Sometimes it’s hard to remember how far we’ve come until you look back at where we’ve been.
When I was a kid, growing up on STAR TREK, WONDER WOMAN, SPACE 1999, THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, THE BIONIC WOMAN and BUCK ROGERS women were still pretty much objects to be kidnapped, tied up, held for ransom and eventually rescued by the big strong man. While women and girls were fans of science fiction, it wasn’t really written for us, with us in mind. The general consensus was that science fiction fans were primarily male, intelligent, between the ages of 12 and 40 and virgins living in their parents’ basement.
I was frustrated that there was precious little out there that depicted kick-ass women as heroic figures. So I started writing my own. That’s how Bo Barron was born. Even then, I realized that it would be impossible to find a market in the male-dominated science fiction market. I was ready to give up the idea and bow to pressure to go to college to be an English teacher. Fortunately, I found the Rissa Kerguelen series of books by F.M. Busby and held fast to my original plan.
Until I sat down to write this post, I’d pretty much forgotten those books, which is a shame, considering how many times I read and re-read them in high school. It was 1984, Bo was already cutting a wide swath through my friends who clamored for more of her adventures. It was a stinky boy who told me no one would ever buy a science fiction book about a girl warrior. College loomed. I had to declare a major. While browsing in a bookstore I found Rissa. She was so different from Bo and while I tried to really like her, something about her fell flat. I later came to realize that was because she was written by a man, from a man’s perspective. But what kept me going was knowing that here was a character who had a lot in common with my own. If she could see the light of day, so could Bo.
Over the years, I heard over and over that “women just don’t read science fiction” and “women aren’t into science fiction.” I did and I was. What was I? Chopped liver? I would argue with whoever held still long enough that the reason more women weren’t into science fiction was because men were writing science fiction for men. If more women wrote science fiction, more women would read it. But it was the 1980’s and gender lines were still clearly drawn.
The movie ALIEN started things changing. Ripley was a kick-ass heroine that men loved and women related to. It was a slow process, but by the 1990’s, the sub-genre of Science Fiction Romance was on the rise and traditional romance publishers were taking a chance on it. However, the mainstream SF publishers still didn’t want anything to do with it. Hard SF, cyberpunk and technothriller were all they wanted to see. Space Opera? Forget it.
The stereotype of the awkward, but brilliant male adolescent SF fan living in his parents’ basement was still the target market of SF publishers. Funny, but during that time Romance sales soared and SF sales did not. Film and television tapped into the female market with shows showing women in heroic roles like SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND and BABYLON 5 and STARSHIP TROOPERS. In fantasy and other genres there was XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, NIKITA, and even the X-FILES, which switched the gender roles with the skeptical scientist played by Gillian Anderson and the wild-eyed paranormal expert played by David Duchovny.
Fast forward to the 21st Century. SF Romance still struggles to find a market as Romance publishers are reluctant to deviate from their formula and require Happily Ever After endings or at least Happy For Now, and Science Fiction publishers are more reluctant than ever to sully their reputations with that tripe. Of course, the beautiful thing is, SF authors are no longer dependent on the hallowed halls of traditional publishers to get their work in the hands of eager readers. There is an awful lot of self- small- and indie-published SF out there, a lot of it Space Opera and SF Romance.
You see, the nasty little secret that mainstream SF publishers never realized is that no matter the situation, be it war, politics, or business, no matter how complicated it is at the outset, all you have to do to really screw it up is to throw a woman and romantic element into the mix. It doesn’t necessarily make it a romance, but it does complicate your story nicely. That’s the kind of thing women love to read. Even Homer understood how women can complicate and cloud the issue. After all, he told the story of the Trojan War, which, according to Homer, was all for the love of a beautiful woman.
As for women being fans of Science Fiction, just take a look at current trends in cosplay.
Yeah. Women love SF. Women love a good story. Women don’t necessarily need a Happily Ever After. If we did, GONE WITH THE WIND wouldn’t have sold so many copies and CASABLANCA wouldn’t be considered one of the most romantic films EV-AR!!
What do you think? Are girls into SF? Has traditional Science Fiction publishing met the needs of female fans? Or are they hopelessly still operating on an outdated business model?