Personal Essay: "Where Are My SF Books?" by DeAnn Knippling
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 DeAnn Knippling.
"Where Are My SF Books?"
A lot of the things I know now about women and SF, I didn't learn until my daughter was old enough to start reading chapter books. The two don't really seem to connect, do they? Chapter books (or early reader books) are for kids age 6-8ish, and they're deadly dull. I'm sorry. I'm sure there are people out there who love magic tree house and that ilk with a passion, but we had trouble getting through them, reading them together. I turned to other books. What was I reading when I was that age? I couldn't remember, really, but I dipped back as far as I could into my memories, for things like THE HOBBIT and Narnia and Heinlein and Piers Anthony and whatnot.
My daughter wasn't interested in the things that I loved. Especially the SF.
She wanted adventure books (not that slow old Hobbit stuff), and she wanted books about girls. She did not see why she had to put up with boy main characters. Or boring stuff about girls, for that matter (Narnia? A snoozer). She had all kinds of other options than reading—so why waste her time on something that wasn't at least as good as THE POWERPUFF GIRLS?
That's when it started to snap into place.
SF was: a) All about Boys, b) Very Literary, or c) Not Otherwise Accessible to Kids. I'm not talking "not appropriate for kids," in the sense of being frightened of finding dirty words or sex. We ended up finding and liking Tamora Pierce, thank you very much, and have been vastly entertained by many inappropriate things since then. But on the SF side—not so much. The Giver went over well eventually, and so did A WRINKLE IN TIME. But I had a horrible time finding other things. I could have looked harder; I could have found other SF she might have liked. But in the end, we ended up with a great deal more fantasy than anything else. And liked it.
At the same time, I was realizing that I was reading far, far less SF. On the one hand, I wasn't reading it because I was digging into other genres, because I'm learning to write, and often when you're learning, it's easier to process hard lessons when you're not picking apart the things you love best. But on the other hand, I was finding the same problems that my daughter did: a) All about Boys, b) Very Literary, or c) Not Otherwise Accessible to ME.
I buy a lot of books every year, and I plow through scads more via the library.
Where are my SF books?
I could dig down deep and find them (and I have in many cases). But what they should be doing is sitting right at the top of the lists—the award lists, the bestseller lists. Fantasy's figured this out. So has ... pretty much every other genre. Except Westerns. And it's easy to see how well those sell.
You know what's selling like hotcakes right now for SF? Young adult SF ... with some female protagonists, more action than literary, and all kinds of accessible, from realistic character flaws and a focus on science that's engaging rather than alienating and asking hard questions having to do with society instead of taking an easy way out. Admittedly, I think the YA stuff skews too far for female leads—look, we're trying to get ALL the readers to grow up loving the genre—but that's another topic, for another day. Right now I just want to know where my books are ... and why they aren't helping print SF in general hit the top of everyone's lists.
DeAnna Knippling, at the behest of her daughter, secretly writes pulp adventure fiction for kids (she tries to stick to about half boys and half girls) under the name De Kenyon (her daughter comes up with the best ideas). She also writes adult fiction under her own name as well as doing design and editing work. She has recently appeared in CROSSED GENRES, BLACK STATIC, BIG PULP, and more. She reads submissions for LIGHTSPEED and dreams one day of editing a middle-grade pulp magazine with stories that would curl the hair on a Peterbald cat. You can find her at www.WonderlandPress.com.