Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Do Dudes Rule SF/F?

Every summer, I do a "project" for my parents. Consider it redemption for my sins. This year's project involved redesigning and reorganizing my mother's library. My mother is an avid fantasy reader. For every Terry Brooks book there are four Marion Zimmer Bradleys. David Eddings is matched against Mercedes Lackey. Stephen Lawhead sits across from Diana Paxson. J.K. Rowling shares a shelf with Christopher Paolini.

So, to answer the question: Do dudes rule the fantasy genre? 
Not in mom's house. Not in mine either. 
Neither gender rules the genre.

Now, Sci-Fi is a wholly separate issue. Mom and I are not avid readers of the genre as a whole. I prefer creatures and magic over machines and science. I'd say it's a personal thing, but I'm not wholly certain that it is. The male bias in the publishing field is reflecting society's bias (men still dominate the sciences), which (I may be beaten for this) is reflecting the differences in the way women and men perceive and analyze the real world. Gender differences are not justifiable excuses for exclusion in publishing or acceptable explanations for what James's friend is enduring at the hands of her publisher's marketing team.

If I were to organize Mom's library by genre then by author, Sci-Fi books might occupy one shelf. Maybe two. The Sci-Fi books in my mother's library are there because they were written by authors who predominately write fantasy. Of the female fantasy authors who dabbled in Sci-Fi, most of them co-wrote that Sci-Fi novel with a man. I wonder if those books were co-authored because the writers truly wanted to work together or if the publisher inflicted one author upon the other for "credibility."

Dudes rule Sci-Fi, but their domination is threatened by the sub-genre of Steampunk. Women -- readers and writers -- seem to be eagerly embracing that sub-genre. Plenty of men write fictional history about dirigibles and clockwork-machines, but women are decidedly gaining ground.

The guaranteed way to change publishing's Sci-Fi gender bias is for consumers to change what they purchase. If readers buy more Sci-Fi books written by women, then the almighty dollar ensures publishers contract more Sci-Fi books written by women.

There are wonderful women writing excellent Sci-Fi, our own Marcella Burnard among them. Her Enemy books are definitely on my keeper shelf. What about you, dear reader, what Sci-Fi novels written by women would you recommend?


  1. How about Mary Doria Russell? Her Sparrow books had an Orson Scott Card-esque take on humankind meeting alien species. Unabashedly female name on the spine, too!

  2. I'd say Anne McCaffrey had a decidedly Sci-Fi spin on some of her stories. The Rowan, Crystalsinger, The Ship Who Sang, etc... And even her DragonRider series was based on science, even though it took a while to get to that point.

  3. I agree, Anne McCaffrey does some great science fiction. Also, Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ, and Ursula K. Le Guin have written wonderful stories. While I do like the occasional fantasy, I tend to gravitate toward science fiction more. I have an obsession with space, so that might be why. As a writer, I tend to focus my works more on the social impacts of technology and exploration. That's where I think the most interesting questions like to hide.

  4. Ooh! I totally forgot Joan Vinge! Her Snow Queen series and Catspaw are fabulous!

  5. Marcella's books ofcourse. and Ann Aguirre's Sirantha Jax series. I love those am waiting impatiently for the last book.

  6. I've written a blog post on the topic of women and science fiction, which features studies showing the "women don't read SF as much as men" assumption is false. Anecdotal evidence (you and your mom not preferring SF) doesn't mean the rest of us don't enjoy it on equal footing with our male counterparts. For instance, the National Science Foundation did a survey and found: "there does not seem to be a gender gap: nearly equal percentages of men (31 percent) and women (28 percent) report that they read science fiction books or magazines."

  7. I don't read nearly as much SF as I used to, so I don't remember the names. Marcella, of course, and then there's S.L. Viehl - who I mentioned yesterday. Her StarDoc series is wicked awesome, plus the offshoot stand alones she wrote based off the same universe rock. It makes me sad when I think she's not writing much SF anymore (I wonder if this gender bias thing is partly why) and is concentrating more on her paranormal romance as Lynn Viehl, but if she started up again, I'd inhale everything she wrote.

  8. Thank you, all, for the recommendations! This list of female Sci-Fi authors is more robust than most of the top 100 SF/F lists.

  9. Andre Norton (whose real name was Alice) wrote science fiction - you have to wade through quite a lot of fantasy novels to find her SF but she did a fab job when she wrote it. Linnea Sinclair writes SFR and does it well. If you want to see who the up and coming SF writers are, head over to the SFR Brigade page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Science-Fiction-Romance-Brigade-Fanpage#!/pages/Science-Fiction-Romance-Brigade-Fanpage/215511941819799
    Loads of gals and a few guys. All writing science fiction. Some with romance. Some without. But all actively doing the work.