SFF in Conversation is a new monthly feature on The Book Smugglers in which we invite guests to talk about a variety of topics important to speculative fiction fans, authors, and readers. Our vision is to create a safe (moderated) space for thoughtful conversation about the genre, with a special focus on inclusivity and diversity in SFF. Anyone can participate and we are welcoming emailed topic submissions from authors, bloggers, readers, and fans of all categories, age ranges, and subgenres beneath the speculative fiction umbrella.
Today, we continue our ongoing new series “SFF in Conversation” with two guest posts. Following Aliette de Bodard’s recent Nebula Award for the novelette “The Waiting Stars,” her contribution to the anthology The Other Half of the Sky, we invited the author as well as editor Athena Andreadis over to talk about women, Science Fiction and memory.
Below is Aliette de Bodard’s post. You can read Athena Andreadis’ HERE.
As part of our evening series watching, the husband and I have discovered Äkta människor (Real Humans), a Swedish production set in a world where humanoid robots are commonplace. In the midst of a powerful ensemble cast, I was struck by the figure of the mother, Inger Engman, a hard-working lawyer in an average Swedish family. I wasn’t quite sure why she left such a strong impression on me, until I realised: she’s no accessory. She very clearly has a role of her own and her own preoccupations.
Here is a woman who isn’t background noise, a reward for the hero, a dead mother or girlfriend, an overbearing harpy, a misguided rebel in need of rescue. She doesn’t get raped or beaten up or fridged, or the myriad clichéd fates for women present in Hollywood movies. Here is a woman who has a healthy (if sometimes rocky) relationship with her husband and with her three children, one that feels real. She doesn’t require saving or killing to motivate the hero. She’s good at her job; compassionate and strong. And, most of all, she never vanishes. She never takes a back seat while men sort out the problems for her; never becomes kidnapped, and never fades into a featureless prize handed to the hero. To the end, she remains the moral core of the story, fighting for what she has and what she believes in.
In real life, women all too often vanish. We can’t all be Inger Engman. We become mothers and struggle to conciliate family and writing; family and careers. We have aged or sick relatives to take care of; difficulties with publishers or poor sales. Even when we do get published, we get fewer buzz, fewer reviews, fewer awards; fewer sales; and of course fewer chances of selling another book to a publisher. We get harassed at conventions; drop out of genre because of misogyny or ageism or other forms of discrimination; we get laughed at for inaccurate science in our books (never mind that we have PhDs in physics or mathematics).
We are prevented from writing by our partners, gently or less gently–sometimes outright forbidding, other times simply because we make their needs come ahead of ours, because we have been taught to be selfless and kind. We bite our tongues when we are insulted or snubbed, because we have been taught to be polite and make no waves. We do not push for more recognition, because we have been taught this would be too forward, positively unladylike. Our books, like us, vanish out of the history of the genre; our innovations are ignored or lessened, or attributed to male authors. Our characters are harder to relate to; our male protagonists curiously effeminate; our plots imbued with too many girl-cooties and too much touchy-feely stuff.
Of course, you’ll say, none of this is specific to women: men become fathers too; they struggle to balance their private lives and their careers; struggle with poor sales. But those things happen disproportionately to women. Slowly but irretrievably, we fade out of view. Sometimes we bounce back, and are lucky enough to find enough of a career for us to rebuild. Sometimes we bounce back, and find our books increasingly marginalised, with little press and few reviews. Sometimes we disappear altogether, become faded names on bookshelves and awards lists; a part of history seldom invoked or remembered.
It’s not all grim, of course. Things have changed in the past decade: they have improved, and are continuing to improve. As a woman author, a new mother (and a woman in STEM), I am all too aware of this. I have been very lucky, and I am thankful to everyone who has supported me this far. It has been an honour to see my fiction recognised in such a strong fashion; and to see the increasing diversity in genre. I wish I could say we have arrived; but the truth is, we still have some way to go.
As proof of this, here is a list of women who vanished from genre, for a short or longer while, and for a variety of reasons. Some are still writing today; others are not. But they all deserve to be read. Go find their stuff; and talk up a storm.
Gill Alderman. Gertrude Barrows Bennett. Joanne Bertin. Pat Cadigan. Sonia Dorman. Theresa Edgerton. Carol Emshwiller. Anne Gay. Patricia Geary. Mary Gentle. Sheila Gilluly. Leigh Kennedy. Jenny Jones. Katherine Kurtz. Karin Lowachee. Elizabeth Lynn. Laurie J Marks. Julian May. Judith Moffett. Pat Murphy. C. L. Moore. Marta Randall. Melanie Rawn. Mary Doria Russell. Justina Robson. Michaela Roessner. Josephine Saxton. Ekaterina Sedia. Alison Sinclair. Margaret St Clair. Tricia Sullivan. Paula Volsky. Elizabeth Wiley. Kate Wilhem. Helen Wright. Mickey Zucker Reichert.
[Disclaimer: I’m not familiar with all the names on the list, and I could be wrong about the “vanishing” of some of the names. I would be quite happy to take corrections; and further suggestions about women who have dropped out of sight of genre fans.]
[And many many thanks to everyone who helped build this list on twitter, as well as to Kev McVeigh, Tade Thompson and N.E. White for reading this on a tight deadline).]
Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris, where she has a day job as a System Engineer. In her spare time, she writes speculative fiction: her stories have appeared in Interzone, Clarkesworld Magazine and the Year’s Best Science Fiction. Her Aztec noir series is published by Angry Robot, and her novella On a Red Station, Drifting, out from Immersion Press, is a finalist for the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Visit http://www.aliettedebodard.com for more information.