Friday, July 04, 2008

Men and Women SF Writers

I was going to post this comment over at SFSignal. Then I decided to post it here.

I do notice -- fairly often -- that women are underrepresented in magazines and anthologies. This matters to me, because I tend to be more interested in stories written by women.

Why? Here I am going into the area of possibly stupid generalization.

I think many male SF writers think violence is cool. They do not sound as if they've had much experience with violence, and they irritate the heck out of me. More and more, I flip pages or put books down when the characters start pulling out guns, swords, death rays, doomsday machines...

Another trait, which I tend to think of male, is abstraction. A lot of SF stories by contemporary male writers appear to me to be about nothing important. I don't think this was true of the (mostly male) SF writers I grew up with in the 50s. They wrote about McCarthyism, the threat of nuclear war, and the dread suburbanization of America.

I can't be more clear about what I mean by abstraction, unless I write an essay. Maybe I will, over at my blog. The briefest way to describe it is, I finish a story and say, "Okay. It was well written. It was intelligent. It was science fictional. Who cares?"

If memory serves, I have this response more often with stories by men.

I mention this, because it's possible that the bias towards male writers is actually as bias towards violence and abstraction.

Who are contemporary male writers who do seem (to me) to write about important topics. Delany, when he was writing SF. Kim Stanley Robinson. Walter Jon Williams. Ian M. Banks, though I don't like his violence... Patrick has added William Gibson and Bruce Sterling...

3 Comments:

Blogger David B. Ellis said...

I hope you write that essay on abstraction. I'm interested in hearing what you mean by that.

9:54 PM  
Blogger David B. Ellis said...


A lot of SF stories by contemporary male writers appear to me to be about nothing important. I don't think this was true of the (mostly male) SF writers I grew up with in the 50s. They wrote about McCarthyism, the threat of nuclear war, and the dread suburbanization of America.


Do you think a science fiction work needs to be about contemporary social, political and cultural problems to be important?

For example, my favorite book of 2007 was Peter Watts BLINDSIGHT. It deals with, among other things, some rather fascinating issues in philosophy of mind.

I think such issues, even if they are quite "abstract", are both interesting and important. As was the deeply damaged central character, Siri Keeton, through whose eyes we see these abstract issues made concrete and immediately personal.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Tallgeese said...

In the "information age", it often feels like the ideological superstructure is collapsing into the material base. This results in a fiction which deals more with information theory, the internet, AIs and the like, and much of this fiction (e.g., Greg Egan) feels pretty abstract to me.

At the same time that this is going on, feminism(s) seems to be losing strength, which is very bad for the critique of violence. You can see signs of this weakening at SFF conventions. At both 4th Street and Convergence, I saw the continued mystification of prostitution as "free choice". The notion that prostitution is ever linked to and sustained by coercion and violence, or that it many times in not a free choice, just doesn't get raised easily.

At Convergence and at many cons I have attended over the last three years, I have also seen a lack of engagement with the effects of gender representations in anime on _US girls and women_ (when the social impact of gender representations is discussed, almost always these discussions focus on the impact of these representations in anime with respect to their effects on gender relations _in Japan_, typically acknowledging Japan as being "backwards" vis a vis the West -- as opposed to considering the ideological effects of these cultural products on U.S. gender relations over the next 30-40 years, as US engagement with East Asian cultural products deepens.

12:11 PM  

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