I Dunno, I Can't Tell; Musings On Women And Science Fiction And Fantasy And Stuff

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 16.884% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

When all’s said and done, the greatest flaw of humanity is that each of us are trapped in our own head.  We’re the sum of our experiences, and even if those experiences are warped, we can come to believe they’re objective truth.
Case in point: women and speculative fiction.
I was reading Eclipse Four in the tub, a short story collection that I purchased simply because it contained three of my absolute favorite writers: Kij Johnston, Nalo Hopkinson, and Jo Walton.  Each of them are in my rare “Buy on sight” author group, where merely hearing they have a new novel means I’ll purchase it without knowing a thing about it.
Each of them also writes so well they make my fillings ache; Kij writes these ethereal, longing-soaked stories that stab like daggers, and Nalo’s mastery of tone and voice makes it feel like she’s speaking right to me, and Jo Walton has a knack for finding the emotional center of a story that pulls me through even as she never writes the same kind of tale twice.
And the more I thought about it, my personal area of the science-fiction field seems to be women-centric.  My writing mentor?  Cat Valente, she of the beauteous prose and ascension to the rarified air of NYT bestseller-hood.  My peers who seem to be having the most positive reception to their stories lately?  Kat Howard, Amal El-Mohtar, and Felicity Shoulders, all of whom are getting righteously reprinted in the “Best Of” annual collections for their wonderfully good tales.  The breakout star I think of (and hear about) the most often?  Seanan McGuire, that series-writing machine.
This isn’t me picking women to prove a point.  This is me looking around at the folks I see as writers, and noting that the ones who stick in my mind the most tend to be women.  Not all of them are, of course; Jim Hines picks up the “Novelist who I know far better for his blogging” prize, and Jay Lake is the man whose insane persistence is my inspiration when I feel like quitting.  Paul Berger gets my award for “Writer I wish would produce more,” and George Galuschak gets my “I went to school with him, why can’t I write like that?” award.
But when I think about writing, the majority of people who come to mind tend to be female.
And I don’t know.  There’s a lot of talk, as there should be, about how women are routinely fucked over in sci-fi and fantasy, and I’m certainly not saying they aren’t.  I’ve heard the tales of guys who don’t read wimmen because wimmen can’t write.  I know there’s still a lot of dumb discrimination still.  I know you look at the super-sellers of the field and it’s still mostly male with China and Neil and Scalzi. I know the majority of editors are male.
But people were pleasantly surprised when last year’s awards had so many women in the mix, and some said it was a blip and would doubtlessly vanish next year… But from my little corner as a writer hauling himself one rung up the ladder at a time, what I see is women around me.  and I don’t know whether that’s because once again, I’m back fighting The War On Jefferson Hill again, self-selecting because I’m more comfortable with women, or whether it’s the sign of a genuine sea change.
I hope it’s a sea change.  But I can’t tell.  I’m stuck in my head, from one perspective, and I can’t see the whole picture.  All I know is that whenever Kij or Nalo or Jo write something, I’m there, and I’m taking notes, and wishing like hell I had their talent.  And in that moment, I don’t care what gender is writing, all I know is I want more stories like this.


  1. Abra
    Dec 14, 2011

    I’ve got a similar thing going with comics; I know the field is horribly skewed, but when I start rattling off the creators of the stuff I’ve really loved in the past year or so, I get Fiona Staples and Pia Guerra and Kate Beaton and Jill Thompson and Joelle Jones and maybe, like, Eric Powell, just to keep it diverse. I might be selecting for women, but on the other hand, I never notice who drew a comic until after I’ve read it. I didn’t know Oglaf had a female creator until I saw it in an interview. By accident.

  2. Mishell Baker
    Dec 14, 2011

    To some extent it may be self-selection. I am more comfortable around men socially, and my reading list is heavily male-dominated, so I imagine there may be something similar going on with you. Women dominate YA and paranormal romance, but men are still pretty much the “guys to beat” in other areas. It’s better than it used to be, though, and things are changing.
    It also depends on what you consider “success.” If your judgment of success is being critically acclaimed by the SF&F elite, women are surging forward in the past few years. If you’re talking about the average reader having heard of you, men (J.K. Rowling notwithstanding) still have the overwhelming advantage in science fiction and fantasy both.

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