Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

So you don’t like hard science fiction…?

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Over the past year or so I’ve read several disparaging comments about my favorite kind of science fiction — the hard stuff. So I thought I’d address some common misconceptions about the sub-genre in a post that published today at Please check it out and let me know what you think.

Patty Jansen on Hard SF

Thursday, 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.

More On Hard SF From Ronald Zajac

Monday, June 10th, 2013

Vast by Linda NagataSeveral days ago I posted on the tired old meme that hard SF is “emotionless” writing. Since then I’ve seen this meme repeated two or three times by other writers, which is both hugely discouraging and infuriating. I strongly encourage you to go read a post by Ronald Zajac called “Can we rethink this whole “hard vs. soft” business?” Ronald’s post looks at the issue from a more historical perspective:

Clearly, if we rewrite our definitions of the genre in a way that lets readers appreciate Lem and LeGuin, Clarke and Delany, together, for their different qualities, we will be doing all of SF a favour. At the same time, perhaps, we’ll be eliminating gender divides that have no place in a forward-thinking genre.

Ronald’s post led me to a twitter debate late last night with @AthenaHelivoy, as we have different perceptions of the problems in and around so-called “hard SF.” My final conclusion to this debate is very simple: whether we like the term or not, the concept of “hard SF” exists as a marketing category, and when sweeping statements are made condemning the subgenre as “emotionless,” those statements hurt me and many other writers who are not remotely guilty of the charge. So I object, and will continue to object.

I suspect I’ll be writing more on this subject soon…

Reader vs. Author Gender

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

There is a meme that shows up now and then in my twitter stream (today for example) and it goes something like this: women will read books regardless if they are written by men or by women, but men tend to read books only by men.

My experience is the opposite.

My very rough estimate is that only 20% of my readers are women. This is based on such things as reader emails received over the years, “Likes” on my facebook page, people who comment on my blog, people on twitter who are interested in my work, and statistics on a recent sale of a story of mine republished as an ebook.

All of my readers are fantastic. Men and women both are incredibly supportive and I would be nothing without them…but more and more I can’t help wondering why more women don’t read my work.

Yes, it’s true that most of my work has been hard science fiction – generally assumed to be a genre dominated by male readers and I don’t disagree, but still – why don’t more women read my work? Is it simply the label “hard SF”? But don’t women read “everything,” regardless?

In the last couple of years I’ve put out two “scoundrel lit” fantasy novels, darkly humorous and very concerned with male/female relationships. So far as I can tell, mostly men have read them.

I don’t think I write for any particular gender. I write the books I want to read. I often write from the male point of view, but probably just as often I write from the female point of view. I like to think there is a great deal of emotion in my stories, and that there are meaningful relationships.

So why don’t more women read my books? What is it in general that determines if men or women will read a book?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, men and women both.

Snippet: Skye Object 3270a

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Cover of SKYE OBJECT 3270aSkye Object 3270a is a science fiction adventure novel for advanced-middle-grade to young-adult readers who like high-tech adventure. Oh yeah … and the print edition would make a great gift! 😉

* * *

“Come on, Skye,” Buyu complained as he stood on the rim of the box looking down at her. “Stop fooling around.”

Fooling around?

Skye’s gloves were so stiff she could not bend her fingers. She was covered in wriggling tentacles, her skin suit felt like it was on fire, she couldn’t reach anything solid with either hands or feet, and Buyu was accusing her of fooling around?

“Help me get out of here!” she screamed at him. “Buyu! Or you are a dead man.”

Someone caught the half-curled fingers of her rigid hand. She twisted around and saw that it was Devi. He had a wicked gleam in his eyes as he hauled her across the writhing lydras. “That was a beautiful dive, Skye! Wish I’d caught it on record. Have you ever thought about working with lydras professionally . . . ?”

She glared at him, silently vowing to get even. It didn’t take long. As she reached the rim of the cargo container, she kicked the last of the clinging tentacles away. Then she hooked her stiff fingers around the rim and launched herself headfirst out of the box, driving her shoulder into Devi’s gut as she did it.

Devi was so surprised that he was still holding her hand as they flopped together over the side.

Too late, Skye remembered it was a full three-meter plunge to the floor. She got her forearms in front of her to take the brunt of the fall. At least the gravity was half normal! So she didn’t hit as hard as she would have in Silk, but it was hard enough. The air was knocked out of her lungs, so it took her a few seconds to realize she had landed on a writhing cushion of lydras. After that she was on her feet in an instant, scurrying back up the stack of containers to get away from the beasts while Devi lay on the floor laughing uproariously.

* * *
Available in print and ebook editions.

Recent Reading

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Thumbing back through my Kindle to review what I’ve been reading, or contemplating reading, lately reveals an odd mix. I’ve been interested in shorter work, so I’ve enjoyed Lawrence Block’s collection The Night and the Music, Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s The Retrieval Artist, some of Book View Café’s anthology Beyond Grimm, and some online stories, especially at Lightspeed Magazine (check out Tim Pratt’s Cup and Table).

I’ve sampled several novels, and have a lot more lined up. I was really intrigued by Brian Evenson’s Immobility, and I went to buy it, but was put off by the price, which I think was $13 at the time. It’s not that I think an ebook can’t be worth $13, but I charge only five or six dollars for my own books. So in one of those twisted psychological moves, it feels like I’m implying my books are rubbish if I’m willing to pay more than twice their cost for a book I know little about, by an author unfamiliar to me. I think this leaves Richard Kadrey’s Aloha From Hell as the most expensive e-novel I’ve ever bought, at eleven or twelve dollars—but that was the third book in a series that I’ve really enjoyed.

The two novels I’ve finished most recently are Greg Egan’s Incandescence, and Alastair Reynolds’ House of Suns, both of which engaged in galaxy-spanning cultures, and technologies existing across vast spans of time. Both are fascinating, and recommended.

Do you have a book to recommend? I’d love to hear about it. All genres welcome.

Short Story Update

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

The short story I talked about a few days ago has undergone some revision. It’s crept up in length (of course) and is now 5,900 words. I would have liked it shorter, but I’m not going to complain too much. It’s “done” to the extent that if I don’t rustle up a good beta reader in the next day or two, I’ll probably give in to the temptation to just send it off un-vetted.

The protagonist of this story is proving rather troublesome. He’s in my head, lobbying for his own novel now that I’ve messed up his nice life — and I have to admit I’m tempted, despite all the other projects I’m supposed to be working on.

Book Rave: Bloom
by Wil McCarthy…

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

…and the value of writer support groups

Long ago, when the Internet was young and an overabundance of email was never a problem, I returned home from a vacation to find over twenty messages in my inbox. This was unheard of! And I knew at once that something was up.

What had happened was that the young and upcoming science fiction writer, Wil McCarthy, had decided to pull together a group of other writers who were still early in their careers, for the purpose of mutual support and information exchange. The queue of emails reflected an enthusiastic response from the invited writers. The last email in the queue was from Wil, saying something like “Well, we haven’t heard from Linda, so I guess she’s not interested.” To which I replied instantaneously with “Yes, I am interested! I just haven’t been home!”

Hooking up with this little group of writers was one of the best things that ever happened to me, as a writer. Yes, I learned an incredible amount, but just having friends who understood, who I could turn to when things went wrong in the business—that was invaluable, especially to me, living in isolation from other writers out here in the middle of the Pacific. I’m sure it’s the same for many who live in small towns. Finding people who share your passion can make all the difference, and I encourage all writers, especially if you’re just starting out, to find your team, your support group. You won’t regret it.

In my group we often served as beta readers for one another (although I don’t think the term “beta reader” had actually been invented yet). So I had the opportunity to read Wil’s novel Bloom in manuscript. I honestly don’t remember what I said about it, but in the acknowledgements, Wil thanks me and Kathleen Ann Goonan “for not pulling punches.” Hmm….

At any rate, Bloom was published in 1998 to terrific reviews, and it was a New York Times “Notable Book.” Its premise is that a runaway nanotechnology has destroyed all life as we know it on Earth and has made the inner solar system uninhabitable, leaving people to survive in small pockets among the asteroid belt and the moons of Jupiter.

Perhaps inspired by a need to stroll down memory lane, I pulled Bloom off my shelf a few days ago and started reading. I finished it last night, and I have to say, I’m more impressed than ever by this book. If you’re into hard science fiction, I encourage you to grab a sample and give Bloom a try.

I’m glad I can say “grab a sample.” I did not know this before I sat down to write this post, but it looks like Bloom was re-published as an ebook only a little over a week ago. Here’s the Amazon link. Enjoy!

As an addendum, I should add that after many years our group finally drifted apart, as most of us moved on to other ventures, but I still think fondly of everyone involved.

What’s in a Name?

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

I wrote the original version of the following post last winter and then decided not to publish it because, frankly, I don’t like to deal with questions surrounding the issue of women writing science fiction. Then, a couple months ago, a sudden, viral, Internet conversation started on this subject. A lot of writers in the hard science fiction field have since commented. So, emulating the group, I guess I’ll add my experiences to the conversation before the subject dies away entirely. This is an updated version of last winter’s post, describing the trajectory of my career as a woman writing hard science fiction in the nineties and early 2000s.

I haven’t done a lot of interviews in my career, but the question I least like to answer goes something like this: Do you feel it’s hurt your career being a woman writing hard science fiction?

I’m sure I get this deer-in-the-headlights expression before breaking eye contact and muttering something self-contradictory. Because really, how does one answer a question like that?

To say, “Yes, I think it has hurt my career” sounds like whining and finger pointing without any evidence to back it up, and risks offending the men who are the core readers of the genre.

To say, “No, I’m sure that’s not it” would be untruthful and would imply that my books didn’t sell because they were bad. My hard SF books may not be for everyone, but I don’t believe they’re bad.

So in my own mind I mostly ignored the question. Some writers succeed, others don’t. That’s just the way it is.

But of course the only true answer is that I can’t know. I can’t go back and change my name to Greg or David or Alastair and re-publish the books and see how things go.

But oh my how I wish I could.

Here’s the thing:

I had a lot of good breaks. (I had a lot of really bad breaks too, but we won’t go there.) I had cover quotes and great support from Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, and David Brin. I had some really great reviews. For the early books, I had great covers. I won awards. My books were offered by the Science Fiction Book Club. Some were on the Locus Recommended list. I had fantastic support from people like Charles N. Brown. Wil McCarthy was my good buddy.

Men in the hard SF field were friendly and open to my work, to the point I can say that I never met a hard SF writer who was not supportive of me, a woman, writing what I wrote. Other women will claim a different experience. I only give you mine.

And outside the pro circle? I would guess that 80+ percent of the fan mail I’ve ever received has been from men. More men read hard SF than women, so I guess it’s only natural.

What I’m trying to say is that in my personal, face-to-face (or nearly so) experiences, it didn’t feel like being a woman was any sort of disadvantage. If anything, it made me a bit more unique and interesting.

But then comes the dissonance.

“The dissonance” is my personal term for the difference between what other writers and some avid fans will say about my work (really nice things) and the value the market (and agents, publishers, and editors) have placed on my work. It’s a pretty extreme difference.

Despite all the advantages listed above, my books never sold in numbers anywhere close to what could support a writing career, and the Bantam books went out of print with impressive speed. Honestly, there didn’t seem to be much point to it all. I mean, the Nanotech Succession books together, all four volumes, brought in a total of $27,500 in advance money. I recall The Bohr Maker brought in a couple tiny royalty checks thereafter, in the hundred dollar range, and that was it. The other three books never earned out.

Meanwhile, if my memory serves me, Locus was reporting eye-popping advances for, well, other newish hard SF writers who were not me.

So why was I doing this writing thing again? Why was I knocking myself out to create another book that just a few people would read? As much as I appreciated the fans that I had, there was a mortgage to be paid!

So around 2000 I packed my metaphorical bags and moved out of the writing world—this despite that one of my best books, Memory, was still pending from Tor. I already knew it was doomed and I was right. Four years after publication it had sold only a bit more than 10,000 copies.

Did I crash and burn because I was a woman? Or was it just bad luck, a failure of nerve, giving up too soon, not appearing in enough venues, living on a remote island isolated from the writing community? Who knows? Not me.

Now I’ve gotten back into the writing game. Since November, I’ve republished all the SF novels as ebooks. They’re selling slowly. I check sales figures often, so it’s easy for me to tell when a fan from the old days discovers the books, because they’ll buy one each of the Nanotech Succession, and sometimes all six novels in a single shot. (And may I say, thank you! I want you to know how truly gratifying and encouraging that is.)

That said, seven months after they came out as ebooks, my novels are not selling anywhere near the scale enjoyed by other, well, you know, male writers whose backlist is similarly priced. To be fair, I’ve been out of the field for a long time, and these other writers haven’t. So there are no hard conclusions to be found here. The one fact I do have is the knowledge that now, in 2011, women writing original hard science fiction are choosing to use gender-obscuring pen names.

Anyone reading this blog isn’t going to care if my name is Linda or Larry. But the question remains: Does Linda or Larry matter out there in the scary real world where buyers peruse long lines of titles at Amazon, and employ an unknowable process of elimination to narrow down their selections?

I have no way to know.

But if I had it to do over again, then yes, I would change my name.