Many people feel that science fiction, is in many parts the domain of men. But that is not true. Just look at the list of Hugo and Nebula award winners.
While I will not reprint that list here today I want to take a look at some truly talented writers that you should consider putting on your reading list.
"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood
This truly is a dystopian classic, in the event that you have not read it yet, I really recommend you check it out. I have seen that there is also a TV series on Hulu which I have heard good things about, but I haven't yet seen.
The story is set in a version of the 1980's US where there has been a military coup. The new government establishes a patriarchal Christian theocracy (wow, where did she come up with that) in which women are restricted and placed in a couple of different castes. When a woman does not fit into one of these castes and is slightly different or they disapprove of the regime they are austricized and further oppressed.
The book follows Offred, who fits nicely into the role of "handmaiden," her sole purpose in life is to have sex with one of the leaders of the movement, so that he can have children, since his wife cannot. There are a few characters in the book, though the cast is pretty limited.
"The Drowning Girl" by Caitlín R. Kiernan
I will be honest when I say that "The Drowning Girl" is one of my favorites right now.
What you should know is that it is more horror than fantasy or sci-fi and to fairly describe the book in such a way that it deserves is hard at best.
If you aren't up for something that really captures the dark nature of schizophrenia it may not be for you. Since this book does so it an alarming way and it makes it really dark.
You follow, Imp, a young woman who has schizophrenia and is haunted by a mermaid or werewolf.
Another thing that makes the book more unsettlingis that it is told in first person narrative. You follow Imp's very meandering thought-process and how she links seemingly unrelated things. There's a lot of musings on art, writing, mental illness, hauntings, and all sorts of other things that would potentially derail the story, yet they do not. And despite the topic and style I did not find it at all confusing to follow the story. In fact I think it helps to highten the mystery as we are lead step-by-step through the story as Imp progresses.
"Karen Memory" by Elizabeth Bear
If you like well written steampunk westerns then this book is for you. The story draws you in through the first-person narrative set in the steampunk version of a fictional take on 1800's Seattle.
While I do not find the story perticualrly clever, it is esseally a murder mystery surrounding the sex workers with some mind control thrown in for good measure. It has more to offer than that.
It is a strong character-driven with a lot of action that akes place later on in the book. My memory is a bit vague as to the number of characters, so the cast might be a bit larger than you would like. Other than the protagonist, Karen, there is her love interest, a number of other women who work at the same bordello, a badass US Marshall, and the baddies.
It's a lot of fun, especially because a number of characters are based off of historical figures.
"The Left Hand of Darkness" by Ursula K. Le Guin
This book much be read to understand, and I don't even want to write a synopsis . What I will say is that
This is a very touching sci-fi story which takes a hard look at our cultural differences and what they can mean for our friendship and love.
What drew me into the stroy was the limited cast. There are only two point of view characters and there are few other characters in the book.
"The Salt Roads" by Nalo Hopkinson
Nalo Hopkinson is really a wonderful writer, and her work is able to capture me in a way that few others do. It is cozy, and "The Salt Roads" tells a story about three women living in different places and time periods whose lives are linked by a goddess of the sea. Not something that I would generally enjoy reading if it was not from Nalo.
But it is truly a captivating tale, with each protagonist having a small supporting cast of about 2-3 characters, but they are easy to keep apart and they do not overlap with the other main characters' cast.
For lovers of historical and literary fantasy this may be just what you are looking for.
I understand that this is not everybody's thing, but that does not mean that you do not have miss out on Nalo Hopkins. She has a number of fantastic books. For example if you are more at home in the urban fantasy give her book "Sister Mine", which takes place in Toronto and is about a pair of divine twin sisters with a lot of charm.