Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Women, biology, and hard science fiction

Spec fic author Eleanor Arnason blogs for The Twin Cities Daily Planet about women getting less respect for their novels then male writers. She asks whether the fact that many biology-based science fiction novels are written by women might be a reason why the sub-genre gets less respect than fiction based on the physical sciences.
The same thing happens in discussions of hard science fiction. Women never make the list of hard SF writers. I think there is a double prejudice operating here. One is a prejudice against the life sciences as opposed to physics and engineering.Women tend to write about biology. If you don't think biology is a real science (in this era of biotechnology and genetic engineering) then books by Joan Slonczewski don't make the list. However, there are women who write about machinery. C. J. Cherryh and Melissa Scott come to mind at once. If they don't make lists of hard SF writers, then I think we are looking at the idea that hard SF -- real SF, serious SF -- is and has to be male.

There certainly does seem to be a higher concentration of women who base their fiction on biology than on physics or write militaristic space operas. I always assumed that's because there are more women who study the biological sciences than the physical sciences or engineering. And there is the bias that biology just isn't as "hard" a science as physics. But does biology-based SF get doubly neglected because many of the authors are women? I've certainly run across some male readers who claim they only read SF by men (but sometimes don't realize that C.J. Cherryh is a woman). It's certainly possible that bias against SF written by women, conscious or unconscious, creeps in when lists are compiled.

What do you think?

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1 comment:

RFord said...

If "hard" science fiction involves FTL travel or antigravity, while "soft" science fiction involves plausible extrapolation from what we know of biology, then does "hard" mean "violent" as opposed to "solid?" Some current male SF writers are OK, but no match for Leguin and Tiptree.