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The women who could

I'm mulling, still, on jemck's excellent post yesterday. And in my head, a play-list is forming of all those female fantasy writers who have built worlds I love, opened doors, set standards, taken steps into the new, the unknown. So here, in no particular order, are the writers who made me think, made me see fantasy as space where I could be, who broke new ground, who shaped the genre as I know and love it.

Hope Mirrlees, who opened that door between worlds with wit and wisdom.
Sylvia Townsend Warner, who brought elegance and grace.
Katherine Kurtz. I outgrew her books, but she was an innovator with her approach to High Magic, to religion in fantasy and in her expression of the High Mediaeval mode. I read everything with fantasy on the label in the 70s, and Kurtz was genuinely different: the fashion when she first appeared was still Heroic/swords and sorcery or 'low' style fantasy. She harked back to Morris and Dunsany, but in a far less mannered, far less forced mode.
Katherine Kerr (aberwyn). Other writers had done Celtic-influenced things, but Kit's Deverry books have a really solid, authentic, well-supported and internally consistent basis in real history, they aren't riven with new age thinking, historical wishful thinking or sentiment. And they're good.
Tanith Lee. Queen of the Universe. No arguments. She is easily as innovative a writer as Moorcock, yet she gets a fraction of the recognition and respect. (Yes, he has an important editorial side too. But I'm talking about books.)
Susan Cooper.
Diana Wynne Jones.
Alis Rasmussen (kateelliott: The Labyrinth Gate prefigured the whole steampunk fantasy thing by nearly two decades. Nobody seems to remember.
Judith Tarr (dancinghorse). One of the earliest writers of mediaeval alternate history, yet we had to wait for a book by a man for the applause to start.
Mary Gentle.

I could go on and on. But these are the writers whose books lit up my reading world. There are many more who I've discovered more recently, many women writing wonderful, innovative, intelligent fantasy. We need a banner and an anthem. We need a parade. Who would you honour and invite?


( 59 comments — Leave a comment )
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Apr. 5th, 2011 12:02 pm (UTC)
Bags I say Ursula le Guin first! A Wizard of Earthsea was one of the books that made me who I am, even though I can't say that I fully understood it when I read it as a child, or (perhaps) even fully understand it now.
Apr. 5th, 2011 12:18 pm (UTC)
Damn, you beat me to it!

In which case I shall lay down Joan Aiken's wonderful alternate history of the reign of James III.
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 5th, 2011 03:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 5th, 2011 03:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2011 12:05 pm (UTC)
Patricia McKillip would be on my list, for sure. I read the Riddle Master trilogy when I was about sixteen and fell in love with it. The denouement (rather than the climax, if that makes sense) still always brings a lump to my throat. Re-reading it last year I can see some of the flaws (for example the main character of the second volume has pretty much nothing to do in the third) but it still has a special place for me.

I've pretty much read everything she has written and I like most of it (a small handful don't quite work) but none have quite the same emotional impact of those books.
Apr. 5th, 2011 03:32 pm (UTC)
McKillip was a slow burn for me -- I didn't get on with the Riddle Master books, and it was only the two Firebird ones that drew me in, some years later. But she's a writer of huge talent. And one of the marquis' great favourites.
(no subject) - mojave_wolf - Apr. 5th, 2011 07:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2011 12:34 pm (UTC)
Anne McCaffrey. Robin McKinley. They, and Susan Cooper, are probably the foremost female shapers of fantasy and science fiction in my yout'.
Apr. 5th, 2011 03:34 pm (UTC)
I loved McCaffrey in my teens, but I am never sure if I can categorise her as fantasy. Same with Marion Zimmer Bradley. I still think, though, that McCaffrey's books are some of the best entry points to sf for girls, because her women are central, they win over the men, they're stubborn and awkward and right (and those who read Dragonflight as a rape narrative are seeing only angle).
(no subject) - mizkit - Apr. 5th, 2011 04:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - armb - Apr. 5th, 2011 09:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - saare_snowqueen - Apr. 6th, 2011 11:53 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2011 12:50 pm (UTC)
I'm adding to memories for summer reading. Thanks for the list.
Apr. 5th, 2011 01:05 pm (UTC)
Andre Norton's Witch World. And Elizabeth Goudge.
Apr. 5th, 2011 03:35 pm (UTC)
I still collect Goudge, and I love her books dearly. Only Little White Horse is really fantasy, I guess, but she's one of the best writers on faith I know.
Witch World I didn't get on with, though I loved her YA sf.
(no subject) - birdsedge - Apr. 5th, 2011 04:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2011 01:43 pm (UTC)
I haven't read far too many of those authors on your list. Making note of their names to remedy that (a couple were already on my to read list).

My personal list (some repeats) would be Sharon Shinn, Tamora Pierce, Patricia Wrede, Gail Carson Levine, Ursula LeGuin, Robin McKinley, Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, Susan Cooper.

Those are pretty much the authors I grew up reading and loving the most. I've reread books by all of those authors at least once. (In some cases, close to 20 times). And just for balance, the male authors I grew up reading/rereading and loving: CS Lewis, Tolkien, Guy Gavriel Kay.
Apr. 5th, 2011 03:36 pm (UTC)
I am kicking myself that I missed LeGuin. Soft brain. I think some of this is the age gap, too -- I love Shinn, but came to her in my 30s; I hit Pierce and Lackey too old, though.
(no subject) - llwheeler - Apr. 6th, 2011 02:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 6th, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2011 02:11 pm (UTC)
just as female writers i enjoyed, other than you :P carol berg and ellen kusher. tho i don't think either brought anything to the genre, they are writers i enjoy. and louse cooper, though she has a bit of a 'virgin' issue as so many of her fantasy females are virgins, she was one of the first female writers i ever read, and i still enjoy her work, and that she often does have female leads, which many female writers, myself included, do not.

and tho not a female writer, david gemmell. tho he doesn't have many female characters, or many female babies born (everyone breeds boys in his world. odd) when he does feature women, and does put them in violent situations, rape or whatnot, he handles it well. the women dont' freak out and want to die. they don't become avenging angels. they handle it realistically and with emotion. and i think it's rare that a man can write women without going over the top one way or the other. and i think that deserves a mention too :)

i really should try some of these writers you've listed :)
Apr. 5th, 2011 03:38 pm (UTC)
Gemmell was a fine writer and would make my long list of male writers, I think.
Ellen Kushner was one of the first fantasy writers to put gay relationships into the heart of her books. I love her stuff and think she's hugely important.
I must read Carol Berg: she sounds great.
(no subject) - the_faery_queen - Apr. 5th, 2011 03:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 5th, 2011 03:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2011 02:13 pm (UTC)
Yes, and I would add Storm Constantine to my list too. And for where fantasy blurs into folk tale and the everyday: Angela Carter, Alice Hoffman, Sarah Singleton, Margaret Mahy, Helen Cresswell. I'm sure I can think of more. Wish I'd kept more lists...
Apr. 5th, 2011 03:39 pm (UTC)
Another good set, though again I was older when I first read them. I love Mahy: so weird and dark.
Apr. 5th, 2011 02:28 pm (UTC)
Definitely duplicating the Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula Le Guin, Katherine Kerr & Tanith Lee picks.
Also Juliet McKenna, who does cracking stories, kick ass chicks, fantastically drawn worlds and is also an amazing live speaker, on, oh, anything!
Esther Friesner -for kick ass chicks done with humour.
JV Jones
Julian May - because I loved the Galactic Milieu series as a young 'un. The Saga of Pilocene Exile wasn't bad, but GM blew me away.
Apr. 5th, 2011 03:39 pm (UTC)
Definitely yay for Jules herself! I didn't get on with May, but I can see why others do.
Apr. 5th, 2011 02:48 pm (UTC)
Diana Wynne Jones remains top of my every list. Angela Carter and Jeanette Winterson, if they 'count' - which I think they do. Ursula le Guin. I'd also like to add Cornelia Funke - I know she's much newer and has less to her name, but the Inkheart trilogy is truly, truly beautiful.
Apr. 5th, 2011 03:40 pm (UTC)
Carter is a real original and a great writer, who I somehow managed not to read until I was 40, which I regret.
Apr. 5th, 2011 02:48 pm (UTC)
Marian Zimmer Bradley, Lois Bujold, Anne McCaffrey, Robin McKinley, Patricia Wrede, Jennifer Roberson, Merceded Lackey - those are just the ones I can see from where I'm sitting right now.

MZB and Anne McCaffrey though, they got me through a lot of my teen years along with Mercedes Lackey and Valdemar.
Apr. 5th, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC)
I was well into my 20s when Lackey started writing, but I can see how her books appeal to teenagers. And Bujold rocks: I omitted her because her fantasy is more recent. But she makes the Grand Mistress List, along with the fabulous Barbara Hambly.
(no subject) - pogodragon - Apr. 5th, 2011 03:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 5th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pogodragon - Apr. 5th, 2011 03:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - themis1 - Apr. 5th, 2011 07:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Apr. 5th, 2011 03:44 pm (UTC)
Maureen McHugh hangs the moon. I must read Vonarburg: I have some, but as ever I put it off, because it means carrying a dictionary about with me. And Butler is wonderful: another one who came along when I was grown up. I will own up to hating Mists of Avalon with a passion (it hits all my historian hot buttons) but I loved the Darkover books. And I love most of the rest of your list, too: never got on with Willis, and I find Tepper can be repetitive, but Atwood and Bujold and Bear, oh yes.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 6th, 2011 02:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2011 04:43 pm (UTC)
Applause for the many names mentioned already.

Lois McMaster Bujold comes right at the top of my personal list, followed closely by Diana Wynne Jones. Andre Norton I have mentioned in an earlier reply, but I haven't spotted anyone mentioning Patricia Briggs yet. Great urban fantasy werewolf books (the mercy Thompsons) but also some excellent non urban fantasy. Also Tanya Huff for both fantasy and urban fantasy.

Must read Hope Mirrlees and Octavia Butler.

Ursula LeGuin for the first three Earthsea books, but I so wish I'd never read the fourth.
Apr. 5th, 2011 05:18 pm (UTC)
I still haven't read Briggs. Must do so.
(no subject) - birdsedge - Apr. 5th, 2011 07:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 6th, 2011 02:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
Zenna Henderson is strictly speaking SF but because of the setting of her people stories I put her on the same fantasy leading edge as Simak. Wonderfull stuff. The other two writers who I would mention if this was more wide ranging are H M Hoover and Monica Hughes who I devoured out of Surbiton library as a girl.
Apr. 5th, 2011 07:55 pm (UTC)
Zenna Henderson's People stories were recommended to me by Sue Thomason and I really enjoyed them, though by modern standards of pacing they are a little dated, they are so gentle and lovely.
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 6th, 2011 02:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
Am in a rush now, only a few minutes to post, but off the top of my head:

From childhood:
Susan Cooper was the first female fantasy writer I read, with "The Dark is Rising."
Andre Norton was a huge influence, probably read more books by her during middle school than all other authors put together; Tanith Lee and Patricia McKillip are writers I discovered when I was just starting high school and still among my favorites, period. Doris Piserchia--only read one book, "Spaceling," but it still sticks with me.

LeGuin (would not have thought of her except seeing the mentions up above)--love her science fiction, was not so in love with her fantasy.

CJ Cherryh and Marion Zimmer Bradley kinda blurred the line between SF and fantasy with their stories, which were sort of heroic fantasy w/a science fictional rationale, at least that's how I think of them in my head, but loved the Morgaine and Darkover books.

Now that i'm older- aside from yourself and Sherwood Smith, who also had a post on this, there, mind blanking, uh,
I'd name Caitlin Kiernan, Jo Walton as women who write fantasy that qualifies as not just good but GREAT, memorable literature, and, gah, I had about a dozen names in my head when I started writing and they are starting to blur away and *really* in a hurry. Justine Robson (sorta SF-al), and, uh, must go. More tonight, maybe.

Apr. 6th, 2011 02:26 pm (UTC)
Why thank you, sir.
I love Justina Robson's work: she's one of the best sf writers out there right now. I wish I liked Cherryh, because there are so many neat ideas in her books, but somehow I can't get on with them.
(no subject) - anef - Apr. 6th, 2011 06:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
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