“New Sci-fi” Part Two! Women

After reading the kind of thoughts that the industry had on where the sci-fi genre needs to go in the next few years, I’ve found myself thinking about what the actual problems with the genre can be. It’s true that sales can be soft for science fiction work, but it’s also true that “we need less science in our sci-fi” is kind of a stupid solution. So, I’ve gathered some observations to see if maybe I can shed some light on the issue from the “outside”.

Truthfully, I was going to leave this observation for last. I’ve got about 3 or 4 observations worth pointing out and this one I felt was the strongest one to go out on. But after some serious self reflection and some earnest words by the one I consider my second muse (allergy medications being my first), I’ve realized that this one really kind of leads into and ties the rest of them together.

If you look at some of the biggest successes in the last decade, you see that several of the authors have something that links them all: Two X Chromosomes. Think about it, aside from a couple of works from the likes of Dan Brown, most of the really popular books in the last 10 to 15 years have been written by women. Why is that?

After some comprehensive study, I’ve come upon the answer to this and have realized the key to this great mystery. I’ll be honest, it was hard (not really). Really, it was downright baffling (that anyone missed it). I spent many a day working this Rubik’s Cube of society that I shall dub the “XX Factor” (mostly to figure how people miss it) and came up with the answer..an amazing, shocking, completely groundbreaking discovery.

It turns out…women read books. No, seriously, I looked it up, it’s totally true! Go figure, right?

Now, some of you reading this (and, considering the two people I know to read this are in fact female, all of you reading this) will look at that concept and figure it’s a given. In a rational world, you two would be right and a lot of the industry would understand that automatically. But I’ve realized over the last few weeks to months that the world is far from rational.

When I read one of the opinions that science fiction needed to abandon more abstract concepts to communicate with a more jaded audience, one of the examples given was “The Time Traveler’s Wife”. Now, as I stated in a previous post “Life’s Too Short”, Audrey Niffenegger sold a ton of those books and got a movie deal after being rejected over 25 times by agents and who knows how many different publishers before getting together with a smaller publisher out of San Francisco.

Is this unusual? Not really. A lot of the bigger successes have received staggering rejection before getting to print. But when you look at these you can generally find a reasoning behind the resistance to take a risk on it. Look at the likes of JK Rowling, the world’s first billionaire author. She was rejected so many times she doesn’t even keep track of how many times it happened. But when you look at the reasons why, you can at least understand it. She was trying to sell a 90,000 word manuscript for a children’s novel without any attempt for crossover marketing at a time when it was believed children hate to read. This was like someone showing up and going, “You know what kids love? Vegetables.”

So you start to ask, what was the reason? Was it because she was a first time author? Well that’s the common wisdom. But we’ve seen in recent years that first time author doesn’t necessarily mean blatant rejection if you have something people believe can sell. The Time Traveler’s Wife got a $100,000 advance, SOMEONE had faith in it. And we know books that aren’t quite as critically acclaimed have received as much if not more success. So, what was it?

Well, simple. It was a science fiction story geared towards women. Women (supposedly) don’t read science fiction! Never mind the fact that a lot of the best fantasy sellers in the last few years have been geared towards women and they’ve done fantastically – there’s still a perception that it’s not a “safe bet”.

Do I have any direct proof of this being the reason? Not really. Do I have a lot of indirect observation that confirms the theory? You bet.

It’s true that most science fiction and fantasy stories are driven in some way by a male fantasy of some sort. But, if we were to accept the idea that women don’t read these genres because of that, you have to ask why it would need to change. After all, if women don’t read science fiction or high fantasy as much as men, you should write to your target audience. On the other hand…

Chicken, meet egg

If we (male) writers don’t really write something that women can read without being alienated, then how could we expect them not to be alienated? As my second muse pointed out, if a woman is involved in a sci-fi or fantasy story, regardless if it’s a book, TV show or film, she typically falls in one of three categories:

1) Near-Useless Window Dressing

2) The Devil/General Evil

3) Object of Desire

Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have a female villain or someone that could be considered desirable, those are parts that can be given to a whole. But that first one…that’s gotta be dealt with, because that’s where you start treating them more like props rather than characters. And while we’re at it, it would be nice to have some variety to the roles so that you didn’t JUST have those three options. It’s not like men are incapable of understanding this concept. After all, these our our mothers…

Our caretakers…

The people who’ll kill someone for a really nice pair of shoes…

Wait…scratch that last one.

Anyway, the point is, not enough (male) science fiction and fantasy writers stop to consider if women will like what they’re doing. And the people who do consider the point of view of women happen to find success with what they do. We men can’t be expected to do it perfectly, it’s not like we can magically understand every aspect of them (they know it and enjoy taunting us with it). But the female reading audience isn’t asking us to start throwing out the female villains or write every story from the perspective of a teenage girl. Really, all they’re asking for is…

Sing it, sister!

I write books. And I know what that word means.

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