Review: Women Destroy Science Fiction! Part II

wdsf(I reviewed the original fiction section of Women Destroy Science Fiction! here.)

The essays in this anthology, acquired and edited by Wendy N. Wagner, capture a great breadth and depth of experience. Some highlights: Mary Robinette Kowal’s roundtable interview with titans of the genre — Ellen Datlow, Ursula LeGuin, Nancy Kress, and Pat Cadigan — discusses science fiction’s past, present, and future. An interview with Kelly Sue DeConnick about female creators and characters in comics is refreshing, considering how frequently the medium is forgotten in genre conversations. Rachel Swirsky’s “We Are the Fifty Percent” is about how she ran a podcast featuring fantasy stories, half of which were written by women or featured female protagonists, and the vitriol she received for addressing fiction “dominated” by women. Cheryl Morgan’s “A Science Fictional Woman” points out that the end of gender binarism will spell doom for the patriarchy. (Yes. YES.) And of course, WDSF! includes Kameron Hurley’s award-nominated essay “We Have Always Fought,” which speaks for itself.

And my personal favorite was Stina Leicht’s “How to Engineer a Self-Rescuing Princess,” which addresses the dichotomy between most of the fictional worlds we’re shown, in which men are typically the heroes and saviors, and reality — in which those heroes rarely if ever show up, and in which self-rescuing is not only possible, but imperative.

While the overall tone of the essays and nonfiction is triumphant, in regards to sexism, the writers occasionally touch on the usual suspects — intimidation, harassment, being talked over at conventions, all-male panels, dudebros mansplaining about how what women write isn’t “real” science fiction. More often though it explores more insidious forces: the internalization of science being a dude thing; the dearth of female protagonists and female authors on library shelves and how it affects us as youngsters; the culture-reinforced self-doubt that is common for women in all sorts of fields but especially male-dominated ones. Many of the essays explore thematically what it means to “destroy” sci-fi — on the ludicrousness of the idea, given that women created it; on the disappointment in early samples in which female characters were not the heroes in their own stories; on the influences and factors that led to these authors becoming science fiction writers in the first place.

But what is most significant, to me, is the conversation that these essays create — in which Women Destroy Science Fiction! is not an end unto itself but a beginning. And I have things to say, in regards to that dialogue (besides, y’know, the fact that I think Lightspeed should do this annually, albeit perhaps in packages that are a little shorter).

“Screaming Together: Making Women’s Voices Heard,” by Nisi Shawl, addresses ways to help and support female authors. It suggests to not just read but edit or publish fiction by women; to nominate books by women for awards; to mentor female authors. (Perhaps it goes without saying, but I would add to this list: to review and/or beta-read books by women. Women’s books are not just reviewed less frequently by major outlets but also in SF/F blogs.) She suggests a pledge of only reading women authors for a year.

I love this idea, because obviously I kind of did that — it’s what this blog is all about, after all. (A tiny handful of dude authors’ books have and will make it in here because they write in my favorite sub-sub-sub genres, but that doesn’t violate the principle of the matter, I think.) The results so far, four months in: I have discovered two authors of which I will read ALL THE BOOKS synoposis-unseen (Caitlìn Kiernan and Veronica Schanoes, for the record) and a dozen or three authors, both well-established and at the beginning of their careers and otherwise incredibly diverse, whose work I am highly motivated to explore further. My TBR pile has never been so large.

When I mention my project or the fact that I read mostly women authors in general, the response is overwhelmingly positive except for the few people who perceive it as some kind of threat. And, of course, most of the people reading this right now know that there are places elseweb where this effort — Women Destroy Science Fiction! — is being belittled and attacked.

Y’all know what that means, right?

It’s working.

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