My friend and ASIM colleague Patty Jansen has a recent post on her blog about attitudes towards women writing hard SF. It’s well worth reading, but it shouldn’t be. This should have stopped being an issue 40 years ago, or more.
What is ‘this’?
In a nutshell, it’s the argument that women can’t write hard SF. Or they can write it, but they shouldn’t. Or they should, but they shouldn’t expect it to sell, because no-one will read it. Patty’s take on the matter, as a hard SF writer who happens to be a woman, is that the aforementioned argument is thoroughly outmoded, and just plain wrong. And yet, outdated viewpoint or not, it’s still out there, as Patty’s post makes plain. (And I should make plain, here, that I’m commenting more on the generalities of the interface between women and hard SF than on the particulars of Patty’s case. Patty’s perfectly capable of fighting her own battles, and of stating her case.)
I suppose the goalposts have shifted slightly over the past decades. A couple of generations ago the argument would have been that women couldn’t write SF full stop–an argument pretty much invalidated by Ursula Le Guin, by C. L. Moore before her, and by a plethora of other female SF writers before or since. There is, now, much more acceptance of female authorship (and readership) of SF than was the case decades ago. But it’s true that the particular bastion of hard SF has remained a predominantly male preserve, in the public’s perception at least.
It’s weird, quite frankly, that this should be so.
I don’t know a large number of women writers of hard SF (and by ‘hard SF’ I mean SF that pays fairly careful attention to scientific plausibility, including, where appropriate, both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences), but I do know they’re out there, and in my opinion they bring something fresh to the mix. Plus, if we’re in an era when most biology students are female, most chemistry students are female, it’s no longer unusual to find women studying mathematics or physics or engineering … surely, surely, we should by now have stopped baulking at a female presence in hard SF.
I was going to rattle off a list of female hard SF writers of my acquaintance but, as noted above, I don’t know many. Which is a pretty woeful state of affairs, and one I’m keen to shift. (I think the only books on my shelves that would count as hard SF by female writers–other than Patty’s own YA novella, The Far Horizon–would be Virtual Girl by Amy Thomson, and Uncharted Territory by Connie Willis. Oh, and Marjorie Bradley Kellogg’s duology, The Wave and the Flame and Reign of Fire.) So, taking a leaf out of Tsana Dolichva’s book (if that’s not, in the circumstances, a singularly misleading metaphor), I’m setting myself a Reading Challenge.
My particular challenge to myself is to find, and read, and review, five hard SF novels by five different female writers, before year’s end. I suspect I should start out with something by Catherine Asaro, whom I somehow had never heard of (or at least had never connected with hard SF) until about a month ago … but I’d welcome pointers towards books by other writers who meet the criteria (ideally either hard SF novels, or short story collections in which a good majority of the stories are hard SF). So feel free to name-drop in the comments. I’m especially interested in novels published in the last few years. And while scientific plausibility is important to me in this regard, so is strength of characterisation, elegance of plot, and poignancy of tale.
(Note, though, that it is only hard SF that I’m looking for. I count Ursula Le Guin and Lois McMaster Bujold among my top few favourite SF authors, but they’re not really writers of hard SF, for the most part.)
I won’t necessarily stop at five. I was, initially, going to make it ten, but I’m wary of the ability of time pressures to creep up and ambush me, so five seems like a safer bet, for now.