There’s an interview with Tricia Sullivan at Geek Syndicate that’s worth a look; it covers her new novel, Lightborn, but one of Sullivan’s longest answers comes in response to a question about the Arthur C Clarke Award:
8. I’ve just checked on the winners of the last ten years’ Clarke Awards and I must admit to being shocked. Nine male winners, one female winner. Something about this quota strikes me as wrong. I’ve double checked and female authors have been shortlisted, which is nice, yet no one else has won. I find this peculiar. Where do you stand on this perceived “unequality”?
I went and looked it up and here’s what I found: gender parity in the judges has been spotty over time, but in recent years there’s generally pretty good ratio of women:men on the juries. One would think this would mean more women on the shortlist and winning awards. Not so.
For the first ten years from the award’s inception in 1987 until 1996, the genders were balanced, five female winners and five male. Between 1997-2006 there were three female winners out of ten (Mary Doria Russell, Gwyneth Jones, and me) and between 2006-2010 there have been no female winners. The shortlist since 2000 has included Gwyneth Jones a whole bunch of times, Sheri Tepper, Sarah Hall, Lydia Millet, Jan Morris, Liz Williams, Audry Niffeneger, me, Elizabeth Moon, Connie Willis, Justina Robson twice, Octavia Butler, Mary Gentle, and Kathleen Ann Goonan. Yet, since 2003 there has been only one year with more than one female author on the ballot. What are the odds of a woman being chosen when the judges’s shortlist is 80% male or more?
I do not know why this is the case, but I wonder whether, with science fiction declining greatly in the US, there may not be enough women playing the SF game right now. Only the most successful writers can survive in this climate, and that probably means women are being forced out at a higher rate than men. Without much input from women in North America or Australia, the burden may be falling on UK SF writers.
I think this diagnosis is broadly accurate. Certainly we can say that the number of books by women being submitted for the award is pretty low. For the last award, 20% of submissions were by women; for the 2009 award it was 13%; and for the 2008 award, 13%. Before that the submissions weren’t published, but as a judge I can tell you that the submissions for the 2007 award were in the same ball park. My perception is that the first half of the decade was slightly better, although I don’t really know. Over the whole decade, however, 13 of 60 nominations, or 22%, have gone to women, which seems to be proportional.
That said, at that sort of rate you’d also expect to have had two women win over the decade, and there’s only been one, Gwyneth Jones in 2002. As Sullivan notes, I don’t think this can be attributed to an imbalance in judges, although there is room for improvement there; 34% of 50 judges over the period have been women. Women have made up the majority of the panel (i.e. 3 of 5 judges) twice in the last ten years, for the 2008 and 2009 awards; for the 2002 award, 2 of 5 judges were women.
Another way of looking at whether there are “enough women playing the SF game right now” is to consider how the boundaries are drawn, as Sullivan goes on to do:
We have a strong crop of men in writing SF in the UK now, and of course we have Karen Traviss and Jaine Fenn doing very well with commercial SF. But on the more literary side, only Gwyneth Jones has had recent recognition with many nominations and a win–and she’s achieved this despite the fact that she divides her energy with her alter ego, Ann Halam. Liz Williams’ work tends to be regarded as fantasy despite its cool SF elements; same with Stephanie Swainston. Sadly, Pat Cadigan hasn’t published an SF novel in nearly ten years. Justina and I have been dealing with pregnancies and babies and toddlers–I can’t speak for her, but for myself: been wrecked, for years. Brain and body and time, seriously drained. In this country we have women like Claire Weaver and Heather Bradshaw and I’m sure there are many others publishing short fiction, and abroad Aliette de Bodard looks like she’s going to be a major force. Still, in SF there aren’t enough women to fill in the gaps when one steps back for whatever reason.
And of course, since 2001 China Mieville has won three times. That does skew things toward the boys. But he has won with two fantasies and what is purported to be a crime novel, so that rather stretches the idea of what a science fiction prize is all about. I’m not sure why Stephanie Swainston’s work or Cathryn M. Valente’s Palimpset isn’t received as SF on the same basis as China’s, for example–or is it? I don’t know.
I’m guessing that literary novels employing SF ideas are more likely to be recognized than urban fantasy–which has loads of female authors–because science fiction ideas have wormed their way into the mainstream and now seep into literary fiction. The problem then becomes, where do the new ideas come from?
If we ask how many British women are publishing original adult science fiction with a major genre publisher in Britain, the answer is pretty bleak: with neither Liz Williams nor Gwyneth Jones having contracts at the moment, I think the answer may be just one writer, Jaine Fenn. [Edit: As of next year, thanks to a change in publisher, Sophia McDougall will meet these criteria; there is also the mysterious RJ Frith.] This is from one point of view a fairly restrictive way of drawing the boundaries, since if you drop out any one of those criteria you can easily think of more women, but in another sense it’s not strict at all, because it’s easy to identify a substantial cohort of male writers that fit the equivalent question: Neal Asher, Iain Banks, Stephen Baxter, Eric Brown, Ken MacLeod, Paul McAuley, Ian McDonald, Alastair Reynolds, Adam Roberts, Charles Stross, etc etc.
Of course, the Clarke doesn’t care about the nationality of the writer, or about who a writer’s publisher is. (Indeed, although the numbers involved are fairly small, I find it striking that “non-genre” books account for 1 in 3 Clarke Award nominations for women [4 of 13, or 31%] compared to 1 in 8 for men [6 of 47, or 13%].) It also already has a fairly flexible definition of sf, although not so flexible as to admit pure urban fantasy; but Liz Williams’ books have (I think) always been submitted, and shortlisted several times; Justina Robson’s recent fantasy/sf hybrids have also been submitted, although not shortlisted; and I’m guessing Gollancz will submit Sarah Pinborough’s near future supernatural horror A Matter of Blood this year. (Steph Swainston does not seem to be submitted, although I think Sullivan is right that she could be — some books more than others; The Modern World is her most sfnal, for me, this year’s Above the Snowline probably her least.) These factors account for most of the other submitted books by women. The Award could probably give broader consideration to YA fiction than it currently does; Gemma Malley’s books don’t seem to be have submitted, for instance, or Malorie Blackman’s. And there are, as Sullivan notes, some writers whose tie-in fiction who may be worth considering, such as Karen Traviss — her original fiction has still not been published in the UK. But I don’t think this would raise the submission statistics to parity, or anything like it, and it does not address the apparent imbalance in UK genre publishing.
The Clarke Award has not produced an all-male shortlist since its second year, but unless something changes, I imagine we’ll see another quite soon. To be positive, however, I don’t think it will be this year; here’s a list of all the books by women that I can think of that are eligible for this year’s award.
Candor, Pam Bachorz
Zoo City, Lauren Beukes
Servant of the Underworld, Aliette de Bodard
Alice in Time, Penelope Bush
Transformation Space, Marianne de Pierres
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
Guardians of Paradise, Jaine Fenn
[The Nemesis List, RJ Frith?]
Feed, Mira Grant
The Carbon Diaries 2017, Saci Lloyd
The Birth of Love, Joanna Kavenna
The Returners, Gemma Malley
The Legacy, Gemma Malley
[The Folding Knife, KJ Parker?]
A Matter of Blood, Sarah Pinborough
The Dead-Tossed Waves, Carrie Ryan
Birdbrain, Johanna Sinisalo
2017, Olga Slavnikova
Lightborn, Tricia Sullivan
Our Tragic Universe, Scarlett Thomas
Walking the Tree, Kaaron Warren
Who have I missed?