Lack of diversity is an ongoing discussion in the science fiction community. Earlier this year, Lightspeed Magazine’s Women Destroy Science Fiction Kickstarter campaign offered a call to action. Would science fiction fans pay to see an issue dedicated to female authors? The answer was a resounding “Yes!” as it closed at over 1000% of its goal.
As the issue approaches release, guest editor Christie Yant shares how fast a great idea can travel, how many submissions a 6-week call can bring and two stories that changed the way she looks at science fiction.
When I interviewed John Joseph Adams, he attributed your tweet with the start of Women Destroy Science Fiction. What was your reaction when he approached you about making it a reality?
CY: It all came together so fast, there was hardly time to think! One minute I was joking with other women writers on Twitter, the next he suggested that we do a special issue, and it was maybe an hour later that he asked if I would like to be guest editor. I immediately agreed, and then wondered what I’d got myself into! There were certainly other people he could have asked — but as he pointed out, I’ve been with the magazine since the first issue. I was certainly grateful for the opportunity and trust.
With so much support and buzz about the project, the Kickstarter alone had over 2800 backers, what’s your biggest worry about editing Women Destroy Science Fiction?
CY: As in any crowd-funded project, my biggest worry is disappointing the backers. We’re certainly delivering what we promised initially and much more, so that worry is gone. Now I worry about how it will be received and whether the readers see the same merit in the stories I’ve chosen that I do. We can never please everyone, but I hope that people will enjoy it and maybe discover some authors they’d never have found otherwise.
There was open submissions period. Can you talk about the number of submissions you received and ultimately how many made the cut?
CY: We received about a thousand submissions in the six weeks that we were open. Of those, I selected seven full-length pieces, and our flash editor Robyn Lupo chose fifteen short pieces. There are an additional four stories that I specifically solicited from the authors. I had originally asked for several more, but not everyone was able to participate — which turned out fine, because we had so many great stories come in. Many of those that I had to let go for one reason or another were picked up by John Joseph Adams for future issues of Lightspeed, which lessened the sting for both the authors and myself!
What kind of stories can we expect in Women Destroy Science Fiction?
CY: Lightspeed has always tried to cover the breadth of science fiction and its many subgenres. Some of those are often dismissed as other things — usually fantasy or romance. So I’ve got everything from the aftermath of alien invasion, to off-world courtship; from interstellar salvage missions, to thinking, feeling submersibles.
Is it too much to hope for stories that will include more character diversity, for example persons of color, gender identity, etc?
CY: Never too much to hope for! I think authors are hearing the message that there is more than one story in the world, and our submissions reflected that. Our authors have given us stories about people of a range of background, identity, and ability. And of course we always want more!
At the end of the day, what do you think is the best way to encourage and support more women writers in science fiction?
CY: I’m not sure there is a single best way. Personally, I had to come to understand that I didn’t need a graduate degree in science and technology fields to write science fiction. Much of my editorial direction was dictated by my own experience of discovering that science fiction was much broader in scope than I had believed. And the way I learned was by encountering it.
I’ll take this opportunity to confess something: When I volunteered to slush for Lightspeed in January of 2010, I hadn’t read much science fiction since high school, and I sure as hell had never tried to write any. Lightspeed at the time was strictly a science fiction magazine — fantasy was added later when John Joseph Adams acquired Fantasy Magazine and combined the content of the two. But I was a fantasy reader and a fantasy writer. I was in it to try to stretch my genre reading, to educate myself a bit in the field, and I thought that I could learn more about the craft of writing by studying a genre that I didn’t work in, so that I could be more objective about the nuts and bolts of the stories I was reading. I did get the education I was after, but I also got a totally new understanding of what science fiction can be.
There are two early Lightspeed stories in particular that broke the whole thing wide open for me and made me see the genre in a totally new light, and they both happened to be written by women: “I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You In Reno” by Vylar Kaftan, and Genevieve Valentine’s “The Zeppelin Conductor’s Society Annual Gentlemen’s Ball.” Kaftan’s story is a love story, and it doesn’t try to pretend to be anything else. But it’s a love story told in the language of science and space travel, and if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be half the story that it ultimately is.
Valentine’s is almost steampunk, I guess, if the existence of zeppelins is the deciding factor there. The medical science is not going to hold up to scrutiny. But it doesn’t matter. It’s a story about people and sacrifice and difficult choices, in a situation that can’t exist in the real world. That’s what science fiction is really good at: providing a virtual petri dish for the human experiment. Asking “what would happen if…?”
Those stories are so powerful. I came away from each of them thinking: If that was science fiction, then yes I want to read more of it, and yes I can write it! They made a fan out of me.
My hope is that others will have the same experience of finding work by other women that might not fit the rigid mold of someone else’s science fiction, and will be encouraged to try, to dare to create — and know that yes, what you’re doing is valid, it belongs here, and we want more. I want the fantasists, the poets, the women of color, women outside North America, the women who are differently abled, the women who identify as such to any degree — regardless of how the world tries to label them — I want them to know that they can do this, their stories do fit here — and we need them! Because there is more than one kind of story that needs telling, and more than one kind of reader who is aching to be reached.
I truly believe that art saves lives, and it may be your art, or it may be your life.
So to answer your question more directly, one good way — though I don’t know that it’s the only way, or the best way, but it’s a way! — to encourage and support women in the field is to simply make more work by women in the field available, in the widest scope we can. That was the goal of this project: more women, more stories, more work added to the canon from authors both established and brand new. I’m happy to say that I think we’ve accomplished that, and I’m so grateful to everyone who made that possible.
Women Destroy Science Fiction is currently available for pre-order. The issue will be released on June 1.
Related article: Interview with Lightspeed Publisher John Joseph Adams