This past week I poked around online, looking for some interesting forums in the fantasy genre. It’s the one I write in, but I’m not generally active online, mostly person to person and a little on Goodreads. I’ll admit, when I started writing, it was all about the art. No market research was involved. I wrote what came naturally to me, which was fantasy. I prefer the complexity and creative license of the genre. I read fantasy and sci-fi throughout my teenage years and into my twenties. In college, my interest spread into non-fiction, like Jared Diamond’s work or issues in political geography and social justice, which has only helped me write more convincing worlds. As those of you who follow my book reviews here know, I continue to read speculative fiction frequently. To me, fantasy has always been a wide open genre where anything can happen, a highly political and emotionally charged area of art.
So it was a bit of a jarring experience to drop into a forum yesterday and have the word ‘fanboy’ displayed broadly on the front page. Where are the girls? And then on the same page, I found a list of the best fantasy books for women specifically listed on the sidebars, as if I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy the wide range of sci-fi and fantasy that the speculative genre has to offer. At least that was what the blurb felt like. The guys writing seemed well meaning but it made me wince.
So I went off to chew on that a bit. Don’t get me wrong, if some boys want to make a boy centric sight and enjoy some male camaraderie with their genre love, go for it! Men have had their special clubs for just about as long as humanity has had recorded history. It seems to be a constant in human society that boys and girls sometimes need their own space. Very well, I am not about to argue with the full spectrum of human existence. What I will ask is this: is there really an idea that women are the minority section of the fantasy genre fan base? Do girls really need ‘female orientated’ fantasy?
Frankly, the idea never entered my mind before. I’ve enjoyed male and female writers since the beginning and it never mattered to me one way or the other, as long as the writer could craft convincing characters and worlds with plots that held water. I’ve enjoyed Anne McCaffery, Michael Stackpole, Anne Rice, David Webber, Robin McKinley, Timothy Zahn, Tamora Pierce, Kevin Hearne, Judith Tarr, Orson Scott Card, Laurel Hamilton, and Terry Pratchett. Looking at this list, I guess it is a little obvious that the lady authors I’ve read have written stronger character driven worlds than possibly some of the male authors. I’m thinking specifically of David Webber versus Anne Rice. David Webber’s books, especially the latter ones have been driven by politics and campaigns more than character, in my experience. Anne Rice is always driven by ideas and character development. But Orson Scott Card wouldn’t have a plot without his character work and Anne McCaffery’s work would fall flat without her world development, so go figure.
So there, go figure. I haven’t included some newer authors because I wanted to stick to authors with long term draw. Also, I’ve been traveling a lot lately. There hasn’t been a lot of money to buy up new publications and English libraries have been scarce. After some poking around, I am getting a sense that there are more guys in speculative fiction in general, especially when it comes to spinning space ships and large guns. I guess what leaves me scratching my head is the marketing end of it. Do marketers and website builders really think that girls don’t want to dive into all this complex world building, machinery, systems and social orders, that we need a women to relate to in a story to enjoy it? Can’t we root for a male character? Can’t guys root for a female character?
Maybe this is why indie authors are doing so well in some cases. I know that it’s gotten harder and harder for me as I grow older to browse through the speculative fiction area of used book stores because the front covers all look the same, buff guys with weapons and girls with next to no clothes on either helpless or wearing armor for a brazier and looking like the goddess of lust. I’ve taken to pulling books out and reading the back covers first, without ever looking at the front. I figured the poor authors didn’t have control back then and I should give them a fighting chance.
So, what do you think? Is this a marketing misstep, overstep, or hangover from a previous era? Do you personally see a large divide? If you’re a guy, will you read fantasy by a girl? If you’re a girl, do you have a preference? Do gendered names matter? I really, really don’t want to change Ciara to a C initial. At this point, it’s not going to happen, but I am curious. I did grow up reading Tom Clancy along side Dee Henderson, C.S. Lewis and some L. Ron Hubbard. Please, go ahead and laugh. I am!