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And because this wouldn’t be something written by me if I didn’t mention gender
Let’s be honest, people: sci-fi/space opera is a genre traditionally dominated by men.

NOT THAT THERE ARE NOT PLENTY OF FEMALE SCI-FI WRITERS. A.C. Crispin. Andre Norton (another I haven’t read), Karen Traviss. But I think generally the original greats of science fiction were all men, and a majority of the current space opera writers are men. In contrast, while the original “great” of fantasy (in terms of the current canon NOT TO DIGRESS) was Tolkien, and you have Robert Jordan’s work all over everywhere, it’s a lot easier to start naming famous female fantasy writers as well, especially going back to the same time period as science fiction (c.f. Anne McCaffery being in SF&F magazine).

Anyway. Historically (which I’ve been mostly leaving out because again I haven’t done much research into it), when science fiction was taking off and the space race and all the rockets were happening, it wasn’t just the literature that was male-dominated; the actual space race was being conducted by male engineers. And male engineers tend to be more logic-oriented; they care less about pretty writing, but they can comprehend philosophical argument, to a point, some more than others. They care less about individual characters and more about ideas and systems. I’m not saying that they don’t enjoy or care about a good story, but they’re very technical people who are not necessarily bothered by the things that science fiction lacks. They enjoy reading about the Really Neat Idea for Ray Guns and care less if they get five pages of that instead of five pages of character development. (Both of my grandfathers were engineers during the space race, and both men love to read, and they will both read anything. My father is that rare creature, an engineer with a liberal arts degree who talk about both the ideas but also the crafting of sentences. WP is an engineer. I am speaking from a great deal of experience here.) I’m not going to start a chicken-and-the-egg thing here about whether science fiction got its characteristics from the engineers or vice versa, but I think at the least we can conclude that the engineers who worked on this, and their future-engineer sons who looked up to their fathers’ work and dreamed of going to the stars, devoured science fiction and didn’t care about its limitations because their brains simply pay less attention to it.

And even as time has gone by and we’ve moved away from science fiction into space opera/sci-fi, that male-domination and even engineer-domination hasn’t really gone away. Look at how many sci-fi writers are also programmers (i.e. people who couldn’t cut it as true engineers :-b). These are the future-engineer sons who grew up on the space race and Star Wars and who want to keep writing about being in space, no matter what. (Like how people will keep reading about Star Wars, no matter what, because they love it so much.) And now we’re getting into people who grew up on Star Wars and the space opera tradition and who want to keep writing about being in space, no matter what, and great writing isn’t necessarily part of that tradition, and engineer-style thinking is.

So is space military fiction. It probably has its roots in Starship Troopers, which I haven’t read yet. I’m only just now becoming exposed to this because I’ve never cared about military fiction but about all the sci-fi WP owns is military in nature, so it’s helped my awareness of how much of the sci-fi bookshelf is space military fiction. And if you don’t like military fiction, well, that cuts into the number of sci-fi books you might enjoy either. It varies in its hardcoreness, but given the number of series that WP enjoys*, I suspect that there’s a lot out there. And military fiction in general tends to be a male-read genre, so if you’re a girl who’s not into it (because it tends to focus on military systems and weapons and tactics and the characters are one-dimensional and God forbid the author try to delve into political machinations because they’re laughably simplistic) (to be fair the hero is a good honorable soldier who almost always triumphs and anyway you see why WP would enjoy it), you’re probably not going to be completely won over by military fiction IN SPACE, no matter how AWESOME YOU THINK SPACE IS.

Obviously I am not trying to say that all boys are engineers or all engineers don’t care about writing or no girl can enjoy military fiction in any form, I am just pointing out that these are general trends that can contribute to why people/women don’t like sci-fi. I observe this in my own relationship with WP—c.f. his love of that first BattleTech book and my complete detestation of it. We had several discussions about its approach, especially in terms of the romance (him: look, I had no clue it was coming, you have to be really direct and blunt when writing about these things, but whatevs, it makes sense; me: I was really hoping it wasn’t coming and then it did come and it was SO POORLY DONE UGH PEOPLE DO NOT ACTUALLY TALK LIKE THAT). He liked the honest simplicity and honorable-warrior-ness of the Disgruntled Idiot; I think y’all know how I feel about DI’s complete ignorance of political necessity. And yes, okay, WP and I are in some ways as gender-stereotypical as you can get, but there’s a reason stereotypes exist.

So anyway, there’s definite gender differences/expectations/traditions in the sci-fi realm that also affects enjoyment of the works found therein.

*I say this because he can be a bit picky. For example, I made him read the Thrawn Trilogy (which eventually led to how he proposed to me), which I adore because Thrawn is an EVIL MILITARY STRATEGIC GENIUS and his character is awesome and they’re just great fun. WP enjoyed them, but he complained to me that Thrawn was a micromanager—a real Grand Admiral would never have such direct control over individual ships. Granted, Thrawn’s direct control becomes something of a plot point, but it still bothered him that they weren’t following proper military structure. This is what I get for marrying an engineer-soldier in eleven days.

onto the conclusion!

back to the other problems!

back to the definitions!


(no subject)

Date: 2012-06-27 12:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fabricalchemist.livejournal.com
BUT there are a lot a lot of kickass female heroines in sci-fi! Way more than in fantasy. Ripley from Alien, Honor Harrington, River Song, Halo Jones, Aeyrn Sun from Farscape, all of Firefly, Uhura, Beverly Crusher...I mean, it's just way easier to come up with badass not-just-T&A chicks in this genre than any other.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-06-28 03:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jade-sabre-301.livejournal.com

I mean yes you make an excellent point but I don't know how well it extends past the TV/movie realm (aside from spinoff series and even then it's sometimes fascinating to see what happens to strong female characters, like when R.A. Salvatore had Mara Jade sobbing about her "womb," which is not a word Mara would ever ever use). (And sometimes in spinoff series women become even stronger. It all depends on the author--I suppose I would argue there's a preponderance towards weaker women in written sci-fi?)

(Okay you can point to the Dune women, or at least Paul's mother and sister because his love interest is a wimpy pants. Who are the other strong women of literary sci-fi? I ASK BECAUSE I AM NOT SURE OF THE ANSWER.)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-06-28 03:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fabricalchemist.livejournal.com
omg what woman in GENERAL would refer to it as a "womb", much less the ever-badass MJ; I call blasphemy

LESSEE, Honor Harrington is a book series (closely influenced by Horatio Hornblower? but in space?)...right on all of Dune's scarybadass women...Halo Jones is a graphic novel series, so that half-counts...

I'm going to disagree with you here and make a case that TV/Movie realm counts just as much, for the visual impact. While there are always green-skinned skimpy alien chicks for sexyness, a lot of sci-fi heroines are just more covered up than their fantasy counterparts. I mean, you don't see Conan-style metal bikinis happening in space (well, unless you're watching Heavy Metal, but that's almost another genre entirely). You can have clingier outfits, certainly (see here Seven of Nine, Lexx, fremen stilsuits) but for the most part it seems like those outfits are relevant to their actual occupations and lifestyles, and seem more practical in their figure-hugging than gratuitous. I mean, Inara is a space hooker and she dresses more modestly than most people I know IRL.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-06-28 03:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jade-sabre-301.livejournal.com
Oh no! I am not disagreeing that TV/movie realm does not count (did I make it sound that way I apologize), and I think your point about being visually covered is awesome and important. It's just that the focus of my posts was mostly about books, since that's where Quark and Beth were struggling. So, like, I'd take Mara Jade as an example of a badass space opera book woman, since she only exists in the books, but Princess Leia comes from the movies originally. So now I am just wondering who the badass women of sci-fi or science fiction (I suspect there are not so many of them but then again characterization is not its strong point anyway) books are.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-07-02 07:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fabricalchemist.livejournal.com
Well, that's true, especially in the sense that with a book you are investing much more time, as well as energy imagining all of it. Movies and TV are more or less 30 minutes to 2 hours and you're done -- plus, no need to know any of the engineering or technical bits!

I'm asking James, he also suggests Captain Janeway and Jaina Solo.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-06-28 03:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jade-sabre-301.livejournal.com
(also rather like how I love how visually you write I love how you pick up and analyze visual details this is a gift you have and I am grateful for it.)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-07-02 07:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fabricalchemist.livejournal.com
YAY thank you! I just like to describe things, adjectives and I have tea on a regular basis <3

(no subject)

Date: 2012-07-01 03:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] keestone.livejournal.com
Okay, you knew you were going to get the Bujold rec here, because Cordelia!!!! (And Alys Vorpatril. And Dru. And Ekaterin, but that comes later.)

But also, off the top of my head, although this is kind of hard because I group SF and F together in my head so I have to filter out the Fantasy:
Pyanfar Chanur in C. J. Cherryh's Pride of Chanur books (who, true, is Hani, not human, and the Hani social structure is like that of a lion pride).

Hmm. I'm not certain where the main character of Peter Watts' Starfish would fit exactly. She's tough, but partially because she's extremely damaged. But, that's the point, and Lenie doesn't fit the "hur hur. Hot damaged chick" problem that I've heard people legitimately critique when it comes to River Tam.
Tochol Susumo (Janet Kagan's Hellspark. Actually, everything Kagan's written has awesome female characters. Kagan is out of print and hard to find, but I recommend her so hard. Abebooks etc.)
At the very least, Herris Serrano and Esmay Suiza in Elizabeth Moon's military sci-fi series starting with Hunting Party. (This is another series I read all out of order.)

And you really can't leave out Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler's characters of course.

(And as much as I think the books are crap and she's completely wooden, David Weber's Honor Harrington is kickass wooden).

Also, Women in Science Fiction have a strong tradition, if often an ignored and/or erased one, starting with Mary Shelley. Other important names: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, James Tiptree Jr. (aka Alice B. Sheldon), Joanna Russ, Andre (Alice Mary) Norton, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood (although she won't admit it most of the time).

And one I really need to find and read more of: Suzette Haden Elgin

(no subject)

Date: 2012-07-01 03:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] keestone.livejournal.com
I neglected to mention two more kickass awesome female characters in Bujold's SF . . . Taura and Elli Quinn. Okay, I could really probably list every single female character.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-07-01 03:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] keestone.livejournal.com
And a hermaphrodite.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-07-02 03:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jade-sabre-301.livejournal.com
You know what I realized halfway through my discussion with [livejournal.com profile] fabricalchemist? Nowhere in this post did I say anything about female characters, weak or strong. I was talking about writers and moreover gender trope preferences. I AM INTRIGUED THAT YOU OFFER ME FEMALE CHARACTERS and obviously it was a whole side discussion in the comments (and thanks for listing all the kickass literary ladies and lady authors!), but like you could have a military sci-fi book with a kickass lady commander, but if it is a hardcore military sci-fi book and you don't like that sort of thing, it doesn't matter if there's a kickass lady or not. You're still probably not going to enjoy it (although you might enjoy it more than you would have if the lady didn't kick ass).

ANYWAY. Are Elizabeth Moon's books any good? They're always sitting right where I'm hoping to see those by Sarah Monette (whose next book is going to be published under a pseudonym because Ace did so poorly by her that the name "Sarah Monette" is basically blacklisted in bookseller lists BUT I DIGRESS), and I always kind of resent them for it, but if they were actually good I might give them a shot, just because I see them.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-07-02 03:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jade-sabre-301.livejournal.com
and I say all this and then go back and read your comment and see that Moon's books are...military sci-fi. Ah-hahahahahahaha. I MIGHT LIKE IT, IF IT WAS WELL-WRITTEN.

and obviously my conversation on another one of the posts about how I didn't get into the Shanara books due to lack of women probably influences why people would want to recommend strong female characters as examples of reasons why girls would like science fiction, but still. I just. WHAT AN INTERESTING REACTION.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-07-02 04:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] keestone.livejournal.com
Well, this comment was a direct response to the characters comments so that's why it was all characters.

But, to use Bujold as an example again (what can I say? She's one of my favorite authors), one of the larger things going on in the series of books is how reproductive technology influences the development of societies. This is also one of the places where, while a lot of the individual books can be read as space opera, as an entire arc, it's sneakily Hard SF because of the way these technologies underpin everything. You'll probably notice that my rec list tends to lean heavily towards female authors as well though. That's not entirely by accident, but I tend to find that my list of top authors tends to be pretty female-author-heavy. In both SF and F.

Science Fiction as a genre is one of the places with the most potential to examine feminist questions and constructions of gender and culture, and there is a decent amount of stuff that does do that. It's not going to be the most popular stuff (because, gee whiz, we're still in a patriarchal society and there are plenty of troglodyte male nerds that don't like their privilege questioned) but there's really been a tradition of Feminist Science Fiction from early on and it really gained strength in the '70s. The '80s saw a lot of backlash against feminism, but it didn't go away. And nowadays, a lot of male authors are pretty damn egalitarian and/or feminist and don't think they need a cookie for realizing that girls are people too.

I like Elizabeth Moon. I haven't read her sci-fi in a while, but I liked it enough to buy a lot of it, although I've reread her Fantasy series The Deed of Paksenarrion more often. She served in the Marines, so she's probably got a better handle on portraying what it actually feels like to serve in the military than a lot of authors do, and I think that groundedness shows through in both her Science Fiction and her Fantasy. Again, I like her characters, which I find complex and believable as well as likable. (Also, Paksennarion is one of the very few well-portrayed asexual characters I can think of off the top of my head, so that's another plus in my book.) Also, Moon does really interesting things with the question how anti-aging and prolongation of life would affect both social and military power structures in the Serrano/Suiza books, which is probably one of the things that makes them better than bog standard or gear-head weapons and/or tactics geeking (neither of which I give a shit about), or the morose puritanical whining of Feintuch's Seafort saga (ye gods, won't Nick Seafort please just kill himself and put everyone out of his misery?).

(And, hey. I don't exactly mind Adolescent (geek) Male Fantasy Fulfillment fiction like John Ringo's Council Wars series. In fact, I thought it was enjoyable, if laughably silly. But, I'm very very glad that that's not the only kind of thing in the genre.)

Oh hey. A male author rec and it's more military SciFi: John Scalzi's Old Man's War works in the tradition of Starship Troopers and The Forever War pretty well. (See, I don't hate all military SciFi, I just don't like crap, books that think weapons development is more important than character or plot, or testosterone-laden oorah.)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-07-02 07:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fabricalchemist.livejournal.com
IDK but it's def. a difference in genre! Fantasy has a much larger population of Useless Girls. I'm not sure why your discussion has me comparing and contrasting fantasy/scifi instead of scifi/space opera, I think I just missed the entire point of the lecture ERMAHGERD IM GOING TO FAIL THIS CLASS T_T

(no subject)

Date: 2012-07-17 10:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beth-shulman.livejournal.com



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