What seemed significant about my friend’s confusion was that it related to a persistent rumbling that I have heard echoing through science fiction. That rumbling says, in essence, that women don’t write science fiction. Put a little more rudely, this rumbling says: “Those damn women are ruining science fiction.” They are doing it by writing stuff that isn’t “real” science fiction; they are writing “soft” science fiction and fantasy. —Pat Murphy, Wiscon 15, March 2, 1991.
Christie Yant, Guest Editor/Original Fiction Editor
Nineteen-ninety-one. Twenty-three years ago. It could as easily have been last week.
The summer of 2013 was a rough one for women in science fiction. Every few weeks there was a new reminder that to a certain subset of the field, we’re not welcome here. There were multiple articles returning to the tired accusation that women (still) aren’t writing “real” SF; disputes about the way the field is represented by vintage cheesecake art on the cover of a professional trade publication; the glib admonition that if we are to succeed, we should be more like Barbie, in her “quiet dignity.” For some of us, it was business as usual, as evidenced by Pat Murphy’s unfortunately timeless quote above. For others, it was a very nasty surprise to discover this undercurrent running through the ocean of imaginative fiction we love.
And it just. Kept. Coming.
We got tired. We got angry. And then we came out the other side of exhaustion and anger deeply motivated to do something.
This issue is just one result. Look around and you’ll see others, as thick on the ground this year as those unpleasant incidents were last year. All-women anthologies like Athena’s Daughters. A rebooted SFWA Bulletin. The recent Hugo Award nominations. There are others. Things are changing. I hope it sticks.
There was—is—something else going on, too, something apart from the attacks from the outside. It’s a smaller, quieter attack from within, and it’s just as pernicious. Too many accomplished writers are convinced that they aren’t qualified to write science fiction because they “don’t have the science.” I’ve heard this worry from men, too, but more often I hear it from women. I don’t know which is worse: the men who tell us we’re doing it wrong, or the voice within ourselves that insists that we’ll fail if we try.
These are different strokes from the same brush: the belief that only one kind of science fiction—rocket ships, robots, extra-planetary adventures—is the “real” kind. Lightspeed has always rejected the narrow definition. Science fiction, like everything else, has changed over time. It has expanded and altered, just as those reading and writing it have.
Why “Women Destroy Science Fiction”? Are we really trying to destroy it? As you read the stories in this issue, you may very well think so. Here you’ll find galactic gastronomy and alternate astronomy, far-future courtship and a near-future food court—right alongside alien invasion and deep-space salvage missions. My hope is that one or more of these stories will reach a reader who never realized that kind of story is science fiction, too, and will seek out more like it. And I hope that one or more will convince those writers—the fantasists, the poets, the ones more comfortable in Middle Earth or the Midwest than on Mars—that they, too, can create science fiction stories and participate in the expansion of the field.
The experience of reading submissions for this issue was humbling and deeply gratifying. Women of all ages from all over the world sent us their stories. Many of them had never tried to write science fiction before; some had never considered submitting their work for publication until they heard about WDSF. They pushed past their doubt and fear, finished their pieces and clicked submit for the very first time just to be a part of this. If you were one of those authors, please don’t let it be the last time. We need your voice—don’t let it be silenced. We had to pass on so many excellent stories, many of which will surely find homes elsewhere. To all of those women who trusted us with your work, thank you. I could not be more honored and grateful to each and every one of you.
This is the biggest project Lightspeed has ever taken on. When John Joseph Adams asked me to act as guest editor for the issue, I knew immediately who I wanted at my side to bring the idea to life. I assembled my editorial team—Wendy Wagner, Rachel Swirsky, Robyn Lupo, and Gabrielle de Cuir, all of whom you’ll hear from in a moment—and together we prepared to bring the voices of more women into the world.
But then something happened: The issue kept growing. We made room for more fiction, more articles, personal essays, and an expanded podcast.
As the issue grew, so did the team. Authors, essayists, illustrators, voice actors, interviewers and interviewees, slush readers and copyeditors—more women got involved week after week. All told, this issue is the work of 109 women.
And those are just the direct contributors. That doesn’t count the more than one thousand women who sent us stories, or the nearly three thousand people who backed the Kickstarter, or the countless supporters who blogged on their own sites, posted to social media, or otherwise boosted the signal.
We did this. As one person put it, we took hurt and rage and turned it into something beautiful.
And we did it together.
• • •
Rachel Swirsky, Reprint Editor
I’ll tell you a secret. I don’t really want to destroy science fiction.
Maybe that’s not much of a secret. I do write it, after all. I’m a bit of a science fiction evangelist, actually. I get really excited about books and stories and tell people OH MY GOODNESS THIS THING YOU SHOULD READ IT while they try to inch away from me toward the chip bowl.
What do I want to do to science fiction?
I want to expand science fiction.
I want to celebrate science fiction.
I want to see all the fractured, strange, beautiful impressions that humans have to offer as we contemplate our future.
A long time ago, Mary Shelley started singing. It was a song shaped by earlier refrains, and others were already singing. More and more voices joined in. They sing about the promise of tomorrow; they sing about the threat of tomorrow; above all, they sing about the present moments they inhabit, because those are the underpinnings of any story.
Women’s voices don’t destroy the song. They shade into its chorus. They harmonize. They’ve been there all along.
Here, I’ve tried to bring you five powerful melodies. You may have heard them before, or not. Amid the choir’s beauty, it’s hard to pick out only five. So many more deserve solo performances.
But here are a few voices that expand science fiction, voices that celebrate science fiction, voices that are fractured, strange, and beautiful. Voices to contemplate. Voices raised toward the future.
• • •
Wendy N. Wagner, Nonfiction Editor/Managing Editor
Women get written out of history.
Whether it’s geopolitical history or the history of science and the arts, outside of niche scholarship, women’s contributions all too often slip away and are forgotten. The same can be said of science fiction, which is merely the imagined history of the future. Female characters are typically trivial; women’s concerns are trivialized; and women writers disappear into the shadows cast by better known, male, Grand Masters.
But women have always been a part of history, remembered or not. We are fifty percent of the world, and we’re shaping its future every second. We’re even writing it. My goal, collecting nonfiction for this issue, was to bring the legacy of great women SF writers out of the shadows, cast light on the women working within our genre today, and build a goddamn torch for the women of tomorrow.
The amazing women writing this issue explore a wealth of experiences, from working in the male-dominated world of super-hero comics, to creating a literary award celebrating gender exploration, to facing discrimination at conventions. They’ve shared their reading lists, wisdom, true stories, and just plain good advice to create not just another magazine issue —they’ve made a manual for creating and supporting women SF writers.
When you get done reading that manual, pick up a pen and write us a new history of tomorrow. One with women in it.
• • •
Robyn Lupo, Flash Fiction Editor
When I took on this project, my husband remarked that women are uniquely qualified to write science fiction, since most women have been treated like aliens at some point.
Picture the lone wallflower at a high school dance, red-haired and tall, alien to this environment; nose more at home in a book than sampling the eau-de-foot-and-jock-strap that high school gyms all seem to have. Perhaps that’s a bit sad. But I see a powerful Outsider, an observer and a soothsayer, a person who sees all the stories—because she’s not quite in our world, our alien us. She’s far beyond, carbon on the furthest stars.
There are stories everywhere, and flash gives writers a freedom to focus on scale—to paint the big booming profound on a wee canvas. More rigid in structure than poetry, but at liberty to leave the reader silenced—more things left unsaid, a theme one of our stories handles with poignancy.
The continued ubiquitousness of stories is important to me. I was pleased to have a tweetish short story in here—it shows how fast-paced flash fiction can be, and stretches the border between poetry and story. We have a forty-seven-word story which feels to me like a heavy metal riff. And above all, we published new writers. New voices added to the chorus of women, aliens no more, chanting “One of us! One of us!”
• • •
Gabrielle de Cuir, Podcast Producer
WOMEN DESTROY SCIENCE FICTION? Oh, yeah, baby. Oh, yeah. BRING. IT. ON. Black leather and whips in the studio. I’m there.
It was with barely controllable emotion that I accepted Christie Yant’s invitation to highjack the recording and production of the June podcasts for Lightspeed Magazine. I’ve been around the science fiction block a few times and narrated and produced my share of tales, but this prospect? Eight glorious stories that were MINE, all MINE to midwife into podcasts. (Insert maniacal laugh here.) When I got that indescribably sexy zip file from Christie with the eight final chosen stories, I couldn’t wait to burst that puppy open and see what was inside.
Gold. Pure gold. (Gollum mode.)
Gorgeous stories. Nothing can stop us now. Got me a vixen of an editor in Alexa Althoff, who did her magic on Ender’s Game Alive. Began the casting process (Siri: replace couch springs.) What has humbled and overjoyed me the most so far has been the unhesitating positive responses from all the narrators to participate. OMG. They keep saying “yes!” First narrator up? Two-time Grammy winner Janis Ian, a science fiction author herself, reading a mesmerizing mermaid tale by the magical Seanan McGuire. There were scales all over the booth the next morning.
Let the recordings continue!
Whip crack. Whip crack. Whip crack.
(Threes, you know. Gets ’em laughing every time. Was that a laugh I heard? Well, wipe that smirk off your face, buddy. We don’t think twice about destroying a genre; how long do you think you’ll last?)
Spread the word!