Sunday, March 05, 2006

I Have Hope

You may have realized by now if you've been silly enough to come back here from time to time, that I enjoy a good fantasy/science fiction novel now and then (though I am learning that speculative fiction seems to be replacing the category name and I am speculating that this is an attempt to get those who are afraid of the old category to try the new one). I think there is so much more room to examine ideas than there is in current literary-type fiction these days. But as much as I love the genre, it is sometimes rather difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Imagine my delight then, to discover the New York Times has begun a science fiction column. The first column is a review of a new book by David Marusek, a writer of whom I have never heard. The book sounds interesting but not enough to make me run out and buy it. No, what I liked best about this article is the reviewer's wondering, with all the techno jargon sci-fi books exhibit these days, "whether science fiction has strayed so far from the fiction category as a whole that, though the two share common ancestors, they now seem to have as much to do with each other as a whale has to do with a platypus?" I have wondered something similar myself. When a reader needs a degree in physics to understand the book, the author is losing out. When the author creates a future world with a language that the reader has a hard time following because it is so different from our own, the story gets lost. When characters are nothing but flat, uninspired cardboard clichés, why should the reader care? The best science fiction in my opinion puts character first, plot second, and science last instead of the other way around. If I care about the characters and it's a good story, I will keep reading even if I don't completely understand everything. The same holds true for plain old fiction. Thus, the prospect of sci-fi being reviewed in a mainstream publication is heartening and exciting. What I found most disappointing, however, is the reviewer's list of sci-fi favorites. If you look at the list carefully, you will notice that not one of the favorites is by a woman. Where is Ursula LeGuin? Where is Sheri S. Tepper? Where is Octavia Butler? Women are nearly invisible when it comes to science fiction. Is it because it is "science" fiction and science is still consider by many to be something men do? Is science fiction the last bastion of literary sexism?