Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Saturday, September 02, 2006


The Slush God Speaketh... to me.

Sorry about the rolling tumbleweed here the last week or so, but I've been working on this and that... and commenting on this, I have to say -- another iteration of the "genre" versus "literary" debate.

Got an interesting comment from a lurker, actually, who pointed out that the list of Big Names I rattled off (Aldiss, Ballard, Bester, Bradbury, and so on) as indication of SF's diversity was rather short on women (to the point of only having Tiptree). It's a fair point. I kinda shuffled feet in response, not really excusing the oversight but working through my thought process, which was basically looking for recognition-value first, age second and disparate style third -- which is to say, focusing on the High Profile Oldies. So you end up with the Great Old Ones like Verne and Wells (sorry, I think Shelley would be cheating here; she's Gothic), the Golden Age guys like Bradbury and Clarke, and writers of the New Wave like Delany and Moorcock. But it has to be said that when I was trying to think of an "R" I had to move up to the present, and it was Ryman I thought of rather than Russ. Also I picked Ballard and Lem off the top of their head rather than, say, Butler and Le Guin. I like to think I'm not deeply sexist (I hate all breeders equally, male and female; that heterosexuality thing -- it's just not natural), so whyfore the glaring oversight?

Thinking about it, I realise that these are the writers I read when first getting into SF, their names engrained in my teenage unconscious. Many of them I can remember picking out of the shelf at the local library, or coming across their stories in anthologies, or buying the novel in some "Classic" imprint. With the first of these I'm quite sure as a teenage boy I'd be less likely to gravitate to a female name (eeew, girl cooties). But I wonder how much of this unconscious focus is a product of the contents of those anthologies and those "Classic" imprints. Glancing at the Millenium / Gollancz Masterworks out just now, there's still only two Le Guins and a Tepper. Which is, to put it bluntly, piss poor, no?

So... hasn't enough time passed yet to get the right books canonised? Are we more likely (or not) to see female authors' profiles getting raised to classic status? Could a feedback loop get set up whereby a new generation of teenage boys (being completist geeks) might be as familiar with Octavia Butler as with J. G. Ballard? Where it would be second nature for my equivalent a few years down the line to rattle off a list that was utterly mixed in gender, rather than slapping themselves on the forehead afterwards at their own oversight?

And would that help change the mentality where over-grown teenage boys can grope a female author whose works might well be considered a candidate for that "Classic" status?

Or am I just being overly optimistic here?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Based solely on the books that I've read in my short (21 years) lifetime, I would have to say that comparing the female authors I've read to the male authors, I enjoy the male authors more. Not based on any sexual bias, of course. That's based solely on my opinion of their writing styles and how captivated I was with their books.

LeGuin (of Earthsea) is probably the only female author who was able to capture me completely. Although I have to say that I haven't read many other female authors except for Kate Elliot. While the male authors I've read, besides you of course, are George RR Martin, Stephen Erikson, and R Scott Bakker. A few others, but those are the highest on my list. So far I just haven't had any books by female authors jump off the shelf at me. Which I guess isn't a gender thing so much as it's a lack of good marketing.

4:40 pm  
Blogger Gwen said...

I don't know...based on the books I've read in my even-shorter sixteen years, I've noticed no difference between enjoyment of the works of male authors as opposed to female authors. I didn't really pay attention to the author's name up until ten-ish when I realized that since books get classified by author's last name if I ever wanted to re-read any of the books I enjoyed I'd better start remembering the author's last name. (And for the longest time I didn't realize that, hey, I had read a story by Heinlein, or that From the Dust Returned was by that Bradbury guy I'd heard so much about.)
Thinking about it, I think I mostly started off reading female authors (Patricia Wrede, Pamela F. Service, K.A. Applegate, Tamora Pierce, Margaret Haddix, Madeleine L'Engle...with Lloyd Alexander and Douglas Adams and the like mixed in a little), then when I started reading The Ultra-Famous Classics I read more male authors (Bradbury, Orwell, Twain), then balanced out between the two. And I read Anne McCaffrey and Ursula LeGuin before I'd read Asimov, though I'd read Alan Dean Foster before I'd read Kate Elliot. But this wasn't a conscious thing; I didn't even think about gender in the books I'd read except to wonder if I could tell the difference between a male and female author by the writing style, a period which didn't last long and ended when I discovered that Lois Lowry was female.
So: you didn't think about it and ended up with mostly male authors and I didn't think about it and started off with mostly female authors and later more balanced. I think that it just depends on the libraries and the bookstores you got your books from and, as david said, marketing--not some kind of inherent sexism in SF. Notwithstanding certain creepy overgrown--what's the word? Not teenage boy, not unless they were extremely badly raised. Is the appropriate comparison to our president and his shoulder-massaging incident?

12:07 am  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:52 am  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

The breeders forgive you your contumely, Hal. (I dunno. Do I count as a breeder? Can I speak for the unnatural? I'm so confused.)

I see some curious evidence of doublethink in some readers, who will say "I don't like books without female protagonists," or "I haven't read many books by female authors, because I don't like them," and then...

...dunno. It's not usually how I categorize authors in my head. There are Authors I like, and Authors I Dislike, and Authors Who Do Not Strike Me With Enough Force To Get A Vote.

I suspect I'm about 50/50...


12:56 am  
Blogger Chinaski said...

Hmmm this is an interesting question. I've thought about this from time to time, why is it that I've read so many novels written by men, and so little written by women.

I'm only a couple years older than Hal so maybe it's because of the time when we grew up reading SF. When I first started reading SF I was immediately plunged into the "where to start" problem.

I started with Asimov, Herbert, Heinlein, Gordon R. Dickson, Dick, Brunner, Moorcock, Varley, etc, some of the names I had already been aware of for some time before I took the plunge.

The only woman Big Name author that any of my friends would mention was Le Guin, the Earthsea books, Dispossed, and Left Hand of Darkness. Marion Zimmer Bradley and C.J. Cherryh were the other two women authors that my circle of friends were into at the time. I read Butler early on when my best friend read her his freshmen year in college.

Looking at my bookcases I have to admit women authors are a rare find there. To be honest I tend to enjoy women writers best when they are writing in more of a 'masculine' vein, if that makes any sense. Cherryh's Alliance-Union novels come to mind.

As for serious SF lit when it comes to women authors I see Le Guin and Butler on my bookselves, that's about it to be honest except for 'best of' collections. When it comes to the men though I have everything from Aldiss to Zelazny, Big Names and small. Outside of SF unfortunately this is the case also, from poetry to history and inbetween.

I'd like to think my reasons are because I haven't been exposed to great women writers that might be hiding sitting next to my favorite authors.

I know that's not true though, I would have to say it's prejudice on my part. Don't get me wrong though, I think the most exciting new writer to come along in some time (besides Hal of course), is Kelly Link. Her writing is a breath of fresh air, cleansing the palette of so much crap that I've had to get through to find her.

I think though a lot of what we read when we first get into SF is influenced by who turned us on to it in the first place. For me it was my two best friends Peter and Mike. Peter handed me, seriously, twenty Michael Moorcock books, and told me I had to read them. As for Mike from when we were 13 years old till today, we still are telling each other what books we are reading, what we recommend to each other, what to avoid.

I don't think you are being overly optimistic Hal. I do believe though when it comes to over-grown teenage boys, if it's a choice between Stand on Zanzibar by Brunner, Dick's The Man In The High Castle, Zelazny's Lord of Light versus LeGuins Left Hand of Darkness or Butler's Parable of the Sower (which I loved) - they are gonna reach for the men over LeGuin and Butler.

"Why are you reading that book by her."

As for me though, any good women 'classic' sci-fi novels (or not so classic) you'd recommend besides the usual LeGuin, Tepper, Butler, Russ, etc would be cool.

have a great day all.

6:13 pm  
Blogger SJB said...

Suppose I am an odd duck, I mean, I am from a generation of women that was brought up to believe that Women's Own and Mills and Boon (With the odd Austen and Bronte) were suitable reading for young ladies.

Thankfully in my last two years at school we had a new English teacher who introduced SF/fantasy into the school library!! At 15/16 I was reading about Lensman,John Carter from Mars and heros in Heinlein's YA, as they would be classed now.

I then moved onto Moorcock and all the other writers that seemed to bounce onto the scene in the late 1960's and 1970's

Then I became "un-natural" having two offspring, and the books I read were mostly Postman Pat and Spot the Dog. ;)

When I got back to reading adult books, something strange had happened, a lot more were written by women. Women could actually get published writing about Spaceships, dragons and everything in-between.

I liked it, it increased my choice of books. I hope that when a book by a woman is classed as a "classic" it is because of the content of said book, not for the fact her upper body parts are held in a two part sling.

6:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for linking to my list. You've promted me to actually go update it with the latest.

Doing so has added Kate Wilhelm to the list.

3:43 pm  

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