My ten nominations for the best sf novels by women from the last ten years, then:

  • UFO In Her Eyes by Xiaolu Guo
  • The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall
  • Life by Gwyneth Jones
  • Oh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet
  • Hav by Jan Morris
  • Living Next-Door to the God of Love by Justina Robson
  • Not Before Sundown by Johanna Sinisalo
  • Maul by Tricia Sullivan
  • The Modern World by Steph Swainston
  • In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield

Looking at that list all together, I’m more than happy with the quality of the books, but it is in some ways a skewed list. It is a list of books published in the UK, because even in the age of Amazon those are the books most visible to me, most easily available to me, and at the top of my TBR as someone who’s interested in the British sf field. There are major writers I’ve never read at novel length — Elizabeth Bear, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Nalo Hopkinson — largely for this reason. (The one US-only book on my list, Life, is by a British writer whose work I already follow.) It’s also a list with many edge cases, at least half of which is published “outside the genre”, which risks creating its own stereotype about how women write sf. Now the question is: how will it compare to the results of the overall poll? All will be revealed over the coming week — and if you still haven’t sent me your ten picks, you have a couple of hours left to do so.

13 thoughts on “Recap

  1. Sorry to go off-topic, but why is ‘The Modern World’ classed as SF here? If anything I suppose it’s New Weird or simply Weird fiction, but this appears to be an oh-so-familiar instance of exceptional Fantasy works being appropriated as SF simply because it seems in some way “far too good to be mere Fantasy”. Fantasy is always treated as SF’s less credible sibling, an attitude that goes all the way up to academia which, irritatingly, doesn’t even recognise it’s existence for the most part.

    It happens all the time with China Mieville’s works too and seems pure genre snobbery. I suppose such authors are actually supposed to feel grateful that almighty Science Fiction and its devotees deign to accept them?

  2. at least half of which is published “outside the genre”, which risks creating its own stereotype about how women write sf

    If you made a list of your top 10 male SF novels from the past ten years would the same thing be true of it? I don’t feel widely read enough in recent SF to come up with any kind of list, but I think a lot of people’s lists would include The Road, Cloud Atlas, and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, to name a few off the top of my head. Obviously I don’t want to divert the discussion to male SF authors but I think it’s useful to consider whether this outside the genre business is a characteristic of SF as a whole, SF written by women, or just SF that Niall liked that also was written by women. My guess, though uninformed, would be: SF as a whole.

  3. Alex: Well, my justification is here; you’d have to ask the other people who’ve nominated her work whether they think along similar lines. To be honest, I don’t think her series is either sf or fantasy, I think it’s both, to different degrees in different books; The Modern World being the most science fictional, and Above the Snowline being the least.

    Marianne: Fair point! And Canadians. At least I have a couple of non-Anglophones.

    Jackie / Matt: Strictly speaking, I think there already are stereotypes about how both men and women write science fiction out there in the world, and the world being the way it is, the latter set is probably the more pervasive and damaging. That is, while Matt’s right that my equivalent list for men would likely include a couple of the books he mentions, I doubt many people would look at such a list and conclude that it reinforces their notions of stereotypical “men’s sf”, which would continue to be thrusting space exploration; whereas I do feel my list starts to play into stereotypes of “women’s sf”.

  4. Shame on you Niall, where are the Antipodeans as well?

    Have any Antipodean women written notable works of SF?

    I’m very interested in seeing the final list. Obviously I don’t think Niall has annexed works of fantasy because he is a genre snob but, looking at this list and other published ones, I do get the impression that people are find it difficult to come up with a list of ten unabiguously SF novels. Which was sort of the starting point for this exercise. It probably isn’t profitable to deal in hypotheticals but I do think a male list would look very different and much more ‘core’.

  5. I think the most-nominated work by an Australian writer was The Etched City by KJ Bishop. I’ll probably break out the list into separate US/UK/Rest of World top tens towards the end of the week.

  6. Nalo Hopkinson is a Canadian writer, a Carribean-Canadian writer if you want to be specific — she’s not American.

  7. Alex: Yes, poor old China Mieville never wins any science fiction awards. Oh, hang on…

    Marianne: I voted for Dark Space!

    Martin: I did manage to come up with ten unambiguously SF novels for my list. To be fair, one of them is In Great Waters but I also see that as an extrapolative alternate history in an sfnal tradition :)

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