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Who says science fiction is nothing but a boys’ club? Here are our five favorite heroines from this decade.

FOUR DECADES AGO, women in science fiction were relegated to playing sizzling sexpots, damsels in distress, and throwaway sidekicks. But that all changed with the arrival of Star Wars’ Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), who more than held her own on a spacecraft full of fellows. Alien’s Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) followed nicely in Princess Leia’s star-blazing footsteps. Then, in the 1990s, smart, bold heroines began popping up everywhere -- in films like The Matrix and X-Men as well as in TV shows such as The X Files and Star Trek: Voyager. This decade has brought us a new generation of leading ladies in the genre. Meet a few of our favorites.

Who She Is:

Captain Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, played by Katee Sackhoff, is the ace pilot on Battlestar Galactica, which airs on Syfy (formerly the Sci Fi Channel).
Abby Maitland, played by Hannah Spearritt, is the zoologist-turned-prehistoric- wrangler on BBC America’s Primeval.
Dr. Helen Magnus, played by Amanda Tapping, is the “abnormals” specialist on Syfy’s Sanctuary.
Donna Noble, played by Catherine Tate, is the Doctor’s time-traveling cohort in the fourth season of the reinvigorated Doctor Who.
Cameron Phillips, played by Summer Glau, is the “good” Terminator on Fox’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Why She Rocks:

Starbuck is the hard-drinking, authority-bucking top star fighter of a fleet of human-led ships fleeing the Cylon tyranny and seeking sanctuary on the fabled planet Earth. While Battlestar features many strong female characters -- including President Laura Roslin and Lieutenant Sharon “Boomer” Valerii -- Starbuck is the real hero.
Abby is a reptile lover whose extensive knowledge benefits the scientific team attempting to trap free-roaming prehistoric creatures via rifts in time. She’s brainy, athletic, and good with weapons. And while she has a tendency to be attracted to the bad boys, she also has a soft spot for the nerds. (Score!)
Being 157 years old (thanks to an injection of vampire blood), Dr. Magnus is a strong mother figure who’s also incredibly knowledgeable and has killer instincts. Her compassion for the monsters and mutants of her world drives her to provide a refuge for them.
Noble comes from a very ordinary British background but proves herself to be brave and clever, sometimes using her disarming charm on the Doctor. And thanks to an important plot twist, she saves the universe from destruction at the end of season four. Who can top that?
Don’t be fooled by her lithe, compact figure. This new and improved Terminator model can take on guys twice her size. She’s as agile at kicking guys across the room as she is at flaunting her ballet moves. At the same time, her lack of a moral compass means she lets innocent people who aren’t pertinent to her mission die.

Why She Might Look Familiar:

Prior to starring on Battlestar, Sackhoff did some television, including The Education of Max Bickford and five episodes of NBC’s ill-fated Bionic Woman reboot.
Spearritt is known for her work with British pop group S Club 7 and in movies like Seed of Chucky.
Tapping made her name playing Major Samantha Carter on Stargate SG-1 for a decade. She was upgraded to colonel on her intermittent Stargate Atlantis appearances.
Tate is a veteran of British comedy TV and had a self-titled show for three seasons.
Glau became known for playing River Tam, the innocent-looking teenager with deadly assassin skills on the short-lived Firefly.

Where You Can See Her:

Though the series ended its five-year run this past April, you can pick it up on DVD -- the final season hit stores July 28 (Universal, $50) -- and catch up.
New episodes air Saturdays at nine p.m. Eastern time on BBC America.
The show has been picked up for a second season and is set to air this fall on Syfy. Until then, full episodes are available on www.syfy.com.
BBC ‘s Doctor Who is currently on production hiatus, but catch reruns on BBC America and Syfy. DVDs of seasons one through four are available now.
Alas, the show has been canceled. But season one is out on DVD now, and season two will soon follow.