Sunday, March 15, 2015

SF and F "Have You Read These Great Books" Lists

A lot of those lists have been circulating lately: the ones that give you a list of great SF and/or fantasy novels and ask you to check off the ones you've read. The higher the number the better your geek credentials. Some are based on an individual's feelings about which novels are best and most important, while others (like this list compiled by npr) are based on surveys. Nothing wrong with these in their place. We all have our preferences, and if we learn about some books we haven't read in our favorite genres then it's all for the good.

But there are a few of things about these lists that could be better.

One is that they nearly always focus on individual novels and not authors. So there may be a handful of very prolific and famous authors (Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, LeGuin and others) who end up dominating. If you don't care for Asimov or Heinlein (say), you'll likely perform more poorly than if you're not fond of someone who only has one book on the list.

Another is it can be tricky to know what "counts" as having read a given book. If the entire Foundation series is listed, and you only read the first book (deciding it wasn't for you after), then should you tick it off or not? For that matter, how much of an individual book should you have read before it "counts"?

If more of these were lists of authors' names, rather than lists of famous books or series, some of the ambiguity would go away. I think it would also remedy another problem with these lists: they're not terribly diverse.

This list (from Michael Sullivan's blog) is more inclusive than some and lists a number of authors/books who may be less familiar to some readers.

In contrast, one of the most infamous examples of a poll that ignores a huge chunk of SF and F talent is the Guardian survey, where only 4% of the polled readers' favorite SF and F novels were by women. While the npr survey was better, only 14% of the titles on their list were by women.

Some people claim this is because there are few women actually writing SF and F out there, but this is not true. Approximately 40% of SFWA members are women. 20% of Hugo awards have been won by women since 1968 (the percentage is higher in recent years) and about 39% of Nebulas and about 39% of the Arthur C Clarke Awards. The John W Campbell award for the best new writer is close to 50% female writers. So there doesn't seem to be a dearth of women writing quality SF and F either.

This guest post by Cheryl Morgan (on the SFWA site) sums the issue up very well.

So why aren't people noticing and remembering female speculative fiction authors more often? I don't know, but it's more than a little disheartening to those of us who are female and attempting to break into print in these genre. While being female doesn't seem to make it harder to get published in the genre (though it's hard to know for sure without access to slush pile statistics), or to receive awards, it does seem to make it harder to be noticed or remembered by everyday fans.

I've always disliked lists that separate out women this and female that as a special subcategory (it rings too much of that old, condescending "Lady Authors" or "Lady Scientists" thing), especially in areas where women are not a small minority. But given that female writers of speculative fiction are overlooked or forgotten more often than their male counterparts, then it may be a necessary evil.

So I've compiled a list of (approximately) 100 female authors of SF and F. Some of these women are famous, some have written bestsellers, and many have won one or more of the awards mentioned above. Others are women who were writing back in the 19th or early 20th centuries. Some wrote (or write) under male or neutral sounding pseudonyms. I didn't vet the list according to any standard of literary merit, even my own. I love some of these writers, don't care for others, and have yet to read a number of them. It's also not an exhaustive list. There are a ton of women I didn't include (since I was shooting for just a hundred). There are a few authors on here (like Margaret Atwood) who are not primarily speculative fiction writers, but some of their famous work has crossed that line. Most, however, are firmly within the genre.

I didn't include specific book or story titles here. Most of these writers wrote a number of books, and as stated above, I find surveys that ask readers which authors they've read or are familiar with to be better than ones that ask about specific titles.

So how many of these authors have you read, or at least attempted to read? How many have you never even heard of? And are there any you think should be added to this list?

Margaret Atwood
Kage Baker
Elizabeth Bear
Danielle Bennett
Gertrude Barrow Bennett
Carol Berg
Anne Bishop
Leigh Brackett
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Patricia Briggs
Kristen Britain
Lois McMaster Bujold
Emma Bull
Octavia Butler
Trudi Canavan
Jacqueline Cary
Margaret Cavendish
Suzy McKee Charnas
CJ Cherryh
Deborah Chester
Miriam Allen DeFord
Amanda Downum
Kate Elliot
Lynn Flewelling
Mary Gentle
Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire
Carolyn Ives Gilman
Nicola Griffith
Barbara Hambley
Elizabeth Hand
Norma K Hemming
Robin Hobb
Nalo Hopkinson
Tanya Huff
Kameron Hurley
PD James
NK Jemisin
Susannah Clark Jonathan
Diana Wynne Jones
Gwyneth Jones
Jaida Jones
Kay Kenyon
Katherine Kerr
Francis Knight
Mary Robinette Kowal
Katherine Kurtz
Ellen Kushner
Mercedes Lackey
Glenda Larke
Anne Leckie
Tanith Lee
Madeline L'Engle
Ursula K LeGuin
Doris Lessing
Jane Lindskold
Malinda Lo
Karen Lord
Jane Loudon
Marie Lu
Anne Lyle
Julian May
Anne McCaffrey
Vonda McIntryre
Patricia McKillip
Elizabeth Moon
CL Moore
Pat Murphy
Linda Nagata
Andre Norton
Naomi Novik
Yvonne Nvarro
Nnedi Okorafor
Taomora Pierce
Cat Rambo
Melanie Rawn
Laura Resnick
JK Rowling
Joanna Russ
Mary Doria Russell
Michelle Sagara
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Nisi Shawl
Mary Shelly
Alison Sinclair
Vandana Singh
Kristine Smith
Maria V. Snyder
Margaret St. Claire
Michelle St. Claire
Francis Stevens
Mary Stewart
Tricia Sullivan
Rachel Swirsky
Amy Tan
Sherri Tepper
James Tiptree Junior
Amy Thompson
Jo Walton
Margaret Weiss
Kate Wilheim
Connie Willis

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