Mar 05 2007

Psst! Over here! This is the thread for sci-fi geeks.

Don’t want to talk about Shulamith? Fine. Get the science fiction out of your system here.

I’ll even start it off:

Heinlein is a fucking sexist knob.


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  1. Carpenter

    God Bless you Twisty. I threw Stranger in a Strange land against the wall five times before I finished it. It was the perfect example of womens liberated sexuality being all about being looked at and desired and not at all about looking or desiring.
    At least it didnt have any stupid fucking dragons in it though, I freaking hate dragons.

  2. The Stranger

    Heinlein is a fucking sexist knob, you say… His earlier works? His concept of the ideal “Manly manly man’s man” that occasionally (ok, a little too often) decides to be all chivalrous and blah blah blah? Definitely.

    At the same time, I find I want to tip my hat to him on some aspects of his later works. The chief aspect of his writing I would like to praise is that, at least as far as the Lazurus Long series is concerned, he has no double standard for male sexuality and female sexuality. It’s all one big happy orgy family, and characters (like Maureen’s mum and neighbors) who consider female sexuality sinful or dirty or whatnot are openly mocked.

    Also, Lazurus as a mouthpiece for Heinlein is consistantly in favor of woman bucking a lot of other standard traditional expectations. Most sympathetic female characters are competent with both guns and math, capable of taking care of themselves, and reasonably unconcerned with societal expectations. At the same time, I gotta admit that a lot of this is told from the Great White Male Savior perspective, in which Lazurus, Maureen’s father, etc., train and aid the women in their lives in becoming that way.

    Couple points, couple demerits, verdict unclear for me as of yet.

  3. TrespassersW

    I like sci-fi, some sci-fi. But a few years ago I was ambushed by a disgusting piece of anti-women filth that a male friend foolishly lent me. Let me see, we had the short story based around the protagonist’s desire to wire up women neurologically so that the more terrified they were of physical violence the more sexually excited they got. Then there was the little aside in a story where a man surreptitiously injects his date with a ‘desire-drug’. And it turns out that she knew he did it and didn’t mind so she went and had sex with him anyway. As you do. Then there’s the one where a female character has repeated sex with the protagonist in his car before he proves she’s a baddie and she ends up tied to a chair and killed in some vicious way or other my mind has mercifully blanked out.

    This is the first and only book I have ever thrown in the bin after reading. Yes sexist sci-fi turned me into a book-destroying nazi. I believe the author was called John Barnes but it was a while ago.

  4. Pony

    Before this descends into something about cryonics, could we all remember our host’s admonition to respond to trolls with some ascerbic one-liner (if we hafta) and leave it at that?

  5. TrespassersW

    Am I right in thinking The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood would is classed as sci-fi? If so, then that has got to be essential cautionary reading for any optimists out there.

    I have a little shudder every time I recall the bit where all women’s bank accounts were cancelled overnight. What a patriarchal masterstroke.

  6. thebewilderness

    The creepies thing about Heinlein is that his intelligent capable women never say no. They are always happy to serve the needs of the father figure. As a young onion I appreciated his ideas and his story telling skill. As an adult I am revolted by his underlying sexist stew. I met him once in Carmel (neighbors) he was truly creepy.

  7. Rumblelizard

    Someone always says, “But the women in Heinlein’s stories are strong!” Um, how strong are you when you’re still totally subservient to a man? No matter how “strong” they are, all the women in his stories feel it absolutely necessary to uncomplainingly cook for, clean up after, coddle, and bear the innumerable progeny of their male overlords. Faugh!

  8. cycles

    I read a lot of Piers Anthony in junior high (mid-1980s). I enjoyed his whimsical worlds of Xanth and Proton/Phaze, and it was probably not the worst thing a 13-year-old budding feminist could read. I needed to be exposed to it in order to see how the present-day patriarchy mysteriously worms its way into so-called alternate universes and non-human societies. What a coincidence!

    If I recall correctly, Anthony’s women characters tended to be what a 12-year-old boy would whack off to: hot bodies, simple, spoiled, manipulative. Looking back, I’m surprised he got away with it. Then again, I remember seeing his books for sale in grocery store checkout lines, so we’re not exactly talking about James Joyce.

    I’m purposely avoiding the Firestone post, because I haven’t read it. But I want to someday. And then I want to read the discussions of people more smarterer and more-weller spoken than I.

  9. thebewilderness

    Ursula LeGuin examines the same interpersonal relationship politics as Heinlein without the sexism.

  10. j

    Can’t stand sci-fi unless it’s dystopic fiction stuff.

  11. Ozma

    Did anyone else think the Handmaid’s Tale was a confused manifestation of patriarchy-eroticizing that only masqueraded as patriarchy-blaming? it struck me more as mashup heterosexist sex fantasy of the “every woman loves a fascist” variety than as feminist literature.

    I don’t know if it really counts as sci-fi, though, anyway.

  12. vera

    Cycles, you wrote “than I” instead of “than me.” In California, that counts as very well spoken indeed.

    I agree that Heinlein is creepy. His female characters are just another version of the male fantasy of “always on” women.

  13. cycles

    tbw, I’m glad you mentioned LeGuin. Due to the reasons above, I stopped reading sci-fi before becoming broadly exposed to the range of stuff out there. I’ve never read her, or any other women of the sci-fi ilk.

    If it’s not hijacking the thread, I’d love to hear what people think of LeGuin, Octavia Butler, etc. I’m sure there are plenty of sexist women writers just as there are plenty of sexist women everythings, but I’d love to hear about writers who are willing to stare the patriarchy in the face, and imagine a world outside it.

  14. jayo

    Niven is bad too.

  15. marachne

    One of the (many) things I find particularly interesting about Ursula LeGuin is how she has grown and evolved. I have always loved the Earthsea books, reading them first as a young teen, but, as a budding feminist back there in the 70’s, it started to bother me that the protagonist (Ged) was male, as the only way to become a wizard was to be a celibate male. As she later writes, all of that started bothering her too, because she then added female protagonists who were strong, although complex, conflicted, etc. And Atuwan was the patriarchy laid bare.

    I suppose one could quibble and say the Earthsea books are fantasy not science fiction but I read both and see them as related.

    One word of advice though: do not, under any circumstances see the travesty that the SiFi channel did that they called Earthsea. I turned it off after about 20 minutes, just to avoid throwing my TV out the window.

  16. rrp

    Heinlein is a sexist, racist knob. I still haven’t gotten over Farnheim’s Freehold. But in the interest of full disclosure, I became a sci-fi reader because when I was eleven,I picked up one of those for kids* potboilers he wrote.

    *i.e., no sex.

  17. Jokerine

    I absolutely LOVE Le Guin. I haven’t yet found a book I didn’t like. The best part is, that she writes strong characters. She writes about Feminism without you noticing it, because the story is so well crafted.

    Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower is the only book of hers I read. I am still not sure wether I liked it.

  18. Tam

    My dad turned me on to Heinlein bigtime when I was about 15. (If you’ve read Heinlein, you might realize how creepy that is – what with the many subplots dealing with how much all teenage girls want their dads to fuck them – but I didn’t see it at the time.) When you’re young and stupid, his books are pretty sexy and fascinating, and the sci-fi aspects are not terrible (though the idea of people in spaceships using slide rules to calculate their courses is pretty funny).

    But a sexist knob? Most definitely. All of his female characters are the same – which is pretty much true of the males too – but they are all the same “fertile Myrtle” women – always “on” sexually, all about manipulating the men folks (that kind of “empowered woman” whose empowerment comes from letting men think they run things). They’re smart and capable, sure, but that’s not nearly enough to make it worth reading.

  19. Ledasmom

    I remember reading Piers Anthony’s “A Spell For Chameleon” in highschool. That would be the one in which the protagonist refers to an exceptionally beautiful woman as (I quote inexactly, as I don’t have the book anymore; as I-don’t-remember-who said, this is not a book to be put aside lightly, but to be thrown with great force) having a body “built for ra- er, love”, and yes, as the context makes perfectly clear, that unfinished word is “rape”. This is the book that introduces a woman who’s sometimes smart, but ugly, and sometimes stupid, but beautiful. The second book in the series has the protagonist taking off on a long journey ’cause his wife (the previously-mentioned changeable woman) is both heavily pregnant and at the ugly phase of her cycle, and he consoles himself that in a week or so she’ll be getting pretty, “just in time for the baby”. ‘Cause you don’t need to have any brains to care for a baby, you know, just a pretty face. Anthony, not to mince words too much, sucks.
    The Heinlein book that I most dislike is “Podkayne of Mars”, both in the originally-published version and the even more obnoxious author’s preferred version, due to the obnoxious ending in which the uncle of two kids blames their mother for not paying enough attention to them. Is there a father, you ask? Of course there is. Does he catch any censure here? Of course he doesn’t.
    It’s never struck me that Heinlein was as much obsessed with sex as he was, perpetually and monomaniacally, with reproduction. Assembly-line babies, in nearly every late-Heinlein book (yeah, I did stop reading him at some point. Bite my lazy reading ass). Babies babies babies. Legions of pregnant women happily popping out more and ever more babies.
    There are in fact two and only two (as far as I can tell) Heinlein women, their prototypes being the omnicompetent and perpetually fertile sexpot and the whiny controlling mother. There are also girls. Goodness knows what they grow up to be.
    And why hasn’t anyone mentioned Tiptree’s “The Women Men Don’t See” yet? Hmmm?

  20. Inverarity

    I always laugh when people describe Heinlein’s women as “strong and capable” and think his female protagonists were feminist icons. Yeah, they’re strong and capable, but they always happen to be totally hot fuckbunnies for the male protagonists. And anyone who’s read “Friday” has seen the depths of his misogyny.

    I liked Heinlein when I was younger, but even then I recognized that all his females were masturbatory Mary Sue characters. Most avid Heinlein fans creep me out.

    For feminist fiction, besides Le Guin and Sherri S. Tepper, you might check out Suzette Hadin Elgin.

  21. Carol

    Topic: Star Trek is neither science nor fiction. Discuss.

  22. Ledasmom

    Suzette Hayden Elgin – didn’t she do the Ozark Trilogy as well as “Native Tongue”? I seriously need to find the other two books in that; I have “Twelve Fair Kingdoms”, which appeals to me partly, I believe, for the neatness of it all (there’s these families – and each one has certain specific characteristics associated with it – and they each have a castle. It’s kinda like a really well-written board game) and the system she sets up for magic, completely different from that in any other fantasy I’m aware of.
    Tepper, to me, tends to creep over the line into making her worlds serve her point, rather than stand as believable worlds on their own (that is, making her worlds fit her premise), but there’s a great deal in “Raising the Stones” and “The Gate to Women’s Country” that bears looking at – a common emphasis in those two on discarding romance and fantasies of heroism.

  23. Anna

    Do any of you read “Feminist Sci Fi – The Blog”? It’s interesting.

    Are we sticking to Sci Fi or going into Fantasy as well? Because if you’re ever bored and can’t sleep, ask me some day about Guy Gaveril Kay. Sky above, what a sexist ass-hat. In all the books I’ve read of his, *none* of the women have any agency at all. And in the Sarantine Mosaic, they all want to sleep with the male protagonist.

    I can’t believe I used to think he was a good writer. *sigh*

  24. Tapetum

    Suzette Hadin Elgin gets mixed marks from me. Her “Native Tongue” was fascinating reading, and great for explaining how language limits not only what we can express, but even what we can think about. Unfortunately her world-weaving and SF-style speculation fall down a little as compared to her linguistic speculation (which rocks). The problem gets worse with successive books in the series.

    Piers Anthony sucks, big-time. His personal favorite obsessions: depressed, self-harming teenaged girls, torture, sex-in-every-conceivable-combination (don’t even get me going on unicorn reproduction), and tee-hee aren’t we naughty behavior from otherwise sensible teens, drive me up a tree every single time. And they’re in Every. Single. Book.

    Catherine Asaro creeps me out. I had such high hopes – SF from a female physicist! – but she has this thing for love affairs between people of incredible disparate amounts of power. The 100-year-old (but fit, handsome and powerful!), telepathic guy from the larger universe, falls in love with the 18-year-old, who doesn’t even know there are people on other planets. Not just once, either. Every single love affair she shows is like this. Sometimes the female is the older, more powerful one, but the story I remember where that happened, the male is literally the woman’s slave. It’s definitely not seen as the natural order that he would be more lowly – whereas the nubile teenaged girls just seem to naturally fall for these guys who are so out-of-their league in terms of experience and power that an egalitarian relationship would be utterly impossible.

  25. Sniper

    Did anyone else think the Handmaid’s Tale was a confused manifestation of patriarchy-eroticizing that only masqueraded as patriarchy-blaming? it struck me more as mashup heterosexist sex fantasy of the “every woman loves a fascist” variety than as feminist literature.

    Interesting. Atwood’s writing is very female-centered but I’d have a hard time calling it feminist. She’s a feminist, but her writing is full of wily, foolish, flawed, opportunistic people (mostly women) who’d sell out anybody to survive. I though her protagonist in Handmaid’s Tale was very much the I’m-not-a-feminist-but type of person – not very politically before or during her ordeal.

  26. Tam

    An interesting sci-fi book I read lately (that was a formative experience for my roommate) is “The Legend of Biel.” Some of Twisty’s philosophy about kids reminds me of that book a bit.

  27. Mandolin

    A small scattering feminist SF authors I love, some already mentioned, others not:

    Octavia Butler (I took a class with her, not long before she died. She spoke eloquently on feminism, race, and politics. I truly believe she was a genius in all the best senses of the word.)

    Margaret Atwood

    Marge Piercy

    James Tiptree, born Alice Sheldon, also wrote as Racoona Sheldon

    L. Timmel Duchamp

    Nicola Griffith

    Samuel Delany

    Nalo Hopkinson

    Joanna Russ

    Ursula LeGuin

    Susie McKee Charnas

    Justine Larbelestier (non-fiction particularly)

    Sherri Tepper (her books are flawed as literature, in my opinion, and the feminist theory as it protrudces into the novels is sometimes, I think, overly simplistic, but her writing is interesting.)

  28. Inverarity

    I agree that as sci-fi, Elgin’s books are mediocre at best, and the second book of the “Native Tongue” trilogy was muddled, the third almost incomprehensible. However, I was hooked by the linguistics (I even have one of her Laadan books).

    Also agree that Tepper’s stories tend to get a bit heavy-handed in delivering her point.

    Piers Anthony is probably the most sexist scifi author this side of John Norman.

  29. Ah Clem

    I was wondering what your readers think of Maureen McHugh. She’s been compared to LeGuin and she’s won the Tiptree Award for her first novel, “China Mountain Zhang”.

    I found “Mission Child” a bit grim, but I really enjoyed her recent collection of short stories. I’m not sure if she can be considered a feminist, more of a techno-humanist.

  30. Mandolin

    “Piers Anthony is probably the most sexist scifi author this side of John Norman.” — well, there’s the dude who wrote the Gor novels.

    Connie Willis also rocks, although I think she rejects the label of feminist science fiction writer, because of some incident with Joanna Russ at one of the first wiscons where she was told something along the lines of she was not feminist enough. I seem to recall there was an implication that it was indecent of her to write stories about housewives, but I could be wrong about that. I don’t know for sure that Connie rejects the label of feminist writer, though, just that I know there’s tension there. Anyway, as a feminist, I enjoy the heck out of her work.

    I haven’t read Maureen McHugh, though I think she taught at one of the Clarions recently.

  31. 'soup

    LeGuin-yes! She lives in my city and we’re big here on local everything. I once was on jury duty at the same time as she was (she got picked but I didn’t) and Lathe of Heaven used Portland as its locale. I recently reread Left Hand of Darkness which was about people whose genders change depending on who they’re with when they go into a form of estrus so everyone could be fathers *and* mothers if they wanted. Most if not all of her stuff examines gender roles.

    Someone a long time ago lent me stories by Spider Robinson-some were pretty amusing but there was a lot of odd sex in them. I found out recently that he was (is?) associated with the Farm, a cult-like or former cult that in the beginning was anti-coupleist and also anti-birth control but seems to have become something else. All sounded creepy to me.

  32. Miranda

    One of the best feminist alternate worlds I ever read was the Psalm of Herod/Sword of Mary pair by Esther Friesner. Depressing as all hell, but great nonetheless.

    It’s so far in the future that several evolutionary stages have occurred, with massive famine that led to infertility in women, who become incapable of having penetrative sex except at certain times. An entirely new religion has been built around this, with Herod seen a saint who killed the babies so Jesus could live, and so forth.

    Now, things are slowly changing again.

    A lighter read on a similar topic is Barbara Hambly’s Sisters of the Raven/Circle of the Moon. It’s set in a desert country, where the weather, healing and so forth were all performed by male wizards. The women are in a very subservient position. But something happens, and the women become the ones able to do magic. Many people aren’t happy about this.

  33. OM

    I read Stranger in a Strange Land in the 70’s and was not able to finish it due to the ridiculous direction it took at the end. I forgot about this until I got it on audio book for my teenager, and listened all the way through and see no reason to change my opinion. As far as I’m concerned, Heinlein just copied the Playboy mansion for his novel’s version of utopia. That and the christ-like sacrificial “death” of it’s protagonist makes it total sexist drivel. “Grok” is still a cool concept, though.

    My kid lost interest, too, thankfully.

  34. thebewilderness

    “I am only an egg” is the only thing I still appreciate about Heinlein, and I dislike him so intensely that I prefer to think someone else said it to him and he used it in Stranger.

  35. Kathleen

    Stranger in a Strange Land is the only Heinlein I read, and it definitely follows what everyone here has been saying. What I think is interesting about it, is that its message is basically “Free Love: Yes!” and I have certainly felt that Feminism and Sexual equality often gets tied together with Free Love. But as SISL shows, I think, Free Love isn’t necessarily feminist, especially when you are talking mostly about the women being perpetualy “on” as discussed above.

    re: Guy Gavriel Kay – I have only read the Fionnavar books and I loved them, and didn’t notice what you point out about the agency issues. I’ll have to think about that.

  36. PS

    I, too, liked Heinlein as a youngster. I also liked Spider Robinson and Tom Robbins and other dude writers that I can’t stomach at all now. I got the posthumous Heinlein-Robinson book recently and gave up in disgust after the first couple of chapters.

    Heinlein’s female characters (like Tom Robbins’) strike me as puppets, a fantasy of how he would like women to be. Which is, I supposed, his prerogative as a writer.

    I’m a big Tiptree fan, as well as Johanna Russ. A couple of dude writers I currently like are A.A. Attanasio and Jonathan Carrol.

    Off now, on a rowboat with the women men don’t see.

  37. Ugly In Pink

    I also enjoyed Spider Robinson. He’s not perfect, but definitely a more feminist sci-fi author than most i’ve seen. I’ve never heard about the Farm connection though. That doesn’t seem to jibe with what i’ve read from him, although I don’t recall any specific mentions of birth control.

  38. Ugly In Pink

    In addition, the guy who wrote the Stainless Steel Rat books (i forget his name) showed a remarkable degree of sensitivity in his women characters, and has a section on a planet with extremely strict, but reversed, gender roles that certainly seems to be poking fun at the patriarchy, including one man wailing that Mom wanted him to be a tomgirl but his biological place is in the kitchen.

  39. SusanM

    Ledasmom: And why hasn’t anyone mentioned Tiptree’s “The Women Men Don’t See” yet? Hmmm?

    I was going to! As soon as I finished the thread. Most of the authors I love have been mentioned; I got started on them (and SciFi, which I had until that point ignored) with the Women of Wonder series, specifically devoted to women scifi authors:


    HIGHLY recommended for beginners, and I think the whole series has recently been reformatted and reissued.

  40. thebewilderness

    George R R Martin is a brilliant writer. His character development is exquisite.

  41. Pony

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned Lessing.

  42. B. Dagger Lee

    When I was a wee B. Dagger, for one whole summer my father parked me in a university library (my stepmother was finishing her doctorate), that had a large collection of pulp science fiction novels and complete sets of journals like Amazing Stories. What a blissful summer!

    As a teen, I wept over The Left Hand of Darkness. It’s more moving for gay children, I’m sure.

    You know who’s a real dick? That guy who wrote Ender’s Game .

  43. sarah

    Anybody ever try reading Orsen Scott Card? I threw his celebrated “Ender’s Game” across the room. He seems to feel that he needs to remind us how weak and non-aggressive women are….every other page and how women who don’t fit the model are “different”.

  44. B. Dagger Lee

    Pony! Lessing, yes! Her autobiography is terrific too.

  45. Lesley

    Has anyone read any of Doris Lessing’s sci-fi? The only one I’ve read is the Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five which I highly recommend. Also recommend Marge Piercy’s He, She, and It.

    Am a fan of Battlestar Gallactica and very sorry to see the Kara Thrace character (apparently) gone from the show. She kicked some serious ass.

  46. Lesley

    P.S. Marge has a nifty web site.

  47. Emotenote

    I noticed there has been no mention of Asimov yet. When I was a young innocent he was my favorite, until one day when I realized there seemed to be no place for women in his universes. He consistently wrote around patriarchal subjects with barely a nod to the other half of the human race. Even in Foundation, when he leads you to believe that a female might save the day, in the end it was a female being controlled by a male and forced to save the day. After that epiphany my poor stomach just couldn’t take him any more.

    p.s. Left Hand is one of my all time faves, I think it should be taught in literature classes for its prose as well as content.

  48. Pinko Punko

    I only read the teen Heinlein, but then as a teenly dude it was all “teenly dudes with werewithall to go to moon, defeat Nazis!”

    All the fascism that seemed to seep out kind of turned me off the rest. He seems like certainly a knob.

    I’ve only read the first 4 Earthsea novels by LeGuin and they are excellent, especially the fact that she starts with the usual Patriarchy and then slowly examines the hell out of it it very natural ways. It is only off-putting to those that don’t want to think about it. I need to read the latest. Maybe I will get it from Amazon. I never have time for anything.

  49. marachne

    Oooh, Nicola Griffith — another very dark writer (didn’t someone say they only liked dystopias — these are for you). I thought Slow River particularly good, but then I like SF that looks at things we take for granted in the west (like an available, clean water supply) and extrapolates to what happens when the way’s we’re fucking up the earth comes to it’s natural conclusion.

    She’s strayed over into mysteries, which is OK because I like them too, and my oh my can she write steamy lesbian sex scenes.

    Of course, it’s all theoretical for me until I finish this damn doctorate — pleasure reading? What’s that?

    However one of my few guilty pleasures is Battlestar Gallactica – talk about character development! As for Kira Thrace/Starbuck being gone — don’t bet on it. I think it’s just another plot twist. But it is such torture to watch the show in real time: the SciFi channel is clearly aimed at boys of a certain age and proclivities. All the sexed-up pornolicious babes in the commercials. And “male enhancement cream? eeeeew.

  50. miz_geek

    Suzette Haden Elgin has a Live Journal (http://ozarque.livejournal.com/) where she discusses sci-fi, linguistics, feminism, and aging (among other things). She maintains a nice, friendly community there. But I agree with the general assessment of her fiction.

    I’d agree about Tepper, too, although I find myself keeping an eye out for her new novels, nonetheless. Interesting ideas, and I keep hoping one of her new books will be as startling to me as The Gate to Women’s Country or Beauty was.

    So, what about Elizabeth Moon and other similar writers? You know, space operas with strong warrior women? Are they feminist? They don’t tend to address gender roles much at all, but they also don’t tend to be annoying in the classical Heinlein-esque fashion. Are they copping out?

  51. leen

    I think Orson Scott Card has just gotten kookier with the years. Personally, I never liked any of his novels, but some of his short stories (I’m thinking of ‘The Porcelain Salamander’ and ‘Unaccompanied Sonata’) are really beautiful. Also, the concept of ‘making’ as laid out in the Alvin Maker books (even if it was only for the boys) was an awesome one.

    I second (or seventeenth!) LeGuin — I read all of the Earthsea books in a row (only a year or two ago) and just loved how the last few books totally turned everything you thought you understood on its head.

    What was that book of stories/essays she did all about marriages? That was pretty interesting, too.

  52. Frigga's Own

    I have to second thebewilderness’ endorsement of Martin. I’m in the first half of A Clash of Kings and I’m just overjoyed about his characters. There are few main characters that lack dimension, and more than a few female characters who actually do something and have real thoughts and opinions. Why, it’s almost as if Martin were writing about people!

    Mostly, I’m excited that none of the characters from the previous book have lost any dimension. Don’t spoil it for me if they do in the later books, I’m reading as quickly as I can.

    On the subject of Niven, I’d also like to say that Ringworld would have been a wonderful book if Niven had ditched the idea of having any women in it. It was an intriguing premise, and fairly original delivery, except for Teela. Teela is a character who has perfect luck, she is so lucky that she’s never been hurt seriously in her life. So what does Niven propose as the solution to this specimen of unpunished womanhood? Why, the Universe sets about to teach her common sense by trying to kill her. Teela is completely lacking in common sense because she’s never been punished for being a woman she’s lived her life accident-free. She gets the dudely heroes into danger, nearly gets them killed, and has to be repeatedly rescued because she’s an idiot. I would rather read a book that featured no women whatsoever than one that featured such an immense defamation of my gender. I wondered if Niven had even met a woman in his lifetime, so dead-set was he to portray one as a visitor from planet stupid. Twelve year old fanfic writers with War and Peace thick portfolio’s of Mary-Sue self-insertion write more beliveable women.

    That’s all the vitriol I can muster today for the dudely institution of writing green-skinned slave women from the planet sexbot. I have to discontinue my abuse of the hyphen and it’s sisters in punctuation, but I may return with some relevant things to say about televised Sci-Fi when I’ve had some time to sleep and recharge my daily allotment of spelling errors.

  53. Pony

    Yeh BDL, trust me to come up with someone only you and I recognize. I haven’t read her SF series. I made my way UP to that series and stopped reading her back then as I began to focus on Canadian writing. Now well, maybe books on cd.

  54. thebewilderness

    She recently started a blog.

    Last month I went through all her titles to pick out the ones I had missed over the years and gorged myself.

  55. B. Dagger Lee

    Now see, I was disappointed in the George Martin books. I thought the sex roles were fairly stereotypical in them. One swordswoman, one.

    I was disappointed in Susannah Clarke’s book too. Jane Austen is a million times more of a feminist, examining class and gender.

  56. Surreul

    I would actually class Catherine Asaro as a feminist author or at least an author a lot of whose books could be read as feminist.

    She does go in for relationships with serious power differentials but she has multiple books where the women is in the powerful position and it is seen as natural, usually because of the culture from which the characters are from.

    The culture of the ‘main’ universe is one that was historically matriarchal but had come around to equality about on the level of today’s society. So you have traditional female generals that just can’t seem to deal with males as anything but mates/sexual objects, etc. I think it’s a fascinating deconstruction of cultural assumptions.

    Also, I like how the male characters are always sexualized and admired and desired in her books, even more so then the female characters.

  57. DG

    I haven’t seen anyone mention Andre Norton yet. She might not have been a feminist beacon, but for me, who grew up reading pretty much exclusively sci-fi/fantasy, she was a breath of fresh air.

    Robin McKinley is good too. Although pretty definitely fantasy not sci-fi. However she’s funny and smart and her female characters tend to be autonomous beings. Which is rare in the genre.

    Ann Mccaffrey. Also more fantasy than sci-fi, and most aimed at pre-teen and teen readers. Which is good in a way since she can write female characters that think, form complete sentences and sometimes don’t have to find a man to find happiness.

    Ursula LeGuin (’cause really, she can’t be mentioned enough)

    Marge Piercy is also a good read.

    Marion Zimmer Bradley. Totally fantasy, but I have a hard time talking about sci-fi without bringing in fantasy.

    I’m too cheap to invest in cable, but the show “Firefly” that was on some time ago is pretty good. You can get it on DVD now. Certainly not patriarchy free, but fun. And had the possibility of bringing up some interesting themes on gender and such. Unfortunately it was cancelled.

  58. ripley

    Liz Williams is pretty interesting, especially that she doesn’t base everything in america or america-in-space. pretty heteronormative but still adventurous in some ways. _Empire of Bones_ is my favorite, followed by Darkland

    Tricial Sullivan’s MAUL is also interesting in its distillation of youth culture, consumer capitalism, and technology-mediated reality

    LeGuin, yes, hooray. Ditto Octavia Butler

    I enjoy Tepper despite her kinda formulaic style, maybe it’s closer to junk food scifi, it’s mostly my recreational reading, but not as sexist as other scifi! _Grass_ is my favorite (although genderwise much more conventional than some others).

    Heinlein – I remember, as a teen, starting a book called Fifth Column in which the “Pan-Asians” invade America, with their inscrutable ways and their hara-kiri and their different genetic makeup, so let me add “virulently racist” to the knob description. trust me, you do not want to read that filth.

  59. Edtih

    Feminist utopian fiction, all the way. Firestone lamented about the lack of it. It’s the only sci-fi I read.

  60. Kristina

    I have always had a morbid fascination with Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” the short story about the death of an automated house.

  61. BubbasNightmare

    Granted–Mr. Heinlein could be a sexist knob.

    Keep in mind, however, that the male “spokesmen” of Heinlein’s novels are (usually) proved wrong within one or more contexts of the novel. A good deal of the conflict of those novels consists of differences between the old man/narrator and the current culture.

    And if you buy a good deal of Firestone’s book, many of the things that she foresees as the result of a successful feminist revolution are (as I’ve stated elsewhere) predicted in Heinlein: banishment of the incest taboo, pansexuality, true gender equality, artificial gestation and birth. One of the better portrayals of the evolution of a woman’s life from a status of property to the matriarch of a powerful family occurs in To Sail Beyond the Sunset.

  62. Surreul

    Yes! on Marion Zimmer Bradley and Anne McCarthy and I’ll add Mercedes Lackey as another fantasy teen writer who had excellent female characters.

    Strangely I had classed Andre Norton with Piers Anthony in my head as one of those authors I had really enjoyed when younger but had started seeing too many issue with as I grew older. Perhaps I’m misremembering as I can’t remember what particular feminist issues I had with Norton of the top of my head.

  63. Alie

    Though I stray towards Fantasy rather than Sci-Fi (in my brain, it’s all under the umbrella SF/F), I have to add the YA author Tamora Pierce. Young Lady Coming of Age Stories…I have a very serious weakness for books about girls fighting the fictional patriarchy through the clever use of pretending to be their twin brother/having magical powers/being really awesomely strong and kicking ass. After I graduated from college and was forced to leave the Adamless Eden that is a seven sisters’ school, I spent a few weeks reading and rereading the Tortall books in a vain effort to ignore the patriarchy’s ubiquitous hold on my life. Also, reading about Lady Knights Challenging Their Leaders’ Perceptions of Girls really gets the heart pumpin’ and reading to Hate the Patriarchy with renewed vigor.

    As a young blamer-in-the-making, I spent much time with Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons, and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, which are not only about Young Princesses who run away to become the Chief Cook and Librarian of the King of Dragons (who asserts that the human contrivance of gendering monarchal rulers is really quite strange).

    Actually, the two most influential books of my life (no, seriously), Jane and the Dragon and The Princess and the Dragon, were picture books about subverting the patriarchy. With dragons.

  64. Mar Iguana

    I heard some radio guy talking about “The Handmaid’s Tale” couple years ago, who had asked women to call his show. He said the British women mostly thought it was very interesting. Canadian women said they thought it very frightening. American women wondered how long they had.

    I think it is absolutely a feminist work. Atwood had traveled in the Middle East around the time of the Islamic revolution and saw what happened to the women there and it was one of the main inspirations for the novel. If many of the women seem opportunistic it was because she was trying to show how crucial it is to patriarchy that women be used to repress other women.

    I very much enjoyed Marge Piercy’s “He, She and It.” Especially It.

  65. Pony

    A website for feminist sf, utopian fiction and fantasy:

  66. Katherine

    Ursula Le Guin and Robin McKinley do a fantastic job with their female heroes. Awesome! I loved McKinley from the beginning because her heroes were female, and when you’re in fifth grade, having female heroes is awesome. (Well, at least it was for me.)

    Nancy Kress is hard scifi, and she deals more with economics, but her protagonists, Leisha, Miri, Jennifer–all female, all autonomous and all intelligent and intelligently written. (Though her take on humanity does become depressing further on in the Beggars trilogy.)

    Battlestar Galactica – love it. Roslyn, Starbuck, Caprica Six, Number Three–wow. I heart strong women, especially those who buck the hierarchy.
    (Am I the only one who loves how Kara flouts patriarchal notions of “combat” as being restricted to men only?)

    I love you, Twisty, all the more so for expanding into scifi. :-)

  67. Laurel

    I read an absurd amount of sci-fi/fantasy as a teen-ager. I read really fast, and I didn’t watch TV, and I love me some escapism.
    I remember gradually coming to the realization that all the books I was reading had imported their gender roles wholesale. All the aliens looked funny, but their gender was instantly recognizable. It drives me crazy. Ann McCaffrey, who at least has lots of lead female characters, is terrible in this regard. So is David Eddings, but that’s not so surprising. Even Octavia Butler does a lot of essentializing about gender, though she’s so smart she can basically get away with it and be interesting anyway.

    LeGuin is, of course, amazing. But she’s also a serious art fiction writer, so, you know, I expect that. McKinley’s stuff is ok on gender, and fun, if not the best-written. Kate Elliott’s pretty good – the nomadic people in the Jaran books have a pretty strict gender system, but it doesn’t really line up with our gender roles. They’re matriarchal and matrilineal and rape is completely unheard of, to the point that when the nomadic warleader is adjudicating a case in a neighboring city learns that a guy has raped a woman, he immediately cuts off said guy’s head. On the other hand, the non-Jaran books of hers I read were appallingly boring, so I never learned anything about their gender roles. Mercedes Lackey’s books are all set in this really blah blah fantasy world with talking horses who radiate goodness and mages and air sprites and shit, but her gender roles beat the pants off McCaffrey’s, at least in terms of ultra-commercial sci-fi. Pretty much all of her books pass the Mo Movie Measure.

    The thing that gets me is when people claim they’re making things up, but in fact use the same old same old. This happens all the time, and pretty much all the writers I just mentioned do it except LeGuin (who borrows stuff to tell us more about our world and our own myths, not because she can’t come up with anything better). The gender roles get me, but so do the Tolkien rip-offs and the aliens who are basically just like us, only silver, and the pseudo-medieval social structures and clothes. Oh, and everyone’s white. You’re inventing a whole world here! You get your own metaphysics! Do something interesting! Best on that count that I’ve read recently were C.J. Cherryh, whose Foreigner series has aliens who are primarily different from humans in having a completely different, basically incomprehensible emotional make-up (even though they don’t look that different), the Philip Pullman books (great cosmology, better worked-out than anyone except Tolkien), and the Sabriel/Lirael books, which are about death and magic involving the dead and a teen-age girl (but not really in a titillating kind of way).

    Enough with the parentheses! Conclusion: sci-fi is just like other fiction, only it’s more frustrating when it’s boring because the author had so many damn options.

  68. Joolya

    Maria Doria Russell

    This thread makes me resolve to: finally really finish my gender-queering sci fi books, so that we blamers who love a good geek story can have another little stack of paperbacks.

  69. thisisendless

    Ok, now I am definitely a feminist. And also a Sci-Fi geek, I even work in a bookstore that specializes in Sci-Fi. But I happen to like Heinlein despite his somewhat sexist overtones. But (and I may get flamed for this) you have to take into account the time period. I mean to “condemn” Heinlein for being sexist, is kind of like condemning people in the middle ages for being violent. At least in my opinion. Heinlein is a product of his time. I really like a lot of the insight that is found in Stranger in a Strange Land such as the fact that laughter actually stems from “hurting” and the word “Grok” is a classic. I do agree that the ending kind of disappointed me, but I don’t like to throw the whole thing out.
    I would also like to echo what The Stranger said about his Lazurus Long series.

    I do understand the feeling of feathers being ruffled though. It is difficult not to groan, grumble and roll one’s eyes at certain things. I do that when I watch the original Star Trek Series. But still, (and maybe this makes me a bad feminist) I LIKE the original Star Trek, and I like Heinlein.

    If you want SERIOUS digusting misogynistic sexist tripe, then read any novel in John Norman’s Chronicles of Gor Series. Seriously, everytime I randomly open the page of one of those books, there is some barbarian woman slave in chains begging to be mistreated, beaten and raped and getting ridiculously turned on for the protaganist. It is beyond offensive because it is just so ridiculous. That man definitely has issues. And the thing is, whenever we get the books in stock (we buy them used), they almost IMMEDIATELY get sold, usually via the internet. Whatever ones we get, people will buy ALL of them at once. I have to wonder about those people. For those unfamiliar: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gor
    The picture on tha cover and some of the titles really say it all.

    But my absolute favorite all time author is Spider Robinson. I actually got to meet him once in our store and he is SUCH a great guy. He is exactly the type of person you would expect from reading his books. He has a great vision and I find his books to echo certain spiritual truths.

    I am also very fond of the Kushiel’s Series by Jacqueline Carey, with the very tough and very sexual Phaedre, the spy, consort, masochist chosen by the gods.. Very fun read. It is more fantasy than Sci-Fi, but I really like it a lot.

  70. Ann Bartow

    I like the later LeGuin a lot, and Octavia Butler and Nancy Kress. Cripes did I dislike Doris Lessing’s recent “The Sweetest Dream” though… Of course, it is not sci-fi. Unlke BDL (and Echidne of the Snakes, if I recall correctly), I DID like Susannah Clarke’s book, a lot. But fiction with footnotes would sort of have a natural appeal to a geek like me. And I thought there was a lot of subversive feminism going on, but I can understand how not everyone would read it that way.

    NB: The popular tween/teen trilogy (actually so far it is just a two-ogy) of “Eragon” and “Eldest” by Christopher Paolina are fun reads if you approach them as anthropological inquiries.

  71. Emotenote

    Alie, thanks for the suggestions, I happen to have two dragon-loving-subvert-the-patriarchy daughters who would love some new reads.

    “Actually, the two most influential books of my life (no, seriously), Jane and the Dragon and The Princess and the Dragon, were picture books about subverting the patriarchy. With dragons.”

    The younger is as-of-yet innocent in the ways of the patriarchy so we try our best to provide opportunity for the strengths and finesse to be inserted before they are needed, without causing in her the cynicism we have developed from fighting the good fight just yet.

    The elder of the two and avid SF fan has no time for patriarchal nonsense. She seems to have been born to cut to the chase and surgically remove, by what-ever means, any offending or demeaning content she comes across. (needless to say the kid is ever-so popular here in the South)

    Our greatest fear as parents is that the younger daughter will become a cheerleader. The thought makes my hair stand on end.

  72. darkles

    Anybody read Pat Murphy? Not directly feminist-but Fun Stuff! I remember one I read some time ago called The City, Not Long After. It took place in San Francisco after a plague had wiped out a majority of the population. A battle developed between the leftover “free-spirits and artists” and an outside tyrant. Art ultimately saves the day and one of the main warriors is a woman named Jax who tags rather than kills her opponents. She’s also written a YA novel called Nadya set in pioneer days whose main character is a bi-sexual werewolf.

  73. thisisendless

    Pat Murphy is great! The City Not Long After is on my list of stuff to read. But with school I don’t have any time to read fun stuff. :(

  74. The Stranger

    I’d like to further laud Ursula K. LeGuin and Octavia Butler. They are simply teh awesome.

    I’m a huge, huge fan of George R. R. Martin. Also, there’s a lot more than one swordswoman. Off the top of my head, I can think of Brienne the swordswoman, another northwoman with a mace, Arya as a fencer in training, the sand snakes of Dorne, the spearwives of the wildlings, the I-forget-the-clan’s-name of the mountain tribes that’s all female… I know I’m forgetting some others, too. There’s also speculation that Lyanna Stark fought in a tourney prior to Robert’s takeover.

    I don’t think he’s actually attempting to be explicitly feminist, but I don’t think it’s sexist, either.

  75. The Stranger

    Oh, and there’s also a lady in the Vale of Arryn as well who fights in her own right. And Asha, who is basically presented as the best heir to the throne of the Iron Islands, and who is a more capable warrior, captain, and admiral than her brother, certainly. I’ll probably think of more examples when I try and get to sleep, of course.

    As a general rule, I’d say Martin treats women who try and buck societal expectations with sympathy, and it’s framed as a negative trait for men to restrict them. Arya is of course the ultimate tomboy, and one of very very very few truly and completely sympathetic characters.

    And I’d like to point out (can’t believe I forgot this) that I lifted my posting name pretty much directly from the dominant theology in Martin’s Westeros. The classic clerics-and-priests-lawful-good religion practiced throughout the medieval-europe-y part of the world is called the Faith, and they worship the Seven (who are supposed to be seven aspects of the same god). Three are considered female traits (maiden, mother, crone), three are considered male traits (father, warrior, smith), and the seventh… well, that’s the Stranger.

  76. CafeSiren

    I think the deal with Atwood is that she writes her female leads in a way that you *almost* empathize with them. One of the things I liked about her writing was that her characters’ “bad” choices were really excellent illustrations of how a woman’s choices can never be made in a vacuum; that they are all within the patriarchal construct. Her Handmaid’s Tale does a nice job of separating women into their patriarchally-approved functions, but none of these functions make women happy.

  77. jp

    ‘But boss, contraception is a *girl’s* responsibility.’

    Actual quote from ‘I Will Fear No Evil’. Yep, Heinlein was a knob.

    What do people here think of Joanna Russ’ ‘The Female Man’?

  78. Clio Bluestocking

    Thank goodness! I wasn’t the only one! Years ago, some friends insisted that I read “Stranger in a Strange Land” for some reason having to do with individuality and peace and love or something. In any case, I thought “cool” and read it. I could’t get fifty pages into it. At the time, I hadn’t developed much of a feminist conciousness, Heinlein just offended me with these female characters that I remember describing as “bimbos.” All of my friends were horrified. How could I not like this fabulous book? Now that I think about it, they were all dudes.

    As for Atwood, I do find her characters in general tend to be passive; but I don’t think that she is saying that women themselves are passive. The passivity of her characters seems to underscore the patriarchy in which they live and which has rendered them unable to act without truly revolutionary behavior.

    I haven’t read sci-fi or fantasy since the 1980s; but it seems to me that the genre has much more room for creating a feminist vision of the world and experimenting with concepts of gender simply because the authors are not bound by contemporary society.

    By the way, would Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s _Herland_ fit into this anywhere?

  79. Mandolin

    “Ann Mccaffrey. Also more fantasy than sci-fi, and most aimed at pre-teen and teen readers. Which is good in a way since she can write female characters that think, form complete sentences and sometimes don’t have to find a man to find happiness.”

    I really don’t think she’s a feminist writer — at this point. I reread the first Pern book recently, and it includes rape-to-acquiescence sex and romaticization of violence against women. I realize those things were more acceptable when the novel was written, and that the novella it was based on appeared in that bastion of boys-with-toys SF Analog, but I wouldn’t hand it to a pre-teen as a feminist book without some sort of preface.

    Heinlein’s sexism may be read-through-able because of the era he was writing in, but I think it’s incredibly invisible to a lot of the male SF fans I talk to. When I say it’s sexist, I always have a fight on my hands. In that context, I think it’s important to talk about Heinlein as sexist — because otherwise his ideas get a pass as being mainstream and acceptable. (though I guess sexism is mainstream, if not acceptable)

    Second Nancy Kress, Mary Doria Russel. Also, Pat Caddigan for cyberpunk authors. And Nisi Shawl, co-author of _Writing the Other_, publishes work that challenges conceptions of race and gender, placing black women at the center of the stories.

    I don’t know if I agree that Octavia essentializes about gender. She seems to have believed in human biology as a determining factor of behavior more strongly than I do, personally, but the women she wrote defied a lot of conventions — often cold and withdrawn — and she was very interested in examining situations where women were in control (the story in Bloodchild about the diggers, her last novel, Fledgling).

  80. Joanna

    I spent 1968-1974 surviving adolescence by reading every science fiction and fantasy book in three libraries. The writers who blew my head open were Samuel R Delany, Ursula K Leguin and Joanna Russ. Later I discovered Octavia Butler. My favorite Connie Willis book is Lincoln’s Dreams.
    Although I have liked Doris Lessing’s fiction and memoir, I couldn’t finish her excursions into science fiction. I suppose I should try again.
    Ann, as the mother of another dragon-loving young girl, I hated reading Eragon with her because I thought it was so sexist. I was secretly proud of her for figuring it out herself later on.

  81. rrp

    I think the most interesting sf writing on gender that I’ve come across recently in in Greg Egan’s Distress. Androgyny is one of the threads in a complex novle about biology, technology, ethics, and physics GUT (grand unified theory).

    I can’t stand George Martin, but it’s mainly because I don’t much like fantasy. The only authors I can think of who really took the fantasy paradigm apart are Joanna Russ (in the Alyx books) and Samuel Delaney (in the Neveryon books).

  82. rrp

    typos abound

    is in

    novel, not novle

  83. Jezebella

    I am BEGGING, people: No Battlestar Galactica spoilers!? Please? I don’t have the Battlestar Galactica channel so I’m a season behind and I will weep copious fracking tears if you all go on a Starbuck tangent.

    Pretty please?

    Now, let me put in a good word for Nancy Kress’ Beggars in Spain series, about the aftermath of genetically engineered superhumans.

  84. Trout

    Has anyone read David Weber’s Honor Harrington books, which feature a female starship captain? He tries very hard to imagine a world where gender simply does not matter. I wouldn’t say he entirely succeeds – his understanding of females (from my admittedly male POV) has a couple minor issues, but it’s a very credible effort. If you like “Galactic Empire” science fiction with lots of space battles you’ll have a very good time. I’d suggest starting with “On Basilisk Station” or “Honor of the Queen.”


  85. pocket_amazon

    i third samuel r. delany, especially dhalgren! in the young adult category phillip pullman’s “golden compass” trilogy is a great humanist fantasy. and maybe it is just me, but frank herbert’s “dune” universe had some fascinating and complicted female characters, i am thinking of both the fremen women and the bene gesserit.

  86. SusanM

    Emotenote: Actually, the two most influential books of my life (no, seriously), Jane and the Dragon and The Princess and the Dragon, were picture books about subverting the patriarchy. With dragons.

    My daughter’s favorite along those lines was The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch:


    For adult stuff, anything by CJ Cherryh is wonderful, and I also like Joan D. Vinge. Doris Piserchia is excellent too, but very scary and dark, almost horror really. With aliens.

  87. ripley

    While it’s true Heinlein is writing from a more sexist time, it’s not like all writers from that time felt as invested in indulging sexist fantasies as Heinlein clearly was. He spent an awful lot of effort on that crap.

    And I second the point that even if I was comfortable excusing him then I definitely shouldn’t excuse the readers who fail to see that it is sexist now.

  88. Djiril

    For all her faults, I am eternally grateful to Mercedes Lackey for being the first author I read whose books delt with sexuality, because they portrayed a much more positive and proactive picture of female sexuality than anything else I read for years after I first picked up “Arrows Flight” at age 11.

    I would also like to mention that Robin Hobb’s “Liveship Traders” trilogy rocks on many levels, especially in its portrayal of strong, complex, and unique female characters.

    I enjoyed Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, but found myself wondering what the heck happened to Lyra’s personality in the second book.

    Anyone who has suffered through “Eragon” may wish to check out this page:

  89. Mandolin

    “My favorite Connie Willis book is Lincoln’s Dreams.”

    That’s really interesting! I’m pretty sure it was her first. I read it a couple years ago, before I took from Connie at Clarion West, and it definitely kept me flipping through the pages. My favorite of hers is definitely _Doomsday Book_, though. What do you like about _Lincoln’s Dreams_, particularly?

  90. The Stranger

    If we’re talking dragons, I gotta bring up The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede.


    Non-typical princess annoyed by typical princess stuff runs away and becomes a dragon’s princess. Dragon society has a king and queen, but these are jobs and not determined by gender. The Princess is intellectual, having learned latin and scholarly habits over her parent’s objections, competent in nearly everything she puts her mind to, and considers chivalrous knights to be an obnoxious nuisance. Witches are generally good, and wizards are generally evil. Lots of fun is poked at modern society along the way in a very witty fashion. Very, very wonderful series.

  91. Hattie

    *Dream Snake* Vonda MacIntyre: Excellent. Women keeping knowledge alive after the death of the Patriarchy! Don’t miss it!
    *The Snow Queen* Joan D. Vinge: a Queen and her clone. Beautiful, imaginative, adventurous.
    Marge Piercy *Woman on the Edge of Time*, *He, She, It*, not just for her SF but for everything she has written.
    Octavia Butler, sadly and untimely dead after falling on an icy sidewalk in Seattle: *Lilith’s Brood* I believe it’s part of a trilogy. I can’t find my book right now.
    Carol Severance *Reef Song,* *Demon Drums,* *Sorcerous Sea:* Water worlds with genetically altered inhabitants, woman warriors, lots of adventure. She’s my neighbor, too, and comes to my parties!

  92. XtinaS

    I ran across a few excerpts-or-stories by Joanna Russ.  She created the world Whileaway, where men died in a plague some [n] years back, the social structure changed and the women survived and thrived, and now here we are, with men returning to the planet.

    What really got me was the parts where one of the other-world men would interview one of the Whileaway women.

    M: So, how have yall gotten along, not being married for [n] years?

    W: What the devil are you talking about?  I have a wife and a daughter at home!

    Not even outrage, just the sheer bafflement of these guys assuming so, so much about their society.

  93. Delishka

    I’ll throw my vote behind the Honor Harrington books being, not feminist, but good for all genders, with a strong female protagonist. Of the ‘space navy’ subset of sci-fi, Honor Harrington is the cream of the crop, and after the first book does get into gender issues of different societies.

    If you’re looking for really well written sci-fi, you should check out Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan books…Skip the first, rather less well written Shards of Honor, and jump right in with Barryar. Even if you choose not to continue to the later books, that one is a great read. (The series was not written sequentially, and Bujold’s writing style just got better and better with practice, right up until the most recent fantasy she put out, which I found to be on the mediocre side. She’s recently also become fascinated by older men with young women…)

    I have to agree that Anne McCaffrey is not really a ‘feminist’ author, that Piers Anthony writes gender stereotyped rubbish (ugh, Cluster), and that Orson Scott Card is a bore. Also a boor…I really just want to say jerk. Mercedes Lackey also had a rise and fall in the quality of her novels.

    I have to admit…I’ve never managed to make it all the way through a Heinlein novel.

  94. Leficent

    Mercedes Lackey: Djiril has it right on. She wrote the first non-hetero love story I read.

    George R R Martin: Does not copy and past his female characters, or the male ones.
    A big problem I have with fantasy is that powerful women tend to be either fairy godmother good or devil bitch bad.
    Martin’s women are all over the place- acting on different motivations, rising, falling, and actually being the story- not props.

    The worst: Terry Goodkind.
    This guy hates women.
    Any female character who is around long enough to get named will be raped, killed, or both.

  95. su

    On the theme of disenfranchisement of children (this sits somewhere between the Firestone theatre and this thread but better to muddy the waters here I guess); Helen DeWitt’s “The Last Samurai” takes this as one of its main themes and has something to say about an education system that infantilises children in perpetuity. Helen Dewitt is an extraordinary author. Needless to say she has received little or no recognition and was treated with scorn by the gatekeepers over at the Orange Prize for the cardinal sin of not being recognizably a “women’s author”. If I read her oblique site correctly she had another book quietly killed off by publishers in the wake of 9/11.

  96. jc.

    I´m probably wrong for so many reasons but how about John Varley and the Gaen Trilogy? or Janet Morris Kerion saga?
    Robin Hobbs the Fool character in twoo trilogies was intriguing in it´s lack of clear “male” or “female” identification.
    Orson Scott Card is of course a Mormon and makes no claims to be a feminist.
    “A stranger in a strange Land” is a document of the time, and part of the the attempt to free sex from SIN (you´d have to have grown up in the 50´s to really understand this) and is today insipid but it did have a purpose at the time. And of course it´s based on the playboy mansion.
    Heinleins later books also reflect the times (the 70´s) and the derailment of sexual liberation which became just a masturbatory male fantasy.
    Much worse I feel was the rewrite of “Stranger in a Strange land” which was the book “the Dice Man” which is still very popular. And disgusting.
    To me Dorris Lessing does not write science fiction but is the typical excellent author slumming in a genre they don´t belong in, writing for an audience which would not normally read in that genre. I felt that the story she told had been already told before, but maybe not as well or deeply.
    Despite some measure of increased awareness I still cling to my Barsoom books, sorry, Iknow better but sometimes I still want to be John Carter. Mea Culpa.

  97. RobW

    I’m afraid I may have missed it, if anyone’s already mentioned it, but what do ya’ll think of William Gibson? Anyone read his latest, “Pattern Recognition?”

    How about John Varley? The universe he constructed in “Steel Beach” and “The Golden Globe” is one in which genders exist, but are freely chosen (People periodically undergo full-body-replacement that restores youth, and they get to pick their sex. Most of the longer-lived have been both sexes a few times over.) There isn’t any power relationship; it’s simply a matter of taste and personal choice to play the gender game on one team or the other or both. (I don’t recall if anyone gets the choice to not play at all.)

    Gender exists but for fun and games only, freely chosen, changes/experimentation welcome, no coersive power imbalance; is that the Twisty Revolution?

    I’ll just say this about Heinlein: “Starship Troopers” was my first awareness of the seductive power of fascism. It’s an example of how a society can so easily choose it provided that there is an outside enemy, one utterly inhuman, implacable, and beneath contempt. As long as such an enemy exists, society will embrace a militarist regime. In the real world, of course, no such enemy exists; without it, militarism is meaningless.

    If only that message had relevance today. Nah, that’s crazy talk.

    (Unfortunately, most of the dudes I knew who read it saw it as an endorsement of militarism. Some praised it for this, others condemned it, but they all kind of missed that part in political sf, where you compare it to the real world to read the message.)

    Anyway, this was all pretty heady stuff for a 16 year old pothead. I’m just sayin’.

    Yes, he’s sexist as hell. In my own adolescent, hormone-drenched, patriarchally priveleged state, even I found it offensive. So, yeah, it’s way over the top for today’s standards.

  98. RobW

    Battlestar Galactica – love it. Roslyn, Starbuck, Caprica Six, Number Three–wow. I heart strong women, especially those who buck the hierarchy.
    (Am I the only one who loves how Kara flouts patriarchal notions of “combat” as being restricted to men only?)

    No, you’re not. But it reminds me: that was another idea Heinlein explored in Starship Troopers, by the way. His women were still his patriarchal view of women, but they were also tough as nails, and held in high regard with absolutely no restrictions on their combat roles. In his vision of a gender-neutral military, men and women lived, ate, showered, slept, and (naturally) fucked together.

    Their status as men and women were secondary to their status as soldiers.

    This world was still totally hierarchical and macho and violent, of course. This was the military, after all. But it wasn’t sexist, per se. It’s probably about as close to feminist as Heinlein was capable of coming.

  99. Mandolin

    “Seattle: *Lilith’s Brood* I believe it’s part of a trilogy. I can’t find my book right now.”

    Lilith’s Brood is the name of the trilogy. The titles of the books are Dawn, Imago, and Adulthood Rites.


    I second the recommendation of Vonda McIntyre.

    Also, I’m not sure anyone has mentioned Elizabeth Bear’s work. I haven’t really read much, but people swear by her as a feminist author. The same goes for Andre Norton and C.J. Cherryh.

    Ruth Nestvold, on the other hand, makes my heart go pitter pat. She writes primarily short stories, and I believe she has many available for free online.

  100. Mandolin

    “Orson Scott Card is of course a Mormon and makes no claims to be a feminist.”

    I believe he once referred to Connie Willis’ short story “All My Darling Daughters” as being evil.

  101. Anna

    Mercedes Lackey, again, hasn’t held up for me, but mostly because almost every single protagonist character gets raped at some point. It’s a bit much. That aside, she wrote the first book that had explicitly m/m relationships in it that I read, and I still love the Vanyel Series (aka: Vanyel: The Angsting) with all my not-really-no-longer-a-teenager soul. Oh, the angst!

    MZB herself I don’t like, but her Sword and Sorceress anthologies have a lot of really good stuff in them, and I highly recommend them. They started a lot of new writers in the realm of being published.

    Hmm… Didn’t Ester Freisner edit anthologies called “Chicks in Chainmail”? Those are pretty good, too.

    And I second the Terry Goodkind Is Creepy thing.

  102. Miranda

    Tanya Huff, who includes both hard sci fi (Honor series), sword and sorcery fantasy (Bards) and urban fantasy (Blood series and Keeper series) has very strong heroines and treats heterosexual and homosexual relationships equally. Annice, the lead in Sing the Four Quarters, is bisexual, and Katerine, in one of the later books, is a lesbian as is Diana from the Keeper series.

    Her latest group of books features Tony, a minor character in the Blood series, as protagonist, and he’s openly gay.

  103. sucksinked

    What a great thread – it has made me de-lurk.

    Having grown up in the north of Scotland, the sci-fi shelf (ok, maybe there were two) in the local library was my saviour from Enid Blyton and Robert Burns, but it was quickly obvious that there were no women! All of my favourite authors books seemed to have NO female characters, save the glam space-stewardess and other pretty 1-D stereotypes, which I can remember complaining about at age 13 and am still angry with. My university now has a massive sci-fi section and separate library (we’re all geek scientists here) and yet a dearth of women authors.

    But as for now, I’ve recently begun reading Tricia Sulliven, and would recommend her as a great voice. Interesting female protagonists and excellent stories. I think some of her works have been criticised for being too obvious, but so far ‘maul’ and ‘double vision’ in particular are great. I also think China Mielville’s works tend to avoid casting women in the servant class? I would love to see some hard sci-fi with women if anyone has any ideas?

    Also, I used to have an anthology of women’s sci-fi and fantasy, which had a great story in it by Lisa Tuttle that I would recommend, but I can’t remember the title.

    Good Reading,

  104. Ruth

    One general point regarding mysogyny/gender norms in Sci-Fi.

    Has anyone else noticed how frequently male sci-fi writers have dismissed human artificial insemination as a solution to the social problems of post-disaster reproduction?

    Wyndham in Day of the Triffids. Frank Herbert in The White Plague.

    Even Arthur C Clarke in Rendezvous with Rama. He even mentions artificial insemination as a possibility, but has his female character (who is actually a doctor) dismiss it because ‘it wouldn’t work’, without explaining just WHY it wouldn’t work (most likely because there is actually NO reason why it wouldn’t work).

    What is it with these guys? Appart from the obvious penis-worship, of course.

  105. Andrea

    Just have to throw my hat into the George RR Martin ring.

    The thing that is best about his writing is that his characters (both female and male) typically don’t fall into the “I’m a baddie/goodie” model.

    As far as women falling into “typical roles”. I think that is a bit marginalizing. The time period is supposed to be War of the Roses era. These women are operating in or opposed to the system at the time.

    Anyway, I’m going to get wordy and tangential, but I have been nothing but impressed with his treatment of women and the rich tapestry of characterizations in his books.

  106. PS

    I really enjoyed Susannah Clarke’s big book o’ footnotes.

    I used to like Gene Wolfe a lot. I’ve been reading the Long Sun series and made it up to #3. The main female character is a prostitute that keeps getting possessed by ‘gods.’ After the 300th time a lead male character lovingly refers to her as “Jugs,” I had to put it down. So long, Mr. Wolfe.

  107. Silence

    Okay, the thread has wandered into fantasy novel territory and no one has mentioned Terry Pratchett yet? Okay, consider him mentioned.

    Hopefully, some of you have read the marvelous Discworld novels. They tend to revolve around various groups of characters rather than a single lead. The most outright feminist ones are the ones that feature the witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat and Agnes/Perdita. Granny and Nanny are two of those rarest creatures — older women in literature who are powerful, smart, funny, and heroic. Even the Discworld books that do not feature women so prominently are great reads and the female characters are always well portrayed.

    I’ll throw in another vote for Spider Robinson as well. I don’t agree with everything he writes, but he treats his female characters with respect, as in they seem to be real people. And he’s often amusing as well.

    And yes, I can’t stand Heinlein either. The bit that got to me in Stranger in a Strange Land was when the main female character (can’t remember her name) was posing nude at some circus and realized that because she liked it, it must be, you know, natural for women to want to take their clothes off in front of strange men and be leered at. It was really disappointing because so many people had recommended the book to me.

    Finally, Piers Anthony’s works should be ejected into the deepest reaches of space before the can corrupt more young minds. The worst one was Shade of the Tree where his main female character was a gorgeous nineteen-year-old who absolutely adored cooking and cleaning (she got ‘a real thrill’ out of a clean floor. From the book. Honest) and just couldn’t wait to get into bed with the hero, who was a depressed middle-aged man with two children. Porno wish fulfilment anyone? Nubile young beauty who is also a dutiful Mombot? Disgusting.

  108. TinaH

    Echoing kudos for Phaedra/Imriel books by Jacqueline Carey, Sherri Tepper (Gate to Women’s Country – let’s talk about reproductive choice, huh?), Marge Piercy (He, She and It) too.

    I tried, tried, tried to read Heinlein, but quit and have never gone back. Does it make me a sexist if I only read SF or fantasy written by women?

    Mercedes Lackey is formulaic, Anne McCaffrey is ok for t(w)eens… And I reread Blue Sword by Robin McKinley regularly. What a delight.

  109. Ruth

    Re Terry Pratchett, don’t forget ‘Strata’.

    Central character is female, and, unlike most of the Discworld females (such as the witches), there is no particular reason for her to be female rather than male, in the sense that nothing in the plot requires her to be female. Pratchett just chose to make her female anyway.

    She’s also one of the most believable characters, male OR female I have ever come across. Unlike most of the Discworld characters, who all tend to the fantastical, albeit in a very realistic way (well, I know what I mean, even it sounds like nonsense).

  110. Sylvanite

    I loved Anne McCafferey’s Pern novels when I was a teenager. Then I grew up, and realized that F’lar and Lessa had an abusive relationship. Sigh.

    I would recommend two short story anthologies called Women of Wonder. They contain a wide spread of sf from women writers, including Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild.” That’s a pretty powerful story, right there.

    I guess Tepper does sort of cross the line into polemic, but I really do love Raising the Stones. I tend to appreciate her views on religion.

    I have, in my enormous stack of books, a novel called Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. I’ve heard that it contains no male characters whatever. I remember reading an interview with the author in which she recounted a couple of encounters with male readers. One of them said how shocked he was when he realized there were no males, and said that he had an insight about how that must be what women experience routinely. The other man was just angry about it. I’m looking forward to reading it once I exhume it from whatever box is still holding it, along with most of the rest of my fiction.

    I hope this comment doesn’t get held up in moderation!

  111. Sylvanite

    Oh, and Piers Anthony and Larry Niven? Sexist beyond belief. Don’t even get me started on Niven’s Puppeteers. Or the Kzinti, much less any of his human “characters.”

    Also, one could argue that Neal Stephenson’s female characters are a bit ridiculous, but then, all his characters are somewhat ridiculous – i.e., Hiro Protagonist of Snowcrash. I find myself enjoying his novels immensely. The Diamond Age is a standout, if only for being pretty surreal. I need to analyze that one more deeply.

  112. Astra

    I’m not sure who’s more of a sexist knob: Heinlein or Niven. Heinlein has been discussed in pretty good detail already. My note about Niven: I once read through a collection of short stories by him, and noted that 2 (or possibly 3) extra-terrestrial species had non-sentient females.

  113. Frumious B

    Heinlein: yeah, he’s a knob. I would never have come up with that on my own. I read him long long ago as a young, non-blaming onion, and I barely remember what I read. But as soon as Twisty said it, I saw the truth of her statement. Yeah, the women were basically sexbots. And the father-daughter sex thing? Creepy. Then there was the no-birth-control-because-I’m-a-man-and-I-can-count-thing. Even as a young onion, I knew that was manipulative bullshit.

    Star Trek: The original series had an actual physicist keeping them honest about the science.

    Firefly: That show rocks. I have been renting the series on DVD. I like it that the mechanic is a girly-girl. I realize that girly-girlitude consists of a set of oppressive, patriarchally dictated behaviors. However – I like it in this character and show because that set of behaviors IRL is both required and disparaged. Those behaviors in a technical crew member are subversive. I would like it better if the soldier were the girly-girl and the mechanic were the tough chick. The soldier is basically a man, but hawt. I like it that the sex-worker is a business woman even if she does have a thinly concealed crush on the captain. Crumbs, but I’ll take them.

    Mercedes Lackey: I have heard that she thinks the ideal man is gay. You will notice a preponderance of gay male characters in her books. Yay on the gay characters, but I can’t but think that any ideal man is a box at least as constrictive as the Patriarchy.

    I have to go back an re-read all the stuff I read in that young onion phase.

  114. Scott from Baltimore

    Isaac Asimov, Phillip K Dick, Ben Bova, Larry Niven, Poul Anderson, Robert Silverberg, Anne McCaffrey, yeah, and Piers Anthony… I realized somewhere in my late twenties that nearly all, *all* the sci-fi stories that I liked featured a young male nerd who gets the girl.

    One would think that science was a male thing.

    It must be wierd having a whole genre of fiction that leaves your own gender so completely out of the spotlight. It bothers me because I’d like to share a movie with lots of lasers and big machines and galaxies and aliens with my fiancee, but while I get to identify with the hero, all she gets is a cheerleader who falls down and twists her ankle.

    Andre Norton (sometimes) and of course Ursula Leguin were notable exceptions.

  115. Pony

    I don’t think equality or feminism means adopting the negative aspects of patriarchy defined maleness. Thanks but no thanks with the tough as nails militaristic women. That’s not feminist or even faintly neutral. It’s blatant sexism.

  116. Isabella

    Wish I’d logged onto this last night! I’m in a sci fi book club. (The guys in the club say Orson Scott Card’s politics have gone from libertarian to fascist. I haven’t read him.)

    Re George R.R. Martin (I’m only two books into the series): I think he’s doing something really interesting with the character Samsa. She’s clearly bought into chivalry and the idea that if women are “feminine” and pleasing to men, men will protect women. Everything that happens to her is demonstration that that’s total bull.

    young adult fantasy/ sci fi: I read the first book by Libba Bray (can’t remember the name). Interesting. Takes place in the late 19th century, which I think gets romanticized these day- but focuses on how young women’s lives were so hemmed in by the patriarchy.

    “His Dark Materials:” I also wondered what the happened to Lyra’s personality once Will came along.

    Love Connie Willis, particularly “To Say Nothing of the Dog.”

  117. serinlea

    Delurking long enough to third the sentiment that Goodkind is immensely creepy. Anyone who creates a group of characters solely as an excuse to write 100 pages of sexual violence into the plot is a person who needs professional help.

    I do enjoy Firefly quite a bit. I don’t think Joss Whedon deserves all the feminist props he gets, but I’ll take Zoe over Counselor Troi any day of the week.

  118. Ugly in Pink

    “Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons, and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles”

    Eeeeee yesyesyesyes. I grew up on those.

    And I am reading a Pratchett novel right now. I’m going to have to check out the other people mentioned. Thank you guys!

  119. Mandos

    Half the point of Niven is the horrible right-wing irony. “Yes, Virginia, the universe really does hate females!” Given the Shulamith Firestone discussion, which suggests that biology itself oppresses women, you can see Niven as the flip side of that, rubbing it in women’s faces.

    I’m not at all surprised that some of you do not have the taste for medieval fantasy. It’s very hard to write in that genre without using some traditionally sexist tropes. Attempts at gender-bending that genre seem forced and artificial to me—see Kate Elliot’s recent giant fantasy epic, where religion and most of politics advantages females and the Church questions the succession of males to the throne because there’s no way to be certain of their heirs (unlike females). It’s an interesting idea…but set in a feudal medieval society, it just seems like a forced gender flip.

    I’m really surprised by the fact that you folks like George R. R. Martin so much though. Yes, there are some strong women there. But there’s also a certain amount of whore-strangling, powerful-women-as-nymphomaniacs, and other things there that I thought wouldn’t be so well-received here.

    Twisty had a bad reaction to Bujold’s Curse of Chalion, as I recall, even though for fantasy, it is quite feminist, particularly its sequel, Paladin of Souls, which is about a middle-aged woman coming out from under a decades-long curse into her own power. But it used a fantasy setting, and that just doesn’t seem to work for her. The Vorkosigan books are very good, even though most of them feature a male protagonist who is in the ruling class—but he’s a male protagonist who has been given a body that his society considers deviant, and is thus forced into empathy with the dominated. Shards of Honour and Barrayar are about a woman, and while Shards was originally intended to be an SF romance, it is peppered with feminist commentary here and there, such as Cordelia’s reference to the false consciousness of the young soldiers who think that they are lions: “poor little lambs.”

  120. Ledasmom

    How about – damn, I can’t find the book now – but I believe the name’s Kit Reed? Author of, among others, “Little Sisters of the Apocalypse”? She wrote a marvellous satire on beauty pageants, “On Behalf Of The Product” and much other amazingly bizarre stuff.
    I had forgotten that Connie Willis wrote “All My Darling Daughters”, one of the most horrifying stories I’ve ever read.
    If anyone else has read Julian May’s Pliocene Exile books, I’m still trying to put a finger on the exact problem I had with them. Seemed like she mushed together three stories, at least, that didn’t fit so well, but that’s not all.
    Damnit, now, after an entirely futile search of the bookshelves I want to discuss other books not-SF, specifically Sharyn McCrumb’s mysteries – anyone else read “The PMS Bandits” or “If I’d Killed Him When I Met Him”?

  121. Mandos

    I would like to put in a good word for Tolkien. Yes, the Lord of the Rings contains few female characters. But note: he simultaneously avoids falling into the trap of lesser writers and using females as stock scenery sex objects—with the *possible* exception of Arwen, and even that is relatively low-key. His two *active* female characters in LoTR are Galadriel and Eowyn: Galadriel is a powerful and ancient sorceress—and her portrayal in the Fellowship of the Ring movie was visually stunning but not very faithful to the book’s vision—and Eowyn represents a kind of proto-feminist consciousness, who would rather be valued for her strength than pigeonholed into feminine characteristics.

    More importantly, The Silmarillion, which is a long but still very condensed telling of the mythology/history of the LoTR world, contains a large number of powerful women. It is Luthien who rescues Beren, twice, not the other way around. The fiercest tribe of mortals who migrates for the first time out of the Darkness to the Elf lands is led by a woman who refuses to be intimidated by the immortal Elf kings. And so on. I think that Tolkien’s biggest problem was that he clearly wasn’t confident about writing about women “close up,” which is also a strength, because perhaps he didn’t want to portray women dishonestly.

  122. Andrea

    One more weigh in.

    Re: Firefly.

    I love Kayly (sp?), the mechanic, and not at all because of the “girly girl” thing.

    I love her because she embraces sex and sexuality with none of the patriarchal “oh noes sex is drrrrrrrrty!” nonsense.

  123. Mandos

    Ledasmom: I have read Julian May’s Pliocene Exile stories, as well as its sequel, Intervention, and the trilogy that is sequel to that, The Galactic Milieu Trilogy. The first half of the first book in the Pliocene Exile is weak, but the rest is brilliant, especially if you read it in conjunction with the other two books. The planning that had to go into writing the Pliocene Exile books must have been amazing, because in order to write them, she had to have known the details of the story for the Galactic Milieu novels, which she wrote 15 years later. Like Marc Remillard’s telepathically transmitted memories of his original defeat far in the future.

    The main theme May’s Exile/Intervention/Milieu universe is that of crucifixion, or transcendence through agony. There are many many crucifixions in the novel’s, such as the mind-expanding pure pain that Brede and Elizabeth inflict on themselves and share with the universe, which releases Brede’s mind from the limitations of the torc. Or crucifixions-gone-wrong, like Felice’s torture that turns her into an undefeatable monster. Or Jack’s transformation in the Milieu series, body eaten away by its own programmed self-destruction.

    But there’s a disturbing undercurrent of fascism in the novels as well. The Milieu imposes a social structure on Earth that privileges the genetically favoured, and arbitrarily disenfranchises groups that don’t contribute to the acceleration of Galactic “coadunation.” Corporations are made the primary representatives of humanity. Resentment of Remillard privilege is seen as dangerous rebellion, threatening to Galactic well-being. And so on. It’s more pronounced in May’s Perseus Spur novels, which aren’t very good. Her recent Boreal Moon fantasy is interesting, with a number of excellent female characters, by the way, but rehashes the power-through-agony thing.

  124. Jeff

    Heinlein strikes me as the Bill Maher of SF – it’s easy for white men to think he’s progressive because he attacks a lot of sacred cows. But he attacks ideas so indiscriminately, and doesn’t delve into them so much as use his authorial fiat to make his preferred solution work.

    A (slightly) more interesting question is which Heinlein novel is the worst. My nominees:

    Stranger In a Strange Land – “Free love means never saying no! Except to the gay, that’s a ‘wrongness’.”

    Starship Troopers – “We’ve mathematically proved that military imperialism is the best possible social structure!”

    Farnham’s Freehold – “Blacks would enslave us (what do you mean, people of color read books too?) if they could, and they’d be cannibals too!”

    I Will Fear No Evil – “I’ve been brain transplanted into a woman! All I care about now is sex and babies!”

    Anthony, Card and Martin piss me off now as well. Piers Anthony writes porn for 13-year-olds. Orson Scott Card has an even worse baby fetish than Heinlein.

    Martin’s main series relies too much on misogyny and rape to show how rough the setting is. I gave up around the second book, when one of the . I liked the Wild Cards series (a group-written series that Martin edited) the first time I read it, until I noticed that the male characters were a bunch of thirty and forty-something self-inserts while the female characters were all much younger, conventionally attractive, and there for the men.

    Tiptree, on the other hand, is awesome. “The Screwfly Solution” scared the crap out of me when I read it, and “The Men Women Don’t See” is brilliant. I do wish the Internet was generally around back when they were written, because I’d love to read some firsthand reactions to the stories back when people thought they were written by a man.

    So is Butler. Parable of the Sower is the best post-apocalyptic novel I’ve read. Better than A Canticle for Leibowitz, even.

  125. CafeSiren

    Firefly. Yes. I may be naive, but I’m going to go out on a limb, and say that Joss Whedon writes amazing female characters, both good & bad. I’m just disappointed that he’s backed out of Wonder Woman, because that means that she’s gonna be another sexbot in star-spangled panties.

  126. CafeSiren


  127. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Good points all, Mandos.

    Which is peculiar considering that Tolkien was a very strict Catholic.

    Dang, I swore I wouldn’t be drawn into any dorky sci-fi thread. I work with people who hotly debate points of Klingonese grammar over lunch, and it gets old quickly.

  128. Mandos

    There’s a Tiptree story I’ve been trying to find, but I can’t remember the title. It’s not “The Screwfly Solution”, but it has a similar theme. Aliens come and adjust our biology to help control our population. One of the things they do is that they spread a bacteria that makes men infertile, except for a few weeks every couple of years or something. The fertile period is heralded by a couple of weeks of flu-like symptoms. But I can’t remember the title, or even if it’s Tiptree I’m thinking about.

  129. B. Dagger Lee

    Shoot, my history of the War of the Roses didn’t cover direwolves and the great icewall that keeps the baddies out. And here I am constantly chiding and teasing Miss Patsy over her Catholic school education that skipped the Reformation and Martin Luther entirely. She had never even heard the term “Whore of Babylon”! Can you imagine?

    Well I’m a “Whore of a Reader,” and I enjoyed Martin and Clarke at the same time as I was disappointed. If Martin’s writing speculative fiction set on an alternate world where there are direwolves, etc, maybe he could speculate a little bit more. Susannah Clarke, too. Bound as they are to whatever imaginary medieval sexist, racist, homophobic time period they may be imagining, they can do better.

    The average Masterpiece Theater has more rounded women characters who buck and chafe against their oppressions, and there’s more gender and class analysis in Austen and the Brontës. Why doesn’t Battlestar Galactica have any gay characters? (And frankly it owes a lot to Starship Troopers.) Why in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series are all the bad characters & bad armies black, and the good characters whiter than white? Because we’re being historically accurate to Middle Earth as envisioned by a racist Oxford Don? And I love the Lord of the Rings!

    I want more, a lot more.

    I’ll check out Connie Willis and others mentioned. I read a couple of books by Elizabeth Hand that I liked and that had gay characters.

  130. Mandos

    Antoinette: Tolkien was a Catholic, but he was so because his widowed mother converted to Catholicism, and she was thence shunned by the rest of their Anglican family. That probably tempered a lot of his viewpoint.

  131. Mandos

    Well I’m a “Whore of a Reader,” and I enjoyed Martin and Clarke at the same time as I was disappointed. If Martin’s writing speculative fiction set on an alternate world where there are direwolves, etc, maybe he could speculate a little bit more. Susannah Clarke, too. Bound as they are to whatever imaginary medieval sexist, racist, homophobic time period they may be imagining, they can do better.

    I have to disagree with this. Unfortunately, a central fragment of a medieval fantasy world is the medievalism. The direwolves and all of that didn’t exist in real medieval times, but they emerged from ideas and legends in medieval minds. The point of medieval fantasy is not just to recreate the War of the Roses, but to recreate it in a way that the kinds of beliefs and imaginings that people might have had at the time are reified. Creating direwolves and ice demons (which are the most fascinating aspect of the Martin books, IMO) makes sense in that genre; eliminating sexism from a setting based on a sexist social milieu is a lot harder to do well in fiction. It’s much better done in the SF genre, where we can imagine where we might be from now.

  132. Hawise

    Not only was Tolkien a Catholic but he was a Trinitarian, very particular subset.

    I would like to clarify that the Ents are considered part of the good guys and they are most defintely not whiter than white, unless there was a birch in there that I missed. Also the shiny white Gandalf is actually out of medieval theories that associated spiritual awakening with light and spiritual decline with darkness. Thus Saruman starts off white and descends to grey and Gandalf starts off grey and rises to white. And if Tolkien seems a mite obsessed with Nordic culture, it should be noted that that was his primary area of study for his career as an Oxford Don.

  133. SusanM

    Scott from Baltimore: It must be wierd having a whole genre of fiction that leaves your own gender so completely out of the spotlight.

    Try reading just SciFi written by women for six months or so; there’s plenty of it, and it will open your eyes. The names in this thread are a good start, but there’s plenty more. About 25 years ago, I thought I could collect every Science Fiction book ever written by a woman. I made a good start and then things exploded and there was no way I could keep up. Still, I have several hundred books I’ve kept as favorites. All with strong women characters, and all written by women.

  134. Joanna

    I have to laugh. I ducked out for a few hours to work and came back and the sci-fi geek-out was up 126 to 124 comments over the Shulathon. I’ll have to go nudge up the comments, but only if I can think of something smarter than “wow, you blamers are awesome!”

    Why did I like Connie Willis’ Licoln’s dreams so much? If I recall, it was because there was something it it about grieving that touched me, but I can no longer remember what.

  135. Tapetum

    Two of my favorite sets of SF books are written by male/female teams. First (and most highly recommended) are the Liaden books by Sharon Miller and Steve Lee. Their characters, male and female both, are fascinating and not carbon copies of one another. In the course of their first trilogy (Sold as an omnibus as Partners in Necessity) we have a female dramliz (psychic/wizard), First Speaker and Delm x2(head of clan), pilot, mercenary sargeant, and several others. Pretty much any job a man does, a woman does as well somewhere else. They seem to have a mild obsession with pairing people up (though their prequel seems to address this somewhat by providing an outside reason why these particular people would need to do this), and there are no gay characters that I can recall, but the gender roles are good.

    The other series is by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald (starts with The Price of the Stars). It’s much more conventional in its set-up, being pretty straight-forward space opera, but it does have some rocking female characters. A personal favorite moment (WARNING: SPOILER) one of the female protagonists becomes leader of the “enemy” side, which is in reality fighting for its own survival, and in collusion with some people on the other side immediately surrenders unconditionally in the middle of winning the battle, leaving everybody stumbling around going “Wait, wait! I thought we were locked in a death-struggle. You mean we don’t have to kill everybody?”

  136. indifferent children

    No one here seems to have mentioned Melissa Scott. I don’t know her politics, but her female characters are not Heinleinian, and her writing is excellent.

  137. Mandos

    In case anyone here cares, Scooter Libby is guilty on 4/5 counts. I must be the first Canadian to blog it, heh heh, unless I’m not.

  138. Maddyanne

    Harry Harrison wrote the Stainless Steel Rat books.

    I really like Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books. They are YA novels about a young witch on Discworld and include Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, and lots of little blue gnomes.
    Diana Wynne Jones is a wonderful writer who is also usually published as YA. Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle is based on one of her novels, but falls short of its characterization and humor. I love her work and recommend her to anyone looking for interesting fantasy for themselves or their daughters. Crown of Dalemark does have a very young girl/ much(several hundred) year older male romance potentially at the end of the book, but the characters met and got to know one another when they were about the same age. Caroline Stevermer’s A College of Magics and A Scholar of Magics are more feminist fantasy currently published as Young Adult fiction.

    Ellan Kushner’s Privilege of the Sword is her latest book set in the world of Swordspoint and The Fall of the Kings. It’s a nonmedieval–more 17th century but not our world– gay friendly fantasy. Delia Sherman’s The Porcelain Dove is set in France at the time of the revolution. It’s an adult fairy tale.
    Sherman has just written a YA fantasy, Changeling, set in an Otherwhere New York, which is lots of fun.

    Jim Grimsley’s fantasy/science fiction novels are really interesting. He’s won the Lambda twice for his science fiction/fantasy. His latest novel is Another Green Tree.

  139. B. Dagger Lee

    I love me some Mandos, but Mandos, Mandos, Mandos!

    Please list for me the governing documents and Book of Rules for the medieval fantasy world genre.

    My point is this: by all means have the characters interact bound by and under the rules of the patriarchal world—whether it be the medieval patriarchal fantasy world, the patriarchal world we live in, or a future patriarchal world. The characters in any book by Jane Austen, George Eliot, or the Bronte sisters are all bound to the sexist, classist world in which the authors lived. Their female characters, however, chafe and kick in that world and are well-rounded. There’s a profound examination by the writer going on, and the women at the center of their fictions are clearly envisioned from the get-go as complex, human. It’s the sexist limit within the mind of Martin—not the genre–when he constructs his female characters that’s the problem. Most male writers are not particularly interested in women writers or female characters. It’s probably unfair to compare him to genius, but it is in part what makes the women I’ve named—chosen because they were terribly bound by sex and class–artistic geniuses.

    Hawise, I love the Ents and I love Tolkien’s books–but really, you don’t think he’s a patriarch? In any case, I was largely talking about Peter Jackson’s movies; The Lord of the Rings series and King Kong are racist.

    Regarding genre rules, let’s look at Jackson’s King Kong. It conforms to the governing rules of the genre of white-male-adventurers who find a hidden jungle island with prehistoric beasts (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rider Haggard, etc.) Everyone knows that the people on the island dressed in grass skirts and with bones pushed through their noses, jumping up and down, and waving spears are black people. It’s a rule of the genre! You might think they would be Polynesian people, to be more historically accurate, but no, they’re black people, because that’s what the genre dictates! Nonsense. That’s what Jackson’s mind, a mind in a long series of minds (Rice, Haggard), accepts as a received truth. And it’s insane, racist fantasy disguised as genre rules. They’re just passing on objectionable racist clichés and stereotypes. That’s how culture gets made. And bad art.

  140. thebewilderness

    I suggest Vernor Vinge “A Deepness in the Sky”
    Not because it is in any way a feminist story, but because it explores “otherness” and authoritarianism.
    I have been a reader of SF for fifty years, so I am adept at gliding past the patriarchial sense of entitlement that permeates the work of male authors. Unless it is the purpose of the book in the first place, such as Goodkind(zero character development) or Card. Even Eric Frank Russell was capable of telling a story without smacking you with his penis.

  141. Alie

    Word to the Pratchett, particularly the Tiffany Aching Books, Maddyanne. I love those books so much…ah!

    Also, he wrote a book called Equal Rites about a girl who had both female magic (earthy, witchy magic) and boy magic (ethereal, wizardy magic), and had to learn how to use both by going to an all-male wizard school. The writing isn’t as strong as his later books, but it’s a good, quick read, especially for a YA reader.
    As for a more complicated and interesting look at sexism, his Monsterous Regiment is excellent. About a small group of soldiers in a suspiciously Eastern Europeanish theocracy who fight gender norms. He also writes an a lesbian couple into it, which is an incidental plot point.

  142. Mandos

    I have no doubt about Tolkien’s patriarchal mind. However, I do think that, for someone of his time in particular, he did more than one would normally have expected in the examination department that you discuss.

    Not every story set in a medieval world is going to be about chafing and rebellion from the evil social dictates. That would get pretty boring, don’t you think? Writing some kind of medieval Atwood over and over.

  143. Mandos

    I have to second the Garth Nix recommendation, way up there btw. If you’re looking for a male writer who mostly and smoothly evades some of the medieval fantasy genre restraints, his young adult Charter trilogy (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen) has mostly female central protagonists who are charged with all kinds of stereotypically male activities, like fighting sorcerers in the world of the dead, and so on.

  144. Arianna

    I’m so glad to see someone (cba scrolling up again to remember who) mentioned The Paperbag Princess as great children’s blamer lit. What could be better? Girl goes to rescue boy from evil dragon, beats dragon, and then walks out on the boy (You aren’t very nice!) when he criticizes her appearance.

    Other sci-fi fantasy recommended for the young blamer (if not mentioned here already) is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials triology. The main character is an 11ish year old girl who goes on a mission to rescue her best friend from the evils of the Church.

    As for Atwood… I’m unfortuntely too much of a fan-girl to critize her honestly :/ Ditto that for Tolkien. Love him too much for honest criticism :(.

  145. Ledasmom

    “Porcelain Dove” is a wonderful book, a favorite of mine that I reread from time to time.
    I love Bujold’s early Cordelia/Miles Vorkosigan books, the last few not so much. An undoubtedly inexact quote from “The Warrior’s Apprentice”: “You were the one man on Barryar I thought could conceive of a woman having an honor that wasn’t between her legs”. In that book and also in “A Civil Campaign” Bujold explores the question of consent rather nicely – what is coercion, what is not, and holds her main character to a pretty damn high standard on the matter, too. The one objection I have to her work is a near-absence of female villains – female heros there are, villains, not so much, which leaves a tad of a gap.
    What about Elizabeth Moon? And there’s a series of reworked fairy-tale collections starting with “Snow White, Blood Red” that’s very good.

  146. marachne

    OK, I admit I like “urban fantasy” and have a tendency to read people I know, and enjoy books set in places I know. That said _War for the Oaks_ by Emma Bull is a lot of fun. The main (human) character is a female rock n’ roller who is tired of dealing w/the boyz she has to play with. And the final showdown between the Seelie and Unseelie court as a battle of the bands is a delight.

    I’m also fond of Kage Baker’s “Company” series. One of her main characters is the botonist Mendoza a rescued-from-the-inquisition now only partially human. I’m not thrilled that the main male character has been getting a lot more focus but I’m still enjoying the arc she’s laid out.

  147. Mandolin

    Scott from Baltimore: It must be wierd having a whole genre of fiction that leaves your own gender so completely out of the spotlight.


    Try reading just SciFi written by women for six months or so; there’s plenty of it, and it will open your eyes. The names in this thread are a good start, but there’s plenty more. About 25 years ago, I thought I could collect every Science Fiction book ever written by a woman. I made a good start and then things exploded and there was no way I could keep up. Still, I have several hundred books I’ve kept as favorites. All with strong women characters, and all written by women.

    Yes. YES, YES, YES.

    Scott, if you were reading enough to catch Andre Norton and Ursula LeGuin, then there were other feminist writers out there at the time, you just weren’t finding them.

    I get this in the SF world all the time. “Why is your list of 20 favorite authors all men?” I ask.

    “More men than women write science fiction,” they reply.

    There may not be parity in the field, but there are PLENTY of women. They just don’t get read as often or brought to mind by male readers as default writers.

    Patriarchy, consider yourself blamed.

    Also, Tolkein? Feminist? Really? I hate epic fiction, so I’m not a good baseline, but I thought he viewed female characters as slightly less interesting than the scenery.

    However, I agree with Mandos in re: the constraints of worldbuilding in a historical context. This is one reason why I’m inclined to give Guy Gavriel Kay some slack. He has a weakness for creating characters based on stereotypes, but he pays a lot of attention to peopling his worlds with women, and to giving them important roles in history — even if they aren’t roles with as much overt use of power as the men possess.

  148. Estelwen

    Awesome SF/Fantasy with feminist themes:
    Marion Zimmer Bradley, especially the books about the Renunciates.
    Lynn Flewelling. Her books don’t get a lot of circulation, but any book that is unabashidly feminist with strong female (and queer) characters AND is undoubtedly awesome gets a gold star in my book. I was especially imprssed by her new book, The Oracle’s Queen, which addresses the little ways in which the patriarchy uses women to oppress each other.
    Andrea Hairston (new author! check her out!). Her book, Mindscape features strong characters who are queer, female, people of color, and absolutely fucking awesome. One of the characters [SPOILERS!]who is initially introduced as a white man is revealed to, in fact, be a black woman who underwent sex-reasignment surgery and extensive plastic surgery because she had been horribly abused and wanted to escape the horrid role of women of color in her society.
    More for t(w)eens, I like K.A. Applegate’s Animorph series, which features both male and female characters. I dislike the fact that the leader of this band is male and that the two main female characters are either cute animal-saving darlings or rah-we-are-violent-and-sexy, but I like that in relativley simplisticly written books (as befits the young audience) the gender of the charcter is frequently irrelevant to what they do.
    I enthusiastically second Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. I especially liked Equal Rites, which directly addresses the issue of an extremely qualified woman being denied admittance to school because she is a woman.
    Asimov bothers me a lot, especially in the Foundation and Robot series (not to mention his habit of hitting on young women constantly). He broke rather sharply from this in Nemesis, which is rather good.
    Frank Herbert’s Dune series is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Bene Gesserit are awesome. On the other hand, I’m not comfortable AT ALL with the hypersexualized women-who-control-men in the later books (especially in Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune). I did think he was fairly honest about the devastating effects of the very closed, patriarichal society of the Lansraad houses had on them.
    In short, geeky feminism = hot.

  149. B. Dagger Lee

    It’s boring watching/reading white male heterosexual characters getting to do all the grandiose, heroic, narcissistic escapist stuff. I want the same thing. Barring that, I’ll take good art.

  150. stephen

    What about the avowedly Marxist Ian M Banks, whose books often feature female leads, and/or a society where people change sex at whim?

    (Unfortunately all his female characters seem like men with breasts to me…)

  151. Mandolin

    “It’s boring watching/reading white male heterosexual characters getting to do all the grandiose, heroic, narcissistic escapist stuff.”

    If you don’t already read her, I recommend Kameron Hurley of the blog Brutal Women: http://brutalwomen.blogspot.com/

    She makes this argument. I also gather that she also writes fiction where women get to do the grandiose, heroic, narcissistic stuff — although I haven’t read her work.

    I think Elizabeth Bear does the same.

  152. B

    I second the Bujold recommendation. I can’t believe more people here hasn’t read her books. I love her Vorkosigan series!

    Connie Willis, Marge Piercy and Ursula Le Guin are all excellent writers. Some of the other authors I’ve read and found a bit dull – the Honor Harrington books for example.

    As for fantasy – anyone else who have read Melanie Rawn’s Exiles serie? It is pretty standard fantasy, though better written than most, but with the gender roles pretty much swapped. Quite enjoyable. Robin McKinley’s fantasy is also good from a feminist perspective. Her novel Deerskin deals with rape and incest in an empowering fairy tale-manner.

    Isn’t it amazing how many posts this thread has? Maybe it says something vital about patriarchy blamers?

  153. Bird

    Actually, I’ve always found Guy Gavriel Kay’s female characters to be strong women, and he’s one of my favorite writers. Many of his books are in the context of a medieval world where women don’t hold much official power, but he shows them having a huge influence on the course of their world despite their social roles. The women of A Song for Arbonne, for example, hold a great deal of sway (including the queen). And I’d hardly call Miranda powerless in The Lions of Al-Rassan. Yes, it’s not a world with women in charge–his books are mainly based on real-world history–but I don’t think he belongs on the list of woman-hating speculative fiction writers like Orson Scott Card or Piers Anthony.

    Another Canadian speculative fiction writer to check out is Charles de Lint. Many of his characters are strong, smart women, and he addresses issues like physical and sexual abuse, gender and sexuality, and all sorts of things in a great way. He did a retake on the “Jack” archetype from many fairy tales with a great female lead. I highly recommend his books.

  154. Arianna


    There is the Luthien/Eowyn/Haleth defence for Tolkien, and I’ve worked it up to an art, but I know it’s pretty weak outside circles of people like me who are looking for any excuse to not feel guilty about their Tolkien fangirlism.

  155. Sandy D.

    One of the things I enjoyed reading in in Lois McMaster Bujold’s books are the implications of the “uterine replicator” – a mechanical womb that frees mothers from pregnancy and childbirth. I think contraception (on at least some planets) is also trouble-free?

    Naomi Kritzer is another good fantasy author that deals with gay characters (and strong women) in a positive way. She had an interesting thread on her blog recently about the lack of SF (but not so much fantasy) for older grade-school aged kids – kids that aren’t ready for YA themes yet: http://naomikritzer.livejournal.com/146363.html

  156. sabotabby

    Check out “So Long Been Dreaming.” It’s an anthology of short sci-fi stories by people of colour, examining different tropes (alien invasion, androids, and so on) from post-colonialist perspectives. The quality of stories is uneven, but some are fantastic. It has a foreword by Nalo Hopkinson, of course.

    I am really obsessed with China Miéville lately. He has consistently interesting female characters (and they’re not cliché or stock at all), and an awesome sex workers’ rebellion in the book I’m currently reading (“Iron Council”).

    Also, much love for Ursula LeGuin. Always.

  157. Orange

    I haven’t read any sci-fi since I was a teenager, and the only Heinlein I remember reading was that one where the doohickeys clamped onto the people’s spines and took over their brains.

    I did see the Starship Troopers movie, though, and liked it. (And no, I did not leave the cinema thinking “Yay, fascism!”) My favorite scene was the shower scene–hard-bodied young men and women, all military trainees, showering together in the communal showers and thinking nothing of it. Cheesecake beefcake does not equal feminism, but it’s nice to see a pack of human bodies displayed in a non-sex context. Though of course they were all objectively/patriarchally sexy, which kinda ruins my point, but still.

    For years I felt a tiny badness that my 10th grade classmate who seemed to like me never asked me out. However, his reading of choice? He was never without a Gor paperback. I am now relieved that I never had a date in high school. Thanks, blamers!

    I didn’t notice anyone discussing Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, with mechanized human reproduction and rigid class roles and societal expectations for sex. I can’t discuss it knowledgeably at this late date, however. Anyone?

  158. Trout

    On the subject of Starship Troopers, I have a certain respect for the book, mainly because it’s an intelligent and fair attempt to portray fascism in a good light. I disagree with Heinlein’s philosophy (as it ran at the time, some of his ideas changed in later years) but respect his attempt to convey what he clearly felt was a good idea – and it’s a damn good read.

    Of course, as you raise the real (not preceived) threat level, some form of totalitarianism looks better and better… sigh.

    I should note, BTW, that men and women only showered/fought together in the movie, though in the book there were women space pilots who were well respected by their male peers. I thought a very interesting bit was his assigning of roles to man vs. women based on what the actual research at the time was telling him. Does anyone else remember the bit about how women were pilots because their bodies did a better job of handling high acceleration?

    On the subject of Lois McMaster Bujold and John Varley, major thumbs up. As writers I can’t stand Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald (though he’s a very smart and nice guy – I don’t know her.) I simply thought the attempt to interject magic/piracy/other fantasy elements into the far future was an utter failure. The powerful female characters were the only saving grace.

    On the “King Kong” issue, I have to disagree. New Zealand and Papua New Guinea are natively inhabited by by black people, as are many of the islands in that general area. The poster shoudl also note that Pacific Islanders can vary a great deal in terms of skin color/kinkiness of hair. I think the author of that comment is seeing something that’s not quite there. On the other hand, if one were to argue that King Kong was an exercise in prejudice because the ape symbolically represented a SCARY BLACK MAN that would be very much worth discussing.

    And why hasn’t anyone mentioned Diane Duane, one of my personal favorite authors. The Young Wizards books are very good, as are the cat books, and she’s also got a fantasy series that completely rocks.

    She also write a lot of Star Trek books, one of which features – as the book’s major heroine, mind you – an eight legged female alien who happily admits to having eaten her mate! (This was before the Star Trek books fell into the hands of the evil editors who currently control them – the first books contained some truly awesome science fiction and very good writing. Unfortunately, as with any corporate product, the drek rose to the top over time, and I ignore the damn things these days.)

    For good writing about females I’ve also enjoyed Thomas Harlan’s recent series, “House of Reeds” and “House of Flint.” and in the fantasy/horror genre I’ve enjoyed Kim Harrison’s “Dead Witch Walking” books, though the third book in the trilogy is showing minor signs that the series may be jumping the shark into Anita Blake vampire-fucker territory. I’ll probably read the reviews very carefully before I buy book four.

  159. Delishka

    I’ll support the Lynn Flewelling recomendation, for the Bone Doll twin series…the Nightrunners series much less so…those earlier works, while featuring a homosexual main character, didn’t really seem to dig into the issues in a meaningful way, rather was a three book excuse for the main guy to wangst about his cute young companion while trying to ‘shelter and protect’ him. The plot of the books was so secondary to the wangsting that I didn’t bother finishing, and can’t even remember the ‘high points’ without pulling them off the shelf. The Bone Doll’s Twin, in comparison is complex, well thought out and a fascinating read. Also very much all about gender stereotypes, attempted male domination, sexual taboos and sterotypes being overturned. It’s also a bit spooky, with subject matter that wouldn’t have been out of place in a horror novel, but that is so matter-of-factly presented that it’s just a tradgedy.
    As for Bujold, Barryar (the book, not the planet it’s named after) is about and exceptionally strong and interesting female character dealing with her willing transplant to a patriarical society, and the way she works around it…the later Miles books, coming from the perspective of her son, are of course from a more male viewpoint. Still the setting is of a backwater parochial hidebound patriarchy being exposed to the rest of the wide universe, and the social revolution that follows over the next several decades, trying to save the good from the old while bringing in the good from the new. (Uterine Replicators! Betan Hermaphrodites!)
    As for Bujold’s fantasy, I agree that the Curse of Chalion had a hard time keeping my interest. Paladin of Souls, however, was excellent. As for the Sharing Knife book….ugh. I went to her website to try to understand what she was thinking, but…ugh.
    Okay, it could be that I’ve just been rereading some Bujold and Flewelling, so it’s on my mind.

    Lackey’s Pawn of Prophecy had the first gay protagonist, or even gay character, that I can remember reading. I was shocked and pleased to find it in my high school library all those years ago…what a great librarian, because regardless of what some parents might have felt about the character’s sexuality, it was a great read. If I ever feel like a good cry, I pull that novel off my shelf to reread.

  160. Isabella

    Those of you criticizing Susannah Clarke- Try her short story “The Ladies of Grace Adieu.” It centers on female characters and has some good commentary of the position of women in that society. (I considered citing to it during the recent “smile” discussion at Pandagon. One of the characters is a woman who is not well liked in the village where she lives. One of things about her people find so off-putting is that she only smiles when there’s something to smile about.)

  161. Sylvanite

    No, Trout, you aren’t the only one who remembers the bit about the female pilots in Starship Troopers. The movie version, as far as I can tell, was a vicious parody by the fascism-hating Paul Verhoeven. In tone, it was very unlike the book.

    As for A Brave New World, I remember being pretty disappointed that the highest caste, the Alphas, consisted only of males. The Beta caste were all females, and apparently out of the running for any ruler positions. Indeed, they were lower caste solely because they were females. They seemed to exist to give the Alphas more worthy sex partners and companions, since the three lowest castes were all physical and intellectual inferiors that had been cloned through the Bokanovskification process.

    Yes, I’ve written many, many school papers on this novel. If I could, I would take the opportunity to “compare and contrast” to 1984.

  162. piehat

    Even though this is really fantasy and not SF, and I’m just a lurker here at IBTP, I have to drop in and recommend Diane Duane’s novels, especially the Tale of the Five series (The Door Into Fire is the first one), which I think may be out of print now, though you can find them used. They take place in a world where gender really isn’t any kind of issue; women’s abilities are never questioned because of their lady-bits, people fall in love without regard to gender (the great love story of the series is between two men), etc. And they’re well-written, especially for fantasy novels. Duane has also written some Star Trek novels, most of which I haven’t read, and a series of young adult novels with a female protagonist (the Young Wizards series, which were my introduction to her as a teenager). Anyway, highly recommended, especially the Tale of the Five books.

  163. Hawise

    Back from a break and Dagger Lee- Tolkien is definitely a patriarch both ideologically and because he was writing books for a household of boys. He did not write anything remotely feminist and most of his strong female characters are direct reworkings of mythic women. I respect that he kept away from trying to write what he didn’t know, too many authors fail at what they could have just avoided.
    Still there are often gems in the dreck. I picked up a book by John Ringo called There Will Be Dragons about a future world where women have been freed from childbirth but patriarchal mindgames still rear their ugly heads. Pretty pedestrian book but it has some interesting ideas buried in among the marketing.
    The Miller/Lee ‘Liaden’ series is a good read, fast paced and some interesting ideas of social organizations. Bujold is good but Miller/Lee are better. The Honor Harrington books are fast paced and deal with some interesting subtexts on cultural bias as do the Lackey works. I like Tanya Huff and her Blood series is do for release as a TV series. (States and UK, Canadian release date still pending, miserable CHUM)
    I like to randomly pick up a used book by unknown authors, you never know what you will find buried in the swill.

  164. Jeff

    As for A Brave New World, I remember being pretty disappointed that the highest caste, the Alphas, consisted only of males. The Beta caste were all females, and apparently out of the running for any ruler positions.

    I read BNW in high school, and totally didn’t pick up on that. I wonder if it was Huxley’s intention that the society be set up that way, or if he’d insist that there were “Alpha women” and “Beta men” and they just weren’t shown in the book?

  165. RobW

    “Orson Scott Card is of course a Mormon and makes no claims to be a feminist.”

    I believe he once referred to Connie Willis’ short story “All My Darling Daughters” as being evil.

    For what it’s worth, my first exposure to Willis was that very story. It was included in an anthology edited by Card- I don’t recall the title of the anthology, but I remember Card’s intro somewhat. He said, iirc, that it was deeply disturbing to him and that it represented a worldview with which he did not agree, but that the story was ingenious, provocative, and important.

    I remember being deeply disturbed by it too, thinking, “holy shit, is that really what women think of men? Why is that?” It was the beginning of my own recognition of the patriarchy.

    Then I read Willis’ “Belwether” (sp?) novel, which was so completely different from that horrific short story. I tried to read “The Domesday Book” but by then I was pretty bored with anything medieval.

    As a ft student, I don’t get to read for fun very much anymore, but last summer I had some time and read Mishima’s “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea” which made me feel like I needed ptsd therapy. Instead, I read Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake” and Gibson’s “Pattern Recognition.” (PR is, I believe, Gibson’s first non-sf novel.)

  166. Liz

    Elizabeth Bear writes SF that consistently questions the patriarchy – see her Carnival for a massively interesting example.

    I’d say that Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, the authors of the Liaden series, are pretty feminist, as well. And I’d say the same about Charles Stross, Nicola Griffiths, and Kristine Smith, off the top of my head. If I can cross into fantasy, I’d say Sarah Monette, Alma Alexander, and Naomi Kritzer, again to name but a few, are quite emphatically feminist, although Monette uses male characters to examine the kinds of damage that our present society routinely deals out to women – that is, she damages her male characters in the same ways.

    Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, and Mercedes Lackey, I’d have to say, are anything but feminist – Bradley in particular appears to have quite rigid ideas about gender.

  167. Nymphalidae

    Guess who else is a fucking sexist knob? Larry Niven.

  168. S-kat

    I don’t read a lot of SF/F myself so as a librarian this thread has been super informative.

    Can anybody tell me how Philip Pullman holds up in this regard? His trilogy is always being recommended to me so I’m curious to know.

  169. Sylvanite

    Sorry, Jeff. I’ve read Huxley’s little dystopia many, many times (as I said, it was one I’d find any excuse to write a school paper on – in both high school and college), and I tried so hard to argue with myself that we just weren’t seeing any Alpha females of Beta males, but they surely must be there. It didn’t work – I think the absence of Alpha females and Beta males in the two castes that weren’t low caste worker-types is because they were intended to be that way. Alphas are males, and Betas are females.

    Bummer, I know.

  170. Sylvanite

    Of course, I mean Alpha females or Beta males.

  171. Mandos

    Um, I was not attempting to say that Tolkien was a feminist icon, merely that he probably should not rank all that high on the offensiveness scale for people on this site. If you are looking for perfection, very few authors will deliver. As Twisty points out on the next thread.

  172. Christopher Bradley

    OHMYGOD, to do some patriarchy blaming, I find that a large number of sf&f writers are almost unreadably patriarchical! Not just of the “save the helpless princess” variety of sexism, and the “eye candy” kind of sexism (often combined — a beautiful victim that exists to fall in love with the macho hero) but also in the far more insidious “man in a dress” sexism. That being feminist friendly you do this by making a woman that is just like a man but has boobs and that’s the ne plus ultra of feminism. Ugh. Like having female characters support their filthy patriarchy is better than a more honest patriarchy. Like the problem with patriarchy is that women aren’t manly enough. Ugh. UGH.

  173. Ozma

    Wow, has this thread ever grown!

    I’m more of a fantasy fiction than sci fi fan myself, and one of the things that is *so* frustrating about fantasy fiction is how overtly sexist and covertly racist (all of that medieval stuff usually = all white folks) it is. And yet, I totally have a bad bad sweet tooth for it. LIke, George R. R. Martin: I will lie awake all night finishing a novel in which an uber blond 14 year old child-woman sex fantasy is described in lurid detail *over* and *over* (Daenyrys, or however it is spelled), another adult blond porn creature morphs gradually into a harpy (Cecilia? Cecily? anyway, the female twin), and the non-white characters are all described in suitably dusky and exoticizing terms (but only appear around the margins of the story anyway).

    So I wonder, both: what *gives* with fantasy fiction (becuase it is dominated by these characteristics)? and what *gives* with me that I read it anyway?

  174. Isabella

    Have you read the 3rd and 4th book yet? I haven’t. But I’ve been told that in them you start seeing things from the perspective of the Lannisters, including the blond twin woman (whose name I’m forgetting). I totally agree with you that, so far as I’ve read, she a total sexist cliche. But I’m curious to find out what her point of view is. I haven’t gotten to the next books because I’ve been reading,

    ‘Darwin’s Radio’ by Greg Bear, which I recommend and haven’t seen mentioned yet. Very absorbing book. Good female characters. Pregnancy is a major topic in the book and I think it’s handled intelligently.

  175. Ledasmom

    Couldn’t find any Alpha women, but there certainly are Beta men in “Brave New World”, not that that changes the fact that every interesting character is male.

  176. CuriouserAndCuriouser

    I agree that Heinlein is a sexist pig. That said, I gobbled up everything he wrote when I was a kid, my dad’s paperback library was packed with science fiction. And I loved many of the stories, especially some of the more mind-bending ones like the one with the house that’s a tesseract, and Waldo & Magic Inc., and 6xH. That guy had a seriously amazing imagination.

    I didn’t really pick up on the whole sexist thing til after I came home from college and went to re-read a few, and I was shocked! Shocked both by how blatant the sexism was, and how utterly oblivous I’d been to it as a kid. Though I must say the pervy knobbiness of Stranger in a Strange Land came through pretty loud and clear even when I was young. It kind of made me sad, because it was such a cool story otherwise.

    I’m remembering one story Heinlein wrote that I think may have been an anomaly – Podkayne of Mars, which was an absolute favorite for me as a kid. It’s aimed at teenagers, and the girl hero is great, as I recollect. Another favorite was The Telzey Toy (which apparently was part of a longer series) featuring Telzey Amberdon, a brainy, accomplished, powerful 15-year-old telepath with a brilliant, powerful mom. Have to go back and re-read them and see what I think now. Also written late 60s/early 70s.

    Another cool Heinlein story is The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything, which, while being still pretty sexist, has some cool moments where The Girl gets her revenge. The story is based on an old pocket watch that can stop time, temporarily, with the twist of a dial, except for the bearer, who can move around freely while everyone else stands frozen like that game Statues. Imagine the possibilities for mischief!

    I appreciate Ursula Le Guin, but I’ve always been sad about how dark, gloomy and depressing all her writing seems to be. Maybe I’m being unfair, but I wish for more of a sense of humor from her.

    I saw a recommendation for Marge Piercy somewhere (maybe even on this blog) so I’m attempting to slog through Woman on the Edge of Time. So far it is a slog – no-holds-barred descriptions of horrible wife-beatings, misogynistic caging of a poor depressed woman in a mental institution, etc. And the writing is awful, painful to read, and badly edited. Not to mention depressing. But I’ll see how far I get.

  177. Joolya

    I second Pratchett and add Neil Gaiman as another brit sci fi/fantasy writer who gets it right more often than not. Hell, I’d even allow Douglas Adams in there.

    All of this talk makes me want to write! It also gives me serious hope about the gaping niche for feminist sci fi/fantasy in the world. I love you, geek girls.

  178. Arianna

    Ok, now that my boss is gone: My weak ass attempt to defend Tolkien, which is surely going to get ripped to shreds. It’s probably almost as bad as the whole “the times” argument, and pretty obviously biased by the fact that I’m an irredeemable fangirl, so take it as you will…

    Basically, from reading various versions of his biography, what I’ve gathered is that he was pretty much segregated from women is whole life, except for a select few, who were these huge, near-mythic features in his life (ie, his mother and his wife Edith). I mean segregated from women to the point where after his mother died, he was raised by a priest, who (iirc) forcibly removed him from a house he was living in his late teens so that he wouldn’t be around women (particularly Edith Bratt).

    My defence is that female characters are few and far between because in his life, women were few and far between. His mother died as a child, he had no sisters, no daughters, no contact with his family on either side, and therefore no aunts that he knew. He was raised by a priest, and lived his life in universities.

    However, when he writes women, they tend to be pretty good. Luthien, for example, from The Silmarillion, is pretty badass (and clearly inspired by Edith). She faces Morgoth, and then after Beren dies she pulls and Orpheus and goes and entreats the equivalent of Gods to return him to the world. There’s the better known Eowyn because she was in the movies, and there’s a great bit of dialogue (in the books anyway) where Aragorn basically tells Eomer that Eowyn is going to go mad being trapped in the house because she’s also from the royal line and has all the courage and valour and bloodlust of any man of that house, and its a pretty good rant against arbitrary gender roles. Then there’s Haleth, also from the Silmarillion, less well known but extremely cool – I can’t remember the particulars of her story as it’s been a while since I read the Silmarillion, but basically her entire ethnic group is named after here – the Haladin (named originally for the line of Haldad, became known as the Houth of Haleth because she led them through some rough battles…

    eek gotta cut this short, 5pm….

  179. Arianna

    HOUSE of Haleth, even

  180. CuriouserAndCuriouser

    I love Pratchett too and have read and re-read all his books, but I still think he’s sexist. He’s a little more even-handed, especially if you read his stories about the witches, but the underlying assumptions about women’s ‘place’ in the world still seem pretty much the same ol’, same ol’, even though his female characters are pretty outspoken and get to do cool stuff. And the collaboration of Pratchett and Gamain on Good Omens was fantastic, I love that book.

  181. Christopher Bradley

    I’ve read the 4th Song of Fire and Ice book. The blonde twin is Cersei and . . . uh, the sexism in A Feast for Crows was totally over the top. I was willing to put up with it because the first three books have a pretty interesting deconstruction of class — in the sense that the knights are a bunch of brutal, murderous thugs that will pursue glory, honor and power to the tremendous suffering of the common people — but in the A Feast for Crows all female characters are portrayed as being basically inferior to male characters with such uniformity that I doubt I’ll read the fifth book. It was painfully sexist relative to the other books.

  182. Isabella

    “There’s the better known Eowyn because she was in the movies, and there’s a great bit of dialogue (in the books anyway) where Aragorn basically tells Eomer that Eowyn is going to go mad being trapped in the house because she’s also from the royal line and has all the courage and valour and bloodlust of any man of that house, and its a pretty good rant against arbitrary gender roles.”

    I’m totally with you on that. I noticed that passage the most recent time I reread ‘Return of the King’ and thought “it’s almost like Tolkein’s blaming the patriarchy.”

  183. CuriouserAndCuriouser

    I love Pratchett too and have read and re-read all his books, but I still think he’s sexist. He’s a little more even-handed than most male writers, especially if you read his stories about the witches, but he still seems to see women’s roles as being more or less the same ol’, same ol’, even though his female characters are pretty outspoken and get to do cool stuff. And the collaboration of Pratchett and Gamain on Good Omens was fantastic, that’s a great story.

  184. Hawise

    Jerry Pournelle is sexist SF writer of all time. He makes Niven and Heinlien look positively feminist in comparison.

  185. CuriouserAndCuriouser

    oops, sorry about the double-posting – I went to ‘edit’ the first one and it disappeared. So I re-wrote it, and now there are two.

  186. Maddyanne

    The Telzy Toy is part of the Telzy Amberdon series by James Schmitz. I read the first chapter of his Witches of Karres in a collection called Children of Wonder as a child and that led me to the rest of his stuff. It was so exciting to read science fiction that had female protagonists instead of boys. He has lots of active, intelligent, interesting female heroes in his stuff, which was recently reissued by Baen Books. Mercedes Lackey collaborated with 2 other writers to come up with a sequel to the Witches of Karres, which only highlights how good his original novel is. Schmitz also writes really good creatures, who are not your out of the same old box aliens.

  187. Jokerine

    May I just remind you that having female action heros is not enough to actually make a book feminist?

    It takes a lot more than that. Like a society which is sexclassless. Or unsettled gender roles.

  188. Isabella

    Bummer about A Feast for Crows.

    I recently read the Philip Pullman books and mostly enjoyed them for being strongly anti-authoritarian and critical of organized religion.
    However, the gender politics are pretty disappointing- particularly given that Pullman criticized the Narnia books from being sexist (among other things).

    In the first book, the heroine, Lyra, is active and courageous and generally great. In the second book, a male protagonist, Will, is introduced (he tends to be a violent action-hero type guy), and Lyra becomes really, annoyingly insipid and helpless and foolish. In the third book, Lyra is asleep for the first third of the book (I estimate it’s a third), then she does something pretty heroic with Will’s assistance.
    The main villain throughout the books is the heroine’s mother, (the intriguingly named) Mrs. Coulter. We are told she’s intelligent and capable, but her main power seems to be that she’s beautiful and seductive. She stops being a villain when maternal instinct wins out. Contrast Mrs. Coulter to Lyra’s father, who is a lousy father and murders one of Lyra’s friends- yet isn’t considered a villain because he’s got goals that the book and many of the characters we like support (he’s making war on God).
    There is another major female character- a former nun turned scientist named Dr. Mary Malone, who is pretty cool.

    Maybe not everyone will find the gender politics as annoying as I did. I had a hard time getting over the way Lyra became lame and helpless once Will appeared in the story.

  189. CuriouserAndCuriouser

    No, but it’s a start to at least have a woman at the center of a story instead of always on the periphery. What is that thing about subject-verb-object? At least the girls are actors in these stories, instead of passive objects. (I’m going to check the Telzey series out from the library and see what jumps out at me now, 20 years later.)

    I agree with you that having female action heroes is far, far from enough (when a geeky guy-friend of mine recommend Crouching Dragon Hidden Tiger – or is the other way round, can never remember – as a movie with ‘strong women lead characters’, I watched maybe 5 minutes of it before shutting the VCR off in disgust.

    But I’ve also tried to find stories for my little nieces who are 2, 3 and 5, and guess what? I think finding even an action hero is a step in the right direction, because we’re still dealing with Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, etc. being the main fare. The only alternatives are even more gag-me for my own taste – the pop-psych stuff about children of divorce, etc. But that’s another soapbox.

  190. gdr

    “One of the great early socialists said that the status of women in a society is a pretty reliable index of the degree of civilization of that society. If this is true, then the very low status of women in SF should make us ponder about whether SF is civilized at all.” — Ursula K. Le Guin.

  191. WeaverRose

    I would just like to add some authors that I especially love and that haven’t been mentioned yet:

    M. Bradley Kellogg – The Lear’s Daughters series; well developed world and characters and good storytelling – I don’t remember it ringing my blaming bell when I read it.

    Joan Slonczewski – Door Into Ocean – is my favorite; it explores gender and non-violent resistance. I like all of her books.

    Karen Traviss – Her series of novels has good adventure, a focus on ecological values and an interesting take on how gender roles could be different. And any character who is temperamentally suited to ass-kicking gets to kick ass regardless of gender.

    Dorothy Bryant – The Kin of Ata Are Waiting For You – Pretty good utopian fiction.

    Around the time I was 30 I concluded that I’d been well enough indoctrinated in patriarchy that I would spend the next 30 years reading women authors and listening to women’s voices. I like to read science fiction (not fantasy) and I’ve read many of the authors recommended in this thread. I’m pleased to find writers who were unknown to me and I’m heading to the library with a list.

  192. Mandos

    May I just remind you that having female action heros is not enough to actually make a book feminist?

    It takes a lot more than that. Like a society which is sexclassless. Or unsettled gender roles.

    But if we are to believe Shulamith Firestone, a society which is sexclassless would be classless in general. From whence, then, would the distinctions that make fiction interesting arise?

  193. Christopher Bradley

    Ugh. Isabella said that she was disappointed that a female character became subordinate to a male character. This is a trend I’ve noticed in several fantasy novelists. They’ll introduce some woman who is supposed to have a special destiny and skills but, inevitably, they’ll find some boy and fade into the background while he becomes the hero. I think the first time this was done explicitly was Red Sonja, y’know, back in the day, but it happens fairly often, such as Katherine Kerr’s books and Jordan’s stuff (I hesitate to call it writing).

  194. Becky

    Not so much scifi, but…

    I think Hostel is secretly a condemnation of the global sex trade and (sexist, vagina detentata elements aside) that makes it kind of cool.

    I think the hobbits in Lord of the Rings are secretly lesbian seperatists.

    James Tipptree Jr (i.e. Alice Sheldon) may not be a great wroter, but she was good at capturing the feeling of being trapped in traditional gender roles.

  195. Maddyanne

    Schmitz’s work is full of female characters with agency to a degree I don’t think any other SF writer in the fifties and early sixties equaled. A lot of it looks like space opera. A lot of it is funny, or whimsical, or horrific. And Telzy especially is a bit over the top in her general charming adolescent supercompetence. But Schmitz treats her as an exceptional person, not a protagonist who is exceptional because girls aren’t like that. She is not alone of all her sex. She has friends, a mother who is a high powered official in the government, and lots of other women in positions of authority around her.
    Schmitz dropped out of sight for a long time. It’s not deserved. I’d give a young female friend The Witches of Karres long before His Dark materials.

  196. afm

    Octavia made my skin crawl with her future of human/alien life. The Xenogenesis cycle is brilliant, in my opinion, with a strong black woman as a protaganist and a world setup that completely exposes our patriarchy as it contrasts to a truly alien culture/life form/gender types.

    I love her other books too.

    What do people think of Theodore Sturgeon?

  197. Orange

    Holy shit, Sylvanite and Ledasmom. I’m glad I asked about Brave New World. My benighted teenage self did not notice the absence of female Alphas. (Insert exclamation points of surprise here.)

    I wonder if the book is still assigned in high-school English classes?

  198. techne

    Thought I’d see if this thread mentioned Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy yet. I haven’t been following and don’t have time to read all the comments right now, but a quick search of the page implies no. Just read Twisty’s characterization of what is wrong with female characters in sci-fi, and few to none apply:

    their female characters are maddening, often enpornulated stereotypes for EZ teen jerkoffability (a genre-wide affliction)

    Nope: the female characters are as rich and diverse as one could hope. Now, they ARE flawed, as are the male characters, but their flaws lead the reader to see women as more, not less, human. (and were they not flawed, they’d be on a pedestal.)

    the settings are unambiguously America-esque;

    Debatable. Given that the books are about establishing a new sort of culture on Mars, drawing from the best of Earth cultures and making stuff up as they go along, it’s a bit more European.

    the plot contains one of those execrable “love rapes”;


    the male characters see all the good action;

    Nor do they get all the development. In fact it could be said that the major arc is a woman’s (Ann).

    the aliens just happen to neatly conform to the human patriarchal sex-role duality;

    Alien-free. In fact, there is a plot twist that puts all the main characters sort of outside the biological sex roles, which does a good bit to free people from this particular pitfall.

    the writing is itself objectively sub-par

    Always a matter of opinion, but IMO among the best sci-fi, and other people agree with me as each book in the trilogy won a Hugo.

  199. Shiloruh

    Even as a teen reading Heinlein (whose stories I always enjoyed) I recognized that all his female characters were hyper-intelligent sex kittens. It bothered me then as well as now. It can be fun but after about 15 minutes its all “quit pawing me Grandpa”.
    The worst ever was L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth in which the ONLY female character is kidnapped, put in a cage, and waits over 700 pages to be rescued. It was horrible. I read it only on a dare.
    As to Sturgeon, I enjoyed his stories as well and there are all kinds of men and women in them. I especially loved Bianca’s Hands.

  200. Alie

    “May I just remind you that having female action heros is not enough to actually make a book feminist?

    It takes a lot more than that. Like a society which is sexclassless. Or unsettled gender roles.”

    I disagree. You can also have female (or, genderily interesting aliens/other) protagonists who fight a sexclassful system, implicitly (fighting the system quietly while trying to live their lives like they want to) or explicitly (a book that is the tale of someone who rearranges the whole system).

    For example, if Twisty’s life were a SF/F book, it would surely be a feminist tale of a Spinster Aunt who fights the megatheocorporatocracy. Not set in a sexclassless world, but still feminist, yeah?

  201. Tall Elf Lord

    I’m just a lurker and learner on IBTP, but a big sci-fi fan. No one has mentioned C.J. Cherryh — she is very prolific and won two Hugo Awards for “Down Below Station” and “Cyteen.” I haven’t read her fantasy stuff, but her space operas are very good. Her sci-fi has strong female characters and very good depictions of alien psyches that are distinctly not human.

    Someone disparaged Sheri Tepper up-thread, and while her science is sometimes not what it should be (there should be good science in science fiction), and maybe she doesn’t write “fine literature,” she takes a pronounced feminist position in her work. “The Gate to Women’s Country” is like a feminist sci-fi primer, wherein a post-apocalyptic society is organized by dividing each of the few remaining city-states by a wall that separates a Sparta-like all-male militarist society on one side from a female-run, agrarian community on the other. The males in the latter have to accept a secondary role as “stewards,” if, as boys, they opt to leave the military camp by going through the gate to women’s country. This happens while they are ritualistically reviled by their more pugnacious fellows. It’s a quick read and worth it.

    And yes, Heinlein was knob like so many others, Shakespeare included. But some of each of these knobs’ stuff is great.

  202. SolNiger

    trying this again (don’t kill me spamulator):

    I can certainly say that a femininst and a science fiction aficionado can exists within the same body.
    SF has been my favourite genre because it has the most potential for philosophical meanderings. Regarding its mysoginistic nature,whereever patriarchy exists, sexism exists. So lets give blame where blame is due.

    Now then, there is more than a hairball to be coughed up.
    Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a gifted writer and a depressed housewife who wrote in the early 1900s. Her SF novel Herland envisioned a feminist utopia seen throuh the eye of three men who crash land in its vicinity. What follows is classic and exactly what would happen if such a scenario actually occured. Although her utopia* is overly optimistic (as utopias as a rule are) the most impressive thing about the novel is how relevant her issues were to me in this day and age! Its a short read and available through Project Gutenberg. HIghly reccomended.
    I’ve read her non SF feminist fiction. Notably What Diantha Did and her semi autobiographical The Yellow Wallpaper (which, for some odd reason, sits next to Kafka’s Metamorphosis in my mind’s bookshelf).

    If you haven’t read Joanna Russ’ The Female Man, may I ask why?

    I would be a little hesitant to reccomend Atwood’s Oryx and Crake because she is narrating from a man’s perspective and as such the character is not very enlightened. He idolises a woman character, ‘falls in love’ with her, and wishes to be her ‘knight in shining armor’. Atwood does this on purpose, as a warning of sorts to her reader (as is the tone of the entire novel) still its a little annoying. Then there’s always The Handmaid’s Tale.

    Octavia E Butler is excellent. I have only read Parable of the Sower as of yet and I would reccomend that as a good post apocalyptic scenario.

    Now getting back to mysoginy, has anyone read Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson? What a pile of sexist bullshit! I couldn’t stand to read more than 50 pages of it. After having read The Diamond Age, such blatant dehumanization of women was totally unexpected and very dissapointing.

  203. Silence

    I’ve read C.J. Cherryh’s ‘Rusalka’ novels which are based on Russian mythology and are very good. The main characters in the first book of the trilogy are mostly male, but the women have larger roles in the next two books and are portrayed, once again, as real people with minds and opinions of their own. These books are hard to find anymore, however.

    Actually, ever since this thread began I’ve been looking through my books and noticing how many sci-fi/fantasy novels I have discarded because I realize they were written by sexist knobs. But I’ll second Ellen Kushner’s work, as I love Swordspoint and Privilege of the Sword.

    However, blamers, listen up. I’ve also discovered and old treasure, one I’d be curious to know if anyone else has read. It’s called The Rising of the Moon, by Flynn Connolly, and it’s about Ireland after the Catholics take over and shut off all women’s rights. It’s like The Handmaid’s Tale, only, in my opinion, miles better. The lead characters are four women who start a resistance group and go about reclaiming rights for women. It’s a terrifc read, but I’ll bet very hard to find as it was published in 1993. But get your hands on this one if you like sci-fi.

  204. Sasha

    SolNiger I have a falling apart copy of The Female Man read by many, but it is not so easy to find. I’d recommend anything by Joanna Russ. P.D.James “Children of Men” (including the film) treats women as some combination of an extension of what is and a glimpse of what might be. It has gotten some flack for the pregnant woman theme, but I don’t think that is the point.

  205. J

    For those who liked “The Female Man,” or even if you didn’t like it, I suggest Donna Haraway’s “Modest Witness@Second Millenium. FemaleMan Meets OncoMouse: Feminism and Technoscience.” In a nut-shell, it’s about highlighting a kind of kinship in the way that the oppression of the natural world through science corosponds to the oppression of women (and men) in the patriarchy. The kind of kinship I’m talking about is, perhaps, better understood as a kind of solidarity. Think of how Firestone describes in the Oedipus Complex the solidarity between the children and mother in their oppression by the father. Take that to a whole new level, where the domination of the natural world corosponds directly to the domination of humans (of whatever category you wish, in this case women) by other humans.

  206. SusanM

    Maddyanne likes: James Schmitz

    In sort of a obverse James Tiptree situation, I was absolutely convinced Schmitz was a woman writing as a man after I read a couple of his books.

  207. Maddyanne

    SusanM, I couldn’t help thinking that too, though I knew it wasn’t true. Even at the height of my will not read any more male writers period, I couldn’t give him up.

  208. BubbasNightmare

    In an effort to make up for having started the spec-fic thread drift over at the Firestone Theatre thread (I’m rather sorry I did that, but not too), let me bring over a topic running on the other thread on Truth and Beauty to pose a question:

    What would make a viable premise for a good feminist spec-fic story?

    An overly-obvious inversion (I Blame the Matriarchy) has been touched on and rejected (rightly, IMO).
    Portrayal of a feminist utopia? Booorrrinnngg; most utopian stories have little of interest unless something forces them into a dystopia.
    The struggle of a patriarchy against right-minded revolutionaires? Maybe.
    The struggles of a Firestone-like rebel against a firmly-entrenched Patriarchy? Again, maybe, but that sounds like real life to me.
    A Battlestar Galactica-like galaxy where humans fight against a Cylonarchy? Been there, seen that, not worth the retread.

    Someone else step up and take this one for awhile; it’s time for this budding would-be feminist to retire.

  209. thebewilderness

    The eight year writers block Ted Sturgeon suffered was one of the small sad traumas of my youth.
    Cryptonomicon? I waded through to the bitter end. At first I put the sexist bs down to the time period, ww2, but the deeper in to the book, the shallower and more sexist the characters became. Blech.

  210. ms_mutt

    Okay, a little known science fiction fact.

    One of the first science fiction stories was “The Blazing World” by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle.

    I know it’s not the normal sci-fi stuff, but it’s an interesting piece about an Empress who saves her kingdom (alone!). It’s difficult to find, but a worthy read.

  211. Artemis

    Big recommendation for “Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand” by Samuel Delany. He does such interesting stuff with language and gender (everyone is “she” unless the object of one’s lust, then and only then “he,” and all regardless of one’s biological sex or species), and still manages to make an epic SF love story out of it.

  212. Rachel

    I might have proposed Octavia Butler but that’s been done. So, my
    submission is Iain M. Banks, primarily for his Culture books. He posits
    a utopian society in which hierarchy is frowned upon and members of the society are encouraged to (and routinely do) switch their biological sex in order to 1) experience child bearing and 2) make sure there isn’t any sexism going on.

    There’s certainly some stuff not to like in the books, but overall, very thought provoking and fun to read.

  213. Christopher Bradley


    I think you’re pretty wrong about Red Mars and Blue Mars (I haven’t read Green Mars).

    One word: Maya.

    Maya is a beautiful and neurotic woman. She’s a beautiful, irrational woman. Teen wankery material, right there. Her competence never overshadows her male lovers.

    Additionally, she was the objet d’amour between Frank and John — and to have her, Frank murders John (amongst other reasons). If that isn’t rape, nothing, really is — he murders Maya’s current lover to fuck her. Her value to him is primarily as a love object (or, perhaps, her value is in getting what John can’t have).

    While I do think fairly highly of particularly the first book in particular — Arkady, alone, makes up for a great deal, hehe — the book has some sexism in it with the whole insipid brawl that Frank and John have over Maya, and Maya’s passive role in the brawl. Very much a traditional role, there, as the irrational, beautiful woman that the male protagonists fight over, competent but never overshadowing her male paramours.

  214. Hillary Rettig

    Joan Slonczewski, Joan Slonczewski, Joan Slonczewski

    Thank *dog* WeaverRose mentioned JS; if no one had mentioned her, I would have been thoroughly bummed. She is hands down the best feminist sf writer around, in my view, and one of the best sf writers of all. Everyone commenting on this thread should hasten to read A Door Into Ocean (a John Campbell award winner, in case anyone’s interested) and then proceed to her other works.

    She fits the whole world in her books: patriarchy, nonviolence, anarchism, compassion, cooperation…and the books are wonderfully written and have extraordinary science (she’s a biology professor at Kenyon) besides.

  215. gomidog

    I’m surprised more people have not mentioned James Triptree Junior (Alice Sheldon), who has a reputation for inserting themes of feminism and anti-colonialism into his/her works. There is a new biography out on the author, which is actually quite interesting.

    To warn those who have not read them, Triptree’s stories often have themes of rape or sexual violence, making some of the stories unrelentingly grim reads. These segments, however, do not come across as being cavalierly bantered about for the sake of titillation. Rather, It seems to be the sort of fear/obsession that haunts the author, and quite often it is used to make a sharp commentary on the evil that pervades a hierarchical society controlled by men/humans/what-have-you.

    If I were to recommend one short story, I think my personal favorite of his (hers) is Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!’ written under the name Raccoona Sheldon. A “mail courier” heading west on foot through a deserted future Chicago is perhaps the only woman in the world to live without fear. The cuts between the main character’s world and the world of the present serve to emphasize the constant though perhaps at times imperceptible oppression and danger in which the women of the world (and to a lesser extent, the men) spend their lives. A tragedy and a good Sci Fi.

  216. al

    Ok, my contribution:

    Sucks how male sci-fi authors always make the enforcers of sexuality repression female, e.g. Orwell’s young Anti-Sex League females. And this isn’t limited to the sci-fi genre, either: Lots of Lefty male authors seem to think the human face of repression is an old nun-faced matron who wants to stop everyone from fucking. Never a humourless old dude though.

    Ok. OT.

    Female or feminist Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror authors I like:
    Joanna Russ (duh), Ursula Le Guin (double duh), Octavia Butler, Anne Rice, Misty Lackey, Marion Zimmer Bradley. And Atwood, because a couple of her books could slot into the above categories.

    Also: Has anyone read Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Humter series? I’ve just started reading the first book (I have the first 3 Anita Blake books collected in a single volume.) Any thoughts on Hamilton?

  217. Sylvanite

    Ledasmom, do you remember who the males who were described as Betas were in BNW? Seriously, the last time I read it, I was specifically looking for references to Alpha females and Beta males, and could swear I didn’t find any. I wouldn’t mind being wrong. I’d look it up myself, but the book is packed away. In a box. Sigh.

  218. Sylvanite

    I liked Kim Stanley Robinson’s Orange County Trilogy. I had trouble getting into the Mars books, though. I find the treatment of women in the OC books to be fairly even-handed, though the main protagonist is always a rather immature male, and the women are seen explicitly through his eyes.

    Cryptonomicon is the most sexist of Stephenson’s books. I assumed that this was largely a function of Randy Waterhouse’s incredible immaturity and self-absorption. If you read the Baroque Cycle, you find that Waterhouses have a long history of being goofballs and tools, and that Shaftoes are always terribly chivalrous, even when it bites them in the ass (i.e. Jack Shaftoe and Eliza, who, after initial rescue by him early on in Quicksilver really seems to want him to stop trying to rescue her, already, to the extent of getting him press-ganged by Barbary pirates. In the end, she rescues him from the gallows, and he becomes a kept man.). With Stephenson, it really helps to remember that his characters tend to be rather ridiculous and exaggerated.

  219. Twisty

    Flame me if you must, but all this medieval sword stuff? Yipes. Castles, lords, damsels, battles, magick? Yipes. These fantasy novels are militaristic and glorify caste systems. Last year I threw a book by that Bujold person (something about a “curse”) against the wall for offenses of clichéd characters, dorky faux-archaic English dialog (“she flew into transports over the shimmering beast”), and celebration of feudalism. It won a Hugo, too. It should’ve been reviled as hate speech.

  220. TrespassersW

    I agree about militaristic women, Pony. Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica acts exactly like the sort of aggressive, swaggering male I detest. That’s not what my feminist utopia is about. I stopped watching at the end of the second series as the militarism got too much for me.

    Leading on from BSG, my sf pet peeve is plots in which machines turn against their human creators. How interesting that authors project such typically human behaviour onto their machine creations. Yes I know the Asimov robots can’t harm humans but they had to have it specifically programmed into them.

    Has anybody read the K-Pax trilogy by Gene Brewer? I can pick holes in some of the author’s arguments but his ‘prot’ character was wonderfully refreshing in his despair for humans’ selfish, consumerist, speciesist ways.

  221. Hawise

    I will admit to a weakness for fantasy, partially because I like tearing apart the weaknesses in the world building, my bad. Curse of Chalion was not Bujold’s best work and she won against an even weaker field. It was a bad year and I think they gave her a gimme for losing on all the Barrayar stuff. Having met her, I think that she understands hyperactive A-type males better than she understands women her own age.

  222. Kerlyssa

    al: To warn you about Hamilton, she writes sex books. I hate to call it porn, considering the blog we’re on. But I picked up a bunch of her collected volumes at a flea market under the impression that it was about vampire hunting rather than vampire fucking, and was quite surprised when it changed at around the third book.

    By all means read them, though. I simply skim over the non plot-relevant sex scenes, myself, and right to the ass kicking. Makes for a quick read. And she is NOT a every-woman-wants-to-be-dominated-by-a-man type writer like McCaffrey, thank god. Why is it that in every series by her, the main character both has some sense slapped into her and is forced into sex by her man?

  223. SusanM

    Twisty: Flame me if you must, but all this medieval sword stuff? Yipes. Castles, lords, damsels, battles, magick? Yipes.

    I don’t care for it either; you’d think “fantasy” as a genre would include scenarios other than imagining you’re a previously undiscovered princess, but about 90% of what I’ve read or been led to still glorifies some sort of Royal caste system. I think I’m too American, as that stuff immediately pushes my Indignant Revolutionary buttons.

    True fantasy, it seems to me, should imagine societal structures we haven’t witnessed here yet on earth. I’ve seen Kings and Queens, and never liked them. (Even that one in Holland everyone says is peachy.)

  224. Sylvanite

    I guess one nice thing about the Pern novels is that Brekke and F’nor provide a nice contrast to F’lar and Lessa.

    But you’re right about the slapping. Methinks there is a reason Ms. McCaffrey has long been divorced from the father of her children.

  225. TinaH

    Echoing Kerlyssa on Anita Blake – they’re porn. The plot for the last one I read could be summed up as follows:

    “Oh dearie me, [Character1] you must scrog [Character2] or he’ll die.”

    Repeat, repeat, repeat.

  226. Ozma

    Isabella — I’d have to agree with Christopher Bradley that the GRR Martin books get worse, not better, vis a vis female characters over time. That being said, I’ll still read the next one as soon as it comes out. I totally get your oogy feelings about Pullman, too: not just in re: Mrs. Coulter but it’s also sort of weird to me that while the series is ostensibly a celebration of not being repressed, enjoying sexuality, etc. etc. the ending is classic boy-fear-of-sex: “now we have shagged, so we must NEVER SEE ONE ANOTHER AGAIN.” but, like, to the tenth power since the shaggers must live the rest of their lives in literally separate worlds. I guess it’s nice that he didn’t kill the girl off in the more typical “now we have shagged, you must die so I can ostensibly pine for you without ever coming into polluting contact with you again” plot wrap-up.

    Silence: yeah, like you I have cast aside many a sci-fi or fantasy fiction novel in disgust. Though what kills me is that I have kept on reading *so many more* despite their undeserving qualities! Pathetic and sad, really.

    Twisty: oh, right on. The castle stuff is all crap, and probably crypto white-supremacist too (once upon a time, men were men, women were women, and people of color were living far far away hooray!). But I do think a lot of otherwise super smart, lefty people love it anyway (okay, by which I mean “me”). Which is puzzling, I think. I mean hopefully it just points to the yawping need for better sci-fi and fantasy fiction.

  227. Mel

    I’m surprised no one has even mentioned Madeline L’engle. Is there a reason for this? She could be considered one of the founders of the genre and has some good strong female characters, although in some of her books I will admit it’s the male characters who take the lead and there are some female baddies out there too.

    I mean, there’s a wrinkle in time, i gues charle’s wallace kind of saves the day (its been awhile since I read that one) but meg’s right up there doing all this major stuff too. and in many waters there’s the girl who’s good and is Noah’s daughter and kind of helps to mend fences and , and then the other girl who falls into the slut/whore thing, but mostly she’s being played by male characters and has been raised in a really rotten situation.

    … hmm I guess maybe i see parts of why maybe no one’s mentioned her, I mean she does have some strong female characters (Meg and her mom, and even, surprisingly, Beatrice Okeefe.) But she also has some drawbacks where the women play second fiddle to the guys.

    As to Anita Blake, they’re fun to read, but you’re right, they do turn into sex-books after the first few. I was really disappointed because *SPOILER* there’s this big thing with what’s-her-name Morte d’amour(?) and the queen of darkness (basically the mother of vampire kind) and she builds up to it, and then bam, we have the next book with nothing about all these major implications of the vampire queen waking up and what anita’s growing powers mean and instead we introduce micah.

    As to the whole new tv show based on the blood series, i’m excited, but kind of worried. in the previews henry looks like a fabio-wannabe. and I had no idea Nadya was considered YA, I’ve only ever found it in the regular SFF sections of the library or bookstore, though I’ve been thinking about reading more by her.

  228. Hawise

    I blame bad corporatization (by which I mean IBTP) on most bad SF&F in film, books and TV. Just as the first Battlestar Galactica was a Star Wars rip-off but really badly done, so much of fantasy has been poorly done Tolkien rip-offs and now we are getting the ‘I can do Rowlings better than she can’ crowd. Most authors actually want to sell books and the first place they have to sell them is to some corporate yahoo who has an idea(by which I mean cliched tripe) of what will sell.
    Corporate yahoo sees Star Wars and decides that what made it popular was things blow up and cute sidekicks, and so for the next couple of decades we get shows that have lots of debris and increasingly cute detritus. Corporate yahoo has someone read and make a synopsis of Tolkien and decides that what made it popular was guys with swords and cute sidekicks and you get the picture. Every once in awhile something accidentally gets through that is a bit original and we, the desperate, swarm it and a new movement is formed that involves something damaging and cute sidekicks. You think that we would learn.

  229. Christopher Bradley

    I’ll tell y’all — because no-one asked — what infuriates me about a lot of science-fiction and fantasy (and everywhere else this literary construct appears): the quest.

    Is there anything more sexist and classist than a fucking quest? It seems obvious to me that the quest is an idealized form of military conquest. The “heroes” leave their home to get something from abroad (usually involving vast bloodshed of the unexamined people whose lands they must travel through) and bring it back. That’s conquest. That’s the Crusaders going to the “Holy Land”, slaughtering everyone in their way, and bringing back silk and pepper. That’s Bush going into Iraq, slaughtering a slew of them, and bringing back oil.

    Much of both science-fiction and fantasy involves the quest. It so so obviously a backwards form of plotting, the fantasy of people to whom travel and wresting things by force from people is the paradigm of their exist — which is to say male members of the upper class.

    (This is in contradistinction to lower class fantasies where things generally take place in a specific location and largely involve defending themselves from outsiders, such as the earlier stories of Robin Hood — before aristos subverted the character by making him a duke — which is about defending one’s home against outsiders.)

    I hate quests.

  230. Isabella

    I think the element of fantasy fiction I like most is this crazy idea that if a political leader wants to go to war, he actually has to go risk death himself. (usually in such fiction, the only political leaders who stay safely at home while the troops go to war are the villains)
    hmmmmm… can’t imagine where I got that idea.

  231. Ledasmom

    Sylvanite: In my edition (Bantam, 1966), there’s a reference on page 8, chapter 1(during the hatchery tour): “A young Beta-Minus mechanic was busy with screwdriver . . . A final twist, a glance at the revolution counter and he was done”. Then there’s the sleep-teaching group in chapter 2, which is boys and girls, and they’re getting the Beta conditioning.

  232. Kerlyssa

    Mel: She has a blog. I wandered over there to get some chronology straight with the series, and she called the Micah book a… well, I can’t remember what she called it, something about it not being part of the regular series and more of a one-off. Would have been nice to know before I read it.

    I’d check for the exact phrase she used, but I’m not going back and risking more contact with her Q&A BDSM mailbag, or the splashpages from the comic book. Oh, yes. There’s a comic book now.

    Ellipses and BDSM in one post. Will it make it through?

  233. Sylvanite

    Ah! Thanks, Ledasmom. I’ll have to reread that book as soon as I exhume it.

    Though it does bring up the problem of why was this male Beta a mechanic, and why is the main female Beta (the one who takes up with the Savage, who totally can’t handle no-strings-attached sex) a nurse in the fetus production lab? Hmmmm.

    Though I guess it does lead to the possibility that some female Alphas exist, but given the rigorous sex-coding right there, I’m still not convinced there are any.

  234. williamx

    C.S Friedman wrote a book called ‘In Conquest Born’. It seems to me one of the greatest sci-fi books ever written, and I would recommend it. It’s an epic story and the themes are deep. I’d be interested to hear if anyone has a feminist take on that book.

    Joe Haldeman wrote a book called ‘The Forever War’. Generally seen as a direct response to ‘Starship Troopers’ and in my view the superior novel.

    Neither of these are feminist sf explicitly, but they both explore themes and ideas in such a way that maybe could profit a feminist.

  235. Jeff

    williamx: Wasn’t The Forever War the one that where the soldiers were raped every night in the interest of “bonding”?

  236. Jeff

    williamx: Wasn’t The Forever War the one where the soldiers were raped every night in the interest of “bonding”?

  237. Pony

    Slightly off-topic but I just heard this word on the radio and thought, hmmm, useful. Sorry for the spelling errors.

    pacalocephalosaurus = thick-headed dinosaur

  238. My Sister Would

    Christopher Bradley, may I say WORD re: Red Mars / Green Mars and all the chest-pounding over Maya.

    To be honest, though, when I was but a young proto-feminist what really squicked me was how much one of the alpha-male wannabees eroticized the prominence of her rib cage. I was about fourteen and really upset that even in space women apparently don’t get to eat a full meal.

    The Anita Blake books are interesting to me because the series is written by a woman, and written in a very sexualized way, but going back over some of the descriptions in my head I’m really unsure whether it was the male characters (the three books I read were pretty damn heterosexual) who were being eroticized by writer/reader or Anita herself.

    I tend to pay a lot of attention, obviously, to how female characters are described. For me the moment when Le Guin won my heart was a point – I think in Always Coming Home – where she describes a character and says something like “She was an intelligent and thoughtful person”. Person, not woman. Blew my mind, that did. _Person_, not _woman_. I still think about that.

  239. TrespassersW

    Wow coincidence, Pony, I picked up a plastic dinosaur at my child’s nursery only today to see what it was called and the name underneath was pachycephalosaurus! Twice in a day no less. Though clearly I have come across many modern two-legged versions in my life.

  240. BubbasNightmare

    You know, I gotta say that, after a day of contemplation and a hour or so browsing the bookshelf, I’ve got to agree with Twisty: feminism is dead and buried at S-F City.

    There are occasionally some glimmers of hope at the edges (LeGuin and Butler being the most promising), but none of those glimmers are engaging. I slogged through The Dispossessed and Left Hand without feeling any identification with the characters. (‘Course that was many years ago–time for a re-read, I suspect).

    I even went back toward the birth of modern s-f. Verne? Naw. Wells? Way, way too politically obvious and a little patronizing to women, particularly late in his career. About the only 19th- or early 20th-century work that I can get behind is Frankenstein. Stoker was way too immersed in Victorian sensibilities to make decent female characters.

    If I squint my eyes really, really hard, there are bits of Hugo that I’d swear looked a little speculative-fiction-y. I want to enjoy The Man Who Laughed so much, but I’m not literate in French and the English translation I’ve found is execrable.

  241. Maddyanne

    Has anyone else read The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington? Very funny feminist fantasy. The protagonist is an old, almost entirely deaf woman put into a nursing home by her nasty family.

  242. Sasha

    You know, I gotta say that, after a day of contemplation and a hour or so browsing the bookshelf, I’ve got to agree with Twisty: feminism is dead and buried at S-F City.

    I’m not sure if mixing threads over here is ok, but I’m a brave soul. It occurs to me that this is intimately related to the control of science/knowledge that were were just talking about on the Firestone thread. If women are steered away from doing science, the areas it covers, (not to mention funding and control of the definitions) why would women somehow end up in S-F? How would the writers develop and where would an audience be? It is very sad but it isn’t so startling.

  243. CuriouserAndCuriouser

    Theodore Sturgeon: He wrote in the 60s, so his writing (in my fuzzy recollection) is colored by the sexist ambience of that time. But what stands out about him is that he writes powerfully and movingly of what it’s like to be a misfit in a wide variety of situations – I might go so far as to say he is the most broad-minded, inclusive writer I’ve ever read. He’s also a genius with a story line, incredibly imaginative, and what I’d call a deep thinker.

    What does anybody think of Bradbury’s writing? He’s another all-time favorite of mine.

  244. CuriouserAndCuriouser

    I’d also just like to say, in the interest of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater:

    Even though an author may be a sexist knob, he may also be an otherwise fabulous writer and have interesting ideas.

    I personally prefer the ‘take what you need and leave the rest’ approach, while simultaneously feeling free to rant about the endlessly annoying ubiquity of the P.

  245. miz_geek

    How about James Alan Gardner and Robert Sawyer? Both are Canadians (if that’s relevant).

    Gardner has a stand-alone novel, Commitment Hour, about a community where people change gender each year until adulthood. I think I remember the gender roles being somewhat fixed, but it’s an exploration you don’t see too often. His other series (the League of Peoples series) is even better.

    Robert Sawyer’s Hominid series is an interesting exporation of what Neaderthal culture might have been like if they hadn’t gone extinct. Again, an interesting look at gender roles (and also religion), although Sawyer seems a little too aware of the politics involved in his subject area.

  246. Pony

    TrespassersW I envy your child. So young with such a handy word. Thanks for the correct spelling by the way. I knew that. I did.

  247. My Sister Would

    I’m going to go ahead and say Elizabeth Lynn may well be a feminist scifi author, though mostly I just remember her as a queer scifi author. My mother passed down her battered, lavender-bound Elizabeth Lynn paperbacks to me when I was in middle school, and it was the first time I’d read anything that wasn’t all straight people. It was mindblowing.

    Marion Zimmer Bradley edited a collection called “Sword and Sorceress” for years. It was fairly lightweight reading, but her editorial intent was always sort-of-feminist. I loved them when I was a kid – they were what I read instead of comic books.

  248. williamx

    I am not sure. Raped . . . I suppose, yes. If I recall correctly, in the early part of the novel the female soldiers are required to be compliant by military custom (and law). That’s legalized rape. The answer to how you can have male and female soldiers serving together in combat, perhaps. (In Iraq right now female soldiers are killing themselves with dehydration and carrying knives to protect themselves from the males. They are also failing to do so and being raped. It’s an extremely serious problem the military is addressing very poorly.)
    All of them (male and female) were drafted into that situation though. And, I seem to recall a scene where the protaganist was tired and only wanted to rest but the female he was bunking with had other ideas and did not accept his body language hints.
    In any case, rather than try to defend the book and explain how the military pretty much takes away your ‘agency’ and in a full integrated military some regulations are going to have to come about governing sexual relations between soldiers and those regs, being made by men are likely to be mysogynistic and burdonesome to the female, I’d rather like to read ya’lls thoughts on it . . .

  249. trystero49

    Stephanie Smith’s _Other Nature_ was a very interesting sci-fi, just-after-the-apocalypse-about-10-years-from-today type (I read it for a science fiction class), and I liked some of David Brin’s novels. I think he tries to put feminist women characters into his books (I think he’s not successful, but I give him credit cause it looks like he’s trying).

    I remember long ago being totally thrown by a series of books that included _Becoming Alien_ and _Being Alien_. I haven’t read or seen them since the 80s, but I was really struck by how well they tried to imagine “alienness.” Actually, I think it worked more on a racial difference than a gender difference axis, but I wish some other people would pick up the books so we could discuss them and I could go back and take a gander at them again.

  250. LMYC

    I personally prefer the ‘take what you need and leave the rest’ approach …

    Sometimes this is like picking a piece of candy out of a pile of shit and wiping it off, though. My appetite’s dead at that point.

  251. Mandolin

    “why would women somehow end up in S-F? How would the writers develop and where would an audience be? It is very sad but it isn’t so startling.”

    Because we were there from the beginning!

    Even in 1940s pulp magazines, there were women writers! We had to fight, we still have to fight, but please stop erasing us from existence.

  252. Kolchis

    What do people here think of Norman Spinrad?

    He of ‘Bug Jack Barron’ and ‘Other Americas’ and ‘Little Heroes’?

    I love his work, but I’m curious to see how he falls on Twisty’s Spectrum O’Feminism (at least, expressed on this fascinating site).

  253. Jodie

    My favorite sort of speculative fiction is the “duck out of water concept”; that is, someone winds up in a place where s/he doesn’t have a clue about anything (I often feel this way, so maybe it’s just some kind of identification process). In general, I mostly find this in YA fiction, and I read a lot of it. Tamora Pierce is one of my favorites, and does tend to have strong female characters who, well, fight against the patriarchy in order to do what they want (which is sometimes when the whole castle metaphor can make sense, when it’s a stand in for the things you want to bring down).

    I have to agree with the take on Theodore Sturgeon, above; I do love his short stories. Zenna Henderson is another fantasy writer I like, although her characters tend to the far end of the gentle side of things.

  254. Sylvanite

    David Brin wrote an interesting attempt at a “feminist utopia” called Glory Season. Truthfully, it was no utopia, I think largely because Brin seems to genuinely believe that human nature tends to preclude making a society in which everyone is always happy. I’m not sure he’s wrong. The novel did come up with a very interesting way of making a society in which the women would really be able to maintain a society in which the constant, implicit threat of male violence would be neutralized. Much like in The Gate to Women’s Country, it involves marginalization and sequestration of males for most of the time.

    Unfortunately, it suffers from a typical lame Brin ending. That man seems to have real difficulty ending his novels.

  255. Mushi

    I second Mandolin’s recommendation of Kameron Hurley. She hasn’t sold any of her novels yet (though I can’t imagine WHY), but there’s an excerpt of Brutal Women here:


    I was absolutely swept away in this one, and am dying to read the rest. I just hope some publishing house picks her up, soon.

  256. TinaH

    Starhawk’s book the Fifth Sacred Thing depicts San Francisco as a place where they booted (most of) the patriarchy out on its despicable rear end and made a new society. I admit it, I was riveted. She tackles work/life balance, feminism, equal rights, the welfare state, neocons taking over the government, and freedom of religion.

  257. Mar Iguana

    TinaH, I love the Fifth Sacred Thing. My favorite character was Melissa, the healer who used bees, honey and hive mentality. Interesting that bees are disappearing at an alarming rate recently.

  258. TinaH

    Bees are being eaten by mites, or something like that. Some non-native pest that we imported for some other purpose. I want to know who’s going to pollinate all the food?

    I liked Madrone because, like a lot of us, she does way too much for other people and almost kills herself in the process. I also liked that Starhawk made it clear that Utopian democracy like that would still be a messy difficult thing to do, think of all the meetings! And nonviolent resistance is also really difficult and messy and people die.

  259. Louise

    Hey y’all,

    Long time reader, first time commentor.

    I was wondering if anyone would mention Elizabeth Lynn! As a young adult I worshiped her. She gave me a way to understand the notions in Heinlien that I liked (alternate family structures, relationships, sexuality) in terms that didn’t require me to be a sexbot. (Always thought it was amusing that Heinline expected us to buy his notion that if women were just left to their own devices, we would do *exactly* what he wanted us to do.)

    Lynn’s fantasy novels (a trilogy called The Chronicles of Tornor) had a lot of alternative goodness in them. Even a woman couple who sounded like real human beings. One of the female characters was middle aged, and had a partner (teh sex, the horror!). And she had aches and pains, a real body. But she was still a warrior, and she wasn’t whining about it either. Shocking! But it’s fantasy. With all the attendant difficulties Twisty mentions above. Plus rape. Bleah.

    Unfortunately, I recall Lynn’s The Sardonyx Net as being full of highly sexualized tourture. I think that book may boot her right out of consideration for the title of feminist author. It’s subsummed by the very domination and submition dynamic Twisty blames daily.

    The author of Being Alien is Rebecca Ore. Still the best rendering of alienness in any of my 20 years of reading F and SF. It didn’t set off any alarms at the time (Heinline did, even with no exposure whatever to feminism), but I haven’t reread it since my feminist eyes have been pried open (mainly by Twisty and the commentariate here – many thanks!).

  260. My Sister Would

    Hey, Louise! As a fellow commentating neophyte, welcome!

    The unlovely protagonist of The Sardonyx Net is, in fact, a pretty serious sadist. Personally, I’m not willing to boot an author from the feminist club for bringing the d/s, sex-is-suffering undertones sexuality is imbued with in our culture out where we can see them. I’m reading Samuel Delany right now, incidentally – based on a recommendation from this list – and it’s full of the same sort of stuff. I’m enjoying the story, but I was amused to realize that if the same story was published as fan fiction it would have warning labels a mile long.

    I agree that there’s plenty of interesting cultural speculation in Heinlein that I wouldn’t mind if his editorial stance wasn’t so frankly one-handed.

  261. Orko

    Re: the Anita Blake books. The first six, up to Killing Dance, and the ninth, Obsidian Butterfly, are fine and have no explicit sex. But after that it’s porn, porn, more porn and even more porn.

  262. Kerlyssa

    No explicit sex? Right off the top of my head I can remember certain scenes from Butterfly that are making me snicker as I type. I suppose it might depend on your views on what is or isn’t explicit.

    Glory Season was annoying to me because of the spaceman character. Brin spends a fair amount of time as painting the female society as being extremely anti male and prejudiced about mens’ abilities, that paints foreign men as being demonic, but the protagonist has no difficulty in immediately accepting the man as an equal or superior. A teenager who is not particulalry reflective or challenging of her society, and she doesn’t backslide once. Weak.

  263. Maureen

    but he [Pratchett] still seems to see women’s roles as being more or less the same ol’, same ol’,

    Was I the only one here who read Men at Arms and Monstrous Regiment?

  264. darkspoon

    I’m obviously a little late here, but I’m glad other people share my opinion of Heinlein. “Stranger in a Strange Land” has been brought up but I’m a little surprised that “Friday” has only barely been mentioned! One of the first scenes is Friday being raped, and enjoying it. She later has pseudo-lesbian relationships with several women, and in the end marries her rapist. I hate that book.

  265. sarah-c-l


    I was hoping to be able to de-lurk for the first time during the Firestone thread, but I’ve only read the first chapter, and want to finish it before reading that thread.

    I am a huge SF fan, and feel the need to offer my opinion here. I haven’t had time to do more than skim over this thread, so if I repeat what someone else has already said, my apologies.

    I’m guessing this thread was started after mention of Woman on the Edge of Time in the Firestone thread. I was lucky enough to find a second hand copy as a teenager (a few years before the internet and eBay, so pure randomness that I found it at all). To me, it is the archetypal utopia, and I’ve never read anything better.

    I’m just getting into Delany (yes, he does brilliant things with language in Stars in my Pocket…, that force you to think about what you are reading). ‘Getting’ Delany, if there is any thing to ‘get’ is looking to be a lifetime’s work. I can’t believe I wasted my teenage years reading Star Trek spinoffs and Anne McCaffrey when I could have been reading Delany.

    A few authors I don’t think have been mentioned yet:

    Gwyneth Jones. Her White Queen trilogy includes the most truly alien humanoid aliens I have read anywhere, with a different, challenging take on gender and reproduction (they have a kind of ‘collective’ clan genome, that results in genetic reincarnation), and her connected books Devine Endurance and Flower Dust are set in a post-apocalyptic future, which also challenges gender roles. There is also her Bold as Love series, which defies categorisation.

    Geoff Ryman. He is probably the most compassionate, humanist writer I have come across; he cares about all his characters, despite their flaws. His most ‘sci-fi’ book is The Child Garden, but I would also recommend Lust, and Was.

    Ian McDonald, for his book Hearts, Hands and Voices (published as The Broken Land in the US), which has a female protagonist who is strong and independent with out being an honorary male.

    Both Hearts, Hands and Voices, and The Child Garden are what I used to think of as ‘bio-punk’ because they used organic rather than artificial technology. I read a better description somewhere: they are the humanist response to the superficiality and materialism of cyberpunk.

  266. sarah-c-l

    A question I wanted to ask is: what exactly do we want from feminist SF?

    A perfect utopia doesn’t offer much conflict for telling a story, so a distopia where women are suppressed can be feminist, for showing up the parallels in our own world, or acting as cautionary stories (the Speculative in SF).

    Is just having fully rounded characters, male and female enough? M. John Harrison co-won the Tiptree award a few years ago for having characters ‘of gender’ if I remember the rationale correctly, which was effectively saying he was getting the award for not using cardboard cut outs. I’ve read Light, and another one of his, Signs of Life, and I could see they were both very clever and well written, but I hated them for the female characters. The same with Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, some SF is just too depressing, because it seems to be describing a boot stamping on a female face, forever.

    (Which is the really annoying thing about the Golden Age writers like Clark and Asimov, they can imagine future technologies and aliens and whatever, but can’t envision any challenge to the social status quo)

    Gwyneth Jones’ White Queen Trilogy is set (from memory) in a future where ‘women had lost the gender war, and men were magnanimous in victory’, so also depressing, but not enough to put me off reading, as with Harrison and Stephenson. So is showing things up enough, or is SF required to offer solutions as well?

  267. sarah-c-l

    One last comment (promise), on Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.

    I read it fairly recently, it’s not much by today’s standards, but I can understand how it might have caused a stir in the 60s.

    It is, of course, sexist rubbish: the grass wants to be walked on, and women want to be objectified, and if they say otherwise they’re repressed prudes. Also, the racism: an Arab character nick-named Stinky!

    But update the sexual and racial politics, and you may have a pretty good and relevant commentary on politics and religion. It needs, with updating, to be turned into a Hollywood blockbuster; like all the Philip K Dick adaptations that have come out, it will trim away all the daftness and come up with something different and probably better (compare Bladerunner with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep).

  268. LMYC

    At this point, I’m ready to say that any female characters who are allowed to just be themselves without trying to teach me life lessons on how to be a proper woman is feminist. I find AbFab to be one of the funniest, most vicious skewering of the sexbot image I’ve ever seen. And precisely because Pats and Eddie aren’t punished for their stupidities or made to see the error of their ways. They just keep lurching from idiocy to idiocy, illustrating how fucked up the whole thing is, without learning lessons and without trying to teach me lessons.

    I resent like all fucking hell female characters that try to tell me what I’m supposed to be — these are most often anti-feminist life lessons on how You Really do Want Children, Don’t You? and Female Vengeance Is Dangerous So Don’t Don’t Don’t.

    I also resent characters that try to tell me how to be a good feminist. Illustrating feminist points (elective plastic surgery is way fucked up, the sexual revolution wasn’t, beauty culture is toxic) is fine. Don’t tell me how to behave, either by illustrating how a proper feminist consciousness-raising occurs, or by telling me that I really do secretly lurve babeez.

  269. CuriouserAndCuriouser

    It occurs to me that one reason Heinlein in particular gets under our skins so much is that he otherwise did get so much so right, in terms of talking about injustice and inhumanity and creating worlds in which the tables were turned – as sarah-c-l says,

    But update the sexual and racial politics, and you may have a pretty good and relevant commentary on politics and religion.

    I think what rankles is that he left us out of the revolution. He failed to perceive our issues, our struggles in the same clear, incisive ways in which he showed compassion toward other downtrodden types.

    Once again, we, and our lives and stories, are rendered invisible by an ‘artist’ who can’t see or hear us.

  270. LMYC

    I think — more babble from yours truly cuz I’m at work waiting for stuff to print out and I’m bored — I just fucking resent having a finger wagging at me from out of the page or the screen, which is another part of why I despise fiction. I’ve rarely found an author that can resist telling me the Right Path Of Womanhood. And sometimes not doing that can be more feminist no matter what the subject matter. I still remember a part of one of the Patrick O’Brian novels (war, icky, that’s bad and antifeminist! What, acknowledging that it exists?) where O’Brian wrote about an abused woman on board the ship who was ultimately killed by her husband. The characters reacted exactly, precisely, as they would have in reality, and that LACK of lie impressed me. O’Brian classifed the husband as spot-on as I’ve ever seen ANYONE describe an abusive son of a bitch:

    He was described as being the sort of man who, when he felt others expected him to sympathize with someone, like his dreadfully ill wife who had caught something horrible and was puking in her hammock in the cockpit, he became violent and angry at the expectation that he should care about anyone but himself. Maybe Twisty or ginmar has been that unstinting on their descriptions of the twisted inside of an abuser’s brain, without trying to justify or explain it. I’ve never seen it put so bluntly, so truthfully, in a novel before or since.

    Are there instances of people acting in unfeminist ways in the book? Yes. Because that’s how people act in life — people are fuckheads a lot of times. It’s honest. Don’t fucking lie to me — just don’t fucking LIE. If a woman is sleeping around, then let her. If a male character is a fuckwad, then describe him as such without showing me how His Wifey Forgave Him And Knew He Didn’t Really Mean It.

    There’s a woman character in the book who is about as self-directed and chafes under her chains as thoroughly as any female character I’ve ever encountered. She’s pregnant in the book I’m in now. She’s not a happy pregnant woman. She’s drinking. Should she not because that’s nto feminist — or should she simply be what an independent woman would be in those times, surly and unhappy with her lot but trrying to make do and be as rebellious as possible? Which is more feminist — lying about what she’d be like, or telling the truth about it?

    And this is the main problem with sci-fi for me, why I became disgusted with that genre of fiction so thoroughly. It’s the fucing pomposity of it — those dumb bastards can’t help but preach. Octavia Butler is the ONLY one I’ve found who didn’t, even a little bit. Tiptree not so much. But Butler’s characters were just themselves, truthful. Christ, the fucking preachiness and patronizing attitude of sci-fi just torques me. Where else would an author be as fucing insulting as to claim that they killed a character off to teach the audience a lesson about life, as they often do state when backed up on why they keep knocking off the characters women like? Where else do they pat themselves ont he back that they illustrate the entire future? Where else do they say such pompous horseshit as that they elevate and lift up the entire fucking human race, or whatever? I mean, what other genre of popular entertainment does this? In any other lit’rary genre, you’d need to be in
    GRAD SCHOOL before running into sanctimoniousness of that caliber.

  271. CuriouserAndCuriouser

    Maureen wrote

    Was I the only one here who read Men at Arms and Monstrous Regiment?

    I’ve read them, what’s your question? Are you thinking these two break the pattern a bit?

  272. CuriouserAndCuriouser

    LMYC, in my experience it’s not just in s-f that men pat themselves on the back. The number of times I’ve had to try to control my gag reflex or bite my tongue when faced with a man needing his ego boosted are – don’t get me started. It makes me so mad I don’t even want to think about it.

    Men are preachy, patronizing, pompous, pretentious, and sanctimonious in all areas of life, all the time. When they stop for even a moment, the shock of the silence, the calm, the absence of hubris is so unnerving that we usually don’t recognize it for what it is.

    As Twisty said somewhere recently, I’m paraphrasing, “If we could just get them to shut up for five minutes.”

  273. techne

    For those who have tried to read the Mars Trilogy but gave up because the beginning of Red Mars is confusing and weird: it’s a flash-forward. Skim it, stick with it through the first chapters after the flash-forward and you will like it a lot better. I have no iea why he started the series that way, it’s turned off most everyone I’ve ever spoken to about it. But everyone I’ve ever spoken to who stuck with it through that part was glad they did.

    Christopher: yeah, I was wondering if someone would go that Maya route. (How/why did you read the first and third of a trilogy, but not the second?) I’m shocked that you see Maya as passive. The “other reasons” you cite for Frank murdering John are actually the primary ones, which existed in their relationship way before either had ever heard of Maya–she uses it, but did not create it, and she very deliberately inserted herself into it for her own purposes. Not terribly passive of her, whatever else you might want to call it.

    To call one man murdering another man equivalent to a rape of a third woman is a little too insulting to the concept of rape for the scope of this comment. It could be called a lot of things a lot less inflammatory and a lot more accurate. Do you really, really mean that? Or are you trying to stretch the situation to fit one of the ad-hoc Twisty criteria I referenced? Please think more about it.

    She’s described as neurotic, but in the words of others. Robinson himself makes clear she suffers from mood disorders (specifically bipolar, not depression, which is the mental illness twice as common in women as men–bipolar has equal prevalence.) That is, he gives a non-sexist explanation for her behavior: he most emphatically does NOT hang her behavior on the fact of her being a woman, in fact goes to great lengths to get inside her head. As someone who thinks about bipolar disorder 8 hours a day (it’s the subject of my research) it’s my educated opinion that his treatment of the character issues involved in mental illness (where does the illness end and the person begin) is outstanding. Less good are his evolutionary psychology and neuroscience, for the record.

    She uses sex for power–we can argue all day about what it means when a woman does so, but in the end she outlives her lovers without damage from them, makes plenty of good and bad choices completely on her own, and retains power through more than her connections to men. The explicit comparisons of her with Nadia and Ann also belies your implicit reading that the series is a sexist one because the character of Maya exists. With development of those three characters and with Hiroko and Joyce and Phyllis, Robinson makes woman after woman central to the story.

    To dismiss the trilogy because of one character strikes me as a terribly impoverished reading. And if you really wanted to get at any subtle sexism that might exist in Robinson’s writing, you have gone for the decoy, and ignored many other potential objections that might stick better, like Ann.

  274. winna

    I have no idea how people can claim that Martin has any idea about how to write women. Every single woman he writes about is raped or otherwise assaulted, including characters that he doesn’t even give the dignity of a name. It’s not condemned, either, it’s just ‘the way things are’. I’m tired of ‘gritty’ meaning ‘women are raped on every other page’. I don’t find his ‘evil blonde beautiful queen who seduces her way to power’ all that different from any other book written in a pseudo-medieval fashion. His word choice is poor for ‘medieval’ fiction, too, and it grates. He has four pet adjectives that appear on every other page, but it’s been so long since I threw the last book down in disgust I can’t remember them.

    Honor Harrington is a woman written for men. She’s strong, all right, up until something happens and then she collapses and barely manages to pull herself together because of some quasi-maternal drive to protect her people. She giggles incessantly, is bad at math and didn’t have sex for most of her life because some man had hurt her feelings when she was younger. She’s convinced she’s ugly but she’s really beautiful.

    Yuck, yuck, yuck.

    I quite like Cherryh, but I’m not convinced that she counts as feminist. She’s a damn fine writer all the same.

  275. LMYC

    LMYC, in my experience it’s not just in s-f that men pat themselves on the back. The number of times I’ve had to try to control my gag reflex or bite my tongue when faced with a man needing his ego boosted are – don’t get me started.

    C&C, you know … you’re right. I stand correctified. Norman Mailer. QED.

  276. Maureen

    Well, C&C, Pratchett then seems to believe that women’s proper place is in the battlefield and the police force.

    LMYC: Re: O’Brien: In “The Far Side of the World”, is it just me, or does Maturin engage in some low-key patriarchy blaming (e.g. “It’s really not fair that women don’t get much of a way to run things”)? Perhaps he doesn’t do much about it, but as he’s a Catholic he isn’t exactly part of the ruling classes, either (pre-Catholic Emancipation).

  277. LMYC


    Ooh, another POB reader!

    Maturin is a weird one to pin down, and POB doesn’t try to make him anything else. I remember him having a conversation with the chaplain who signed on board once, where the chaplain insisted that “no decent woman enjoys the act,” and I believe Maturin’s response was, “Hogwash.”

    But then, when that one woman’s husband ended up killing her and her lover, he sort of shrugged over it as if it were regrettable but inevitable and well, you can’t worry about that sort of thing …

    Maturin is a tricky and deft combination of a man of his time and a very forward-thinking liberal. Again, honest and accurate. Infinitely better than some ham-handed caricature of a 20th century liberal transplanted into 1800-whatever who then proceeds to convert everyone around him.

    Maturin is an outsider, an intellectual, a reserved introvert, a smallish man, a Catholic, a cultural half-and-half, someone with a serious jones on for what he calls “ram you damn you” personalities, both male and female, and in general a cranky, independent guy. I particularly like his relationship with Diana as a result — two semi-fucked-up misfit personalities setting up their peculiar and weird yet strangely functional relationship perfectly suited to each one. I can’t think of a modern marriage in ANY piece of fiction that’s better — or in the real world.

    And even Jack is like that sometimes — I found it very accurate and truthful how POB painted him as a typical philandering sea captain of his time, but still fascinated with the one woman he could talk to about mathematics, when he went off to Maturin about how wonderful it was to talk to a serious, sober woman who, if you asked her, “What is the angle for whom its cosine is zero?” she would just say, “Pi upon two!” And you know damned well he wouldn’t be able to tolerate being married to a woman like that for a heartbeat. It’s real. It’s honest, and it’s validating. No bullshit, no fake sudden liberal or feminist conversions nor any conservative or boys’ own life lessons (like you find in the Hornblower books). Just actual people who move on and live their lives, and the author stays the fuck out of their way.

    Oops, sorry — this was sci fi, right … ?

  278. Christopher Bradley


    I actually read the first and second books. I just got the name of the second wrong. Sorry for the mix up!

    I’m not the only person I know that finds Maya passive. She serially dates the “real leaders” of the various Mars movements, subsuming her ambition for theirs. She was supposed to be co-leader of the expedition but ends up playing second fiddle to two different men. That’s . . . pretty passive. In the second book, her activity amounts to giving a speech but even then she has to be put up to it.

    I also disagree with your interpretation that Maya wasn’t one of the key reasons Frank murdered John.

    In literature, having a good reason to make your character an offensive stereotype doesn’t, in my opinion, justify doing it. Robinson chose to make Maya an offensive stereotype. Yes, and then he chose to give a believable reason for it, but he didn’t need to do it at all. How many offensive stereotypes does it take to strike a book from being feminist? I say, “One.”

    I can’t imagine how the killer of someone’s lover seducing that person isn’t a profound violation. It probably doesn’t fit the legal definition of rape, but it is without question, I feel, a terrible sexual assault. I can’t imagine if my wife died and I learned that my current lover had done her in — in part to possess me, no less. That’s just a terrible, terrible assault and as much a love-rape as happens in other books where the male character nominally gets the female character’s permission — and, I think, actually much worse than most of them.

    Trust me, I know all about Robinson’s limitations as a futurist. But I’m not talking about that, hehe.

    I don’t think that it can be supported by the text that Maya wasn’t damaged by both Frank and John, given her obsessions with them and the way they loom in her life. I seem to recall a terrible lot of angst she suffered on both of their accounts that lasted long after they were dead.

    Ugh, I loathe Hiroko with the power to ignite ten thousand suns — I think the character is absurd and is probably the reason why I didn’t want to read the third book. I found the whole earth . . . er, Mars goddess thing she did to be laughable. I was actually confused because Hiroko is so incongruous. I see what he was trying to do, but Hiroko’s juvenile mysticism is the sort of thing that might fly with some high school students but I can’t imagine in that society that anyone would take her seriously. There are also just so many deus ex machinas with the character . . . the series would have been far better off without her.

    I like Nadia, and that’s where Robinson comes closest, IMO, to a real feminist heroine. Anne — oh, look, another crazy woman who isn’t complete without a man. (And tho’ you didn’t mention it and she’s never described as a POV character, Phyllis is also a very strong woman and rates, IMO, with Nadia. Sure, she’s a villain. Sure, she’s wrong. But she’s strong, doesn’t need men, and isn’t insane.)

    I also never dismissed the trilogy. I said I actually liked Red Mars quite a bit, and that it wasn’t a feminist work. Which isn’t the same as dismissing something as I read a fair bit of things that I find parts to be far more odious than Red Mars. Heck, I’m fascinated with good swashbuckler literature because of the honesty with which it depicts the upper class as a bunch of callow, self-involved, murdering, vain thugs. I deeply disapprove of many elements in swashbuckler fiction — it is classist and racist — but if I stopped reading things just because the author espouses a position I loathe I wouldn’t read, well, anything.

  279. The Hedonistic Pleasureseeker

    I’m just blown away: HOW DO PEOPLE CONTINUE TO SPEND THEIR PRECIOUS LEISURE TIME READING SUCH ANNOYING – EXCUSE ME, DOWNRIGHT INFURIATING – BOOKS? I gave up on sci-fi in my twenties, along with my hopes that technology and time would solve our social problems.

    (PS: One of the reasons Shulamith thought technology would fix things was that she was in her early twenties, duh!).

    One of the reasons many of us pick up the scifi in the first place is that we want to see alternatives to the present reality i.e., how COULD things be if only? Unfortunately, nearly all these alternative-histories and speculative futures are nothing more than WANKING over how if only the System could convenience other people, such as, for instance, the author. Always consider the source.

    Granted, I practically live at IBTP, the reading of which can be really infuriating at times. However at least Twisty doesn’t put forth a utopian Twistyverse that conveniently benefits the Twisties. Her detractors will protest my observation, yet she’s been criticized by these same entities for being a “nihilist.” Frankly, I find Twisty’s realism (there is no Alternative Universe; we’re all SCREWWWWWWWWWWED!!!!) kind of refreshing.

    Excuse me while I go pet a cat or something.

    PS: I confess a fondness for Charles de Lint; does he qualify as sci-fi?

  280. Roov

    I have mixed feelings about Asimov. He couldn’t write women worth a damn (he rarely even tried), and he did seem to find it excessively amusing to play the ‘dirty old man’ thing, but he also identified himself in real life as a feminist, which is something not all that many people, especially men in his time period, were willing to do.

    I know sayin’ it doesn’t make it so, by a long shot, but it’s not as if saying it was going to win him a lot of points with the industry or anything, so I sort of give him credit for at least being sincere in thinking he OUGHT to be feminist, even if he didn’t actually make any great strides for the cause in his work.

    Or is that feeble rationalization? I admit to having a residual fondness for him after reading a ton of his stuff in my teens, so that may be clouding my judgement.
    That and the all-concealing clouds of man-defending patriarchy, which makes recognition of the issue tantamount to a heroic act. Yeah, I may just be rationalizing.

  281. Maureen

    LMYC: I’ve only read “Far Side of the World”, because I scored a copy of it (the movie-tie-in trade paperback with Russell Crowe on the cover) for $1, and I haven’t gotten around to picking up another.

  282. Hawise

    Charles de Lint is more alternative reality/fantasy. Good writer, nice man.

    And Hedonistic, some of us still read it because Hope springs freaking eternal, dammit.

  283. Perinteger

    Hey all,

    Sorry to parachute through without checking to see if this has been mentioned, but I haven’t had time to catch up on the comments in this thread and I think at least some of you may find be interested in reading Feminist SF – The Blog. It includes several articles that suggest possible feminist s/f reading lists


  284. Bonnie

    Amy Thomson.

    The Color of Distance.

    Don’t read the book jacket.

    Don’t read any reviews.

    Don’t read the liner notes.

    Don’t ask anybody what the book’s about.

    Just read the book.

  285. LMYC

    Maureen, the O’Brian books are excellent purely because he just tells what happened and stays the hell out of the way. You really do get the feeling that he wasn’t trying to shove his own little life lessons into the book; he has the most invisible authorial hand I’ve ever encountered.

    And some of it is hilarious. When you get to Jack and the sloth, you may well snort something through your nose.

    I always say that I tend to read past the hardcore sailing technology stuff, but … honestly, I’ve learned a lot more about that sort of thing than I realize. It’s definitely the people who are the most interesting. He doesn’t shove them in proscribed paths. One characters mother was an enormous bitch as a MIL, and … well, she just stayed like that and died of old age. No “And then she died miserably to punish her for her nastiness” or “And then she regretted her past behavior and became sweetness and light.”

    And there’s no “Then Midshipman Newbie proved himself,” either. More often than not, M’man Newbie got cut in half by chainshot before proving a damned thing. The above-mentioned “ram you damn you” woman was pined after by Maturin for some time in the books — through multiple books. He didn’t turn her down as punishment “and then she died an old maid so there.” She didn’t wake up and suddenly see how she had been neglecting him and turn into June Cleaver. They just worked it out and got married, in a fucked up dysfunctional little partnership.

    I’ll stop gushing about these things now, but honestly. The invisibility of the authorial hand is something I have never found in any other works of fiction. ANYWHERE. By anyone.

  286. rejiquar

    Flame me if you must, but all this medieval sword stuff? Yipes. Castles, lords, damsels, battles, magick? Yipes. These fantasy novels are militaristic and glorify caste systems. Last year I threw a book by that Bujold person (something about a “curse”) against the wall for offenses of clichéd characters, dorky faux-archaic English dialog (”she flew into transports over the shimmering beast”), and celebration of feudalism. It won a Hugo, too. It should’ve been reviled as hate speech.

    Wow. No wish to flame anyone, most particularly IBTP’s author, but this is my favorite book by Bujold, who is one of my favorite authors. It has castles, nobles and feudalism because it’s based on Isabella’s Spain. The magic is actually pretty subtle and mostly comes from the five gods, which is what I think makes the book so special. (One thing I *don’t* like about Tamora Pierce’s books, especially the Trickster books, is that the gods willy-nilly take over people; whereas in Chalion, you must invite them in.) Oh, and the part where the main, male, character spends most of the book pregnant with a demon and a murderer, in a rather nice reversal of typical fantasy male dominated magic, didn’t hurt either. Most people prefer the Vorkosigan books, and the sfnal setting allows for more overt feminism, but one lack I felt they had was that religion simply didn’t exist, on what was basically a recently-feudal planet which didn’t seem real plausible to me.

    In fact, the protagonists in _Curse_ rely upon a marriage, rather than battles, to avert a civil war. Plus we get a 16 year old girl (who is smart and brave) running the country—even the warrior women stories still tend to have kings running things. Not much to be said about caste, as it was part of that world, except to note that, within the confines of the society, the main character learns during his time as a slave nobles weren’t automatically better people.

    As for the shimmering beast, it’s a birthday present from a king to his sister, who is delighted to be receiving something useful (i.e. transportation) as opposed to mere childish gewgaws. What 16 year old wouldn’t be delighted to receive her society’s equivalent of a spiffy new car?

    Re Sharing Knife: Bujold has had older men/younger women relationships all along, the earliest being in Falling Free; but she also writes relationships between partners of similar or the same ages. Sharing Knife suffers from a couple of problems. One is that it’s only the first half of the story, which was unfortunately cut into two books. So we get a little action right at the beginning, and then a lot of interpersonal stuff. The second book almost certainly will have more plot, plus of course the resolution, which I’m guessing will be by a) the heroine or b) the hero and heroine working together. Even so one can see hints that the female protagonist is not just the male love interest: she `saves the world’ with the sharing knife, after all.

    The other difficulty is that I think Bujold is trying to write a feminist romance. Romances are traditionally despised by patriarchy blamers, and having read a lot of both sf&f and romance the latter probably suffers even more than the former from patriarchy. But as authors like Jane Austen have proven, romance doesn’t *have* to patriarchal. And some of us junior feminists, at least, would like to read feminist romances.

    I got into sf reading first, ST adaptations, and second Heinlein; his juveniles were less obnoxious than the latter books, which I detested. I’m ashamed to say I can’t even recall the sexism in Niven. And I loathed Glory Season because after creating this cool matriarchy, Brin destroyed it—making way for a standard heterosex society, of course. Grr! But that was later. My earliest memory of really, truly, incontrovertible face-smacking misogyny was Harlan Ellison’s `A Boy and His Dog’. What an absolutely loathesome tale.

  287. Delishka

    Not much new to add to the list… the Temeraire books by Naomi Novik are really well done, set in the Napoleanic Wars, if there were dragons that men could bond with and captain like sailing ships. The main character and his dragon are both male, but the most martial species of dragon that the English command will only bond with a female captain, so there’s some feminist under the radar military stuff going on in there. But really they’re just well written.

    On a side note…went to amazon.com earlier trying to remember the name of that Piers Anthony book that had offended me so….so now Pornucopia shows up on the ‘books you might like’ list, followed by an entire section of lingerie I also ‘might like.’ ^_^

  288. Alie

    Regarding the Life Lessons For Ladies so often seen in SFF: this is why I love me some Tamora Pierce. Her Tortall books (the Lioness Quartett, the Immortal War Quartett, and the Protector of the Small Quartett–I can’t bring myself to read the Trickster books until the whole series is finished) feature three strong, feminist, interestingly flawed women. You’ve got an angry knight, a hippy mage, and a hard-working knight who’s the first known-female to ever be a knight. They are so different, and each of their choices–from how they lead their lives, their professions, their romantic (and other) relationships–there’s no didactic “This is the choice you must make,” whether that be wifey, sexbot, or prude. Her characters are all at once, or more likely none at all. Despite the fact that it’s written for young adults, the characters are way less cookie cutter than most of the Growed Up Books I’ve read.

  289. clew

    As a bunch of people have said above, there aren’t a lot of stories that don’t involve injustices and inequalities of power; this is more obvious in places with scarce resources; what makes a response to this feminist?

    Well, I don’t know. All I have is a pre-Linnaean system of categorization: exceptional-woman, sex-role-reversals, class-trumps-sex, cornucopias, and arguments that the hierarchy of valor/valorization is wrong.

    Exceptional women usually aren’t, as has been amply pointed out above; so I’ll seek out the ones you all have said are, and recommend _The Steerswoman_, Rosemary Kirstein, in return.

    The current sex-role-reversal I think most interesting is Karen Traviss’ series from _City of Pearl_ to _Matriarch_ (more coming); she starts with a kickass, tormented female soldier, who is introduced to several seemingly feminist or utopian societies. I think the final story may be that no-one who survives does so with clean hands.

    _Califia’s Daughters_ (Leigh Richards, AKA Laurie King) has a reversed-patriarchy matriarchy, generated by a sex-linked disease, and I think the denoument is humanist and feminist, though there’s no expectation that it will be utopian.

    Bear’s _Carnival_ plays with a reversed-patriarchy and a surviving patriarchy, mostly as commentary on our expectations (her mats. are horrified by abortion; her pats. are strict animals’-rightists). Wen Spencer’s _A Brother’s Price_ is a sex-reversed Regency romance and not subversive at all. (_The Sharing Knife_ is a Regency romance in grubby clothes; this dude is every tormented-by-the-Napoleonic-Wars hero.)

    The class-trumps-gender stories squick me out, probably because it’s so easy for me to enjoy them because my class position is comfy. The Barrayar stories rule this genre, because Cordelia, who is Never Wrong, is so explicit about it; ‘it’s easy for a democrat to adopt to an aristocracy if she gets to be an aristocrat!’ Not really the point, Cordelia. Nor is your personal attempt to ameliorate the society you profit from. The fantasy that it would be OK to be on the top of such a hierarchy because *we* would be, you know, *nice* slaveowners is poison. Elizabeth Moon’s recent stories are in her train.

    (Barbara Hambly is the opposite; check out her evolution from wizards and beleaguered marcher kingdoms to _Patriot Hearts_.)

    The cornucopias assume away scarcity of resources (Banks’ Culture novels, obviously) leaving puzzles and the insoluble quirks of human nature to drive the plot. They seem feminist to me in about the same measure as the author’s assumptions about human nature do. This makes them rather like lit-fic ‘mundane’ novels in which everyone has an OK job of about the same salary; the cornucopias have fancier sets, which I enjoy.

    The rarest books must be the ones that convince me the hero isn’t always the hero, without making that into an excuse to leave obvious injustices be. Pratchett, who can often make me cry, puzzles me about this; he makes a good argument that quiet, scorned, womanly magic makes the world tolerable (Granny Aching), and that the best a male hero can do is seek obscurity (Carrot) or inactivity (Unseen University). I find this fairly plausible as an argument. And yet, it is still not fair (and Pratchett and most of his characters know it isn’t fair) that the wizards eat the feasts and the women clean up after.

  290. Chris Porter

    I’m not going to wade through near 300 posts to find out if someone mentioned Suzette Haden Elgin in glowing terms of praise, so I’m doing it now. Anyone who has finally seen through the “women just talk different from men” crap to see the issue is one of differential power plays will find her book “The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense” valuable. And yet that say nothing about her keen grasp of gender politics portrayed in her novels. See this site

  291. Bonnie

    Chris Porter – Did you work at “O”?

  292. Ron Sullivan

    I don’t see why CJ Cherryh’s work wouldn’t qualify as feminist unless one makes preachiness a requirement. She does some interesting and different examinations of gender in the Chanur trilogy-plus and Hunter of Worlds, for example, by modeling her aliens’ societies on those of Terran mammal species like lions and (looks to me like) hyenas. One needn’t stray too far to find social organization unlike ours — those are right under our noses right here on Earth.

    Argh, Captain Memory’s gone to bed and I can’t think of the name of the woman who wrote A Woman of the Iron People and Ring of Swords. Anyway, there’s another example for ya.

    About those bees, by the way: Honeybees, the species being hit by tracheal and varroa mites (which sicken and kill them but don’t eat them), are not native to North America; we imported them here. There are lots of native bees that do good pollination. In some places, honeybees seem to be a threat to the native species. You want an examination of gender roles, look at the Valley carpenter bee of California.

  293. clew

    Gosh, it’s Auden’s roi faineant. (The bee, I mean.)

    I’d count Cherryh as feminist, with the caveat for first-time readers that about a quarter of her books are about some adolescent guy finding his balance with a much more interesting woman in the background. (I’m thinking of _Tripoint_.) I’d recommend _Serpent’s Reach_ and _Rimrunners_ as well as the Chanur books.

  294. Mandos


  295. CuriouserAndCuriouser

    Dew wrote, “Pratchett, who can often make me cry, puzzles me about this; he makes a good argument that quiet, scorned, womanly magic makes the world tolerable (Granny Aching), and that the best a male hero can do is seek obscurity (Carrot) or inactivity (Unseen University). I find this fairly plausible as an argument. And yet, it is still not fair (and Pratchett and most of his characters know it isn’t fair) that the wizards eat the feasts and the women clean up after.”

    Yeah, you’ve put your finger on what it is that bothers me too. I’ve read and re-read Pratchett’s books because of that sense of deep understanding of human nature, and a kind of compassionate warmth toward humanity that I’ve rarely encountered elsewhere in men’s writing or in actual flesh-and-blood men. (Sturgeon was another writer who struck me powerfully for the same reasons, though he was far more serious, and his writings were full of pathos rather than humor. Oh, and Vonnegut’s another one I find to be sometimes amazingly compassionate, when he’s not just being stream-of-consciousness bizarre.)

    Pratchett takes the ‘Hollywood’ out of his adventure stories by making a point of the fact that, hey, we’re all just people here, in the messy, not-so-glamorous, sometimes selfish, sometimes heroic way that people are. Which I love.

    And yet underneath it all, he still doesn’t quite get it. What’s maddening is that he gets so close yet still fails to make that ultimate leap toward seeing, and thus portraying, women as actual, full-fledged people.

  296. clew

    Huh. I’d say that Pratchett sees women as people, but he that he doesn’t think society can learn to do so. Even that is a slight exaggeration; the Watch is changing, and is clearly moral in his view, and it has more and more female members Also, I think Cherry and Angua have “Mo-Movie-Measure” conversations.

    He reminds me of Anthony Trollope in that; the latter gets accused of believing that middle-class Victorian sex roles were right, but I think he actually thinks that more women will be happy trying to fit in than trying to change them, even though they’re unfair. Which is not insightful as analysis, but what I like AT for is observation.

  297. Phoenician in a time of Romans

    Another cool Heinlein story is The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything, which, while being still pretty sexist, has some cool moments where The Girl gets her revenge. The story is based on an old pocket watch that can stop time, temporarily, with the twist of a dial, except for the bearer, who can move around freely while everyone else stands frozen like that game Statues. Imagine the possibilities for mischief!

    Sorry – that was John D MacDonald, better known for the Travis McGee novels.

    For example, if Twisty’s life were a SF/F book, it would surely be a feminist tale of a Spinster Aunt who fights the megatheocorporatocracy. Not set in a sexclassless world, but still feminist, yeah?

    Elizabeth Moon, Familias Regnant Series (in part).

    It’s worthwhile mentioning that Vernor Vinge’s “Fire Upon The Deep” has two human protaganists, one female and one male, and the male is considerably more a tool of greater powers than the female. I’m not sure Jasper Fforde’s novels could be considered sf, but it would be interesting to read them with an eye to feminist interpretation (Tuesday Next, for example, spends most of her novels attempting to resurrect her sort-of dead husband). And John Birmingham’s WW2.1 series, although military sf, does contain some pointed comments about culture clash between the 1940s and the 2020s, including on gender roles.

    But nobody has mentioned David Brin’s “Glory Season” yet…

  298. Mickle

    No one has mentioned Holly Black yet! Valiant is quite awesome and has plenty of patriarchy blaming in it. I would say how, but I don’t want to spoil it.

    Scott Westerfeld’s teen books are pretty good too. They range from feminist to only sorta – but you gotta give props to a someone who writes about a distopia where every kid gets full body plastic surgery at age 16, and the main character’s first revolutionary acts is to learn how to accept her body just the way it is. As another blogger pointed out, the rest of the Uglies trilogy isn’t quote so feminist, but it’s still worth a mention.


    The Libba Bray book is called A Great and Terrible Beauty. The sequel is called Rebel Angels.

    Pierce’s Trickster series is already completed. It’s only two books instead of her normal four. She says it’s because editors/publishers are letting children’s authors write longer books since Harry Potter hasn’t suffered from excess length. So she wrote two longer books instead of four shorter ones.

  299. CuriouserAndCuriouser

    Phoenician, you’re right, it was John D. who wrote The Girl, etc., another friend pointed that out when I showed him this thread. Nice to find someone else who’s heard of the Travis McGee series – I loved them as a kid, read every single one, but was somehow oblivious to the incredibly blatant sexism til I tried to read them again after returning from college, and found myself utterly appalled. Appalled by the sexism, but more by the fact that I didn’t even notice it the first time round. Yipes.

  300. MLO

    Terry Pratchett rocks. Tiffany Aching is the best character ever for a girl to read about – or even a boy. And, to those who complain of Pratchett’s representation they are missing that he writes satire. This means he is putting a mirror up to our existing society. And, if you believe him, outside of folks like the Patrician, the men are all busily wasting time on useless but dangerous projects while the women deal with the reality of life and death. Remember Death’s Granddaughter in Hogswatch?

    Wow, I can’t believe I’m going to say this but the best SF/Fantasy Literature for/about women is coming from the Romance publishers. It ain’t all bodice rippers anymore. Have any of you read Poison Study or Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder? It is an amazing tale of a woman thrown into a very unfriendly environment – to say the least. Yes, it has romance, but you know what? Life is about the relationships we have, both the healthy ones and the unhealthy ones. It isn’t the normal ‘fluff’ many think of when thinking Romance.

    The male and female characters are strong and believable. And no one is given slack for being a mere man or woman in either novel. Truthfully, this should have been up for a Hugo (Fantasy), but because it is romance from Luna (branch of Harlequin), it won’t be. Snyder did win a Romance Writer’s award for the novel, though. And don’t dis romance – these days, I see better SF/F fiction from the Romance side than the SF/F side with the exceptions of Pratchett, Elizabeth Moon, Connie Willis, and Bujold. And, of course the guilty pleasure of Brin and certain series fiction.

    Bujold’s Vorkosigan books should not be missed. She is also a great Convention guest. Miles and his clone delve into identity.

    Connie Willis is a writer that always surprises me. I think she wrote “Even the Queen”? This was a look at reproduction that made it into a male dominated publication – despite the picture of the guys going “ew” that came into my mind.

    Ursula LeGuin was a master writer. We need more like her. Octavia Butler could have grown into that but her light taken from us too soon.

    Really, when you consider that some of the major agitators for relationship intensive fiction (well-done) are the female authors that have been mentioned repeatedly in this thread, it shouldn’t be a surprise that labels like Luna are turning out some amazing finds.

    Honestly, if you like SF/F and want strong female characters, mosey over to the Romance section and you just might be pleasantly surprised. I know I was.



  301. Twisty

    300 comments and counting. So now I know: if I ever need to pimp the blog for Technorati points, all I have to do is SF open threads.

  302. Shauna

    The thing about Martin is that he has dozens of main characters, including a whole bunch of women. Some of them are going to be closer to the stereotypical fantasy woman because, well, some women *would* behave that way. I don’t see why they cancel out all the other amazing female characters… some of whom work within the patriarchy, like Catelyn or the Tyrell women, some of whom seek to take traditionally male roles Brienne and Asha, and some of whom just follow their own desires/struggle to survive, regardless of gender roles, like Arya or Ygritte.

    My problem has never been when one woman behaves stereotypically, it’s when *all* the women behave that way, because then it seems like the author is making a pronouncement about all women instead of just a particular one. See: Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind.

  303. Roo

    Wow, that’s what I get for going out of town for a week: I come in late on this great discussion.

    Two things first:

    1) I see an amazing amount of (deserved) praise for Le Guin, but little actual discussion of specific works or view expressed in her works. Particularly The Left Hand of Darkness deserves more than the few mentions it’s had here: does her version of a world without gender eliminate patriarchy? Why is the protagonist male?

    2) New Wave (the reform movement in the genre during the sixties) is rather absent from discussion as an entity. Do you think the ambient sexism of the time coloured this new take on science fiction, contaminating it down to the modern era, or do you think some of the new “sexual freedom” was able to overcome the stereotyping of previous Golden Age work? Ted Sturgeon (the end of whose previously mentioned eight-year writer’s block practically heralded in the New Wave) has a fine example in his “If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?”

    Speaking of Ted, CuriouserAndCuriouser says above, “Sturgeon was another writer who struck me powerfully […] though he was far more serious, and his writings were full of pathos rather than humor.” I find this interesting, because the works I’ve read of his have been very much concerned with the triumph of love, and the goodness of humanity. Harlan Ellison puts it best, I think, saying of Sturgeon, “It became clear to Sturgeon and myself that I knew virtually nothing about love but was totally familiar with hate, while Ted knew almost nothing about hate, yet was completely conversant with love in almost all its manifestations.” Ellison is also I good one to talk about in terms of the New Wave, with hideously ambiguous views on women. What do you all think of him?

    Ozzy, as to Pullman, I think his major goal was to write an a-religious fantasy, something not coloured by the typical Christian myths present in most (if not all) other works in the genre. I feel like he only succeeded in part, and ended up with an anti-Christian work in some respects. The bit at the end, with the shagging, did seem trite and unnecessary. I honestly think the sole purpose of that was for tear-jerker points: something for the commercial audience. In that respect, it has to be patriarchy oriented, because the market is the patriarchy. I shame, true, but I’m willing to overlook it for the wonderful job he’s done counteracting the damage done by the Chronicles of Narnia too so many small children.

    Does Gilman’s Herland count as SciFi? Someone else mentioned it: I find it notable for the idea of parthenogenesis expressed therein.

  304. Roo

    Oops, I have an error, and without a WordPress account, I can’t edit. Please read “I shame, true, but I’m willing to overlook it for the wonderful job he’s done counteracting the damage done by the Chronicles of Narnia too so many small children.” as “A shame, true, but I’m willing to overlook it for the wonderful job he’s done counteracting the damage done by the Chronicles of Narnia to so many small children.”

    Many apologies.

  305. TikiHead

    Heinlein looooves women, especially when they’re his blonde, nubile daughters. He does not like Teh Gays so much though.

    He does try so hard to be broadminded. It’s sad, nauseating and infuriating to be patronized by a prick like Heinlein.

    As for decent depictions of women in Sci Fi, I like Samuel R. Delany, especially his bizarre and lovely “The Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand.” He is aware of patriarchy, does not take it for granted. John Varley I like some times, liked “The Ophiuchi Hotline,” and the “Titan” series.

  306. Christopher

    I have a semi-off-topic question here as long as this thread is still going.

    So, when I was in middle school, I read this book, It was about this princess, and she came from a kingdom where eveybody had the power to create things out of thin air just by imagining them, but they had all sworn not to use it, because it was too dangerous a power. All except the princess.

    And anyway, she was in an arranged marriage to the prince fom the next kingdom over, where everybody has the power to create perfectly convincing illusions, which they use all the time. So they all lived in decrepit hovels and ate gruel but to them it seemed like they lived in palaces and ate gourmet food.

    And anyway, the two of hem go on some adventure that I don’t remember anymore, and there’s this evil bad guy who is conquering dimensions and turns out to be a future version of the princess after she used her powers to give herself a sex change.

    Does anybody out there know what book this is?

    From my vague recollections, it certainly seemed to have some overarching themes that would be interesting from a feminist point of view, so maybe one of youse folks has heard of it?

  307. Twisty

    It kind of sounds like Orlando gone terribly wrong.

  308. Phoenician in a time of Romans

    Sounds absolutely dreadful. I suggest you check through Piers Anthony’s back catalogue. If you can recall the princess’s panties playing a prominent role in the proceedings, that’s a near certainty…

  309. nerdlet

    Christopher, I never actually read the book, but recognized it from your description:


  310. Christopher

    Nerdlet: AH! Thank you. That has been driving me crazy for YEARS. Off to the library!

  311. Meliors

    I came in late to this thread and then it took me three days to skim/read all these comments (and add a few goodies to my must-ask-the-library-to-buy list).

    I don’t think anyone has named Ken McLeod or Linda Nagata (especially her more recent books). Nor the Stardance trilogy that Spider Robinson wrote together with his wife Jeanne (which makes me wonder whether zero-gee dance deserves a whole separate genre cf Bujold and Asario).

    But then my criteria for recommendable SF reading is not feminism per se, though blatantly offending my feminist sensibilities does not generally win my affections. Rather the novels that excite me and make me want to seek out more from the author are generally hopeful rather than dystopic (or utopic- yawn). They often suggest a way forward from the current fucked-up state of Earth society to some potentially better alternative future. Maybe they could be called transition novels? Anyway Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy were the books that got me hooked on the genre after abandoning SF out of disgust at both the tediousness of so-called feminist SF and the offensiveness of everything else.

    Adam Robert’s Gradasil was a recent pleasure: a gorgeously grimey vision of near future in near space and almost all the main characters (goodies and baddies) are women who are influential, intelligent and complex (and not sex bots or frigid) and the only rape scene involves the rapist’s penis amputated by a weapon hidden in the intended victim’s vagina. Ha!

  312. Inverarity

    One more worthy, since I am pretty sure no one has actually mentioned her yet. Jessica Amanda Salmonson. Granted, she is more fantasy than sci-fi, but she is definitely a feminist author. I think she self-identifies as a queer author as well — at least, I seem to recall seeing that on one of her autobiographical pages.

    She wrote the Tomoe Gozen trilogy (a fictionalized version of the epic of a legendary female samurai who may or may not have been an actual historical figure), and a number of other fantasy novels featuring female characters. She also edited the “Amazons” anthologies.

    Ah, just found her website — violetbooks.com. Really great stuff there.

  313. ellen dee

    unless i missed it, i haven’t seen anyone mention The Deed of Paksenarrion yet, though i did see Elizabeth Moon’s name mentioned. i re-read this book regularly, it’s a hero tale of a soldier’s spiritual quest, and she’s awesome. she’s also explicitly asexual.

  314. Jody

    The Jaran books get more and more interesting about gender, not least because gender definitions and patriarchies are part of the point for Elliott. She’s explicitly interested in looking at how different societies construct gender.

    I wouldn’t say the gender stuff in the Jaran books is perfect, by any means, but I have no hesitation recommending them as among the best of a sorry lot.

    Don’t even get me started on gender in Sci-Fi TV.

  315. in medias res

    I know I’m dating myself, but nobody so far has mentioned Schmitz’ Witches of Karres?? Great YA sci fi and most of his protagonists are female. Not saying he is channeling Betty Friedan but they are tough and accomplished as well as magical. That said, for your YA and under girls Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword and the Hero and the Crown are wonderful and personal and also full of horses for the horse-mad teenage girl, esp the Blue Sword.
    Don’t know when I have had so much fun reading a comment string. Thanks, Twisty.

  316. thebewilderness

    in medias res,
    It was mentioned upthread, I ordered it and just finished it.

    I try to avoid Ellison these days, except to occasionally shriek “Repent Harlequin” when I’m struggling with just about anything.

  317. Sylvanite

    Phoenician, I mentioned Glory Season a bit upthread.

    This thread has grown so much, it can be hard to track all the books mentioned in the comments!

  318. Phil

    I like le Guin’s first thoughts a lot better than her second. I mean, Earthsea’s her universe, but for me there’s a self-censoring quality about the way she rewrote it later on – did I say that Roke could only admit men, and that Tenar’s all-female community was life-denying and authoritarian? no, no, that can’t be right… I thought The Other Wind worked better than Tehanu – I guess the changes had had more time to bed in – but for me later le Guin is the reverse of Jokerine’s comment: she writes about feminism and you can’t help noticing it. The earlier sf is fantastic, though – The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven and The Compass Rose, in particular.

    I’m not sure Atwood’s any less of a feminist writer for not writing feminist heroes. I was particularly fond of the utopian epilogue to The Handmaid’s Tale, partly because it’s a relief but mainly becuase it’s so clean and wholesome and upbeat… and totally unbelievable, like all the best utopias. She hasn’t got a particularly positive vision of the world, women not excluded.

    Someone mentioned growing up in the 70s – takes me back to reading those yellow Gollancz anthologies, and how you’d occasionally come across something different. Joanna Russ was in that category, and James Tiptree Jr (Alice Sheldon) – perhaps my favourite sf author of all. I’m male (incidentally) and I’ve never found any writer so good at describing how men look at women.

    Another name I don’t think anyone’s dropped – Josephine Saxton. Very good on consciousness-raising & altered states of consciousness (very 70s, I guess).

  319. Rain

    Very late on the sci-fi thread, but I actually read the whole thing just to get an overall impression.

    Generally, far more posts on the yucky male authors, and why they are yucky or not, or not so bad after all, or more or less yucky, than on any of the feminist ones.

    Just some general observations:

    Heinlein & Niven & Anthony (with plenty of company)deeply woman-hating, should have large-font warning banners on the cover for the extreme psychic violence and ‘hate speech’ to women readers. Other notable woman-haters with common ‘creepy’ stories & sub-plots, eg father/daughter incest sub-plots, phallus & baby-fetishes, S/M porn etc include Norman’s Gor books, Goodkind, Card, Jerry Pournelle etc etc etc etc etc.

    A very long list of authors described as ranging from ‘creepy’ to ‘horrific’, and nobody notices much, or dismisses it as a ‘product of the times’ (yet they are still in print), or forgives/apologises for them, by the rest of the story being ‘brilliant’ and ‘imaginative’ etc – but if the same psychic violence was framed in a racial context or on racialised characters (eg Jews, blacks), it would be criticised as ‘Hate Speech’.

    Other three main categories of classic sci-fi (less prolific than the Hate-Speech category), are ‘woman-absent’, ‘gender-neutral’ and ‘woman-friendly’.

    None of which in my view, should be confused with being ‘feminist’, but they very often are, probably because they are perceived as such a “breath of fresh air”, relative to the ‘Hate Speech’ category.

    Pratchett gets an honorable mention for being ‘woman-friendly’, if not feminist, with a bonus of being a lot of good jolly fun too. Delaney and Schmitz seem to fit too. Lots mentioned in the young Adult genre too: (possibly reflecting the average age-group of current blog-users?) The Paperbag Princess gets an honorable mention — Girl goes to rescue boy from evil dragon, beats dragon, and then walks out on the boy (You aren’t very nice!) when he criticizes her appearance!

    Asimov is just one example of absenting of women altogether, or framing them as invisible stage props, Tolkien also to a lesser extent – but plenty of reluctant apologists struggling heroically to justify why they still love LOTR. Becky: “ I think the hobbits in Lord of the Rings are secretly lesbian seperatists”. (excellent point Becky! Best one I’ve heard to date!)

    On literary classics, like Brave New World, Orange mentions: “My benighted teenage self did not notice the absence of female Alphas. (Insert exclamation points of surprise here.)” Interesting in how we don’t notice such things in our youth.
    Another example of not “getting it” when young – McCaffrey – Sylvanite said it for me: “I loved Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels when I was a teenager. Then I grew up, and realized that F’lar and Lessa had an abusive relationship. Sigh.” I would second that – very abusive, romanticising & eroticising sexual violence — along with many other popular writers, such as Bujold, Marion Zimmer Bradley etc. Having strong women characters being subject, rather than object, (or even just being present!) is often a ‘breath of fresh air’ relative to woman-hatred, especially in our youth when we first read it – but on later reflection often falls way short of the ‘feminist’ to me.
    Lots of discussion on writers using strong female characters with agency, supporting view of such works being ‘feminist’. Two main categories of argument against their ‘feminist’ status:

    1) the strong female subjects ultimately die, are defeated, are framed as ‘special cases’ or ‘exceptions’ (with the rest of the female cast happily enjoying their subordination), or diminish to second-class/invisible status later in the plot, or often – choose willingly to subordinate themselves to the patriarchy in the end – ala ‘Taming of the Shrew’; or
    2) are framed as ‘men with breasts’ (eg in military sci-fi); or
    3) boring Direct Sex-role reversals
    ‘Gender-neutrals’ are where gender is basically not an issue or a major theme in the work, eg popular classics like Robinson’s ‘Mars’ trilogy.
    Of the feminist authors, Tiptree/Sheldon stands out – other popular ones seem to be Butler, Le Guin, Atwood, Piercy, Lessing, Russ with some discussion about different works of each. Several of those falling into the agreed ‘feminist’ category, seem to have strong reputations as literary feminist authors anyway.
    Of the more popular mass-market fiction variety, Cherryh is popular too – although gender themes aren’t her main thing – but I agree with those who highlighted Cherryh as one the best in describing truly alien cultures. Brilliant and imaginative.
    Tepper – heavy-handed on the feminist polemic, repetitive, somewhat simplistic –
    but despite that – most of us seem to love her anyway 
    Some mentions for Joan Sloncziewski (particularly Door Into Ocean), Connie Willis,and a few others, but so few and so brief compared to the woman-haters…*sigh*

  320. Liz Henry

    AWESOME!!! I so agree. Heinlein can fuck right off. What a creep.

    Where are all of y’all, come over to http://blogs.feministsf.net … Plus the Feminist Science Fiction wiki! http://wiki.feministsf.net



  321. Liz Henry

    OMFG This thread is so great I’m only halfway through and am swooning with happiness! It’s like being at WisCon all over again. How did I miss this, back in March…

  322. Lioness

    Becky: “ I think the hobbits in Lord of the Rings are secretly lesbian seperatists”. (excellent point Becky! Best one I’ve heard to date!)

    No, no, the *Dwarves* are the lesbian separatists, and obviously Dykes
    on Patrol, always spoiling for a confrontation. You’ll notice that they’re not too fond of Men.

    What’s their weapon of choice?

    The double-bladed Labrys!

    Where do they live?

    In womb-like caverns of living rock!

    What makes them weep with joy?

    Working with their hands.

    We already know that Dwarvish women have beards, and are too proud and free of patriarchal stereotypes to shave or pluck their natural facial hair, so it’s clear that there are *actually* no Dwarvish men, the Dwarves having perfected parthogenesis, and they were born from the rock itself, which subtly reveals that they’re stone butch. The rumours the Dwarves spread about the Dwarvish women all staying at home is just a cover story they tell to avoid discrimination and silencing in Tolkien’s sexist world.

    Legolas and Gimli spend a lot of time processing, which further suggests that Legolas is gay, and therefore halfway tolerable to the otherwise Separatist Gimli, which makes perfect sense when you really think about it.

    Oh, and Heinlein is a jerk partly because of when he grew up, although he’s still a Libertarian posterboy, pro-nuke, pro-unregistered guns, and rabidly intolerant of liberals, after a brief flirtation with radical socialism under the tutelage of his second wife, Leslyn Macdonald. Most of his women seem to be modeled on his real-life third wife, Virginia “Ginny” Gerstenfeld who seems to have been rather more talented than Heinlein himself, a chemist, biochemist, fluent in Russian, and far more personable. Much of his popularity among fans is probably due to the fact the Virginia was so very, very nice.

    To give him his due, however, he was among the first “mainstream” SF writers to mention (rather vaguely) homosexuality in a positive context, and had fairly advanced ideas for a man born in 1907.

    Yes, he had a creepy fascination with sexual weirdness, but by the time the wackiest of these stories came out he probably wasn’t getting much on his own.

  323. Token Indian

    I’m late visiting this thread and just had a comment. From my standpoint as a two-spirit Native woman (Cherokee) Pat Murphy gets a lot of things wrong. In the novel _Nadya_, she follows the path of a lot of ignorant non-Indian lgbt activists in embracing the term and concept of “berdache,” which is considered highly offensive by most actual two-spirit Native people*. The term “berdache” was coined by white anthropologists to describe individuals they saw as cross-dressing homosexuals, first among some plains tribes, and then later applied without regard for nation. This is offensive and reductive because it is a) an outsider’s term, b) lumps a variety of gender roles all into one category, and c) applies western two-sex/two-gender norms to tribes (by assuming that these individuals were “transgender” when, for many–but not all–tribes–they were exactly the opposite because they were believed to occupy their own unique gender categories distinct from both feminine and masculine, hence not to be crossing genders by any means). Certainly tribal people have never called themselves by this term, which has its origins in French, derived from Persian (where it refers to a young boy involved with an older male–hardly a value-neutral term for these people. Native people have always had gender roles–much more balanced than Europeans–but they were until recently much more complicated (recognizing as many as six gender roles per tribe, and a great deal of occupational fluidity within each gender role) and valued a much greater degree of individual variation and choice.

    I think any minimal amount of research would have made this clear for Murphy. She wants to romanticize Natives as “accepting” LGBTQ people (and, I think, give herself an excuse to write steamy scenes) without delving into what the roles meant to the people who experienced them. I think it’s just plain racist for non-Indian writers to continually write about our cultures by taking one concept, not researching further, and just making up what they imagine the concept meant. To do so perpetuates stereotypes and misunderstandings. I blame the colonizers’ narrow, two-gender-having, others’-cultures-appropriating, patriarchy…

    * Two spirit is, roughly, the most popular term for people today who fill these other gender categories and see their gender (not just sexuality, but a whole host of things) as having certain spiritual implications/obligations peculiar to two-spirit people. Not all two-spirit people are glbt, and vice versa. Some might disagree with this definition.

  324. nooblamer

    Hey all,
    Does anyone with a better rounded knowledge of Sci-Fi wanna step in here? I feel like the comments thread so far is just SCREAMIN for a response from a blamer (or a few) who’s well-versed in this kind of material:


    (Discussion of Sci-Fi that depicts societies or worlds without women)

  325. Bella Donna

    I know, I know, always so very late to the party.

    I noted some people on here wondering at the lack of female Alphas in BNW, and thinking that the lack of them indicated sexism on the part of the author.

    I always rather thought the point of Brave New World was that in order to control the populace without obvious force, the government instead controlled them through subversion.

    And the easiest way to appease any dude is to provide him with plenty of pornulated, always, always, eager women-folk.

    In order to guarantee pornulated, always eager women-folk, the government could not allow women to believe that they were in any way equal to men.

    Hence no Alpha women.

    Hence “sex is wonderful and the best thing ever” brainwashing beginning when they were children.

    Hence under-developed, desperately unhappy women.

    Hence the government provides them with easy access to happy-pills, lest they ever begin to question anything.

    But the women were still under layers and layers of denial unhappy in their roles, and the dudes were for the most part just having a time of it.

    So, I didn’t think that the BNW was so much mired in patriarchy as it was showing the logical ends of completely dominant patriarchy.

    It’s possible that I need to re-read it, since it’s been a few years.

    Also: RE: So very many Sci-Fi Utopian fantasies written by men that involve pretty much a constant orgy-fest? Well what do you think the ideal Dudes Utopia involves? Clue:

    Many, many dudes seem to believe that the only thing stopping them from getting all of the pronging that they so rightly deserve is our guilt.

    Because if you ascribe to a Christian viewpoint in the slightest you must need a logical male to point out for you that you are clearly just making up an imaginary friend to replace the worthless father you had growing up and that your abstinence from sex is clearly you trying desperately to cling to your childhood, and all of your complex psychological issues could be sorted out with a good pronging.

    Ditto for women who have any sort of a relationship with their father (good or bad!)

    Ditto for feminists (clearly that particular illness is caused by Bad Experiences with Bad Men and can be solved by submitting to be pronged by Good Men)

    Because it certainly cannot be any sort of problem that we have with them.

    So when we all evolve as a human race, women will grow past all of that silly guilt and become every bit as sex-obsessed as they are.

    Sorry if I seem a bit bitter on that one. Oh wait, I’m not sorry at all.

  326. Wrong time wrong place

    And I’m also stepping in very late here, but what do all the blamers think of the Twilight books?I first read them before discovering IBTP and loved them, then tried again after my conversion. Trying to work out the most fitting edath for them – one page torn out at a time and placed on a fire? Or given to a charity shop with all the misogynistic parts commentated on.

  327. marthafines

    Merry Christmas to all… and to all a good night.

  328. M. Dubz

    @Sylvanite: I believe that the headmistress of Eton, Miss Keate, is an Alpha

  329. Strigophilia

    (Apologies for possibly threadly necromancy.)

    Have any other advanced blamers out there read Paolo Bacigalupi’s much-praised Nebula-award-winning bla bla etc. novel from last year, The Windup Girl?

    I have not actually finished it, and as of this point have no intention of doing so, though I’m curious as to whether that’s giving it a fair shake. I gave up after the second rape scene.

    The book was Powells.com’s featured book today, and the reviews very nicely helped crystallize why I am pretty sure it counts as literature using a thin veneer of a possible feminist slant to justify pandering to the lowest common denominator of the heterosexual male gaze. My favorite line from one review is: “Emiko, the titular despised but impossibly seductive product of Japanese genetic engineering, works in a brothel until she accidentally triggers a civil war.” Yep, ain’t nothing as sexy as a woman you can treat like garbage, amirite?

    The first rape scene is one of the most horrific things I have ever read, and to give him credit, I don’t think the author is trying to present it as titillating. However, it does read as though sex with a woman incapable of consenting is not OK if you also torture her, but is totally OK if you refrain from beating the crap out of her.

    Has anyone else read it? Does it ever redeem itself?

  330. Kristine

    I am way too late to this thread, but I just want to thank you for it, Twisty. I loathe Heinlein with a passion. One of my ex-Nigels gave me Starship Troopers to read, claiming that the book was a work of genius. I was OUTRAGED by every single word. The neurotic manliness, the militarism, the putting women on sexually objectified pedestals while pretending to empower them, the bullshit excuses for starting wars, the fact that there was no plot- I am so glad to find out that I am not alone. Especially after Ex-Nigel made it clear he thought I was an immature idiot for “not getting it.” Fucking PRICK.

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