Tuesday, 28 June 2011
Open House Day 29 - Ian Whates
Something I’ve been asked more than once in interviews and panels is ‘what’s the next big thing in SF?’ Little did I suspect at any point that the answer was going to be ‘Gender Imbalance’; yet here we are.
The thing is, as an editor, it’s almost inevitable (given the aforementioned imbalance) that you’re going to fall foul of somebody’s opinion somewhere. I’ve just released the TOC for Solaris Rising, an anthology I’ve been commissioned to produce for (you guessed it) Solaris. I’m both excited by and proud of this book. Of the nineteen stories, four are written or co-written by women: Pat Cadigan, Jaine Fenn, Tricia Sullivan, and Laurie Tom. Already the book has attracted a drearily predictable comment of “How's that mistressworks thing goin'?” from Nick Mamatas. It’s strange, but last year when I released the anthology The Bitten Word (ten female authors, seven male), nobody accused me of being a feminist. Nor was gender commented on that June when I released Anniversaries (seven female authors, two male). I suspect that next month, when I release a new collection of stories by Liz Williams – A Glass of Shadow – with an intro by Tanith Lee and cover art by Anne Sudworth, no comment will be made then either, nor when I release the next NewCon Press anthology Dark Currents in 2012 – which looks set to once again feature more female contributors than male. The detractors are very selective, it seems.
Yes, there clearly is an issue here, but don’t blame the awards for reflecting an imbalance that’s inherent in the pool of material they have to judge, nor the editors… Maybe I should publish an anthology of all women authors at some point to silence the sceptics... No, wait, I already did that a few years ago: Myth-Understandings and I was criticised for doing that (sigh, who’d be an editor?)
So, should we blame the big publishing houses? But a large proportion of their commissioning editors at women, and surely they wouldn’t be biased against their own gender… What then? I think the answer is a lot more fundamental than any of this. I was on a panel with Alastair Reynolds, Tony Ballantyne and literary agent John Jarrold at alt.fiction last weekend. During it, I asked John how many of the hundreds of manuscripts he receives each year are from women. Without hesitation he replied, “80% from men, 20% from women.” John deals with fantasy as well as SF. I didn’t ask for any further breakdown, but I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of that 20% is fantasy, with just a small percentage SF.
Therein lies our problem. It’s not the awards or the editors or the publishers, at least not primarily; the rot goes deeper and is far more fundamental than that. It really does lie at the grass roots. If we want to see more female SF authors coming through, the first thing we have to do is alter the way our genre is perceived by the wider public and make it more open, more accessible, to women. Good luck to all of us with that one.