There’s an interview with Tricia Sullivan at Geek Syndicate that’s worth a look; it covers her new novel, Lightborn, but one of Sullivan’s longest answers comes in response to a question about the Arthur C Clarke Award:
8. I’ve just checked on the winners of the last ten years’ Clarke Awards and I must admit to being shocked. Nine male winners, one female winner. Something about this quota strikes me as wrong. I’ve double checked and female authors have been shortlisted, which is nice, yet no one else has won. I find this peculiar. Where do you stand on this perceived “unequality”?
I went and looked it up and here’s what I found: gender parity in the judges has been spotty over time, but in recent years there’s generally pretty good ratio of women:men on the juries. One would think this would mean more women on the shortlist and winning awards. Not so.
For the first ten years from the award’s inception in 1987 until 1996, the genders were balanced, five female winners and five male. Between 1997-2006 there were three female winners out of ten (Mary Doria Russell, Gwyneth Jones, and me) and between 2006-2010 there have been no female winners. The shortlist since 2000 has included Gwyneth Jones a whole bunch of times, Sheri Tepper, Sarah Hall, Lydia Millet, Jan Morris, Liz Williams, Audry Niffeneger, me, Elizabeth Moon, Connie Willis, Justina Robson twice, Octavia Butler, Mary Gentle, and Kathleen Ann Goonan. Yet, since 2003 there has been only one year with more than one female author on the ballot. What are the odds of a woman being chosen when the judges’s shortlist is 80% male or more?
I do not know why this is the case, but I wonder whether, with science fiction declining greatly in the US, there may not be enough women playing the SF game right now. Only the most successful writers can survive in this climate, and that probably means women are being forced out at a higher rate than men. Without much input from women in North America or Australia, the burden may be falling on UK SF writers.
I think this diagnosis is broadly accurate. Certainly we can say that the number of books by women being submitted for the award is pretty low. For the last award, 20% of submissions were by women; for the 2009 award it was 13%; and for the 2008 award, 13%. Before that the submissions weren’t published, but as a judge I can tell you that the submissions for the 2007 award were in the same ball park. My perception is that the first half of the decade was slightly better, although I don’t really know. Over the whole decade, however, 13 of 60 nominations, or 22%, have gone to women, which seems to be proportional.
That said, at that sort of rate you’d also expect to have had two women win over the decade, and there’s only been one, Gwyneth Jones in 2002. As Sullivan notes, I don’t think this can be attributed to an imbalance in judges, although there is room for improvement there; 34% of 50 judges over the period have been women. Women have made up the majority of the panel (i.e. 3 of 5 judges) twice in the last ten years, for the 2008 and 2009 awards; for the 2002 award, 2 of 5 judges were women.
Another way of looking at whether there are “enough women playing the SF game right now” is to consider how the boundaries are drawn, as Sullivan goes on to do:
We have a strong crop of men in writing SF in the UK now, and of course we have Karen Traviss and Jaine Fenn doing very well with commercial SF. But on the more literary side, only Gwyneth Jones has had recent recognition with many nominations and a win–and she’s achieved this despite the fact that she divides her energy with her alter ego, Ann Halam. Liz Williams’ work tends to be regarded as fantasy despite its cool SF elements; same with Stephanie Swainston. Sadly, Pat Cadigan hasn’t published an SF novel in nearly ten years. Justina and I have been dealing with pregnancies and babies and toddlers–I can’t speak for her, but for myself: been wrecked, for years. Brain and body and time, seriously drained. In this country we have women like Claire Weaver and Heather Bradshaw and I’m sure there are many others publishing short fiction, and abroad Aliette de Bodard looks like she’s going to be a major force. Still, in SF there aren’t enough women to fill in the gaps when one steps back for whatever reason.
And of course, since 2001 China Mieville has won three times. That does skew things toward the boys. But he has won with two fantasies and what is purported to be a crime novel, so that rather stretches the idea of what a science fiction prize is all about. I’m not sure why Stephanie Swainston’s work or Cathryn M. Valente’s Palimpset isn’t received as SF on the same basis as China’s, for example–or is it? I don’t know.
I’m guessing that literary novels employing SF ideas are more likely to be recognized than urban fantasy–which has loads of female authors–because science fiction ideas have wormed their way into the mainstream and now seep into literary fiction. The problem then becomes, where do the new ideas come from?
If we ask how many British women are publishing original adult science fiction with a major genre publisher in Britain, the answer is pretty bleak: with neither Liz Williams nor Gwyneth Jones having contracts at the moment, I think the answer may be just one writer, Jaine Fenn. [Edit: As of next year, thanks to a change in publisher, Sophia McDougall will meet these criteria; there is also the mysterious RJ Frith.] This is from one point of view a fairly restrictive way of drawing the boundaries, since if you drop out any one of those criteria you can easily think of more women, but in another sense it’s not strict at all, because it’s easy to identify a substantial cohort of male writers that fit the equivalent question: Neal Asher, Iain Banks, Stephen Baxter, Eric Brown, Ken MacLeod, Paul McAuley, Ian McDonald, Alastair Reynolds, Adam Roberts, Charles Stross, etc etc.
Of course, the Clarke doesn’t care about the nationality of the writer, or about who a writer’s publisher is. (Indeed, although the numbers involved are fairly small, I find it striking that “non-genre” books account for 1 in 3 Clarke Award nominations for women [4 of 13, or 31%] compared to 1 in 8 for men [6 of 47, or 13%].) It also already has a fairly flexible definition of sf, although not so flexible as to admit pure urban fantasy; but Liz Williams’ books have (I think) always been submitted, and shortlisted several times; Justina Robson’s recent fantasy/sf hybrids have also been submitted, although not shortlisted; and I’m guessing Gollancz will submit Sarah Pinborough’s near future supernatural horror A Matter of Blood this year. (Steph Swainston does not seem to be submitted, although I think Sullivan is right that she could be — some books more than others; The Modern World is her most sfnal, for me, this year’s Above the Snowline probably her least.) These factors account for most of the other submitted books by women. The Award could probably give broader consideration to YA fiction than it currently does; Gemma Malley’s books don’t seem to be have submitted, for instance, or Malorie Blackman’s. And there are, as Sullivan notes, some writers whose tie-in fiction who may be worth considering, such as Karen Traviss — her original fiction has still not been published in the UK. But I don’t think this would raise the submission statistics to parity, or anything like it, and it does not address the apparent imbalance in UK genre publishing.
The Clarke Award has not produced an all-male shortlist since its second year, but unless something changes, I imagine we’ll see another quite soon. To be positive, however, I don’t think it will be this year; here’s a list of all the books by women that I can think of that are eligible for this year’s award.
Candor, Pam Bachorz
Zoo City, Lauren Beukes
Servant of the Underworld, Aliette de Bodard
Alice in Time, Penelope Bush
Transformation Space, Marianne de Pierres
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
Guardians of Paradise, Jaine Fenn
[The Nemesis List, RJ Frith?]
Feed, Mira Grant
The Carbon Diaries 2017, Saci Lloyd
The Birth of Love, Joanna Kavenna
The Returners, Gemma Malley
The Legacy, Gemma Malley
[The Folding Knife, KJ Parker?]
A Matter of Blood, Sarah Pinborough
The Dead-Tossed Waves, Carrie Ryan
Birdbrain, Johanna Sinisalo
2017, Olga Slavnikova
Lightborn, Tricia Sullivan
Our Tragic Universe, Scarlett Thomas
Walking the Tree, Kaaron Warren
Who have I missed?
235 thoughts on “Women and the Clarke”
If we ask how many British women are publishing original adult science fiction with a major genre publisher in Britain, the answer is pretty bleak: with neither Liz Williams nor Gwyneth Jones having contracts at the moment, I think the answer may be just one writer, Jaine Fenn.
And Sullivan herself. But still completely shocking.
Who, of course, isn’t British…
I was being as strict as possible with those initial boundaries, and although she is a UK resident, I believe — she may turn up and correct me! — Sullivan is not a UK citizen. But yes, I’d certainly consider her part of the “British sf community”, in the same way as Geoff Ryman and Pat Cadigan (whether or not they would do so themselves…).
In this country we have women like Claire Weaver and Heather Bradshaw and I’m sure there are many others publishing short fiction
I just looked up Weaver and Bradshaw up and they seem to have both only published one story each in Myth-Understandings, a Newcon Press anthology. So I’m not sure they will be able to take up the mantle any time soon. Who else is there coming through?
Maybe Nina Allen will write an SF novel, that’d be good.
I haven’t read Sara Gruen’s Ape House, but isn’t that about talking apes? Diane Duane, A Wizard of Mars? Again, I haven’t read it: part of a YA series, I think?
You’re right, though, it’s worryingly thin pickings.
What makes it more strange is that women authors, from Meyers down, dominate the field of ‘dark fantasy’, all those sexy vampires.
I’m being foolish: both those authors are American, of course.
Martin: Also Weaver is now living in America and I think primarily working on screenplays. You’re right that a Nina Allan sf novel would be good, though.
There is also the enigmatic RJ Frith.
Adam: For the list at the end of the post, Americans (and all other nationalities) are welcome! But they do need to be published in the UK this year, and Ape House seems to not be published in the UK until next year. (Ditto Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I’m quite intrigued by.) And I can’t see a UK edition for A Wizard of Mars at all.
Birdbrain, Johanna Sinisalo, tr. David Hackston (Peter Owen). Due out in a couple of weeks. More details here.
Thanks: I saw that earlier, but assumed it was fantasy. It could be sf, though, I guess — I’ll add it to the list.
Johanna describes it as “slipstreamy”. I think intelligent parrots are reasonably sfnal.
I can’t work out if Catalyst by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Anne Scarborough is published in the UK this year, but if it is then I think it’s eligible.
@adam: I have been resident in Ireland for lo, these many years: but as far as I know neither Irish nor (via dual nationality) US writers are eligible for the Clarke. Ah well. (leaving aside the issue of actually *deserving* the thing.) Yet at my end at least, albeit soft, the SF continues: see “Omnitopia Dawn.” I’ll stop writing SF (when so moved) when they pry it out of my… (etc).
Is part of the problem not that many works of sf (particularly at the literary end of the spectrum) are failing to find UK publishers after an initial US release?
Obviously there’s then the tangential issue of ‘who are the top-notch female sf writers currently active on the British scene?’ but if the issue is the representation of women on recent Clarke shortlists then I’d say that the relative timidity of UK publishers was a part of the problem.
But, having said that, I think that Whitfield and/or Beukes should have made the shortlist last year.
Liz: I can’t see a UK edition for Catalyst on Amazon, so I’m leaving it off for now. I have added KJ Parker, as suggested by someone on LJ, whose books can easily be argued on the same grounds as Mieville, I think. There’s at least some evidence for Parker being a woman, although it is contradicted by others.
Diane: thanks for dropping by! I see I’ve caused some confusion, for which apologies — writers of any nationality are eligible for the Clarke Award, it’s just that their books have to be published in the UK. I couldn’t see a UK edition of A Wizard of Mars on Amazon, please let me know if there is one!
Jonathan: Yes, I think that is part of the problem. Writers without UK publishers: Elizabeth Bear, Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okorafor, Susan Palwick, Cherie Priest, Catherynne Valente, Jo Walton, Connie Willis (!) … and plenty of men, too (no UK edition of The Windup Girl yet), but still. Although I don’t think that’s timidity so much as economics, in a market where people can pick up US editions easily.
Diane, the Clarke is awarded to the best science fiction novel published in the UK in the previous year, so the author’s nationality doesn’t affect their eligibility. American (Neal Stephenson, Kim Stanley Robinson), Irish (Ian McDonald), and Canadian (Margaret Atwood, Geoff Ryman) authors have been nominated and won.
I was thinking about the UK/US divide as well. Actually, what got me started was this bit from Sullivan:
I wonder whether, with science fiction declining greatly in the US, there may not be enough women playing the SF game right now. Only the most successful writers can survive in this climate, and that probably means women are being forced out at a higher rate than men. Without much input from women in North America or Australia, the burden may be falling on UK SF writers.
This doesn’t scan as quite right to me, in that there are a number of major (in terms of sales and/or awards) female SF authors published in the US but not, I take it, in the UK: Connie Willis, CJ Cherryh, Lois Bujold, Nalo Hopkinson, Elizabeth Bear, Catherine Asaro, Sandra McDonald, perhaps Nnedi Okorafor’s recent book could count as SF. Plus I see a review today at SF Signal of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s latest book, there are new authors like Sara Creasy–all as well as those Sullivan and Niall mention.
That said, Jonathan, what I see more from these shores (and I’m obviously nothing more than a single reader and observer) is that our taste for novel-length SF in the US seems markedly more toward the commercial side than in the UK. As a number of the authors I listed above suggest. This is such that the more literary SF (by both women and men) often doesn’t get the genre attention here that I suspect it would in the UK. Someone like Jennifer Egan will get reviewed in mainstream venues in the US–Salon and Time and The New York Times–but not, I don’t think, Locus; whereas yes, I can think of any number of UK SF&F reviewers who would willingly tackle it. It’s even to the degree that a book like In Great Waters, released as mainstream in the UK, gets a lot of attention from UK genre venues; but the same book released in the US by a genre publisher gets far less genre attention. Some of that is probably the nature of the genre community in the UK–it seems to me more aware and supportive of the home team than in the US–but some, and I suspect intertwined with that, does come down to the history and tastes of the different fandoms.
(And now I see that Niall has posted something similar to what I’ve just typed up so I will stop.)
Orion are doing Connie Willis’s Blackout next year, I understand.
These are indeed disheartening statistics. I’m struggling to think of any further eligible titles.
I think the key issue is definitely what gets published; I’d like to see a situation where a shortlist of three women and three men was proportionate to the books submitted (whereas currently, as Niall says, one woman and five men is more reflective of the submissions).
What gets shortlisted probably also plays a part – I have a sense that, in the last couple of years at least, stronger sf novels by women were published in the UK than the ones that were shortlisted.
“… gender parity in the judges has been spotty over time, but in recent years there’s generally pretty good ratio of women:men on the juries. One would think this would mean more women on the shortlist and winning awards.”
This strikes me as the most interesting and disheartening comment of all. The clear implication is that men are more likely to vote for men and women for women. At the risk of sounding amazingly naive, is that really how judges vote in 2010?
If I were a judge, I don’t think the sex of the author would influence my decision. (Maybe I’m just fooling myself?) Certainly I don’t read, say, Le Guin or Gentle because they’re women, any more than I read Morgan or McEwan because they’re men. I read them because I like and often admire their writing.
Don’t get me wrong – of course there should be a balance of judges. I’m just intrigued at the idea that people vote along lines of gender. This may or may not be true – I don’t know. What is true is that it is perceived to be the case, and I do find that worrying.
Matt : Yes, I also get the impression that the balance of critical opinion amongst US-based commentators and critics sits further towards the commercial end of the spectrum than it does in the UK.
However, I also suspect that there’s an element of ‘community lensing’ behind this appearance. I think that the Clarke awards and organs such as Vector do a great job in the UK of focusing attention on literary works of SF. In fact, as I pointed out in response to Dan Hartland’s review of a Neal Asher novel, one often feels that the more commercial works of British SF get a critical free ride. Because that focus is set, I think that the British critical scene attracts people from outside the UK who share that interest so there’s effectively a brain-drain of sorts away from US-centric discussion.
Abigail: I don’t actually know what nationality Ian McDonald is. I know he was born in Manchester; Wikipedia says his parents are Scottish and Irish, but living in Belfast I’d assumed he was British. Since he commented here the other day, maybe he’ll tell us…
Matt: Correct, Locus has not reviewed the Egan. (The other Egan, yes, even twice, I think!) I think you’re right to attribute a lot of that to the smaller community here. I think the Clarke itself plays a part — the central awards in the US don’t have the same history of picking up non-genre books. In the UK I look out for them in part because the Clarke has proved to me they can be excellent, and because I want to get there first!
Al: Aha, good news! Any idea whether it’ll be as a single volume, a la The Wizard Knight?
David: There is that — a lot of people were speaking favourably about Liz Jensen’s The Rapture, after all. I do think a pattern of one novel by a woman each year might help to reinforce a perception that that’s all the market will bear, because I think most people will assume that such a proportion is not proportionate, and thus that the award is biased against sf by women, and thus that sf by women is not popular. (Tenuous links all, but even so.)
Patrick: Well, the context is an inference Sullivan drew from things she’d heard about the year in which she won (where the jury was 3 women, 2 men). But as she acknowledges, it’s speculation on her part, and as I say in the post, in the two years this decade where there were 3 women, the winning novels were by women; and in the year a woman won, three of the judges were men. So while I’m sure there are plenty of male readers who like stereotypically masculine books that tend to be written by men, and female readers who like stereotypically feminine books that tend to be written by women, I wouldn’t want to conclude that such bias was responsible for Sullivan’s win, and such bias doesn’t seem to have been a factor among judges in this decade.
I don’t read authors because they’re male or female, either. But I do read authors because they write science fiction — I read authors because they write fantasy, too, but my greater love is for science fiction — and I rather resent the fact that to expand the horizons of my fiction in one way means that I end up contracting said horizons in another way.
Niall, I suspect you’re right about that. Must admit, I was disappointed not to see two titles by women on the shortlist — the number and quality of submissions would surely have justified it.
Just picking up on Jonathan M’s point, as a judge of the 2010 Clarkes: I can’t comment on how close Lauren Beukes came to being shortlisted, thanks to the famous ACCA vow of omertá, but I can say that we *couldn’t* shortlist the Kit Whitfield, because of it not being submitted. The rules of the prize say that things can’t be called in. And that’s probably another factor which reduces the representation of women on the shortlists. Women doing SF-nal things who are published in the UK are disproportionately published on non-genre lists; the publishing imprints in question have editors who are disproportionately cautious/reluctant/sniffy about submitting work to what they perceive as a genre prize. Sometimes the authors themselves refuse to be submitted (Jeanette Winterson) or are incredibly ambivalent about it (Margaret Atwood).
Niall: sorry, not sure. I remember Simon Spanton mentioning it during Aussiecon, and it seems to be listed on the Orion website for 2011. I’m presuming Passage got a UK publication, or am I wrong? Amazon list a Voyager edition for 2002.
Personally – and it’s going back a few years – I was sorry not to see some of Linda Nagata’s work shortlisted, especially as VAST did get a UK publication. And Liz Williams’ marvellous Winterstrike really should have picked up more recognition, although perhaps it was handicapped by being part of a series.
Some data-points for earlier years in case it’s of any interest (year is year of publication):
1992: 16 out of 65 submissions by women (25%), 4 out of 8 on the shortlist and a female winner.
1993: 11 out of 48 submissions by women (23%), 1 out of 6 on the shortlist.
1994: 8 out of 43 by women (19%), 3 out of 6 on the shortlist and a female winner.
Al: As it happens, trying in vain to catch up on my RSS feeds I came across this post, which suggests it will still be two volumes. It also notes that Sophia McDougall is now going to be published by Gollancz rather than Orion.
Mark: Thanks! I wonder if anyone else has stats for other years…
1998: 12 out of 56 submissions by women (21%), 2 out of 6 on the shortlist and a female winner.
1999: 10 out of 53 submissions by women (19%), 2 out of 6 on the shortlist.
A couple of YA titles, with the help of picking a friend’s brains. As far as I can tell, they’re published in the UK and are SFnal, though I haven’t read either of them
Candor by Pam Bachorz
Alice in Time by Penelope Bush
I could add that I’ve beta-read this year two SF novels written by UK-based women writers. Neither has yet been published of course, though one of the writers is agented.
Wow, Niall–great to read a discussion of this topic in which the writer actually knows the situation. My answer in the interview was full of guesswork–the question really stumped me when Liz asked it. I’m grateful that you were able to provide some clarity.
Btw, I’m not a British citizen. Dual Irish/American national, for the record :-) Not that it matters in terms of the Clarke.
@Matt Denault–yes, you are write that a number of the major US SF writers do not seem to be published in the UK. I’m always a little fuzzy on this (e.g. Valente–she’s not eligible, of course, should have realised). But WHY are they not being published here, editors?
What do these US/UK market differences actually amount to? That’s another question, but it might have some bearing here.
@Patrick I appreciate your point. I hope that is not the way judges vote in 2010, also, and I don’t mean to insult judges by suggesting that people take up camps according to gender. It’s just that when there’s a big disparity in winners the first place to look is at the judges–maybe that’s cynical, but that’s also life as I know it. I think you may be underestimating the amount of atmospheric sexism we are all living in. And some of it is not just atmospheric. In children’s fiction, for example, there is much recent discussion of ‘girl books’ vs ‘boy books’ as the marketing system tries to squeeze as much money out of people as efficiently as possible. These things are bound to have repercussions on many levels.
@Niall ‘I rather resent the fact that to expand the horizons of my fiction in one way means that I end up contracting said horizons in another way.’ I hear this. And there’s something I want to say that I can’t quite put my finger on. Something about the rules of SF. I love SF, but as a writer I find it presents problematic restrictions and–again, can’t pinpoint this–there’s a funny set of conventions that open up certain possibilities within a narrative, and shut down others. I wouldn’t want to unequivocally assert that these problems I sense are in perfect alignment with gender issues, but I would say that there could be some correlation. Oh man, that was really cryptic.
Sometimes SF feels like wrong-fitting clothes and I wonder if that’s got something to do with being female. Sometimes I wonder if the wrong-fittingness has to do with the idea of SF as a concept (I intuit not–in fact, I intuit that on the contrary, SF should be a great vehicle for understanding these very subjects) or with the company I’m in on the shelves setting a tone that’s not quite harmonious (maybe this is it–maybe I am lonely *sob*). Maybe it’s that there is a vague sense, a sort of atmospheric steam that arises from the genre as a whole when (as in the UK) there is such a strong defining trend from males, that I’m reacting to. Or maybe I am talking out my ass :-)
Nisi Shawl, for example, who has yet to publish a novel. When I read her stories, I think: Yes. This. This hits the spot. This fills the hole.
If we have anyone in the UK doing this kind of work, I don’t know about it.
Anyway, thanks for an interesting discussion, everybody.
I note that Niall at the beginning lists K.J. Parker as a woman. Is that now confirmed. Parker’s agent a few years ago aid categorically that he was a man…
Great writer, anyway, regardless!
Just to correct a point Francis makes: “The rules of the prize say that things can’t be called in.” If that’s the case now, then things have changed since I was administrator. But for the 11 years I was involved I spent most of my time calling in books. We didn’t always receive them (that is down to the publisher), but I certainly requested them, and I canvassed the judges to tell me of any book they had come across that hadn’t been submitted so I could try to get a copy.
As to gender bias: I have encountered women who say they never read anything by a man; I have not encountered the same attitude among male sf readers, but I’m sure it’s out there. But I have a distinct if unquantifiable sense that sf in Britain has become more male-oriented over the last few years (since, if you like, the end of the so-called British renaissance). I have no idea why this should be. I can’t tie this in with my own reading, because that is a wildly inaccurate sample, but I do feel that I am being offered fewer books by women for review (and those mostly non-fiction for some reason), and the books that are arousing discussion and anticipation around the web seem to be far more likely to be by men than women.
What’s going on, I can’t say, but I do think Tricia has raised a very valid point.
It’s threads like this one that make me think ‘yes, this is what the Clarke Award is for’ and I’m really glad we took the decision a few years back to start releasing the full submissions list.
A random thought from me (as opposed to award administrator me): I popped along to see William Gibson at Foyles last night and when asked the ‘what books would you recommend’ question from the audience he enthused at length about Lauren Beukes and Zoo City (as well he should). This combined with reading this thread on the way home and fact I’m also currently reading Pat Cadigan’s Fools made me start seeing connections between a lot of the winning and shortlisted books by female writers being talked about here.
I’d need to go check numbers but on the bus home I began to wonder if there was a slight trend towards books with cyberpunkish (post-cyber?) leanings by female writers doing more favourably in the shortlisting stakes? Hmm
And now I shall undermine my argument by noting The Sparrow, the fact that Moxyland, while mentioned above, wasn’t shortlisted, and the entirely likely possibility that the perceived cyber bias is entirely my own – the fact I had these thoughts at a Gibson event being clue enough there I think.
Anyway, Lightborn is certainly one of the books I’m really looking forward to from this year’s selection. Tricia, I hope it does brilliantly for you.
I have encountered women who say they never read anything by a man; I have not encountered the same attitude among male sf readers, but I’m sure it’s out there.
That’s interesting, because polls of readers (without reference to genre) repeatedly show that while women will read books by male or female authors, men tend to gravitate towards male authors. Of course, the science fiction readership may not reflect that behavior – overall, women make up the majority of readers, but that’s probably not true within science fiction.
I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with judges selecting a book on the basis of its author’s gender, once they’d whittled down the pool of submissions to potential “shortlistees”. I don’t know what rules/guidelines the Clarke judges have; but, if I were judging a prize like that, I’d screen for quality first, then look at other factors when choosing my final six. I’d want to present a shortlist with some diversity – I wouldn’t want to shortlist six books by men (or six space operas, for example, or six books from the same publisher). And the chances of no book written by a woman being worthy of shortlisting (when they make up 20-25% of submissions) are very slim indeed.
When it comes to selecting the winner from the shortlist, then yes, quality must be the only consideration. But I don’t mind quality being considered in conjunction with other factors during the construction of a shortlist.
(Edward: there was an interview in the old Orbit newsletter when K.J. Parker’s first novel came out that referred to the author as male; later official biographies referred to Parker as female, but now I think they don’t refer to the author’s gender at all. So I don’t think there’s any confirmation either way.)
Edward, David: You’re right; I’ve added square brackets and a question mark around Parker, and added RJ Frith in the same way. Gary, I’ve also added those two YA books, thanks. Oh, and I gather that Justina Robson’s Down to the Bone is now a 2011 book, so I’ve removed that.
Mark: From those stats, it looks like the decline — if there has been one at all, and the last few years aren’t just anomalous — has not been as steep as I at-first thought. What’s different, it seems, is the “conversion rate”, at which nominations turn into wins. Which perhaps speaks to the point Paul and Tricia are making about a general shift in what the field pays attention to and values, although Paul:
the end of the so-called British renaissance
Care to put a date on that…?
Abigail: I’m not sure there’s a contradiction there. I think Paul is talking about readers who have explicitly stated that they seek out one gender of author or the other — in which case, I think you’d expect more declarations about reading only women, precisely to counteract the unexamined bias among many readers towards men.
Francis, Paul: As a further act of interpretation, I’m guessing Francis means books that aren’t submitted can’t be shortlisted…? I know requests for specific books were made in both years I was a judge, and that some were successful and some were not, and I believe at least one specific request has been successfully made this year.
Tricia: Thanks, indeed, for kicking the whole discussion off. I should also say it’s not the first conversation along these lines I’ve had; some of the general issues came up in responses to the survey last year (Kari Sperring’s springs to mind) and more recently Farah Mendlesohn was also trying to work out how many British sf writers with contracts in Britain there are.
As to some of your specific points: on the differences in the market, the only UK editor I’ve seen talk about this is Jo Fletcher of Gollancz, in a BSFA interview in 2006 (published in Vector 253):
To pick up on girl books/boy books and Tom’s point about which books win, at first glance I don’t see much difference between the list of books by women that have won and the list of books by women that have not; but there might be something in it. I do agree, as I said earlier, that you and Paul are on to something about a shift in what is being valued — in “the rules” if you like — which makes me wonder what I can do about it.
(And of course, as you say in your original answer, and imply here, all of this discussion can be had about POC writers as well, with probably an even less cheerful conclusion. Relatedly, I keep wishing Haikasoru would publish properly in the UK; they have some import/distribution deal with Simon & Schuster, so some of their books are on the shelves, but not all of them. And to bring it back to the Clarke, I don’t think they’re eligible.)
I can only speak of my one experience of judging (the year we gave the award to Geoff Ryman for Air).
I can honestly say I didn’t care one jot whether a book was written by a man or a woman. My criteria where: was it SF (and we struggled with some very good books that year), was it good… and that was pretty much it. Liz Williams made the cut.
It does beg the question, though. We were an all-male judging panel. I’m aware of the critique that says because we were all men, almost all white, we are unconcious of our own prejudice because that’s what society mirrors for us – we are literally (and literary) blind to our bias. And because we are blind to it, we firstly, don’t realise that anything needs to be fixed, and secondly, react strongly against the very idea that we might be biased.
I genuinely don’t know whether a woman judge would have chosen different books because she’s a woman, or because she’s a different judge. It’s a question that’s worth asking, but I’m not qualified to give an answer.
Niall, Jo’s insights here are terrifically interesting and explain a lot, but point to much bigger issues. What will the Clarke eligibility rules mean as digital/global publishing take hold.
Simon wrote: ‘we are unconcious of our own prejudice because that’s what society mirrors for us – we are literally (and literary) blind to our bias. And because we are blind to it, we firstly, don’t realise that anything needs to be fixed, and secondly, react strongly against the very idea that we might be biased.’
Yes, that is exactly the trouble–and it applies even more poignantly with respect to POC in this genre. But it’s not just a matter of the Clarke, it’s a matter of publishing houses, reviewers, and readers.
Care to put a date on that…?
2000? Publication of Look To Windward in which Banks symbolically loops back to Consider Phlebas. Also publication of Revelation Space which marks the rise of Alastair Reynolds and the new generation of British male space opera writers.
From 2011 onwards all novels will need to be submitted on an iPad. Judges to supplement meagre prestige of being on panel with secondary income obtained via eBay
Seriously though, it’s one of the big questions we’re putting a lot of thought into right now. I won’t go into the details here (not finished and maybe wrong thread) but chances are we’ll open up the question publicly for debate and, with Niall’s blessing of course, chances are a bug part of that will be right here
a bug part of that will be right here
Freudian typo, anyone?
Martin: Not sure about that. Andrew Butler’s article on the boom [pdf] wasn’t published until 2003, and refers to it as contemporaneous: “It is asserted that there is currently a boom within British science fiction — by editors, by critics, by authors, by readers, in the pages of Science Fiction Studies and in the publicity for some events at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London in May 2003. Let us assume that this is not a mass delusion, and there is indeed a boom.” He also includes Reynolds in his census of boomers, which I think is right; to me it feels as though the period, say, 98-03 is when the boom really got traction. I might even pick Interaction as its peak moment, with that all-Brit shortlist for the Best Novel Hugo. I suppose you could say that’s also when it ended, but to be honest, until Paul’s comment I thought of it as a continuing phenomenon.
I, in turn, am not persauded by that. I think this discussion is worth another thread in its own right (and it would be a shame to de-rail this conversation).
Which you’ve just done…
Great minds, and all that. On some issues, anyway.
@Neill: No, no UK edition for “A Wizard of Mars” (or indeed any of the other YW books: they were with Transworld/Corgi briefly in the 90’s, but nowhere in the UK since). Don’t know as yet if “Omnitopia Dawn” will have a UK edition. — D.
To get an idea of how gender biased or not the Arthur C Clarke Awards are when it comes to choosing the winners from the shortlists, I’ve crunched the nomination/winner numbers using a Wikipedia page for my source. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Arthur_C._Clarke_Award_Nominees)
I assigned genders as best I could using online sources for those I didn’t know. I still couldn’t work out who H F Saint was, so I assigned them a 0.5 for both female and male, though I doubt this makes much difference to the results. Please point out if I’ve got any of these details wrong.
The overall results for the Award to date:
Total nominees: 148
Female nominees: 44.5
Male nominees: 103.5
Percentage of nominees who were female: 30%
Percentage of nominees who were male: 70%
Total winners: 24
Female winners: 8
Male winners: 16
Percentage of winners who were female: 33%
Percentage of winners who were male: 67%
This shows that over the years there is a very small lean in the direction of female winners, with 33% of the winners out of 30% of the nominees. That doesn’t look like it would have any statistical significance.
It’s possible that the lack of recent Clarke Awards for women could be a random fluctuation, one of those things that averages out over the years.
For example, in the first twelve years, the women as a group got 6 awards out of 25.5 nominations versus 6 out of 53.5 for the men, which made the women about twice as ‘productive’ in that period. (Roughly, the women got one award for every four nominations, whereas the men got one for every ten.)
This has swapped round in the last twelve years to 2 awards out of 19 nominations for the women versus 10 out of 50 for the men. This means it’s the men who are now twice as ‘productive’. (The men got one award for every five nominations whereas the women got about one award for every ten nominations.)
I’m not a statistician, so any experts out there please feel free to correct me, or point out if I’ve typed any numbers in wrongly.
I would also have liked to analyse the results by the gender composition of the judging panel, but the judges’ details are only given on the Wikipedia page from 2000 onwards, which probably isn’t enough information to go by. If anyone knows where to get this information, please post the links.
For the judges, you’ll be wanting The Locus Index to SF Awards — although they don’t have the last three years.
Oh, and HF Saint appears to be a man.
I firmly believe one contribution to the decline of women with UK contracts was Gollancz’s decision to create ten modern masterworks, with not a woman on the list. They used their sales figures to pick and no woman was in the top ten (I am reporting what was said on a platform at the Chester Eastercon by the way, this is not hearsay). I said at the time it would have long term consequences. Gollancz is, for better or worse, the historical flagship of UK sf. It sent a signal. Since then, the number of women with contracts in the UK has collapsed. I walk around bookshops and libraries and check their sf/fantasy and once the fantasy is cut out there are few to no women being stocked (LeGuin, yes; Bujold, no).
I think the UK is extremely hostile to women sf writers at the moment. Given the decision of Illustrious (Eastercon 2011) to choose the first all male line up in some years (the first since 2002 when they had three guests, not the current four), I cannot see why this should change.
Thanks for those sources, Niall. The Locus souce looks good, but the HF Saint one doesn’t look so reliable, though. For now I’ll stick with her/him being in a state of Schrödingeresque gender limbo.
Drifting away from the topic, but I note that the 2011 Eastercon have now added Roz Kaveney as a Guest of Honour.
Sean, Harry Saint is a man; I don’t know how reliable Niall’s link is generally, but the information there matches what I’ve come across from other sources.
Farah, I wonder also if the current boom in YA books is part of this. Certainly a number of women sf writers seem to have gone that way, and I’ve no idea whether it’s by choice or because publishers have encouraged them in that direction.
I do think Paul’s right that the fantastic is becoming sexually polarised, and SF is increasingly marketed to males. I’m not sure the Gollancz Masterworks series is as influential as Farah would suggest though it is quite glaring; rather I think it’s born out of the power of marketing in publishing, which more and more is a major factor in book acquistions –how can we market this? How can we push books into niches intended to maximise impact and sales –‘if you liked that, then you’ll like this.’ Supermassive fantastika products like Harry Potter and Twilight create a lot of marketing gravity and that size of a readership is impossible to ignore. Good: people are prepared to genre. Bad, if they’ll only read the sort of thing they’ve read before.
Also increasing is the tendency to tag everything with a sub-genre label and to over-identify with these sub-groupings –zombie steampunk anyone? (Oh wait, that’s been done –and didn’t get a publisher on this side of the Atlantic). I think we’ve already reached a place where SF is being marketed to men and Fantasy to women –in the US, women writing the fantastic are publishing fantasy. It’s a feedback loop.
I remember reading a post on Livejournal by a well known woman SF writer whose name has been mentioned in this parish to the effect that she had heard that a UK publisher was no longer accepting SF from woman writers. I thought it outrageous enough at the time to mention at a talk I was giving at SFeraKon in Zagreb in the spring on What’s Wrong With Science Fiction, to similar outrage from the con members. Is SF being increasingly marketed to 20something males post-generation-Xbox (I can talk, half way through Halo;Reach). If you liked that, you’ll like this. I don’t think it’s partucularly good for the genre, but then I like to read widely and diversely and am marketing-resistant because I’m an emergent curmudgeon and may not be typical of the market any more. But then again, there are is exciting stuff like Lauren Buekes, and Lightborn is very welcome…
Oh, and Niall.. nationality. That depends which passport I’m carrying.
(I’ve been hearing good things about Feed, too.)
I’d like to come back to my earlier comment, which Liz picked up on. When I said I was aware of the critique (that the priviledged position I have in society means I don’t notice the prejudice I/we put on others), I didn’t mean I wholly agree with it – in part because I viscerally react against it as not being in my own interests to agree.
I am a white, middle-class professional male: very little I can do about any of those things now. But me, and people like me, should still have a voice – not a disproportionate one, but a voice nevertheless, and agreeing with the critique effectively silences me as speaking only from a position of unearned power. That way, it seems to me, lies madness. I want to hear more opinions while still putting mine across.
I’ve also just spent 12 years being househusband and the primary caregiver to my two kids – they’re both at secondary school now, so there’s more slack in the system now for writing, and I’m aware of the …odd concidence that it’s only in the last year that I landed a major book deal. And yes, it’s SF. And yes, it’s going to submitted to the Clarkes. And yes, I’m male. None of which I feel faintly embarassed about.
I do think Ian has a point above about YA fantasies, about there being a positive feedback-loop for women writing fantasies and perhaps a negative one for SF: but I think that’s on the industry-side of the equation. Agents, publishers, writers themselves – all follow trends, which inevitably follow the money. I’m not sure the readers consciously do – a popular book is a popular book (I initially wrote good instead of popular, but I think that’s missing something) and they don’t care whether KJ Parker is a man, or woman, or a committee.
Simon, I appear to have misread you earlier.
‘But me, and people like me, should still have a voice – not a disproportionate one, but a voice nevertheless, and agreeing with the critique effectively silences me as speaking only from a position of unearned power. That way, it seems to me, lies madness. I want to hear more opinions while still putting mine across.’
I don’t understand why agreeing with the critique silences you. For myself as a white Westerner, I don’t feel silenced if I’m informed by a POC that I have a blind spot. I try to seek more information to compensate for it. I’m not sure how we jumped to the silencing of the white male–or am I misreading again?
Like Ian, I’m not sure the Gollancz Masterworks series was as influential as Farah would suggest; although, since one of the novels in that list was by me I’m obviously not in a place to argue the point. Sean W.’s v. interesting statistical breakdown would be heartening, if the pool of published female SF talent were as deep today as it was in the 1990s. The burden of this thread is that it isn’t.
I was also struck by this recent Edge of the American West post about the experience of women in academic philosophy:
That last bit in particular seems to me both wise and apposite.
I’ve fallen foul of the more er, fundamentalist advocates of this position. Essentially, any comment I make can be countered with “That’s offensive and you can’t see how because you’re a white man.” Ad infinitum. It effectively ends the debate rather than facilitating it.
Which, dragging it back to the matter at hand: it’s definitely worth investigating the stats. It’s definitely worth looking at the make-up of the Clarke judges to ensure a diversity of opinion, and worth considering whether having more women as judges would increase that diversity, or simply swap one set of opinions with another, equally valid set of opinions.
On the other hand, I think the causes of the (increasing) imbalance between male/female submissions and winners lie outside of the Clarke Award remit. The problem is much earlier on in the process – we can wave the flag here, and ask awkward questions of those who make the decisions at what they publish and submit, but I’d be uncomfortable to think it was influencing the judging of the award itself.
The problem is much earlier on in the process
Yes, that is the thrust of my original post: there are probably a few things the Clarke can do better, but we’re basically talking about a systemic structural issue of the UK market. (The Gollancz modern classics strike me as both symptom — in that they were hardly the start of the problem — and cause — in that clearly the point of them is to establish a contemporary canon.) One of the things I think the Clarke can probably do better is in selection of judges — which is obviously not done directly by the Clarke, but by the contributing organisations — although actually I think this should be done not because it will necessarily increase the diversity of the winning books so much as because there’s no reason for the population of Clarke judges not to be more representative of the general readership, which is rather more than 34% women.
As for privilege, it’s not about being silenced; per Adam’s quote, it’s about being asked to accept that you may be wrong in ways you don’t immediately see. It’s logical that people who are affected by systemic prejudice are, on average, more likely to spot it than those who are not. When you’re arguing for a work of fiction to win an award, of course you’re right that a flat assertion that you or I don’t get it because of who we are won’t cut it — the evidence, the argument, is essential. But by the same token, it’s incumbent on us to be open to be convinced. And even absent evidence or argument, the flat assertion is not necessarily wrong, and I would be wary about dismissing it out of hand.
It sounds suspiciously as if broad agreement has been reached, Niall. I am often wrong in ways I don’t immediately see (my kids, if nothing else, keep me on the straight and narrow in that respect), and I’m certainly not dismissing the effect of unconcious priviledge out of hand – I brought it up, and the concept has considerable merit as well as several pitfalls. It’s beholden on us all to navigate the landscape the best we can.
Hmm… I’m not sure that bias is that much of an issue.
I can understand that gender bias might exist at the selection level, I remember Larry starting a thread at the ASOIAF forums and posters there saying that they wouldn’t ‘trust’ a book written by a woman.
However, selection is not an issue here as the award judges read what is submitted. Also, Clarke juries tend to be selected from amongst the kind of people who have ties enough to the genre scene to be aware that there are issues surrounding gender so my gut feeling is that this isn’t an issue with male judges not liking books by women as it is a systemic issue to do with the general prominence of female SF authors in the UK.
Also, if we’re going to start talking about juries being representative then I think that representation of women on juries is much less of a problem than are the representation of a) black and ethnic minorities and b) GLBT people.
Having attended the ACCA ceremony twice now, I can’t remember seeing many non-white faces and I don’t even want to think about the gap between the racial break-down of the British population and that of Clarke juries.
“I can honestly say I didn’t care one jot whether a book was written by a man or a woman. My criteria where: was it SF (and we struggled with some very good books that year), was it good… and that was pretty much it.”
This is actually the most common statement I hear in these incidents, (I don’t care who wrote it, I care if it was good), but of course the real question is – what makes it good?
Saying “I just like good stories” discounts with one easy swoop that different readers have different sets of expectations from a text. What makes a good story for YOU does not necessarily make a good story for others. Let me explain: if we take, for instance, Heinlein’s SIXTH COLUMN. Is it a good book? How do we take it? As an adventure story? As an exciting novel of SF and adventure? Or as a horribly racist “Yellow Peril” novel? What set of criteria do we use to evaluate whether it is “good”?
The same question goes to style of writing (which has been discussed elsewhere recently) – do we go for a Hemingway-like clean writing style or do we go for a more elaborate, “flowery” to some, “literary” to others, style – as for instance C.L. Moore’s Jirel stories? I can’t remember where this discussion was – on Cat Valente’s blog maybe? – about “male” writing vs. “female” writing. Again, which is good depends on your own set of values, the criteria you use when evaluating a work. “Good” means different things.
When evaluating an undergraduate paper, an examiner uses a specific set of criteria outlined on paper. Literary awards, on the other hand, seem far more nebulous in that regard. And how the Clarke evaluates a work seems markedly different to how the Hugos, say, evaluate a work.
The point of all this is, yes, everyone has their own set of prejudices of which they may not be aware. A diverse pool of judges is something that can radically change an award – I posted a while back on the World SF Blog about the World Fantasy Award and its non-representative judges (male Americans, to a large degree). Imagine the same “world” award with a set of international judges from, say, France, Brazil, China, the UK and South Africa. What might it look like then?
Possibly exactly the same. Possibly… not. We never really got a chance to find out though.
For reference: 2007 discussion here about the “Future Classics” promotion mentioned above.
Lavie – “What set of criteria do we use to evaluate whether it is “good”?”
I am not an academic (well, I am/was, but in an entirely different field): judging a fiction prize is always going to be personal to the judge, which is both the joy and terror of these things. I really wouldn’t want to go down the route of a set of criteria against which the judges had to run a yardstick, and come up with the novel that ticked most boxes. It was certainly important to me that I had a strong emotional tie to the book/books I was championing.
For sure, a different group of judges could have come up with a radically different shortlist and eventual winner. One of those things we’ll never know – I missed out on a World Fantasy Award, and how much that was down to a mostly male American panel, and how much that was down to my novella not being as good as the winners… shrug. Hold these things lightly.
The Science Museum’s representative to the 2006 judges was black. We were all men. We chose a book by an openly gay Canadian. That’s a data point to pick over.
I’ve heard from several people that KJ Parker is the pseudonym of a well-known male fantasy author. And these are people who are likely to know.
I also note that Gwyneth Jones is the GoH at next year’s Fantasycon. She’s the premier female sf writer in this country – and is best known for science fiction – but she is a guest of honour at a convention devoted to fantasy and horror… Also, she wrote on her blog that she chose to end her contract with Gollancz — “extricate”, IIRC, was the term she used.
I’m not arguing with you, nor am I suggesting a mark-sheet of criteria for this, or any other, award. What I am saying is that you need to – you should, at any rate – be aware of your own internal criteria for selecting “good” stories.
Again, to give you an example – I remember the first SF book I had a recognisable reaction to (of the sort I’m addressing here) was Greg Bear’s Eon – incidentally, a Clarke nominee. What bothered me when reading it was the depiction of the Chinese and Russian characters. They read, to me, like no Chinese or Russians I had ever met. In fact, they read like copies of the American characters.
Now, to me, Eon fails tremendously because of that perceived fault. To other readers, however – say, the Clarke judges in 1987 – that obviously was not an issue in perceiving the book as “good” or “award worthy”.
Saying, “I only choose good books” is actually saying “there is only one set of good and it is what I say as good”. Which is perfectly fine from a reader’s point of view, but not necessarily from an award judging point of view.
You mention an emotional tie to the book. That’s interesting. Let me ask you this: what makes you form an emotional attachment to a particular book? What themes/characters/story line do you find yourself responding to the most? And what else makes you decide a book is good or not? What, in other words, are your own self-formulated criteria?
I think these are good questions to ask yourself. *Why* I think something is good is a lot more helpful than simply saying *I think something is good*.
Simon: “The Science Museum’s representative to the 2006 judges was black. We were all men. We chose a book by an openly gay Canadian. That’s a data point to pick over.”
I’m sorry – what?
Jonathan M wrote:
‘Also, if we’re going to start talking about juries being representative then I think that representation of women on juries is much less of a problem than are the representation of a) black and ethnic minorities and b) GLBT people.
‘Having attended the ACCA ceremony twice now, I can’t remember seeing many non-white faces and I don’t even want to think about the gap between the racial break-down of the British population and that of Clarke juries.’
Yes. And juries are the least of it. We are short of SFF writers and editors of colour in this country too. Actually, the phrase ‘short of’ is an absurd understatement. The genre is crying out for colour. My personal feeling is that this is a far bigger problem than anything I have faced as a white female. GLBT representation–has this been discussed in SF in the UK?
I would dearly welcome discussion centring on these matters. Not to mention action.
Lavie — Your comment is fascinating. It’s like the paradox of liberalism made flesh :-)
>Saying, “I only choose good books” is actually saying “there is only one set of good and it is what I say as good”.
I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Perhaps Simon (assuming you mean him) changes his sense of ‘good’ over time, as he reads new works by different authors. For example, I feel fond of some of the books I read as a youth, but I’d hardly call them ‘good’ anymore.
Indeed, perhaps he changes his idea of what is ‘good’ _as_ he reads a new piece of work. That happened to me when reading ‘The Red Bride’ from the short story thread. Maybe the same thing happens with him.
Perhaps he uses different criteria depending on what genre he is reading – what he perceives as ‘good’ for hard SF he may not perceive as ‘good’ for soft SF or for a paranormal romance or for techno-thrillers (etc for other genres/sub-genres).
Lavie – I have an online version of a talk I gave at a festival, relating to what my criteria for judging a good story are. And as to why I form an emotional bond to some books and not others – yes, it’d be instructive to analyse why, but I read entirely for pleasure: my standards are actually very low – I want to be entertained, first and foremost, and will therefore read any old guff. Comedy Russians aside, I think sometimes we put unnecessary weight on what are essentially pieces of fluff – Sturgeon’s Law and all that.
As to the last sentence of your post – simply pointing out we weren’t all white straight males picking another white straight male to win. Having been in the room, I know the depth and detail of discussion that went on. We’re in danger here of not crediting the judges with enough criticial faculties to come to what, in the end, may just be the right decision.
Tricia — I actually think that racefail is a bigger issue in the UK than it is in the US. Public discourse in the UK is a lot further along with regards to internalising multicultural values than it is in the US.
This doesn’t make the lack of inclusion or representation in US fandom okay or in any way excusable but it does make it more comprehensible than in the UK where there have been very public discussions about how Britain is a multicultural society that is not merely tolerant of other cultures but actively proud of them.
I also think that genre writing fares quite badly in multicultural terms even when compared to other activities. The fact is that it is substantially easier to see a film directed by a non-white British person than it is to read a science fiction novel written by someone from a similar demographic.
While the ACCA’s track record for representing women is far from ideal, it is a model of inclusivity when compared to its track record on non-white, non-straight people. There are Stormfront meetings that are more multicultural than British genre publishing.
Sean – I recently re-read Dune, for the first time in over two decades.
Apart from spotting the typos (my copy is something like the fifth edition), the mystical bits which I was fascinated with as a teenager I viewed with an arched eyebrow and a ‘get on with the story’ mutter. Ignore those bits, and it fair rattles along: still a good read after all these years, but it doesn’t call to me like it did. But my Bradbury fetish remains undimmed, I’m happy to say.
My set of good is both broad and shallow (no sniggering from the back rows please). And yes, it does change. Glacially, perhaps, but it does all the same. Because I never throw any books out, my shelves are stacked with titles I simply wouldn’t read again.
So – the Clarkes are a yearly snapshot of UK SF. The judges are those with the relevant expertise who also have the time (mercy, but it was *hard* work) to commit to judging. If you change that, do you break it?
The lack of non-white representation on the Clarke shortlist can’t in any meaningful way be described as the “ACCA’s track record”. If the lack of women in SF is a systemic issue, it is orders of magnitude more so for non-white writers. Of the thirty odd novels submitted so far this year I count one non-white author. The books simply don’t exist so how can they be shortlisted?
There is certainly issue around why it is substantially easier to see a film directed by a non-white British person than it is to read a science fiction novel written by someone from a similar demographic but – unlike the issue of women – it isn’t really one that can be addressed in a context like this.
It is also worth pointing out that whilst public discourse in the UK may be a lot further along with regards to internalising multicultural values than it is in the US, the UK is also a hell of a lot more white than the US. I think people, particularly in London, tend to forget that the UK is 90% white.
Non-straight people, on the other hand; did you do a survey at the last Clarke Award ceremony?
I would dearly welcome discussion centring on these matters. Not to mention action.
The problem is, as you and Jonathan both note, the UK scene is so much worse off when it comes to POC than it is when it comes to women, that there seems to be very little that can be said, or at least little that can be said here by us. Mark Newton may be the only British writer of colour being published by a British genre publisher, and the numbers don’t increase as much as they do for women when you relax the criteria. If you consider non-Brits published by genre imprints you get Maurice Broaddus, NK Jemisin, Charles Yu and David Anthony Durham; if you consider Brits published by non-genre imprints you get Helen Oyeyemi, possibly Rana Dasgupta (I still haven’t read Solo), and individual books by Bernadine Evaristo, Kazuo Ishiguro and Xiaolu Guo; and in YA there’s Malorie Blackman … and then I stall. I’m sure there’s a few others I’m forgetting or just not aware of, but it’s not exactly a large cohort. And to Jonathan’s point, it’s very noticeably in contrast to the main stream of British literature, never mind cinema.
Simon: I don’t think anybody’s talking about changing that. The suggestion is to draw from a wider pool of people with relevant expertise and time.
“So – the Clarkes are a yearly snapshot of UK SF. The judges are those with the relevant expertise who also have the time (mercy, but it was *hard* work) to commit to judging. If you change that, do you break it?”
Extrapolating from Lavie’s point, I don’t think that we are talking about quotas here. Neither in terms of judging, nor in terms of nominees.
I think the point is more that being a judge for the ACCA is a responsibility and that that responsibility should extend beyond reading the books and opting purely for what one likes. There is a duty to be aware of what goes into one’s decision to select the ‘best’ book. That doesn’t necessarily mean selecting on the basis of worthiness or bending over backwards to be PC but it does mean keeping an eye on posterity and realising that aesthetics change and that it’s kind of the job of the Clarke award to be at the very tip of the spear of SF aesthetics.
That might not have been what the Clarke was set up to do, but I think that that is where the Clarke sits in the ecosystem of genre prizes. It’s the Palme D’Or, not the Oscars.
This is another topic deserving of its own area of discussion, I think. Niall, btw there is also Sarwat Chaddha in YA paranormal–and he takes on Muslim pov issues as I understand it (haven’t read him yet).
I have been thinking for some time whether there isn’t some form of outreach that could be done by this community.
Off the top of my head:
In recent years there has been a funding drive to enable fans of colour to attend Wiscon in America. How much non-white representation is there in London and Birmingham fandom, for example–and can these fans be polled for ideas and opinions on the subject? Can we do more online to involve POC readers in book discussion?
Are there ways we can encourage and support beginning writers of colour so that they are not turned away at the gates? Could we create some resources online or at cons?
Do publishers need to think more proactively in terms of their hiring practices? There must be any number of steps that could be taken if there is a will to do so.
Of course I don’t suggest it’s the responsibility of the Clarke Award to sort all this out. But I have been sitting here on my own since Racefail, trying to figure out a way to change this really rather dreadful situation. And so far all I have been able to do is try to read more POC (non-genre, in this country) titles and support US poc writers in very small ways. I’m not an organizer but would certainly put my energy behind any efforts to recruit more POC as writers, readers, and professionals in the field.
Sorry to go on. This is an emotional topic for me and I feel very frustrated with the current state of things.
My above comment intended re: POC in UK SF. Should have said.
Definitely with you Tricia.
It’s the fact that things seem to be getting worse that’s most unsettling. The image of a genre publishing world retreating into whiteness and maleness that has emerged from these discussions really is quite distressing. This problem is then compounded when you consider how few genre books get translated into English.
At this point, it seems not unreasonable to say that if genre publishing in the UK were consciously racist and misogynistic then it would not be doing anything different to what it is doing today.
Are there ways we can encourage and support beginning writers of colour so that they are not turned away at the gates?
But as Jonathan points out, this isn’t really an issue in non-genre publishing. His conclusion is that UK genre is more subconsciously racist than the rest of publishing. My conclusion would be that this is less a question of barriers and more a question of interest.
Are there plenty of BME authors out there with unpublished SF manuscripts desperately hammering on gates? My suspicion is there aren’t. If the SF community wants increased diversity then it probably has to address a lack of interest.
(It is worth remembering that written SF is a niche hobby. It is also a compulsion you probably have to catch in your childhood.)
It’s also worth remembering that writing and commentating on the genre – and fandom, of course – is a subset of that niche market. Sf readership is probably much more diverse than that small set of readers who actively involve themselves in genre activities. Er, written genre, that is.
Martin wrote: ‘His conclusion is that UK genre is more subconsciously racist than the rest of publishing. My conclusion would be that this is less a question of barriers and more a question of interest.’
I am not at all sure about the rest of publishing and I don’t make any assumptions there–it may well be quite racist. There have certainly been many issues raised in the US about racism in publishing recently.
But taking SF as a subset, why do you assume there are no barriers? Has anyone looked at this?
And even if there are not, and editors are awaiting SF of colour with open arms, let’s consider a couple of points. If as a white female SF writer I am saying that I feel my work sits uneasily alongside the bulk of white male SF writers’ work in a general sense, and if this affects perhaps my sales, reviews, and other issues to do with my ability to continue publishing SF, then what does this imply about aspiring POC writers and their work? Will it be recognizable as SF along the same lines as ‘traditional’ SF?
I mean I really do have to pause here and say, what could I possibly mean by ‘traditional SF’ as the whole point of SF presumably is to stretch and change the boundaries of how we think? And yet I think as white readers and writers we are limited in our flexibility to accomodate the interpretation of SF of other groups.
And (I am losing track of my points here–hard typing in this little box) even if we accept your assertion, Martin, about lack of interest from POC readers, I still have to ask: what does it say about SF if we are writing about the future, about the possible, about alternative ways of looking at the world and WE CAN’T EVEN DEAL WITH PRESENT ALTERNATIVE VIEWPOINTS let alone the future?
SF may well need POC more than the other way around. No matter. However you look at it, something is very wrong with this picture and needs to be sorted imho.
I don’t assume there are no barriers. I am sceptical that barriers to publication are the primary reason for the lack of British BME SF writers.
If as a white female SF writer I am saying that I feel my work sits uneasily alongside the bulk of white male SF writers’ work in a general sense, and if this affects perhaps my sales, reviews, and other issues to do with my ability to continue publishing SF, then what does this imply about aspiring POC writers and their work?
You are right draw attention to this and it does somewhat undermine what I said about it being unlikely that genre publishing behaviours in a radicaly different way to the rest of publishing. As we can see from the issue of women, it clearly does in at least one respect.
However, I don’t think it implies anything (or, at least, we can’t draw any conclusions from it). Discrimination works in different ways and isn’t uniformly applicable across the equality strands. It might well be the case that a male British Asian writer finds even less support than a white British woman. It might equally be that he fits in much more to the boys club of British SF. Who can say?
I do see the lack of women writers and the lack of BME writers as two fundamentally seperate issues which require fundamentally answers.
It’s conversations like this one that echo my own belief that the Clarke Award is more than just a book prize (or the Palm D’Or or the Turner Prize) and has a wider role to play within the SF&F community, and indeed beyond it.
I’ve been following this thread avidly and mulling over its many constituent parts, though regretfully have only now got myself into an online position where I can do more than literally phone in any posts. I have a number of thoughts, and an equal number of questions, which I might break up into different posts rather than one unframed and lengthy ramble.
While I realise that the thread has naturally moved beyond the original comments about Women and the Clarke, there are clearly people more informed and capable of tackling those issues than I am, and I’ll aim to limit my own contributions to the more Clarke-centric ones if that’s ok. This isn’t to duck the broader issues by the way, but more because I’m interested in how best I and the Clarke can, as Tricia puts it, help get things sorted. I am involved in running the award, I don’t work for a publisher, so this is clearly where my action can be meaningful.
Before I ask what action might be most meaningful/useful in this context, I wanted to explore what diversity there is in the Clarke Award, specifically in its judging panels.
There’s differing ways of slicing up and interpreting the data of the number of male and female judges each year and how this correlates to the resultant shortlist but I see here in places a similar trend to that I see in threads more directly concerned with the whys and hows and what were they thinkings of more general speculations surrounding each year’s shortlist.
One of these trends was simply a lack of appreciation of the full range and scale of submissions. You could see this in comments where people were essentially reacting badly to the fact a book they hadn’t heard of had made the list.
That was one of the main reasons I started releasing the full submissions list here. Now granted, you might not agree with the final shortlist selection anymore than before, but at least there seemed to be a larger appreciation for the challenges facing the judging panel each year.
Incidentally, in the time I’ve been involved with the Clarke I don’t think I’ve met one person who had read all six shortlisted works in advance of the list coming out. Neither have I met anyone who correctly predicted all six. I’m not scrolling back over Torque Control to check that, but I do know I’ve never been able to call it correctly, and I’ve only correctly guessed the winner once and that was by accident. Usual caveats here – I admin the award not the judging process and am not in the room where the decisions are made.
What I’m trying to preface here is that I see a lot of comment about ‘the judges’ as though the panel was not in itself a shifting identity but rather an easily predictable single persona – probably older, male, goes for the ‘safe’ choice over the cutting-edge while somehow simultaneously courting the literary fringes of the genre, and doesn’t really ‘get’ SF in the way that real fans do and so on.
People ascribe all kinds of agendas to this identity, usually with the theme that there is indeed some kind of meta-agenda at play. The award is deliberately playing to the lit-crowd because it’s embarrassed by the genre ghetto is a perennial favourite here, now slightly tamed perhaps as the award has started gaining more comment and press everywhere, genre-related and otherwise (thanks internet).
The thing is, the judges are a diverse bunch. Granted there’s more that can be done, I’m not arguing defensively here, but the thing to remember is that all of them are selected on the basis of their experience and knowledge of the genre.
Even this takes many forms of course, but taking this thread as an example, we have several former judges contributing to the conversation. These are the same conversations all of the judges will know from their own experiences, and the same conversations that happen in the judging meetings themselves.
What often surprises me is the way that people often assume a certain inevitability in the final decisions that come out of that meeting room, when in reality the consensus (when there is one) is likely to be far more complex or fragmentary.
I say this because the responsibility (and commitment) required to be a judge is pretty big, and its a responsibility that’s always taken very seriously.
I could probably go on for a very long time indeed speculating about how the personalities, backgrounds, professions, politics, level of fannish involvement / critical engagement and ages of a judging panel all come to bear on the discussions, but I’m pretty sure I don’t need to.
All I really want to caution against here is any argument that focuses too singularly on a single reading of ‘the judges’ and what their collective attitude might be in the face of each year’s submissions.
It is a good thing to ask these questions, look for patterns and problems and to challenge the history.
And now a short break while I ponder the actionable part of how we might best look to the future and the broader role the Clarke Award might conceivably play within it.
Here’s a quote that may speak obliquely to the issue. Social Scientist Patti Hausman, presenting at the National Academy of Engineering, quoted in Science in 2000, and then re-quoted by Steven Pinker in The Blank Slate:
The question of why more women don’t choose careers in engineering has a rather obvious answer; Because they don’t want to. Wherever you go, you will find females far less likely than males to see what is so fascinating about ohms, carburetors or quarks.
And I’m pretty certain I’m not the only SF writer who has had the experience of mentioning to a woman in conversation (in non-genre society) that I’m a writer, seeing her interest in me kindle, answering her question Oh – what do you write? with the already doomed words Science Fiction, and then seeing her kindled interest splutter and go out like a pissed on candle.
I’m with Ian (McDonald, above) in thinking that the state of affairs has a lot to do with niches and marketing feedback loops. But I also think it has some pretty deeply rooted issues of basic appeal. Shit-loads of women are writing, selling, buying and reading dark fantasy. Might that be for the simple reason that they like it? And the reason shit-loads of women are not writing selling buying and reading Space Opera, (post)cyberpunk or Hard SF be the converse – that they don’t really like it?
I’m also a bit perturbed at the way a thread clearly addressed to the issue of gender imbalance has so rapidly jumped to the issue of under-representation by race or by sexuality – almost as if the gender imbalance question is not worthy on its own of serious or sustained consideration. Women not really important enough to worry about unless they also happen to be women of colour or of non-hetero orientation?
There are plenty of women writing space opera in the US – from Catherine Asaro to Lynda Williams. Granted, they don’t write “New Space Opera”… Perhaps there’s a perception in this country now that space opera has to be New Space Opera – and that appears to be male-dominated. Also, military sf is sometimes be mistaken for space opera, and there are a few American women writing that – Moon, Huff, for example. Admittedly, military sf has never really been a British thing.
I think it’s the “basic appeal” thing as well. I wish it were not the case, but on the evidence of my interaction with readers, the majority of my audience is male. Of course it may be that men are more likely to show up at signings, send emails, post to blogs and type in Amazon reviews – I don’t know – but on the evidence I doubt that more than 1 in 10 of my readers is female. This is clearly in marked contrast to the general constituency of SF/F fans, as typified by your average convention membership. Marketing may well be a factor: for every reader who buys a book because there’s a big spaceship on the cover, how many are turned away?
But even if it is a fact that woman are less likely to want to write science fiction, that doesn’t explain why those women who do write it have fared so badly. Go back to Niall’s key fact: the only female British SF writer with a contract is Jaine Fenn. That isn’t even the one in ten that Al talks about as being his audience. Was it always like this? My impression is that it wasn’t.
You know, if it really does come down to “basic appeal”, maybe we should really be looking at what we consider science fiction to be.
Throughout the 20th century there have been major writers of science fiction who were women, lots of them. But hardly any of them wrote what is now considered the default form of sf in the UK: that is, the big, spectacular, often violent, high-tech adventure. Maybe the problem is that we are becoming narrow in our understanding of what science fiction is. It doesn’t need to have a spaceship on the cover to be science fiction!
My sense reading this discussion is not that sf has turned its back on women, or that women have turned their back on sf. But rather that what women have been writing is no longer looked upon as sf, that the definition is changing and that is what is proving exclusionary.
If I could ask a genuine question – is the award only for SF novels? Since China is essentially a fantasy writer (with a science fictional approach, possibly) does that mean other fantasy works can be considered?
Because then you have: Gail Carriger, Naomi Novik, Kate Elliott, Robin Hobb, Holly Black (just off the cuff) plus whole shelves of books under the new “supernatural romance” Waterstones category. And certainly, from the names Niall listed above, both Aliette de Bodard and Kaaron Warren write fantasy, not SF.
So does it depend on publishers submitting such books for the Clarke, or on a specific definition of SF?
Better a big spaceship on the cover than this perhaps (borrowed from Ansible):
OUTRAGED LETTERS. _Charlie Stross_ shares an all too familiar artistic experience: ‘My editor at Ace just emailed me the art department’s idea of a cover for _Rule 34_. / My reply was along the lines of: “You know it’s set in Scotland? Handguns are illegal here. Also: policewomen don’t usually wear red leather corsets on duty …”‘
And I’m usually the first to defend marketing decisions / departments
Am reminded of Don Draper’s line that the people who go around spouting ‘sex sells’ rhetoric are the same people who think a monkey could do a creative director’s job
Coming back to the point of this thread, there’s been various mentions of marketing and its pervasive influence so I think it’s worth noting that while marketing surely does have an influence in the above, it’s a far more complicated discipline than is given credit for and equally the influence may not be the one that is commonly imagined.
Marketing is about finding an audience for a product, not a product that fits an audience. I’m not sure if the above example is spectacularly bad marketing, or very clever but definitely un-PC marketing. Perhaps it falls somewhere closer to lazy marketing than anything else though.
That said, I doubt there’s much laziness in book marketing really, more likely time-poor decision-making. A chocolate bar manufacturer might have as many as 100 marketing staffers + consultants and agencies to support them in differentiating their cocoa-based snack products in a crowded marketplace. Even the major publishing houses have way, way smaller teams than that, and their product is way, way more complex a challenge.
Lavie: it is an award for science fiction, not fantasy, but it’s up to each year’s judges to define science fiction. That Mieville’s novels have won means that the judges in those years considered those novels to be defensible as science fiction.
Waaron’s Walking the Tree is definitely science fiction, even if her other work is fantasy/horror; and I thought Servant of the Underworld was alternate history?
Red leather corsets?
Taggart: San Francisco?
Niall, Servant of the Underworld is full of gods and magic and all that fantasy stuff. Literally, in the sense of the novel.
As an connected aside, I went to my publishers’ (Orbit) website, and looked at the list of employees. 10 of the 15 named individuals are women. And with the departure of Darren Nash, Anna Gregson is acting-head of Orbit UK. Then we have Jo Fletcher, and I’m aware (from Eastercon) that several (if not most) of the Gollancz editors are women.
Now I feel guilty for indirectly maligning the work of creative directors sight unseen, so here’s a rather lovely little design video of cover art I rather like:
Also, somewhat coincidently, with something of a red corset-like nature to it, but in a good way.
(No, I didn’t just go off and google corsets, ok)
We started out by asking why so few women are nominated for and win the Clarke, then shifted the question back to asking why so few women science fiction writers are published in the UK. It seems to me that repositioning the issue as one of basic appeal is simply to shift the question even further back. It doesn’t get rid of the core issue – why are women less drawn to the sciences, either as practitioners or consumers of science fiction?
Reading between the lines of both your comments I sense that you’re hinting at some sort of gender essentialism, and while I agree that there are fundamental differences between men and women it strikes me that there is a tendency to overplay them in modern culture, and that differences such as women’s indifference towards science and science fiction are rooted in nurture rather than nature. I read science fiction because someone (my mother, as it happens) put Isaac Asimov into my hands when I was ten. My teachers and librarians didn’t. Not, I suspect, because I was a girl so much as because of the genre’s lack of respectability, but there were certainly boys’ books and girls’ books when I was growing up, and as much as these address real differences between the genders, they also enforce them.
(This, incidentally, ties in to the observation that I think Martin is trying to make about PoC writing science fiction – if there isn’t a tradition of reading SF within a community, or if its members don’t feel welcome within SF, for example because all the characters they encounter within it are white, then you aren’t going to get too many members of that community writing within the genre. But that’s certainly not an issue that I have first-hand experience with, and therefore just speculation on my part.)
Abigail: I can’t say I’ve thought this through deeply enough to be able to say whether or not I think it stems from gender essentialism. But I do think the question you frame – “why are women less drawn to the sciences” – may have a bearing on the reading constituency of hard SF/space opera/cyberpunk whatever. If you’re bored or repelled by the sciences, what are the chances of you reading, say, Greg Egan’s latest – much less getting anything useful out of the experience? Not much, I’d venture.
Going back to the gender breakdown of readers, I’m still trying to get a feel for how typical the UK is in this regard. Down in small number statistics now, but my experience of Finnish fandom, for instance, is that there are proportionately more women reading the kind of stuff I write, and that the overall demographic is a lot younger than in the UK. Put it another way, contact with Finnish fandom makes me excited about the future of SF in a way I don’t get after coming from, say, Eastercon.
>But even if it is a fact that woman are less likely to want to write science fiction, that doesn’t explain why those women who do write it have fared so badly. Go back to Niall’s key fact: the only female British SF writer with a contract is Jaine Fenn.
The best starting point to investigate this is to look at the numbers, in this case contracts. What percentage of women who write SF in the UK have contracts? What percentage of men who write SF in the UK have contracts?
If 100 men write SF (published in IZ, F&SF etc) and 10 of these have contracts, that’s a ‘contract rate’ of 10%.
If 10 women write SF (same criteria) and 1 of these has a contract, that’s the same ‘contract rate’ of 10% as for the men.
Even if the rates are 15% for men and 10% for women, or 10% for men and 15% for women, that might not be statistically significant; it might be due to natural variance rather than bias. A statistician would be able to say what difference was meaningful.
If the success rates are significantly different (in a statistical sense) then there is cause for concern — that’s assuming that ‘contracts’ is our sole criterion and not something else. EG the ratio of wannabe writers to published writers by gender, the ratio of the number of publications by gender, the ratio of average writing incomes by gender and so on.
I’m completely outside the loop when it comes to all this so I don’t know what the actual figures are. The values above are just easy-to-comprehend numbers I plucked out of the air, but perhaps someone here can illuminate the rest of us: what are the four numbers above?
I’m not saying there isn’t a problem but, as someone on the outside, without seeing the figures much of the discussion here seems doomed to go in circles.
Tangential question for the panel: do the top tier of women fantasy writers outsell the top tier of male sf writers?
I like Paul’s suggestion that part of the problem might be a narrowing definition of sf. Space opera is fine, but I also want a new generation of Le Guins examining society and gender and so forth through an sfnal lens – and yet the writers who I tend to associate with the latter, like Geoff Ryman and Gwyneth Jones, definitely tend towards the critical rather than commercial end of the success spectrum, and both have had trouble finding publishers for their most interesting books. (Ian M (hello!) is the obvious exception, here.) It strikes me that a lot of this sort of exploration has migrated into fantasy, or non-genre spec fic, in recent years.
Of course it may be that men are more likely to show up at signings, send emails, post to blogs and type in Amazon reviews
My sense, albeit an anecdotal one, is that this is definitely the case. In my circle(s) of sf-reading friends there are a roughly equal number of men and women, but the women are much less likely to get involved in blog discussions or write formal book reviews. It isn’t that they read fewer books or are less interested in sf – or even that they don’t like discuss what they’ve read, in person – just that they’re less likely to go out of their way to find public places to express their opinions on them.
There could be any number of reasons for this: socialisation, the (let’s face it, pretty widespread) assumption that conventions and the like are male spaces, or the greater likelihood, statistically, that adult women have more demands on their time than do men. :-)
the already doomed words Science Fiction, and then seeing her kindled interest splutter and go out like a pissed on candle
Again, I think a lot of the gender imbalance in science is about early socialisation. A primary school teacher friend of mine was saddened but not surprised at an example of this during ‘science week’ at her school last year. Members of her class responded with incredulity at being introduced to two female postdoc researchers (one the teacher’s sister), who were there to lead some kid-friendly experiments, because “Girls can’t be doctors!”
Eight years old, and already they’re learned that biology is destiny and science is off limits to girls; is it any wonder a lot of women grow up to be ‘uninterested’ in science?
In my last posting I just about managed to avoid mentioning the Quidditch playing elephant just outside the room, but seeing as you’ve brought it up, I would guess it’s fair to assume that at least one female fantasy writer currently outsells, or did till recently, every current male SF writer.
Sean: I agree that there’s a frustrating lack of data available, but I don’t agree that in your example there’s no problem — it just, as Abigail and Nic have been saying, puts the problem further back. Unless we think there is something inherently male about the enterprise of imagining the future — and I don’t think there is, I don’t even really know what it would mean, although I suspect Paul, Ian S and Nic are right that the way in which science fiction is currently being framed favours conventionally masculine perspectives (god that’s a long-winded way of saying it) — then there’s no reason why equal numbers of men and women shouldn’t be writing science fiction. So I think the data would be useful to define exactly what problem we’re talking about, but I think we can say that there is a problem based on the data we have.
As for sales figures, it’s my understanding that fantasy currently outsells science fiction quite handily. All those hooded figures on the covers, I believe.
But even if it is a fact that woman are less likely to want to write science fiction, that doesn’t explain why those women who do write it have fared so badly.
Actually, I think it might do, if we take “fared so badly” to mean “end up under-represented.” For one thing, if you have a much bigger pool of males doing something than females, then by definition you have a correspondingly bigger chance of exceptional talent flowering in the male pool. And also if males and females are writing into a largely male sub-market, then the males are going to have a far better chance of hitting the right sweet spots as far as audience demand goes, because they are more likely to share their audience’s instinctive predilections. Of course you’ll always have talented exceptions – the Kathryn Bigelows of the SF literary landscape, so to speak – but the statistics are always going to ensure that those are fewer and further between.
Then take lavie’s point above – if you factor in fantasy (especially, NB, the less macho blood-soaked end of fantasy), suddenly the numbers start to come up. To me that’s a clear indicator of the validity of the basic appeal argument. A different field brings in a greater female participation, and bingo, females are better represented.
Further to this point, and in the interests of balance, it’s also worth considering how many men are writing dark fantasy of the somewhat unkindly termed fang-banger variety. My (admittedly un-researched) impression is that it’s a tiny minority.
And, btw, interestingly, no-one appears very concerned about the under-representation of male writers in the dark fantasy field. Why is that, I wonder?
Abigail: Like you, I have my mother (who spent *her* childhood reading Superman comics) to thank for much of my reading habits. Also the fact that genre forms and material were – then as now – much more mainstream in children’s and adolescent fiction, and by virtue of the fact that I got through virtually everything in my primary school library, I was going to hit the sf/fantasy sooner or later…
Sean: Yes, and in truth it was a disingenuous question because I was fairly sure what the answer was. :-)
But, as Niall says, that’s presumably largely down to the fact that fantasy as a genre sells bucketloads more than sf. That, in turn, has much to do with the fact that women on average read more than men do, and women are – I believe – much more likely to read fantasy than sf.
Which does sort of beg the question of why there aren’t greater efforts to get more women reading sf!
Separately, Tricia’s comments about outreach led me to wonder what literary festivals there might be out there that might be worth visiting, which led me to this site and this festival, which has some folklore/myth-specific programming, and may just be an interesting place to hang out.
There is something that niggles at me here, though, which is that I think Tricia put her finger on something when she said “SF may well need POC more than the other way around” (and you can probably extend that to women). That is: obviously if there are barriers to entry we want to eliminate them; and we probably all have the basic fannish desire to enthuse about this thing that we love and induce people to try it, and extending that to more women and POC is no bad thing; but there’s a sense in which the way we (or at least I, earlier) have been talking about this — we (I) want our genres to be more diverse, more representative, more etc etc — loses sight of the people, or makes the people subordinate to the stories, which in this discussion is the wrong way around. So I’m going to try to stop doing that.
And, btw, interestingly, no-one appears very concerned about the under-representation of male writers in the dark fantasy field. Why is that, I wonder?
Because while it sells, it’s not taken as seriously by the speculative fiction community as science fiction is — by the mechanisms of recognition, reviews and year’s bests and awards and so forth — so it’s OK for women to dominate it. See also: YA. See also fantasy in general, in fact; Martin was talking in the other thread I started about the past decade being a boom time for British fantasy, which I think is true, but how much of that perception is down to the fact that there have been some high-profile men, who get taken seriously, writing it? I think it’s Liz Williams who’s fond of pointing out that Mary Gentle was doing a lot of what China Mieville was doing ten years earlier…
And, btw, interestingly, no-one appears very concerned about the under-representation of male writers in the dark fantasy field. Why is that, I wonder?
Because no-one here likes it very much? ;-)
As to your broader point, I really don’t think it’s as easy as you make out to discern whether this is a ‘basic appeal’ thing or simply a feedback loop. People read what they’ve heard of, what’s marketed to them, what their friends recommend to them, what is similar to things they’ve already read; in light of which, aren’t these things (men read sf, women read fantasy) self-fulfilling prophecies?
And, btw, interestingly, no-one appears very concerned about the under-representation of male writers in the dark fantasy field. Why is that, I wonder?
Because you are not comparing like with like. Men might be a small minority of dark fantasy writers but of fantasy as a whole? As a whole the genre is much more balanced. There are plenty of both male and female British fantasy writers with contracts. This isn’t replicated with SF. If women were a small minority of space opera writers but published plenty of other SF (at the “less macho blood-soaked end”) then I’d see this as much less of an issue.
Marketing is about finding an audience for a product, not a product that fits an audience.
God, how I wish this were true. But in the creative/media field it simply isn’t the case anymore.
As long ago as 2005 I spoke to a senior editor (not mine) who had just brought in a major writing talent with a specific brief to create a series of paranormal detective novels. The audience and market already existed – this guy was specifically building the product to fit. And that’s without even mentioning the rise of the boy band and manufactured stardom, the blockbuster franchise, action figure spin-offs, and so wearily onward….. Talk to anyone anywhere in the entertainment industry these days and they will be able to regale you with tales of the marketing tail wagging the creative dog. It has become one of the uncomfortable but unavoidable truths of 21st century media culture.
I hope everyone on this thread sticks around a little bit longer as I have a direct question to ask.
Going back specifically to the Clarke Award again, what do the people here think the award could do to be proactive, to get something done that contributes to some progress here?
For instance, the award has no influence on the lists of individual publishers, but could theoretically challenge the supporting organisations who contribute judges more, or perhaps look to find new / additional organisational relationships. And as a side question, who might those organisations be and why?
All thoughts welcome (and if you’d prefer to suggest more privately please contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org or via @ClarkeAward on Twitter if you like)
In the meantime here’s a brief overview of what we are doing and thinking already.
First up, I’m thinking increasingly about the shape of the Clarke after 2011 (when we will have presented our 25th award), what this means in the light of developments in digital publishing for instance, as mentioned above, and also the broader issue surrounding Sir Arthur’s legacy to science fiction and the award’s underlying remit to promote and advocate British SF.
A lot of this for me is about finding new audiences or new ways to engage with existing ones – for instance that often startlingly diverse bunch I see whenever I stroll into Forbidden Planet, or who surrounded me when I went to see inception or Scott Pilgrim, but who I never see at places like Eastercon (Note to self: I must take Al’s cue and go to Finland).
One of my key roles in this has been to try and get us more noticed, and I think we’ve been generally successful there, both with wider coverage of the Award and, perhaps more importantly, ever increasing depth of conversation (thank you again internet).
Speaking strictly from my own personal experience and resisting the urge to extrapolate, I’m continually amazed at the amount of people I meet through my day job (sales & marketing for an arts marketing agency) who reveal their own deeply geeky inclinations only when they find out what it is I do in my lunch breaks and weekends. I mention this because there is certainly no shortage of women working at all levels in arts marketing and PR, and a notable number of them I’ve discovered are very sympathetic, if not downright passionate about Sci-Fi (term used deliberately btw because of the audience I’m talking about) and I do mean the full range of SF & F here.
What does this mean? Well, I think of it partially as an endorsement of the newer relationships the Clarke has been forging both under my watch and beforehand, and that continuing to broaden the places in which we appear is a good thing to do.
For example, I think the ongoing partnership with Sci-Fi-London has allowed the Clarke to start engaging with newer audiences – and it’s notable how much the festival itself is doing to expand the parameters of its programme each year.
I think the connections we’ve made with organisations like the Royal Observatory Greenwich are also becoming increasingly important for a number of reasons. So not only are we potentially reaching new audiences again, but a broader base of input from these organisations into the award is also very valuable. It’s worth noting that venues like these have been engaging directly with the challenge of reaching new audiences and supporting emergent talent for a good long while now, and have lots of experience our sector can benefit from.
Granted, I might mostly be talking here about engaging with new consumers of SF rather than enabling new creators, but I am talking about the practical effects the award can have right now within its current structure, remit and constraints.
Speaking of the Royal Observatory, they are now partnered with another ‘Royal’ venue, the Albert Hall on a shared programme of science and science fiction themed events at the end of October http://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/close-encounters/default.aspx
Again, I’ve been in conversations with their marketing team offering the award’s support and advice and this is something I hope to continue with more forthcoming arts & culture meets sci-fi type events in the year to come.
We’ve also been investigating areas of future project funding where the brand association of the Clarke Award being involved could well be a useful resource. It’s early days, but an area I think has potential for reaching new audiences, delivering on our commitment to honour Sir Arthur’s memory and also to do some damn cool projects. Fingers crossed and watch this space as they say.
I’m mentioning all of this as practical examples of the kind of stuff I’m thinking about in relation to the award, and as I say I would genuinely welcome all ideas and suggestions, even if they’re the kind that aren’t immediately actionable (we have a big someday / maybe wishlist).
In the meantime, one final area where the award may be able to help is in the immediate field of support for writers, both established and up and coming. This is an idea I’m currently exploring, so I’ll set it down here in its rawest form.
If you’re a writer the chances are you’re good with words, but it doesn’t necessarily follow you’re good with the business of words. There are a lot of good people out there who offer personal or course-based creative writing learning or fee-based critical manuscript reading services. I’m not seeing so many services set up to offer practical advice on the marketing side of things – ‘my words are lovely, but no one will pay for them’
By the way, I’m talking about services outside of our publishing houses here. As noted already, the teams there are small in number and do great work, but I think we can all acknowledge that authors themselves are increasingly required (and even often enjoy) being their own promotors at events, online and so on.
You might well hate the idea of the ‘author as brand’ and that’s ok, but the award does have access to a large brain-trust of marketing and promotional knowledge and experience.
I think there may be a good number of writers of every kind who could benefit from some outside industry marketing insight and consultancy, if not from us then from somewhere. And if marketing can lead to increased presence, exposure and sales, where might this lead us?
Anyone interested in volunteering to be a case study, do drop me a line, and remember we ought to be a tax deductable business expense :-)
You’re right too, of course, and I know that and similar stories as well.
I guess I tend to take a slightly optimistic tone re marketing in spaces and conversations like this because it’s part of what I do in my day job and tends to take a kicking.
In your example though, there’s still an editorial / curatorial decision being made, however informed by marketing it is.
I can draw parallels with the ‘blockbuster’ exhibition phenomenon in the cultural sector here that might be relevant. Another Warhol exhibition (he seemed the obvious name to drop here) is likely to do better box office than a show by a Warhol-like, or indeed living, artist would, so there is a commercial pressure certainly to have a certain element of that in mind when organisations sit down and plan their programming. The thing is though, the range in curatorial quality between Warhol exhibitions can be immense.
I suspect the writer you’re mentioning there was chosen not only for their existing reputation but also because they were the type of writer best suited to purpose – i.e. someone adept at the jobbing aspects of writing, delivering to deadlines and balancing the commercial and the creative imperatives.
I guess all I’m trying to say here really is, I bet I enjoyed those books anyway, and that working within commercial realities doesn’t (not always anyway) have to be a restraint.
Granted that is kind of off topic though, so apologies to the thread if it seemed a lateral move too far – just because it’s an area I think about a lot, doesn’t mean you have to come with me.
A lot here, but just to go back to one thing niggling at me – the only author to win the Clarke 3 times did it with 3 fantasy novels (in the broad sense of the term).
3, incidentally, very well-deserved novels.
Now, Niall (I think; it’s a long thread!) says above that China’s novels won because the judges felt they could defend them as science fiction. Surely, then, almost every fantastical work could be defended in the same terms.
I’m not sure what this says, though. Should publishers submit more fantasy for consideration (what is the limit in numbers of titles per publisher?). Should the Clarke acknowledge that it is, in effect, now recognising books beyond what is traditionally thought of as science fiction, and judges should embrace (as they already did in China’s case) a wider definition?
Perhaps the problem, as has also been said above, is not “women aren’t writing science fiction” but “the Clarke award doesn’t recognise the kind of science fiction women are writing”.
But maybe publishers simply aren’t submitting those books. So maybe a more proactive appeal to publishers will work, and an understanding of what we talk about when we talk about science fiction.
(on a personal, and unrelated, note, I never really understood the division. To me, SF is SF – fantasy, science fiction, horror, whatever. I think the most useful distinction I can come up with is “does it have spaceships or does it have dragons?” it’s all genre).
Lavie: Should the Clarke acknowledge that it is, in effect, now recognising books beyond what is traditionally thought of as science fiction, and judges should embrace (as they already did in China’s case) a wider definition?
I think so.
I like Paul’s suggestion that part of the problem might be a narrowing definition of sf. Space opera is fine, but I also want a new generation of Le Guins examining society and gender and so forth through an sfnal lens – and yet the writers who I tend to associate with the latter, like Geoff Ryman and Gwyneth Jones, definitely tend towards the critical rather than commercial end of the success spectrum, and both have had trouble finding publishers for their most interesting books.
And Niall wrote:
Waaron’s Walking the Tree is definitely science fiction
To both of these comments, and to the discussion of the role of marketing above, I’ll add that Walking the Tree–which tries to do what Nic wants–has a big “file under: FANTASY” label on the back cover; the front cover has a blurb from Trudi Canavan “bestselling author of the Black Magician trilogy”; and Angry Robot’s “if you like this try” list includes Le Guin’s Lavinia and Tehanu, both fantasy, but not any of her famous SF travelogues that deal with gender.
So while it’s just a single data point, it is interesting to see an SF book marketed a) so as to do everything it can to avoid the impression of being SF and b) so thoroughly constructing a sense that this is a “women’s book” — by/for/about women — and conflating that with fantasy.
Much of this, I’m sure, is down to fantasy selling better at the moment, and being perceived as more friendly to women readers. But I do wonder when those start becoming circular and self-fulfilling, and what the collateral damage might be both to how women’s concerns are viewed by women and men, and how women and men view science.
(All this is something I had flagged to address in a review I’ll be writing of Waaron’s book.)
For me this is a worry, I am currently finishing the editing stages of my novel – set slightly in the future, after a global catastrophe. I am currently researching agents for my novel and I find that there are hardly any agents who want to touch SF – a problem for both genders.
Also, as a woman, with a slightly SF themed novel, I wondering would it be easier if I changed my name like Charlotte Bronte done all those years ago or go down the J.K. Rowling way and use my initials to hide my gender as I believe her agent/editor said it would appeal ?
I am finding there are a few women writing SF but booksellers are filing these under General fiction. (Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterston, Liz Jensen ) and I believe this is because they know that women would rather head to those bookshelves.
the only author to win the Clarke 3 times did it with 3 fantasy novels (in the broad sense of the term).
I consider The City & The City to be a straight up science fiction novel and lots of people agree with me. perdido Street Station and Iron Council, on the other hand, I do consider to fantasy. That is a decision for the judges though. (The Kraken has been submitted for this year’s award so I get my own chance to wrestle with this.)
I don’t see PSS as any sort of watershed moment. The Clarke has always been open to edge cases and will remain so; it doesn’t need to acknowledge anything. However, I would really hate to see publishers’ just chancing their arms and submitting all their fantasy. It has the potential to make the award unmanageable.
Lavie, Al, there’s a difference here between the Clarke Award as in organising body and the Clarke Award as in jury panel, and this makes all the difference in determining what is acknowledged and how.
I have a lot of sympathy with the idea that the award should be more clear in describing its parameters and stance with regard to science fiction, fantasy and all the associated sub-genres, but I’m sure you’ll agree there’s a lot problems present in trying to pin that down, especially if the pronouncement comes from the organising body rather than the judges making the selection decisions each year.
As Niall describes way up thread, the way the Clarke approaches this is that the working definition of science fiction is not fixed but rather determined by the judges that particular year.
Every year we send out a call for entries and position the award as a science fiction prize. We then receive submissions. If a book is submitted it is considered as potentially eligible and discussed. Not all of those discussions take very long for the judges to form an opinion one way or the other.
This is partly why we’ve been releasing the full submission list these past few years – it’s a glimpse behind the curtain without giving away the secret formula.
What I see in comments on places like this as a result is some people crying foul and that a book is ‘clearly not SF’ and why the hell is it submitted.
The chances are of course the judges may well have formed exactly the same opinion. Sometimes this might be the publisher taking a punt with a borderline book, sometimes it might be the book was specifically called in and then sent because there was a suspicion of sfnal content that needed to be tested by the panel. Every case is different, but I often like to refer people to Pattern Recognition by William Gibson being (rightly in my opinion) shortlisted for the Clarke.
I think it was a right decision though because the judges made it, not because I or someone like me defined it for them if that makes sense.
Now granted, our system can through outliers at every stage, but I think it’s a system that definitely has merits.
Given that I think the relationship between sf and fantasy is best visualised by a Venn diagram, my ideal solution would be a Clarke-like award for fantasy — that is, an annual, juried award that leaves “fantasy” for each year’s judges to define. I’d love to see what overlaps emerge.
Matt: I hadn’t noticed that about Walking the Tree. Frustrating.
Jessica: And more frustration! I’m not in a position to offer much in the way of useful advice, I’m afraid; but I guess you’d want to find out who agents someone like Kit Whitfield.
Because you are not comparing like with like.
Am I not, though? I’m willing to bet that fang-banger dark fantasy pisses all over the whole of SF in terms of total sales, and probably in sales per author too. It’s not a sub-sub-genre anymore, it’s a massive publishing phenomenon. Yet women dominate it – and we’re cool with that, we see no cause to address that imbalance in the interests of gender justice. We don’t ask what nefarious social conditioning is keeping men away from this field. I am, quite literally, interested to know why. It was a sincerely open question.
And Niall, of course, has the magic answer – it’s because no-one takes this stuff seriously.
No-one, that is, apart from the (literally) millions of readers and the delighted publishers.
Jessica: Trying to think of something encouraging to say…if the SFnal content of your novel is not so much, it might very well be marketable as general fiction. I believe you’re right, that there are only a handful of agents in the UK who do all the SFF but the way you’ve phrased it here, it might be worth looking at agents who do general fiction as well. Drop me a line off list if you want to chat about it :-)
Jessica: just taking the brief description of your novel you gave, set in the near future after a catastrophe could very well describe Clarke Award shortlisted The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall.
Not aiming to draw comparisons as such but rather saying I’d always advise looking for points of optimism in the marketplace rather than frustration. Publishing is a tricky enough industry to crack for anyone after all. Niall’s advice is good too, and for more help do see my comments re marketing advice in the posts above.
One other random note of optimism. Last year I was told directly by an agent that they were currently and specifically on the look out for the next Kelly Link. This was a throw away line in a different conversation but my reason for optimism here was this comment was entirely about recognition of writing talent, and nothing to do with Kelly’s sales or otherwise, about which I know nothing.
Ok, I realise Kelly is a fantasy writer, so maybe that’s not so relevant. My point here is we weren’t defining genres and what shelf people go on so much as talking about what was exciting them in words and style.
I have every sympathy with the idea that there will be books like Perdido Street Station that are, as Martin says, edge cases – and I’m inclined to the view that if PSS is fantasy, then it’s also a fantasy novel that embeds a brilliant realisation of the scientific process. I’m very glad it was shortlisted, because it introduced me to CM’s work – and there hasn’t been a writer I’ve been more enthusiastic about in the last ten years than CM.
But I do think there is something vital and specific about science fiction, something central to the notion that this is the genre of the enlightenment, of rational enquiry, that places it in quite marked opposition to a great deal of fantasy, which in essence celebrates magic, paranormal, superstition and so on – fundamentally antiscientific values, in other words. Again, there are edge cases – Kraken (which I thought was at least as good as TC&TC) has a lot of fun with magic and monsters and supernatural forces, but in the end comes down firmly on the side of Darwinism – and maybe that makes it sufficiently science fictional in spirit to get the nod, even though I don’t think the pro-Darwinian theme is that big an element in the novel. But equally I think it’s important to recognise that science fiction stands for something – it’s not just a lot of interchangeable tropes – it’s a way of thinking about the world. Forging links with bodies like the RGO, or in the past the Science Museum, seems to me to imply something along those lines, a sense that the “science” part of science fiction is going to be given more than lip service.
Yet women dominate it – and we’re cool with that, we see no cause to address that imbalance in the interests of gender justice. We don’t ask what nefarious social conditioning is keeping men away from this field. I am, quite literally, interested to know why.
Oh, these conversations do go on, just not here; e.g.:
The short answer to ‘what social conditioning keeps men away from dark fantasy?’ is surely that men already have their own porn…
Richard : “It was a sincerely open question.”
Answer = Low social status. In the small and insular world of genre criticism, nobody likes fang-bangers. The big names in paranormal romance are seen as weak writers peddling tripe to barely literate teenagers and emotionally stunted adults.
Nobody gives a shit about paranormal romance’s over-representation of female authors because being a paranormal romance author carries about as much cachet as being the biggest name in bestial pornography.
The issue with regards to paranormal romance is not why nobody cares about the lack of male authors, it is whether the lack of status afforded the genre is actually itself a reflection of misogynistic attitudes. Do people hate paranormal romance because it is universally shit or because it’s ‘for girls’?
It’s a bit like the title of ‘secretary’. Back when there were no female secretaries, the title had a good deal of prestige. Hence the fact that senior civil servants and members of the government still have that title. Then, when women began to enter the workplace, the title lost its cachet. Which is why now one talks of ‘personal assistants’. In the case of the title of ‘secretary’, the status afforded it decreased as it came to be a profession dominated by women.
Oops – premature posting problem, sorry. Here’s part 2.
This goes to the whole issue of what we value in fiction. I wonder why no fang-banger novel has ever won (or even been shortlisted for?) the Clarke. I haven’t read much (any) of the stuff, but I find it hard to believe there aren’t any excellent examples of the form in there somewhere; novels that display, in amongst all the torrid spilling of fluids and heaving of cursed immortal breasts, some good writing, some well-made characters and scenarios, some decent insight into the human condition. And certainly once upon a time – back in the mid nineties say – examples of the form must at least have been innovative.
So – is it the vast discomfort so much of the (male) SF readership has with sex and sexuality? Is it the idea that emotional feelings plotted along the curve of love and passion are somehow less valid statements of fictional intent than those dealing with, say, technology, or revenge, or political will?
And is that distaste/bias in itself part of some deeply rooted basic appeal issue? Leading, perhaps, in turn to a self-reinforcing “Only women care about this shit so it can’t be worth a damn” dynamic.
Food for thought….
Thanks for the links – very interesting. (and suggesting more of a soul and intelligence inside the form than those outside seem inclined to allow)
The short answer to ‘what social conditioning keeps men away from dark fantasy?’ is surely that men already have their own porn…
Ehm – I fear that’s a validation of the basic appeal/gender essentialism line. Unless you want to argue that men are socially conditioned into liking porn…….. :-)
I wonder why no fang-banger novel has ever won (or even been shortlisted for?) the Clarke.
I imagine it has something to do with the fact they are ineligible.
Ineligible in that they are not science fiction.
Further to Matt’s comment above, I’ve just looked at the back of Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. “File under: URBAN FANTASY”…
Ehm – I fear that’s a validation of the basic appeal/gender essentialism line.
Yes, was being flippant, obviously!
Unless you want to argue that men are socially conditioned into liking porn…….. :-)
Well, I think the *type* of porn people are interested in has a lot to do with social conditioning. But that’s a much bigger debate than I have time for tonight. :-D
Ineligible in that they are not science fiction.
Uhm – I may be covering ground already touched on here (got to go out, no time to go back and read the whole thread) but how do the conceits of something like Anita Blake or True Blood not count as science fiction when the conceits of New Crobuzon (vampires included!) apparently do?
If I had been a judge the year Charlie Huston’s Already Dead came out I might have made an argument for its inclusion on the basis of its vampire virus having a firm(ish) basis in science – without spoilers, lots of the plotting revolves around efforts to crack the virus and cure it.
I wasn’t a judge of course, and I don’t believe it was submitted, but definitely the closest I can get to science fiction vampires without nipping over to Google.
Richard, they’re also very noir and I think you’ll like ’em (assuming you don’t know them already).
[i}If you consider non-Brits published by genre imprints you get Maurice Broaddus, NK Jemisin, Charles Yu and David Anthony Durham[/i]
You’ve left out Aliette de Bodard, who is half-Vietnamese.
To keep to the specific theme of the Clarke Award itself, and add my widow’s mite towards making this the Longest TC Thread EVAH, I’ll pick up on something Naill says a few comments back: ‘I think it’s Liz Williams who’s fond of pointing out that Mary Gentle was doing a lot of what China Mieville was doing ten years earlier…’
In part this discussion is about concrete things like the gender of shortlisted authors and so on; but in part it’s about the narratives we construct about our genre. Perdido won the Clarke in 2001. In retrospect, that surely looks like the shoeiest of shoe-ins, the least contested winner: a major novel by a major new voice that proved massively influentuial, that’s still being talked about etc. The Platonic form of a worthy winner. I wouldn’t argue with that: there have been years when I’d be inclined to disagree with the judges’ decision, but 2001 isn’t one of them.
Now, also shortlisted that year was Mary Gentle’s Ash. If we step back before the hindsight-y inevitability of Perdido‘s win, then I ask you to take my word that many people thought Gentle would win the prize. ‘Many people’ included Mièville himself. I know this because I e-chatted with him in the run-up to the announcement, and he told me so. Now, I’m not saying that Ash deserved to win and Perdido didn’t (on balance I think the judge’s did get it right). I’m saying that the inevitability of Mièville’s win is an artefact of hindsight. And I’m saying that surely we, who are expert in alternate histories, could imagine what the 21st-century Clarke history might look like if Gentle kicked it off instead of a geezer. Ash, after all, is a fine novel.
Also, more generally: what Richard M. said. Yes.
Richard: Yet women dominate it – and we’re cool with that, we see no cause to address that imbalance in the interests of gender justice. We don’t ask what nefarious social conditioning is keeping men away from this field. I am, quite literally, interested to know why.
We don’t ask why – probably – for the same reasons that the Women’s Institute is still a women-only organisation. In that, there has historically been no bar to men doing anything they pretty much want (and that includes writing paranormal romances). Women have been marginalised and treated as less-than-men by law, and society today recognises that: the concept of a men-only club is anathema, a women-only one a restoring of the balance.
Maybe in a hundred years time, the WI will have to change its constitution. It is anomalous, but we let it stand.
So – why are there so few female SF writers? If it’s not a block at the publishers, where women are, anecdotally, in the majority, then where? Is it (to coin a phrase) Market Forces? Hachette produced two sets of accounts this year: one with Stephanie Meyer, one without. There’s no doubt that the smart money is buying everything with a vampire or werewolf in it and getting it out asap (Sturgeon’s Law applies), or anything with a hood on the cover. Is it that more women writers are simply more flexible than men in their genre tropes and once the bubble has burst, we’ll see a rise in SF submissions? The effect we’re seeing in the Clarkes could be no more than a siphoning-off of talent, directed by agents, publishers and simple economics.
My agent (die-hard SF fan) asked me over lunch when I was going to write a fantasy. I have an idea for one, though it will still be SF…
Fascinating discussion, though I suspect we simply be seeing our own tip of a much wider social malaise. We can all try hard to encourage more involvement and recognition of women in the SF field, but the wider culture is still pressing hard to enforce strict gender segregation it will be an uphill struggle, no matter how enlightened we are. Shouldn’t stop us trying though. Ditto with ethnic diversity.
As to Richard’s question, I think Simon has it right above. No one worries about the lack of men in the urban fantasy field because everyone assumes that if a reasonably competent male writer were to turn his hand to writing such books then he would quickly be hailed as the savior of the genre and showered with awards. We might even see that happen when Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s The Fallen Blade hits the shelves next year. (Which should not be taken as a criticism of Jon – I’m delighted to see him risk his literary neck in a much-derided field, and it won’t be his fault if people fawn on him simply because he’s male.)
No one worries about the lack of men in the urban fantasy field because everyone assumes that if a reasonably competent male writer were to turn his hand to writing such books then he would quickly be hailed as the savior of the genre and showered with awards
I’m not so sure. Tim Pratt writes urban fantasy under the name “T.A. Pratt,” while Daniel Abraham does so as “M.L.N. Hanover.” This suggests to me that an unambiguously male name might be a disadvantage in urban fantasy.
Just to back up what Adam said, I remember when Ash and Perdido Street Station came out in the UK in the same year. (Incidentally, I’ve only just read Ash – because of its length, I saved it for a long-haul journey, to Australia and back, finishing it on the return flight.) Maybe I was in a different place to others at the time, but I could see that here were two novels that were getting a lot of discussion for their ambition, scale, quality and sheer size. (Their combined wordcount must be around 700,000 words, so I hoped that that year’s award judges were fast readers. I’m not one. :))
Anyway, you can often sense which novels seem to be standing out in that way. Some years there isn’t one. That year there were two, and I guessed that they would probably divide a lot of awards between them. And they did – Ash won the BSFA and the Sidewise Award. By the way, my Gollancz paperback of Ash says “Fantasy” on the back, though the novel clearly qualifies as SF.
I’d say that Ash was fantasy to the same extent that Zoo City is SF. Namely they’re not but something can be gained critically from examining them from those perspectives.
I’m glad to see Mary Gentle getting some love, she’s often overlooked (something not helped by 1) her tendency to produce hugely long works 2) her tendency to not produce very many works and 3) her desire to return to the world of Ash with her last book… Been there. Done that. Got t-shirt.)
I’m a little nervous of putting my head above the parapet, partly because I’m still in shock at discovering I appear to be part of an endangered species, and partly because the unholy combination of a day-job and a looming book delivery deadline means I don’t have time to read the above comments in the detail they deserve. Still, I’m going to put in my two pennyworth.
Several people have pointed out that they would never be put off buying a book by the gender of the author. I’m glad to hear it, but – and forgive me if someone has already raised this point – isn’t there a degree of self-selection at work here? At the risk of making a generalisation, the sort of people who enter into a discussion like this aren’t the sort of people likely to judge a book by its cover.
However, I agree there is a perception in publishing that there are a lot of people who do just that: that there are male readers who won’t buy SF by women, just as there are female readers who won’t buy detective fiction or (as Ted points out above) urban fantasy written by men. I have no idea how true this perception is; I’m not sure how you’d go about putting such a hypothesis to the test. I do believe that there is a heavy element of self-perpetuating bias at work here though. If someone of conservative tastes only sees books (probably) written by one gender on the shelves they normally browse, any books not written by someone of that gender will stand out, and such a reader might well choose to stick with what they know and trust. That’s not the way forward. We have to challenge perceptions in order to change assumptions. (Which is why, when my publishers wanted to ‘re-brand’ me as ‘J N Fenn’, I dug my heels in. I’m pleased to say that they listened, and I got my vowels – and my gender – back.)
If you want to see how the other half thinks, pick up a copy of ‘SciFi Now’. Last month, Gollancz asked me to write a couple of pieces for them (one of which was on – you guessed it – women in SF). When I bought a paper copy of the magazine to see what tone I should be aiming for (answer: lightweight and jocular) I discovered that the only female presence in the magazine came in the form of pictures of young and glamourous screen stars. To be fair, ‘Sci-Fi Now’ is mainly aimed at media fans, and to his credit the editor does try to infect them with a desire to actually read the literature, but I was still depressed and disappointed. Perhaps I’m just naïve …
I’m reading this with great interest, but not going to contribute much as I’m on the Clarke jury this year and it probably isn’t appropriate (particularly in the case of specific books or authors, obviously).
However, as one of the judges, I’m looking purely at whether I think it’s a good book or not. I want to watch out for any covert pro-female bias on my part, because I don’t think that’s fair to the guys.
But what gender the author is makes very little difference to me, any more than it did when I was reading slush for InterZone.
Al – interesting point re Finnish fandom. I’ve found this as well.
Liz – it’ll be interesting to see if you get pulled up on ‘a good book’ criteria. When I said that, I was importing a whole barrowload of cultural baggage… :)
Which brings me to my main point: trust the judges.
And I’m saying that surely we, who are expert in alternate histories, could imagine what the 21st-century Clarke history might look like if Gentle kicked it off instead of a geezer.
That’s a bit of a mug’s game, innit?
However, I would say that I don’t think your specific PSS narrative is as strong as you think and is perhaps even inversely-revisionist (plenty of people of don’t believe it now or believe it was believed at the time). Nor do I think the Clarke’s influence on the narrative of British SF is that strong in general. I don’t want to guess what the history of the Clarke would have been like had Ash won but I am happy to put my neck out and predict the change on British genre fiction: none. That quote that “Mary Gentle was doing a lot of what China Mieville was doing ten years earlier” may be true enough but by that point in time Gentle and Mieville were out of synch. Ash and PSS are very different novels and it was PSS that captured the general imagination (even if it harked back to ground Gentle had already broken). I think the Clarke had very little to do with that.
Ted: Fair point. But both Tim and Daniel (as you note) use initials, both have female lead characters, both have women on the cover. Jon’s book appears to be different. We’ll see.
I’m quite willing to unpack what I consider to be a good book (originality is key, actually – the reason I wouldn’t be too happy about a slew of vampire fantasy is that most of it is so derivative, and this goes for other categories as well).
Just a point about what Adam said. I don’t know if the year that Perdido Street Station and Ash were on the Clarke shortlist was the longest judging meeting we had. But it was certainly the longest in which the discussion was simply trying to separate two books. We narrowed it down to those two books very very quickly, but trying to make a decision between the books was incredibly difficult. Several times I came close to deciding we would have a tie. But what would have been the result? It would have marginally changed the ratio of men to women who had won, but I suspect it would have made not one jot of difference to the sf written since then.
it’ll be interesting to see if you get pulled up on ‘a good book’ criteria. When I said that, I was importing a whole barrowload of cultural baggage… :)
This is silly. More or less the first things I’d expect of any Clarke judge, male or female, are self-awareness about reading preferences and a willingness to interrogate their criteria for ‘good books’.
You aren’t being persecuted for being a man, Simon, however much you apparently want to think so.
Liz — “(originality is key, actually – the reason I wouldn’t be too happy about a slew of vampire fantasy is that most of it is so derivative, and this goes for other categories as well)”
My fear is that it’s out there but we’re missing it. For example, Let The Right One In qualifies as paranormal romance but it is a great novel with new things to say. It stands in a similar relationship to the paranormal romance genre as most Clarke winners do to the staples of sf: It develops them, it moves them on, it challenges them.
Twilight and Anita Blake aren’t doing anything particularly interesting but then the same is true of the big names in YA – Dig below the surface and there’s all kinds of cool stuff going on.
My concern is that while 90% of paranormal romance is obvious rubbish, the 10% that isn’t may well be passing completely below the critical radar. YA has a much better standing than it did 5 years ago because people were willing to speak for it and bring the good works and good authors to the attention of people with more literary genre tastes. Who is doing that work with paranormal romance?
As Cheryl says, Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s fang-bangers may well a) be good, b) generate enough interest to get people to dig into the genre critically and c) open up a commercial opportunity for decent works of vampire porn but I do worry that the books are out there already.
Nic – I’m absolutely certain I’m not being persecuted (which is also silly – we’re having a discussion, yes?), any more than Lavie was persecuting me. So when he says, “Saying “I just like good stories” discounts with one easy swoop that different readers have different sets of expectations from a text,” he’s right in one respect – that different readers will read a text differently, and dead wrong in another – that I’m dismissing that difference. Any more than Liz, or other judges past and present.
I was just one of the judges: the others in the room brought their own unique take on the submissions. What I found gratifying was that, independently, we’d pretty much all shortlisted the same books, despite our differences. Which is a good thing.
Late to the party but…
Paul Kincaid comments that few women are writing “big spectacular, often violent high-tech adventure” and as that’s the UK scene, they can’t break in: he is right, but that doesn’t account for Karen Traviss’s career which was built on precisely that, but who was turned away from UK publishing houses (the men taken on at about the same time have performed indifferently). She’s turned into one of the biggest sellers in the field. Is in fact the biggest seller of mil-sf thanks to her tie ins, another market thought to be mostly male.
Richard Morgan quotes Patti Hasuman asserting that women are just naturally less interested in engineering and science, but actually there is sod all evidence of that: in Finnland, where local conditions mean that there is high paying manual work for men but not for women, women do just fine. Women get pretty interested in “ohms, carburettors and sparks” in all female environments as well. I refer you to Cordelia Fine (daughter of the brilliant Anne) for a new book on the paucity of evidence for actual biological gender differences.
To the general question of do men consciously discriminate in their choice of books, then no. If you ask them do they like X female writer, they’ll say “yes”. But what Zara Baxter and I found was that when asked who they remembered as liking, men simply forgot women writers. I doubt this influences the Clarkes that much as the judges keep notes, but the Hugo nominations? I’m damn sure it does.
To the astonishingl comments about actual levels of activity in sf: 45% of the respondents to my internet survey were female.
I do wonder if, in Karen’s case, it might also be to do with the fact that she has military connections (just as Elizabeth Moon does). Readers categorise writers in ways other than gender/race etc, and being perceived to be part of a particular context is also fairly important, especially when you’re talking about the military, I think. It’s the ‘she’s one of us’ phenomenon.
This isn’t to say that Karen isn’t also a damn good writer, which of course she is.
I’m willing to bet that fang-banger dark fantasy pisses all over the whole of SF in terms of total sales, and probably in sales per author too. It’s not a sub-sub-genre anymore, it’s a massive publishing phenomenon.
I didn’t respond to this early because it seemed at a tangent. However, it was just pointed out to me that gollancz have already released their 2011 catalogue and I was reminded of Richard’s comment when I read it. Using Gollancz’s own categories this is the tally for the first seven months of next year:
Urban fantasy: 20
There is also one Crime novel by Charlaine Harris. Gollancz have a seperate YA line which is called Fantasy & SF but contains eight Fantasy novels (only one of which is by a man) and zero SF. The breakdown for the adult titles is:
Fantasy: 11 women, 13 men
Urban fantasy: 20 women, 0 men
SF: 4 women, 15 men
Horror: 1 woman, 5 men
The SF novels by women are Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis, Bringer Of Light by Jaine Fenn and The Waters Rising by Sheri S Tepper. Justina Robson and Sarah Pinborough also have novels that might well be considered SF but they are down as Fantasy and Horror respectively (the reprint of Sophia McDougall’s Romanitas trilogy is also down as Fantasy).
If you look at the total number of books you see gender parity: 36 by woman, 33 by men.
I can safely say Palimpsest, besides a lack of a UK deal, nor any of my other work, is not received as SF. In fact I have found the world of SF to be almost universally critically hostile to anything I attempt to write as SF, and almost the whole conversation revolves around whether or not it counts as SF, usually coming down on the not side.
I do think women writing SF are not acknowledged, lauded, or examined in the same way men’s SF is–not that not enough of us are writing it. Many, many of us are. But most of us are not surprised not to make it onto the boys’ lists. I find it kind of shocking that the assumption is that we don’t write it, not that people aren’t noticing it in the same way. The SF world is not created equal for both genders and never has been.
I’m late to the conversation, also, but “the women aren’t interested in X or Y” is a comment that always gets down my neck.
It’s what used to be said about fields like medicine, after all, and law, and music. Women just don’t want to be doctors, they don’t apply to medical school. They don’t want to be serious musicians. Once medical schools and orchestras did something to make their admissions practices less biased, suddenly women wanted to be doctors and musicians.
Now it’s being said of writing SF, and drawing comics. Women just aren’t interested in these fields. Same thing was being said last year about PoC. They’re just not interested in writing or reading SF. That’s why you never see them at conventions. That’s why they never submit any stories. Well, hardly any.
If the field is seen as not open to that writer, it’s not surprising the writer would be reluctant to submit to it.
If more is done to open the field to women and PoC, more is actively done, I mean, rather than just more shrugging and hand waving and saying, well, women, they’ve got all that laundry to do, no wonder they’re not writing and submitting more, then more women will be in the field.
Over on my LJ I have pointed out that if the sf world in the UK is so egalitarian, there should be a lot of mediocre women with book contracts. Instead of which our women sf writers regularly get on to the prize and short lists–and then many of them still don’t have UK contracts.
(late as ever) – reading through all this, I see the definitional problem looming large. It’s all very well saying Mieville’s PSS can be defended as SF, but it strikes me as a curiously evasive argument. As Niall says at the top, there are powerful arguments for defending Steph Swainston’s The Modern World as SF but not many people have made them and Gollancz did not submit it in the year for which it was eligible. Therefore, I would argue that there is a general problem with what is perceived as SF – and one of the unspoken criteria is a kind of viewpoint which could be described as male (regardless of whoever is writing it – but more likely to be written by a man) – although sometimes this viewpoint is more adhered to by critics than the writers themselves.
Let’s face it, the standard definitions don’t hold: SF is not primarily about ‘nova’ or, even, science. And let’s not even bother with the idea that it is a form which adopts a kind of science-style discourse. Of course, it can be all of those things but they are not necessary and sufficient criteria. It’s not just PSS, TC&TC and Iron Council that have won but also The Separation and Quicksilver (all of them excellent novels). I would argue taking ideas from people like Fredric Jameson and Gary Wolfe and many others – that as a genre it is related to the historical novel and that it is fundamentally about alternative kinds of subjectivity and agency. Or as Mieville, himself, has put it, that it is fundamentally about alterity. That is what it seems to me the writers above share with Swainston and, eg, Gwyneth Jones. And it also applies to Richard Morgan or Adam Roberts or Banks etc
The problem is not the Clarke restricting itself to SF, or even allowing the panel to define SF, the problem is the evasive general definition of SF (the complicit relationship between the stereotypes we all abhor and the defensive manner we nonetheless use to define the genre). No doubt the debate here itself represents a part of the shift in such definitions – but basically I would suggest that if people want to see a change in the gender balance of Clarke winners and short listees, they need to argue publicly for a more inclusive understanding of what SF is.
“SF is what I say it is when I point to it and say, ‘that’s SF’.”
IIRC, Paul used to call-in some unsubmitted titles. If that’s not now happening, we’re relying on what publishers think is SF and are willing to submit. Can I suggest the reinstatement of this policy? It seems to me that this is a relatively painless first step on the road.
Simon, the policy of calling in books is still very much in place. Calling in doesn’t always result in success mind you, but actually the dialogue with publishers tends to be very positive, and there’s a lot of goodwill from the lit side as well. I’ve really enjoyed working with the Faber team when they’ve had books shortlisted for instance.
Farah, I’m not aware of your survey. Are the findings online?
Tom Hunter wrote:
Ok, I realise Kelly [Link] is a fantasy writer…
Except that she has in fact written science fiction (“The Surfer” from The Starry Rift anthology and reprinted in her Pretty Monsters collection, to pick the most clear-cut example). Which gets back to what Farah and Cat wrote, about how people tend to remember and classify female writers. (And also the odd and pernicious tendency in SF&F to classify writers as themselves belonging to single genres–so-and-so is a fantasy author vs. so-and-so is an SF writer–rather than their individual works, which is often overly reductive already).
On the other side, thinking out loud, Tom, would it make sense to make public the list of Clarke books called in but not provided by the publishers? Or would that be unspeakably rude? It seems that part of the issue with the Clarke specifically is important books by women not being submitted–Xiaolu Guo, Kit Whitfield, and Suzanne Collins, to pick some names absent from the 2010 list–so the idea would be to both get these books at least some minimal additional public exposure, and also to put the onus on the publishers to justify them not being submitted.
It occurs to me that if part of the problem is publishers refusing to submit books if they are written by women then the obvious positive thing for the Clarke to do is to abandon the requirement that books must be submitted in order to be considered. OK, so it would add some expense, but other, less wealthy, awards manage without requiring submissions. And you you may find that fandom would be prepared to subsidize book purchases. It would probably be an easier sell than asking them to contribute towards prize money.
As the Clarke award is endowed, not paid for by subscription, and as it is not affiliated with any convention, I’m not sure that an appeal to fandom makes any sense. And given the number of books considered every year (and how many more there would be if the award’s purview were extended as you suggest), “some expense” is a massive understatement.
More importantly, there’s little evidence that awards drawn from the pool of all existing books have achieved gender parity.
Well that’s down to the Award, isn’t it. It can be an award like the Booker, which is only open to the few books that major publishers think they would like to have win it, or it can be open to the field as a whole. Whether it would make any difference to the results isn’t that relevant to the question of whether it tries.
Martin – thanks for those figures, very interesting. And they do lead me back to the core of my (admittedly segmented) question, which I don’t think we ever successfully addressed:
Why do so few men appear in the ranks of dark/urban fantasy? And is it the same reason so few women appear in SF? And if not, why not?
And, secondarily but in all seriousness, why are we so concerned about the one but not the other? (given that the financial rewards for D/UF are likely to be substantially greater than
those for SF – I mean, I cherish my Clarke award, I really do. But I can’t say, hand on heart, that I would cherish it more than a year of royalty statements akin to Laurell K Hamilton’s. :-) )
@ Jonathan – yeah, I was thinking about Let The Right One In as well. How many more like that might there be out there? And come to that, a foreign editor I know, while admitting that later Anita Blake was pretty much trash, heartily recommended me the early novels as great SF/F – though it has to be said I still haven’t taken him up on the recommendation yet; some indication of my own latent prejudices perhaps……
Nick: I actually think that the Clarke Award has the most inclusive approach to what should be considered sf of any of the sf awards, and that is a good thing. One of the reasons we didn’t define ‘science fiction’ when we set up the award was precisely to encourage such openness.
Matt: Sorry, but listing books requested but not submitted would be open to interpretation as an attack on publishers. That would be a breach of faith with publishers that might well have an adverse affect on how they regard submissions at a future date.
Cheryl: Other than the Tiptree (which casts its nets far wider than any of the other juried awards) I don’t know of any juried award that does not rely totally on submissions. And in the Tiptree, if a juror comes across a work that should be considered, they will try to get it submitted to the other jurors.
The problem with judging non-submitted books is two-fold. 1) cost (and despite appearances the Tiptree is in a far more solid financial situation than the Clarke). Remember, you have five jurors plus the administrator, which means the cost of any book is multiplied by six. Jurors don’t sign up to make a financial commitment (given how much else they are doing), and there is actually no source for that money to come from.
2) If you are reliant on buying books, there is always the chance that one or other juror will not be in a position to acquire the book in question. That means you are no longer judging on a level ground, which undermines the whole judging process anyway.
Oh, and the Booker works somewhat differently than you suggest. To start with, the publishers pay for each submission (if the Clarke were in a position to do that, it would be a much different award). Initially, publishers can submit any six books (which still results in a judging load roughly three times what the Clarke judges have to consider); but the award can then call in any other book it thinks should be considered. So to say it is restricted to “the few books that major publishers think they would like to have win it” is neither fair nor accurate.
Why do so few men appear in the ranks of dark/urban fantasy? And is it the same reason so few women appear in SF? And if not, why not?
This goes back to me previous answer. Yes, urban fantasy might be a massive marketing category these days but it is still a subgenre and as subgenre it has a specific set of concerns that are likely to attract a specific type of reader and writer. Science fiction, as a root genre, should be far broader and correspondingly have broader appeal (in range of audience, if not size). It has been the contention of several people in this thread that British science fiction is shrinking down to something that much more resembles as subgenre and correspondingly has more limited (and, in this case, masculine) appeal.
And I’d add a few other questions. Why is the situation in the UK worse than in the US? Why is the situation in the UK worse than it was, say, ten years ago? These argue against a primarily gender essentialist reading.
And, secondarily but in all seriousness, why are we so concerned about the one but not the other?
I am concerned because I like reading science fiction, I like reading different types of science fiction and I like reading science fiction by different types of people. Whether the lack of women in current British science fiction is symptom or cause of a narrowing of science fiction to the action end of the spectrum it does seem like that is happening and the genre will be the poorer for it. Diversity is important in terms of social justice but it is also important in the creation of vibrant art.
Cheryl: That is an odd thing to say. The Clarke isn’t an award like the Booker and it is open to the field as a whole. Just because it is open to the field as a whole doesn’t mean it will or can cover every potentially eligible title but a thread like this is a mechanism for trying to ensure it doesn’t miss any relevant titles.
I agree with Paul K – the cost would be massive. Remember we are talking about mainly hardbacks, plus postage, x 6.
I picked a random book out of this year’s pile and it is £14.99. That, x 6, x (say) 7.50 postage is nearly £100 and that’s just for one book. You’d be talking somewhere in the region of £5K, for one year. I don’t think that’s going to happen.
A few points:
Paul: When we set up the SF&F Translation Awards we deliberately modeled them on the Tiptree because we wanted to ensure that no one got left out just because the publishers didn’t think we were worth bothering with. FYI, I was particularly concerned that many translated books published by “serious” literary publishers would not be sent to us because the publishers did not want to be associated with SF&F. I’m pretty sure that there will be other awards out there that do the same thing. The Crawford, on which I am occasionally asked to give advice, doesn’t get anything from publishers.
Liz: I’m certainly not suggesting that the Clarke should buy a copy of every book published for every juror. That, as you say, would be ruinously expensive. As the publishers are already submitting most of the likely candidates, that would not be necessary. The Award would only have to buy those books that the jury specifically wanted to see that the publishers refused to submit.
I also note that for most of the awards I am involved with the entire jury does not read every book. We can’t afford it. So there’s a screening process. If a couple of jurors read a book and neither think it is worth bothering with then from a practical point of view it isn’t going to get on the short list so no one else need read it. Obviously the Clarke may have a commitment to books being read by every juror. That’s down to them. But it is by no means a universal rule for award juries.
Martin: The Clarke is very clearly not open to the field as a whole. It is open only to those books that the publishers choose to submit. People have said here that there have been very good works by women writers that the Clarke jury was unable to consider because either the publisher or the author in question refused to submit the book. There has been some suggestion that publishers may be less willing to submit books by women, especially if their status as SF is ambiguous.
What this comes down to is whether you have a commitment to diversity. If you want to ensure that your award does not miss anything significant then you can’t be constrained by what publishers send you. The downside of that is that economics and workload may force you to make changes to your judging process that some people may regard as unacceptable. It is a choice an award has to make.
This discussion, however, is about why so few women win the Clarke. There are many reasons for that. One reason, apparently, is that some high-quality, woman-authored works do not get submitted. The Clarke could, if it wanted to, do something about that. Other competing priorities may prevent it from doing so. It is a difficult choice, but it is a choice nonetheless.
If anyone wants to do something to fix whatever the problem is with women not getting their dues in SF in the UK (by not winning the Clarke), then a strategy is needed. Coming up with this requires some thought about where the problems lie and what people here can do to make a difference.
Stage 1: There are roughly 30 million each of men and women in the UK. This pool will filter down to a few thousand or hundred of each who are interested enough in writing at all to make some an effort at it, perhaps initially as a diversion or hobby. Gender inequality at this level is probably too big for an organistion like the BSFA/ACCA to tackle directly, other than in a ‘think global, act local’ way and generally making their awards known.
Stage 2: This smaller pool will filter down to a few hundred or dozen of each gender who make a much more dedicated effort to write SF, of the sort that might qualify for the Clarke. What problems are there for women making this step and how can these problems be solved?
Stage 3: Numbers filter down to a few dozen or less of each gender who actually get published. What are the key gender issues in turning a ‘hard trier’ into a published author?
Stage 4: Then down to a handful of each gender who get nominated for the Clarke Award. From the discussions above, this looks like it’s really about fixing the problem of publishers not submitting work.
Stage 5: And finally one person wins the Award. This seems to be gender neutral as far as I’ve been able to work out.
Apart from Stage 4, I can’t see that there’s much that the ACCA administrators/judges can do in isolation to improve matters. Much of the work on equality at the other stages needs to be done by other bodies (eg the BSFA, publishers, other media companies, local education authorities, the government.)
Of course, all of this presupposes that there are impediments to women at allof these stages. Some women might not perceive these as impediments. EG choosing at stage 1 to concentrate all their efforts on a more usual career or a different ‘hobby’, or choosing at stage 2 to concentrate on a different genre rather than SF.
Cheryl, one of the features of the Clarke Award has always been that all the judges consider all the works submitted; and this very fact has made a significant difference to the constitution of the short list on a number of occasions. There are, to my certain knowledge, books that have won the award that would probably not even have been shortlisted if your advice had been followed.
If jurors start buying books for the award, where is the incentive for publishers to continue submitting them for free? In some years you may well be talking about only one or two books not submitted, in some years it could well be ten or more. Given that we still have no source for this money, I still have no idea how this is meant to be achieved.
Re. your comment to Martin: you make it sound as if the system of submission is discriminatory. No-one has actually said that. Yes there have been works by women that have not been submitted, but in my experience there have been far more works by men that have missed out this way. In fact, in terms of automatic submissions by publishers, I don’t think there is any evidence to suggest that any publisher has failed to submit any work by a woman because she was a woman. Quite the contrary, when in the past I have compared books submitted with books featured in a catalogue I have rarely found any woman author missing though numerous mid-list male authors have been missing. And in terms of response to requests for submission, when I’ve asked for a book by a woman it has been more likely to come in than when I’ve asked for a book by a man. (In this respect, male mainstream authors seem to be less happy being associated with genre than women mainstream authors.)
And as for any assumption that the Clarke Award is being particularly discriminatory, I just did a quick count. Since the Clarke Award was founded, 7 women have won (Pat Cadigan won twice). In exactly the same period, 2 women have won the BSFA Award, 4 women have won the John W, Campbell Award, 5 women have won the Locus Best SF Novel Award, 5 women have won the Hugo Award, 10 women have won the Nebula Award.
What we are talking about here is not discrimination within the Clarke Award, it is discrimination within science fiction. And I would actually argue that the Clarke Award is considerably less discriminatory than many other aspects of the genre.
Cheryl: the problem with the way the Tiptree works is that because it relies on one or two judges to say to the others “this is a candidate”, one or two judges can also block a book from proceeding. This is precisely what happened with Geoff Ryman’s Air (in case you’ve ever wondered about it’s odd absence from the year’s list, and it’s later victory).
Just in case people are worrying about whether the Clarke Awards are biased against women writers, given Cheryl and Paul’s discussion above, I’ll recap one bit of analysis from much earlier in the thread, and then bring in another piece.
First, here’s a summary of the total nominations versus total winners for the Clarke Awards over the years, by gender.
Female nominees: 30%
Female winners: 33%
Male nominees: 70%
Male winners: 67%
In other words, the figures are much as you’d expect for a gender neutral award.
When we want to see if the submission-to-nomination process has been gender neutral, we need to see the listings for the submissions. The only definitive listings I can find are postings on this site for this year and last by Niall. Perhaps he can give links to these. I’ve tried to work out which are male and female authors accurately – any mistakes please say. At the top of this thread, Niall also mentioned 13% as the female submissions for 2008.
This info leads to the following results:
Submissions for male authors: 34 (83%)
Nominations for male authors: 5 (83%)
Submissions for female authors: 7 (17%)
Nominations for female authors: 1 (17%)
Submissions for male authors: 40 (87%)
Nominations for male authors: 5 (83%)
Submissions for female authors: 6 (13%)
Nominations for female authors: 1 (17%)
Submissions for male authors: unknown (87%)
Nominations for male authors: 5 (83%)
Submissions for female authors: unknown (13%)
Nominations for female authors: 1 (17%)
Again, you’ll see that there isn’t any significant variation in these – each gender gets roughly the same percentage of nominations as submissions. That’s pretty much what you’d expect for a gender neutral process.
It would be interesting to see if this submissions to nominations ratio has held over the whole of the award’s life, if anyone has the details.
The obvious extension of all this is to see if the publishers are being sexist in not submitting work by women (or men, come to that). That would mean comparing numbers of published work by gender against submitted work by gender. That’s far too much information for me to deal with, I’m afraid!
Hey, if commitment to a particular style of judging is more important to you, by all means stick to it. And if the Clarke is less discriminatory than other awards, all well and good. However, this discussion started with people asking why so few women had won the Clarke. People suggested that promising books by women were not getting submitted. When I suggested that something could be done about this, suddenly people are telling me that there’s nothing wrong with the Award and it doesn’t need to change. I find that a little disappointing.
I think you’re misreading the argument somewhat, Cheryl. The initial question was not “Why have so few women won the Clarke?”, but “Why have to few women won the Clarke in recent years.”
The answer to that question which appears most common in the replies is that the problem is not so much with the Clarke but with the market as a whole; that is, there are worryingly few female SF writers being published in the UK at the moment.
If the wide pool isn’t there for the judges to select from, particularly when there are authors who aren’t currently published in the UK, then their hands, it seems to me, are tied, to an extent.
Also, as Farah and Paul point out, there are problems associated with your suggestions which are less than trivial, and could end up making the situation worse.
Much of the work on equality at the other stages needs to be done by other bodies (eg the BSFA, publishers, other media companies, local education authorities, the government.)
This is true, but we shouldn’t abdicate responsibility. At the risk of stating the bloody obvious, we can all help resist the contracting possibility space we’ve been discussing by (continuing to) buy and read and talk about sf novels by women: demonstrate that as far as we’re concerned they are very much part of the core of the field, not something exotic and threatening. I’m still mulling other, more structured options, but reading the books is never going to be a bad first step.
Niall, I really appreciate your proactive pursuit of the issue of women in SF, and even more so your willingness to open the problem of POC in SF. I have found this conversation to be disturbing reading at times, but at least I know now that I am not imagining things.
I would like to leave you with the case of Canadian author Alison Sinclair, who broke into SF in 1995 (the same year I did). We were both shortlisted for the Clarke in 1999.
She now writes fantasy. In case anyone guesses that she is just not interested in science, here is an extract from her website:
‘The question “Where do you come from?” tends to elicit an itinerary: I was raised in Edinburgh, Scotland and Victoria B.C: since then I’ve lived in five cities in Canada, one in the US, and one in the UK. I have three university degrees and am currently working on a MSc in Epidemiology at McGill in Montreal.
‘My first published novel, Legacies, came out in February 1995 from Millennium, the science fiction imprint of Orion, London — which cuts a fairly long story short, since it was five years plus in the writing and another two in the revising. It garnered good reviews and a spot on Locus’ Best of Year List for first novels. Blueheart was completed during my first year of medical school, and published in November 1996. Cavalcade was published in November 1998 and shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for that year. Throne Price, written in collaboration with Lynda Williams, was published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, in 2003. My first fantasy novel, Darkborn, came out in May 2009, the sequel Lightborn is in press and the third novel of the trilogy, Shadowborn, is in the works. Three SF novels are, ahem!, still looking for a home.
‘As to why I write SF&F: To indulge a passion for knowledge of all kinds and science and medicine in particular. I have an excuse to read about everything from oceanography to nanotechnology, from colour theory to echolocation. I enjoy world-building — the devastated ecology of Burdania, the jungle of Taridwyn (both in Legacies), the ocean world of Blueheart, the alien spacecraft of Cavalcade, the sightless world of the Darkborn, and the various worlds of the SF series I’m working on. And I like to be able to ditch all assumptions and conventional wisdom and start entirely from scratch, running my fictional “thought experiments” (Ursula Le Guin’s words) according to any parameters I please. Science fiction gives my imagination elbow room.’
So, guys? Niall’s characterization, ‘contracting possibility space’ is exactly what it looks like from where I’m standing.
I would also say, it is a very lucky thing for SF that Lauren Beukes has appeared. Yet I note from her interview with Cheryl that she never intended to write cyberpunk. I think that has significance in light of this thread.
I find another thing sad and ironic. It seems that on one hand, the Clarke looks actively outside the usual bounds of SF publishing to find important books, but their authors/publishers are sometimes ashamed of SF associations. And on the other hand there are women and POC reading and writing SF but finding themselves excluded from the genre in subtle ways and not-so-subtle ways. This is silly.
NK Jemisin is coming over soon. She writes SF at least in short form. Niall, I imagine you’d have been bringing some of these issues up with her anyway. It would be great to see a post with details of her responses.
I’ll be at my roadwork and pounding the heavy bag today. Simply reading this thread has taken a huge energetic toll, especially because in many ways my creative identity hangs in the balance.
In my own case, I write both SF and Fantasy (I think I write Science Fantasy, and have banged on at length in various discussions about this classification so won’t do so here).
The fantasy sells. The SF doesn’t sell well enough. The level of sales is the reason why I don’t have a publishing contract for SF in this country. End of.
“I would also say, it is a very lucky thing for SF that Lauren Beukes has appeared. Yet I note from her interview with Cheryl that she never intended to write cyberpunk. I think that has significance in light of this thread.”
Beukes is definitely a significant figure in this debate. She’s not only a woman but also an anglophonic woman who comes from neither the UK nor the US and she seems to have quite shallow roots in the genre conversation.
I say this not only because of her remarks about cyberpunk but also because when I interviewed her she claimed to be completely unaware of the His Dark Materials series (which pre-empted Zoo City’s chief fantastical trope).
Beukes is significant because she is not only a talented emerging voice in contemporary SF, she’s also a talented emerging voice that has emerged despite a number of institutional factors against her. I look at Beukes and I wonder about the great female SF writers who did not manage to overcome the fact that they were not a part of the genre scene, or resident in the UK or US, or devoted genre fans.
There’s your contracting possibility space right there. These are the kinds of barriers that we need to do something about and the Clarke’s willingness to look beyond the traditional genre conversation for candidates is a really vital component in the critical strength of the British scene.
The discussion here seems to be drawing to a close, and I’ve found it both fascinating and personally challenging (it’s made me aware of Samuel Delany’s NYRSF piece, if nothing else).
It seems to me that the Clarkes – the way they are historically constituted and run – are both part of the solution to the problem and also part of the reason the problem has been less-than-obvious to the average joe outside fandom.
The Clarkes call for the best SF, and trawl widely for it: because women have been regularly shortlisted, and have regularly won, it could appear that all is well. When the actual numbers are crunched, it looks like the pool of women SF writers to draw from has gone from plenty to almost zero – much like the midwife’s list in Children of Men.
I don’t think this can be placed at the feet of the Clarke. It’s a barometer, not a weather-machine. But I certainly don’t like the way the wind is blowing. Amongst the very best books I’ve read (and have influenced both me and my writing) are those by Julian May, Mary Doria Russell, Andre Norton, Ursula le Guin… the idea that half the human race won’t or can’t write SF is preposterous and wrong.
I’ve just been through some of the back copies of Focus, which I edited for around five years. I was gratified to find that I’d taken fiction and poetry from women writers, asked for articles from women friends, interviewed women editors, used art from women artists and photographers. But all of this unconsciously: if I’d been more aware (or aware at all), I’d have used that position (and I’d taken over from two women editors) to actively encourage more subs from women and commissioned more articles from women. In hindsight, I missed the opportunity because I didn’t know any better.
So I do think this is something that the BSFA, the SFF – the BFS too, for that matter (point of reference – I go to FCon every year, and both the number of women and BME attendees is anecdotally up every year. Vincent Chong won the Best Artist award yet again, and his winning is becoming an institution) could actively program into their meetings/publications/conventions. Ask awkward questions of publishers on panels, seek out a diversity of voices, make sure that the art show draws on all the talent. Stuff like that.
The ball doesn’t seem to be in play at the moment, let alone in our court. But someone has to pick it up and serve it back. Why not us?
Call me PC and a pedant but…
I think a good step forward might be for British people to get out of the habit of using the American acronym POC. I know that being ‘colored’ has been partly reclaimed in the US but I know for a fact that a London local council recently disciplined one of their employees for referring to Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) people as being ‘coloured’.
Agree with Simon though, this is definitely something that the BSFA and BFA could look into. A British non-white short fiction and/or genre-related non-fiction chapbook would be a cool thing to do.
Actually, I say short fiction but a) there’s way too much of that floating about as it is, b) the only people who ever read it are anthologists and other writers and c) it’s unreflective of the way the field is going because short fiction hardly has any impact anymore and d) it’s a lazy and unimaginative attempt to solve a complex problem.
Far more useful might be a collection of essays by British fans from Black and Ethnic Minorities about works of genre written by white people about their groups. For example, someone with anglo-Turkish parentage writing about the Dervish House, someone with Thai links writing about Wind-up Girl.
That would be more fun than a load of mediocre stories patronisingly slung together.
the American acronym POC
I was about to say that “people of colour” has very different connotations to “coloured people”, but most of the first page of Google hits for “britain people of colour” is links to this story, so you may have a point. Although I would bow to whatever people in any given group say is their preferred description, to be honest.
Tricia: I do plan to bring up some of these issues in the interview, yes. And I think I owe you more thanks for starting this round of the conversation than you owe me!
Whilst accepting Niall’s point about allowing people to self-identify however they want, I too have problems with the use of POC in this discussion on both substantive and insubstantive grounds. Firstly, it simply isn’t an accepted term in this country and using the prefered terminology would help us to look at this issue in the wider context of equalities in the UK rather than simply importing ideas from US fandom that may or may not be relevent. Secondly, it sounds ridiculously happy-clappy. However, it should be noted that BME stands for Black and Minority Ethnic, not Black and Ethnic Minority, and it is deliberately formulated this way.
This has been a fascinating discussion, and well worth the time invested. Debates of this nature are one of the main benefits of this blog – let’s hope people come away from it with more than just interested thoughts, and that some are inspired to do something.
I’m posting as Niall has asked me to comment on the classification of one or two of our imprint’s titles, as we have three books by female writers named as eligible in the main article, above, but we only submitted one.
The three that are listed are: Servant of the Underworld (Aliette de Bodard), Walking the Tree (Kaaron Warren) and Zoo City (Lauren Beukes). Our (loose) classification system lists these as (in order): fantasy, fantasy and urban fantasy.
Though we do have some classic fantasy and classic SF in our stable, most of our titles are cross-genre. Many have a mix that makes it almost impossible to pigeon-hole them as pure fantasy, science fiction or horror, but we have to choose a category, if only for bookseller and Nielsen usage.
Zoo City is urban fantasy, but it is also science fiction – the book can easily be viewed from both angles, and the reader benefits from interpreting it both ways. Walking The Tree *is* science fiction, but again, it’s also fantasy. On reading, I find it *feels* more fantasy than science fiction, and we felt that, on the whole it was more likely to appeal to readers of Le Guin than Clarke. In light of the comments in this thread, though, I think we’ll submit it for consideration. Servant of the Underworld, on the other hand, we view as pure fantasy, and would never have even considered submitting it to a science fiction award. Magic, Gods and human sacrifice. There may be talking squid in the third book, but if there are, we’ll consider them demonic rather than extra-terrestrial.
One thing that *has* made me sit up and think, though, after reading this thread, is our approach to the submission of our novels. We didn’t submit all eligible books. We took a look at the award and thought: “this isn’t the type of book that wins the Clarke”, which is pretty much text-book self-fulfilment. The judges can expect a few extra titles in the post this week, I think.
the idea that half the human race won’t or can’t write SF is preposterous and wrong.
Certainly would be if anyone had baldly stated it to be the case, yes.
But the idea that the two halves of the human race have intrinsically very different ways of feeling and relating to the world (albeit at ends of a spectrum allowing plenty of space for meetings halfway, exceptions, outliers and the intrusion of more homogenous/standardised conscious thought processes), and that this plus shifting market tendencies and incentives may lead to equally shifting preponderances or equilibria in how many of each half are writing what kind of fiction – well, that to me seems eminently reasonable and backed up by the empirical data.
I certainly don’t like the way the wind is blowing.
Nor, I think, does anybody here. But that doesn’t mean there’s much you can do but tack and run before it. Maybe SF is indeed currently going through a love affair with what Jon Courtenay Grimwood once usefully defined as “hardboiled writing” – and maybe (probably, I think) not a huge number of women are as drawn to that form as they were to a less hardboiled terrain in the eighties and nineties. But rather than worrying about cramming more women through a particular door which they don’t, statistically, seem that interested in going through right now, it seems to me more productive to look at what women writers in the SF/F/SpecFic field are doing right now, and looking for and valuing the exceptional talent and quality which clearly must exist there in that pool – if we can only be bothered to look.
Good points beautifully made Martin.
Richard – I freely admit I was engaging in hyperbole, but while the differences between gender approaches may be marked at the edges, I’m not so sure that they’re at all obvious in the middle. I listed several women authors whose work I love, and while they don’t write like I do, they don’t necessarily write like each other either. I’d be less for the want of their work, however.
As to your second point – I think, individually, yes. But corporately, no. Even if it’s just to gnash our teeth at the gale. The simple act of standing up and saying ‘Oi! No!’ might be the spur someone, somewhere needs to hear.
Lee: I never for one second considered Walking the Tree to be Fantasy. It reads throughout like science fiction, and semi sentient world trees/planets are a long tradition in sf. If I were to locate the book in the field it would be with Jack Vance and Sherri Tepper.
Richard: “But the idea that the two halves of the human race have intrinsically very different ways of feeling and relating to the world (albeit at ends of a spectrum allowing plenty of space for meetings halfway, exceptions, outliers and the intrusion of more homogenous/standardised conscious thought processes), and that this plus shifting market tendencies and incentives may lead to equally shifting preponderances or equilibria in how many of each half are writing what kind of fiction – well, that to me seems eminently reasonable and backed up by the empirical data.”
Is right up there with “the ways we measure skulls resulted in skull measurement that confirmed men have bigger heads than women, although we had to shake the skulls a bit.” See Stephen Jay Gould.
I am probably more of an esentialist than most feminists I know and I still think it’s bullshit. Small gender differences are emphasised and exaggerated by cultural pressures, from the Headmaster who directly suggested to girls in my school that they not take Physics (tho they were all top set and he encouraged many bottom set boys to take the class) to the news this week that women have been found to criticise behaviour in their daughters that they praise in their boys. You might like to check out Cordelia Fine’s new book. My copy has just arrived.
You can’t argue from current behaviour that a situation is in any way natural, that way lies Victorian science.
As for hard boiled sf not attracting women: neither Pat Cadigan nor Karen Traviss have book contracts in the UK. Karen gave up and settled for best seller status in the US. Bujold, one of the most popular writers in the sf, is not stocked in UK bookstores or libraries (believe me, I go looking).
Furthermore, there is something you can do. You, as an individual, can make sure you are not part of a movement that presents sf as male: do not, as I saw three male children’s sf writers do, accept an invitation to speak to three hundred school children of both sexes about sf, without saying to the organisers, “you need a woman”. In fact, don’t accept any public invitation where you are one of a panel of men only (I saw five such public events last year, at three of them audience members asked, bewildered, if no women read or wrote or reviewed sf). Don’t accept convention invitations where you are part of an all male line up (Illustrious, until they finally got their acts together six months after first revealing their guest list and declaring they couldn’t think of a woman to be guest).
I am very late to this thread, but wanted to pick up a couple of points.
Re ‘good books’ and fantasy vs. sf: As a Clarke Judge for 2000 and 2001 (with, incidentally, Ash and Perdido Street Station among the submissions in 2001) I remember having conversations about definitions of sf, accepting particular books as continuing discussions traditionally accepted as sf, and how and why particular books were more or less good than other books. I note and approve Tom’s comments about (not) personalising the Jury: each year’s judgement distils a complex conversation to which the history of the genre, the books published and submitted that particular year and the conversations among the judges are all contributory.
Re numbers: Although at an historically high cumulative level, and large enough in some respects to have fragmented somewhat (see the recent BSFA survey for some interesting discussion in this respect), the pool of British writers of sf and fantasy is very small in statistical terms, a few hundred people at best. Given that the career of an individual writer can span decades of below-the-radar activity before a first novel is published commercially, and anything up to eight decades therafter, it would not be surprising if the demographic characteristics, including gender, of authors of books eligible for the Clarke Award (and, for that matter, of individuals eligible and able to be Judges for the Award), varied wildly from year to year. There might be many reasons why a particular demographic group was over- or under-represented in a particular year. More, better statistics would be interesting, but of questionable value in analysing such a small population.
Notwithstanding the details, I do believe there is an issue to be discussed, and value in discussions like this one. The Clarke Award is a microcosm, not the macrocosm, and does not stand alone, but reflects a wider world. To pick an illustration, I am reading this thread, and posting late to it, in part because I am a parent about to send a daughter to secondary school. I have spoken recently to (male) heads of drama at two highly-regarded schools who do not appear to have considered gender issues around teaching drama to both boys and girls when authors of and periorming roles in the classical canon are 90-100% male. I refuse to accept that participants in the conversation of sf are uniquely culpable in the neglect of women’s contribution to the conversations of the race. I do believe that a group of people who have been thinking about this stuff for decades and who are capable of contributing to a discussion like this one might be able to help move the overall conversation on.
So, given all of this, I applaud Niall’s and Tom’s suggestions for doing something about it. We have an active, engaged and self-critical community, the internet, a thriving international circuit of conventions and awards… Over there in the corner there are people bidding to host a Worldcon in London in 2014… we are rich in possibilities.
You can’t argue from current behaviour that a situation is in any way natural
I don’t think I was. For one thing you could quite handily argue that there are broad gender tendencies in choice of reading (and writing) matter precisely because of “social conditioning” – but the tendencies and preferences would still be there.
I will check out the Fine book – I enjoyed A Mind of One’s Own very much. But I think she’s going to have her work cut out to unseat the very deep impression made by the other books I’ve read by Pinker, Ridley, Dawkins, Etcoff et al.
Of course there is no question that social pressures and norms are a massive part of what makes the sexes behave the way they do, but such social structures have to be built on something or they don’t last, and the fact that global misogyny endures so well, where, say, Soviet communism, has not, indicates to me that the genetic foundations of gender difference are solid. That doesn’t mean I like them – but nor am I going to pretend they don’t exist just because they’re bad news.
But I really don’t want to get in a nature/nurture fight here, because it’s not the place – maybe over beers at Eastercon instead? So I return instead to Exhibit A, urban fantasy. No-one is worried that there almost no men writing it, no-one cares why that is – you might say the essentialist argument has been given a default victory: Men don’t write UF because, well – shrug – because they don’t want to, I guess. Who gives a shit. But we’re tying ourselves in PC knots about the reverse case with (this rather narrowly defined strain of) SF. Martin says that’s because he likes SF and cares about the state of it (and presumably, by extension, doesn’t like or care about the state of UF), but that’s not really enough. Surely we need to be widening the debate, not going to quota over it.
Put it this way – imagine that you have a group of very well- intentioned Country and Western fans and performers beating themselves up about the marked lack of black people playing or listening to their type of music. They think incentives should be in place to encourage more black C&W performers, awards in Nashville need to be tracked for ethnic statistics, something is clearly wrong and we need to do something about it….
Well, sort of. You can’t fault the idea as such, it may even yield some valuable dividends. Everyone’s heart is certainly in the right place. But, given the massive market and cultural dominance of, for want of a better signifier, MOBO; given the rampant success of Rap and R&B and the huge numbers of black artists within it; given the acknowledged heritage and continuing tradition of jazz and blues music; given all of that – isn’t the concern about the lack of black artists playing Country and Western a little beside the point.
I am in favour of all the actions you describe in your last paragraph. And I’m also in favour of finding just why exactly Perdido Street Station counts as SF, but urban fantasy apparently doesn’t. But I still suspect that the reason for that sudden drop off in female Clarke winners (and make no mistake, I find it statistically shocking as well) is going to be down to the fact not that women are being locked out of this (rather small) sub-genre of speculative fiction, but that women are in fact off, en masse, writing other stuff (and in many cases coining it at rates us SF writers can only dream of).
ps – I haven’t read Karen Traviss, but I see Karen’s tie-in novels, in pretty substantial numbers, everywhere that SF/F is sold – usually in much larger numbers than my own, harrumph. But they are usually US imports. Having recently seen a little of the tie-in publishing world and how it works, I do wonder whether Karen’s lack of a UK deal might have more to do with the vagaries of global rights to tie-in fiction than with any blatant sexism on the part of UK publishers.
I was also told by a UK editor not long ago that it is quite hard for UK publishers to come up with the kind of money successful US genre writers look for in a foreign deal, because of the discrepancy in market size – so there may be that as well.
Put it another way – it doesn’t seem likely to me that UK SF publishers are wilfully holding a writer of Karen’s stature at arm’s length when they could be making a mint with her, simply because she’s a woman.
Walking The Tree *is* science fiction, but again, it’s also fantasy. On reading, I find it *feels* more fantasy than science fiction, and we felt that, on the whole it was more likely to appeal to readers of Le Guin than Clarke.
Given all the discussion upthread about how female writers of SF often aren’t seen as writers of SF, it is particularly interesting that you’ve picked Le Guin fans as the audience you’re appealing to with a book which is more fantasy than SF.
Liz said: “Given all the discussion upthread about how female writers of SF often aren’t seen as writers of SF, it is particularly interesting that you’ve picked Le Guin fans as the audience you’re appealing to with a book which is more fantasy than SF.”
Also interesting in the context that the British authors surveyed by the BSFA last year mentioned LeGuin as the only non-UK sf writer who influenced them.
I think that well illustrates the point made earlier that the definition of ‘science fiction’ appears to be shrinking from what it once was. Forty years ago, say, readers would agree that the appeal of Le Guin differs from the appeal of Clarke, but they would have no problem whatsoever in labelling both as SF writers.
I wonder if, in part, this genre shift is down to the fact that fantasy is more marketable than SF these days, so when the genre lines are fuzzy, publishers (either consciously or not) put works in the fantasy bucket where possible in the belief that they’ll get more sales.
No-one is worried that there almost no men writing it, no-one cares why that is
I think the unspoken thought behind this (actually I think someone spoke it somewhere in here but I can’t remember who) is that SF has fallen far behind fantasy in the past 20 years in terms of sales, raising concerns about its viability. No one is worried about urban fantasy’s sales and place in the publishing industry. SF on the other hand sometimes seems to be teetering. There are still tons of SF books published, but it seems like few authors are full time, and that means that we’re missing out on great books that would have been written had their would-be authors not had to earn a living. There’s also been a brain drain as some of the most popular SF writers switch to fantasy (Bujold comes to mind, not to mention some guy named Richard Morgan). Even if those “defections” aren’t commercially motivated, that’s how they are sometimes perceived, and a lot of SF fans can remember when there was barely a fantasy genre to switch to in the first place.
All of which is to say that unlike urban fantasy or country music, SF seems like it could really use some growth in its base. Since women read more than men (not a lot of tears being shed over this either, incidentally, except perhaps at the YA level) that’s a natural group to target.
Of course, if Perdido Street Station is SF, then I just wasted my time writing this, because SF is doing great. I read a lot of fantasy and SF/F is hard to say, so terms like “speculative fiction” that include both can be convenient, but come on, Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy is closer to being science fiction than Perdido (and still is not very close).
Not being a scientist I have no informed ideas about the sources of gender difference, but since there are some people who seem pretty sure of themselves on both sides of this question here, I’d like to point out that interest in reading and writing SF is hardly universal in men. What is it that attracts some men to the genre but fails to entice the majority? If you think you know what that is (I sure don’t) then you might be able to figure out if those factors are present in the same proportion of women or not.
So I return instead to Exhibit A, urban fantasy. No-one is worried that there almost no men writing it, no-one cares why that is
Richard, two thoughts:
1) I think part of the answer is that there are in fact a decent number of high-profile men writing the sort of urban fantasy you’re talking about. Jim Butcher is one of the top sellers of that sub-genre, plus there are guys like Mike Carey, Charlie Huston, Scott Westerfeld, Mark Teppo, Christopher Moore, Tim Pratt, Daniel Abraham, Richard Kadrey, Martin Millar, etc. I don’t know how many of them are published in the UK, but I know at least Butcher and Carey are, and it sounds like Huston as well. Beyond these, how much definition-stretching will you allow? Charles De Lint has been writing urban fantasy/romances for many years, albeit not necessarily with vamps. Sergei Lukyanenko and Jasper Fforde are mega-sellers. John Ajvide Lindqvist’s profile will only increase when the Hollywood adaptation of Let the Right One In hits the cinemas. Chris Barzak and Jonathan Carroll write about sex and ghosts. Charles Stross has his Laundry series of paranormal romance books. Tim Powers’s vampire novel The Stress of Her Regard was just reprinted in the US a few years ago; Steven Brust’s Agyar keeps being brought out in new editions. Toby Barlowe got a werewolf novel-as-prose poem published. What about Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, or American Gods? (Gaiman makes me think of comics, which makes me think of Bill Willingham and Fables, which edges into this market.) I suppose guys like Graham Joyce and Sean Stewart are too far afield, but does Joe Hill’s Horns count?
The point is, while female writers may indeed be writing the majority of books in this space, the current situation doesn’t seem quite as dire in urban fantasy as in SF: major male players in the space are established and well known in a way that women have apparently not been in recent UK genre SF; and there isn’t the same sense that men are being told not to write in the space, or that their efforts to do so are being branded as something different. If anything the reverse: I’ve seen cases where more traditional epic fantasies by male authors are re-branded to look more like this sort of urban fantasy (the 2nd edition US paperbacks of Sanderson’s Mistborn books).
2) From a sociological perspective, I don’t think all gender imbalances are created equal in terms of what they mean. If relatively fewer men are writing “fang-bangers”…well, I’m not sure that in itself captures anything negative about society, so long as any individual man is not discouraged from doing so because of his gender. It’s not as though there is a shortage of other male-oriented narratives of power that deeply incorporate romance and/or sex. But if women are discouraged in a blanket way from connecting their concerns–some gender-specific and some not–with the future, and/or with the tools of science and technology; if women who do attempt to make such connections are being told that their work is really “fantasy”: that seems to me to reflect more negatively on the state of society, to be more indicative of voices not being heard in a realm where there isn’t an equivalent forum for those voices available.
Women read more *novels* than men. Add in non-fiction and other things that the novel obsessed researchers don’t count, and it shifts. Schools spend a lot of time explaining to boys that what they read doesn’t count as reading (See my book The Inter-Galactic Playground).
The SF base is far wider gender wise than Interzone would have us believe–they still seem to think that this month’s nakedly sexist cover won’t deter women from reading it/sending in stories.
Richard: Karen is published by a US publisher because she couldn’t get a UK one. Try City of Pearl, and tell me that women don’t write hard boiled sf/just don’t send the books in. You simply don’t know what women are writing, because we aren’t seeing it. I know plenty of women writing sf. In the US there are lots of them in particular and they get contracts. It’s very noticeable that there are plenty of women writing short stories, but they are not “converting” to the novel market. You may disclaim it, but you keep reverting to a “natural” argument.
I know other women who are being pushed by publishers into YA: shades of Nesbit’s career and “genteel lady writers” I fear, because even tho there is a YA boom, sales are still low, and it’s mostly in fantasy.
Re urban fantasy as it is now conceived, if you mean “paranormal romance” we are in a territory where men are encouraged to write as women, and it’s actually just as much of a problem. Men trying to get into the romance field (and there are some) are actively discourgaged. We are’t discussing it because it wasn’t the subject matter, and to keep raising it is actually to avoid the argument about sf, which is what *we* are engaged in and responsible for.
By the way, there is Black Country and Western: when the C&W singers cleaned house and got rid of the racism things changed, and C&W does indeed care: http://www.carlray.com/stage.htm. So your point?
Richard: to begin with, women writers are being actively pushed towards paranormal romance, and fantasy more generally. But has it ver occured to you that women may be deserting sf because sf seems like a closed shop? That it isn’t actually providing what they want? Like female writers, plausible female characters, and a world that (having not invented cloning) can actively actually reproduce? I kept an eye on sf books this year: most failed the Bechdel test (and if you haven’t come across it, it’s all over the net) and most what I have come to think of as the corrollary–does the society you have just created actually have enough women in the background to reproduce the next generation. Interestingly, Heinlein passes. A hell of a lot of modern male writers do not.
You didn’t answer my other point (except with the insulting term “quota”): will you commit to pointing out to public organisations who ask you on to all male events, that women write sf too?
The comparison between Perdido Street Station and urban fantasy is false. No one is arguing that all fantasy can be recategorized as science fiction and therefore UF should be eligible for the Clarke. There is a coherent argument to be made for reading PSS as science fiction. As far as I know, there aren’t such arguments for most works of UF – and if there are exceptions, then those works would be eligible for the Clarke.
You keep asking why we’re not concerned about the paucity of men writing UF, and to be honest I’m not sure why. It’s been pointed out several times that that’s not the topic of this conversation. There are a lot of injustices in the world we could be talking about, and as Nic pointed out in UF circles the question of male authors is under discussion, but we’ve chosen to concentrate on the issue of women publishing SF in the UK.
More generally, however, I’m not sure how bent out of shape I should become when a privileged group finds itself shut out of an underprivileged enclave, especially when that enclave immediately experiences the lack of prestige that accompanies being dominated by an underprivileged group. Someone upthread mentioned that professions become devalued as they become dominated by women, and the same is true for literary genres. Romance and UF are sneered at – for legitimate artistic reasons, in part, but with a virulence and glee that is rooted in misogyny. Meanwhile, male practitioners of those genres are afforded respect – Matt D above lists many names of male writers of UF (or UF-adjacent genres), most of whom are taken seriously even if they write pulp. Though we could probably name a few female UF writers, such as Stephenie Meyer or Laurel K. Hamilton, most of us are familiar with them more as the butt of jokes than as seriously-regarded authors.
So I don’t see any reason to worry that men aren’t writing UF, because the ones that do will automatically be granted the legitimacy that female writers of all genres have to struggle for – by the outside establishment, which will make crossover hits of them, if not by the fandom itself. To continue your C&W/R&B analogy, Eminem enjoyed fame and crossover appeal that only a very few black rappers have achieved.
>but such social structures have to be built on something or they don’t last, and the fact that global misogyny endures so well, where, say, Soviet communism, has not, indicates to me that the genetic foundations of gender difference are solid.
I’m happy to do the beer at Eastercon thing over this and don’t want to derail the discussion, but if you’re going to go for some kind of innate basis for a long-term social structure, does that mean that Christianity is somehow hard-wired?
It strikes me that we aren’t overly concerned with the paucity of women writing urban fantasy, because there isn’t such a paucity. There are, in fact, quite a number of high profile male authors associated with the sub-genre.
On the other hand, we are concerned about the paucity of women currently writing science fiction because such a paucity did not exist (at least to anything like this extent) until recently. There have always been women who have played a very important role in science fiction: Margaret Cavendish, Mary Shelley, Katherine Burdekin, and so on. By the time you get into the 1950s we get women who are real stars of the genre, C.L. Moore, for instance; the 60s adds in Le Guin, Russ, Tiptree … (Actually, this is unfair, because for every writer I name there are huge numbers I’m forgetting.) But come into the new century, and the numbers actually start dropping, for the first time. That is why wer are concerned.
From my perspective as the current Clarke administrator this has been an extremely useful and provocative read, and I for one would like to thank everyone who’s contributed their thoughts whether on the Clarke itself or the broader issues associated with this conversation – I’ve read it all more than once.
An apology though that while I’ve been an active reader circumstances have led to me contributing far less than I would have liked. I will try to correct some of that now, but first to address a point made by Niall in his more recent and related Torque control post, while the conversation has involved relatively few individuals I think it has been both particularly insightful (and well behaved) and that actually the conversation has spilled way over the comments here on this thread.
For instance I attended the NewCon convention in Northampton over the weekend and had a lot of conversations directly around this thread (and Pat Cadigan and I also brought it into our GoH interview) and I wasn’t the one bringing it up. In other words it’s being read and talked about and this is a good thing. On a side note, since I do talk to publishers I have directly mentioned both the debates and stats being listed here to take the conversation there. I should say though that publishers read Torque Control too you know and, as others have already noted, while there may be dwindling numbers of female SF writers in the UK, the number of female SF editors is still healthy or even possibly ascendant.
There’s a couple of issues that have been raised, and indeed responded to, related directly to the Clarke Award that I’d also like to comment on here, and thanks to people like Cheryl and Simon for offering ideas into the mix – if you scroll back you’ll find I explicitly asked for input and alternatives so I definitely appreciate the thought even if there have been counter arguments made on the Award’s behalf.
Anyways, here’s my thoughts on a couple of those (puts Award hat on):
First up, the Award has more recently taken to releasing the full submissions list for each year which people seem to generally agree is a good and useful thing. The obvious question that comes up next, and was indeed expected to come up at some point, is will we also start releasing information on which books have been called in and not been submitted?
The short answer is no. To expand, while I can see the arguments making a kind of sense in the context of this kind of conversation, I’m afraid it doesn’t make sense to the broader picture within which the Award operates. Books are not submitted for any number of reasons, even if we ask and ask and ask, but there is an element of confidence involved here and I’m not prepared to make those reasons public at this point.
What I will do though is reassure people again that we are very active in those conversations, that these days we have very good relations with all the publishers involved (genre and otherwise) and that these conversations are ongoing across the year. We don’t just pop an invite to submit in the post and wait until December 31st.
I’m also currently against the broader point of the Clarke making efforts to consider books that have not been actively submitted by their publisher. The effort we make is to get them to submit, not to make moves behind their backs. For instance some requests are made explicitly by the author, not the publisher, and I have no wish to present an award to someone who actively takes themselves out of the running. PS Publishing make some lovely books, and indeed have won the Clarke with Song of Time, but I believe they’ve taken themselves out of the running for the British Fantasy Awards and we respect that decision.
I need to be clear though and say I’m not objecting to discussing the way the Award receives submissions, and my objection is based on a broader point about submissions I’ve made before rather than being a reaction to this particular conversation.
It’s not a matter of budget that prevents us looking beyond the submissions received (although obviously this will be very expensive as pointed out earlier) but actually the broader implications of what it means for a judging panel to consider a book that has not been put forward, whoever wrote it.
I’ll pick an entirely non-random example of a book I personally think is awesome in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It’s fairly well known that this book had strong advocates as a potential Clarke winner amongst the community but wasn’t submitted and thus not considered. However people think they feel about this, I think the alternative of the judges opting to go out and select a book they prefer over those actually submitted.
It’s my experience that people tend to think the idea of going beyond submitted books makes sense when applied to particular works as discussed above, or to conversations like this one with direct and well meant aims to improve a noted disparity. It makes sense, but the Award would also have an obligation to consider the books people aren’t thinking of when they make suggestions like this and it does make the line shift very hard to define.
From where I sit, the Clarke tend to come in most for two types of criticism – it’s too inclusive and slippery with it’s definition of SF and the criteria should be tighter, or it’s not going far enough to find works that ‘might’ be eligible.
As I’ve noted already, I’m always open to discussion on this theme, and indeed the developing ebook market (or other factors) may create changes. I’m not going to go into that in already long post here though.
What I will say though is that the ‘doesn’t go far enough’ argument tends to be made to me about books generally considered very good or desirable to be included, whether specific works or broader interpretations of SF that might include a more diverse submissions list etc.
This ignores the reverse of this argument though, that the Award also currently has criteria for considering, for instance, self-published work. I’m not trying to make a quality judgment re self-publishing itself here, and indeed as with ebooks the boundaries are increasingly porous, but I am trying to point out the full spectrum of considerations the Award works under every year.
While I fully acknowledge that the Award’s current incarnation as a prize with more guidelines rather than solid criteria may be frustrating for some people, I believe that we best address this through the active approach we take to our relationships with publishers, writers and the genre / SF community.
My personal view is the Award is part of active, diverse and stunningly complex ecosystem of commercial, artistic and community pressures and that while there is much we would wish changes, there is also plenty we can work actively with to create that change.
I’ve listed some of the steps we’re consider with direct relation to the Clarke Award and, if you’ve managed to read this far, I’d be delighted to here your thoughts. The more the better in fact.
Thanks again to everyone for their contributions and for stopping by to read this thread.
if you’re going to go for some kind of innate basis for a long-term social structure, does that mean that Christianity is somehow hard-wired?
Absolutely. Or, more accurately, the dumb-as-fuck patriarchal my-dad-in-the-sky/tribal ur-ancestor worship that Christianity is a sub-section of – sadly, does seem to be hard-wired in, yes. As is superstition, generally.
But come into the new century, and the numbers actually start dropping, for the first time. That is why wer are concerned.
There was an interesting discussion over at Mark Charan Newton’s site a little while ago, with Mark claiming with inflammatory panache that SF was dying. Some of the statistics cited were certainly very convincing (if you insist on sticking with very rigid definitions of the form) – so I wonder if the drop in female contributors is the canary in the coal mine for the whole sub-genre. Women SF writers were in a minority from the start, so we notice first when they start to die off?
But as I argued with Mark at the time, the death of SF concern, or variants thereof, seems to be about slicing up speculative writing into tiny OCD pieces, and then making dire pronouncements about one such piece. In general, I’d say the form is in rude health – vast tracts of SF TV and movie-making, the games industry where SF/F is a staple piece of furniture no more debated over than air to breath, a burgeoning presence in so-called “mainstream” literature, the whole rich spectrum of fantasy, science fantasy, steam-punk, UF, DF…… And in this landscape, I see women everywhere. Audrey Niffenegger, Laurell K Hamilton, Margaret Atwood, Margot Lanagan, Trudi Canavan, Kelly Link, Carrie Ryan, J K Rowling, Karen Traviss, Charlaine Harris, Susannah Clarke, Elizabeth Moon, Ursula Le Guin, Elizabeth Hand….. The fact that not many of these fit into a rigidly artificial sub-section marked “SpecFic with Really Convincing Tech” seems, to re-use the phrase, somewhat beside the point.
There is a coherent argument to be made for reading PSS as science fiction.
Is there? I’d love to hear it.
@ Matt (H)
There’s also been a brain drain as some of the most popular SF writers switch to fantasy (Bujold comes to mind, not to mention some guy named Richard Morgan).
Actually, Justina Robson tells me I’m writing paranormal romance. :-)
I’ve been trying to follow what the differences in opinion are in the more recent discussion, in particular between Richard and Farah and latterly Paul. (And now I see Richard has just larified his argument some more). I think my understanding of the argument is as follows.
People are complaining that there are very few women working down the mine with the men, even though some women would love to be miners. However, the environment down there is not as good as it used to be, the best paid mine workers tend to be men, and there aren’t as many jobs as there used to be because coal is an unfashionable fuel these days. Everyone agrees that it would be good for the mine and the mining community if the genders were more evenly represented.
However, most job-seeking women and a few of the men in the wider community have taken jobs at the solar panel factory up the motorway, with its higher pay, better conditions and better contracts. At the moment, the factory employs more women than men, and orders are booming. In fact, the more they sell, the more people they can employ, and the more people they employ, the more they can sell and so on.
This scenario implies that something which is a genuine problem within one community (under-representation of women, say) might not appear to be a problem at all to people in the wider community (‘well, there are job opportunities somewhere else’). The solution proposed by the first community, of getting more women down the mine, could even appear to be a horrible mistake to many people from the wider community – why the hell would I work down that dirty mine for less pay and no job security when there’s a good job up here?
As long as more of the women in the wider community decide to go for what is _to the individual_ the more rational option of working in the factory, then you’re not likely to get more women down the mine – not as long as the solar panel factory is going strong with its current working conditions and employment policies (as Richard might have it) and not as long as coal is considered a dirty fuel and industry (as Farah might say).
The issue we have to face is, if the mine is so outdated, and seems to lack the attraction of the solar panel company both as a place to work and for its products, maybe it’s time to close the mine for good, other than for heritage visits, and to start relying on solar panels. We’ll still have power, it just won’t be generated in the way that we’ve been used to.
Sean’s valiant attempt at summary aside, I think we’re starting to go around in circles here, and should maybe pause. I’m pleased to hear from Tom that we’ve been prompting conversation elsewhere — I was sorry I couldn’t make it to Newcon this year — and I’ll happily link to anyone who wants to do the same online, to discuss some of the issues from the latter stages of this thread. I’d also like to direct anyone who hasn’t seen it yet to yesterday’s post, which is my own continuation of this particular conversation.
We had lists of award-eligible works by women on the FeministSF wiki in 2008 and 2009. I don’t think anyone has taken up that task this year, though! This would be a great seed list to add to the wiki – if people might find that useful.
Oh, I spoke too soon. The 2010 list on the FeministSf wiki does exist, and it’s here: http://wiki.feministsf.net/index.php?title=Works_by_women_eligible_for_2010_SF_Awards
I don’t think anyone has pointed out that publishing as a business has changed in the past decade. Editors can no longer buy manuscripts simply because they think they are good. They must justify any such purchase to other departments, like marketing and finance. As a result, only authors with proven sales track records, or whose books are in the same space (so to speak) as other authors who sell well, will be offered contracts.
I must say that I think that the tendency to continue to see female writers as fantasy authors even when they DO actually produce SF is really quite a fascinating insight.
The flip side of the coin is when male authors can dress up fantastical tropes as SF and nobody seems to question it. I mean “Elegy for a Young Elk” would be seen as fantasy had it been written by a woman and the same is probably true of most post-singularity fiction including Rucker’s Postsingular.
That, right there, is something worth challenging in the criticism we produce as I suspect that that really is something that critics can do something about.
Ian: (a) is that really just the last decade, or a more longer-term effect? (b) It’s clearly not completely true, or no new writers would be published. And (c) Why would this change disproportionately disadvantage women?
Niall, it’s perhaps a bit longer than a decade. One of the contributing factors I’ve heard mentioned is that the conglomerates who took over publishing in the 1990s demanded higher profit margins than were typical for the business.
And yes, exceptions exist. But also many new writers do write down similar lines to many successful authors – just look at the marketing puffs on debut novels.
It seems to me that women are less likely to write a science fiction novel which resembles in style and approach an existing one by another author – especially a male author.
Over at my blog (http://abookadaytillicanstay.wordpress.com/) I’ve recently reviewed three strong science fiction novels by female authors.
To my mind one of the more interesting books was My Sister Chaos by Lara Fergus. It was only recently published in Australia and features a strong character study detailing the relationship between two sisters that simply happens to have a broad science fiction backdrop. Fergus describes a war in some undetermined future that broke out between different ethnic groups. As such this book is as much a meditation on how war affects individuals and families, as it is a science fiction novel and all the stronger for that. I even found it reminscent of Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, a sf classic I would rank with Samuel R Delany’s Dhalgren.
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest was also a very entertaining and clever steampunk yarn, that felt like a revamp of Tom Sawyer by William Gibson. I also enjoyed Mira Grant’s Feed, a post-zombie apocalypse political thriller that was as much a comment on the insular lives of bloggers and contemporary forms of reality tv as it was a horror/sf novel.
A late addition of another eligible title – Matched by Ally Condie, published in November, is dystopian SF. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s had a lot of advance word of mouth (and a seven-figure advance)