Sunday, February 5, 2012

"Science fiction for girls", which isn't

So I saw this article - 10 Great Science Fiction Books For Girls - and my immediate reaction was a cross between Are you fucking kidding me and You expect me to believe a female compiled this list?

The Windup Girl? Seriously? I'm gonna name names here: The Windup Girl was the third book in that insulting/hurtful line-up I mentioned in another post. This was the one that broke me, because it wasn't just a casual, thoughtless, dead-girlfriend-as-motivator: it was a well-written book which I admired structurally, but which featured really fucking hurtful graphic rape scenes, written from the victim's perspective well enough to put you in her head: that could be me. It's going to be years before I can even read this author's young adult books - he is too skillful, and I do not trust him not to hurt me. I would never recommend this book to a girl. I would have serious reservations recommending it to a woman.

Along the same lines: The Handmaid's Tale? Really? A book about the complete subjugation of women, against which they are as helpless to fight as they were to prevent it, is great reading for girls? This is not a book I'd give to my hypothetical daughter while she's still young enough to consider a "girl". This is not a book I'd give her to teach her about who she can be, what she can accomplish, or what she can hope for from life. This is a book I'd give her when she's ready to learn about what she needs to fucking fear.

And four of the books on this list - Dune, Stranger In A Strange Land, Ender's Game, and Frankenstein  - aren't on it because they're particularly interesting to girls. They're on the list because they're Classics Everyone Should Read. Here's what the article authors have to say about that:
  • "We don’t think girls should only read books about girls";
  • "Though the female characters in this novel aren’t particularly inspiring, we think the story is weird, brilliant, and universal enough to creep slowly into just about anyone’s head";
  • "Since it’s the world’s best-selling science fiction novel and all, we think there have to be at least a few girls behind this book. "
  • "...and hey, it was written by a woman."
Give me a break. Put it on your "Classics Everyone Should Read" list, not on a "For Girls" list. It's not the same thing.

Six of the books were written before I was born, and I'm well past girlhood. How old would you say a "girl" is right now? Let's say 18, tops (an arguable figure, as the line between girl/woman depends on experience more than age, I think): that means today's girls were born in 1994 or later, which puts eight of these books as written before they were born. Sure, some books age well, but there is a serious difference between the issues girls face today and the issues their mothers and their grandmothers faced. And you're not going to find help on dealing with any of those issues in something written by Heinlein or Card, who are not noted for their advanced views on women's role in society.

My personal list for "10 Great Science Fiction Books For Girls", off the top of my head, would have included Lois McMaster Bujold's Cordelia's Honor or Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall of Pern trilogy - but you know what? Born in 1994 or later. This is not my generation, their issues are not mine: the oldest of them could, just barely, be my daughters. While Menolly breaking the Harper Hall's glass ceiling still spoke to me when I read it in 1993 - I, whose mother had been living a glass ceiling story - I suspect today's generation would find more relevance in the stories in which the glass ceilings are already lying in pieces at their feet. It's certainly not a perfect reflection of reality, but it's a better reflection of the reality we're currently striving to achieve for them, the reality they'll be working towards as they grow (as the initial breaking of the ceiling was something my mother was working towards for me). So Harper Hall should probably be #11 on the list: bonus material. (Although, can you count the Harper Hall trilogy as science fiction, when they're heavier on Pern's fantasy elements than its sf ones?) Would Cordelia's Honor still make the list? Possibly; I'll have to think about it.

But I bet that a lot of the books that really ought to be on such a list are more recent publications. For example, John Scalzi's Zoe's Tale is a better candidate for the list than any of the titles I've just been bitching about - dude specifically wrote Zoe's Tale with his pre-teen daughter in mind. Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games, maybe? I'd be willing to bet that most of the best "for girls" science fiction books are currently being shelved in Young Adult and/or marketed as "dystopias" instead of "science fiction", and I haven't explored those as much as I could. I'm feeling a need to look now.

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