Where are the Women?

No, this isn’t about where to find a date, but where the female authors are on the list PZ linked to today of the “Most significant SciFi/Fantasy books of the last 50 years.”

There are a total of 4 women authors on the list, and one of them is J.K Rowling. Now, I liked Harry Potter–but aside from making a butt-load of money, was that really the best/most significant book?

This same week, a post over at Live Journal challenged readers to name 3 prominent women scientists. Can you do that? Can you name 3 prominent women scientists currently alive?

In both cases, there are great women scientists and authors out there, but many of us aren’t aware of their work.
So, name names in the comments, and educate us all!

I’ll start:

I think Connie Willis should be on that list for Doomsday Book, as well as for collecting more Hugo and Nebula awards than any other author.

I’d like to put Tanya Huff on the list for having books that aren’t restricted exclusively heterosexual worlds, and for having strong female characters.

For scientists, I’ll name Sandra Hrdy (not a typo) for pointing out that using the word “harem” to describe animal behavior is charged terminology, and for challenging primatologists to examine their assumptions. Her 1981 book lit a fire in me, and greatly influenced my choice of PhD topic in female competition.

I’ll also name Marlene Zuk, another prominent behavioral ecologist, who’s also led a feminist critique of the way we explain animal behavior. Her work on parasitism and sexual selection completely changed the way we look at bright male plumage. Zuk’s 1993 paper in BioScience was a landmark, and she and Hrdy have both called an older, more famous animal behavioralist on his bullshit.

May Berenbaum is my favorite female entomologist, since I’d like to be her when I grow up. (Granted, since I turn 45 this year, I need to get going on that one.)
She’s currently one of the two female Entomology Department heads in the US, and one of the very few women in the National Academy. She takes no guff, does awesome research, and is also an extremely entertaining writer. (2 books of popular entomology writing–when Dave Barry gives you a book jacket blurb, you know it’s the real thing.)

Your turn! Who do you want Skepchick readers to know about?


Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

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  1. Kage Baker, Susanna Clarke and the late Octavia Butler. Also I think P.D. James is a woman, I believe she mostly writes mystery but Children of Men is science fiction. And I guess Mary Shelley counts for Frankenstein.

    If you ever find yourself looking for a good woman S.F. writer grab just about any edition of Gardner Dozois' "The Year's Best Science Fiction" he usually includes a few.

    Alas, I cannot name any women scientists currently living aside from Jane Goodall. Whom, incidently, I saw speak the other night.

  2. bug_girl wrote:

    "There are a total of 4 women authors on the list, and one of them is J.K Rowling. Now, I liked Harry Potter–but aside from making a butt-load of money, was that really the best/most significant book?"

    Well, getting 12 year olds to read a 300+ page book is no mean feat, and that's exactly what she did. Even if you don't really think much of the story or its popularity, what she accomplished is pretty amazing. So it definitely belongs in the category "significant book(s)".

  3. I'm no sci-fi fan so can't help with the female authors. But scientists:

    Alice Alldredge

    Lene Hau

    Lisa Randall

    and let's not forget Angela Merkel, though she is now running a country instead of a lab.

    So, that was 3 physicists and an oceanographer – and I'm not even a physicist…

    This was harder than I thought, but then I tried to think of 3 male scientists and the only one who readily popped into my head was Stephen Hawkings. Then a few minutes later James Hansen. That was about it after five minutes.

    It's easier within your own field; I bet every m/f scientist could easily come up with 20+ currently active female scientists within their my own field. I can (oceanography): Andrea Ogston, Katherine Richardson, Ann Gargett, Patricia Wiberg, Sarah Bass, Lee Karp-Boss, Erika McPhee-Shaw, Cindy Palinkas, Heidi Dierssen, Grace Cheng, Sarah Jones, Tatiana Ross, Marlene Noble, Mary Richardson, Karine LeMarchand, Hillary Kennedy, Elizabeth North, Heidi Sosik, Shuba Satyendranath, Samantha Lavender, Julie Pullen, Courtney Harris.

  4. Scientists: Sally Ride, Jeanette Grasselli, Manuela Veloso

    The only other woman sci-fi writer I can think of that's not on that list is Jane Espenson.

    (Just one quick correction to your post, there are 5 women with 6 books on that list: Ursula K. Le Guin x2, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, J.K. Rowling and Anne Rice.)

  5. "and let’s not forget Angela Merkel, though she is now running a country instead of a lab."

    Yes, and almost all jokes about her revolve around her appearance, even after she's been chancellor for quite some time, now.

    From Ursula K. LeGuin, I'd suggest "The Dispossessed: An Ambigious Utopia" more than the Earthsea novels. I've heard good things about Mary Gentle and Marge Piercy, as well, when it comes to Sci-Fi/Fantasy.

    I must admit I don't know that many names in science, generally, at least not to the point where I could come up with them (instead of recognizing them). So with this thread, there's a good chance I'll end know knowing more women scientists than men. So keep it up.

  6. I find the literary list to be very wanting. It only really reflects the taste of the originator of the list. It's not only in the area of women, it's just lacking in general – it's not very adventurous, it's very conservative, which science fiction shouldn't be.

    I also get annoyed at the mixing of science fiction and fantasy. Two different things. If fantasy is going to be included, I have no idea why "The Wizard of Oz" or "Alice in Wonderland" or "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" are not on there. I guess they aren't considered "genre" fantasy and therein lies the problem. Why not just throw horror in there as well, while you are at it?

    Books I would throw onto my list:

    "The Man Who Folded Himself" by David Gerrold

    "The Martian Chronicles"

    "The Doomsday Book" by Connie Willis

    "The Day of the Triffids" by John Wyndham

    "Walking on Glass" by Iain Banks

    "His Dark Materials Trilogy" by Phillip Pullman

    "The Tripod Trilogy" by John Christopher

    "Riddley Walker" by Russell Hoban

    "Memoirs Found in A Bath Tub" by Stanislaw Lem

    "The Wanting Seed" by Anthony Burgess

    "Kalki" by Gore Vidal.

    "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" by Robert C. O'Brien

    And so many more . . .

  7. FYI– I added a link for may, since the National Academy interview site is back up again.

    If you'd like to listen to interviews with lots of interesting scientists, they are all here.

  8. If we're talking good and significant books, then I'd say Neil Gaiman's The Sandman deserves a place. It touched lives, and it proved that comics can, in principle, do anything. In my personal ranking of graphic novels (which is, of course, concordant with the fundamental aesthetic scale of the Cosmos), it takes the lead, neck-and-neck with Transmetropolitan. A ways behind, Preacher follows as a respectable third.

    I keep waiting for Gaiman to write a novel as fantastic in its genre as Sandman was in its, and he keeps making close approaches. Every novel of his induces in me the same reaction: "Wow, this is really good. You couldn't change any bit of it and make it better." After I'm done, I think, "That was totally sweet, but why aren't my head and heart spinning like they were when I finished Sandman?"

    If we're just talking significant books, then much as it pains me, I'd have to put Atlas Shrugged on the list. Like few books before or since, it's gotten all the wankers to beat in synchrony, mumbling their paternoster of proud individuality in a great misfit chorus.

    Other people over at Pharyngula mentioned The Martian Chronicles and A Clockwork Orange, which definitely score on both the "good" and the "significant" scales.

    Oh, and thad, I've read a whole lot of Amelia Peabody books in my time! Although I gotta say, even if archaeology is a science, does archaeology fiction count as science fiction?

  9. That list has been around before, and was found seriously incomplete then. For woman authors, I'd start off with Octavia Butler, "James Tiptree Jr." (real name Alice Sheldon), Anne Mccaffree, Nancy Kress, Sharon Shinn, Elizabeth Moon…. There's also a couple of one-shot wonders whose titles I remember but not their names: _Brain_Plague_ (some hairy Polish name) and _Survival: Species Imperative #1_.

    Note that at least a couple of those are also scientists….

  10. I haven't read many on that list – I've never been a voracious science fiction reader, but some things I simply missed, so I'm always up for good suggestions. I've seen the movie adaptations of some, but not read the books. Orac mentioned A Wrinkle in Time, which I read about the same age as him, then we had to read it for 6th grade English class. (I still have my paperback copy – $1.25! – and no, I'm not that old, leave me alone.)

    JbraderI would not consider Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as science fiction, but thanks for reminding me to look at my copy because I have some cool things underlined. It's filed under "literature" in the book stores. I also don't think Slaughterhouse-5 should be on a sci-fi list.

    Gee, current women scientists – they need more publicity! Definitely Jane Goodall is a good choice, as is Carolyn Porco (who is a good public writer besides her obvious role with Cassini). I'm also fond of Andrea Ghez, but I see her on The Science Channel often, so I'm familiar with her.

  11. If you're are going to mention Jane Espenson, you have to also mention Marti Noxon.

    Would also like to add Lloyd Rose to the list.

    Oh (and for reasons I won't immediately go into) should also have been able to mention Isobelle Carmody, Marianne de Piers and Rowena Cory Daniels.

    (As for whether or not Amelia Peabody is sf/fantasy… who cares? They are great reads!)

  12. Melusine said,

    I would not consider Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as science fiction, but thanks for reminding me to look at my copy because I have some cool things underlined. It’s filed under “literature” in the book stores. I also don’t think Slaughterhouse-5 should be on a sci-fi list.

    Back in Huntsville, William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch was filed under "middle school summer reading".

    But that's because we put it there. Ain't many ways to amuse oneself in Huntsville other than going to the Barnes-and-Borders-A-Million.

  13. Blake, that might explain why I often find movies in the wrong section of the video store – bored youths! Why didn't you play with rockets or something? ;-)

    Regardless, we studied Frankenstein in school and I just wouldn't classify it as science fiction (nor do the publishers). Yes, there's a scientist and his science, and it's fiction, but it doesn't focus much on science – more philosophy. My book on the back cover says "Mary Shelley's powerful tale of Gothic horror." Whatever…it's beautifully written. :-)

  14. Nancy Tanner, anthropologist. Her ideas in human evolution keep getting more and more support, even the ideas that were considered pretty radical, like early hybridization in hominids, or robust australopithjecines using tools, and of course females using tools, even for hunting (we just saw this in the chimp vs. bushbaby news). Besides that she changed the view of matriliny with her studies of the Minangkabua and articles like "Rethinking Matriliny", and redid the definition of matrifocality (many textbooks use her definition) with her article "Matrifocality in Indonesia and Africa and Among Black Americans".

  15. She's not well known outside the computer industry, but within it she's pretty famous.

    Joanna Rutkowska is considered one of the best of the best when it comes to computer security. She's been mentioned on the front page of Slashdot a number of times that I can remember.

  16. I think Harry Potter is a good thing. Miz Rowling gets kids to read, volutarily, and they read real books with real literary themes. We don't need to ram Hemingway down their throats. That's a good thing to me.

    As for scifi authors, I like Melissa Scott for "Trouble and Her Freinds"

  17. Mary Shelley wouldn’t fall in the “last 50 years” category, though

    Yes, but she deserves special treatment. I am a big fan of Frankenstein because the story shows that people can do the most horrible things in the name of the most laudable principles.

    As you may recall, Frankenstein's mission in life was to win victory over death at all costs. That's an admirable motive, but he carried it just a tad too far. The parallels with modern-day "pro-life" advocates are inescapable.

  18. People often state that science-fiction and fantasy are not the same, which is of course correct. However, I feel they belong in the same general category and kind of belong together, like salt and pepper.

    Unlike ordinary fiction, which is set in a realistic world (past or present), fantasy and science fiction are set in an imaginary world where the rules are slightly different, or at least something is sufficiently different from our world (past or present). And part of the difficulty for the writer is telling you the story and highlight the differences with our world, while at the same time making it clear that the characters don't perceive this difference, and the world around them, the entire universe, is just as it has always been for them.

    As such, both sci-fi and fantasy stories make the reader use their imagination to see the world, which is what's most important about them, and sets them apart from other types of fiction.

  19. It is important to note that the list was for the "most significant" and not the best. That to me speaks to the influence the books have had on the genre(s). Obviously, male authors will comprise the majority of such a list since the genre(s) has been dominated by men over much of the last fifty years. That said, the absence of Connie Willis is a inarguable oversight. Granted, she is much more influential with her entire career taken as a whole than with one single book, but Doomsday Book and Bellwether are both very influential. At least one of them should be on the list.

  20. I am not totally sure she is still alive, but she shoulb be. Eugenie Clark is a leading marine biologist specializing in my favorite critters, sharks.

    So far as J.K. Rowling is concerned, I won’t judge her work as better than another’s as I have not read the “others”, but she should certainly be the most significant woman sci-fi/fantasy author of this time. Her work is extremely broad reaching, has gotten kids to read (no easy feat), and has exposed a bunch of wacko religi-nuts as exactly that, what with the boy-cotts, book burnings and people who just refuse to allow their kids to be exposed to HP.

    I alomost dated a girl a few years ago, until she told me that she would never allow her kids to read HP because “it would teach them witchcraft”. I poured over those books trying to learn how to make an invisibility cloak so I could check out the women’s locker room at my gym, but alas, busted!
    Please pardon the pun, it wasn’t intended…lol

  21. bug_girl,

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Nancy Thornhill, since you’re obviously such a big fan of her and her husband’s work. In the piece you wrote on the THornhills’ work, you didn’t even give Nancy any credit! This is so typical of the way women scientists are overlooked. ;)

  22. Continuing with the scientists, let me through in one of folks who I think should be on the list:

    Tanya Atwater, at UCSB, has done a lot of the key work in developing our understanding of plate tectonics. She's also a fantastic science educator.

  23. Wendy Freedman.

    She’s one of the world’s top astronomers. Her landmark work in the 1990s established the distance scale of the Universe with an accuracy never reached before, and ended decades of debate over the actual size of the Universe.!opendocument

    And I can claim a personal connection with her, she was finishing her Ph.D. at the U. of Toronto while I worked on my M.Sc. She’s now director of the Carnegie Institution, let’s say I did not go that far.

  24. Influential SF books by women:

    Andre Norton, of course. I don't know which one, though. Maybe one of the Forerunner books for juvenile SF, although Judgement on Janus and Moon of Three Rings stick in my head for some reason. Later, Witchworld for fantasy.

    Ursula K LeGuin is on the list, but perhaps she should be again for The Dispossessed. Oh; she's in for The Left Hand of Darkness as well. Nevermind.

    Madeleine L'Engle and A Wrinkle in Time. That's got to be one of the most influential SF juveniles ever written.

    Zenna Henderson for her The People stories.

    Lois McMaster Bujold and her Miles Vorkosigan stories.

    Some of these might be pushing the 50-year limit. I suppose you could argue as to what is meant by "most significant".

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