And before you answer that question, stop and think about the gender thing.
Juliet McKenna has written a brilliant piece about one of the key reasons that female SF authors often struggle to build their careers: how easily their works disappear because they’re not being pre-ordered, promoted or pushed nearly as much as those of their male counterparts.
The meme that the female author in SFF is somehow a rare, precious, unlikely object, persists to this day. But you know what? There were women writing SFF in the 70’s, and not just a token handful. There were women writing in the 80’s and the 90’s and the 00’s and oh look they’re writing RIGHT NOW.
And yet when booksellers (and it’s not just booksellers) put out lists or displays of what to read after George RR Martin, how often are those lists all male?
Of the books I read in my teens, it’s extremely noticeable to me that many of the titles by male authors are still in print, still turning up in bookshops around the world (hello Stockholm!) and yet the titles by female authors… well, let’s just say it’s a good thing I hung on to those yellowing paperbacks, isn’t it?
On Twitter today, there were some responses to Juliet’s article.
Foz Meadows (@fozmeadows) said: What bugs me is that these are meant as *beginner’s* guides – like there’s nowhere else to start but with dudes.
Kameron Hurley (@KameronHurley) said: beginner’s guide! If I was young woman interested in SF& presented that I’d feel so welcome!
and: it’s endless.Why don’t more women write/read SF?Shocker is we still do even tho we’re erased
I (@tansyrr) said: Frustating how many female authors I read in the 90’s you don’t see on shelves now.
Kate Elliott (@KateElliottSFF) said: For me most frustrating those women never spoken of as influential/important.
This is something that’s been burning a hole in my brain for a while now. It’s so rare to hear about the female writers who have influenced those working today. I know that I read a bunch of stuff that changed the way I thought about the genre, and a lot of it was by male writers, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.
Because while the male writers of ‘yore’ often get critiqued by today’s standards, somehow they don’t get swept under the carpet quite as efficiently as the female writers, whose flaws and failings are often held up as the reason WHY they’re no longer read today. The male authors get forgiven for their quirks and ‘of their time’ silliness and behind the scenes scandals, while the female authors do not.
So today I want to talk about a bunch of female writers (and editors) who were early influences on me and my writing.
While David (and as it turns out, Leigh) Eddings introduced me to epic fantasy as a genre, it was Jennifer Roberson’s Cheysuli series that shaped in my head what a fantasy series should look like. Her books were the ones most alive in my head when I sat down at age thirteen to outline my first fantasy series.
Mine wasn’t a *good* fantasy series, nor did I finish even the first volume of it. That’s not the point.
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s the Mists of Avalon exploded my brain in its revision of a wellknown default history with women as the protagonists. Rereading it for the first time last year, I was shocked how familiar it was to me, as if I had reread it every year since I first discovered it in the early 90’s, when I’m pretty sure I never did.
Bradley’s The Firebrand cemented a way of looking at history and at fantasy structures from a gender point of view that I never entirely lost – and unlike Mists of Avalon, I really *did* re-read this one over and over, year after year, for at least a decade. Her Troy and her Amazons will always be in my head.
Speaking of Bradley, the Sword and Sorceress anthologies likewise taught me that the tropes of epic fantasy didn’t have to be as male-centred as they were in so many other books and anthologies, and that there are plenty of female stories to be told. Also, they introduced me to dozens of writers I went on to read and love elsewhere.
Elizabeth Scarborough’s Song of Sorcery taught me about the importance and value of lovely small-scale fantasy stories. It doesn’t always have to be about saving the world.
Anne McCaffrey’s The Rowan is still one of the science fiction novels I think of first when it comes to space opera within Earth’s solar system, and the practicality of inter-planetary transportation.
Mercedes Lackey’s Diana Tregarde series introduced me to the tropes of what would become today’s urban fantasy genre, long before I found Laurell K Hamilton.
I fell in love with comic fantasy in my teens, and that interest led to my first published novel. While Terry Pratchett’s Discworld was a big part of this, it was the books by authors like Esther Friesner and Carolyn Cushman that made me think there was room in this subgenre for girls like me. (Witch and Wombat especially! It was the first time I ever read the ‘fantasy gamers/fans travel through a genuine fantasy world’ trope.)
Gillian Rubenstein wrote the closest thing to cyberpunk I read before university with her children’s novels set in computer games starting with Space Demons.
Tamora Pierce gave me women’s issues and sword fighting and a heroine who worked against her standard medieval-ish society and made it BETTER. It still bemuses me that contraceptive jewellery is not as standard a trope in fantasy fiction that I assumed it would be.
Robin McKinley made the fairy tales real.
The first piece of feminist science fiction I read that lodged itself inside my head was Lucy Sussex’ short story “My Lady Tongue.”
The academic/non fiction works Women of Other Worlds (edited by Helen Merrick and Tess Williams) taught me about Tiptree and Joanna Russ and so much of what I’d missed in my reading thus far. I was in my very early 20’s and SO READY FOR THIS.
Discovering the Pamela Sargent Women of Wonder reprint anthologies in an English language bookshop in Rome when I was 24 has forever skewed the way I look at the history of science fiction and I’m NOT SORRY.
I could keep going, but I’m trying to train myself to write shorter blog posts.
WHO ARE YOURS?