I am so fucking angry at this idea some editors seem to have that the best science fiction stories are those written by men. White men, naturally. Straight. Western. It goes hand-in-hand with my anger at how so much SF, even the far-future kind, is white-dominated and features gender/sexuality binaries and societies that wouldn’t trouble a diehard Republican – because this is what these men whose stories are repeatedly published and reprinted are writing, this unimaginative, backwards-looking dreck.
I was browsing Waterstones on my lunch break, as I often do, and found a new anthology in the SFF section: The Mammoth Book of SF War, edited by Ian Watson and Ian Whates. Because apparently I’m a masochist, I cracked open the Table of Contents.
Unless I have misgendered anyone based on their names (for which I deeply apologise), I count 22 male authors and 3 female authors. That’s 12% female authors.
And, you know, I wouldn’t be so fucking angry about this if it wasn’t that almost every damn time I open a Mammoth Book of SF Stuff or an anthology edited by these two or Mike Ashley or any other big editor over here, I find this kind of ratio. (The one that’s just a Mammoth version of the Dozois Year’s Best does better. If we’re counting Sean Wallace’s Mammoth Book of Steampunk as SF, then that’s got a great ToC. But this should not be fucking exceptional.) Mike Ashley even managed to get an anthology of SF Stuff that’s 0% women, because apparently no woman has ever written a mindblowing SF story or something.
Oh oh but they’re just choosing the best stories, aren’t they! Funny how EVERY FUCKING TIME the best stories are almost all by men. Funny how that sexism works.
To really drive the point home, there was also a copy of War and Space: Recent Combat on the shelf. It’s edited by Rich Horton and Sean Wallace. It’s got a strikingly similar theme to that Watson and Whates anthology, AND YET through some kind of fucking miracle process (I think it’s commonly called “not being sexist fucknuts”) they’ve managed to find stories by 11 male authors and 9 female authors, making it 45% female authors.
Meanwhile I’ve been reading several SF anthologies lately and yet again am struck by the sheer quantity of SF stories that are: Western-centric, featuring token non-white people (if that), set in societies that look not very different to our own, with gender/sexuality binaries and family structures that a Republican would love. (Also shitty aliens, but that’s not faily, that’s just dull.) What the fuck is wrong with people’s imaginations that they are writing this shit? What is wrong with editors that they are not seeking out work that goes beyond these backward-looking ideas? (Obviously editors cannot control (much) what they get in slush piles, but when soliticing stories, can they not specify that authors activate their imagination?) It’s not just about the gender and race of the authors – although that is incredibly important – but about the kinds of stories that are published and reprinted and amplified to the world. Diverse stories by diverse authors about diverse futures are sorely lacking.
So the cry of all sexist types now will, after the initial “BAAWWWW!” or “How dare you call me sexist, I have a wife and/or a daughter, I must love women!”, be that I do something about this! Yes! It is my responsibility to fix other people’s shit!
But I actually DO want to help fix this problem in our genre.
If anyone wants to cry “Why don’t YOU edit a SF anthology and see what YOU think the best stories are!” – I’d fucking LOVE to edit a SF anthology, whether reprints or original stories or both. I’d want there to be sufficient money involved to make it worth my while (and worth the contributors’ time, especially if they’re writing original stories) and for the publisher to have decent circulation, so that narrows the possibilities somewhat, but look: if anyone who can meet those criteria wants me to edit a SF anthology that actually treats the future as the future and acknowledges that women and non-white people and queer people can write awesome SF, I’m here.
What I also want to note is that there are stories doing this right, and I want to draw attention to them, because they tend to slip unremarked into the abyss while the aforementioned dreck gets the accolades and multiple reprints. I have a tablet now (yay!), which means I’m going to be reading a lot more online short stories, so I plan to recommend the great ones I find. I’ve only had my tablet for a couple of days, so there’s not much to rec yet, but get started on two fantastic stories by Aliette de Bodard: “Immersion” and “Scattered Along the River of Heaven”. I also really like Nnedi Okorafor’s “Spider the Artist”. Offline, Catherynne M Valente’s “Golubash, or, Wine-War-Blood-Elegy” remains one of my favourite SF stories. I also strongly recommend you look at the Science and Science Fiction issue of Stone Telling, to see many visions of the future in poetic form.
And I am writing the kind of SF I want to see, too, but that’s obviously a long-term process.
In the meantime: SO FUCKING SICK OF THIS SHIT.
Leave a comment
Out in late 2014
"...the 33 stories that MacFarlane has gathered for this volume dazzle with the virtuosity of their contributors’ talents."
- Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW
"Works from around the world, some in translation, provide an invaluable snapshot of this moment in the genre as well as some tremendously enjoyable reading."
- Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2014
Aliens: Recent Encounters
"...this [anthology] blew us away more than any other. Mostly because of the sheer volume of greatness contained in these 32 stories... These are classic stories of alien encounters, from some of the best science fiction writers working today."
- io9.com Best Books of 2013