ellen_kushner (ellen_kushner) wrote,
ellen_kushner
ellen_kushner

Ryman on Hugos

In a private letter, Geoff Ryman responded to my weekend post on this year's Hugo ballots, thanking me for the LJ shout out and commenting on the Hugos' gender imbalance. I asked if I could quote his letter; instead he sent this for public posting:

I have to confess that I didn't even notice the lack of women on the Hugo nomination list until you pointed it out. Then I was shocked by it and by me for not noticing. My excuse is that I was so delighted to be on the ballot myself, and delighted for good writers like Charlie Stross, Michael Swanwick and others who are also on the ballot.

This list was not the product of a momentary lapse by an individual, or a bad boss who has reverted to type. This is an expression of a community. I don't think that the nominators, many of whom are fair-minded women, were excluding writers BECAUSE they were female or recommending books BECAUSE they were by men.

SF is driven by an underlying dream, and part of that dream is profoundly hostile to domesticity, which is traditionally assigned to women. It is hostile to staying at home on Earth. It dreams, Peter Pan-like, of magic flights to a Neverneverland in the stars, full of pirates and mermaids and Indians. It is largely a land of and for Boys. Women love it too, perhaps because they also want to escape domesticity.

These days women's place in fantasy is not as Wendy. Women get to be guys now. They have a place in the SF dream, most usually toting guns or swords. I guess it's fun for women to shoot people , and men certainly feel more at home with women who act like the rest of their buddies. I would say that the dream is hostile to the traditional place of women's power: home. Home is what you escape and Mother is who you hate. Can our stories only glance at child rearing, washing the dishes, building everyday relationships, and earning a living and not exclude women, at least to an extent?

There was a time in the 70s when it suddenly seemed that women writers were calling the shots, getting the attention and winning the awards. Le Guin, McIntyre... the list seemed endless at the time. The fiction was a series of telling subversions of that underlying dream. It was a bit like moving overworked muscles in a new direction, a relief.

We seem to have reverted to type. It's time at least to ask the question: is there something fundamental to the SF tradition that excludes many things women live through and write about? Or which tolerates those writers and their works while delivering an essentially masculine dream? Maybe in ORDER to deliver that masculine dream. Is this dream so deep and enduring that no amount of conscious political correctness can undo it? Is it the case that men find SF easier to write? Or do fine writers like Liz Williams, Gwyneth Jones, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Suzy McKee Charnas simply write material that is regarded as fantasy or slipstream and so doesn't make the cut?

The answers will not fit onto the back of a postcard.


Geoff Ryman's newest novel is The King's Last Song. The one before that, Air: Or, Have Not Have, won the 2005 Tiptree Award, the British Science Fiction Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and was a Nebula nominee. His novelette "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter" is a Hugo nominee this year.
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