Thursday, March 8, 2012

New project on this blog: science fiction for girls

I am a terrible artist.
Ever since reading that really ridiculous list, I've been thinking about which science fiction books I would recommend for girls. Initially I was thinking of it as something similar to a "top 10" list, but that's a very static solution to a very dynamic question. Why limit it to 10, when there are more than that? Why either limit it to only the books that I've already read and can recommend, or delay talking about it until I've read every book in the world (ha ha)? Why limit it to only things that have already been published, when new ones are coming out all the time?

So instead, I'm going to blog about them one at a time, add an "SF for girls" label, and eventually index them on one of the tabs up there, as an open-ended project.

Rules of the game:

1. I'll be talking largely about books, but I'm also going to include movies or TV shows or video games or whatever format is taken by a story I feel fits the theme. They're all gateway drugs to each other.

2. By "for girls", I mean: these are books that have something to like about them because you are a girl; they say something relevant and useful about being female.

3. By "for girls", I also mean: these are books that are appropriate for young people. I don't mean there's no sex, violence, or strong language - coddling is unnecessary, IMO. What I mean is that there are two major ways women's issues get addressed in fiction: (a) empower the woman, and see what she does; (b) utterly crush the woman like a bug beneath your heel, and see what she does, or fails to be able to do. Which one would you rather give your daughter first, while you say, "See what you have to look forward to in life?" I don't care how many awards it's gotten or how "classic" it is; if it's soul-crushing, it will not be on my list.

4. By "for girls", I do not mean "not for boys". That would be ridiculous.

5. Appreciation of the story should not require a history lesson. I don't care if it was radically feminist "for its time". Let's take Star Trek, the original series, for example: in the 1960s it was daring and amazing to make a black woman an officer of significant rank on a spaceship. But in the 2010s it is insulting that she is the only one, she's the secretary, and her boss is a smarmy womanizer. Lieutenant Uhura was a role model for a 1960s woman - but we are not raising 1960s women anymore. Revolutionary feminist works are important, but when they do their job, they change the world: and by changing our society's expectations for women they shove themselves off this list.

6. What, exactly, constitutes "science fiction" is a matter of some debate. Science fiction and fantasy share a fanbase, and many of their subgenres blur the lines between them. For this project, where there's doubt, I'm going to define it as fiction whose worldbuilding more closely resembles physics than magic. Virus zombies: science fiction. Voodoo zombies: fantasy. Clockwork and airships steampunk: science fiction. Victorian-era werewolf steampunk: fantasy. I think that this is the most useful definition in this context, because I believe there's correlation between the issues of "girls in science fiction" and "girls in science". Again: gateway drugs for each other. This is why science fiction for girls matters.


  1. A while back there was a TV show called Earth Two. I thought it had a lot of potential, but the story line put a woman in charge of the settlers, and she made such bad decisions that I couldn't watch the show. Same thing with Star Trek: Voyager. Putting women in the lead role is fine, but not if your purpose is to demonstrate that women cannot lead!

    Not sci-fi, but Kyra Sedgwick's character in The Closer is a magnificent leader at work, and a total incompetent in her personal life. An interesting contradiction. And at least one gets to see the competence.

    Only one black woman in the primary crew on the original Star Trek? Hey, there was only one Russian and only one Asian and only one Vulcan, too. And only one Kirk.

    The women's roles in the Bourne movies are great. Dealing with Jason Bourne, Pamela Landy evolves, while Noah Vosen does not, and this contrast is a great feature of the movie.

    And long ago: Delenn! A driving force.

  2. I remember Earth Two - I was a kid at the time, and was sorry it got cancelled. I don't remember much but a traitor doctor and a sick kid who was being healed by the aliens or something.

    Nuts to your Russian and Asian and Vulcan! I'll grant you a broad racial distribution in the primary crew, but women are 50% of the population! Two of your Russian Asian Vulcans should have been female Russian Asian Vulcans!

    Hunh, Delenn! We re-watched most of Babylon 5 a while ago, but it dropped off Netflix streaming before we finished. That had a lot of competent women in it, not just Delenn. I shall have to consider that!

  3. ...Upon further reflection, I probably shouldn't even grant the racial distribution, though. The Russian and Scottish guys are still white, and so's the Vulcan's actor. So make that "broad international distribution".

  4. It's a lot easier to find fantasy that empowers women than SF that empowers women and is at the same time going to work for a younger audience, I think. I can think of half a dozen books off the top of my head that would suit your requirements if you were focusing on fantasy. (Which, in its way, is kind of awful: gender equality and empowered women are promoted in works that are kind of nostalgic for a fantastical past of some sort, but it's harder to find the same when speculating about the future? Though I'd lay it in part on the problematic gender dynamics of the SF publishing field. A lot more women write and publish YA or YA-accessible books, and that field has been dominated most of my life by fantasy and not SF.)

    1. I can think of half a dozen books off the top of my head that would suit your requirements if you were focusing on fantasy.

      Me too. It's very cool that those exist, too, and I think there's something to be said for rewriting the historical landscape - that just because women were treated badly, doesn't mean they had to be. But it's kind of a bummer that we-as-a-society find it easier to put girls on unicorns instead of spaceships.