In my last post, I outlined three broad categories currently popular in women's science fiction and fantasy literature. There's a fourth category I believe is still seriously underrepresented. This category is, perhaps, a little more difficult for me to articulate, but I’m going to make an effort.
In this category, readers are fully immersed in the rich and varied worlds of speculative fiction. The settings are developed, not as scaffolding for political soapboxes or as charming backdrops against which untamed passions may unfurl, but as living, breathing social and ecological environments.
The stories set in these vibrant worlds focus on relationships. Sometimes they are love stories, but they don’t quite fit the pattern of a “romance novel.” They tend to have more nuance, more complexity. They don’t always have a happily-ever-after ending. These stories might be about the aftermath of divorce, conflict between a parent and a child, job loss, child custody disagreements, the grief of a war widow, injustice in the workplace, the shift in community dynamics when all the men in the village go off to fight the Dark Lord and his minions.
I suspect that a lot of women who love stories about fascinating people doing compelling things in exotic places will someday discover that they actually do like science fiction and fantasy--but only when we write their sf/f stories.
Speaking again in terms of sweeping generalities that don’t necessarily apply in individual cases but seem to hold largely true in the macro, these are the “women’s stories” of speculative fiction. The ones that, in general, appeal more to women than to men. These stories explore what it means to be a particular woman at a particular time, facing a particular challenge in a particular milieu. (Not just an iconic woman representing all women in their conflict with the broader social order.) By doing so, they give women in the real world new perspective as they face similar challenges under their own unique set of circumstances.
These are the stories I want to write. They’re the stories that I believe will speak to my friends who don’t think they like science fiction and fantasy.
As feedback comes in from my test readers, I’m gratified by the positive responses from readers who enjoy speculative fiction on a regular basis, but the ones that really make me smile are the ones that say, "I loved this book—and I don't usually like science fiction/fantasy. I can’t wait for the next one."
I would love for my work to be the “gateway drug”—or perhaps the “portal drug”—that helps women who think they don't like science fiction and fantasy see how much they’ve been missing. I suspect that a lot of women who love stories about fascinating people doing compelling things in exotic places will someday discover that they actually do like science fiction and fantasy--but only when we write their sf/f stories.