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Guest Post: Why Women and SF? by Tracie Welser

A few days ago, Women Destroy Science Fiction dropped on the internet like a lovebomb, and reactions are rolling in. It seems to have struck a chord!

Predictably, the publication’s release also prompted controversy and dialogue about the inclusiveness of the field of science fiction (examples of which can be seen in the #WDSF hashtag on Twitter).

I’m incredibly stoked to be a part of this project, and it’s got me thinking, why SF?

  1. Why does this genre, one that’s been fairly unfriendly to women, hold such appeal for us?
  2. Why do we want to write in this particular genre?

I asked four of the five editors (including two Inkpunks) these questions, and here’s what they had to say.

Christie Yant, Guest Editor:

1. Because the future is ours collectively. And maybe for women and other marginalized groups, the future holds even brighter promise, because there is more to be changed for the better.

2. Writing in SF was a gamble for me–I’d always been a fantasist until a few years ago. I had to be shown that the narrow definition of science fiction I’d grown up with (basically Heinlein and Asimov) was outdated. The first SF story I ever wrote was about a sentient suit of power armor, which is about as far from my usual fairy tales-and-folklore stuff as you can get. I tried it because I was asked to; now I continue to write SF because the ideas are more compelling to me, the “what if”s are about a future that could happen.

Wendy N. Wagner, Managing Editor for Lightspeed and Nonfiction Editor for WDSF:

1. Science fiction is fun! It’s completely about the what-if’s, but there’s a thin veneer of plausibility that lets me sink more deeply into the world than, say, something with a supernatural or a magical element. In that respect, it’s wonderfully escapist.

But SF is also intellectually stimulating. I find myself thinking about the scientific elements and looking up information and rationally evaluating the ideas. It can be very engaging.

I also really like the way human issues can be examined within SF. Sometimes a social issue is just too close to home to really look at in a realistic setting. But in SF, there’s a little bit of a remove that let’s us think about dangerous ideas in a way that feels somehow safe. Like in Stranger in a Strange Land, thinking about cannibalism is logical and really quite sweet, whereas in a story set in Detroit, it would just feel weird. Or look at The Handmaid’s Tale–just thinking about a patriarchal, repressive theocracy in America makes me want to smash things, but I can read about it in a future dystopia, and even discuss and analyze it, without my head exploding.

2. I like writing SF for the same reasons I like reading it. I think the best way to critique the present is to project it into the future and examine the natural outcomes of our culture and ways of living. I think that kind of critique is really important and very inspirational. There are a lot of philosophical and sociological ideas that have really been developed because of their appearance in SF–just think about Ray Bradbury and George Orwell and Shirley Jackson and Ursula K. Le Guin. Their books have given us so many great ways to talk about conformity and society and gender. I’m very proud to be a part of that tradition. And I just think it’s fun to try to build a world that obeys real-world physical laws but functions in very different ways! I find it really enjoyable.

Robyn Lupo, Flash Fiction Editor

1. Should I tell you about the time I cried when I realized I’d never go to space? I think I was 12 and watching a re-run of Star Trek. And it just hit me that I wasn’t born in the right time, that these strange new worlds would be for some other kids down the line. So, I read Allan Dean Foster’s Glory Lane, for the nth time (no cover, middle pages ready to wander off) and consoled myself with the fact that I might get picked up by an alien sometime maybe. SF was better than home, it was my place to be me. I wasn’t at all cognizant of women not being welcome in SF until around the time I realized I wouldn’t be going space – I wonder now if the two are connected. I didn’t feel put off by people not wanting my girlness there, sometimes I wasn’t sure I wanted my girlness, myself! I wasn’t about to be moved from my spot, though. Science fiction has always been first about hope, for me. Of alien abduction, of bombastic fantastic things happening, and it would have taken at least some sort of mechanized giant lizard to get me to stop living there.

2. It’s so broad. Huge. Zombies, aliens, mutants – I mean, perhaps they’re all versions of The Other for us and we shouldn’t be astonished by the breadth, and I feel like that breadth in plot points is reflected in the variety of the types of tales. And it’s such a rich environment for fresh mashups – I mean, space westerns. Right?

Rachel Swirsky, Reprints Editor

1. One of the anecdotes that gets passed around is that when people asked Octavia Butler why she wrote science fiction, she said, “Black people have a future, too.” So do women. And while there are many other iterations of science fiction, one of its modes has always been to project social problems into the future, either to imagine solutions, failures, or both. A lot of classic feminist SF especially falls into those categories with memorable examples like The Handmaid’s Tale and Woman on the Edge of Time. What are our problems now? How can we solve them? What will happen if we don’t? People whose embodied lives involve those social questions will naturally gravitate toward being interested in them.

2. I think it’s difficult for me to separate out the impulse to write from the impulse to read. Women have a future, too. I want to read it; I want to imagine it. And one really cool thing about being a writer is that when I share my writing, I’m entering a conversation with the people who’ve written earlier, and the ideas can get all mixed up and go back-and-forth in a way that is usually exciting, and occasionally frustrating, but definitely feeds into my desire to write.

My conclusions? Science fiction is a literature of ideas, and that means anyone’s ideas. It’s the literature of dreams and hopes for the future, and that’s inherently political. But it’s also a playground, and we want to play in the sandbox, too.

Tracie Welser is a graduate of the 2010 Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her recent publications include “A Body Without Fur” (May/June 2012 Interzone) and “Her Bones, Those of the Dead” (Outlaw Bodies), “A Flag Still Flies Over Sabor City,” (January/February 2013 Interzone), “A Doll is Not a Dumpling,” (March/April 2014 Interzone) and “‘The Status Quo Cannot Hold’”: A Few Words from Women who Wrote/Are Writing the Goddamn Book on Destroying Science Fiction,” in Women Destroy Science Fiction. You can find her online at This Is Not An Owl and twitter: @traciewelser.

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