Women Science Fiction Writers

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the AGM of the British Science Fiction Association yesterday.

The morning session included a panel on “Women writers, science fiction and Britain”, chaired by Shana Worthen, with panelists Tricia Sullivan and Pat Cadigan.

The debate about the lack of women writers in science fiction has been rumbling on and off for as long as I’ve known it. What has sparked the recent wave of interest is Tricia Sullivan’s observation that only one woman has won the Arthur C Clarke Award in the last decade, compared to five in the previous decade. Statistics include only 20 out of 500 ‘Pick of the Best SF’ books in the recent Guardian poll were by women writers. Yet, somewhere between about a quarter and a third of SF books are by women.

Why the the difference between the volume published and the recognition (whether through awards or in polls)?

I have heard it said that women tend to write more character driven SF, while men tend to be biased towards action-packed SF, and it is the action-packed SF that gets the notice. How many times have I seen the requirement for character-driven stories? Definitely more than for plot or action driven stories. So by this argument women should be published more than men.

I have also heard it said that women are more likely to have home-caring responsibilities, which detracts from the quality of  their writing. As a (male) SF-writer points out, men have jobs to go to which can take up all sorts of crazy hours in order to support the family. They have their own responsibilities. So this argument is out.

Another point that was made was that a lack of women in science and technology means there is a lack of women hard SF writers, which leads to a lack of recognition. Well this could certainly lead to a lack in the number of women SF writers. But what I’m talking about here, is the lack of recognition proportional to the number of women writers in the field. So could this suggest there may be a bias for awards and polls to go to the hard end of science fiction? Others who have a greater overview of the field will be in a better position to answer this question than me.

But here’s the worrying thing. By a quirk of fate, I know quite a few up and coming female writers. Each and every one of us has a different escape route out of writing science fiction. This means science fiction as a genre is going to lose some very talented and interesting writers, unless this bad press about women SF writers is stopped.

How? Does the science fiction community including the readers and publishing houses really want to do something about it?

Only time will tell…

11 thoughts on “Women Science Fiction Writers

  1. This is something that has interested me for awhile. I’ve read many blogs on wordpress about women SF writers, some were poignant and factual while others were…… let us say less than articulated. I agree though, why the divide? As a reader I am not really biased one way or the other. Sometimes I like to read an action packed book or I want to read a ‘jump in the skull of the character’ book, just like how I watch movies.
    So I don’t understand the division in the community. One of my favorite female science fiction writers is Ursula K. Le Guin, and she certainly has had a large impact on the community as well as myself.
    It is goofy.

  2. Thank you for your comment…
    I don’t think the real cause(s) of why there are comparatively few women SF writers has been identified. Nor do I think the cause of why proportionately there are even fewer fewer prize winners and names in polls has been either. All I can hope for is that somehow in the debate that is going on, someone, somewhere will hit on the right answer.
    As for me, I’d rather concentrate on writing SF… so it’s back to C.A.T. 2 for me…

  3. Hi Rosie,
    Thanks for writing this. I was going to blog it too, but you saved me the effort.
    There were a whole pile of things that disturbed me about the comments made on this subject at the AGM. First, I felt that much of the ‘discussion’ come over as something of a diatribe against Gollancz, and at times a personal attack on the representative there. Unfortunately, I can’t remember his name, but he accquitted himself well and behaved like a gentleman under extreme provocation.
    Second, all the lady writers who were held up as misused examples were established authors with several publications with mainstream houses. As an aspiring writer still struggling for that first break, I find little sympathy for them under the circcumstances and cant see why I should be helping established women writers stay in contract.
    Lastly, we need to look at the wider picture here. Look at the Clark winners before 2000; compare Fantasy where the ratio is 40:60 women to men writers; and if we apply the same rules equally across writing as a whole, should we not be launching a matching campaign to increase the number of male writers with a more action based storylines in Romance, where they are terribly under-represented.
    But seriously, my overall impression was one of misrepresented statistics and frustration over personal circumstances. The suggestion was actually made the SF readers should be ‘educated to accept more romantic storylines’. I would be horrified if I had to rely on my work being published via a program of positive discrimination to address a perceived inequality

  4. Hm… a lot of interesting points here. At the end of the day the numbers, which basically indicate that the proportion of prizes and poll mentions given to women is very much less than the proportion of women writers in science fiction, need to be explained.

    I must admit that at the meeting I did not hear an explanation that rang true or sat comfortably with me. I’m sure if the evidence pointed in a clear simple direction, we would have heard about it.

    Also, I would hope that anyone who accepts any of my science fiction work does it on merit…

    1. Yes, It’s a wonderful site. I think Ian is doing a superb job in supporting women SF writers. I’m also looking forward to reading one of his stories this evening. He’s a good writer himself.

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