Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is fantasy and science fiction author Kate Elliott! She has written several books, including those in the Crown of Stars, Jaran, Crossroads, and Spiritwalker series. The first two books in the latter, her most recent series, are the only ones I’ve read so far, but they have made me a die-hard fan. Cold Magic and Cold Fire (Spiritwalker 1 and 2) feature a fascinating world brimming with history and culture, an endearing heroine with an engaging narrative voice, adventure, well-drawn character relationships, excellent dialogue, an entertaining story, and even laugh-out-loud moments. I love them wholeheartedly and can hardly wait for the conclusion, Cold Steel, to be released in June.

That’s why I am so happy to have the opportunity to give away the books in this fantastic series today—and I’m absolutely thrilled that Kate Elliott is also joining us today, especially since I can’t think of a better way to end this series of posts than her examination of review coverage for women in SFF and concluding thoughts!

King's Dragon by Kate Elliott Jaran by Kate Elliott Cold Steel by Kate Elliott

Fantasy Book Cafe’s month-long series of posts by and about women in sff is a delight this year as it was last year. When Kristen asked me if I would write a post (as I did last year) I said “yes” at once. Yet for some reason this year I struggle with having anything to say that I feel hasn’t already been said.

Recent posts by Lady Business and Strange Horizons discuss review statistics in the field, broken down by gender.

Strange Horizons observes:


“As in previous years, in the majority of the SF review venues surveyed, disproportionately few books by women were reviewed, and disproportionately few reviews by women were published.”

Lady Business includes a sub section titled “Observations on Claims of Progressive Reading Choices.”


“[In] our study last year, some claimed that gender blindness or related, completely imaginary skills freed them from any and all social, cultural, or internalized tendency to devalue or ignore women’s contributions, and therefore, freed them from needing to critically analyze their reading choices. And of course, if they are exempt from examining reading choices, they’re also exempt from examining reviewing choices.”

Lady Business then follows up with a further post about reactions to the post:


“[W]hat I think we need to start realising is that the literary world is an eco-system, where each different part of the industry contributes to the promotion of diversity. If one link in the chain doesn’t help out we are all lost. If someone reviews 100 book in a year and only 10 of those are by women, when there are 50 books available by women, that person is part of the reason why female authors aren’t as visible as male authors on SFF blogs. That person may not care if they are part of the problem. They may not have realised there was a problem before. They may even think the problem is unimportant. That doesn’t change the fact that the data shows their blog is part of a scene which does not represent women.”

A lively discussion of Strange Horizon’s post popped up on io9.

The comments include a link to an article about how literary journal Tin House examined and rectified its gender imbalance:


“Our staff is 50/50 male-female, and we thought we were gender blind. However, the numbers didn’t bear this out.”

So what can any one make of all this? Doesn’t it seem like this conversation is being had over and over again, with the same explanations and calls for action and the same protests and denials?

Last year coffeeandink offered a cogent comment on the issue:


“Again, I’m not trying to suggest that the men involved are deliberately excluding women writers. I am saying that when they do not think about it, they privilege criteria which cause them to select and promote male writers rather than female writers.”

Privileging criteria is a subtle and pervasive bias. It doesn’t mean overt sexism, although that can be present. It can be as simple as a show like Justified (whose 2nd season I enjoyed) highlighting the violence of men in repeated scenes that can be seen as tense and exciting (viewing by one criterion) and repetitive and predictable (viewing by another criterion). The verbal and physical dueling of men on opposite sides of crime and the law is valued (in the USA cultural mainstream) as dramatically interesting, even as entire episodes go by with women and people of color relegated to secondary roles mostly or solely defined by their relationships to (white) men. As long as criteria like this are privileged and its writing and plotting are not seen as flawed or problematic (in the sense that Justified has been renewed for a 5th season), then pervasive internalized privilege propagates in which stories about (usually white Western) men doing certain kinds of things in certain kinds of ways are deemed important as well as suitable for all viewers because they are seen to represent a universal drama whereas stories about other people(s) are seen as less universal and thus suitable for only a particularized audience.

But you already know this. What I’ve written above is just one aspect of a very complicated situation. How people read, how they review, how they approach any given work, comes with internalized biases and unexamined assumptions. I’m only noting the tip of the iceberg.

I have no answer. Talking, signal boosting, pushing back: It matters.
For example, check out the worthwhile Women to Read project by Kari Sperring.
And this blog’s Women in SFF Month.

It gets awfully tiring though. It’s like doing laundry; you just keep having to wash the same clothes over and over and over again.

But I do not want to end on a note of frustration, however frustrated I often feel. Certain forms of frustration can lead to bitterness, which brings me to a conversation I had the other day via Twitter with Australian novelist Alison Croggon.

We were talking about trying to avoid bitterness, about how corrosive bitterness can be.

She said, “Bitterness is the soul shriveling up. I guess it’s just the ungenerousness of it. Anger can be generous, make you larger.”

Maybe that’s one answer:
Be generously angry.
Seek to become larger by listening for the voices that are too often ignored.
Speak the story that only you can tell.

The Spiritwalker Trilogy

Courtesy of Orbit, I have a copy of the entire Spritwalker trilogy (Cold Magic, Cold Fire, and Cold Steel) to give away! (The giveaway is open to those with US and Canadian mailing addresses.)

Since the final book in this trilogy will not be released until June, these books will not be sent out immediately. For that reason, I’m going to let this giveaway run for longer than usual.

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “Spiritwalker Giveaway.” One entry per person and one winner will be randomly selected. Only those with a mailing address in the US or Canada are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Saturday, May 25. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the books).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

(Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.)