Greetings, Aqueducters. This is in response to Timmi's concerns about my contribution to the Woman's Hour item called "Is the sf genre still predominately male?" I said I wished I had used a male pseudonym for my overtly feminist sf, and though it would never have happened, I meant what I said. It is far, far safer for a significant male writer to express feminist views (cf China Mieville, avowed and respected feminist; Geoff Ryman, avowed and respected feminist). And books by a significant male writer expressing feminist views would reach a much, much wider public. I wish I could have managed that trick for White Queen, North Wind, and Phoenix Café. Of course, I’d have had to resign myself to having no public life as a card-carrying feminist in the genre community, but as sf people may have noticed, I don’t mind staying out of the public gaze.
Thereafter, I could have written the Bold As Love books as Gwyneth Jones, and been well under the woeful-extremism detecting radar. Spirit, in its real world form, would have been a problem, because of the use I made of the Aleutian Trilogy. I think “Hey, I had a cool idea! I’m using the same universe as the secretive author of those feminist books!” might have been the downfall of my masquerade. But of course, in the imaginary world where I wrote the Aleutian books using a pseudonym, I wouldn’t have referenced them... Mary Gentle, long ago, coined the idea (maybe other people have expressed the same position, I don’t know) that she was a feminist writing science fiction, rather than a writer of feminist science fiction. This is what I think about everything I’ve written since Life. Which was and is, as I have always maintained, my farewell to the investigative, active work of feminist science fiction. I haven’t stopped being a feminist, I haven’t stopped writing like a feminist, but the Battle of the Sexes is no longer my exclusive topic.
And it’s a shame if all sf books that feature a few female characters, having female lifes, are labelled feminist, & therefore marked as unreadable by large swathes of the general sf reading public. I have been worried about being part of that effect.
I'm in an awkward position in relation to the debate about the parlous state of "female sf writers" in the UK (where the situation really is bad, by the way. According to Torque Control, which I take to be reliable, only Trisha Sullivan and Justina Robson currently have mainstream publishing contracts). The trouble is, I believe that the “problem” the fans are are worrying over is largely of their own making. We get what we celebrate, says Dean Kamon (inventor and science populariser). I don't know much about the man, but that sounds right. UKSF fandom has not celebrated female writers. Sf’s highly active fanbase says “it’s the publishers” but I don’t believe that. I’m sure genre publishers and editors have an agenda, and they probably favour traditional male-ordered sf, but they’re not fanatics. They follow the money. If the sf community had been getting excited about women writers, if sf novels by women had been anticipated, talked about, discussed, on an enthusiastic scale, the wider sf reading public would have taken notice, the publishers would have been seeing interesting sales figures and they’d have reacted positively.
It hasn’t happened. Back in 1990 I wrote an article saying it hasn’t happened. Women in sf are nowhere near achieving the wide recognition we might have hoped for, given the quality of our work. Twenty years on, things are worse, not better.
Last week I talked to the Guardian podcast too. I’d been uncomfortable with some of the things Farah was saying on Woman’s Hour, but felt I just couldn’t contradict her. So I knew I was tripping around in a minefield: I had a prepared statement ready... which they might edit as they thought fit, but at least I’d know I tried. Nice Guardian lady wasn’t having any, she wanted my spontaneous responses, off the cuff. My cuff doesn’t respond very well to that approach.
That was pretty useless, I thought, as I put the phone down. Hopefully they’ll spike it and go ask someone else. But at least I didn’t collude in a cover-up.
I'm afraid this is far too long, sorry everybody. I promise I won't do it again.