Personal Essay: "Women are the Future of Science Fiction" by Juliette Wade
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. The following essay is by Juliette Wade.
"Women are the Future of Science Fiction"
I fell backward into science fiction after years of reading, writing, and submitting. One day, Stanley Schmidt bought a story from me and published it in ANALOG, and I became a science fiction author.
That story was the only one I'd written that I considered science fiction. It had humans and aliens and spaceships. But as I corresponded with Stanley Schmidt and was welcomed heartily at the Analog forum, I realized people didn't care as much about those superficial trappings. They cared about the sciences behind my stories, linguistics and anthropology. Then when I looked back at everything I'd written, I realized they were all science fiction stories. They were about science, written with strict attention to scientific principle. This wasn't an accident; I was a science fiction writer.
My sciences were never the "hard" sciences. Social sciences are generally considered "soft" in academia, and yes, that means feminine. I found that ironic at best, coming out of linguistics, a discipline that uses scientific notation—and even chaos theory—to grapple with language phenomena. Anthropology has grown out of a deeply problematic history of colonialism, but is now finding itself in a world of cultural relativism and feminism. This was fascinating to me—not just to capture the perspectives of Others as an anthropologist, but to consider the discipline itself through an anthropological eye.
In the science fiction community, I've discovered a diverse community of writers and editors, of multiple genders and ethnicities. I've also discovered social complexity, and battles over borderlines. What is the difference between fantasy and science fiction? What is "hard" science fiction? Many of these discussions boil down to a sadly familiar question: who counts? And the answer to that question depends on whom you ask.
I have always felt welcome in this field. With ANALOG on my side, I feel confident declaring myself a writer of "hard" science fiction. I love how people come to me to talk about ideas. Some have even written me letters in alien dialects I've invented. I have many powerful women role models, too, like Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, and Connie Willis. However, I clearly see the places in the genre where women aren't welcome. I see harassment happening at conventions and online. I see articles belittling or ridiculing women's accomplishments. I have also become aware of back room discussions where career-advancing friendships are made, the future of science fiction is discussed—and women are not invited.
We must make our own deals, our own success, because we are the future of science fiction. People sometimes ask, "Is science fiction dying?" We live in the future, the argument goes, and technology is taken for granted, while the cutting edge of science has become too complex and esoteric. I couldn't disagree more. Science fiction has never been about the superficial trappings. It's about discovery, and change, about reflecting on our own society by envisioning the future. Diversity and feminism are the cutting edge, because they are the great discovery that will change our society—the discovery that some people have yet to make. The world of social science, of language, culture, and power, has always lain at the core of science fiction. Now it is coming into its own, and we must lead, bringing our genre into a new future.
Juliette Wade has made four appearances in ANALOG magazine, two on the cover, where her most recent story was illustrated by Michael Whelan for the October 2012 issue. She is inspired in her writing by her experience living in Japan and France, and her studies of Japanese, Anthropology, and Linguistics. She blogs about language and culture in SF/F at TalkToYoUniverse (http://talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com), and runs the "Dive into Worldbuilding!" hangout series on Google. In 2014 she'll be leading the first issue of STRAEON with her story "Lady Sakura's Letters," and appearing again in ANALOG with "Mind Locker."