Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Women in SF

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As I think I mentioned before, I am volunteering to do some statistics on women in SF for Broad Universe. We are trying to get some more detailed and current information than what is on the site now. As you can imagine, this is a very time-consuming process, but it is interesting. A few quick thoughts:

  • I am looking at the Nebula Awards now, and it is interesting to note how many years there are no female nominees at all. If there were any years with no male nominees, I wouldn’t think that was necessarily a sign of bias–maybe some years the men were just stronger. It defies belief, though, to think that could be true and it would never be the other way around.
  • I have been spending a bunch of time on Wikipedia, checking the gender of authors that are not immediately clear from the name (androgynous names like Chris or Alex, initials instead of names, vague ideas I heard that might be a woman–that sort of thing), and I find that I really wish I had more time to flesh out the entries of the female authors. There are a few stubs for male authors, but there are a lot for the women.
  • People who put up big websites with big websites with lots of information, like http://feministsf.org/ must really love what they doing–this stuff takes a lot of time! It is great to have an SF community with people who love it enough to provide all kinds of information on their own time.
I have spent a lot of time on the Nebulas alone, and there are a lot of awards out there, so I am not sure when all the data will be up to be seen on the site, but I am finding it an education to look through the nominees and winners in detail like this. I am one of those people who think that if data is good, more data is awesome, so this is a fun way to contribute for me. I will keep you posted as I get further along.

OMG! Girls read scifi?!?!?

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Look, it is yet another article expressing great surprise that the ladies like anything other than insipid romantic comedies!

First, this quote cracks me up:

Traditionally, networks — especially broadcast networks — have attempted to grab young women viewers with romantic comedies, keeping the mindset that fantasy is for boys and romance is for girls.

Reworded: The mindset is that fantasy is for boys, and fantasy is for girls (but only if it is as bland as we can possibly make it).

Another telling quote:

The anecdotal evidence is everywhere. There was “Xena: Warrior Princess,” Dana Scully on “The X-Files,” Claire Bennett on “Heroes,” and many others. More recently, “True Blood,” which features heroine Sookie Stackhouse and vampires Pam and Jessica, has become one of HBO’s hottest properties….Still, it’s an uphill battle for geek girls to get recognized as a consumer force to be reckoned with — even when it comes to HBO.

Reworded: Even though we have plenty of evidence that women like this stuff, we still can’t believe it doesn’t offend their delicate sensibilities, and besides, we know what they want better than they do.

It is laughably easy to find women who love science fiction. You don’t have to be an inspired researcher to find them. You can go to one of the many blogs for female geeks. You can hang out on the Feminist SF board at LibraryThing. You can go to a convention. You can go to your local bookstore and hang out in the sf section (just try not to look too creepy).

Another great resource is the blogs of female sf writers. A few awesome ones:

N.K. Jemisin
Chris Moriarty
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Rachel Swirsky

The problem about writing about this is that there are so many interesting things out on the internet, research degenerates into a long bout of reading interesting things that other people have to say on the topic. I had to stop at 4 examples of author blogs because I couldn’t afford to spend 30 – 60 minutes apiece reading on any more of them. I have been writing this post for two days now, ;). (Hey, did you know that female fandom began organizing isn the 1970s? Wikipedia has more information, as usual.) Plus, thinking everything I have already thought about this and trying to distill it into a coherent blog post is nearly impossible. I am all “What about Tiptree? What about all those women who loved Buffy? And Joss Whedon is amazing! And all my cool friends love sf! And what the &^$% is wrong with these people?!?”

I have been talking about sf here and elsewhere for decades now, and I have never had any real trouble finding other women who share my interest. I get so tired of finding that people are surprised that it is possible to have two X chromosomes and be interested in stories about ideas at the same time.

Nebula Award Nominees

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I was very excited to see the Nebula award nominees this year—for the best novel, 5 out of 6 authors are women! Three of the books (Who Fears Death, Shades of Milk and Honey, and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms) are books that I was already excited about reading. I am reading Who Fears Death now actually, and it is amazing. I am also happy to see Ted Chiang, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Rachel Swirsky nominated in the novella category and Adam-Troy Castro in the short story category, because I like them a lot. Of the remaining writers, many of whom I don’t recognize, there seems to be a fair amount of gender and cultural diversity, which I love to see. And I am particularly happy that there are a lot of links to the nominated stories!

I want to read as many of these stories and books as I can before the awards banquet on May 21. Some, I surely won’t get to. For instance, I probably won’t read Echo, by Jack McDevitt, because I haven’t read the earlier books in the series, and I hate to start in the middle. I think I may have the first book somewhere, though, so maybe I will hunt that down. The same is true for Mockingjay, the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, and a nominee in the Young Adult category. And, chances are good I won’t get to the Connie Willis books, because I really didn’t like To Say Nothing of the Dog, the only Willis book I have read. I liked some things about it, and I thought Willis was a good writer, but the plot was needlessly convoluted and her characters were SO STUPID, in my opinion, so I just am not that excited about reading her books. I may give them a try if I can get them from the library, though.

I think I will get most, if not all, of the Young Adult category nominees. My daughter likes science fiction and fantasy, which I like to encourage, and I can read them after she does, which would be fun. We can have a mini Nebula nominee book club! Maybe we could even do some read alouds, and include my 8 year old son; he would probably like that, too.

What I have been reading

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In no particular order, what I have been reading since Christmas (when I got another gift card from my awesome brother):

1. The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, by Galen Beckett

A very cool combination of fantasy and classic literature. The idea is to take a heroine from Austen or the Bronte sisters, and put them in a society where magic is real, and the restrictions faced by women are based on this sort of real danger. I really enjoyed this book. Several other reviews mentioned that Beckett was perhaps a bit too constrained by imitation, and that the later books may be a bit more in his voice; I am looking forward to seeing if this is true.

2. The Unincorporated Man, by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin

There are a couple of interesting themes in this book. First, the idea that incorporation would spread to individuals and what that would do to the concepts of freedom and interpersonal relationships. And, more interestingly to me, the idea that a society can seem utopic, but really be setting the majority of people up for slavery. The way the incorporation of individuals is set up, everyone thinks that it is a great idea, and they defend it vigorously when the main character is found to have been cryogenically frozen from a previous time, and he refuses to incorporate. Most of the characters think incorporation is a great idea, and they articulate well-thought-out, humane reasons why it works better than previous social structures. They are so convincing, you almost start to think it really is a great idea. Of course, things turn out to be more complicated than that, but it is an interesting thought experiment.

3. Gateway, by Frederick Pohl

Great book about space exploration, artificial intelligence, and guilt. Plus, the thing I really love in a book, the last sentence is breath-taking.

4. Shadowman, by Melissa Scott

On a world where 20% of people are born with some characteristics of both males and females, but only male and female are recognized legal genders, there is bound to be unrest. Requiring a large minority of your population to deny who they are is never a stable social environment. Very interesting, well-written book.

5. Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes

I heard of this author from William Gibson’s twitter feed, and I am so glad that I did. The near-future world in this book is pretty grim, with some sort of plague affecting many people in Africa, and the general populace controlled by their phones, which allow cops to send a powerful electric volt through someone’s phone to control their behavior right away. An even bigger punishment is to render their phone inoperative for a period of time determined by the crime, since all economic transactions are done through mobiles, as well as identification for things like entering your apartment. An interesting world and an interesting story.

6. The Gate to Women’s Country, by Sheri S. Tepper

I love this book so much, and it gets better every time I read it.

7. Our Kind of Traitor, by John Le Carre
This was the first book I got from the library for my new Nook Color. Checking out books for the Nook is so much better than checking out real books, because you don’t have to make sure to get back to the library before they expire! The book was great, as expected (it is a Le Carre, after all.) I did not really like the end, but it was an interesting take on the spy novel, with two people on vacation, completely outside the spy game, being drawn in by a charismatic Russian criminal. This was a fairly dark vision of British government, I have to say, not least because there is no reason to think it isn’t realistic.

8.The God Engines, by John Scalzi

My reading this year has been a bit more grim than I might have expected, and nowhere is that more true than here. I just don’t expect dark and grim from Scalzi. Not that he doesn’t write about serious stuff, what with all the war and potential species annhilation, but the general tone of his books is a bit more positive. This was a very interesting take on religion, though.

9. I’d Know You Anywhere, by Laura Lippman

Lippman writes a detective series, which I will actually get to next, but up until recently, I had only read her standalone stories. These are still crime stories, but usually more in the aftermath. This one is like that–a woman who had been kidnapped by a serial killer when she was 15 is contacted by him again, from where he sits on Death Row. She is the only one of his victims that he did not kill, actually, and she is still afraid of his manipulation, not least because she has not told her children or any of her acquaintances about her past. I like the way these books look at the aftermath of crimes, and how keeping secrets harms people for a very long time.

10. Baltimore Blues, by Laura Lippman

This is the first book in Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series. On my Nook homepage, they were selling this for $0.99 as the featured book of February, which is smart, because now I am thinking I will need to buy the rest of the series. Fun characters, interesting puzzles, nice setting. I like series like this, because you can feel safe picking out a book from the series. I look forward to seeing how she grows her characters.

11 and 12. Analog Science Fiction and Fact, April issue, Asimov’s Science Fiction, March issue

One of the reasons I love the Nook is that I can get this type of literary magazine and keep it around for future reference without having flimsy magazines cluttering up my house. I particularly like to read science fiction short story magazines for two reasons–science fiction has rich history with the short form, where ideas can be investigated that wouldn’t necessarily support a whole novel, or worlds can be tested and fleshed out for use in a larger work. Plus, I like that it makes it easier to find new authors. I am somewhat discouraged by the lack of women writing in this issue (only one story in each mag), but maybe this is unusual. I hope so. I don’t want to read only women writers, but I know that a lack of women writers means that the editors aren’t really choosing the best stories. So, if there are many missing stories, I need to find where they are. On the other hand, the stories themselves show a lot of interesting, strong female characters, and some investigation into gender issues, so that is good.

13. Venus Plus X, by Theodore Sturgeon
Theodore Sturgeon is a great, great writer, and definitely ahead of his time on gender issues. I;ve said it before, but I’ll say it again–I can’t believe he was writing at the same time as Alfred Bester, who was a brilliant but deeply misogynistic writer. This book, about a man who finds himself in a future society without gender, and the contrast between that society and the very gendered and commercial society of the 50’s, was quite an interesting though experiment and a very quick read. At least, it was fast and easy to read the actual words, but I did spend a lot of time thinking about what I read, which is what makes a really good book for me.

I have started a few other things, but this seems to sum up what I have been reading, unless I am forgetting something (definitely a possibility!). In the meantime, if anyone is still reading this despite my long absence from regular posting, does anyone have a recommendation for a good general interest science magazine? I want something that has good science, but not an academic journal. Thanks!

Feminist Science Fiction

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I went on a book buying spree last weekend, with a focus on Feminist Science Fiction. I went to my favorite used bookstore (right around the corner from my favorite brunch place, hooray!), pulled up the basic recommended list on feministsf.org, and started looking through the shelves. I was thrilled to find many books that were either on the list or by authors on the list. I know this is not a definitive list, but it is a good place to start, and I do love me some lists! Here is what I got:

Shore of Women, by Pamela Sargent

Inventing Memory, by Anne Harris

Dreaming Metal, by Melissa Scott

Black Wine, by Candas Jane Dorsey

Double Feature, by Emma Bull and Will Shetterly

Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You, by Dorothy Bryant

Daughters of Earth, by Judith Merrill

Venus Plus X, by Theodore Sturgeon

Sister Light, Sister Dark, by Jane Yolen

Doomsday Morning, by C.L. Moore

Other books on the list that I have or have read:

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler

The Furies, by Suzy McKee Charnas

Dhalgren, by Samuel Delaney

The Yellow Wallpaper” and Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Always Coming Home, The Left Hand of Darkness, Tehanu, by Ursula K. Le Guin (plus a lot of other things she has written)

Dreamsnake, by Vonda McIntyre

The Female Man, by Joanna Russ

Shadowman, by Melissa Scott

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

A Door Into Ocean, by Joan Slonczewski

Beauty, The Gate to Women’s Country, by Sheri S. Tepper (plus most of her remaining sf titles)

I just read Shadowman on my new Nook Color last week, and it was very interesting. The idea of intersexed people as a relatively common minority in humanity does make some of the issues around our current views of sexuality and gender differences both more complex and more strikingly obvious. I read Venus Plus X and found it particularly interesting to read such a femeinst work coming from a man writing in the 1950’s and ’60’s. I am reading Black Wine now, and really enjoying it, even though I am not yet entirely sure what is going on. I am looking forward to finding out!

I will be writing a separate post about what I have been reading so far this year, but I did want to get this list out here. I was very excited to find so many books on the list when I went looking last weekend. I have been reading science fiction for nearly 30 years, and it never fails to surprise me how much I haven’t read, even as I think I have read a lot. It is helpful to have a focus for the kind of books I am looking to read. I am already interested in dystopias, post-humanity, and what might be called “hard science fiction,” which can many things, but in my case, it tends to mean dealing with the harder, more objective sciences. But a feminist viewpoint is another helpful lens that can encompass all of these.