Personal Essay: "Are We There Yet?" by Sheila Finch
When we set out to destroy science fiction with this Kickstarter, we didn't want it to be your ordinary, run-of-the-mill campaign. We wanted it to be full of smashing, crashing women's voices, telling what it really means to be a woman reading and writing science fiction. One of the ways we hope to do that is by sharing a series of personal essays by women about their experiences as a woman in science fiction. Today's essay is by Sheila Finch.
"Are We There Yet?"
In the early 1980s, an editor of a literary journal that had previously published my work, rejected a story because he “didn’t buy science fiction.” Since I hadn’t realized that was what I’d written, I thought I’d better do a lot of reading to catch up with the field. The rejected story found a home, then another story, and a third, and I was a member of SFWA.
I started to go to conventions and be on panels—where I quickly found myself the only woman on any panel that was about “hard” sf. Not that there was a lack of women in the field up to that time—think C.J. Moore, Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ—but the prevailing wisdom was that only men could handle the hard stuff. Then I published my first novel, based on the Everett interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (I did a lot of research), and I began to badger con committees to put me on appropriate panels.
I got more than I bargained for on several occasions. I remember being seated between two famously arrogant authors. Predictably, an argument broke out, and they stood up to shout at each other over my head. (I doubt they would have done that to another man.) All-male panels tended to ignore any women, and the moderator usually let them go because—you know—what could a woman contribute? I quickly learned to volunteer as moderator where I had the upper hand. Riding herd on these very vocal authors was often scary, but I grew up in a rough part of London and my father taught me to hold my own.
I had a chance to do some radio interviews—supposed to be good publicity for me, but mostly filler for DJs who were on the air hour after hour with only platters to spin. One day, the DJ started the interview by asking what a nice lady like me was doing in a field like science fiction. He wasn’t kidding. So I wasn’t kidding either when I replied in a very sweet, ladylike tone that I was interested in children, and family, and relationships—and I wanted to explore what was going to happen to them in a future dominated by aggressive male ideas.
About this time, an editor rejected a story, telling me he just couldn’t believe in its science underpinning. I had—as usual—done copious research, and everything I’d speculated about was either on the horizon or perhaps already being done in secret experiments somewhere. I don’t usually write “dear jerk” letters to editors who reject my work, but I couldn’t get past the conviction he would never have doubted the science if a man had written the story. I drew up a two-page list citing my sources and sent it to him, just so he’d know for the future that women can do research and write science too.
Then one day, a scientist from JPL cornered me at a convention. He wanted to talk about my use of the Everett interpretation in my first novel. He took me seriously. (I was so primed for another battle, I nearly missed that.)
Are we there yet?
Sheila Finch is the author of eight science fiction novels and numerous short stories that have appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Amazing, Asimov’s, Fantasy Book, and many anthologies. A collection of the “lingster” stories recently appeared as The Guild of Xenolinguists. A non-fiction work, Myth, Metaphor, and Science Fiction, will be published this year from Aqueduct Press. Her work has won several awards, including a Nebula for Best Novella, the San Diego Book Award for Juvenile Fiction, and the Compton-Crook Award for Best First Novel. Sheila taught creative writing at El Camino College for thirty years and at workshops around California. She lives in Long Beach, with two long-haired cats whose fur keeps getting into the keyboard because they like to monitor what she’s writing. Her website can be found at: http://sff.net/people/sheila-finch.