Tag Archives: science fiction

The Gender Bias in Books

Last week, a coworker left me speechless. I was reading my book at lunch when she asked me what I was reading (I hate when people interrupt me that way, but you’re not allowed to be huffy about it!). I was reading Abaddon’s Gate and was about to start telling her how much I enjoyed it when she asked: “Is that science fiction?” This, honest to goodness, is how that conversation progressed from there:

“Yeah, it is.”

“Oh… Does your husband science fiction?”

“Oh yeah, my husband and I both love it, and–”

“Did you like it before you met him?”

“…uh, well, yeah, I mean, it was practically a requirement for me to–”

“Oh.” (pauses, biting her lip) “Well, it’s lucky you found a husband who liked it. I guess it’s probably easier for a woman to find a man like that than the other way around, though!”

I think I gave her this face:

Apparently being a woman and liking science fiction means I’m basically unmarriable and should be incredibly lucky that I found a forgiving man to marry me.

And if that were it, that would be one thing. I could shrug off one lady as just being kinda crazy.

And then author Catherine Nichols wrote about her query experiment—she sent her exact same book and exact same query letter to agents under a male name. And the male version of her got far, FAR more favorable responses than her real name.

Read about it here.

Here is one of the more salient points:

Total data: George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.

And even the rejections she got were more favorable, with more long-form responses and positive reactions.

This article—particularly following those outdated, sexist comments from my coworker—just was a real punch in the gut. I may be getting tanked before a single word is written, all because of unconscious (or perhaps a little bit conscious) bias on the part of the agents, the very first gatekeepers in the traditional publishing journey.

Bias against female authors in sci-fi/horror is part of why I use my initials with my book, Undead Rising. But I thought that was just for the reader who may be wary of a “girly” book…I had no idea that this sort of bias had leeched all the way through the system. But I can’t say I’m truly that surprised. Publishing is one of the most opaque, challenging industries, with a convoluted process and a lot of gut feel on the part of agents and editors in determining who gets in the door. And with the recent events at the Hugo Awards, I think there is a good reason to be concerned.

I used to sign my query letters with my name, thinking it would be more personal and therefore welcoming for the agent on the other end. I thought I was improving my odds by being warm and friendly. But perhaps I need to switch to only using my initials there, too; perhaps that is what it will take for my fiction to get a fair shake (especially as the book I’m querying is either sci-fi or literary fiction…both genres which carry a reputation as a boys’ club).

I’m deeply frustrated by this revelation, and sure, it’s one woman’s experiment with a relatively small sample. But her results are huge. I hope it leads to some careful thought in literary circles.

Do you see a bias in publishing? What should we do about it?

Leave a comment

Filed under Feminism, Publishing, writing

Review: Abaddon’s Gate

Abaddon's Gate (Expanse, #3)Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another riveting book in the Expanse series! Only pick these books up when you’ve got some time to read, because otherwise you’ll stay up too late to read “just one more page.”
Abaddon’s Gate follows in the footsteps of Caliban’s War, dealing with the ongoing repercussions of the discovery of the protomolecule by Capt. James Holden and his crew.

And, as is now typical, things get bad fast—the mysterious molecule has constructed a large portal. To where?

For what purpose? Is something coming…or are humans being called?
We’re introduced to a new set of characters for this group, including a no-nonsense security chief, an annoying socialite along for the ride, and a minister who just can’t stop helping people, even when it means putting her life at risk. Through these characters–particularly Pastor Anna–Abaddon’s Gate reaches out to try to explore some of the greater mysteries of life: what is our purpose? How should we interact with each other? Is there a God in all the great expanse of the universe? If there are hyper-intelligent alien species, what does it mean for Earth and for religion?

Sidenote: I love that a character is gay with a family and that it is absolutely no big deal at all. Hurrah for a more inclusive future!

It’s an interesting book, if a little more philosophical and yet action-oriented than the prior two. While I still very much enjoyed it and would recommend it to sci-fi fans, this story just didn’t resonate with me quite as much as the first two. I even found a handful of glaring editing mistakes, adding to my feeling that this one was a smidge rushed. I miss some of the characters we’ve met before (though they do get notable mentions). Some parts were a little far-out, which is hard to believe when we’re dealing with hyper-advanced space-zombie-making molecules.

It’s still absolutely worth the read, but I’m hoping the next book in the series “gels” a little better.

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: The Martian

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Martian is a gem, an instant science-fiction classic that will blow your mind and make you long for (and fear) space travel. If this book (and its soon-to-be-produced movie) isn’t enough to reignite interest in NASA’s Mars mission, I don’t know what will.

The plot is simple: Mars astronaut Mark Watney is left behind on Mars after an accident; he is on his own to survive until NASA can figure out a way to pick him up…years later.

What’s particularly amazing is that with any other author, this book could have been an exhausting, emotionally-draining beat-down. It could have focused on how much it would suck to be totally alone on Mars; Watney could have spent the whole book being a pathetic, barely-surviving drag.

But “The Martian” is surprisingly funny, the kind of funny that means you’ll be laughing aloud and poking your spouse to share it with him. Watney is completely sarcastic, a naturally buoyant personality who, when faced with adversity, says, This is going to suck, but I am going to survive, damnit.
And then he’ll name rock formations on Mars after himself and declare himself King of Mars. And maybe institute worship of duct tape.

Another way this book distinguishes itself from pretty much all fiction is how clearly it was written by a science- and math-inclined mind. Author Andy Weir saves the reader from all the equations, but it is no less clear that there is intense math right under the surface; he even provides the variables used, in case another math-inclined person wants to try to figure it out, too. Most science-fiction, it need not be said, is more of the fiction, less of the science. But Weir is a world-class nerd of the best kind, and the hard science backbone to “The Martian” is what makes it so utterly believable.

“The Martian” is an outstanding book. What may make it truly great is its ability to transcend normal book-readers and reach those who care about hard numbers, math, and science, as well as those who could use a good laugh. It’s first-class writing that makes me believe we can send a man to Mars (but hopefully not leave him there).

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading, Reviews, Science

The Beautiful Mythos of Mad Max

I felt obligated to see Mad Max: Fury Road, honestly. It is, after all, a dystopian movie with a wasteland world.

It turns out it’s also an incredible testament to practical effects and explosions, but what most interested me about the film was the brilliant mythos of the world.

This was my first exposure to the world of Mad Max, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. To sum up, if you haven’t seen it yet: the world has been destroyed, probably by nuclear warfare, leaving the environment a raw desert. The title character, Max, is a taciturn man haunted by the mistakes of his past, reduced to bare survival on his own; he’s practically feral. What little of left of what could be called society is a place known as The Citadel run by a bad, gross dude known was Immorten Joe (he would probably be best buddies with Jabba the Hutt). Immorten Joe has a stranglehold on a reserve of water, and therefore owns all the pathetic, misshapen humans who make up the Citadel.

The brilliance–and my favorite part–is that Joe has begun to develop a religion of sorts, with himself and the high-powered scavenged vehicles at his command at the pinnacle. Immorten Joe has convinced an army of young men–too young to remember what really happened to destroy the earth–that they are righteous warriors for their god (Immorten Joe, of course). Much like the real-world beserkers, or any drug-addicted crazy person in the 20th century, the WarDogs will try insane stunts to prove their valor and earn a place in Valhalla, welcomed by the revered Immorten Joe himself.

This is worth the watch for itself. Director George Miller uses this to answer “why would a man drive into a crazy lightning sandstorm with nothing but a pair of goggles to protect him?” Because, of course, he thinks he’s serving a higher power. He believes, to the core of his being, that his body is worthless, that he has no hope without his leader, and that his life is best served by his destruction.

Without the mythos that is baked into the background of the movie, nothing else would work. It’s not like anyone has to stop and explain any of this clearly complex theology/cult-speak to the viewer; it just happens, and we the audience see the appeal of the smoke, the fire, the shiny chrome of Valhalla and want to see more.

Did you see Mad Max? What did you think?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Zombies Are Coming! (Zombie Simulator)

How long could you survive the zombie apocalypse? Thanks to this zombie simulator, you can plop a zombie down into the American city of your choice, set a few variables, and wait to see how long it would take for the zombie plague to get to you. If you play long enough, you can also figure out where a zombie plague might slow down or get “stuck”–these places would make excellent spots to hide out!
At the default setting, I feel pretty safe. I put a zombie in New York and it took well over a month to get to me here in Texas.
That said, this simulator isn’t perfect: the biggest gap is that it assumes all zombies will be exclusively on foot. I guess we’re supposed to hope that not a single person changes while riding a bus, car, train, or plane? It only takes one, and then you’ve got multiple vectors to worry about!
I think it’s also assumed that this is an exclusively human zombie virus; it’s a whole ‘nothing consideration if it could jump species! Avian zombie plague, anyone? (That would be an awesome new version of The Birds though!)
How long will you survive?

Undead Rising coverNot enough zombies in this post? Go buy Undead Rising: Decide Your Destiny, available in print and on Kindle. Your choices shape the story! When you die in the book, sometimes you rise again as a zombie, unlocking new adventures.


Filed under Uncategorized

Review: Caliban’s War

Caliban's War (Expanse, #2)Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vomit zombies, a missing child, a possibly sentient planet, a foul-mouthed grandmother politician, dirty-dealing intra-galaxy feuds, a kickass Polynesian warrior, a noble rogue spaceship captain, a brilliant scientist on the edge of despair—this book has everything you could want and more. It’s an engrossing space epic that lives up to the expectations of the first book and leads you desperate for the next one.
If you’re a fan of modern sci-fi shows like Firefly or Battlestar Galactica, and yearn for the depth offered by Asimov or the wicked-cool ideas about how real people would operate in space like in Ender’s Game, this is a book–a series!–you’ll need to pick up.

Following the first (also excellent) book Leviathan’s Wake, Caliban’s War opens with the personal drama of a kidnapped girl and the reappearance of a monster that can survive in the void of space and quickly spirals out to encompass a battle that stretches from Jupiter to Mars.

Our honorable but now-hardened Captain Holden stumbles into the kidnapping and can’t help himself from vowing to find her. Her father, Prax, a biologist from the solar system’s breadbasket planet on Ganymede, guides the crew of the Rocinante as they hurtle from planet to planet to unravel the mystery: who would kidnap a sick little girl…and many other children? And who unleashed the protomolecule monster that attacked hard-line Martian Marine Bobbie and her entire crew?

It turns out the bad apples from the previous book aren’t quite gone, but this time it’s beyond what Holden’s blurt-to-the-system go-to strategy can handle. Luckily he is saved by the fantastically written Avarasala, a shrewd and calculating–but ultimately good-hearted–politician from Earth (I sure wouldn’t want to get on her bad side!).

There are so many great, well-rounded characters in this book that it’s hard to make space for all of them in this review: just trust me. And still I get the thrill of adventure with the incredible, believable, descriptions of humans trying to accommodate life outside of Earth. Everything from the effects of different gravities on human development to what kind of plants would be most beneficial to grow on a space station, to the cultural issues that may stem from human colonies on vastly different planets–it’s a pleasure.

The only thing I can think to ding in this book is that it’s set in the far-ish future and yet frequently references 20th-century American cultural touchpoints (will Alien really still be relevant when we’re actually living in orbit around Jupiter?) but that’s done for the reader’s benefit, not for the realism. And it’s a heckuva lot of fun, I can’t deny.

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Ender vs. Katniss: Let the Games Begin

Ender Wiggen vs. Katniss Everdeen

When I recently read Ender’s Game, I really wanted to root for him. He is the protagonist, after all! And so many people seem to really idolize him and the book. But perhaps he’s a creation of his time: we have a lot more YA heroes to look up to now!

In that spirit, here’s a head-to-head comparison of Ender Wiggen in Ender’s Game with Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.*
*Note: Just to make it fair, and because I’ve only read one of Orson Scott Card’s books, we’ll hold this to JUST the first book in each series. Also, this is books only.
Name Ender Wiggen Katniss Everdeen
Problem: Problem—Picked as a child to defeat the alien bugger race, because adults say so Has to fight to the death in an arena, because adults say so
Special Talent Being smart Skill with a Bow&Arrow
Character Flaws Accidentally harming others Being generally unlikeable
Age 6-13 16
Setting Future Earth/The Battle School/space Future United States (in the form of Panem)/The Arena
Parents Essentially check out of his life forever. Father deceased; mother mentally absent.
Sister Valentine Prim
Younger Friend Bean Rue
Semi-Friendly Adult Tutor Colonel Graff Haymitch
Adult Who Kinda Cares Mazer Rackem Effie Trinket
“Friends” Alai, Petra, Dink, Shen, Bean Peeta, Rue, Gale, Cinna
People to Fight All the other kids Almost all the other kids, except Rue and Peeta
The Twist Despite thinking he’s been in training, Ender has actually been fighting the buggers…and defeated them. Katniss exploits the system of the Hunger Games to keep, for the first time, two players alive, by defying The Capitol and risking her own life.

Who Wins?

Honestly, when I was reading Ender’s Game, I figured I’d do a post like this, and the “twist ending” would be that Katniss and Ender would instead decide they are so similar that they should just be BFFs, and together they would take down the adults.

But then… the end of Ender’s Game. Ender just keeps letting himself be manipulated, even when he’s an old man! He never really seems to act on his own, in that whole book, so I can only assume that if Ender Wiggen were placed in the Hunger Games with Peeta in that final pivotal moment, he would have killed Peeta because the Gamemakers said so and then felt sad about it.

If placed in Ender’s circumstances, I feel like Katniss would constantly try to rebel against the teachers at Battle School, and would ultimately lead a student rebellion, leading to peace with the distant bugger race.

For that reason, in a direct one-to-one contest, I’ve gotta give it squarely to Katniss Everdeen.

What do you think? Who’s the stronger protagonist?


Filed under Reading

Review: Ender’s Game

Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet, #1)Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ender’s Game is one of those books that everyone just assumes you read in school as assigned reading, then they look shocked when they discover you hadn’t. Well, now I have.

It’s an interesting science-fiction book, and definitely would be classified as “young adult” now. The story–in case you also are late to the party–is about Ender Wiggen, a genius-level boy who is selected by mysterious government men to join the Battle School. These men are entrusted with the care of many such excellent children, with the goal of training them to be perfect soldiers, and, in Ender’s case, the perfect commander, in the human fight against the alien buggers. Because of this, Ender is subjected to trial after trial, both interpersonal as well as intellectual. He is isolated and suffers much. Meanwhile, back at home, his also-genius and somewhat sociopathic siblings Valentine and Peter concoct their own schemes to meddle in Earth politics and gain power…even as children.

The book really shines in the zero-G/null gravity tactical battles, which, according to the preface written by author Orson Scott Card, was what started the whole thing anyway. Card tackles the challenges of combat–distance and hand-to-hand–in three dimensions, adding challenges we just won’t face on Earth (hopefully). It’s easy to see why directors thought this would make a great movie; these scenes are vivid and enthralling.

Otherwise, I found the story a little far-fetched. Ender a super-duper genius at just 6? He certainly doesn’t have interactions like a 6-year-old. I’ll accede that possibly he could be really smart and particularly verbal and accept the language as it is, but even super-geniuses need a certain level of human companionship. I also don’t know that I ever fully bought into the validity of the scheme of isolation to produce leadership, that having no friends was explicitly what was going to make Ender a good leader. Which is one of the main conceits of the book…

Card notes in his preface that, when the book was first published, he received angry letters from parents who claimed no gifted child would talk like that. I’m not sure I see anything that seems totally out of the realm of possibility…not just for gifted children, but for any children. Kids can be sadistic bastards, yo. (And I think we as a culture may have gotten over that squeamishness some, at least in fiction, with Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen, among many others, being highly cogent.)

I love the space stuff, but don’t particularly love the overall message and themes of this book. Perhaps I’m too old to really appreciate the tortured-youth of it; the adults just seem like unforgivable assholes to me.

The ending–the final ending, after the buggers have been defeated–felt so horribly tacked-on and unformed that it really took a lot away from the book for me. It felt like Card desperately wanted a happy ending for this character he unduly tortured but didn’t know how to get there, so slapped together 20 pages of falderal so he can write sequels. While I’m glad I finally read this book, I don’t think I’ll be pursuing the others.

Card’s highly controversial/offensive personal views–he is an active Mormon and has been outspoken about his disgust toward homosexuality, and has been a generous donor to anti-gay marriage folks–is interesting. I bought this book second-hand because I don’t support his views personally and therefore didn’t want extra money going to him, and perhaps that made it top-of-mind for me…but for all that he was anti-homosexuality, his book could very easily be read as including it in a positive way. It’s something the reader would have to bring to the book, so to speak, but there’s an awful lot of male nudity (I wish I’d kept tabs on how often the word “naked” was used!) and there’s a fight scene in a shower featuring highly lathered and soapy naked teenage boys. There are barely two female characters in the whole book; it’s not a huge leap. Worth thinking about, anyway.

(Related: I found it interesting/odd that religion is apparently gone from this Earth at the beginning of the book–banned, it seems–except that Jews are held in high regard, and by the end Ender has inadvertently created a religion? That seemed inconsistent.)

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading, Reviews

Review: Dragonsong

Dragonsong (Harper Hall, #1)Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dragonsong is a quick light read that brings dragons big and small to life. This book would make a great transition for the How to Train Your Dragon lovers out there.

Despite this book having “Volume One” predominantly on the cover, I have no idea if this is the first book in the series or not: it reads like the first book in a variant series off an original, but I had the hardest time figuring out where to start. Since this one claimed to be a volume one, I jumped in here. But I may have guessed wrong.

Interestingly, it claims to be “science fiction,” but aside from the foreward, which tells the reader this takes place in an alternate Earth and mentions some sci-fi mumbo-jumbo, Dragonsong entirely reads like a YA fantasy novel. (In fact, the foreward mostly makes it seem like someone dared author Anne McCaffrey that should couldn’t sell fantasy as sci-fi. I guess she managed it…sorta?)

And that’s not at all a bad thing–particularly because it was written before “young adult” was even a genre.

The story focuses on the awkward and gangly Menolly, a girl from the Sea-Hold, a grim and rough sort of place. She is disparaged for having a talent in music and her parents–the leaders of her Hold–forbid it, for fear of disgracing the hold. After she badly cuts her hand, it seems music is out of the question anyway. In frustration and a fit of teenaged pique, Menolly leaves her home and stumbles into a nest of the secretive and mysterious fire lizards–pocket dragons, essentially. With her clever tunes and kind heart, Menolly wins the trust and adoration of the fire lizards, particularly nine, who follow her and are bonded to her. When she ultimately has to return to civilization out of necessity, she finds people respect and admire her for her skill with the fire lizards, and her music is appreciated rather than castigated.

This is the kind of story that I wish I’d written. I enjoy the storyline very much, but compared to modern similar stories, it’s barely sketched out, there’s not any closure or explanation (why did her father think it was wrong for girls to sing, but later other people think it’s more than ok?), and it just sort of mentions pivotal moments. It feels incomplete or hurried. I wish we could see a much longer version of this, with a great deal of backstory, richness, and detail. I want to know more about the dragons! I want to know why it’s so peculiar that she could impress nine! I want to know why some places are so closed-off but others are super-casual.

I may be in luck: McCaffrey has written a lot about the dragons of Pern, so maybe there is more for me to find out. As an introduction, this book was pleasant, easy, and… relatively insubstantial, more of an appetizer than a meal.

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading, Reviews

Books—Stardate 2364: Literature of Star Trek

Life has thrown up some really crappy events in the past weeks, meaning I’m not only not participating in NaNoWriMo this year but I’ve also missed updating my dear old blog for over a week for the first time in the two years since it was created. So that sucks.

Anyway, to get things rolling again, I present: Literary Moments in Star Trek.

I’m a big fan of Star Trek, particularly Next Generation. It was a family tradition in my house to sit together and watch it after dinner. I’m not sure we actually watched them in order—in fact I’m pretty sure we didn’t and were just at the mercy of the rebroadcast schedule—but it was tradition nonetheless.

That being said, I found this list of book references in the series surprising (except “Time’s Arrow.” I remember that Mark Twain!) Maybe I wasn’t old enough to catch the references: time for a rewatch?

That’s one of the joys of science fiction playgrounds like Star Trek: these shows (and movies, and books, and short stories) give us an excellent way to re-experience something we thought we understood, to provide deeper meaning.

Do you have a favorite book-to-TV crossover moment? (Aside from Wishbone, of course. That show was the bomb.)


Leave a comment

Filed under Reading