Strong Female Protagonists

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Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Shro » Tue Oct 02, 2007 4:17 am UTC

What are your favorite books with strong female protagonists? I'm looking for some SF or Fantasyish books to read, and I would really like it if the main character of the book was female, because I (almost) always enjoy these books and I feel like they are so rare.

Discussion spawning questions:
So what books do you recommend? Who are they by? Any specific authors? What is the book about? Do you enjoy books with strong female leads? Why or why not? Have you ever read The Blue Sword?
Last edited by Shro on Thu Oct 04, 2007 8:04 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Berge » Tue Oct 02, 2007 4:58 am UTC

The first book (books) actually that come to mind are the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman. They fit the scifi / fantasy bill perfectly, and they're fantastic.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Flying Betty » Tue Oct 02, 2007 6:11 am UTC

Anything by Tamora Pierce. She writes teenage girl fantasy, which happens to be a vice of mine. Start with the Alanna books, which are about a girl disguising herself as a boy to become a knight.

Many Anne McCafferey books have strong female protagonists. Her first Dragonriders books definitely do (Dragonflight, maybe?) and I also like the Harper Hall ones.

Diana Wynne Jones is my favorite author, seconded by Robin McKinley. "Deep Secret" has a pretty strong female lead, as does "The Spellcoats".

Finally, almost anything by Patricia C Wrede. "Dealing With Dragons" and its sequels are the most popular. Try to get your hands on some of her older, out of print books about the world of Lyra. Several of them have a pretty strong female protagonist.

I'd be interested in seeing what science fiction recommendations people have. I can only come up with fantasy books for this one.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Malice » Tue Oct 02, 2007 6:56 am UTC

Garth Nix's necromancy trilogy: Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen. All three books revolve around female characters discovering their own strength; they're also damn good, and very original and imaginative to boot.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Nyarlathotep » Tue Oct 02, 2007 7:02 am UTC

These aren't novels, BUT...

Go look up the Sword and Sorceress anthologies, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley. My mother collected them so we have every single one.

They're anthologies of short fantasy fiction, from... I think the 80's, early 90's? Ish?

The key thing is that each one has to have a female lead. In order to have your work accepted to the anthology you -had- to do that.

I really, REALLY highly recommend these. Some of 'em aren't that good, but some are truly beautiful gems. Sword and Sorceress is how I learned to write, in some way.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby no-genius » Tue Oct 02, 2007 7:04 am UTC

seeing as he seems to get a lot of stick for not having them,

Juliana Frink from the man in the high castle by philip k dick (1962)

ok, she starts out passive, but she ends up strong. also she has 1337 kung fu skillez!

3 'human' pkd books: high castle, martian time slip, dr bloodmoney (or how we got along after the bomb) - i recommend them all
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Shro » Tue Oct 02, 2007 6:13 pm UTC

I love all your replies! My only thing is that most of these are Young Adult books, and I have already voraciously torn through them all. I think the only things I haven't read are the last suggestions from the last two posts.

I've also found the Demon Child Trilogy by Jennifer Fallon (NOT YA) to be interesting, and also, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, which are also more Young Adult.

So I'm looking for a bit more grown up books. Anything else you guys can think of? And I know if these are the books you like, I'll probably like everything thing else you suggest.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Flying Betty » Tue Oct 02, 2007 6:56 pm UTC

Have you read Lois McMaster Bujold? Her first two books in the Miles Vorkosigan saga actually deal with his mother.

I'm baffled. I can't think of grown up science fiction with female protagonists. There's a ton of fantasy out there. Mercedes Lackey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Sheri S Tepper frequently do. Oh! Elizabeth Moon- The Deed of Paksenarion. Still not science fiction. Dammit, maybe I need to start writing my own.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Alisto » Tue Oct 02, 2007 7:48 pm UTC

Hey, we totally had this conversation. That being said:

The Demon Child Trilogy - Jennifer Fallon
Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents - Octavia Butler (HIGHLY recommended)
The Second Sons Trilogy - Jennifer Fallon (Jacinta is not the main character, but a very strong supporting female)

I'll get Freyja to chime in. She should have some good recommendations.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Belial » Tue Oct 02, 2007 8:16 pm UTC

The Liveship Traders Trilogy (Ship of Magic, Mad Ship, Ship of Destiny) by Robin Hobb has some pretty decent female protagonists, as well.

Some pretty big male ones, too, though. I seem to shy away from books with a single protagonist.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby marshlight » Tue Oct 02, 2007 8:20 pm UTC

Flying Betty wrote:Anything by Tamora Pierce...Anne McCafferey...Patricia C Wrede...

Ahhhhh stole all of my recc's. Those were what started me out as thinking "wow! this is a really neat thing to read!" impending my destruction of the entire YA fiction and most of the adult fiction section in the local library (before it was renovated...now I don't know where anything is anymore). I actually had the Lyra trilogy on my desk an hour ago but I had to return it to said library. I really wanted to finish it but after a month of school I realized that wasn't really going to happen. :( I guess I'll reserve it over the winter.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Freyja » Tue Oct 02, 2007 10:11 pm UTC

Alisto wrote:Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents - Octavia Butler (HIGHLY recommended)
The Second Sons Trilogy - Jennifer Fallon (Jacinta is not the main character, but a very strong supporting female)


Hells yeah. Alisto already told you some of the top ones on my list. Parable is bloody amazing and although Jacinta doesn't show up until the second part of Second Sons, she's awesome and on my list of "real and fake people who may have my babies".

I'm also going to recommend Dawn and just about anything else by Octavia E. Butler, for that matter. You just don't screw with her leading ladies. Also, Mercedes Lackey has already been mentioned, but I'm going to specify: Children of the Night and the first couple of the Bedlam's Bard books. Lackey has a reputation as being a "hack" writer, but that doesn't make her any less entertaining. A lot of her short stories are also good, and most with strong female characters.

And speaking of short stories, look into Patricia A. McKillip. I have one particular anthology of her pieces, Harrowing the Dragon, which is pretty damn awesome.

I have some others, but they're not SF or fantasy, so I'll save those for another day.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby mcgrail9 » Tue Oct 02, 2007 11:46 pm UTC

"What are your favorite books with strong favorite protagonists? I'm looking for some SF or Fantasyish books to read, and I would really like it if the main character of the book was female, because I (almost) always enjoy these books and I feel like they are so rare."

You may enjoy the Molly character from Neuromancer by William Gibson. Some find this 1980s first cyberpunk book dated, but you may want to check it out if only for the structure of the writing that Gibson essentially introduces.

Gibson is good on strong female protagonists. Pattern Recognition has one. That book is not quite SF, but about as close as you can get without falling right in.

Other Gibson's in which female protagonists feature are Mona Lisa Overdrive, Virtual Light, Idoru, and All Tomorrow's Parties. These last three form a trilogy.

His newest is Spook Country. I have it, but haven't read it yet. If he stays true to form, there will be a female character in search of one or more parts of her identity and encountering all sorts of father figures, brother figures and femme fatales in the process. the writing will be witty, cutting edge in terms of subject matter and setting (if not structure) and generally satisfying. Gibson is a first rate writer.

Older is Frank Herbert, who incorporates strong female characters though they are usually only in supporting roles (albeit first place supporting roles). His later novels (not to be confused with those put out by his son and which are infinitely inferior) are good for strong female characters too. You may want to check out Chapterhouse and Heretics, especially the 'Honored Matres' and the 'Bene Gesserit'.

Charles DeLint writes urban fantasy that is easily digested and ultimately not especially satisfying. Still, if you are looking for escape, DeLint is an excellent choice. Where Herbert and Gibson are A writers, DeLint is a strong B+. His novels always feature strong female leads who come into contact with events or creatures or people or entities that have crossed over from other worlds (somtimes from American Indian mythology, sometimes from Irish mythology, sometimes from other sources). DeLint excels at comfort literature, rarely disturbing his narrative with the writerly flaws one sees with lesser writers.

Not SF and certainly not modern, but Thomas Hardy has written some excellent novels that feature female protagonists, including Return of the Native and Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

An exceptional book with FIVE strong female protagonists is The Poisonwood Bible. This story is told in five parts, with each of five women (a mother and her four daughters, each with incredibly distinctive narrative voices) taking turns telling the story of how their insane father/husband dragged the family to be missionaries in the Congo in 1960. Each of these women present intricate, in-depth, moving, marvelous character studies. The author is Barbara Kingsolver. Her book Prodigal Summer also features strong female protagonists (three of them, in fact).

In terms of classics, there are several strong female characters in The Metamorphoses by Ovid, the ultimate fantasyist.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby mcgrail9 » Tue Oct 02, 2007 11:55 pm UTC

I agree with the Butler suggestion (Parable of the Sower). You may also want to read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. That book is geared for younger readers but is nonetheless excellent. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russel features a couple of strong female characters, though they are in supporting roles. This too is an excellent book.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Alisto » Wed Oct 03, 2007 12:28 am UTC

Oh, here's one:

The Diamond Age or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. Read it, read it, read it. You will not be disappointed.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Pseudomammal » Wed Oct 03, 2007 1:01 am UTC

Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep is one of my favorite books ever, and has several strong female leads, human and alien. Tatja Grimm's World is a much earlier effort, and it shows, but it's about a young woman discovering why she is in fact smarter and more capable than everyone else in the world. How could geeks not love that?


I was just about to post this. Very seconded. Stephenson's Baroque Cycle also has some strong female protagonists, though they're the minority in a large cast.

mcgrail9 wrote:Gibson is good on strong female protagonists. Pattern Recognition has one. That book is not quite SF, but about as close as you can get without falling right in.

A big ol' yes to that too. I liked his other books, but always thought he was pretty weak on characterization. With Pattern Recognition his writing really matured.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Lyra Ngalia » Wed Oct 03, 2007 1:02 am UTC

Flying Betty wrote:There's a ton of fantasy out there. Mercedes Lackey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Sheri S Tepper frequently do.


*twitch* You said her name...

I personally find it really hard to have strong female protagonists who don't read like rampaging uber-feminist or sexy guntoting fantasies. The Mists of Avalon is my prime example. I'm female, and thought a novel based on doing the King Arthur thing from the female perspective would be fascinating... Except a third of the way through, I threw the book across the room and never finished it. Her "strong female characters" made me extremely angry, and the whole Mother Goddess being RAPED by the male dominated Christian Church thing got old quick.

Though, I do have a couple. I enjoyed Robin McKinley's Sunshine for her flawed but strong female (though I disliked the sloppiness of her climactic scenes), as well as Bujold's Paladin of Souls (sequel to Curse of Chalion, which had a strong supporting female character).

Juliet Marillier's Sevenwaters Trilogy has strong female characters, though they sometimes border on the uber-feminist thing I dislike.

As for Sci-Fi, the one that pops into my mind first is Dune. Yes, Paul is the main protagonist, but Jessica and Chani are both incredibly strong in their own rights.

Renie Sulaweyo from Tad Williams' Otherland is also a strong female, with enough flaws to make her human. There are a few in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy as well, though there are bad ones there too.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Freyja » Wed Oct 03, 2007 2:01 am UTC

Lyra Ngalia wrote:Renie Sulaweyo from Tad Williams' Otherland is also a strong female, with enough flaws to make her human. There are a few in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy as well, though there are bad ones there too.


The only reason I wouldn't recommend Otherland is because it goes on forever. If you're into epic-length stories then, by all means, go for it. It's a good story and Renie is pretty cool. But do be prepared for a long-ass tale.

If you are into excessively long stuff, look into George R.R. Martin's 'Song of Fire and Ice'. There are some strong female characters in there, too.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Alisto » Wed Oct 03, 2007 2:40 am UTC

Freyja wrote:George R.R. Martin's 'Song of Fire and Ice'. There are some strong female characters in there, too.


I thought about posting that, but it's long, incomplete, and the strong females are few and far between. Really, the only one I'd say fits the bill is Arya Stark.

The books are definitely worth reading and a great recommendation, but if you want strong females there are better places to look.

Like Wheel of Time. [/troll]
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Freyja » Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:18 am UTC

Alisto wrote:The books are definitely worth reading and a great recommendation, but if you want strong females there are better places to look.

Like Wheel of Time. [/troll]


You did not just say that.

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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Alisto » Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:19 am UTC

Freyja wrote:
Alisto wrote:The books are definitely worth reading and a great recommendation, but if you want strong females there are better places to look.

Like Wheel of Time. [/troll]


You did not just say that.

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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Brandon Sanderson » Wed Oct 03, 2007 6:11 am UTC

I don't believe Melanie Rawn's books have been mentioned yet. I enjoyed those quite a bit. Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly would be another excellent choice. Those two women, along with Anne McCaffrey, are in many ways responsible for starting me down the delinquent path to becoming an author.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby grim4593 » Wed Oct 03, 2007 8:00 am UTC

Pandora's Star and Juda's Unchained by Peter Hamilton have a few strong female characters. Melanie Rescatori and Paula Myo. They are just 2 people in a long cast of main characters though.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Freyja » Wed Oct 03, 2007 11:50 am UTC

Brandon Sanderson wrote:I don't believe Melanie Rawn's books have been mentioned yet.


I really do like her stuff- particularly her Dragon Prince and Dragon Star trilogies- and I'd probably like it more if it weren't for two major factors. One, which is relevant to this discussion, is that she's so in-your-face about the strong female characters. In fact, every single damn female character is a strong, gutsy woman (except Meiglan when we first meet her, and even she eventually turns out to be like the others). And as at least half of the the major characters (and there are quite a few) are these insanely strong women. And if their positions and actions weren't enough, Rawn feels the need to remind us through narration or dialogue that so-and-so is a very strong woman.

Don't get me wrong- I do love these books- but I actually find that my favorite characters in her writing are typically male (with the exception of Chayla, who I would totally befriend).
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Jesse » Wed Oct 03, 2007 11:53 am UTC

Belial is right, Liveship Traders has some fantastic female protagonists, and not always where you'd expect to find them.

Another that's quite good for this is Katharine Kerr's Deverry Cycle. It technically centres around Nevyn, but there are some fantastic female protagnoists that appear for a while, Dallandra is okay, but Jill is absolutely brilliant for being a completely non-stereotypical female in a fantasy story. Also, sometimes the characters switch gender when being reborn, so some strong males are actually 'female'.

Also, I mention these books in every single thread, because they are my favourite books ever and more people should read them.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby no-genius » Wed Oct 03, 2007 12:38 pm UTC

Lyra Ngalia wrote:As for Sci-Fi, the one that pops into my mind first is Dune. Yes, Paul is the main protagonist, but Jessica and Chani are both incredibly strong in their own rights.


Don't forget Seona (i forget the spelling.) in 'God Emperor of Dune'. The first scene in that book is awesome! (also Dune Messiah - the wholes series is good). The less said about Hunters of Dune, probably the better. But my desire to see what happens overweighs the frankly awfuly writing. So I'll probably get sandworms, but I won't feel proud.

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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby dubsola » Wed Oct 03, 2007 2:25 pm UTC

Pseudomammal wrote:

I was just about to post this. Very seconded. Stephenson's Baroque Cycle also has some strong female protagonists, though they're the minority in a large cast.

mcgrail9 wrote:Gibson is good on strong female protagonists. Pattern Recognition has one. That book is not quite SF, but about as close as you can get without falling right in.

A big ol' yes to that too. I liked his other books, but always thought he was pretty weak on characterization. With Pattern Recognition his writing really matured.

Seconded to Aliston, mcgrail9, and Pseudomammal. I was going to suggest Pattern Recognition - it's an awesome book - and the Baroque Cycle (three long-ass books) for Eliza.

So, since those have already been mentioned, I'll recommend a 'pretty good' book by one of my favourite writers. Whit, by Iain M. Banks, features a very strong female protagonist, but it's a non-scifi book written by a scifi writer, and it's not my favourite book of his (The Bridge wins that prize), but it's still pretty good. Worth reading.

My girlfriend loves Patrician Cornwall - the crime writer - I find her books extremely popcorn but the protagonist is most assuredly female and strong.

Hope this helps.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby mcgrail9 » Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:42 pm UTC

Also, for fantasy/horror with a strong female protagonist (actually 2 of them), you can't do much better than Threshold by Caitlin R. Kiernan.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby no-genius » Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:47 pm UTC

Misery by Stephen King? She's insane (and fat), but I guess she's a strong character.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Cabhan » Wed Oct 03, 2007 7:38 pm UTC

I've only read a few Mercedes Lackey books (the first three of "The Elemental Masters"), but I didn't enjoy them that much. Maybe her more fantasyesque stuff is better. I dunno.

I'm reading right now Elizabeth Haydon's "Symphony of the Ages" series. The main character is female, and quite a strong character. The book apparently has a few romance themes (I wouldn't know, since I don't read romance, but there are a few random sex scenes, so I guess that's the romance?), but I'm rather enjoying the fantasy.

As for Marion Zimmer Bradley, while I rather enjoyed Mists of Avalon, I suppose I see your point. However, some of her Darkworld books may be more your taste. In particular, I liked the "Saga of Renunciates" omnibus, which focuses on the exclusively-female Renunciate mercenary organization.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby rxninja » Wed Oct 03, 2007 7:50 pm UTC

Hunting Party by Elizabeth Moon. It's sci-fi, it's very good space opera, and the female main character is a badass military commander.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby podbaydoor » Wed Oct 03, 2007 7:51 pm UTC

The Inkheart series, by Cornelia Funke. Unfinished and translated from German, but the concept is good and well executed. Main character is a girl.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby mcgrail9 » Wed Oct 03, 2007 8:17 pm UTC

Also, Jose Saramago sometimes favors strong female protagonists. You may want to look at Balthasar & Blimunda or Blindness, both of which feature women in incredible roles. B&B is more fantasy; Blindness more SF.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby koalabäh » Wed Oct 03, 2007 8:48 pm UTC

Sassinak... Elizabeth Moon and Whatsherface, the Pern chick, Anne McCaffrey (oops :P). I didn't think it was all that good, but all my good ones were mentioned already... :(
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Vaniver » Thu Oct 04, 2007 1:25 am UTC

I notice people have only mentioned fiction. [/troll]

All the ones that I can remember have been mentioned, except maybe Kushiel's Legacy.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Alisto » Thu Oct 04, 2007 1:36 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:I notice people have only mentioned fiction. [/troll]


argyl3 wrote:What are your favorite books with strong favorite protagonists? I'm looking for some SF or Fantasyish books to read, and I would really like it if the main character of the book was female, because I (almost) always enjoy these books and I feel like they are so rare.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Princess Marzipan » Thu Oct 04, 2007 6:22 pm UTC

The Rhapsody Symphony of Ages series by Elizabeth Hayden features a strong female main.

It gets a little too romancey for me at times, but it's good overall.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby daydalus » Thu Oct 04, 2007 6:45 pm UTC

Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged if you're into the whole railroad tycoon thing.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Crazy Eddie » Wed Oct 10, 2007 11:15 pm UTC

Heinlein's Friday, about a female genetically engineered agent named Friday who has adventures and stuff before getting a desk job playing with the Internet and Google (really! they didn't call it that, though) to research things, becoming unemployed and kind of lost when her boss dies, signing onto an interstellar liner, and then escaping from said liner when she discovers it's bringing her to her death and living happily ever after on a New Frontier.
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Re: Strong Female Protagonists

Postby Girl™ » Thu Oct 11, 2007 8:03 pm UTC

Gotta second Liveship Traders and Neuromancer. And Anne McCaffery wrote more than Pern, you know. I really liked The Ship Who Sang (even though the female protagonist was, um, a sentient spaceship) and Crystal Singer. I haven't read either of those in years, though, so they may not be as good as I remember. The Piers Anthony series that begins with On a Pale Horse (I can't remember the actual name of the series) eventually gets into interesting territory when the books for the Fates and Gaia roll around.

There's so much awful sci-fi and fantasy out there, even without the criteria of having decent female characters... It makes me very sad.
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