Science fiction’s invisible women

Everywhere, actually. Science fiction – our modern version of those ancient mythic stories – was invented by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in Frankenstein; or, A Modern Prometheus. In recent decades much of the best SF writing has come from women writers, from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Doris Lessing’s Shikasta to Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, with hundreds more catalogued at the excellent SF Mistressworks.

But a genre that women have done so much to shape seems to have been co-opted by men. Of 29 Grandmasters of Science Fiction, only four are women – Connie Willis, Ursula Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton. This year the two major UK awards for science fiction – the Arthur C Clarke and the BSFA – both announced all-male (and also all white and rather elderly) shortlists. Women, we were told by the Clarke judges, were simply writing fantasy, not science fiction.

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Sex and Sexism in Space

Science fiction can act as a mirror for our society. Sometimes the reflection isn’t flattering. Take, for instance, the common trope of hooking up with hot anthropomorphic aliens. Now this wouldn’t irritate me in and of itself (or else Star Trek would’ve given me an aneurysm), but it always seems to cater to the straight, typically male audience who turn around and say “diverse” characters aren’t realistic.

I can hear you groaning from here. Oh, Christ. Not another SJW diatribe.

Well, no. Not quite. To paraphrase movieverse Mark Watney: “I’m gonna science the shit out of this.”


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