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Today I’m thrilled to welcome Hugo Award-winning author and editor Kristine Kathryn Rusch! Her work spans a vast range of genres and subgenres: science fiction (the Diving Universe and Retrieval Artist series); fantasy (The Fey series); science fiction romance (Assassins Guild series, as Kris DeLake); fantasy/paranormal romance (Fates series, as Kristine Grayson); mystery; and more, with many books under those names plus others! She is also the editor of the recent science fiction anthology Women of Futures Past, which contains stories written by women throughout the twentieth century.

Diving Into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch Extremes by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Representation Matters

In mid-April, I’ll be teaching a class for professional writers on how to write science fiction. I assign a lot of world-building and character exercises, make the writers write several stories, and do a lot of what-if work. I love doing that, because all those exercises motivate me as well.

I also have to think hard about my approach to things. I tend to revise what I’m doing as an artist because my students inspire me, sometimes through their questions, sometimes through their determination, and sometimes by the light in their eyes.

This year, though, I’ve had added inspiration. I last offered this class in 2013. Whenever I teach, I assign reading that the students must do before the class starts. I do this, so that we’re discussing literature when we talk about sf, not movie tropes.

That year, a lot of writers had told me how sad it was that women never wrote science fiction. (Apparently, these people had no clue I was a woman…who wrote science fiction….) It had become a social media meme. A lot of women were talking about using pen names to hide their gender because sf wasn’t friendly to women.

I was stunned by this, because sf/f is incredibly friendly to women. I read sf/f by women when I was a girl, back in the 1960s. As Stephanie Burgis wrote in her post here last year, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t write sf/f about women or write sf/f under my own name, because I was reading books by and about women as long as I could remember.

Read her post, thanking the writers who came before. Because she’s right about everything, including this. She wrote, “Representation matters to all of us. It matters hugely.”

It does. And I hadn’t realized until 2013 that women had become mostly invisible in the sf/f field, especially in short fiction anthologies and in what the powers that be considered “good.”

When women told me that no women wrote sf (stunning me, because, hello! Me! Woman! SF writer!), I decided to prove those women wrong. I was going to assign my class a year’s best or something, maybe the Hugo awards volume, that would be from one of those 1990s years where women dominated the awards ballots.

And I discovered that I couldn’t find any anthology of classic sf with more than one or two stories by women in it.

Representation matters, remember. No wonder these young female writers thought they were blazing new trails. They couldn’t find the older trails, because there were none easily available. We women writers who came before were relegated to dusty old magazines or we were writing in genres that routinely got dismissed by the critics.

Women of Futures Past edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

So I edited a book called Women of Futures Past. The year I edited the book, I read a lot of great fiction by women. I found so much excellent work that I had to limit the book to the accepted historic start of modern sf (1926, Amazing Stories—a magazine that had a female associate editor on its masthead starting in 1927) and end with 1999.

I tried to use stories from each era, stories of different subgenres, and stories by writers everyone should know, but lots of modern readers don’t any more. Some of the writers are bestsellers, still working today, but not included in most women-only anthologies because these writers are writing space opera or not writing about gender issues. And I couldn’t include some writers no longer with us because the managers of their estates (all male) were completely uncooperative.

The book came out last year, and has received good reviews. The sales are good as well.

But more importantly, to me, it’s being taught in various places, including my upcoming workshop. Yes, I assigned that book, along with great books like Paula Guran’s 2016 Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas (which includes Nnedi Okorafor’s “Binti,” which is one of my all-time favorites, period), and Ken Liu’s Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation (which includes another favorite of mine, Hao Jingfang’s “Folding Beijing”).

In 2013, no one had published a novella-length sf-only anthology in a long time. And in 2013, no major American sf publisher would ever have thought of publishing any kind of sf short stories in translation, let alone publish an entire volume of translated short stories.

The world has changed, partly because of the uproar on social media. Yeah, I complained about current writers saying no woman had come before. As Eleanor Arnason titled a blog post on Strange Horizons, what were we? Chopped Liver?

And then I realized—a lot of us realized—that parts of our field’s history had become special knowledge, reserved only to those of us who had lived through the past. We women were here, but no one talked about us, no one collected our work in book form, no one pointed out what we had done.

We weren’t chopped liver. We had become wallpaper. Exceptions, even though we weren’t, really. Not at all. We were—and always had been—part of sf.

We just had to reclaim our place here. And, in the U.S., we also had to open the door to other cultures and other ways of thinking. We still have a lot to explore. But the exploration has started, finally, and it’s revitalizing the field.

2016: The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas edited by Paula Guran Invisible Planets: Contemporary Science Fiction in Translation edited/translated by Ken Liu

The field has changed dramatically since my personal revelation in 2013. Some new best-of editors have entered the crowded publishing field, and these folks are not just looking at the same-old same-old writers for material. These editors are finding stories from all cultures, all genders, and all walks of life. (Finally!)

It’s an exciting time to be an sf reader, and I think it’ll only get more exciting as the years progress.

The changes in the past four years have been dramatic. I hope they’ll be equally dramatic in the next four.

The field stagnated in the early part of this century—at least in its anthologies and best-ofs. I’m so happy to see the changes. SF should always move forward. Like everything, it takes a few steps forward, then a few steps back. But I feel like the field is moving forward again.

It sure makes my teaching job easier. Unlike 2013, when I only had a few anthologies to choose from, none of which pleased me, I had a plethora of good work to offer my students to show all the possible things that sf as a genre can do.

We’re in a renaissance. Or maybe a new world. And I think it’s marvelous.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Photo Credit: Lauren Lang
Kristine Kathryn Rusch isn’t just a Hugo-award winning editor. She’s a New York Times bestselling sf writer who has won or been nominated for more sf/f awards than she can count. She also writes mystery as Kris Nelscott, and romance, and anything else that strikes her fancy. Her female characters include Boss, a spaceship wreck diver who does her best to stay out of trouble, and Noelle DeRicci, who heads security for the Moon. Both women are older and more than a little prickly, sharing that in common with their creator, at least. To find out more about her work, go to kriswrites.com.