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April 25, 2013 8:17 AM   Subscribe

As you know Bob, the gender inbalance within science fiction and fantasy has been a hot button item for a while now. As the just released Strange Horizons count of books reviewed and reviewers writing in sf publications in 2012 shows, this gender inbalance shows no tendency to decline just yet, with some notable exceptions. However it might just be that this gender imbalance is exacerbated in the count by the omission of RT Bookreviews?

Natalie Luhrs, the senior science fiction and fantasy reviewer and section coordinator at RT Bookreviews until november last year, thinks so:
RT primarily reviews romance novels and mentions of RT often draw sniggers from men (and some women) in the SF audience because hey, romance novels are somehow inherently funny. Here’s the thing: they do have a pretty good (if I say so myself) science fiction and fantasy section, one which I was pleased to be involved with for just over eight years.

I manage data at my day job, so I have kept data for every single book that passed through my hands during my tenure (that would be 100-150 books a year, give or take). These books were mainly from the Big 6 publishers and mainly science fiction and fantasy with a smattering of urban fantasy. RT has a separate urban fantasy section and it was and is coordinated by someone else and I’m not sure if she keeps records or not–but I can say pretty confidently that most of the books reviewed in that section were written by people who identify as women and reviewed by the same.

From 2004 to 2012, I reviewed a grand total of 564 books for RT, 354 by women and 210 by men.
There's more; she has graphs. Luckily, the Strange Horizon editors have taken this criticism to heart and on Twitter promised to include RT Bookreviews in next year's count.
posted by MartinWisse (36 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Slate's article on this topic features a big picture of Margaret Atwood, which is sure to delight many around here. Slate also misses part of the point by seeming to assume that the proportion of sff women writers is the same as those reviewed. But then, it is Slate.
posted by aught at 8:27 AM on April 25, 2013


I believe you mean MeFi's own Natalie Luhrs.
posted by Madamina at 8:29 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


James Nicoll has been covering this for a while, noting gender breakdowns on who gets anthologized. He also reviews for RT Bookreviews--they're clearly paying attention to the issue over there.

Also: related MetaFilter posts here and here.
posted by asperity at 8:42 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I suppose I can come out of perpetual lurkerdom to say hello.

Hello!
posted by eilatan at 8:43 AM on April 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


Why this feminist chose an all-male Clarke prize shortlist
posted by Artw at 8:56 AM on April 25, 2013


Why this feminist chose an all-male Clarke prize shortlist

It's all about current hot topics and sensawunda, apparently. Also, publishers and bookstores are to blame. Nothing she could do. Sigh.

James Nicoll is pretty harsh on the Clarke shortlist for reasons in addition to poor f/m ratios:

"Congratulations to the Clarkes for resisting the deadly temptation to produce a more diverse nominee list, especially given the outrageous - by what appear to the current standards of British SF - presence of women, persons of colour and Muslims on the submissions list. In particular I'd like to praise you for snubbing Alif the Unseen, which could have only embolden those people into further creativity in the field of SF and for picking KSR's proud tribute to colonialism and American Exceptionalism IN SPACE! over, say, Blue Remembered Earth, whose author fell into the dark error of actually paying attention to recent trends in Africa."

Ouch.
posted by aught at 9:08 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Having just put up a review site myself, this is something I'm conscious of right now (and a quick look - counting all series books as one book, because that seems saner - puts me at 13 to 11 in favor of female authors. But I'm not covering exclusively new books so it's more an indication of my reading tastes than anything.)

This is one of those subjects that annoys the piss out of me but I'm still happy that it's getting some genuine press, because the only way to fix it is to make people conscious of their biases. And conscious of the fact that their biases have negative repercussions.

Definitely take a look at the #womenwhowrite tag on Twitter - I've seen a ton of great suggestions go by in the last 24 hours.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:21 AM on April 25, 2013


stayin alive
stayin alive
posted by legospaceman at 9:22 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The reader couldn't care less what gender the author is. Nor does the reader give a crap what the skin color of the author is. Heck, a lot of times, the author doesn't even know the gender/skin color of the author. There is no discrimination. There is no more a conspiracy against female writers than there is against writers with a stutter.

The publisher couldn't care less either - as long as the book sells.

The reviewer cares even less as impossible as that may sound.


You can create a pie chart to "prove" absolutely anything you want.
posted by 2manyusernames at 9:27 AM on April 25, 2013


The reader couldn't care less what gender the author is. Nor does the reader give a crap what the skin color of the author is. Heck, a lot of times, the author doesn't even know the gender/skin color of the author. There is no discrimination. There is no more a conspiracy against female writers than there is against writers with a stutter.

The publisher couldn't care less either - as long as the book sells.

The reviewer cares even less as impossible as that may sound.


Congratulations on discovering the difference between explicit and systemic discrimination!
posted by verb at 9:31 AM on April 25, 2013 [24 favorites]


The question really is this–why is RT consistently ignored when it comes to these annual surveys, both by VIDA and within the speculative fiction community?

Why would anyone look for sf reviews in a magazine called Romantic Times? Was it well known in the sf reviewer community that Romantic Times had a science fiction section and that the sf section reviewed actual sf and not romance novels with a sf overlay and RT was just ignored?

VIDA is about literary fic. I did not see a litfic section on the RT website mainpage or in it's search options.

How big is the intersection between Romantic Times readers and Strange Horizon readers, anyway? And the one between litfic mags and Romantic Times readers? It sucks that romance is disrespected as a genre, but I wouldn't include RT in these types of round ups for non romance genres for the same reason cheerleading is not a sport for Title IX purposes.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:43 AM on April 25, 2013


Romantic Times has sharp SF reviews and award categories for SF and Fantasy that always seem as well-informed as any other awards. And yet, every time I come across either, I'm surprised by it. It's not a secret that they do this, and I think there is an aspect of automatic discounting because of the name - but, yeah, someone who had never heard of them certainly wouldn't guess that they wrote SF reviews.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:46 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, I care in that feminist and multicultural fantasy often offer some much needed new ideas into the genres I love.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:30 AM on April 25, 2013


"Why would anyone look for sf reviews in a magazine called Romantic Times?"

This could be flipped around to ask why you assume that people who subscribe to a magazine called Romantic Times would only read romance. Assuming they occasionally read out of their primary genre -- and do you only read one genre? -- why would those subscribers not want reviews of books in other genres from a review source they already know and trust? RT itself certainly seems to believe its readers have a taste wider than a single genre.

Check with SF writers, and you'll find many of them are aware of the magazine and its reviews, which generally have a reputation for being well-considered and knowledgeable about the genre. Speaking as a science fiction writer who is well aware of how many books romance readers plow through in a year, and how large the romance segment of the book industry is (hint: the largest single fiction segment), I am delighted that RT magazine, targeted at the most dedicated, engaged readers of the romance genre, reviews science fiction (and other non-directly romance-oriented genres). It means I have exposure to even more readers -- and readers who are invested in always reading more.

I know I have readers who have first heard of me through RT, because several have told me so. So at least some people do look for SF reviews there. This is one reason why I'll be attending the RT Booklovers convention in Kansas City next weekend; it's a convention of readers primarily interested in romance, but I know I will have fans there (other reason: I won an award from RT Magazine and they're giving it to me there. And yes, I'll happily list that award win on my resume).

Which is a long way of saying that romance readers are also science fiction readers (and fantasy readers, and mystery readers, etc), just as science fiction readers are also mystery readers, lit fic readers and, yes, romance readers as well.

Beyond this, one simple reason why RT should definitely be included in any discussion of SF reviews is that if they has been included in Strange Horizons' list, they would have been the 4th most prolific reviewer of science fiction titles on the 2012 list -- above Tor.com and just below SH itself. Ignoring an outlet that does one of the best jobs of frequently reviewing science fiction -- an outlet that both SF writers and publishers know of and value, incidentally -- isn't the best way to get an accurate gauge of who is reviewing SF and what the gender proportions are in terms of what gets reviewed and by whom.
posted by jscalzi at 10:35 AM on April 25, 2013 [16 favorites]


Having just put up a review site myself, this is something I'm conscious of right now

Have you thought of taking the Russ pledge:

"The single most important thing we (readers, writers, journalists, critics, publishers, editors, etc.) can do is talk about women writers whenever we talk about men. "
posted by MartinWisse at 11:11 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


The reader couldn't care less what gender the author is.

This is not actually true, now is it? It's well known that men are less likely to read female writers than they are to read male writers.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:15 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm curious at what point we'll start including fanfic in these calculations. There is a huge amount of writing happening in that community, a small but noticeable fraction of which is easily on par with the best of the stuff that has been blessed by a random magazine editor.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:18 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there something brewing in the genre world? The Protecting Project Pulp podcast, which has been exclusively SciFi, Western, and Jungle adventures up to now, last week did a straight-up romance story from 1923, “The Queen of Wheats”.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:25 AM on April 25, 2013


Have you thought of taking the Russ pledge:

I guess? I mean, as I said, the site's trending female so far, and that's not super likely to change. I don't know that it requires a solemn oath on my part. I do plan to periodically try to spot patterns, just because hey, data! But I'm not otherwise exactly sure how that applies.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:28 AM on April 25, 2013


This could be flipped around to ask why you assume that people who subscribe to a magazine called Romantic Times would only read romance.

I used to read romance. A lot of romance. I gave it up because I got burned out on the standard romance tropes but even though I read a lot of it, I had never heard of Romantic Times until I hit the internet. If one actually subscribes to a magazine about romance novels, I'm inclined to think romance is your main genre of choice. Scratch that, if you actually subscribe to a print magazine about a literary genre, whatever the genre is, I'm inclined to think that genre is your main reading genre.

I separate "people who read genre x" from "members of the genre x community"* with the latter being a subset of the former. When I was a regular romance reader, I did not consider myself a member of the "romance community". When it comes to scifi, I read a crap load of sf, occasionally lurk on James Nicoll's blog, but I don't read Strange Horizons, Whatever or Tor.com on the regular let alone Locus or Azimov's and don't consider myself a member of the "scifi community".

So, yeah, I'm asking about the intersection between the "romance community" and the "sf community". If people are talking about the reviewing balance in the sf community and there is not a lot of intersection between romance community and sf community (I don't recall seeing romance novels on the "The Big Idea.", but maybe there were some, I don't know cause I don't read it that often) then yeah, I'm wondering why Strange Horizons needs to list Romantic Times in their review round up.

Based on yours and r_n's comments, it sounds like there is more crossover from romance to scifi than the reverse so that scifi community doesn't really think about romance community, but romance knows all about sf and is all "WTF. We are also sf community, stop ignoring us."

*"members of the genre x community" = people who go to genre cons, subscribe to genre print mags, etc in addition to reading the books.
posted by nooneyouknow at 12:22 PM on April 25, 2013


I don't know that it requires a solemn oath on my part.

For me personally I found it handy to keep in mind because I do have to consciously think about what I'm reading to not fall back in old patterns of reading almost solely male authors.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:40 PM on April 25, 2013


Yeah, I don't have that problem. Dunno if I could say I *never* have - certainly many of my early genre favorites are male - but these days it swings the other way.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:44 PM on April 25, 2013


Hey, RT Bookreviews looks fab! I've just finished EMBASSYTOWN so I'm off for some EPIC FANTASY with a bit of romance. Thanks!
posted by alasdair at 1:17 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


James Nicoll is pretty harsh on the Clarke shortlist for reasons in addition to poor f/m ratios:

Hmm. Not really sure I hold with his argument there - Sounds a bit like "women can't do SF, therefore all awards should be SF/F", which is more like conceding ground than stepping forwards.
posted by Artw at 1:26 PM on April 25, 2013


I used to be a book publicist (at Tor, even, hi jscalzi!), and RT is one of the best venues around for SF/F reviews. RT often reviews books that wouldn't get a review in any other publication, helping new or struggling authors get attention as they start to build their audience. This was particularly important in the long-ago days before social media and authors were just figuring out the importance of the internet.

I'm also a romance reader myself, and I always appreciated RT's coverage of two genres that I enjoyed. The kind of romance that I read--Regency romances--is so specialized that it doesn't really get covered outside of a trade such as RT.
posted by so much modern time at 2:26 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


If one actually subscribes to a magazine about romance novels, I'm inclined to think romance is your main genre of choice.

As far as I know, libraries are the primary audience for pretty much all review publications. While there certainly are other individuals reading them (and frequently at libraries), the problem with imbalanced reviews is that they have a real effect on library collection development decisions. Library purchases are, in turn, a huge percentage of the publishing market, so these effects cascade. Reviews are serious business.
posted by asperity at 3:46 PM on April 25, 2013


If one actually subscribes to a magazine about romance novels

I use Google Reader, for the *sniff* moment. I don't have to, like, walk to the mailbox or anything.

I only became interested in the genre - category, really, because there are SO many genres that make up "Romance" - about 8 months ago, and it is fascinating to know about just in a sense of "this is what publishing looks like right now". It's a huge market, but chronically discounted as chick-fic or mommy porn (ugh) or dozens of other sexist disparaging terms meant to indicate it is of low value. But its readers are voracious, and major consumers of e-only publications, and the implications of what's going on in that industry right now are echoing out to other genres.

Before blowing RT off as some kind of niche market, check out the agenda (that's the online version, the PDF is 36 pages) of the RT Booklovers convention Scalzi mentioned above. This is not a few ladies having tea in a hotel restaurant. Full-convention passes are gone. The primary con hotel is full. There are a whole lot of consumers involved.

That's why the exclusion is worth noting. This is not some random review blog (there are hundreds of romance review blogs btw).
posted by Lyn Never at 7:19 PM on April 25, 2013


If one actually subscribes to a magazine about [GENRE] novels, I'm inclined to think [GENRE] is your main genre of choice.

It's kind of silly when you put it like that, you know?
posted by verb at 12:29 AM on April 26, 2013


In what way is RT Bookreviews an ommission from an analysis covering SF magazines? It is interesting to see the count for non-SF venues that provide some SF coverage like the Los Angeles Review of Books and RT Bookreviews in order to supplement the main purpose of the count but it is hardly a flaw or an oversight that it didn't originally cover them. Their complaint that they weren't covered by Strange Horizons is about as valid as their complaint they weren't covered by VIDA.

Scalzi suggests that the sheer volume of SF reviews published by RT Bookreviews makes it worthy of inclusion. The other side of that coin is that RT Bookreviews is essentially a Publishers Weekly-style industry blurb machine. (PW publish a ton of SF reviews too and they don't seem to have been mentioned as an ommission.)

If one actually subscribes to a magazine about [GENRE] novels, I'm inclined to think [GENRE] is your main genre of choice.

I don't really understand this comment but the SF venues listed by Strange Horizons only cover SF, they don't have romance or crime departments. RT Bookreviews is pretty unusual in being primarily targeted at a single genre whilst also having significant coverage of other genres.
posted by ninebelow at 2:12 AM on April 26, 2013


The point is that RT Bookreviews is one of the biggest reviewers of science fiction and fantasy and, as people who should know have said above, is hugely influential in getting books into readers hands.

Not including this in your count therefore skews the count, as Strange Horizons has (belatedly) realised.

Apart from, it's also a bit of an (unintentional) insult to characterise a review venue that is so important to the actual business of selling science fiction books as "not really" belonging in the science fiction field.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:26 AM on April 26, 2013


Related: Hopkinson reviews Lord's The Best of All Possible Worlds (which I just picked up).
At readings, good ol’ boy white readers who consider themselves guardians of the purity of the canon ask whether we’ve heard of Asimov, Heinlein, and Le Guin (much to the embarrassment, it must be said, of the more welcoming majority of readers in the genre). So what’s an Afro-Caribbean sciencefiction writer got to do to prove that he or she is as geek as thou? As with Oscar Wao, The Best of All Possible Worlds is in part a declaration of pedigree, a dual love letter to science fiction/fantasy and to African diasporic cultures and realities. The novel explicitly invokes Ray Bradbury and Indiana Jones, echoes writers such as Ursula K. Le Guin, and filters it all through a creolized landscape.

...

The remaining Sadiri are predominantly male. (Lord is reflecting on the fact that the 2004 tsunami off the coast of Indonesia killed more women than men.) In order for them to not go extinct, they need, bluntly put, to find women.
This is all first-chapter stuff BTW. My first thought of comparison was the comic ST:TNG episode Up the Long Ladder, that paired inbred space Irish pulled straight from The Quiet Man with priggish clones. Then to Defiance which may or may not use space western to explore ideas about genocide and diaspora. Abrams' Star Trek pops to mind as a film that uses those themes as a plot device without really engaging in what happens after.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:54 PM on April 30, 2013


Is Defiance anything other than the completly awful mish-mash it looks like?
posted by Artw at 3:04 PM on April 30, 2013


I'm giving it a few more episodes.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:30 PM on April 30, 2013


There are girl cooties on my space ship–on women writing hard SF
posted by Artw at 8:23 AM on May 6, 2013


Is Defiance anything other than the completly awful mish-mash it looks like?

It's been pretty lame so far. I may or may not give it another chance tonight after Rectify.
posted by homunculus at 3:06 PM on May 6, 2013


Do Readers Judge Female Characters More Harshly Than Male Characters? A recent interview with author Claire Messud raises questions about how gender affects reading.
posted by homunculus at 1:17 PM on May 10, 2013


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