Monday, 29 August 2011

Thoughts on Women in SFF.

This is one of those perennial arguments that crops up time and time again, frequently being wheeled out at conventions with plenty of piss and vinegar in the mix. Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City is next on my reading list, but the female authors in my collection extend as far as Steph Swainston and K.J. Parker, who may or may not be a female author. Hardly a great example. I also have Sophia McDougall’s Romanitas trilogy patiently waiting to be read, but the fact remains that I have a host of male authors on my shelves but very few female writers.

I’ve thought long and hard about why I gravitate toward male writers and I’m still no closer to an answer. It’s not that I shun female authors or think they write exclusively with “sentimentality, a narrow view of the world”.

With this in mind I decided to do something about it. Aside from just reading Zoo City.

I’ve recently landed a full time job with Blackwell’s Books on Charing Cross Road in London. I pitched the idea of having a ‘Women Writers in SFF’ promotion. A whole bay where we promote Science Fiction and Fantasy’s unsung heroes. Sorry, heroines.

There’s only so much shelf space of course, but it’s the thought that counts. With that in mind you can expect to see the likes of Gail Carriger, Fiona McIntosh, Sarah Pinborough, Ursula Le Guin, Karen Miller, Trudi Canavan and the afore mentioned Sophia McDougall and Steph Swainston adorning a dedicated section of shelves in a week or two. And I’m not just doing this for the customers, but challenging myself to read more female writers.A parting shot, and something to think about, women aren’t as under represented in publishing as you may think. Jo Fletcher is widely regarded as one of the finest SFF editors in the land (UK). The Jo doesn’t stand for Joseph incidentally. Then there’s Gillian Redfearn over at Gollancz. And let’s not forget Julie Crisp at Tor, or Anna Gregson at Orbit. I freely admit that none of these ladies are authors, but the fact does pour cold water on the idea that Shadowy Male Publishing Tyrants are preventing female voices being heard.

What female writers in SFF do you rate, and why?


  1. I dunno how my YA stuff you have in there, but that list needs some Tamora Pierce :) She writes YA fiction with awesome female heroines in two fantasy worlds, and she is a lifelong heroine of mine. Carrying on on the YA theme (and why not if you have Canavan?) Kirsten Cashore and Kristen Britain are rather good, as is Robin McKinley. Julian May for some classic sci-fi?

  2. Kate Griffin would top my list of female writers. I've only read one book by Susanna Clarke, but Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is very good. Two from me that have not been mentioned already :)

  3. Meg Rosoff - fantastic speculative fiction, the winner of the Guardian Children's Book Award and she has a new book out. Truly awesome writing.

    Catherine Fisher who wrote Incarceron and its follow-ups, also brilliant.

    Madeline L'Engle, who is one of the best sci-fi writers ever, IMHO.

    Note all of them are YA/kids authors who maintain a healthy adult readership as well - such a skill.

  4. I don't know if she sits comfortably in the canon of SFF writers but Kelly Link is one of my absolute favorite authors. No one does weird tales, and surreal stories like she does.

  5. Margaret Atwood, Kaaron Warren, Tricia Sullivan, Pat Cadigan, Jennifer Egan (c'mon, A Visit From the Goon Squad was TOO SF) and South African/British writer Sarah Lotz who writes under SL Grey (the terrifying consumer horror The Mall) and as Lily Herne (with her daughter, Savannah: YA zombie apocalypse Deadlands)

  6. Definitely Catherine Fisher.

    I'd also guess I'd expect to see Justina Robson on there, and maybe Elizabeth Bear, who does really interesting high-concept SF.

    CJ Cherryh too, if we want to get retro, for the massive braininess...

  7. Lois McMaster Bujold? Curse of Chalion was excellent. She's got an award or two to her name as well. CJ Cherryh, bit hit or miss for me, but the hits are books I *really* love. Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm (same person, different pen name)You've also possibly heard of JK Rowling :D Kelly Meding, writes some really great UF.

  8. I'd recommend Mary Gentle, Glenda Larke, KE Mlls/Karen Miller - who not only writes fantasy for adults and younger readers, but also writes science fiction in the Star Trek and Stargate universes.

    Also Rowena Daniels, Gail Z Martin, grand doyenne Elizabeth Moon, Helen Lowe and Pamela Freeman. Kelley Armstrong wears many hats - urban fantasy writer for YA and adult sides, she is also an accomplished crime writer. Her plotting and character development is ace. I have heard nothing but good things about Kate Elliot so I am looking forward to reading her some time soon. Zoe Marriott writes superb fantasy for younger readers and lets not forget Diana Wynne Jones whose works have informed a great many working writers living today - such as Gaiman. Also, NK Jemison's fantasies are powerhouses of writing and layers - I adore her stuff. Robin Wasserman's Skinned trilogy is superb - a great science fiction female author who kicks preconceptions to the curb. The Wake trilogy by Lisa McMann is another one for the list - great writing in an interesting world.

    In fact, I'm sitting here, looking at my shelves and realise that the majority of genre fiction I now own and read, are by female writers whose books are published for the YA market, and a lot of them has cross-over appeal.

    Actually, the new BEST NEW SF 24 from Constable & Robinson has come in. I have counted the female authors represented in that: 8. Out of 33. Names I recognise: Naomi Novik, Carrie Vaughn, Brenda Cooper, Pat Cadigan, Aliette de Bodard. The rest of the list reads like a who's who in the male SF world. A strong selection and I look forward to reading it. But I do look forward to one day reading the mammoth SF book and seeing more female than male writers, to be honest. Just for a change.

    Am really pleased to hear Blackwells will be doing this - we swung by there last Saturday and I was sad to see how under-represented the science fiction and fantasy fiction section was, a little bit lost amongst all the other fiction. I hope you have fun shining your light on the lesser known authors, but especially on the girls!

  9. I second Julia's nominations of Bujold and Hobb (I once corrected a promo label in Border's that said "Love Robin Hobb? Get 3 of his books (sic) for the price of 2"!).

    I would add Lynn Flewelling and Ellen Kushner if you fancy ticking some LGBT boxes into the bargain, and my fellow Angry Roboteer Aliette de Bodard for excellent non-Western fantasy.

  10. Nobody has mentioned Cherie Priest yet - one of my favourite writers, who gave the often lazy subgenre of steampunk a real shot in the arm with her Clockwork Century series of novels (Boneshaker, Dreadnaught, Ganymede; plus the novella Clementine), not to mention her mighty fine catalogue of other work including the Eden Moore trilogy of weird Southern Gothic and her new urban fantasy series, starting with Bloodshot.

  11. I'd recommend Celia (C.S.) Friedman for both the Coldfire trilogy and her new Magister trilogy. Melanie Rawn seems to have fallen off the face of the earth, which is a sad thing but I can only recommend The Dragon Prince and Dragon Star trilogies in good conscience. I can second Kelly Armstrong's Otherworld series, I'd also put forward Lilith Saintcrow, Stacia Kane and Devon Monk as all four of these ladies write excellent Urban Fantasies.

    On a classics/ masterwork kind of theme I would suggest Andre Norton, Anne McCaffery, Tanith Lee, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Elizabeth Moon and Jenifer Roberson. I'd slip Diane Duane in there too.

  12. @Kayt – Hello lovely, thanks for dropping in. Kirsten Britain was suggested to me by another staff member. YA in Blackwell’s currently lives with the Children’s Section, but I really think we need to give it some dedicated shelf space.

    @Erik – Of course, Kate Griffin. I bought her book at SFX Weekender in February and still haven’t read it. Bad Den.

    @Lizzie – As ever, a font of all thing YA and writerly. Thanks for dropping in. x

    @Kelcey – Will keep a look out for Kelly Wells. I’d love to a ‘Tales of the Weird’ promo next year...

    @Lauren – Hey. The list I made was pretty much pulled off the top of my head. You’ve practically given me a second list to run... Women in SFF 2.0.

    @Tom – Not sure how I forgot Justina Robson. I blame my early onset... what was I talking about?

    @Julia & @Anne – We have a ton of Robin Hobb in store. I’ll be sure to give her some limelight with ‘Women in SFF V2.0’

    @Liz – Karen Miller will be featured. You’ve given me a ton of food for thought, thanks. Yes, I agree, the section is a little small. Blackwell’s is primarily an academic bookseller, but that’s not going to stop me trying to up the ante with SFF.

    @Adam – perhaps I’ll save Cherie for a Steampunk push in 2012. Thanks for the heads up.

    @Feral – Tanith Lee and Anne McCaffery. Wow, do I feel I feel red faced. Still, I only have so much space. Next time, next time!

  13. I'm rather surprised no one has mentioned Octavia Butler yet. I only started reading her books this year because of the Women of Fantasy and Women of Science Fiction book clubs (found respectively here: and ) I would definitely check those out to see a good list of female authors in the SFF genre.

  14. Don't think anyone has mentioned the amazing Stacia Kane yet? Her Downside series are some of the best books I've read, and the UK editions of the books are really beautiful as well (Unholy Ghosts, Unholy Magic, City of Ghosts out so far)