This morning I discovered an article in The Independent that trumpeted, “How women are winning sci-fi’s battle of the sexes”.
If I were, say, Tricia Sullivan, or Justina Robson, or any number of other female SF writers around the world, I’d be spitting furious. But what exactly is this article all about?
A little reading soon makes it clear that, although the headline talks about “sci-fi”, the author is using the broader science fiction and fantasy genre to make specific claims about women in SF. Gillian Redfearn would not have cited Elspeth Cooper as a successful female science fiction writer.
The article cites three other successful women science fiction writers. There’s a good case for Lauren Beukes, as she won the Clarke, and Moxyland is a fabulous SF book, but was largely ignored. Zoo City, the break-out book, is much more genre-bending, as its World Fantasy nomination proves. Cinda Williams Chima is actually described in the article as a fantasy writer. And then there’s Ally Condie. She’s most definitely a science fiction writer, and a very successful one. Her books (Matched and Crossed) are YA science fiction romances. Similar claims could be made for Megan McCafferty’s Bumped, or Beth Revis’s Across the Universe, but again the books are aimed squarely at teenage girls. Many of my friends in the SF community have never heard of these books, let alone read them. The article makes no mention of the most successful recent YA SF series, one that does have a broader appeal, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.
(see Update below)
In addition the article makes mention of how much better things are for women SF writers now then they were in the 1960s. Well yes, that might be true, especially in short fiction as that market isn’t dominated by huge, multi-national publishers. But it entirely ignores what happened in between, and the current state of the market for novels.
I’d be tempted to suggest that this was selected quoting of figures, were it not for this:
Earlier this year, accusations of sexism were levelled at the British Fantasy Society (BFS) after a collection of interviews with 16 horror writers failed to include a single woman.
Actually that was in 2009, which shows you just how shoddy the writer’s research has been. I’m not going to name him, because he doesn’t deserve it, but yes, he’s a man. And as far as I can make out the main purpose of the article was to allow The Independent to print a picture of Jane Fonda as Barbarella.
Thankfully you can write good articles about SF&F fiction and get it published in major newspapers. The Sunday Guardian is published in India, and today it has a very fine piece about George R.R. Martin, written by Indian author Samit Basu. It gets to the heart of what is so good about the Song of Ice and Fire series, makes interesting comparisons with the Mahabharata, and ends like this:
So the next time someone tells you that there’s no chance of something both smart and complicated succeeding in this dumbed-down world, hit him on the head with a George R.R. Martin boxed set. And when you go to jail for murder, spend the time constructively by reading the series again.
And the next time that someone tells you that there’s no chance of something intelligent being written about SF&F literature in our dumbed-down newspapers, tell them to go to India. (With apologies to our Guardian, which manages a fascinating mix of smart articles and tabloid nonsense on the subject.)
Update: As per comments below, I’m not trying to suggest that women YA writers don’t deserve recognition as SF writers, I’m saying that they are not getting that recognition because they write YA. It seems to me that, in order to sell a science fiction novel, women writers generally need to a) include elements of fantasy, b) write for a YA audience, c) include romance themes, or d) preferably tick all three boxes. In that sort of environment it is disingenuous to suggest that they are succeeding in a male-dominated world.