Tag Archives: gender

2012 Nebula Award Finalists

Congratulations to this year’s Nebula Award finalists! Summary of my impressions:

I think this is a very strong ballot overall. I’ve only read a small fraction of the nominated works, but I really liked all the ones I’ve read. I definitely don’t have any immediate “What is THAT doing on an award shortlist?” reactions, which is always nice.

There’s an impressive diversity of sex, race, and sexuality on all the ballots, especially compared to, say, ten years ago. (Warning on that link for a very bright yellow-and-red color scheme.)

Having one’s short fiction available online for free unsurprisingly appears to broaden one’s audience, and the folks at Clarkesworld and Tor.com clearly have their fingers on the pulse of the Nebula-nominating short-fiction-reading crowd. There is not a single story from Analog, ouch. I note that GigaNotoSaurus is the only webzine with a story on the novella ballot; are webzines not publishing novellas, or are they not publishing the sorts of novellas that get award nods, or do readers enjoy or appreciate novellas more in print than online?

Self-published works and small-press novels are nowhere to be found. I’d love to see a small-press, digital-first, and self-publishing revolution on the novel ballot comparable to the recent ascent of webzines on the short fiction ballots. I would be heartened by the appearance of a few stories from small-press anthologies and collections if there were such a thing as a large-press anthology or collection, but there basically isn’t, so I will settle for being heartened that anyone still publishes or reads anthologies and collections.

And now, the list. Linked short fiction titles are shamelessly stolen from John DeNardo’s post at SF Signal (thanks, John!). Book titles link to the PW reviews, where available. Statistics in my notes are to the best of my knowledge, and please do correct me if I’ve gotten anything wrong.

NOVEL

Rose’s notes: Four women. One queer person. One trans person. Two people of color. Four books that got starred PW reviews. Zero self-published books. Zero small-press books. Zero digital-only books.

NOVELLA

Rose’s notes: Two women. Two people of color. Two stand-alone titles, both from small presses. One webzine story. One story from a small-press anthology, reprinted online. Zero self-published stories.

NOVELETTE

Rose’s notes: Five women. One person of color. Three queer people. Four webzine stories. Two stories from small-press compilations (if you count the “Mammoth” books as small press, which I think I do), one reprinted online. Zero self-published stories.

SHORT STORY

Rose’s notes: Five women. Two people of color. Five webzine stories. One story from a small-press collection, reprinted online. Zero self-published stories.

Wow, What a Week

Wow, this week! When I was describing it on Twitter, Ruth Sternglantz said it sounded like “a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie” and that about sums it up.

The June romance issue of PW came out on Monday, with great articles by Julie Naughton: a big feature on contemporary romance, and two smaller pieces on YA romance and (my favorite) men who write romance novels. I’ve been wanting to write about the men of the romance world for ages, and they gave us some really fascinating insights into what it’s like being a guy in an overwhelmingly female industry, and why romance writing calls to them.

BEA was terrific, if super busy. I had almost no time to socialize, but I did get to meet Masumi Washington of Haikasoru and Christopher Payne of Journalstone, both of whom are lovely, and hang out a bit with Charlie Stross and Walter Mosley. The radio show went very well, I think. (My mom liked it, which of course is the audience that matters most!) We talked a lot about Ray Bradbury and got in a wonderful interview with Nelson DeMille. There’s a great picture of me and Mark with our headsets on in the day 3 Show Daily. Also in that issue is my recap of the SF/mainstream panel with Walter Mosley, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, and John Scalzi. You don’t need to be a PW subscriber to read the Show Daily; it’s all up on Scribd free of charge. To cap it off, I went to the NYPL reading with N.K. Jemisin, Catherynne Valente, Kristin Cashore, and Naomi Novik, introduced by Lev Grossman and backed by Brian Slattery’s band; given that line-up, I have no idea why there were only about 30 people in the audience, but the 30 of us enjoyed a really great show.

I got back to the office and edited Q&As with Jim C. Hines and Kij Johnson for our last two June issues; keep an eye out for those. Now I’m hip-deep in the fall announcements issue, when I get to prognosticate about trends in romance and SF/F/H. As of right now, I have no idea what those trends are! But this is one reason why I still love paper ARCs: I can look over the shelves at my desk and pick out hints of zeitgeist. Hopefully I will acquire two essays’ worth of hints by Tuesday.

A Palate Cleanser

On a lighter note, some great links have been coming my way:

  • Stone Telling‘s long-awaited QUILTBAG speculative poetry issue is live!
  • Tales of the Emerald Serpent, a mosaic anthology with some great authors lined up, is almost halfway to its Kickstarter goal.
  • Laura Anne Gilman is Kickstarting a pair of novellas that tie in to her popular Cosa Nostradamus/PSI series.
  • Helen Keller describes the view from the top of the Empire State Building. Do not miss this. Just gorgeous!
  • There’s going to be a steampunk festival in Waltham, MA in May, with a bunch of free events. I happen to know most of the people in the banner on the top of the page, and I can vouch that they know how to have a good time. Also, the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation sounds like approximately the best museum ever and I can’t believe I’ve never even heard of it before. Must go the next time I’m in Boston.
  • Jennifer Pelland defends unhappy endings.
  • After reading the Scientology/Writers of the Future piece in the Village Voice, WotF winner Carl Frederick has backed out of association with the contest.
  • Brian Keene starts an interesting discussion by talking about why there weren’t any women on his list of his 25 favorite authors, and how such lists can be strongly influenced by what’s available to read when one is growing up. There’s some gender essentialism in the post that had me rolling my eyes a bit, but the conclusion is strong, and the ensuing conversation is pretty good.
  • I just found out about this and I’m sorry I couldn’t link to it sooner! In honor of Women’s History Month, Cambridge University Press is offering free access for the month of March to Orlando, their electronic database that relates to British women’s writing from the earliest times to the present. It is searchable and is a valuable resource for scholars, writers and anyone interested in literary and cultural history. To access it, go to http://orlando.cambridge.org/ . In the upper right click Login. For username, enter womenshistory; for password, orlando.
  • The 2012 Million Writers Award nominations are now open.
  • Finalists have been announced for the RITA (romance) and Clarke (U.K. SF) awards.

The Content of Their Characters

NOTE: If you’re already up on racism and The Hunger Games and kind of exhausted by the thought of reading another post about it, you may be interested in reading about sexism and The Hunger Games instead.

Everyone’s buzzing about Hunger Games Tweets, a Tumblr that collects and discusses tweets from people who are shocked and upset that Rue, a character described in Suzanne Collins’s book The Hunger Games as having dark skin, is played by an African-American actress in the film. The link started making the rounds a couple of days ago, and after Jezebel picked it up, the hits went through the roof. Cue a great deal of head-shaking.

But why is everyone so surprised that some of Collins’s fans are having indisputably racist reactions to her books? When the movies were first cast, the excellent Racebending site covered the controversy over white, blonde Jennifer Lawrence being cast as olive-skinned, dark-haired Katniss. That led to a pointed question in an Entertainment Weekly interview with Collins and director Gary Ross, and an interesting response:

EW: In the books, Katniss is described as being olive-skinned, dark-haired, possibly biracial. Did you discuss with Suzanne the implications of casting a blond, caucasian girl?

GR: Suzanne and I talked about that as well. There are certain things that are very clear in the book. Rue is African-American. Thresh is African-American.

“Very clear” to Ross and Collins, perhaps, but not to all of their fans. A blog post that went up on EW about six months before the interview took place asked whether Rue was black, and–as a separate question–whether she should be played by a black actress. The comments immediately, inevitably, filled up with exclamations like “RUE IS NOT BLACK NEATER IS THRESH READ THE BOOK AGAIN!” and the slightly more considered “I feel like a jerk for not noticing she was black in the book”. And when African-American actors were cast for the parts of Rue, Thresh, and Cinna, Racialicious reported that the Hunger Games Facebook page was inundated with exclamations of surprise and dismay; those comments sound exactly like the recent tweets about the movie.

So I’m surprised that anyone’s surprised about the latest round of complaints. Sure, not everyone reads Racialicious and Racebending, but Jezebel covered the casting controversy back in 2011 too. More broadly, I’m trying to figure out how insulated one has to be from the wider world to be shocked! shocked! that racism is pervasive in American culture, and among American teens. Those wide-eyed tweets about Rue’s death being less sad because she’s black clearly come straight from the brains of adolescents (nearly all of them white, presumably) who have bathed in subtly and overtly racist culture since birth, absorbed far too much of it, and not yet learned to second-guess or even censor themselves when they parrot its tenets. They’re surprising only if you haven’t noticed that when real people of color are killed, there’s always an immediate attempt to justify or downplay the deaths. Art imitates life; reactions to art likewise imitate life.

On the bright side–and I am trying mightily to find a bright side here–this many surprised people might mean that more of those people are starting to pay attention, and will keep paying attention even after the latest furor dies down.

Men Read Men and Women Read Everyone, Still

March 8 is International Women’s Day! In honor of the occasion, have some interesting statistics on SF/F book review blogs:

In the beginning, I was fairly sure of what I was going to find: men discussing mostly men, and women discussing both either equally or more. Does the data follow?… Men still dominate the literary conversation, but women are in there, too. I was initially surprised by this result, because my gut back in 2011 had said it was not this even. However, if you start rearranging the data a bit, things change. There are women being reviewed by men, yes, but there are also women being reviewed by women. My initial instinct was correct…. the 40/60 is an average, and that average is the way it is because the women reviewing women drive it up.

The more I think about it, the more I think this industry is really poisoned by the marketing-driven self-fulfilling prophecy that boys will only ever read books (watch movies, watch TV shows, read comics) about boys, but girls will read anything about anyone. It reminds me of Harry Connolly’s recent post about fans arguing over which author’s books are better:

Here’s a general guideline I would like people to follow: If you like a particular author’s books and someone unfamiliar with them suggests that the description so far makes them sound kind of dull? Please PLEASE do not start the “… displays an ignorance and shallow judgment that frankly says you’re not worth [author]‘s time as a reader anyway” stuff.

If you like a book or book series, do not try to drive away readers you consider unworthy.

Given all the blather about the death of the industry, why are we still essentially driving men away from books by and about women? If we like these books enough to write and publish them, why aren’t we trying to give them the widest possible audience? You’d think this would make sense purely from a marketing and financial standpoint, in addition to being a step toward real equality.

As more books by and about girls and women become available, there are two types of equality we could end up with: the sort where most people only read books about people who resemble them (that is, girls stop reading about boys because they no longer have to), and the sort where most people are omnivoracious readers (that is, books about girls are marketed to boys and girls alike, the way books about boys are now, and we make it culturally more comfortable for boys to read and enjoy them). I think we would all do well to encourage the latter.

(I’d also love to see more clearly intersex and genderqueer characters and writers, but that’s a topic for a separate post.)

Link Roundup

Some very good and very sad news today.

  • A couple of years ago, I wrote, “If I could subscribe to a publisher like a magazine or a book club—one flat annual fee to get everything they publish—I would subscribe to CZP.” Today ChiZine publisher Brett Savory wrote to me to say that I (and you) can do just that: they now offer e-book only, trade paper + e-book, and limited hardcover + e-book annual subscriptions, all with heavy discounts. Details here.
  • Author Spider Robinson’s daughter has been diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Spider’s wife and longtime collaborator, Jeanne, died in 2010 after her own battle with cancer. I hope that family catches a break very soon. (h/t to James Nicoll)
  • Over on PWxyz, Peter Brantley smacks Penguin into the middle of next week with a brilliant essay on the importance of e-book lending.
  • Paul Cornell pledges to evict himself from any convention panels he’s on where men outnumber women, and to invite a female audience member to replace him. Reactions predictably vary. (h/t to Graham Sleight)

Women and Men, and Cover Art

Take a moment to look through two posts by author Jim Hines and book blogger Anna. Both attempt to replicate poses from SF/F jacket art, with mixed success. I found the contrast between Jim attempting some of the women’s poses and Anna attempting some of the men’s poses to be particularly instructive. Jim looks painfully contorted, because anyone would look painfully contorted in this pose:

jacket and pose #1

And Anna looks confident and strong, because anyone would look confident and strong in this pose:

jacket #2pose #2

Anna also points out that this isn’t about her appearing masculine; it’s not buying into the idea that the only way for women to have or display strength is for them to do things associated with men. She just looks comfortable, which in no way diminishes her femaleness or femininity.

It’s easy to think that because men look absurd in “women’s poses”, women would look absurd in “men’s poses”. Instead, these comparisons make it clear that there are absurd poses and reasonable poses, and we need to ditch the absurd ones altogether and use the reasonable ones for everyone. As a bonus, I expect the chiropractic bills for those poor cover models will go way, way down.

Speaking of chiropractic bills, don’t miss this take on comic book poses and a follow-up post from a contortionist and black-belt martial artist.

Link Roundup

I get a cold, you get links:

How to Suppress Women’s Writing, Part N

This post of Mely’s has been linked around a lot, but it deserves all the exposure it can get:

The Locus Roundtable on Genre Accessibility has a lot of things going for it, although much of the discussion is at cross purposes: many of the participants have different notions about whether the topic is commercial success or critical respect, and do not realize this needs clarification until fairly late in the conversation. One of the things it has going for it is a reasonably even gender breakdown; seven out of seventeen participants are women, as is the moderator. And yet.

I do not have the patience to perform a comparative word count, but it is fairly obvious which sex is talking the most.

[data]

9/24, or a little over a third, of the writers women mentioned were other women.

[more data]

10/60, or one-sixth, of the writers men mentioned were women.

I am not suggesting that the participants are consciously sexist or intend to suppress or erase the existence of women writers. I am saying that this conversation follows a typical social pattern in which (a) men talk more than women in mixed company; (b) men promote male writers significantly more than they promote women writers; (c) the criteria which determine value or worth inherently favor men’s contributions over women’s, which are deemed trivial or inapplicable; (d) women’s contributions to the critical or cultural canon are systematically devalued, forgotten, or erased.

There’s much more; I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

(The mention of Twilight in Mely’s post reminds me to also highly recommend Ana Mardoll’s ongoing deconstructions of the Narnia books and the Twilight books.)

“Womanspace”

Every once in a while, I’m reminded of how far the SF field has come. For example, I would be genuinely surprised these days to find one of the major SF magazines publishing a story as sexist, plotless, and generally poorly written as Ed Rybicki’s “Womanspace“, which appeared in Nature‘s Futures section a few days ago. (Yes, Nature publishes SF. They’ve even published some very good SF. I hope they’ll consider going back to publishing good SF instead of this nonsense.)

If you’re in the mood to read outraged letters, The Contemplative Mammoth has collected links.

More Deep Thoughts

Josh and I were idly chatting over the weekend about someday running a Worldcon; he wants to have one in Atlantic City in ’21 (very appropriate) and I said we could call it Ace of Cons. After some thought, we came up with a dream team of guests of honor: author N.K. Jemisin, editors Devi Pillai and DongWon Song, and artist Kinuko Y. Craft, with K. Tempest Bradford as toastmistress. By 2021 I expect Nora, Devi, and DongWon will have cemented their reputations as genre stars; Kinuko Craft is already legendary; and Tempest, the Wanda Sykes of fandom, would run the world’s most hilarious Hugo ceremony. It would be awesome. It would also be a statement that you can have a major genre event where all the deservedly honored guests are people of color and most of them are women. Links like the ones above are the reason I think such statements need to be made, repeatedly and with emphasis.

Deep Thoughts

For a holiday weekend, there’s been an awful lot of introspection and serious thought going on out in the interwebs.

If that’s not enough wisdom for you, have an extra bit of brilliance from Emily Post, writing about social media interactions 89 years ago:

A gift of more value than beauty, is charm, which in a measure is another word for sympathy, or the power to put yourself in the place of others; to be interested in whatever interests them, so as to be pleasing to them, if possible, but not to occupy your thoughts in futilely wondering what they think about you.

Would you know the secret of popularity? It is unconsciousness of self, altruistic interest, and inward kindliness, outwardly expressed in good manners.

Those of you who were at the Worldcon panel on social media may remember me fumbling to remember that quote. Here it is in its beautiful entirety. If this were displayed above the text entry boxes on Twitter, Facebok, and Google+, I think the internet would be a much more pleasant place.

An Open Letter to Lambda Literary Foundation Co-Chair Dr. Judith Markowitz

Dear Dr. Markowitz:

I don’t believe we’ve been introduced. I’m the SF/fantasy/horror reviews editor at Publishers Weekly and a past judge of the SF/F/H Lambda Award.

I am equal parts delighted and dismayed by the press release currently being circulated regarding the changes to the Lambda Awards. Delighted, because I was appalled when the 2009 rule change required us to perform bedroom checks on nominees to determine their eligibility, and further distressed when a friend of mine, also a judge, was informed that a good rule of thumb was to check an author’s bio and see whether a different-sex partner was mentioned. This rule of thumb obviously excludes trans, genderqueer, and queer authors who are in different-sex partnerships (many of whom I was pleased to suggest as finalists and winners during my time as a Lammy judge). I withdrew from judging in great part because of these changes, and I’m very pleased to see that the majority of the awards will be open to all authors again.

I am dismayed, however, by this:

“LGBT authors will be recognized with three awards marking stages of a writer’s career: the Betty Berzon Debut Fiction Award (to one gay man and one lesbian), the Jim Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize (to one male-identified and one female-identified author), and the Pioneer Award (to one male-identified and one female-identified individual or group)”

In other words, non-monosexual debut authors need not apply, and genderqueer and intersex authors as well as those involved in different-sex collaborations are not welcome at any stage of their careers. How can you even think of calling this a new policy of inclusiveness?

I cannot fathom the decision-making process that led to the splitting of these awards along gendered lines, especially since you must be aware of the growing number of queer people who do not identify as gay, lesbian, male, or female. Why not simply state that each award will go to two people a year? Why take such specific and exclusionary steps? Quota systems serve no one, and I say that as an ardent feminist and anti-racist who has long campaigned for more diverse winners and nominees across the spectrum of speculative fiction awards. Enforcing year-by-year equality between two communities while excluding all others only exposes the artificiality of such methods, which have so little to do with who the six most talented and recognition-worthy authors may be in any given year. You may intend these protectionist tactics to keep the awards “safe” from the encroachment of straight authors, but in the process, you’re joining a long and ignominious tradition of queer people who pay lip service to the B and the T while doing everything possible to promote the L and the G.

Saying that only gays and lesbians, and only men and women, are eligible for recognition is really no different from saying that only queer authors are eligible for the awards in general, except that you have made the criteria even more restrictive. You will still need to contend with the deep moral problems that arise from demanding that authors out themselves–in a world that can still be extremely dangerous for overtly queer and trans people, especially people of color, people who don’t conform to gender norms, and people living in repressive and overtly anti-queer cultures–and subscribe to a particular set of definitions. I had hoped for better from the Lammys. I’m very, very disappointed.

I strongly urge you to consider how many talented and worthy authors may be excluded from consideration for these three new awards, and then to update the eligibility criteria to reflect the true breadth and depth of the community you purport to represent and celebrate.

Sincerely,
Rose Fox

(cc: awards coordinator pro tem Richard Labonté, The Outer Alliance, my personal and professional blogs)

EDIT: Dr. Markowitz has responded to me, and given me permission to post her response:

The Debut Fiction awards, like any other funded awards, cannot be changed without the full support of the funders. Those discussion are in process but LLF needed to release the guidelines before September 1 so that authors and publishers could begin making nominations.

I am baffled as to why one would invite nominations for an award whose nomination guidelines might be in flux, but at least they’re talking about it.

EDIT 2: Jenn Reese points out that the named awards mentioned above were previously established. My objections stand, but my reference to them as “new awards” is erroneous.

California and Nevada, Here I Come

Josh and I are heading to San Francisco tomorrow for a week of vacation before we go to Worldcon. I would like to pretend that Worldcon is a vacation, but at this point it’s as much of a professional event for me as it is a way to see friends and steal panel ideas for Readercon attend interesting program items.

If you’d like to meet me in person and tell me how awesome Genreville is, here’s where I’ll be before Worldcon:

Aug. 13, 7 p.m.: SF in SF

Aug. 16, 6:30 p.m.: The mp3 Experiment San Francisco (Josh and I will be among the blue shirts)

And at Worldcon:

Aug. 18, 2 p.m.: Kaffeeklatsch, room KK1

Come hang out, drink tea, and chat with me about books and reviewing and anything else you like!

Aug. 18, 8 p.m.: Fannish Origami Workshop, room KK1

Have some experience with origami? Come learn advanced origami patterns for aliens, spaceships, mythological creatures and more! Paper will be provided.

If you know a mountain from a valley and a squash from a sink, origamically speaking, please do come to this so I can feel justified in having spent Worldcon’s money on lots of pretty paper.

Aug. 19, 11 a.m.: Social Media for Writers (with Tee Morris, Tom Negrino, Cory Doctorow, and Brenda Cooper), room A03

Writers know the Internet, but not all writers take advantage of its full potential. With the evolution of Social Media, potential readers are only a click away. But what exactly is Social Media? At this panel, you will pick up the vocabulary and background of exactly what Social Media is, what it can do, and what it cannot do.

Every time Cory says “DRM” or “free”, take a drink. Every time I say “Don’t argue with reviews”, chug. If you know Tee, Tom, or Brenda, feel free to suggest more drinking game rules in the comments.

Aug. 20, 3 p.m.: The Paranormal as Metaphor (with Naamen Tilahun, Lucienne Diver, Carrie Vaughn, and Patricia Briggs), room A16

Paranormal fantasy, including urban fantasy and paranormal romance, is among the most popular genres within speculative fiction. One intriguing aspect of this type of fantasy is its role as a stealth route toward social commentary and change. What are the issues being examined and how effectively are the experiences of various groups presented?

Remember that post from a few months ago on why white men should refuse to be on panels of all white men? This panel as originally convened–a panel on paranormal metaphors for social issues!–was all white women. I emailed the Renovation program staff and said I wouldn’t be on it unless they made it more diverse. Somewhat to my surprise, this was actually effective, and I’m delighted that Naamen will be joining us. (I’m equally delighted that I didn’t have to make good on my threat, as I think I’m the token queer on the panel and diversity in that direction is important too.) The program item description has also been much improved. Kudos to the Renovation program staff for taking positive steps quickly and without defensiveness. And if you find yourself on a similarly un-diverse panel, I hope my positive experiences here will encourage you to speak up.

In addition to my official schedule, I expect to be at the Regency Tea Dance, at which PW reviewer and dance historian Susan de Guardiola will be teaching, and possibly at the Regency ball as well. (Incidentally, if you write anything set anywhere near the Victorian era, you should hire Susan to fact-check your work, because she is brilliant and eagle-eyed and ruthless.) I will also probably spend a lot of time in the bar because that’s where all the good convention stuff happens. Look for the white chick with fuzzy hair drinking her own weight in ginger ale and knitting baby clothes (all my friends are having babies all at once!).

Speaking of Worldcon, I just got a press release saying that the Hugo voter turnout set a record this year: “A record total of 2100 valid final ballots were cast, a 46.1% turnout, from voters in 33 countries. (The previous record set in 1980 was 1788 ballots cast.) Renovation also broke a record earlier this year when it received 1006 valid nominating ballots.” Well done, everyone who nominated and voted! Even those of you who voted for things I didn’t like.

With that, I’m signing off until August 24th, with two exceptions: next Monday I’ll be posting the extended version of our Q&A with the magnificent Maureen McHugh, and the following Saturday I’ll be liveblogging the Hugos (assuming I can get internet access from the convention center ballroom). I hope the coming weeks treat you kindly. See you on the flip side.

Catching Up

Cool things that have hit my inbox in the past week:

I have fought both my personal and my work inboxes down from hundreds to dozens of messages, so this should be the last linkdump for a while. Of course, people do keep posting interesting things…

Friday Links

I go to conventions, you get linkspam.

  • PW reviewer Adam Lipkin points to the trailer for Juan of the Dead, billed as “Cuba’s first horror movie”.
  • I went to high school with a lot of nifty nerdy people. One of them is science journalist Charles Q. Choi. He emailed me today to let me know that he’s starting a feature for Scientific American where he writes SF short-shorts and pairs them with science news related to the story. Here’s the launch piece. I love the idea and can’t wait to see where it goes.
  • On the World SF Blog, Aliette de Bodard (France), Joyce Chng (Singapore), Csilla Kleinheincz (Hungary), Kate Elliott (US), Karen Lord (Barbados), and Ekaterina Sedia (Russia/US) talk about (global) women in science fiction. Set aside some time to read the whole thing.
  • SFWA reports on Night Shade Books’s probation status.

If you want to know how I’m doing over the weekend, follow the #readercon hashtag on Twitter and picture me jumping up and down with joy every time someone says something nice about a panel. Regular operations resume on Monday.

Dogs and Smurfs and Witches

Tansy Rayner Roberts on portrayals of women in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books:

Once I had finished the 8 hours or so of listening to Wyrd Sisters, I moved straight on to Witches Abroad (1991), which has always been one of my favourites: this is the one which most effectively deals with the role of the witch in stories and fairytales, and is also pure Ogg-Weatherwax-Magrat hilarity from beginning to end.

But only when listening to Nigel Planer read it to me over the last few weeks did I realise something I had never entirely noticed before: this is a fantasy novel in which all the important characters are women. This is a fantasy novel by a bestselling male author in which all the important characters are women.

Max Barry on gender assumptions and the character of “the girl”:

Let me walk you through it. We’ll start with dogs. I have written about this before, but to save you the click: people assume dogs are male. Listen out for it: you will find it’s true. To short-cut the process, visit the zoo, because when I say “dogs,” I really mean, “all animals except maybe cats.” The air of a zoo teems with “he.” I have stood in front of baboons with teats like missile launchers and heard adults exclaim to their children, “Look at him!”

…Then you’ve got Smurf books. Not actual Smurfs. I mean stories where there are five major characters, and one is brave and one is smart and one is grumpy and one keeps rats for pets and one is a girl. Smurfs, right? Because there was Handy Smurf and Chef Smurf and Dopey Smurf and Painter Smurf and ninety-four other male Smurfs and Smurfette. Smurfette’s unique personality trait was femaleness. That was the thing she did better than anyone else. Be a girl.

Meanwhile, Back in SFland

While I was off enjoying the company of several thousand women (“and an increasing number of men,” as Sharon Sala graciously noted while accepting her lifetime achievement award) in Romanceland, the gender wars seem to have broken out in SFland again. Some links:

  • The TOC for Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ian Whates.
  • Kev McVeigh: “Oh yes, The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction by Boys volume one has Mary A Turzillo as token feminine contributor. One woman from eighteen listed authors.  Volume Two is obviously the feminist volume with a remarkable three women out of fourteen involved. Neal Asher gets two stories though, to restore the balance. It’s back to normal for Volume Three as fifteen stories allow room for just one woman.”
  • Ian Whates: “Yes, there clearly is an issue here, but don’t blame the awards for reflecting an imbalance that’s inherent in the pool of material they have to judge, nor the editors [...] the rot goes deeper and is far more fundamental than that. It really does lie at the grass roots. If we want to see more female SF authors coming through, the first thing we have to do is alter the way our genre is perceived by the wider public and make it more open, more accessible, to women. Good luck to all of us with that one.”
  • Jennifer Pelland: “This doesn’t surprise me. When I was invited to submit to the Solaris SF 3 anthology, it was because they’d noticed that they didn’t have enough women in it. Imagine my surprise upon opening my comp copies to discover that ‘not enough’ meant ‘none until they invited me.’”
  • Tricia Sullivan: “I’m hard-pressed to imagine another UK anthologist who could have done better than Ian Whates with this book.  Ian is proactive when it comes to women writers.  He goes out of his way.  (That’s one reason I made certain I got my story in, even though it was a real stretch for me with my current schedule.)  Now, in the current climate it may be judged (particularly by USian standards) that he is not proactive enough.  OK.  This then begs the question, how proactive is enough?  To what lengths should anthology editors be going? [...] I want to see change but I don’t want to work in a climate where individual people are at risk of being brought to ground, cornered and shamed for issues that arise out of a much more nebulous problem in society–and in this case, in the peculiarities of the SFF scene in Britain.  I don’t think editors in Britain are chauvanist pigs.  I’ve worked with several book editors in this country and have never had a whiff of old-school sexism from any of them.  Do we live in a sexist culture?  Yes, absolutely.  Fucking yes.”
  • DMS at GeekaChicas: “The 2011 [Hugo] ballot is out, but at the time of this writing, voting is still open. In a year where 43% of novels published were by women, 4 out of 5 nominees in the novel category are women. Before we break out the Champagne or lament the suppression of men, I should also point out that 3 of the last 5 Hugo Awards for Best Novel were awarded based on ballots without women. The 90′s only had one year with an all male ballot. This century, we’ve had 4. That means 40% of the Hugos awarded this century didn’t shortlist a woman for the novel category.”
  • Liz Williams: “A large percentage of the book editors in SF in this country are female. Their hands are tied by the accounts depts of publishers: I don’t think that it’s because they want to fail to commission other women – on the contrary. It’s a numbers game, of which many male authors are also falling foul (in SF – not, e.g., in urban fantasy where women do seem to be on strong ground). I think it is an issue with SF selling at all, no matter who writes it.”
  • Cheryl Morgan: “If you are running a small press (which is something I happen to do) you need to make a choice as to whether you are doing it for love, and hope that your projects break even, or you are doing it to make a living. In the latter case, if you believe that you are operating in a market where most male readers won’t buy science fiction by women — and, let’s face it, that’s what the big publishers in London are telling us — then you would be daft to publish much SF by women. You have to take a conscious decision to risk sales if you want to diversify your content. [...] various women writers have come forward and said that they were invited by Whates, but for various reasons were unable to deliver. If that is the case, a less inflammatory response would have been to suggest that perhaps women writers have more pressures on their time, thereby preventing them from submitting as often as men, rather than suggest that they are no good. (This is a very common feminist response to allegations of, ‘it’s all the wimmin’s fault for not trying!’)”
  • Charlie Stross: “I think there is a problem with unconscious cognitive bias on the part of some male anthology editors — not naming anyone here — so in future my response to an anthology request by a male editor with a bad recent track record (or no track record) will be ‘can you confirm that your list of invited contributors is at least 30% female and 10% minorities?’ I hope in most cases to get an ‘of course’ by return of email, but if it makes just one editor sit up and question their assumptions about who to invite, I’ll consider it a job well done.  I don’t insist that the final outcome should be quota-based, but if a male editor can’t be arsed inviting women and minorities to contribute then I can’t be arsed letting them use my name for publicity.”
  • Aliette de Bodard: “The Solaris Rising TOC (4 women authors out of 16-17 stories) doesn’t strike me as particularly horrifyingly sexist either–there’s just no way you can guarantee you’ll have 50-50% female representation in anthologies, both because of the sample (less women writing SF for a variety of complex reasons), and because of the way things shake out (as an anthologist, you can try invite 50-50% men-women, but you can’t even be sure the responses will be balanced).”

Plus lengthy comment discussions here and here.

I will certainly be keeping an eye on the discussion as it develops, and I’m glad to see people providing solid statistics and discussing market forces (and the perception of market forces–not always the same thing) as well as talking about ideology. I don’t think the ideological conversation is sufficient. We have to talk about real-world factors too.

For example, if Anthologist J solicits a story from Writer K, and K thinks the anthology sounds grand and interesting, what makes K more likely to actually be able to contribute? The obvious answer is: having a suitable unpublished story that could be submitted, or having time to write a story that’s appropriate to the anthology. Is that sort of availability and/or backlog more common among men than among women? Maybe. Women certainly tend to have less free time than men (because women do disproportionate shares of household work and child-rearing in addition to working). More free time over the course of years translates to more trunk stories, too, and maybe a broader range of them. And if an anthologist has to look further afield for women to invite, those women may be less likely to have a story handy that fits the anthology’s theme.

I’ve been putting together the program for Readercon, and I was entirely shocked when two women we invited told me they don’t feel smart enough to be on our panels. I’ve never heard anything like that from a man. [EDIT: A woman has emailed me to say she heard a man once say "Readercon is where I go to feel stupid"--though I wouldn't classify that the same way as withdrawing from the program.] I’m also pretty sure I received more “may I be on your program?” requests from men than from women (I’ll try to remember to keep statistics next year). It’s pretty well known that that sort of behavior is socially gendered. I would not be at all surprised if female authors are more likely to self-sabotage by saying “I’m not good enough to be in this anthology” or “I don’t have anything that works for this” or “I can’t write in that genre”, while men might be more likely to send in a story that’s a little off-topic, or send something unsolicited even if the anthology is supposedly closed to submissions.

I’m taking the Russ Pledge to talk about women’s writing, of course, but talking isn’t enough. I hope anthologists will pledge to solicit stories from as diverse a group as possible and to advertise open reading periods in places where people who aren’t “the usual crowd” will see the ad and submit stories. I also hope female writers will pledge to submit stories more often and more widely, and to find ways to say “yes” when they’re invited to contribute to an anthology. Remember the Slush Bomb? (Did anyone ever keep an eye on F&SF to see whether the number of published stories by women went up after that?) Let’s make every day Slush Bomb Day and see what happens.

High-Quality Fun

Marissa Lingen:

When you’re defending SF, you don’t have to use that one time that totally reputable writer wrote one book that’s sort of SF except totally not in conversation with the rest of the genre. You can say, “Here’s what’s lyrical in this book,” or, “Here’s what I found interesting,” or relaxing, or touching, or fun. Some of us have fun with dark stories. Some of us have fun with a particular genre type of love stories. Some of us have fun with books that are intensely focused on language or theme. Fun is okay. Do not concede the fun. It doesn’t have to be everybody’s fun, but it can be yours.

Heidi MacDonald, after I linked to N.K. Jemisin’s critique of how X-Men: First Class handles race:

Yeah. I hate to use the Green Lantern/Green Arrow metaphor but it was a fun fantasy film about the blue skins not civil rights

I juxtapose these comments (noting that both should be read in context: the complete blog post in the case of the former and the complete conversation in the case of the latter) because I think Heidi’s tweet makes clear a corollary to Marissa’s stipulation that fun and quality are not mutually exclusive: It is reasonable to want–indeed, to demand–entertainment that is both extremely fun and high-quality.

I don’t think fun should be a blanket excuse any more than it should be a blanket condemnation. As a connoisseuse of escapist genre literature, I want high-quality fun. I want smart fun. I want large-scale and small-scale fun. I want writers to write it and publishers to publish it. I want fun that isn’t predicated on members of a certain group of people doing stupid things, or being the first to die, or otherwise being the butt of the joke or casual collateral damage. I want fun that isn’t set in a place where everyone looks and acts the same, unless that’s meant to be completely unrealistic (as Farah Mendlesohn notes, “If you have to carry out a diversity audit you haven’t been paying attention to your world lately”) and maybe even then. I want fun where there’s someone I can identify with who isn’t a villain and gets a happy ending. It doesn’t have to be good clean fun, but I want good fun.

I want fun that doesn’t put me in the position of saying “but it’s fun!”.

Is that really so much to ask?

In Praise of Black Female Horror Writers

Last year, Hannah Neurotica declared February to be Women in Horror Recognition Month. She writes, “It is a month to celebrate all the women in the horror industry. Not just actresses but fx artists, writers, directors, female fans, etc.” Maura McHugh has been blogging about it from the writing and editing side; here’s her list of all the women who won Black Quill Awards and were shortlisted for Stokers this year. Women are doing tremendous work in this end of the field and I’m glad to see them getting some recognition.

February is also Black History Month in the U.S., so I’d like to give a special shout-out to black women who write and edit horror. There aren’t many! Off the top of my head, the only ones I know of are Linda D. Addison (the first African-American to win a Stoker Award), Tananarive Due (two-time Stoker nominee), Nalo Hopkinson (whose excellent anthology Mojo: Conjure Stories is often overlooked), and the late Octavia Butler. Nnedi Okorafor writes some fairly grim fantasy but I’m not sure whether she’d call it horror; likewise N.K. Jemisin. L.A. Banks’s urban fantasy might occasionally cross the line into horror, depending on how you define the two. I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of these authors to the discriminating horror fan.

Who’s missing from that list? I’m sure I’ve left out some short story writers, since I don’t read much short fiction these days (to my sorrow). Please share your recommendations in the comments.