Tag Archives: culture

The science fiction gender problem – a report from the front line

From Nick Mamatas:

“As the readership of science fiction is widely believed to be overwhelmingly male, there is a long history of women writers obscuring their gender (so as not to have their work prejudged) by writing under a name that includes their initials and their last name.

Going through the slush recently, I decided to count up the number of women who use initials versus the number of men who do so.

One hundred percent of the authors who submit their work to Clarkesworld under an initialed byline are women.”

There’s no doubt that there are gender and cultural imbalances in the genre fiction scenes. Is this doing anything to help the situation?

Burst culture – publishing in the internet age

Proof (as if proof were required) of the old adage that “if you don’t blog about it today, BoingBoing will have pipped you to the post tomorrow” … but better late than never; here’s a sterling post from Warren Ellis on internet publishing and ‘burst culture’.

In keeping with the spirit of what he’s saying, I’m just going to snatch out the bits I want, but you should really go and read the whole thing – it’ll take a few minutes at most, and it’s time well spent.

“365Tomorrows was an ideal reaction to sf publishing in new media, the concept of flash fiction and the way the medium works. 100-word bursts of speculative fiction, daily. JR Blackwell’s gotten herself a career out of it. And note how 365T kept producing and fulfilled its mandate even as sf sites and sf print magazines died on either side of it.”

365T is a good little site; Jeremy Tolbert and a bunch of co-conspirators have something quite similar going on at The Daily Cabal (which, for my money, carries higher quality fiction, but as far as I can tell doesn’t yet have the reach of 365T).

“How far behind the curve is the sf publishing community? When International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day came around, hundreds of writers of gift and ambition ran short work for free on the web. This came about following a recently-resigned official of the Science Fiction Writers of America calling those who produce material for the web SCABS.”

I can add nothing to that.

“The web isn’t a replacement medium — it’s *another* medium. That said, if your concept of a magazine is something designed in one-page bursts, or three pages that only carry 500 words due to the mass of images, then, really, you’re not doing anything the web can’t do better, are you?”


“Bursts aren’t contentless, nor do they denote the end of Attention Span. If attention span was dead, JK Rowling wouldn’t be selling paperbacks thick enough to choke a pig, and Neal Stephenson wouldn’t be making a living off books the size of the first bedsit I lived in.”

The death of print does not mean the death of reading. At least, it doesn’t *have* to.

“And just a thought: if you’re an sf writer grappling for space in one of the fiction magazines for seven cents a word or whatever the rate is now — what exactly are you losing by teaming with writers of like mind, going to the web and convincing a friend to work out the monetising bells and whistles for you?”

I refer you again to The Daily Cabal. And also to the No Fear of the Future group-blog, which has been running some brilliant material since it started up, and has done a great job of shoving the names of a bunch of previously unfamiliar authors in front of my eyes on a regular basis. Sure, it’s early days yet – but there’s a lot to be said for boarding the train early while it’s easy to find a comfy seat.

Nothing particularly new there, at least not to anyone who’s been reading rants (by me and others) about this sort of thing for a little while. But because Ellis has come out and said it, the meme will get a lot further (31 links to the piece as counted by Technorati at time of posting this response). For some reason, people pay a lot more attention to him than they do to me … 😉

The inclusiveness question, plus extras

The inclusiveness debate seems to be gathering pace to become the current blazing topic of the sf-nal blogosphere. I’m keeping my mouth shut quite firmly – not because of any particular shameful or virtuous opinions that I feel I should hide from view, but because I believe that in these sorts of situations, if you feel you have nothing original or constructive to say, you’re best off keeping your lip buttoned. Jonathan McCalmont has a good overview of the situation, however.

I mean, I can see there’s a male/white/Western/Anglicised bias in sf, but I have no idea how the hell we should go about changing that situation. I’m not even sure if it can be done purposefully, either – I think it may be one of those things that can only change slowly over time as generations succeed each other. It puts me in mind of a quote from Poincaré, talking about the way that scientific theories and ideas tend to stay in currency while their progenitors are still around:

“Science advances … funeral by funeral.”


Talking of views dissenting from the canon, I thoroughly enjoyed the channelled ire of Liz Henry taking the freshly-fueled chainsaw of feminism to the old wood of Anne McCaffery’s Pern novels:

“The main thing Lessa seems to do in her capacity as Weyrwoman is to serve food. She’s always deftly serving F’lar’s dinner. She pours the klah during important meetings. She clears the table a lot too, and rings for food. Which appears magically from a dumbwaiter from the Lower Caverns where all the slutty kitchen women live. You could go through the book and mark up all her waitress moments.”

I cut my sf-nal teeth on those books, but you don’t read from a very critical perspective at eight years old. Hindsight is a curious thing.

And talking of feminism and diversity in sf, Cecilia Tan has reposted an old interview she did with Octavia Butler, which is well worth the time it takes to read:

What do you think is going to happen to the human race in the next millennium?

Pretty much what is happening now. Why should anything different happen? There will be technological innovations and biological innovations, but things will be essentially how they are. The future is not some mystical magical place. The future is moment to moment. Thirty years ago we didn’t have the computers we do now, but we’re still doing the same things.

Meaning, even if the power grid collapses on January first, human beings are still going to be pretty much the same.

The human being is essentially lazy.”

Smart lady; I must read some of her books soon. Or rather, I’ll add her to the ever expanding list of authors I must pay attention to – a list that grows in inverse proportion to the amount of time I have available for reading things I want to read. *Sigh*

Critical dichotomies and science fiction revolutions

Just a few things to share that I thought deserved more than the standard link-dump treatment due to their vague thematic connectedness:

Jonathan ‘SF Diplomat’ McCalmont has been thinking about the dichotomy in genre criticism – which is nothing new, but he’s done it out loud this time:

“So what does all of this mean? It means that SF criticism has been around as long as SF but that it is now, and has probably always been, prone to placing itself in a ghetto constituted from an inaccessible conversation between critics, authors and the occasional genre fan who wants to think a little bit more about the books he has read. The way to satisfy Le Guin’s demands is not simply by producing more critical writing, it is by making sure that genre criticism is read by as wide an audience as possible.”

It’s worth a read, even if (in fact, especially if) you don’t read much sf lit crit. It’s also (though he’ll hate me for saying so*) a little less incendiary than some of Jonathan’s other posts … unless you take offence to the Livejournal jibe.

So, two cultures, you say? A growing gap between them? Sounds like the sort of situation that causes … revolution**! Martin McGrath’s largely unpublicised stealth blog (which you should all subscribe to and read, because firstly he’s a lovely chap and a good critic, and secondly it’ll wind him up no end) features an extended version of a riff I heard Martin deploy at Eastercon, namely that revolutions that occur in science fiction novels are almost invariably improbable in their execution:

The instantaneous change: Even in sf that obeys the laws of physics and outlaws FTL there’s always one thing that travels faster than light, revolution. Nevermind the vast amounts of time and money it takes in the real world to make things even incrementally better – in sf the mere action of announcing the revolution is often enough to have the peasants dressing better, eating better and quoting Shakespeare.”

Ouch. He has a point though, and it’s an intelligent post from someone who actually knows more than he’d really like to know about politics. Go read.

[*You can consider that revenge for the Whitney Houston gag, Jonathan. 😉 ]

[** I warned you the connection was vague, didn’t I?]

Iain M. Banks returns to the Culture

Great news via Big Dumb Object – the next Iain M. Banks novel is scheduled for release next February.

It’s set in the Culture (which was revealed a little while ago, IIRC), and will be called Matter (apparently just to annoy internet people, as that was the working title for Steep Approach to Garbadale).

According to BDO, the sample the man himself read out had all the usual IMB goodness we have come to expect. There’s a reason to look forward to the new year – as far as I’m concerned, the release of an Iain M. Banks novel should be treated as just cause for national holiday.

Banks holiday weekend, anyone?

OK, I’ll get my coat.