Personal Essay: "Science Fiction: You’re Doin’ It Wrong" by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
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. This essay is by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff.
"Science Fiction: You’re Doin’ It Wrong"
I am one of the women wreaking wholesale havoc on SF. Worse, I am a repeat offender.
ANALOG’s longtime editor, Stan Schmidt, has told me he’s lost subscriptions over my work. I knew this before I attended my first Worldcon in 1992 and was still gob-smacked when a couple of fellows cornered me at a party and explained, at length, why I had never written a word of real, hard science fiction in my life and, therefore, did not belong in the pages of ANALOG. This was after only half-a-dozen stories. I’m at two dozen and counting.
I’ve frequently sat next to Stan Schmidt on “Women in SF” panels at which he publicly expressed chagrin that we were still talking about gender and genre. Ironically, at Renovation in 2011, a man in the audience opined that it was a dead issue. He then proceeded to discuss how women had changed SF.
Apparently, there is something about the way we women write the genre that “softens” it. In our hands, it focuses more on characters and their feelings than on science. Men write hardware; women write software.
My first story in ANALOG was “Hand-me-down Town” which explored a solution to homelessness. Yes, I wrote about feelings—the feelings of the homeless about being homeless, the feelings of the people trying to help them and the feelings of the people trying to banish them through zoning ordinances.
Stan got fan mail for that piece from a nurse and a social worker who applauded my humanizing of the subject. He also drew criticism: “Not science fiction!” detractors cried. To which he replied, “Sociology is, too, a science” and asked me to write more.
I did. “A Little Bit of an Eclipse” was hard SF about a lunar eclipse ... sort of. Well, okay, it was a humorous tale of a scheister alien who steals the moon which, I quickly realized, made me doubly a purveyor of mayhem. Not only was I a female writing science fiction, I was a female writing FUNNY science fiction.
My hero, Ray Bradbury, wrote that SF is our way of making reality behave by pretending to look the other way—our attempt to solve current problems by shifting them in time and space. Humanity’s current problems, you may have noticed, are not mostly hardware-related. They are software bugs. They are about us humans and the way we react to our shared world—a world we are building day by day. A bit more than half of us are female. Which means that, by any logic, if our half of the human race is to help make reality behave, we must do it in a way that speaks to the things we believe to be essential to the process of world-building.
To be frank, if science fiction were only about the hardware, I wouldn’t write it. I find the software—the doers of science, both men and women—ever so much more interesting.
Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff is the New York Times Bestselling author of STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI and STAR WARS: SHADOW GAMES. She became addicted to science fiction when her dad let her stay up late to watch THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Mom was horrified. Dad was unrepentant. Maya slept with a night-light in her room until she was fifteen.
She started her writing career sketching science fiction comic books in the last row of her third grade classroom. She was never apprehended. Since then her short fiction has been published in ANALOG, AMAZING STORIES, CENTURY, REALMS OF FANTASY, INTERZONE, PARADOX and JIM BAEN’S UNIVERSE.
Her debut novel, THE MERI (Baen), was a Locus Magazine 1992 Best First Novel nominee (now available as a trade paperback from Sense of Wonder Press). Since, she has published ten more speculative fiction novels, including collaborations with Marc Scott Zicree and Michael Reaves.
Maya lives in San Jose where she writes, performs, and records original and parody (filk) music with her husband and awesome musician and music producer, Chef Jeff Vader, All-Powerful God of Biscuits. The couple has produced five music albums: RETROROCKET SCIENCE, ALIENS ATE MY HOMEWORK, and GRATED HITS (parody), and the original music CDs MANHATTAN SLEEPS and Mobius Street. To top it off, they’ve also produced three musical children: Alex, Kristine, and Amanda.