Engrossing Science Fiction Recommendations Please!
June 19, 2014 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Help me fill my Kindle with vacation reading! I like well-written doorstop SF, urban fantasy, spaceship books, epic fantasy, deep complicated books but also joyful romps, complicated prophecies that manifest in unusual ways, great worldbuilding, etc. Romantic elements are fine but I'm not as into stuff where the plot is a thin scrim to hang over endless sexy sex. And as a lifelong SF reader, I have now officially read enough books without women in them, so only books that include solid female characters (as opposed to braid-tugging smurfettes). Things I have loved under the cut.

Things I have read and loved:

A Song of Ice and Fire
Dresden Files
P.C. Hodgell's Kencyrath series
Everything Jack McDevitt ever wrote
ditto Seanan McGuire / Mira Grant
hell, ditto Octavia Butler, Elizabeth Bear, Tim Powers, Lois McMaster Bujold, Ursula K. LeGuin, Charles Stross
A bunch of other things I am sure I will remember when people start recommending them :-)

Thank you so much! For the first half of this vacation I will be one of 14 people in a 3 bedroom house so having a great book to stick my nose into will really help.
posted by KathrynT to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (65 answers total) 146 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you haven't read Ancillary Justice, I'm not so much recommending it to you as throwing it directly into your suitcase.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:48 AM on June 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Have you read Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville? There are a host of characters, and the fact is that most of them are men, but one of the main characters and one of the most compelling ones is female. And a very conscious feminist. Also, a giant insect. I can't stand insects but I ended up loving her.
posted by janey47 at 9:51 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

the Vlad Taltos (or really anything) by Steven Brust. His novels have male primary characters mostly but with several stong, independant, interesting female characters as well.
posted by bartonlong at 9:51 AM on June 19, 2014

Response by poster: LOVED Ancillary Justice!!
posted by KathrynT at 9:51 AM on June 19, 2014

Check out Tim Pratt's Marla Mason books. Light but a lot of fun, and they hit a lot of your points above.
posted by Naberius at 9:53 AM on June 19, 2014

One of the most fun romps I've read in years is Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain by Lee Martinez. If you're a fan of the comedy end of things, this is extremely well done: a super-genius mollusc from Neptune, tyrant of Earth (in semi-retirement) has to deal with something he's never had to face before: an opponent who can beat him. Dinosaurs, spaceships and brain-transplants ensue.

I have fun with all of Martinez, but this is his best outing in a while, IMO.
posted by bonehead at 9:58 AM on June 19, 2014

Anything by Charles de Lint (but maybe start with Dreams Underfoot?).
posted by Boogiechild at 10:08 AM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you will enjoy the Wool series, by Hugh Howey.
posted by geeky at 10:15 AM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

We overlap in a lot of areas, so hopefully some of these will work:

Sean Stewart, specifically Mockingbird, which has one of my favorite female protagonists and a brilliant sense of place, and Perfect Circle, which is so lovely and eerie.

Guy Gavriel Kay - he's written a lot and I suggest looking through his titles and seeing what appeals. His earlier books are more full of magic (his Fionovar Tapestry books reflecting the time he spent with Christopher Tolkien, and work as an alternate take on many of the ideas Tolkien was playing with) and his later ones have less outright magic and can go more alt-history/fairytale. My favorites of his are The Lions of Al-Rassan, Ysabel (perhaps not as good if you haven't read Fionovar), and the Sarantine Mosaic duology.

The fabulously fun Snake Agent and its sequels. A detective working in Singapore 3, his specific department being supernatural issues, including demons, gods, and ghosts.

The Matthew Swift books, starting with A Madness of Angels. London magician Matthew Swift find himself alive again - after being dead for two years. Lots of evocative description of Swift's London.
posted by PussKillian at 10:22 AM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Expanse Trilogy (and there are a few same-universe short stories) by James S.A. Corey. Read it now before SyFy makes it into a series. Humans have expanded across the solar system, and Mars and the outer planets have risen as major powers. It has a few great women characters Naomi the engineer, and Bobby the Martian Marine, and Chrisjen the senior UN official. One of them will get in a relationship, and two of them are POV characters. There's also a villain and a major MacGuffin who are women.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:30 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Otherland by Tad Williams (link is to volume 1). Four doorstop volumes, now on Kindle, several great female characters.
posted by tomboko at 10:32 AM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I strongly recommend my friend Monica Byrne's brand new book The Girl in the Road. Two strong female main characters, complex storytelling, effective world-building, fun sciency stuff, and non-Western near-future Earth settings.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:34 AM on June 19, 2014

Probably already read it, but, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Fabulous!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 10:36 AM on June 19, 2014

Response by poster: Nothing by Bradley, please.
posted by KathrynT at 10:36 AM on June 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

Full disclosure in that I know the author, but Constellation Games meets your requirements. Aliens, spaceships, videogames, alien videogames, etc. The protagonist is male but the female characters in the book are solid. Very rompy. Perfect for a summer read.
posted by mikepop at 10:36 AM on June 19, 2014

Best answer: Nicola Griffith's first novel, Ammonite, is literally set on Planet of the Solid Female Characters. On this planet, there are no men; the protagonist is an anthropologist from another planet, trying to research what's up with that, when she's not being kidnapped by roving horsewomen or brokering peace treaties or worrying about how her research might endanger her subjects; and all the women are badass as far as I recall (though I wouldn't swear there aren't a few braid-tossing Smurfettes in there too -- or at least people caught in situations that stifle their nobler impulses, but I assume that's not something you're looking to avoid). I'm making Ammonite sound like schlock, but it's more like a ratio of 3:1:: Left Hand of Darkness : Xena, Warrior Princess.

My personal favorite Nicola Griffith is her gorgeously written near-future urban sci-fi Slow River. Told with two time-currents, and so many liquids, from the swimming-pool of breathable pink synthetic to the patented microorganisms whose delicate interaction purifies water. Lots of social inequality, acknowledged and negotiated. Solid female characters include the protagonist, the love interest, and most of the villains.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:38 AM on June 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

I second Mieville, but would recommend The Scar over Perdido Street Station.

Also, for spaceships, you cannot do better than the Culture books by the late, great, Iain M. Banks. I think Look to Windward has primarily male characters, but the other Culture books tend to be very good in this regard.
posted by Hactar at 10:39 AM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, forgot one: The Lies of Locke Lamora and the subsequent books. Rich worldbuilding; creative swearing, lots of great thief action, and the second book in the series has one of the best middle-aged single mom pirate captains you'll ever see.

The first book is still my favorite, but there are lots of delights to be had in the second and third, and there are more to come.
posted by PussKillian at 10:43 AM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


there are both well written powerful human women as well as well written powerful DRAGON women and it is the best thing
posted by elizardbits at 10:44 AM on June 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

If you've not read them, the Walter Jon Williams books City on Fire and Metropolitan are very much in the Bujold vein. Strong female POV character in a story of political and personal intrigue.
posted by bonehead at 10:45 AM on June 19, 2014

I liked Damocles a whole lot. The protagonist is a linguist who has to figure out how to communicate with the non-human residents of the planet that she and her shipmates have just landed on.
posted by rtha at 10:48 AM on June 19, 2014

Best answer: As a fellow lover of the Dresden Files & Seanan McGuire's works: The Rook by Daniel O'Malley!
posted by harujion at 10:50 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Liaden Universe, particularly the Clan Korval books! Like Bujold and Hodgell, they were special favorites on rec.arts.sf.written. Start with Agent of Change, which may still be available as a free download.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:15 AM on June 19, 2014

If you don't mind milSF by someone who can be a Standard Conservative Dumbfuck sometimes- ie complaining about the dreaded Ground Zero Mosque What Never Existed - then Elizabeth Moon's Heris Serrano / Esmay Suiza and Vatta serieses are pretty entertaining. And her personal issues mostly don't come through.

Note: she's published by Baen, so her covers are mostly a hot chick in boobplate space armor standing in front of an exploding rocket. Books are better than that. One is about how Our Heroine and friends work together to free a friend from the Evil Misogynistic Space Texans. Who are sort of a standin for Eeeeeevil Moooooslims, but at still... evil space Texans.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:25 AM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Catherynne M. Valente, particularly Deathless and her Orphan's Tales duology.
posted by xenization at 11:27 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

John Stith's Manhattan Transfer has a strong female main character, and the mayor of NYC is female.
posted by anon4now at 11:27 AM on June 19, 2014

Monsieur Caution just beat me to the Liad recommendation. Excellent series, expects the read to figure out a fair amount from context without being spoon-fed. Several kick-ass women, though not particularly female-centric. Well, the Fledgling arc is.

For epic fantasy, have you read The Deed of Paksenarrion? and the sequel quintet which was just finished. Elizabeth Moon is a former Marine and her stuff has a very realistic quality that differentiates it from a lot of other fantasy.
posted by timepiece at 11:28 AM on June 19, 2014

I'm halfway through the second book in Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist series, and while the first book is mainly "Jane Austen... with MAGIC!!" the second one has more conflict. Conflict-ish. They are a lighter (and shorter) read than Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which is also a very good book, anyway.

Lavie Tidhar's The Violent Century and the Bookman Histories (a 3-book omnibus I bought in ebook form) also have interesting worldbuilding. The first one is sort-of Watchmen with mad science, the other is a steampunk fantasy in which Queen Victoria is a lizard.
posted by sukeban at 11:29 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

(Although regarding the solid female characters requirement, I'd recommend Kowal's books first. Tidhar seems to be hit and miss with this issue.)
posted by sukeban at 11:36 AM on June 19, 2014

I enjoyed Gail Carriger Parasol Protectorate series and if you haven't read The Night Circus it was pretty wonderful.
posted by BoscosMom at 11:46 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Judging by the books and authors you list, you might already know this, but I enjoyed NK Jemisin's 100,000 Kingdoms and its sequels: good female characters, complex and interesting world. Her other series, starting with The Killing Moon, was enjoyable but less satisfying.
posted by tavegyl at 12:53 PM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I mentioned this out of band, but wanted to drop it here because I so adored the books - Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy is steampunky YA with genetic-manipulating 'Darwinists' of Britain vs the giant-stompy-machine-building 'Clankers' from Germany etc on the eve of WWI, featuring a spunky girl heroine disguised as a boy in the British Air Service, on board a giant flying whale-thing.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:58 PM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is the best question.

Another Miéville that might suit is Embassytown.
posted by librarina at 1:01 PM on June 19, 2014

I like Barbara Hambly's books a lot - mostly kind of fairly light (except for the occasional moments of really dark darkness) and fluffy fantasy with a bit of a girl meets wizard plot (although in one series the girl is the wizard), but no sexy sex (or indeed unsexy sex), and a lot of fairly solid worldbuilding. The Darwath books feature a queen who happens to be a single mother and a bishop who is coincidentally female, in addition to Our Heroine and other supporting cast; the Windrose Chronicles are still my favourite even though 1980s Los Angeles is almost as foreign to me as the industrial revolution-era world with magic where the rest of the story is set; Sisters of the Raven and its sequel are more female-centric. And I think last time I looked Amazon was doing some reasonable deals on whole-series collections - or if you want a smaller taster, she publishes various short stories via her website.

And also there are some with vampires (Lydia is not just a sidekick) and some historical murder mystery ones that don't have any magic (I don't know them as well).
posted by Lebannen at 1:10 PM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Second Embassytown. And not SF, but please just read Un Lun Dun.
posted by oflinkey at 1:15 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I make this recommendation having not read the third book. But Leigh Bardugo's Grisha series is a beautiful thing. Although I warn you not to start reading them late at night, because daylight will come and you're still reading. It's a very rich world based heavily on Russian history with witches (Grisha) and all sorts of fabulous bits.

One the Urban Fantasy side, there's always Kim Harrison's Hollows series. Rachel is a pretty strong character and, so far, hasn't grown to annoy the shit out me like so many urban fantasy heroines do. There's some sexy times, but the plot is the main driving force. The world she builds is really interesting and I like it quite a lot.
posted by teleri025 at 1:20 PM on June 19, 2014

Recommended a lot on here, but if you haven't read Ted Chiang, I cannot recommend him enough. Not just the best science fiction I've read, some of the best fiction I've read period: Stories of Your Life and Others.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:11 PM on June 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Hah, Ancillary Justice was my first thought too! I seem to have lots of other recommendations too, though, most of them fantasy.  Here goes...

Urban fantasy: Kat Richardson's Greywalker series, starting with Greywalker, and Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series, starting with Moon Called.  Both have female protagonists, and both skew heavily towards the solving of mysteries.  The Greywalker series is probably the closer in tone to the Dresden Files.

Big fat fantasy novels: Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders trilogy, starting with Ship of Magic.  Shares a world with the Farseer books (starting with Assassin's Apprentice) but stands very comfortably alone.  Our heroine, Althea Vestrit, anticipates becoming the captain of her family's liveship, a sailing ship with, ah, character.  Things get complicated fast.

Awesome alternative history: Mary Gentle's Ash: A Secret History.  Issued as one volume in the UK and four in the US.  15th century Burgundy as it never was.

Staunchly feminist SF and fantasy: anything by Sheri S. Tepper.  My personal favourites: the Marianne trilogy (volume 1 is Marianne, the Magus and the Manticore); Grass; and The Margarets.

Engrossing, intelligent, unputdownably good fantasy-or-is-it: the Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein, currently standing at four volumes, starting with The Steerswoman.  It's pretty much impossible to talk about these without spoilers, so I'm just going to jump up and down and wave them at you enthusiastically.

Want to read about a female computer programmer in a world of magic, or a menopausal witch married to an erudite dragonslayer, or a historian-turned-swordswoman facing eldritch horrors?  Barbara Hambly.  I've just listed The Silent Tower, Dragonsbane and the Darwath Trilogy, all of which have sequels; but pretty much all of her fantasy novels have strong female protagonists, and she's been one of my favourite authors for more than twenty years now.  On preview, I see I'm not alone in my admiration.

Time-travelling 21st-century Oxford historian getting to grips with the 14th century?  Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis.

And then there's the rather wonderful Martha Wells, each of whose books (or trilogies) is utterly different from all the others, save that they're all fantasy and all excellent.  You can even read The Element of Fire for free, under Creative Commons!

I'd like to second the recommendations of Mary Robinette Kowal and N. K. Jemisin, too.  Ooh, and has anyone mentioned The Golem and the Djinni yet?
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:13 PM on June 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I really, really enjoyed (MeFi's own) Phoebe North's Starglass young adult SF novel. And the sequel will be out this summer!
posted by jillithd at 2:14 PM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm surprised to see only one previous Iain M. Banks referral (but two for Ancillary Justice?) - most of his Culture books have strong female characters (but also, ship minds).

And among recent books, Lexicon might work well.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:27 PM on June 19, 2014

Have you read Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia?

Amazon prelude:

In a story as exciting as any science fiction adventure written, Samuel R. Delany's 1976 SF novel, originally published as Triton, takes us on a tour of a utopian society at war with . . . our own Earth! High wit in this future comedy of manners allows Delany to question gender roles and sexual expectations at a level that, 20 years after it was written, still make it a coruscating portrait of "the happily reasonable man," Bron Helstrom -- an immigrant to the embattled world of Triton, whose troubles become more and more complex, till there is nothing left for him to do but become a woman. Against a background of high adventure, this minuet of a novel dances from the farthest limits of the solar system to Earth's own Outer Mongolia. Alternately funny and moving, it is a wide-ranging tale in which character after character turns out not to be what he -- or she -- seems.
posted by Shouraku at 2:46 PM on June 19, 2014

Response by poster: Holy crap this is full of great recommendations. I am so glad I posted this. I clearly wrote the question well, because I got a lot of recommendations for books I love like my own children -- Nicola Griffith, Locke Lamora, Liaden Universe, CAT VALENTE OMG, the Parasol Protectorate, Sheri S. Tepper. I think I have enough books now between Amazon and the public library (loooooove Overdrive) to hold me over, but please, keep the recommendations coming!

why did I never think to ask this question before
posted by KathrynT at 2:49 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am glad you posted this, too. I'm female, and I get bored with books that can't pass the Bechdel Test.

My recommendation are:

Michael Flynn's Spiral Arm Series. The first book is The January Dancer.

Martha Wells has been mentioned, and one of my favorite heroines is Maskelle in Wheel of the Infinite.

Liz Williams' Snake Agent and its sequels as mentioned above as well as her book Worldsoul. Oh, and everything else she's written.

Joel Shepherd's Cassandra Kresnov Series, starting with Crossover.

Chris Moriarty's Spin State series.

Ning anything by Connie Willis.
posted by AMyNameIs at 3:36 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson.

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory (disclosure: Daryl's a friend, I read an early draft, and buying this book will allow Daryl to buy me beer. It's also a cracking read.)

vN and iD by Madeline Ashby. Really, anything Angry Robot Books is publishing kicks ass.
posted by RakDaddy at 4:11 PM on June 19, 2014

I want to second The Rook! I should be hearing so much more about it, but it seems to have flown (derp) under the radar. It's really engrossing! Main character is female, by the way. I've been kind of bored by urban fantasy for a while, but this was great.


Also, Kage Baker's Company novels--main character is female, too.

Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring.
posted by wintersweet at 4:16 PM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

And N. K. Jemisin, seconding because DO NOT MISS if you're not already a fan.
And Malinda Lo (YA, but still). Anything.
And Laura Lam, Pantomime and its sequel. (Disclaimer: I know Laura, but that doesn't change the fact that both books are excellent and not getting enough press outside certain circles.)
posted by wintersweet at 4:19 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you loved Ancillary Justice, Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantuum Thief and The Fractal Prince come to mind. Male lead with strong supporting female characters.

As urban fantasy goes, Chuck Wendig's stuff is a lot of fun. His Miriam Black series rocks. I also loved The Blue Blazes.

Seconding the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, especially if you like McDevitt's stuff. Fourth one came out this week.

Also seconding Afterparty. Or really anything by Daryl Gregory (The Devil's Alphabet is so very great). (OT: wondering where I can buy those Afterparty cows. RakDaddy? Is there some kind of catalog?)
posted by eyeballkid at 4:42 PM on June 19, 2014

It's milSF but I really liked the Valor Confederation books by Tanya Huff, starting with Valor's Choice. Space marines!
posted by fansler at 5:02 PM on June 19, 2014

It's not science fiction or fantasy exactly, but it feels like it?
The Bees by Laline Paull
It's a novel about bees, so of course the protagonists are mostly female.
posted by exceptinsects at 7:28 PM on June 19, 2014

Best answer: How about Greg Bear? Moving Mars was great. Darwins Radio?
I liked W3 as well.

Justine Larbastestier is a writer and feminist critic, married to another recommended writer here. Her Daughters of Earth, and Battle of the Sexes, are great.

You appear to like urban fantasy, how about Carrie Vaughn? Great thread.
posted by mitschlag at 7:58 PM on June 19, 2014

Also recommending The Rook by O'Malley--I think I recommend The Rook in every question like this. It fits most, if not all, of your preferences. Also available on audiobook. I wish the second one would come out!
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 8:51 PM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nthing the Steerswoman books, Kage Baker's Company series, and Perfect Circle by Sean Stewart.

Ian McDonald's The Dervish House is probably the best combination of interesting SF ideas, gorgeous prose, interesting characters (many of them female) and plot that I've ever read.

Embassytown by Mieville was really engrossing. I stayed up late a couple nights in a row because I couldn't wait to find out what was next. The protagonist/narrator is female.

by Daryl Gregory was another engrossing book for me, with some fascinating world-building. The protagonist is male, but there are solid female supporting characters.
posted by creepygirl at 10:28 PM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: btw, a last-minute pre-travel excursion to Urgent Care (everything is fine) gave me a chance to start the Rook, and at least the first 4% of the book is EXCELLENT.
posted by KathrynT at 11:10 PM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Joel Shepherd's Cassandra Kresnov Series, starting with Crossover.

His "A Trial of Blood and Steel" fantasy series is also amazing. Review at Tor.com
posted by sukeban at 11:52 PM on June 19, 2014

Have you read any of Jo Walton's books? Everything I've read by her has had wonderful female characters. Among Us is probably my favorite, but her Arthurian series that starts with The King's Peace is excellent too, as are the "Small Change" books, starting with Farthing.
posted by ashirys at 6:57 AM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My answers from elsewhere, since I didn't see this post at first:

Golem and the Jinni. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (light on the ladies). The Night Circus (lacks real plot, but is fantastic for setting). Un Lun Dun (for kids but plays so much with tropes). The City's Son. Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise (and the upcoming Full Fathom Five).

The first some books of the Thursday Next series (4 - 6). Graceling and sequels. The Sparrow. I really liked Greg van Eekhout's Norse Code even though no one else did. Company of Liars or Karen Maitland's other books. Alchemy of Stone. The Vorkosigan books (great vacation reading). The Rook. (Mefi's own) Kit Whitfield's books. Bimbos of the Death Sun/Zombies of the Gene Pool. Seanan McGuire's collected Velveteen stories. Karen Dudley's Food for the Gods. The Locke Lamora books.

VE Schwab's Vicious. Ancillary Justice. Sarah Beth Durst's stuff. The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna. The House of Velvet and Glass (it's great! it sounds stupid! but it isn't). The Song of Achilles. Stealing the Elf-King's Roses. The Golden City. Life After Life.
posted by jeather at 8:41 AM on June 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

George R. R. Martin is a big fan of Jack Vance (which is how I heard of him), and having grown up on fairy tales I enjoyed this occasionally perverse Jack Vance fantasy series:
Lyonesse: Suldrun's Garden (1983)
Lyonesse: The Green Pearl (1985)
Lyonesse: Madouc (1989)
You can also find a few science fiction short stories by Jack Vance in Kindle form for free.

I also recommend these two by Patricia A. McKillip:
The Sorceress and the Cygnet
The Cygnet and the Firebird
(sometimes bundled into one volume titled Cygnet)

Kristin Cashore's Graceling and Fire are also good. A little romancey stuff but the female protagonists are both fantastic in their own ways.
posted by stompadour at 10:12 AM on June 20, 2014

I just finished and really enjoyed the Saving Mars series by Cidney Swanson. (Despite what that URL says, it wound up being six books, not three.)

The first one's currently free.
posted by Lexica at 1:19 PM on June 21, 2014

Ursula K. Leguin has referred to Wolfe's "The Book of the New Sun" as a "Masterpiece" and to Wolfe as "our Melville." It does not meet your requirements for women characters, however. At least the first two books do not.
posted by mecran01 at 3:21 AM on June 22, 2014

Update: I just read in another thread here on Mefi that Wolfe is considered to be a conservative, Christian, anti-feminist writer, so please disregard my attempt to lure you into his fictional worlds.
posted by mecran01 at 3:45 AM on June 22, 2014

Ted Chiang has been mentioned already so let's not forget it's the most favorited post on MetaFilter ever (a minimum of one favorite every month for the last three and a half years [except this March]).
posted by unliteral at 11:39 PM on June 22, 2014

Banks has a few other great reads that're not in the Culture Universe. In particular, "Against a Dark Background" has a pretty kickass woman as the protagonist.

There's also a good female character in "The Algebraist," but she's stuck in the B-plot; it's set at a star-system that has been cut off from its interstellar community due to an attack on the local wormhole-standin. The woman in question is a relation(?) of the protagonist who is in the slower-than-light military unit sent to rebuild the wormhole, and if at all possible, clean the clocks of the other fleet that's showing up with less benevolent purposes in mind. And I haven't even mentioned the Dwellers.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:19 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Karl Schroeder's "Permanence" starts off a bit weak, but develops into a fascinating world of sunless worlds inhabited by humans who have just lately developed a limited form of FTL and are witnessing the decline of travel by slower-than-light cycler spacecraft.

His other novel, "Ventus" begins on a slightly magical medieval world, but ... geez, I don't want to say more. Main character is a young man, but he is guided by a woman who is not someone he could've imagined existing.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:31 PM on June 23, 2014

Best answer: Another Jack Vance reccommendation , The Dying Earth.
posted by boilermonster at 12:39 AM on June 27, 2014

Response by poster: OK, back from my trip, and you guys saved me. Best answers are marked nearly at random. The Rook is FANTASTIC and I have already bought copies for many other people. I am in the fourth book of the Otherland series now, and am loving it like whoa. I also have the Temeraire books, some stuff by Jemisin, and some Hobb cooked up and waiting for me to get to it.

My husband and my father are also very happy to get this list of recommendations -- neither of them are AS irked by lack of female representation as I am, but it turns out that when you add that requirement, you filter out a lot of absolute drek. Thank you all so much.
posted by KathrynT at 12:35 PM on July 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

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