Tag Archives: women in SF

Galactic Chat Update

Our lovely producer has just put up the fourth interview in the Galactic Chat series – we have one more pre-recorded from Swancon to go, and then we’ll have to start burning up those Skypewaves again! I’ve been vaguely teeing up some future interviews for later this year.

So far we have:

Marianne De Pierres
Tansy Rayner Roberts
Glenda Larke
and now…
Kirstyn McDermott!

Like my interview with Glenda, Alisa recorded this one with Kirstyn at Swancon, but luckily Kirstyn went and won an Aurealis Award this weekend so the interview is extra topical. Hooray!

Looking at Lists of Bests (again)

Last week, Tehani (@editormum) and Kirstyn (@fearofemeralds) started tweeting about the gender balance of the recent Guardian article, “The stars of modern SF pick the best science fiction“. We discussed it with some other people at the time, but I wanted to note down some of my thoughts & responses to the article, as well as the discussion.

Thought the First: I totally love that people spot this stuff now and call it to Galactic Suburbia’s attention rather than the other way around. In many cases, they parse it so we don’t have to.

Thought the Second: I totally ran my eye down the page and thought: Okay, not many women are having their work nominated here, but it does look at least like they asked lots of women their opinions. My informal survey made me think the genders of authors asked to contribute was roughly even.

Just as the conversation started getting interesting, I thought I’d better check the numbers, and before I had even got halfway down the page, Kirstyn got in ahead of me:

Best SF? Authors asked:16M/8F; Authors rec’d: 20M/4F. Only 1 M author rec’s book by F (and yes, it was Le Guin’s LHD): http://bit.ly/k5fH73

So that’s some more interesting things. Half as many women as men were included in the article as providing recommendations – and that was enough for me, an active and switched-on feminist hobbyist-Table of Contents-critical-appraiser (no, it doesn’t all fit on a business card) to think it was roughly even. When I saw what the real numbers were, I wanted to throw a cup of tea over myself.

Kirstyn presented the information that there were 16 men and 8 women surveyed, and yet 20 male authors were recommended, and only 4 women. She noted that only one male author recommended a book by a woman, and that it was Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness.

The Twitter conversation got a bit muddled at that point and I want to reiterate that none of us rolling our eyes meant anything derogatory at all to Ursula Le Guin, to that book (which is an acknowledged Great Work of the science fiction field) or to Kim Stanley Robinson, who chose it as his pick. It was an awesome choice, and he deserves kudos for remembering that women write science fiction too.

The reason there was eye-rolling is a carryover from many discussions we’ve (i.e. Galactic Suburbia and Friends) had about similar lists over the last year (The SF Signal MindMeld has been a common source for these) and more, which has brought up the anecdotal evidence that, when asked to recommend Great or Important or Best SF books, men are far more likely to produce lists of all male works, while women’s lists tend to be more gender balanced. In a large majority of cases where men do recommend a work by a woman, it seems to be Ursula Le Guin and particularly The Left Hand of Darkness.

I’m not saying, I repeat, that this is always the case. But it’s a common pattern, and one that interests me greatly. Why that book, in particular? Apart from it being awesome, which is a perfectly valid reason, why is that the science fiction book by a woman which seems to most often get remembered and recommended by men? More to the point, why are so many others consistently forgotten, unless the actual theme of the question specifies that we’re talking about women’s work?

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Smart Women Saying Smart Things

I have been gathering a pile of interesting links for blog posts all week, many of them linking to each other and building upon each other in a fascinating conversation about writing, reviewing and gender.

Reviewing and Writing as Women’s Work

Nicola Griffiths on how the gendered gaze affects our perceptions of how “hard” or “soft” science fiction actually is (and how sexual it is).

Madeleine Robins on the insidious, internalised cultural pressures of “nice girls don’t brag or draw attention to themselves” and how that works against promoting your own books as an author.

Sherwood Smith on the gender imbalance in SF reviewing and how Important Books tend to be those on Manly Subjects of Manliness and yet books about/by women mysteriously turn out to be Not Important, and isn’t that an odd coincidence? Also, how important it is to realise that if your literary tastes differ from the accepted standards of what is Good, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with you. In closing, in response to Madeleine Robins’ post, she also points out that the mythical women who don’t push themselves forward enough (and are therefore responsible for people not realising women can write good books) tend to be highly criticised by society when they actually do push themselves forward. Yes, still.

Owlectomy on how a gendered perspective of a novel’s subject can absolutely mess with your instincts about whether it is worthy of an award, and it can screw with you even if you are a woman and a feminist. Her description of the Joanna Russ Fairy is epic and must become a staple of critical language:

And the Joanna Russ fairy said, “If you think that family and love and grief are not inherently important topics, you might as well put some zombies in your Pride and Prejudice and be done with it.”

Juliet McKenna on how insidious Default/Lazy Sexism can be, and how easily people slip into the idea that fantasy is a genre for and about men.

Timmi Duchamp at Aqueduct on reviewing as a woman, reviewing marginal and mainstream work, and why we need more diverse critical voices.

Miscellaneous but Still Awesome

A powerful essay by Farah Mendlesohn about the work of Diana Wynne Jones, her literary influence, and why she was so terribly important as a writer. (not all that unrelated to the previous section, now I come to think of it)

Nisi Shawl on Race, Still – essential reading for anyone in the genre. And yep, this one’s not all that unrelated either.

Diana Peterfreund announces that Errant, the medieval-awesome-women-with-unicorns novelette that was one of my favourite pieces of short fiction last year, is available as an e-book. If you didn’t get hold of the antho it was originally in (Kiss Me Deadly) then I can recommend this one very highly.

Image found thanks to Ragnell – I have seen this fantastic cosplay group around the web all over the place but this is the first time I saw so many of them in one image. It may well be the awesomest thing I have seen in many months.

Galactic Suburbia 29

Episode 29 is up and it’s a doozy! Grab it from iTunes, by direct download or stream it on the site.

Then, if you can, come join us at Swancon on Easter Sunday for the live recording of EPISODE FREAKING THIRTY!



In which we rant about feminist issues and gender disparity (are you shocked?), Alisa proclaims the death of bookstores and publishing, we look at branding and internet dramah, plus a million zillion award shortlists, TANSY BEING A TIPTREE JUDGE, a Swancon preview, and… um. It’s a bit long. But full of crunchy Galactic Suburbian goodness.


Diana Wynne Jones passed away, many people said good things about her on the internet

Shaun Tan wins the Astrid Lindgren Award
Guardian coverage; Shaun’s personal take on the award

Carol Emshwiller’s 90th birthday celebrations

25 A&R franchises in Australia go indie
(apologies original link vanished)

Strange Horizons – dealing with the low numbers of female reviewers
Original post, counting up numbers of female reviewers and women’s books reviewed in SF markets

The Age on the poor numbers of women’s work being reviewed (in the literary “mainstream”)
and coverage of a panel on the gender disparity, again in literary mainstream

Prometheus Awards nominees, from the Libertarian Futurist Society:

Running Press, Tricia Telep and Jessica Verday


Aurealis Awards: www.aurealisawards.com/finalists2010.pdf
Ditmars: http://2011.swancon.com.au/2011/03/natcon-fifty-ditmar-awards/
Tin Ducks: http://2011.swancon.com.au/tin-duck-awards/
Chronos Awards: http://arcadiagt5.livejournal.com/362522.html

Livejournal not so live this week – AK has existential crisis about blogging & identity.

Aishwarya, Kaia, Adam

Competition winners!

Swancon Preview
Our live panel is 9:30 am on the Easter Sunday, bring coffee!

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Me and The SF Mistressworks Meme

Apparently 2011 is the Year of Women in SF. Is that not a brilliant thing? Having stirred up much discussion on the subject of SF Mistressworks (a phrase so lovely that I want to type it over and over) Ian Sales launched a reading meme of 91 titles.

I have read 8.

Wow, that’s actually really depressing. I consider myself pretty well read when it comes to the SF/Fantasy genre and women, and yet, and yet… I actually almost deleted the whole meme because what’s the point, right?

But there is a point. A really good one. I don’t have to read every book on this list – I don’t even want to! But there are several on here I have been meaning to read, in some cases for years now. As someone who is actively interested in educating herself about the history of women writers in the field, there are no excuses!

It’s certainly a very pointed sign that I have no right to be remotely smug about how well read I am in the field! I’m going to have to pull my socks up.

I take some comfort in the fact that I have read works by at least 35 writers on this list of Mistressworks, even if not the books specifically picked out for the meme. But I can do better with that, too.

Onwards and upwards!

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The Gene Thieves and the Norma

Torque Control has wound up its fascinating week of women & SF commentary – too soon!  I’m still going!  The final list of the poll is here, but if you’re not a regular reader of Torque Control, I recommend you head over there and catch up on some of this week’s posts.  I particularly like that Niall didn’t just go with the first interpretation of data from the poll, but has interpreted it several different ways and discussed many works that didn’t make the list as well as those that did.

Elsewhere on the internet, Strange Horizons joins in with an all-female-author reviews week, Elizabeth Hand is interviewed at Chasing Ray, and Random Alex reviewed Bold as Love.

Meanwhile, the project I gave myself for the week was getting around to reading The Gene Thieves by Maria Quinn, the book which won the inaugural Norma.  I don’t want it to end up all like the Tiptree, with this huge list of works I haven’t got around to reading yet!

This isn’t a review, not really, because I’ve used up all my review brain this week writing up my response to Feed by Mira Grant, which I will post later this weekend. I’m also a little uncomfortable with the fact that I have some deep criticisms of the book, and it feels a bit icky to express those criticisms about a book whose author has died so recently. If it wasn’t for the fact that I want to become invested in the Norma over the next many years, and take part in discussions about all its winners, I probably wouldn’t write this at all – but for the sake of posterity, I’m going to charge ahead with my collection of thoughts about the book, and particularly how I think the book connects to the stated criteria for winning the Norma:

The Norma K. Hemming Award marks excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability:

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The Women of The Five Doctors

Something I’ve been thinking about through my Xena rewatch is the way that long-running TV shows occasionally use key episodes to define and redefine their own mythology. The ye olde clip show was one method used by comedies in particular to look back on their own history and remind the audience of key moments and character traits. Often in an SF drama series, it is the weird gimmicky or unexpectedly humorous episode that does the same job – and these are often the most beloved and/or divisive episodes as well as the most memorable. X-Files visiting the set of a TV show parodying their adventures, the boys of Supernatural finding a roleplay convention based on their life, the Buffy musical, the Farscape animated episode, any of the Star Trek “evil beard universe” stories, or Fringe’s “Brown Betty” take on film noir.

Old School and indeed New School Doctor Who never really did that sort of thing because, frankly, there was no formula to shake up. Every episode was different and odd and completely different to the one before. But there are several key stories throughout the classic run in particular which you can see are working to define the mythology of the show. During the Fifth and Sixth Doctors’ runs in particular, there were so many stories which looked backwards, or became self-referential, throwing in so many details from “canon” that it’s hard to keep them straight. There was even a whole Fifth Doctor season in which every episode featured a returning monster or character… Unsurprisingly, this was also a period responsible for many of the most head-scrambling canon inconsistencies of the show. The more references there were to the past lives of the Doctor, the more opportunities there were to get it wrong. More recently, episodes such as School Reunion and the many season finales of New Who have worked quite hard to cement a new mythology, bringing back beloved characters again and again for hero moments and dramatic ensembles, something which has caused much squee and much eyerolling among fans. Just like in the good old days.

But the stories which were most effective in defining and redefining the mythology of the show were the first two multiple Doctor stories, The Three Doctors (1973) and The Five Doctors (1983). In the days before VHS rentals of the show, and even in the repeat-heavy regions of the world such as Australia (which provided endless loops of 70’s Who for whole generations of children but mostly ignored the black and whites of the 60’s) The Three Doctors was the story which introduced and cemented the characters of the first two Doctors in the minds of many. This meant unfortunately that, regardless of any Target novelisations one might or might not have read, many of us ended up with a vague feeling that the First Doctor was a sickly, slighly cranky advisor floating in a scanner window, and the Second Doctor was basically a sidekick with a recorder. Needless to say, a re-examination of the 60’s stories reveals far more complex characters.

Far more dramatically, The Five Doctors (still just before the period when it was common to record, rewatch and purchase or hire old shows) was a major event story which not only served to redefine the characters of many previous Doctors, but also many of the companions. I could talk at length about the returning Doctors and how their characters come across in this story and whether or not they are served well (including the First Doctor now played by a different actor in a white wig) or are written as parodies of their former selves, but for the purposes of my own take on the Women in SF week, I want to discuss instead how the female companions are served by this story.

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Science Fictional Fantasy

Okay, it might seems a bit cheeky to start a week of talking about women in SF with the discussion of fantasy stories, but I spent a good chunk of the morning listening to some great critical minds discussing interstitial works (shortly before dismissing interstitiality as a movement, not quite sure if that was fair but let’s move on) and some thoughts started coalescing.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that 2010 was a bad year for science fiction, but it was certainly evident over at the Last Short Story Bar and Grill that for every really good SF story, there were at least 5 really good fantasy stories. Within Australia, I’m pretty sure the ratio of fantasy to SF is far higher – where have all the science fiction writers gone?

But I digress.

One of the topics that Jonathan and the others were discussing on the Coode Street podcast today (well, not TODAY, but today is when I was listening to it) was the way that a story feels being an important element in whether you classify it as genre or not. Some stories, such as Elizabeth Hand’s “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” or Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Pelican Bar” can be read as speculative fiction or not as speculative fiction depending on which lens the reader views it through.
For some reason this got me thinking of a couple of this year’s stand out stories which are most definitely fantasy, but which benefit from a reader viewing them through a science fictional lens.

“My story should have ended on the day I died. Instead, it began there.”

The first of these is Rachel Swirsky’s “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window,” a marvelous novella published in Subterranean Online. While this is undoubtedly a fantasy story, with elements that would not seem out of place in an antique copy of Weird Tales, it is very much a treatise on immortality, or the effects upon humanity of living beyond one’s natural time period, through a conceit that works very similarly to time travel.

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Pseudonyms and Pat Murphy

I just finished reading Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell, by Pat Murphy (2001). And… whoa.

Some years ago now, I assembled a “Geek Girl Reading List” based on recs I received from people during a blogstorm in response to an all-male “essential geek reading list” article somewhere or other. I cherry-picked from all the recs, choosing a shortlist of books that genuinely interested me, and that I thought I could read within a year or so. I even got hold of a bunch of the books, through second hand booksellers, Book Mooch, and so on.

And then, you know, I failed to read most of them. I couldn’t even manage one a year. Usually I’m awesome at using lists to kick off my competitive side, but it just didn’t happen and eventually I forgot why I was interested in those particular books, anyway.

I may have mentioned that my To Read Shelf has expanded to two shelves now, and one of them is archival. One of the tasks I have set myself this November is to read five “archived” books off that shelf, and so the Geek Girl Reading List has been activated again.

This may go some way to explaining how it is that I read this particular book without knowing anything at all about it, and got my mind a little bit blown.

On the surface, there’s nothing groundbreaking about this particular novel, which is not so much “soft” SF as Gentle SF. If it was a mystery, it would be categorised as a cozy, and that comparison is pretty apt because in many ways it has more of the feel of a mystery novel than an SF novel.

It’s also completely and utterly meta.

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The WisCon Chronicles, Vol 4, edited by Sylvia Kelso

I was delighted to discover the existence of The Wiscon Chronicles a year or so ago, volumes which are intended to capture something of the vibe, spirit and content of the last several WisCons through selected articles, panel reports, interviews, blog entries and ephemera. I adored picking over the first three volumes and was beyond excited to see that my review of them had rated a blurb quote on the back of Volume 4.

Notably this quote:

What I admire most about these Wiscon Chronicles is not just the collection of intelligent thought, and the best example of documenting the convention experience I have ever seen, but the acknowledgement of the bad parts as well as the good – the exposure of privilege, of negative as well as positive reactions to the discussions, and the willingness to shine a bright torch on all the grey areas, for the purpose of greater and more constructive conversation.”

Which I still think holds true.

Another excitement was to see that this year’s editor of the TWC is Australia’s own Sylvia Kelso, whom I met for the first time recently. Sylvia herself talks in her introduction about the daunting challenge of trying to capture a convention she herself doesn’t get to every year (being Australian) and indeed an event that no two people experience similarly. The clever thing about these books is that instead of trying to represent the convention by being as generic as possible, they instead try to share the deeply specific and personal, from a wide variety of people.

My only complaint about this volume is that while WisCon 33 (2009) is clearly marked out as the convention this book is commemorating, there was little to ground the reader in the basic information about that convention at the beginning, or indeed as the book continued. At the very least I would have liked to have known going into it whom the Guests of Honor where for this particular convention, something that is never entirely clear. (it was apparently Ellen Klages and Geoff Ryman, neither of whom are featured in this volume) This omission I am left feeling like the book is purely for the in crowd – like I should KNOW who those guests were, despite the event being a year and a half ago, and me being one of those people who can only live vicariously through WisCons by, you know, buying books about it!

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