Personal Essay: "Never Think of Yourself as Less" by Helena Bell
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 Helena Bell.
"Never Think of Yourself as Less"
Last spring I got a voicemail on my phone from an unknown number. After listening to it, I said, more to myself than to my parents who happened to be in the room with me, "My story has been nominated for the Nebula Award."
"Oh," my father said. "Is that good?'
My mother immediately went to the shelf and started pulling down books: Kevin J. Anderson, Frank Herbert, Orson Scott Card.
"Here," she said. "Look." And she showed him back covers and inside flaps: writers my father had heard of mentioning here and there that yes, they too had once been nominated for or won a Nebula.
"Yes," she said. "It's good.
It was my mother who read the Timothy Zahn STAR WARS novels to my brother and me as bedtime stories. She's the one who bought me a copy of JURASSIC PARK when I was ten, then CONGO, SPHERE, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN.
She gave me other books too, of course: BLACK BEAUTY, THE LITTLE PRINCESS, ALL the MISTY books. But we always veered slowly back into Science Fiction.
Yet there was no Ursula K. Le Guin in her recommendations. No Russ, Tiptree, Asaro, or Bujold. By the time I finally started reading speculative short fiction, I could name a dozen favorite female poets, female literary writers, and essayists ... But not a single female science fiction writer other than Ursula K Le Guin, whom I only really knew thanks to A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA.
It's taken me years to slowly correct the course I was set upon, lovingly, by my mother. Last spring may have been the first time that she'd read any Science Fiction by women, as she quickly devoured all the stories nominated in my category. She liked Cat Rambo's story a lot. Less so Aliette's story “Immersion,” because I told her it would win and, well, she's still my mom.
So no. She didn't hand me a battered copy of THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS or scour the SF section in the bookstore for female sounding names in order to broaden my (and her) reading tastes. She gave me the books she knew, that had been recommended to her by the few other people she knew who read SF—all of whom were men.
But she gave me LOTS of them. As many as I could read. SF, Fantasy, horse books, princess books, Nancy Drew and Judy Blume. And when my teachers wrote on my report card "Helena is very bright, but sometimes she reads during class when she should be paying attention," she just laughed and bought me more.
"Never let a teacher tell you to read less," she said. Or to write less. To dream less. To think of yourself as less.
So thanks, Mom. For everything.
Helena Bell is a writer living in Raleigh, NC where she is an MFA Candidate in Fiction at North Carolina State University. She is a graduate of the Clarion West Workshop and her work has appeared in CLARKESWORLD, THE INDIANA REVIEW, and ELECTRIC VELOCIPEDE. Her short story "Robot" was a nominee for the Nebula Award in 2012.