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Today’s guest is young adult fantasy author Danielle L. Jensen! Her debut novel and the first book in The Malediction Trilogy, Stolen Songbird, was released last year, and it was a delight to read, making it one of my favorite books of 2014. I cannot wait to find out what happens to Cécile next, and fortunately, I don’t have to wait much longer for the second book—Hidden Huntress will be available on June 2!

Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen

When I received the email asking me to write a guest post about women in SFF, the background information on the impetus behind Fantasy Café’s monthly feature gave me pause. Namely, that women were noticeably underrepresented in reviews, sales, and awards in the adult epic fantasy genre. How interesting, I thought, that this bias doesn’t exist in the young adult epic fantasy genre. Given that there are equally talented men and women in both spaces, why is there such a disconnect in recognition? My personal (and not vigorously researched opinion) is the difference is the readership base. It is generally accepted that the fan base for YA is female dominated, whereas the base for adult epic fantasy is a more even split. But why does this matter? Why are men seemingly less willing to read and enjoy works by women than women are to read and enjoy works by men?

My not-very-scientific research, which involved reading the comments sections of other blog posts on this topic and asking around a bit, yielded one overriding comment: women don’t write the sort of epic fantasy that most men want to read. For one, I don’t believe that; and two, it doesn’t answer the other half of the question, which is why women are willing to read works written by men, for, by that argument, other men? Better minds than mine have discussed this question, but this is my opinion, such as it is.

In the world of children’s literature, we talk a lot about the importance of readers finding protagonists they can relate to. Who are like them, or who they can imagine themselves to be. There is a big – and extremely important – push to make space for books that represent our diverse world. For there to be both authors and protagonists who are people of color, or who are gay, or who have a disability, so those who are not white heterosexual men have the opportunity to leave their mark on literary culture. Many fantastic diverse novels have been released in recent years, but that is only half the battle. The other half resides in the willingness of readers to pick up, review, and champion novels where protagonists “just like them” are nowhere in sight.

I’m going to go out on a limb – a very thick and sturdy limb – and say that with the exception of straight white men, all other readers of adult epic fantasy regularly enjoy novels about characters who are nothing like them. Women read books about men by men. People of color read about white people. Individuals in wheelchairs read about people who aren’t. They have to, because if they didn’t, the novels on the shelves appealing to them would potentially be quite few and far between. It is the unique, and, I’d argue, damaging privilege of straight white men to be able to go through life never reading a novel by or about anyone who isn’t a straight white man, unless they feel inclined to do otherwise. The consequence is that while the audience for fantasy novels for straight white men is the whole of fandom, the audience for authors who are not is, at best, half that.  And the consequence of this smaller fan base is novels being underrated, undersold, and, potentially, unread by those who might appreciate them.

Danielle L. JensenDanielle was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. At the insistence of the left side of her brain, she graduated in 2003 from the University of Calgary with a bachelor’s degree in finance. But the right side of her brain has ever been mutinous; and in 2010, it sent her back to school to complete an entirely impractical English literature degree at Mount Royal University and to pursue publication. Much to her satisfaction, the right side shows no sign of relinquishing its domination.

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Today’s guest is science fiction and fantasy author Aliette de Bodard! Her work includes the novels in the Obsidian and Blood series (beginning with Servant of the Underworld); the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus-nominated novella On a Red Station, Drifting; the Nebula Award-winning novelette “The Waiting Stars”; and the Nebula Award-winning short story “Immersion.” In addition to the two Nebula Awards, she has received a Locus Award, a British Science Fiction Award, and several award nominations, plus her stories have been selected for Year’s Best anthologies. I very much enjoyed both On a Red Station, Drifting and “Immersion,” and I’m very excited about her upcoming novel being released in August, The House of Shattered Wings.

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard

When I was a teenager, I read Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series (with difficulty, because they’re rich books intent on texture, with vocabulary and sentence structure that’s not always obvious to a non-native speaker). A lot of things struck me about them; but the one that I want to talk about is the first one, The Game of Kings.

The Game of Kings is set in a male-dominated society: though Scotland is ruled by a child queen, men are the ones holding the titles, going to war, and occupying much of the stage, as the main character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, attempts to clear his name and reconcile with his family.

It would be very easy to assume from this that the narrative is going to be all about the men.

In fact, what I remember most about The Game of Kings is its female characters–from no-nonsense, deceptively mild Sybilla, Lymond’s mother; to Mariotta, trapped in a marriage where her husband ignores her; to young Philippa, growing up on a minor holding and having to deal with the invasion of men-at-arms in her well-ordered world.

It’s hard to express, but I think that this was the first time I realised that books and popular media had it wrong.

I was taught, over and over, that stories are about people in positions of power, people who fight; people who go to war. I was taught that women are oppressed in the quasi medieval societies of fantasy, and therefore that the only women worth talking about are those who rebel against this oppression–the ones who have, or who seek to have the same rights and privileges as men, the ones who sneak out of their houses disguised as boys in order to seek their fortune. I was taught that the silent women seemingly only interested in their own households are always inactive, always silent, forever doomed to be background noise. It’s not a conscious thing–rather, it happened by the accretion of dozens, of hundreds of similar narratives until I had internalised them so thoroughly that anything else seems odd and implausible [1].

This idea about powerless and uninteresting women is, of course, wrong on several levels. The first and most obvious is that there were women in positions of power in medieval societies; and that there were women who were having adventures (women merchants, for instance). That they were broadly considered inferior to men does not mean they were all oppressed chattel.

The second, and I think most pernicious cliché is to assume that the oppressed have no narrative but that of rebellion–that lack of power or lack of agency means lack of story. One of the things the Lymond series does tremendously well is showing us the network of women’s friendships, and how these women share information. Women run households, fret over who they will marry and how they will find their places in the network of alliances; and try to navigate their place in a complex tracery of power where they might not have the upper hand, but where they are far from powerless or without opinions.

I wish I could say this was immediately reflected in my fiction; but in fact it took me a tremendous amount of time to go against the received narrative that these types of stories weren’t worth telling–many years and many additional books, until I finally started to write stories where domesticity wasn’t devalued, and where childbirth could be as dramatic as any pulse-pounding battle against an invading army. And, in many ways, I’m still learning–still trying to make space, not only for women, but for marginalised voices in my stories (again, it’s not because one is not in a position of power or actively seeking one that one has no life and no stories worth telling. The slaves, the dispossessed, the oppressed also have their own lives and their own aspirations). But it was The Game of Kings that showed me the way, and I darn well intend to stick to it.

 

[1] Which is why I try to be conscious, as a writer, of the kind of narratives that I’m putting forward. I don’t believe that my stories can change the world, but I can certainly contribute, even completely unconsciously, to harmful and silencing narratives. But this is not the subject of this essay!

Aliette de BodardAliette de Bodard lives in Paris, where she has a day job as a System Engineer. In between programming and mothering, she writes speculative fiction–her stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and a British Science Fiction Award. Her newest novel, House of Shattered Wings, is set in a devastated Paris where rival Houses fight for influence–and features fallen angels, Vietnamese dragons and entirely too many dead bodies. It is forthcoming in August from Gollancz in the UK/Commonwealth and Roc in the US. Visit http://www.aliettedebodard.com.

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The first guest of the final week is science fiction, fantasy, and horror author Karina Sumner-Smith! While she’s written a number of short stories, her first novel was just released last year. Radiant, set in the same world as her Nebula-nominated short story “An End to All Things,” is an impressive and unique debut with excellent worldbuilding and prose. The second book in the trilogy, Defiant, will be released on May 12. Towers Fall, the final book, is scheduled for release in October.

Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith Defiant by Karina Sumner-Smith

I Don’t Read Books by Women

Looking back, I can’t really tell you what he looked like. White man in his thirties perhaps; I’d say dark hair, but that could just be imagination. Not that it matters. It wasn’t his appearance but his words that stayed with me, even after all these years.

“I don’t read books by women.”

Just like that.

I don’t think he meant to be insulting; it was only his reason why my recommendation of a novel by Lois McMaster Bujold was not even slightly of interest. Never mind that he was looking for a fun, fast-paced space opera.

These days, I’m more confident in my recommendations. I’m even known to jump into a conversation between someone looking for a good science fiction or fantasy novel book and a clueless chain bookstore employee—but then? I was a snail of a girl, mostly pulled into her protective shell, just trying to have a quiet talk with a fellow fan in the science fiction section of the bookstore. His reaction caught me off guard.

I remember staring, at a loss for words. “Why?” I managed to ask.

“Oh,” he said. “I just don’t like romance.”

#

The idea that women only write romance—and, by extension, do not write real science fiction or fantasy—was (and remains) ridiculous.

Perhaps some of that was my upbringing. While both of my parents read and enjoy science fiction and fantasy, of the two my mother is the biggest reader and SFF fan. I don’t have stories about discovering amazing science fictional tales at my local library; instead, I had my mother’s collection and my mother’s recommendations. It was my mother’s heavy hardcovers that I dragged to school in my knapsack all through high school, and my mother’s battered paperbacks that I re-read until the pages began falling out.

Isaac Asimov. Ursula K. Le Guin. Raymond E. Feist. Anne McCaffrey. C.J. Cherryh. Larry Niven. Mercedes Lackey. Arthur C. Clarke. Jennifer Roberson. David Eddings. The list goes on and on.

I understood not liking particular works or particular authors—but not reading any books by women? It was an entirely foreign concept.

Yet I could not entirely dismiss his opinion as being that of one random and misguided guy, for I began to see it reflected in other places. In jokes or passing comments in online communities that I frequented. In the assumptions made by men who heard that I write. And while it was not the predominant opinion held by the male writers and fans that I knew—and thank goodness for that—it was one that certainly existed, and that crept into conversations in strange and off-putting ways.

Worse, I was a writer—or was trying to be. And suddenly I couldn’t help but think: what if I achieved my dream—what if I wrote a book and had it published—only to find that no one would read it just because it was my name on the cover? A female name.

Would potential readers see that name, turn up their nose, and say, “No thanks. I read science fiction and fantasy, not romance.”

#

Let’s set aside the power and financial impact of the publishing juggernaut that is the romance genre. Let’s set aside, too, any concerns about who reads or writes romance, or why, or whether romance is read by people of all genders (though of course it is).

Instead, I have to ask: why, for certain readers, is a female byline synonymous with a romantic plotline? Because there are so many excellent books by women within our genre that focus on other things: adventure and magic, culture and politics, economics and war and friendship.

There’s V.E. Schwab’s excellent Vicious, a near-future novel about best friends turned foes, revenge, and superpowers. Or, in YA, how about Nicole Kornher-Stace’s forthcoming Archivist Wasp, a sharp and wholly unique novel about an Archivist in a dangerous post-apocalyptic world who tries to rescue a ghost from the afterlife.

Anyone who thinks women can’t write dark or gritty realism have yet to try Mary Gentle’s alternate history/fantasy, Ash: A Secret History (bizarrely published as four full volumes in the US), about a female mercenary captain in 13th century Burgundy.

There are even fabulous series like Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra, which—despite a setup that seems bound for a love triangle, and a fun, fast pace—has ten books in print without the development of a romance (to some readers’ evident dismay).

Yet it seems disingenuous to point to such works as if saying, “See, ladies don’t just write about kissing and sexytimes!” Especially given that romance is a key part of so many male-authored fantasy novels as well.

I went and stared at my bookshelf, and it’s true. Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series, Brent Weeks’ Lightbringer novels, Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle (and the list goes on), all have romantic subplots. Neither is male-authored SF a genre without romantic entanglements.

So what’s the difference? Is it the gender of the main character that makes a romantic subplot more interesting (or perhaps more palatable), rather than the author’s gender? Do some female authors write their romantic plots or subplots differently than their male peers, perhaps drawing more heavily on tropes from the romance genre? Do some straight male readers feel uncomfortable viewing a male character through a lens of romantic or sexual desire, even if the point of view character is female?

Or is this only a case of certain readers experiencing a book written by a woman that is very much not to their taste, and instead of thinking, “I don’t like this story/novel/subgenre/genre” they leap all the way to, “I don’t like books by women”?

I don’t know; I really wish I did.

Yet for now, as a new author trying to reach a readership, I still sometimes feel that it’s a struggle to connect with male readers, even if that struggle is only in my own mind. To work around the name on the cover, I feel that I need to explain: “I wrote a fantasy novel, and yes, the main characters are young women—but the book has no romance in it at all.” (Neither, for the record, do the sequels.)

#

That man I was talking to in the bookstore? He never did pick up the Bujold. I try to tell myself that in the end it was the Baen cover that scared him away.

And when our talk turned to fantasy, I managed to push the first book of C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy into his hands, praising its villain—and encouraging him to just read the prologue to see if it might be his sort of thing. (And yes, it still bothers me that for a moment I almost pretended that, shielded by those initials, C.S. Friedman wasn’t a woman at all.)

Yet now, when I think of that man, it is not with anger, not with anxiety, but hope. I hope that he’s tried to expand his reading horizons a little—and not for the sake of female authors like me, but for his own enjoyment. Because choosing not to read science fiction or fantasy books by women, not any at all? Just think of how many amazing stories he’ll miss.

Karina Sumner-Smith is the author of the Towers Trilogy: Radiant (Sept 2014), Defiant (May 2015), and Towers Fall (Oct 2015). In addition to novel-length work, Karina has published a range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories that have been nominated for the Nebula Award, reprinted in several Year’s Best anthologies, and translated into Spanish and Czech. She lives in Ontario near the shores of Lake Huron with her husband, a very small dog, and a very large cat. Visit her online at karinasumnersmith.com.

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This month has flown by, and tomorrow is the first day in the last week of guest posts. Before announcing the final guests, here is what went on last week (thanks to all of the guests from the previous week!):

Book List Reminder: If you haven’t already submitted 10 of your favorite speculative fiction books by women this year, there is still time to add up to 10 of your favorites to the list! It currently contains over 1,000 titles recommended during Women in SF&F Month in 2013 and 2014, and Renay and I are collecting more recommendations this month.

Upcoming Guests: April 27 – 30

And now, the final guests of the month will be:

Women in SF&F Month 2015 Week 5

April 27: Karina Sumner-Smith (Radiant, Defiant, “An End to All Things”)
April 28: Aliette de Bodard (The House of Shattered Wings, Obsidian and Blood series)
April 29: Danielle L. Jensen (Stolen Songbird, Hidden Huntress)
April 30: Cecily (Manic Pixie Dream Worlds)

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Today’s guest is fantasy and science fiction author Karen Miller! Her work includes the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series (beginning with The Innocent Mage), the Godspeaker trilogy (beginning with Empress), and Fisherman’s Children (beginning with The Prodigal Mage). She has also written books in the Star Wars and Stargate universes and the Rogue Agent series as K. E. Mills. The Falcon Throne, her newest fantasy novel and the first book in the Tarnished Crown series, was released last year and will be published in paperback in the US in June.

The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller

Women Writers Are Awesome

I was nine years old when I met Enid Blyton. We were introduced by my primary school librarian, who thrust one of the Famous Five adventures into my hands and said ‘Read that. You’ll like it.’ She also thrust The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at me, but that’s another story.

Probably I was born a story binger. There’s no other explanation for why I devoured every last Enid Blyton I could get my hands on after that first, fateful meeting: all the Famous Fives, all the Secret Sevens, the Mistletoe Farm series, the Wishing Chair series, the Faraway Tree series, the Barney mysteries … I read them all. Many times. Of course these days Enid’s frowned upon as all kinds of incorrect, but she was a product of her particular time and culture, as are we all. I mean, fifty years from now I’m pretty sure some of us won’t be looking too flash.

But that would be yet another story. My point is that one of the first proper novelists I ever embraced with my heart, my soul and all my pocket money was a woman … and so were many of the writers whose work I devoured in Enid Blyton’s wake.

Mary Grant Bruce’s Billabong series remains one of my favourites to this day. I still can’t re-read the one where Norah’s appalling cousin murders (yes, murders!) her beloved pony Bobs. (Yeah, and forget Norah being noble and forgiving after the appalling cousin was wounded in the war. I would have staked him out on an anthill covered in honey even if he’d lost both his legs.) There’s not a single book by the Pullein-Thompson sisters I haven’t read. Or Lorna Hill. Or Marguerite Henry. Or Monica Edwards. The Jill series by Ruby Ferguson. The astonishing science fiction and fantasy novels of Andre Norton. Doreen Tovey’s hysterically funny but sometimes heartbreaking tales of life in Devon with Siamese cats and other animals. L.M. Montgomery and her exquisite creation, Anne of Green Gables. Ruth M. Arthur’s brilliantly creepy supernatural books. The truly extraordinary work of K.M. Peyton, whose anti-hero Pennington I’m sure made me disregard blond boys for life. Susan Cooper’s genre-defining The Dark is Rising sequence. (Stupid, stupid Hollywood. How criminal you can be.) Antonia Forest’s exquisitely human and complex series about the Marlowe family, both at school and at home. If there’s a better exploration anywhere of the creative personality (I’m looking at you, Lawrie Marlowe), I dare you to show me! Plus she wrote about death. And anti-Semitism. And family dynamics. And life in general. I swear, that woman should be required reading.

As I grew older, I added some male writers to my list. There was a lot of Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley and Ian Fleming. I tried C.S. Forrester but ended up preferring Dudley Pope. Ramage was a lot sexier than Hornblower – at least until Ioan Gruffudd came along. There was also Alexander Kent and Dick Francis and Peter O’Donnell. And of course I expanded my male author repertoire from there – and still do – but I’m sure you get the idea.

Only here’s the thing. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that all of their books were the action and violence and heroism and high stakes books, but I suspect not. I suspect that this thorny divide has always existed in literature, just as it so often exists in real life: men go to war, women keep the home fires burning and roll bandages. I know that’s changing a bit, in some places more than others, but the roots of that perception grow deep in our culture. It’s one of the many obstacles a lot of women writers face today, particularly women who dare to write space opera and epic fantasy.

Still, things have moved on from that simplistic and stultifying and historically inaccurate mindset. In some places at least. Ironic, isn’t it, that while the landscape of, say, crime fiction (in print and on TV) has shifted with the times and evolution of equal rights to include some of the best, brightest, bravest and bad-assiest women ever to be found in not-real life (Brenda Leigh Johnson, I am looking at you!), there remains such resistance to that notion in the genre of speculative fiction. You know, the genre that’s supposed to be about possibilities. About imagining new and better futures – and different pasts. About playing the ‘what if’ game as hard as you can. Of course, that’s a topic for a whole different blog post, but it’s something to ponder. So go on, ponder away!

In the meantime, though, as I meander back to the topic at hand …

Yes, I certainly started reading a bunch of books by male writers. I think it’s pretty crazy to refuse to read something just because it’s written by someone who has dangly bits and you don’t. Or vice versa. But even though I romped with the boys, and had a great time doing so, I certainly never turned my back on the great women writers whose work continues to inspire and entertain me today.

Dorothy Dunnett, Sue Grafton, Anne McCaffrey, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Agatha Christie, Katherine Kurtz, Marcia Muller, Ruth Rendell, Ellis Peters, Lois McMaster Bujold, Bertrice Small, Lindsey Davis, Laurie R King, Kate Elliott, Caroline Grahame, JD Robb, Kage Baker, Nora Roberts, Jan Burke, Elizabeth Peters, Georgette Heyer, Diana Wynne Jones, J.K. Rowling, Laurell K. Hamilton, Connie Willis, Barbara Hambly …

Each and every one of these amazing women have made me laugh, cry, gasp, curse and cheer. Each and every one of them has made me proud to be a woman, and inspired me to write stories that I hope and dream will in turn make another woman laugh, cry, gasp, curse and cheer. And men, too. Because put the dangly bits and the bouncy bits to one side and we’re all just people, just human people, struggling to find a way through the mud and the blood and the weeds and the booby traps of this crazy thing we call life. Women know things that men don’t, and vice versa. I think it’s about time we stopped throwing missiles at each other and started listening and learning for a change. Maybe we’d all end up a bit happier, a bit less angry, a lot more kind, if we did. Time to open our minds and our hearts and let the people who aren’t us teach us about them – and in doing so, teach us about ourselves. Surely that’s one of the great things about stories, the act of storytelling. For a little while, for as long as the pages keep turning, we get to be somebody else. To walk in their shoes. To live a life that isn’t ours. To expand our limited horizons and grow our hearts.

Women writers have such powerful stories to tell. Women writers represent roughly half of the human species, the human experience, in all its grossness and glory. For crying out loud, it’s the 21st century. Surely it’s time to recognise that once and for all.

Here’s a true story. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was working on a horse stud in Buckingham, England. I was, in that archaic world of hunting and fishing and shooting, one of the lowest of the low: a student girl groom. Even so, I had my own bedroom – which was a big deal, trust me. Some other students I met were crammed into a crappy single caravan without running water. Mind you, I didn’t always have running water either – at one point every pipe in the house froze during the coldest winter in twenty years. But that’s another story.

The thing is, I had my own bedroom. Which meant I had the luxury of reading in bed. So there I was one night doing just that. It was very late, well into the wee small hours. I should have been asleep because my working day started at 5.45 am and didn’t stop until around 10 pm, but no. I was reading. And then one of the other girls banged on my bedroom door, and came in, and said, ‘Hey, something’s going on in the yard. The horse box is on fire.’ And I said, ‘Oh. Shit. Right. I’ll be down in a minute.’

Only I wasn’t. Because I couldn’t bear to stop reading that book. That book was so exciting, so engrossing, so utterly captivating, that I stayed where I was and let everyone else deal with the brouhaha downstairs.

And what was I reading? I’m glad you asked. I was reading The Disorderly Knights, by Dorothy Dunnett. Book 3 of the amazing Lymond Chronicles, simply some of the best historical fiction that has ever been written. Actually, some of the best fiction ever, full stop. Ah, Francis Crawford. Be still my beating heart.

That, right there, is the power of a great story. It’s what a great woman writer can achieve when she’s at the top of her game. And it’s the kind of impact I aspire to have when I settle myself in front of the computer and start to write.

Women writers are awesome. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Karen MillerKaren Miller writes speculative fiction. Mostly of the epic historical kind, but she’s also written Star Wars and Stargate novels and under the pen-name K.E. Mills writes the Rogue Agent series, about a wizard with special skills who works for his government under unusual circumstances.

She lives in Sydney, travels as often as she can, and when she’s not glued to the computer writing a book or researching history for a book she can be found having fun at her local theatre, swimming laps at the pool, walking the dogs, reading or watching great films and tv dramas, or lazily socialising with friends.

Photo Credit: Mary GT Webber

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Today’s guest is Kelley from Oh, the Books! She and her co-blogger Asti run an excellent blog full of great book reviews, compelling discussions, and comprehensive round ups containing links to all kinds of interesting bookish articles. I discovered their blog last year when they co-hosted the second Sci-Fi November with Rinn and have enjoyed reading their site ever since! (Just like the previous year, Sci-Fi Month was fantastic. It’s a really fun event in which bloggers spend November writing about science fiction media in all its forms, and nearly 100 people signed up as participants last year!)

Oh, the Books!

Science Fiction Book Covers — Are They Different for Female Authors?

One of the first YA science fiction books I heard a lot of buzz about was Insignia, by S. J. Kincaid. The ladies at my favorite bookshop just kept raving about it, so I read that book as soon as I could get my hands on it (and loved it). When S. J. Kincaid visited that same bookshop later in the year, I was one of many eager readers in attendance.

Insignia by S. J. Kincaid

The entire event was fantastic, but a few things stuck out in my mind from that day.

  1. The book cover was intentionally “sci-fi” in style, most likely to attract a more male audience.
  2. The author likely went with her initials + surname, to maintain gender ambiguity (again, likely so that male readers wouldn’t be turned off by a female author).
  3. This author is extremely adept at writing in the voice of a teenage boy.
  4. The combination of 1-3 just plain sucks.
  5. The audience was entirely female (what?!).

Ever since that day, I began paying closer attention to the covers of YA sci-fi books. Much of the time, if the book had a female author and/or female protagonist, the cover art would have a girl in it. If the author was male, or the book has a male protagonist, the cover art would likely NOT have people on it (or if there were people, the design would be very “sci-fi” or masculine overall).

Obviously, this was just my general observation, and I did no thorough investigation or data collection about this, so don’t hold that against me. But still, I think it’s clear that when a female author writes a science fiction novel — especially if it’s YA — the cover art seems to either clearly appeal to girls, or try to cover up any feminine parts.

Alas.

In a wonderful contrast, I was lucky enough to attend an event with Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman for their release of This Shattered World. During the event, there was some great discussion about the cover design, women reading science fiction, and how all of that blends together.

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner This Shattered World  by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

What’s interesting about this series is that it seems to cross gender (and genre) boundaries quite nicely. That event was one of the few I’ve been to that had multiple guys in attendance; this series is clearly appealing to male readers, somehow, despite the fact that there are TWO female names on the cover! This series also gently eases readers who are new to sci-fi into the genre, and encourages them to realize that they might like it! (The books contain more and more science fiction elements as the series progresses.)

Where am I going with this? Good question. My point here, I think, is that all kinds of people like science fiction. Why should women writers have to hide their genders in order to appeal to their target audience? Is that even working? I’d love to see more science fiction YA book covers that just look cool — much like the classic science fiction books (or, like, every single middle grade book!), and don’t attempt to catch the eyes of any particular gender.