This time around for our patron sponsored recommendation list, we pulled together all our favorite female space adventurers, from books to TV shows to video games.
Leia Organa, Star Wars — the original lady in space. Star Wars, despite its iconic female characters, tends to strand its women without other women (COUGH ROGUE ONE COUGH), which is… not cool… but even on their own, they kick butt. And Leia’s the snarkiest and toughest of the bunch, commandeering her own rescue, going undercover, and destroying anyone (or any worm) who would get in her way. It’s a good thing Leia’s lawful good, is all I’m saying.
Alana Quick, Ascension — Because you love McCoy but deserve more diverse sci-fi, chronic illness representation, and queer romance in your life.
Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, Vorkosigan Saga — Cordelia was maybe the first space-faring lady I encountered in my life. I was a freshman in high school when I met her (though I met her son first), and she continues to be one of my favourite fictional characters EVER. Female or not, space-faring or not, whatever. Cordelia is GREAT. When you meet her she does blind wormhole jumps FOR SCIENCE — in this world civilization is connected together by wormholes, which dump you somewhere else in space once you go through them. Cordelia basically expanded the wormhole nexus one blind jump at a time, looking for new planets and new routes. By the time of the latest book in the Vorkosigan Saga (Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, she has personally instigated like 50 social revolutions on her adopted planet, stopped an actual armed military revolution cold, participated in a polyamorous relationship that is a delight to my heart, and saved many a soul through her incredible ability to read people. And that's not even getting into who she's a parent, spouse, or partner to and what impact she's had on the world less directly through those relationships. CORDELIA FOREVER.
Commander Shepard, Mass Effect — KJ discusses this below, and I agree with everything she said. Commander Shepard is definitely a woman. And even if you say there's a choice to make this character male, I say, there is a choice to make her a lady! A lady can have THREE HUGE GAMES' worth of space adventures! And it's like, not a Thing? Dragon Age, Bioware's other major property, claims their fantasy world is not sexist but it SO TOTALLY IS. Not the case with Mass Effect! No one bats an eye at Commander Shepard being a woman. The camera treats her well, they really picked a great VA, and she doesn't even walk weird, unlike women in Dragon Age. And as KJ said, if you think picking Shepard is cheating, Mass Effect is absolutely stuffed with great space-adventuring women of all types. I have been holding off on playing the newest Mass Effect game because haha I do not have TIME to become 500% absorbed in a video game right now but! Soon! SOON! I will meet SO MANY COOL NEW SPACE LADIES. EXCITED.
Zoë Washburne, Firefly — How could I not put Zoë Washburne at the top of my list of female space adventurers? Zoë kicks ass! She's tough, smart, and funny. She's loyal but free-spirited. And she has possibly the best hair in space.
One of my favourite things about Zoë is that she never has to compromise. She can live a happy, domestic life, as part of the cutest, happiest married couple you'll ever comes across, and run around the galaxy doing the work she loves. Zoë really is the woman who has it all (until Joss Whedon goes and ruins it for her). I just love her. Please watch this amazing fan-vid about her and then start re-watching Firefly all over again.
Alana Quick, Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi — I still love the tagline for Alana's character which describes her as 'the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City.' Alana is a very different kind of space adventurer as her decision to stowaway on the Tangled Axon places her life in danger because she has a chronic pain condition which needs regular medication. She wants to travel the galaxy more than anyone, and repeatedly pushes herself to her limit to get just a glimpse of the stars. However, it's not so much Alana's endurance that is fascinating but the way Koyanagi wrote her story to allow for the reality of chronic pain in space without denying reality or denying Alana her dream. There's no magical or technological permanent cure but with the help of her new space family, and her new crush the hot female captain Tev, Alana can use her smarts to realise her ambition.
Avice Benner Cho, Embassytown by China Miéville — Avice Benner Cho's story starts out with her career in space exploration so I'm putting her on this list even though she spends much of the novel in the settlement of Embassytown. Avice's voice just carried me through this novel, and her dedication to recording her story is what I remember most about this book.
Rosemary Harper, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers — How many times can I rec this book before everyone gets bored? I don't know but I'm going to keep pushing my luck because it is so great. Rosemary is my favourite character - a girl running from her past but with a genuine interest in every new place she visits along the way. If our persistent badgering at Lady Business hasn't already convinced you to pick this one up then get on this now.
Devi Morris, Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach — Devi Morris is just a big bundle of good-times. Hard-drinking, sharp-shooting female space mercenary for the win. If you like women with plenty of swagger then Devi is the space adventurer for you.
Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel: Higher, Stronger, Faster, More by Kelly Sue DeConnick — The 2014 mini-relaunch of the comic series saw Carol Danvers head into space to meet up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, stand up to a corrupt government, and save the day.
Commander Shepard, Mass Effect Trilogy — I don't care what anyone else says: Commander Shepard is a woman. In this video game series, Jennifer Hale puts in one of the all-time great voice acting performances as a space marine who ends up with the weight of the universe on her shoulders. Even if you think this choice is cheating, there are so many other fantastic women in this story: Ashley Williams, Liara T'Soni, Tali'Zorah, Miranda Lawson, Kasumi Goto… and those are just my particular favorites. The game is set in a rich universe with a compelling story and many great character arcs (even if it didn't quite stick the landing).
Kira & Jadzia, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — I suppose it would be more natural to rec Star Trek: Voyager here, as the first Star Trek show featuring a female captain, and I did enjoy parts of Voyager very much (better in my recent rewatch than on its original airing), but DS9 is by far my favorite science fiction show, in no small part because of its two women regulars: station second-in-command Kira Nerys, a former revolutionary learning how to work within the confines of authority, and Federation science officer Jadzia Dax. The show also abounds with amazing secondary female characters, from Kai Winn (one of the greatest TV antagonists of all time) to shuttle captain Kassidy Yates. DS9 is somewhat unique among the Star Trek series in that it has a strong story arc component, which enables its characters to grow and change in a way that didn't always quite work in some of the others.
Rosemary & Sissix, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers — This fun space adventure features a found family making their way through the galaxy. Our initial viewpoint character, Rosemary, a records clerk making a break from her past, would qualify the book for inclusion on this list by herself, but fortunately there are many other great women in the cast, too, including my favorite, Sissix, the ship's gregarious pilot. Beyond the excellent characters, I also love the sense of optimism that pervades this book. Not everything goes exactly as planned, but you generally have the sense that things will mostly come out right, and that's something I really need from fiction right now.
Sam Carter, Stargate SG-1 — Stargate is definitely a foundational SF text for me. From the movie to the show to the spinoffs, I've found things to love in all of them (space vampires). But my favorite aspect of the main show was Samantha Carter, who is the only woman on the main exploration team. She's brilliant and clever, and she gets to be the hero who saves the day multiple times. I'm not sure I would have continued the series without her; it was so dude heavy and often hella sexist. I mean, I love Daniel Jackson but when I think about my favorite episodes of Stargate SG-1, Sam is a central part of them.
Myrtle Mumby, Larklight — Philip Reeve's 2007 alternate history steampunk novel, aimed at kids, is so perfectly British and a fantastic critique of British imperialism that still manages to operate within its own context (although how it would hold up if you didn't have the prerequisite knowledge of how Terrible the British Empire was is unclear to me, since I can't unknow that). A big part of that critique is placed on Myrtle's shoulders, as she struggles to become a lady in British society without her mother and living in a faraway space station by the moon so her father can do his scientific research. She has a lot to deal with, even before the giant spiders attack, a pirate inches his way into her heart, and she helps save the whole of London, and humanity as she knows it.
Naomi Nagata, The Expanse — One of the main characters of the whole series, Naomi is an enigma who slowly reveals herself to us over the course of the series. She's incredibly smart and capable, both through education as well as growing up in the asteroid belt. She's dubious about power struggles, has no use for toxic masculinity, and has Seen Some Shit. Six books into The Expanse, she's one of my favorite characters: nuanced, complicated, compassionate, and kind. The adaptation of SyFy seems to be going a different, more forceful direction, but it's not bad or contradictory to her book character in any specific way. Book Naomi has Seen Some Shit, and can also Fuck Your Shit Up, but Show Naomi is more a more tangled character within those two traits; the latter comes more to the fore, performed perfectly by Dominique Tipper.
Commander Shepard, Mass Effect Trilogy — I will allow arguments that I'm cheating because m!Shep exists, but as I literally have to be reminded that there is a male option I will not be accepting them. Commander Shepard is a badass lady who (depending on how you play her) explores the galaxy chatting to aliens, sometimes punching them, and taking the weight of the universe onto her shoulders. (I could have just filled this list with women from the Mass Effect series who are adventuring in space for their own reasons! Doctor Liara T'Soni, an archaeologist looking for information about an extinct race of aliens; Tali'Zorah nar Rayya is travelling the galaxy looking for useful information and technology to bring back to her home fleet; and Doctor Karin Chakwas who joined the military for romantic adventures.)
Breq, Ancillary Justice — Breq has travelled the galaxy as a ship, as part of an army, and as an individual, and seeing the way she reacts (and is allowed or expected to react) to the galaxy and the worlds she travels to in all of her different roles is really interesting to me. Plus, the world-building is excellent and worth exploring!
Ginna, Ginna the Companion — This little series of short stories on tumblr brings me a lot of happiness, because it's a woman whose job is travelling around the galaxy making friends and saving lives for the sheer joy of doing so?