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March 12, 2007

a crazy rambly sf post

Posted by dogpossum on March 12, 2007 3:44 PM in the category books

Tigtog's writing about the following list of SF here. These are apparently the

“Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years” .

Because I'm feeling exceptionally lazy, here are her follow-up comments (which make the whole thing far more interesting), cut and pasted:

The Bechdel-Wallace test/rule (originally applied to films - the rule’s origins are noted here), asks does the book have:

1. At least two female characters, who
2. talk to each other, about
3. something besides a man?

If the book/film passes the BW test, it has at least a glimmering of women as fully realised characters beyond being mere love interests competing for male attention. It may not have much more than that, but at least it has that much.

The BW test means that a book doesn’t get a pass for having a single strong, fascinating, female character who is an exceptionalist token, displaying her considerable strengths only in discussions with men (e.g. Eowen from LOTR or Trillian from HHGTTG). It should be easy for SF&F generally to hurdle this low bar, as there’s important quests/missions and esoterica regarding magic/technology for people to talk about with each other in a natural fashion. But how well does the listed SF&F actually do?

The idea is to mark the books you’ve read in bold, which I’ll do. I’ll also note how they score on the BWT (from memory, so please correct me if I’ve forgotten a crucial conversation that would allow the book to hurdle the bar).

I've just cut and pasted tigtog's list with comments re the BWT criteria below. If it's bold, I've read it. If it's got no comments, tigtog didn't read it. Even though I read a LOT of SF, I haven't read all that many on this list (though I suspect I have and have just forgotten them - my ps have a massive, comprehensive collection and I read my way through it when I was young. Oh, how I miss getting out of bed in the middle of the night with a torch to go find something new to read from the shelves). These days I don't read many male authors and re-read a lot of my favourites.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien Yes No No.
[I'm not a fan of Tolkein, because I DON'T like his gender politics. Lots of virgin/whore, evil/good dichotomy action.]

The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov Yes No No

Dune, Frank Herbert Yes Yes Yes

Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein Yes, Yes, No

A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin Yes Yes Yes
[I think it's important to note that Tehanu, the final book in the Earthsea series, while not listed as 'the most important' of these books, is actually my favourite and deals in detail with the effects of violence on children and women. The whole Earthsea trilogy has lots to say about childhood and creativity and violence and abuse, but these things get neglected. Which is why people like to list the first book, and not the later ones, as the 'most important'.]

Neuromancer, William Gibson
[Tigtog didn't read it. I did. Sure, there are ladies in this book, they talk to each other, and about things other than blokes, but there are some problems with the definition of 'women' in this context. I'm thinking of the 'female' AIs specifically. I'm actually not going to allow Neuromancer as an ok-for-sisters book. I think it's actually way up there on the misogyny list, and cyberpunk generally is very much an adolescent boys wanking over chicks who beat the shit out of them.]

Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke Yes, No, No

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick Yes, No, No

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley Yes, Yes, Yes

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury Yes, Yes, Yes

The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe Yes, No, No

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr. No No No

The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov Yes No No

Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras

Cities in Flight, James Blish Yes, ?, ? (guessing no)

The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett Yes, Yes, Yes

Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison Yes, Yes, No

Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison

The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester Yes, Yes, No

Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany

Dragonflight, Anne McCaffreyYes, Yes, Yes
[I'm actually a bit sceptical of Ms McCaffrey's work. Sure, the chicks are happily saving worlds with their dragony/spaceship/pilot mates, but they also like to rush into the kitchen to make their men dinner and spend FAR TOO MUCH of their time wishing they had a man. McCaffrey often sports some scary arse gender politics. I give her a thumbs down on the good-for-sisters scale.]

Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card Yes, No, No

The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson Yes, Yes?, Yes?

The Forever War, Joe Haldeman Yes, ?, ?

Gateway, Frederik Pohl

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling Yes, Yes, Yes
[This stuff sucks arse. Give me The Worst Witch any day.]

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams No, No, No.
[Hm, Trillian is a lady, and she's in this one, right? Adams isn't good on the gender politics, though.]

I Am Legend, Richard Matheson

Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin Yes, Yes, Yes

Little, Big, John Crowley

Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny

The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick Yes, ?, ?

Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement

More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon Can’t remember

The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith

On the Beach, Nevil Shute Yes, Yes, ?

Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke Yes, No, No

Ringworld, Larry Niven Yes, No, No.
[Woah - Niven has some SCARY ARSE gender shit going on.]

Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys

The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien Yes, No, No

Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson Yes, Yes, Yes

Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner Can’t remember

The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester

Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein Yes, ?, No

Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock

The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks Gah! but Yes, Yes, Yes

Timescape, Gregory Benford Yes, ?, ?

To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer Yes, ?, ?

I'm not actually digging this list (which came from the news blog via tikistitch), and is actually a list of (note the dates):

The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953-2002

produced by the The Science Fiction Book Club, and apparently some sort of promotional thingy. So we should be a bit sceptical.

Authors I'd add (if I was ignoring the dates problem and the number limit):

H.G. Wells. Of course. But fails the lady-test.

Iain M. Banks (yes yes yes to the lady-test... though he does weird stuff with gender (ie many of his characters can and do change gender at will, especially in the Culture books) and robots and things - you'd have to have a think about the way 'gender neutral' is gendered by these blokes).

Madelaine L'Engle (yes yes yes to the lady-test), probably for A Wrinkle in Time

Lois McMaster Bujold (yes yes yes to the lady-test - plus she writes good bloke characters). For any of her Miles Vorkosigan books.

C.J.Cherryh (for Cyteen) (yes yes yes to the lady-test - plus she writes good bloke characters)

Diana Wynn Jones (yes yes yes to the lady-test - plus she writes good bloke characters)

Tanya Huff (yes yes yes to the lady-test - plus she writes good bloke characters)... in fact, there aren't enough lady sci-fant authors on this list - and scifant has a MASSIVE lady fandom.

something from Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover stuff. Probably Thendara House or perhaps one of the earlier ones... (yes yes yes to the lady-test - plus she writes good bloke characters)

Octavier Butler! Holy shit, how can she not be on this list?!

James Tiptree Junior! Because she totally fooled the entire universe - they all thought she was a bloke FOREVER! (yes yes yes to the lady-test - plus she writes good bloke characters)

C.S.Lewis (because he was important and influential)

Alan Dean Foster (for the Flinx books) (yes yes yes to the lady-test - plus he writes good bloke and young bloke characters)

Sherri S. Tepper (yes yes yes for the lady-test)

Margaret Attwood (for influential, but not as a 'stayer' in the sf world).
Joanna Russ's Female Man would be a better hardcore feminist option, I think.

Kim Stanley Robinson (for the Red/Blue/Green Mars stuff) (yes yes yes to the lady-test - plus he writes good bloke characters)

Joan D. Vinge (yes yes yes to the lady-test - plus she writes good bloke characters)

Vonda McIntyre! (yes yes yes to the lady-test)

R.A. McAvoy (yes yes yes to the lady-test) - another good scifant lady author.


Susanna Clarke should be there for the Mr Strange/Dr Norrel stuff, but that's post 2002.

Other authors: Jack Vance, Spider Robinson, fact, I'm surprised the Hugos aren't better represented.

I think I want to add more young adult sf, but will have to settle for Wynn Jones and L'Engle (John Marsden, for example, while I don't particularly like him, has been important in the young adult world).

I'd drop Rowling (what the fuck? She's had an impact, but that is some shithouse sf).

I also have some problems with who might have put this list together and what their criteria were. There are quite a few of those cross-over genre bender pink book authors who should be on this list, simply because they contributed to the whole genre bending thing - bringing new readers and writers to sf. There are a zillion women reading those things and they sell like hot cakes. But I bet they don't get counted because there's all that talk about clothes and kissing. Girl germs.

I still hold by the thought that the newer sf really can't cut it when compared with some of the bigger guns of the olden days.

Frankly, if you want influential, you have to add L. Ron Hubbard.

NB the SF ladies are talking about this list here

Posted by dogpossum on March 12, 2007 3:44 PM in the category books