On Influence

shapeWhich writers are important to you? Those of you who write, which authors most influenced you?

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.

sword-and-sorceress-i-207x350Bradley’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.

24249I 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.


32 replies on “On Influence”

  1. OMG, when I was nine years old, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger/Dragonsong/Dragondrums. From then on, Terri Windling, Jane Yolen, Pamela Dean, Midori Snyder, Ellen Datlow, Susanna Clarke. Nancy Kress and Connie Willis. Ellen Kushner. Andre Norton! Diana Wynne Jones and Rosemary Sutcliffe and Mary Stewart.

    Honestly, it’s not even like I was looking. I was just 15 and buying what I found. How can anyone miss them?

  2. Yes, exactly Charlotte. To that list I’d add Patricia C. Wrede, Sherri S. Tepper, Emma Bull, Storm Constantine, Tanith Lee & Jo Clayton. Just to name a few…

  3. Thoraiya says:

    Ursula LeGuin with her Earthsea books, Pat O’Shea with “Hounds of the Morrigan” and Patricia Wrightson with “The Nargun and the Stars.” Andre Norton also had a genius series of time-traveller with a guy called Blake Walker.

    Because Mum always called Andre Norton “she,” I thought Andre was a woman’s name right up until the first time I saw Phantom of the Opera and Andre was played by a man.

    My favourite male fantasy writers in primary school were Roald Dahl, Michael Ende and Rudyard Kipling.

    I think we’re already agreed about the awesomeness of Gillian Rubenstein and the Wurts/Feist supercombo!

    Mum tried to put me onto Julian May and Mercedes Lackey but she always did like romance way more than I did…she gave me Anne McCaffrey and I think my horse-loving self recognised what the dragons were based on. So it was easy to go from “My Friend Flicka” to Pern 🙂

  4. tansyrr says:

    Thoraiya, more and more I feel I missed something by not reading the Pern books. Someday will do something about that … but I wasn’t a horse reader either! Maybe that’s why I missed them.

  5. Scott says:

    Hey Tansy, remember me? You bought two of my stories ages ago for ASIM. Well, I grew up on McCaffrey, and there’s no male author who has influenced my present work more than Lois McMaster Bujold (with the possible exceptions of C.S. Lewis and Terry Pratchett), so yeah. Go women writers.

  6. Marina says:

    I still remember the thrill of joy I felt the day I discovered Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger in the school library. I’d adored The Lord of the Rings with the passion of a thousand suns, but I couldn’t find anything else remotely like it (don’t know where I was looking, must have been stuck on Georgette Heyer and LM Montgomery!).

    There was more fantasy in the world! And it had dragons! and girls!!!

    I’ve been reading fantasy ever since.

  7. Jen says:

    I grew up reading most of the above, but I have a special place in my heart for Jane Gaskell and her Atlan series. Sure her hero Cija lacked agency, but I was so struck by Gaskell placing a fairly ordinary young woman at the centre of her series. Something about that helped me understand that a woman’s concerns, point of view, and life mattered, that they were worth noticing and writing about. The copies I have on my shelves are falling to bits. Literally.

    And oh, Alice Sheldon! Those powerful, honest stories about women’s lives…

  8. Zack says:

    Kate Elliott’s Jaran for the strong female lead.
    Ursula K LeGuin for the poetic and sparse writing in the Earthsea books.
    Mercedes Lackey, for the free bards and Valdemar books among others in various ways.

    I suppose they really made everyone seem like people and not placeholders or clichés. The women were characters in their own right.

  9. Emma says:

    Tamora Pierce defined my soul from age nine to now. Megan Whalen Turner transformed my understanding of people, lies, and relationships. Patricia C. Wrede let me imagine myself a princess, a witch, a cat, and a dragon, and taught me to be polite, wry, and unyielding. Tanya Huff made me laugh until my sides ached, then forced the covers up over my head at night. Cathrynne Valente fed me a new kind of language. Ursula K. LeGuin showed me how magic meant only so much as the person it described.

    I can’t get enough of these authors. I know they’ve wormed their ways into my brain. I love what they’ve done to the place!

  10. --E says:

    Katherine Kurtz. Granted, yes, she was writing about dudes, but she was a NYT bestseller book after book. My friend Christine and I would haunt the bookstore wanting to know when the next one was coming out. I got my subscription to F&SF mainly so I could see the publisher’s ads and know when the next Deryni novel was announced. In college, I would buy each new hardcover, read it, and ship it to Chris, who would read it and ship it back. We would write letters back and forth about them (this was the 80s, when you paid per minute for your phone line, which encouraged written correspondence for big conversations).

    It is impossible to overstate Kurtz’s influence on me. I started writing specifically because of her books. Alaric Morgan was my first literary crush.

    Anne McCaffrey is in there too, though more as books I enjoyed immensely than books that made me want to write. And Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books, however derivative of AMcC they felt to me, were read and re-read until they started to fall apart.

  11. Kaia says:

    I came to SFF super late, as you know, but thinking back on it Ronja Rövardotter, Mio min Mio and Bröderna Lejonhjärta (Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, Mio My Son and The Lioheart Brothers) by Astrid Lindgren were three of the books that defined my childhood. One has a whole slew of mythical creatures in a medieval-ish setting, one has an antagonist who tears people’s hearts out and replaces them with a rock (which hurts and makes you mean but doesn’t kill you), and one that has dragons and other fun stuff. So I think they qualify, though I didn’t think so at the time.

    Some of the first books I read once I came to SFF properly was Tender Morsels and Deerskin (why start easy?), Tamora Pierce’s Kel books and uhhh I’m not sure what else. It’s kind of a blur since I tried to read ALL THE THINGS at once. Which yes, are all lady authors! How about that.

  12. Kirstie says:

    As a teen, when writing became a passion, I was reading Tamora Pierce, Isobelle Carmody, and Kate Forsyth. Even now, in my thirties I still devour anything these lovely ladies produce.

  13. Elizabeth Carroll says:

    Susan Cooper for her strangeness among the everyday, wild and chilly magic and warm hearted, decent people. I spent about 12 months living inside her books when I was about 9 or 10. I couldn’t stop. I wish I could write about people who belong like she does.
    Patricia Wrightson for writing about Australia’s first people when very few people did, and making them absolute heroes whom I’d admire forever. And who made Australia’s spirits as real, terrifying and wonderful as any Alan Lee picture – maybe more.
    Anne McCaffrey for flight, escapism, music, for brave girls daring to live alone, and for the constant company of dragons and fire lizards. For girls and women excelling at what they did.
    Later in my twenties it was Ursula Le Guin and Sherri S Tepper – I think both changed the ways I look at the world forever.
    In my thirties, Susannah Clarke. If I wrote a book as extraordinary as ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’ or stories as marvellous, chilly and bitter-sweet as ‘Ladies of Grace Adieu’ then I’d be a proud and satisfied woman.

  14. Elizabeth Carroll says:

    Actually yes, a quick addition – if you want influence? After I’d read ‘The Song of Wirrun’ when I was about 11, when I met a young Aboriginal man I saw Wirrun, the wind-rider and Hero. Even as an adult when I see Aboriginal men, a small part of me still thinks of Wirrun. Patricia Wrightson gave me that and I’m forever grateful.

  15. Sooooooo many! Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip, Emma Bull, Elizabeth Peters, Georgette Heyer, Clare Darcy, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë…that would be the (very) short-list! 🙂

  16. Nathan says:

    A year ago I grabbed a bookmark from our local library that was one of the ‘beginner guides’ that Meadows is talking about. 22 of 25 were by male authors. And it shows in my early reading. Anne McCaffrey, Diane Wynne Jones. That is my entire list of fantasy read in high school written by women.

    I see some of the names in the comments before mine that I have read in the last few years, and cringe at the ones I may not have a chance to because they have fallen out of print.

  17. BethSmash says:

    Tamora Pierce was so influential for me. She was my springboard into other fantasy authors – before I mostly read historical fiction (Catherine called Birdy anyone?) The very first book I couldn’t stop reading and stayed up all night even though I had school the next day was Kate Elliot’s King’s Dragon. SO GOOD.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master, Robin McKinley’s Hero and the Crown, Cherryh’s Morgaine and Chanur, Louise Cooper’s Time Master and later on, Indigo, and everything by Rosemary Sutcliff, who wrote historical fiction, not sf — these were the women writers and their works that influenced my writing, reading, and thinking.

    Diana Wynne Jones would have influenced me if she’d had a chance, but I only got to read blurbs for her in the backs of other books when I was young; our library had none.

  19. Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master, Robin McKinley’s Hero and the Crown, Cherryh’s Morgaine and Chanur, Louise Cooper’s Time Master and later on, Indigo, and everything by Rosemary Sutcliff, who wrote historical fiction, not sf — these were the women writers and their works that influenced my writing, reading, and thinking.

    Diana Wynne Jones would have influenced me if she’d had a chance, but I only got to read blurbs for her in the backs of other books when I was young; our library had none.

  20. Apologies for the double posting! didn’t realize it had gone through the first time.

  21. Oh, and Mary Stewart’s Merlin, of course.

  22. […] For good reasons Tansy Rayner Roberts won the hugo for her fan writing last year. Today she is a great post on the influence of female authors on her as an author. That of course added to my to read list on GoodReads (evil). Go read her post “On Influence” […]

  23. The more of these I read, the more names I say, “Oh yeah! Of course—she was a favorite of mine, too!” Anne McCaffrey was probably among the first I discovered, in about fifth grade, with Susan Cooper not far behind. By the time I was 14, Robin McKinley had become my all-time favorite with her The Blue Sword—the impetus for the only fan letter I’ve ever written. (In fact, just this past week I was re-reading Sunshine, another of her brilliant works.) More recently (post-college, I think) I discovered Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks.

    The more I think on it, the more I realize that women writers have heavily influenced me as a reader, and probably subconsciously as a writer. Several other names mentioned above are ones I know to one degree or another, and now I need to look up several more.

    Thanks for this post and all the replies. It gives me a glimmer of hope for my own eventual prospects.

  24. So many! Ursula Le Guin, EE Nesbitt, Diana Wynne Jones, James Tiptree Jr (aka Alice Sheldon/Racoona Sheldon), Zenna Henderson (Oh! The People! amajor influence on my storytelling approach), Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, the whole Virago Science Fiction imprint, Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, Anne McCaffrey, Zimmer Bradley (I was never a big fan of her fantasy, but I liked her science fiction), Mary Stewart, and, of course, the big one: Mary Shelley. I discovered Robin McKinley later, also CJ Cherryh (esp. Downbelow Station), and so many others, some of whom I am now proud to call my friends!

  25. Zack says:

    Oh wow. I forgot Susan Cooper. Her dark is rising series may be one of the most influential to me. I had to have read those books so many times. They way they portray magic as almost a living thing in itself that people travel through. And they may have started my love of language with frustration on how to pronounce Welsh.

  26. Late to the party, but I’d love to throw a few in here – Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series, Enid Blyton (both for her adventure books and for the kid’s encyclopedia I read the covers off of), and Gillian Rubinstein were all early influences. Also loved the Indian in the Cupboard series by Lynne Reid Banks.

  27. Sylvia says:

    So glad to read this list! Eh, make that ‘these lists’, now that I read the comments.
    I keep saying, ooh, yeah, that was a great author. And her, and her, and her, and wait, did I ever hear of her? *makes a note* and her, and her

    Happy making moment, here.

  28. […] mostly Tansy Rayner Roberts’ fault. She’s got a lovely post talking about all these authors who’ve influenced her work and I was reading it frowning and […]

  29. […] stories once I get my hands on that. Thanks to Tansy Rayner Roberts for mentioning it in her post On Influence earlier in the […]

  30. Many of my influences have been female, although not all wrote spec-fic. When young, I was equally influenced by writers in the Romance and Historical genres.

    Let’s start by going right back to Enid Blyton – then Mary Stewart, Daphne de Maurier, Elizabeth Goudge, Anya Seton, Olga Stringfellow and Ursula LeGuin. Of course, I read the top men as well – Asimov and Zelazny especially. More recently I’ve been influenced by Aussie and NZ women: Juliet Marillier, Glenda Larke, Jennifer Fallon, Fiona McIntosh, Marianne de Pierres and Karen Miller in particular, but also Americans such as Robin Hobb, Vonda MacIntyre and Lynn Flewelling.

    I must admit, however, to being a huge Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire fan, so go GRRM! And I’m especially fond of Shakespeare!

  31. […] in Chainmail in the mail today, I ordered it after reading Tansy Rayner Roberts great post On Influence. I wanted to read some of the older works in the genre (this is 20 years old by now) so I decided […]

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