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Asking for Trouble


Among the many, many, many comments on various sites and blogs to my classics-bashing post, Don’t Look Back in Awe, I was taken to task by one or two for recommending only male writers of modern science fiction.

The topic of women writers in sf is one which has had a bit of an airing of late. With comments on Aqueduct Press’s blog, Paul Kincaid’s Science Fiction Skeptic column, and this blog here. Not to mention the fuss a few months ago when Jonathan Strahan revealed the contents of Eclipse Two.

Of course, the person(s) who made the original comment about the authors I recommended was quite correct. I should have named some female sf writers. And for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is that science fiction is not an exclusively male genre, of readers or of writers. But – and this is the most important reason – because there are writers I would happily recommend who happen to be female. When I post a list of “books you should read” on this blog, the titles I list are ones I myself have enjoyed and admired. I would never recommend a book to someone if I didn’t have a high regard for it myself, no matter who or what the author is.

So I had a browse through my book collection, looking for contemporary novels (or collections) by female sf writers I could stick in a list, and… Oh dear. I could manage a list of about six or seven books, but that included a couple of cheats (a novel due to be published at the end of this year, and a recent collection of stories originally published in the 1950s). It’s not that I own so few books by female sf writers, just that many of them aren’t exactly contemporary. Which is a bit embarrassing.

I will happily insist people read anything they can find by L Timmel Duchamp, Mary Gentle, Gwyneth Jones, Justina Robson, or Susan R Matthews – all of whom currently have books in print. I’d also point out that you can’t go wrong with Ursula K Le Guin or CJ Cherryh. And while they’re considerably older – but there are a couple of recent collections in print – I’d also point people in the direction of Leigh Brackett‘s planetary romances. There are a couple of writers whose books I suspect I’d like, among them Jo Walton, Élisabeth Vonarburg, Kay Kenyon, and Kathleen Ann Goonan. I’ve yet to read anything by them, although I do plan to. But I won’t recommend a book I’ve not read.

Ignore the “contemporary”, and the list looks a little healthier: Sydney J van Scyoc (her last novel, Deepwater Dreams, was published in 1991), Shariann Lewitt (Rebel Sutra in 2000), Carolyn Ives Gilman (1998’s Halfway Human), Jane Emerson (City of Diamond from 1996), Jay D Blakeney (I’ve recommended before)…

I’ve read many more, of course. But I wouldn’t pick any of their books as ones to recommend.

So, no Ten Contemporary Novels by Female Science Fiction Writers. Not today, anyway. All those mentioned above are worth reading. I’d also welcome suggestions for more authors to try – but please bear in mind those I’ve named, as I’d obviously be more open to writers similar to them.

2 thoughts on “Asking for Trouble

  1. Your general point notwithstanding, Ian, (there are indeed fine female SF writers around) I’ve just read C J Cherryh’s “Faded Sun” trilogy – of which I had read only the first book ages ago and liked at the time – and I found it a bit iffy, not really too well written. Maybe it’s because I’m older or that the genre has moved on, though.

  2. I remember loving that trilogy when I read it as a young teenager. I’ve already decided that next year for my reading challenge I’m going to revisit some of those past classics, just to see how I feel about them now – books like Alan Dean Foster’s The Tar-Aiym Krang, Jack Vance’s Star King, the Lensman books, The Stainless Steel Rat books… And I’ll throw in a couple of actual “classics” as well: Stranger in a Strange Land, Rendezvous with Rama…

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