Women, Welcome to the 70 Percent Nebula Award Club

bowie red first light

In addition to what we here at Book View Cafe believe to be the first self-published novel to achieve a Nebula Award nomination, The Red: First Light by BVC member Linda Nagata, another 15 of the 26 Nebula Award nominees for 2013 are written by female authors. Averaging co-authorship in the mix, this brings the percentage of nominated works written by women to 68%, which I’ll round up to 70%. As a veteran of a number of battles in this conflict, I’m comfortable in saying this represents a complete destruction of what has been called “science fiction.”

I just bet if I go out and search for posts regarding this matter, I’ll find some that say “the ladies have it.” I’m no lady. I’m a woman.

Ladies don’t write books about war. They don’t write books where people’s jaws get cut off and teeth go flying. Ladies also, I’ve been told, don’t really understand science or technology. They require aid with their cars, their phones, their computers, their tablets. They can’t write software well, they can’t make video games, and they for sure can’t be linebackers. Or firefighters or most kinds of cops outside the traffic beat.

Ladies don’t write real sci-fi. That’s a man’s job.

You know: like making robots. Like starting businesses. Like winning the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s been apparent to me for a number of years that many commenters in the SF field have seemingly been trapped in 1970.

Slide38As can be seen from this chart (prepared by me), in 1970, many more men than women graduated from college 40 years ago.

Today, the picture looks a little different. It looks like this:





Canada, France and Japan are the highest red (female majority) dots. No country in the west or Asia had more men than women graduating from college in 2012. Two years ago. In addition, the left axis represents the percentage of the total population graduating from college, and remains constant through this series. So a greater percentage of people are graduating from college overall today than they were 40 years ago — worldwide. By 2040, the percentages worldwide will be very close to this Nebula Award nomination list: 30% male, 70% female. And it will be a vastly different world.

In science fiction, if we are to judge by the Nebula Award nominations of the past two or three years, this trend has been reflected as well.

Which brings me to wicked Space Witch’s message. For many years, I was told that my science fiction was “off.” It wasn’t “real science fiction.” This “offness” enabled me to reach readers who “didn’t like science fiction” (i.e. valued different story values from those espoused by the 70s crew). It gave me the gift of slam reviews from Aspergery reviewers, and it gave me the prize of being shunted aside and being ignored. I frequently experienced a phenomenon identified by Sheila Finch in her Lightspeed Women Destroy SF! essay: I’d research science for hours and draw on scholarly journals and be told, “That’s not possible” by someone who did not know what he or she was talking about. Sheila expressed wonder that she would not be given the benefit of the doubt. I have come to understand that this phenomenon occurred and still occasionally occurs because for the people who think this way: there is no doubt.

The world in which we actually live is a world of doubt. We live in a world of fluid, endless possibilities. This is that world envisioned by a few visionaries in the 20th century. The future is now.

So here’s the deal. The response to this ought not to be to emulate the knowitalls, the gatekeepers, the denigrators of the past. It ought not to be to form fiefdoms and re-establish ancient power structures that have done nothing but hurt and damage throughout human history. In this house, there should be as many rooms as there are people. And every room should have the very best view.

I came to my voice via a difficult, circuitous and brutal route. I would hope that the younger writers writing today won’t have to tread exactly that mine-filled route. I’ve been wounded a number of times, but I’m still standing. I still have all my limbs, and I’ve still got my heart and soul. I’m even a futurist. I make predictions. Heretofore, I typically would keep them to myself. These are what I feel comfortable with saying right now. Each is already true or in the process of becoming so.

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If you like my work, you can buy Female Science Fiction Writer and other work at Book View Cafe. Back in 2002 when these percentages were reversed, I was a Nebula Award nominee for “To Kiss the Star,” about a severely disabled young woman who receives the chance to go to the stars. If you would like to read what I am writing now, I am offering a free e-book beta read copy of Like Firea fantasy novel with a female leader, to serious fantasy readers (read the post to find out how to get it).







Women, Welcome to the 70 Percent Nebula Award Club — 8 Comments

  1. LOL – thanks Jen. I’ve been keeping track of these trends since last year. Females really are entering many different professions at a rapid pace. Which means – time to stop complaining and time to work!

  2. What I worry about is the pink-collar syndrome. Women surge into a field — let us say knitting, which in the Middle Ages was a skill reserved for men. Or weaving, or nursing, or teaching, or yes, writing romance novels. Suddenly it is a job for lower-level munchkins, paying less, less prestigious, the first target for budget cuts or condescending comment, ignored if at all possible even though the job is vital.
    How many times do we have to do this before it stops being a problem?

    • Brenda – that is a very interesting point. Was it you who sent out the FB forward about doctors being so poorly-paid in Russia, and coincidentally, physicians are overwhelmingly female there?

      It’s not like sci-fi writers can afford to be paid a whole lot less … sheesh!!

      • That wasn’t me, Amy. But the trend is easily spotted, all through history. Doctors are certainly doing less well in this country as well, and there are more female ones than ever. Or look at nursing. For years nursing was deemed to be a man’s job. (Except midwifery.) Then Clara Barton in the Civil War got it going as a possible female occupation, and in a generation it’s a lesser job.
        And writing novels is right on up there. There certainly was a historical period when women were not supposed to write; the Brontes used male pseudonyms for a reason. They didn’t believe that Charlotte Bronte wrote JANE EYRE because it was so ‘passionate’. If the trend holds, then in a hundred years all fiction will be written by women, and the pay will be piss-ant.