightening versions of the afterlife around.

Reading Ursula's commentary on that World is enlightening too.


For highly personal definitions of speculative fiction (SF & fantasy):

Lois McMaster Bujold's fantasy work (The Chalion series and Sharing Knife trilogy). Because they're fantasy-quest novels where the quest isn't just "collect the plot coupons and kill something". More of that, please.

Laurie R. King's The Art of Detection, which I classify as alternate history SF because it combines her Kate Martinelli mysteries with an alternate history where Sherlock Holmes is real. A nice little bit of metafiction, where it's left unclear whether the macguffin is authentic or not.

Diane Duane, Omnitopia Dawn, because it's a near-future hard(ish) SF-thriller not mired in cyberpunk cliches or the old Cold War mentality that still permeates SF. Basically because it's SF written for current readers, not the reader the writer was thirty-forty+ years ago.


I've been reading this thread off and on all day and thinking about how I define what makes a book important. I've come to think that for me a book is important for one of two reasons - it introduces something new to the genre or it pulls in a lot of new readers.

In the last decade I'd say J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer have certainly brought lots of new readers to sf-nal concepts; whether these reader will/have gone on to read more genre novels I don't know.

Bujold and Cherryh are my picks for importance in terms of influence but I don't think their influential novels are amongst those they've written in the last decade. I'd include Mary Gentle, but Ash is copyright 1999 and though I loved 1610 - A Sundial In a Grave I don't think it qualifies as an important book.


BTW, I notice Stephanie Meyer being mentioned, but no mention of The Host, which is her actual science fiction novel. It's quite a good alien invasion story, and certainly a very unusual take on the genre. The character reads a lot like a science-fictioney Bella, but the context is completely different, and I think it really works. I can't say that it's important, because I haven't seen anybody try to top it. More's the pity.


Oh right. I haven't read those since I was 10. (I'm in my late forties now.)


Important - that which changes society. By that measure, the works of Dickens and the BBC play "Cathy Come Home" by Sandford and Loach and prime examples. Both had major social impacts.

I cannot think of any works in the Western world that have had a similar impact in the past 20 years, in any medium. That includes "The Satanic Verses" by Rushdie.


The last one was published in 2001 and definitely passes the Bechdel test - in fact one might argue that the reason the first book has in failing the test as it does spectacularly, becomes the driving force behind the story arc.

'The Other Wind' might be considered an important book then under Charlie's premise because in it Le Guin addresses some the the failings feels she made in the first book and therefore major sections of world building. Where said failings are a product of her confidence as a writer and the social context in which she was writing in. But the books ten years old now and the last book in a series that wasn't a continuous narrative; and nobody's interested in schools for wizards or dragons or zombies!

No sparkles vampire unicorns TM though.


I second China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh. It's a great insight into modern china.


I thought you had already made a pretty strong case that no blame should attach to authors for cover art.

I'm not sure that you can even blame the editors. Where does the buck stop for cover art that's full of fail?

Sorry, the flying dragons were Anne McCaffery.

You're quite correct of course. That's exactly my point :-) I could have worded that better to demonstrate how generally clueless a lot of sf readers are regarding the female side.

Let me try again: The bit about the ansible in Card's Ender series? That's why I chose that particular example - a lot of the people I knew who read those books didn't know where the term "ansible" came from. They thought it was Card's invention.

And it was generally the case that the only contemporary female writer they knew by name at the time was Le Guin.


Please continue highlighting sexism wherever you find it, Charlie.


Shirley Hazzard's "The Great Fire" is great, a post-WW2 (post apocalyptic!) romance set in Japan. Katherine Mosby's "The Season of Lillian Dawes" is a good riff on Gatsby and hardly chick-lit.


I don't know from important, but The Year of the Flood falls into the elite set of books that I am planning with relish to read again and again. I was profoundly moved and still am to this day by Handmaid's Tale and I think that this latest work while on a fairly different track is also quite powerful. She has the ability to conjure up whole fields of tech by a brief keen description of some day-to-day use... a fragment. To say nothing of the characters. Also, Liobam and creepily intelligent families of feral pigs.


Unfortunately I find this a lot easier to answer than the previous iteration of the question, since given my recent reading habits the field is so much thinner.

The only book I can with good conscience nominate would be The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. On one hand it's not a Serious and Deep Tome of Great Importance, but a trashy (if well written) adventure story. In the other hand it does score multiple "importance" hits.

Most obviously it's a science fiction book that was a major YA hit (not many of those around lately, it's all fantasy, vampires, etc) and that's a time when a lot of literary tastes are formed. One could easily see that book alone being a major factor in raising a new generation of science fiction fans.

Second, it wasn't limited to just being yet another well written juvie, but seemed to be exceptionally widely read among adults as well. Even in the general population, not just among the kind of hard core SF geeks who are willing to fight their way through the intentionally unapproachable books that the previous thread was full of. Popularity doesn't necessarily mean importance, but it's a lot easier for something popular to be important.

Third, not only did it get widely read, but it seemed to be almost universally liked. Hunger Games seemed to create this strange viral effect where people who never talk about books on their blogs or on social networks would suddenly recommend it without reservations (and then never talk about books again). I don't know whether it was universal or just some artifact in the slice of the world I saw. The best explanation I have is that this really was the one book in a couple of years that clicked enough with all of these people to tell the world about it.


Taking a tube ride to Oxford, was, if I remember correctly, postulated by Willis for Oxford ca. 2060.

If my memory is correct then this was not authorial sloppiness but, at worst, arguable extrapolation.

I think you'll find dragons in the Earthsea Quintet and one of the most frightening versions of the afterlife around. Reading Ursula's commentary on that World is enlightening too.

Yes, you do see dragons in the Earthsea stuff, but I don't think the lads I'm referring to ever knew that by direct inspection. I'm guessing it was mostly guilt by association. Earthsea is fantasy, the only books by females they ever noticed in the sf section have dragons on the front cover, ergo Le Guin must have written mostly fantasy - and fantasy that heavily featured dragons at that.

I'll admit that my sample for this observation was biased. But what's really annoying is that Le Guin's work is clearly recognized as being important . . . so of course anything she's written that has weight gets misattributed as well. I've had people tell me that I'm dead wrong, that "The Dispossessed" was variously written by Chip Delany, Barry Malzberg, etc. or that "The Lathe of Heaven" was the creation of Philip K. Dick!

This is in the context of "important" sf, mind you, where the genre really had something to say.


This is a weird exercise.

The sex of authors is something I hadn't actually worried about.

If you had me list CURRENT female authors who's works I'll actually look for, I could list maybe 4 or 5 vs. a dozen or so male authors.

If you had me list female authors without that 10 year cut-off, there are probably as many females as males.

Is this a recent thing then? Maybe there's some kind of Meyer effect with female authors being steered towards the romantic fantasy section?

If I look at the books I actually BUY though there's a roughly 50-50 split.

And now I think about it, dammit there really does seem to be that mandatory romance thing. Thinking back over the last few books I've read all the books written by female authors had some sort of "romantic interest". Not so crassly welded on as to be obvious, but now I think about it not really germane to the major plot either.

I sense this is happening at the publisher end rather than the reader end, with authors being nudged towards different markets based on their sex.

Which is bloody silly. A story stands on it's own merits. For non-literary me that depends on if I enjoyed it or not, not who wrote it.


For important, I meant a book that either changed me as a person or changed some understanding I had at such a fundamental level that for long afterwards, I was working through the implications.
Of course, other definitions of important would be equally valid.
Socially, I can't offhand think of any books in the past 10 years that have really changed society in the way that, for examples, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Grapes of Wrath, Silent Spring, or The Feminine Mystique did. Perhaps we are socially in an incubatory phase as we pass through the last wave of capitalism based on individualization through advertising-guided consumption. In the 70s, I read many books by female authors that were personally important to me: many by Doris Lessing (both non-SF and SF), Marge Piercy (Woman on the Edge of Time is still the best portrayal of the best of the American left of the 60-70s), Ursula K LeGuin. For whatever reason, the books of the past 10 years that have really stayed with me were by men and actually most were non-fiction. Which is even odder because most of those who have most affected me personally have been women.


I'm coming late to this discussion, but I'm afraid I have to cast yet another vote for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I think it's certainly the best genre novel of the last decade--by anyone, male or female--and its masterful mixing of genres is, IMHO, quite revolutionary. This, to me, makes it at least of towering literary importance.

Now, if you define importance as "general impact on society", well, then, I don't know who. I would have said Rowling, except that the Harry Potter phenomenon had already begun and was growing fast at the beginning of Charlie's timeframe.

I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't been reading too many books by women either. I loved To Say Nothing of the Dog and Oryx & Crake, but as far as I can remember off the bat, that's pretty much it. My (female) spouse has read Blackout and wasn't impressed. I have Year of the Flood and China Mountain Zhang on my to-be-read list.

I like to think that I'm not sexist in my reading tastes (though I'm aware that I can't really judge myself). However, I do believe that sexism in the publishing industry is a major factor on what books happen to attract my attention.


Zadie Smith's White Teeth. Showed that you can do mid-period Martin Amis prose, similarly zeitgeisty and absurdist, without having Kingsley Junior's sneer and prejudices, and with optimism rather than cultivated cynicism. Arguably set an example that others have sought to emulate.

(Yes, I know it's not a literary or cultural game-changer, and that Smith has since disparaged it; but as someone who doesn't read much SF I thought I'd throw the suggestion into the ring.)

If we're allowed favourites rather than "important", then I'd have to plump for AL Kennedy's "Day", which is just beautifully modulated. Fond also of Sarah Waters's "The Night Watch", though I can't speak to any cultural importance regarding genre-entering-into-mainstream.


The Ruby Incomparable by Kage Baker, just a short story which I read as part of a compilation. However it still sticks in my mind the way a really good fairy tale does. Everything was done right for what the story was trying to do. Sadly I haven't tracked down any other Kage Baker stuff to see what she usually writes about. Though I might now.


Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood is extremely well-written and makes some important points, albeit in a slightly preachy way. Very much liked it.

Although I didn't like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins too much, it challenged gender roles as well as giving us a strong female lead. It also told a hard story in an enjoyable way, and it definitely had impact.

And I just have to mention Too Much Happiness by Alice Monroe even if it's not sci-fi, just because it's wonderful. I don't think my heart's ever broken quite that quietly and sincerely whilst reading.

And that's just what I've read in the last two months.

Good point about remembering female authors. I don't know why I gravitate towards mentioning men when I'm looking for things with impact.

For whatever reason, the books of the past 10 years that have really stayed with me were by men and actually most were non-fiction. Which is even odder because most of those who have most affected me personally have been women.

Heh. The books of the last ten years by men don't seem to me to have been particularly genre-elevating.

Now, if you want to talk about execution, in setting new standards, raising the bar and all that, then yes, there has been "important" stuff published in the last ten years. By men and women both, and kinda sorta equally. Imho, of course :-)


PS: No, I cannot account for J. K. Rowling, other than pigeon-holing her as a black swan. But as she earns 2-3% of the total profits earned by writers in the UK, I don't think she's a useful model for analysing the typical female SF/F writer's career.

Sorry, but I think there is definitely something to be learned from that lesson. Despite being EXACTLY what the publishing industry is supposed to be looking for, developing, and grabbing with both hands - she was turned down by publishers left and right. The cause was the same one the says women authors don't sell - institutionalised incompetence by the publishing industry.

They've turned the simple act of getting manuscripts to market into machine - and one that's hidebound by rules of thumb THAT DON'T WORK. No matter how key you think they are, and how much you want the status quo to continue; that simple reality is why we need to go through a revolution in this field. Question is not how you save the industry, but how you replace it with a model that's fit for purpose? As fast as possible.

What is that purpose?

Well entertainment is one, but if you are after 'important' then that doesn't cut it. Instead, try the Dr Who test. Erase the book/author from history - what changes?

Most books simply are not 'important', no matter how much the literati might fawn over them. As ephemeral as last week's newspaper. The only really important books are ones that change the wider society, directly or indirectly.

As far as that's concerned the list is small. Today's books tend to reflect society, not effect it. A full stop at the end of the sentence. If you want books that change things you need people to read them, and to take lessons/ideas to heart. Can you do that in a media saturated world? Is there really much difference between a movie script, a book manuscript, a play, a score for a piece of music, a painting?

It's about the idea, and the breadth with which that is taken up. Actionable ideas and a society that wants to hear them.

Readership of books is declining. Thus it's potential importance is declining. Playing sexual politics on that is like tap dancing on the Titanic.


I'd clean forgot White Teeth, but yeah!


Really, it would have to be J.K. Rowling's books, despite the 2000 cutoff: they've transformed children's and young adult literature, while making it socially acceptable for adults to read YA literature.

But setting those aside, in the United States, I would say Marilynne Robinson's Gilead. Not an Atwood-style dystopia, but rather a fictional memoir about loss, family, and the transformation of American Protestantism, set at the cusp of the space age. I like it better than any of the three male choices I offered on the earlier thread. Not as influential, because not as gimmicky.


the books of the past 10 years that have really stayed with me were by men and actually most were non-fiction

Isn't this what Douglas Adams reputedly said? That literature is no longer the venue of new ideas, but rather science.


Wow. I looked at my recommendations, and it appears I am a sexist pig. I don't read many female SciFi authors. I suspect it's because there's more emphasis on characters than ideas - my favorite female author is C.S. Friedman, who supposedly said she writes more like a Science Fiction author (take the premise then extrapolate) than a Fantasy author (and I am so eagerly awaiting Magister book 3).

I've read Lilith Saintcrow, reading Cherie Priests' "Boneshaker" currently (would it have killed them to put out a flipping mass-market paperback - it's been two years!) and am semi-eagerly awaiting her new Urban Fantasy.

But for Important Novels by Female Authors, I'd still feel obliged to go for Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Sookie Stackhouse and the whole Paranormal Romance group. Not because I read them, but because SO MANY PEOPLE read them (and watch the movies and the TV shows and the and the), and more people reading Genre is probably pretty good for the genre.


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

It's the most important novel of these first 10 years because all the children of the world have read it and from it they go read the other novels. It never ends.

(note that I could also have said Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)

I read all the Potter novels except for the last one. For some odd reason I could not go past the first froty or so pages. It,s weird becasue I had no problem at all reading the six others. I read them all (save the 7th of course) within the space of a few months, in 2005 or 2006 I think, when I read that they were so important.


I have no idea how well these sold anywhere, how well they'll stand the test of time, or how historically accurate they are, but in terms of me personally being blown away and caused to rejigger my whole conception of something, Jo Walton's Farthing series takes the award.

(Alternate history, WWII/fascist Britain subtype.)


It's not so much that I don't read female authors, I do. It's more a case that I don't specifically note the gender of the authors that interest me. The reason I find it hard to answer the request is probably the sheer volume of books I read. It's fast approaching the end of August and my best estimate is I've already well over a hundred books this year. And I mean read, not skimmed through. A lot of them stay with me and I actively seek out other work by the ones that do but I honestly don't know how many of them were by female authors because that wasn't a point of reference beyond remembering the author's name to look out their other titles.


Most of the books I read are 'genre' novels, which seem to account for most of the comments here. I bet you'd get very, very different takes on what 'the most important book' is in other circles...

Anyway, most of the books I read are 'genre', about half of these are sci-fi (oddly, I read mostly male authors), and about half 'mystery/crime' (oddly, mostly female authors).

I think some interesting things are being done in the latter genre, important to that field anyway. Writers who come to mind are Frances Fyfield, 'Barbara Vine' (Ruth Rendell in her psychological thriller mode), Kate Atkinson (who has a Banksian approach to writing 'real' and genre books, and has an interesting time-travelling book under her belt, 'Human Croquet').

Elizabeth George's 'What came before he shot her' was a shocking, excellent departure for her, and maybe important for that reason. I've also read all of PD James' detective work except her sole sci-fi book, 'Children of Men', which led to one of the most important movies of the past decade?

In the sci-fi world I'd like to nominate CJ Cherryh as an important novelist, for her various 'contact' novels, surely the best attempts to get into truly alien mindsets/culture/language around. For me, her books continue to be important for that reason, and I probably look forward to new books by her more than anyone else (sorry Charlie, even you). Her recent (non-contact) novel, 'Regenesis,' a follow-up to 'Cyteen' was very good (but probably won't make any sense unless you read Cyteen first!).


Aside: CJ Cherryh sometimes has some interesting things to say about writing in her blog/diary. How about this recent one on 'plot':

168: Cannot say whether anyone would agree it's truly quote-important-unquote, but if provactive, questioning, challenging and good for plenty hours of debate or riposte will suffice, allow me to suggest <strong><i>dervish is digital</i></strong> by Pat Cadigan. Even if one throws away nearly every action sequence, every ooh-shiny slice of scenery, and most of the cute dialogue, the remainder will still rattle your socks...
  • How does a piecework dressmaker cope with virtual animodels who've crashed and can't be removed from the dressmaker's workspace/studio?
  • Should law connect the phantom actions of a virtual persona to a meatbag who animates it -- and if so, which one?
  • Will the phrase "work/life balance" have any meaning a century from now – assuming, of course, that it ever held nonzero meaning in the first place?

SJVJ, gurer ner frireny cnffntrf va Ehyr KKKVI juvpu V sryg jrer bqqyl pbatehrag gb cnegf bs qreivfu … zbfg yvxryl gung'f whfg zr, naq LZZI.


The Marq'ssan Cycle by L. Timmel Duchamp L. is fantastic, though it didn't fully hook me until I was a ways in. Magnificent, flawed, aliens and hierarchy and revolution and gender explored exclusively through interpersonal dynamics. Not recommended if you get hung up on the plausibility of the technological aspects of world-building.

Also: the outstanding near-future Slow River by Nicola Griffith: privilege and project-management and alienation.


Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld.

I know this is a weird answer to find on a science fiction writer's blog, but I stand by it completely.


Oh, and my reason for picking it: it nailed a lot of deep insights about my own experience of being a high school outcast and taught me a lot of things about my younger self, and about who I am today. I think there are some fundamental truths about human nature that are subtly revealed in that book. It blew my mind, that's for sure.


I don't have the iron willpower and determination required to burrow through the previous comment thread to find out, but I have to wonder, with Rowling and Meyer being frequent candidates for the authors of that ellusive most important novel (and others like Charlane Harris receiving honourable mentions), and mostly mid-list male genre authors being offered as counterpoint, whether that thread was in fact gender balanced, at least from an economic/volume-of-sales/general popularity standpoint.

From a "personally important" perspective, though, I do love Linda Nagata's hard SF, feel an intimate connection to "To Say Nothing of the Dog", adore "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell", still feel a mental aftertaste of "China Mountain Zhang", and in general love the work of a bucketful of female SF authors, Watts, Stross, Egan and RC Wilson still easily beat them all to the number one, two, three and four spots, no matter what the exact criterion is, except maybe "funnies", in which case Connie Willis has you all beat by a long shot. I'm pretty sure that does not make me sexist by default... though that's probably what a sexist person would say, so bleh.


I would agree with the nominations for JK Rowling if only because of the visible effects Harry Potter had on my children and their friends in terms of reading. I also think that she is under-rated in respect of her willingness to introduce powerful themes which resonate with 20th century European history while introducing also a tacit ethical framework against which to judge them.

However I would also like to put in a word for Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall which I thought deserved all of the praise it got. Mantel's novels are all worth reading but it all came together for her in Wolf Hall. Where I would ascribe some sort of importance to it is in the crackling, fizzing use of language. As an example there is a scene in it of a witch-burning which is amongst the most compelling yet harrowing passages of writing I can recall having encountered. The language is taut, accurate, brutal and economical and is well outside of the usual boundaries of "descriptive".

In that sense the novel raises the bar in its combination of narrative drive, compelling characterisation and literary facility and hence is 'important'.


I can't think of a single 'important' novel written by anyone, male or female, in the last ten years - for values of 'important' along the lines of 'saying something important about the human condition in such a manner as to withstand the test of time'.

I can think of domain-specific novels which I deem to be 'important' in a more narrow sense; for example, your Glasshouse should be required reading for anyone in the information security field.

The last truly 'important' single novel I believe I read was Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities. Jay McInerney's Brightness Falls came close, but ultimately, its scope is really too narrow to qualify. Patrick O'Brian's serialized Aubrey/Maturin books taken as a whole are important, but of course the last of those was published in the previous age.

In terms of 'novels I enjoyed published by female authors within the last ten years', Mira Grant's Feed has to top the list (she got rooked on the Hugo), along with Cherie Priest's oevure, Naomi Novik's Tremeraire series, Kate Griffin's urban fantasy novels, Mary Gentle's alternate history-oriented works, Carrie Ryan's zombie YA novels, Jo Walton's alternate WWII novels, Sophia McDougall's alternate Roman Empire novels, Steph Swainston's alternate history novels, & J.N. Stroyar's alternate WWII novels.

I find it interesting that almost all the novels by female authors I listed seem to be either zombie-themed or alternate histories.

I believe that the most important book written by a woman within the last ten years is Jane Jacobs' Dark Age Ahead, followed by Anne Appelbaum's Gulag & Amy Chua's World on Fire.


I am surprised that no-one has mentioned The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I also agree that J K Rowling is important even though I personally loath the writing, the ethics and the general laziness.

I adore Ursula le Guin's Changing Planes, but not sure it's a novel.


I would concur on Jo Walton's Small Change trilogy. But I note that, although I actually know Jo (I was at her wedding), and have been Tuckerised in the third volume, these books didn't come to mind until now.

That's not because they're not strong works that speak about what it is to be fallible human beings, because they are. It's that for me, the moment you say "Important" or "By women", or any other categorisation, my brain fails to filter properly. I particularly don't filter books as I read them into 'by a woman' or 'by a gay person' or 'by a Brit' stacks, so when you ask me to categorise later, I have to mentally wander along the bookshelves then. And I fail.

(About the only filter I do have is 'by friends'/'by others', which is not exactly useful in this discussion.)


I think the Earthsea issue is that those were originally seen as children's books. I found them at age ten in the kid's section of the library, and haven't read them since.


I particularly don't filter books as I read them into 'by a woman' or 'by a gay person' or 'by a Brit' stacks, so when you ask me to categorise later, I have to mentally wander along the bookshelves then. And I fail.

I'm beginning to wonder whether the primary issue might be the sex of the protagonist rather than the sex of the author.


There are a lot of very fine young adult fantasy novels written by female authors other than J.K. Rowling. In fact, recently I've been reading Alison Croggan's Pellinor Series and enjoying them immensely.

It's interesting that that although there are few female hard SF writers, there are a number of women writing military SF or space opera with a strong military element (Elizabeth Moon, Lois McMaster Bujold, Catherine Asaro, Tanya Huff, et al).

And what about authors like Liz Williams, Kage Baker (alas, no longer with us), Justina Robson, and Gwyneth Jones?


I'd agree that Amy Chua's World on Fire was an important work. It's a bit disconcerting that this book has been overshadowed in the popular imagination by her later Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It wouldn't surprise me if her next book is something else completely unexpected though - she writes extremely engaging non-fiction.


Hypothesis: Harry Potter is/was amazingly successful only because the Narnia series no longer has any relevance to the average 10 year old.

From the preview thread I repeat: Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. Great story, made me cry.

Steph Swainston: massive imagination, first novel... dreadful structure but still brilliant. Important, though?

Rosemary Kirstein: solid decent novels, writes slower than moss. What is interesting is the way what starts as fantasy turns out to be (spoilers) sci-fi.

Robin Hobb: (this segues into my next paragraph) not sure she's written anything important in the time period mentioned. Stuff pre 2000, she's awesome. I'm still holding out she'll bring out something mind-shattering.

Since 2000 a number of female authors (and male) have published novels that made me realise their time has passed. It's important -- to me -- that certain authors no longer have anything to offer. I thought long and hard about naming names, but that serves no point (and who knows, that person who won the 19xx Hugo may still be writing your favourite novels).


From the list I have of books read in the last years and that I've labeled as must-read, the only female fiction author I can find is Suzanne Collins, with the Hunger Games.

(there are other women there, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and I think her books are important and did change some part of society, but they're definitely not fiction)


I find it curious that you dismiss Le Guin's 'fantasy' out put out of hand. Is that just because they don't have a NAFAL drive or an ansible in sight. In the last thread, someone was complaining about the lack of plot and character - the Easthsea books are all plot and character. It just so happens that plot and character is expressed in a world where 'wishing makes it so' (wishing with care).

Even Left Hand of Darkness has only enough 'science' to get the protagonist into the story - if SF etc is about ideas they one shouldn't dismiss a book out of hand because it has dragons on the cover.

And yes they do tend to be shelved in children as well as genre but that's because they don't contain sex and graphic violence, not because they don't discuss adult themes (but that's what YA is about I guess).


Most important? Quite likely Natural History by Justina Robson.

Most wonderful: A close call between Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle (First published 2000, though the copyright date says 1999) and In War Times by Kathleen Ann Goonan.


Not sure I agree with this. A genetically determined 'chrono displacement disorder'? I know Niffenegger didn't set out to write hard SF, but this plot device is lazy by any standards. If taken seriously--and we have to, if the novel is to work--it would have inevitable, world-changing consequences that aren't even touched in the book, not least of which is the stunning recognition that DNA controls the passage of time.

I think NIffenegger would have been better advised to just go for magic realism and be done with it, instead of doing SF half-assed. It wouldn't affect the thematic message of the novel, and wouldn't have pedants like me writing posts like this. Apart from all that, though, it was actually a good novel.


This is a very big factor on how I pick my novels. I vastly prefer a female protagonist to a male one, and so I deliberately seek them out. I've only just got into reading in a big way over the last year or so, and the female protagonists that stand out most are the ones written by male authors. Since I've only just finished working through the works of authors I've been discovering, most of the books I've been reading have been written by men.


"Half of a Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

In genre fiction, any book by Denise Mina.


bit of a ramble here goes ...

I wonder whether any of the authors mentioned in the previous thread, who are assumed to be male, are actually female and writing under a male name? I'd guess between zero and three - i.e. it's not a real factor, but there might be an Andrew North amongst them.

Another wild guess is that few posters read much written for children - certainly I don't unless it's by someone I'm already aware of. But of the ones mentioned, the front runners are often written by women - most "influential" is certainly by J K Rowling. YA books were mentioned, sure.

When I was a child the books which were influential upon me, rather than the wider world, were perhaps half by women - Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series, Madeleine L'Engle, Ursula LeGuin, and until yesterday I had no idea whether Andre Norton was a man a woman or a committee.

A friend told me his young daughter was almost pathologically book-phobic until she read "The Hunger Games", and now she's reading anything she can get her hands on. I've heard similar stories about Rowling, Meyer etc etc. And that's profoundly influential if one book (or the hype surrounding it, even) can help a bunch of people discover recreational reading. And books read early are the small course correction early in the trajectory.

So without me having read or heard of much of it, I'd say a lot of the most important work of the last ten years will be whatever people born in the last fifteen are reading.

Anyone got children and want to ask them their opinion?


For me personally, the most important book in the last 10 years has to be The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Sebold crafted a book that I feel helped define Heaven for a generation that is becoming increasingly jaded with the idea of religion and painted an amazing portrait of how families deal with terrible and senseless things happening. I also found the way she gave a personality to a point of view unique. Here we have a first person omniscient, something that is seldom done (at least in the books I've read) as well as Sebold has done. She manged to tell the story of both Susie and her family while putting me in both Heaven and on Earth simultaneously. It's brilliant and amazing and should be read by all, not judged by the terrible film Peter Jackson made after.

On a larger scale, and I hate to say this, the most important novel in the last ten years is Twilight by Stephanie Meyers. With her romantics vampires and shaleshifters she has impacted, and created more readers in the last ten years than even Rowling has ( and I contemplate suicide to even suggest this). I work in education and I can honestly and accurately say that even the students who are confessed nonreaders have read Twilight. With her simplistic literary style, her Harlequin type romance and her innocent-bordering-creepy portrayl of immortal love, she has created a cultural movment that has promted reading, created readers and brought mothers and daughters, friends and sisters, and guys looking to get laid closer together through a shared literary bond. While I can't stand anything about Twilight or Meyers's writing style, I do respect what she has done by unleashing Twilight on the world.


My notion of "important" may not jive with the usual literary review, and my view of "book" as a story possibly extending over a number of published pieces, may not be entirely fair. But it gives me background justification for nominating the "Company" stories by Kage Baker. I love them for the historical panorama and the often wickedly sly humor that permeates them. Somehow, immortal cyborg art thieves and botanists with addictions to chocolate as a canvas to explore history, tragedy, etc., is just a joy to read while sneaking in commentary and observations on human nature, "political correctness", life, love and loss.

She will be sorely missed.


Historically, I tended to read works by male authors. But lately my taste in literature started to drift towards the female side of the map, and I can name many novels written by female authors as one of my favorites this decade. The finest among them is definitely Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

But it's another novel I wish to pit as the most important one this decade. A novel I had little expectations from but has managed to exceed them by far. I'm speaking of the third novel in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay. I have seen similar novels - describing a revolution where no side is innocent of horrific crimes and where it is unclear whether the revolution only exchanges one madman for another - in SF before. But not in a novel that was marketed for the 15-year old girl crowd. And certainly no YA novel before was cast with the type of cold, calculating, driven heroine Collins created, someone I'd expect in a Walter Jon Williams novel, not in what some people perceive to be the SF equivalent of Twilight (it is not). Is it an "Important" novel? I believe so. In a year shaped by revolutions and uprising, this was a timely novel, and its warnings are all the more relevant if you take a look at the outcome of the Arab spring in, say, Egypt.


I'm not sure I understand the problem: "hard sci-fi" generally involves FTL, which being pretty much impossible, is on the same level as time-travel by DNA and spells by teenage wizards. :-)

Also, our Gracious Host did not once mention sci-fi as being a criteria for books we mention...


It's not actually a tube service but the Oxford Tube does exist:

A frequent coach service between central London and Oxford.


I recently re-read the Oath of the Renunciates omnibus by Marion Zimmer Bradley (Darkover series). I found that Bradley was able to discuss feminist issues in her fictional world in a non-combative/non-accusatory way that nonetheless illustrated the frustrations and unseen triumphs that a lot of women feel.

Of particular interest to me as a male was that most of the male characters did not perceive that there was any problem in the structure of their society at all.

While the omnibus does not bear direct relationship with anything back here on planet Earth, I think that the universal truths translated very well in a fun adventure of a read.


"Isn't this what Douglas Adams reputedly said? That literature is no longer the venue of new ideas, but rather science. "

Very much so. When I was starting out in physics, way back in the 70s, having a reputable scientist taking things like time travel and FTL travel seriously to the degree that they wrote papers on it would almost be a career ender.


"...not least of which is the stunning recognition that DNA controls the passage of time. "

There may actually be some truth in that.


Important? Oof. that's trickier than just hugely enjoyable or really rather good. How about these?

  • Everything by A.L. Kennedy. I think there are few writers working at her level in the UK at the moment. She combines massive control with gorgeous prose, and though some of her stuff is painful to read, it's always worth it.
  • "What I loved" by Siri Hustvedt (and it's also very interesting if you read Paul Auster's fiction that grew from the same family situation). It's the way that she looks at the differences between personal and shared perception, I think.
  • "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel--how historical fiction should really work. You don't get hit on the head by a chunk of "and here's a spot of research that I really couldn't leave out".
  • "Half of a Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The two Tove Jansson books mentioned above are close to perfect.
  • Sarah Waters' novels
  • Margaret Atwood's "The Blind Assassin"

I loathed "Jonathan Strange" because it was a massively overwritten chunk of whimsical pastiche that needed a lot more editing than it got. And the cod archaic spellings and turns of phrase were, at times, painfully wrong (not quite to the "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" level, but close).


I'm not at all sure about that one, but Charlie knows more about the business than I do, and has blogged at length on the misconceptions people have.

Still, there have been changes. Maybe the loss of the pulps has made it harder. That was a market for short, fast-paced, fiction. Was Lionel Fanthorpe such a bad thing? If Animal Farm is really only about 30,000 words, where would it get published today?


I think I have to concur that Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy could be the most important book of the past decade, seen in the light of what fifteen-year-olds read it. My nieces read it, and it was a hard read for them, and I get the impression that they are nevertheless glad they read it. I thought the trilogy was fantastic, personally, although it's a little late in my life for a novel about government to be life-changing.

One other book that hasn't been mentioned here that I think is a starkly beautiful and harrowing work is The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan. Like Feed, it takes place after the Zombie Apocalypse, but in a world that's been transformed much more completely than the world of Feed. It's also a young adult book, and one that I'm tempted to offer to my nieces to read, although if I do I'm not sure whether they'll thank me or curse me.


The New Yorker magazine had an interesting piece on dystopian young adult fiction last year:


...and that was dumb, forgot the primary criteria said published in the last decade. I had wondered why nobody had mentioned this omnibus. Disregard please. :D


Most important novel? I'm reading a lot fewer novels than I used to — I find I get my fiction fix from reading economics now :-)

Other than the Baroque Cycle and everything by Watts, Stross, and Brin I'm mostly rereading older fiction (most recently Dorothy Sayers). I read Hapenny and Farthing, but I'm not certain I'd characterize them as important.

For non-fiction I'd put Jane Jacobs "Dark Age Ahead" at the top of the list, and I agree that Amy Chua's "World on Fire" is excellent. (And I find it interesting that many of the people sounding off on "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" seem to have read a different book than I did — but that's getting very off-topic.)


This is hard. I really can't think of anything except maybe JK Rowling, or Stephenie Meyer that's been influential (and in the latter case not in a good way), but then again I don't usually think in those terms about books.

Now it may be that I primarily read SF/F and I don't think of those genres as being influential.

I know I've read a number of books by women this year, though I couldn't tell you how many.

Of the three fiction genres I read most, I think women make up about 50% in Fantasy and Mystery (it varies but it's usually around that proportion) and maybe 30% in SF (I definitely read more SF by men than women).

I have heard good things about Suzanne Collins, but I haven't read the books.

Interesting question, it made me think but I still haven't got an answer...


Her fantasy series that includes Anvil of the World... I love it and reread it from time to time. I think maybe it started with a short story? Whoever upthread who said they just now discovered her? go find all of her short stories.

I loved in one of her company series novels where she upturned the paternalistic theme of advanced people taking care of primitives.


Point of note: I am currently midway through reading Feed by "Mira Grant". My impression so far -- one shared with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms -- is that it's a good enough work that its flaws are magnified and grate much more than they would in a lesser work.

(I'm setting aside the YA protagonists and the setup that requires dramatic simplification of the entourage of a presidential candidate, and seeing other flaws. But also a ripping good yarn and a very strong voice and an attempt at world-building a post-zombie-apocalypse society that goes a bit further than usual. For which, kudos.)


I find I get my fiction fix from reading economics now

Thank you for the funniest joke I've heard today. I almost snorted my morning coffee. Cheers!


Wow, this is where we say "sux2bu", Charlie. There were definitely problems in Feed, but this is where the willing suspension of disbelief comes in, or else when do you ever get to enjoy a story? No story is perfect, not even the ones that happen in real life.


Rowling, for getting people to read.

Bujold, for two new series doing something new (Chalion and the Sharing Knife). The most important book for me personally is 'Paladin of Souls'.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I'm a card-carrying Bujold fan but I voted for this ahead of Cryoburn.

Diana Wynne Jones: The Tough Guide to Fantasy.


I read Cryoburn, and regret the waste of time. Utterly tedious with no outstanding features whatsoever.


Ted, I do this stuff for a living: I do not get to switch off the internal critic while I'm reading.

(Main issues with Feed? Firstly, it's set 30 years in the future -- but it doesn't feel it; it's depicting a world hit by a zombie plague decades ago but it feels very "now", as if the plague hit circa 1980. Secondly, so far (I'm 60% of the way in) there has been zip usage of the main metaphor for which zombies stand in: the poor. We're seeing only rich folks through the narrator's eyes -- they're all rich, privileged, or background-less security guards. Zombies are the menacing horde, a metaphor for American angst about the underclass -- but there's no use of that in the story (at least so far): it's what is termed, in British SF circles, a cosy catastrophe (or the aftermath thereof) and I o/d'd on that particular form in the 1970s because it was about the commonest mcguffin in British SF of a certain period. Finally, Big Boss Bad Guy is Bad: I'm pretty sure I guessed the plot reveal around 45% of the way in, although I'm still reading to find out.)


I agree with you about Cryoburn, though maybe not 100 percent. It was an OK novel, but in terms of what it should have been...


My problem with the book goes something like this: The story was an excuse to have Miles off-planet so the death of Aral Vorkosigan could take place away from the main viewpoint character. The readers were robbed.

'Nuff said.


I didn't say I don't read books by women. I do. I don't usually even know whether the author is male or female until I consider the point. And I've read female authors from C.L.Moore to the present. I just can't think of anything that I consider important that was written by them. I read, e.g., the entire series that started with "King's Blood Four". It was quite enjoyable, and I've read it several times. But I don't consider it important.

I was discussing this with my wife, and it turns out that we seem to use that word in very different ways. She starts her evaluation with social effects, and I end there. You'll notice that I didn't list ANY of HGWells works. He was prolific and influential. But I don't think of him as important. (I could well be wrong. It could well be that Science Fiction wouldn't have emerged as a separate genre without the influence of Wells. But that would need to be argued.) Similarly I have found many novels written by women to be intriguing, interesting, etc. Some I have reread many times. But I can't think of one that I think of as important. (You'll note that I didn't list many fiction books at all as being important. Philosophy is nearly as significant, and science, though not as frequent, is even moreso. And I didn't list ANY technical books as really qualifying, though I did give secondary mention to two because they were personally important.)

OTOH, it is also true that I'm not widely read. Except compared to almost everyone I meet. I have fairly narrow tastes, and that which I like, as opposed to considering important, is rather limited. But because I don't have a wide range of reading, it's quite likely that many important books evade my notice for, at minimum, decades. So I can only speak of my personal knowledge. But for my definition of important, I can't think of anything written by women. (My wife thinks this is because most women's lives are devoted to housework AND a job, so they never have time. This is certain to be a factor. But it's also true that most women avoid the fields of knowledge that I tend to consider important. Authors is one thing, but physics is something else. Breakthroughs are unusual by definition. An important book call attention to some breakthrough. E.g., "The Selfish Gene" called attention to the application of game theory to genetics, and, additionally, introduced the concept of "meme", which generalized evolution away from the purely biological. This was probably not entirely new, but it wasn't popular knowledge. Now it is, among those who are open to it.)


Yeah, hence sux2bu. Expression of sympathy. I'll be curious to know if your guess on the bad guy is right. Of course, you have now completely wrecked the zombie plot device for me with your l33t economics fu. Sigh. :)


The main problem with Cryoburn, and all the other similar space opera, is that Singularity tech has ruined the suspension of disbelief for me. Consider a society capable of resurrecting frozen bodies, but pretty much like today. Given the tech required, it's ludicrous. The knock on effects of nanotech and the computing power required would render it almost unrecognizable.

It's just Tom Clancy, done badly. Try reading Cryoburn as a contemporary business takeover and spy type novel, and it's extremely weak.


Or perhaps a Brit author could write a story about intrepid historians from MIT in 2061 travelling back to 9/11: that fateful 9th November 2009 when terrorists hijacked a British Airways flight from Washington Airport and flew it into the Empire State Building, a fateful event that caused the stalwart British prime minister to inspire the then American President, Ronald Reagan, to launch a new crusade and invade Jerusalem...


It's an impossible question, really. The most important novel? I certainly don't have a clue. But I was impressed by Lavinia, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Oryx and Crake, and Wolf Hall.

I'll add one more suggestion to the list: The Penelopiad (2005) by Margaret Atwood. It retells the story of Penelope from Greek myth—her youth as princess of Sparta, her marriage to Odysseus, the Trojan War and her own war of stratagem against the 108 suitors—with a heartbreaking chorus of the twelve maids murdered by Odysseus.

It's funny too: "Odysseus himself shambled into the courtyard [...] dressed as a dirty old beggar. [...] I didn't let on I knew. It would have been dangerous for him. Also, if a man takes pride in his disguising skills, it would be a foolish wife who would claim to recognize him: it's always an imprudence to step between a man and the reflection of his own cleverness."


Can I also recommend Sonny Liston Takes the Fall? For me, she is an important writer because she's been doing a lot of really good work at different lengths (shorts to novel-length) and non-traditional formats (check out METAtropolis and Shadow Unit) but no one novel that I think of as the most important of the last decade or so.

As for the actual question of most important novel, I'll add my voice to Mary Gentle's "Ash", Elizabeth Moon's "The Speed of Dark" and Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" and if I had to choose just one, it would be the Clarke.

I didn't take to it wholeheartedly but recognised the quality of the writing and also the way she drew on tradition and did new things with it. If nothing else, all the critical acclaim points to something important happening in that book.


"The Empress of Mars" (a novella) is a good example of Baker's work available online, showing her sharp sense of humour, her ear for dialogue & deft writing. Sadly, she died recently. I highly recommend checking out her back-catalogue.


And I didn't list ANY technical books as really qualifying,

I think there were some post 2000 science books that might be considered important. There most certainly were some papers that were ground breaking and will prove to be very important.

But like most comments here, can't really think of any SF written by either sex that is "important".


While I tend to agree, I'm willing to take an imaginary world which has existed since before the Singularity became an issue in Science Fiction and "grandfather it in" for suspension of disbelief.

I think one also has to consider that the Singularity is also anthropological in nature; who we are and how we think about things is essential to the way the Singularity will play out. Somewhere I have an unfinished novel based on the idea that "everyone gets the singularity they deserve." So it's not impossible to imagine a future tech which has been shaped by social decisions about technology, rather than technological decisions about society.

All you really need is one major disaster, (Global warming? A gray goo outbreak? Dark age due to lack of fossil fuels?) to justify some major revisions in the way we handle technology.

As to your other point, that the novel is bad Tom Clancy... that's hard to argue with, but plot is not Bujold's strong suite.

P.S. Is there good Tom Clancy?


It's not so much Singularity tech, it's assuming one (or more) technologies of vast scope and scale leaving the world untouched except for its one niche use upon which a plot depends.


Is there good Tom Clancy?

I really liked "The Cardinal of the Kremlin". But it is pretty old now.


I'm probably going soft so I'll admit that while Cryoburn didn't light my world on fire, I was kind of glad nothing terrible happened to any of the characters I've come to care about. Disgraceful, I know.

I don't think world changing nanotech is essential for successful reanimation of frozen corpses, at least in a sci fi mileu suspension of disbelief context, the bodies are prepped with some kind of preserving fluid which preserves from damage and then defrosted, not nano-repaired from extensive freezing damage at the cellular level. And that whole planet's economy and society was wrapped around the concept of freezing corpses so I'm not sure the criticism of an unaffected society is applicable.

Bujold's sci fi is like the real world, unevenly distributed so hicks like the Barrayarans don't go for freezing at the point of death.

As for Aral he already lived offworld in Sergyar, iirc so I don't think that was a factor in setting the novel in another planet.

I hang my head in shame admitting I seem to read very few female novel authors, but to compensate a lot of very high quality webcomics by female authors are appearing lately, I give you Lackadaisy cats, the meek, Unsounded, Power Nap and Love me Nice

I especially recommend Unsounded to the Bujold fans, the vibe is not unlike her fantasy books.

Sorry for the derail but personally what I found most significant in the last decade in the wider narrative arena has been the rise of webcomics, so yeah.


Amazing, all those urls and I didn't get held up in moderation. Sorry, forgot the url for

This one's scifi and looks pretty good, though the artist is a male the writer is a woman. Anyway, ending derail now for reals


My other comment appears to have died in moderation limbo (had a link to another excellent Elizabeth Bear story which is available online, "Sonny Liston Takes the Fall"). For me, Bear is an important writer of the last decade, prolific & producing excellent work in myriad forms and in innovative ways (see "Shadow Unit" and "METAtropolis") but I can't point to one single novel as the 'most important'.

My picks for most novel important include Mary Gentle's "Ash", Elizabeth Moon's "The Speed of Dark" & Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell", but my vote would go to the Clarke. I didn't love it but am convinced of its importance. It's well-written, draws on tradition but builds on it in new ways. If nothing else, all the awards & critical acclaim point to something noteworthy happening there.


"I hang my head in shame admitting I seem to read very few female novel authors..."

Why? I read what I think I will like. Nothing to do with who wrote it, except if I want more from the same author. Ditto with music. I like Rammstein and Therion, but I could not tell you the names of a single member of either.


Hi Charlie - finally gave into Amazon and started reading your books that they kept thrusting in my face - not regretting it yet. Some; possibly more objective; ways of measuring the importance of a novel: A count of references to the book or its concepts in the media - maybe the height of the S-curve from date of publication and the length of time from publication to peak. Number of words or phrases that enter the language such as "newspeak" "cyberspace" or "avatar" e.g. citations in OED A count of those words in some corpus of record over time - S-curve dimensions again. The number of rabid condemnations/denunciations by commentators/pundits and other defenders of the moral/religious/political rectitude of the people. Number of appearances on university reading lists I think J K Rowling's books are going to score quite highly in this respect - my colleague who teaches Java to first year undergraduates, and who I don't think has read any of her books, tells his students to temporarily ignore the 'Harry Potter' (the boiler plate code Java insists on even to write 'Hello World!') and the students get his meaning despite their extremely diverse backgrounds. A somewhat different measure would be authors that cite the book as influential. The number of "The new ...", The next ..." etc. splashes of subsequent covers.


I will double down on Tricia Sullivan's post-Maul books. For real, people, try them (if you can find them). Totally different program than the bulk of SF, fascinating work all around.

For female-authored work that's much closer to home, comfort-zone-wise, I'd suggest Elizabeth Bear's work, particularly the three books of the Edda of Burdens taken as a single novel. Bear often fails, but I think that's mostly because she's writing like crazy to stay afloat in the midlist, and also because she's doing some ambitious stuff that doesn't always work.


Charlie: Are you going to list some of your nominees for most important work of SF since, oh, 2000? Because the last two threads seem a bit "gotcha!" to me where you don't have any skin in the game as yet. It really is a lot easier to critique the problems in flawed works (ie the Willis) than to defend a work as the most important in the last 12 years or so!

The time period makes this a difficult question. If you had asked for the last 20 years instead of the last 10 I'd have gone with the first Anita Blake novel which had a lot of fangbanging in it, since the paranormal romance genre has been a huge growth industry and is heavily female author dominated. But for the last 10 years that doesn't work.


Charlie: Are you going to list some of your nominees for most important work of SF since, oh, 2000?

No I am not.

Because one of the problems of the job I do is that it puts you off reading for pleasure in your spare time.

I used to read >100 novels a year, routinely. Since I've switched to writing them, it's a good year when I read more than 12. (I'm not the only novelist with this problem, although it's the kind of embarrassing personal affliction that we don't generally talk about in public.) I am quite simply unqualified to pronounce on what's good or not. Hence the previous discussion thread.

I will add that I tend to binge when I finish a book, and my comfort reading is pretty much the opposite of what you'd expect given what I write -- again, because once it's the day job you don't necessarily want to take it home with you in the evening.


For Webcomics written by women, there's always A Girl and Her Fed. I'm a little divided about whether it's a game-changer, but I like it a lot and have reread it numerous times.


I'd allow her students to know less by then than ours know now, I think.


I don't tend to worry too much about the sex of my author, and having said that Elizabeth Bear is easily in my top five genre writers. Her writing is dense, but deft.

Important books since 2000 - I would say 'Oryx and Crake'/'After the flood' because it brought science fiction to a lot of readers who otherwise turn their noses up at the stuff.


I would argue that Rowling's impact was felt before 10 years ago, although of course the series continued into the last decade. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell is a good candidate, as are Jo Walton's Ha'Penny and Joanne Sinisalo's Troll.

But - "important"? I'm afraid the Twilight series has had the biggest impact on fiction, and more recently The Hunger Games - is that how we are defining important? If we want define it as a mind-blowing story, I'd have to go with Shuggoths in Bloom, however, even if it isn't a novel.

I'm also getting depressed. I read Ender's Game when I was about Ender's own age - and even then I knew "ansible" wasn't his creation. Doesn't he even make that clear in the text?


I'd argue that Hunger Games and Twilight are using the book store shelves that Rowling built, which is why I don't think they're as important. I'll be happy to change my opinion if someone tells me they reorganized the bookstores around these particular bestsellers.

The particular issue here isn't quality per se, it's how they transformed the market for other writers. JK Rowling opened up a huge new market for authors, and some other women have profited enormously. That marketing juggernaut really started rolling with the third book in 1999 and continued until 2007 with the books, so it definitely fits.

Similarly, there's the shift of urban fantasy from Bordertown and Charles de Lint into Charlaine Harris and Laurell Hamilton territory. This is basically a switch from northern writers to southern writers, and a corresponding increase in sales. It would be interesting (and probably grossly unfair) to read demographic and political shifts into this transformation.

I'm not sure what to make of Amanda Hocking, except that she's an early success in the sell-it-yourself market, and it may be her model of sales takes off. Note that she's writing "paranormal young-adult fiction" (per wikipedia), so it could be that she's cashing in on existing markets, rather than taking off with something that couldn't have existed with traditional publishing. We'll see.


Are there no fans of Lois McMaster Bujold? Or do people dismiss her books as "Space Opera - therefore not important?"

"Memory", Bujold, for the moral issues it raises. "Paladin of Souls" by Bujold - a coming-of-age at-40 - story with a protagonist just coming off an almost 20 year clinical depression to become ... slowly... okay, no spoilers.

However, I'm not the one to ask. I don't read IMPORTANT books, having had my fill of ego and litcrit decades ago.


Just read Shuggoths in Bloom. It's an OK story, but not a patch on Colder War by Stross.


My top three would be:

Lois McMaster Bujold-Paladin of Souls

Sussana Clarke-Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel (Norell?)

Connie Willis-To Say Nothing of the Dog. Admittedly, a little past a decade and a bit, but I read it in 2004 so to me it counts.

I also totally dug Elizabeth Hand's The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon, but if Novellas counted this would be a way different list...

I'm not too sure about homosexual or transgendered authors mainly because they are much harder to spot than men and women. I don't really go out of my way to determine the sexual leanings of the people I'm reading, nor do I care. If SF is heroine and I'm the junkie, I really don't care what you literary types do in your free time as long as I get the good stuff!


ctrl+f "Bujold", 18 mentions, 15 removing yours.

226 Dirk Bruere> My contrition is situational and limited to the context of this thread.


Bird of the River by Kage Baker

It's a solid coming of age, leaving poverty, becoming a sovereign individual story. Technically, it's the third in a series, but the series is connected more by world and mythology than by character. The first book, Anvil of the World, is fun and fluffy. The second, House of the Stag, is a great undermining and deconstruction of the Conan trope and worthy contender for important novel as well.


I just read "Sonny Liston Takes The Fall" and it reminded me very strongly of Harlan Ellison's "Daniel White For the Greater Good." Elizabeth Bear is young enough she may not have read the Ellison, however, because she would have been around four years old when it last saw print. IMHO "Shoggoths in Bloom" was the much better story.


A lot of her books are being republished now.


But why would the reader's gender make a difference in what they read? Do you think men only read male authors and women only read women authors? That's pretty inaccurate.


Chris Moriarty, Spin State (and the sequel, Spin Control.)


Dervish is Digital is a sequel to Tea From An Empty Cup.


Hello Again Dick,

I've read them both, and both are amazing stories for totally different reasons. (For those who aren't in the know, both these stories are available online. Google them and you'll have two good reads this evening.)

"A Colder War" is brilliant because it updates the Mythos for the modern age, and ties the Mythos into modern-day human evil instead of ancient sorcery. IMHO the Cthulhu Mythos were more than just Lovecraft's reaction against the boring nature of stories with vampires and zombies. They were horror stories which were carefully and specifically designed to frighten people who were scientifically literate. "A Colder War" updates the scientific basis of the Mythos, but makes it clear that we are still vastly inferior creatures as compared to Elder Things.

"A Colder War" is also brilliantly written and characterized, and the satire of Reagan's Whitehouse is biting and blackly funny (which I think was the point.) But the way the story updates the Mythos for the information age is the important thing in my book.

"Shoggoths in Bloom" is important (at least to me) for a number of reasons. The writing and characterization are excellent, the ethical issues are well-considered, but I like it most of all because it's the first Cthulhu Mythos story that might enter the literary canon of the English language. The story's existence and power derive from the fact that the Cthulhu Mythos have entered the mainstream of culture as part of our collective mythos. (Reading the story, the shoggoths aren't really the point. They're symbols, and that's very, very cool.) From now on, in order to understand great literature, Lovecraft must be studied, just as The Bible and the Greek Myths must be studied.

Lovecraft is now essential to understanding literature, and that's a major win.


Bujold fan here, also a Stross fan. She is a very good writer but not someone I consider to be ground-breaking; not all stories need to be. And it's not because it's 'Space Opera' either.

Some of her ideas are intriguing ("All wealth is biological"), and she makes some interesting commentary on the impact of technology on society, but her stories tend to be about the characters much more than about the "message", so may not be as well regarded when considering "importance".


I love the Miles Verkosigan books, but to be honest I didn't feel changed by them or have my understanding of things rocked. That is the criterion I used. But I listened to the Miles books that are on audible (most of them) and enjoyed them all immensely.


I've run through my bookbase and the top book, absolutely, is Mary Gentle's Ash (or, in the US: A Secret History, The Book of Ash 1, Carthage Ascendant, The Book of Ash 2, The Wild Machines, The Book of Ash 3, Lost Burgundy, The Book of Ash 4).

It's not exactly alternate history, and you know that if you read the little paragraphs at the top of the chapters. It actually changes the world and shows us how, which is important.

The other women's books I have that I think are important:

The Interior Life by Katherine Blake, (Dorothy Heydt) -- a way to take what seems fantasical and find out whether it's that or real.

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E.Butler -- it's future, but we learn even more about segregation and hate.

The Guild of Xenolinguists by Sheila Finch -- shows how understanding the language of others is absolutely necessary to understand what to do.

Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb -- okay, not really SF, but we have a sarcastic look at SF cons.

I like Elizabeth Moon's SF work, which besides bringing us to diplomacy, shows a lot of women in the military.

Shadow Man by Melissa Scott - most of the universe has turned into five genders, but the protagonist has to work at a planet that sticks to two. This shows us about taking our identity back. (Won the Lambda)

Kristine Smith's Jani Killian series where the protagonist is injured and as she tries to keep her place in the military, finds out more and more about conspiring people.

The Quiet Invasion by Sarah Zettel -- when we check Venus, there's a race of aliens there -- aliens whose world was dying and Venus was the only one that was okay for them. We want to kill them. This gives us a look at thinking things out rather than just jumping.

So, I see the ones I think are important are books with segregation, opposite people and planets, and women in the military.


Ok, since I'm noticing that I read NO fiction but Science fiction, and like others, think its hard to judge importance for the timeframe yet, Nonetheless, I'll chime in with a second for Julie Czerneda. I've not read "In the company of others" wishlist+ but a couple of the Species Imperative books.

I really appreciated how her deep appreciation of biology showed thru the stories. I'm sure she has made evolution real to many readers.

As to Elizabeth Moon, I'll continue to lump her books with Peter Hamilton's. GREAT romping stories. (less "great technology" and more like Hornblower updated for 2500. (And much more Liberal considering gender and sexual freedoms) not in ones face so much but a charcter's relationships or sexual preferences came in a decent variety, and were generally not important to the storyline.

But why are you asking us, Charlie? Amy K Sturgis probably has a much more informed insight. Her "column(segment?)" on star ship sofa is always well researched, and brings to light thing's I'd never think to look for.

And I'm probably two or three editions back at the moment and need to go catch up! Ciao.


its Amy H. Sturgis!! (not K..) count it up to a long summer break? (no, my poor memory !) Sorry Amy!.


The problem of reading for pleasure when you are a professional author hadn't occurred to me. That does present a problem. Thanks for the answer.

In any case my answer is: none. I can't think of any hugely important SF novels which meet the criteria of the question. But even if the "female-only" stipulation were removed I'm not certain my answer would change.

I think the question itself is inherently flawed. The importance of a novel is determined over time and so asking for the most important novel of the last few years is not a question with a meaningful answer. Even guessing what will be the most important novel is not very useful; If I had been asked this question (minus the woman-only part) in the early 2000s I probably would have said Vinge's DEEPNESS IN THE SKY, but now I'm not so sure. Has it been as influential as I'd thought it might be? Not really.

So, yeah, the answer is either "none" or "we don't know yet" depending on how you look at it.


...No one (okay, one person, good job Roland at 174) likes Naomi Novik and the Temeraire series? Napoleon + dragons = where did the time go, and why is there no more book to read? Plus the series did a lot with alternate history in a more recent span than almost all of the fantasy I have read tends to go for.

Do graphic novels count as novels for your purposes? Those have made leaps and bounds in the English speaking market in the past ten years; Girl Genius now has not one but TWO Hugo awards which assigns it at least some importance, I would think.


I don't think I've read an Important novel, written by a woman, during the past ten years.

Or one written by a man. I average about five books of fiction per week (there are advantages to being retired), more of them Mysteries (in various sub-categories, primarily Historical) than sf, nowadays, and the vast majority of these are written by women. But "entertaining, interesting, and informative" does not equal "Important".


"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks", by Rebecca Skloot. It takes Truman Capote's method for "In Cold Blood" and adapts it for hard science and the consequences of post-Keynesian economics. It is Wired meets The Wire. It's the most moving and acute thing I've read about America, maybe ever. It's a new book and maybe a slow burn, but its influence is growing.


It's really hard to name only one, and to think of one as "the most important" rather than "some important ones" or "ones I really enjoyed personally".


"The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger


Also, to know what you might mean by Most Important -- important in the sense that lots of people may have read it or heard of it, or it sold well, or won awards, or important in the sense that it does something particularly representative of the time that hasn't been done before, important in that it might be something you wouldn't normally see that might be an interesting influence on your writing or thoughts, or important as in Very Very Good by some other standard?

I will come up with some titles in a bit... but meta first as I think.


Female sci-fi reader delurking for the first time...

As far as what's an important book to me, I'd have to go with Jo Walton's "Among Others." I've been trying to get serious about writing this year (sci-fi and YA, mostly novels but a few short stories), and I was absolutely blown away by the craft of this book. Her narrator was completely convincing, the voice was dead on, and I never for a moment doubted the story being told. I've been devouring books all my life but this was the first time where I felt so consciously aware of the talent as I read, and I'd have to say it was responsible in great part for teaching me how to read like a writer. I can't recommend it highly enough.


The Sharing Knife ( by Lois McMaster Bujold. Because it's a fantasy set in pre-enlightenment North America, instead of pre-enlightenment Europe. Because the story begins, rather than ends, with the main characters falling in love. Because it uses magic to create problems and characters to solve them.

I hope it starts a trend.


Okay, here's my 2 cents! I have to keep it short and casual.

Marq'ssan Cycle for being an interestingly structured epic that works out a lot of political issues through SF tropes and personal relationships and conversations. It packs a huge punch. Reading it made me take apart and look at my own life with a more rigorously critical lens. The ambiguously-gendered aliens-a-la-White-Queen come to feminist-anarchist save us from ugly class warfare and violence but their attempt to play out "What These People Need is a NonViolent AnarchoFeminist Alien Hive Mind" does not have simple consequences. It may be slow to take, but it builds up & by the end of book 2, it is mind-blowing. If you're like me you will need to schedule in a few days of emotional devastation after each volume so they aren't for the faint of heart.

Kameron Hurley, God's War. Holy shit, technology made of bugs, weird genetic engineering, mostly Muslim planet, religious war, a lot of fabulous characters including a lot of ass-kicking women. War & boxing & chaos. Also, fun. Well, fun if you like disturbing violence.

Vandana Singh, Distances. Great writing & important for being The Dispossessed for me . . . for us.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman. For being extremely weird and a bit disturbing.

Andrea Hairston, Mindscape. Uniqueness, fabulous ideas, great writing. Wild & explode-y! Dive in and freak out.

Cat Valente, Orphan's Tales. For a complicated fantasy world where women and their stories are important to each other and important in general. Read it with Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red and think about them together.

Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death. Important as hell. Onyesonu's powers and her coming of age, her family history, her journey with her friends… so amazing and powerful and sad & unforgettable.

Also, in general: Nicola Griffith
Octavia Butler Tricia Sullivan Rosemary Kirstein Jo Walton And I also want to throw in Tamora Pierce's last 10 years of books as a general zeitgeist thing. No one should miss Protector of the Small as a sort of counterpoint to the whole Harry Potter thing (and an antidote, for kids/people who don't cotton to the Lone Arrogant Angry Hero of Prophecy and go for a bit more thoughtful teamwork and kitten-rescuing)

I know I'm leaving out a lot, but I don't have my books here on the boat and have to go to sleep. Maybe more of the Secret Feminist Cabal can chime in.

90: I agree with you about Bujold (though I prefer Paladin of Souls to Curse of Chalion) and N. K. Jeminisn's Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and about Tove Jansson. 169: x. trapnel: I love your choice of name, haha! Do I know you? Agreed about The Marq'ssan Cycle.

Having Miles as the protagonist, and his father's death happen while he is away, cut off from events, is potentially a powerful story device. Dealing with the aftermath of that could be interesting. Cryoburn could be the set-up for that interesting novel. On its own, not so good.


It's dark fantasy, verging on horror, and so an edge case, but I think Kaitlin R. Kiernan's Daughter of Hounds is a good choice - it look Lovecraft's mythos and in some ways made it grander and stranger.

A more standard choice, would be Rosemary Kierstein's The Lost Steersman, which features some of the most alien, and most fascinating aliens I have ever seen in SF.

Oddly both of these novels are the third book in a series.


I'd have to nominate Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife. It has the distinct honour of being the only book matching your criteria that I've actually read.

Does this alone make it important, though? Being one of the very few female-authored books reaching a wide-enough SF audience to make this list?


Tom Clancy done badly

I think, for Tom Clancy not done badly, you have to look at some of the ghost-written stuff, such as the Net Force Explorers books. Check on what Diane Duane wrote.

But that setting is so unlike Tom Clancy's usual stuff. His own writing reads, too often, like a plagiarism of an arms-sales brochure. He peoples his plots with stereotypes. He has characters deride the "ticking bomb" torture justification, and then successfully use it.

The Hunt For Red October might have had characters crafted from the finest cardboard, but the characters were working in a plot which didn't give the USA an automatic technical advantage. The existing, known, Soviet tech was shown as a manageable threat. The new tech was shown as changing the game.

And then he quietly drops the Red October system without explanation.

Was the novel well-written? Better, I think, than many of his later ones.


Female only lets me copy my first choice from the other thread again:

"We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver (2003)

If there's any chance you might read the novel, don't read the wikipedia entry it ruins the flow of the book.

One of the themes of the novel is the assumption that a mother will love her children, she just will. What happens if you don't?

I loaned this to one person who phoned me up at 0300 that night crying because she wasn't the only one and another who basically stopped speaking to me afterwards. Any novel that can break relationships has to count as important."

Lionel may not be a traditionally female name but it is her name and that had nothing to do with weird ideas about what sells books held by publishers.

I've always felt I "ought" to read more Sheri S Tepper. I read True Game and it's sequels as a child and loved them. I then tried some of her other work and didn't understand or enjoy it and I kept that view into adulthood. I keep meaning to go back and try again but I suspect I'm going to need to break a leg or something to increase my reading enough to take on novels I "Know" I'm not going to like.


Well, there was Graceling, by Kristin Cashore. It was rather good, even my Mum liked it, and she doesn't read sf.


Being late to this party I'd just like to note that I don't see a lot of love for Liz Williams or Martha Wells, just on the basis of sustained quality.


Chris Moriarty, to me, is a better version of Richard Morgan and I do not know why we live in the universe where she does not occupy his niche in SF worship. Her second novel was intense and a wonderful espionage novel on top of everything else. She also seems to integrate high quality writing with thoughtful science philosophy, much like the qualities of Peter Watts that I gushed over in the other thread.

I can think of many 80/90's female writers who were important to me, but less who came on the scene recently. That may speak to where I am in life or to the economics of the book industry and/or to the many hurdle differentials Charlie refers to above. I could be wrong, but I think Cherryh has been limited by the "necessities" of marketing and it has curtailed her ability to write more diverse stuff (AND pay the mortgage.) Melissa Scott is a favorite of mine who has suffered personal loss as well as I suspect publisher downsizing in the last few years. Patricia Anthony had a great voice, though I think it worked better for short works. Hambly's time seems to have come and gone. Hobb writes the most intelligent and readable "door-stop" fantasies, but I do not know if I can bring myself to call them important. I am ashamed to admit I have not kept up with LeGuin and Tepper, though it is hard to imagine they are producing bad work.


From a personal standpoint I would have to mention Justina Robson, which might be blamed on our mutual interest in the philosophy of mind.

(And yes, her books explore the philosophy of mind - I asked her)

But on a more general level... that is much harder. If we consider novels important to people other than "us", the obvious answer would be "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" by Joanne Rowling. Are there other answers - probably.


Girl Genius now has not one but TWO Hugo awards

Actually three now.


No its a definite fail.

Taking a tube to Oxford would be improbable in 2360 never mind 2060. The tube network is run by Transport for London (clue there), publicly funded (good luck getting the money (several billion £ most likely) to run a line the 60 or so miles to Oxford). Even if it did exist, no one in their right mind would take a tube train to Oxford - the existing main railway lines would be quicker and more comfortable - that's if they didn't simply drive.


Mind you, as a Londoner I refer to "getting the tube to Paris or Brussels" as an ironic reference to the ease of using Eurostar...


Elizabeth Bear is young enough she may not have read the Ellison, however, because she would have been around four years old when it last saw print.

Isn't it in The Essential Ellison?


My personal list:

"Life" by Gwyneth Jones (2004) "Spin State" and "Spin Control" by Chris Moriarty (2004 and 2007, respectively) "A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines", Janna Levin (2007) "Maul" by Tricia Sullivan (2006)


OK, my compass is much more narrow. I really enjoy Cthulhu mythos and Lovecraftian fiction, and this subgenre has not exactly been the bailiwick of women...until the past decade!

I would like to suggest that Caitlin R. Kiernan is one of the most important Lovecraftians writing today. Her novel Threshold makes your decade cutoff (just!). First of all, this novel is brilliantly Lovecraftian without being Cthulhu mythos. Ms. Kiernan is a trained paleontologist and her expertise adds to the verisimiltude enormously. The way descriptions of fossils add to the growing disquiet cannot be overstated. Ms. Kiernan explores similar themes in a somewhat more overt Cthulhuish way in her wonderful short stories 'Valencia" and "From Cabinet 34, Drawer 10." Secondly, Ms. Kiernan's prose is breathtaking. Characters are deftly drawn; their struggles on the page are truly heartfelt. By the denouement the tension she has so carefully developed is unbearable. Finally, I am happy to say Ms. Kiernan is at the forefront of a new Lovecraft circle of women (OK, maybe a bad geometrical analogy...). For years we relied on Ann K. Schwader, Denise Dumars and Cailin Kiernan. Lately we have new voices from Lisa Hilton, Inez Schaechterle, Sheila Crosby, Kiwi Courters, Lois Gresh and Linda Donahue. The editor of the best Cthulhuian website/e-zine/micropublisher is Sylvia Moreno-Garcia. With Ellen Daltlow getting on Big Green's bandwagon too, the future for R'lyeh is fhtagning good.


A wonderful series by a very good writer, Kristin Britain: Green Rider, First Rider's Call, The High King's Tomb and Nightvale (sp). She is a forest ranger in Maine who writes slowly, but her words draw beautiful detailed pictures; the plotting is good, the characters are fun.

I am a lover of CJ Cherryh's Foreigner series as well, mainly for the use of translation between language and species as the driver of politics and plot.

Laurell K. Hamilton is writing the same things now, and that is too bad because her female characters have strength, but plots are hard to come by.

Margaret Atwood takes me forever to get the first hundred pages read, but I do it because, since Handmaid's Tale, she is just someone that needs to be read.


"Daniel White for the Greater Good" might be in The Essential Ellison, (it certainly should be) but I read the story out of Gentleman Junkie sometime around 1980. I never picked up The Essential Ellison because I read all the Pyramid anthologies years ago.

The main issue here is that I didn't want to accuse Elizabeth Bear of plagiarism in any way, shape, or form, but I did want to comment on the similarity between the two stories.


It seems like people are limiting this to science fiction. I missed that memo ;-)


I am only correcting your error re: the Ellison. Nitpicking is one of the great pleasures of life.


No prob.


Clancy's Clear and Present Danger was a pretty well-done polemic against wars of choice.

The Sum of All Fears, now overtaken by events, made an important point about how the use of torture isn't only inhumane, but counterproductive.


With all respect — and I'm not using that as code for "with no respect at all" — I don't accept the premise of the question: That there is a discernable difference, or that it matters for the works themselves if there is. The author is not the work; the author's background informs the work, but if author and work were coextensive nobody would read Ezra Pound's Cantos, since he was a thoroughly detestable individual. Neither would anyone read Wodehouse after his forced "collaboration".

There is certainly a discernable difference in the way the marketplace (and publishing) treat authors based on gender, on race, etc. That has nothing whatsoever to do with the importance of the work. Perhaps the best examples of this are two men in twentieth century literature whose minuscule output of fiction is vastly out of proportion to their reputations and influences: E.M. Forster and Walter M. Miller, Jr.

That said, I offer the following works (which, I'm afraid, will just confirm that I have very screwy reading habits) that appear to fit Our Gracious Host's modified criteria:

Mary Doria Russell, A Thread of Grace ("important" because it does a good job of debunking some of the "all members of the Axis were irredemably anti-Semitic" meme while still managing to be a novel and not an overextended op-ed column)

Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark ("important" because it manages to deal with several important aspect of Otherness without descending into pure polemicism)

Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell ("important" because it simultaneously manages to pay homage to and undermine Jane Austen... and those who worship her works as the epitome of literature)

That's enough for now. I'll just go back to trying to advance the careers of novelists who are on the road to producing an "important" novel in the next few years... regardless of gender, class, nationality, etc.


That's true for you and doubtless many others but there are other authors who still read a lot - John Scalzi, Chris Moriarty, Ursula LeGuin to name but three.


I do wonder if some female authors use "gender neutral" names on their book (Chris Moriarty, CS Friedman and even JK Rowling) to sidestep a few of those hurdles OGH mentioned upthread.


Mary Doria Russell, A Thread of Grace ("important" because it does a good job of debunking some of the "all members of the Axis were irredemably anti-Semitic" meme while still managing to be a novel and not an overextended op-ed column)<<<

Sounds more like it's repeating the old myth that the Italian fascists weren't that bad really because they weren't racists like Adolf's gang. Except that they were, as any victim of their colonial campaigns in Libya, Eritrea and Ethiopia could tell you. It may have taken Il Duce until 1938 to bring in explicitly anti-semitic legislation, but that doesn't mean that his ideology was in any way inconsistent with that old bigotry in either its 'modernised' racial form or in the old 'christ-killer' mode.


Folks have gotten to most of my top choices: Caitlin R. Kiernan, Chris Moriarty, Susannah Clarke, and Margaret Atwood. I would like to add Ekaterina Sedia's terrific The House of Discarded Dreams (here's why: ).


I think that in this context, I think about importance with respect to the industry more than anything else. Maybe because it's too soon to say that $NOVEL changed the world in $WAY, maybe because it's also too soon to make a similar observation about my behavior. (I'd probably have to rely on other people to point out changes.)

From that perspective, I think it would have to be Twilight. (The first Harry Potter book was apparently published in 1997 – hey, I didn't start reading them until the last one was published, of course I had to look up the date – and thus does not qualify.) It strikes me as the sort of book about which someone (or several someones) said "No one's going to read that, it's just sparkly vampires, who cares?" Whether or not that's all it is, a lot of people cared ... perhaps not to the extent that people did/do about Mr. Potter and his young friends, but Meyer definitely attracted a very sizable audience. (It doesn't matter that her vampires aren't "real" vampires, that they don't follow established vampire rules. She seems to have guessed that her audience wouldn't care about that, and she turned out to be correct.)

I read the series. The first one was interesting enough that I wanted to finish the series to find out what happened, but overall it wasn't my cup of tea ... no big deal, because I'm not the target audience. I enjoyed Rowling's books much more, in no small part because I could identify with Harry more than with Bella.

I read Twilight because it was the book we were reading that month for book club; a couple of years later, I read The Hunger Games for the same reason (but also because my best friend strongly recommended the trilogy). I also ended up reading Harry Potter based on her recommendation ... Boneshaker when it was io9's book of the month, back before Gawker made their entire family of sites completely unviewable by anyone with an eye for layout ... and The Help as a book for our book club. They're important in different ways, but I fear that a common thread is that they are reminding the stodgy part of the publishing industry that yes, women can write books that people want to read, and honestly we ought to be past that point by now.

And I think that is what OGH is getting at in 115, that obviously we're not past that point. I can't say that I would have read most of those books if someone whose opinion I trust hadn't basically said "This is good, read this." (My best friend is the one who cajoled me into joining the book club in the first place, so she gets credit for all the books above.) There will always be plenty of books I'd like to read and will never take the opportunity to read, and yet my default behavior, when it's time to pick up another book, is basically "Let's see what's out there that is similar to what I already know I like."

There are several authors I like who have rather large collections of work, so it's easy to default to something of theirs I haven't read ... and they all happen to be white men, so I just end up reading more books from the same group. The thing is, I enjoyed J.K. Rowling and Cherie Priest and Octavia Butler and Suzanne Collins (and before them, Le Guin and McCaffrey); there's obviously more out there like what they've written, it's just a matter of making the effort to look. It isn't so much about making sure that X% of what I read is by someone other than a white man, it's more about making sure that publishers realize that white men can actually enjoy books by people not exactly like them. (Not that I'm speaking for my entire demographic.)


"Important" used in this sense usually implies that everyone sat up and took notice, but I think of "important" more in terms of whether it shook up my own world. If we're talking important in my sense, I'd have to say KJ Bishop's The Etched City, followed closely by Helen Oyeyemi's White is for Witching and Mr. Fox. Those really tilted and expanded the way I looked at narrative (and a lot of other things).


Just a few science fiction suggestions-- no fantasy in this list.

Nancy Kress--Beggers in Spain series Kay Kenyon--Entire and the Rose series ( if you've not read these you're missing out on one the field's best world builders. Suspenseful, brilliant writing.) Brenda Cooper--The Silver Ship and the Sea ( also suitable sf for ya readers--colonists and explorations of what it is to be "human") Suzanne Collins--Hunger Games (exciting post apocalyptic ya soon to be a movie) Nancy Farmer--House of the Scorpion Elizabeth Bear--everything she writes is wonderful stuff

Gotta run to day jobbe but with time I could come up with many, many more. Anon


And of course I just remember two while I went for tea. Louise Marley--Absolom's Mother and other stories (powerful anti-war sf another must read. Mary Doria Russel--Sparrow (I taught this at a Jesuit university, the Jesuits loved it) Lois McMaster Bujold-- she's influential and prolific Elizabeth Moon--also influential and prolific

And I'll add in Mary Gentle--Ash (is it sf or fantasy?)



The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht The Orphan's Tales by Cat Valente


So, like, dudes can only read and "understand" books by dudes, apparently. Chicks can read books by chicks and understand them. And for hundreds of years, due to a lack of female writers, chicks have read books by dudes and, it could be argued, understand them. Therefore, since the blog is dude-heavy readership, recommendations will be dude-heavy because while women are versatile in their ability to understand male characters and male writers, dudes aren't as flexible? Or are you saying women can't write important books? Dude, I am so sad right now. I'm just going to sit in my corner over here and weep for humanity.

My picks: JK Rowling, Tamora Pierce, Mira Grant, Elizabeth Bear, Octavia Butler, Catherine Valente... and those're just authors off the top of my head. You can debate whether their work is GOOD or not, but I think their work has been important, and has had an impact on the field.


If we look back to the 1940's, which authors/ideas were important subsequently?

I would argue Asimov's Robot stories would be one, for example. The 3 laws are part of our broader culture.

Conversely, the idea of large space colonies didn't really take off until O'Neill popularized them in the mid 1970's, which resulted in a host of SF stories and thinking set around that premise (Although his vision dated pretty quickly, the core concept seems to still have currency).


The outstanding commercial success of JK Rowling has absolutely changed the YA market, both in the size and complexity of the books they will publish and the number of women protagonists and authors.

I am not a great arbiter of what novels are important, but I have to say that I love Bujold's Vorkosigan series, Cat Valente's Orphan's Tales (and her other books) and N. K. Jemisin's Broken Kingdoms. They are all the kinds of books and stories I didn't know I was hungering to read... and were epiphanies in the same way that Tamora Pierce's Lioness quartet was for me as a kid. I also really like Connie Willis's books, though I was slow to "discover" them.


Important as in 'random people on the street might know about it': well, I'd say Harry Potter, though the series technically started before 2000. Or Twilight, though the fandom here really started with the movies rather than the books.

Important to me, as in books that I really like and influenced my life: it's a tie between Cat Valente's "The orphan's tales" and Ursula Vernon's "Digger" (yes, it's an online comic, but it's finished and in print too so I think it counts as a book).


I think it was Bujold who mentioned at Worldcon that the Sharing Knife series isn't necessarily a pre-enlightenment version of our world. (In fact, and it's not exactly a spoiler, the entire series is more post-apocalyptic than pre-enlightenment.)

As to whether or not Curse is better than Paladin of Souls, I'd say that Paladin may well be the better book, but Curse hit me a lot harder, personally, so I prefer it. My wife prefers Paladin.

Anyone who thinks Bujold is either weak at plotting or not as good at the 'hard SF' stuff is reading a different set of books than I am. Memory has fantastic plotting, as does most of the Miles stuff. And things like uterine replicators are about as SFnal as any technology gets. I keep waiting for a fully Betan novel because I suspect most readers would find it a far more alien society to them than Barrayar. Bujold's talent is that you have a ton of extremely SFnal elements fed in without you noticing. Compare her stuff to, say, Peter F. Hamilton, who specializes in sensawunder SF with amazing imagery, but his societies and characters, despite doing amazing things, don't feel particularly futuristic.

My list of "important books" would be something like: "The Selfish Gene", "Stranger in a Strange Land", "Lord of the Rings", "Future Shock", perhaps "True Names".

I've been thinking hard about this. By "important" do you mean "important to Charlie Stross" or "important to the wider culture"? If it's the former, my personal list would include "Gaudy Night", "Discipline and Punish", "The Redundancy of Courage" and "Tales of Neveryon." These were the books that crawled out of their covers and reformatted my hard drive. Of the four, I'd argue that only "Discipline and Punish" was "important" to the culture at large. (I am a demographic of one.)

(If I were younger, I could see "Among Others" having a similar effect on me. And I think "We Need To Talk About Kevin" is a possibly-Great book, too.)

(As it happens my list contains no straight men and no white men. I would not conclude from this that straight and/or white men do not write important books. I'm in the middle of Tony Judt's "Postwar", which is fantastic. As is Jacques Barzun's "From Dawn to Decadence.")


(Oops: no straight men and only one white man. Sorry, Michel!)


The Taxi Driver's Daughter by Julia Darling was wonderful.

Really pleased to see Natural History getting so many props. Loved that book and had all but forgotten about it.

AL Kennedy deserves a shout too. Of her books since 2000, I think 'Day' is probably the most 'important' (yuck)

Good thread.


I don't know if it qualifies for anyone's "MOST important book" ... but "Diamond Star" by Catherine Asaro should certainly qualify as, at least, important.


"Important" is really difficult to define.

I think any discussion of female fantasy/science fiction writers is incomplete, however, without mention of Judith Tarr (aka Caitlin Brennan and Kathleen Bryan).

Her alternate histories and young adult novels redefine what those genres can be. She turns all of the conventions on their heads, and her characterizations and stories just can't be beat.


Your question made me go and look at the BSFA awards. In 2000-2010, Wikipedia says, there was 12 female nominees. That's right, twelve. Out of 58. How about that?

And important... Hmmm. How about the three that got screen versions? Rowling, Meyer and Harris. Yes, Half-blood Prince was so mutilated I didn't even want to watch Dark Hallows. Yes, they turned True Blood into an awful soap-opera-with-vampires after the first season. No, I don't want to see or read about The Pants angstying about vampires and werewolves at all.

But all three of them received a much wider reach than the usual reading public. It's more than a little sad, but I think that they might have much more influence and importance in the field, if we consider the marketability of books about fantastic, than—I hate to say it because I like both Harry Potter and Sookie Stackhouse, say whatever you will—better books.


I actually think Le Guin's best work this past decade has been not Lavinia, but the series Annals of the Western Shore (with Gifts and Powers as the two standouts of the series). All the goodness of the original Earthsea trilogy but with Le Guin's feminism now encoded at a genetic level instead of welded on as is the case in the latter Earthsea trilogy (which is still very well written--it just suffers from having to retool what's gone before instead of being able to work from whole cloth).


HOW MANY COMMENTS whilst I wa on holiday in Germany ??


I've read books from two female authors that I can remember now. Trudi Canavans The Black Magician trilogy and a few from the same universe. And I've read a lot of Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogdens (Robin Hobb / Megan Lindholm) books. It's not SF, but it's what I've read from female authors.

I guess I should read more books by female authors...


I'm very late again and somewhat rushed, but for what it's worth:

I've been working on a strict interpretation of dates, what a novel is, and above all of importance - something I hardly ever attribute to anything within shouting distance of its appearance. In particular, I'm downplaying the publically-uninteresting category of "important to me." That said, here's my breakdown of what makes a novel important, and one prime (female) exemplar of each category in which I can offer one:

1a - Changes the 'who' of the readership. Candidate: Stephanie Meyer's Twilight. Meh!

1b - Changes how people read the genre. Candidate: Catherynne Valente, starting with the marvellous puzzle-box of The Orphan's Tales: The Night Garden. Valente is to the rawest manifestations of faerie what Tanith Lee has been to the gothic, and her prose is a thing of knives and visceral depths to Lee's veils and glittering surfaces. We will, if there is any justice, hear a great deal more of her.

2a - Changes the 'who' of the authorship. By definition, we don't know much about who's provided the most lasting inspiration yet. Any answer really ought to be an essay or nothing.

2b - Changes how people write the genre. I've a horrid feeling that Laurell K Hamilton, as the great popularizer of the vampire-shagger novel, may be in prime position here. More subtle, interesting, and durable effects are... well, harder to pin down at short range. Robin Hobb, for making brutally cold, clean, and downbeat fantasy a serious seller? Catherine Asaro, for combining relatively hard SF with very romancy romance? (I'd be more sanguine about this combo if I didn't hate hate HATE the particular flavour of the romance she uses; I'd think it had more 'importance' if she seemed to be less sui generis.)

3 - Changes our world significantly, by changing how people see it. The rarest of all: most of the obvious answers I can think of are pretty degenerate cases, principally preaching to the choir and hence limited in effect; and none of the prime culprits are women. I gave up on Tepper a considerable while since, and can't really comment on her more recent contributions.

4 - I don't know why it's important, but my gut tells me it is. Several possibilities: I'll give my heart the deciding vote, and go with Bujold's Sharing Knife on this one.

I don't know but what 4 may not be the category that will be most 'important' of all, in the long run. The trouble with wanting explanations in art is that - useful as they are - its sublimest powers are tricksy and elvish things, and slip through the grasping fingers like water.


Would this encourage you to take more holidays?




Great question. Just forced me to think about how few female authors I've read recently. Didn't used to be the case.

My shout out would have to be (already mentioned by quite a few) Hilary Mantel and Wolf Hall, which was outstanding.

Lionel Shriver's "...Kevin" severely got under my skin.

Depending on the definition of important (I'm going for "helped change how I thought about stuff") I'd probably have to go for Kevin as the more important, 'though I wouldn't call it enjoyable at all, and I never want to read it again.

I struggled with Jonathan Strange, didn't really have the wit and humour of Neal Stephenson to carry me through the huge amount of words and slow plotting. Not sure I've read enough original 19th century fiction to fully get it all.

In passing, I am a little surprised at how many posters here either only read genre sci-fi/fantasy, or have managed to not be impressed by anything outside the genre in the last decade. I know this a sci-fi author's blog, but come on guys, the book shop has other sections in it!

I was just thinking that I needed to find some more science fiction authors to read, though, so this thread and the one before has sorted out about a year's worth of recommendations for me.


and, fwiw, I'm defining "important" as some combination of game-changing publishing-wise and culturally influential.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone would be my pick for the 90's, as another example.


And finally, I belatedly note that you didn't ask about genre at all in your question, but I don't think I'd change my answer.


electric dog fence @310 = SPiced hAM.

Bad Doggy!


Important to me:

Ombria in Shadow, Patricia McKillip I love her prose, and in this book she got most other things right as well.

Jonathan Strange etc Not quite as important to me, the ingredients seem to have been around in my other reading material, but a lovely lovely book none the less.

Sheri Tepper is an important voice, so to me The Margarets is an important book since that voice isnt silenced, but I expect her to do better later on.

Didnt like Potter, havent read much non-imaginative stuff.


Oh, I'm so glad you mentioned KJ Bishop's ETCHED CITY! If you hadn't, I was going to. Sometimes I feel like one of five people who've read this book, and it's a crying shame.

Such lyrically descriptive writing coupled with a truly memorable city/world. I'm convinced this book would be "important" were it not seemingly languishing in obscurity.

In my opinion, Bishop outdoes Mieville's PERDIDO STREET STATION.


That's not what we're supposed to use to choose the books.


"Daniel White for the Greater Good" is in a batch of places as well as Essential Ellison.

(When anybody needs to look up SFF, use ISFDB.)


Bone Palace (Amanda Downum) is really good. Issylt, Savedra, and Phaedra are really epic characters. The preceding book in the series isn't as good, but still readable. I have high hopes for the unreleased third.


I am late to this party, but here goes.

A quick perusal of my bookshelves shows that women writers are well represented in my reading. Scanning just the nearest fiction shelves quickly, I would say that by volume roughly 40% of my fiction reading has been by women authors (and I think that percentage is growing). Am I a typical male reader? I have no data, but probably not.

[boring list]From where I sit, I see Marion Zimmer Bradley, Lois McMaster Bujold, C. K. Crigger, Jacqueline Carey, Carol Buchanan, Willa Cather, Cherie Priest, Chris Moriarty, Colleen McCullough, Elizabeth Moon, Linda Evans, Lisa Gardner, Sue Grafton, Jane Austen, Janet Evanovich, Johanna Spyri, Kage Baker, Kathy Reichs, KD Wentworth, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Lois McMaster Bujold, Louisa May Alcott, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Margaret Mitchell, Mary Doria Russell, Mary Brown, Mary H. Kingsley, N.K. Jemisin, Linda Nagata, Nancy Kress, Juliette Akinyi Ochieng, Susan Beth Pfeffer, Sarah Hoyt, Sharon Lee, Connie Shelton, Tanya Huff, Connie Willis, C.J. Cherryh, and Charlotte Brontë. There are more in other shelves and drawers and ebooks too.[/boring list]

Charlie has deliberately left the definition of "important" vague, so I will interpret it as personally important to me in some way.

Fiction in general: Mary Doria Russell's A Thread of Grace actually shook me. I think it is good to be reminded every now and then of how totally evil the Nazi regime was, and Russell's book fills that need with style.

Science Fiction/Fantasy: I totally enjoyed Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War books. "Not so important", someone says. "Au contraire", say I. If writers (including OGH) wish to sell books, it is most important that they engage readers and keep them coming back for more (which Ms Moon does well).


Echo Rowling for making a generation of readers - and they are 'kids books' and 'fantasy' so critiquing them as literature is a bit silly....

Just wanted to mention Kathy Reichs 'Bones' novels (i've read a handful of them recently). she is a best-selling crime-novelist, but I believe she is terribly unique because

a - she's one of the very few forensic anthropologists around, certified, practicing, etc.

b - she doesn't dumb down the science or white-wash the horrors of her work in her books.

c - she's actually a pretty entertaining writer...

there is a fairly successful TV show very loosely based on her works - but don't hold that against her...

worth a read if OGH is looking for something outside the SF-genre, with some hard-science from a real specialist in the field, some gnarly boiling of bones and the occasional one-wetsuit appearance (haven't found a 2-wetsuit yet.....)

If anyone can recommend a female writer with work in the vein of the 'firehose-of-ideas' i've come to expect from Stross/Sterling/Stephenson I'd move her work to the top of my list...


@310 Sure, there are other sections they are called "History" and "Philosophy" the problem is they don't qualify as novels...


And another one from me, which I missed in my first post because I hadn't sufficiently teased out where it belonged: N K Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, for tackling Zelaznyesque themes of superhumanity and titanomachy, from a very different side of privilege and presumptions.

That might play out to hit quite a few of my importance buttons from #307. If it does, I think we might end up the richer for it.


Spirit by Gwyneth Jones

I had been on the verge of selecting if for the previous thread, honest!

The characterisation and plotting are so deft; we are totally swept into the protagonist's world. The narrative pulls off the tricky multiple points of view technique very well.

I haven't read the previous "Aleutian" books, but the novel works very well free-standing.

If I can chip in with some other names of favourite female authors who are currently (i.e. in last ten years or so) active, they would include:

Ursula Le Guin - Changing Planes was a real hoot.

Vonda McIntyre - a long standing favourite of mine, and The Moon and The Sun is as good as anything she wrote before (even Dreamsnake)

Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Moon


For my nomination, I'm sticking with "Speed of Dark" - reasoning etc in previous thread.

36 - You're far from the only one who dislikes Virginia DelMarcie's writing; Have a look at how the ratings for the Azanti Shards (Ring of Fire) books she co-authored compare with any of the others (particularly, given the threat title etc, "Time Spike") on Amazon. 152 - I took the "remit" the same way you did Jessica.

Now this is a challenge. I looked back through my collection, and I don't actually have very many works by female authors from the last 10 years. I've discovered a great many female authors in that time, but most of the novels I now own are their earlier works.

My personal pick would probably be Lois Bujold's Cryoburn, but not for the text. Rather, it contained the bind-in cd with her back catalogue that allowed me to finally start reading the Vorkosigan books. Unfortunately most of them were not readily available in Australasia when they were first written, and I hate not being able to start a series at the beginning. Now of course, they're nicely being reprinted, just in time to add them to the shelves.

Hmm, looking at some of the best-of lists, lets see what other possibilities there were.

Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer, a mid-eighties Argentinian book translated from spanish by Ursula Le Guin. Important in my mind for providing western readers with a foreign female voice, in the same way that Sergei Lukyanenko has done for Russian fantasy.

Connie Willis as mentioned above.

Susannah Clarke with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Undeniably popular although personally I hated it.

Robin Hobb did her Tawny Man trilogy, which was well recieved, if not important per se.

Naomi Novik - Temeraire and its sequels nicely cross Fantasy with the Napoleonic wars.

Actually thats about all I could see of significant names. There were a number of one-off first novels that got a fair bit of attention, but nothing since. I'd probably put the above Clarke in that category. I found I'd probably read about a third of the works listed, but it was noticeable how few of the authors were female.


Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke Ash by Mary Gentle Life by Gwyneth Jones Light Music by Kathleen Ann Goonan


Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen of Attolia (2000) and The King of Attolia (2006), for (IMO) helping redefine the YA genre in terms of complexity of politics and character motivations.

Catherynne M. Valente's Orphan's Tales duology (2006-07), for taking the nested stories concept to a place I never would have thought possible, and Palimpsest (2009), for doing something new with the incredibly time-worn subgenre of portal fantasy.

(if female; who knows?) K.J. Parker's Engineer trilogy (2005-07), for showing that "dark" and "gritty" do not have to be synonyms for "full of graphic blood and guts and rape." (Also for writing a seven-page description of a single piece of metalworking that manages to be one of the most emotionally gripping scenes I've ever read. I have no idea how s/he does it.)


Personally, I loved Out by Natsuo Kirino. It was pretty important to me. I felt scraped clean, afterwards. It was also important in that it was her first novel, and exposed a lot of the racial and gender prejudices that keep certain parts of Tokyo's economy running. I found her follow-up, Grotesque, a tad too arch and contrived, but it also discussed race with her trademark acid wit.

I would also like to contribute the wrap-up to the Fruits Basket manga, by Natsuki Takaya. A brilliant, satisfactory end to a suburban fantasy series that explored the challenges to everyday life that an awful curse would bring, and how surrendering to a self-fulfilling prophecy can only prolong suffering. It looks like Ooku: The Inner Chambers by Fumi Yoshinaga might be a good follow-up, in that vein.

I also enjoyed Octavia Butler's Fledgling for (much like Blindsight) turning the current obsession with vampires on its ear. It also asked all the right questions about the premise, much like Let Me In. Sometimes you have to get inside the genre in order to critique it. I was sad to have read it following her death; I think that a series of books in that universe would have been wonderful.

Not fiction, but regarding fiction: I wouldn't be the same science fiction writer I am today without LeGuin's The Wave in the Mind.


Why should it be surprising to anyone that a genre which has significantly disproportionately male readers should be produced by disproportionately male writers?

But if we expand the definition of speculative fiction to include teen and children's fiction involving wizards and vampires the picture is a very different one.

And if using that definition you measured volumes sold rather than titles published it would be different again.

The problem may well lie with the way in which we AFAICS predominantly male commenters down here define 'important'.

FWIW more recent books by say Cheryhh and LeGuin are every bit as important to me as their Hugo and Nebula Award winning classics of the 70s even though they might appear to break no radically new imaginative ground.

And despise them as we might the Rowlings and Meyers (and both have enough imitators for the the collective noun to apply) have actually gone places where no man had gone before and got a whole generation that were effectively lost to literature reading great fat wordy tomes of books again.


Not to mention the fact that Rowling, Meyers and Collins keep the lights on around here. They bring in revenues that allow their publishers to pay advances to other writers. (Such is my understanding of the current model, at least. I may be wrong.) For that reason alone, their books are very important.


Looking outside the SF genre - however stretched - what on earth might you mean by important?

Books no longer have the power to incite revolutions that they might once have had.

But although I loathe her politics Naomi Klein has certainly (mis-)inspired a great many activists.

Natasha Walter's Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism may well say nothing 'new' at all in its 273 pages - but its whole point is that our culture is regressing to the sexist values of the 1950s with barely a murmur of protest.

Carlota Perez's Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages also represents an attempt to revive older concepts from once prominent but now almost forgotten earlier twentieth century economists like Schumpeter and Kondratiev and like Walter (and unlike Klein) should have made a much bigger intellectual splash than it did.

And while it may not contain any original concepts whatsoever or go anywhere that literary memoirs have never gone before Lorna Sage's Bad Blood should be read by anyone who cares about how unique human beings is formed by family and the social and physical environment about them.


This post compels me to ask a follow-up question: the fact that all the authors I mentioned on the original post happened to be female is making me grin. Does this make me a bad person?

Rather than re-hash my existing response, I'll mention that one of the oldest novels that I consider important also happened to be written by a woman: Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, whose (214th) birthday happens to be today. It's not important because it's one of the first examples of science fiction, or of horror, or of the novel as a format, or even because the story sticks with us for so long and became such a part of our culture. READ the damned thing, and think about it, and discuss it with people, and you'll see.

(My own assertion is that it's fundamentally a novel about the consequences of the choices parents make in raising children, but there's certainly room for discussion.)

Bonus points for those with short attention spans: watch the 1986 movie "Gothic" to get a better understanding of the context in which it was written. (If you don't already know why, then read the wikipedia article on the movie to understand the relationship.)

Once again, happy birthday, Mary Shelley!


Madelaine at 330.

This 'keeping the lights burning' observation also of course applies to countless female writers (and consumers) of complete dreck like romance novels, 'celebrity memoirs' and so on - if they did not also serve and produce profits the big publishers and bookshops and online retailers would all be gone overnight.

In a sense a sort of cultural imperialism operates here where some of the the super-profits generated by marketing what China Mieville once in a talk once described as cheeseburger literature - processed, utterly predictable but strangely satisfying when there is a hole in your life that only fast food can fill - to the masses gets erratically redistributed to a labour aristocracy of 'quality' writers.

So just as no one would cover the earth in cables or shoot satellites in space to broadcast TV signals to billions of homes if the only thing produced was The Wire or Mad Men so all of us literary snobs benefit from the mass production of books we wouldn't use to wipe our arses with.

Something else I should have added is that the impression I get is that children's literature is far more dominated by women writers and illustrators - and without children's literature to instil the bibliophilic habit where would we all be?


Roger: This 'keeping the lights burning' observation also of course applies to countless female writers (and consumers) of complete dreck like romance novels

This is your yellow card.

Reason: fightin' talk directed at a genre of fiction that lots of people -- whether or not you agree with them -- hold in considerable esteem. Also: egregious sexism directed at the majority of fiction readers.

I refer you to the moderation policy. Do it again and you will be banned from this topic and your comment deleted.

Some additional clarification: genre romance accounts for around 52% of all published fiction in the US market. A lot of it is undoubtedly formulaic ... just as is a large proportion of SF and Fantasy. And as with SF and Fantasy, Sturgeon's Law applies: if 99% of SF is drek, that other 1% is something else -- and so with romance. It's invariably a bad mistake to write off an entire genre as unworthy of consideration, and that's what you just did.


I like "cheeseburger literature" as a superset of Extruded Fantasy Product; the type is known in all genres and we should have a way to talk about it.


Interesting (well, to me) side-note on genre romance: my attitude towards it changed (a bit) when I played the old Infocom text adventure "Plundered Hearts".

The bulk of Infocom games were fantasy (like Zork) or science fiction (like Planetfall). There were a few mysteries thrown in as well (like Deadline).

"Plundered Hearts" was a no-apoligies up-front full-fledged BODICE RIPPER. The heroine (who was the character you played as) was involved in plots involving governors and pirates in the West Indies, intrigue, romance, everything. The box art even almost looked like a painting with Fabio.

(Oh, and as an aside, the game designer happens to have been a woman. But I'm somehow not used to thinking of that as odd with regard to games from this time period, with examples like Roberta Williams and Jane Jensen as awesome examples in my memory.)

And... it was a good game! I thoroughly enjoyed playing it.

Now, I still can't personally stand the genre of fiction upon which it's based, but I take that to say more about my tastes than about that genre. This game helped me catch a glimpse of what some people see in it.

(For those who want to try it: the game is in the "Lost Treasures of Infocom 2" collection, and the data file is just sitting there ready to load into interpreters that run pretty much everywhere, including under "Frotz" for the iPad and iPhone. I originally played it on an MS-DOS PC, but now, yes, I can load it up on my phone.)


I rarely comment here, which I guess makes me a drive by... but anyway.

I'm going to go with the 'important to me personally' interpretation as opposed to the 'important to literature and/or the genre', primarily because I don't think I have the know-how to make such big judgement calls.

For me, the two novels that were important from female authors in the last ten years were The Time-Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenberger and Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente. The first also influenced Doctor Who, so I wasn't the only one who found it important ;) and the second blew me away with the beauty of the writing.


I am also on an eternal search for more fans of TEC! :D

"I'm convinced this book would be 'important' were it not seemingly languishing in obscurity."

I agree! It would also help if Mieville's many dudebro fans would stop going around accusing everything experimental and weird, especially if written by a lady, of "ripping off" Mieville. Funny how nobody accuses Mieville of ripping of M. John Harrison... (Not that I think he did, but the influences are pretty obvious in both Bishop's and Mieville's works, so if you were going to accuse anyone of ripping off anyone, you might as well accuse them both of ripping off Harrison.)

On the one hand, I don't like pitting books against each other, but on the other hand, I also prefer Bishop's writing to Mieville's. It's not that Mieville isn't good, but somehow his stuff doesn't click with me on a personal level. (I've never actually managed to finish one of his books, though I've started at least 3. One of these days I will plow my way through Perdido somehow or another.) TEC, otoh, was ringing all sorts of subconscious "ah-hah!" bells from start to finish.


(Bravo! I say this largely because the author I 'discovered' after finding you, our gracious host, was Elmore Leonard, and that revealed to me a whole genre of novels I'd completely forgotten about: Westerns.)


I don't know quite how to interpret the word "important". I don't like books that try to be important, they often end up self-important, and as a female reader I'm tempted to say that's a characteristic more often found in books written by men... Sorry to be sexist. I didn't comment on your first post, but your call for books by female authors has provoked me into action because the three things I would have recommended are all by women anyway. They're none of them sufficiently known in the UK, even though one of them is a UK author who just happens to live in the US.

I love the work of Kage Baker (RIP), who has been mentioned a few times already. Her Company novels are really worth seeking out. I got totally addicted to them. The first chapter of the first book is available on her website, and although it's a bit exposition heavy, it does set out the premise well. Are they important books? I'm not sure, but they're brilliant, and very humane, and I will reread them many more times.

Then there's Jo Walton, who has also been mentioned a few times. Maybe her Farthing series is important, because it gently brings out how easily a country could slide into fascism. (Did you see how many people retweeted Piers Morgan's call for martial law to be imposed on the streets of London during the recent riots?) But they're also funny, and very readable, combining the two things brought to mind by the 1930s country house, elegant murder mysteries and an unfortunate penchant for fascism. She's written other good stuff too.

But I don't think anyone's mentioned Carol Emshwiller yet. Carmen Dog doesn't qualify because it's from 1990, but The Mount (2002) is definitely both brilliant and important. It's set in a nearish future when a race of aliens has crash-landed onto earth. The Hoots have great weaponry and short, easily tired legs; before long they're raising humans to ride. Young Hoots spend hours grooming their humans, and lavishing them with affection and sweets. The story is seen through the eyes of a very well-bred highly-trained boy who serves as the mount for the Hoots' leader's heir, but finds out that his famous father has run away and is living a savage (in his eyes) life in the mountains. This is a brilliant and important book, and like all good fiction it has a lot to say about what it is to be human. Months after reading it I began to wonder if it's also a very elegantly-executed commentary on gender relations. Extra plus: it has great cover artwork. Even better for a Kindle owner like me: it's published by Small Beer books, an independent US press, who will sell you an ebook (DRM-free) so that you don't feel so much like Amazon's shill.



'Dreck' may have been the wrong word (although I deliberately went for a more obscure one) - but my whole point was that 'bad' fiction (and for that matter bad non-fiction) is in fact a vital part of the literary ecosphere without which writers would certainly find it harder to either get published or readers to find good stuff as easily and cheaply as we do.

And I also quoted China Mieville to the effect that that while some or in fact most fiction (and he was IIRC talking specifically about genre fantasy) is the literary equivalent of a cheeseburger there is nothing wrong with fast food as long as its not the only thing you eat (and arguably even if it is you have a right to commit suicide that way as long as its a free choice made by a rational adult in possession of the facts).

So I apologise for not expressing myself as well as I could have done - but surely a yellow card is excessive?


Taking a tube to Oxford would be improbable in 2360 never mind 2060. The tube network ...

Hmmm. I presume that you're not aware that the coach service between London and Oxford is called the Tube? Oxford people do indeed take the Tube to London and back. I presume that since the tube network is formally known as the London Underground, the coach company has managed to get hold of the trademark.

I have no idea about any other inaccuracies in Willis' time travel books; I've got a couple of them but not read any yet.

I've been thinking about this and the last thread for a couple of days now, and I'm not sure that I can add substantially to it. "Important" in literary terms seems to be defined a long time after the fact, by a canon committee of, e.g. critics or librarians. 'Important' books seem to be otherwise referred to as 'influential' or 'definitive'. To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind and The Colour Purple are among the most important novels of the twentieth century, in any terms, as well as among those by women writers.

So, I'll agree with everyone else that the Harry Potter series has been influential in getting a large number of people, not just children, reading, let alone reading fantasy. Is it otherwise influential? It has allowed more children's fantasy to reach the shelves, so yes. Definitive? I would have said rather that it is derivative, so no. Of the other novels of the decade by women that are being lauded by librarians and critics I'm sorry to say I've not read any, although I'm going to dig out some Zadie Smith first chance I get.

Of the non-fiction (I know, not part of the question, but hey), easily two of the most influential works by a woman in the decade are No Logo and The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. They point out the corporatisation process that has been happening over the last thirty years, and 'shock doctrine' has become a widely-used term for crisis-enabled privatisation. I'd say that they are as definitive of the last couple of decades as Future Shock was of the couple of decades before. I'm also going to say that Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss is important for having made grammar interesting, readable and popular (or is that just me?)

Of definitive and game-changing novels that I have actually read, I agree with Jo Walton that Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell has done something in fantasy that no-one else has managed to replicate, but I think it's early to tell how influential it'll be. It certainly has been a fine example of how to write in the voice of the Regency authors.


Back on topic I see the really gendered element in this discussion as that 'important' qualifier.

To add a further couple of non-SF recommendations I doubt anyone would immediately offer up the last decade or so's publications of Ann Tyler or Lorrie Moore as 'important' as they represent no major change in style or subject matter to what went before and arguably they produced better work in the 80s or 90s.

But a 'good' literary novelist is judged by the sort of standards that Faulkner set out in his Nobel Speech:

'the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat....the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice'.

So I'd happily rate a novel or short story by a Tyler or Moore about the daily travails of a small-town housewife above some bloated space opera or fantasy full of brilliant and original ideas about the impact of technology or magic on society, but whose characters are too one-dimensional to tell us anything truly important about those old verities.

And in the SF genre even those despised (by much of male geekdom) female writers of extraordinarily popular novels about teen wizards and sparkly vampires probably score higher on the Faulkner scale than most of the male SF writers I've read recently.


Having quoted a bleeding chunk of William Faulkner's 1950 Nobel Speech it strikes me that being short it is worth quoting in full:

'Ladies and gentlemen,

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work - a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail'.

Overblown though this may be to our jaded post-modern tastes, writing 'not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars'. strikes me as a near perfect characterisation of most SF.

Do we really imagine that the love of John Carter for Dejah Thoris or the grief of Arwen for Arwen can resonate even a fraction as strongly as those of Anna for Vronsky or of Heathcliff for Catherine?

Or that the Battle of Pellennor Fields can in any meaningful way be compared to Vasily Grossman's Stalingrad or Tolstoy's Borodino?

Of course these are silly comparisons.

But that is the whole point.

If we wanted realism and to learn important 'truths of the human heart' we wouldn't be reading any form of SF.

SF like romantic and detective and historical genre fiction is about escapism and entertainment and is important precisely in so far as the need for escape and entertainment is important to us.

And as I think Faulkner was saying the need for escapism is at its greatest when nihilism is everywhere triumphant and we have ceased to hope for anything better from the real world.

I accept that much - perhaps even most - SF represents at least an implicit challenge to this heartless world and dreams of a better (or at least interestingly different) one, but as by its very nature it can offer no plausible route map for getting from here to there this makes it more rather than less escapist.

Perhaps I am digressing or even thread-crapping here but I really do think whenever we justify our love of this genre by attaching words like 'important' to it we are doing it and ourselves a grave disservice.

If it occasionally amuses and diverts us on our long lonely march to the grave then that is all we can ask of it.


Amazon says "K.J. Parker" isn't even the author's real name.


I'm going to have to go with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Not only is it one of the best HP books, but it's when HP was getting really big. I remember standing in line for 5 and 7, but it's 4 that really convinced me this was a series worth reading. (Even if 3 is now my actual favorite.)

And a series that spawned 8 movies and a THEME PARK can't be anything but 'important'!

There are tons of other awesome books by even awesomer writers, but you did say to name one.

348: 338 - You're not the only one who is less tham impressed by China as a writer. I have read Perdido St Station (borrowed from a friend), and handed it back with words like "Thanks for the loan. I'm pleased that I've read this, but even more pleased that I didn't pay to do so, and will never have to read another of this guy's books." (Charlie; I know this isn't "on topic" but I didn't bring the guy up) 341 - Roger, you still haven't read the moderation policy? If you had, you'd know that a Yellow Card only applies to the thread you're carded on.
349: 348

I actually am very impressed with Mieville's writing - my question is whether he is in some sense wasting his formidable intellectual talents on a genre which is just not designed to bear the load that he places upon it.

I am not saying that he should give it up - but there is the well established alternative IM Banks or indeed Graham Greene route of alternating those dark serious books about the human condition and the manifold ills of modern society with 'entertainments' that do not make such intense demands on the reader.

Or alternatively there is the road followed (IMO not very successfully) by Michael Moorcock of gradually toning down the fantastic elements in ones fiction until at least some of it can be safely shelved with the Lorrie Moore's and Alberto Moravias and Toni Morrisons rather than languishing with the Eizabeth Moons and LE Modesitts.

If he was not such a political writer it really would not matter to anyone but China and his readers - but there are now so few (relatively) young Marxists who can write quality prose in any field so I do wonder if his cause and ours would be better served by him writing serious literary fiction or straight political commentary rather than remaining an almost lone voice in a genre ghetto most of whose inhabitants have no idea what he is really going on about under all that gorgeously baroque detail about ambassadors from Hell, cactus people and mind-eating moths.


Elisabeth Moon has been getting a lot of props for Speed of Dark, but I think her Serrano Legacy books also deserve a mention. The last 2 books of the series (which are the relevant ones for this purpose) were published in 1999 and 2000, so it arguably just squeaks in past the selection criteria (with some hand waving). The series as a whole is cracking good space opera, but the last couple of books also take a serious look at the societal effects of limited access rejuvenation (which was around throughout the series in the background, but not focused on until the last couple of books).

Life extension is an ongoing research topic right now, and it has the potential to totally reshape the world - in the near future if someone gets a breakthough - and not necessarily in a good way. In fact there are lots of ways it could go very badly wrong, which makes it great meat for sci-fi. Yet apart from Moon and John Wyndham's Touble with Lichen, I can't think of anyone who does more than mention it in passing, perhaps with the odd comment on physical effects, but never with any serious impact on society. Its something that needs examining, and sci-fi is a great way to do that.

351: 348 - Let me modify that; I'm impressed by Meiville's ideas and some of his sentences. I'm not impressed by hos books as entertainment. Ken McLeod manages to advance the same Marxist philosophies and be entertaining at the same time. 349 - It's out of Charlie's time window, but Elizabeth Moon's Remnant Population manages to do the same thing with old people and first contact scenarios that she does with autism in Speed of Dark. Serrano Legacy is still on the "sometime" list so I can't comment there.

"...but as by its very nature it can offer no plausible route map for getting from here to there this makes it more rather than less escapist. "

What it has done historically is inspire its readers to create the map. In that it has been quite successful.


Scarlett Thomas made me think pretty hard with "The End of Mr Y" and "Our Tragic Universe".


I have the same problem with this question that I did with the previous. Ten years really isn't enough time to define 'important.' John Brunner's "Shockwave Rider" looked pretty important for a while; now it's just dated. A better question is to ask about books published 20-30 years ago and are now seen as important. IMHO it takes a quarter-century or so to get over the technology and history hump so one can distinguish "currently relevant" from "lasting important."

And now, to answer my own question, important SF/fantasy books by women:

LeGuin's "Left Hand of Darkness" and possibly her "Dispossessed" as well. Yes, "Dispossessed" was a bit of a polemic, but so was "1984" and "Brave New World."

Sherri Tepper's "Raising the Stones". I could also mention her "Gate to Women's Country," with the same comment as on "Dispossessed."

Maybe Emma Bull's "War of the Oaks." It's easy to forget how much it predated the urban fantasy wave.

Rowling's first "Harry Potter" books turned a whole generation of kids into readers, but also locked them into the 'series' craze.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's "Hotel Transylvania" and Anne Rice's "Interview With A Vampire" started (or re-vitalized) an entire genre.

My advance apologies for not hewing to the original question; then again, discussion here seems to have drifted quite a bit already.


Frances Hardinge's books have been on my must-read list ever since I listened to her being interviewed at the BSFA pub meet in January. Sadly, I haven't yet -- so can't comment on whether I think they're Important or not.


Anne Rice's "Interview With A Vampire" is the best written book I have ever read.


J K Rowling's books on Harry Potter are extremely well-executed, tense, fun to read and probably the best generation of childrens' books from the past 50 years.

Granted, I haven't read many of her competitors.

Girl Genius now has not one but TWO Hugo awards which assigns it at least some importance, I would think.

3 as of recently, and they're apparently stepping down from next year's voting to give someone else a chance - likely the kind of people who vote the awards just don't read that many webcomics so the results are a bit distorted in favour of someone with a bit of old school name recognition.


Because of this thread I picked up Spin State, by Chris Moriarty today.

It was always one of those weird books that had caught my eye in the bookstore, but I'd never quite gotten to the point of picking it up and reading the back of the book to see if it interested me, always sort of intending to get to it later because I had something else. But after learning on this thread that it's a) hard SF and b) written by a woman, that made me take the plunge.

(Not that being written by a woman is, itself, a particular attraction for me in a book, but because there does seem to be a paucity of hard SF written by women I do think it behooves me to pick up different voices when I can)


In terms of defining "important" as making an impact on the public consciousness, it's probably a tossup between Rowling's Harry Potter books written this decade, and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series.

Going back in time, I'd say Atwood's Handmaid's Tale is a very important book but it's older than The Doomsday Book (which came out in the early 90s).

On the not-SF front, The Help by Kathryn Stockett is also important (and very recent) and with the recent film release has stirred a lot of talk; similar goes for The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (heartbreaking). I've done my bit to promote Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand to friends and family because it's such a marvelous book (social satire meets late in life interracial/intercultural romance with an interesting look at colonialism) and ought to be important.

Elizabeth Moon writes marvelous stuff, no matter what it is, but in my perception she doesn't have the overall public impact of the authors above.

I'm an SF/F/romance reader and the vast majority of the books I read turn out to be by women. Paranormal romance and similar series such as Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books (which I haven't personally read) were enormously popular in the past decade, although the market may be saturated by now--both of which are probably attributable to the influence of Meyer and Harris.

There are other books that strike me as potentially important, including Jo Walton's Farthing trilogy, Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy, and the late lamented Kage Baker's The Company books.

As for my personal favorites, they're idiosyncratic but I did so like To Say Nothing of the Dog and Susan Palwick's The Necessary Beggar, the Liaden books (granted, that's a 2-sex effort), anything Lois McMaster Bujold ever writes, and Elizabeth Moon's and Tanya Huff's milSF.


I read all the Harry Potter books only because everybody within a thousand miles were crazy for them.


Ocht, as we evil, but politically correct, Scottish Nationalists are prone to saying....

It is all very well being in complete lurve with JK Rowling.

I am myself. Her openess about who she was is something you don't usually get from folk drinking coffee in Edinburgh.

But it doesn't mean that she can add up chips when it comes to the SNP.

We aren't playing Quidditch, but, if we were she'd be on the - plucky - but losing, side.

So, JKR, a heroine of mine, not so good on the politics.....


Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin


Do read them. At her best, she can be very, very funny.

Important? An interesting question — I'm not sure whether YA fiction can be important or whether, on the other hand, YA authors are automatically important in that they get to their readers before those readers have got too jaded.

(Disclaimer: I know her peripherally, and have cooked for her, which was slightly tricky since she's vegetarian and it was someone else's BBQ. On the other hand, I don't know her so well that I consider my judgement particularly affected.)


K.J. Parker's "The Etched City" (yes, I know that no one knows who she really is)

An almost-fantasty book featuring very rational characters that kick extreme amounts of ass in one chapter, and are having vigorous debates about theology over dinner in the next. The emotion in the book is clear but very... strangled. The protagonist is always keeping himself just a bit distant and it gives the whole book an unnatural feeling. This works especially well because it's basically an entirely naturalistic world that starts to go just slightly insane/magical around the margins when no one is looking. Loved every page of it.


Quite pleasantly surprised how many other folk thought 'Ash' by Mary Gentle was a great read. Restores my faith in people so it does. Pushing my luck I suppose, but Justina Robson is, IMVHO, totally underrated too.

I am looking forward to the last book in her latest series.


You're mixing up two authors. :) TEC is by KJ Bishop, and KJ Bishop is KJ Bishop, not a pseudonym.


Could I just chime in on the side of the clueless here? I don't usually vote for awards because I can't generally name authors whose books I've read, let along guess their gender. Or sexuality, or other characteristics. With a dishonourable mention for OSC for religious homophobia, unfortunately.

Many of the names above seem familiar, and I expect I'll sit down with this post and fictionwise and order a pile of books later today, but I don't believe gender is a factor in my buying decisions even to the extent that cover art is. Since I switched to ebooks my reading style has changed - I buy a pile of books, load them onto the reader, and read them one after the other, sorted by author.

So, most significant novel by a female author this century... the earliest Harry Potter that's eligible. Purely for wider impact.


Speaking of Shoggoths in Bloom, it was just reprinted in a significantly better-than-average mythos anthology named "The Book of Cthulhu." (along with Stross's own "A Colder War".)


Barbara Hambly has had a really interesting trajectory, from sword 'n sorcery to vampires who happened to be in New Orleans to a historical novel about free blacks in slaveholding New Orleans to The Emancipator's Wife, which is a good novel about a deeply unsympathetic heroine, Mary Todd Lincoln.

Anything decent about our Civil War tends to be important for USians, since we're, mm, still fighting it; and I also liked the TEW trajectory for connecting silly fantasy to actual historical novels.


If I con only nominate one book than this one: Kathryn Stocket: The help (2009)

But if I can add some more from my bookshelf: Jeannette Winterson: The PowerBook (2000) Jeannette Winterson: Lighthousekeeping (2004) Jeannette Winterson: Weight (2005) Jeannette Winterson: Tanglewreck (2006) Jeannette Winterson: The Stone Gods (2007) Doris Lessing: The Sweetest Dream (2001) Doris Lessing: Alfred and Emily (2008) Magaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin (2000) Magaret Atwood: Oryx and Crake (2003) Magaret Atwood: The Year of the Flood (2009) Marilyn French: In the Name of Friendship (2006) Amy Tan: The Bonesetter's Daughter (2001) Amy Tan: Saving Fish from Drowning (2005) Fay Weldon: The Spa Decameron (2007) Fay Weldon: Chalcot Crescent (2009) Val McDermid: A Darker Domain (2008) Isabel Allende: Zorro (2005) Isabel Allende: Forest of the Pygmies (2005) Zadie Smith: On Beauty (2005) Irene Nemirovsky: Suite Francaise (2004) Christa Wolf: Stadt der Engel oder The Overcoat of Dr Freud (2010)


I'll have to say that I'm another one unimpressed with China Mieville. I read Perdido Street Station on recommendations from others saying how amazing and mindblowing it was and found it tedious; I got The Scar out of the library to give him a second chance and found it to be even more tedious, if anything. I just found those two books a little too much in love with their own cleverness and a therefore a little far up their own backsides.

Not saying he's incompetent, and I have enjoyed some of his articles that I've read online, but I have no motivation to pick up any more of his fiction. Mind you, I find Tolkien and Peake tedious too, so some would say he's in good company.

Back to our host's original question: important books. If by important we mean on a personal level, I dare say that it's easier for a book to have a big personal impact when you're younger, still discovering the sort of person you want to be and less jaded.

So, at 37 I may read books that I like very much or that make me think differently, but I'm far less likely to think, "bloody hell that was the most amazing thing ever, my life is changed forever" etc. etc. like the books I was reading in the early 90s made me do. If I find it hard to name an important book written in the last decade, that's me, not the books.

To step away from "important" and just recommend something, I've liked Michelle Sagara's Chronicles of Elantra novels immensely. They are how urban fantasy should be done, in my opinion, and I yearn for each new one for months before it finally gets released.


Interesting lists all around. I'll add a couple of favorites from my area of expertise, Japan: Vibrator by Akasaka Mari and The Housekeeper and the Professor by Ogawa Yoko. Both are great in Japanese, and were translated well to boot. Plus, on top of being written by women, they also offer female main characters.

Vibrator is the story of a truck driver and a woman on a short roadtrip, told by the woman, who may or may not be insane. The greatness of this book lies in the delicate writing, and the translation brings it to English.

The Housekeeper and the Professor presents a trio to match Vibrator's pair. The Professor of the title is a mathematics professor who, due to a brain injury, can only remember ninety minutes at a time. It's an uplifting story about the relationship between a capable housekeeper, her young son and the brilliant professor who meets them anew every morning. Moreover, the mathematics woven throughout the book make it a fabulous geeky read. (I wrote an entire paper about how mathematical equations provide the structure for the book.) Please try them, I'm sure you'll feel rewarded.


I think I'll echo an earlier nomination for The Help. Since the category is for the most important woman-written novel of the past decade, I'm going with the one that seems to have had the biggest impact on audiences. The Help became a major motion picture, was very well read in its own right, and brought the public's attention to an overlooked segment of our population during a period of time that is often romanticized and white-washed.

Within the genre of SF, however, I might recommend that you get more ideas by reading those women whose novels have won some kind of award in the past (, or by consulting the "SF Mistressworks" list.

Of the books from the awards lists, I'd have to with Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes, because of its focus on the structural issues still present in post-Apartheid South Africa, and her standing as one of that nation's premier new writers, in or out of SF.


Glancing at Wikipedia this morning, I thought "I know that face".

Yes, Susanna Clarke and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel is the current featured article.


Passages by Connie Willis.

Beauty by Sheri S Tepper.


Juli Zeh IN FREE FALL Carol Emshwiller THE MOUNT


Caveat - I only read genre fiction - nothing about "mainstream fiction" appeals to me at all.

Most important novel by a female author? Well, Boneshaker (Cherie Priest) has had quite an impact on the alt-fiction steampunk world, even if you (Charles) didn't like it.

In a negative way, Cerulian Sins signalled that Laurell Hamilton's Anita Blake series had jumped the shark.

Living Dead in Dallas (Charlaine Harris), for all that it was (IMO) a poorly written book really serves as the point that urban vampire romance fiction hit the cultural mainstream.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Rowling) was important in that it was the end of a phenomenally successful series that had a huge impact on readership of books by young people.

Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games started a hugely popular series that I think revived a semi-dystopian trend in young adult lit.


She actually clarifies this in To Say Nothing of the Dog because the time travellers visit 2018 and the tube line hasn't been extended to Oxford yet.


Justina Robson's Quantum Gravity series, hands down. (I won't pick one, because really it's one long book.) It's the most insightful, thoughtful depiction of what it means to be female in public and in society -- in all it's ramifications -- since de Beauvoir. And it's spiky and difficult and Lila isn't always nice or sweet, which makes it the more powerful, because inhabiting space that defines you as Object at all times, that values your body over your mind and expects not just to control but to own both, that requires you to be sexual, sensitive, caring and just smart enough without becoming a threat to the dominant group does that to people -- it builds calluses and spikes and resentment. Someone up thread, incidentally, observes that he thought academics would enjoy the academic intrigue in Doomsday Book, I note. Sadly, I am an academic and, moreover, I specialise in mediaeval history trained at one of the institutions she's riffing on. Sadly, the characters in Doomsday Book rang completely false to me. We are, quite simply, not stupid. We have research methodologies. We analyse. We're grown-ups.


Ah, how I wish that Librarything let me filter by gender of author and publication date. Glancing through my list, these are some that jump out at me for the relevant period:

Jo Walton Among Others -- the best damn book I've read in the past year Farthing, Ha'penny, Half a Crown -- alternative history that was all too scarily evocative of the present day's politics. Lifelode - one of the most unique books I've every read. The way time is bent might hurt the reader's head, but I liked it.

Susan Palwick: The Necessary Beggar The Fate of Mice

N.K. Jemisin The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Margaret Atwood Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood. I didn't enjoy O&C that much, though I thought it was very well imagined and written. I loved The Year of the Flood.

M.K. Hobson Native Stary - wonderful steampunk, fantasy, alternative history

Tanya Huff I love her Valor series, and the Smoke ones.

Connie Willis Everything.

Lois McMaster Bujold Continued the Vorkosigan Saga, thank heavens.


I read books by women. I just don't read Important Books on principle. (English major damage. I have have enough Important Books to last me lifetime)

Most of what I read is same-sex romance and/or horror.

Nobody is arguing that Sara Harvey or Jean Lorreh or Kiernan Kelly are important authors.

The most important novel, by a woman, that I read in the last 10 years? Anita Diarmint's The RED TENT, followed by Elizabeth Donald's NOCTURNAL URGES.


Sarah Monette's The Virtu blew my mind. There was the rich, almost-familiar worldbuilding and magical theory, the sadomasochism as an integral trait of CHARACTER, not just of sexuality... but most of all, the voice of Mildmay. I have never read anything like his voice, as written by Monette.


And it turns out, via a former SFF editor, that KJ Parker is female.


Kudos to Kari, for giving me a new perspective on Quantum Gravity. Unforunately, it doesn't change my view that "part 1" is dull, with a cast (not just Lila, all of them) of unlikable and/or downright nasty characters.


Beloved Wife says that she would (like me) love to see more hard SF by female writers. Pfft! Publishers! Sherri Tepper is her pick for most important female SF writer, although her significant work is >10 years old.

We both think that Kage Baker is the most important recent female SF writer. Her "Company" novels crossed over to the romance genre, which makes me hope she brought some new readers to SF.

I hope that K.J. Parker's books get enough exposure to become Important. She builds fantasy worlds with the diligence of a hard-SF writer, and no magic or gods or heroes or villains to mess with the physics or the plot. Most importantly, her stories are built out of complex, flawed people stuck in the muck of life. It's as if she read "The Tough Guide to Fantasyland" and took it as a challenge.


(disclaimer: I know I'm way lay to the game. Oh well.)

yes! I remember specifically picking out The Tombs of Atuan in 5th grade, because it was marked with a big yellow "6" sticker (for 6th grade reading level), and I was a deliberately precocious pest at that age. The school library didn't have the first one...

... but my dad did. And the third one. And the Hobbit. And Dragonriders of Pern. And The Blue Sword. And Seademons. (Which I don't think he remembered well enough to realize the intended age group was not Laurence Yep's usual.) And Dune. And Foundation. And the Left Hand of Darkness. And away I went merrily into scifi-fantasy.

Said dad also rescued me from an aunt's wedding preparations by taking me to Powell's books in 8th grade, I think, and that's probably how I realized that LeGuin's books were big deals and intended to be adult stuff. Rocannon's World is still one of the most jolting things I've ever read, even more so that Seademons, which is saying something.

I've read about half of the comments, and I haven't seen this question answered (apologies if it does exit): authors aside, in the "big titles," how many female main characters are there? Then, how many female narrators are there?

I'm just wondering, if Hermione had been The Chosen One or whatever... and no, I'm not taking about the character, I'm taking about a simple gender and name swap.... Harriet Potter....

Anyway, as for important economically I think most people have covered it. Important in terms of impact might be hard to gauge for a few decades.

But for me personally, Mercedes Lackey's The Sleeping Beauty has just recently reminded me that I quite enjoy reading young adult things, and things that aren't DOOOM and gloom, and has been the only book in a long time to make me actually laugh out loud.

And a few years ago, Inverloch, by Sarah Ellerton, which is not fantastic but is enjoyable, and so introduced me to graphic novels (including her second, The Phoenix Requiem, which is less troupe-y) as well as webcomics. And, strangely, a lot of the webcomics I like and read regularly are written by women. Lower publishing barrier?

Thank you so much for posting this. Not only has it given me a very long wish list (of which your books appear), it has given me food for thought. Sorry 'bout the long post. Cheers!



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on August 27, 2011 2:27 PM.

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