At an author’s fair event recently, more than one man came up to my table to grill me on my credentials as a SF author. One looked over my table then said, “Do you READ science fiction?”
I was a little gobsmacked to be asked that question when I’ve got book covers and promo materials encompassing no less than eleven SF authors. What the hell kind of question is that to ask a SF author? I had to wonder if he’d have been asking that question if I had been of the male gender.
“I write it,” I said. “I’d damn well better read it.”
He didn’t look convinced and asked me who I read.
Who haven’t I read? would be an easier question to answer.
He said, “Yes, but have you read any REAL science fiction, like Eddings?”
REAL Science Fiction? Eddings?
I knew what he was asking. Did I just read that fluffy romance stuff and daydream about flexing abs and impossibly handsome Chippendale Dancers on space ships? Or did I read the “serious” Science Fiction that MEN wrote.
I swallowed my temper with some difficulty and smiled. “You mean David Eddings?”
“Yes. I’ve read Eddings. He’s more of a Fantasy writer and while I do enjoy the occasional Fantasy, it’s not my thing. I prefer my Science Fiction a little more ‘hard boiled.’ I’ve read Piers Anthony, Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, Ben Bova, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Dick, Harry Harrison, Asimov and Arthur C. Clark. I wasn’t too keen on Asimov or Clark. I found their styles ponderous and dry. I’ve also read Frank Herbert, but I also found him a bit ponderous. I like books with stories that have legs and MOVE.” For the record, you can add Jules Verne and HG Wells to the list. “I’ve also read Alas Babylon, and Brave New World, but I have to admit to being most influenced by Harry Harrison.”
The man’s brow furrowed. “I’ve never heard of him.”
I smiled. “Stainless Steel Rat series?”
He shook his head. His lips curled as he prepared to dismiss me yet again.
“Have you ever heard of a movie called ‘Soylent Green?'”
He nodded. “Of course.” He looked indignant.
I smiled again. “‘Soylent Green was based on Harry Harrison’s novel ‘Make Room, Make Room.’ Not one of my favorites of his works.”
Then gentleman processed this for a moment.
“But I don’t just read Science Fiction,” I ventured. “I also like men’s adventure. I’ve read the original James Bond novels by Ian Fleming, as well as the ‘Out of the Ashes’ postapocalyptic series by William W. Johnstone. I did enjoy the Don Pendleton Mack Bolan series, but after the first fifty books, I got bored with the formula.”
He looked a bit shocked, but I held my smile and friendly demeanor.
“Oh, I guess you do read science fiction then.”
“I could go on, but I like a lot of midlist writers as well as self and indie pubbed authors. I like reading the authors who aren’t getting all the press. I can direct you to some of the best science fiction authors you’ve probably never heard of. There are eight of them right here,” I pointed to the antho cover. “I was fortunate enough to edit this anthology.” I picked up the bookmarks of TM Hunter’s books. “A particular favorite of mine is TM Hunter’s Aston West series. He writes in the style of the 1950’s and ’60’s popular SF adventures. His hero is a space pirate who can’t seem to catch a break.” I picked up TK Toppin’s bookmarks. “TK Toppin’s Lancaster Trilogy has garnered quite a bit of recognition from critics, but my personal preference is for her ‘To Catch A Marlin’ series.”
I could see that my answers threw him off his stride. He nodded, thanked me and excused himself.
Honestly, what kind of genre writer would I be if I’d never read anything within my genre? What kind of writer would I be if I never READ at all? I read Science Fiction. I read Fantasy. I read Mystery, too. I’m partial to cozies, but I enjoy the occasional police procedural. And yes, I read Romance. I read good books and bad books. I read books that just make me say “oh, honey…” and shake my head.
I read and dream of the day in which women SF authors will no longer have to defend their credentials for writing in their genre.