On December 19, 2013, I confessed to my hypocrisy. I was a woman who championed other women who wrote speculative fiction but didn’t actually read very many SF/F books written by women. Oops. I aimed to put that right and set out on a quest to read ten books of speculative fiction all authored by women. In March, my journey ended. In April I posted my final review.
Here’s the complete list of books and authors:
- Parasite Mira Grant
- Deathless Catherynne M. Valente
- The Last Summoner Nina Munteanu
- Dust Elizabeth Bear
- Grass Sheri S. Tepper
- The Blind Pig Elizabeth Dougherty
- Shards of Honor Lois McMaster Bujold
- The Emperor’s Edge Lindsay Buroker
- Shades of Milk and Honey Mary Robinette Kowal
- Spirits Rising Krista D. Ball
- Soulless Gail Carriger
*You might notice there are actually eleven books on this list. Resist the urge to jump to that whole “girls are bad at math” conclusion. I’ll explain the extra book. Patience!
So what did I think?
This was a diverse list. Reading this list of books was like sitting down to a meal of steak, gummy bears, sushi, dryer lint, and pizza pockets. I found a few gems (there are already a couple of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga books waiting on my Kindle!), and a few duds. Some had a lot of action, some didn’t have much at all. Some had a lot of romance and kissing, others did not. Some were complex and meaty, others were pure escapism. Some made me laugh, a few made me cry, a couple left me ambivalent. Some exceeded my expectations, some let me down. Some of these authors I will happily seek out again, some I will not.
In short, after reading ten books of speculative fiction written entirely by women…
I had exactly the same experience I would have had if I had read ten books written entirely by men. HOLY SHIT! Stop the presses! I’m no Nancy Drew but could it be that women and men are equally good at writing science fiction, fantasy, horror, and all kinds of other spec fiction? Fetch my smelling salts, I feel the vapors coming on!
Wow. What an earth-shattering revelation. And here I thought guys like this really knew what they were talking about. Who knew? (Everyone with a brain, perhaps).
Now about that eleventh book…
I wanted to give at least one indie author a slot on this list—solidarity!—but my choice didn’t work out so well and I ended up putting the book aside without finishing it. In an admittedly desperate attempt to validate indies, I picked up another title that I thought would be a “sure thing”. Yep, that was me gaming my own system. As it turns out, my second choice was equally disappointing, though for different reasons. I could have just lied and not even mentioned the extra book but I’m betting that this selfless display of honesty will make you think “Hey, Kristene’s really honest!”
Which, I guess, doesn’t make it very selfless.
The question I am left with after this little reading project is: Why I haven’t been reading more SF/F books by female authors all along? If their books are just as good/bad/in-between as male authored books (and clearly they are), why have they not been on my radar? I read plenty of books written by women in other genres so why not in SF/F? Do women not receive the publicity and “cred” given to their male counterparts? What’s going on here?
Now that my project is over, I have welcomed male authors back onto my shelf. From this point on, however, I will make a conscious effort to balance the author genders of my SF/F reading. At some point, you have to stop talking about change and start making it happen.
Many thanks to the authors whose sweat, determination, and imagination made this reading project so damn fun. My brain is a better place because of you.