Women writing science fiction!

What Martin said. But. Here’s my own record on reading female science fiction writers during the last ten years (2001-2010):

  • Serpent’s Reach — C. J. Cherryh
  • Pride of Chanur — C. J. Cherryh
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog — Connie Willis
  • The Sparrow — Mary Doria Russell
  • Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus — Mary Shelley
  • Shards of Honor — Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Tea from an Empty Cup — Pat Cadigan
  • Sideshow — Sheri S. Tepper
  • Picnic on Paradise — Joanna Russ
  • Dervish is Digital — Pat Cadigan
  • Sign of the Labrys — Margaret St. Clair
  • In the Garden of Iden — Kage Baker
  • Sky Coyote — Kage Baker
  • Diplomatic Immunity — Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Nine Layers of Sky — Liz Williams
  • Heavy Time — C. J. Cherryh
  • Hellburner — C. J. Cherryh
  • Mendoza in Hollywood — Kage Baker
  • Ammonite — Nicola Griffith
  • 1610: a Sundial in a Grave — Mary Gentle
  • Farthing — Jo Walton
  • The Secret of Sinharat — Leigh Brackett
  • People of the Talisman — Leigh Brackett
  • The Best of C. L. Moore — C. L. Moore
  • Cetaganda — Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Ha’Penny — Jo Walton

For comparison, the complete list of science fiction read in that time. that’s twentysix books by female authors out of a total of roughly 300 books, or less than ten percent. In other words, it would be a bit cheeky to join in the discussion about the real or percieved rarity of female science fiction writers and the lack of recognition they get considering how bad my own record is. There are reasons for this gender imbalance in my reading of course: most of my favourite writers just happen to be male, I at any rate tend to cluster my reading, with some writers (like Charlie Stross or Poul Anderson) getting a lot of repeat custom, which doesn’t help either. It’s not therefore that I deliberately avoid female science fiction writers, more that my unstructured reading for pleasure means my reading is biased unconsciously towards male authors.

If I want to do something about this, I have to consciously balance out that bias, by forcing myself to seek out women writers rather than just reading what I want. I don’t have to do that of course, but if I am worried about this gender imbalance in my favourite genre of fiction, I need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

So… Any suggestions?


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  • Martin

    October 14, 2010 at 4:13 am

    There is definitely a sense of needing to practice what I preach with me too. Since 2003 when I started keeping records, only about one in five books I’ve read have been by women. I don’t have the stats for just SF but I imagine it is worse as I only read 25 such works in that period.

  • Lists and Conversations « Torque Control

    October 15, 2010 at 5:03 am

    […] Martin Wisse has posted the complete list of sf novels by women from the period that he’s read and, dismayed by its shortness, asked […]

  • David Dyer-Bennet

    October 15, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Well, Elizabeth Bear is an obvious hole in your list. I’ve quite liked a number of her SF books. Maybe Linda Nagata, too, though she’s too horror-like for me (a common problem I find; Schroeder and Reynolds trigger it just a bit also). Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta books if you like space opera.

    My own list is even shorter — I don’t care for C.J. Cherry’s work, which leaves a BIG hole.

  • Ellarien

    October 15, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Seconding the recommendation for Elizabeth Bear. Also Kristine Smith (Code of Conduct and sequels) and Karen Traviss (City of Pearl and sequels). Mary Gentle also wrote the more conventionally science-fictional Golden Witchbreed/Ancient Light duology, though opinions differ on whether the second one was a good thing. Patricia McKillip has written a little SF — Fool’s Run and a couple of YA-ish ones (Moon something, I think; my books are packed right now.) Ursula LeGuin is another big one missing from your list.

  • heron61

    October 15, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Ignoring other books by authors you have already mentioned – Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman series is brilliant, Linda Nagata’s The Bohr Maker, Deception Well, Vast, and Memory are all excellent. I also really like much of Melissa Scott’s work, especially Dreamships & Dreaming Metal. Joan Vinge’s work is also not to be missed, although she has only written 2 books in the last 15 years. Elizabeth Bear has also written many excellent works of late, my favorites being Dust & Chill, and while mostly not a SF author, Caithlin R. Kiernan’s anthology A Is For Alien is very, very good.

  • April

    October 15, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Emma Bull. Bone Dance, in particular (although it has a heavy dose of fantasy). War For the Oaks & Territory are fantasy rather than SF, but some of her other works are more SF. More suggestions later after I get home.

  • Martin Wisse

    October 15, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Some good suggestions here already. I’ve read War for the Oaks, but listed it under fantasy rather than s.f. Golden Witchbreed I’ve read a good two decades ago, lured by that cover.

    Melissa Scott is a good idea as I;ve just bought her cyberpunk classic “Trouble and her Friends” anyway. Joan Vinge is another possibility, as I’ve got a few of her novels already on my shelves.

    Moon I’ve tried but not liked, Elizabeth Bear, Kristine Smith, Rosemary Kirstein and Karen Traviss I’ve never seen books of around here.

    Thanks everybody & keep them coming!

  • Konrad

    October 15, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    I’ll second Kristine Smith and Rosemary Kirstein and add Eleanor Arnason’s Woman of the Iron People duology. Sadly, these are the only science fiction novels I’ve read by women (and I think they’re all out of print), but that’s because I rarely read science fiction.

    If you include alt-hist, there’s Jo Walton’s Small Change trilogy, and if you include steampunk, there’s Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century novels.

  • April

    October 17, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Sorry for the delay. I see that you have read To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. She is someone who writes something new each time. I recommend Bellwether, Passage, and Doomsday Book. The first one funny, the last two heart-wrenching. I’d also like to boost Karen Traviss’ Matriarch, and Liz Williams’ Nine Layers of Sky and The Ghost Sister.

    There is one more I’d like to share but I neither remember her name, the book’s title, or enough precise detail to get a google-lock – and it doesn’t appear to be in the easily searched heaps. Stay tuned.