Diversity in Speculative Fiction.

I’m hosting the 2014 LGBT Speculative Fiction Challenge at Worlds Without End because it is a small thing that I can do to counteract the disturbing trend of attempts of marginalization of diverse voices from certain quarters in the broader SF/F community.

And also because it’s the right thing to do.

And also because I really love the books of Nicola Griffith, without which I may not have thought of getting this thing off the ground.

Furthermore, I am doing like eight challenges, many of which overlap, but all of which are being fulfilled with women authors exclusively. And part of the reason I am doing this, for a handful of dudes may have made my lists otherwise, is because I’ve got something to prove.

One need not seek out female writers of SF/F (or any other genre for that matter). Women are literally everywhere. One would have to try to avoid female SF/F authors.

And some people do.

I recently heard a dude I know, a male feminist and an ally, a guy who doesn’t deserve to be socially drawn and quartered, but who demonstrates what I think is a problematic attitude, say the following:

“I generally read male SF/F authors, because women tend to write more about relationships, and men tend to write more action, which is my preference.”

On the surface, I have no problem with this. I read more female authors, and that’s because I prefer feminine voices, which have a strong correlation with but not a 100% overlap with female authors. However, it reads like chatter you hear or read sometimes like: “I don’t try many female authors because women write too much romance.” Or: “Most female authors write paranormal and urban fantasy and I don’t like those genres.”

Or any one of a myriad of variants of, “Women write about woman things, and men write about the human condition.”

It doesn’t matter for my purposes whether romance is part of the human condition (it is), whether urban fantasy can delineate stories about the human condition (it can), or whether female authors really write more about “relationships” (it’s a rare piece of fiction that isn’t about human relationships, so I’m not even going to touch this).

My concern is the idea that women’s writing isn’t just as diverse as women (or, for that matter, men) themselves are. Because I think there’s a common chord here, whether we’re talking about women or PoC’s or LGBT authors – that even when you take away every ounce of bigotry, there’s a vein of stereotyping that is harmful, whether it’s the implicit assumption that SF/F written by women is an excuse for romance, or that PoC and/or LGBT folks write “issues books.”

There’s nothing wrong with either of those sorts of novels, but assumptions like these are ultimately harmful.

So this is my list of twelve books by women. I chose them not just for the diversity of their authorship, for they include transgender women and lesbians and cis straights, Black and White and Asian and multiracial, but for the diversity of their content and their styles. Because women write about aliens and gods and robots and magic. Women write high fantasy and low fantasy, hard sci-fi and theological sci-fi, steampunk and cyberpunk, epic fantasy and domestic fantasy, speculative comedies of manners and post-apocalyptic horror… And everything else under the sun.

Because we’re human.

  • The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
  • China Mountain Zhang, Maureen F. McHugh
  • The Drowning Girl, Caitlin Kiernan
  • Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor
  • Lifelode, Jo Walton
  • The Shadowed Sun, N.K. Jemisin
  • Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Servants of the Underworld, Aliette de Bodard
  • Prince of Annwn, Evangeline Walton
  • Solitaire, Kelly Eskridge
  • Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm
  • Hild, Nicola Griffith
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8 thoughts on “Diversity in Speculative Fiction.

  1. Excellent list! China Mountain Zhang is fantastic and you will immediately want to read all of McHugh’s other books. (There are many other great books on that list, too, but that one’s my favourite.)

  2. I have a mental list of “if you liked xyz, you’ll probably also like abc” SF/F in my head, because I get asked for recommendations a lot. The single one that gets the most initial reticence but final approval is “if you liked Ender’s Game, you’ll probably also like the Miles Vorkosigan saga,” and the major reason it meets with initial skepticism is because Ender’s Game is written by a man and the Vorkosigan books are written by a woman.

    • I initially had him on my list, before I realized he is transgender and prefers to be considered a dude. :) Thanks for the shout-out, though; I’ll make sure he’s on the LGBT authors list.

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