Friday, July 05, 2013

The Other Half Of The Sky

One of the depressing things about the science-fiction scene here in the UK at the moment is that the proportion of women writing and publishing SF doesn't seem to have much increased from the fairly low level it was at when I started to buy SF books in the 1970s. The percentage of novels by women submitted to the Clarke Award this year was around 20% (and Farah Mendlesohn, who read many of them, reports that 'most of the books by women are simply not eligible however wide I draw the net'). The average over the past decade wasn't much higher, at around 30%.

Add to this recent incidences of crass sexism in the field, including reports of sexual harassment at conventions, multiple scandals in the Science Fiction Writers of America (here's a useful timeline), and a dumb post about the 'differences' between men and women genre writers on the blog of a publisher which is actually making some effort to publish new women sf writers . . .  There's a growing feeling that science fiction is becoming like one of those antediluvian golf clubs that excludes women so that flush-faced fifty-year-old boys can belly up to the bar and make dubious jokes, complain about political correctness and anyone who doesn't share their skin colour or political opinions, and bang on about imaginary triumphs from days long lost.

I don't want to be a member of that club. Tricia Sullivan points out that it's mostly women who are spending their time and energy pushing back against this stuff - 'I can count on one hand men who have done anything about this' - so for what it's worth, here's my first tiny contribution: an incomplete list of science fiction books by women that I think you should read. You should also check out Ian Sales' ongoing project, Mistressworks, and Nina Allan's excellent cross-genre list. Oh, and take a look at the anthology The Other Half of the Sky, from which I totally stole the title of this post: science-fiction stories about women, not exclusively by women. Meanwhile, the list (shaped by personal taste - let me know what I've missed):

Gill Alderman - The Archivist
Margaret Atwood - The Handmaid's Tale
Lauren Beukes - Moxyland
Leigh Brackett - The Long Tomorrow
Octavia E. Butler - Parable Of The Sower
Pat Cadigan - Fools
Suzy McGee Charnas - Walk To The End Of The World
C.J. Cherryh - Downbelow Station
Jennifer Egan - A Visit From The Goon Squad
Eleanor Arnason - A Woman Of The Iron People
Carol Emshwiller - Carmen Dog
M.J. Engh - Arslan (a.k.a. A Wind from Bukhara)
Gertrude Friedberg - The Revolving Boy
Karen Joy Fowler - Sarah Canary
Patricia Geary - Strange Toys
Kathleen Anne Goonan - In Wartime
Eileen Gunn - Stable Strategies And Others
Elizabeth Hand - Winterlong
Nalo Hopkinson - Brown Girl In The Ring
Mary Gentle - Golden Witchbreed
Molly Gloss - The Dazzle Of Day
Lisa Goldstein - Tourists
Kij Johnson - At The Mouth Of The River Of Bees: Stories
Gwyneth Jones - Spirit: or The Princess of Bois Dormant
Ursula K. Le Guin - The Dispossessed
M.J. Locke - Up Against It
Leigh Kennedy - The Journal Of Nicholas The American
Nancy Kress - Beggars In Spain
Katherine MacLean - The Missing Man
Maureen F. McHugh - After The Apocalypse
Judith Merril - The Best Of Judith Merril
Judith Moffett - Pennterra
Elizabeth Moon - The Speed Of Dark
C.L. Moore - Clash By Night And Other Stories
Pat Murphy - The City, Not Long After
Linda Nagata - Deception Well
Kit Reed - The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories
Justina Robson - Natural History
Kristine Kathryn Rusch - Diving Into The Wreck
Pamela Sargent - Cloned Lives
Josephine Saxton - Queen Of The States
Melissa Scott - Trouble And Her Friends
Tricia Sullivan - Lightborn
Sue Thomas - Correspondences
James Tiptree Jr (a.k.a. Alice Sheldon) - Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
Lisa Tuttle - A Spaceship Made Of Stone And Other Stories
Joanna Russ - Picnic On Paradise
Joan Slonczewski - A Door Into Ocean
Joan D. Vinge - The Snow Queen
Kate Wilhelm - Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang
Liz Williams - Empire Of Bones
Pamela Zoline - The Heat Death of the Universe and Other Stories


Blogger SithLordMoffatt said...

I'm starting to wonder if it isn't that they don't feel welcome to write science fiction but that they don't want to write it. I've seen more women write cyberpunk or fantasy or webcomics than science fiction. Their voices are being heard, just not in ways people expect.

July 06, 2013 6:21 am  
Anonymous Ian said...

Slow River by Nicola Griffith
is a book I would recommend
as well to anyone interested
in SF by women authors.

July 06, 2013 5:15 pm  
Blogger Robert Atlas said...

Almost anything by Linda Nagata is likely to be great. I personally preferred vast to Deception Well.

July 06, 2013 6:26 pm  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

Second Ian on Nicola.

Is A Visit From the Goon Squad science fiction in any reasonable sense? It's like Baird Searles said of the movie War Games: what's being predicted there?

Emma Donoghue's collection Astray should have won a Nebula this year. Fans of At the Mouth of Bees especially are given notice.

July 07, 2013 1:26 am  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Ian: Yes, Nicola Griffith's Slow River should have been on the list. Also, Cecelia Holland's Floating Worlds. Also Doris Lessing for Memoirs Of A Survivor, or Mara and Dann.

Ken: The Emma Donoghue recommendation is a good one (although historical rather the science fiction - am I right?): thanks. As for what's in the list and why - it's my list. See rules and conditions.

SithLordMoffat: The sexism and misogyny described in the pieces I linked to include the fantasy genre, but it compounds the perception that science-fiction is something of a boy's club. That women are writing and publishing novels in other genres doesn't solve or excuse it, as far as I'm concerned. It displaces the problem elsewhere rather than squaring up to it. Science-fiction is a powerful, protean genre: it shouldn't be mostly written by men for men in the way that, say, techno-thrillers generally are (and the techno-thriller isn't a genre, anyway, but a marketing category).

I wouldn't presume to know why women writers choose to write in one genre rather than another. But I do know - follow the link to read Tricia Sullivan's piece - that some are writing science fiction, but are finding it increasingly frustrating.

July 07, 2013 5:03 pm  
Anonymous Stanoje Zupunski said...

The behavior and attitudes displayed in the current SFWA fiasco ("hey, let's vote for the white supremacist"), and the SF milieu in general, are beyond the pale, and need a thorough cleansing.

July 08, 2013 10:33 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the Palace of Repose and At the Edge of Waking by Holly Phillips, who is simply astonishing.

July 09, 2013 6:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and a third for Nicola Griffith's Slow River.

And how did I forget: Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper.

July 09, 2013 6:39 pm  
Anonymous Athena Andreadis said...

Dear Paul,

I'm delighted to see the title of my anthology used this way! I'm equally delighted that some of the authors in your list were contributors to it and others wrote endorsements of it.

Women have written SF ever since literature existed and before the genre became a distinct marketing category. I expressed some thoughts about why they're less visible and less rewarded in So Where Are the Outstanding Women in X?

July 10, 2013 12:42 pm  

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