GeekRadical.org is in its final push in a Kickstarter campaign to publish a Feminist Speculative Fiction anthology through PM Press. The goal is to "emphasize women's speculative fiction from the mid-1970s onward, looking to explore women's rights as well as gender/race/class/etc. from as many perspectives as possible."
We all know one feminist's definition of feminism can be completely different than another's. And speculative fiction? How is it different from science fiction? Isn't science fiction notoriously hard to define? I asked Jef Smith of GeekRadical.org to help me out with a definition.
What is speculative fiction?
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term for science fiction, fantasy, and horror fiction. In fact, it's not even limited to those genres. As a type of literature it can include all manner of stories, those on another world, in an alternative past, or even just 20 minutes into an ever-changing, ever-weirder future. It can include everything from magical realism to hard science fiction (think Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov) to classic fantasy (Tolkien, et al.). It is fiction based on "what if?" questions. What if this technology developed? What if magic existed?
Within the field, there are large divisions, those who dismiss fantasy, or those who are turned off by stories that focus more on technology and science as opposed to people and feelings. Some like deep, multi-layered, character-driven stories, while others prefer rollicking, adventure-oriented, "escapist" tales. You can slice stories into even smaller subgenres, each with their own tropes and conventions, clichés and critiques. But to me, it all comes down to ideas, to that speculative bent. It can be something very plausible, but not yet realized, or it can be improbably outlandish.
OK, so what makes for "feminist" speculative fiction?
The anthology will be feminist in the sense that the themes and issues explored in the stories are about or informed by the struggle for women's rights. Additionally, they will likely address issues of gender, race, class, and a host of other topics; all of our existing hierarchies are interconnected.
Some authors may not identify as feminist (that's a whole discussion right there!), but the stories will be chosen based on their feminist interpretation (which may not be the author's intent).
I admit, I am not a die-hard science-fiction fan. I read (and loved) Dune and I have read speculative works from Ursula K. LeGuin, Margaret Atwood, and Octavia Butler. I have often felt alienated from my geek guy friends and their guy sci-fi books—even when I knew great work, like from the authors listed above, existed. It makes sense for feminists to get behind this genre. Science/ speculative fiction has a long tradition of exploring beyond the boundaries of our society, offering up different interpretations of gender roles, sexuality, idealistic utopias, and cautionary dystopias.
I recently picked up the anthology Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the 20th Century (2006) that served as a great introduction to the history of feminist science-fiction writing and scholarship—the anthology includes a critical, feminist analysis of each short story. Jef felt that there was "a big need for an anthology looking at the wealth of feminist sci-fi that is discussed today […] modern 3rd wave feminism, with its recognition of the intersections between class, race, and so on, offered many topics that have been explored by writers from that mid-'70s point [of Daughters of Earth] onwards, when women really began to rise to prominence in the field." So this project was born.
(For an immediate short history of feminist science fiction, check out this timeline compiled by Laura Quilter.)
Over Memorial Day weekend (May 25th-28th) hundreds of people will converge upon WisCon 36 to discuss the role of gender, race, and class in science fiction and fantasy. For 36 years WisCon, the world's leading feminist science-fiction convention, has been held in Madison, Wisconsin. Jef has been attending WisCon for almost a decade now and calls it "one of the most vibrant expressions of feminism I have ever experienced."
At the $250 level of pledge in the Feminist Speculative Anthology Kickstarter is a copy of the anthology signed by as many of the contributors as possible attending the 2013 WisCon. I settled for my $10 pledge and my gift of a bumper sticker that tells everyone that "I read feminist literature." Hopefully soon, if this campaign is funded, I will be reading some feminist speculative literature as well.
Previously: Virginia Woolf, Abridged and Alluring