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FICTION ISSUES WOMEN WRITING SCIENCE FICTIONLiesel Schwarz on the rise of the ‘invisible’ women writers of hard science fictionmechanics or astrophysics that makes the genre fascinating. Also helpful is a knowledge of genetics, IT, molecular biology, forensic science, AI, geology and medicine. It’s not possible to write a cyber-thriller about biogenetics without at least a rudimentary knowledge of the basic principles.Even if the science you use is completely speculative, it must seem logical. Otherwise you’re straying into another genre altogether, that of fantasy. The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes is an edge-of-your-seat thriller based on the principles of time travel. By her own admission, keeping the plot strands in check and staying in control of the narrative so the reader did not get confused was a major challenge.The genre demands explanations of how things work, but lengthy exposition can kill readers’ interest faster than a laser gun. Therefore it is vital you create well-rounded characters and that your plot maintains pace. Chambers expertly weaves together complex interpersonal, inter-species relationships with quantum theory, wormholesand the imagined realities of interstellar space travel.One reason science fiction is popular is that it is a safe place in which to examine the impact of contemporary policies and politics. Think how P D James tackled infertility in The Children of Men, or Margaret Atwood the subjugation of women in The Handmaid’s Tale. Dystopian worlds enable writers to take arguments raging in today’s society about race, gender and politics and show where they could lead.Writing sci-fi is a challenge, but it is also immensely rewarding, limited only bythe confines of your own imagination. ❐Space travel, aliens, time travel and dystopias: science fiction is suchan integral part of our collective consciousness that one important issue is frequently overlooked. What about the women writers?It should be rememberedthat women kicked off the sci-fi genre. Mary Shelley is widely credited as writing the first work of science fiction in English, Frankenstein. And with more subsets than a religious cult, sc-fi offers women writers a host of writing angles, from erotica to high literary speculative fiction and everything in between.But while women dominate romantic and ‘soft’ sci-fi, they remain a minority in so-called ‘hard science’ fiction, which emphasises scientific accuracy and technical detail.In part, the failure of women to break into hard sci-fi is down to old-fashioned sexism. Oneof the last bastions of male privilege, male authors and fans zealously guard their turf. Not only does this mean women writers struggle to be published – under their own names at least – but they face hostility from fans. As a highly IT-literate group, SFF fans love opining on social media, and trolling female writers is common.But attitudes are changing. Over the last decade there has been a shift towards inclusivity. A sign of this slow movementis the presence of women onthe 2016 Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist. Only two, though: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers and The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor. The books on the shortlist, according to Award Director Tom Hunter, represented ‘a particular special moment in time for UK science fiction’. A Long Way... was alsolonglisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. The fact that Chambers initially self-published, illustrates the barriers women face in this genre. Okorafor’s The Book of Phoenix went on to win the 2016 Hugo award.Prior to this, in 2015, Anne Leckie set the world alight with her début Ancillary Justice. The first in a trilogy filled with astrophysics, spaceships and aliens, it cleverly challenges readers’ gender bias in the narrative. It is impossibleto tell the gender of any ofthe characters and the only personal pronoun used is ‘she’: a fascinating experience, and one the judges appreciated. Ancillary Justice won the Hugo, the Arthur C Clarke, the Nebula, the Locus and the BSFA awards – the first novel ever to sweep the board.There is an old adage that you should write what you know.In science fiction this is not always possible, but that does not mean your work should feel inauthentic. In fact, it is even more important to make the setting of your novel well built and considered.One way to create an authentic world is through accurate use of science, andto succeed in science fictiona scientific background is a huge boon. Most writers – male and female – have worked in science, engineering or biology. Leckie has a land surveyingand engineering background. Chambers grew up in a family heavily involved in space science and worked as a technical writer before turning to fiction.A working knowledge of physics adds confidence to your writing. Science fiction is, by its very nature, speculative and it is the creative interpretation and use of the principles of quantumLIESEL SCHWARZ is the award-winning author of the steampunk series Chronicles of Light and Shadow (Random House). A life-long fan of 19th Century Gothic literature, she is a hopeless romantic with a penchant for everything that’s odd from fairies to giant snarling monsters. She is currently completing her PhD creative writing at Brunel University and she teaches creative writing.Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie (Orbit) A devastated artificially intelligent warship trapped in a human body searches for revenge against those who destroyed her.The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Voyager) A young woman joins a small interstellar ship with a diverse crew. Trust is built and broken as the makeshift family travels through the galaxy on their biggest quest yet.The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Harper) In Depression-era Chicago, a time-travelling drifter stalks and murders ‘shining girls’ – until one victim survives and turns the tables.lengthy exposition can kill readers’ interest faster than a laser gunmslexia Mar/Apr/May 2017 67

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