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Currently Reading: The Undivided by Jennifer Fallon

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Diversity in Speculative Fiction

During a brief conversation I enjoyed with Karen Miller at Aussiecon4 she made me realize that I have read very few female writers of Speculative Fiction (along with very few Australian authors, but that’s for another post and another project). Very modestly, she pointed me to Kate Elliott’s work, describing Kate as ‘one of the best we’ve got’, or words to that effect. Incidentally, I had met Kate Elliott the week before at Infinitas Bookshop which pushed her latest novel Cold Magic to near the top of my ‘to read’ list. I have now finished it (Review).

Karen got me thinking about my favourite writers. The list reads like a who’s who of white, male (probably bearded, and therefore extra-male) Fantasy writers – Robert Jordan, George R. R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Brandon ‘The Beardless One’ Sanderson, and so on. In my favourite series, The Wheel of Time, the viewpoint characters I enjoy most are the males. The series is written by a male author and readers seem to be split on whether or not Jordan provided a good depiction of women. Either way, I often find them frustrating to read about.

I recently listened to the paired novellas The Alchemist and The Executioness by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell respectively, both male writers. The Executioness was a bigger, more passionate tale, but as I mentioned in my review I found myself drawn to The Alchemist. There may be an element of style that I was attracted to, but quite simply I found myself connecting with the character of Jeoz the Alchemist in his efforts to protect his daughter and his tendency, which I perceive as a very male trait, to work at his goal while allowing no distractions.

Am I really that narrow-minded?

Perhaps I have misrepresented myself somewhat. I would rate Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy very highly on my list of favourites. I am really looking forward to reading N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh. Unfortunately the thing that each of these authors have in common is that when I first heard about them I assumed they were dudes. There isn’t enough in their names to tell me otherwise, so I made that connection myself. Apparently being a 28 year old middle class white male has quite the impact on one’s assumptions.

It wasn’t until I had already finished the Farseer books that I discovered that Robin Hobb is a lady. I believe it was in an episode of Jonathan Strahan’s ‘Notes from Coode Street’ podcast that I heard that C. J. Cherryh was required by her publisher to use her initials to conceal the fact that she is female. I think most people have also heard the story of James Tiptree Junior, the pen name of Alice Sheldon, used to secure publication in Speculative field in the 1960s.
Author Mark Charan Newton has recently challenged book bloggers to broaden their coverage, specifically to consider the classics of the genre, not simply the latest blockbusters. I have a lot more broadening to do than simply delving into the back catalogue.

This is not an attempt to over-compensate. I’m not a big fan of overcompensating. I find it patronizing. However, I am committing myself to reading and reviewing work from the following authors:

N.K. Jemisin (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms)
C. J. Cherryh (Cyteen)
Jennifer Fallon (The Tidelords)
Karen Miller (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker)
Lois McMaster Bujold (The Chalion Saga)
Ursula K. Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness, A Wizard of Earthsea)
Connie Willis (Blackout, All Clear, Doomsday Book)

Having said all of this, the next few books I will be reading include The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, The Black Prism by Brent Weeks and Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. I am incorrigible in some respects.

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