Wednesday, 1 June 2011

One Girl's Thoughts on Sci-Fi

Yesterday The Guardian beat me to a topic with their article The incredible shrinking presence of women SF writers. Seriously, it's spooky how I was thinking about the very subject on my way home from work. I thought, why bother, but I might as well share my thoughts on the subject.

I love the idea of science fiction, I really do. So why don't I read more? Now I try not to be either sexist or feminist in my views but men and women are not, biologically speaking, the same. The majority of modern sci-fi writers seem to be men writing for a male audience. A male colleague recently commented that female writers concentrate on the emotions of things and male writers are more about the facts of the matter. And maybe that is what's lacking in my sci-fi reading, a bit of emotion!

I want to read about societies gone wrong, moral tales of messing with science, post apocalyptic worlds and alien cultures. Am I asking too much to have developed characters with fully formed emotions and meaningful relationships; I don't mean romance here but who doesn't love an intergalactic love story?

Then there's the tendency to make-up words and expect readers to know what you're talking about. Dan Simmons is especially bad for this, I spent a large part of Ilium not knowing what was going on and that wasn't just because of the cast of many. I even struggled in the sci-fi portion of Cloud Atlas. Sometimes I feel the world of science fiction is a clique where you're only welcome if you know the secret handshake.

There's a current trend in young adult fiction at present for dystopian sci-fi, which is introducing a whole new generation to the genre. These books tend to revolve around a girl meets boy scenario though and can be lacking in substance. Yet they still appeal to me more than 400 pages of men shooting at each other. What I really want is some middle ground.

Sci-fi is the social leper of genres. Whilst many are happy to try out a thriller for the first time or dip into literary waters, suggest a sci-fi novel and they back away pronto! We are living the future now, guys. I carry a miniature computer round in my bag and scientists can regrow my teeth from stem cells (I am hoping this will be fully accepted into society by the time I'm 70). There is no reason why the idea of reading science fiction, that is fiction concocted around scientific theories, shouldn't be widely read. It's got to be something about the writing that's putting everyone off.

There is hope on the horizon, strangely coming from the zombie sub-genre which has migrated from horror to sci-fi in recent years. I loved World War Z by Max Brooks and was impressed by the relevant themes of Mira Grant's Feed which I read to avoid the Royal Wedding. I am not so much of a girlie girl that I'd rather watch a wedding than read a good book.

Women read and buy a lot of books. In my experience they are more prolific readers than men, so they are a market to be tapped into. Whilst fantasy has gone mainstream, I think the gender divide needs to be addressed before sci-fi can step up to the challenge. I would love to be able to browse sci-fi books in Tesco with my grocery shop but they are few and far between.

I fear I have waffled on more than I meant to. Feel free to leave some sci-fi recommendations in the comments. I have Lauren Beukes' beautiful looking Zoo City on order and Mira Grant's latest is on its way...but I'm not just looking for female authors.

Are you a woman that reads sci-fi? Or have you been put off in the past?

8 comments:

  1. I have the same clique-ish thought on sci-fi. So often, I feel as though there's a secret language that I've never learned and so will never be able to understand most sci-fi titles. I have, however, very much enjoyed Dan Simmons's non sci-fi titles, so I can say that he doesn't do it in other genres.

    I'm open to sci-fi. I love dystopian and especially post-apocalyptic and adored Mira Grant's Feed quite a bit. I'm still waiting to find the right sci-fi for me.

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  2. I've tried a couple sci-fi books but couldn't seem to 'get into them'. The plots seemed good, but I just couldn't connect with any of the characters. There has to at least one character I can feel for. I hope to try again soon if I can find an author I like! Great post.

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  3. I love sci-fi books. I always thought they seemed to be missing something, and your post hit on it: emotion. Readers need to connect with stories, and sci-fi often comes across as sterile. If it had the same emotions as other genres, it would probably be more popular.

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  4. Thank you for your wonderful post and your insightful thoughts.
    I love "soft" sci-fi, and with that I mean books that play in the future (either dystopian or post-apocalyptic). It can involve technology (yes, please) but for me it crosses the line when it's all about spaceships and conquering planets and that kind of stuff. But I think you are totally right and that it's the emotional aspect that makes the difference.

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  5. I don't tend to read a lot of scifi. My dad read a lot of fantasy and scifi while I was growing up (still does), but I gravitated more to the fantasty pile of his book recommendation pile. That being said, last Thanksgiving I ran out of books to read while visiting my parents and ended up reading _Old Man's War_ by John Scalzi and I really liked it.

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  6. I really did not care for the Twilight books, but Meyer's _The Host_ is quite good and it's scifi.

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  7. Yes I've read The Host, but mainstream sci-fi like that isn't very common and the success of that book can be contributed to popularity of her Twilight books.

    In answer to a few comments, yes I believe fantasy is now firmly mainstream...even horror is, it's only adult sci-fi (that sounds like porn doesn't it, I mean not YA) that is left behind.

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  8. I love sci-fi books. I read them because the concepts are technical; they describe a distant world/time and the dystopian sci-fi genre is my favourite.

    Generally speaking, and I'll be a bit rambly now, I think one of the reasons a lot of women don't write or read sci-fi is probably the same reason why there aren't a lot of women in Engineering and the traditional sciences. It's a complex issue but gender stereotypes introduced in childhood and those that exist in society are some of the factors.

    Anyhow, I didn't mean to hijack your post but some dystopian sci-fi books I really enjoyed:

    Pattern Recognition - William Gibson
    Children of Men - P.D. James
    Things We Didn't See Coming - Steven Amsterdam

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