Friday, March 31, 2006

A feminist take on "classic" Sci fi

I like science fiction. However, when it comes to the "classics" like Heinlein and Asmiov, I can't usually get past the first 5 pages.

To help me write a paper I was working on for the class in science fiction I was taking, I went to a panel at ICON, one of the largest science fiction / fantasy conventions in the Northeast. The panel was about "Favorite Sci/Fi and Fantasy books." Of course almost all the books they talked about were written by white men. This in itself is not a bad thing, except when it shapes the story to such a point that I can't relate to it.

All writers have an agenda, and a writer's personal experience shapes one's world view, as well as their writing. Classic science fiction tends to be very white and male (not that there aren't exceptions like Mary Shelley), and reflect the times in which it was written.

I'm not saying that this is bad or a writer should censor themselves to be more politically correct. But if you are trying to include universal themes, and write a book that you want everyone to read, you need to be aware of your own biases. For me, I will likely never pick up any more Heinlein or Asimov, because I just can't get past female characterization. I'll come across something and just think "no woman, would EVER do that or think that."

Of course it cuts both ways too. I think Sheri S. Tepper is one of the finest science fiction writers out there. But her male characters can be very cardboard (she's a very feminist scifi writer), and as a result, I have male friends who can't read Tepper for the same reason I can't read Heinlen. In both cases, any message is lost.

Yes this is an odd criticism to make for a field of literature based on speculation and imagination. But alot of classic scifi has very subversive social critiques about the society and times in which it was written (Fahrenheit 451 for instance). Those messages, however, are lost upon a growingly diverse audience.

I guess the key is to just focus on the story. Good stories, like that of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, the epic of Gilgamesh, or the Ramayana, I think will remain read as long as people can read.


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