The following is a transcription of a panel with the title ''Sexual Preference: The importance of genders for readers and writers'' held at ConFuse 93. The transcription was done by Tommy Persson. The text has been edited by Tommy Persson and Hans Persson to make it more readable. Panel members were Nancy Kress (NK), Mary Stanton (MS), Johan Anglemark (JA) and Martin Andreasson (MA).
MA: The title of this discussion is ''Sexual Preference: The Importance of genders for readers and writers'' so I think it is a topic that can lead to many different discussions so let's see where we end up. In the panel we have Johan Anglemark, ex-publisher, well known fan etcetera; Mary Stanton, fantasy author; Nancy Kress, our guest of honor and author of many acclaimed works. About the importance of genders for readers and writers: I work part-time as a proof reader. About a week ago I proofread an anthology which will soon be published by one of the leading Swedish publishing houses, Wiken, which is an anthology of short stories from the Swedish pulp sf magazine Jules Verne-Magasinet from the 1940s which was published for seven years and actually was the first weekly sf pulp magazine in the world. The short stories they published were mainly translations from American pulp magazines. Not Astounding Science Fiction but rather Thrilling Wonder Stories, Startling Stories, Super Science Stories and other leading magazines of America that day. One of the stories which was rather wonderful to read about fifty years later was, I don't quite remember who wrote it but Eando Binder is the main suspect. Maybe Henry Kuttner but I do not think so. It is about two scientists, a man and a woman, and the woman is supposed to be one of the most brilliant physicists of the world and she contacts the male scientist and suggests cooperation leading to the discovery of an energy source which will revolutionize everything. Two minutes after they have introduced themselves to each other the male scientist says ''it is early in the morning, I am hungry, go and make some pancakes for me''. The female scientist gets very upset and angry and stomps her feet and makes pancakes. Two paragraphs later, they are already engaged to each other. I think this was rather charming to read. This was an anecdote about sexual preference and gender roles in science fiction which I hope have evolved a little bit since then. Would you like to continue? You said a lot about the role of women in science fiction as writers and readers and as characters in science fiction in your guest of honor speech last night.
NK: Whether or not the gender roles have evolved in science fiction depend an awful lot on the writer. I have to say that I think there are writers out there who are still not with the program. Even though they will not be creating pancakes two minutes after they met, with sturm und drang and a potential for engagement involved there. The breakfast food issue in gender roles may have been laid to rest. This does not mean that there isn't still a certain number of writers out there that simply have not understood that in order to create equitable gender roles, reasonable gender roles, even believable gender roles, you have to do more then simply ignore the whole issue or just decide that everything that a man did before a woman is going to do now and is going to it in the exactly the same way and in exactly the same duration and in the exact same approach. That seems to me just as false. In other words if she said to him ''go and make me some pancakes'' and he stomped off angrily and made the pancakes and then they were engaged two paragraphs later, that is just as bad. It has to be more than a simple flip-flop of what we had in the forties and thirties and back. It has to be a genuine look at how men and women interact in the societal context within a given society, which is a lot harder to do which is why a lot of writers don't do it. In other words you cannot just say, OK, in order to be politically correct and in order to be nice and equal and in order to not get all the ladies mad at me I am simply going to make a couple of the important characters female and they are going to be the good guys and that's it. It takes more than that. You have to say what kind of society is this in the future, what are their beliefs, what are their religion, what are their politics, what are their economics -- I hate to sound like a Marxist, but -- economics is going to underlie much of the rest of this stuff. And once you got that in place then you can start to say, OK, how are men and women going to relate to each other and how are they going to relate to the question of raising children. I hate to reiterate this on this panel, but unless you have set up a society where some other method of child bearing exists besides women getting pregnant -- which sounds to me as a lovely idea -- bearing the baby for nine months, going through the birth, and possibly nursing after that, you cannot treat men and women exactly the same because this is a large and major difference. It forces women to either change the way they look at their careers, change the way they plot their lives or decide they are not going to have children. In the United States a recent survey showed that of top female executives, those that have reached above middle management, to top female executive status in the United States, 95 percent of the women are childless, 90 percent of the men have children. It is still a choice at a certain level. If you have the kind of job which demands seventy or eighty hours a week, or if you have the kind of job where you are a starship captain, high and ranking military officer, dedicated scientist that cannot leave the lab for weeks at a time because whatever it is you are doing down there will suffer without your presence. There is still much more of a choice involved. So the only point I want to make, at possibly tedious length here, is that it doesn't do to just flip-flop the pancake making. You have to consider the whole context of how it all fits with everything else in the society. But that is what good science fiction should be doing anyway. It shouldn't just be taking bit and pieces and sticking them together. It should be creating a whole, coherent, future society where everything fits and makes sense that it belongs together. Otherwise I want read you.
MA: It sounds a bit like your opinion is that the question of gender roles in a work of literature is even more important in science fiction than in mainstream literature.
NK: I think it is more important because it is a place where we look for differences. If I write a novel set in 1993 in New York I don't have to explain much about gender differences because my audience will already know. I have to explain these specific characters, I have to explain whether or not you got a pair of yuppies here both dedicated to their careers, or whether you have a traditional female who is going to stay home and raise the children in Connecticut when her husband commutes to New York and she does not see him for seventy of eighty hours. I used to work for Xerox and there were guys, top executives there, I swear they spent there whole life on planes. They didn't even know how many children they had. But whichever one of these models I choose, my audience will know with a couple of clues, oh yeah, this is the yuppie guy who is on the plane all the time, this is the two-career family where the child doesn't see their parents for weeks, oh yeah, this is the traditional mother who is out there in Connecticut doing it all. A few words will do that. In science fiction I have to spend a lot more time explaining to you how it works. So it is harder to do and it is even more important.
JA: I am interested in how radical is this point of making the gender roles in literature more natural and more equal. I spoke yesterday night with a person who had listened to your guest of honor speech and who is not here any longer and who thought that, A, women and men are as equal as they need to be and, B, it has absolutely nothing to do with literally quality.
NK: Let me ask, I know this person is not here and you probably do not want to say who it is, does he have children?
NK: He does have children. And who has the major responsibilityá...
JA: I do not know. I think it is the wife.
MS: That is probably a good guess.
JA: The children are grown up by now.
NK: Then almost certainly she had the major responsibility for them and of course he thinks everybody is as equal as they need to be.
JA: It is probably stupid to ask the audience. Is equality in books important to the quality of a book? How many people think at all that feminism has anything to do with quality?
NK: That's the wrong question. It isn't that feminism and political correctness and showing men and women equal has to do with the quality of the book. That is not a direct connection. What it is is that the society you set up for the future has to deal with this in a realistic way. In other words it can't just take what we have now or what we had in the fifties or what we had in the forties and plunk it in the middle of the future. I think you can have a high quality science fiction novel about a future society which is totally patriarchal, the men are totally in control and they completely dominate women. That doesn't mean it is going to be a poor quality book. But what I want from that book is I want a logical surround -- economic, religious, social -- so that I believe it.
MA: So that the patriarchal system is explained.
NK: Yes, what I don't want to see is the Victorians suddenly plunged down in the middle of the future because the writer has not spent any time thinking about how the rest of the things in the society will affect this. So it isn't that to be high quality a science fiction novel has to be feminist. Absolutely not.
JA: What if the explanation is simply, well men and women have the same roles two hundred years in the future since men are superior to women as we all know. It must be so.
NK: Then you are going to be ignoring a lot of scientific evidence to the contrary.
MS: This is a clarification, comment. It seems to me that we are dealing with two separate issues here. One is a political issues, what are women's roles now and what are women's roles going to be in the future and is there going to be progress from now? The second issue is in a good novel you have to account for the entire universe and that universe if it is a heterosexual universe includes men and women and women bear babies and men don't so how are you going to account for that? So one's a real practical and tactical kind of thing. A good novel in translating a complete whole universe is going to account for this sexual fact somehow. Whether it accounts for it in length or in short, a couple of sentences, is not as material as the fact that a good quality novel does not exclude 51 percent of the human race cavalierly. That is all. The political issue of what it should be like is kind of what we are discussing now. Because I don't think that anybody would argue that very good fiction has a very complete view of the universe. Otherwise your credibility is affected. You don't believe it as a reader.
Publik Holger Eliasson: This is a question to Nancy Kress: In your novel An Alien Light there is a passage which I think is marvelously illustrative good writing and it changed the way I look at things and that is what I want a science fiction novel to do and it goes like this. One of the main characters is a female glassblower and at one point <change of tape> at first he seemed to be very kind to her but also in a way patronizing. He's obviously a person with very strong will and he puts her on a pedestal because she is an artist and he is attracted by that but when she says I'm just an ordinary person and I can't live up to your expectations, he gets very, very angry, almost violent, and at one point in my life I have been there, and I have done exactly that kind of thing and it also struck me that you seem to have an axe to grind. Did that happen to you in your life?
NK: No, I have never been involved with a violent, possessive man. I don't date violent or possessive men. And also after the first conversation they realize that I am not a particularly easy person to expect a submissive feminine role from and it doesn't happen again. Let me say about this axe to grind thing. Yes, there is this relationship in the novel but it is not the only male-female relationship. Kelovar-Ayrys is one. Ayrys-Dahare is another. There are a number of female-male relationships. No, it is not an axe to grind because again it is only one particular kind of male-female relationships. There are much better male-female relationships in An Alien Light. If I can be forgiven the hubris of using my own work as an example. In An Alien Light there are two human societies and one of them allows women to be soldiers. I don't mean temporally two years in the army draft soldiers, I mean the real thing, career soldiers with a total dedication. However there is a problem since this is a pre-industrial or early industrial society and if you allow females to be warriors, full scale fully developed warriors, you are interfering with the child bearing function. Because you cannot have a pregnant fighter, you can simply not have somebody who is nine months pregnant doing hand-to-hand combat. It is not going to work. And they don't want to put all of this training into their female warriors and then have them get married or get pregnant and remove themselves from the soldiery. They also do not have any form of birth control since this is pre-industrial. So the solution in this particular society is that all female warriors -- and they start training from a very young age, like eight or nine -- are lesbians and they form only same-sex pair bondings. And then at some point when they are to old for this kind of intense hand-to-hand fighting, somewhere around thirty or thirty-five or wherever you want to define it, they often have a brief coupling with a male just to become pregnant and continue the fighting line but their major romantic relationships for the rest of their lives continue to be with women. The male warriors since they don't get pregnant don't have the same kind of stricture and their major relationships are with women. They don't have to push their young men into homosexuality the way they have to push their young women if they are going to be fighters. Not all women are fighters. Some may choose not to be. It's a caste that trains its own young girls. This is one possible solution, not the only one, around the question of female fighters who dedicate their entire life toward hand-to-hand fighting in a society where birth control is not a possibility and in which you have to account for the bearing of children. I am not saying that every writer ought to rush out and do what I did. Obviously there are some limitations to this too. It is a small society and it is highly rigid which is one reason they can get away with doing this. There is not much freedom of choice. The only reason that I bring this up, and again I feel a little hubristic, is to point out that if you take something that is different from our experience which is female warriors dedicating their whole life to fighting in a pre-industrial society where birth control is not a possibility, then you have to make other things in the society fit. You have to account for these other things and I think I did that in An Alien Light. My quarrel is not with patriarchal novels. There are some wonderful patriarchal novels, some great societies in which women are submissive and second class citizens. The novels are still great because that is not how you judge a novel. But you do judge a novel if it doesn't fit. If the pieces seem to be taken one from here and one from here and one from here and there is no attempt to make a coherent whole out of this society. That's what I judge. It is my major objection to most female barbarian warriors as they go slashing and screwing their way around the countryside and they never seem to be pregnant, they never seem to have their period, they never seem to have any of the difficulties that beset real females.
Publik Michael PetersÚn: I guess some of the things I was going to say has been lost in the flow of information from the panel. I would like to go back to the original question about sexual gender in science fiction. In Joanna Russ' The Female Man she manages to show sexual intercourse with a sexual switch between. For example a man having his orgasm first and the female after him just switching the sexual roles. Have you ever tried to change the sexual roles of male and female in your books and should you try to do it? Is it possible to change them?
NK: Have I ever had a female dominant society?
Publik Michael PetersÚn: No, sexual dominance between male and female.
Publik Johannes Berg: I think he means switching, not just changing between the roles.
NK: Do you mean for society as a whole or for a given set of individuals?
Publik Michael PetersÚn: Mostly for a set of individuals.
NK: I don't think you need science fiction to do that. There are certainly in our world some couples where she is more dominant than he is. And I understand you can even purchase this commercially should you wish it. But your question does raise an interesting point. In most societies there will be some variations. Even in a male dominant society some couples will still have a strong willed woman who will control the household and he will do what she says. In a female dominated society you will still have some household where he will control everything and she will do what he says. There always will be individual variations. What is different is that in some societies you can be open about it. There are a lot of choices permitted. In other societies it has to be under the table, it has to be kept secret because people won't approve. Have I ever personally created a sexual relationship in a novel where the female is dominant sexually? Probably not.
NK: I don't know. There is not a lot of sex in my novels for one thing. An Alien Light is the only book in which I have a lot of actual sex. The rest of it is all kind of just hinted at. Sex scenes for one thing are really hard to write. No matter how you do them they either sound like they got lifted from Harlequin romances with heaving bosoms and pink shadowed lights or they sound like they got lifted from Playboy. It's really hard to do them so they have some of the depth that real sexuality has in terms of emotional interaction that don't sound stereotyped or cliches. I have shied away from writing very many sex scenes because they are hard to do well.
MS: You think it is tough with people, you ought to try it with horses.
NK: Didn't Catherine McGreg try just that?
Publik Gunilla Jonsson: I was wondering about this female warrior theme which seems such a predominant question in American fantasy and science fiction. It seems to be a really important question for all American science fiction and fantasy writers how women can be competitive warriors and soldiers and fighters and kill people all the time all their lives from they're fifteen to thirty-five.
NK: That's a really good question. I think it is partly because science fiction comes from a pulp tradition and that means it comes from a tradition where power and violence is very important. Consider all of the really early important science fiction work. They are all about fighting: fighting aliens, fighting spies, fighting whatever happens to be. We evolved from that tradition and I think that that for women writers has become one of the things that defines equality. If we can move into this area then we have moved into another area. In the American society as a whole recently the military has gotten a lot of attention and whether or not women should be allowed into combat. Women ended up in combat positions in desert storm. They ended up before that in the invasion of Panama. They ended up in combat positions where they were not supposed to be. Just recently, about a month ago, the air force allowed its first woman jet fighter pilot which is something we were not permitted before. So it is one area where women are pushing. Your question is as to why? I haven't the vaguest idea because I don't have a military mind set. I wouldn't want to be a female jet fighter pilot even assuming anybody was crazy enough to let me. But I do think that if you are trying to push ahead and claim that those skills that men show in the world women are also capable of showing. That becomes an important area because that is where power is concentrated.
Publik Gunilla Jonsson: But often in European novels those male skills are not necessarily focused on trying to kill or soldiery.
NK: Well, they're not all the way here either. It is only one area.
Publik Gunilla Jonsson: But it is quite big, it is a huge area in American science fiction and fantasy. As a science fiction writer not writing military science fiction do you feel that these military issues, these fighter issues, have high status within the science fiction community of literature?
MS: No, it is the reverse. Very much the reverse.
NK: Militaristic science fiction does not, except for Lois McMaster Bujold who keeps winning awards with it.
MS: It is generally held in very low esteem. We were talking early about how the elf fantasy and the constant rewriting of Tolkien is held in contempt and the female warrior is held in a great deal of contempt.
NK: Look at this year's Nebula novel winner. It is Connie Willis' Doomsday Book and it is about an anthropologist, not a female fighter at all, who goes back, time travel, to the fourteenth century. She is at Cambridge University and she is an historian going back to try to check out the fourteenth century and by mistake, she is supposed to end up in 1320, she ends up in 1348 when the black plague hit England. But this is not at all remotely military or connected with violence except that the plague in itself is a violent disease. And yet it won one of our two highest awards.
MS: Because you asked a provocative question, a question that provoked me to think about it, I was just wondering if this may or may not be an American phenomena in terms of where we are in our culture at the moment. I don't know if I want to say anything about it until I have thought about it more. We were having a discussing at breakfast this morning and I said that I defend my country even we are wrong. I defend my country.
NK: Don't defend it if it is wrong.
MS: At the same time, you made me think about something that I hadn't thought about. When we talk to other science fiction writers this issue of the women warriors, it's like, right but where is the real stuff. But from your perspective reading the kinds of thing America produces you obviously notice it. So thanks for bringing it up. I don't have a genuine comment to make until I think about it quite a bit.
Publik Carina Bj÷rklind: When I grew up and in becoming a woman, when I was eleven or twelve, I was looking for role models in books. I spoke to Carolina yesterday and she had the same experience. We always identified with the male hero because the women were just there as ornaments or something like that. For me that has consequences now because I have been what you call a tom-boy, someone who dresses like a boy and behaves like a boy and that is a problem when you get older because the older you get the more you start thinking about children and things like that. Suddenly it is important to be a woman and then you realize that you don't haveá... When I grow up I didn't identify with other women because I read science fiction books and I identified with the male hero. And that's a problem I think.
NK: I think that is very perceptive and I had the same experience. When I first discovered science fiction at fourteen and started reading Clarke and Asimov and Heinlein and all of the people who were available I identified with the male heroes too but I was uneasy doing it. They were doing all the interesting stuff and I wanted to do the interesting stuff. At the same time I was aware that I wasn't a male and I didn't really want to be a male. I liked being female. It made me uneasy, it made me feel like there was something missing although I couldn't define it. Also I can remember being eleven years old ready to get on the school bus which had come to pick me up and I was thinking about this but in confused terms the way you do when you are eleven. And what I remember thinking very clearly is, my life would be easier if I were a boy because I would know how I was supposed to behave. That's the sentence that I remember thinking when I was eleven. I think that what I meant by that was that the models I had for grown-up men were heroic, they were ethical, they were honest as far as the heroes of the book. They did interesting things, they were manly, they moved forward with courage and with honesty. I didn't have those role models in females. And I wanted to be like that but I also wanted to be a woman. It was a very confusing kind of thing. Now that's changing, both men and women sf writers and other kinds of writers as well are writing female characters who do interesting things and who are struggling with ethical issues. Carina, it is almost to late for you and me, we are not eleven any more.
Publik Carina Bj÷rklind: But interesting female characters are very often evil ones.
NK: Not in my books.
Publik Carina Bj÷rklind: Especially in films and TV-series and things like that. They like to stick in a women who is really bad and power hungry. That is not a very good role model.
NK: This is the old madonna/whore split. A woman was sweet and should be protected and was a mother and was valued as long as she stayed in her role. If she stepped out of it and became too active and especially if she became sexual then she was a whore. Madonna and whore were the only two roles. I think that's changing, I think in our generation, I am a little older but I think that in both our half generations apart, that is changing. But I am not sure that is has changed in the generation above ours and they are still controlling the movie industry. That is why you still get a certain amount of this, if a woman is going to be powerful she is automatically evil because powerful women are dangerous.
Publik Anders Holmstr÷m: Yes!
MS: There is a heartfelt agreement.
Publik Michael PetersÚn: Just a little depressing thought perhaps. In the real world there seems to be some kind of a backlash going on against feminism and females trying to even out the score a bit. Susan Faludi's book [Backlash] for example is an excellent book. Is there something like this going on in science fiction and fantasy. For example I know that The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood was rather muchá..., even in Sweden we had complaints about both book and film from some rather reactionary forces. Will there be any kind of backlash in science fiction and fantasy as well against this kind ofá...
NK: There are writers and important sf figures who strongly objected to The Handmaid's Tale. And there are people who strongly objected to the influx of women in the field. I am going to name some names here. I think some of them are innocent and some of them are guilty. One of the people who objected most strongly to The Handmaid's Tale is Gregory Benford but his reasons was not because of the feminist content. He didn't think the society hung together. He felt that any society that was based on this kind of strong religious undertone should show its characters going to church more and this was missing. He also felt that the economics underlying the society were so sketchy as to be unbelievable and implausible. So some of the American objection by prominent people to that book had to do with other qualities other than its feminism. I think that it isn't a backlash so much as a lash that never went away in the first place. It is not a reaction. There are writers who still don't think that women write very well or belong there. For instance Charles Platt who is a critic and writer has said quite frankly that he thinks the influx of women is ruining science fiction because in his view women tend to write fantasy more then they do science fiction. I don't know if this is true. But he thinks fantasy has ruined science fiction and because women tend to write a lot of fantasy he tends to feel they have ruined it. Jerry Pournelle has made a similar statement. He is talking about female science fiction writers and he says that female science fiction writers seldom if ever take the time to get the science right and therefore they have diluted and ruined science fiction. I think Jerry Pournelle seldom takes the time to get his characters right and he hasn't done our field a whole lot of good either. The point I want to make is that these people never thought any differently. They haven't had a backlash against the influx of women or against feminism. They always thought that from the beginning and at the very least we can give them some credit for sort of perverted consistency.
JA: I was sort of interested to move on to the subject of ''do men prefer to read male writers and do women prefer to read female writers'' because I found out just a couple of years ago by looking at my favorite books that they are all written by men. I don't know why I seem to prefer male authors as a whole. It is not that I dislike female authors or that I don't read a book because it is a woman who has written it. It doesn't matter. But when I looked at my favorite authors I just discovered that ten out of ten happened to be men. And I thought there is probably something significant here.
NK: First of all I think it is very courageous of you to admit it. I am standing here with a knife.
JA: I haven't read you so far.
MS: I think you should try reading some women writers.
JA: I have.
MS: What are your objections?
JA: None, it is simply that when I start to look at whom are my ten favorite authors none of them is a woman. It might be just a coincidence but I thought that probably there is something to this. Maybe something stylistic.
MA: If I might ask you for more details. Nancy made a distinction yesterday between male and female writers and masculine and feminine authors not being the same. Male writers being able to write in a feminine way so to speak according to your definition of feminine and vice versa. Are all your male favorite authors also masculine?
JA: All, maybe not all, I like Hemingway, almost all of my favorites authors are extremely to the feminine side.
NK: You place Hemingway in the feminine side?
JA: No, I think he is the exception.
MA: Save Hemingway, all the other male writers are writing in a feminine way.
NK: So you like male writers who write in a feminine sort of way.
JA: I don't define it as feminine.
NK: Who is on this list?
JA: Ian McDonald, Iain Banks, Geoff Ryman, it's hard to just pick them. Writers who are not writing techno, who are focusing on social issues and on the relation between people.
NK: They are all good writers. When I list my favorite writers they are not all women but I have to say that a lot of them are. I don't know, like you, if the reason for that is that women writers are more likely to create female characters -- protagonists -- and I am still looking for those role models Carina and I didn't get when we were eleven. There are exceptions. In science fiction Theodore Sturgeon I think was a genius and is one of my favorite writers, Gene Wolfe is one of my favorite writers, Bruce Sterling is one of my favorite writers, and of course they are all male, but so are Ursula K. LeGuin and Karen Joy Fowler and Connie Willis and a bunch of others who are female. It's more of a mixture but probably there are more women then men. Outside of science fiction nearly all of my favorite writers are women and I feel a little uncomfortable with this. Here I am saying, OK all you guys are not giving us a fair chance and most of the reading that I pick up in mainstream is by women. But I think there is one other factor here that we have to mention. Ursula LeGuin pointed this out and I think she is right. Women writers grew up reading about male heroes because that's all there was really and as a result we know how create them second hand because we have seen it done our whole life. In mainstream whether you grew up reading Charles Dickens, or in science fiction whether you grew up reading Heinlein or Sturgeon or Asimov, we see male characters in these books so it is easier for us in some ways to write male characters than it is for male authors to write female characters. Not because male authors are less perceptive or less better writers but simply because there are fewer literary role models given the way the literature has gone. It may be that one reason that I like to read books by women is that they are more likely to have believable female characters, to me, because it is easier for women to create women and there are more literary role models for us to create men. But of course there are exceptions to that. Even with literary role models I have trouble creating fully adult male characters. In my novel Brain Rose there are three viewpoint characters. One is a woman and she was no difficult. One is a twenty-seven year old man Robby but even though he is supposed to be twenty-seven, emotionally this guy is about thirteen, he never grew up, so he is not a problem either because I can do children and emotionally he is a child. But there is also a fully grown male adult, Joe, and I think he is the least successful character in the book because I have the least insight in how fully adult males think. It is harder for me to get into your heads and try to feel like an adult male than it is to feel like a child or like a woman. So for that reason I think that there is an obligation to work especially hard when you are creating a fully adult member of the opposite gender. But I am not sure that it always comes off. That may be one reason that you prefer reading books by men and I prefer reading books by women although I make a heroic effort to cross over. And there certainly are some excellent male writers that are among my favorites. But I don't think that we have to say that this is a terribly unequal politically incorrect stance. I think that there are reasons for it that go beyond simply the political.
Publik Robert Brown: I have been looking at book shelves of friends and ten out of ten times the majority of the books are by authors of the same gender as themselves. It does work that way.
NK: We look for ourselves in fiction. There is nothing wrong with that.
Publik Robert Brown: There is nothing wrong with that but there is a problem when we try to ignore that fact that there is a difference.
Publik Michael PetersÚn: When I was young, at least younger than I am now, I used to read quite a lot of male dominant hard core science fiction with large space ships going out and exploring the huge unknown. As I grew a bit older I started to realize that my taste in literature also changed very much. If you look at the books I bought the last three or four years you will see that the major part of them actually are by female authors. Of course you can go to your male friends in your own age and find mostly books by male writers. There was not that many female writers when I bought most of my books and I didn't like them when I was young. When I grew older I started to understand females and I started to enjoy their way of looking at things. Then I started to buy female writers and now I prefer female writers. Nowadays I mainly buy Elizabeth Hand, Connie Willis, Pat Murphy, Pat Cadigan, Karen Joy Fowler because they are better than their male counterparts because most of the time they have to be better just to get published. So if you ask your friends instead what have you bought the last three years?
Publik Robert Brown: I think it is more fun not asking because then they have to start thinking about it and explain why. I just want to observe.
NK: Can I ask a question of the audience: How many people find that most of your favorite authors are the same gender as you are? How many find it is the opposite gender? How many find it doesn't really matter? I gets about a third a third, a third. That's interesting.
Publik Johannes Berg: You are ignoring the history of science fiction. Up until twenty years ago there were very few female science fiction writers.
NK: That was what Carina and I were saying. There were no role models.
Publik Johannes Berg: Yes, but the point being that if you start making up favorite lists very many people have favorites that are old classics and very few of the classic writers in the fifties and sixties were women. It is different if we talk about modern writers. You said something about thirty, thirty-five percent being female and that is the percentage we should expect in modern favorites lists assuming that men and women write equally well. On the other hand I believe to some extent that this psychological coloring of preference come from identifying with the characters.
MS: It just occurred to me that in mystery which have a longer chronological history than science fiction does the great male and the great female writers are about equally weighted. You have Ngaio Marsh and P. D. James writing today. Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Craig Rice and at the same time you have Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammet, JohnáD. MacDonald, Ross MacDonald they are all equally weighted.
NK: Referring to female science fiction writers I have noticed an interesting phenomena. I haven't tested this empirically so what I am giving you is just my impressions. Of the women I know who are science fiction writers they tend to fall mostly in two groups. Women who don't have children or women who have children but started writing later than their male colleagues after the children were out of diapers and sort of safely stowed away in school. There are a bunch of us -- Karen Joy Fowler, Ursula K. LeGuin, me -- who didn't start writing until we were nearly thirty. We didn't know all of our lives that we were going to be writers. The women I know who knew all their lives that they were going to be writers -- Pamela Sargent and Patricia McKillip -- those tended to make the choice not to have children. Those of us where the writing took us by surprise at some point tended to get started later after the kid was more or less under control or at least born. This isn't true for the male writers I know. There is no pattern like that. They started early or they stared late having absolutely no difference on whether or not they were having children or not having children. I don't know exactly what that means but I think it is pretty interesting.