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The women sf writers men won’t see


A call on the Guardian for people’s favourite science fiction novels last Monday resulted in a list of over 500 titles (tellingly listed as best science fiction novels). The list prompted both Nicola Griffith and Cheryl Morgan to point out how few novels by women sf writers had been named. The Guardian then added to the debate with an article ‘The incredible shrinking presence of women sf writers‘, only for its comments thread to prove how shockingly bad the situation actually is.

And so Nicola Griffth has asked people to take the Russ Pledge, “to make a considerable and consistent effort to mention women’s work which, consciously or unconsciously, has been suppressed”. And while my reading challenge this year has been to read one book by a women sf writer each month, and blog about it, I decided to do more.

So I’ve set up the SF Mistressworks blog. Which will comprise reviews of classic and twentieth century science fiction by women writers. It will offset all those “classic sf” and “50 sf novels you must read” and “best sf novels” lists you see all over the internet which have few or no women writers on them. It will demonstrate that women have been writing sf since the genre’s beginnings, and that many of their books are as good as, if not better, than many sf “classics”.

A number of people have all ready volunteered to write reviews, but more are certainly welcome. I have no intention of providing the content alone. I also don’t mind if there are multiple reviews – by different hands, of course – of the same book.

The SF Mistressworks blog is part of the conversation about women sf writers; but it will never direct it.

13 thoughts on “The women sf writers men won’t see

  1. How does one go about volunteering?

  2. How many women have been performing the Russ Pledge since the Paleolithic? So white Anglosaxon men must notice this before it gets noticed (with approval, that is)? That says it all, right there.

    • But it’s more than that, don’t you see?
      It’s not that it needs white male approval – it’s that because of a consistent and all encompassing suppression of female SF literature, or just female literature in general, we’re all ignorant.
      This vow is a way to motivate readers and writers, and to encourage greater visibility – not just to men but women as well. By stating that it needs only male approval is implying that only men read books – which I hope is not the case because then I have some deep introspection ahead of me.

    • I fully acknowledge that women have been performing the Russ Pledge for years and decades. But I myself haven’t. And I want to do something about that. Which is why I started the SF Mistressworks blog. And that is also why I’m crowd-sourcing the content – so that’s it’s not my project, it’s not me doing it, it’s the people in the conversation who are doing it.

  3. This is a great idea! Your list is a great resource for SF fans and your new site will further the effort immensely. Clearly there is a lot of interest in this topic.

    I added the SF Mistressworks list to my site and our visitors really love it. ( I’ve also got a list of all the award winning books by women authors from the top 10 genre awards to help people find women authors to try. ( I’ve been making an effort to read women authors every other book and these lists have certainly come in handy.

  4. Would you be prepared to accept reviews of more recent women sf writers? My jaw grazed the floor at the list… while I was delighted for Ursula le Guin and the other handful of early female writers who were featured – where was Kage Baker, Lois McMaster Bujold, C.J. Cherryh’s canon, Andre Norton, Patricia A. McKillip?? And as for the women I enjoy right now – Marianne de Pierres, Anne Aguirre, Mary Rosenblum, Steph Swainston – to name but a few… Thing is, I already have a bunch of reviews of some the books written by these women. I’d be delighted to make them available – but these days, I do tend to read more of the current stuff because – to be perfectly frank – I get a tad tired of the fans who INSIST on harking back to some ‘golden age’. Science fiction, like all good fiction, tends to reflect and discuss contemporary preoccupations. So I fail to understand why we are STILL so caught up with literature written in the 70’s and 80’s for people of that time.

    • I’d like the SF Mistressworks blog to be an antidote to all those male-dominated classics lists out there, which is why I’d prefer older works. Having said that, there’s nothing stopping someone going out and doing the same for 21st century women sf writers…

  5. Pingback: SF Signal: SF Tidbits for 6/2/11

  6. Has anybody in the science fiction community realised that the National Federation of Women’s Institutes is coming to the rescue? Their national writing competition for this year (Lady Denman Cup) is to write a short story about the W.I. in 2025.

    See link below for details…

  7. Any SF classics list that does not at least include Brackett, Cherryh, LeGuin, McIntyre and Butler is inherently suspect. Segregating those five authors into a female-only category would be incredibly short-sighted as well. And this is without considering Willis, Cadigan, Norton, Russ or so many others whose contributions are simply vital to the genre. “Canon lists” and “best of” compilations are always problematic, but this really underscores the point: “It’s not a world series unless the whole world is participating.”

    • Then by your argument just about every sf classics list available is suspect. And they won’t magically change by themselves. It’s not a level playing field and any argument which suggest it is, is only refusing to change it. The sf mistressworks list and blog are an attempt to redress the balance – because, you know, the great majority of teams in all those “world series” are still American…

  8. As someone that’s just returning to science fiction after a long absence, this looks great. As I’ve been looking for books to read, I did notice them amazing number of woman authors that were nominated for a Hugo.

    I did check out the list on and I will be using that as well as other lists Ian has here.

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