In no particular order, here are my top ten SF/F novels by women written in the past 10 years:
- Palimpsest – Catherynne M. Valente
- Keeping it Real – Justina Robson
- Lavinia – Ursula Le Guin
- Zoo City – Lauren Beukes
- Midnight Robber – Nalo Hopkinson
- Who Fears Death – Nnedi Okorafor
- Sound Mind – Tricia Sullivan
- Bold As Love – Gwyneth Jones
- The Year of Our War – Steph Swainston
- The Icarus Girl – Helen Oyeyemi
[EDIT 06/12/2010]: Midnight Robber was a bit early (2000), so, having just finished Nalo Hopkinson’s The New Moon’s Arms I voted for that instead. I think, overall, I prefer the first choice, but The New Moon’s Arms is still rather good (funny). There’s a post today now that everyone has voted, and Torque Control will be covering this over the next week.
I’ve enjoyed doing this. Some of the books in the list were ones I’d already read; others I had already with the intention of reading. But there were a couple of things which hadn’t really registered with me previously, or I hadn’t, for whatever reason, gone out of my way to read.
The problem with the lack of representation of women in genre awards raises, once again, the spectre of “positive discrimination.” The arguments against championing women in whatever field are, quite often, the same. They are belittled, accused of not being there on merit and patronised. One then hears the line “I’m just interested in quality, regardless of gender.” I have a problem with this as, if I see an anthology, say, which is particularly light when it comes to representation of female writers it does tend to imply that no women’s writing was good enough to include (I sometimes worry that this is a bit of a logical leap, but I’ve decided that I’m basically happy with it). And is that really the case?
For the record though, I’m not in favour of castigating the writers whose work is included, or even the editor. It’s counter-productive and (certainly when I think of a couple of fairly recent examples) can make for an unedifying spectacle. Unfortunately, the problem is an institutional one, and this requires more than throwing names at someone who quite possibly was acting with the best of intentions (though I’m not quite sure how Joanna Russ would feel about this; <serendipity>as I was writing this I’d read Martin’s post on the new Vector, where he quotes from Joanna Russ and discusses the issue in a little more detail</serendipity>).
For my part, the original post on Torque Control forced me to consider my own reading habits. I like to flatter myself that I’m reasonably well-read. There are undoubtedly gaps, but my tastes are wider than, I’d wager, most. However, I realised that, while there are some female writers whose genre fiction I’ve enjoyed immensely, over the past ten years I’ve not actually read that many SF/F novels by women. And you know what? I’m glad that I took the decision to go out of my way to read a few. I had no more bad experiences than I would have done had I not done so (and, indeed, a couple of things which I am now sorry to have missed for so long).
A bit on the books
For this, I also read Aliette de Bodard’s recent Servant of the Underworld, which I’d expected to like more than I did. There was certainly some interest in the choice of setting, but as I read, I started to feel that setting perhaps overshadowed other aspects of the novel. That said, I do intend to read the next part of the series.
One surprise was Justina Robson’s Keeping it Real; before I started, I didn’t expect to enjoy it that much. An example, perhaps, of the marketing blurb having the reverse of the intended effect.
Who Fears Death was an easy choice, it’s one of my favourite novels this year (and by that I mean novels read by me, not just novels that I’ve read which happen to have been published this year).
Zoo City from Lauren Beukes was a lot more enjoyable than I’d expected it to be. I’d read Moxyland when it was first published on the back of some enthusiastic praise from many people. Though it was an interesting novel, I didn’t really enjoy it that much; I don’t think it was entirely successful. My feelings are that much of the praise for it was over effusive. There was enough interest (and promise) in it, however, for me to try something else by the author. I’m glad I did. I enjoyed Zoo City a great deal.
Gwyneth Jones and Ursula Le Guin were easy to put on the list. Two wonderful writers (though in Le Guin’s case, I have to confess that I wondered if I was putting Lavinia on there for the right reasons…)
Anyway, as I say, this has been an enjoyable process and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of the overall voting (plus, there have been some more novels which I’d missed that have been brought to my attention in the meantime).