by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
A few years ago. author and blogger, Foz Meadows , wrote on the HuffPost blog:
Science fiction is a sandbox, and for most of its history, men have been hogging it.
(Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash)
It’s an interesting quote – full of layers that become more interesting as you peel them back and really look at them. Importantly, it a) calls to mind the great female science fiction authors of the old guard (Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Mary Shelley, CJ Cherryh) and the new (Emily St John Mandel, Becky Chambers, Nnedi Okorafor, Kameron Hurley, Ann Leckie, Anne Charnock), b) challenges emerging female science fiction authors to continue the legacy being forged by these pioneers, and c) asks questions about what it means to be a woman in the science fiction sandpit.
These are questions I’m interested in exploring! As an emerging female science fiction author myself, I’ve been lucky enough to build a growing network of talented, passionate, and engaging female scifi authors and this week I want to introduce you to two of them: Anela Deen and Kate Rauner. Both Anela and Kate are successful scifi authors who have some interesting reflections and insights on what it means to be a woman of scifi.
I hope you enjoy their stories!
Writing Beneath a Glass Ceiling
by Anela Deen
Every author will tell you critique groups are essential to the writing process. We need other writers to go over those passionate scribbles and point out the spots that need work. I tend to use online groups because you get a variety of readers and people seem to lean more towards honesty if they aren’t sitting face-to-face with each other. I’ve found them to be full of well-meaning writers looking to support, encourage, and improve each other’s art…that is until I asked for feedback on a Sci-Fi story I wrote.
No Girls Allowed
Let me back up a bit here before I tell you what happened. Last year the Twittersphere lit up with the hashtag #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear. Women tweeted about the gender assumptions they face when it comes to their writing. What stood out to me, having experienced it myself, is the condescension and oftentimes outright belligerence doled out to women who dare to publish in genres viewed as “belonging to men”. Like Science-Fiction.
This is not a new issue, of course. It dates all the way back to when Mary Shelley published Frankenstein anonymously in 1818. Although it gained great popularity even then, when critics discovered it was written by a woman they pumped out scathing reviews and dismissed the work entirely (Thankfully those toads were unsuccessful in shunning it from literary history). But this isn’t to say that women don’t continue to suffer under the same misogynistic yoke today. It just gets slapped with a new kind of label to disqualify it from the genre.
Hard vs. Soft Science-Fiction
“Hard” Sci-Fi is a classification ascribed to books that are based more on physics and technology as we understand it. Think, Andy Weir’s The Martian. “Soft” Sci-Fi refers to books set in the future but which revolve around more social or psychological aspects rather than the technological. Some examples are The Hunger Games or Divergent. You might be thinking, “Okay, so this makes sense. What’s the problem with that?”
Well, here’s the sticking point:
There’s a patriarchal overlay on the whole issue since this “soft” classification is mainly pushed on books written by women. Think of the word “soft” itself. It denotes “weak” or “feminized” in this context whereas “hard” denotes “virile” or “masculine” (That’s a lot of quotations marks, but stay with me.) And exactly why are we using “soft” here at all for books about futuristic societies? I mean, have you read The Handmaid’s Tale? There’s nothing soft about it! The purpose, as so often is the case with labels, is to devalue novels written by women in this genre. It’s saying, “Here are the real Sci-Fi books, and here are the fake ones.”
A Hierarchy of Merit
This becomes especially clear when you take into account literary awards for Science-Fiction. Books written by women have been disqualified based on this distinction. In 2013 judges of the Arthur C. Clarke award threw out many books written by women because they were viewed as “Fantasy”, as in, “not requiring the realism of science”—exactly the type of Sci-Fi dominated by women writers.
In another example, the Sad Puppies group that haunted the Hugo Awards in 2015, angered because they felt the Hugos were being used as an “affirmative action” award, published this statement to explain their actions:
“…only those works embodying the highest principles of Robert A. Heinlein shall be permitted. Girls who read Twilight and books like it shall be expelled from the genre.”
I could put in more quotes from them but really, their entire manifesto is hair-raising.
Back to what happened at the critique group…
So, I’d submitted my Sci-Fi story to my group. It features a main character in her early thirties of South Asian descent, a wily and dry humored woman who doesn’t sit passively by when there’s trouble. The women of the group loved her, but the guys (not all of them, of course) didn’t. They hammered on about cutting any part where the MC had an introspective thought—the parts the women critiquers called out as their favorite. They jabbed fingers saying the story should focus on the science and mechanics of the situation, the technological aspects rather than the relationships between the characters. What took me aback was how angry they seemed about it and I suddenly had the impression that they felt I was trespassing in a territory where I didn’t belong. In fact, they kept saying the story was more Fantasy than Science-Fiction, popping a red flag that harkened back to those exclusionary categories occupying the genre.
“It’s a good story and well-written,” one said. “But you’re just making it up.”
Well…yeah, what with this being fiction and all.
The crux of the matter is women and men experience life differently. Their narratives may reach for different themes within the same genre and depict issues from their own unique perspective to examine our society, our world, and our universe. The question is why are the fantasies of men viewed as legitimately belonging to the Science Fiction genre but those of women are not? When women’s writing is dismissed and disqualified, when their voices are marginalized in this venue or any other, we all lose.
Virginia Woolf once wrote, “Literature is impoverished beyond our counting by the doors that have been shut upon women.”
It’s up to all of us, readers and writers alike, to insist on change. Silence is the instrument of oppression; speech, its mortal enemy. Make yourself heard.
About the Author
A child of two cultures, this hapa haole Hawaiian girl is currently landlocked in the Midwest. After exploring the world for a chunk of years, she hunkered down in Minnesota and now fills her days with family, fiction, and the occasional snowstorm. With a house full of lovable toddlers, a three-legged cat, and one handsome Dutchman, she prowls the keyboard late at night while the minions sleep. Coffee? Nah, she prefers tea with a generous spoonful of sarcasm.
The complete omnibus of her Sci-Fi series Insurrection is on sale for 99¢ July 26th – August 3rd
For twenty years Inquisitor Gemson Agaton used torture and interrogation to root out subversives undermining the Establishment. He earned his cold, hard reputation, setting morality aside in the name of a strong state. Now he’s on the subject’s side of the interrogation table, duty to the regime he believes in pitted against loyalty to the one person he always protected.
Gemson isn’t the only target on the Establishment’s radar. An insurgency challenges its authority. Every attempt to capture the Albatross, the rebels’ enigmatic leader, has failed. To the oppressed, he epitomizes freedom from tyranny. But behind the symbol is a man haunted by his past. Not even his closest allies know his true identity, and he’s careful to keep it that way.
As the Albatross rallies Earth’s citizens to resist the regime’s dictatorial rule, many are listening, including one of the Establishment’s most talented operatives. To find and betray him is her directive. To fall in love with him is treason.
In this universe, there are no easy answers and secrets cloud the truth. When a new threat emerges, these unlikely few must overcome their discordant history and forge alliances among enemies. The survival of mankind depends on it.
At over 100k words, the Insurrection omnibus brings all five books from the novella series together. An action-packed space adventure, it’s a tale of redemption and sacrifice in the
Glory on Mars
by Kate Rauner
We all have the same sorts of taste buds, even if we like different foods. That sort of objective reality is important to me. By personality, I’m an engineer.
I’m an engineer by career as well. I’m too young to have been a pioneering woman in the field. By the time I got to college, about ten percent of my class were women. But I’m old enough to have been the first or only woman in a lot of work situations. Not as much lately, but I was part of the “Dress for Success” era. Slacks and oxford shirts in the office, boots and jeans in the field.
A secretary (as she was called back then) took notes in meetings with a note pad balanced on her knee. Not me! A portfolio notebook, open on the table. Coffee cup to the right, pager to the left. I occupied my space! Problems to be solved attracted me, and my focus on the job made me one of the guys, even as I avoided becoming one of the boys.
Just as I looked around those male-dominated meetings and see myself in the work, I read science fiction and found myself in the heroes more than in the princesses. It was just a mistake that the hero was a man, easily corrected with imagination.
When I wanted to colonize Mars, it was easy to send a woman roboticist as the main character. Glory on Mars follows Emma Winters, one of the first twelve settlers. She’s braver than I am, because a one-way journey to Mars is scary, especially when you’re sent by a private outfit with a limited budget. The Red Planet is a deadly place – but human failings are the greatest danger, and, just like you and me on Earth, they carry those with them.
These colonists are real people, men and women, with various skills and goals, so readers of all genders can relate. If you’ve ever wanted to go to Mars, go today with these settlers.
Download a long, thirteen chapter, preview here. Follow the links at the end to get the rest of the book for free. And follow the colony into its uncertain future with the entire, five book series. One settler in each story struggles to survive and build a life in a hostile world. Men and women because, yeah, I’m in touch with my inner male too.
Visit my blog for short posts on science news, scifi, and a little science-inspired poetry too. Because reality is important, whatever you’re doing.