Sunday, July 10, 2011

Woah, woah, we're half way there

Remember January? Everything was a different shape then. My terribly short career as a geophysicist was just coming to an end, and I lived in a different city to the one I live in now. Crazy times. It's totally fair enough, then, if you've forgotten that I posted in January about wanting to read more novel-length genre fiction written by women. I had noticed, you see, that my bookshelves were completely dominated by men, and I couldn't think of any good reason why that should be the case.

I've no idea what caused that gender imbalance in my reading, which I suppose means that unconscious bias was a very real possibility. So, I figured that maybe if I made an effort to hunt out genre fiction written by women I could train myself out of a bad habit. The year is half over now, and I thought it might be interesting to reflect on how that's all worked out so far.

Here's the short version: great!

The longer version is a bit trickier. In fact, I've been trying for a little while to work out what to say in this post that isn't just a statement of the screamingly obvious. The task (summarise my feelings on the genre fiction written by women that I read this year) sort of invites me to make generalisations ("genre fiction written by women is like this…" or "genre fiction written by women differs from genre fiction written by men in these ways…").

But the books written by women I've read this year include hard SF, sociological SF, a time travel comedy, high fantasy, urban fantasy, space opera, and a zombie thriller. All sorts of stuff. Just about the only generalisation I feel I can make is that the instance of female protagonists is higher than you'd find in a random sampling of genre fiction I've read over the last few years. That's not a particularly insightful observation, though, and anyway I think we can all agree that more female protagonists can only be a good thing.

I feel like everything I (should?) need to say is contained in the following: I've read thirteen novels this year. One was kind of crappy, three were solidly average, and I really enjoyed the remaining nine. Ten of them were written by women. Three of them -- To Say Nothing of the Dog [1997] by Connie Willis, Slow River [1995] by Nicola Griffith, and The Dervish House [2010] by Ian McDonald -- were fantastic, and I'd recommend them enthusiastically even to people who don't typically read SF.

Has this exercise changed my reading (and purchasing) habits? I suppose time will tell, but I suspect (and hope) the answer is a resounding yes. If nothing else, two authors have been added to my automatic-purchase list: Elizabeth Bear and N. K. Jemisin. I'm very keen to read more by Nicola Griffith, Lauren Beukes and Nancy Kress. And soon I'm going to have to make a difficult decision: do I read Justina Robson's Natural History [2003] or Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang [1992] next?

So there you have it. If there's a lesson in my experience so far this year, it's that there's a lot of great genre fiction being written by women, and we should all be reading and talking about it. And surely that's as obvious as something that's very obvious indeed.

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