While mainstream science fiction excels at imagining far-out futures, exploring the far reaches of the imagination, and scaring the bejesus out of us, it’s generally accepted that historically, the genre has been pretty terrible at populating its brave new worlds with anyone other than straight, cisgender white dudes. (Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and many of the other “greats” wrote almost exclusively about their demographic, and onscreen science fiction, from Star Wars and Back to the Future to adaptations like War of the Worlds and Blade Runner, has long shared similar representation issues.)
But sci-fi history actually has featured ahead-of-its-time, female-identifying authors and creators who have challenged conventional notions of race, gender, and sexuality head-on for centuries. Their contributions are so essential (some are by far the most out-there in the canon) that without them, the genre could not possibly have grown into the blockbuster behemoth it is today.
Like many sci-fi creators, this radical group’s explorations weren’t limited to faroff planets; they dove into the sticky, difficult, often ugly realities of their own worlds, many of which are still with us today. They tackled misogyny, homophobia, racism, and the dangers of conventional gender roles — concepts often foreign to the world they inhabited. While their efforts were not always celebrated in the mainstream, they opened the possibility of a better future and pushed the conversation forward.