And by “it” I mean, “writing women well.” This is on my mind today, because recently—recently, that is, in the chronology of me writing this, not necessarily recently in the chronology, Gentle Reader, of you reading it—I’ve read a couple of books where the male authors made me more happy in their treatment of gender roles than not.
Since that’s rarer than I’d like, it explains why my bookshelves skew towards female authorship. And it’s also why I’d like to give them a shout-out today, because their existence is proof that men can actually grok the full humanity of le deuxième sexe, and write it into their fictional worlds.
First up, alphabetically at least, Ben Aaronovitch. I like Aaronovitch’s novels (Rivers of London/Midnight Riot, Moon Over Soho, and Whispers Under Ground) for a lot of reasons. They’re smart, sharp, fast, witty books with a real sense of place (the place being London, if you hadn’t guessed). They’re told from the point of view of PC Peter Grant, who gets himself mixed up in some deeply Weird Shit in the opening chapters of Rivers of London—and the icing on the cake is that Peter is surrounded by a variety of women who are more competent than he is in any number of ways. And he’s okay with that.
Don’t get me wrong. Peter is still a guy, and occasionally a right arse. But the women in these books are real and human—even when they’re not. Human, that is.
Chaz Brenchley’s another bloke who gets it right more often than not. He also writes as Daniel Fox and Ben Macallen, and it’s books written under a pseudonym that I want to highlight. The trilogy which begins with Dragon In Chains is very good at getting at women who in a different book might be invisible, or cardboard cut-outs at best. His other books do it too—perhaps not quite as well, but the variety of experience is there, implied.
Samuel R. Delany. Despite its vintage, Babel-17 holds up pretty damn well.
Jim C. Hines. You all know about Jim Hines, I expect? The Stepsister Scheme, The Mermaid’s Madness, Red Hood’s Revenge? (What, is that a no in the audience? I’m shocked, simply shocked.) His novels are fairly feminist and usually a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing if Libriomancer continues in the same vein.
James H. Schmitz. My token dead white guy. Despite the fact that many of his stories were written in the 1950s and 60s, the women in most of them hold up pretty well to the test of time. (I reread some of the Telzey Amberdon stories just last year.) They’re acres more human than most of his male contemporaries, and—sad to say—at times rather better characterised than several of our modern male science fiction writers.
Charles Stross. In part, it was reading The Apocalypse Codex back-to-back with Whispers Under Ground that sparked the train of thought from which this post originated. (Great subversion of the spy caper, that man.) Stross’s Laundry novels and Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant books are proof positive that male writers can write stories with a straight male narrator in the first person without having the female characters come across as either absent, ciphers, stereotypes, or sex-fantasies. Stross’s worlds are full of women—even when all the humans are dead.
Unlike other writers I could name. But won’t. I suspect you know who you are. There is proof, gentlemen, that you can do this thing! The fact that you aren’t....
It wearies me, it really does. (This is my tired face. See? Tired.)
I’m not going to apologise for only mentioning a handful of names. And I’ve deliberately avoided naming authors who only have one or two books to their name to date: it’s impossible to judge them fairly without seeing at least three books’ worth of form. If you think other male writers get it more right than wrong, show your work in the comments!
(This has been your male-writers intermission. Next time out, we’re back to focusing on feminisms, women, women, and nothing but the women.)
Image from Unwritten #35, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu
Liz Bourke can be found @hawkwing_lb, sighing wearily at the twittersphere.