Sci-fi is for women, too

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J. L. Hilton, circa 1978

I remember when the first episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” aired, and Patrick Stewart declared that the crew of the Enterprise would “boldly go where no ONE has gone before.” In the original Star Trek, they were only going where no MAN has gone before.

As a girl who grew up with Star Wars and Battlestar Gallactica toys instead of Barbies, that difference meant the universe to me. But guys didn’t get it. They would say, “When Captain Kirk said ‘man’ he meant the whole human race, OK?” OK. But with ST:TNG, I finally felt included in the ranks of sci-fi geekery.

Science fiction continues to be viewed by many as a man’s genre. Women, in their Federation-issue miniskirts and skinny cylon hotness, are just there as fanboy eye-candy. Did Han Solo ever end up in sexy slave garb? No, he did not.

It was important to me, when I wrote STELLARNET REBEL, that I created SF for everyone.

There’s technology, video games, lasers, aliens, fights and explosions. But the main character, Genevieve O’Riordan, is a woman. Not a man’s idea of a woman, like Robert Heinlein’s “Friday,” who felt just fine after being brutally raped and tortured. But an individual with realistic feelings, reactions and faults.

And Genny’s fellow heroes are not “typical” men—since they’re not men at all, they’re aliens. Duin and Belloc are Glin, a race in which the sexes are the same size and gender characteristics only appear after puberty. This not only shapes the dynamics of their culture, but affects how they relate to Genny throughout the novel.

My heroine is not just eye candy. Her genetic modifications might make her attractive by human standards. But that doesn’t mean much to aliens derisively called “frogs” because of their skin colors, large eyes and webbed fingers. It’s her personality, intelligence and loyalty that make her desirable. She’s no damsel in distress but saves her own butt and the butts of others—usually by some combination of wit, resourcefulness and courage, not just brute strength and a gun.

Who is your favorite SF heroine and why? Is SF still dominated by men, or is this changing? I’d love to hear your thoughts. One lucky commenter will receive promo items including your very own labradorite nagyx pendant on recycled sari silk cord—designed to look just like the “soul stone” necklace that plays an important role in STELLARNET REBEL—and a $10 gift certificate to ThinkGeek. Recipient will be announced in the comments on January 11.


Welcome to Asteria, a corporate-owned, deep-space colony populated with refugees, criminals and obsessive online gamers. Genny O’Riordan has shifted in from Earth determined to find a story that will break her blog into the Stellarnet Top 100, and even better—expose the degradation of the colony’s denizens.

Duin is an alien—a Glin—a hero of a past revolution against the Glin royal family, yet branded a terrorist. Duin speaks every day in the Asteria market, hoping to spur humans to aid his home world, which has been overtaken by the evil, buglike Tikati.

When Genny and Duin meet, what begins with a blog post becomes a dangerous web of passion and politics as they struggle to survive not only a war but the darker side of humanity…

Read an excerpt of STELLARNET REBEL or buy it now.

Follow Genny and Duin on Twitter. Belloc will join them at the appropriate point in their timeline.

Follow the author at or Facebook, Twitter, deviantART, Goodreads and Google+.

23 thoughts on “Sci-fi is for women, too”

  1. PJ Schnyder says:

    Well said!

    Going to sci-fi conventions and gamer cons as a teen into adulthood, I found myself a very rare female amongst a sea of males. Some of them were super nice and others extremely condescending or just outright creepy. It was a feeling of being a novelty, an oddity, and not quite belonging.

    But I loved sci-fi and followed the adventures of Sassinak and Honor Harrington. My favorite book was the Ship Who Searched and I so very much enjoyed Ender’s Game. I grew up with the Rowan and Damia, adventured with the Queen’s Squadron and Dancer of the Sixth, and travelled the Glory Road.

    I still quote ST:TNG and ST:OS. Even my boyfriend blinks and calls me a geek sometimes. Then we dive back into the StarCraft II tournaments.

    I’m very glad to be a sci-fi author at Carina Press with you. :)

  2. I think Sirantha Jax (kickass but human) and Cordelia Naismith (all-around awesome) are my favorite SF heroines…for now. I’m sure I’ll add new ones to my list as I discover them.

    The fact that they’re both written by women* probably means something. (Like, I read a lot of female authors?)

    *Ann Aguirre and Lois McMaster Bujold for those too lazy to Google.

  3. Val Roberts says:

    Janeway was the Star Trek captain who made sense to me, tougher than an army boot but still capable of rocking a pair of pearl earrings if the situation required it. Of course, she had the half-mechanical 7 of 9 to take over sexpot duties. :-)

    Did you ever notice the skimpy slavegirl costume didn’t keep Leia from killing Jabba — choking him to death with her slave chain, no less? Even WITH all the male domination in the genre, women can still make a place for themselves and save the universe while they’re at it (no matter how ridiculously dressed they have to be).

    So pleased to see a new (female) voice in SF!

  4. JL_Hilton says:

    Thanks, PJ! I’m very glad to be here with you.

    ms bookjunkie – what age range are those novels? I want to read them, but I’ll move them to the top of my list if I think I might be able to share them with my almost-teen daughter, too.

    Good point, Val! Leia choked him with the chains of her oppression! Yargh!

    It bothers me when women are used as little more than objects to heighten male drama. “Oh, no, that hot chick is about to be kidnapped/raped/murdered! I must SAVE her!” With the implication that said chick will be “grateful,” of course. It was the main plot device of New Hope, right? (Which is why we all went “eww” when Luke and Leia turned out to be related.) lol It’s a kind of shorthand, like making a kid an orphan in a children’s book. Insta-peril.

    Are there similar shorthand methods of creating female drama? Hm…

  5. Woo, another Carina SF release! I’m all over this. :)

    If we’re talking non-book media I’m going to have to go with Buffy as my favorite SF/F heroine; I know she’s only loosely SF, but she still falls into the overall speculative fiction category, I think. She’d be closely followed for me by Zoe from Firefly, not at all coincidentally a Joss Whedon character, and Ripley in the first two Alien movies.

    Book-wise, I’m putting down for Eowyn in Return of the King and Luthien in The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s best female characters by far, and Sira in Julie Czerneda’s A Thousand Words for Stranger.

    As to whether SF/F is still dominated by men–I think in some ways that’ll depend on whether you’re talking hard SF or soft SF, or especially any SF that slants over into romance. Hard SF certainly seems to be dominated by male authors still, though I can certainly find exceptions. I have also however seen women who have historically written fantasy start picking up military SF (such as Tanya Huff, who is hands down one of my favorite authors in general).

  6. Zee Lemke says:

    Second Cordelia Naismith and Zoe. I liked Gailet Jones (I think that was her name?), the chimpanzee genius in Uplift War, but I read that book a long time ago.

    I was once asked whether I “actually played any games” while sitting behind the counter at a game shop, running Friday Night Magic. (If you want male-dominated, play competitive Magic. Oof.)

    JLH: Threaten to take her kids away? *sigh*

  7. JL_Hilton says:

    Angela, I’m with you on Zoe and Ripley. Two of my faves, too.

    And speaking of Ripley, Zee, “child in peril” was a theme in Aliens, right? Also in Terminator 2/Sarah Connor. Good call.

    I used to hang out in comic book shops and play Magic. And I was usually the only female. Now my daughter is starting down that road… she’s not the only girl, but still in a small percentage.

  8. Pippa Jay says:

    I’m all for Aeryn Sun from Farscape. :)

  9. Ilona says:

    I have been reading SF since before most of todays authors were even born and there was rarely a decent kick ass heroine in sight. Anne McCaffrey came close with her heroine Helva in The Ship Who Sang and The Rowan in her Tower and Hive series.

    Today my favourite heroines are Sirantha Jax, Cordelia Naismith (as mentioned by ms bookjunkie) and Honor Harrington from David Weber’s Honorverse series.

    Close runners up are: Bree “Banzai” Maguire from Susan Grant’s 2176 series, Cherijo Grey Veil from S.L. Viehl’s Stardoc series and Alicia DeVries from David Weber’s Fury books.

  10. Anon says:

    I hear a lot of talk about women feeling alienated in the genre, but I’ll be honest; these days I don’t see it at all. In the early days with the original Star Trek, I believe it wasn’t as popular because back then, it just wasn’t something a woman should be into. It wasn’t “proper.” But in every career field, women were still having trouble being fully independent, so that transferred into science fiction also. In Bond movies, who were the Bond women? Usually the ones who slept with Bond and got killed off. Always the damsel in distress. It wasn’t just SF, it was everywhere.

    I was always the chick yelling at the girl to grab something and stab the fool. Oh wait, I still am. So is my mom.

    As time progressed we do see women with bigger roles. While she isn’t Scifi, since the 30s, Nancy Drew was one of the few stars that had shown bright as an independent woman. For that time period a female sleuth would be laughable, but she became a popular character that is still in books today.

    But it’s 2012 now. I know very well that I’m a woman who grew up during a time when females were finally coming out of the woodwork and proudly displaying their geek/nerdhood. Even in the late 90s it was still a bit “odd” for a young teen like me to prefer video games and fantasy or mystery books to testing cosmetics, but I had more guy friends who accepted me. I think they were both shocked and awed that a girl could draw some of their favorite subjects. In the early 2000’s I met more girls who enjoyed what I did.

    Sometimes it depends on where you live. Other times it depends on who you happen to meet. You also have to take your own tastes into context. Not all women like to swoon over how hot this man sounds or get plugged into some love triangle and become a shipper. I sure don’t. I like explosions, serious fighting, and a lone wolf antihero. I might read or watch some stories that have some romance, but I don’t really turn to SF for a romance story, I’ll sooner go to Hallmark if I actually want something mushy.

    Now, sometimes I run into guys, usually those pathetic ones online, who act like women are nothing but the servant who should be grateful to serve a man. I just tell them to go play with their “toys” because they’ll never get laid. :D They get pissed, but they know it’s true. Guys who talk big online don’t have… ahem… much to show in real life.

  11. Well, I was going to say Honor Harrington, but I saw Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan in the comments above and I have to jump ship. I LOVE Cordelia.

  12. Diane Dooley says:

    Ocatavia Butler’s Lilith Iyapo and CJ Cherryh’s Bet Yeager are among my favorite sci fi heroines. I don’t require that female characters be kick-ass; they just have to be fascinating. I’ve even got a fondness for Heinlein’s Friday Jones (my mother was a test tube, my father was a knife) despite some of Heinlein’s attitudes.

    Congratulations on the release of Stellarnet Rebel. I’m very much looking forward to reading it.

  13. That’s a difficult question, because there aren’t many to choose from, especially assuming you mean science fiction only, and not speculative fiction – usually what SF stands for – which also includes fantasy.

    If asked tomorrow I might give a slightly different answer, but right now I’m in the mood to point to the telepath and soul surgeon Elizabeth Orme from Julian May’s “Pliocene Exile” (actually a science fantasy, a deliberate and knowing mixture of fantasy and science fiction; that too, is included in the term “SF” as it is usually used).

    Orme is less proactive than I’d like, but then again so are most female characters. Nevertheless some of the things she does are just amazing, diving headfirst into the minds of some very disturbed and very broken people, and fixing them. Her attempt to cure black torc sufferers. She has great expertise in the field of telepathic surgery, and she is almost completely unafraid of the monstrous Marc Remilard, mass-murderer on a grand scale. Imagine a cross between Superman (as in Kal-El), Hannibal Lecter and Adolph Hitler. I’d stay far away from someone like that!

  14. Becky Black says:

    I’m another fan of Ripley. And also Sarah Connor of the Terminator movies. I love her story of how she has to find the strength to fight this thing from the future come to kill her. And how she goes on to turn herself into a soldier to protect her son and prepare for what’s coming, but pays such a heavy price for that, almost losing her humanity.

    And then there’s Trinity from The Matrix who might be even cooler than Han Solo and Steve McQueen combined. If the universe can hold such a high concentration of coolness without distorting spacetime.

  15. YMMV, but I think you might want to wait a few years before you share Ann Aguirre’s Jax with your daughter. (The series starts with Grimspace.)

    Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor might be appropriate for sharing, but I think that depends on both mother and daughter. You can sample it:

    Any of you others have an opinion about age-appropriateness for an adolescent?

  16. Alison Dasho says:

    Oh man, my reading list just got a whole lot longer because of all the suggestions here. Yay!

    Also, I have a sudden urge to re-watch Alien.

  17. JL_Hilton says:

    Sorry for any confusion, Peter. When I first began trying to publish, I was told over and over that “sci-fi” was inappropriate, and that “science fiction” should be “SF” — as in SFWA (Sci-Fi Writers Assoc), SF/F (Sci-Fi/Fantasy) or SF/SFR (Sci-Fi/Sci-Fi Romance). “Speculative Fiction” is “spec-fic.”

    However, in consulting Google (official keeper of all truths), we’re both way off. “SF” really means “San Francisco.” But, “Who are your favorite San Francisco heroines?” is a topic for another time. :)

  18. ElectricLion says:

    I’m going with Mahree Burroughs from AC Crispin’s Starbridge series.

  19. JL_Hilton says:

    Diane – I always liked Friday, too. Read that book many times growing up. But, yeah, as I mentioned, that first chapter always bothered me. As did other aspects of Heinlein’s writing… but, still, Friday was one of the few kickass heroines I’d ever encountered, at the time.

    Becky – Trinity from the Matrix was WAY cool. I was always hoping SHE would turn out to be The One.

    ms bookjunkie – tnx for the info! Does it seem to you like there’s more YA fantasy than YA science fiction for girls? Might just be that’s what my daughter chooses, but I rarely see her reading science fiction, though she did love Finley Jayne in “Girl in the Steel Corset” by Kady Cross. And so did I!

    Alison – We just re-watched Alien the other night. My daughter’s first viewing (I was younger than her when I saw it! Like, about 9 or 10!).

  20. Attoboy says:

    Have always been a big fan of Cirroco Jones from John Varley’s Titan series, so much so that every time I try to create a decent character it’s always a copy of Capt.Jones and I have to start all over again.

    On the flip side, Pavel Chekov has always been cringe-inducing. Added to the cast in a cynical attempt to bring mop-top appeal and first in line whenever the writers needed a useless screaming victim. Walter Koenig made that clear in interviews, though he discusses the character with fondness.

  21. “Sci-fi” IS very inappropriate.

    I use it as a term for dumb movies and television shows, whereas the nobly thoughtful written stuff is “science fiction”. Since I can touch type, I have no problem writing it out in full, but most of the thinking and writing I do about the subject deals with SF as a whole, rather than specifically with science fiction or specifically with fantasy.

    As for San Francisco heroines, I’m afraid I don’t know a lot of those. The only heroine I can confidently place in that city is Chevette Washington from William Gibson’s “Virtual Light”, and I’m not really all that impressed by her (and she was an immigrant from another state, anyway).

  22. Janice Sears says:

    I just started reading Stellarnet Rebel for the SECOND time, and I just purchased it this past Thursday! I really like Genny because she is brave, stands up for what is right regardless of the danger, loves and respects all forms of life, and will do anything to support and protects those she loves.

    I don’t read a lot of science fiction. Fantasy is another story and Charles de Lint is my favorite author. Jill Coppercorn is probably my favorite of the heroines in his urban fantasy books and she has a lot of the same character traits as Genny in Stellarnet.

    I can barely wait to see the upcoming sequel to your book and was so happy to hear you are already writing it because I haven’t been able to put this one down.

  23. J. L. Hilton says:

    Angela Korra’ti is the recipient of the labradorite nagyx “soul stone” necklace and a $10 gift certificate to ThinkGeek. Angela, I will be in touch with you through your website. :)

    Thanks everyone for your thoughtful replies!

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