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The fastest man on earth

No, not me. Though I suppose if you strapped enough rocket bottles to me, I could probably qualify. Which is what happens – to someone else, I hasten to add – in my story ‘The Incurable Irony of the Man who Rode the Rocket Sled’. It was published yesterday in the The Orphan #5. You can find my story here.

sonicwind

‘The Incurable Irony of the Man who Rode the Rocket Sled’ was inspired by some of the research I did for the Apollo Quartet. I’d come across mention of the rocket sleds that were used in the 1950s to test how many Gs a human body could safely withstand, and I thought it would be pretty cool to write about that. So I did. The end result, however, isn’t exactly typical – as science fiction, my fiction, or even fiction per se: The Orphan itself describes it as possessing “footnotes, no plot, and genre content visible, yet near microscopic”. So, no launching rocket sleds into space to fight aliens or anything. Just a man, the rocket sleds, and the world around him.

They were bonkers, the volunteers on the rocket sled programme – especially the man who created it, John Paul Stapp. But what they achieved did prove useful and ultimately saved many lives. Here’s a USAF information film about rocket sleds, which gives you some idea of what it was all about.

Enjoy.


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Analysis: 100 Great sf stories by women

I have to admit the list of 100 Great science fiction stories by women has done considerably better than I expected, and seems to have gone a little bit viral. Loads of people tweeted a link to it, someone posted it on reddit (where a typically clueless number of discussions subsequently took place), it’s been linked from several blogs and sites (including tor.com and SF Signal), and has even appeared on several tumblrs. The hits here have gone through the roof – it is officially my most popular post, with even more hits than the one in which I wrote that Asimov was a shit writer. I was expecting people to turn the list into a meme, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. But it’s not like I’m complaining…

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to stick up a few charts about the list.

storiesbydecade
The list is slanted a little toward the twenty-first century, but there are more women writing sf now than there were in the first half of last century.

storiesbycategory
Unsurprisingly, more than half of the list are short stories – ie, 7,500 words or less.

yearsbestappearances
yearsbestbynumber
I used the tables of contents of several year’s best to find titles for the list, so these numbers come as no real surprise – but I was surprised to discover that some of the earlier stories had appeared in year’s bests of the 1950s and 1960s.

noms

wins

byaward
Again, I looked at award shortlists for titles, so the high number of nominees and winners is not unexpected.

locuspoll
I didn’t use the Locus poll at all, so the number of stories which appeared on it – nearly a third of the list – came as a surprise.

reprints
Quite a few of the older stories have been reprinted a huge number of times. The most-reprinted story is Judth Merril’s ‘That Only A Mother’, with 24 reprints, including Women of Wonder – and in my review of that anthology here, I called it “a bona fide classic of the genre”. It seems I’m not the only person who thinks so…


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The list: 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women

Now let the arguing begin…

The list below contains 100 pieces of short fiction – short stories, novelettes and novellas – by women writers, published between 1927 and 2012. Each author appears only once. The stories are by no means the best by each writer. In most cases, I’m simply not familiar enough with an oeuvre to choose the best; in other cases, I’ve picked a story I’ve read and thought good, and yes, there are a few of my favourite stories in the list too. I’ve not read them all – some came from suggestions on Twitter or on an earlier post on this blog (many thanks to all who contributed), others I took from various award lists or Year’s Best TOCs. One or two fantasy stories might have sneaked through the net, because I couldn’t find copies to read and check. However, the list should all be science fiction – and it should also demonstrate a good spread of styles and themes and approaches across the genre.

The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that women have been writing good science fiction since the beginnings of the genre – a point signally ignored by the table of contents of the 1978 anthology 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories, which contained only five stories by women. The first story on this list, for example, came third in a competition in Amazing Stories during the magazine’s second year of publication.

1 ‘The Fate of the Poseidonia’, Clare Winger Harris (1927, short story) online here
2 ‘The Conquest of Gola,’ Leslie F Stone (1931, short story) available in
3 ‘Water Pirate’, Leigh Brackett (1941, short story) available in
4 ‘Space Episode’, Leslie Perri (1941, short story) available in
5 ‘No Woman Born’, CL Moore (1944, novelette) available in
6 ‘That Only a Mother’, Judith Merril (1948, short story) available in
7 ‘Contagion’, Katherine Maclean (1950, novelette) available in
8 ‘Brightness Falls from the Air’, Margaret St Clair [as Idris Seabright] (1951, short story) available in
9 ‘All Cats are Gray’, Andre Norton (1953, short story) available in
10 ‘The Last Day’, Helen Clarkson (1958, short story) available in
11 ‘Captivity’, Zenna Henderson (1958, novella) available in
12 ‘The New You’, Kit Reed (1962, short story) online here
13 ‘The Putnam Tradition’, Sonya Dorman (1963, short story) online here
14 ‘Lord Moon’, MJ Engh [as Jane Beauclerk] (1965, short story) available in
15 ‘Weyr Search’, Anne McCaffrey (1967, novella) available in
16 ‘The Heat Death of the Universe’, Pamela Zoline (1967, short story) online here
17 ‘The Steiger Effect’, Betsy Curtis (1968, short story) available in
18 ‘The Power of Time’, Josephine Saxton (1971, novelette) available in
19 ‘And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side’, James Tiptree Jr (1972, short story) available in
20 ‘When It Changed’, Joanna Russ (1972, short story) online here
21 ‘Sheltering Dream’, Doris Piserchia (1972, short story) available in
22 ‘Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand’, Vonda N McIntyre (1973, novelette) available in
23 ‘Clone Sister’, Pamela Sargent (1973, novelette) available in
24 ‘The Violet’s Embryo’, Angélica Gorodischer (1973, novelette) online here (excerpt)
25 ‘Stone Circle’, Lisa Tuttle (1976, short story) available in
26 ‘Eyes of Amber’, Joan D Vinge (1977, novelette) available in
27 ‘Cassandra, CJ Cherryh (1978, short story) available in
28 ‘The View from Endless Scarp’, Marta Randall (1978, short story) online here
29 ‘Scorched Supper on New Niger’, Suzy McKee Charnas (1980, novelette) available in
30 ‘Abominable’, Carol Emshwiller (1980, short story) available in
31 ‘Sea Changeling’, Mildred Downey Broxon (1981, novelette) available in
32 ‘In the Western Tradition’, Phyllis Eisenstein (1981, novella) available in
33 ‘Her Furry Face’, Leigh Kennedy (1983, short story) available in
34 ‘Bloodchild’ Octavia E Butler (1984, novelette) available in
35 ‘Symphony for a Lost Traveller’, Lee Killough (1984, short story) available in
36 ‘All My Darling Daughters’, Connie Willis (1985, novelette) available in
37 ‘Webrider’, Jayge Carr (1985, short story) available in
38 ‘Out of All Them Bright Stars’, Nancy Kress (1985, short story) available in
39 ‘The View from Venus: A Case Study’, Karen Joy Fowler (1986, novelette) available in
40 ‘Reichs-Peace’, Sheila Finch (1986, novelette) available in
41 ‘Daily Voices’, Lisa Goldstein (1986, short story) available in
42 ‘Rachel in Love’, Pat Murphy (1987, novelette) available in
43 ‘Forever Yours, Anna’, Kate Wilhelm (1987, short story) available in
44 ‘Stable Strategies for Middle Management’, Eileen Gunn (1988, short story) available in
45 ‘War and Rumours of War’, Candas Jane Dorsey (1988, short story) available in
46 ‘The Mountains of Mourning’, Lois McMaster Bujold (1989, novella) available in
47 ‘Tiny Tango’, Judith Moffett (1989, novella) available in
48 ‘Identifying the Object’, Gwyneth Jones (1990, novelette) available in
49 ‘Loose Cannon’, Susan Shwartz (1990, novelette) available in
50 ‘Dispatches from the Revolution’, Pat Cadigan (1991, novelette) available here
51 ‘The Road to Jerusalem’, Mary Gentle (1991, short story) online here
52 ‘The Missionary’s Child’, Maureen F McHugh (1992, novelette) available in
53 ‘The Story So Far’, Martha Soukup (1993, short story) available in
54 ‘The Good Pup’, Bridget McKenna (1993, short story) available in
55 ‘California Dreamer’, Mary Rosenblum (1994, short story) available in
56 ‘Last Summer at Mars Hill’, Elizabeth Hand (1994, novella) available in
57 ‘Coming of Age in Karhide’, Ursula K Le Guin (1995, novelette) available in
58 ‘De Secretis Mulierum’, L Timmel Duchamp (1995, novella) available in
59 ‘Merlusine’, Lucy Sussex (1997, novelette) available in
60 ‘Noble Mold’, Kage Baker (1997, short story) available in
61 ‘All the Birds of Hell’, Tanith Lee (1998, novelette) available in
62 ‘Rain Season’, Leanne Frahm (1998, short story) available in
63 ‘Echea’, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (1998, novelette) available in
64 ‘Patient Zero’, Tananarive Due (2000, short story) online here
65 ‘Knapsack Poems’, Eleanor Arnason (2002, short story) available in
66 ‘State of Oblivion’, Kaaron Warren (2003, short story) available in
67 ‘Inside Out’, Michaela Roessner (2004, short story) online here
68 ‘Griots of the Galaxy’, Andrea Hairston (2004, novelette) available in
69 ‘Riding the White Bull’, Caitlín R Kiernan (2004, novelette) available in
70 ‘The Avatar of Background Noise’, Toiya Kristen Finley (2006, short story) available in
71 ‘Captive Girl’, Jennifer Pelland (2006, short story) online here
72 ‘The Bride Price’, Cat Sparks (2007, short story) available in
73 ‘Tideline’, Elizabeth Bear (2007, short story) online here
74 ‘Arkfall’, Carolyn Ives Gilman (2008, novella) available in
75 ‘Legolas does the Dishes’, Justina Robson (2008, short story) available in
76 ‘The Ecologist and the Avon Lady’, Tricia Sullivan (2008, novelette) available in
77 ‘Infinities’, Vandana Singh (2008, novelette) available in
78 ‘Chica, Let Me Tell You a Story’, Alex Dally MacFarlane (2008, short story) available in
79 ‘Spider the Artist’, Nnedi Okrafor (2008, short story) online here
80 ‘Cold Words’, Juliette Wade (2009, novelette) available in
81 ‘Eros, Philia, Agape’, Rachel Swirsky (2009, novelette) onine here
82 ‘Non-Zero Probabilities’, NK Jemisin (2009, short story) online here
83 ‘Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast’, Eugie Foster (2009, short story) available in
84 ‘It Takes Two’, Nicola Griffith (2009, novelette) available in
85 ‘Blood, Blood’, Abbey Mei Otis (2010, short story) online here and here
86 ‘The Other Graces’, Alice Sola Kim (2010, short story) available in
87 ‘Agents of Repair’, Rosie Oliver (2010, short story) available in
88 ‘Amaryllis’, Carrie Vaughn (2010, short story) online here
89 ‘I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno’, Vylar Kaftan (2010, short story) online here
90 ‘Flying in the Face of God’, Nina Allan (2010, short story) available in
91 ‘Six Months, Three Days’, Charlie Jane Anders (2011, short story) online here
92 ‘Nahiku West’, Linda Nagata (2011, novelette) available in
93 ‘The Cartographer Bees and the Anarchist Wasps’, E Lily Yu (2011, short story) online here
94 ‘Silently and Very Fast’, Catherynne M Valente (2011, novella) online here, here and here
95 ‘Jagannath’, Karin Tidbeck (2011, short story) available in
96 ‘A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel’, Yoon Ha Lee (2011, short story) online here
97 ‘Immersion’, Aliette de Bodard (2012, short story) online here
98 ‘The Lady Astronaut of Mars’, Mary Robinette Kowal (2012, novelette) online here
99 ‘The Green’, Lauren Beukes (2012, short story) available in
100 ‘Significant Dust’, Margo Lanagan (2012, novelette) available in

No doubt there are stories and authors I’ve missed off the list, and which/who you feel strongly should be on it. Tell me so in a comment. Also, feel free to disseminate the list as a meme – you know, bold those you’ve read, italicise those on the TBR; or something like that.

For the record, I’ve read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 47, 48, 53, 55, 57, 58, 64, 65, 70, 73, 74, 75, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 87, 89, 90, 91, 93, 94, 96, 97, 98. Which I make to be sixty-three in total. Not too bad a showing…

ETA
This is a list of short fiction – short stories, novelettes and novels. If you’re interested in novels by women sf writers, then check out SF Mistressworks.

ETA #2: NOTES FOR REDDITORS
This is the easy summary for those on reddit who seem to have trouble understanding the purpose of this list:

  1. It is not novels, it is short stories, novelettes and novellas.
  2. Each writer appears only once.
  3. It is not a list of “best” or “top” sf stories by women. It is “great” because it was inspired by the anthology 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories.
  4. The list demonstrates that women have been writing good science fiction since the genre was created in 1926.
  5. There are many more than 100 excellent women sf writers, but I chose 100 because of the anthology named in point 3.
  6. The gender of the author is not irrelevant. Find me a list of great or top or best sf stories where at least half were written by women. You will fail.
  7. The stories were chosen from a) my own favourites, b) suggestions by other people, c) award shortlists, and d) the tables of contents of Year’s Best anthologies.
  8. I have read 63 of the stories on the list.
  9. There are several authors on the list who have yet to have novels published – ie, new authors.
  10. If there’s someone missing you feel should be on the list, tell me in a comment.
  11. I’m happy to defend all my choices – leave a comment.
  12. Finally, why not click on the links in the list and read those stories which are available online?


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Toward 100 Great SF Short Stories by Women

In my review of Women of Wonder, a women-only sf anthology edited by Pamela Sargent, on SF Mistressworks here, I mentioned the anthology 100 Great Science Fiction Short Stories, edited by Isaac Asimov, Joseph D Olander and Martin H Greenberg. It occurred to me it would be a good idea to put together a list, of meme-like properties, of 100 great sf stories by women writers. I can’t do this on my own – I’ve simply not read enough short fiction to pick out enough good stories. So I’m asking for suggestions. There was a bit of a conversation of Twitter today, using the hashtag #100WomenSF. Feel free to suggest there too.

The rules are simple – written by a woman, science fiction only, published in any year up to and including 2012, any length (ie, novelettes and novellas allowed). The list will feature only one piece of fiction per author but don’t let that stop you. Some authors are going to be easier than others, but may well present different problems – everyone can probably name a suitable story by Ursula K Le Guin off the top of their head, but which is her best one?

I had a quick go and managed just over fifty – including some authors appearing more than once (such as Le Guin) because I’ve yet to decide which story belongs in the final list…

Stories I’ve read that I think belong on the list
‘The Conquest of Gola’, Leslie F Stone (1931, short story)
‘No Woman Born’, CL Moore (1944, novelette)
‘That Only a Mother’, Judith Merril (1948, short story)
‘Brightness Falls from the Air’, Margaret St Clair (as Idris Seabright) (1951, short story)
‘The Last Day’, Helen Clarkson (1958, short story)
‘The Heat Death of the Universe’, Pamela Zoline (1967, short story)
‘And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side’, James Tiptree Jr (1972, short story)
‘When It Changed’, Joanna Russ (1972, short story)
‘Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand’, Vonda N Mcintyre (1973, novelette)
‘Scorched Supper on New Niger’, Suzy McKee Charnas (1980, novelette)
‘Bloodchild’, Octavia E Butler (1984, novelette)
‘All My Darling Daughters’, Connie Willis (1985, novelette)
‘Webrider’, Jayge Carr (1985, short story)
‘Out of All Them Bright Stars’, Nancy Kress (1985, short story)
‘The View from Venus: A Case Study’, Karen Joy Fowler (1986, novelette)
‘Reichs-Peace’, Sheila Finch (1986, novelette)
‘Rachel in Love’, Pat Murphy (1987, novelette)
‘Tiny Tango’, Judith Moffett (1989, novella)
‘Identifying the Object’, Gwyneth Jones (1990, novelette)
‘The Road to Jerusalem’, Mary Gentle (1991, short story)
‘Coming of Age in Karhide’, Ursula K Le Guin (1995, novelette)
‘The Avatar of Background Noise’, Toiya Kristen Finley (2006, short story)
‘Arkfall’, Carolyn Ives Gilman (2008, novella)
‘Legolas Does the Dishes’, Justina Robson (2008, short story)
‘Immersion’, Aliette de Bodard (2012, short story)

Stories I’ve read that maybe should be on the list
‘Cassandra’, CJ Cherryh (1978, short story)
‘Abominable’, Carol Emshwiller (1980, short story)
‘Symphony for a Lost Traveller’, Lee Killough (1984, short story)
‘Forever Yours, Anna’, Kate Wilhelm (1987, short story)
‘Stable Strategies for Middle Management’, Eileen Gunn (1988, short story)
‘California Dreamer’, Mary Rosenblum (1994, short story)
‘The Lady Astronaut of Mars’, Mary Robinette Kowal (2012, novelette)

Stories I’ve not read
‘Captivity’, Zenna Henderson (1958, novella)
‘Lord Moon’, MJ Engh (as Jane Beauclerk) (1965, short story)
‘Weyr Search’, Anne McCaffrey (1967, novella)
‘The Steiger Effect’, Betsy Curtis (1968, short story)
‘Nightlife’, Phyllis Eisenstein (1982, novelette)
‘Her Furry Face’, Leigh Kennedy (1983, short story)
‘The Mountains of Mourning’, Lois McMaster Bujold (1989, novella)
‘The Power and the Passion’, Pat Cadigan (1990, short story)
‘Suppose They Gave a Peace…’, Susan Shwartz (1991, novelette)
‘Protection’, Maureen F McHugh (1992, novella)
‘Danny Goes to Mars’, Pamela Sargent (1992, novelette)

Duplicate stories
‘Souls’, Joanna Russ (1982, novella)
‘Over the Long Haul’, Martha Soukup (1990, novelette)
‘Nekropolis’, Maureen F McHugh (1994, novelette)

Are these sf? I don’t know
‘The Warlords Of Saturn’s Moons’, Eleanor Arnason (1975, novelette)
‘Stone Circle’, Lisa Tuttle (1976, short story)
‘Red as Blood’, Tanith Lee (1979, short story)
‘Spidersong’, Susan C Petrey (1980, short story)
‘Sea Changeling’, Mildred Downey Broxon (1981, novelette)
‘Dog’s Life’, Martha Soukup (1991, short story)
‘The Nutcracker Coup’, Janet Kagan (1992, novelette)
‘All Vows’, Esther M Friesner (1992, short story)
‘Alfred’, Lisa Goldstein (1992, short story)
‘The Good Pup’, Bridget McKenna (1993, short story)

New additions
‘The Fate of the Poseidonia’, Clare Winger Harris (1927, short story)
‘Space Episode’, Leslie Perri (1941, short story)
‘The Putnam Tradition’, Sonya Dorman (1963, short story)
‘Automatic Tiger’, Kit Reed (1964, short story)
‘The View from Endless Scarp’, Marta Randall (1978, short story)
‘War and Rumours of War’, Candas Jane Dorsey (1988, short story)
‘Patient Zero’, Tananarive Due (2000, short story)
‘Knapsack Poems’, Eleanor Arnason (2002, short story)
‘State of Oblivion’, Kaaron Warren (2003, short story)
‘Inside Out,’ Michaela Roessner (2004, short story)
‘Griots of the Galaxy’, Andrea Hairston (2004, novelette)
‘The Bride Price’, Cat Sparks (2007, short story)
‘Tideline’, Elizabeth Bear (2007, short story)
‘Infinities’, Vandana Singh (2008, novelette)
‘Spider the Artist’, Nnedi Okorafor (2008, short story)
‘Chica, Let Me Tell You a Story’, Alex Dally MacFarlane (2008, short story)
‘Cold Words’, Juliette Wade (2009, novelette)
‘Eros, Philia, Agape’, Rachel Swirsky (2009, novelette)
‘Non-Zero Probabilities’, NK Jemisin (2009, short story)
‘Blood, Blood’, Abbey Mei Otis (2010, short story)
‘The Other Graces’, Alice Sola Kim (2010, short story)
‘Agents of Repair’, Rosie Oliver (2010, short story)
‘Amaryllis’, Carrie Vaughn (2010, short story)
‘I’m Alive, I love You, I’ll See You in Reno’, Vylar Kaftan (2010, short story)
‘Six Months, Three Days’, Charlie Jane Anders (2011, short story)
‘Nahiku West’, Linda Nagata (2011, novelette)
‘The Cartographer Bees and the Anarchist Wasps’, E Lily Yu (2011, short story)
‘Silently and Very Fast’, Catherynne M Valente (2011, novella)
‘Jagannath’, Karin Tidbeck (2011, short story)
‘The Green’, Lauren Beukes (2012, short story)
‘Significant Dust’, Margo Lanagan (2012, novelette)
‘Black Box’, Jennifer Egan (2012, short story)

More new additions
‘Water Pirate’, Leigh Brackett (1941, short story)
‘Fireship’, Joan D Vinge (1978, novella)
‘The Missionary’s Child’, Maureen F McHugh (1992, novelette)
‘All the Birds of Hell’, Tanith Lee (1998, novelette)
‘Riding the White Bull’, Caitlín R Kiernan (2004, novelette)
‘Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast’, Eugie Foster (2009, short story)
‘Flying in the Face of God’, Nina Allan (2010, short story)
‘A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel’, Yoon Ha Lee (2011, short story)

So, more suggestions needed, please. Especially of twenty-first century sf, but also by authors who are not represented here – what is Margaret St Clair’s best story, for example? And tell me about the stories I’ve not read – how good are they? The stories in the last section, are they sf or fantasy? I can’t tell from the title. I picked them from the shortlists of the Hugo and Nebula awards, neither of which actually differentiates between the genres.

Let’s see if we can do a good representative meme-list of 100 pieces of sf short fiction by women writers. I’ll post the final list here and on both SF Mistressworks and Daughters of Prometheus.

ETA
Have added Leslie F Stone and Margaret St Clair to the first list. Have also settled on ‘Out of All Them Stars’ for Nancy Kress and ‘Coming of Age in Karhide’ for Le Guin. Likewise, ‘And I Awoke And Found Me Here On The Cold Hill’s Side’ has always been a favourite story of mine so I’m going to choose that as Tiptree’s contribution.

ETA #2
Added New additions section, from comments here and on Twitter. Some of them I’ve read. Of the ones I’ve not read, some might not be sf – I need to check that. Also moved a couple of stories to Stories I’ve read that maybe should be on the list since I found copies and read them.

ETA #3
More new additions added. I don’t want the list to be too twenty-first-century heavy, but it is sort of leaning that way. At present, it breaks down by decade as 1920: 1; 1930: 1; 1940: 4; 1950: 3; 1960: 6; 1970: 8; 1980: 20; 1990: 15; 2000: 19; 2010: 17, which adds up to 94 (and still includes more than one entry by a couple of authors). I think the list needs a few more suggestions for the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. And it would be helpful if anyone can confirm if all of the stories actually are science fiction and not fantasy. Nonetheless, a list is starting to come together…


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Locus All-Centuries Poll short fiction results

Locus posted the short fiction results to its poll a couple of days ago and the results are… not entirely unexpected. Americocentric. A little more diverse in terms of race and gender than the novel results, but not by that much. And yes, pretty much exclusively Anglophone. But let’s see how my choices did…

20th Century SF/F Novella
22 – 1 ‘Great Work of Time’, John Crowley (1989)
6 – 2 ‘The Fifth Head of Cerberus’, Gene Wolfe (1972)
51 – 3 ‘Forgiveness Day’, Ursula K Le Guin (1994)
0 – 4 ‘Equator’, Brian W Aldiss (1958)
72 – 5 ‘Green Mars’, Kim Stanley Robinson (1985)
83 – 6 ‘Marrow’, Robert Reed (1997)
0 – 7 ‘Secrets’, Ian Watson (1997)
1 – 8 ‘Story of Your Life’, Ted Chiang (1998)
71 – 9 ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, Richard Cowper (1976)
10

Well, I picked the number one novella, although I had it down at number eight. A single Aldiss novella barely made the top fifty – so much for his sixty-year career (though I will admit ‘Equator’ is not generally seen as one of his career highlights; I still love it, however.) A single Ian Watson novelette made it to number 117 – so there’s another British author who has been cruelly neglected.

Instead, the actual top twenty had Chiang, old favourites like Heinlein and Simak and John W Campbell and Sturgeon and Lovecraft, and six women (including US middle-aged fan favourite Connie Willis). Most, surprisingly, are science fiction, rather than fantasy.

20th Century SF/F Novelette
108 – 1 ‘The Barbie Murders’, John Varley (1978)
170 – 2 ‘Beauty and the Opéra or the Phantom Beast’, Suzy McKee Charnas (1996)
0 – 3 ‘The Time-Tombs’, JG Ballard (1963)
73 – 4 ‘A Little Something For Us Tempunauts’, Philip K Dick (1974)
157 – 5 ‘Black Air’, Kim Stanley Robinson (1983)
0 – 6 ‘The Last Days of Shandakor’, Leigh Brackett (1952)
100 – 7 ‘No Woman Born’, CL Moore (1944)
0 – 8 ‘FOAM’, Brian W Aldiss (1991)
44 – 9 ‘Swarm’, Bruce Sterling (1982)
0 – 10 ‘Housecall’, Terry Dowling (1986)

A few more zeros here, meaning no one selected those choices as their number one. My highest placer is Bruce Sterling at 44, and I thought that was my most commercial pick. I should have instead listed ‘The View From Venus: A Case Study’ by Karen Joy Fowler, which, er, no one picked at all.

The actual top twenty has the execrable ‘Nightfall’ at number two. Kill it with fire. And another Asimov at number four. Plus Harlan Ellison (it’s harder to know which to despise more, the man or his fiction). Three women, although Tiptree is selected twice. Samuel Delany sneaks in at number sixteen. All twenty novelettes are by Americans (the first Brit appears at 41).

20th Century SF/F Short Story
56 – 1 ‘And I Awoke And Found Me Here On The Cold Hill Side’, James Tiptree Jr. (1972)
25 – 2 ‘Air Raid’, John Varley (1977)
0 – 3 ‘Forward Echoes (AKA Identifying the Object)’, Gwyneth Jones (1990)
213 – 4 ‘The Lake of Tuonela’, Keith Roberts (1973)
0 – 5 ‘The Road To Jerusalem’, Mary Gentle (1991)
0 – 6 ‘A Map of the Mines of Barnath’, Sean Williams (1995)
0 – 7 ‘The Brains Of Rats’, Michael Blumlein (1986)
22 – 8 ‘Aye, And Gomorrah’, Samuel R Delany (1967)
276 – 9 ‘A Gift From The Culture’, Iain M Banks (1987)
101 – 10 ‘The Gernsback Continuum’, William Gibson (1981)

I wasn’t expecting to have many popular choices in this category, but not a single one of mine made it into the top twenty. Delany came highest at 22, and then Varley at 25. And they’re popular works of sf. I got four zeroes.

The actual results featured Ellison (3), Heinlein (2), Clarke (3), Asimov, Bradbury (2)… It’s Dead White Male time. (Except Ellison isn’t dead, of course.) Four women. JG Ballard’s highest placing is 47, which is dismaying. Looking at the results, I see a lot of stories that are repeatedly anthologised. Well, there you go…

21st Century SF/F Novella
59 – 1 ‘Arkfall’, Carolyn Ives Gilman (2008)
0 – 2 ‘My Death’, Lisa Tuttle (2004)
6 – 3 ‘Diamond Dogs’, Alastair Reynolds (2001)
0 – 4 ‘Dangerous Space’, Kelley Eskridge (2007)
0 – 5 ‘A Writer’s Life’, Eric Brown (2001)

I’ve read two of the novellas which made the top ten in this category. One of them was the Reynolds. I was surprised Carolyn Ives Gilman didn’t get zero, but then it was originally published in Asimov’s. Two of the others were original novellas from PS Publishing, so no surprise with the zeroes there…

21st Century SF/F Novelette
2 – 1 ‘The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate’, Ted Chiang (2007)
66 – 2 ‘Divining Light’, Ted Kosmatka (2008)
3
4
5

I freely admit to being crap at this category. Not only is the novelette a completely useless category and should be roundly expunged from, well, everything, but I’ve not read enough long short fiction published this century. Still, my number one choice made number two. Still, Chiang… (On the other hand, he also made the number one spot.)

As it is, the top ten are all genre darlings – Chiang, Link, Gaiman, Stross, Miéville, Bacigalupi…

21st Century SF/F Short Story

I was so rubbish at this one, I couldn’t think of a single story to nominate. If I had chosen the story I remembered after the deadline, ‘The Avatar of Background Noise’, Toiya Kristen Finley, it would have come… nowhere. No one picked it. Instead, we got ten relatively recent award winners, with a couple of outliers – Le Guin and Swanwick.

We can thus conclude that all worthwhile science fiction and fantasy short fiction is written by a group of about thirty people, over half of whom are dead. Of course, this is a consequence of the small number of voters, most of whom probably fit a fairly similar profile. I’m not sure how useful an exercise that makes the poll, though as a guideline for changing a reader’s approach to the genre it offers a possible blueprint. You know, don’t read the writers in the top twenties for each category, read other ones instead, ones you may not have come across before. Diversify your diet of genre fiction. Add some diversity to it.

And finally, I just have to say something about the amazingly stupid remark made in the comment thread on the results page:

“If there was more women and minorities that cared enough to vote in this poll, then there would have been more females and minorities on the list. you cannot blame others for it.”

Poor grammar aside, it’s a remarkably dumb thing to say. Because of course only women and minorities nominate women and minorities. And women only vote for women, just as minorities only vote for minorities. Someone take away Maddog’s computer, he’s clearly too stupid to use it properly.


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The Novel Poll results are in

… and oh dear. Well, that’s a little embarrassing. The results for the novels for the Locus All-Centuries Poll are in – see here. The best science fiction novel of the twentieth century is apparently Frank Herbert’s Dune, the best fantasy novel of the twentieth century is The Lord of the Rings, the best sf novel of the twenty-first century is John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, and the best fantasy novel of the twenty-first century is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

These results only show that most people confuse popularity with quality. I love Dune and I’ve read it many times, but it’s not a very well-written book. In fact, Herbert’s prose rarely rises above the embarrassingly bad. The Lord of the Rings is the giant elephant in the fantasy room, and it’s about time fantasy got over it. The less said about the twenty-first century novel choices, the better. I’ve read neither, I have no intention of reading them, they are not books I’d ever consider would merit the description “best”.

Unsurprisingly, my own choices did woefully badly. Only one actually made it onto a list – Watership Down at number ten on the 20th Century Fantasy Novel. For the record, here are the actual positions of my choices, where 0 (zero) means the book was not chosen as number one on a list by anyone.

20th Century SF Novel
221 – 1 Coelestis, Paul Park (1993)
206 – 2 Dhalgren, Samuel R Delany (1975)
16 – 3 The Dispossessed, Ursula K Le Guin (1974)
283 – 4 Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988)
0 – 5 Synthajoy, DG Compton (1968)
349 – 6 Ash: A Secret History, Mary Gentle (2000)
0 – 7 Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)
35 – 8 Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson (1992)
0 – 9 Take Back Plenty, Colin Greenland (1990)
76 – 10 The Female Man, Joanna Russ (1975)

20th Century Fantasy Novel
229 – 1 Aegypt, John Crowley (1987)
265 – 2 In Viriconium, M John Harrison (1982)
236 – 3 Rats & Gargoyles, Mary Gentle (1990)
34 – 4 Mythago Wood, Robert Holdstock (1984)
0 – 5 Lens of the World, RA McAvoy (1990)
10 – 6 Watership Down, Richard Adams (1972)
102 – 7 The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman (1995)
62 – 8 Tehanu, Ursula K Le Guin (1990)
18 – 9 The Book Of The New Sun, Gene Wolfe (1983)
0 – 10 The Grail of Hearts, Susan Shwartz (1992)

21st Century SF Novel
14 – 1 Light, M John Harrison (2002)
67 – 2 Life, Gwyneth Jones (2004)
0 – 3 Ascent, Jed Mercurio (2007)
0 – 4 Alanya to Alanya, L Timmel Duchamp (2005)
0 – 5 The Caryatids, Bruce Sterling (2009)

21st Century Fantasy Novel
0 – 1 Evening’s Empire, David Herter (2002)
87 – 2 A Princess of Roumania, Paul Park (2005)
0 – 3 Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land, John Crowley (2005)
155 – 4 Hav, Jan Morris (2006)
0 – 5 Lord of Stone, Keith Brooke (2001)

So there we have it: popularity contest picks most popular novels and calls them “best”. In other words, a total waste of time. I knew going in that some of my choices were reasonably obscure – not totally obscure, as they were published by major publishing houses – but even so I expected some people to recognise their quality. Sadly not. And even my choices for the more popular and better-known authors didn’t even make it into the final top ten or top five. I mean, no halfway-intelligent person can consider Old Man’s War to be a better book than Light. Not, and be taken seriously. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Sf and fantasy aren’t taken seriously. And never will be as long as we pull stupid strokes like the results of this poll.

So, science fiction and fantasy, go and stand in the corner.


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Locus poll adden-doh

So, a day or two after I filled in my selections for the Locus Poll of Polls (see here), I stumbled across this Mind Meld I did back in October 2010 on my perfect short fiction anthology. While most of the TOC made it into my categories for the polls, some didn’t and I wish I’d managed to remember them. The missing ones were:

‘That Only a Mother’, Judith Merrill (short story, 1948)
I went for ‘No Woman Born’ by CL Moore instead. I’d have to reread both to decide which of the two I should have chosen. It might have been both.

‘The Sword of Rhiannon’, Leigh Brackett (novel, 1949)
This is apparently a novel, so it doesn’t even belong in a short fiction anthology. Whoops. I picked Brackett’s ‘The Last Days of Shandrakor’ for my 20th Century SF/F Novelette category.

‘A Woman Naked’, Christopher Priest (short story, 1974)
I did think about including this one, but I had more than ten choices for my 20th Century SF/F Short Story category. Even though some turned out to be novelettes, I still had to say no to a couple of titles. Incidentally, I wrote a guest post on this story on Gav Reads – see here.

‘The View from Venus: A Case Study’, Karen Joy Fowler (novelette, 1986)
I considered this one too, but I thought it was a short story and I was over-subscribed in that category. But I’ve just looked on isfdb.org and it’s down as a novelette. So I should have included it in that category, probably in place of the Sterling or the Dowling.

‘In Saturn Time’, William Barton (short story, 1995)
Like the Priest, I considered this, but had no free space in the category.

‘Beside the Sea’, Keith Brooke (short story, 1995)
I’d forgotten about this one, but I suspect it wouldn’t have made the cut anyway. Though it is an excellent short story.

‘The Avatar of Background Noise’, Toiya Kristen Finley (short story, 2006)
I wish I’d remembered this one. I left my 21st Century SF/F Short Story category blank, but I’d have included this one if I’d remembered it. Argh.

I only managed nine in the 20th Century SF/F Novella category, two in the 21st Century SF/F Novelette, and none in 21st Century SF/F Short Story. I think I need to read more short fiction from the first decade of this century. It’s not like I’m prevented from doing so – I have a huge pile of Interzones, a shelf full of Postscripts, and a whole bunch of other magazines and anthologies…

So, I think, as a resolution for 2013, I shall work towards putting together a short fiction best of the year, as I do every year for books, films and albums. That should encourage me to read more short stories. I’ll not differentiate between short story, novelette or novella – they’ll all be munged together into one list. Nor will I work overly hard at reading as much as possible. If a story doesn’t grab me within the first 500 to 1,000 words, I’ll not bother finishing it. I’ll stick to the venues I usually frequent, though if someone recommends a story published elsewhere I’ll give it a go. Hopefully, by the end of the year I’ll have enough to choose from to list the five best. I’ll even be able to pick stories to nominate for the BSFA Award. (hint, hint.)

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