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The first full week of guest posts opens with science fiction and fantasy author Brenda Cooper! Her most recent novel is Edge of Dark, the first book in a new science fiction series. She is also the author of the Ruby’s Song duology beginning with The Creative Fire, the books in The Silver Ship series starting with the Endeavour Award-winning novel The Silver Ship and the Sea, Mayan December, Building Harlequin’s Moon (co-written with Larry Niven), and several short stories (many of which have been included in Year’s Best anthologies).

Edge of Dark by Brenda Cooper The Creative Fire by Brenda Cooper

Women Kick Science Fictional Ass

Recently, I was sitting at dinner with a friend who was planning a science fiction event with a famous male writer. He had learned that a female writer had been invited to join. This dismayed him. After some poking and prodding, it turned out that he had never read any of her work (and I’m referring to a multiple award-winning writer). To me, they were both equally famous, both excellent writers, and both had won similar awards. But to my friend, only one of them even really seemed to exist. And this is a good friend, a man I’ve known and enjoyed lunches with for over twenty years. He isn’t ill-intentioned.

There have been recent challenges asking people not to read white male science fiction writers for a year. I won’t do that. If both of the writers mentioned above had a novel come out this year, I would read both novels. Some of my favorite writers are white males. Others are other genders and come from a variety of backgrounds.

But for the sake of the people who may have been reading exclusively white male writers, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about some of my favorite women science fiction writers. I’m only going to have room to talk about a few in depth, but I’ll end with a long list, and even that list won’t be complete. There’s actually a LOT of women writing science fiction right now.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Let’s start with a recent discovery of mine (and of many other people): Ann Leckie. The first book in her Imperial Radch series, Ancillary Justice, pretty much swept the awards last year. Her ideas are good solid far-future sense of wonder SF, and while I was reading Ancillary Justice I experienced that same awe that books like Rendezvous with Rama engendered. The morning I finished her book, I sat down with a cup of coffee in my left hand, and I turned the pages on my Kindle with my right hand. When I finished, I had a full cup of ice-cold coffee leftover. I wanted to mention Ann even though I don’t know her, since anyone who hasn’t heard of her hasn’t been paying attention.

I picked the next three writers because I love their work, and I also value their significant contributions to the genre and/or the larger social conversation.

vN by Madeline Ashby Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Madeline Ashby’s Vn series about sentient robots is fabulous; and I’m quite looking forward to her novel Company Town. In addition to being an excellent fiction writer, Madeline is a working (and excellent) futurist. In fact, I caught my first sight of her online when I was looking for women futurists rather then writers. That led me to her books, which I have enjoyed very much. We shared a table of contents recently, in Kathryn Cramer and Ed Finn’s anthology Hieroglyph. Her story, “By the Time We Get to Arizona,” is a fabulous take on a future pathway for immigration.

Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress Yesterday's Kin by Nancy Kress

I discovered multiple Hugo and Nebula winning writer Nancy Kress through her bestselling novel Beggars in Spain. I used to haunt Elliot Bay Books (way back when it was in Pioneer Square in Seattle) looking for new Nancy Kress books. This was before I had published a single story. Now she and I are both physical and Facebook friends, and have dinner together and see movies from time to time. My early fascination with Nancy’s work was because she writes about genetics and about the affects of technologies on real people. I keep enjoying her work because her characters are real and her worlds are plausible. She’s a fabulous short story writer, and a writer of excellent books about writing. She has a novella, Yesterday’s Kin, on this year’s Nebula ballot.

Diving into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch City of Ruins by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Kristine Kathryn Rusch once edited Fantasy and Science Fiction. She is still a publisher and editor working with her husband Dean Wesley Smith on the original anthology series “Fiction River.” I’ve studied with them in the past. Kris is one of the best writing craft teachers I’ve ever worked with. I love her novels (the Diving series is my favorite) and her short work is absolutely fabulous. I always look forward to new stories from her, and they often appear in Asimov’s. Kris also writes thoughtful non-fiction blogs and books about the writing business. She pretty much understands this business in more depth than anyone else I know.

Other female writers with science fiction stories and novels that I’ve read and enjoyed (in no particular order) include Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Aliette de Bodard, Mary Robinette Kowal, Lois McMaster Bujold, Cat Rambo, Margaret Atwood, Kate Wilhelm, Mary A. Turzillo, Mary Rosenblum, Nisi Shawl, Louise Marley, Kay Kenyon, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Laura Anne Gilman, Kij Johnson, Jennifer Linnaea, Linda Nagata, Fran Van Cleave, Tananarive Due, Brenda Carr, Jennifer Brozek, Eleanor Arneson, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Nicola Griffith, Rachel Swirsky, Sarah A. Hoyt, Kelley Eskridge, Connie Willis, Eileen Gunn, Catherine Asaro, Melissa Shaw, Sandra McDonald, Elizabeth Bear, C. J. Cherryh, Anne McCaffrey, Charlie Jane Anders, Vandana Singh….I could go on. I’ll think of more. And the list I haven’t read yet might be twice as long. There is a whole universe of fabulous science fiction writing by women. With any luck, my good friend from above will see this story and pick up at least one writer he hasn’t read. And so will others…

Brenda Cooper writes science fiction, fantasy, poetry, and non-fiction. Her most recent novel is Edge of Dark, from Pyr books. To learn more about Brenda, visit her at www.brenda-cooper.com.

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The month is off to a great start, thanks to the guests for the first half-week! In case you missed it, here’s what happened in the first few days:


Over the past week, I saw a couple of links I thought others may be interested in. Before I announce this coming week’s guests, here they are:

  • The 2014 James Tiptree, Jr. Awards were announced! The winners are The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne and My Real Children by Jo Walton. There is also an Honor List and another list of notable works exploring gender in science fiction or fantasy.
  • Kari Sperring wrote a wonderful article on Strange Horizons, “Matrilines: The Woman Who Made Fantasy: Katherine Kurtz.”

Upcoming Guests: April 6 – 10

And now—time to announce the guests for the next week! They are:

Women in SF&F Month 2015 Week 2 Guests

April 6: Brenda Cooper (Edge of Dark, The Creative Fire, The Silver Ship series)
April 7: Mieneke (A Fantastical Librarian)
April 8: A. C. Wise (The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again)
April 9: Tiara (The BiblioSanctum and DigitalTempest.net)
April 10: Nicole Peeler (Jinn and Juice, the Jane True series)

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For this giveaway, I came up with a list of nine books I’d love to see more people read, and the winner can choose one of these books as the prize. I’m hoping there is enough variety on this list that everyone can find at least one book that sounds appealing!

Anyone who lives in a country eligible for free shipping from The Book Depository can enter. All these books are currently available on The Book Depository, and as long as the book of choice is still available on the site when the contest ends in two weeks, I’ll order the book of the winner’s choice and have it sent to them. If the first choice book isn’t available at that time for some reason, the winner can choose another from the list that can still be ordered from The Book Depository.

Here is the list of books to choose from (in no particular order with covers linking to Goodreads):


The Silvered by Tanya Huff
The Silvered by Tanya Huff

The Empire has declared war on the small, were-ruled kingdom of Aydori, capturing five women of the Mage-Pack, including the wife of the were Pack-leader. With the Pack off defending the border, it falls to Mirian Maylin and Tomas Hagen—she a low-level mage, he younger brother to the Pack-leader—to save them. Together the two set out on the kidnappers’ trail, racing into the heart of enemy territory. With every step the odds against them surviving and succeeding soar….

A Taste of Blood Wine by Freda Warrington
A Taste of Blood Wine by Freda Warrington

1918. A First World War battlefield becomes the cosmic battleground for two vampires, as Karl von Wultendorf struggles to free himself from his domineering maker, Kristian.

1923. Charlotte Neville watches as her father, a Cambridge professor, fills Parkland Hall with guests for her sister Madeleine’s 18th birthday party. Among them is his handsome new research assistant Karl – the man Madeleine has instantly decided will be her husband. Charlotte, shy and retiring, is happy to devote her life to her father and her dull fiance Henry – until she sees Karl …

For Charlotte, it is the beginning of a deadly obsession that sunders her from her sisters, her father and even her dearest friend.  As their feverish passion grows, Karl faces the dilemma he fears the most.  Only by deserting Charlotte can his passion for her blood be conquered. Only by betraying her can he protect her from the terrifying attentions of Kristian – for Kristian has decided to teach Karl a lesson in power, by devouring Charlotte.

Wicked Gentelmen by Ginn Hale
Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale

Belimai Sykes is many things: a Prodigal, the descendant of ancient demons, a creature of dark temptations and rare powers. He is also a man with a brutal past and a dangerous addiction.

And Belimai Sykes is the only man Captain William Harper can turn to when faced with a series of grisly murders.

But Mr. Sykes does not work for free and the price of Belimai’s company will cost Captain Harper far more than his reputation.

From the ornate mansions of noblemen, where vivisection and sorcery are hidden beneath a veneer of gold, to the steaming slums of Hells Below, Captain Harper must fight for justice and for his life.

His enemies are many and his only ally is a devil he knows too well. Such are the dangers of dealing with the wicked.

Warchild by Karin Lowachee
Warchild by Karin Lowachee

When Jos’ parents are killed in an attack on their trading ship, the boy is kidnapped by the attackers and then escapes – only to fall into the alien hands of humanity’s greatest enemies. He is soon coerced into becoming a spy against the human race.

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

Three tales of supernatural love, each pivoting on a kiss that is no mere kiss, but an action with profound consequences for the kissers’ souls:

Goblin Fruit
In Victorian times, goblin men had only to offer young girls sumptuous fruits to tempt them to sell their souls. But what does it take to tempt today’s savvy girls?

Spicy Little Curses
A demon and the ambassador to Hell tussle over the soul of a beautiful English girl in India. Matters become complicated when she falls in love and decides to test her curse.

Six days before Esme’s fourteenth birthday, her left eye turns from brown to blue. She little suspects what the change heralds, but her small safe life begins to unravel at once. What does the beautiful, fanged man want with her, and how is her fate connected to a mysterious race of demons?

My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due

When Jessica marries David, he is everything she wants in a family man: brilliant, attentive, ever youthful. Yet she still feels something about him is just out of reach. Soon, as people close to Jessica begin to meet violent, mysterious deaths, David makes an unimaginable confession: More than 400 years ago, he and other members of an Ethiopian sect traded their humanity so they would never die, a secret he must protect at any cost. Now, his immortal brethren have decided David must return and leave his family in Miami. Instead, David vows to invoke a forbidden ritual to keep Jessica and his daughter with him forever. Harrowing, engrossing and skillfully rendered, My Soul to Keep traps Jessica between the desperation of immortals who want to rob her of her life and a husband who wants to rob her of her soul. With deft plotting and an unforgettable climax, this tour de force reminiscent of early Anne Rice will win Due a new legion of fans.

Wraeththu by Storm Constantine
Wraeththu by Storm Constantine

In this powerful and elegant story set in a future Earth very different from our own, a new kind of human has evolved to challenge the dominion of Homo sapiens. This new breed is stronger, smarter, and far more beautiful than their parent race, and are endowed with psychic as well as physical gifts. They are destined to supplant humanity as we know it, but humanity won’t die without a struggle.

Here at last in a single volume are all three of Constantine’s Wraeththu trilogy: The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, and The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire.

Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro
Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro

The Skolian Empire rules a third of the civilized galaxy through its mastery of faster-than-light communication. But war with the rival empire of the Traders seems imminent, a war that can only lead to slavery for the Skolians or the destruction of both sides. Destructive skirmishes have already occurred. A desperate attempt must be made to avert total disaster.

Generation V by M. L. Brennan
Generation V by M. L. Brennan

Fortitude Scott’s life is a mess. A degree in film theory has left him with zero marketable skills, his job revolves around pouring coffee, his roommate hasn’t paid rent in four months, and he’s also a vampire. Well, sort of. He’s still mostly human.

But when a new vampire comes into his family’s territory and young girls start going missing, Fort can’t ignore his heritage anymore. His mother and his older, stronger siblings think he’s crazy for wanting to get involved. So it’s up to Fort to take action, with the assistance of Suzume Hollis, a dangerous and sexy shape-shifter. Fort is determined to find a way to outsmart the deadly vamp, even if he isn’t quite sure how.

But without having matured into full vampirehood and with Suzume ready to split if things get too risky, Fort’s rescue mission might just kill him.…

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 “Winner’s Choice Giveaway.” One entry per household and one winner will be randomly selected. Those from a country that is on the list of those with free shipping from The Book Depository are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Saturday, April 18. 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 the book of their choice and a mailing address).

In the event that the book of the winner’s choice can no longer be ordered from The Book Depository once the giveaway ends, they can choose another book from the list that can still be purchased through the site.

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!

Update: Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.

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Today’s guest is science fiction and fantasy author Genevieve Valentine! Her first novel, Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, won the Crawford Award for Best Novel, and her work has received many honors, including nominations for the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the Romantic Times Award for Best Fantasy. She is the current writer of DC’s Catwoman, and she is the author of The Girls at the Kingfisher Club and the recently-released novel Persona.

Persona, by Genevieve Valentine Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine

The Right Hand of Light

“To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.”

I’m one of those authors reluctant to talk about her influences too much; to cite exalted names invites unflattering comparison, and I’ve always suspected that half the time, a writer’s influences to be more obvious to her readers than to herself anyway. I’m happy to talk about inspiration for a particular work (it’s no secret that my ambivalence about the Miss Universe pageant helped spark the world of Persona), but when thinking of what first introduced me to the thrills of diplomatic fiction, I realized that it wasn’t just an influence; it was a milestone.

When I was probably too young, my dad gave me Dune. I couldn’t finish it, for reasons that at the time seemed vague and became increasingly clear as my political vocabulary developed. (I later found a soft spot a mile wide for the pair of utterly earnest, millinery-heavy miniseries the Sci-Fi channel made from it, but that’s no surprise – stock your miniseries with British actors gnawing on scenery and I am all yours.) But I appreciated the sheer depth of the world it offered; my literary interests were shifting, and I was actively on the lookout for a book to fall in love with.

When I was just the right age, my mother gave me The Left Hand of Darkness.

It’s one of those formative books that has become two distinct entities in my memory. One is the book itself – snippets of dialogue, aphorisms, the image of a sled against a horizon of snow. The other is the experience of reading it, a hologram mapping the air above the pages; how I set it down twice because I feared it, then hid in my room and read all night just to finish it, how my worn secondhand copy lost the last page even as I turned it, and the sensation of falling into and down.

Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is one of those books that requires a certain amount of into and down, not having a particular surfeit of forward. As a kid who never had an adventurous bone in her body, and thought children in books who borrowed things without permission were being awfully risky, it’s no surprise I found derring-do an iffy draw. Increasingly, I gravitated to books with more focus on world and character. (I also blame The Last Unicorn, one of my earliest solo reads, but that’s a whole other post.) The book’s unblinking social study of Gethen fit the bill. The gender politics, of course, were as revolutionary to me at that age as they were when the book first came out; to have so much of our gendered cultural bias laid out so plainly as an arbitrary construction – and to watch an erstwhile diplomat struggling with his own biases long after he’s aware enough to name them – was both great writing and something of a laundry list of red flags I’d carry with me into adolescence.

But just as interesting, to me, were the political machinations, that delicate web of the possible and impossible, all of which could never be known fully and definitely not in time to do you any good: the pointed legends, the prejudices of a Victorian travelogue, the oblique reproaches, the aphorisms that chill at the edges. Genly and Estraven seem just as often joined in stylized debate as in dialogue (this is a novel in which everything one says betrays one’s ideals, whether they intend it or not). There’s tension in the quietly poisonous standoff between Karhide and Orgoreyn, the endless social nuance of shifgrethor – as outwardly placid as the Bolton Strid, with a comparable mortality rate – but there are deeper tensions closer to home (everyone’s wise and their own worst enemy, often in the same breath), and The Left Hand of Darkness does these best.

The book has, of course, been such an influence on science fiction as a whole that citing it as an influence on my writing feels almost laughable (does food influence your hunger?). I can only say it’s become a very personal book for me – one of those I’ve never written critically about. And that might be for the best; even though I read it differently every time, just opening it summons that ghost of the girl who read it first, and I’m not in a hurry to disturb her.

Genevieve Valentine

Genevieve Valentine is the author of Persona and of the critically acclaimed novels The Girls at the Kingfisher Club and Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, which won the Crawford Award for Best Novel, as well as nominations for the Nebula Award and the Romantic Times Best Fantasy of the Year.

Valentine is also the writer of DC’s CATWOMAN and her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Journal of Mythic Arts, Lightspeed, and the anthologies Federations, The Living Dead 2, After, Teeth, and more; stories have been nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the Shirley Jackson Award, and have appeared in several Best of the Year anthologies.

Her nonfiction and reviews have appeared at NPR.org, The AV Club, Strange Horizons, io9.com, Lightspeed, Weird Tales, Tor.com, LA Review of Books, Fantasy Magazine, and Interfictions, and she is a co-author of pop-culture book Geek Wisdom. She lives in New York City.

Photo Credit: Ellen B. Wright

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I always make sure an author whose work I love goes up on April 2 as a sort of birthday present to myself—and I am delighted that today’s guest post is by Rachel Hartman! Her debut novel, Seraphina, became a New York Times bestseller and won the Morris Award after its release in 2012. It’s a beautifully written, compulsively readable story with a wonderful heroine (and, of course, dragons!). The sequel, Shadow Scale, is now available.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

The Gods Roll the Dice: Inventing a Gender System

Happy Women in SF&F Month, darlings! I am so pleased to have been included in this year’s line-up of guest posters, not least because it’s a wonderful excuse to talk about one of my favourite topics: gender.

Not just the feminine gender, specifically, but gender in general. What is it good for? How can we stretch it? Is it ok if I break it?

Of course, women writers have a long history of using the powers of SF/F for good (or possibly evil) gender explorations, from Ursula Le Guin’s classic The Left Hand of Darkness to Ann Leckie’s recent Ancillary Justice series. SF/F is uniquely suited to such thought experiments; one can set up the parameters of a world, extrapolate them to their logical conclusions, and then run characters through the maze. I would almost argue that that’s what SF/F is for.

I recently ran some thought experiments about gender myself in my latest novel, Shadow Scale. I created a new gender-organizing system for the city-state of Porphyry, and since readers have begun asking me about it, I thought this might be the place to explain what went into its creation.

I’ll start with a caveat, as I so often do: this is not the right or only way to come up with a new gender system. This system is closely tied into my own feelings and experiences of gender, which are possibly different from many people’s. If parts of it strike you as terrible, complain away. Honestly, I’m happy if I can get people thinking and talking.

My motives were pretty straightforward: a delightful transwoman character had occurred to me, and I wanted a place to put her where she could blossom and thrive and be herself in as straightforward a manner as possible. She was going to have plenty of problems, just by virtue of being a character in one of my novels, but getting along in her own society didn’t need to be one of them.

I wanted to create a gender system I would be comfortable with as well, and that was a distinctly different undertaking. There are several areas of my life where a distinct anarchic undercurrent bubbles to the surface. Art is one; gender is, alas, another. It’s not that I don’t believe in gender, or believe it’s important. Every day people risk their lives – and lose them – as they struggle for the right to express their gender the way they need to. I don’t ever want to lose sight of or minimize that fact.

However, I personally find that the trappings of gender don’t mean much to me. Gender may be universal, but most of its signifiers are culturally specific, and as such they feel artificial (to me – I can only speak for myself, here). I chafe at the idea that people imagine they know anything about the inside of me by glancing at my outside. My long hair instantly says “feminine” to people in my culture, but does it have to? I think of it as Frank Zappa hair, or Weird Al Yankovic hair. I feel like it should matter first and foremost what my own interpretation of my hair is.

(Remember that ST:TNG episode where Riker falls in love with a gender-neutral alien? It was a cool episode, on the one hand, but I always wondered: why do they look “neutral” by Western cultural standards? Why couldn’t they all wear frilly dresses and Shirley Temple curls and still be genderless by their own definition? Even weirder: why do they all look exactly alike? These are the sorts of things I ponder.)

I want to be the one who gives meaning to the way I look, not have interpretations imposed upon me from outside. I get my hackles up in exactly this way about art as well. Apparently I just don’t like to be told what to do (or what I really mean).

So how could I create a system that could accommodate both Camba, my trans character, and me, the pugnacious contrarian? The first thing that occurred to me was a tripartite system, like one finds in grammatical gender systems. I took four years of ancient Greek at university, you see, and I like to pull it out and dust it off occasionally. Ancient Greek (like modern German) had three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. That seemed workable – we could put Camba at feminine and me at neuter (if I was in the mood for that) – and yet I felt it lacked nuance.

Surely there are different flavours of masculine and feminine (and neuter!). It’s like a political party system: there are the people who are totally on board with every platform their party proposes, and there are the people who pick and choose the parts they want and have reservations about the rest. How many people wholly, unambiguously fit every characteristic of their gender? I’d think most people don’t even come close (but then, I’m the gender anarchist. I would think that).

So I doubled the number to account for the possibility of nuance, and that brought me up to six genders. What a lovely number! A perfect solid, a six-sided die for the Porphyrian god of Chance to roll.

So what are the faces of this cube? Two simple genders would correspond one-to-one with the body at birth. I called these Naive Masculine and Naive Feminine. I realize not all bodies are born distinctly male or female, but there are still four genders left to choose from. If an intersex individual wishes to present a specific gender, they might choose the more complicated variant of each, which I named Emergent Feminine and Emergent Masculine. Trans people would also find these the logical choice. But any Porphyrians might consider themselves Emergent if their relationship to their gender cannot be quickly summed up, or understood at a glance. Emergent simply means one’s gender is best understood through conversation, not assumption.

It seemed right to me that there should be two opposing poles of neuter as well (“neuter” is an unfortunate word, associated with pet sterilization, but it’s also the grammatical term and I kept it on as such). On one face, I put Cosmic Neuter, a gender that would warmly encompass all genders and would refer to the gods themselves (for who could impose the limits of any one gender on the gods?). The opposite face, I called Point Neuter. The opposite of all was surely none, so Point would be something singular and complete unto itself. The gender of I-can’t-be-bothered-with-gender. I might place myself here, on my most contrarian days.

Now please note that I’ve said nothing about sexual orientation; that’s because these do not correlate to Porphyrian genders. One might be asexual, for example, and present as any one of these genders. The notion of sexual orientation would be a little peculiar to a Porphyrian; love is between individuals, whoever they might be.

If there are six genders, the obvious first question is: how are people going to cope with not instantly knowing someone’s gender on sight? I solved this problem with a default gender, Cosmic Neuter, that would be used for all strangers. It is, as you recall, the gender of the gods. That seemed most polite; it’s always best to err on the side of assuming someone is a god. Asking about correct address would, of course, be necessary in every case, and just a part of politeness. I love it when languages have verbs we don’t have in English, and “How may I pronoun you?” struck me as a most charming and gracious question.

But how would people know how to pronoun themselves? There would be a of rite of passage at age fifteen, a day when you choose what pronoun you will bear as an adult. Young children would all be considered Point Neuter until the Day of Determination. Even then, it’s still possible to misgender yourself; some people seem to know from the day they’re born, but for others fifteen may still be too soon to really know yourself. Camba did this, but all was not lost. She was able to re-pronoun herself later.

Anyway, that was the process I went through in coming up with this system. I feel pleased with it, not least because there’s a distinctive gender for people who can’t be bothered about gender. I suppose I’m a little like an atheist who invents a religion (full disclosure: I am also an atheist who has invented a religion), but I like to think that gives some balance to the whole thing. You can opt in, you can opt out, you can be as complicated and contrarian as you want to be.

Rachel HartmanAs a child, RACHEL HARTMAN played cello, lip-synched Mozart operas with her sisters, and fostered the deep love of music that inspired much of her award-winning debut novel, Seraphina. Born in Kentucky, Rachel has lived in Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, England, and Japan. She now lives with her family in Vancouver, Canada. To learn more, please visit RachelHartmanBooks.com and follow her on Twitter @_rachelhartman.

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As has become a Women in SF&F Month tradition, Renay is the first guest of this year’s series! She’s one of three bloggers who run the excellent site Lady Business, which is a great place for book reviews, discussion of television and movies, and insightful commentary on subjects related to speculative fiction and fandom.  Renay also writes columns for Strange Horizons, is one of the editors of Speculative Fiction 2014, and co-hosts the podcast Fangirl Happy Hour. And she began a wonderful project as part of this annual event—but I’ll let her tell you more about that and the reasons for its existence!

Lady Business

Some Assembly Required: Recommendation Lists for a More Inclusive Fandom

It’s no secret that I love Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy Month. It’s one of my favorite blogging events. It may be safe to say that I am its #1 fan after Kristen. I know this technically makes me the #2 fan, but let me have the #1 spot for the rest of this post; I’ll give it back at the end. It takes a lot of love to run a project this large for this long every year. She does it each time and makes it look like a breeze. Thank you, Kristen! You’re a star. ✭

As a teenager I didn’t have access to a lot of genre fiction by women, much less cool blog projects with women writers as a focus. My choices were limited. I’ve been frank about the lack of women SF writers in my life and have made it a goal to fix it: to go back to the 1990s, and 1980s, the 1970s, and even before, to find the women that helped build the genre I love so much.

The lack of women in my genre literature development has made me sensitive to issues of representation in the community and beyond. It’s the old “once you see the Fed-Ex arrow, you can never unsee it.” problem, where I walk around going, “This erasure is so blatant!” unable to look at anything without evaluating how well it’s doing including women writers. Whether it’s a of lack women in main character roles, background character roles, women over 35 as important to the plot, or actual women writers in genre being brushed aside, I’ve seen it and have trouble not seeing it. I want everyone else to be able to see it, too. But it’s really hard; everyone has wildly different reading pasts.

This was discussed another way in a book I read a few years ago titled Made to Stick and it’s possibly the most useful thing I took away from that text. In the book, the authors described a concept called The Curse of Knowledge. Once you have a piece of knowledge it’s very hard to not imagine having it, and therefore easy to get frustrated with people around you if they don’t have the same pieces. It’s also frustrating when they have the same pieces but they haven’t put them together yet in the way you have, as they’re still learning. This was a book about the persistence of ideas and marketing, but surprisingly I’ve found it applies in tons of different situations, especially in regards to representation and social issues. It’s very common these days. If you google it, you’ll find places talking about the concept and how to apply it to everything from writing books to teaching psychology. The way the authors illustrated the concept stuck with me: imagine if you and a friend are in a room, and your friend is asked to think a common song you would both know. They tap the the beat of the song on the table with a single finger and then it’s your job to guess it.

If you follow this test, it’s actually really hard, if not impossible, to guess the song unless its beat is really distinct (or unless the song is “Cups“, which this concept had no way to predict would take over the world). To you, it only sounds like random taps, but to your friend it’s easy for them to recognize via the taps because the song is already in their head. This is how hard it can be to pass knowledge one person has to another person who doesn’t have it. You can’t unknow something to look at how it would be to not know it again.

(Also, you can stop tapping out “Cups” now.)

So these days, I often spend a lot of time frustrated when I see things that are egregious about women writing SF and their place in genre history. Maybe it’s a list of the Best New SF, and two of the fifteen books are by women. Maybe it’s a list of the best space opera or the best epic fantasy, and there’s a token woman from a recent year, but the other nine books are by men and span decades. Maybe it’s a list of the books coming out in the next six months and the ratio for men and women writers is 2:1 or even, in some cases 5:1, like some lists I saw in late 2014. Maybe it’s listening to an author interview, and when asked for great books, the author throws down man, after man, after man, after man. When asked for influences, it’s the same thing: a long list of men. Maybe it’s a collection of Year’s Best SF novels by SF book bloggers, and no list has more than two or three books by women—and I wonder what their reading ratio looks like and how many books by women they read when what gets the most marketing dollars and word of mouth power is books by men. I see these things, and they’re so frustrating. Why can so few people see them?

I’m able to look back to my young adulthood and see the lack of women, and see all these lists that erase women’s contributions to the field. It’s a curse because so many people still can’t see. They don’t see the issue, the systemic problems, the institutionalized sexism, or the cultural biases against women writers. Whether their reasoning is “I don’t see gender.” to “The gender of the author doesn’t matter to the story.”, it’s always frustrating. It’s even more frustrating knowing that you might have thought that once upon a time, but can’t figure out how to make what’s become obvious to you obvious to anyone else. It’s constant, never-ending work.

But sometimes the work is really worthwhile. This month-long project has been so important to me and my genre reading experience, because it has slowly, each year, brought more and more women into my sphere of knowledge. That’s so valuable to me, because now I can’t imagine not knowing them, and I can’t imagine a genre where they’re not integral to where science fiction and fantasy currently are, and the scope of what I have to discover is still infinite. I’ll never get to it all in my whole lifetime. That’s sad in some ways, but it’s also very, very exciting in others. So even if I do have to work on showing how women writers are marginalized over and over, the benefits of my continuing education about women in genre is irreplaceable.

Probably also not a secret is that I love lists and recommendations for how they can address these problems even if only in small ways. Combine these into a recommendation list and for me, that’s a party. So, take a moment to do a quick exercise with me. Without looking at your shelves (physical or digital) or browsing around the internet, think of five of your favorite women writers. SF writers, romance writers, nonfiction writers, fan writers—whoever they may be, because some of you may be new to SF. Bring five of them to mind and tell me who they are in the comments. If you have time, link me to their blog, or your favorite book by them, or an essay they wrote that you loved. Share their names to put them into the public consciousness, share their names so they’re remembered for what they write, share their names so the people who haven’t discovered them yet can find a new perspective, or even maybe another favorite author.

While you’re doing this remember that readers are powerful and influential — that’s us, with that power and influence. We read and we recommend and we have a voice. Because the hard truth is that there probably isn’t an endgame. Once one of us sees the problem, it becomes clear how many people still don’t, and we have to continue pushing back against the erasure of women writers as part of being well-read individuals. We have to work for ongoing representation because there are so many others who don’t see it; we’re tapping out that tune they don’t yet recognize when we talk about it. Here are some other things you can do to keep bringing women’s voices and contributions into the conversation:

1. The next time that you’re asked for recommendations by someone, make a point to pause and recommend a woman for every man you recommend, too. Perhaps keep a short list on your phone or in your wallet—maybe two or three for different genres you’re often asked to recommend books in. Make recommending women as natural as recommending men in as many genres as possible, if it’s not already.

2. When you make a list of books for whatever reason—a recommendation post, a best of list, a reading list—look at the gender breakdown and see what you find.

3. Pay attention to lists you read recommending books: blogger lists (whether they’re looking forward to books or reccing their favorites), Best SF To Read Before You Die, Very Important SF Classics, BuzzFeed articles, bestseller lists, online awards like the GoodReads award campaign that happens at the end of each year, etc. See what perspective that list is telling you to read from. Who’s telling you the story?

4. Point out the lack of representation around you when you see it and its safe for you to do so without retribution (take care of yourselves in discussions of sexism online and off, friends!).

5. And last, but certainly not least: The Big Giant List of Fantasy and Science Fiction Books by Women has been updated with all the recommendations from last year, with all the times those books were recced. This list is a way to show, year to year, the women writers we love and the stories from them we value. If you have a moment, you can help us keep building it up by recommending ten of your favorite individual books by women writers. Every contribution helps us keep pushing back against the erasure of women writers, and gives us all a place to point people who want to explore the history of women in the genre.

Now I’m handing the #1 fan sign back to Kristen. Thank you so much, Kristen, for hosting this huge recommendation list and for going along with my wild idea, for your dedication to women in genre, and for organizing and running this month long series of writing from excellent bloggers, authors, reviewers, and critics that will keep this conversation going for weeks to come, so we don’t forget to keep doing the work of representation in genre spaces.

Here’s to a great month, friends. Let’s roll. ♥