December 1st, 2010
Historically women have been less likely to enter the hard sciences than men, and similarly less likely to write hard science fiction. Happily, some do, and do it well, in my opinion.
When I talk about hard science fiction, I mean stories in which science is central to the story, doesn’t smell too much like magic, and actually rests on quantitative standards. Astronomy and physics are my background, so they’re my bias, but there’s been a lot of great hard science fiction involving the biological sciences as well.
What I want to bring up today is not anything about why the gender disparity exists among the folks writing science fiction, but whether or not readers care.
I recently discovered that some female friends of mine who write hard science fiction have either been asked by publishers to use pen names that are not gender specific or are male (e.g., initials, or outright male names), or have gotten mail or seen reader comments from people who were actually mad when they found out that an author was a female. The first item just indicates that publishers, particularly marketing departments, think that there are a lot of readers like the one mentioned in the second item. Are there?
A big chunk of my library is hard science fiction, and it’s skewed toward male writers because a larger fraction of hard science fiction is written by men. It doesn’t make it any more balanced when I go out and buy a bunch more books by those authors (e.g., Greg Benford, Joe Haldeman, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, etc.) and those individuals take up entire shelves, although there’s a big space dominated by Nancy Kress as well. I’ve never consciously considered not buying a science fiction novel because of the gender of the author. These days my buying is usually based on reviews, how cool the premise sounds, and more and more often if I’ve met the author and like them and/or find them especially interesting. I wind up buying a lot of books by friends, and luckily I’m friends with some really good writers, male and female.
I wonder though… Do the marketers know something I don’t know? Are there a lot of hard science fiction readers who strongly prefer their authors to be male? And even if this was true in in the past, how true is it today?
My blog here probably isn’t the most scientfic place to figure this out, but many people who come here probably do read hard science fiction. Here’s an opportunity to have an anonymous poll. If you read hard science fiction, take a minute to take the poll, please. Thanks!
In my link above, and comments there, there are recommendations of some hard science fiction novels by women writers. Be encouraged to check some of them out if you’ve been on a steady diet of the guys.
I’d like to think the gender of the author doesn’t matter, that the marketers are making a mistake and in turn hiding potential role models from girls interested in doing science and writing hard science fiction. But maybe I’m guilty of wishful thinking. Science is about getting at the truth, whether or not it’s the answer you would like to see, so let’s find out.
If you know of research into this topic, please leave a comment and point at it. Thanks!