Monday, September 11, 2006

So a Professor Walks Into A Bookstore....

As a writer of SF, and a teacher of classes in SF, I like to keep up with work in the field. I subscribe to two of the print magazines, Analog and Asimov's, and I follow several of the online journals. When I go into any bookstore, it’s generally the SF section I head for first. And yes, I do watch Battlestar and I do follow SF blogs and I know more than I should about slash.

And we were in a bookstore this weekend, waiting for the GSA party to start. I was browsing through the new annual best collections – BEST SF of 2006, 2006 Best SF Short Stories, you know the drill. About sixteen different titles come out every year and I usually end up buying them all. I was scanning the table of contents, though, this year, looking for names I knew, names I wanted to read, and not seeing many. Seeing all the usual suspects. And noticing something, well, disconcerting. Something I had been noticing a general trend toward lately, at Analog and FS&F.

mr. delagar comes up with S. M. Stirling’s new book. He’s gotta have it. It’s the latest in that series, you know. One of those alternate history cycles where a band of brothers is transported into some other world history where something did or didn’t happen and so the world is radically different -- mr. delagar loves books like this.

In this world, I think, there’s no electrical power. And guns don’t work. Bummer. But as always, the effect is the same. Patriarchy Rulz!

mr. delagar tried to get me to read these books for a while, on the grounds that they were SF, and I liked SF, didn’t I? As I frequently tried to get him to read Octavia Butler, on the same grounds. I finally refused outright. “I’m sick of that story,” I told him.

He was confused. “What story?”

“World-changing event,” I said. “Women get driven to their knees. Real men rise up and rescue the women. Why don’t the women ever band together and rescue themselves? What is up with that, son?”

He thought for a moment. “Well…it’s realism, isn’t it?”

“Yes, in my ass it is. Because women are helpless victims. Aren’t they? Waiting to be raped and murdered and they will always fall apart in a crisis?”

He thought some more. “In that story women banded together and rescued themselves. What was that story? By Bujold?”

I laughed. “Written by who was it now? A woman?”

He laughed too. “Well, yes.”

About ten years ago, maybe a bit more, my brother was visiting my apartment, when I was a graduate student in Fayetteville, browsing my bookshelves, and he snorted in contempt. “Look at all these books by women,” he said. “Do you just buy books by women? Is that it? You won’t buy a book unless a woman writes it?”

I looked up from what I was working on, surprised. Then I got up to look at the shelves with him. I actually did a count. To no real surprise of mine, slightly half of the books on the shelf were, in fact, written by men. No, in fact, I did not select my books by sex. Yes, in fact, I bought books based on what I wanted to read.

Why had my brother seen women when he looked at my shelves? Why, because any books written by women were too many books written by women, of course. Because all the books on his shelves were written by men. Because only books written by men are real books.

What did I see, looking down the list of stories in the Best SF Stories of 2006?

I bet you can guess.

What do I see, every month, when my Analog arrives in the mail?

Why do you suppose this is? Because no women are writing SF? Because no women are writing SF that is good enough to be published? (I find this hard to believe, given the quality of stories I see in Analog every month.) Or might it be that editor of Analog is a man?

When I was a writing student at the University of Arkansas, I was told the men students were winning all the awards and fellowships and prizes because they were simply better than we women students were. No woman ever won any of the prizes – not a single one, the whole four years I was in the program, or the five years I was a graduate student afterwards – because no woman writer in the program was good enough to win one. That’s all. The men were just better than us. Nothing to do with the fact that all the judges were men and our names were on the drafts. (This is very like with the American Philological Association journal – men used to publish at a rate far outnumbering that of women professors, until they went to blind submissions, and then! Lo! Suddenly women professors began to get their papers accepted at a rate roughly equivalent to that of male professors. WTF, dude?) And you know? I believed them at the time. I believed I was losing because I was just no good.

That’s how they shut us up.

Chick flick. Women’s writing. That crap. Who wants to hear that story? It’s about girls. Books by women? Who cares?

1 comment:

zelda1 said...

My sister and her hubby were up a few weeks ago, and she thinks I have way too many books, well, she doesn't realize that I have more at our house and more upstairs, so I don't tell her but she asked me why I have books about African Americans and why Buddah and why Marxism and why mythology. She thinks I am doomed for hell fire and brimstone. I finally told her about me not believing in all of that and she hasn't spoke to me since. Oh man, does this mean I dont' have to spend the holidays with her? HEHE.