I've been wrestling with an interesting dichotomy for a while. I'm hoping to stir some good non-healthcare related debate here. I belong to an organization which has as its sole purpose, the advancement of female-written speculative fiction, Broad Universe. I love my club. I have participated in it on many levels throughout the three years or so I've been a member.
Here's my problem. I'm an advocate of women writing speculative fiction because, well, I'm a woman, and more importantly, a woman who writes speculative fiction. But if I'm such an advocate, why do I read novels by men far more than those written by women?
Perhaps it's because I know I won't get any romance in my science fiction. Mind you, when I find romance, I get sucked in like any other warm-blooded female, but afterward, I feel cheated. I chose the book because it promised science fiction or fantasy. And I'm not your typical female. I don't like to shop. I don't like attending baby and bridal showers and Tupperware parties.
We know that men and women think and act differently, overall. Why assume that they will write the same? There have been a few women writers whom I've read that have managed to write a good story without the romance derailing the plot, but it seems like they are few and far between. When men do throw romance in, it's more like how I shop: get in, get out, go back to more important tasks. When men—and the few women who can pull it off like men do—write romance, they do it to add an additional layer to the plot, not to drive it. And when they don't throw in romance, I don't miss it.
From the beginning, when I first started writing science fiction, I assumed that men would comprise the majority of my audience. I thought, and still do, that more men read science fiction than women. That may not be true of fantasy. But I prefer science fiction with a few very special exceptions. Like I said, I'm not your typical female. I have always gravitated to the male conversation at a party. I don't want to talk about diets, shopping and fashion. Maybe it's not just the romance at all. Maybe it's because I prefer talking with men, so I prefer reading from their perspective.
Women are inherently more concerned with relationships. We have to be. We have historically been the ones nurturing the children. It's how we (well, most of us) were made. If you're a female spec-fic author, is it a constant struggle for you to write for a male or mixed audience and keep the romance at bay?
Or could it be that I read more male writers because the women aren't getting the same exposure? Many of the male writers I read are well-established, not an unknown quantity. Are there fewer women writing science fiction? Are there fewer of them getting published?
I want to hear from you. Tell me there are plenty of women who can write without including romance. And please, oh please, tell me who they are. Tell me I'm an unromantic cold-hearted woman. (I love romance out in the real world, by the way.) Or tell me you know what I mean. But don't be silent. Let the discussion begin!
PS – Tomorrow, an interview with a speculative fiction writer. ;)
vote it up!
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Why do I read more male SF writers?
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Mary Rosenblum writes hard sf without the romantic entanglements--the Drylands stories, for instance. And Octavia Butler has a distinct lack of romance in some of her dystopian sf as well.
As a female writer of fantasy and SF, I too, gravitate toward the male-oriented stories, and often get complaints that there aren't enough women in my own writing. I can't bring myself to read romances so I don't write them, but I do give my men and women romantic relationships to deal with. The thrust of the plot is always solving the main problem facing the characters, however, not a "romance." If they don't get together in the end, well, life is like that sometimes. And yeah, being ex-Army, I empathize more with the combat boots than the high heels. Does that make me weird? :)
I do think the characterization that women automatically write mushy stuff is a bit too generalized. Read CJ Cherryh. Not a romance in sight, and barely any horizontal relationships, which is not to say her characters never get together, or don't have normal lives.
Mostly I worry about making my men too soft, allowing them emotions instead of facing everything with a stiff upper lip. I feel no need to make my women dependent on men, or focused on getting a man, or even obligated to deal with a romantic relationship. If it comes along, fine; if not, it's not her focus in the plot. For SF specifically, I want to see new worlds, not deal with a bodice-ripper transplanted to a starship. Okay, that's unfair to romance writers and readers, but you get my drift. SF is about exploring new worlds and dealing with what's out there. That should be the focus of the plot; the romance, if any, should be subordinate.
That's my take, anyway.
My fiction - YA and adult - includes some romance and a lot of relationships.
However, when I read sf, I am across the board: I read stories with romance, hard sf without romance, dark sf without romance etc. But I go for the relationships, be it between siblings, between people.
--- Joyce Chng
Me, I like the romance, but I like it well balanced with action. I think Linnea Sinclair does a good job of balancing romance and action. I never feel like I was cheated of either.
I'm also a member of BU, and I agree with a lot of what you and Bolich said. Romance is OK as a side dish, but it's not my choice for a main course. (If it was, I'd read romance or chick lit.) I do read some urban fantasy because I like the idea of strong heroines, but in general many of the romances I read in fiction don't seem like healthy relationships to me anyway; they're more lust than love.
My current WIP features a teenage male. Although he does have a love interest who plays a key role in the plot, the romance is only part of the plot.
Have you read Connie Willis? She's written a lot of time travel stories; her current one, Blackout, involves WWII. There's some romance, but it's only part of the overall story.
I'm not yet published, but am working on a combination of alternate history, fantasy, romance and science fiction. I don't like labels or categories, and I wear work boots and refuse to own those stupid torture devices called "high heels." I put up with being a woman, but I'm a tomboy and refuse to do anything feminine.
While I like romance intertwined with Fantasy, I'm a little sick of Mercedes Lackey's instance of marrying the two. Romance is sometimes part of my plots, but I prefer action and lots of it.
I am a strong woman, and I like to read about women saving themselves and solving their own problems, sometimes with friendly help from a man. This means I tend to read more books written by women, but there are plenty of male authors who I enjoy. I will stop reading anything where all the female characters are weak--which does not mean I'm against passive male or female characters, I just refuse to deal with every character of a sex being passive.
There was a time when your blog post would have resonated with me- that is to say, I used to read more male writers than female in the speculative field, before I became a writer of it myself.
I was raised in a family of all males, and have always found friendship/conversation with men easier. Similar to what you describe, I am not a woman's woman (shopping, clothes, etc) but more of a tom boy.
And then I hit middle age, began writing, grew into exploring more aspects of my femininity, and I began to read women speculative fiction writers almost exclusively.
I'm pretty surprised by your sentence
"If you're a female spec-fic author, is it a constant struggle for you to write for a male or mixed audience and keep the romance at bay?"
And to it I can answer a resounding "NO!"
First, when I write, my first goal is to write for myself, not an audience of any particular gender. I write the stories clamoring to be told internally- and I think this eliminates a lot of posturing for gender.
Second, most of my stories have nil romance in them. A lot of them don't even have male characters.
There's an old quote (can't remember by whom at the moment) that says men primarily write about war, whoring, and jobs/careers (though I think there is more variety in spec fic). Those aren't themes that particularly interest me.
Women have so many unique things to write about that haven't gotten much coverage in the history of lit.
I write a lot about birth, miscarriage, motherhood, sexuality and sexual abuse, death, stages of a woman's life (maiden, mother, crone), parenting, writing, dreams, women's ways of knowing (intuition), overcoming victimhood, gender bias and oppression, co-dependency, female coming of age, and female empowerment.
And I incorporate these all into spec fic- not literary or chick lit.
I can honestly say that now when I go to the library or book store I almost exclusively look for female authors of spec fic.
I can't remember the last time I read something by a male.
But that's been my personal journey.
The women writers are out there.
Lois McMasters Bujold
Ursula K. Le Guin
and probably anyone those writers recommend.
More for your list
I would also recommend checking out this list http://ask.metafilter.com/83126/Women-writing-SciFi-Your-Picks
and anyone who has won the Tiptree Award.
I write SF. It's not hard SF, more space opera, and yes, there's a touch of romance to it. BUT - the main character, while female, has issues with being feminine. It's all part of the situation and the plot. The book has lots of action - fight scenes, chase scenes, escape scenes, more fight scenes. Some of my biggest fans so far have been teenage boys.
Chick flicks at my house are defined as having a minimum of two fight scenes, a good chase scene, and at least one big explosion. Too much dialogue or kissing scenes, and I chuck it. Or give it to my hubby who likes romantic comedies. We're just a little backwards, but it works for us.
I think my background has a lot to do with my style. I took electronics in high school, the first female to take the full three years. I majored in EET, then switched to Geology. I've always been a space nerd, reading SF and watching NASA launches and doing astronomy since I can remember. I dabble in computer geekdom, teach science to grade school kids, and love power tools.
I had a group of guy friends vote me an honorary guy.
But my favorite SF authors aren't men. I love Andre Norton's classic SF. Elizabeth Moon does a great job balancing the relationship aspect of her story with the action. Julie Czerneda writes some great hard SF focused on biology.
I'm a guy, to start with, writing but unpublished. For what it's worth, while there are a number of male authors whom I enjoy reading, there are as many if not more female authors.
When I look at why I enjoy a given writer, it most certainly has nothing to do with romance or "hard" vs "soft." I like to believe that it's to do with the quality of the writing, but I suspect that there are some authors whom I stay away from, not because the quality of their writing is bad, but because their point of view bothers me. For example, I have only read two stories by Sheri S. Tepper. I also don't read O.S. Card, for pretty much the same reason, although the two have diametrically opposite points of view.
So is it possible that, regardless of the reasons we think we have for making these choices, they're mostly based on comfort level?
I read more fantasy than SF, but the SF I read is almost exclusively written by women. And they're not writing romantic SF! Can you imagine Ursula K Le Guin writing a mushy romance? I've been reading her for 30 years, and she's the only author, male or female, whose SF I read without fail.
My other SF favorite, Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series, is also romance free. Characters fall in love here and there, but not in a genre romance way. Next on my SF list, I'd read Connie Willis or John Scalzi, and I'm about to try David Weber.
The reason I read mostly women is that I rarely find a male SF writer who can create characters complex enough to hold my attention. The only 3 I can think of at the moment are Scalzi, Orson Scott Card, and Matthew Woodring Stover. (this is not true in fantasy, where I have as many favorite male writers as female)
I've tried reading Brin, Simmons, Robinson and other contemporary male SF writers, and their characters just don't match up to their story concepts. Which means, in my judgment, the story also doesn't match up. The same is true of Clarke, Heinlein and Asimov: amazing concepts, forgettable characters. I read fiction for the characters and dramatic choices. If I want concepts, I can read an article.
Rereading your post and your thoughts on the "typical" woman: if most women you know are the type that like shopping and baby showers and reading romances, you need to get a different set of girlfriends, woman! I don't have any friends like that. I'm not sure I even know any women like that to talk to (or not talk to, since I don't really consider Tupperware talk a conversation)
Read and enjoyed your article. Thought-provoking.
I think there's several things going:
1) women do write more romance. And romance has conquered the universe. It's not just boy-meets-girl- next-door anymore. It's boy meets space captain and a lot more. The Insatiable Pink Gorilla ran out of room and gobbled up the rest of the genres. So it's not really sci fi, horror or fantasy, it's romance, at heart, with all its well-known tropes.
Note: I don't write romance, but I occasionally read it, and I've nothing against it, except there's not much of it in my real life, boo-hoo!
But "romance" feeds on deep-seated fantasies that just don't get fulfilled in the real world. Doesn't it? It caters to a woman's need to be an object of desire, just as "male romances", many Westerns, cater to a man's need to be admired by other men, masculine, and dominant. I think it has different goals than other genres.
2) there's stereotyping: women are assumed to have a romance interest in anything they write. I once had a male friend proudly announce me to strangers as a "romance writer". I nearly brained him. In my first novel ("The Infinite Instant") there isn't even sex. Yes, there's relationships. That's life. But he'd just assumed I was a romance writer. I was female. Gotta be, right?
What do I care about in my own writing? Three-dimensional characters that stand out of the pages as their own persons. Sometimes they have love/sex. Sometimes they don't. That's life. That's my goal. People who are real, even if the setting is fantasy.
While we're at making lists of female authors whose writing we enjoy, here's my list of fantastic authors:
* Connie Willis (e.g. Hugo Winner To Say Nothing of the Dog)
* Nancy Kress (e.g. Probability Moon)
* Susanna Clarke (e.g. Hugo winner Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell)
* C.J. Cherryh (e.g. Hugo winner Cyteen)
* Octavia Butler (e.g. her Xenogenesis trilogy)
* Chris Moriarty (e.g. Spin State)
* Linda Nagata (e.g. Memory)
Other female authors I've enjoyed include James Tiptree Jr, Andre Norton, Ursula K. LeGuin, Joan Vinge, Jacqueline Carey, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Jo Clayton, Janet Kagan, and Anne McCaffrey.
I lean toward agreeing with you and SA Bolich...I am a female writer of fantasy and spec fic, and I lean toward male-oriented stories. It isn't that I deliberatly made that choice when I began writing, any more than I deliberatly prefer male writers over female, it seems more a matter of what comes naturally to me.
In real life I enjoy adventure, exploration, stepping outside the familiar and comfortable. Attitudes I seem to share more with males.
I do read some women writers, but I lean toward those whose work stays true to the genre and doesn't wander off into heavy romance. Hence, my preference for male writers.
I like well developed characters, and I do believe that (since we are dealing in large part with generalities here) women tend to be better in that department.
I enjoy relationships, friendships, particularly between my main male characters, but if a woman shows up in the process they can bring and develop some interesting aspects of my hero otherwise not revealed (not to mention providing a great-and logical-reason to get him naked, LOL)
I draw the line at 'mush'. No 'soft', angst ridden males for me. It really turns me off when I am reading, and I rarely encounter such characters in male-authored SF/F. On the other hand, I don't like heavy 'political' focus/pov either, and that seems to be a trait I find more often in male work. Balance is a key to good writing.
Your timing for this could not be more perfect, as I have been in a weeklong debate with my crit partners over the 'market' aspect of this topic.
Spec fiction tends to have a strong male readership and I do not want to endanger acceptance of my work by that aspect of the market, but my current fantasy has a growing relationsip with some decidedly romantic/sensual undertones. My group is divided as to whether this is a negative which might adversely influence my readership or a positive in drawing a more inclusive audience (ie they think it will appeal to the 'softer' female group of readers).
Overall, I think each writer must stand on their own strength and merit. I can and do enjoy women writers but until more women SF/F writers steer well clear of 'mush' in favor of plot, and make any romance subserviant to that plot, the struggle to break free of this stereotype will continue.
Most of the female SF/Fantasy authors I read seem to fall into fantasy, but there are somegreat ones not mentioned so far (Robin Hobb, Steph Swainson)
The most romantic SF/Fantasy I ever read was The Fionavar Tapestry by (yes a guy) Guy Gavriel Kay. I haven't come across female authors writing Space Opera (my personal favourite) but would be interested to hear more.
Funny. I don't read or write romance and my fiction and other interests are much in line with yours, and yet I'd say I read much more SF/F by women than I do by men. Many male writers annoy me because they can't seem to imagine a world in which gender issues have changed, or to understand that the current definitions of how the world works have been influenced by observations made by men with blinders on when it comes to understanding either woman or whole human beings. (See the scientific work of Donna Haraway, which I'm just starting to read and barely have a handle on as yet.)
I strongly disagree with your statement that men and women think differently overall or that they necessarily write differently. I suspect there are cultural differences -- women have been told since childhood that they're supposed to like romance, shopping, and Tupperware parties, and men that they're supposed to disdain those things -- but I seriously doubt that the basic thinking process is all that different.
People are writing a lot of romance, including paranormal romance, these days because it sells well. Writers have to make a living. But there's plenty of other work out there by women.
Here are a few women SF/F authors I read who I didn't see in my scan of other comments:
Laurie J. Marks
Vonda N. McIntyre
L. Timmel Duchamp
Suzette Haden Elgin
Some of these people can be found on Book View Cafe, where we publish a wide variety of fiction, a lot of it speculative and a lot of it by women.
Many of the others have books out from Aqueduct Press.
Generally, you can't go wrong checking out anything published by Aqueduct Press -- lots of very interesting feminist SF there.
You can find links to my two books, plus to all the stories I've published on Book View Cafe, here. I guarantee that none are romance.
Wow! Great comments all! I'm compiling a list of authors from it for a future post.
I know my comments about male/female differences and female conversations were generalist. I'm the first to admit that, being an atypical woman myself. But it did get your attention, did it not? I'm going to have to stand by my belief that the two genders think differently. It can be infuriating at times when it hampers cross-gender communication, but the world would be boring without those differences.
Regarding the lack of women writing without romance, this is a case where I WANT to be proven wrong. And I appreciate the lists of authors provided here.
jkdavies - You like space opera, do you? Do you like funny space opera? I happen to know where you can find one. ;) Read my novel, Awesome Lavratt. Details herein.
Helge - Yes, it's about personal preference and comfort level, too.
kshayes513 - Yes. A lot of those old boys miss the mark completely when it comes to solid, believable, engaging characters. Dare I generalize again? Well, I already did this in the next blog entry, my interview with MK Hobson.
Yes, well, regarding the different set of girlfriends. I did. But they're all out of state. I see them at cons. It's a tribe, thing. I like hanging with other writers. >waves to S.A. Bolich<
I've been so busy with writing by day and night, I don't have much time to hang with anyone these days.
rippatton - Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.
I think I prefer women, although I confess I'm more interested in SFR than SF.
I enjoy Isaac Asimov and Jack Vance, but relationships are done more convincingly by Linnea Sinclair, Catherine Asaro, Susan Grant, Anne McCaffrey, Jacqueline Lichtenberg.
Linnea has a fantastic chart which categorizes today's speculative fiction authors by subgenre.
Go to linneasinclair (dot) com and look for links
I hope I've clicked on the right link to comment - I tend to be much like you, I'm not into Tupperware parties, or tea parties either. At a mixed party I gravitate toward the men and their conversations finding a more rewarding venue of discussion there than talking about the latest starlet who hasn't been eating or rather what's she has been purging. I also write Science Fiction/Fantasy - I do write with an erotic flare. I don't drop my plots and allow the sex to take over! However more and more my books which are more Science Fiction/Fantasy are becoming less erotic, more toward romance as a tool and the former becoming the more important genre of the book. Yes being a woman, I love the romance and yes sex is great but without the PLOT being driven by a plot not by the sex (if its the other way around) I feel its more porn with a twist, small as it generally is in such cases. I am very pleased to have found your blog, now I know I'm not alone in this big, new opening genre where a woman's imagination can and IS coming up to speed with those we have read and loved since childhood namely H.G. Wells, Julies Verne and of course the numerous and more recent authors which I won't bore everyone by naming. With the exception of a couple of reaches into contemporary that I've done, all my books are either Science Fiction or Fantasy based and yes, all have erotic scenes when I write as Sultry Summers. Longer works which I hope to bring out - upon polishing, under my own name, Sheila Eskew will be romance and more Science Fiction and Fantasy.
As an author who has, in the passed also reviewed, I've given books low scores when they've been dubbed as Sci/fi or Fantasy and the author has spent so many pages on the sex the characters couldn't possibly have had time for anything else yet the book did have the Sci/fi elements and a promising plot which was horrible butchered because the author became too focused on sex. One in particular (which will remain unnamed) comes to mind, started well, had great promise but so many protocols for new planetary exploration were broken, or not addressed to explain why and in the end - well there wasn't one, the characters were too busy with other matters and the plot forgotten. I keep hoping for some true Science Fiction from women authors. We are beginning to see it and yes with those sex and romance elements included - I think it can be done and done right.
To sum it up, I love your blog's lead in post and agree with you completely. I was so glad to open you post and find this link.
I can understand your problem, Ann. I have the opposite one -- I'm a man who writes spec fiction with strong female characters because the male macho attitude bores me. I do have romance, but from a man's perspective, as you say, it doesn't derail the plot.
In my latest release, The Wildcat's Burden, (I won't spam it here, but please look it up on Fictionwise or Double Dragon) my strong female protagonist is both the target and the main guardian against assassination and ethnic cleansing -- while in the final weeks of her first pregnancy.
I'd love to have women who read SF to look it up and offer comments on my blog http://thewildcatsvictory.wordpress.com
Perhaps one of the over-riding problems in breaking this perception that womean 'always write romance' is that straight genre romance (not counting the books marketed as SF/F/mystery, etc with heavy romance themes) is over 55% of the total paperback novel market each year!
This might sound crazy, but Gezka & Kiel do not romance one another. Kiel does have a girlfriend, though - and she's a fine pilot with precognition and a fantastic engineer. No steamy sex scenes & they have a romantic relationship - even though they work together.
Don't get your knickers in an uproar: these are interstellar mercenaries; this is not Bambi.
You know, when I see the amount of men, be it out in the open or totally hidden beneath benign pseudonyms penning romance novels being accepted in the industry, I don't see how any genre should have issues.
Interesting discussion. I don't write SF, but I do write speculative fiction (vampire fantasy/horror). Although there's a "love interest" (or two) in my novels, that isn't the focus of the story, and I don't feel obligated to let any relationship with my protagonist survive the book.
The relationships are there because there are relationships in life,
I suspect that men enjoy the technical/science side of sci-fi more than many women do. I can't imagine a female Asimov or Arthur C Clark, but I am open to being pleasantly surprised and hope to find one some day.
I've never written a romance story myself, in any shape or form. I have had characters fall in love, but that was a by product of the story and events - not the plot itself. An entire book based purely on two people falling for each other I find boring... and strangely depressing. There are so many wonderful facets to human relationships beyond the whole "find a life partner" obsession. I agree completely with you in that a romance should, "add an additional layer to the plot, not to drive it."
But then I've never been a typical anything. I confuse people and, even more interesting in an objective way... I irritate them. They want me to fit somewhere and I don't. I hate Tupperware, refuse to talk babies and yet I do craftwork and embroidery. I would rather talk to men than women at parties, but sport leaves me stone cold. No surprise what I write doesn't often fit a single genre either. My reading tastes are equally eccentric and haphazard. I hate romances, but I do love Jane Austen, for her insights and humour. I love cowboy books, but hate war stories. I'll try pretty much anything sci-fi or fantasy.
What I did find a surprise, when I wrote my book 'First Light', was that I struggled writing the female characters. I found it much harder to bond with them and found myself dreading the sections where I wrote from the female character perspective. I have absolutely no idea why. :-\
I want to hear from you. Tell me there are plenty of women who can write without including romance. And please, oh please, tell me who they are.
Well... my book lies between sci-fi and fantasy and it doesn't include romance... except a very brief (one page) realisation of affection between two characters and that shouldn't count, should it? ;-)
I write what I like which is science fiction that includes people doing realistic things such as falling in love. My two favorites writes are Lois McMaster Bujold and Catherine Asaro.
I've joined RWA, SFR Brigade, and signed up for Broad Universe but never heard much more about it. Sometimes I feel like a lonely voice in the romance and SFR communties because to me the science fiction is more important than the romance.
I'm having a hard time finding the other people who share my interest.
I must say the romance community more supportive than the SF community of pre-published writers. The SF community seems to hold the gate tight against any new writers joining the club.
SFR brigade is a nice new community built around combining romance with science fiction, but it seems to favor romance over SF. Often these writes worry that the science and speculation will overwhelm the romance. They think the romance is the plot. It's nice to read the comments of readers and writers with the opposite concern.
I chose the book because it promised science fiction or fantasy.
Seems to me that's an issue of marketing & jacket copy. Your expectations were thwarted. It's not the blend of SF and romance that's a problem--it's that you expected one thing, the packaging promised you would get it, but the story delivered something different.
In an ideal world, book packages would be more transparent, more accurate. Will be interesting to see how a good metadata system will impact reader expectation and ultimately, satisfaction.
I'm a 50-year old male, if that makes nay difference.
I read different genres with different expectations. When I read romance, I expect romance to be the focus. When I read SF, I expect "science-fictionish" elements to dominate.
If a read a light comedy and all of the characters die at the end, I feel cheated. if I read a SF novel and the focus is on romance, I feel cheated.
I prefer Nancy Drew to the Hardy Boys. I have no interest in machismo in my fiction. Does that make me weird? I don't know. Does it have any relevance? I think it does; I guess I'm trying to say that I don't read speculative fiction for confirmation of my gender role. Currently, I have a difficult time finding an appealing SF novel written by a woman, because there are so few Sheri Teppers.
I read and enjoy Sherrilyn Kenyon, Christine Feehan, and many other romance novelists, but they never betray me. They always deliver exactly what the genre promises.
In the SF genre, a lot of what is ostensibly SF is really SF romance. I don't read fiction from Ellora's Cave and expect a Christian message, and I don't read novel and expect SF romance. If I want to read novels with blurred boundaries, there are plenty of mainstream novels I can purchase. I read genre fiction specifically for the tidy compartmentalization.
I'll bet that I'm not alone.
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