“There. We have a female. That’s sorted.”
May 18, 2017 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Every year or two, someone writes another article about a genre that women have just now entered, which used to be the province of male writers. Usually it’s some form of science fiction. Lately it’s been fantasy, especially epic fantasy (which strikes me with fierce irony, because I remember when fantasy was pink and squishy and comfy and for girls). And in keeping with this week’s theme, space opera gets its regular turn in the barrel.
Judith Tarr: Yes, Women Have Always Written Space Opera.

You want recommendations? Try this truly epic Twitter thread by Sandstone.
posted by MartinWisse (43 comments total) 90 users marked this as a favorite
And yet Tor continued with the one token woman added to list of male recs, - http://www.tor.com/2017/05/15/explore-the-cosmos-in-10-space-opera-universes/
posted by Fence at 11:41 AM on May 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

What are we, chopped liver? Eleanor Arnason's essay in Strange Horizons from 2015, related subject, broader scope.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 11:54 AM on May 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

And yet Tor continued with the one token woman added to list of male recs

And even the lone woman on the list was *co-author with her husband*.

posted by Proofs and Refutations at 12:04 PM on May 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

...gets its regular turn in the barrel.

Takes turns in the barrel used to be exclusively male, so... two for one?
posted by 445supermag at 12:10 PM on May 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've read several books of each of the authors she talks about except Ardath Mayhar.

Anybody care to recommend a few titles?
posted by jamjam at 12:25 PM on May 18, 2017

Mentioned in the article:

Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, Andre Norton, Ardath Mayhar, Sheri Tepper, Elizabeth Moon, C.J. Cherryh, Ursula K. Le Guin, Lois McMaster Bujold, Ann Leckie

Mentioned in the comments on the article:

Mary Gentle, Eleanor Arneson, R. M. Meluch (a personal favorite who seems to have been forgotten somehow recently), M. K. Wren, Kate Elliott, Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Bear, Julie Czerneda, Tanya Huff, Jo Clayton, Margaret Weis, Emma Bull, Sharon Lee, S.K. Dunstall, Jacey Bedford, Ann Aguire, Rosemary Edghill, Jen Foehner Wells, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Elizabeth Moon, Nancy Kress, Catharine Asaro, Vonda McIntyre, Cat Rambo, Nnedi Okerofor, Judith Tarr, Becky Chambers, Melissa Scott, Zenna Henderson, Tanith Lee, James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon), Margaret St. Clair, Lynda Williams, Joan D. Vinge, Octavia Butler, Amie Kaufman, Megan Spooner, Suzette Haden Elgin, Sylvia Louise Engdahl, Eleanor Cameron, Vivian Mayne, Maxine MacArthur, Marjorie B. Kellogg’s Lear, Jean Johnson, Wen Spencer, Gini Koch, Sandra McDonald, Karen Traviss, Sherwood Smith, Janet Kagan, Ankaret Wells, Sondra Marshak, Myrna Culbreath, Kathleen Sky, Vonda McIntyre, A.C. Crispin, Diane Duane, Melinda Snodgrass, Jean Lorrah, Barbara Hambly, Della van Hise, Kathy Tyers, VKristine Kathryn Rusch, A.C. Crispin, Debra Doyle, Julian May, Jacqueline Koyanagi, Jody Lyn Nye, Pamela Sargent, S. L. Viehl, Laura Ann Gilman, Joan Slonczewski, Tess Gerritsen, K.B. Wagers, Karin Lowachee, Melisa Michaels, Aliette de Bodard, C.S. Friedman ...

No time to also look through the twitter thread right now. Got reading to do!
posted by kyrademon at 12:40 PM on May 18, 2017 [42 favorites]

In that spirit, there is James Nicoll's 20 Core Space Operas that Every True SF Fan Should Have On Their Shelves. Part of his Core series.
posted by tavella at 12:41 PM on May 18, 2017 [14 favorites]

Recognizing that women have always been in scifi/fantasy (Butler, Le Guin, Atwood, DC Fontana, etc), can we acknowledge that the new crop are KILLIN IT right now? Becky Chambers, N.K. Jemisin, Ann Leckie... They're blowing the damn doors off the place and I'm loving every minute of it. Female authors always get short shrift, more so in the boys club of the scifi/fantasy genres, but somehow it feels like the worm has turned.
posted by Lighthammer at 12:44 PM on May 18, 2017 [22 favorites]

While I realize this post is looking at Space Opera and SF in particular. I'm going to share a list of women fantasy writers that I always keep near by whenever anyone is looking for a recommendation. There's a bit of cross over in that many of these writers also write SF as well.
Octavia E. Butler, Elizabeth Moon, Patricia A. McKillip, Mercedes Lackey, Jacqueline Carey, Robin Hobb, Elizabeth Bear, Ursula K. LeGuin, Jane Yolen, Tanya Huff, Sherri S. Tepper, C.J. Cherryh, Julie E. Czerneda, Sarah Monette, Tanith Lee, Lois McMaster Bujold, Katherine Kurtz, Carrie Vaughn, Kim Harrison, J.V. Jones, Carol Berg, Terri Windling, C.S. Friedman, Katherine Addison, N.K. Jemisin, Katherine Kerr, Kate Elliott, Kameron Hurley, Melanie Rawn.
Also, thanks for sharing your list kyrademon. I'm printing that out and saving it. :)
posted by Fizz at 1:18 PM on May 18, 2017 [10 favorites]

I do this in every related thread, but please don't sleep on Phyllis Gotlieb, a seemingly forgotten​ Canadian SF author who wrote some really gnarly, interesting books.
posted by selfnoise at 1:34 PM on May 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

ctrl F Cherryh, not there, stokes outrage eng-

C.J. Cherryh

Oh. Good. As you were, then.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:16 PM on May 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Phyllis Gotlieb!

I was thinking of mentioning her; she's the author of the very first SF book I ever bought (off a circular rack at my childhood drugstore) instead of getting it out of the library: Sunburst.

And I had the pleasure of telling her so at the only WorldCon I attended. She looked a little alarmed as I approached and seemed a bit non-plussed at my enthusiasm, but I'm glad I did it anyway.

Cherry Wilder (half Maori, and my candidate for the most unfairly neglected fantasy author of them all), and RA MacAvoy should be on everyone's list too, in my opinion.
posted by jamjam at 2:29 PM on May 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also sadly mostly forgotten: Doris Piserchia. It does not get more space-opera-y then Star Rider.
posted by tavella at 2:36 PM on May 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was going to copy and paste that Twitter thread from @quartzen
Okay. One like, one space opera by (or cowritten by) a woman! (I may repeat authors if I get a lot but will try not to repeat within series)
but it is too overwhelmingly long. she lists 150 space opera series
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 2:36 PM on May 18, 2017

yeah, there was all this talk in the '00's about how Space Opera is Back! and, um, if it was gone, what were we giving Cherryh and Bujold Hugos for in the '80's and '90's?
posted by Zed at 2:56 PM on May 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

eluki bes shahar's Butterfly and Hellflower. So space opera: collapsing empires! Heroic barbarians, plural! Honor! Loyalty! Doooooom!

Oo, also too Wilhelmina Baird's series starting with Crashcourse. Starts as a cyberpunk noir in one decaying city, goes through a sort of War of the Worlds, and the fourth book does something rare -- the first three end with a sort of deus ex spaaaaace, a fundamental change in physical and political possibility -- and the fourth book actually goes with it, the government and psychology and childrearing prose and plot style are different.
posted by clew at 3:19 PM on May 18, 2017

The Space Opera list from Barnes and Noble's SFF Blog yesterday was full of great books by women authors (including Linda Nagata's "Vast" an oft overlooked favorite of mine). It was very puzzling to see Tor publish "Women write Space Opera!" and "Classic Space Operas List (featuring only one woman co-Author)!" try harder I guess.
posted by 3j0hn at 3:23 PM on May 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

Linda Nagata is seriously underappreciated.
posted by doctornemo at 3:35 PM on May 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

One of these lists mentioned Janet Kagan and her two novels but forgot to mention that she also wrote "Uhura's Song" of the Star Trek series, a perennial favorite. And surely ST would be considered space opera.
posted by MovableBookLady at 3:56 PM on May 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

In the interests of full disclosure, Eleanor Arneson is a friend, but I am being completely objective when I say her writing is so good.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:00 PM on May 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

James Tiptree Jr was a female author (Alice Bradley Sheldon) using a male penname for write SF, largely because of this and other manifestations of sexism in publishing.

Same for Andre Norton (Alice Mary Norton) who wrote SF and fantasy under several male pennames.

There were quite a few female authors of Star Trek tie-ins, weren't there? I remember Diane Duane's Spock's World as an amazing SF novel.

Also Joanna Russ, who wrote both SF and the sadly still relevant How to Suppress Women's Writing, a satire about publishing along the lines of Swift's A Modest Proposal.
posted by Ahniya at 5:24 PM on May 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

The Tor article not mentioning Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan saga at all is especially egregious when she's been nominated for the first ever Hugo for a series, ahem, ahem, and has a string of Hugos and Nebulas as long as your arm. Not exactly obscure.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 5:25 PM on May 18, 2017 [10 favorites]

I am quite taken lately with the more contemplative direction that recent space opera is going, like Kameron Hurley's The Stars are Legion, like the much-maligned second book in Ann Leckie's Ancillary trilogy, like Becky Chambers Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and its sequel.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 5:33 PM on May 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Female authors always get short shrift, more so in the boys club of the scifi/fantasy genres, but somehow it feels like the worm has turned.

This sounds great, but it's way more complicated than that.

Joanna Russ (speaking of neglected science fiction writers) wrote _How to Suppress Women's Writing_ back in the 1970s, where she pointed out that, no matter how much time passes, the number of female writers in a cannon stays relatively constant -- new female writers are talked about, but only at the expense of older ones. Just as many people in the 1960s read Norton as they did Heinlein, yet only one is considered respectable today.

Science fiction and fantasy hasn't been a boy's club. The female authors have been forgotten in the same way that other female authors in other genres have been ignored.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:21 PM on May 18, 2017 [14 favorites]

Not a whole lot to add other than this post should be noted as excellent book list material.

One small pedantic quibble, some of these authors don't qualify for the "Space Opera" category, mostly as they are just too good (not devolving to hyperdrive or ray blasters as simplistic plot points). Octavia Butler is the perfect example, her aliens are really alien with utterly non-human motivation, don't break laws of physics and an amazing story.
posted by sammyo at 6:23 PM on May 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I've become increasingly confused by the term "Space Opera" and I don't use it any more.

Like I've seen people referring to Le Guin and Tiptree in that context and as you say, their writing is far too thoughtful. I mean maybe Rocannon's World is a sort of space adventure? Gotlieb, who I mentioned above, takes the form of the adventure or thriller and then does weird stuff with it (like Flesh and Gold or O Master Caliban).

The purest form of any subgenre tends to be the flavorless extruded product that's best avoided.
posted by selfnoise at 6:35 PM on May 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Tor article not mentioning Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan saga at all is especially egregious when she's been nominated for the first ever Hugo for a series, ahem, ahem, and has a string of Hugos and Nebulas as long as your arm. Not exactly obscure.

If you mean the Tor article (by Judith Tarr) in the OP then it mentions Bujold clearly, in the context of "don't mention Bujold in the comments, because we all love her already, right?"

It occurred to me after I started responding that you may mean the Tor article linked in the comments by Alan Brown.

I'm by no means invested in defending Tor, but my personal take is there are like 30-40 posts on Tor.com's blogs in the last few days, so I'm more inclined to view this as an "Alan Brown article" than a statement reflecting the opinions of the publisher Tor. IMHO it is encouraging that in the couple days since Brown's bit they've also featured posts by Judith Tarr and Kameron Hurley and other women I'm not currrently familiar with (Liz Bourke, Ellen Cheeseman-Meyers, Molly Templeton). Not saying we're where we should be but one guy overlooking women is less of an issue if there's a lot of other discussion that doesn't, readily available and equally emphasized.

I'm sincerely curious to hear if people think I'm totally wrong in taking this view.. I'm coming away from this thread with a good half-dozen new to-reads on my list so I can take a virtual beat down in good spirits.

(Also, if Alan Brown is like "Chief Editor of Tor Who Signs Everyone Else's Paychecks" I will back down awful quick too.)
posted by mark k at 8:49 PM on May 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mentioned in the article:

...Ursula K. Le Guin...

Who is about the least space operaish author in the SF genre. I mean, I'll give you Rocannon's World, but that was when she was first finding her voice but after that, she was closer to Magister Ludi than Skippy Goes to Venus.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:46 AM on May 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Catherine Asaro, Rachel Bach.
posted by Coaticass at 1:40 AM on May 19, 2017

Well, they also say the world's first novel was written by a woman.
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 3:40 AM on May 19, 2017

There's also Judith Merril, whose granddaughter wrote a great biography of her, in case anyone is interested in doing a deeper dive into what it was like to be a female SF writer in the mid-20th century.
posted by ITheCosmos at 4:46 AM on May 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

K.B. Wagers' Indranan War series is absolutely phenomenal. I cannot recommend it enough. It features a strong kick-ass pirate/princess who has to come home and rule a nation. Start with Behind the Throne:
“Hail Bristol has made a name for herself in the galaxy for everything except what she was born to do: rule the Indranan Empire. When she is dragged back to her home planet to take her rightful place as the only remaining heir, she finds that trading her ship for a palace is her most dangerous move yet.”
It has a very Richard Morgan/Altered Carbon feel to it. It's fast-paced and just a lot of fun. First two books are out and the last in this trilogy is expected some time around December 2017.
posted by Fizz at 5:11 AM on May 19, 2017

Defining space opera, by mefi's own Charles Stross.
"I think that for a work of SF to qualify as space opera it requires certain features to be present. Breadth of scope is one of them: Interstellar scale is almost mandatory (although I think there are exceptions: "Tiger Tiger"/"The Stars my Destination", perhaps). A sense of wonder is necessary as well. The key factor is that it's almost invariably romanticist in sensibility, often overlapping with the gothic: if it lacks a romantic/gothic tone then it's probably not space opera."
also previously
posted by bleary at 6:19 AM on May 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm still SMH at the list that Fence posted the link to at the top. Heinlein juveniles? Babylon 5? Whoa, look at Tor going crazy with the deep cuts. *sigh*

WRT women in space opera, even though it's not prose, some mention could be given to D.C. Fontana (note the desexing initials), who deserves co-creator status WRT Star Trek (along with Gene L. Coon).
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:26 AM on May 19, 2017

My first thought was immediately Andre Norton. In the Young Adult section of our local library, the Heinlein books were popular, but there was always at least one available to check out. The Andre Norton books, on the other hand, were ALWAYS checked out. Nobody really talked about her or her books, but everybody interested in SF/Fantasy read them.

And I have not had time to peruse all the long lists in the other posts, but I like Sharon Shinn's Archangel series, but have not had time to look into her other fantasy series. I have found that as I get older, medieval based fantasy epics with Maj'elkaar type names are getting more difficult to read.
posted by jkosmicki at 6:47 AM on May 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

What's a little confounding about Hain is that it is a perfectly good Space Opera setting. We can imagine any number of Space Operas going on out of sight. But the stories and novels Le Guin wrote about it leave that in the background.

Like usual, categorization is slippery.
posted by Zed at 7:46 AM on May 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

We can imagine any number of Space Operas going on out of sight. But the stories and novels Le Guin wrote about it leave that in the background.

Not to derail, but Left Hand of Darkness is being adapted as a limited series.
posted by Fizz at 8:40 AM on May 19, 2017

Not to derail, but Left Hand of Darkness is being adapted as a limited series.

Huh. That's going to be very interesting casting.
posted by suelac at 11:31 AM on May 19, 2017

One day someone will announce that they're doing as a movie or TV series and I won't get a vaguely queasy feeling. Toady apparently isn't it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:24 PM on May 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

What's a little confounding about Hain is that it is a perfectly good Space Opera setting. We can imagine any number of Space Operas going on out of sight. But the stories and novels Le Guin wrote about it leave that in the background.

So much this. Look at the the escape to the Hainish embassy portion of The Dispossessed. Mentally it feels like gut wrenching action, but the action is mostly trying to keep very still and not be spotted and pray that someone in the underground won't betray you. It's the real life French Resistance vs. The Longest Day two-fisted action version.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:36 PM on May 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Let me tell you about my favorite author.

Jo Clayton.

She wrote fantasy. And science fiction. And a lot of stuff that straddled the divide between the two genres with lots of Sufficiently Advanced Technology.

My favorite of her stuff is the Skeen trilogy, which I like to describe as "Jo Clayton perches charmingly atop the fourth wall while spinning a portal fantasy yarn starring Rule 63 Han Solo". The titular Skeen flees the authorities through a one way portal to a world full of aliens who've vanished from the galaxy, and has to go questing across it to find the Ancients who made the gate and are the only ones who know how to open it back up. And may all be dead. Along the way she accretes a crew of companions, several of whom she cheerily fucks. And gets a major wound and nearly dies and has to solve problems for the Ancients when she finds them. And then she makes it back to the Real World for her long awaited vengeance upon her boyfriend (who betrayed her and left her with nowhere to run but the long-shot chance of that one way portal) and we meet an entire new crew of very weird space rogues who help her with the promise she made to the Ancients.

Throughout, Clayton's writing scintillates. She's got a lyrical ear for Alien Languages. And the chapter titles get increasingly snarky and self aware, with Clayton speaking directly to the reader now and then about the decisions she made. There's one amazing title that goes on for several pages, where she says "look, this is a very important thing that explains the actions of an adversary, and you NEED to know this, but it's a secret thing that there is simply no elegant way to insert into the story that's been closely tied to the viewpoints of Skeen and her friends".

Also notable is her Diadem series, about a farm-world girl who gets a piece of headwear that contains the memories and skills of several dead people, and gives her a few superpowers like accelerated time-sense. The first one drags on but the rest are great pulpy adventure. She knew how to write a hell of a potboiler, and make it succinct.

You will have to hunt down used copies. They're out of print and not available as e-books. They will be worth it, I swear. Start with Skeen.

She wrote a lot of other books. These are the ones I've both acquired and loved.
posted by egypturnash at 4:57 PM on May 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Several Jo Clayton books are now available on Amazon as ebooks.

Skeen #1 is $6.15. Diadem #1 is $2.

Ebook pricing by mainstream publishers is, as always, a fascinating look into what happens when marketing departments are entirely oblivious to the interests of actual customers.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:50 AM on May 20, 2017

Space you say? Opera you say? Just yesterday, I saw this, which seemed an interesting take on an Octavia E Butler masterpiece. Thanks to the OEB Legacy Twitter feed for letting me know
posted by Myeral at 11:43 AM on May 21, 2017

« Older On the mineralogy of the “Anthropocene Epoch”   |   WIZARDS Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments