Part of this, I suspect, is that the Campbell jury sees so little change. As you’ll see from the award’s website, it is pretty much the same group of people ever year. If you change the jury every few years then inevitably there will be a few years in which results don’t go the way people might like, but equally if you hardly ever change them then there’s a danger that the jury will become set in its ways and reward the same type of books over and over again. That, in the current environment, means books by old, white men.
However, Gary touched on something interesting during the podcast when he mentioned that books by women tend to be less scientifically rigorous. Jonathan, quite rightly, chastised him for assuming that the award was for “hard SF”, and pointed out that many male SF writers are equally lacking in rigour. But they never quite got to the end of that line of reasoning.
How we classify books as “science fiction” or “fantasy” does change down the years. Back in the early days of Worldcon all sorts of things that nowadays we see as fantasy would have been called SF. That’s why fantasy has always been assumed to be part of the Hugos. The rise of fantasy as a marketing phenomenon has changed all that. It affects men too. One of the abiding mysteries of SF marketing is why Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun appears in the Fantasy Masterworks series, when it is so clearly set in a far future and the series is based around a real astronomical phenomenon. But these days classification issues appear to affect women disproportionately.
I’m firmly convinced that one of the reasons we see fewer women science fiction writers these days is because if a man writes an SF book that contains some fantastical elements it still tends to be seen as SF, but if a woman does the same it gets categorized as fantasy. I would argue, for example, that Debris by Jo Anderton would be seen as SF had it been written by a man. There is a good chance that The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells would too. I’m sure that some people argue that Kameron Hurley’s books are “really” fantasy. Or there’s Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fear’s Death, which is very clearly set in the future yet won the World Fantasy Award.
I find it hard to solely blame publishers for this. After all, they have to sell books, and if bookstores won’t stock SF by women, or readers won’t buy it in sufficient numbers, they need to react. Currently they are doing so quite successfully by slapping a YA label on SF by women. It’s all a game of smoke and mirrors.
However, when it comes to an award like the Campbell that requires a jury to make a decision as to whether a book is science fiction or not, then such issues come to the forefront. In the case of the Campbell I suspect this might be a question that the jury should talk about.