Women care about explosions. Men care about feelings.

July 11, 2017 § Leave a comment

Okay, we’ve all heard about that idiotic National Review article about how the womens don’t write science fiction, right? This one? The one arguing against the Bechdel Test? Yeah, I probably shouldn’t even bother and I definitely shouldn’t link it since reading the piece won’t add anything of value to your life. But I wanted to talk about this premise.

In the writing of the Nameless books, I have not only employed the Bechdel test (and sometimes found myself to be failing it) but I have applied it in reverse, and tried to have male characters who specifically talk about women rather than themselves, and not necessarily in a sexual or romantic way. Jury’s out on that. But here’s the thing – the Bechdel test is just there to give you something to think about. It’s a tool to shape how you approach character in fiction, it’s not being imposed and it doesn’t have any deleterious effects. It’s worthwhile to think about what your female characters say and do in your work.

The Nameless books depend on quite a few women. Seri, Thea, Bry, Evvie, Mercy, Akivasha, Delphine, Medea and Polly across the three novels have arcs, they have stories. And of course Dassalia squats like an idol in these stories, even after the first book her presence and her actions have repercussions. What she endured, survived, and chose to do changed and shaped everyone’s lives. Tom’s mother Artemis has an impact even though we never actually see her. Because in my experience, women are people. This is a simple fact. And people are complicated.

Worse, however, is the idea that women authors are somehow only interested in relationships while male authors are somehow the only ones writing fantasy and science-fiction, the only ones who care about shootouts and action. This absurdity so tragically misses the point of fiction that I can’t even think about it. I mean, we could sit here and list women who write fantasy or science fiction all day (here’s a wikipedia page for you to fall down the rabbit hole if you’re inclined) and I mean, we all have our favorites – I love Julian May, Lois McMaster Bujold, C.L. Moore, and when she’s on nobody can fucking touch Margaret Atwood – but a list of authors misses the point.

It’s not just that women are demonstrably interested in science fiction and fantasy. It’s not just that women comprise a huge voice in SFF fandom. It’s not even just that women clearly write a ton of both. It’s that the idea that women only care about relationships and men only care about action is insulting to everyone who has ever written fiction.

Agatha Christie never really wrote either SF or F, but goddamn it, she wrote so many freaking murder mysteries I can’t even pretend to count. People die like flies in those books, and they’re all about figuring out who murdered them. Patricia Highsmith? Sure, you could argue that relationships are in those books, and are important, but still there’s sex and taut thriller plots and… I just can’t even with this shit. The very idea that you can separate writing into ‘writing about relationships’ and ‘writing about aliens and magic and explosions’ and the two have no overlap is, pardon my obscenity, fucking asinine.

Take the relationships out of Star Wars and nobody would know what the fuck that movie even was. Han, Luke, Leia, Chewie, Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, these characers are enmeshed in a complicated series of relations to one another and that’s part of the reason people like the damn movies to begin with. The Great Gatsby is a book entirely about relationships. Hell, even Moby Dick is about the relationship between a man who hates a whale and a whale who hates a man.

The fucking Iliad, which was first composed around the 8th century BC as far as we know, has all the gory deaths you could want. People get brutally murdered, their corpses dragged around behind chariots. But the story is all about relationships. Helen leaves her husband for Paris and triggers the war. Agamemnon insults Achilles and causes him to sulk in his tent. Patroclus, Achilles friend and possibly lover, is slain trying to do what Achilles will not, and the rage that triggers in Achilles leads to the death of Hector, which leaves his city without a defender and his wife and son without a protector. Without these relationships the epic is just a list of boats.

Relationships are the subject and meat of fiction. There can be no fiction without them. Even in the most superficial writing characters relate in some way to each other, because that’s what characters do. The idea that only women care about relationships argues that every single work of literature every conceived was written by a woman. That’s a pretty radical argument for the National Review, I have to admit. I’m surprised to discover I’m a woman.


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