Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

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Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby genkidesuka » Sun May 30, 2010 3:26 am UTC

Just as the subject suggests, I'm looking for hard scifi/speculative fiction that isn't sexist. It doesn't have to be explicitely feminist, I'm kinda sick of the "If everything was run by women it'd be perfect!" plots, and the "Lets expand on this part of sexism to show how bad it is" plots, no matter how well written the Handmaid's Tale was. I'm just way sick of looking at lists of must read hard scifi and thinking about how I won't touch 90% of them because I don't want to waste my time trying to ignore my offense.

Thanks in advance!

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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby modularblues » Sun May 30, 2010 5:05 am UTC

Hmm... books by Greg Bear or Michael Crichton? If they count as "hard" sci-fi?

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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Jahoclave » Sun May 30, 2010 7:22 am UTC

Wait, you want hard sci-fi that isn't sexist and you complain about Atwood? Sorry to burst your bubble, but pretty much all sci-fi is either rather sexist or deals with sexism. And honestly, that plot isn't as prevalent as you'd make it out to be. In fact, the whole perfect woman society plot is often used in a rather sexist way to start with; often turning out to be some sort of unsatisfactory hell to a male protagonist.

Please tell me environmental issues aren't a huge pissing concern of yours as well, otherwise you might just want to give up. To that end, you might look up Kim Stanley Robinson; he's a marxist by the way, so hopefully you're not in love with capitalism.

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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Sun May 30, 2010 4:15 pm UTC

I'll recommend Ursula K. Leguin right off the bat,all too many people read her Earthsea series and that's it, but her SF is really rather wonderful.
Also, Jack Womack and Vernor Vinge are quite good.
You might also be interested in Alastair Reynolds and Frank Herbert.

I know 'cyberpunk' isn't exactly 'hard SF' but if you haven't already, you should definitely check out William Gibson.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby orinjuse » Sun May 30, 2010 5:06 pm UTC

Jahoclave wrote:To that end, you might look up Kim Stanley Robinson; he's a marxist by the way, so hopefully you're not in love with capitalism.


I'd recommend Robinson as well. There's some discussion of a matriarchal society in his Red Mars trilogy, but it's not really a central theme and it's not saying it's better or worse, simply different.

I haven't read much Greg Bear, but from I have I'd echo Modularblues' recommendation of him, ditto with Edgar's Vernor Vinge recommendation.

David Brin is very worthwhile, and doesn't seem to discuss sexual politics too much. Ditto Neal Stephenson, Orson Scott Card, Charles Stross...

To be honest, though, I don't think there are that many hard SF authors that specifically focus on gender issues. A lot of them mention it at some point, but it's probably quicker to list the books like Handmaid's Tale that do focus on it than the ones that don't.

Which aspect of gender themes don't you like?
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby JayDee » Mon May 31, 2010 12:05 am UTC

EdgarJPublius wrote:I'll recommend Ursula K. Leguin right off the bat,all too many people read her Earthsea series and that's it, but her SF is really rather wonderful.
Her sci-fi is fantastic. The Left Hand of Darkness is very much a "if there was no gender, there would be no war" type book, so I'm guessing genkidesuka is going to want to skip that one. Non of the other books I've read explicitly deal with gender, and I'd certainly call them non-sexist.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby poxic » Mon May 31, 2010 12:26 am UTC

Oh, there's a lot of Leguin that deals with sex. I've read several of her short stories in the sci-fi genre, and they've all said something or other about "here's an alternate way to look at sex/gender".

One ("The Matter of Seggri", according to a Google) was about a world with a 12:1 ration of women:men and how that evolved. Left Hand of Darkness was "there is no permanent sex or gender on this planet". Another story ("Solitude") was a post-apocalyptic world where the survivors lost all technology but hut-building, and kept almost completely to themselves. Women built "aunt-rings" of huts a mile apart; men went into the hills and fought with each other (or something, it wasn't explained).

Her work isn't "women are perfect and men suck", though there's sometimes a tinge of that. Mostly it's an exploration of gender and evolution. I've heard that she's done things that don't touch on the issue, but I can't say. (I've never read anything Earthsea, I think.)
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby JayDee » Mon May 31, 2010 1:45 am UTC

Fair enough. I haven't read any of her sf short stories, I was thinking of novels. The Dispossessed (anarchy), The Lathe of Heaven in particular. On reflection, I haven't read much, so the rest could be more gender focused than I'm thinking.

(The Earthsea books aren't science fiction, but the first three aren't about gender issues at all. Le Guin revisited the world with a fourth, Tehanu which really is.)
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby The EGE » Mon May 31, 2010 2:15 am UTC

Double-plus yes for Gibson. And Neil Stephenson (especially Snow Crash). Take a look at cyberpunk, you may never go back to traditional hard scifi.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Mon May 31, 2010 4:14 am UTC

JayDee wrote:Fair enough. I haven't read any of her sf short stories, I was thinking of novels. The Dispossessed (anarchy), The Lathe of Heaven in particular. On reflection, I haven't read much, so the rest could be more gender focused than I'm thinking.

(The Earthsea books are science fiction, but the first three aren't about gender issues at all. Le Guin revisited the world with a fourth, Tehanu which really is.)


Yea, a lot of her stuff deals with gender but isn't sexist or feminist.
She has just as much (probably more even) that isn't 'about' gender, including a ton of short stories.

Check out the collection "The Wind's Twelve Quarters" for an excellent intro to Ursula K. Leguin. 'Winter's King' is sort of a prequel to The Left Hand of Darkness but doesn't deal nearly as much with the gender issues of 'Darkness, also, the collection has two of my all-time favorite short stories 'The Masters' and 'The Stars Below'
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby shieldforyoureyes » Mon May 31, 2010 4:17 am UTC

Most Soviet sci-fi.

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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Apteryx » Tue Jun 01, 2010 5:12 am UTC

Amusing to see people using the term feminism as some opposite to sexism.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Tue Jun 01, 2010 5:16 am UTC

Apteryx wrote:Amusing to see people using the term feminism as some opposite to sexism.


sexism is usually taken to mean specifically misogyny. So yes, feminism would, in general, be the opposite.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby zombie_monkey » Tue Jun 01, 2010 5:31 am UTC

Feminism would be the opposite even if it wasn't taken to mean that. Words don't mean exactly what the words they're derived from would imply.

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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Apteryx » Tue Jun 01, 2010 5:54 am UTC

You both fail.

Sexism, n. prejudice or discrimination based on sex.

Feminism n. Organised activity on behalf of womens rights and interests.

Now we define discrimination for you?.

Prejudiced or prejudicial outlook action or treatment.

Setting out to organise an activity pro one sex, is not the opposite of discriminating based on sex, but in fact the ACTUAL act of discriminating based on sex.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Tue Jun 01, 2010 7:16 am UTC

If I have to explain why a movement that supports gender equality and is often accused of supporting women over men is the opposite of discriminating based on gender and especially discriminating against women... Honestly at this point I'd just beat your head against a dictionary until you got it.

That or a concussion anyway.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Jahoclave » Tue Jun 01, 2010 7:18 am UTC

Apteryx wrote:You both fail.

Sexism, n. prejudice or discrimination based on sex.

Feminism n. Organised activity on behalf of womens rights and interests.

Now we define discrimination for you?.

Prejudiced or prejudicial outlook action or treatment.

Setting out to organise an activity pro one sex, is not the opposite of discriminating based on sex, but in fact the ACTUAL act of discriminating based on sex.

Which would indicate a massive failure on your part to understand what Feminism is. Nor is Feminism simply about one sex or gender. Colleges usually offer courses on this sort of thing, you might try taking one.


But also, you're not so much likely to find a lot of hard sci-fi that doesn't have some form of gender issues in it these days. For one, you're not getting a whole lot of hard sci-fi anymore, and two, gender issues are a very prevalent part of our society since the 70's. It's kind of the same trend with the switch from alien apocalypses to zombie apocalypses as we went from technological destruction of earth to environmental concerns. That and science fiction no longer came to be dominated by white guys with science degrees.

Edit: Edgar, perhaps we should have a website to link to that will bash their brains in for us? I know it'd certainly save me time and effort.

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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby SecondTalon » Tue Jun 01, 2010 10:03 pm UTC

Apteryx wrote:You both fail.

Sexism, n. prejudice or discrimination based on sex.

Feminism n. Organised activity on behalf of womens rights and interests.

Now we define discrimination for you?.

Prejudiced or prejudicial outlook action or treatment.

Setting out to organise an activity pro one sex, is not the opposite of discriminating based on sex, but in fact the ACTUAL act of discriminating based on sex.
Sorry, I believe you mean

fem·i·nism

 /ˈfɛməˌnɪzəm/ Show Spelled[fem-uh-niz-uhm] Show IPA
–noun
1.the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
2.( sometimes initial capital letter ) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.

I know, I know...

"Organised activity on behalf of womens rights and interests." is just so gosh darned close to "the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men."
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby orinjuse » Wed Jun 02, 2010 2:56 am UTC

Jahoclave wrote:For one, you're not getting a whole lot of hard sci-fi anymore...


That's not really true. Off the top of my head, you've got Vernor Vinge, Greg Egan, Neal Stephenson and Charles Stross who've all been active in recent years with legit hard SF work.

It's just hard to compare to the early days where you had a few really prolific authors like Clarke and Asimov.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby genkidesuka » Wed Jun 02, 2010 6:16 pm UTC

I didn't mean to complain about Atwood, I love her, I just wanted some variety because whenever I look for science fiction that doesn't hate women, I get directed to science fiction specifically about why sexism is bad. I want something like Niven that doesn't think I'm a moron for having certain genitalia.

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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Thu Jun 03, 2010 10:59 am UTC

genkidesuka wrote:I didn't mean to complain about Atwood, I love her, I just wanted some variety because whenever I look for science fiction that doesn't hate women, I get directed to science fiction specifically about why sexism is bad. I want something like Niven that doesn't think I'm a moron for having certain genitalia.
I would recommend recent compilations of short stories. I have The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection, and most of its writers are pretty gender savvy. That is, they don't accidentally allow sexist motifs into their works, and neither do they make sexism the focus of their stories. I originally bought it because I was looking for sci fi that wasn't steeped in the Cold War paradigm (like, for example, Day of the Triffids, Ender's Game, and Watchmen are).
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby minehowe » Thu Jun 03, 2010 11:17 am UTC

I do get irked by obvious sexism, but I also notice sometimes that I've just read x number of books, all with male protagonists, and none of the books would have been materially changed by having a female protagonist instead. Yes, I know there are lots of books with female protagonists but usually (in my experience) her gender matters somewhere along the line. It doesn't stop me enjoying a good book in the way that the obvious sexism does, but it's still noticeable.

I *think* Vernor Vinge is fine - I don't remember my alarm bells ringing and I especially enjoyed A Fire Upon The Deep for the pack-entity aliens. Have you tried Iain M Banks? I particularly like Inversions, for instance, which alternates between two connected stories, one with a female protagonist and one with a male protagonist.

And SF short stories are my favourite genre for fielding interesting ideas, so I'd second Pez Dispens3r :)

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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby jestingrabbit » Thu Jun 03, 2010 11:29 am UTC

minehowe wrote:Have you tried Iain M Banks?


I was about to suggest him. He often puts women at the centre of stories. I'm not sure that his stuff passes the bechdel test, but his women are given a fair amount of depth. I'd say Stross sometimes tries a little too hard to get "the right balance" and it comes off as a little clumsy and tacked on, but he's not horrible either.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Mavketl » Thu Jun 03, 2010 11:37 am UTC

Lois McMaster Bujold has some good stuff. Some of it does focus on gender issues a bit, but I think anything in the Vorkosigan Saga would be okay for your purpose. It does occasionally confront ableism directly, though.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby PAstrychef » Thu Jun 03, 2010 4:28 pm UTC

You might enjoy Elizabeth Bear's SF-Carnival and Undertow, as well as Hammered, Scardown and Worldwired.
minehowe wrote:I do get irked by obvious sexism, but I also notice sometimes that I've just read x number of books, all with male protagonists, and none of the books would have been materially changed by having a female protagonist instead. Yes, I know there are lots of books with female protagonists but usually (in my experience) her gender matters somewhere along the line. It doesn't stop me enjoying a good book in the way that the obvious sexism does, but it's still noticeable.

This goes to show how normative the view of maleness is-there is nothing about being male that needs to be mentioned as affecting the characters' life. Anything the character is likely to do is automatically ok. In most near-future SF gender is going to matter to the characters if the books are going to be at all believable.
Having the women notice that being female leads to a different life than being male isn't sexist-having the women have no life beyond being boobs and wearing lingerie is.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Virtual_Aardvark » Thu Jun 03, 2010 4:40 pm UTC

What really bothers me is when a well written female character ends up sleeping with every other male character "for the good of the species". Actually I just hate that argument in general. RAMA II really annoyed me is what I'm trying to say.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Diadem » Thu Jun 03, 2010 5:48 pm UTC

I don't read that much hard sci-fi? Are things really that bad in the genre?

Most of the sci-fi I read (Asimov, Hamilton, Simmons, Card, etc) is not sexist at all. Though not hard sci-fi either. What makes hard sci-fi so sexist?
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Mavketl » Thu Jun 03, 2010 5:59 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:What makes hard sci-fi so sexist?
(Nearly) all characters being male. Nearly all protagonists being male. Nearly all figures of power and/or competence being male. Sciencey mumbo-jumbo (that only exists in that specific sci-fi universe) to justify all kinds of crap about how men (or women, if it has to do with being empathic or raising children) are just better (or the only ones even suitable) for 'that kind of thing'. Separate-but-equal stuff (this works for race or species as well as gender!) for the good of society. Women being used as baby-machines.

Those are just some options. :wink:

Of course, it's not all bad. I just run into it often enough to get really annoyed at it.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Rinsaikeru » Thu Jun 03, 2010 6:04 pm UTC

Another big bothersome element in lots of hard sci-fi, soft sci fi and fantasy is the prevalence of rape/near rape as a plot device. It is pervasive in all three genres and pretty offputting as a female reader in most cases.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Diadem » Thu Jun 03, 2010 6:14 pm UTC

Mavketl wrote:
Diadem wrote:What makes hard sci-fi so sexist?
(Nearly) all characters being male. Nearly all protagonists being male. Nearly all figures of power and/or competence being male. Sciencey mumbo-jumbo (that only exists in that specific sci-fi universe) to justify all kinds of crap about how men (or women, if it has to do with being empathic or raising children) are just better (or the only ones even suitable) for 'that kind of thing'. Separate-but-equal stuff (this works for race or species as well as gender!) for the good of society. Women being used as baby-machines.

But why is this a problem specifically with hard sci-fi? Why is hard sci-fi worse than other genres?
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Rinsaikeru » Thu Jun 03, 2010 6:24 pm UTC

It isn't, to be precise, a problem specifically/only with sci-fi. The OP is just looking specifically in this particular genre for works that are not sexist, which explains the slant of the discussion.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby zombie_monkey » Thu Jun 03, 2010 7:36 pm UTC

jestingrabbit wrote:
minehowe wrote:Have you tried Iain M Banks?


I was about to suggest him. He often puts women at the centre of stories. I'm not sure that his stuff passes the bechdel test, but his women are given a fair amount of depth. I'd say Stross sometimes tries a little too hard to get "the right balance" and it comes off as a little clumsy and tacked on, but he's not horrible either.


It's pretty hard for mainstream SF to pass the Bechdel test. Stross does try a bit too hard at times, but given his age and background he's to be forgiven. He really does try really hard.

Myself, I just love Delany and genderqueer stuff in general, even if it's sometimes old-fashioned genderqueer, which Delany can be. So I'm kind of detatched from the original poster's wishes, me being a feminist and caring about that stuff myself, even if I empathise with how boring it can be when it's blunt. And with how it makes me gron when it's just inculded because it's just "the thing" and you're special and unique to have "got" some aspect of feminism.

EDIT: Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis -- it taught me about US (and western in general) attitudes towards "race", and how tied they are also to their peculiar ideas about gender. Thanks, Ms. Butler! I was sad when she died :/ Seems more or less the kind of book the OP is tired of though, I'm just pointing out it can be very useful for people outside their cultural milieu.

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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Mo0man » Thu Jun 03, 2010 8:29 pm UTC

I'm not sure where this is along the hard/soft sci-fi spectrum, and to be honest, I'm pretty sure it fails the Bechdel test, but the Old Man's War series does pretty well in terms of strong female characters and such, and there is a distinct lack of sexist sciency mumbo jumbo.
Hrm...
3/4 of the books in the series have a male protagonist, and I think the only book that passes the test is the last one, though to be fair they're all mostly in first person, so it's difficult to pass the test. As far as I can remember, most figures of power are male, but the major ones (ie the ones that pop up the most) are female... Hrm... Actually, I'd say just try it out and tell me what you think of it, because I'm having trouble judging it in that regard.

Actually in that case, wouldn't Starship Troopers(the novel) also be mostly nonsexist?

Again, I'm completely unsure of where they stand in terms of hard/soft

Edit: Google tells me it counts as soft
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby zombie_monkey » Thu Jun 03, 2010 9:02 pm UTC

Scalzi is a nice dude, but he doesn't even pretend he understands those womenfolk. I have friends like him.

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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby orinjuse » Fri Jun 04, 2010 12:46 am UTC

Diadem wrote:I don't read that much hard sci-fi? Are things really that bad in the genre?

Most of the sci-fi I read (Asimov, Hamilton, Simmons, Card, etc) is not sexist at all. Though not hard sci-fi either. What makes hard sci-fi so sexist?


I really don't think it's as common a problem as this thread could lead you to believe. For sure it's there, but unless you're reading old-school SF from the '50s it's far from the majority in my experience. Of course, that depends on what you're counting as sexism - I don't consider a male lead and a lack of well-developed female characters sexist, just a possible sign of the writer's limitation.

That said, I've had to disagree with you on Asimov. His female characters must have been old-fashioned even in the era he was writing them, and they're badly written whatever period he came from. In fact, all of his characterisation is bad, but that's generally forgiven because of the other things his work has going for it.

I could recommend Ben Bova's Asteroid Wars series based on the fact it has a passingly developed female main character, but I won't because the series is a long way from hard science fiction and is actually pretty crappy after the first book.

For a bit of a left-field recommendation, and one that's admittedly not really hard SF, you could try Orbital Burn by KA Bedford, who's a local author for me and I nice guy to boot. Good solid female lead with a well-written story that doesn't really care what gender she is.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Diadem » Fri Jun 04, 2010 2:10 am UTC

orinjuse wrote:That said, I've had to disagree with you on Asimov. His female characters must have been old-fashioned even in the era he was writing them, and they're badly written whatever period he came from. In fact, all of his characterisation is bad, but that's generally forgiven because of the other things his work has going for it.

It's a long time ago I read his books, but weren't some of the main characters in Foundation female? And not there only as a plot device for the male protagonists either. But maybe my memory is playing tricks on me.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby orinjuse » Fri Jun 04, 2010 2:39 am UTC

Diadem wrote:
orinjuse wrote:That said, I've had to disagree with you on Asimov. His female characters must have been old-fashioned even in the era he was writing them, and they're badly written whatever period he came from. In fact, all of his characterisation is bad, but that's generally forgiven because of the other things his work has going for it.

It's a long time ago I read his books, but weren't some of the main characters in Foundation female? And not there only as a plot device for the male protagonists either. But maybe my memory is playing tricks on me.


I haven't actually read his Foundation series, to be honest. In fact, considering he wrote something like 500 books, I technically haven't even scratched the surface of his work, so perhaps my criticism is unfair. But I, Robot had some really crap characterisation.
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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Jorpho » Sun Jun 06, 2010 4:39 am UTC

orinjuse wrote:David Brin is very worthwhile, and doesn't seem to discuss sexual politics too much.
Oh come on. Have you read Glory Season? The Postman gets a little crazy in its third part too.

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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Jorpho » Sun Jun 06, 2010 11:31 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:But why is this a problem specifically with hard sci-fi? Why is hard sci-fi worse than other genres?
Mightn't it be said that the majority of people with science degrees are white guys, and that the majority of hard sci-fi authors are people with science degrees?

Rinsaikeru wrote:Another big bothersome element in lots of hard sci-fi, soft sci fi and fantasy is the prevalence of rape/near rape as a plot device. It is pervasive in all three genres and pretty offputting as a female reader in most cases.
TV Tropes actually has an article entitled "Rape is the new Dead Parents".

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Re: Non-sexist hard scifi: does it exist?

Postby Kendo_Bunny » Tue Jun 08, 2010 5:32 am UTC

Foundation got female characters later, as Asimov developed as a writer. His characterization in the Robot series was admittedly weak, but he did get better.

I'm working on becoming a noteworthy SF scholar, so I read huge amounts of science fiction, both hard and soft. I think the main reason why so few strong females are depicted in hard science fiction has to do mostly with the time period and the interest levels. The Golden Age of Science Fiction had almost all males writing - usually males with a scientific background. John Campbell insisted on hard science fiction when he was editor of Astounding Stories, and as there weren't many females in the scientific fields, there were also not a lot of females getting published in the biggest magazine. Then, when New Wave came and more women started writing, most of them were writing soft science fiction.

Timothy Zahn is pretty decent for a good balance of strong, competent men and women, and he doesn't fall into the trap of the Super Powered Go Girl that I keep finding in more recent science fiction - where the author seems so afraid that someone is going to charge the work as sexist that they make the woman ridiculously overpowered and flawless, and thus, boring. Though Timothy Zahn writes almost exclusively military science fiction... I need to check my reference books for more things (I'm away from my library).


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