The row about the lack of women hard science fiction writers has blown up yet again, with at least one female author saying that a publisher has told her they would not publish a hard science fiction novel by a woman. No other reason. It didn’t matter how good her book was, it was the fact that she was a woman that would get it automatically turned down.
How can that be, when the first hard science fiction novel was by a woman? Yes, I’m talking about Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, published in 1818. This novel was based on the then recent experiments demonstrating galvanism – or showing how to make a dead frog’s leg twitch by the application of some electricity.
[It is also interesting that about this time there were women making strides in mathematics. Everyone knows about Ada Lovelace, Bryon’s daughter who helped Charles Babbage with his work on computers. Less well known is her tutor, Mary Somerville. In her day she was so famous for her endeavours that she was invited to the coronations of both King George IV and Queen Victoria. I was therefore pleased to hear that Somerville College, Oxford University, has acquired a portrait of Ada Lovelace, when she was a child, to hang beside that of Mary Somerville in their extensive college library.]
Don’t get me wrong. There are women around today who are hard science fiction authors, but they are very far and few between. Depending on what your definition of hard science fiction entails, authors like C. J. Cherryh, Lois Bujold and James Tiptree (yes she was a woman) come to mind. But what worries me is that it seems to me women hard science fiction writers seem to be mainly of an older generation or passed on. There is of course Madeleine Ashby, Chris Moriaty and um…
So why are hard science fiction publishers seemingly shunning women more these days than in the past? And this is despite the efforts of people like Ian Sales to promote women science fiction writers more.
Well, you have to ask the publishers. All I’m going to say is that they are missing a crucial viewpoint of society, which means that hard science fiction will be biased towards the male interests.
But women have been here before in several different walks of life. In the case of women’s colleges at Oxford University… if I remember correctly, the five women’s colleges were consistently getting well above average results, so much so that the men’s colleges had to admit women in order to get back up the results’ league tables.
Realistically speaking, the fewer women that are published in hard science fiction, the better they have to be. Why do I think history will repeat itself, but this time in hard science fiction?