Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Chainmail Bikini Has Already Been Filled

21st March 2012


Musings and rants

Mastodon For SFF Fans
Where to go in the Fediverse to find the best speculative fiction and literary discussions.

Nine Political Books That Change The Conversation
Following news that Simon and Schuster plan to publish an inflammatory commentator, here are nine political books that deserve more attention.

Penguin Random House Withdraws Union Recognition
Penguin Random House have decided not to recognise Unite and the NUJ as a result of staff negotiations, leaving the publisher with a stain on its reputation as an employer.

Authors Support Stop Funding Hate
Some authors have had enough of divisive and xenophobic elements in the British press, and are willing to make an ethical stand.

Women In SFF: Indie Edition
A list of indie and self-published women writing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction genres.

Amazon Finally Makes KU Appealing For Novelists
The new per-page payout for the Kindle Unlimited subscription service makes it a much better deal for authors of longer novels.

Thoughts On The Sieghart Report On Libraries
The Sieghart report on libraries missed its mark by miles. Yet the real cause of the decline of the UK library network is depressingly obvious.

A Shout-Out For The Good Guys
When nastiness dominates online conversations about books it is time to appreciate the well-behaved authors.

Critique Circle: Shaping Fabulous Stories
The appeal of a certain writing critique website. Or, why I have neglected this blog.

Where Shall I Point This Pitchfork?
Some thoughts on Jonathan Ross, Loncon, and the twitchfork mob.

Reading Is Not A Race
Why I will be abandoning annual reading challenges in 2014.

What Book Discovery Is Missing
The current state of book discovery is narrowing our reading choices and squeezing out midlist writers. How can it be fixed?

An Explosion Of Discovery Tools
New book discovery engines are popping up all over the web. But which ones will come out on top?

Blog Tours From Both Sides
Blog tours are the lastest marketing fad. But what are the pros and cons of this kind of publicity?

It's Not Your Story Any More
When a book is published, authors lose control over how the story should be read. They should let go the reins and enjoy the ride.

Same Old, Same Old
Are current methods of book discovery pushing us further away from original literature?

Female Protagonists In Genre Fiction
A list of recommended SFF books for adults which feature a female as the main character.

Is This The End Of Sweeping Vistas?
Do recent trends in fantasy art styles and the constraints of online book discovery mark the decline of landscape cover art?

A Rising Tide Floats All Boats
Authors: stop thinking of other writers as your rivals. They're not the enemy.

Reviews Are Useless Without Context
With so many review blogs, quick ways of understanding their authors are more important than ever.

On 18th March I asked, where are all the central female characters in SFF? In that post I looked at the books I've read. Ro Smith followed up with an analysis of her own reviews. She notes an overall split of 24% female, 45% male and 31% neutral, which is not so far from my own 23%/35%/42% figures. Ro also offers a theory about why male protagonists might be more dominant in her reading and, if my instinct is correct, in SFF publishing in general: the male viewpoint as the norm.

In my previous post I skirted round the issues of why I'm reading more about male central characters than female and what, if anything, I should do about it. It changes the act of reading, a pleasure, into one fraught with political overtones and a sense of guilt because I'm not being egalitarian enough in my choices. Also, I flat out don't know the answers to these questions.

Sometimes it's helpful to throw more data at a problem. In that previous post I only discussed books, and my feeling was that the gender split would be much more apparent in the male-dominated world of movies. Recently Aliette de Bodard wrote about the relative scarcity of women in TV roles, with reference to the BBC Sherlock series: "Did things really get worse in terms of screen-time for women, compared to the original stories, or am I misremembering my Conan Doyle/19th Century novels? Do you think not showing women at all a worse thing that showing them in subservient roles, or is it a different flavour of erasure?"

I don't know whether it's worse to show women in weak roles than to ignore them altogether, but the statistics for my own viewing reveal that in film at least, women are almost never getting cast as the main character. Of the 211 films I've reviewed on this website, this is how it breaks down:

Male protagonist
60.66 %
27.96 %
Female protagonist
11.37 %

The divide is far, far, greater for the movies I've seen than it is for the books I've read. What this suggests to me is it's not all about my tastes. I mean, I might be more tempted to watch a movie because it has Christian Bale or Johnny Depp in it, but on the whole I prefer cerebral to cheesecake and my choices are also limited by what SFF is available. And frankly, there are pitifully few movies that allow women to take centre stage.

Changes over time

I watched 37 films from the 20th century:

Male protagonist
70.27 %
18.92 %
Female protagonist
10.81 %

In this century there's a 5-to1 ratio of male leads to females.

Male protagonist
58.62 %
29.89 %
Female protagonist
11.49 %

And finally, my figures for movies from 2010 to 2012.

Male protagonist
85.71 %
4.76 %
Female protagonist
9.52 %

Yikes! What's particularly galling is that when you move from literature to screen the main character moves from being a figment of our imaginations and also becomes a real person's job.

Only One Woman Allowed

I can't let this go without linking to Alex Dally MacFarlane's very funny discussion of Smurfette syndrome and the lack of decent portrayals of female relationships in SFF. Of course it's pretty hard to show in-depth relationships between the token woman and ... herself, and in quite a lot of films there's only one woman with a significant speaking role.

I'm quietly hoping actresses will start a mass invasion of casting calls that specify a male character. Changing a male role to a female one worked for Katee Sackhoff in the updated version of Battlestar Galactica. There's precedent.