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10 Female SF/F Authors and the Stories Behind Their Pen Names

Do you know the true identities of the authors penning your favorite science fiction and fantasy novels?

For years, female writers have adopted male pseudonyms to get more eyes on their work. Nowhere is the trend more prevalent than in the science fiction and fantasy world, a genre largely dominated by men. A fake male identity tends to resonate more with the thousands of male book-buyers—and thus improve sales; because how could a woman write good science fiction? (Insert eye roll.) And while things have certainly changed since an author named Alice became “Andre,” there is still progress to be made before the genders are truly equalized in the science fiction and fantasy community. 

The following female authors tackle gender issues in their books, use male (or androgynous) pen names, or both. Some left their mark back in the mid-20th century, while others are the science fiction and fantasy giants of today. Regardless of time or place, their work has helped to smash stereotypes and bring the female perspective to the genre—and we couldn’t be more grateful.

Alice Mary Norton

Pen Name: Andre Norton

Buy The Time Traders at Amazon

The Time Traders

By Andre Norton

Norton’s science fiction revolved around the adventures of misfits and outsiders—a fitting theme, given she was a woman in a male-dominated world. Born Alice Mary Norton, she adopted the pseudo “Andre Norton” as a sales tactic recommended by her publisher: “There were about five women writing fantasy,” Norton told Associated Press in 1999. “We had no choice.” But for a genre largely written by and for men, Norton’s work—which includes the futuristic Cold War-esque saga, The Time Traders—inspired a lot of female converts. She became the first female recipient of the Grand Master title and even has a SFWA award named in her honor.

The Time Traders

By Andre Norton

Alice Sheldon

Pen Name: James Tiptree, Jr.

Buy Brightness Falls From the Air at Amazon

Brightness Falls From the Air

By James Tiptree

By refusing all public appearances, Alice Bradley Sheldon was simply known as “James Tiptree” throughout her entire writing career. Only after her mother’s death—and an obituary that referred to one surviving daughter, “Alice Sheldon”—did her secret finally come out. The revelation was a shock to her peers, though she assured her pal Ursula K. Le Guin in a 1974 letter that “there was no calculation or intent to deceive.” Of her hundreds of stories, Brightness Falls from the Air is one of only two novels. It’s the science fiction version of an Agatha Christie mystery, as mayhem arises after sixteen humans gather to watch a nova from their isolated planet.

RELATED: 7 Amazing Pieces of Fan Mail from Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors 

Brightness Falls From the Air

By James Tiptree

Patricia Murphy

Pen Name: Pat Murphy

Buy The Falling Woman at Amazon

The Falling Woman

By Pat Murphy

Patricia “Pat” Murphy opted for a more ambiguous pen name. She’s an admirer of Tiptree, whom she believes broke through significant barriers for women in science fiction. Her novel The Falling Woman won a Nebula Award in 1988, and like much of her work, tackled gender roles. It follows Elizabeth Butler, a psychic archaeologist who explores the Mayan civilization’s collapse by communing with its dead male and female citizens. 

The Falling Woman

By Pat Murphy

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Megan Lindholm

Pen Name: Robin Hobb

Buy Assassin's Fate at Amazon

Assassin's Fate

By Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb is one of the biggest names in fantasy—but that wasn’t always the case. She began as Megan Lindholm before becoming her more famous alter ego to write The Farseer Trilogy. The switch was inspired by several factors. For one, Farseer was a drastic departure from her Megan Lindholm books, and “Robin” was androgynous enough to better evoke the series’ male POV. In a brilliant sales strategy, she also knew an “H” last name would put her work at eye-level on bookstore shelves. 

Assassin’s Fate is her latest installment in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, which continues the adventures of a grown-up Prince Fitz, the telepathic assassin from Farseer.

RELATED: 28 Must-Read Fantasy Book Series 

Assassin's Fate

By Robin Hobb

Joanne Rowling

Pen Name: J.K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith

Buy Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at Amazon

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

By J.K. Rowling

Like so many others, Joanne Rowling’s ambiguous pseudo was an attempt to bring a young male readership to the Harry Potter books. But “J.K.” isn’t Rowling’s only pen name. She also writes the Cormoran Strike mysteries under “Robert Galbraith”—which The Sunday Times discovered after finding linguistic similarities with Harry Potter. 

The Sorcerer’s Stone kicks off the worldwide phenomenon and sees the Boy Who Lived go off to Hogwarts, meet his best friends, and discover the man who's haunted him.  

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

By J.K. Rowling

Carolyn Janice Cherry

Pen Name: C.J. Cherryh

Buy Downbelow Station at Amazon

Downbelow Station

By C.J. Cherryh

Back in 1976, an editor told an unknown writer that her name was more romance novelist than science fiction author. That writer was Carolyn Cherry, though she would be C.J. Cherryh by the end of that meeting. While it was a ploy to sell more books, it also points to the public’s sexist perspectives of romance—a genre still frequently dismissed today. 

Decades later, Cherryh remains one of the most beloved science fiction and fantasy authors and has more than 60 books to her pseudonym. Her Hugo Award-winning Downbelow Station is a must-read for any science fiction fan: a vast universe, an interstellar war, and edge-of-your-seat action.

Downbelow Station

By C.J. Cherryh

Margaret St. Clair

Pen Name: Idris Seabright

Buy Sign of the Labrys at Amazon

Sign of the Labrys

By Margaret St. Clair

Margaret St. Clair was a prolific writer during the mid-20th century, and her works subverted the era’s most popular SF/F tropes. After dabbling in pulp magazines, she moved to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction where she was published under the name “Idris Seabright.” Short stories were her preferred format, though she eventually penned the Wiccan-heavy Sign of the Labrys, whose first edition boasted “Women Are Writing Science-Fiction!” on its back cover. The novel’s protagonist, Sam Sewell, must go underground to learn the secrets of witchcraft and find a wanted woman.

Sign of the Labrys

By Margaret St. Clair

Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey

Pen Name: Magnus Flyte

Buy City of Dark Magic at Amazon

City of Dark Magic

By Magnus Flyte

Magnus Flyte is the nom de plume of not one but two women. Christina Lynch and Meg Howrey wrote their first novel, City of Dark Magic, together under the Flyte banner in 2012. Their reasoning—to better reach both male and female readers—is proof that we haven’t completely banished gender stereotypes from the genre. The book tells the story of Sarah Weston, a music student in Prague who investigates her mentor’s sudden death. Magic, mystery, Beethoven (and tantric sex?!) all come together to create a suspenseful fantasy novel for boys and girls. 

City of Dark Magic

By Magnus Flyte

Pamela Lyndon Travers

Pen Name: P.L. Travers

Buy Mary Poppins at Amazon

Mary Poppins

By P.L. Travers

The Mary Poppins author went through two names before finally arriving at one she liked best. Born Helen Lyndon Goff, she dubbed herself “Pamela Lyndon Travers” as a young girl (for aesthetic reasons), then P.L. Travers (for book sales). What we know of her is mostly conjecture: she disliked children, disliked the Mary Poppins film more, and was generally a total grouch. But whether or not these rumors are true, one thing is for sure: her tales of the flying magical nanny still resonate with readers around the globe. The original film is even getting a sequel next year, with Emily Blunt stepping into Julie Andrew’s shoes.

Mary Poppins

By P.L. Travers

Anne Rice

Pen Name: A.N. Roquelaure

Buy The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty at Amazon

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty

By A.N. Roquelaure

Another follower of the initials-only trend, Anne Rice wrote the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy as A.N. Roquelaure. Her motivations are unclear, but it likely had to do with the series’ taboo subject matter— BDSM, long before E.L. James brought whips and chains to the mainstream. The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty begins the three-part, sexually explicit retelling of the classic Perrault fairy tale. While it continues to be one of Rice’s biggest sellers, she’s since dismissed it as “an obsession of youth—or something.” 

RELATED: 15 Bloody Good Vampire Books 

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty

By A.N. Roquelaure

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Featured photo: Robin Hobb via Wikimedia Commons



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