Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Patty Jansen on Hard SF

June 13th, 2013

I missed Patty Jansen’s post when it came out at the start of May, but finally discovered it today, and recommend it if you’re interested in a thoughtful look at hard science fiction. The post is called “There are girl cooties on my space ship — on women writing hard SF.”

I’m not a fan of the term “girl cooties” because, going by my personal experience, it vastly over-simplifies a complex dynamic in the hard SF genre. That said, Patty had a good reason for using it. Her post starts with a description of her encounter with an editor who admitted he was reluctant to consider a hard SF novel written by a woman: “I hate to say that, but yeah, that is a problem”

(My own hard SF novels were sold at or before the turn of the century — a different age.)

But beyond this experience, Patty has a lot more thoughts on the subgenre, including the very thing I’ve gotten so agitated about lately:

Books are about people and the perception that hard SF is only about tech and not about character is rubbish.


There is also blunt discussion on the gender ratio of hard SF readers, which leads to this:

A book that doesn’t sell fails to reach the right audience, never mind the gender. How about we stop trying to push books to the same old, same old group who supposedly don’t read women, and try to engage a general audience? In other words, pull the space ship that is hard SF into the garage and give it an overhaul. Get rid of the retro shit. There is certainly none in any of my books.

I strongly believe that if you want to sell a broader range of hard SF you need to step outside the current narrow audience with the narrow marketing messages.

This is an interesting point to me because, you know, marketing. The idea, in part, is that most hard SF books have “gendered” covers that say “this is for dudes.” So take a look at my books — the covers are there on the left; scroll down to see them all. With the exception of The Red: First Light I don’t think they’re aimed at a particular gender — and of course they don’t exactly sell in great quantity either.

So now I’ve got something else to cogitate on. There will be more to come on the subject of hard SF, but in the meantime, do go read Patty’s post.

Posted on: Thursday, June 13th, 2013 at 8:50 am
Categories: Cover Art, Promotion.
Tags: , ,

6 Responses to “Patty Jansen on Hard SF”

  1. TheSFReader Says:

    Unfortunately, WRT the book cover for example, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy : if the cover doesn’t correspond to the genre, it won’t work. but if you want to go PAST the genre, you need to bring the newness to the cover…

    I admit that I bought The Red First Light in part because of that first impression on the cover, which is ALL the way Mil-SF… I mayb e would have passed through without checking further had the cover be that genra-specific.

    And I guess HardSF “codes” goes the same way.

  2. Linda Says:

    It’s a frustrating puzzle, because I do want to go beyond the subgenre and interest those readers who like SFF but shy away from hard-SF cooties, which, now that I think about it, should be a thing.

    I did want to go all the way with the cover for The Red: First Light, (F–k yeah, this is milSF!), to see how that would work out. It was my daughter who did the cover painting, and I think she did a great job with it. 🙂 So yes, it is a gendered cover, and most of the reader reviews up on Amazon are by men (THANK YOU ALL FOR THOSE!), but I’ve had some women readers too, who have loved the book. Will other potential women readers pass it over because of the straight-up milSF cover? It’s a risk, for sure.

  3. Wade Says:

    I’ve never picked what I want to read based on the sex of the author. I just haven’t. I can’t see a difference in writing between man and a woman in SF, nor in Fantasy, nor in any other genre I’ve read.

    OTOH, I do see a difference in writing when someone who is mostly Hard SF writes Fantasy. Or vice versa.

  4. Linda Says:

    Thanks, Wade. For myself, I tend to pick books by what I’ve heard about them, regardless of the author. But a lot of potential readers do have prior conceptions of a book based on the cover or the subgenre it belongs to (or the author’s name). Sometimes that can be good; sometimes it’s limiting.

  5. Patty Jansen Says:

    Thanks for blogging this, Linda.

    I think hard SF can be many things. I also think that each book–without changing anything to the content–can be marketed in more than one genre. Of course publishers will have to buy books according to what fits their brand, but I think that rejecting hard SF because it’s written by a woman and doesn’t suit a particular blokey part of your publishing brand is rather short-sighted. My hard SF works could easily be classified as space opera, and there are plenty of women selling in that.

    I think your cover of Red Light is very similar to books by Elizabeth Moon which I love. It is not a particularly gendered cover. I’ve got the sample pages on my Kobo touch 😉

    Also, if you want to talk hard SF, I’m happy to talk as well. Not all my work is hard SF, but a significant part of it is.

  6. Linda Says:

    Hi Patty, I admired your post and wish you luck with your fiction — and more congenial editors. I do think there has gotten to be a real issue with the term “hard SF”–I’ve seen so much bogus criticism of it, by people who obviously never read it. Really annoying.

    Anyway, I ask a lot of questions and am interested in thoughts and opinions on the subject.

    Thanks for taking a look at First Light!