Since the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s science fiction novel Frankenstein in 1818, women have been creating science fiction. Despite this, the genre has been frequently described as essentially male—written by men, for men. In 2014, a number of women will once again contest that narrow view.
The coming year will bring exciting debuts from new writers, as well as a fresh chance to explore the work of established favorites. Orbit Books will bring out two debuts: Ann Leckie’s military SF novel, Ancillary Justice, which “seamlessly blends propulsive action with complex ideas, and human interest with immersive worldbuilding,” according to Orbit editor Will Hinton; and Rachel Bach’s Paradox space opera series launch, Fortune’s Pawn. Orbit editorial director Devi Pillai says, “I was immediately stuck by how the cast of characters in Fortune’s Pawn reminded me of that of Joss Whedon’s Firefly: a motley crew working together, but some members with hidden motivations of their own.”
Several debuts explore multicultural settings. The Girl in the Road (Crown), by playwright Monica Byrne, tells the story of a diverse group of characters on a quest along a futuristic bridge that connects India and Africa. Emmi Itäranta’s debut novel, The Memory of Water (Harper Voyager), won the Teos Publishing science fiction writing competition in the author’s native Finland. Set in a future Europe taken over by China, it tells the story of a young woman learning to be a tea master in a dry world where the tea masters possess secret knowledge of hidden water reserves. “Everyone at Harper Voyager worldwide fell in love with this book, which reminds us of work by Ursula K. Le Guin and Sheri S. Tepper,” says executive editor Diana Gill.
Five Star Publishing offers In Retrospect, Ellen Larson’s debut, a whodunnit with a tough heroine facing a no-win situation on a postapocalyptic Earth. “It reads like a murder mystery, but the 34th-century setting and the time travel content are equally enticing,” says publicist Tiffany Schofield.
In debut novel Archetype and sequel Prototype (Dutton), M.D. Waters spins a feminist adventure about a young woman who rebels in a future world where women are rare commodities. Dutton senior editor Denise Roy says, “Early reads from independent booksellers have compared M.D. Waters to Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy, and George Orwell.”
The upcoming publishing season will also bring plenty of fresh opportunities to revisit favorite settings and characters.
Tor Books editor Stacy Hill is looking forward to Carrie Vaughn’s superhero saga Dreams of the Golden Age, a follow-up to the well-received After the Golden Age. “There has been a lot of discussion lately about female superheroes and the representation of women in superhero stories,” Hill says. “Vaughn’s series is both an homage to and deconstruction of the common tropes of the genre.”
This fall, Tachyon Publications will publish Nebula Award–winner Kage Baker’s posthumous collection In the Company of Thieves. Editor Jill Roberts says, “These amazing time travel stories—about immortal cyborgs owned by a mercenary corporation—showcase Baker’s ability to use the past as a playground for adventure and intrigue.” And Baen will release the trade paperback edition of the Hugo-nominated Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold. Set in the world of Bujold’s long-running Vorkosigan Saga, it turns a supporting character from the series into a reluctant hero. Meanwhile Brenda Cooper’s The Diamond Deep, the second book in a series inspired by the life of Evita Perón and set on a multigenerational starship, is forthcoming from Pyr.
Next spring, Harper Voyager will release Sheri S. Tepper’s Fish Tails, which weaves together the storylines of 11 previous books written over a 30-year span. The summer will see the release of Holy War by Lynda Williams, the ninth book in her Okal Rel series, from small press Hades Publications. And Tor will publish Jo Walton’s My Real Children, her first novel since the Nebula- and Hugo Award–winning Among Others. Editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden describes Walton’s latest as “the story of one woman’s two parallel lives, in two parallel versions of the 20th century, neither of which is quite our own.”
It’s clear that female authors are producing strong work in every subgenre of science fiction, with diverse ideas and broad appeal. Relinquish those old SF stereotypes; women are taking over the future.
SF: A Man’s World
Sci-fi’s a man’s world. Or, at least, it’s mostly a man’s world, according to a PW review of Nielsen BookScan data going back to 2004. We looked at the 100 top-selling science fiction titles in print for every year between 2004 and 2012, and while there are no obvious trends, it’s clear that female writers are far from achieving bestseller parity with their male counterparts. The largest number of female-authored books to have appeared in the top 100 in any year was 17 titles in 2009 (Stephenie Meyer’s The Host was the bestselling sci-fi book that year, as it had been in 2008—and would be again in 2010). The largest number of women to appear on the list in any given year was 10 in 2012, or 16% of the 64 total authors who made the list; that number was up only slightly from 15% in 2004, when 9 of 59 authors were women. In terms of print unit sales of bestsellers, female writers have seen a slight upward tick since 2004, when 9% of sales of the top 100 sci-fi titles were for books authored by women. Last year, that number was 12%, though, notably, the size of the sci-fi print market has plummeted by about 50%—so, while female writers claimed a larger percentage of unit sales in 2012, bestsellers by women sold, overall, 115,000 fewer print copies than in 2004.
Number of books written by women among BookScan’s top 100 SF titles
|2004: 9||2008: 13|
|2005: 7||2009: 17|
|2006: 5||2010: 14|
|2007: 9||2011: 16|
Number of female authors whose books were among BookScan’s top 100 SF titles
|2004: 9 of 59 (15%)||2008: 6 of 49 (12%)|
|2005: 6 of 56 (11%)||2009: 7 of 54 (13%)|
|2006: 3 of 58 (5%)||2010: 7 of 55 (13%)|
|2007: 5 of 56 (9%)||2011: 8 of 57 (14%)|
|2012: 10 of 64 (16%)|
Total print unit sales of books by female authors among BookScan’s top 100 SF titles
|2004: 265,796 of 2,855,210 (9%)|
|2005: 135,595 of 3,190,653 (4%)|
|2006: 172,399 of 2,576,505 (7%)|
|2007: 272,963 of 2,895,776 (9%)|
|2008: 1,190,429 of 3,581,444 (33%)|
|2009: 924,156 of 2,869,446 (32%)|
|2010: 540,047 of 2,213,666 (24%)|
|2011: 269,775 of 1,595,599 (17%)|
|2012: 150,592 of 1,427,635 (11%)|