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.

More Advanced Reading for Writers

Briton Rivière (1840-1920) A Saint, from the ‘Jackdaw of Rheims’

Before I get to the books full of thinky thinks, my story, “The Horses,” is the featured link at the TTA Press Advent Calendar today. Check it out and leave a comment on their boards if you like. They’re posting links to stories all month, so be sure and check back for more goodies!

I enjoyed my own personal Not Exactly NaNoWriMo and will be blogging about the experience in its entirety soon. Today’s post is a bit of a NaNo corrective. After a month where everyone is focused on producing reams of quick and sloppy pages, I wanted to luxuriate in a few of my favorite books that dig deep into the art and craft of writing.

Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style by Virginia Tufte. Beyond the nuts and bolts of grammar, this entire book is devoted to sentences. I’m letting my geek flag fly here, but if you love sentences as much as I do and want to think deeply about them, check out this book. Soak up chapters like: Sentence Openers and Inversion, Free Modifiers: Branching Sentences, and Syntactic Symbolism. 

About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, and Five Interviews by Samuel R. Delany. This book is a brick of writing insight from a master of genre fiction. In fact, SFWA just declared him the 2013 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master for his contributions to the field. And about time! If you don’t feel like reading about writing, check out one of his novels. I’m partial to Dhalgren. It was the first book of his I read way back when.

Samuel R. Delany

Anatomy of a Short Story: Nabokov’s Puzzles, Codes, “Signs and Symbols” Edited by Yuri Leving. I’m actually currently reading this one. It’s straight up academic literary criticism. Maybe I’m just missing my college days, but I think it’s worthwhile to go deep into the workings of a single short story. It’s kind of fascinating to see just how many interpretations the ivory tower types can spin out of a couple thousand words. Nabokov’s correspondence with the editor of the New Yorker over the publication of the story is a fascinating chapter as well. 

If that’s not your sort of thing, skip the book and listen to Mary Gaitskill read Nabokov’s brilliant story at the New Yorker. For some lit crit lite, the podcast includes a discussion of the story with Deborah Treisman, the New Yorker’s fiction editor.

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

A Story A Day in May

my short story short list

Check out, where you can commit to writing a story a day for the month of May. I just found out about this a couple days ago via Nicky Drayden, who’s just crazy enough to try such a thing. It sounds like Nanowrimo (which I completed once a few years back), like a kick in the butt with potential for mining several diamonds in the rough while loosing lots of sleep.

I am tempted. I seriously thought about signing up, but I’ve got some other goals and deadlines to pursue this month. Namely, it looks like I’m going to be able to attend both ApolloCon and ArmadilloCon this year, both of which have writer’s workshops. I want new stories to send into the workshops in early June, and they need to be in decent shape since I get the most out of workshops/critiques when I submit my best work.

Then I read Sci-Fi/Fantasy author Marshall Ryan Maresca’s post about the value of reading, and it really got me thinking. He mentions an anecdote that Stephen King reads four hours a day and writes four hours a day (wow, nice work if you can get it). I realized that while I’ve been successful at shoe horning some amount of writing into my life, I have sorely neglected my reading. If I expect to keep returning to the well, I think I’d better get back to that 1:1 ratio of reading to writing.

So, I’m committing to reading one story a day in May (and beyond with any luck). Sounds pretty pithy next to the idea of writing one a day but life is all about balance and baby steps after all.