The feminists are mad because I said SF isn't girly. I think SF is girly, because I'm a girl, and my father gave me my first 3 SF books for my eighth birthday (Tunnel in the Sky, Sargasso of Space, and the third one escapes me). I spent one summer in Bantam Doubleday Dell's science fiction department, which was all female. I have an entire elaborate space opera planned out in my head which I may someday write, if my fiction writing stops being terrible.
But I think it's kind of hard to deny that there are a lot of women who do not like science fiction because it doesn't fit into their conception of girly. Stating that you are a woman who likes science fiction, and lots of women like science fiction, is theatrical, but it's beside the point; the demographic is overwhelmingly male. Connie Willis and Megan Lindholm and Sheri Tepper are great (I mean, at least until Tepper went off the deep end and started writing novels that implied men would be so much better if they were . . . women), but they are not the core of the genre. We can angrily declare that SF is so woman-friendly all we want, while women nod politely and bypass the SF section for the mysteries or the bodice rippers. Or we can try to convince them that they are making a tragic mistake, because what they are looking for in a romance novel or a good mystery can also be found in the SF section.
Really good SF taps the same emotional space as a fairy tale or a fantasy--the magic of reading about a world where the rules are different from, though no less coherent than, your own. (The people who thought I was saying "Women all want pretty little princess fantasies should actually, I don't know, read some fairy tales. Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm are considerably more complicated than the Disney versions.) It's a shame to miss out on it.
So I open the comments to my readers: what are good "starter SF" novels for people who think they don't like SF? (Male, female, or both). I hereby unnominate the entire oeuvre of William Gibson, but nearly anything else is fair game.
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