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5 Golden Age of Science Fiction Female Authors

These writers prove that the Golden Age wasn't just defined by men. 

golden age sci-fi female writers
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  • Photo Credit: Image from cover of 'Shambleau' by C.L. Moore

Science fiction would be nothing without the iconic and important contributions of the women writers who helped shape the genre.

That's even true of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, an era which is often perceived as particularly masculine. The Golden Age lasted from around the the mid-1930s to the early-1960s, and preceded the New Wave movement, which saw the debut of many iconic SFF female writers. 

To celebrate some oft-overlooked women, we’re taking a look at five of the most influential female writers from the Golden Age of Science Fiction. How many of them have you read?

Leigh Brackett

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  • Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Often referred to as "the queen of space opera", Leigh Brackett was an immensely prolific author whose works left an indelible impact on the science fiction genre for generations to come. 

Her work frequently tackled pertinent social themes such as colonialism and gender, and she wrote alongside industry contemporaries such as Ray Bradbury and her husband, Edmond Hamilton. 

There's a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs in Brackett's work, but her combination of interplanetary drama, sci-fi, and romance is all hers. She eventually became the first female author shortlisted for the Hugo Award, and last year, the Retro Hugo was posthumously awarded to her novel The Nemesis from Terra

On top of her contributions to sci-fi and fantasy, Brackett was a celebrated Hollywood screenwriter. She worked on Westerns like Rio Bravo, crime noirs like The Big Sleep, and a little film called The Empire Strikes Back.

RELATED: Impactful Female Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers You Need to Read

C.L. Moore

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  • Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Catherine Lucille Moore began her writing career while still a student in the early 1930s (she shortened her name to C.L. Moore not to hide her gender, but to ensure her employers didn't know about her writerly side-hustle!) 

Over the years, her work would be featured in publications such as Weird Tales, Astounding Science Fiction, and Fantastic Novels. Her most famous stories were co-written with her husband, Henry Kuttner. They wrote prolifically under a variety of joint and separate pseudonyms, including C. H. Liddell, Lawrence O'Donnell, and Lewis Padgett. 

While she mostly retired from fiction writing after her husband's death, Moore kept busy working in television on shows like Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip. In 1981, she received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement.

RELATED: 10 Female SFF Authors, and the Stories Behind Their Pen Names

Judith Merril

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Judith Josephine Grossman began writing professionally in the aftermath of the Second World War, and the remaining anxiety of that period is evident in her work. 

Her first novel, Shadow on the Hearth, published in 1950, told the story of a regular suburban housewife trying to hold herself and her family together after nearby New York City is destroyed by a nuclear attack. 

On top of her own writing, Merril edited various anthologies, and even wrote an episode of the '60s spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. After moving to Canada in protest of the Vietnam War, she dedicated her time to promoting and celebrating sci-fi in the country, and she even introduced Canadian broadcasts of Doctor Who for a few years. 

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America made Merril its Author Emeritus for 1997, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted her in 2013.

RELATED: Ten Mind-Bending Hard Science Fiction Books by Women

Andre Norton

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Under a variety of pennames, but most commonly that of Andre Norton, Alice Mary Norton became a prolific and pioneering author not only of sci-fi and fantasy but also historical, contemporary, and young adult fiction. 

Like many women of her time, she chose male pseudonyms to establish herself in the literary market, and published frequently with places like Fantasy Publishing. Norton even wrote books inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, after none other than Gary Gygax invited her to play the game!

 In recognition of her influence over the YA world, in 2005, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America created the Andre Norton Award, to be given each year for an outstanding work of fantasy or science fiction for the young adult market. 

Her legacy remains to this day, and her influence can be found in the works of authors like Lois McMaster Bujold, Mercedes Lackey, and C.J. Cherryh.

RELATED: 10 Andre Norton Books Everyone Should Read

Francis Stevens

Gertrude Barrows Bennett was a pioneering writer during the early 20th century, using the pseudonym Francis Stevens. Her most well-known works slightly predated the Golden Age. However, her work certainly influenced the other female writers on this list. 

Bennett had turned to writing to support her household after the premature death of her husband, and she soon found her stories garnered immense attention from literary contemporaries. The first story she completed after her return to writing was the 1917 novella The Nightmare, a strange blend of Burroughs and Edgar Allan Poe that readers immediately loved. 

In perhaps her most famous work, the novel Claimed, a supernatural artifact summons an almighty ancient god to present-day New Jersey. One fan called it "one of the strangest and most compelling science fantasy novels you will ever read." 

RELATED: 8 Underappreciated and Unsettling Horror Books by Women