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10 Women Who Changed Sci-Fi

29 January 2016

From the BBC:

Mary Shelley

Credited with founding science fiction as a field, Shelley’s key contribution to the genre was Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. She completed the novel in 1817, when she was still a teenager, after she and her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley, were challenged to produce a ghost story by their friend Lord Byron. The book’s terrifying insight – that we could make life and intelligence – continues to be one of science fiction’s enduring themes.

. . . .

Connie Willis

With 11 Hugo Awards and seven Nebula Awards to her name, Willis has won more major science fiction and fantasy awards than any other writer. Her work is witty, varied, and often satirical. From her breakthrough story Fire Watch, which was awarded her first Hugo and Nebula awards, her fiction has often explored the great science fiction trope of time travel.

. . . .

James Tiptree, Jr.

In spite of the name, Tiptree wasn’t a man. She was, in fact, a spy who worked for the CIA. Tiptree was the penname Alice Bradley Sheldon used exclusively for her science fiction work, which she debuted in 1968. Explosively influential at the time, her short stories changed the field and there is now a literary prize named in her honour.

. . . .

Anne McCaffrey

The first woman to win a Hugo, the first woman to win a Nebula, McCaffrey also enjoyed wide commercial success. The Ship Who Sang – a 1969 work encompassing five previously published stories – combined space and artificial personalities with utter originality.

Link to the rest at the BBC and thanks to Matthew for the tip.


27 Comments to “10 Women Who Changed Sci-Fi”

  1. Women and Science Fiction—So What Am I, Chopped Liver? by Toni Weisskopf

    And the whole website in general, a project aimed to correct some very strange and ridiculous misconceptions on this topic.

    • Pretty much my reaction.
      I can think of a dozen more significant authors (within the genre) than Atwood, Lecke, and Russ. (And I like Russ!)

      I’m actually surprised they deigned to include McCaffrey.
      (Probably couldn’t think of anybody else.)

      Btw, look at the book she is holding in the photo. 🙂

      • A history of swords! I could use this book; I don’t know any nearby SCA people so this could be the next-best thing.

        • They have it in ebook form.
          I got it in one of their bundles.
          Rheinhart also did a companion piece on knives for BAEN with a lot of detail on real world knife fighting; I’m sure there is an entire sector of genre readers appalled that such a book is readily available. 😉

  2. It’s an interesting list but there are a hell of a lot of women they’ve left out – which is inevitable of course – and it seems very light on the pulp years with a whole generation of women pretty much missing.

    And it shouldn’t be limited to authors alone, editors like Judith Merril with her anthologies had great impact.

    Also, much as I enjoyed Ann Leckie’s trilogy I can’t see how she got in for “changing SF” as her woek is basically great space opera whose main additional claim to fame is that it caused a bunch of rather silly men’s to get their knickers in a twist.

    • Merril also did a fair amount of excellent work as a writer.
      Highly regarded by her peers.

      • Very true, though her editing had more influence on my SF reading all those years ago.

        The BBC has a bit of a metropolitan centre left mind set of a group living in a bubble only talking to each other. It was really funny watching their coverage of the recent UK election results where they could hardly contain their shock when they found the electorate didn’t share their views.

        I’m sure that this has influenced there choice of writers, plus I suspect that they are ignorant of the early history of SF, which was exactly the reason that KRR created the Women and Science Fiction website that Jamie mentioned. This is well worth a read just to be reminded of some of the great short science fiction by women that has largely been forgotten.

        • …and not just good SF by itself but good SF that helped mold the genre. The big myth is the idea that SF has been nothing but a boys club when in reality it has been molded both in print and in editorial by urban dwellers of both sexes. So if the field is to be faulted on “diversity” it is really its focus on urban culture that needs to be faulted. 😉

          As the the beeb… well, as an outsider, most of the London media strikes me as being exactly as parochial as the NY media. That myopia comes from long living in the “center of the universe”, which is something that can be excused somewhat in the UK since London *did* use to be the center of the Universe, more or less.

          The NYC gang, alas, has no such excuse; they are now as ever just self-promoting posers. 🙂

      • “That Only a Mother” remains one of the most memorable and chilling SF stories I’ve ever read.

      • I loved that story. I once had to create a database for a contest we were running, the theme of which was “What do you love about your mother?” I kept using that story for test entries. Good times.

        I had always wondered why I never saw more of her stories; I didn’t realize she was an editor. Mystery solved!

  3. I was dismayed to see that Zenna Henderson, Andre Norton, Kate Wilhelm, and C.L. Moore are missing from this list.

    And some of these authors on the list I’ve never heard of. This list does not impress me.

    • Look behind the names to the authors’ political profile.
      That is why McCaffrey doesn’t really fit that list: she is “merely” a fine storyteller.

      • Well you surely didn’t expect them to go for success with sales and awards and put up someone like Bujold?

        It’s very tempting to join in James Brown’s game and start adding more names but where would one stop?

        • Or just simple influence; authors who have inspired people of both sexes to explore the genre either as readers, writers, or both. And that list is a mile long, as you say.

    • Judy-Lynn del Rey also. Just the first one to come to mind.

      The KRR is the place to go, not the BBC.

      I think McCaffrey was “acceptable” to them because she did at least push the homosexual agenda, even if rather publicly silent on other issues. (Her fiction does tend liberal – which is fine with me. Because it is GOOD fiction.)

      • There is supposed to be room in the field for all outlooks. It is supposed to be the literature of ideas, not the literature of whatever orthoxody controls the New York and London publishers.

        As long as the stories revolve around scientific concepts, real or speculative, any outlook should be tolerated.

        Which, unfortunarely, has not always been true. (C.f., Ellison, Harlan, DANGEROUS VISIONS.)

        As has been so often pointed out: “freedom of the press belongs to those that own one.”

        Fortunately, though, today everybody has access to “a press” of their own, thanks to the internet. And NYC and London are no longer in a position to control the genre. Or any other, for that matter. We may yet get to see SF truly become the literature of all ideas, not just the politically correct ones.

        • I’m planning to writea Space opera From the point of view of an mra.
          We’ll see how is the social justice warriors react to that.

  4. Argh, argh, argh. Most of these people I respect just fine, but they are all jenny-come-latelys, except Mary Shelley. (And I could make an argument about that.) At best, it’s missing about 150 years of women working in the field.

    Also, they still seem to think Leckie was doing something new instead of something that had been done to death. Please shoot me now.

    Or maybe I should say, “Help, help, I’m being oppressed! It’s the minions of oblivion!”

    • Daedras are after you?
      Try the Fighters Guild!
      (Failing that, BETHESDA SOFTWORKS might be able to help.)

    • yes S. Shelley seems to have drawn on the ancient story of the Golem who once brought to life in a seeming human but not quite human form, cannot be put back to sleep again, and marauds all over creation

      • Even granting the merits of FRANKENSTEIN, which is a fine read even by todays standards, there are quite a few stories that meet the standards of SF that predate her. Some even going back to medieval times.

        Founding the field? Not really.

        • Of note, at BAEN, Weisskopf has overseen the publishing of Ron Miller’s CLASSICS OF SCIENCE FICTION; a twelve *bundle* collection of pre-Gernsback SF featuring both notable and forgotten SF precursors ranging as far back as Roman times.

          The first bundle includes several stories of mechanical flying machines from the 18th century:


          In a latter bundle he included fresh translations of Jules Verne straight from the originals. (Most of the english translations we’re familiar with were filtered through Victorian England. Makes a difference, it turns out.)

          Strictly speaking, SF did not exist until scammer Hugo Gernsback got involved in the early 20th but precursors can be found all over, before and after Shelley.

          She might be the first woman to write something we retroactively term SF but not the first human. People have been telling speculative stories all throughout history. Most have been lost (at least until somebody invents a time machine) but enough survive that we know a sense of wonder is not a modern development.

          Ignorance of history doesn’t alter the reality of what really happened. And projects like KKR’s and Pamela Sargent’s shouldn’t be ignored because they don’t fit a given… narrative…

          • “…we know a sense of wonder is not a modern development.” Very well said…

            One of my sons who speaks and reads fluently in more than one Asian language, says the ancient Chinese and Japanese manuscripts are filled with flying, aliens, visitors and etc.

    • Also, they still seem to think Leckie was doing something new instead of something that had been done to death. Please shoot me now.

      Yeah, I don’t get that one either.

      I think a lot of the women not being in SF comes from modern attempts to marginalize them, to pretend they never had such a huge role in developing the genre. I know I was reading the authors on the women in SF site from an early age and it didn’t seem odd to me that there were so many of them.

      • Could be.
        Or it could be that acknowledging their past role doesn’t fit the narrative of “a handful of brave authors challenging a patriarchal genre”.
        So the true pioneers get arrows in the back in order to elevate the late-comers or non-contributors.

        • That’s my hypothesis. To use Leckie as an example, every description of her story had me thinking, “I read this before. It was called ‘The Left Hand of Darkness.’ Written by Ursula K. LeGuin no less.”

          And Carolyn Janice Cherryh’s “Faded Sun” trilogy had aliens who start off neuter and choose their sex (or have it imposed upon them) according to their strategic needs at the time.

          And Nicola Griffith said she wrote “Ammonite” as a response to all those textbooks that spoke of early man breastfeeding his infants: there’s a virus on a planet that kills off all the men, but somehow the women are still able to reproduce. I don’t remember how.

          Leckie was treading old ground here, and I first thought the acclaim for her depended on whether or not the person raving about her has read any of these other stories, especially LeGuin’s. But now …

          Now I’m seeing more and more the coordinated backstabbing: I recently read a blogger who was fisking several websites, because all at once they were insisting that Leigh Brackett had nothing to do with “The Empire Strikes Back,” and that only with the most recent Star Wars did you have any women involved with the script. Yet if you read Brackett’s script, the very first scene is Luke in a snowy environment riding what could only have been the tauntaun lizard thing. And he talks to Han on his radio. And then the abominable snow creature attacks him and drags him back to his cave …

          It fascinates me that history can be rewritten even while those who lived it are still alive and kicking, and proof of the truth is still extant. It’s not the first time I’ve seen that happen; I just have a hard time grokking the sheer brazenness of the attempt.

  5. For a page that starts with “Seriously…”

    Seriously? No mention of Andre Norton? Leigh Brackett? C.L. Moore? Even Marion Zimmer Bradley? Lois McMaster Bujold? Sharon Lee?

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