Journalism, Good & Bad

This morning I discovered an article in The Independent that trumpeted, “How women are winning sci-fi’s battle of the sexes”.

Really? Really???

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.

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9 Responses to Journalism, Good & Bad

  1. Aurora says:

    So successful Sci-Fi YA authors should be discounted because they write YA? Or because their audience is only girls? Or just because ‘the right people’ refuse to read them? That paragraph seems like either gross prejudice against YA writers and female readers or a grasping attempt to justify your argument.

    • Cheryl says:

      Er, no. Exactly the opposite. Women are writing great science fiction, but they aren’t getting recognized for it because what they write is YA.

      And I now realize that I forgot to mention Moira Young, another woman whose YA SF is getting awards as YA but is being ignored by the SF community. Blood Red Road if you want to check it out.

      • Aurora says:

        I’d suggest clarifying that paragraph then. The way it’s put gives the impression that the YA writers shouldn’t count: 3 successful sci fi writers, 1 who is sci fi but ignored, 1 who is getting acclaim as fantasy. A YA who is fantasy. The “And then there’s” transition makes me think you’re getting to the point that she’s not a successful sci-fi writer and you’re explaining why she’s not, with the thesis that she’s YA.

        Transitioning to: what can we do to get them more recognition? I nominated YA books last year for the Hugos (Leviathan, Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler, short story by Diana Peterfreund among others) but none of them were even close to making the list, probably because none of the normal nominators had read them. I think there’s some excellent stuff out there that deserves recognition (Revis’ book, Tankborn by Karen Sandler, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi) but I don’t know how to get it more read by an older crowd.

        • Cheryl says:

          Will fix the above later. As to bringing stuff to people’s attention, I’m hoping that a lot of these books will get on the Locus Recommended Reading List, as they do have a YA section. But getting people to read the books is an uphill slog.

          • Aurora says:

            I’ve been told in past in-person discussions that the authors should make themselves more apparent to the public (which in this case means Hugo nominators). Perhaps starting a fund to bring YA authors to WorldCon? I know there were a ton more at WFC this year than WorldCon had, and a lot of popular, current authors too. It’s also been suggested (during the YA Book Hugo debate) that YA needs its own awards to be given out at WorldCon, would that help?

          • Cheryl says:

            I think authors will want to go to events that they think most benefit them. Worldcon should be doing its bit to attract YA authors, and YA readers. There’s no point dragging people there if they are not catered for.

            There are already YA awards given out at Worldcon. That’s the Golden Ducks. Very few people pay any attention to them (which is partly because they are run by academics who don’t promote them very well).

            I heard about Condie and McCafferty from the Galactic Suburbia podcast. Hopefully other people will hear about good YA SF from me. Or from Gwenda Bond, or from Locus. What would really help is if some men started talking about them.

          • Aurora says:

            So what should be done by WorldCon to attract YA authors? Should we push to add a YA GoH? I’m not sure that’s the right way to go, since it (again) separates YA into another category separate from *real* SF authors. More panels about it? Pushing for more editors and publisher representation from their YA divisions? I know the question series can sound kinda facetious, but it’s not meant to be, I really don’t know the answer and I don’t really know the WorldCon crowd enough to form an opinion on it (Reno was my first WC).

            How do I vote for the Ducks? Perhaps an angle is getting involved in them and working to make them more visible from the inside?

            Does SFWA have a YA division, or are YA authors allowed membership? Would it be an angle to ask them to promote from within, or do a spotlight month? It seems like they are an organization that people pay attention to. Would it even be possible for a non-member to request something like that?

          • Cheryl says:

            I figured this deserved its own blog post, so I have written one.

  2. Pingback: Speculative YA, the invisible women of SFF and the trouble with Twilight bashing | Cora Buhlert

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