This list contains a few authors of science fiction and fantasy books whose work critiques while entertaining. Almost always political, these books are often feminist, and are, most importantly, well written. They have provided me with hours of relaxation and fascination as well as a relief from the dominance of hyper-masculine norms and the lack of believable female characters so often present in genre novels. Some use science fiction to demonstrate the constructed nature of our social world, creating planets and places with absent or exaggerated norms. Others provide a window into a primeval past and a way of re-imagining history. Many provide warnings and powerful critiques of society, power, and privilege.
Griffith has authored books of multiple genre, her earliest being science fiction (Ammonite and Slow River), the middle period noir detective (The Blue Place, Stay, and Always), and her latest book a romp in medieval/fantasy (Hild). All of her novels equally merit a read, depending exactly what it is you are looking for. Ammonite is science fiction at its purest, an examination of what a world of only women would be like, as a colonizing corporation sends its employees to the surface of a planet where a disease kills all men. The Blue Place, Stay, and Always feature 6-foot-tall Norwegian woman named Aud, who can and does kill men twice her size with her bare hands. These books are perhaps the darkest of Griffith’s work, examining the repercussions of violence and the roots of powerlessness, grief and love.
Hild was the first of Griffith’s books that I read, and is perhaps the best, especially for lovers of nerdy fantasy, but also for those who aren’t much interested in the genre. Hild, which is based upon true characters and events, is unique in examining what happens to women in the fantasy universe. The reader watches in horror as Hild survives a perilous position of power and importance as the king’s ‘seer’. Hild’s powers aren’t rooted in magic per say. Rather, she is an intelligent young woman whose mother has groomed her for this role from birth, starting with the fabrication of a commonly known prophecy, to understand the patterns of the events happening in the world around her. The reader follows Hild from childhood into marriage, seeing the horror of her first battle and watching her protect her people as the Butcher-Bird. When she is stuck waiting with the rest of the women as the climactic battle of the novel rages, we stay behind with her.
Griffith’s work is often included in lists of lesbian fiction, and Hild is best described as queer. Griffith’s characters are primarily women, and she lends a sense of humanity to them which is refreshing in a genre which too often focuses entirely on male experiences. For more about Hild, read this NPR book “With Nuanced Beauty, ‘Hild’ Destroys Myths of Medieval Womanhood”.