The Blue Ey'd Hag

Mike Ashley


I did a little looking around on Mike Ashley, editor of The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing Science Fiction. (See previous post). Seems he's been doing this editor thing for a while, and has a whole bunch of Mammoth short story collections running around. jwghposted a link to a google book upload of one of Ashley's books concerning the history of SF magazines--and there's no doubt Ashley knows about women in science fiction, as well as some of the concerns surrounding this issue.

So why for the love of isotopes?

I found the ToC for another Mammoth collection he edited, The Mammoth Book of Extreme Science Fiction, and there is one woman in it. One.

So, what's up with the male and white orientation of these two collections? Does anyone know this guy? Anyone have an answer?
  • Current Mood: discontent discontent
  • Current Music: Danny Elfman, "The Little Things"
Women in SF
(Anonymous)
It seems the male-only content of my MAMMOTH BOOK OF MINDBLOWING SF has caused quite a bit of angst, and a lot of questions have been asked. Since the one on this blog is direct, I thought maybe I'd comment.

For a start I have no bias towards women writers or writers of any race or creed. Quite the contrary. If readers want to check out any of my anthologies or, more importantly, the section in GATEWAYS TO FOREVER that looks at the feminist issues of the 1970s, they will see that I have great respect for women writers. I have said this time and again, as far back as the mid-70s when I wrote an article about women writers for SCIENCE FICTION MONTHLY. My reference books have explored sf throughout the world.
In assembling this anthology (and EXTREME SF) the emphasis was on stories that took unusual scientific concepts and developed them in even more unusual ways. When I checked out stories for these books I just picked stories that worked for me. I didn't even always check out the by-line. In fact I was a bit surprised that as the list of likely contents grew that I didn't have anything by women.

That probably has something to do with my concept of "mind-blowing". Women are every bit as capable of writing mindblowing sf as men are, but with women the stories concentrate far more on people, life, society and not the hard-scientific concepts I was looking for.

Maybe, in retrospect, I should've looked harder, but I didn't want to include women writers on a purely token basis. I did in fact contact a couple of women writers early on hoping they could contribute new stories, but one didn't respond and for the other, the timescale for compiling the anthology proved too tight, which was a shame.

For those interested, the next anthology I am compiling, of apocalyptic sf, will include quite a few stories by women writers, though I'm still some way from resolving the final line-up.

Mike Ashley
Re: Women in SF
Dear Mike Ashley,

Even if I were to accept this as a reasonable reason, that does not explain where all the people of color are. Just sayin'.
Re: Women in SF
Mike, thank you!

After looking through your work, I thought it was supremely peculiar (mind blowing, in fact, in I may) that someone as cognizant as you would have left out the women. I for one look forward to the apocalyptic sf anthology, as I'm fond of that trope.

As for your statement about stories concentrating on people, etc., rather than hard science concepts, I can't say whether I hope that will change or whether that's all to the good.

Perhaps one day the woman writer who obviously employs both concerns will show herself.

--Marguerite
Re: Women in SF
Women are every bit as capable of writing mindblowing sf as men are, but with women the stories concentrate far more on people, life, society and not the hard-scientific concepts I was looking for.

I can't believe this statement is even remotely acceptable, being a gross generalization and a repetition of something we've heard over and over from male editors, most memorably in the F&SF debate. I find it nearly as offensive, if not more, than the TOC itself.

Women's stories and men's stories are not different. To make a vast, sweeping statement about all women's fiction as a defense against not including them is revolting, and Not Helping.
Re: Women in SF
And not true, except insomuch as stories by women are going to be read as being about people and stories by men are going to be read as being about science.

Swanwick wrote the introduction to at least one of Tiptree's collections. Are we to credit the argument that none of those stories about science?
Re: Women in SF
It's not just ethically suspect, it's incompetent bullshit.

Seriously, someone who knows so little about the current state of the field to opine something so demonstrably false should really rethink whether he is the right person to be editing anthologies at all.
Re: Women in SF
(Anonymous)
Long time science fiction reader here.

In my experience, yes - men and women write science fiction differently.
Re: Women in SF
Maybe, in retrospect, I should've looked harder, but I didn't want to include women writers on a purely token basis. I did in fact contact a couple of women writers early on hoping they could contribute new stories, but one didn't respond and for the other, the timescale for compiling the anthology proved too tight, which was a shame.
Just to clarify. By "a couple," you mean don't mean the informal "a small but undefined number"; you mean two (evidenced by the rest of thes sentence).

I only point this out because on a casual reading, I got hte impression that you contacted more than two women writers. I wouldn't want anyone else to suffer the same confusion.
Re: Women in SF
How dare you not have a perfectly balanced anthology that equally represents all members of the rainbow coalition. For shame! Unclean! Hsssssss!

Jk.
Re: Women in SF
with women the stories concentrate far more on people, life, society and not the hard-scientific concepts I was looking for

To be polite, let me suggest that if that is your impression, you might rethink your capability in the area of editing anthologies that represent the current state of science fiction.

And you include neither women NOR men of color, both of which groups include some of the most distinguished writers working in science fiction today.

Re: Women in SF
Hi Mike. I also like hard sf very much, although I have no formal science qualification apart from having done four years in medical school a lifetime ago. I obviously haven't read your anthology, so I don't know how hard or rigorous the hard science is, in other words, how high your bar is.

However, there is no shortage of classical, famous stories by women writers with a definite hardness to them. Mind-blowiness is of course more difficult to define, but consider:

James Tiptree jr, probably my favourite short story writer, did in fact produce a lot of fairly hard stories - Forever to Hudson Bay Blanket, Love is Plan and the Plan is Death, A Momentary Taste of Being, just to name a few.

Connie Willis, one of the great producers of award-winning short stories writers, has at least two stories that have indelebly stuck in my mind, Even the Queen (where the premise is that a technological innovation, namely control of female menstruation, has led to a complete overhaul of world society, culture and politics), and All My Darling Daughters (where the discovery of an alien lifeform forces the protagonist into a chilling insight into human sexuality). Yes, they are both feminist science fiction stories, but they are the only two I remember. Connie Willis writes A LOT. And these can't be the only stories based on very hard what-ifs.

And then there's Octavia Butler, whose two most famous stories, Bloodchild and Speech Sounds, are as science-based and as hard as they come, in the blood-and-guts sense of the word in the first sense.

Nancy Kress is also mostly a hard-science kind of writer, although off the top of my head I can't remember one specific story to illustrate the point.

For that matter, if your idea of mind-blowingness is awesome stories with a hard science backgroud, where is Greg Egan in your anthology? He is my second favourite writer after Tiptree, and is probably the furthest point anybody reached both in terms of science and in terms of originality and forcefulness. Also, he is difficult to find since most of his anthologies are out of print.

Look, I am not trying to beat you over the head with it here. I am utterly completely certain that you did not set out deliberately to exclude women or minorities. The problem is that it didn't bother you. Look, if I set out to write a list of the 100 greatest Americans of the last century and I looked at my list afterwords and notices that it had no women or black people, I'd scratch my head and blink and then say: "Oh Gosh, how could I possible forget MLK? Or Eleanor Roosevelt?" Not because I wanted to include a couple of tokens, but because by thinking hard I could overcome the blinkers that I have (I know I have them, and I am a woman!).

But saying that women don't tend to write hard sf, hmm, that is a bit of rationalizing after the fact. They do. There are less women than men in SF publishing, and hard sf is hard to do, but my guess is that in proportions, there are just as many women writing hard sf in proportion to the total of women writers as there are men. Think: Linda Nagata. Joan Sloachevski. And I am not even making an effort here.
Re: Women in SF
"That probably has something to do with my concept of "mind-blowing". Women are every bit as capable of writing mindblowing sf as men are, but with women the stories concentrate far more on people, life, society and not the hard-scientific concepts I was looking for."

Even if there were no stories written by women past or present that were about these sorts of 'hard' science fiction, physical sciences over social sciences, concepts (which I kind of doubt), doesn't this suggest that the title of the anthology is lacking or even misleading? After all, it just says 'Mind-Blowing Science Fiction'. That certainly doesn't imply to me that, for example, Tiptree's "Screwfly Solution" wouldn't qualify because the central Macguffin hinges more on biology than physics.
Re: Women in SF
Women are every bit as capable of writing mindblowing sf as men are, but with women the stories concentrate far more on people, life, society and not the hard-scientific concepts I was looking for.

mr. ashley, if you really care about hard-scientific concepts you shouldn't throw around such unscientific claptrap. i've enjoyed a number of your anthologies in the past and your statements regarding this one are painful to read (not to mention embarassing).

you should listen to what all of these people here are telling you -- not "going out of your way" to oppress women or people of colour does not make one completely unbiased or completely unprejudiced -- and learn something and apply that new knowledge to your next anthology. looking for good authors of different backgrounds is not tokenism -- it is your job as an editor. do a better job next time.