Jessie Mihalik’s debut novel Polaris Rising is the first in a series following space princess Ada von Hasenberg on a journey to reclaim her destiny after her father pressures her into a political marriage. Ada is the latest in a line of sci-fi heroines who take fate into their own hands. Here, Mihalik offers up some of her personal favorite film and tv heroines and the novels you should read if you love them too.
I have a deep and abiding love for heroines in science fiction and fantasy. Whether it was cheering Princess Leia as she gave Jabba the Hutt what was coming to him or crying as Wonder Woman climbed out of the bunker to cross No Man’s Land alone, I’ve always loved to see heroines defy the expectations of others and forge their own paths.
With that in mind, I’ve paired five of my favorite TV and film science fiction heroines with their literary counterparts.
If you like Starbuck’s confidence, try Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
Kara “Starbuck” Thrace in Battlestar Galactica is unapologetic about her piloting skills and her love of drinking, gambling, and sex. She’s good at her job and she knows it. So does Deviana “Devi” Morris in Rachel Bach’s Fortune’s Pawn. Devi is driven and ambitious and nothing as inconsequential as a cursed ship is going to stand between her and her dream of being a Devastator, one of the king’s elite guards. With aliens, armored battles, and expansive world-building, Fortune’s Pawn is fun from start to finish with lots of action and intrigue that kept me glued to the pages.
If you’ve ever wanted to kick ass in a virtual world like Trinity from The Matrix, you’ll love Emika Chen from Marie Lu’s YA novel Warcross. In Lu’s imaginative world, Warcross is a global phenomenon, a virtual reality game played by competitive teams and watched by everyone. Emika doesn’t set out to become a player, but when she accidentally glitches herself into the opening ceremonies, she’s thrust into the spotlight. However, not all is as it seems and Emika will have to weigh her newfound fame and fortune against her desire for the truth. I loved the little gaming Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the book.
If you like Ripley’s ability kick alien ass, try Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
If you had a resilient, hard-to-kill monster stalking you, which film heroine would you want at your side? I would want Ellen Ripley, Sigourney Weaver’s tough-as-nails character from the Alien movies. Ripley kicks ass while being incredibly human, flaws and all. That’s how I felt about Maggie Hoskie from Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning. Maggie was born with the supernatural ability to hunt and kill the monsters that roam the world, but being born to kill while still being heartbreakingly human has left lasting scars. Maggie has so few people she truly trusts, but when one of them in is danger, she drops everything to rush to his aid. The world-building is vast and interesting in this post-apocalyptic urban fantasy based on Native American myths. I couldn’t wait to see what each new page held.
If you like Zoë’s tough-outside, caring-inside attitude, try Perdition by Ann Aguirre
Zoë Washburne from Firefly is a fearless fighter and level-headed leader who cares deeply for those she considers hers. If Zoë had been sent to prison rather than joining Mal, I think she would’ve ended up like Dresdemona “Dred” Devos from Ann Aguirre’s Perdition. Sentenced to death on a prison ship circling a barren asteroid, Dred has clawed her way to the top of the prison hierarchy and leads one of the six disputed territories as the Dread Queen. Holding that territory costs lives, a dear price Dred pays every time she sends her people out. When a new prisoner joins her gang, Dred must win his trust before he stabs her in the back, but to show weakness is to invite death. At turns dark and vicious, yet always beautifully written, Perdition kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end.
If you like Leia’s quiet strength, try Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews
And finally, we have Leia Organa, the spiritual godmother of badass women everywhere, who was immortalized so perfectly, both as princess and general, by the late Carrie Fisher. Leia could fight with the best of them, but underlying it all, she had a quiet, steady determination: to do right, to save her people, to hold the line.
It would be hard for any character to live up to all of Leia’s qualities, but Dina Demille from Ilona Andrews’s Clean Sweep has the same calm, steely backbone we see in Leia. Tucked away in a rundown bed and breakfast in a small, out of the way town, Dina may seem nothing like a rebel princess. But the inn is magical, her broom transforms into a weapon, and she is providing safe harbor for one of the galaxy’s most wanted fugitives. When her pushy werewolf neighbor tries to pry, Dina politely throws him out of her house—several times. A delightful blend of urban fantasy and science fiction, Clean Sweep captivated me from the very first page.
Jessie Mihalik has a degree in computer science and a love of all things geeky. A software engineer by trade, Jessie now writes full time from her home in Texas. When she’s not writing, she can be found playing co-op video games with her husband, trying out new board games, or reading books pulled from her overflowing bookshelves. Polaris Rising is her debut novel.