Friday, January 11, 2008

Gender and SF

Charlie Stross is one of my favorite Science Fiction writers. In fact, he may be my favorite living Science Fiction author, although I would probably choose J. G. Ballard for that position on some days, depending on mood.

Apart from his books, one thing I like about Stross is his natural humanity and intelligence. When he writes non-fiction, as on his blog, I get a feeling of connectedness, a feeling of a living being thinking things through, that I don't get from some much more established authors. One other good thing about Stross is he doesn't usually let that quick-wittedness overcome the story in his fiction. Nobody like a clever clogs.

IO9 interviewed him recently about gender and SF. Most of what I read about gender and SF comes from lunatics writing on Live Journal (or being pilloried for it on Fandom_Wank), and I must say it's nice to read someone rational addressing the subject for a change. It's a short interview but interesting. Sciende Fiction is supposed to be a literature of ideas, of 'what if', and it can be stultifying to read a story set in another galaxy a million years in the future which is a girl-meets-boy story in shiny lame astronaut clothing. I exaggerate but not by much. Stross is perfectly capable of imagining a near future where not everyone shares exactly the same gender roles, ethics and family structures as exist in 2008 Southern California. (I believe So Cal to be the Quelle of story, not because I live here, but because this is where Hollywood lives and TV is created.)

Maybe I miss England too much. The following sentiment seemed to be expressible there, but I have rarely seen a statement like this one in all the years I've been in the States:

Segregating people from birth and channeling their life opportunities on the basis of their physical sex seems to me to be every bit as unjustifiable as doing so on the basis of their skin colour. And I'd like to live to see the day when it's as unacceptable to engage in gender stereotyping as it is to engage in racial stereotyping.

(To be fair, most people I know don't do this from birth. Nope, instead they stereotype from the first ultrasound picture of their fetus.)

I really do recommend Glasshouse. It doesn't actually hit you over the head with language like that above. It takes the classic SF writers' dictum to 'show, don't tell' to heart and is funny, clever, informative and well-plotted as well.

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