In He For She Video Male Writers Discuss the Women In Science Fiction Who Inspire Them
Since 1975, there have been 30 recipients of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, the lifetime honor presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Only four of those 30 were awarded to women. But, as British science fiction novelist Ian McDonald has noted, it's not because there's a lack of talented women writing and editing in the genre. The problem comes down to recognizing that talent. McDonald joins others in a new He for She video in which male science fiction writers talk about the women in science fiction who inspired their own craft.
He for She is a United Nations Women campaign that encourages men to stand in solidarity with women in the fight against gender inequality. Hermione herself Emma Watson serves as the U.N. Women's Goodwill Ambassador and also as our best friend in our collective dreams. The video includes legendary male science fiction writers, including a handful of Science Fiction Grandmasters, McDonald, Joe Haldeman, Simon R. Green, Ian R. MacLeod, and Samuel R. Delany. (If you want to be great at science fiction, you apparently must have a middle name beginning with "R.")
The writers give their two cents on the both underlying and overt sexism in the industry and they delve into the female science fiction writers who continue to act as inspirations.
Todd McCaffrey, is the son of the late science fiction genius Anne McCaffrey. Anne is was the first female writer to earn a Hugo award for fiction and a Nebula award, recognizing the best work of sci-fi and fantasy. Todd talked about his mother's experience as a woman in the male-focused genre, and it was awesome.
[In 1950s science fiction] the purpose of a woman ... was to make the man look good. And scream when the bug-eyed monsters came in. My mother hated that trope and she said, you know, "If a bug-eyed monster was invading my home, I'd find the nearest frying pan and beat the crap out of him!"
So who were their female role models? Not surprisingly, Ursula K. LeGuin was a huge favorite. Haldeman, who famously wrote The Forever War said:
Anybody who is writing sociological science fiction is in the ring with Ursula LeGuin. Nobody goes into that ring expecting to win.
Groundbreaking authors Octavia E. Butler and Andre Norton also played major roles in the writers' lives. But Science Fiction Grand Master Delany admits there is still a sexism problem in his industry and beyond.
The most important political problem in the modern world is the position of women . . . Something has got to be done about it. And if it is not changed in some way, we're not going to survive as a species. It's as simple as that.
In honor of these writers speaking up with He for She, get to know the four writers on their list. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it's a start:
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
The list should take a pause right here. If you are a science fiction fan, or even just a fan of literature and a great story, you need to read A Wizard of Earthsea. Period. It's an icon of the genre and the inspiration for so much science fiction that came after it. I'll wait.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
So maybe Butler herself has called Kindred more "grim fantasy" than science fiction, but it doesn't stop the novel from being one of the groundbreaking works for science fiction writers. Dana time travels from her home in 1976 LA to Maryland in the early 19th century, where she meets her ancestors from very different paths in life: There's Alice, an African American woman forced into slavery, and there's Rufus, a white slave holder.
Butler because the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, aka the Genuis Grant. And no, not first woman sci-fi writer, first overall.
Witch World by Andre Norton
Brush your shoulders off, Norton. She was the first woman to be named a SFWA Grand Master and the first woman to be inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. And now she has an award named after her, the Andre Norton Award, given to outstanding YA works of fantasy and science fiction. If you want to get in with some Norton, start with her Witch World series.
Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
Speaking of firsts, McCaffrey was the first woman to win a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award. She also helped put science fiction on the map; her 1978 book The White Dragon was one of the first ever science fiction novels to make it onto the New York Times bestseller list. You'll have to carve out some time to read her most popular series, Dragonriders of Pern, which caps off at 22 books and several short stories. Our heroine Lessa, a dragonrider, fights the threat of Thread on her society, an agent that rains down destroying all organic material, including humans.
These are only four of the inspirational women in science fiction. We can't forget names like Mary Shelley, Doris Lessing, Lois McMaster Bujold, Madeleine L'Engle, Joanna Russ, Leigh Brackett, C.J. Cherryh, Nalo Hopkinson, C.L. Moore, and the hundreds of others.