I’ve read a lot of Science Fiction in my life–but honestly I haven’t read a lot of it in the last ten years or so. No particular reason why; mostly because I spent much of the 1990s taken with thrillers and a good part of the aughts engrossed in Women’s Contemporary Fiction when I wasn’t rerereading Harry Potter or knee deep in researching one of my three partially completed magnum opi. I can tell you anything you want to know about the History of Medicine, Herbcraft in Wales, Armenian Genocide and the Amish.
After reading and loving Anathem in the first part of the year I’ve felt a growing compulsion to return to Sci Fi wholeheartedly and last week I finally gave in. The first thing I did was to rectify a long-standing error and finally read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation.
Which brings us to the point of this blog entry.
Since Foundation is a decades-old masterwork, I sincerely doubt I’m the first person to point this out. I suspect, in fact, that I’m the umptillionth. Nevertheless, point it out I shall. And cry “foul”.
Asimov was a certified genius, a big wheel on the board of Mensa, a biochemist and one of the grandfathers of the Science Fiction genre as we know it today. His Foundation novel (I’ve read just the first one, although I understand there are nearly a dozen more) is about a, well, a foundation designed to bridge the gap between the fall of one great empire and the rise of another. The Foundation is put in place by a genius prognosticator to engineer society in such a way as to hasten the coming renaissance. There’s a lot of tommyrot about mathematical trendcasting and psychology and of course there’s the usual (topic for another day) false religion.
What there are none of–and I mean NONE–are WOMEN. The novel actually takes the form of a daisychain of short stories showing how society reinvents itself during a dark age. Each short story shows men jumping through various hoops to mold society in the more enlightened direction. In more than one case a woman would have been useful, but aside from a brief appearance in the prologue where they serve as mere baggage for the men to take into exile there isn’t a woman in sight.
Needing a more modern take I set Foundation aside and dove into David Weber’s Safehold series. I’m about twelve percent of the way through the first book, Off Armageddon Reef, and loving it. But of course there’s the usual disappointment in that the strong female protagonist needs to become male in order to fit in. Luckily (?), she’s a robot who only has to make a few aftermarket adjustments to pass. While I’m glad that we at least get a semblance of her female consciousness I’m still aggrieved to see the truth driven home.
Science Fiction is a boys’ club. Women simply don’t factor in unless they’re Asian Scientists, Hot Lesbian Fighter Pilots, Cybernetic Organisms or Aliens. Whenever a woman takes center stage in SciFi, the unwritten rule is that she must remain cloaked in a degree of Otherness. She cannot be relateable, she can only be objectified.
It bothers me that genre fiction has splintered along these lines. Women seem to have Romance novels which, you’ll forgive me, don’t often much challenge the intellect. (Straining credulity doesn’t count.) Men seem to have SciFi which does present intriguing intellectual conundrums but lacks much in the way of believeable representation of interpersonal relationships. If I could stand to write Science Fiction I’d try to change that. But I honestly don’t like working in that space. Maybe that’s the reason why. The larger number of women are busy telling stories about now.