Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is Deborah Coates, author of science fiction and fantasy short stories and two contemporary fantasy novels! The first of these two novels, Wide Open, is on my wish list because I’ve been seen many reviews praising both this and the sequel, Deep Down. After Wide Open was selected as a Bram Stoker Award finalist in the First Novel category, I became even more intrigued by this book and the author’s work in general. I was pleased she was able to participate this month, especially after reading the post below in which she discusses female characters— and things she will argue about on the Internets!

Wide Open by Deborah Coates Deep Down by Deborah Coates

Things I Will Argue About On The Internets

I’ve been going around and around for days about how to start this post and, in particular, how to talk about what I want to talk about.  There are no days left, I’ve got to write this, so here goes: what I want to talk about is women–how limitless the possibility for women characters and how easy it is to limit ourselves anyway both as readers and as writers.  Some of that is inherent in the genre.  Fantasy likes heroes.  It likes stories about big, world-changing events and about the sorts of people who participate in those events.  Fantasy–fantasy readers and fantasy writers–likes stories where characters act.

I don’t really have a problem with that.  I like them too.  I read and write fantasy partly because I want to write about characters doing things that ‘matter.’  In DEEP DOWN, Hallie even talks about it–if she stays in South Dakota, if she works on her father’s ranch or the night shift at the Stop and Go, will it make any difference to the world at all?  (my typing fingers are dying to go on a tangent about what ‘doing things that matter’ can and might mean, but I’m ignoring that because–yes, this is why I have trouble with topics I care about–there are just too many fascinating paths to wander down).  Anyway, back to the topic of choice–things I will argue about on the internets and women characters in fantasy.  In fantasy, we readers (some of us, not all of us, but definitely me at one time or another) tend to like certain characters, but then, we immediately start to limit the range of those characters, particularly when we’re talking about women.  One of my personal peeves is dismissing a female character as a ‘man with boobs.’

Someone told me that phrase started as a criticism of men writing women characters badly: “I just stuck a couple of boobs on one of them and called it good.”  Which I think is right, I think that’s where it started.  But I have seen it used by women–“oh, that urban fantasy, it’s got all these characters that are really just men with boobs.”  When I’ve challenged those statements, the response has been, “well, I mean they’re badly written characters.”  Or, “well, they just have all these masculine characteristics.”

But of course real women are tough.  Of course real women are confident and assertive and blood-thirsty and physical and brave and aggressive and reckless and deadly with a rifle.  Not all of those things all at once and not all women.  But some women, somewhere, always.  Every time someone dismisses a character as a ‘man with boobs’ they’re saying those women don’t exist.  They’re saying women I know don’t exist.

Deborah Tannen once wrote (and I’m going to paraphrase and hope I don’t mess this up) that men can go to work in a suit and tie and they’re basically coded as ‘men.’  But the way women dress and act is a thousand times more complicated.  Women get categorized and labeled and we’re often never quite enough.  Dresses, suits, pants. Heels, flats, makeup.  Long hair, short hair, gray hair.  They all mean something, they all mark us.

I like heroic characters.  I like characters that can change the world.  I like women characters that are independent and strong-minded.  I like hyper-competent characters who are also women.  I like geeky, awkward characters.  Confident characters.  Aggressive characters.  Characters who wear dresses and high-heels.  Characters who wouldn’t be caught dead in same.  I believe well-written characters and badly-written characters both exist.  I don’t believe in ‘men with boobs.’  It’s just another way of saying–here are ways women aren’t allowed to be.  And I don’t believe in that at all.

The following are some books I’ve read in the last year or two whose characters (not necessarily ‘kick-ass’ but all tough in their own ways) I particularly enjoyed:

Paladin of Souls, Icefall, Mistress of the Art of Death

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold.  The book starts slowly and Ista isn’t terribly sympathetic (to me) in the beginning, but she manages to break stereotypes all over the place before it’s done and not only does she turn out to be a fantastic character, but there are great women characters all over this book.

Icefall by Matthew Kirby.  Solveig is fantastic and brave and smart.  But then, Middle Grade has a lot of smart, strong girl characters.  Winterling by Sarah Prineas, Above World by Jenn Reese, to name a couple.

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin.  Neither fantasy or science fiction, but I loved this mystery series, which is about a woman doctor in England in the time of King Henry II.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson

Finally, I have to mention Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsen.  She’s a character that doesn’t work for at least as many people as she does work for.  And the books are terribly, horribly flawed.  But someone (Elizabeth Bear is who I think I heard it from) once wisely said that books work because of the things they do well not in spite of the things they do badly.  These books work for me.  And Lisbeth works for me as a character because she does that thing I’ve been trying to talk about, but think I’ve mostly talked around: she broadens what women characters can be and do and succeed in making us care about.


Deborah Coates lives in Ames, Iowa and works at Iowa State University in information technology. She has a Rottweiler named Billie and a German Pinscher named Blue. When she’s not writing or working, she teaches obedience classes and participates with her dogs in tracking, obedience, and therapy dog visits. She has published short stories in Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Year’s Best Fantasy 6, and Best American Fantasy 2008. Her first novel, WIDE OPEN was published in 2012 and is a Bram Stoker nominee for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. Her second novel, DEEP DOWN was published in March, 2013. You can find her online at http://www.deborah-coates.com and http://www.twitter.com/debcoates

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is fantasy author Rachel Neumeier! She’s written both adult fantasy (The Griffin Mage trilogy, House of Shadows) and young adult fantasy (The Floating Islands, The City in the Lake). Though her books had been on my radar for a little while before then, I discovered her work for myself last year when I read—and was completely enchanted by—House of Shadows. Beautifully written and character-driven, it is exactly the type of book I love and left me eager to discover the rest of her books, which I’ve heard are also wonderful. I’ve also come to really enjoy reading her blog, especially her book recommendations and lists—and that’s why I’m glad she’s sharing her top 5 female SFF authors (plus a few more) with us today!

House of Shadows The Floating Islands The City in the Lake

The Five Very Best Female SFF Authors of All Time . . .

…Is obviously going to be a thoroughly subjective call, right?   It would actually be interesting to get everyone to come up with their own list and then compare, but I hope no one would pretend that they’re actually creating an objective list, because I don’t think that’s possible.

In fact, I’m going to try to apply some reasonable criteria for “greatness”,  but I’m certainly not going to pretend this list is “fair” or “true” or anything like that.  This isn’t meant to be a History of Women in SF post.  There are plenty of women who have clearly been important to the genre but whose work I mostly haven’t read.  James Tiptree Jr, for example.  She was before my time, or at least before I started reading genre fiction.  I’ve read her Up the Walls of the World and that’s it, so there you go.  And, by whatever chance, I simply haven’t read many books by, say, Connie Willis.  So many books, so little time, right?

With all the limitations inherent to this kind of exercise, though, I’ve put together a list of five female SF and F writers who I honestly believe are objectively important to the field.  They certainly influenced me.  Plus I’m going to add five more “honorable mentions”, a list which was actually much harder to narrow down.  Plus, I want to include five more female SFF writers who I’m just positive will make greatest-ever lists if they keep writing, but who simply don’t have enough books out yet at this point.

To make my top five list, here’s what an author had to offer, besides books that suit my personal taste:  She had to have written a lot of books, and all or nearly all of them have to be really good books – ranging from good to superb, let’s say.  Sheer quality of writing matters a lot to me, but so does the quality of the story; these writers consistently offer both.  And I am impressed by a wide range of books written – does this author strike basically the same note over and over, or does she show a wide-ranging talent?   Plus, if I loved this author as a kid, I still need to love her books now as an adult.

And given these criteria – quantity, quality, and range – five authors instantly leap out:

Neumeier Top 5

1.  CJ Cherryh.  If I had to pick one woman as most important female SFF writer ever, it would be Cherryh, hands down.  If I was picking the single most impressive SFF writer without regard for gender, she’d still make the top five.  As far as appealing to my personal taste in writing, Cherryh decisively beats out Asimov, Clarke, and even Heinlein.

Hardly anybody has been more prolific:  Cherryh has written something upwards of fifty books; everything from beautiful, dreamy fantasy (The Tree of Swords and Jewels) to space opera (the Chanur series) to epic science fiction (Cyteen).  Almost all of her SF has a strong sociological component that very much appeals to me.

If you haven’t read her before and aren’t sure where to start, I’d suggest the Chanur series for SF and Fortress in the Eye of Time for fantasy.  If you don’t like those, I’m not sure Cherryh is going to work for you.  But for me, she’s absolutely the top genre writer of all time.

2.  Patricia McKillip.  I am convinced that McKillip is the very best fantasy author writing today.  I wouldn’t say she has the broadest range ever.  Rather,  I would say she ranges from high fantasy straight up to writing so beautiful it’s like poetry disguised as prose.  Like poetry, sometimes her stories leaves you asking, “What?  What was that?  What just happened?”  But, again like poetry, her work is so beautiful you don’t even mind.

McKillip has written a couple of SF novels as well as her more accustomed fantasy.  She has written something like twenty books, all of them lovely.  If I were picking my top ten fantasy novels of all time, half of them would be hers.  For me, The Book of Atrix Wolfe and The Changeling Sea fight it out for top place in a body of work that is just exquisite.

3.  Diana Wynne Jones.  A few years ago, when I decided to pick up all the DWJ novels I hadn’t ever read, I was amazed to find how many there were.  I mean, I already had a lot of her books – but it turned out there were as many more again that I hadn’t ever read.  What a pleasure to pick up this amazing backlist!  She must have written something like thirty books.  Some – like Charmed Life – are MG stories that still have tremendous charm for adults.  Others, such as Hexwood, really push the boundaries of normal fantasy.  My favorite of them all is Dogsbody, though the Chrestomanci series never gets old.

4.  Lois McMaster Bujold.   I’m sure everyone’s already a huge fan of the Vorkosigan books, right?  No one has ever written better space opera – right?  And her fantasy is very good, too, though I know not all of her fantasy novels have had such wide appeal.  If you generally read fantasy and are thinking of giving SF a try, I’d suggest you start with Brothers in Arms.  Or if you love the Vorkosigan series but are not familiar with Bujold’s fantasy, I’d recommend The Curse of Chalion, which is outstanding.  Bujold has nineteen books out so far, and every one of them is good – many are amazingly good.

5.  Octavia Butler.  Butler unfortunately only wrote fourteen novels before her untimely death.  Fourteen is so few.  And yet I couldn’t leave her off my top five list, because of the sheer power of her writing.  When Butler died young, it was a huge loss for the literary world.

I still haven’t read Kindred.  I’ve put it off for years, because after I read it I will never again have the chance to read a Butler story for the first time.   If you haven’t ever read anything by Butler, then I don’t know.  Patternmaster was her first; she was still learning how at that point.  Even though it’s not her best, I’d almost suggest setting aside a few months, starting with that one, and reading all of her work in the order it was published.

Honorable Mentions:  These are five female SFF writers who have written a lot of great books and who I really wanted to include; you know how it is when you’re narrowing down a list, right?

Neumeier Honorable Mention

1.  Barbara Hambly.  You may know that Hambly has written more than twenty fantasy novels – many of which I really love – but maybe you don’t know that she has also written more than a dozen really excellent historical mysteries?  Her Benjamin January series, set in 1830s New Orleans and starting with A Free Man of Color, is my favorite mystery series ever.  As Barbara ‘Hamilton’, she is also writing a series featuring Abigail Adams as the protagonist.  Plus, she began her historical vampire series, starting with Those Who Hunt the Night, well before the current vampire craze got underway.  If you’re tired of sparkly vampire paranormals, you owe it to yourself to try Hambly’s series, which is superb.

2.  Elizabeth Moon.  Moon has written a lot of fantasy and also a lot of SF, close to 30 books in all so far.  I haven’t loved all of her books, but she has definitely hit the ball right out of the park more than once.   I don’t think you can beat her original Paksenarrion trilogy for heroic fantasy, and she’s written some excellent space opera as well – Hunting Party is my favorite on the SF side.  Moon also wrote  The Speed of Dark, which is in a class all by itself and deservedly won the Nebula the year it came out.

3.  Sharon Shinn.  Shinn has written quite a lot of adult and YA fantasy and some that I might personally call science fantasy (I expect definitions vary a lot with that term) – more than twenty books so far, I think.  Shinn’s novels often have a strong romance component, which is always very well done.  Shinn’s Jenna Starborn is a brilliant SF retelling of Jane Eyre, but my favorite of hers remains her first novel, the exquisite The Shape-Changer’s Wife.

4. Juliet Marillier.   I have loved many but not all of her books.  I always love her writing, though.  She has just the lush, lyrical style I love most for high fantasy and fairy tale retellings.

5.  Martha Wells.  She’s written more than a dozen fantasy novels, and though I’ve only read seven of them so far, I’ve loved them all!  I’m reading her whole backlist right now, and enjoying every minute of it.  If you love top-notch worldbuilding, engaging and believable characters, and smooth prose (particularly vivid, panoramic description), you should definitely pick up Wells’ Raksura trilogy – or the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy.  Or probably any of her others, but I haven’t read them all yet!

Narrowing the list down for those honorable mentions was really tough.  Really tough.  But you know what’s easy?  Naming five women who are such amazing  writers that if they keep writing, it’s just a matter of time before they top all the lists.  These are the people where you read a novel of theirs and it’s like this huge revelation.  Whoa.  That’s how it’s done.

Writers who don’t have a huge body of work out there, but are totally amazing:

Neumeier New 5

1.  Elizabeth Wein.  Try The Sunbird first and you’ll need her whole backlist.  Her historical novel, Code Name Verity, is possibly the single title on my packed TBR shelves that I look forward to the most.

2.  NK Jemisin.  She only has five books out so far, but it’s no surprise her debut fantasy was shortlisted for the Hugo and Nebula last year – and it’ll be a real shock to me if The Killing Moon doesn’t wind up nominated for everything this year.

3.  Megan Whelan Turner.   As far as I know, she’s just got one YA series ongoing – the Attolia series.  But it’s a brilliant series so far, with one of the most engaging YA protagonists ever.

4.  Maggie Stiefvater.  She’s got seven books out, so her numbers are starting to get up there.  I’ve only read two of hers so far, but if she continues to write books as outstanding as The Scorpio Races and The Raven Boys, then she’s going to be landing right on the top of my personal must-buy list.

5.  Judith Riley.  Tired of the standard Medieval European setting for fantasy stories?  Well, try A Vision of Light and you’ll fall in love with this kind of setting all over again, because Riley does it better than anyone else in genre fiction.  And the protagonist of this series, Margaret of Ashbury, has one of the most distinctive and engaging voices of any fantasy protagonist.  I think Riley has about half a dozen novels out so far; the three I’ve read have been just outstanding.

Okay – who am I missing?  Who’s the greatest SFF author who has emerged in the last decade?  Who’s the most amazing “Golden Age” writer we should all back up to read?  Most of all, who is YOUR personal favorite female genre author?

Rachel Neumeier

Rachel Neumeier started writing in graduate school as a break from research, but years ago allowed her hobbies take over her life. Along with writing both adult and young adult fantasy, she now gardens, cooks Indian food, breeds and shows Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and occasionally finds time to read.

Her most recent young adult novel, The Floating Islands, was a Junior Library Guild selection and was selected by Kirkus as a best book of 2011. Her most recent adult title, House of Shadows, has also received excellent reviews. Black Dog, her first foray into young adult paranormal, will arrive on shelves everywhere in the spring of 2014. Visit her website at www.rachelneumeier.com or follow her updates on Twitter (@RachelNeumeier).

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today for Women in SF&F month I have science fiction – and newly minted fantasy – author Julie Czerneda! I haven’t read any of her work myself (yet, you might have heard about my leaning pile of books…), but many of the people I trust for reviews have recommended her books quite highly. So highly, in fact, that there is going to be another post later in the month that lists Mac from her Species Imperative series as among the post author’s favorite characters. Based on their recommendation I asked Julie to write of post of her own and she responded with the great one about the women who helped inspire those characters you see below!

Also, once you finish reading her post you’ll find a form to enter a giveaway of her new book, A Turn of Light – or you can double your chances of winning a free copy of the book by entering the scavenger contest on her website!

The Women Who Made Me

Let me preface by saying how proud I am to be part of this series of posts and how awed I am by everyone else’s. I willingly admit I’m expert on only one very small aspect of women in SF/F — me — yet in writing what became an atypically intimate post, I came to understand something rather profound about myself, my past, and my story-telling. Thank you, Kristen, for that opportunity.

I started writing for one reason. A book’s ending didn’t satisfy me, so my mother suggested I fix it. I did. (I was ten.) After that, I discovered that I could write entire stories to my own satisfaction, and did.

This motherly advice, “fix it,” didn’t just apply to stories, of course. I come from a lineage of women who never looked to others to do what they deemed necessary, be it serve in war or start life in a strange land. If they needed a skill, they learned it. If they saw an opportunity to help, they seized it. They loved fiercely and well, both family and friends, and valued above all civil behaviour. (I’ll get back to that.) Until me, they even had great fashion sense. Fortunately for my appearance in public, our daughter inherited all of the above.

That “civil behaviour?” I was taught by example, as was my mother and hers and who knows how many before. (Aside: and our names all begin with “J.” No one knows who started that.) Civil behaviour meant you didn’t eat or drink unless everyone around you could and did. It meant that every penny, regardless who earned it, belonged equally to everyone in the home. It meant honesty (which also included, trust me, underwear as clean and well-mended as whatever was worn over top, for one must be what one appeared to be on every level). It meant music and art and writing, for creativity was paramount. The point of life, I was taught, was to leave the world changed for the better, not just tidy.

Oh, and civil behaviour meant listening.

I remember my mother listening. To me, yes, but mostly I remember her listening to the people who’d arrive at any hour of the day or night, people who knew our doors weren’t to be locked, people who might be happy or heartbroken or a bit lonely. They’d say they were in the neighbourhood, or were friends of a friend who’d given them our address. Regardless, they came because she’d listen as long as it took.

Most came very late, knowing she’d be awake, reading her newspapers at the kitchen table or painting. I’d be there, sometimes, working on schoolwork due the next day. I remember a baroness, wrapped in mink and smelling of smoke. My brother’s friends or their brothers, worried about their welcome at home after a binge. There were relations who came to stay however long they needed and strangers who were old friends with interesting accents who stopped by and stayed too. I’d make tea or find beer, depending. My father would make breakfast, that go-to meal for any time of day. We’d go back to bed, hearing voices in the kitchen, or stay up because if anyone had brought an instrument, a party would start in the basement. I thought everyone’s home ran that way.

When I learned they didn’t, I thought “how odd,” but not much more than that. I was already determined to be a biologist and writing my own science fiction. Odd, as in different, was something of a badge of honour and I was proud of my family’s peculiarities. It wasn’t until recently, when I discovered another of my mother’s unfinished creations in a box, that I learned they were nothing new.

My mother had sketched, from memory, every home she’d lived in, clipping a vignette to each. On one sketch, there was a picket fence with an old tire leaning against it. She’d written, “During the hard times, whenever we had extra food Mother would send one of us to set out the tire. It let anyone passing know they should come in and share our table.”

Civil behaviour. Women who act and create. While I hadn’t stopped to consider the question till this post, how could such women not be the mould for the characters in my fiction? We’re the result of our upbringing and heritage. We value what we’ve learned to value and receive the history told to us as our own. I grew up confident I could do whatever I wanted, if I was willing to work for it, and certain, to my core, that every person was worth listening to unless they were knowingly cruel or wilfully ignorant. Esen, my alien in Beholder’s Eye, is a wonderful listener. Mackenzie Connor, from my Species Imperative books, values friendship (and gets things done). What matters most is the effort we make, whether to improve the world or simply to do what’s necessary. Sira and Aryl. Jenn Nalynn, from my latest, A Turn of Light.

Above all, having thought about it, Aunt Sybb from Turn. Egad. The embodiment of civil behaviour, heroically teaching it to a new generation if it’s the last thing she does.

It makes me laugh.

It makes me cry, a little, too. At this moment, I realize my Mom would have spotted all this in my work well before I did and would have smiled to see me catch up to the family at last.

The women of sf/f. We didn’t get here alone. It’s worth remembering.

Julia CzernedaMany of you know Canadian author Julie E. Czerneda as the former biologist turned science fiction novelist published by DAW Books NY. You may have read her Clan Chronicles series, or be a fan of Mac or Esen from her other work. Maybe you’ve heard she’s an editor. Also true. This spring, however, prepare to meet the Julie you don’t know. After three years of work, she’s letting out her whimsical side with the release of her first fantasy novel, A Turn of Light, also from DAW. The setting, Marrowdell, is based on pioneer settlements in Ontario. There are toads. And dragons. The magic? All her own. For more about Julie’s work, including book excerpts and upcoming events, please visit www.czerneda.com.

[PHOTO CREDITS Book cover: Art by Matt Stawicki www.mattstawicki.com. My author photo: Roger Czerneda Photography www.czernedaphotography.com]

Courtesy of DAW, I also have a copy of Julie Czerneda’s new book A Turn of Light to give away!

A Turn of LIght

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 “A Turn of Light Giveaway.” One entry per person and a 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 Thursday, 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 a place to send the book).

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.

(This giveaway is over and the form has been removed.)

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is another of my favorite bloggers, Janice from Specfic Romantic! As indicated by her blog’s name, Janice often reads and reviews speculative fiction with a romantic element or subplot, though she also reads a variety of interesting books in general. I met Janice at the first Book Blogger Convention and was delighted to discover we had similar taste in books. She’s enthusiastic and fun to talk to and it comes through on her blog. It is a joy to read, and always features  thoughtful reviews, good taste, and a friendly atmosphere. You can also follow her blog on Livejournal.

Janice is here to give us a quick tour of some of the great science fiction and fantasy books by women that she remembers fondly as her early introduction to SFF.

Specfic Romantic

When Kristen asked me to post here for Fantasy Cafe’s Women in SF&F Month, it got me thinking about the authors that I first read when I was discovering this genre. I grew up somewhere where we didn’t have the biggest library, but by the time I graduated high school, I knew the four rows of shelves that housed the Fiction section backwards and forwards and I’d tried ALL the SF&F I could get my hands on. I’m probably similar to a lot of readers in that my introduction to Fantasy was when someone give me a copy of The Hobbit. I think that was in fifth or sixth grade. A couple of years later, my brother, and maybe 2 or 3 boys would share copies of Dragonlance books and talk about the latest David Eddings. Throughout high school I was a reader – I liked to just have quiet time to myself during lunch by slipping off to the library and reading for a few minutes. I know I just name-dropped a lot of male authors, but there were a lot of women writers that I was exposed to and they all left an impression too. I think when something is your “first” anything, it stays with you for a long time. Here are some of the SF&F books by women that made an impact on the early years of my reading life:

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy – Laura Chant knows her little brother’s sickness has a supernatural cause – so she asks for help from a boy at school that she thinks is a witch. Mahy writes some of the best coming-of-age scary-first-love-and-burgeoning-sexuality stories out there. The Changeover sits somewhere between contemporary fantasy and YA, and is the one I reread the most, but I remember reading and liking The Catalog of the Universe and The Tricksters too.

The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley – These were books I was obsessed with. I remember that the fact that a GIRL was a hero out there doing physical things made an impression on me with Aerin, but I may have related to Harry a little bit more for her “quietness”. Years later I still dream of having a window seat to curl up in like the one in Harry’s room at the Residency.

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – I’m the oldest of three and a reader, so I was a little sick of fairy tales where the youngest was always the ‘fairest’ and the one having adventures. I liked that Howl’s Moving Castle deliberately goes against that trope, and does so without it just being about an ‘eldest child’: Sophie’s sisters got to defy their pigeonholes too. I know that Howl gets a lot of the love (I like him too), but it’s Sophie’s character arc that got me. After this I went and read Fire and Hemlock and Dogsbody and loved them both, but Castle in the Air didn’t quite leave the impression the first book did. I think that was the sum total of the Diana Wynne Jones books our library had, so I didn’t read her other offerings until college.

By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey – I bought this at a school fair and I don’t think I ever read any of the Valdemar books (even though this one is a side story to that series) because they just weren’t available. I probably would have gone through them all like a knife through butter, because this was pure swashbuckler adventure. I adored reading about mercenary life from a female point of view, and I adored the Companions. Also, despite the bright colors of the cover, I liked its composition, with Kerowyn in front, sword out, protecting those behind her.  You don’t quite see many covers like that.

Star of the Guardians series by Margaret Weis – I already mentioned the whole Dragonlance thing, which explains why I read Weis’ Star of the Guardians (it was a full on glom for both Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman for a few years there), and this is where I fell in love with space opera. I haven’t read this series in years so it’s all very vague in my head but it involves an orphaned heir to the throne of the galaxy and his protectors who have a very complicated relationship. It was epic and awesome and I wonder if it holds up. I remember it all with happy nostalgia – just talking about it makes me want to go out and find myself copies.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey
The Lost King by Margaret Weis

That’s my list and it probably reflects when I was in school (eighties/nineties), and it has me wondering what’s on other people’s lists of their first SF&F reads written by women. Do yours overlap with mine, or are they completely different?

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today I’m absolutely thrilled to have a guest post from one of the great modern masters of genre writing, Lois McMaster Bujold! Her mastery of and influence on science fiction and fantasy are hard to overstate. Her best known work, the Vorkosigan Saga, is a series of novels, novellas, and short stories that is massive in scope but executed with finely crafted attention to the people that make up her universe.  She has penned may other stories as well though: to put her career into perspective, her book Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance was recently nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel. It is her tenth nomination for Best Novel, and if she wins she will tie Robert Heinlein’s record for five wins (one of his was retroactive).  So, yeah, she’s pretty good.

She is here today to talk about the long view of this question of women who write sci-fi and fantasy and how today’s conversations on the subject have a very familiar ring to them.

Paladin of Souls Cordelia's Honor Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

As chance would have it, the invitation to write this guest blog post came in just as I was wrestling into shape an e-collection of all my old nonfiction writings. In the course of this I had revisited my introduction to the Women at War anthology that Roland Green and I edited for Tekno Books and Tor, and which was published in December of 1995; so I would have written it in 1994—in round numbers, almost twenty years ago. In the course of editing the anthology (a learn-by-doing experience for me, as so many things in my writing career have been), I confronted a number of the issues women writers were facing in the day. I thought might be amusing to check out this blast from the past in full. The 44-year-old Lois had this to say:


“An earnest young (male) fan once blundered up to me at a convention to offer his own impression of my military science fiction tales: “Ms. Bujold,” he said, “you write like a man.” To which I should have replied (but didn’t, because I don’t think fast on my feet—that’s why I’m a writer, the pencil waits) “Oh, really? Which one?”

I’m still trying to work out whether or not it came to a compliment. In all, since I write most of my adventure books from deep inside the point of view of a male character, Miles Vorkosigan, I’ve decided it’s all right; if I’m mimicking a male worldview well enough that even the opposition can’t tell for sure, I’m accomplishing my heart’s goal of writing true character. The comment worried me for a long time, though. A trip through the essays of Ursula Le Guin also shook my self-confidence. Was I doing something wrong? But then I wrote Barrayar, returning at last to the full range of a female character’s point of view, and I haven’t been troubled by such comments since.

When Roland Green and Marty Greenberg first pitched to me the project of coediting Women at War, which would be a collection of original military science fiction stories by women writers, my initial thought was that this was a concept that would have been startlingly original—twenty-five years ago. Then the idea began to grow on me. As one of the world’s more pigheaded writers (as my own editors can testify), it seemed to me absolutely necessary to give our own invited authors the maximum possible scope and range over which to work while still embodying the theme. That way, I reasoned, we would get not work-to-order but the best possible stories, from the heart’s passion and the mind’s most fundamental convictions. Thus the reader will find here of both science fiction and fantasy, light (and dark) adventure, and deeply pondered themes, short and long, from as many different worldviews as Roland and I could round up and cram in.

So I’ll turn my earnest young fan’s comment on its head—What does it mean to “write like a woman”? Not one damned identifiable thing, as far as I can tell. As any competent statistician can testify, from a general statement about any group of people (such as a gender) nothing reliable can be predicted about the next individual to walk through the door. The pleasures of editing this anthology have proved it to me; writers, if they are any good, write like themselves, and like no one else. And I thank them for it.”

Also back about then, SF writer and scholar James Gunn was hired to write introductions to some of my early Easton Press signed editions. (The first time I ever met James Gunn, he handed me the Nebula for Falling Free; it made a lasting impression on both of us.) With due courtesy, he ran the introductions past me for comments before he sent them in. In the second paragraph of the introduction to The Vor Game (1990), he started off, unthinkingly, hailing me as this brave new creature on the scene, a woman SF writer. Found new-formed and motherless under a cabbage leaf, presumably. “Wait,” I wrote him back (or words to that effect). “What about Andre Norton, Leigh Brackett, C. L. Moore, Zenna Henderson, Mary Shelley for Pete’s sake, and a host (hostess?) of other early role models? I’m nothing new just for being female!” To which he sort of said, “Oh. Yeah. You’re right…” and revised the paragraph to mention about half-a-century’s worth of the on-going sisterhood of my fellow female genre writers. All of whom he knew about perfectly well; but somehow when the narrative compulsion of the essay was upon him, he’d blanked.

The foremost thing that strikes me, looking back on these pieces and this period, is that we’re still having much the same conversation about women’s SF writing that we were having two decades ago, which is much the same as the one we were having two decades before that. Whenever it recurs (and it does), I am put in mind of a scene from the Disney movie of Alice in Wonderland. Alice, lost, follows a trail of animal footprints along a path – only to encounter a dog-like creature with whisk-broom whiskers walking backward over its own prints, shaking its head and sweeping out its trail into oblivion behind/ahead of it. Women have been here in these genres right along; why do conversations about its history keep erasing them?

(Although, derailing my own argument, in all fairness I have to observe that the vast majority of all writers in all genres are purged by history. The winnowing of time has always been intense.)

I am by no means sure that the issue is entirely a feminist one. It has an analog in another, similar conversation that has, to the best of my observation, also stayed identical through the years. A decade ago, Gardner Dozois, in his introduction to The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Twentieth Annual Collection (2002), says in his opening line: “Although critics continued to talk about the “Death of Science Fiction” throughout 2002 (some of them with ill-disguised longing) the unpalatable fact (for them) is that science fiction didn’t die this year, and doesn’t even look particularly sick.”

And like-minded critics were making much the same remarks in 2012, 1992, 1982, 1972, and 1962; my personal observation of the field does not go back farther than that, so I can’t speak for the prior decades. But I know which way I’d bet.

I have begun to suspect the structure of these two conversations actually creates the pictures that their narratives demand, regardless of the facts, perhaps through some kind of mind-ray. In each case, the demand is dramatic: we see the stricken SF genre on the longest deathbed scene in history, or the poor-little-match-girl of female F&SF writers, crying out for the essayist to rescue them (and thus grab the heroic role). I don’t know of any way to counter this other than to keep reciting the boring facts, although one has also to remember that one knows them. Which can be hard to do, when the mind-ray strikes out of the blue of some genre argument. Possibly it would be worthwhile to keep a list of fifty or a hundred female SF writers of note in a handy e-file, and just cut-and-paste it into the conversation whenever that bewhiskered dog pops up.

The emperor: pretty well dressed, actually. Can we please move this conversation along? My pick would be: “Science in science fiction—let’s have some!”

SidelinesLois McMaster Bujold’s e-book collection of three decades of her nonfiction writing, Sidelines: Talks and Essays, is now available in the Nook, iPad, and Amazon Kindle stores.

Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is Sue from Coffee, Cookies and Chili Peppers! I actually discovered Sue’s blog because I met her through my local library. Now we frequently get together for lunch and coffee—and to chat about books.

One of the things that draws me to the book blogs I visit is an enthusiasm for reading, and I think “enthusiasm for reading” perfectly sums up why I read Sue’s blog. She gets involved with reading and discussing books as part of read alongs that go on throughout the book blogging community. Also, she writes great reviews and has a weekly feature for gathering books featured elsewhere on the web that sound interesting with the nicely alliterative name “Sue’s Saturday Suggestions.” Today she is sharing some of her favorite fantasy and science fiction books written by female authors—and considering the few I’ve read are among my own favorites, I’m definitely quite intrigued by all her recommendations!

Coffee, Cookies, and Chili Peppers

So You Want To Read Female SF&F Authors?

When Kristen asked me to provide a guest post for this year’s event I was both surprised and proud. The feeling of euphoria survived about five minutes and then the panic set in. I am relatively new to blogging and still struggle to believe that I have anything interesting to say, so my fear of failure looms large. However, I find it really sad that there is still a gender divide in my preferred genres, so I want to take this opportunity to talk about some of my favorite authors. I also want explain how I discovered them, because finding female authors can be difficult if your only resource is Amazon or an exhausting walk around your local library.

I am very fortunate that my husband shares my gender-blindness when it comes to selecting books. When we first met he introduced me to a lot of SF&F authors: male, female and undetermined. He was the person who had already bought a ton of Anne McCaffrey and Julian May titles, which I happily devoured. Since then he has introduced me to many wonderful authors, but two of them are my particular favorites.

Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten is the first in her Women of the Otherworld series and a book that I simply could not put down. It deals with Elena Michaels, the world’s only female werewolf, and presents a rather interesting twist on the typical shifter trope. Elena is wonderful character, who is amazingly strong emotionally and mentally but is nowhere near perfect. She is compelling and sympathetic as she struggles to make sense of her life. Later books in the series introduce more paranormal races that are often represented by strong females, making this fantasy world feel far more egalitarian than many others.

His Majesty's Dragon

The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik begins with His Majesty’s Dragon. This series is set in an alternative history where dragons are real and are used as air transport. We first meet the dragon Temeraire as an egg being transported to Britain as an asset in the war against Napoleon. Given the male lead character and the strong military backdrop, this may not be your typical Fantasy title, but the dragons are such wonderful, ‘non-human’ characters that they make it thoroughly worth the effort. There are also some delightfully modern female dragon-riders who are kept secret so that they do not offend the delicate sensibilities of the males of the period.

After arriving here in the US, I made the effort to make friends by joining Not Your Ordinary Book Group at my local library. This wonderful group of women has introduced me to many entertaining female authors, although we do tend to steer clear of hard or epic SF&F and stick to Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. However, one of the other members shares my love of SF&F and I want to mention two authors that I have read because of her recommendations. I really appreciate finding people whose opinions I can trust, and she has never steered me towards a poor title.

Sherri S. Tepper has written many titles with an ecofeminist slant and has also published under various gender-neutral pseudonyms. So far I have only read one of her titles, Six Moon Dance, but I have many more sitting on my TBR pile. This title is set on a human colonial planet in the far future, where many girls die shortly after birth. This has molded the society into one where women are the dominant gender and men are their subordinates, wearing veils to prevent their attractiveness overcoming the females who see their faces. It is an intriguing glimpse of what our culture could become if women were more highly valued, but also shows the problems inherent with gender inequality.

Six Moon Dance

Freda Warrington is another author with a large number of titles in her back catalogue. Elfland is one of her newer titles and presents a world where the fae are real. These Aetherials are magical and once they travel to the Other World they reveal themselves to be creatures much more connected to nature than we humans. They take on the aspects of certain animals, depending upon their family inheritance, but can also become much more connected with the world around them. Although they have many human problems, their world is beautifully imagined and I look forward to reading the second and third titles in The Aetherials series.

Finally, I want to thank the great blogosphere itself for providing the last two authors in my post. Last year I took part in the Once Upon A Time VI Challenge over at Stainless Steel Droppings. As part of the challenge I needed a Fantasy title based in Folklore and I found a recommendation for The Wood Wife by Terri Windling. This title is set in Arizona and incorporates aspects of both Celtic and Native American folklore to build a wonderfully evocative and magical world. It also captures the truly neutral aspect of nature magic, in the language of Dungeons & Dragons Alignment. It makes you realize how transitory and insignificant we each are when compared to the vastness of nature: something that I think we have lost in our modern world of instant gratification. For those of you unfamiliar with Ms Windling, she has been an influential editor and publisher, being responsible for the direction that Charles de Lint took in his career.

The Wood Wife
Range of Ghosts

The last author that I want to champion does not really need my help to raise her profile, but as her book Range of Ghosts was one of the most enjoyable titles that I read last year I feel that I cannot ignore her. I became aware of Elizabeth Bear through this event last year, which also makes her a suitable choice for this post, as she was one of the many authors that I added to my Women in SF&F shelf at Goodreads. Prior to reading the novel, I had thoroughly enjoyed her short story Tideline, which was published in Robots: The Recent A.I. edited by Rich Horton & Sean Wallace. This evocative and moving piece convinced me that I needed to read one of her longer titles, and when Kristen offered me an ARC of Range of Ghosts I nearly snatched her hand off! It was an amazingly imaginative title that grew increasingly impressive as the various aspects of her world were revealed. By the end I was totally hooked and will be making my way through all her other works ASAP, though they will have to wait until I have finished Shattered Pillars, which is one of my most anticipated books of 2013.