And the winner, she is ….

The world of science fiction has changed. When my father introduced me to his favorite books decades ago, there was not a female author to be found. Not long after, I discovered Ursula Le Guin, Kate Wilhelm and Vonda McIntyre on my own. So, women could write this stuff. Well then, that was what I was going to do someday, because I ‘d already been told my first career choice of becoming an astronaut was “not realistic.”

It wasn’t many years at all before women did go into space. As I grew into adulthood, the list of women who wrote speculative fiction grew by at least an order of magnitude. In fact, it has now increased to the point where five of the six 2019 Hugo nominees for best novel were women. Wow.

One of the presenters was artist Afua Richardson, comic book illustrator for Marvel’s World of Wakanda

Check out the list of nominees below.

It should also be noted that Artificial Condition by Martha Wells took best novella this year; If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho won best novelette; A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow won best short story and best series went to Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers books. Yes, they are all women.

The Calculating Stars
Mary Robinette Kowal
Winner
Spinning Silver
Naomi Novik
Nominee
Revenant Gun
Yoon Ha Lee
Nominee
Record of a Spaceborn Few
Becky Chambers
Nominee
Space Opera
Catherynne M. Valente
Nominee
Trail of Lightning
Rebecca Roanhorse
Nominee

It’s hard to find a simple explanation for this change. One could guess it is because the world has become more welcoming to women pursuing dreams of all kinds. But that should result in something more like woman being half the nominees, not most of them.

It is true women that as a group tend to be more verbal than men.  (Yes, men tend to be more mathematical. I’ve no quarrel with statistics, only a quarrel with extending those generalizations into making assumptions about individuals, or to making assumptions about why the tendencies exist in the first place. Life is complicated.)

Anyway, today’s world of SFF writers could, in part, reflect the fact that women make up a larger percentage of the writing and the reading community in general.

Another theory is that society is more supportive of women then men who write variations of speculative fiction that shade into romance. This gives women writers (for once) a larger menu of styles and subject matter to chose from. I can see this perhaps accounting for a larger number of female SFF writers over all, but few if any of the female-authored pieces nominated for awards could be considered part of this hybrid romance genre.

Maybe it’s this simple. Most of the best SFF last year was written by women, and that’s that.

I was happy that my particular favorite, The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal, won best novel. For those of you not familiar with it, it is part of collection of stories (and two novels) set in an alternate world in which women were admitted into the USA’s initial space program. Guess you can see why I’d have a fond spot in my heart for this premise.

I watched Mary Robinette Kowal’s acceptance speech from my perch in the spotlights. (I was a volunteer running the spotlight for the show.) Astronaut Dr Jeanette Epps was on stage with her and it was a one of those weird maybe-all-is-right-with-the-universe-after-all moments. I loved it!

(Read more about my Worldcon adventures at An Irish Worldcon: I’m here!,  at Feeling at home, at A New Irish Experience and at Forward into the Past.)

 

 

“Give Mother the Vote”

A bit of history to remind us of how far we have come. 96 years later, the animosity directed at this fight for the right to vote is hard to believe. How many of today’s issues will seem equally absurd 96 years from now?

vote from herstory

Today in 1916 the 19th amendment finally gave women in the United States the right to vote. New Zealand was the first country to do so, in 1893, and Saudi Arabia holds the dubious honor of being the most recent, in 2011. Change takes time.

The United States hardly lead the parade for voting rights for women. Women in countries ranging from Denmark to Uruguay to Armenia were able to cast their votes first. 1947 was the biggest year for women’s suffrage, with eleven new countries deciding it was time to join what was once considered a radical movement.

Please drop by the Facebook page “Herstory” and give them a like for the poster above and checkout the full timeline of women’s voting rights the world over on Wikipedia. It will surprise you.

vote mother

Better or worse?

One of the unexpected advantages of deciding to write novels is that even introverts like me find themselves making “writing buddies” online. These kindred souls are often at about the same point in the journey, and they often write in a similar genre and have compatible philosophies about writing and maybe even about life. You might read and critique each others works, you certainly exchange “how to” information and encourage each other, and then you often move on. I remember each such buddy and remain thankful for their camaraderie as I strode into a frightening new world.

BrianRushBrian Rush was one. I liked his fiction; it tended more toward sword and sorcery fantasy than mine and it impressed me that while he was clearly a guy, his tales included strong believable females who had parts in the story that went well beyond merely love interest or spirit guide. He also writes a small amount of non-fiction, published and on his blog and I have enjoyed some of it at least as well.

Working full time and writing part time doesn’t leave room for a lot else, so I don’t communicate with these folks very often now. Yesterday I had occasion to read Brian’s blog. Looks like he has done a lot of writing lately, which is great, and lo and behold there he was posting about one of my favorite topics: Are things getting better?

I was once asked if I had a time machine and could go anywhere in history, where would I go? Well the first answer is that I would never under any circumstances get into a time machine, and if you want to know why you will just have to read my novel z2. But if forced into one at gunpoint, I’d set the dials for the future. There really isn’t a time in the past in which I would care to live.

raising13My family was incredulous at my answer. (I should point out that this was a discussion being held over Thanksgiving dinner). We had people at the table lined up for ancient Greece, Victorian England and somewhere when the druids were running things in Ireland.

“You have no idea what horrible things you might be heading into,” I was told. This is true. In the past the air was cleaner, the food was natural, and nobody checked their cell phone fifty times a day. We also had scurvy, slavery, open sewers, and societies in which religious tolerance was considered the work of the devil.

“Hello,” I said. “Has anyone noticed that I am female?” “Good point,” my daughter said, catching on quickly and reconsidering her one way ticket to the Italian Renaissance.

“There has not been a single point in history of which I am aware in which I would have been granted the rights, opportunities and respect that I enjoy today,” I elaborated for the rest of the group, whether they wanted to hear it or not. “Not that today is perfect. It’s just somewhere between better and a whole lot better.”

I said something like that anyway. I do believe it, too. In spite of the many stupid things we continue to do as a species (and my new book d4 coming out in two months is about this very subject!) we are improving. Learning. Becoming more tolerant and compassionate. Optimism is hard to maintain when you pull out the magnifying glass and examine the day to day news. On the other hand, it is impossible not to feel, when you step back and look at history.

Brian apparently agrees. He has written a great series of four blog posts about why he chooses not to write dark fiction beginning here and ending with this post on optimism. He concludes that “today, fewer people die from violence as a fraction of total deaths than ever before. Famine and epidemic have both declined as well. The general trend is that things have gotten better, and barring a collapse of civilization, we have every reason to expect that they will continue to get better. Take someone from 500 years in the past, pop him into a time machine to the year 2014, and his first impression on seeing the world of today would be that he had found Utopia.”

Well said, Brian. I’ll take my chances with implanted chips, genetically engineered food and climate change any day, as long as I get to be a full-fledged person when I get out of my time machine. Give me the freedom to be what I choose, and I can always use my influence to fight for a better world.