I came across this interesting post on how to get women more interested in sci-fi writing and film. I’m probably not the best chick to ask about this – all my favourite films are sci-fi films, as well as most of my favourite television series. I also have a large sci-fi/fantasy book collection. I think a love of sci-fi is in part hereditary, but also starts at a young age.
I think my obsession with sci-fi/fantasy started when I was 6, when my father read The Hobbit to me. When I was 7, we read Lord of the Rings together, and my aunt bought me various children’s books written by Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke (among others). All of my family loves sci-fi, and so I could dip into Mum and Dad’s book collection whenever I wanted. My sister and I have a shared book collection which might not be the best idea (“custody disputes” eventuated when we both moved out of home).
The reason I love sci-fi is because it asks two fundamental and fascinating questions:
- What does it mean to be human?
- What is reality?
The question of what it means to be human can be explored in a number of ways. Humans can be contrasted with “made-humans” (robots, replicants, androids, cyborgs etc). Or humans can be contrasted with inhabitants of other planets. The question of what is reality is posed by contrasting real life with an alternate reality which is computer generated or artificial.
Another common thread in sci-fi writing is to try and predict which way society will go in the future. When I was a teenager, I had a penchant for dystopias such as Brave New World, 1984 and Farenheit 451, as well as The Handmaid’s Tale. I think such books explore divisions in society which are already present in our time now. Indeed, I have always believed the central point of Brave New World to be a commentary about the evils of the English class system rather than the evils of genetic engineering. My observation of living in Britain in the 90s is that people are born in a particular class, and they don’t ever seem to be able to get out of it. Unless, of course, like me, their ancestors were transported to Australia as convicts and they come back 7 generations later, having had education and opportunity. No one knows how to pigeonhole you then.
I can tell you what I don’t like in sci-fi writing, which might winnow out some authors.
I don’t like sci-fi which doesn’t have any character development, or in which all the female characters are gorgeous sulky bitches with jutting bosoms. I just want to slap those women with the jutting bosoms. They don’t seem believable to me at all, and plus they are very irritating.
I don’t like sci-fi which is unbelievable. This latter might seem strange to non-sci-fi fans, but it is actually essential that the premise of a book, movie or television series be believable, no matter how outlandish that premise is. It takes a skillful writer to make you believe a really strange premise.
I don’t like sci-fi which is unscientific. Because both my parents are scientists, I have a reasonable scientific background, having taken it in with my mother’s milk (so to speak). Indeed, the only reason I didn’t go into science was because of a notorious GCSE Chemistry prac exam, in which I had to falsify the results (anomalous result and all). I knew exactly what the pH was supposed to be. When I handed it in, the teacher said, “But you haven’t actually done the experiment!”
I said, “I know what to do, I just can’t do it because I’m a klutz. I’ve broken two burettes and a pipette filler in five minutes and flooded my desk with concentrated hydrochloric acid. Would you like me to continue?” She just looked at me and took the paper without a word.
Anyway, I retain a strong interest in science and like to read scientific non-fiction books too. Just don’t ask me to titrate anything.
I have been trying to think of good sci-fi authors to suggest for anyone who wants to get into sci-fi. Of course, there’s always Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. Also: Ray Bradbury (beautiful writing style), Dan Simmons (sci-fi/horror cross over), John Wyndham (an early pioneer), William Gibson (cyberpunk guy), Ursula Le Guin (about whom I’ve posted before), Philip K. Dick (generator of ideas for many a great sci-fi movie). I’m sure there’s others, but unfortunately and very sadly half my sci-fi collection is presently in a packing box in the cupboard behind me, so I can’t consult the shelf to help my pregnancy-hormone-inflicted memory.
And if you have any good suggestions for me: please do share!
(Via The Volokh Conspiracy)
It has been pointed out that I missed the first Dune. I remembered this at 4am in the morning when my daughter woke up. I do love that first Dune so much…it’s such a pity he had to keep on going. I never bothered to read any Dune book after No. 3 in the series – it just got really silly.
Another interesting (but very violent and adult-themed) book is Liegekiller by Christopher Hinz, but it’s another one where I wouldn’t bother going on to read the rest of the series.
I have also read lots of H.G. Wells (early proto-sci-fi). Also, my Dad had a record of War of the Worlds which I loved, and I was fascinated by Dad’s description of people actually believing that aliens were invading.
Mild Colonial Boy Esq. has alerted me to John C Wright’s definitive guide to Science Fiction, and in particular, this excerpt:
Aha! The first and most obvious of the elements of science fiction is evident from this cover of SPICY PLANET INCREDIBLE WEIRD WONDER ALL-STORY. Science Fiction is primarily about speculation! In this case, the reader is invited to speculate:
- What if I were soaring along in space with a rocket belt and a space helmet?
- What if I were blasting aliens with my space ray gun?
- What if a really glamorous brunette Space-Babe with plenty of va-Voom were soaring along in space in my arms?
This last element is the most speculative, because we science fiction geeks do not know, and have rarely seen, any real-life glamorous brunettes.
To recap: Science Fiction is that genre of cognitive estrangement in a post-Gothic mode, utilizing a willing suspension of disbelief, transcending anthropocentricism and temporal provincialism, where a spaceman, raygun in fist, soars through outer space with a glamorous brunette Space-Babe in his brawny arms.
Ah ha, those women with the jutting bosom. They are definitely more acceptable to male sci-fi readers than female sci-fi readers (for obvious reasons, pointed out by Wright). Indeed, I can think of one series of sci-fi books where my mother and I gave up half way through Book 1 because of the jutting bosom ladies, but my father enjoyed the series to the end, and got rather offended by my mother’s and my pejorative remarks about the female characters.
I believe some women may be put off sci-fi because they think that jutting bosom ladies are essential to the genre, but I don’t believe that they are. They belong to a species of sci-fi which is designed to appeal to the male sci-fi geeks who dream of a brunette Space Babe. Just as those romance novels with square-jawed heroes are designed to appeal to ladies who dream of a hunky man who will sweep her off her feet. So they are actually a kind of romance novel for men.
Perhaps those jutting bosom ladies irritate female sci-fi geeks because we think the male sci-fi geeks should be admiring us, not brunette Space Babes!