Most of you probably recall that my original "Reading more female SFF authors" post created somewhat of a stir last winter. Thousands of hits, a massive load of Twitter crap, lots of comments here and elsewhere. Simply put, it was your regular minor SFF internet shitstorm. Nothing new. Nothing anyone hadn't seen before.
And though it wouldn't endear me to the SFF feminists and the PC police out there, in the end I made a decision to read at least ten speculative fiction novels written by women. Since I habitually read about 40 books a year, that would put my numbers at about 25% for 2016. I wasn't keeping track, yet I knew I was within reach of my objective when a fan emailed me to let me know that I had already reached my goal back in September.
With two more reviews in the pipeline which should see the light before the end of the year, that will bring my total to 44 books reviewed on the Hotlist. Fourteen of which were written by female authors. This adds up to 32% of my review output for 2016. Not bad.
Without necessarily meaning to, I also went for a good variety of subgenres and styles. Epic fantasy, urban fantasy, space opera, magical realism, science fiction, even one YA novel. The final tally is as follows: Kate Elliott's Black Wolves, Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Avatar, C. J. Cherryh's Downbelow Station, Nnedi Okorafor's The Book of Phoenix and Binti, Kelly Link's Get in Trouble, Naomi Novik's League of Dragons, Charlaine Harris' Dead Until Dark, Sarah Pinborough's The Language of Dying, Julie E. Czerneda's This Gulf of Time and Stars and The Gate to Future Pasts, N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, C. S. Friedman's Dreamweaver, and Melanie Rawn's The Ruins of Ambrai. Although they would like to, even the most rabid members of the PC police can't really find fault in the selection of authors I elected to go for in my desire to offer increased coverage of SFF books written by women. I mean, some are multiple award-winners, others are bestsellers. Some are both.
Problem is, although Carey's Kushiel's Avatar was by far the best novel I read this year (one of the very few titles to earn a perfect score), and although Okorafor's The Book of Phoenix, Pinborough's The Language of Dying, and C. J. Cherryh's Downbelow Station rank among the Top 10 speculative fiction books I've read in 2016, none of them were published this year. God knows it hasn't been a banner year for fantasy and science fiction, but as things stand the only 2016 title written by a female author to figure on my Top 10 of the year is Novik's League of Dragons. And it's barely hanging on at number 10. And now halfway through James S. A. Corey's Babylon's Ashes, unless things really go down the crapper before the end, I know that it will end up as one of my top reads of the year. Which would push the Novik out of my shortlist and make my Top 10 a male-only affair. . . :/
It's unfortunate, for only Guy Gavriel Kay's Children of Earth and Sky was better than the Okorafor, the Pinborough, and the Cherryh. And it remains second to Carey's Kushiel's Avatar. Be that as it may, I know I'll get some flak from some people for this year's Top 10.
Which brings us to another point I made in that original post, the one about the sort of material I receive from publishers. Back in February, I posited that female speculative fiction authors often write in subgenres that don't appeal to me. Between July and December 2015, over 80% of the works by female authors I received were either paranormal romance novels (which I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole), steampunk novels (which I don't really care for), YA novels (my policy hasn't changed), or urban fantasy novels (which, for the most part, fail to catch my fancy). The numbers for 2016 are quite similar, adding up to about 75%. Someone told me that more than 40% of historical fantasy and epic fantasy novels are written by women. I have no reason to doubt this claim, but why then am I not receiving such works? It stands to reason that if I did, a higher percentage of the material I receive would get read and reviewed. So why the heck do I only get YA and paranormal romance novels, for the most part, books that immediately go into the boxes of stuff I donate to local library?
I have no idea.
Someone sent me a Reddit link a few months ago and that thread contained a number of posts by female SFF writers maintaining that blurbs and cover art for their novels were often misleading and were offputting to potential male readers. Again, I have no reason to doubt them. But given that the vast majority of SFF editors and marketing people are women, why would they do that? I no longer have that link, so I can't possibly quote anyone. But shouldn't this be something that these authors take up to the editors and have a woman-to-woman talk about it? I'm not 100% sure about this, but I seem to recall that Kate Elliott and Janny Wurts were part of that discussion. Neither of them are lightweights in the genre. I'd be interested to know what their editors would have to say about such claims. Sure, time was, keeping an author's gender ambiguous was considered a good strategy to get better sales. It happened with C. S. Friedman, C. J. Cherryh, and Robin Hobb. But in 2016, what with social media and the interaction one can have with readers/authors, does that rule still apply?
I mean, I never look at an author's gender before deciding whether or not to read a book. I read the blurb and then it's all a question of whether or not the premise speaks to me. If George R. R. Martin wrote a paranormal romance, I wouldn't read it. If R. Scott Bakker wrote a YA book, I wouldn't be interested in reading it. Guy Gavriel Kay published a poetry book a few years ago and it never crossed my mind to give it a shot. In the end, what could be construed as a bias against female SFF writers from lots of male readers/reviewers may be more of a case of stories that don't necessarily resonate with them. To be honest, a coming-of-age fantasy story about a young lesbian probably won't scratch the itch of a male teenager. But it could have more appeal with a female audience. And yet, if it's actually true that epic fantasy books written by female authors feature misleading blurbs that downplay the aspects that would appeal to epic fantasy readers and up the ante regarding the romance and sport urban fantasy-like covers that will scare away their intended audience, then maybe it's time for these writers to take the fight up to the powers that be. In the end, if some publishers are wilfully hurting their sales by shooting themselves in the foot, then maybe it's time for these authors and their agents to rattle a few cages higher up in the chain of command. Threads on Reddit might not be the way to go.
As for me, all I can do is to continue to offer increased coverage of SFF books written by women. For 2017, my objective is to try to read at least one such book every month. If my review output remains the same, that would put my numbers at 25% or more for the year. I'm really looking forward to Robin Hobb's eagerly anticipated Assassin's Fate. You can also expect reviews for Carey's Kushiel's Scion and C. J. Cherryh's Cyteen before long. I bought N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season, so this one is coming as well. I was supposed to check out Kameron Hurley Worldbreaker books and Janny Wurts' The Wars of Light and Shadow this year, so I'll have to do that in the coming months. Given the multitude of SFF novels written by female authors I own, I'm spoiled for choice. Understandably, as I said last winter, this has more to do with my getting up-to-date with several female writers' series and will do little to help promote newly released material. But I do what I can. . . Let us hope that more 2017 speculative fiction titles will intrigue me enough to give them a shot, and perhaps they'll end up on my Top 10 twelve months from now.
Haters are going to hate. No matter what I do. No matter what I read.
But that's the way love goes. I can only hope that these authors will all benefit from the exposure a review from the Hotlist can bring.