Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: March 2021

The Author portraits of the indie women of science fiction featured in this blog post are Cheree Alsop, Amy DuBoff, Lindsay Buroker, Jennifer Foehner Wells, and M. D. Cooper.

Indie Women of Science Fiction

When G. and I planned out this month’s blog posts, I eagerly volunteered to write about indie women of science fiction. That was before I realized how few of us there are. Ironically, it was not that hard to find female sf writers among the traditionally published. I highlighted several of my favorites in the “First Impressions” post at the beginning of the month.

But until I actually looked beyond my two favorite indies, I hadn’t paid much attention to the “indie gender gap.” Here’s a challenge for you: run a search for independently-published science fiction, and see what you find.

Kirkus Reviews, for one, publishes annual lists of their top-reviewed books by category (they have a separate category for indie authors). I looked at their lists for 2018, 2019, and 2020, to discover with one exception (K. E. Lanning) that the sf titles were written by male authors, while fantasy and paranormal titles were split between men and women.

It’s even more lopsided on Amazon Top 100 lists in sf. Almost no Indie women of science fiction. But lucky for us, there are at least a few. And they are awesome! Here are five for your consideration:

Jennifer Foehner Wells

Jennifer Foehner Wells with her book covers: Fluency, Remanence, Inheritance, Valence, Vengeance, and the Confluence Codex 1.
Jennifer Foehner Wells and her Confluence Series (See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

For me, no list of indie women of sf would be complete without Jennifer Foehner Wells, AKA @Jenthulu” (her Twitter handle). I discovered her several years ago. Her first book, Fluency, turned me into a fan for life, and everything she’s published since has gone straight onto my “insta-buy” list.

As some faithful followers of my “Artdog Adventures” blog may recall, I’ve written about her books before. I’m delighted to do so again here. If you have not read this woman’s excellent Confluence Series, do yourself a favor. Remedy this egregious shortfall in your science fiction background, and start the series now!

Lindsay Buroker

Planet Killer, Home Front, and Layers of Force, with a photo of author Lindsay Buroker.
Lindsay Buroker with her “Star Kingdom” Series. (See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

I discovered Lindsay Buroker last year when her books started showing up in my “Also-Boughts.” That’s Amazon’s counter-marketing list under the idea of “people who liked your book also bought . . .” or “Products related to this item” on a book’s detail page.

I decided to read her novel Shockwave to see what I thought—then promptly ordered every other book in the Star Kingdom Series available at the time. Had to wait for the last two, after I caught up with the series-to-date. Indeed, I was so eager to get my hands on them I preordered the Kindle versions (I now have the full set in paperback, my preferred format). The prolific Buroker also writes fantasy series, and has well north of 70 books in her catalogue.

M. D. Cooper

M. D. Cooper and her Aeon 14 Orion War Series. (See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

When it comes to indie women of science fiction, M. D. Cooper is kind of a one-woman industry. She is the creator of the Aeon 14 Universe—in which a number of other authors sometimes co-write. She’s produced 161 works so far. Check in a week or two, and there might be more.

I regret to say that I had somehow not discovered her until I started writing this blog post. But from the “Look Inside” samples I’ve read (on Amazon), this woman knows how to write! I chose to highlight her Aeon 14 “Orion War” series because it’s one of her biggest, but small enough that you might be able to actually distinguish the book covers from each other.

Cooper doesn’t stop with series after series of books, however. She’s produced a music album (provided lots of input, but she’s not the composer), The Outsystem Original Score, and a trailer for the Aeon 14: Orion War series.

A. K. DuBoff

A. K. Duboff with Cadicle Series covers for Rumors of War, Web of Truth, Crossroads of Fate, Path of Justice, and Scions of Change.
A. K. Duboff and her Cadicle Series(See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

A. K. (Amy) DuBoff promotes herself as a “Space Opera Author” on her website, and has a Facebook group that dubs her “Queen of Space Opera.” Unlike many indies she belongs to both SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America), and IASFA (International Association of Science Science Fiction and Fantasy). Also unusual for an indie, she was a Nebula finalist in 2018 for the Andre Norton Award. She’s also a USA Today bestselling author.

I discovered her in the course of researching this blog post, so I can’t claim to have read any of her books yet. But the sample chapters in the “Look Inside” glimpse from Amazon look promising. Her “Serenity” duology is set in the “Aeon 14 Universe” created by M. D. Cooper, who is listed as a co-author. (Guess how I found DuBoff). But I chose to illustrate her original Cadicle Universe series, of which there are considerably more books.

She also has a book series trailer (with background music by my favorite contemporary composer, Thomas Bergersen of Two Steps from Hell. The excerpt is part of the composition Our Destiny.).

Cheree Alsop

Cheree Alsop with her “Girl from the Stars” series and a “Pirate from the Stars” novel. (See IMAGE CREDITS. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

Like Buroker and DuBoff, Cheree Alsop writes both science fiction and fantasy. And, llike Cooper and DuBoff, I found her during my research for this post, then checked out her writing skills via the Amazon “Look Inside” opening glimpse feature. I’m looking forward to reading more!

In the illustration, I featured covers from her Girl from the Stars” series, which is her longest sf series. She also has written a similarly-titled sf novel, Pirate from the Stars: Renegade. According to her website, her newest science fiction is the Rise of the Gladiator” trilogy.

She is a member of the DFW Writers Workshop and the League of Utah Writers. Like M.D. Cooper, Cheree has a musical side—she is a former high school music teacher, and plays bass in a rock band appropriately called Alien Landslide.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my survey of five awesome indie women of science fiction. Please share your reflections on any of them (please keep it positive and relevant) in the Comments section below. Or, if you’d like to suggest other great indie women of science fiction whose work we should know and read, please add their names to the comments, too! Thanks.

IMAGE CREDITS for Indie Women of Science Fiction:

I have tons of acknowledgements to make, between all the author portraits and book covers! I myself assembled all of the photo montages. If you’re interested in a particular image within a montage, I’ve tried to help by dividing these image credits into subsections by author:

Jennifer Foehner Wells:

Many thanks to Goodreads for the photo of Wells. I am indebted to Amazon for the cover images of Fluency, Remanence, Inheritance, Valence, and Vengeance. Thanks also to Barnes & Noble for the Confluence Codex 1 cover.

Lindsay Buroker:

I need to thank Amazon and Lindsay Buroker’s Author Page for the photo of her in the Southwest USA with a happy Vizsla. Goodreads gets the kudos for the book covers this time. Many thanks for the following Star Kingdom covers: Shockwave, Ship of Ruin, Hero Code, Crossfire, Gate Quest, Planet Killer, Home Front, and Layers of Force.

M. D. Cooper:

This time around, Amazon gets almost all the hugs and kisses. M. D. Cooper’s official author portrait came from her Amazon Author Page. Amazon provided all the 13 book covers for the Orion War Series, too. Many, many thanks for: Destiny Lost, New Canaan, Orion Rising, The Scipio Alliance, and Attack on Thebes. Also for War on a Thousand Fronts, Precipice of Darkness, Airthan, Ascendancy, The Orion Front, Starfire, and Race Across Spacetime. The series wraps up with the two Return to Sol books, Attack at Dawn, and Star Rise. Finally, many thanks to YouTube and Creative Edge Studios for the Aeon 14: Orion War Trailer.

A. K. DuBoff:

Here’s another round of hoots and hollers for Amazon, the “home of choice” for a lot of these authors. The official portrait of Amy DuBoff is from her Amazon Author Page. Amazon also provided the cover images for her original Cadicle Series: Rumors of War, Web of Truth, Crossroads of Fate, Path of Justice, and Scions of Change. I also want to thank Amy DuBoff’s YouTube Channel for the Book Trailer – Cadicle: An Epic Space Opera Series.

Cheree Alsop:

Many thanks to Alsop’s website for the author portrait. I’ll wrap up with another round of thank-yous to Amazon for book covers from Alsop’s Girl from the Stars Series. This includes: Daybreak, Daylight, Day’s End, Day’s Journey, and Day’s Hunt. I filled in the hole at the bottom with a similarly-titled (so far) single book, The Pirate from the Stars: Renegade.

Top Row, L-R: Deborah Crombie (with Dax), Anna Lee Huber, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Catriona McPherson, and Louise Penny. Middle row: Ingrid Thoft, Jenn McKinlay, Julia Spencer Fleming, Paige Shelton, and Rhys Bowen. Bottom Row: Hallie Ephron, Elly Griffiths, Maggie Robinson, and Amy Pershing. (See complete photo credits in IMAGE CREDITS below).

Mystery Woman

By G. S. Norwood

Male authors, including Edgar Allen Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, were pioneers in crime fiction—a genre which arose in the mid to late 1800s.  Even Charles Dickens tried his hand, with his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. But, from femmes fatales to the distraught daughters of the landed gentry, there has usually been a mystery woman at the heart of any crime novel. And it wasn’t long before women began to put their own distinctive mark on this form of popular fiction.

Dame Agatha Christie

At left is a montage of 36 of Agatha Christie’s book covers. At right, a black-and-white shows her in her home, typing.
Masterful mystery writer Agatha Christie wrote at least 77 books, of which the montage at left shows 36 covers. (montage: Cocosse Journal; photo: Getty Images, via Forward).

One of the first women out of the gate in the race to include female voices in crime fiction was Agatha Christie.  And what run she had! She sold her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1916. Her 66th and final novel, Sleeping Murder, was published in 1976. Over the course of her 60-year career, she defined the conventions of the mystery genre for all the generations since.

She wrote a continuing series of novels that featured professional private detective, Hercule Poirot. Her Miss Marple character became the archetype for all the amateur sleuths who populate today’s sub-genre of “cozy” mysteries. Her 1926 novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, was voted “Best Crime Novel Ever,” by the British-based Crime Writer’s Association. Christie’s play, The Mousetrap, set the world record for longest initial run of a play—November 1953 until the coronavirus pandemic shut the theatre down in March 2020. 

Agatha Christie has sold more books than any other crime writer. Her novel, And Then There Were None, is one of the best-selling books of all time. She was rarely out of the best seller lists during her lifetime. Her works have spawned countless plays, movies, homages, and outright rip-offs.

Is there a way to dispatch your enemy that Christie didn’t think of first? Her victims were stabbed, clubbed, strangled, and shot. She served in hospital pharmacies during both World Wars, and was rumored to have spent at least some of her time there studying up on deadly drugs and poisons.

By the time this mystery woman left the scene, the genre was well-entrenched in its traditions—many of which were pioneered by this one redoubtable writer.

Kicking Butt and Taking Names

P.D. James with the covers of her two Cordelia Gray novels.
P. D. James’ fictional detective Cordelia Gray kicked butt in 1972. (Express/SecondSale).

About the time Christie’s career was winding down, a new type of mystery woman stepped onstage. Christie led the way, of course, with amateur sleuth Miss Marple’s sharp tongue and very pointed knitting needles. Then in 1972, British novelist P. D. James took a step back from her investigator Adam Dalgliesh to offer us a professional private eye who was a woman—Cordelia Gray in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

But over in America, the genteel female detective caught the wave of mid-century feminism.  Somewhere along the way, she swapped DNA with the grimmer male private eyes of authors like Dashiell Hammett and John D. MacDonald to give birth to a whole new breed. Sara Paretsky’s V. I. “Vic” Warshawski was as hard-boiled as the big boys, a woman, and completely ready to kick your ass if you suggested there was anything wrong with any of that. 

If fictional detectives had embraced feminism by the early 1980s, it was glaringly apparent that Mystery Writers of America had become something of a boy’s club. All the critical acclaim, major awards, and fat movie deals were going to male writers and male detectives, even though MWA had been founded to promote the work of all mystery writers. Paretsky was a leading force in founding Sisters In Crime, an organization meant to promote the careers of female mystery writers. Both organizations now actively support efforts to be more inclusive of diversity in all its forms.

Sara Paretsky and covers of her 20 V. I. Warshawsky novels.
Sara Paretsky with her 1995 Jaguar XJS convertible, and a montage of her 20 V. I. Warshawsky novels. (CrimeReads/FantasticFiction).

You Can’t Keep Secrets from the Help

From 1992 through 2000, author and activist Barbara Neely published four Blanche White novels that are not only outstanding mysteries, but give readers a fascinating window into the Black female experience rarely seen in detective fiction. 

Blanche White was the antithesis of her name, and far from the femme fatale. Heavy-set and dark-skinned, Blanche was a mother, a housekeeper, and far smarter than the greedy, pretentious, entitled snobs she worked for. And you know what they say—you can’t keep secrets from the help.

Neely broke new ground and crushed a lot of stereotypes with her Blanche White mysteries.  In December 2019, Mystery Writers of America awarded Neely their 2020 Grand Master award.  Neely died in March 2020.

Black mystery writer Barbara Neely with covers of her Blanche White mystery series.
In a field dominated by white people, Barbara Neely drew on her activist instincts to inform her Blanche White series. (YouTube/Goodreads/Bookshop).

Killer Romance

Giving Dame Agatha some stiff competition for that best seller title, romance writer Nora Roberts entered the mystery field in 1995.  Roberts is a prolific writer with more than 225 titles to her credit.  Her books have spent a cumulative 1,045 weeks on the on the New York Times best seller lists—the equivalent of 20 years.  With more than 400 million copies of her books in print all around the world, it’s estimated that 27 copies of her work are sold every minute.

When she launched her In Death series under the pseudonym J. D. Robb, Roberts was looking for a way to release more books each year without being in direct competition with herself.  The novels written as Nora Roberts tended toward classic romance and romantic suspense.  She wanted J. D. Robb’s books to be completely different. Featuring Lt. Eve Dallas and her husband/partner Roarke, the In Death mysteries are futuristic police procedurals that combine gritty street life, adult behavior, crackling dialog, and characters who have continued to evolve over a span of 52 books and counting. 

I confess!  I have read and enjoyed all of the books in this series, and sometimes re-read a favorite when I wanted the opportunity to slip back into the very entertaining community Roberts/Robb has created.

Nora Roberts as J.D. Robb, with a montage of her “In Death” novels.
Nora Roberts in her J. D. Robb persona, with many of the covers in her “In Death” series. (MysterySequels/USA Today).

Find Your Own Favorite Mystery Woman!

Today, women are killin’ it in the field of mystery fiction.  No matter what your taste, from the coziest of cozies to the hardest of hard-boiled, you can find many outstanding mystery novels by women. Any one of these excellent writers are guaranteed to give you a great reading adventure:

Louise PennyJulia Spencer FlemingDeborah CrombieElly GriffithsJenn McKinlayCatriona McPhersonHank Phillippi RyanHallie EphronRhys BowenPaige SheltonAnna Lee HuberIngrid ThoftMaggie Robinson

This montage shows photos of the fourteen women listed in the final section of Norwood’s post.
Top Row, L-R: Deborah Crombie (with Dax), Anna Lee Huber, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Catriona McPherson, and Louise Penny. Middle row: Ingrid Thoft, Jenn McKinlay, Julia Spencer Fleming, Paige Shelton, and Rhys Bowen. Bottom Row: Hallie Ephron, Elly Griffiths, Maggie Robinson, and Amy Pershing. (See complete photo credits under IMAGE CREDITS below).

And add a bright new talent to the long list of fine mystery women! Amy Pershing published her first mystery, A Side of Murder in February 2021.  It’s a delight.

Do you need another clue?  Get reading!


Many thanks to Cocosse Journal for the Agatha Christie novel-covers montage, and to Getty Images via Forward, for the photo of Christie at work. We are grateful to Express for the photo of P.D. James, and to SecondSale for the Cordelia Gray book covers. Many thanks to CrimeReads for the photo of Sara Paretsky with her 1995 Jaguar XJS convertible. Also to FantasticFiction for the cover images for all twenty of the V. I. Warshawsky series covers (in separate images). Jan S. Gephardt assembled the montage.

We’re really grateful to YouTube for the photo of Barbara Neely at Book World Prague in 2012, to Goodreads for the Blanche on the Lam cover, and to Bookshop for the covers for Blanche among the Talented Tenth, Blanche Cleans Up, and Blanche Passes Go. In addition, we’re thankful for the photo of Nora Roberts personifying J. D. Robb, we thank “MysterySequels.” And we deeply appreciate USA Today for the “Wall of In Death” montage of covers.

Contemporary Mystery Women

In addition, we have what seems like a bazillion people to thank for the Contemporary Mystery Women collection. Jan S. Gephardt put together this montage, too. On the top row, we really want to thank Deb Crombie for the photo of her with her German Shepherd, Dax, WBOI for the photo of Anna Lee Huber, Tor Forge and photographer Chitose Suzuki for the photo of Hank Phillippi Ryan at home, Enterprise and photographer Sue Cockrell for Catriona McPherson’s photo, and BookPage for Louise Penny’s photo.

Also, we’re really grateful to Sisters in Crime of Puget Sound for the great action shot of Ingrid Thoft, to Jenn McKinlay for her photo, and to Peter Hedlund IMGP7808.jpg (original image) and Wikipedia for the photo of Julia Spencer Fleming. In addition, many thanks to Goodreads for the photo of Paige Shelton, and to Criminal Element for the sunny picture of Rhys Bowen, all on the second row!

Finally, several whoops and a holler of thanks go to Wild Mind Creative for the photo of Hallie Ephron, to The Norfolk Wildlife Trust for the Elly Griffiths photo, and to Poisoned Pen Press and photographer Jan De Lima for Maggie Robinson’s photo. Lastly on Line Three, Penguin Random House provided the photo of relative newcomer Amy Pershing. And we thank them for that.

Clockwise from upper left, book covers for “Nine Coaches Waiting,” “A Place to Call Home,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Real Men Knit,” and “Heroes Are My Weakness.”

Pickup Lines: How to Start a Romance

By G. S. Norwood

Good opening sentences are like pickup lines at a bar.  An author wants you to spend some pleasant time with her book.  Maybe develop a lasting relationship with her characters.  What can she say in that moment when your eye first meets her page?  How should she start a romance with her reader, as well as a romance between her characters?  Today I want to look at some of the pickup lines that helped me start a romance with some of my favorite books.

Universal Truth

Cover: Bookshop. Background: Kseniya Romazanova/Braxma, 123rf. Design: Jan S. Gephardt.

Romance is a genre created and shaped by female writers and female readers. With what is probably the most famous first line from any romance novel, Pride and Prejudice opened the door for authors like Georgette Heyer and Julia Quinn to write about the manners and morals of the Regency period. 

While today’s historical romance authors bend the past to suit their needs, Jane Austen herself wrote contemporary novels.  Hers was a society where women could not own property, vote, or have any real agency in the choices made about their lives. Society damsels needed husbands to get through life in a respectable manner. Good ones. Bad ones. It made little difference.

But Elizabeth Bennett, the main character in Pride and Prejudice was not some simpering maid.  Never mind that her family had no money and four other daughters to find husbands for.  Our Lizzie set the style for romance heroines right from the start.  By being independent enough to laugh at Mr. Darcy’s starchiness and turn Mr. Collins down cold, Ms. Bennett showed she was not looking for just any old husband.  She was looking for the right life partner. If she couldn’t find him, she was willing to take her chances as an old maid.

The Independent Woman

“I was thankful that nobody was there to meet me at the airport.”  Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting 1958
Cover: Bookshop. Background: Sergei Koshkarov, 123rf. Design: Jan S. Gephardt.

The romance heroine’s sense of independence only grew through the 145 years between Pride and Prejudice and Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting. In that time, women of Elizabeth Bennett’s class survived two world wars and the Great Depression, gained the vote, and entered the workforce.

The memory of all that shadows our heroine, Linda Martin, who comes to Paris to help a young boy from a wealthy family perfect his command of English. Aware that intrigue and betrayal might lurk beneath the sunniest of surfaces, Linda steps off her flight from London to launch a whole new genre: romantic suspense. 

Smart enough to spot a plot against her new pupil’s life, Linda is also resourceful enough to help him escape over the border into Switzerland. And capture the heart of her charge’s charming cousin in the process.

The Determined Woman

“I planned to be the kind of old Southern lady who talked to her tomato plants and bought sweaters for her cats.”  Deborah Smith, A Place to Call Home 1997

Cover: Bookshop. Background: Cristina Ionescu “cristionescu,” 123rf. Design: Jan S. Gephardt.

With one of my favorite pickup lines, Deborah Smith takes the scrappy, independent romance heroine a giant step forward. In A Place to Call Home, five-year-old Claire Maloney violates strict social divides to befriend ten-year-old Roan Sullivan. When family tragedy drives them apart, Claire’s heart is broken. As an adult, she builds a life for herself based on the notion that, if she can’t have the man she loves, she’d rather not start a romance at all.

Claire Maloney’s determination is a bit extreme.  But, when you think about it, your choice of partner is the most important choice you make as an adult.  It shapes your life in every way, from where you live to the jobs you take and the children you have. Isn’t that worth fighting for?


“Annie didn’t usually talk to her suitcase, but she wasn’t exactly herself these days.”  Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Heroes Are My Weakness 2014
Cover: Bookshop. Background: “linux87,” 123rf. Design: Jan S. Gephardt.

Most contemporary romance heroines, like Annie Hewitt, aren’t really looking for a man to marry. They’re looking for what any adult wants: respect, a career, a voice, and some agency in a world dominated by wealthier, more powerful people. 

In Heroes Are My Weakness, Susan Elizabeth Phillips uses Annie’s plight to spin the tropes of the classic gothic romance, as written by Daphne du Maurier and Victoria Holt, into a comedic delight.  Dark family secrets and a brooding Victorian mansion? Yep. Puppets, ventriloquism, and lots of witty repartee? You betcha. There’s even a haunted clock.  You need to read it.

New Voices, New Pickup Lines

“There was nothing cute about the first time Kerry Fuller met Jesse Strong.” Kwana Jackson, Real Men Knit 2020

Cover: Bookshop. Background: Robert Liptak, 123rf. Design: Jan S. Gephardt.

Jesse Strong has plenty of pickup lines, but none of them work to start a romance with Kerry Fuller in Kwana Jackson’s novel, Real Men Knit. Nor is the “meet cute” trope the only romance novel tradition Jackson overturns.  Jesse and Kerry have known each other since middle school, but form their romantic bond over their efforts to save a yarn store that has become a Harlem mainstay. 

Jackson tells their story with affection for a neighborhood that is far from the dysfunctional ghetto of White stereotypes.  Her characters are flawed but admirable people of color who learn that love—for family, community, and life partners—is the only thing that counts. A leader in the new wave of Black romance writers, Jackson is a vocal advocate for #WeNeedDiverseRomance. With Real Men Knit. she makes a strong case.

Ready to Start a Romance?

With so many great romance reads out there, I have to wonder. Why do people still sneer at RO-mance novels as if they are smut or trash? Are they are embarrassed by the things adults do, like fall in love and enjoy sex? Do they honestly believe the tales of war, carnage, and vigilante justice found in men’s adventure novels are intrinsically superior to stories about forming family bonds of mutual support? Why? Because they’re written by men?

Whatever the critics think, romance is the top-selling genre of adult fiction, earning $1.44 billion in 2019.  That’s almost twice as much as the second-place genre, crime and mystery. Roughly four times as much as science fiction and fantasy. If you haven’t read a romance novel lately, you should pick one up. You’ll be surprised by the wonderful stories women have to tell.


See individual cutlines for more specific credits, but in general: Many thanks to Bookshop for all of the cover images used in this post. Bookshop is a great way to support small, independently-owned booksellers. Started at the start of COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, it provides a way to shop local, online. Or, if you’d rather, IndieBound supports a similar niche. We’re also grateful to 123rf and their talented photographers, for the background images. The marriages of book covers with backgrounds was the result of Jan S. Gephardt’s graphic design “matchmaking”.

First Impressions

They say first impressions are important. As a writer, I’d say that goes for the first lines of stories, too. Lots of great books and stories open with ho-hum first lines. But I deeply admire a great opening line.

I often kick off a new month with a collection of illustrated quotations. This month, I’ve put my own spin on a related idea that I got from a friend, Lynette M. Burrows. Her excellent blog regularly features great opening lines from books she’s read.

This month is also Women’s History Month, when I like to focus on the creative work of women throughout the years. I’ve highlighted great women artists on my blog in the past, such as Artemisia Gentileschi and Rosa Bonheur. But today I’m featuring opening lines from five great women writers making creative history in the science fiction and fantasy field right now.

First Impressions from Rebecca Roanhorse’s Sixth World

The monster has been here. I can smell him.
--Rebecca Roanhorse, Trail of Lightning
Design by Jan S. Gephardt, with book cover from Simon and Schuster.

Trail of Lightning is the first of her “Sixth World” books, based on Navajo traditional stories. The second, Storm of Locusts, is near the top of my “to be read” pile, as is her most recent title, Black Sun. Roanhorse identifies as indigenous and African American, although her tribal membership is disputed. Her husband is Navajo. Trail of Lighting focuses on Navajo culture and characters.

FAIR WARNING: some Navajo groups have criticized the book as disrespectful, or as cultural appropriation. Certainly, the nature of the action in the book, if depicted of any cultural group, probably could be seen by conservative observers from that group to be “disrespectful.” Roanhorse herself has said that her goal was “accuracy and respect.”

I have chosen include this book in my collection because in my opinion Roanhorse consistently writes with respect and understanding about indigenous characters. She’s widely seen as an important rising voice in the science fiction field. And it’s an intriguing story with an arresting opening line.

Murderbot’s First Words

I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites.
--Martha Wells, All Systems Red
Design by Jan S. Gephardt, with book cover from Thrift Books.

For those of us who love Martha Wells’ prickly cyborg Security Unit, each new installment of its adventures is a new joy (yes, Murderbot’s pronouns are it/its). The first impressions offered in the opening of its debut appearance provide an important (if incomplete) angle on its approach to life.

The “Murderbot Diaries” stories are set in a distinctly dystopian universe where opportunistic corporations seem largely unrestricted by inconvenient morality. What makes them such as joy to read Murderbot’s personality and perspective.

Whenever our favorite “SecUnit” teams up with the flawed but well-intentioned humans who accept it into their society, we get a new opportunity to see how these well-written stories play out. Not all of them begin with such a marvelous “characteristic statement” as the first line offered here. But in my opinion all are well worth a read.

This is not Wells’ first series. Until All Systems Red, the award-winning first novella was published, she was best known for her fantasy novels and media tie-ins. She writes prolifically in many lengths and several genres/subgenres.

An earlier voice than the others

As soon as he entered the room, Baines blurted out, "We want you to find us a viable human heart, fast."
--Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring
Design by Jan S. Gephardt, with book cover from Amazon.

I’ll confess that when I first began contemplating this blog post, Nalo Hopkinson’s 1998 novel Brown Girl in the Ring was the first book I knew I wanted to include. I picked it up at a science fiction convention not long after it was first published. Once I read that first line I was hooked. Talk about compelling first impressions!

After Octavia Butler and Samuel Delaney, Hopkinson was the first Black science fiction author I knew about, or whose work I read. She is in fact a Jamaican-born Canadian Back when I started reading sf, the field was dominated by old, white, imperialistic misogynists. Not all were—but enough.

When I read the work of authors such as Hopkinson, I got a whole new viewpoint. Their unique and intriguing takes on the field stretched my imagination and opened my eyes. Their visions became part of the broader worldview I’ve tried to develop ever since.

The inimitable wit of T. Kingfisher

She was going to die because of the rutabagas.
--T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon), Bryony and Roses
Design by Jan S. Gephardt, with book cover from Barnes & Noble, and rutabaga photo from The Land Connection.

You might know Ursula Vernon’s artwork—indeed, I first met her as an artist, when she was an Artist Guest of Honor at ConQuesT 43 (2012). It was only later that I realized she also writes under the name of T. Kingfisher.

Her small gem of a story Bryony and Roses is a distinctly different take on the old story of Beauty and the Beast, and indeed the rutabagas do play an important part. If you enjoy her humor and unique approach, I think you’ll be well rewarded by this tale. And look! She has more books!

First impressions for a jewel-like novella of polished words

"Something wants to eat you," called Almost Brilliant from her perch in a nearby tree, "and I shall not be sorry if it does."
--Nghi Vo, The Empress of Salt and Fortune
Design by Jan S. Gephardt, with book cover from Goodreads.

From the very start to the very end of this acclaimed novella, I had a sense that the author had particularly chosen, placed, and polished each word to perfection. The opening line offers a great foretaste. Seanan McGuire called it a “puzzle box,” and it’s a good description. This story unwinds in its own nonlinear fashion, yet it moves inexorably to its devastating conclusion.

Nghi Vo has so far published two novellas, a novel, and a whole raft of short fiction. I imagine we have only begun to hear her remarkable voice. If you’re curious how to pronounce her Vietnamese name, this might help.

I hope you enjoyed these “first impressions” first lines, and the stories that go with them (and proceed from them). Next week we’ll present another collection: G. S. Norwood has some great first lines to share, too. Please leave a comment about your favorites. Suggest more great first lines. Or maybe you’d like to offer other observations. Please share your thoughts!


All of the design work on the first-line quote-images is mine, for well or ill, other than the book covers. For those, I have several sources to thank. I’d like to thank Simon & Schuster for the Trail of Lightning cover. I’m grateful to Thrift Books for the All Systems Red cover. Same to Amazon for Brown Girl in the Ring. I appreciate Barnes & Noble for the cover of Bryony and Roses (Also The Land Institute for the photo of the rutabagas!). And I’m grateful to Goodreads for the cover of The Empress of Salt and Fortune. Many thanks to all of you!

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