Can Women Write Science Fiction?

Uh oh. It makes me cringe to think of how many people that title just offended. Honestly, it was meant to get you in here. Yes, I’m still going to talk about women writers in science fiction, but in a completely respectful way. Some of what I discuss might make you mad, but trust me, it makes me mad as well. I’m going to talk about the male slanted bias in science fiction and I’m going to be completely honest about what my thoughts are about women writers in the genre.

Until I opened up Destiny Allison’s book Pipe Dream, the only female science fiction author I recall reading was a Star Wars book by Christie Golden and Suzanne Collins. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have gotten Golden’s book if it wasn’t the next in a series that I had already started or Hunger Games if it wasn’t so popular. Why? Well, I’m ashamed to admit it, but I have had an unknown bias towards reading male authors in the science fiction genre. I didn’t even know it. Seriously, it never dawned on me that I hadn’t read anything by female authors, but I obviously subconsciously avoided them.

It wasn’t until I was sitting with my good friend, Dr. David Powers, that I even mentioned it. We were going about our usual pre-Bible study routine (talking about science fiction, super heroes, and other things religion usually doesn’t like) and I asked him if he could recall having read a sci-fi book written by a female. He couldn’t. Following up with him for this blog post he said, “I have personally never read a single novel that I can recall by a female science fiction author, unless of course you count the Hunger Games trilogy as such.”

Dr. Powers went on to say that he doesn’t have a bias against female sci-fi authors, just that he hasn’t come across any or know of any. He truly wants to read some from them and is open to recommendations. Some of you might call Dr. Powers and I stupid. Some of you know how many great female sci-fi authors there are out there, but it really is saying something that Dr. Powers has missed out on them. He owns what is probably the largest comic book collection in the South East and is one of the biggest sci-fi nuts I know.

Let’s face it, the genre has a male slant, if for no other reason than the time period it became popular. Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas, though certainly not the first to come up with many of their ideas, were the first to bring it to the forefront of popular culture. When these came out, particularly Star Trek, women were just beginning to push into the work force and get away from their male created shackles. Thank goodness for the progressive movement. So, while both Roddenberry and Lucas both tried (come on, a black and female bridge officer in the 60’s?! Gene be crazy!) they were writing and producing in a male dominated world.

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Science fiction pretty much stayed the course as far as portrayals were concerned. Males dominated with the occasional powerful female showing up. Even then, the females eventually became sex focused. Seven-of-Nine, as bad ass as she was, never wore anything but skin tight suits. Imagine Captain Janeway wearing that every episode (well, don’t imagine that). Heck even Star Trek: Into Darkness had the very unneeded scene of Dr. Carol Marcus stripping down in front of Kirk. Come on, she’s a doctor. I didn’t see Bones throwing off his clothes. And this is all coming from J.J. Abrams, a man known for wanting powerful female characters (Judging by the photos below, I’m guessing the next Star Trek movie will involve an NC-17 Rating?).

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So, why haven’t I read female science fiction material? I honestly don’t know. Okay, fine. I’ll admit it. I think I did purposely avoid female sci-fi authors. I didn’t think they could do it as good as males. I apologize. Really, I do. I debated not telling you, but there it is. I’ve amended my brain waves.

Is the genre still crawling out of its male centered culture? I don’t think so. In fact, attending the X-Con in Myrtle Beach, I honestly think I saw just as many females as males, so the perception and fan base has changed. It’s no longer just a boys club. Shows like Eureka, Warehouse 13, and Falling Skies all have great females in lead roles (though only one, WH13, has a female writer).

I’m willing to bet that female authors can do better with females characters. As hard as I try, I will never be able to tap into the emotion and mindset of the female characters that I write. I just don’t have the right body to understand the mindset of a female. No male does, no matter how much they think they do. Look at Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games. We fell in love with Katniss, a strong lead, female character. If those books had been written by a male, I really don’t think we would have gotten such great material. Katniss Everdeen made girls everywhere proud. There is no doubt that Katniss needs no male to get through her challenges and survive. She can make it on her own. If a male had written the character, Katniss would have eventually needed a male to live. Not once did I think, “Man, Katniss would have been better as a Korey.” Not sure Peeta or Gale could handle that anyway.

I’m reading a great book right now. Pipe Dreams, by Destiny Allison, is turning out to be fantastic. Now that I am consciously reading a female science fiction author, I keep catching myself thinking about whether or not I would write the same things she does. As a female author, she brings a different perspective to every scene (She will also be a featured guest poster on this blog tomorrow, so be sure to check it out). That’s what we need in the genre. A new perspective. We can still have our male heroes, but instead of it being the sexy, obligatory female with them, they can have a true partner that is just as capable of saving the day. I think the best way to get there, and to gain complete respect for female sci-fi characters, is to have more female sci-fi creators. 

Guys, if you are still on the fence about picking up a sci-fi book written by a female, then do it for your relationships. If you are as big of a science fiction nerd as I am, then you have probably had a hard time balancing your love life with your love for the genre. Science fiction controls us, but it’s not our fault. Use the genre to your advantage. Read female authors, learn this new mysterious perspective on sci-fi life, and you will begin to connect better with your partner. Maybe you can convince her that, hey, maybe this science fiction thing can be super cool for girls, too! Good luck!

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About Allen Watson

I've finally decided to write out the stories in my head. Reading has always been a passion of mine, but now I want to get my own book out there. Bachelor's Degree in Political Science Master's Degree in Teaching View all posts by Allen Watson

37 responses to “Can Women Write Science Fiction?

  • David Eccles (@Vikingbeard)

    Oh, Allen! I could rattle of a huge list of female science fiction writers, and my all-time favourite has to be Anne McCaffrey.
    The very first female science fiction writer is still remembered as one of the greats among ANY literary genres, and that is, of course, Mary Shelley!
    I eagerly await Destiny’s guest blog. Such a multi-talented lady!

    • Allen Watson

      Never head of Anne McCaffrey. I’ll check her out. I’ve read Mary Shelly, but that was back in school when I was forced to do so. Just for that simple fact, I hated the idea of it.

      Destiny’s post will be up tomorrow morning!

      • Maddog McGee

        You never heard of Anne McCaffrey?

        I’ve never read her but seen her name mentioned at least 100 times in my day. But then again I do follow the field, even if I think 90% of SF sucks,

        There are a lot of articles calling the old white man the devil lately.
        Which is bigotry in itself but it seems to fly over the head of these Frisbee throwers.

        I liken it to Romance Novels that are dominated by Females for Female Readers. Believe me the Publishers would do more one eyed lesbian Incest Catholic Pope stories if they thought it would sell.

        It’s all supply and demand.

        People like to say they celebrate diversity but do not understand that people not thinking the same way they do is as diverse as one can hope to get(unless they just prefer to do it on a skin deep level)

        Some men will buy male typical of books and some women will buy some female typical books. But the great thing is they have the freedom to make that choice themselves.

  • katyandtheword

    What about L’engle? She rocks and is Sci Fi!

    • Allen Watson

      I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never heard of L’engle, but I just looked her up. Now I see that I know many of the titles and simply didn’t think of her. Thanks for making me check her out!

      • literatewench (@literatewench)

        I’m having trouble with the concept that you’ve never heard of some of the grandmasters of science fiction.

        Ok, here’s a few of the rather famous female writers you’ve been avoiding.

        Ursula LeGuin: The Disposessed, The Left Hand of Darkness. She also wrote the Earthsea books, but those are more fantasy than sci-fi and you might have trouble with them.

        Octavia Butler: The Lilith’s Brood and Parable series. She’s written some of the most truly alien aliens in science fiction.

        Connie Willis…. I can’t even begin to list her stuff. I can’t even begin to describe it. She’s astonishing.

        Kage Baker. I was horrified when she died. Her Company series was brilliant.

        Elizabeth Moon. She writes military sci-fi, which is interesting, and she wrote The Deed Of Paksenarion, which my husband made me read and called one of the best fantasy novels ever written – but I really like her two sci-fi standalones best: “The Speed of Dark” and “Remnant Population”.

        Elizabeth Bear: I admit to having mostly read her short stories, but a couple of them had me nearly in tears.

        Andre Norton. Loads of stuff. Too much stuff to list, honestly.

        C. J. Cherryh. The Cyteen series and other stuff.

        Lois Bujold is my absolute favorite – military SF with a male protagonist, although my husband says she writes like a girl…

        There’s more. Loads more. Tons more. It’s not like women aren’t writing sci-fi.

  • David Eccles (@Vikingbeard)

    OMG, Allen! She is one of the most famous names in science fiction, and that’s including men! In 2005 the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America named her its 22nd Grand Master, and she was inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2006. She died in 2011. Her son continues to write books and continue the Dragonriders of Pern series that she started writing in 1967. She was the first woman to win a Hugo Award and also the first woman to win a Nebula Award.
    How’s that for credentials!

  • M.E. Kinkade

    If you are seeking recommendations, try “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. LeGuin. It’ll kick your butt–it’s a toughie.

    While I do agree there is an anti-feminine slant in the publishing side of sci-fi, I hold that there have *always* been female fans. And I disagree that men can’t write women or vice versa; try some of Neil Gaiman’s works for an incredible example of good writing for female characters.

    • Allen Watson

      I think when said that, I was pretty much talking about myself. I am woefully inadequate when creating my female characters.

      Thanks for the recommendation and thanks for reading!

  • Tuan Ho

    So glad you’re reading Pipe Dreams because Destiny Allison is hands down a fantastic writer.

    Doesn’t matter if she’s male, female or lemur.

  • Jeyna Grace

    I agree. When I think sci-fi, I think men. Hence, I do not know of any female sci-fi authors. Unless it is dystopian, then that’s sort of another story by itself.

  • destinyallison

    Great post, Allen. So appreciate the honesty. One of my favorites is Margaret Atwood. Have you read Orxy and Crake? There are a lot of female sci-fi authors, but it is still a male dominated genre and I love the way you illuminated that in such a tasteful, open, and thoughtful way. Glad you’re enjoying Pipe Dreams and thanks for having me on the blog.

  • destinyallison

    Reblogged this on Destiny Allison and commented:
    I thought this was super cool and not just because I’m in it. Wish more guys were like him.

  • tpolen

    I just finished Destiny’s book, Pipe Dreams, and thought it was amazing! As a sci-fi fan, I have to admit I haven’t come across that many female authors either, but now have some great suggestions from the comments above.

  • Alexes Razevich

    Gosh, you are going to get such a reading list from this post. Ursula LeGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness” has already been mentioned, but I’d also recommend “The Dispossessed.” Octavia Butler won not only a Hugo and a Nebula award, but also a MacArthur Fellowship–the genius grant. You could try her “Parable of the Sower” or just about anything she wrote. Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a science fiction classic. C.J. Cherryh is great for lighter fare. The possibilities go on and on…

  • aekalquist

    It’s funny you say you don’t read science fiction written by female authors because– I don’t really like science fiction (or fantasy) by male authors. I prefer things written from a female perspective. Endless battles and action scenes make my eyes glaze over. I need to see strong relationships or I don’t care about the characters.

    I’m writing a dark science fiction serial and trilogy right now, yet I honestly don’t enjoy most of the science fiction books out there. But I loved Mass Effect, BSG, Farscape, Stargate, WH13, Eureka, etc. I’ve read a lot of fantasy and I think it’s because that’s where many of the great female authors are. My husband convinced me to try out Mass Effect on his XBox and I went on a science fiction media binge after that.

    The opening story in my serial is written from the POV of a young pregnant woman on a generation ship. Her main concern is the welfare of her husband, the fleet, and her unborn child who may have a birth defect that will force her to get an abortion. I dare you to find male writers writing something like that! ;D I’m writing what *I* want to read, because it doesn’t exist.

    I actually think we’ll see more women getting into science fiction when women start writing stories that matter to them. That’s what indie pubbing can do for the genre.

    • Allen Watson

      I understand where you would get turned off by all the action and explosions. Really, I do as well. Unless I have some great character development and relationships, whether it’s in a book or on a show, I’m finished.

      Thanks for the great response!

  • Eden Royce

    I appreciate your honesty with this post and I will reblog. Glad that you’ve decided to expand your horizons and your reading list. (You have some great suggestions above.)

  • K.C. May

    Some of y’all are talking about fantasy, not science fiction. When I think of sci-fi, I think of authors like David Brin and Isaac Asimov… and Andre Norton, one of the SF greats — and a woman.

    • strider66

      FYI, the authors mentioned above are SF authors. Some of them, like Anne McCaffrey, are just better known for their fantasy. And if you’d like some hard SF names try some of these, from a list of female SF authors I posted some time ago:

      Nancy Kress – Probability Moon
      Glynn Latner – Hurricane Moon
      M. J. Locke – Up Against It
      Syne Mitchell – Changeling Plague
      Joan Slonczweski – Brain Plague
      Karin Lowachee – Warchild

  • literatewench (@literatewench)

    No male writer can write women? I can list a couple who wrote stupendous women. Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin – they write women just fine. Women talking to women about things besides men, even.

    Mostly because they’re writing people, not genders.

    You might try writing a couple characters doing something, like changing the tire on a car or buying groceries, then flip a coin to see if they’re men or women, gay or straight, and see how the selections change how you see them in your head and how you’d write them.

  • Types Of Bad Reviews And What To Do About It | Author Allen Watson

    […] them it like an attack on our siblings. Heck, I recently got slammed on Reddit for my ideas about women writing science fiction. What I thought was a completely thoughtful blog post actually pissed some people off. That […]

  • Claudia

    I second the recommendation on Anne McCaffrey. Sci-fi, yet also a gateway drug to the whole dragon genre.

    C.J. Cherryh – the Morgaine Saga, the Chanur Saga
    (interesting sidenote: Cherryh adopted the androgynous initials “C.J.” because her publisher was convinced that readers wouldn’t buy sci-fi titles written by a woman. If you are looking for a new perspective, her series tend to include some interesting genderbending of social roles.)

    Octavia Butler – the Xenogenesis series

    Marge Piercy – Woman on the Edge of Time

    Margaret Atwood – great dystopian stuff

    Connie Willis – The Doomsday Book, if you like time travel

  • Claudia

    (P.S. – although I think that you posted this with good intentions, I too am legitimately stunned that you have never heard of many of these women. Many have been writing for 30-40 years, and are some of the biggest names in sci-fi. How can a sci-fi fan not have heard of them??? Ah well…I guess you have your work cut out for you.)

  • B

    Expand your horizons and check these authors out :
    C. J. Cherryh
    Susanna Clarke
    Ursula K. Le Guin
    Vonda N. McIntyre
    Joan D. Vinge
    Kate Wilhelm
    Jo Walton
    Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
    Elizabeth Moon
    Nicola Griffith
    Octavia Butler
    Catherine Asaro
    Margaret Atwood

  • Mary Louise Davie

    Just wanted to add an option, Sanacion: The Black Hole Mission or coming out the Fall, Sanacion II: We Are The Aliens by Mary Louise Davie. It is hard Science Fiction, and adventure. They are all stories on several levels – from the science to society, military versus civilian, and the individuals involved……….Check it out ’cause I may be biased!

  • strider66

    Like Claudia above, I have trouble understanding how you consider yourself a fan of SF if you’ve never heard of some of the authors mentioned above. Some of them have won major awards in the field.

    Try googling female SF authors You’ve find that women have been writing SF since the beginning of the field, and that not all women write romance heavy storylines. (I’ll take this opportunity to point out M.J. Locke’s Up Against It.)

    I did a kind of response post to this on my blog. I didn’t mention your post because I didn’t want my mini rant to be seen as a condemnation of your post. If you’ve noticed your bias that’s the first step in correcting it, so congrats on that.

    I only mention my post here because I devised a kind of quiz, where you’re only given the synopsis of 10 books to see if you can guess the gender of the author. I’m thinking this might be a good way of introducing more female authors to readers, since you’re not shown a cover or name, just the plot outline. And you don’t know which books are by women until you look at the answer key (the following post). You might find your next female SF authored book on the list.

    http://scififanletter.blogspot.com/2013/08/sf-author-quiz-judging-book-by-its.html

    Happy reading.

  • Guy Pace

    One of my favorite authors was James Tiptree Jr. (actually Alice Hastings (Bradley) Sheldon). She used a pseudonym for reasons described in her Wikipedia entry.

    This also dates me. Still I loved Octavia Butler and Anne McCaffrey. Also, Andre Norton (Mary Alice Norton) — again this dates me. Also, M. J. Engh.

    I could go on.

  • steventhowell

    Male writers need to read female writers. Otherwise, we’ll clearly lack proper perspective. The women who have risen to the top of the SF genre are Damned Good. The writer who most recently blew me away is Mary Doria Russell with her novel The Sparrow. Just excellent.

  • Amy Sterling Casil

    Same list. Same list. Same list. Same list. Same list. Google “Female Science Fiction Writer.” The audio book just released by Audible is among the best audio book productions I’ve ever heard, and I’ve listened to hundreds, as my former partner, horror writer and editor Alan Rodgers, listened to one or more each day. I named the book that for a reason.

  • Wendy Christopher

    Um… why is there still this idea that women only started creeping out of the kitchen in the 60’s? There were women serving as medical personnel at the front line as early as World War One – and in World War Two they also took over all the factory, farming and other traditionally ‘man-jobs’ back on the home front while the husbands, father and sons were off fighting. And that’s without taking into account medieval times, when the women would’ve happily chopped wood, tended their animals and even brewed the beer!

    The 50’s – when sci-fi first started taking off – were really when that kind of ‘woman’s place is in the home’ thinking STARTED – and it was hammered home with a vengeance because the men were back from the wars now and didn’t want all these women stealing their jobs permanently… They needed to boot ‘the girls’ out of the workplace, and what better way to do that than persuade them it was their ‘duty’ to go back home and take charge of all the domestic chores again?

    So, considering sci-fi was born at the same time as sexism was at its height, it’s not that surprising there’s an element of it being originally ‘owned’ by men. But hey – that was over sixty years ago, dudes. Times move on and all that.

    Marge Piercy is a favourite of mine (I particularly loved ‘Body of Glass’), along with Ursula Le Guin (seriously, you’d never heard of HER?) I can’t help wondering if more people – men AND women – would pick up a sci-fi book written by a woman and give it a go if they didn’t actually KNOW it was written by a woman, i.e, the name on the front didn’t give away the gender (or implied a male.) In fact, that does happen already – you may find you’ve read stuff by a woman without even realising… 😉

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