Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Women Can Handle Hard Science Fiction Just Fine, Thank You Very Much

Obvious innuendo aside, the title of today’s post was prompted by a comment at the Futurismic piece, “Nostalgia Does Science Fiction A Disservice” (and you can follow the thread of discussions here, here, and here. Thanks to SFSignal for the linkage):

“Lois McMaster Bujold tends to work as an introduction to SF, as does Linnea Sinclair, particularly for female readers” [emphasis mine].

This commenter adds, “In the end, it really depends on who the person you’re recommending something to is and what he or she is interested in otherwise.”

Of course, I was thrilled that those two authors’ names came up. It’s a testament to the entertainment value and speculative aspects of their work that the commenter thought to spread the word. He/she has great taste!

However, the implications of the first statement made me wonder about the overall issue of female SF readers. There’s an implication that if the reader is female and has never read SF before, we shouldn’t recommend hard SF authors like Alastair Reynolds, Nancy Kress, or Iain M. Banks. Shoot, there’s a whole list right here. Knocketh yourself out!

Assuming the commenter isn’t the only person who feels this way, why are Sinclair’s and Bujold’s novels considered “gateway” books for women? Why not for uninitiated men? To me, these two authors simply fall under the speculative fiction umbrella. I’d just as soon recommend women read their books as anybody else’s—hard SF, soft SF, mushy, whatever.

I agree with the commenter in that what one recommends to new readers depends on the reader’s tastes, but I never would have thought to break it down by gender. “Oh, I see you’ve got boobs. Here’s an SF 101 book written by a woman because you need to be broken in gently.”


I’m a woman, and I cut my teeth on Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, Frederik Pohl (the first book of his I’d read was GATEWAY, lol!), Frank Herbert, Edmund Hamilton, Ray Bradbury…the list goes on. Not all of those authors write hard SF, but when selecting their books, I didn’t think about the fact that I was female. Plus, I know plenty of women who enjoy hard SF. I suppose, however, I shouldn’t be surprised that other people might take that kind of detail into account.

Now back to the “gateway” issue: Maybe it’s just me, but I’m puzzled about the idea of any one book or class of books being considered as “introductory.” With so many different subgenres of SF, the way to introduce a new reader depends more on the type of story he/she usually gravitates toward. Some prefer action adventure; others would prefer mundane SF, space opera, or cyberpunk. Even though I adore science fiction romance, it’s a niche market and hardly representative of the genre as a whole. Really, what subgenre is?

Now you tell me, and all points of view are welcome: What do you think about the idea of SFR/character driven stories as “introductory” science fiction? To what extent would it predict that a reader would seek out other kinds of SF?

What if the comment quoted above had read “particularly for romance readers?” Would that have made a difference?

Joyfully yours,