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Gender and Genre

…lying on my back on the library floor, staring blankly up at my bookshelves, I realised two things.

First: it’s not hoarding if it’s books; second, that I have a lot of series by female authors. Given all the unmitigated crap that occasionally hits the airwaves about ‘women ruining science-fiction’, and given the amount of sci-fi I read, it took me rather by surprise. I didn’t, in fact, set out to collect books written by women authors. Actually, if I’m completely honest, unless I’m looking for some more of someone’s work that I’ve already enjoyed, the author’s name tends to be about the last thing about a book that I look at.

Generally, if someone’s unwary enough to let me off my chain in a bookshop, my method of picking out books (yes, it’s never ‘a’ book, kindly don’t blaspheme) is to wander along the sci-fi and fantasy shelves, picking up random books that look interesting and reading the first few pages.

I like that first few pages, I buy the book – simple. If I like the rest of the book, when I’ve got it home and devoured it, then I’ll take notice of the author – so that I can go and see what else they’ve written, and hang out in their metaphorical garden hedges watching to see when the next book may come out. Yes, I author-stalk. (Rabia Gale, I’m looking at you. W. Clark Boutwell, you too.)

From my unexpected vantage point on the floor (I was trying to clean – don’t judge), for the first time in my life, I counted fingers and realised that, having used that method of book selection most of my life, I really do have a lot of books by women authors. C J Cherryh, Lilith Saintcrow, Anne MCaffrey, Dorothy Dunnett, Patricia Briggs, Rob Thurman, Michelle Sagara, Ann Aguirre, Laura Anne Gilman… I could keep going. I was almost relieved to come across half a shelf of Jack Campbell, a complete shelf and a half of Terry Pratchett (all hail Sir Terry), a clump of Jack Higgins, the full Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series, some Jim Butcher, a bit of Simon Green, and… yeah, I read a lot.

Basically, I like good writing, by which I mean a writing style that doesn’t make me roll my eyes on page one, characters that aren’t two-dimensional, and a plot that actually, well, has a plot. I don’t select my books based on the shape of the author’s genitalia. The correlation between gender and genre that seems to be so popular with most of society seems like an even bigger steaming pile when viewed from my position (on my library floor).

Something that pisses me off no end is the sheer number of individuals (insert epithets of choice here, I’m a dirty-word intellectual trying hard to keep my blog mostly PG) going around claiming that ‘men can’t write fantasy’ or ‘women can’t write science-fiction’. I call bullshit. J R R Tolkien, for example. C S Lewis. C J Cherryh, Octavia E Butler, Anne McCaffrey. I suffer violent urges when I read that J K Rowling is J K because someone told her that she’d sell fewer books as Joanne Kathleen Rowling.

I think at heart I feel that the only criteria that a book should be judged by is the quality of the writing. A good cover and a good blurb may well help to attract the reader’s attention, but ultimately, you can have the best cover in the world, and unless that excerpt makes me want to read more, you’re going back on the shelf…

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