Women in Speculative Fiction Part 4: Sofia Samatar

Posted: March 29, 2015 in Books, Culture, Interviews, Personalities, Science fiction, Writers
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samatarphotoNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the fourth part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Sofia Samatar is the author of the novel “A Stranger in Olondria,” the Hugo and Nebula nominated short story “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” and other works. She is the winner of the John W. Campbell Award, the Crawford Award, and the British Fantasy Award. Sofia is a co-editor for “Interfictions: A Journal of Interstitial Arts,” and teaches literature and writing at California State University Channel Islands.

I don’t know whether things are worse for women in speculative fiction than they are for women in mainstream or literary fiction. What I do know is what everybody knows, if they pay attention: that the publishing industry, in both of these genres, is male dominated. It is also white dominated, and privileges heterosexist and ableist narratives. These inequalities create the atmosphere in which we work. To speak as a woman in speculative fiction specifically, the inequality creates a situation in which you know certain things in advance. Even if you’ve never been harassed at a con, you know it happens, and that knowledge shapes your interactions with other professionals. You know that you’re statistically less likely to rise to prominence than a male writer, to draw attention, to make people listen.

All of this explains why the past year stands out. This was the year Ann Leckie swept everything — award after award, it was amazing! All the Nebula award winners were women. This is also the year the folks at “Lightspeed Magazine” made ten times their goal amount with the “Women Destroy Science Fiction” Kickstarter, enabling them to do “Women Destroy Fantasy” and “Women Destroy Horror” as well. Now, that whole series started in response to the sexist notion, which some people actually hold, that women are destroying these genres. But the immense interest in the series, and the energy around it, shows that there’s a significant number of people who believe the opposite.

It might just be a coincidence. This could be the year we all look back at like “Hey, remember that year a bunch of women got attention?” But I really don’t think so. I think that transformation comes in waves, each one bigger than the last, and that this is a particularly big one. It will probably recede, but things won’t go back to the way they were. Every woman writing science fiction now is looking at Ann Leckie. Each change makes the next change possible. That’s why, all things considered, this is a pretty great time to be a woman in speculative fiction.

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