Personal Essay: "Breaching the Gap" by Brooke Bolander
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 Brooke Bolander.
"Breaching the Gap"
Unlike a lot of you, my fantastic voyage didn't start until some point in or around 1995. Science I've always loved; from five years old onwards I wanted to be a paleontologist, and nothing in the intervening years caused my digging urges to dry up. The first thing I ever clearly remember reading, at the age of three or so, was a children's book on Roy Chapman Andrews and his trip to the Gobi Desert to excavate the fossilized nests of Protoceratops. Science fiction, however ... well. Innocuous stuff like FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR, BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED, and SHORT CIRCUIT I could get away with watching, but my fundamentalist mother was convinced little gray aliens were actually little gray demons from the bowels of Dis, and so my exposure was severely limited.
At least until 1995 and THE X-FILES.
As you'll all no doubt be shocked to learn, I was something of a lonely, outcast nerd in junior high. As many a lonely, outcast nerd has done before and since, I retreated to the comforting cloisters of my bedroom on Friday nights. When ruining my eardrums with loud music and my eyeballs with JRPGs got too boring, I turned to my old babysitter, the television.
Scully was strong, stronger than any other woman I'd seen in sci-fi. She was icy and arch and logical. She was a scientist, but sometimes she did impulsive, self-destructive shit, like everybody does once in awhile. Her belly was soft in spots, but by no means was she ever portrayed as weak. Her relationship with Mulder was built on mutual love and respect, not some vapid MOONLIGHTING “GOTTA GET ME A MAN AND GET LAID” headlong hormonal charge into non-autonomy. In short, she was shown as a fucking human being. Feminine without resorting to cliches, smart without implying that razor intelligence lessened her somehow as a woman.
I connected with that character in a way I'd never, ever connected with a fictional character before. I didn't even know you could identify with a made-up person that closely. I was a voracious reader as a child, but Scully just about broke my young heart.
Science fiction has always been to me, at its core, about relationships and the ways we interact with one another. The best of it—the stuff that sticks with you, the stuff you don't forget an hour after watching or reading—has goddamned heart. There's nothing more alien or unknowable than another person's thoughts. We travel through the world in insulated ships made of meat and bone. If you're lucky, you make contact with others. If you're extraordinarily lucky, you manage to find someone who understands you.
And if you are very, very lucky (we're talking lottery numbers and shipwreck survivors, here), you learn to put down words in such a way as to tell stories that everyone gets. Think about how phenomenal that is, to be able to connect with that many people. You're making contact with alien intelligences. You're breaching the gap.
Thanks for teaching me about that possibility, Scully. Thanks, Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin. If it weren't for amazing, trail-breaking, iconoclastic women, both fictional and gloriously real, I wouldn't be writing this today. I gratefully stand on the shoulders of Amazons.
Brooke Bolander attended the University of Leicester 2004-2007 studying History and Archaeology and is an alum of the 2011 Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UCSD. Her work has been featured in LIGHTSPEED, STRANGE HORIZONS, NIGHTMARE, REFLECTION’S EDGE, and the Prime Books anthology ALIENS: RECENT ENCOUNTERS. She can be reached at @BBolander for the Twitter-inclined.