Reading Women: Science Fiction edition

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It’s been a busy week here and a bit chaotic with weather disruptions, but I’ve managed to keep writing. I’m working on a spate of shorter stories and filling up my submission queue. It feels good to have new batch of stories out there making the rounds.
I also managed to get some reading done. I just finished Ann Leckie’s excellent Ancillary Justice, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Here’s what the back cover says:

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren–a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose–to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.

First, this is just a straight-up fun read, and a great example of genre writing with real intelligence behind it. But, what I really loved, was how Leckie plays with gender. Breq has trouble distinguishing gender and simply refers to everyone as “she” by default, which kept me guessing about some of the characters and feeling a little off balance – but in a good way. Because 99.99 percent of books default to “he” in issues of gender. I can’t describe how refreshing it is to read a science fiction novel where the default is “she” instead.
Then I read E. Catherine Tobler’s excellent post about how much women writers get read compared to men, I checked my Goodreads profile to take stock of what I read last year. I was surprised to find that my ratio was about 70 percent male authors to 30 percent female.
So many of my favorite genre writers are women from Mary Shelly (whom some call the mother of the science fiction genre) to Leigh Brackett, Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, and Nancy Kress just to name a very few. So many books that inform my writing are by women, I’d just assumed that I’d been reading men and woman equally.
Luckily, this is a problem that’s easy to rectify. There is, and has never been, any shortage of great women science fiction writers.* Here are a couple great places to find out about them.
Books That Prove Science Fiction Just Got Harder from io9, in which the majority of hard science fiction books listed are written by women including such masters as Lois McMaster Bujold and C.J. Cherryh
For a more exhaustive list check out Jessica Strider’s post over at Sci-Fi Fan Letter.

But wait, there’s more! The fine folks over at Lightspeedrecently ran a Women Destroy Science Fiction Kickstarter campaign, and it sure looks like there’s no shortage of people who want to read science fiction written by women. They blew through their goals and unlocked both the Women Destroy Horror and Women Destroy Fantasy stretch goals. These are going to be amazing anthologies and there’s still a few hours left to pledge few dollars and get in on some special extras.

So what’s your ratio? Are you reading women writers? If you aren’t how many worlds are you missing out on?
* There are also a great many women writing fantastic fantasy and horror, but that will have to be a blog for another day.

The Art of Waiting

Waiting for the Mail by Grant Wright Christian (WPA mural)
Waiting is hard.

Any writer that is submitting stories is in a constant state of waiting to hear back. That’s just life. Some markets are quick (Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Daily Science Fiction to name a few), but once I’ve collected my rejections from them, it’s time to get on the slow boat and submit to the markets that take 30, 60, even 90 days -or more- to respond to that precious story I worked and slaved over.

For me, the only way to stay sane about this process is to keep stuffing stories into the machine.

One thing about writing more stories is that each story becomes a little less precious, which helps. Sure, it’s the most important thing while I’m writing it (you know, love the one you’re with), but then it’s on to the next.
In order to keep the hopper full, I can’t just focus on writing things, I have to finish them. The key here is to know when you are finished.

In the introduction to her book Two Worlds and In Between, Caitlin Kiernan describes looking back at her earlier stories and seeing a kind of snapshot of herself at a certain point in time. Saying that, in her stories,

 “I see the procession of me.”

I love that! After I’ve taken a story though drafting, revision, critique, final changes and proofing, I have to be able to look at it and say, this is the very best story I can write today. 

One of the most important skills for anyone making any kind of art is the ability to really see what you’ve made. To be able to make a clear-eyed critical self-assessment of a story not only allows me to write the best story I can, it also gives me an understanding of my current skills and talents that will allow me to improve. Since I’m an optimist, I am going to assume that, with hard work, I will  be a better writer next year than I am today. 

But, I’m not going to go back to a finished story and rework it because it is what it is. My job is to write better NEW stories. Reworking old ones is chasing a kind of perfection that is not only impossible but, I believe, irrelevant. 

When I’m constantly working on something new, striving to write my best story, waiting on my submitted stories is still hard, but just the business that goes on in the background. I keep my focus on making today’s story the best it can be.

Haiku Reviews

Another busy week and I’m trying to wrangle a new story of my own, so my thoughts on this week’s stories are in the form of Haikus.

Friday, May 11 – The Homecomming by Mike Resnick in Escape Pod

a boy is transformed
his father’s anger falls to
her memory and loss

Saturday, May 12 – Sibling Rivalry by Carine Engelbrecht in Everyday Fiction

unborn twins argue
Egypt’s last curse will greet
the firstborn this day

Sunday, May 13 – Steve Herbert by Robert Shearman in One Hundred Stories

a cold hearted doc
falls in love with the patient
and the thing inside

Monday, May 14 – A hole to China by Catherynne M. Valente in Lightspeed

a girl’s quest into
a story full of lovely 
creatures, burning hot!

Tuesday, May 15 – Star Maven by Sarah Crysl Akhtar in Flash Fiction Online (a mother’s day story)

mom’s in hyperspace
she’ll keep your ducks in a row
remotely, from home

Wednesday, May 16 – A Marble for the Drowning River by Ann Chatham in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

ghosts in the river  
The living and the dead each
have their own concerns

Thursday, May 17 -The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu in EscapePod (among other places)

this touching story
just won the Nebula prize
and it’s worth a look.

More Stories

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, “Jeune fille lisant”

I didn’t always read short stories like I do now. I used to be all about the novel. I wanted a longer, deeper narrative experience. Having a family cured me of that, at least temporarily. I still love novels, but I don’t read them like I used to. Maybe when the girls go off to college. That’s okay, because the more I read short stories (and the more I try to write them) the more I appreciate the form. The best short stories aren’t just shorter – less – than a novel. The best ones have to contain something bigger then the five thousand word package they come in. Reading a good short story is like unpacking a magical suitcase that contains a whole attic’s worth of stuff. Or like stepping into a phone booth and finding yourself inside the Tardis traveling to adventures in lands and times unknown.

Stories this week.

Friday 04: The Cross-Time Accountants Fail to Kill Hitler Because Chuck Berry Does the Twist by C.C. Finlay in this month’s Lightspeed Magazine (it will be available online on 5/15. I’ll link to it then) – I love the title, the story worked for me on some levels, especially character and the premise. Overall, the character and the plot didn’t quite gel for me.

Saturday 05: Wonderwall by Elizabeth Hand in Saffron & Brimstone – This slipstreamy story oozes with nineties nostalgia as seen through the eyes of a desperately poor college drop out.

Sunday 06: Another Word for Map is Faith by Chris Rowe. Click to listen to it on PodCastleThis story’s been around for a while and I can see why, it has a fascinating premise. What if post-apolyptic religion concerned itself with reshaping the landscape to match old maps. A kind of geographism…

Monday 07: I listen to This American Life on Mondays and this week featured a story called resurrection – about a boy and his armadillo. It isn’t genre, but don’t let that stop you. As noted at the end of the story, no armadillo’s were harmed in the making of this fiction.

Tuesday 08: The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu in Clarkesworld (you can listen to it here) – More map-making! This story was/is nominated for a Nebula, a Hugo and a Locus award. And I can see why, a very arresting little story (about insects no less) with some big ideas.

Wednesday 09: Al by Carol Emshwiller in Feeling Very Strange – Written by one of the grand dames of Science Fiction. I’m still thinking about this one. It didn’t really grab me, but its sticky as in the characters and images keep bouncing around in my head, might have to reread. So, I guess that’s a kind of success.

Apropos of nothing

Reading Those Stories

Indeed May is officially National Short Story month. I had no idea. NPR posted a nice bit about it here. There are even links to their interviews with some great short story authors, all decidedly literary, not genre. Don’t hold that against them though!

I have a fair stack of paper and glue short story collections waiting to be read and ima going to get to those, really I am. This week was all about onscreen and earbuds.

First, in case you are wondering where to can find the latest genre short stories in print and online. Here are a couple places to find out about the freshest short stories in the genre.

My reading so far –
The first three are also available as podcasts from their respective sites.

May 1 Monkeys by Ken Liu published in Nature – A nice little flash piece with a couple post docs, some monkeys, and a typewriter. You know Shakespeare is bound to show up.

May 2 Prayer by Robert Reed in Clarkesworld – I really enjoyed this one, religion, insurgency, a girl, and her sentient gun.

May 3 Our Town by Kim Stanley Robinson in Lightspeed – A rare shorter piece by K. S. Robinson. The cloud city with artists made me think of The Cloud Minders the classic Star Trek episode.  I loved the human sculpture idea.

May 4 An Old Acquaintance K.G. Jewell – Another flash piece. Short and sweet, with a likeable bogeyman. (To read this today, sign up to receive their daily emails. You won’t regret it! If you don’t want to weigh your inbox down just check into their site a week from now when it will be posted.)

Next week I’ll try to focus on the pile of books on my nightstand.

Listening to Stories

I listen to about as much material as I read if not more. With two kids and their lessons, a part-time job and a dog to walk, it’s the only way I stay current at all.

Listening is different from reading with your eyeballs. But once you adjust to the aural attentiveness required to take in a spoken word piece its delightful to knit or scrub or walk while someone reaches across time and space to tell you a story.

With audio there are three people involved, you the writer and the reader. I great reader can really add dimension to whatever you are listening to, and a not so great reader can make a difficult slog of a great story. It’s the price you pay for the extra company.

It feels both modern – with the technology that makes audio books and podcasting so accessible – and primal to listen to a story. Put in your earbuds and join those long gone people who sat around the fire listening to the Illiad, Gilgamesh and Beowulf (all of which you can get as audiobooks by the way).

Mostly, I get audiobooks from the library and load them onto my iPod, but my queue of novels and nonfiction is getting dusty since I discovered so many great podcasts this year. Turns out the Pod-o-sphere is chock full of fantastic genre stories, news and chat. To write great short stories you have to read lots of them. Thanks to these podcasts I’ve listened to more stories, and to a broader range of stories within the genre, than I could have possibly read this year.

Here’s what I’ve been listening to. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, but I still say it’s awesome. It’s made cleaning the house, running errands and walking the dog immeasurably more pleasant.


All kinds of fantasy stories from swords and socerey to slipstream.

Escape Pod
Great science fiction stories in all styles from new and established authors in the field.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies
This one specializes in literary adventure fantasy that takes place on secondary worlds.

This online magazine has won the Hugo for best semipro magazine two years running. The stories are fantastic and varied. The first thing I did when I got my Kindle for Christmas was subscribe to this and to Lightspeed Magazine.

A John Joseph Adams joint this magazine and podcast is combining with its sister magazine Fantasy for double the podcasts and stories.


Both the website and this podcast are a great source of news about goings on in the genre.

Coode Street Podcast
I really enjoy hearing these two friends chatting about all things science fiction and fantasy. Both Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Woolfe are award-winning anthologists and editors.

(File under inspiration. keeping the “science” in science fiction.)

Groks Science Radio Show
The production values are low but the two hosts are great interviewers and often have some big names in science on their show to discuss current science topics.


Samples of lectures from the Odyssey Writer’s Workshop. They don’t post very often, but I’ve listened through their entire catalog and there’s a lot of great writing and genre advice. If you can’t afford six weeks to attend this workshop, check out their podcast.

Writing Excuses
Fun and chatty with good advice too. Gotta love their motto: “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”

I Should Be Writing

Another great genre focused podcast. Advice and interviews mixed with writerly commiseration.

So that’s what’s keeping my ears happy right now. I know there’s lots more out there. Tell me about your favorites in the comments and I’ll add them on. Enjoy!