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Women Writing Science Fiction: Some Voices from the Trenches
Mine is a reading family. My spouse and I read voraciously, each in different fields but our walls are lined with bookshelves filled with novels and works of non-fiction. Every flat surface is a repository for newspapers, pamphlets and magazines. The first gift I purchased for my husband when we met was a book. Most of the gifts we buy are works of fiction or non-fiction or magazine subscriptions.
We read to both our children from birth, and I continued to read to my son right up until last year, including works by Dickens, Tolkien and C. S. Lewis as well as the latest Halo novels. Understandably, our children have picked up on the importance of reading, and my daughter is an avid reader, having started with the Harry Potter books like so many others of her generation.
My son has just now started to show a real interest in reading on his own. One day, he and I were browsing in the YA shelves at the local big box bookstore and he found a novel that interested him. On its cover was a picture of a young girl riding on the back of a dragon with wings of gold.
He read the back and flipped through the first pages. He turned to me and asked if it was OK for a boy to read a novel about a girl.
How can it be that the son of a feminist, a woman who shares a rough and ready equality with her husband, who works outside the home and shares in decision-making, could ask such a question in 2008? How is it that, in our modern world, which claims to believe in gender equality, a young boy of eight could feel it might be inappropriate for a boy to read a novel about a girl?
Keep in mind that my daughter has read dozens of novels, YA and otherwise, including Harry Potter and The Vampire Lestat series, featuring male protagonists, and not once did she question the rightness of a girl reading about male characters.
Many trees have been hewn and pixels created on whether there is a gender bias at work affecting publishing in the science fiction field. Some have concluded that no, there is no gender bias in SF publishing based Sue Linville's two studies published on Strange Horizon's website, showing that editors publish approximately the same proportion of stories by women as submit to their magazines, give or take a few percentage points. Linville's 2002 article does a good job of summarizing the debates and earlier research, so I won't repeat it, but direct you to her articles instead:
Others maintain that there is a clear gender bias that affects the SF market. Recent discussions about the TOC of Eclipse 2, and Bechdel's Law have raised the issue of how gender is portrayed in film and writing—-SF or otherwise.
From the looks of the debate in the blogosphere and on SF forums, there is no consensus on this issue. In any given discussion, there are those with strong views on either side, pro and con. Indeed, these discussions seem almost perennial, with a new one cropping up with each awards ceremony or TOC.
I have always viewed science fiction as a niche market—one that had fewer women readers and thus, fewer women writers. Growing up, I personally knew of only one other woman beside myself who read science fiction. I also only knew a few men who read the genre, but even so, very few people seemed interested in what I considered "science fiction."
So, if someone had asked me if there is a gender bias in science fiction a few years ago before I started hanging out at internet SF forums where these issues are debated, I would have had to answer that I had no idea. I understood first-hand as a science student in the 1980s that the sciences were largely a male bastion for historical and socio-cultural reasons. I assumed that male readers and writers of science fiction predominated, given the history of the sciences themselves.
As someone with an academic background in gender and science, and someone who has done a lot of thinking about gender in the sciences, I had to admit it was possible that gender bias played a role in what stories and novels were published, and what writers received notice. I couldn't conclude one way or the other if it were so, but had to hold out the possibility and like all good scientists, wait to see what the data said.
There is a body of research that suggests we unconsciously view women and works by women as different to those of men, regardless of the facts of the author's gender.
Who can forget the immortal words of the great Robert Silverberg?
"It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree's writing. I don't think the novels of Jane Austen could have been written by a man nor the stories of Earnest Hemingway by a woman, and in the same way I believe the author of the James Tiptree stories is male."www.nytimes.com/2006/08/20/books/review/20Itzkoff.html
In the sciences, a recent example of gender bias at work is instructive. Nancy Barres, a Stanford professor of biology, underwent a sex change and became 'Ben.' After a seminar, a colleague unaware of the providence of 'Ben' was overheard to say "Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but then his work is much better than his sister's."
The possibility of a gender bias in SF publishing is understandably a cause for concern for some women writers today and in my personal view, whatever the final answer, it is not illegitimate for women writers to ask these questions. However, it is not possible to conclude with any certainty that gender bias is affecting publication rates without further data and analysis.
This article cannot hope to do the issue justice nor does it set out to answer the question. That would involve a great deal more primary research than was possible in the scope of this article.
What it does attempt is to provide the views and experiences of a number of established and new women writers in the Science Fiction genre. The writers range in experience from grand masters in the field and newer writers just breaking in. Their views on gender bias are as varied as those of the participants in Internet forum discussions.
To obtain those views, I sent questionnaires out to 31 women writers who write or have written in the science fiction genre, both new and established.
The emails included the following questions:
1) When did you start reading SF and why?
I received responses back from half that number and have included their responses below. I'll let them speak for themselves.
1) When did you start reading SF and why?
"[To] go back in my own childhood, I was one of those lucky children whose parents read to them. And luckier still that they were selective, too. Mother chose to read us Kipling's Jungle Tales and Just So stories so I was tipped toward the fantastic to begin with. Dad liked to render the Ballads and Barrack Room Ballads in his ringing military tones, ND also the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere so we were acclimated to the unusual ND fantastic. I still read Kim once a year for the sheer story line ND adventures on the Great Road.Kage Baker:
In early childhood, and as a direct result of the fact that my mother loved science fiction. She would read aloud with a preschool child on either arm; I learned to read following the text as she read. She started with kiddie stuff: a comic book titled Cosmo the Merry Martian, later on the Spaceship Under the Apple Tree series and the Mushroom Planet books. No Heinlein juveniles; she didn't care for Heinlein. Anyway, unsurprisingly, I grew up into a voracious reader. Because my mother read a lot of SF and we had it lying around the house in stacks, I read all her books: everything Ray Bradbury ever wrote, ditto Ted Sturgeon, ditto Zenna Henderson, ditto all the old classic grand masters. Even Heinlein, because although she didn't care for his books, she bought and read them in case there might be any that didn't annoy her. I would like to point out that I was not an SF fan, however. My preferred reading involved historical fiction, adventure fiction and short fiction in the O. Henry/ Somerset Maugham/ Guy de Maupassant mode. But if a book was there, I'd read it; I was an addict.Mary Rosenblum:
I discovered a box of old Galaxy and Astounding under the bed of the beach house we rented with my cousins. (We had to take an enforced nap every afternoon). By the end of our two weeks at the beach house, I had read the entire box of magazines twice and was deeply in love with SF. I was 12. From then on I scoured the library for more.Kris Rusch:
That's impossible to say. I didn't know what genre was until college. My sister, who is a teacher (and became a college professor of English) gave me a lot of books, which as I look back on them now, are fantasy classics, as well as sf classics. The first sf I remember reading is Andre Norton. The only reason I knew that it was sf at the time was because our library put little rocket ships on the spine. Later, I read Orbit & Universe in the college library while waiting for my father to get done teaching (he too was a professor), and the librarian pointed me to Asimov since she said I clearly liked sf. I had no idea that's what I was reading. I didn't like Asimov, however. So I went back to my pack rat habits and found Dune, which I did not know was sf.Nancy Kress:
I began by accident. I was fourteen, and had never seen any SF. The reason for this is almost emblematic of the 1950s—the school library had a boys' section and a girls' section and all the SF was in the boys' section. The girls got fantasy. But the year I turned fourteen, I had my first boyfriend. He was studying to be a concert pianist and practiced diligently. Every day after school, I went to his house to listen to him practice. Unfortunately, I am tone deaf. After ten minutes of hanging adoringly over the piano, I would start to pull books off his father's bookshelf and peer into them. One was Clarke's Childhood's End. By page 3, I was hooked on SF for good.Kate Wilhelm:
In the fifties I was a housewife, mother of two children, one not yet three, the other in first grade. Every week I took home an armload of books from the public library, and always included a collection or an anthology of short stories.Elizabeth Bear:
I'm a third generation SFF fan, and I've been reading it all my life.Sheila Finch:
I read H. G. Wells, H. Rider Haggard and Rudyard Kipling as a child in England and a very futuristic comic called Eagle. I didn't know I was reading SF. Marriage, graduate school, family and a teaching job intervened, and I read no more SF. Then one day a ten year-old boy whose parents were visiting us gave me a book he'd been reading on their trip. Being a reading junkie—especially at night—and having nothing else to read, I read it cover to cover. A trip to the local bookstore next day revealed a shelf full of that author's books—the boy had given me Bradbury's The Illustrated Man. I was hooked. And about that time, the original Star Trek had its debut. Wow! Entertainment that made me think! I was now doubly hooked.Judith Moffett:
I was about eleven or twelve, around 1954, when I started reading fantasy and SF written for children. I know how old I was because we moved several times during that period and I remember which library I borrowed the books from: The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet and Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet, Andre Norton, Heinlein's juveniles, Walter Farley's one venture into SF, The Island Stallion Races.Suzette Haden Elgin:
I didn't start reading SF until I was a graduate student in linguistics at UCSD in the late '60s. I completely missed out on the paradigmatic experience that most SF writers I know are able to remember, the one where you read SF under your bedcovers as a child, holding a flashlight. And I started reading it for the most unromantic of all possible reasons. I had a bunch of kids at home, and even teaching adult high school at night I was having a very hard time making ends meet. There was a man who used to come around at UCSD who would pay $250 for an erotic novel—a respectable sum of money at the time—and I wanted in on that, but I discovered almost immediately that I had no more talent for writing erotica than I did for flying under my own power. I therefore did some research to try to find out if there was something else I could write that might be worth money, and learned that the money was in the "genre" fiction, especially if you could manage a genre fiction series. I read a wide assortment—gothics, mysteries, doctor-and-nurses, westerns, thrillers . . . and science fiction. And it was clear to me right away that the only one of those I was likely to get anywhere with was science fiction.Carolyn Ives Gillman:
I started reading science fiction as a teenager in the early 1970s, and like many others I first got hooked by Asimov. I vividly remember having brought the Foundation series along on a trip to Greece during high school, and as we sailed across to Crete I could have cared less about the wine-dark sea; I was on Trantor. I also remember where I was when I read Dune, and Stranger in a Strange Land. I gave the latter to my mother, and was flabbergasted when she scorned it for its sexism; I honestly hadn't noticed. I even tried to defend Heinlein, but quickly gave it up as hopeless. After that, I read more cautiously. When I discovered Ursula K. Le Guin I read every book of hers I could get my hands on. I have always read a pretty even balance of men and women writers, but when I binge on a single author it's usually a woman. Unless it's Patrick O'Brian.Michaela Roessner:
I started reading SF when I was very young, though I couldn't say at exactly what age. My father bought paperback anthologies and collections like popcorn. So they were always lying around the house, and I tended to pick up and read anything that was lying around. He wasn't into novels, however. Therefore I grew up with a pretty skewed reading background in the field—surprising extensive in short fiction, and almost nada in the longer forms, including what are now considered the classics.Justina Robson:
I think around the age of 12, although I watched it before that on film and TV. I always loved the adventure and escapism of what I'd seen but it wasn't until I found John Wyndham and similar authors in the library that I really picked up an interest. I didn't differentiate about genres in those days, I just chose what looked interesting, often it was fantasy, or SF or both but it never occurred to me I was an SF reader until 16 when our O-level text was 1984 and we read that and Animal Farm. I reacted very strongly to them with absolute loathing and immediately went off to read Anne McCaffrey. I hated Lit classes, in which we had to talk about the stories as if they were objects. To me they were living things, almost on a par with people, and it was a dumb way to relate to them. I still feel rather like that now. Probably says a lot about me, though I'm not sure what.Kathleen Goonan:
I suppose I started reading SF when I was a kid, but not voraciously, although all I have done in my life is read. In the early seventies, I read all the biggies—The Dispossessed, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Snow Queen, and so on, but mostly what I sought was Strangeness, some of which I found in SF, some of which I found in Lin Carter's Ballantine Adult Fantasy line (I probably read them all), and some of which I found elsewhere, in, for instance, Pynchon and Cortazar. I began reading SF more seriously in the eighties, when I subscribed to OMNI, Asimov's, and F&SF.Pamela Sargent:
I started reading sf later than most, and wasn't an avid reader until college, but had read an occasional sf story or novel before then. The first science fiction novel I can recall reading was Man of Many Minds by E. Everett Evans. Why that particular book? The school I went to had a program where students could order paperback books at a discount, and that book arrived by mistake with some other paperbacks. It was a revelation to me; every idea in the book, including travel to alien planets and telepathy, struck me as terribly original; I thought Evans had dreamed it all up by himself. Watched "Twilight Zone" almost every week, and the innovative anthology program "The Outer Limits," but also picked up the occasional sf book and wrote my required senior paper (I was a scholarship student at a private girls' school where such papers were required) on "The Science Fiction of H. G. Wells," and my teacher not only let me get away with it, she even gave me an A.2) What was it like for you breaking in to the SF field?
My first early attempts sat getting published were in romantic literature and as I was barely l5, didn't know doodly. Then I started on fantasy short stories and finally hit the jackpot with "The Lady in the Tower" which Judy Merril spotted and liked. Also, "Freedom of Race"—about women being used as surrogate mothers by aliens who had landed on earth. Bit grisly but it was bought for $100—0 say, like WOW!Kage Baker:
My first novel kicked around various publishing houses for ten years before it sold, and a novella that later became my second novel made the round of SF magazine offices and got nothing but form rejections during the same time. I really don't feel any kind of gender bias was involved; the novel was difficult to categorize, and the novella was too long for a magazine and really needed to be a novel instead, which in the event it became. Besides, my name isn't obviously gender-specific. Once I got myself an agent, though, the doors opened like magic with nary a word about what gender I was. Gardner Dozois bought my first story with a simple "I like it. I'll take it." Michael Kandel bought In the Garden of Iden and the next three books in the series, and would have bought them all had Harcourt not back-pedalled on its SF line. And even so, they took on Ursula Le Guin afterward. More mainstream appeal.Mary Rosenblum:
Breaking in is simply hard. I don't think it was harder for me as a woman, to be honest. I wrote a LOT and sent out a LOT and got rejected a LOT. But I also started selling and Gardner Dozois at Asimov's liked my stuff, so it started showing up in the magazine pretty quickly.Kris Rusch:
It was tough. It's always tough for new writers. I think some of this debate is about how difficult it is—and frankly, I think people are assuming they're not getting accepted because they're a particular gender or race or personality type, when actually, their stories aren't up to par yet.Nancy Kress:
The same as for everybody else breaking in—frustrating, slow, painful. I was raising two small children, and I wrote when (and if) I could get their nap times to overlap. After a year of many rejections, I sold a story. A year later, another story. After that, it started to pick up a bit. I didn't even start writing until I was nearly 30.Kage Baker:
The week I became a writer, I happened to have picked up an anthology of science fiction stories. I didn't know it was a genre onto itself, and I had never seen one of the magazines. Later I learned that they were sold in one store in Louisville, where I lived, but the store was a front for a bookie, and there was a sign posted in the window: "No Women Allowed." I never entered that store.Elizabeth Bear:
Hard, frustrating work, of course. It took about twenty years, and I'm not sure I'm done breaking in yet—there's always new levels to reach.Sheila Finch:
Apart from the fact that at first I didn't know what I was writing and sent my manuscripts to all the wrong places (where I was quickly advised "We don't publish SF!"), I don't think I experienced gender bias in the early days. Later, I suspected some editors—judging by their comments on rejection slips—of not trusting a female to get the science right when they wouldn't have queried a man. I found established writers in the field, both male and female, were very gracious and willing to share knowledge and give advice; without them, I would have advanced much more slowly from the first published short story to the first novel.Judith Moffett:
I was a professional poet and academic before I wrote a word of SF, which I didn't start doing till 1983, when I was 40. It took a couple of years for my first story, "Surviving," to sell. Shawna McCarthy asked me to expurgate it, then got cold feet and decided not to publish it after all, though she paid me. Terry Carr rejected it on the grounds that it wasn't really SF (I get that a lot). Finally Ed Ferman bought it for F&SF. Then beginner's luck seemed to take over: "Surviving" was the jury nominee for the 1986 Nebula (Novelette), won the first Theodore Sturgeon Award, was reprinted in Gardner Dozois's The Year's Best Science Fiction, Fourth Annual Collection, in Terry Carr's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year #16 (he must have decided it was SF after all), in Nebula Awards 23, edited by George Zebrowski, and in The Best from Fantasy & Science Fiction: A 40th Anniversary Anthology. I'd completed my first novel, Pennterra, by the time "Surviving" came out in F&SF, and my agent, Virginia Kidd, got two offers for it on the same day. I was given the 1988 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. During the late '80s I was selling short fiction regularly to Asimov's and occasionally to F&SF. Two more novellas were Nebula finalists and one was a Hugo finalist. Story after story was reprinted in one or several anthologies. You could certainly say I had no important difficulties or complaints.Suzette Haden Elgin:
I was very ignorant, and very lucky. I didn't know that I should be worried about the fact that I was a female writer; I didn't know about agents; I didn't know anything about the odds against me. I wrote an SF novel, and sent it off to Ace, and they bought it. Just like that. And DAW kept on buying the SF novels I sent them, which made it possible for me to pay my tuition all the way through grad school.Carolyn Ives Gillman:
After graduating from college with an English degree I thought I would become a literary writer, but by that time I was reading almost entirely fantasy and science fiction, so after my first novel didn't sell I decided to switch genres. Breaking into the field was slow and frustrating, but I did not put it down to being a woman; I put it down to the fact that I was learning to write. Now, I think something more subtle was going on. I was learning not necessarily to write well, but to write according to a consensus formula dictated by a male-dominated genre.Michaela Roessner:
Idiosyncratic, to say the least. My education and career choices were all targeted towards the Fine Arts. Then around 1979 I got an idea for a combined visual arts and writing project. I did know enough about writing and publishing (both my father and grandfather were journalists, and my grandfather also wrote and published a good deal short fiction.) So I knew that to pull it all off, the writing would have to be as "up to snuff" as the art.Kathleen Goonan:
I think that it was probably much harder than breaking into any other field would have been. I begin selling non-sf stories right off the bat when I became a full-time writer, but for some reason persisted in trying to write and sell sf. Just stubborn, I guess.Justina Robson:
I never considered myself out of it. Being published was nerve wracking and exhilarating. I felt I was 'real' at last, in a way that I hadn't been before. But I was always 'in' SF, I always felt like it belonged to me, was part of me, and reacted with fury whenever people were negative about it even though I came across a lot of it that I didn't understand and didn't like.Pamela Sargent:
What was it like breaking in as a writer? Both ridiculously easy and extremely difficult. Ridiculously easy, in that I sold my first two serious submissions right away (to David Gerrold for his 1970 anthology of new writers, Protostars and to Ed Ferman at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) right away while still in college. Extremely difficult, because after that, it took me many submissions and many failed efforts—stories begun and never finished, finished and submitted and bounced, some with very encouraging comments, others with caustic remarks) to sell another story. My first published novel, Cloned Lives (1976) also wasn't the first one I wrote. The first novel I actually completed was so wretched that I never submitted it to anybody and finally threw it away.3) Do you think anything has changed since you started writing SF?
I didn't experience any male antagonism in the field. A. J. Budrys bought one of my first stories, John Campbell took a risk on "Weyr Search" and then I ran into the Ballantines, Betty and Ian, who were very keen to start a burgeoning S-f line for their new imprint, Ballantine Books. If there is a gender bias in S-f, it's long been laid to rest as some of the really fine women writers got in—like Ursula K. Le Guin, Kate Wilhelm. Pamela Sargent. Andre was already there and then more and more voices were added. Elizabeth Moon, Sharon Lee, Lois Bujold, and then a new genre emerged, paranormal romances. The first female paranormal material was not very original but has since become almost too fantastic but interesting, and certainly otherworldly. I do like a well told tale and don't care if it is announcing a "new truth" or not, or something worthwhile.Kage Baker:
Of course. The old writers, and the common culture they shared, are dying off; the Internet and all its implications for publishing has been an even greater force in changing the rules of the game. But if you mean as regards the question of equal representation of gender in SF, I don't really think so . . . I think the big changes came with all the social revolutions in the '60s. Prior to that you had the sort of Rod Serling SF, you know, where the adventure happens to the hero and he has a martini bar in his flat and a gorgeous girlfriend, in that order, and he's a space captain or an inventor or whatever. After that point, you had much more diversity, in every kind of literature really but also in SF. More women getting published under their own names. More women editing magazines. What hasn't changed is the mindset of a lot of SF readers, who have their own prejudices about what a story written by a woman must be like. But they, too, are getting older and dying off . . .Mary Rosenblum:
Sure. There's more of a presence of women and writers of color than there was when I started reading (when you could count female SF writers on one hand and it was a monochrome pool of authors). Part of the reason I started writing SF was that I found so few strong women characters in SF. I had to create my own. That's much less true now. And of course, the publishing industry is going through a paradigm shift as we change from the monolithic form of the NY publishing model to a small press/internet driven publishing industry that will hopefully encourage a wide diversity of fiction across the genre.Kris Rusch:
Yes. There are more markets, more women in the field, and more open-mindedness. It's a great time to break in. There are so many opportunities. And sf is beginning to accept adventure fiction again, which is great, since that's what I always loved about it.Nancy Kress:
The big change, from my perspective, is the shift from SF to fantasy. Nearly twice as many new fantasy novels were published last year as SF novels. It's fantasy that gets most of the big publicity, high sales, movie deals (except for Philip K. Dick, who isn't even around to enjoy it).Kate Wilhelm:
In a writing career that's spanned fifty years now, I've seen changes certainly. Literary values have gone up considerably and while it's still a fiction of ideas, now the ideas are intertwined with real characters. That often seemed not to be a concern in the fifties. But the biggest change, I think, is how science fiction has permeated other fiction, without any backlash, or even awareness. It just is there, like other story elements.Elizabeth Bear:
Well, sure, all sorts of things. Cell phones, the world wide web. Or do you mean about the status of women in the field?Sheila Finch:
The SF market has shrunk; fantasy and media tie-ins have swamped the shelves at the local bookstore; magazines—even apparently successful ones—have a tendency to fold suddenly; it's harder for a mid-list writer to get a big house to commit to her career, so stuff goes out of print far too quickly for readers to hear of it. On the bright side, we're seeing the rise of the small, literary ,or specialty presses who tend to treat their writers—midlist or otherwise—very well.Judith Moffett:
Given that it was 25 years ago, yes, obviously a lot has changed. What follows will be a statement about what changed for me, what it was like to try to break BACK in:Suzette Haden Elgin:
I think everything has changed since I started writing SF. When I started, about 60,000 words was the standard size of an SF paperback. SF publishers were, so far as I could tell, interested in quality writing and in developing their writers and promoting their work. What writers were expected to do was to write, not to spend at least half their time doing marketing and promotion. All of SF publishing did not revolve around sales figures. There was no Internet SF, and there were few small presses. However, in the context of biological gender, which is probably the intended focus of your question, I wasn't aware of any bias against women writers in the '60s and I'm not aware of any bias against them now. I think that overtly feminist SF is an endangered species, but I don't think that that situation is the result of a bias against women writers.Carolyn Ives Gillman:
Of course, the world has changed in many ways since I learned to write, but the changes that most interest me are the fragmentation of publishing and the rise of a feminist SF subculture, two intertwined phenomena.Michaela Roessner:
Sure. Like everything else in life, it's changing all the time. In relationship to gender concerns—same answer. Like always, things continuously go up and down. On the one hand you have individual editors falling back into "Old Boys" mode off and on. On the other hand you have people banding together to address gender issues and succeeding fabulously, à Wiscon (one of the most influential and popular cons), and Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler founding the Tiptree Award. In general, I think most spec. fic. markets actively welcome women writers.Justina Robson:
I don't know whether you mean in me, in SF or in the world. I've changed in the superficial manner of becoming increasingly aware of the limits and frustrations and complexity and charm of being human. SF hasn't really altered, although the trends of certain kinds of story have come and gone—space opera is still resurging right now and literature is having another try at being SF from outside in that wearying way certain authors have which makes me start fantasising about assassins and Clint Eastwood. The world has moved, in my perception, from being a place in which borders were quite rigid into a place that sees borders as scarily fluid and reacts accordingly, old mindsets struggling to cope with features they can't control. That's an SF scenario. It could be my awareness changing though, and not the world of course.Pamela Sargent:
What has changed since I started writing sf? Everything. There used to be fairly standard advice that could be given to most aspiring writers about markets, editors, manuscript presentation, and the like, basics that would apply to pretty much anyone. You could also assume that any aspiring writer was familiar with the accepted canon of the field (and more besides), whether or not he or she actually felt that all or most of those "classic" works were the best sf had to offer.Kathleen Goonan:
Many things having to do with the business side of sf have changed. Distribution, the demise of independent bookstores, the cost of paper, the fusing of many small publishing houses into mega-houses have impacted publishing as a whole, and decision-making at sf in particular. Sales and marketing concepts have changed dramatically.4) Do you have any comments you would like to share on the issue of gender bias in science fiction publishing or writing?
My ex-husband once informed me that I would never be able to pay my phone bills with what I earned as a writer. But I gave my three children as much extra education as they wanted, bought a 48 acre farm in Ireland and built a splendid house which is, naturally, called Dragonhold. I admit that my timing into the market was most fortunate BUT the truth of the matter is simple. You put your butt in the chair, your fingers on the keyboard of your choice and you write 24/7 until you have completed the story. Then you submit it. Writing takes discipline, a certain dogged persistence, good grammar, and good characterization. Most writers are also people watchers and doing cross word puzzles is excellent for vocabulary building. I adore finding a new word or phrase.Kage Baker:
It happens. It's there. Not really so much in publishing, in my own experience—and I can only speak from my own experience—but it's there in the fan base, certainly, and at some of the root of the good-old-fashioned-sense-of-wonder SF. "I'm a 14-year-old male at heart, and I like rocketships, and girls and relationships are icky!" The sort who remain that way emotionally until they turn fifty, when they abruptly transition to bitter old right-wing gun-huggers. Still living in the parents' basement. They never got out there and lived, and it shows . . . there was a novella published in one of the magazines a while back, and people wept and hosannaed about what a classic piece of sensawunda it was, but it utterly repelled me. The plot involved a nerdy adolescent boy with a trampy mom, and the nerd gets carried off by a flying saucer to a remote planet where he's alone in the ruins of an alien civilization, save for a robot who can replicate anything he needs. In time the robot is able to morph itself into a woman, so the hero can have sex, and in the end the hero gets godlike powers and returns to earth, where he punishes us for being tardy in colonizing space by forcibly scattering all humanity out through the cosmos. It was brilliantly written, but so fucking morally vacant I gagged. The Evil Neglectful Mother—how dare she have boyfriends! The Robot Girlfriend—of course you love her, she hasn't got any mind and her greatest wish is to serve you! And her transformation into a woman is written with telling adjectives like "greasy." Finally, the hero's Vengeance on Humanity—never mind that millions of you are gonna die, never mind that families will be torn apart or that some of you might have your own ideas about how you'd like to live—we shoulda conquered space!!! The story was quite well received by SF in general, which told me a lot about where people's heads were at, as we used to say. Adolescent masturbatory fantasies . . . on the other hand, shrill and resentful feminist posters on SF forums annoy the shit out of me too. You want to change things? Start writing. And getting published. Don't give me that crap about how it can't be done. I did it, Ursula did it, Nalo did it, Octavia did it, Connie did it, Zenna did it, Barbara did it, Lois did it, Tanith did it . . . and so on and so on and so on. Don't whine that nobody's opening the doors for you; kick the damn things in yourself.Mary Rosenblum:
Well, alas, there is a gender bias in the SF universe and in mystery and suspense, thriller, you name it. Let's face it, there's a reason so many female authors use initials. A lot of male readers simply don't read woman authors as readily and many genres are dominated by male readers. That's life. I considered using my initials, but you know what? I'm female. So there. Yes, it's easier to publish as a woman author, yes it still costs you sales in most genres. That may well be changing now and we'll see the proof of it in another generation of readers. I hope so!Kris Rusch:
I think the debate is stupid. I think the people who are whining have no leg to stand on at all. And, I note, they completely ignore the romance genre—which is publishing a lot of sf and fantasy, almost all of it by women, most of it very, very, very good.Nancy Kress:
I know that recently there has been an outcry in the blogosphere over the discrepancy between male and female authors on the Hugo ballots, in some magazine issues, and in some anthologies. Again, I refer you to the numbers on my blog. From a personal standpoint, the only time I have felt gender discrimination in SF has been in sometimes not being taken seriously as a "hard SF writer," partly because I write about biology rather than astronomy or physics, but also perhaps because I'm female. However, I think even that prejudice has lessened over the years.Sheila Finch:
Writers trying to break in shouldn't overlook online sites as outlets for their work. But use caution; as Ted Sturgeon taught us, 90% of everything is trash. And network, network, network. Join SFWA as soon as you're eligible.Judith Moffett:
Honestly, I don't think any of my difficulties have been gender-based. I could be wrong, but if the problems with Time had anything at all to do with my being a woman, I never suspected it for a minute and still don't see how to pin the blame on that.Carolyn Ives Gillman:
Several SF editors have told me how difficult it is for them to maintain a gender balance in their publications because they receive so many more submissions from men than women. My first reaction when I heard this was that it was easy to explain, but I have no hard evidence, just personal observation. I know quite a number of full-time male writers, both genre and non-genre. All of them either have a wife currently supporting them, or did before they became successful. I know not a single woman writer who has a husband supporting her. When men decide to pursue writing, it is considered a career or a calling. When women do, it is considered a hobby. Men are less likely to support wives or girlfriends in such a frivolous pursuit than women are likely to support their husbands.Michaela Roessner:
Sure. Like everything else in life, it's changing all the time. In relationship to gender concerns—same answer. Like always, things continuously go up and down. On the one hand you have individual editors falling back into "Old Boys" mode off and on. On the other hand you have people banding together to address gender issues and succeeding fabulously, a la' Wiscon (one of the most influential and popular cons), and Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler founding the Tiptree Award. In general, I think most spec. fic. markets actively welcome women writers.Kathleen Goonan:
That's a weird and tricky subject. In 1969, recall, Playboy attributed the story "Nine Lives" to one U.K. Le Guin, rather than to Ursula. Let's have no women in this Male Bastion! And then, famously, there was Alice Sheldon, whose disguise as James Tiptree gave her a long, striding start in the science fiction field. Would she have done as well as Alice, no matter what her reasons for her name change? She definitely didn't choose a female pseudonym. But this literary tradition goes way back.Justina Robson:
I have never encountered any gender bias personally in either the world of publishing or in my social writing moments. I have read about it and seen blogs and articles and posts about various incidents elsewhere, past and present. I've had a miserable and futile argument about gender differences in writing (subject matter and etc) with a male editor who never had the slightest clue what I was talking about but it didn't amount to bias, more like blindness on his part in my opinion. I'm not really interested in taking part in a gender fight re quality, quantity, and cash for two reasons—one, I think it's more than time the matter was an irrelevance, which it is, and we all accepted that different genders do have different interests and perspectives of equal value that are worthy of remark (there are marked differences in gender approaches to fiction but these don't necessarily reflect the physical gender of the author although they tend to follow the sexuality of the author). Two, negative criticism or discrepancies in pay wholly based on a creator's gender are so stupid that the advocates deserve to be starved of the oxygen of attention entirely, and preferably all other forms of oxygen as well. That said, if I felt some major injustice was being perpetrated I'm naturally aggressive and would be only too glad to wade in and smite or state my piece for the record. I suppose the old stories about James Tiptree, Jr. pretty much illustrate the foolery of the whole thing.
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