It's a good day to be a girl who likes science fiction: the results of the 2015 Nebula Awards winners were released this past weekend, and out of the six categories honored, five of the titles belong to female authors!
The sixth, the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation - rewarding excellence in science fiction writing for the big screen - went to the writing team behind Mad Max: Fury Road, the Oscar success story and box office bombshell, which revitalized an old franchise with a distinctly feminist slant.
This all marks a pretty notable achievement in the realm of female authors, especially in a genre that is typically gendered for male readers. It might be tempting to shrug this set of authors off as a fluke, but in fact, it marks a distinct shift from prevailing attitudes about what kinds of science fiction are worthy of recognition.
Don't believe me? Let's check out this year's finalists and winners from two other notable Science Fiction awards: those distributed by Locus Magazine, and the Hugo Awards.
Locus Magazine - self-described as "The Magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Field" - distributes yearly awards through the Locus Science Fiction Foundation. The finalists were announced on May 3rd, and immediately raised a lot of ire on social media, with plenty of authors - especially those who work in the field of YA - taking to Twitter to voice their dissent.
The problem was, in the YA category - a field dominated by female authors, as well as female readers - not a single female author made it to the list.
While there might be plenty of women in other categories within Locus' field of recognition, the fact that recent notable YA works that definitely identify under the science fiction and fantasy genres have gone completely unrewarded is a pretty significant slap in the face. Especially after multiple YA authors pointed out that the Locus Award for YA has only ever had 3 women win, yet has had 11 men take the title... with Joe Abercrombie, one of this year's nominees, having won twice already.
Even The Guardian got in on the action, publishing an editorial titled "Have the Locus Awards Been Hit With Myopic Sexism?", which took a balanced approach to explaining the disparity: sure, the YA list was widely unbalanced, but that may be due to the subscribers to Locus, who are responsible for the nominations for and construction of the shortlists. The gender balance in other categories is fair, and many nominations for writers of color have emerged this year, proving that diversity is being held into account. What may be happening, is that older, male readers may not be as familiar with YA authors, and might just be voting for names they recognize.
However, as Leigh Bardugo - notable YA author of bestselling series like The Grisha Trilogy and Six of Crows - put it on Twitter, "What's the point of a YA category if you don't see value in authors who write for that market?"
But beyond Locus, the grand dramatic saga of science fiction recognition continues to be the Hugo Awards, who announced their shortlist midway through this past April.
Once held as one of the highest achievements science fiction and fantasy writing can attain, the Hugoes are now an absolute joke, and its all the result of groups campaigning under the titles of the "Sad Puppies" and the "Rabid Puppies." (While I'm not going to go into any of the history of the melee, I think that most would find this Guardian article as highly explanatory.)
Essentially, the Hugoes are being held captive by campaigns of authors and bloggers who feel that the liberal, leftist tendencies of the field are being unfairly prized over more conservative works. George R. R. Martin hates them; even Alistair Reynolds, one of the authors present on their own selective slates, has said "I do not want their endorsement; I do not want even the suggestion of their endorsement."
And yet, the two parties still prevailed last year in running the awards, with primarily white, primarily male nominees. What resulted was an unprecedented move made by consideration at the Hugoes, where several categories fell to a vote of "No Award," rather than accept any of those on the shortlists.
Unfortunately, its a new year, and a new slate, with attempts still being made by the "Puppies" factions. (For instance, one of their choices for "Best Dramatic Presentation" consideration this year is an episode of My Little Pony, and one of their selections for "Best Short Story" includes erotica author Chuck Tingle's Space Raptor Butt Invasion.)
What the "Puppies" are attempting this year, however, is a push for already established names and faces within science fiction and fantasy, who just happen to conveniently fit the "Puppies" categories, including Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. As John Scalzi - three time Hugo award winner, most recently for Redshirts, and someone who recused himself from award nomination this year - put it, "The Puppies are running in front of an existing parade and claiming to lead it."
So you can understand why there are plenty of us who are pretty stoked on the winners of the Nebula Awards for this year, where diversity and innovation are getting some well-received recognition.
I think the best example of why this is all so important to me, is illustrated by the relationships that formed within the Science Fiction Literature class I took last quarter here at the University of Washington.The class itself was full of women... I think that we only had about ten guys total, plus the professor himself. You'd think this gender imbalance would reflect itself in classroom discussion, right?
Unfortunately, no. No matter how many books or morning talk shows can try to tell us to lean into the discussion, it seemed like every voice I heard in that classroom was a male one. While there definitely were women in the class who voiced their opinions and observations, the response to it was primarily to divert it down a different path, or offer a dissenting opinion. By the end of the quarter, the guys had all formed a small pod to the right-hand half of the classroom, where they remained an insular and loud community who talked loudly all through break times about the same things we were discussing in class, unimpeded by those who they felt "had different opinions."
The reason that's in quotes, is because it was their response to some of our more outspoken females who tried to take part.
Women are a part of the science fiction - and fantasy! - discussion, now more than ever. Same with those of different cultural, ethnic, and sexual backgrounds. And yet, the continued attitudes of male responses to major awards are excluding important and valuable voices from the discussion, especially in the field of YA. The inclusivity of the Nebula Awards marks an important moment for female scifi fans and authors, but it's not a flash-in-the-pan moment, its a trend with longevity.
What science fiction do you think deserves recognition this year? Would you ever vote in any of these awards? Let me know, in the comments below!