This blog was featured on 08/23/2018
Why She Writes Science Fiction
Written by
She Writes
October 2018
Written by
She Writes
October 2018

History and box offices may have you believing sci-fi is a boys club, but we know that it's really women who run the science fiction world. Not only have women been responsible for some of the most thought-provoking novels in the genre, for decades, but more and more it seems female authors are entering (and taking over) the space.

From Octavia Butler’s humble beginnings as a woman who just wanted her voice to be heard to new voices like Nnedi Okorafor, these talented female authors are and have been building worlds and reimagining our own in entertaining and horrifying ways.

If you are interested in writing science fiction that knows no bounds, get to know the how's and why's of these incredible artists.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is often regarded as an astoundingly accurate author of speculative fiction who wrote a book in 1985 that would feel a little too familiar come 2018. In a 2017 interview with The Guardian, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale explained what science fiction writing is all about:

“I’m not a prophet,” she says. “Let’s get rid of that idea right now. Prophecies are really about now. In science fiction, it’s always about now. What else could it be about? There is no future. There are many possibilities, but we do not know which one we are going to have.”

Nnedi Okorafor

During an interview with Weird Fiction Review, the popular young adult fantasy and science fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor explained the inspiration behind her writing and how she came to write powerful characters like Binti:

“I don’t think about what I write and the way I write as “containers”, nor do I think about what others will see it as. I just write it. I know that I am deeply interested in post-humanism and how our pasts connect with our futures and present. I’m interested in African and Arab cultures and how they both battle and blend and I’m coming at this not as a researcher, but as a participant. I’m interested in technology and spirituality and how they blend and what happens when they blend. I think that my interests and the results of them in my stories lead to very “weird” fiction. Just as science fiction isn’t necessarily rooted in past Western traditions, the same goes with “the weird” not necessarily having a Lovecraftian foundation.”

Octavia Butler

While being interviewed at DePauw University, the late and beloved author Octavia Butler opened up about what pushed her to write science fiction:

“I read a lot of science fiction with absolutely no discrimination when I was growing up—I mean, good, bad, or awful [laughs]. It didn't matter. I remember latching onto people and reading everything I could find by them, people like John Brunner, who wrote a lot. I could pick up Ace Doubles at the used bookstore for a nickel or a dime, so I was always reading John Brunner. And Theodore Sturgeon—by the time I was reading adult science fiction, he had a considerable body of work. Of course, Robert A. Heinlein. I can remember my very first adult science fiction, a story called "Lorelei of the Red Mist." If I am not mistaken, it was Ray Bradbury's first published story. Leigh Brackett began it and he finished it.”

Malka Older

Malka Older, the author of the popular Infomocracy, explained why she thinks the science fiction genre chose her and how it had both an emotional and intellectual appeal to her during an interview with The Rumpus:

“I think, again, because I read so widely, I just want to respond to the things I’ve read. I also tend to write out of—not always, but often—out of a sort of thematic concern, out of something that is a big idea that either kind of bugs me, or that I’m really interested in, or that attracts me. Sometimes it’s kind of intellectual, sometimes it’s kind of emotional and I just want to write about the feeling. So it has to do with the genre that fits what I’m thinking about.

Infomocracy was really centered on some big ideas that are kind of political and world-order and really thinking about the alternatives to where our system is right now. It has to do with some of the issues that have brought us to where we are, so it could have been maybe an alternate universe sort of thing, but to me, science fiction—a sort of look towards the future—made a lot of sense to write about that, I think partly because of the way people relate to it. I wanted this to be something that is not necessarily a realistic vision of where we could get to in fifty years because it’s really a pretty significant change from where we are. It’s not impossible, I guess, but it’s not meant to be “this is what we’re aiming for.” What it’s meant to be is, this is a different possibility, and the differences are things that we should think about and think about where we would like to tweak and try something that was a little more like this, maybe not all the way. Or maybe this shows how some ideas that are getting batted around maybe wouldn’t work out in practice. So in that sense, setting it in the future was very useful to me in the way I approached it. When I was thinking about the ideas in this book, it made sense to me as a science fiction novel. It made sense to me as something that was happening not hugely far in the future, but somewhat in the future, so that the tech also would be in the place where it needed to be to facilitate the world order that I was thinking of.”

Naomi Alderman

The author of The Power, an intense portrait of what the world would look like if women were the more aggressive and physically stronger gender, struck thematic gold much like Margaret Atwood's novels. When Alderman's book released it seemed an intentional compliment to the #MeToo movement. But Alderman didn't write the book for that purpose, it was adapted into the movement. Sci-fi writers trying to force a connection with current political tides or social climates may find it difficult to do and would be better writing their story first and allowing readers to draw conclusions of their own. In an interview with the New York Times, Alderman had this to say:

NYT: Your book, which reads at the outset like a particularly satisfying revenge fantasy, seems prescient. Are the social and sexual upheavals that gave rise to the #MeToo movement something you could have seen coming?

NA: I think I am probably part of that wave, rather than having known it was coming. Some of the news has sort of caught up to the book in this very strange way. Both have been part of a growing anger over the past decade, which, to me, related to the increasing visibility of certain kinds of misogyny.

When I was a teenager in the 1990s, it was a common thing among young women to say that feminism’s battles are won. Now I think it’s very horrifically obvious that that is not the case. I think the internet is a big part of that awareness. You can look at men’s forums, where men talk about how much they hate women, want to rape them, overpower them. You can read their rants. I was probably responding to the same thing that #MeToo is responding to. A lot of things have become visible now, things that we need to address.


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