It's not so surprising, come the think of it. Science fiction, in an effort to depict how humanity might have evolved over time, included lots of females in prominent roles. It's as if screenwriters knew that society was marching towards gender equality and any story set in the future would logically feature strong women characters (at least, that's the hopeful spin I like to put on it). In my mind, that's how we ended up with characters like Lieutenant Uhura and Princess Leia. Writers knew that the world would eventually change from being male-dominated, and the idea of a female rising to a prominent position in society would become the norm.
I know that for me, my favorite sci-fi heroines helped give me confidence as a teenager and as a young woman. I loved seeing women on the screen who were leaders; they confirmed for me that it was okay that I was a perfectionist, that I could be assertive, and that my opinion had value. Thinking back, I'm realizing now how important it was for me to see women being good at things, and science fiction provided the one of the best opportunities for that.
I decided to make a list of the female science fiction characters that have inspired me the most. This list is personal, so it omits some of the huge female characters that would top most stories like this. Rather than being a list of the all-time greats, it's a list of my all-time greats; these are the female science fiction characters that have had the biggest impact on me.
5. Rose Tyler from Doctor Who
I started watching Doctor Who on Netflix a few years ago at the urging of some fellow nerds (of both the adult and middle school student variety). Rose is the first companion I watched, since I picked up my viewing with the ninth doctor, and I was immediately a fan of hers. Played brilliantly by Billie Piper, Rose is fearless, fun and unafraid to speak her mind-- often calling The Doctor out on his foolishness. I looked up to Rose because she was smart in ways I was not; she was creative instead of bookish, social instead of shy and willing to jump right into adventures instead of obsessing nervously over every unknown. While the star of Doctor Who is undoubtedly The Doctor himself, Rose never felt like a secondary character. In fact, she actively refused to be relegated to the background throughout her adventures on the series. She was The Doctor's equal and was unfailingly cool. Rose is the kind of character I wish I were a bit more like.
4. Seven of Nine from Star Trek Voyager
I have a deep and abiding love for Star Trek Voyager that most people don't understand. I will fully admit that Voyager is not Trek at it's best, but I love it all the same. This was the very first Star Trek series that I watched from beginning to end, which probably explains my fondness for it. There were actually a couple of great female characters in the series, and one of my favorite ones was Seven of Nine, played by Jeri Ryan. I know her costume was ridiculously tight and designed to appeal to male viewers, but beyond that she was a complex character who dealt with interesting and unique problems during her time on the series. Seven of Nine was rescued and disconnected from the Borg Collective by the Voyager crew. Her character arc involved her adjusting to life away from The Collective and learning to become human again. The Borg technology remaining in her body left her with computer-like intelligence and intense physical strength--her character was a weird combination of power and vulnerability that really appealed to me. She served as a great foil for the more emotional Captain Janeway, and she eventually became an indispensable member of the Voyager crew. I love Seven of Nine because I both relate to her difficulties with showing emotion and admire her ability to consistently save the day with her brains and brawn. I think she looks pretty good in the jumpsuit too.
3. Turanga Leela from Futurama
I was actually a fan of Futurama before it went through a renaissance on Adult Swim and made it back on the air after its untimely cancellation. Hilarious, smart, and surprisingly touching, this Matt Groening cartoon follows the adventures of the Planet Express crew, an intergalactic delivery company. Leela, voiced by Katey Segal, is the fearless captain of their ship. She is strong, assertive and completely unafraid to keep the rest of her bumbling crew in line. I love her sarcastic sense of humor and deadpan delivery, but my favorite aspect of her character is her near-constant exasperation with her crew. As one of the only consistently competent characters on the show, she's always the one who has to be responsible and make sure that work gets done and that everyone lives. I am the leader of my department in my job, and I often feel that frustration of being the one who always has to hold everything together and make sure the rules are followed. Leela lets me know that I am not alone.
2. Dana Scully from The X-Files
I've written previously about how The X-Files was one of the shows that really got me interested in science fiction. A huge part of my interest in the show came from my attachment to FBI special agent Dana Scully, played by Gillian Anderson. In the very first episode of the series Scully is assigned to work on the X-Files, a set of cases involving unexplained phenomena, with Fox "Spooky" Mulder, a man who believes fervently in everything supernatural. As a medical doctor and an extremely logical thinker, she provided a scientific counterbalance to her partner's tendency to believe in paranormal occurrences unreservedly. Scully was a skeptic through and through, but she always gave the unusual cases she investigated a fair shake. Sometimes her analyses would support Mulder's beliefs and other times they wouldn't, and I always admired that despite her deep friendship with her partner, she remained committed to finding the truth. She was calm, capable and exuded that kind of self confidence that showed she was always in control of herself. Even during the hard times or the scary times on the show, Scully behaved bravely. More than any other character on this list, I wanted to be her so badly growing up.