Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is science fiction writer and editor S.B. Divya! Her fiction has appeared on Tor.com, Uncanny, Apex Magazine, and many other publications, and it can also be read in her collection, Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse and Other Possible Situations. She is also the author of Runtime, a 2016 Nebula Award finalist for Best Novella, and a co-editor of Escape Pod, a 2020 Hugo Award finalist for Best Semiprozine. Her first novel, the near-future science fiction thriller Machinehood, was just released last month.

Machinehood by S.B. Divya - Book Cover

Through the Eyes of Women

As I was outlining my novel, Machinehood, I came up with three point of view (POV) characters — two protagonists and one antagonist. I figured out their story arcs, planned my main plot beats, and was set to start drafting when it occurred to me that all three of my main characters identified as women.

(Two asides here: first, I consider myself a nonbinary or gender nonconforming woman, depending on your definition. I made sure to include people of other genders, but they aren’t main characters in this story. Second, all three of the POV characters are also people of color, but that discussion belongs in an entirely different post.)

The lack of male protagonists made me pause and consider: should I include one? Would male readers, who are often the target audience for a techno-thriller, be put off by solely inhabiting the headspaces of women? Given that the story takes place in 2095 with no major male-eradicating disasters, there were plenty of men in the cast. It’s just that they were side characters, supporting the ones who drive the plot.

When it comes to my short fiction, I’ve told stories from the standpoints of a variety of genders, but predominantly, I tend to write about women. This has been true from the very first stories that I wrote in my teens. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t place myself, or people like me, as the main characters. I’ve been a fan of science fiction since the age of 10, and I found plenty of books early on that were written by women and featured female protagonists. I guess I got lucky because I’ve heard from others that they defaulted to writing male characters when they started out. That’s all they had read.

I have also heard that boys (and men) don’t like reading books about girls (or women) because they can’t relate. That’s what tripped me up when it came to writing my first novel. I wanted the book to have broad appeal. Would I turn off half my audience if I didn’t give them a viewpoint that resembled their own?

That’s when I checked myself.

How many science fiction novels had I read with multiple male POV characters with nary a woman’s view to be had? How many movies have no female protagonists? If people who aren’t men (more than half the world) can spend hours following male thoughts and feelings in narratives, then the converse should also be true, regardless of the genre.

That settled it. I decided that these three women’s stories were the ones I wanted to tell, so I forged ahead and wrote the book with only their viewpoints.

This might be where you expect me to say that male readers and editors couldn’t relate to the book or rejected it, but I’m happy to say quite the opposite has happened. Maybe because it’s 2021, but so far, the reception from men has been just as positive (or not) as that from people of other genders. Men seem to have no trouble relating to the tough-as-nails fighter Welga, nor to the more domestic and scientifically-minded character, Nithya.

I’m happy that my trepidation proved wrong, and my instincts right. I told the story the best way I could, and that should always be a writer’s most important consideration. I think my teenage writer-self would be proud.

Photo of S.B. Divya
Photo Credit: Sargeant Creative
S.B. Divya is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. She is the Hugo and Nebula nominated author of Machinehood (Saga), Runtime (tordotcom), and the short story collection, Contingency Plans For the Apocalypse and Other Possible Situations (Hachette India). Divya is the co-editor of the weekly science fiction podcast Escape Pod, with Mur Lafferty. She holds degrees in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing and worked for twenty years as an electrical engineer before becoming an author. Find her on Twitter @divyastweets or at www.sbdivya.com.