In the past few years, some attention has been drawn to the gender disparity among sci-fi/fantasy readers, and a movement has sprung up in support of speculative fiction written by women and for women. I applaud this movement and am eager to see how it develops over time. But right now it is still young and still finding its feet. At present, a large proportion of the speculative fiction targeted at a female audience falls into three categories.
1 – Stereotypical speculative fiction with some of the male characters swapped out for women. Sometimes this is just diversity for diversity’s sake. In other cases, it feels like an attempt to demonstrate that women can out-masculine the men. While there is a subset of women who will find this approach appealing, for many women these characters come off as inauthentic and unrelatable. (And the stories themselves still have the serial head-chopping problem I mentioned in my last post.)
2 – Highly agenda-driven feminist speculative fiction. The characters, settings, plots, and themes of these stories are all clearly designed to convert the reader to the author’s preferred feminist cause. Alternate points of view are frequently either absent or presented as straw-men. For women who share the cause, these stories are affirming and encouraging. But feminists are a diverse group, and these stories can be frustrating and disappointing for women whose feminist philosophies differ from those of the author.
And frankly, some women are just tired of the current heavy-handed political climate. When they turn to fiction as a temporary escape, these are not the stories they are looking for.
...some attention has been drawn to the gender disparity among sci-fi/fantasy readers, and a movement has sprung up in support of speculative fiction written by women and for women. I applaud this movement and am eager to see how it develops over time.
3 – Recently, we’ve seen a surge of science fiction and fantasy themed romance novels. They’re even beginning to be recognized as genre sub-categories on Amazon and elsewhere. If you’re looking for hot alien space pirate rogues, and sexy swash-buckling elven warriors, these books have got you covered! Especially if you like your romance with a bit of sizzle. And by sizzle I mean sex. Lots of sex. In fact, for many of these stories, as is the case with a lot of category romance novels, the quirky side characters, exotic locale, and minimal external plot serve primarily as filler between romantic encounters—they’re what keep all the sex from happening at once. And that appeals to the very large audience of women who devour steamy romance novels set in exotic places. (The women who prefer sweeter romances, though—a few more hesitant touches, a longer build-up of sexual tension, a demure door that closes at just the right moment—are, in my opinion, currently a little underserved in these genres.)
In general, I think we’re off to a good start when it comes to opening the worlds of speculative fiction to a broader female audience. However there’s another category that I feel is still seriously underrepresented. I'll talk about that one in my next post.
What other categories have you noticed in recent women's speculative fiction? Which are your favorites? What would you like to see more of?