Monday, May 17, 2010

Before I Was A Giant


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Above is the cover of Before They Were Giants,  which Paizo Publishing, LLC has just shipped.  Editor James L Sutter has compiled an anthology of stories which . . .  Well, why not read the publishing house promo:
See Where it all Began!

Nobody starts at the top. Long before they were household names, all of the superstar science fiction and fantasy authors in this anthology were just fans with stories and dreams. Now, for the first time ever, fifteen of the genre’s most important authors have come together to show off their first published SF stories, many of them rare and never before collected. All fifteen stories come complete with brand-new retrospective critiques and interviews from the authors themselves, discussing the stories’ geneses, humorous anecdotes surrounding the stories’ publication, and what the authors know now about writing that they wish they’d known then. An invaluable look at the origins of speculative fiction’s greatest minds, and bursting with insightful advice for beginning writers, this book is a must for any science fiction or fantasy fan, aspiring author, or teacher.

Ah, yes, I remember those days, exploring alien planets and fighting monsters for minimum wage.  The atmosphere was orange and murky and I lived on Campbell's Soup and frozen chicken pot pies.  There were times when I didn't know where my next tank of oxygen was going to come from.  Pretty scary, I tell you!

Here's the table of contents:
Piers Anthony: "Possible to Rue"
Greg Bear: "Destroyers"
Ben Bova: "A Long Way Back"
David Brin: "Just a Hint"
Cory Doctorow: "Craphound"
William Gibson: "Fragments of a Hologram Rose"
Nicola Griffith: "Mirrors and Burnstone"
Joe Haldeman: "Out of Phase"
China MiƩville: "Highway 61 Revisited"
Larry Niven: "The Coldest Place"
Kim Stanley Robinson: "In Pierson’s Orchestra"
Spider Robinson: "The Guy with the Eyes"
R. A. Salvatore: "A Sparkle for Homer"
Charles Stross: "The Boys"
Michael Swanwick: "Ginungagap"

And I'm on the road again . . .

This time I'm going someplace very, very impressive.  If they have wi-fi there, I'll blog about it on Wednesday.  If not, I should be back by Friday.

*

35 comments:

Farah Mendlesohn said...

One woman. Just one. And none of the "giants" among the women either.

Let's see:
Le Guin
Russ
Bujold
Tiptree
Butler
McIntyre
Wilhelm

No woman on the cover either.

Shameful.

Alisa Krasnostein said...

Not really a must for *this* science fiction fan - I like a bit more diversity in what I read.

Pharaoh Katt said...

Ursula le Guin
Lois McMaster Bujold
James Tiptree Jr.
C J Cherryh
Elizabeth Moon
Andre FUCKING Norton!

Alexandra said...

I was going to say something about how hard it will be for Griffith to be the only woman in that TOC. Then I looked again at the cover and realised there could be an argument for the ?monster on the cover also being a woman. Ditto the comment about the book not being a 'must' for me, I'm afraid.

Ken Houghton said...

I'm having flashbacks to Unearth.

And wondering if the women were all smart enough not to have their first story republished.

Michael Swanwick said...

You're all absolutely right. It's a VERY odd lineup, and I have no idea how it was compiled. Paizo Publishing has a strong pulp slant, I believe. But Le Guin and Tiptree and Bujold and even Russ have a far stronger claim to have written in the pulp direction than do I, much less Gibson. Most of C. J. Cherryh's work is a far more sophisticated take on the pulp enterprise. And of course Norton wrote dozens of space adventure novels.

Inexplicable, really.

And while writers can feel embarrassed by their first stories, deservedly or not, it's doubtful that this was just misplaced modesty on the part of women writers. Le Guin published "April in Paris" in THE WIND'S TWELVE QUARTERS. Tiptree's "Birth of a Salesman" was in TEN THOUSAND LIGHT YEARS FROM HOME And that's just off the top of my head.

The list of contributors is odd in other ways too -- is there a single author listed who can read the work of all the others with pleasure? It's certainly not derived from a single generation or literary cohort. But the gender bias is oddest.

Still, I'll probably read those stories I haven't already seen. And I look forward to the doubtless modest and self-deprecating reminiscences of the contributors. None of whom knew in advance what the table of contents would look like, of course.

Farah Mendlesohn said...

Hi Michael

I am sorry to put you in the crossfire, but it isn't in the least inexplicable. It happens all the time, and it is simple sexism.

It won't stop until men asked to contribute to these volumes ask about the gender balance (and race as well?) when asked to contribute.

After a series of these anthologies in the past two years, and repeated line ups at public events which were all male, I decided that it was time to start saying things, not to the perpetrators, who probably don't care, but to the men who agree to be part of these projects, who are often my friends, and who almost always profess liberal values.

ukjarry said...

There was a similar book to this in 2003 “Wondrous Beginnings” from DAW, first stories by famous/established sf writers. Out of 17 stories 4 were by women: Anne McCaffrey, Lois McMaster Bujold, Catherine Aso, and Julie Czerneda. There was a companion book “Magical Beginnings” for the fantasy set and 13 out of 14 were by women – make of that what you will.

Sutter said...

Hey folks! This is James Sutter, the editor of the anthology. I just wanted to hop on and respond to some of the questions about the anthology.

First off, though Planet Stories has done a lot of pulp stuff, there's no theme to the anthology beyond collecting the first published stories of superstar SF authors.

The way the anthology was put together was as follows. Basically, I made a big list of authors that I'd like in there, which took into account:

a) their significance to the SF genre, as judged by such varied things as awards received, general popularity and name recognition, and prominence in certain subsets of the genre (such as LGBT fiction, or shared-world fiction, etc.).

b) my own personal connection with their writing (this is my first anthology)

c) whether or not they'd already done something like this before (there was another collection a few decades ago with a similar theme, which snagged several authors mentioned above)

d) whether or not they were still alive to give me an interview about said story (sadly, this canceled out quite a few more of the obvious choices)

e) how much I enjoyed their first published story

Once that was done, I started going down my list and contacting folks to see if they'd like to be involved. It's important to realize that many, many people said no, and those authors who appear in the collection do so by dint of both their significance (in my personal opinion) and their generosity.

As it turns out, of the various female authors I contacted (and I assure you, there were several), only Nicola said yes. It should also be noted that the list of female authors who turned me down included some of the folks listed in the comments above.

So yes, I agree with you that it would have been nice to have more female authors in the collection. But looking at the list of folks I got, I can't possibly complain - while everyone's definition of "great" is different, there was no way the collection could ever be all-inclusive, and I'm extraordinarily happy and thankful for all the authors who participated! With any luck, we'll be able to do more things like this in the future (which, statistically speaking, will be more likely to have greater gender parity).

As for the cover having only male names - it's true that it's a bit weird, and I was uncomfortable leaving *anyone* off the cover, but in the end it was decided to go with the folks who seem to have the greatest name recognition. We're a small company, and can't afford to take a lot of chances.

And that's really all I have to say! In a perfect world, things would have gone down differently and I would have been able to get more women in the collection, but I really hope that folks can look past the gender imbalance and see the book for what it was meant to be - a fun look at where several major SF authors got their start, and their advice for the next generation of SF hopefuls.

Thanks for listening!

-James

HANNAH'S DAD said...

One can classify SF writers into Silverbergs and Chiangs. Robert Silverberg ascended to godhood slowly, taking the low road that passed through "Revolt on Alpha Centauri-C", while Ted Chiang won a richly deserved Nebula award for his first published story. It's hard to think what 'before they were giants' might mean for the latter sort of writer.

It is indeed a shame not to see more female names, especially those from Farah Mendlesohn's list. And if you'll excuse my snark, some of the names on that list could best be described as "Before they were medium sized".

Full marks to James Sutter for sticking his head up to reply. being an editor must be scary sometimes.

Farah Mendlesohn:
> No woman on the cover either.

I know it's not what you meant, but I'm having unfortunate images of brass bikinis here.

Sutter said...

Hannah's Dad:

>Full marks to James Sutter for sticking his head up to reply. being an editor must be scary sometimes.

Thanks! :) I just wanted to make sure people didn't get the wrong impression of the book and Planet Stories as a whole, especially since much of our book line is based on resurrecting the work of important women like Leigh Bracket and C. L. Moore (the latter of whom created Jirel of Joiry, the first female sword-and-sorcery character).

Also, I forgot to note earlier that Nicola's interview in Before They Were Giants includes an interesting bit on women as aliens (the societal Other) which some folks on this thread might find of interest.

-James

HANNAH'S DAD said...

Pharaoh Katt writes:

> Andre FUCKING Norton!

I grew up reading Andre F. Norton - Galactic Derelict and Key Out of Time and all that - from when I was about 8 to 10.

I was surprised many years later to read that she had written under a male psuedonym, as at the time I'd assumed that that was how 'Andrea' was spelt.

HANNAH'S DAD said...

pseudonym even,

TansyRR said...

I am sure that being an editor comes with many challenges, but it's hard to see how no one at any point of the construction of the book considered that the many female readers in the field might consider their lack of representation insulting.

We do need to talk about this, over and over, because it's just this kind of publication that contributes to the overall impression in the field that men's writing is simply more important than women's.

It may not have been the intention of the editor or the publisher but that is quite clearly the statement this book is making.

I'm very glad Nicola Griffith was included but it is clear from the result that regardless of how many women may have been invited to participate, it was not ENOUGH.

Farah Mendlesohn said...

Dear James

Thank you for posting here, I know this takes courage.

I too am an editor, and in fact have just had to delay a volume by almost a year in order to fill a gap.

The problem with your response is that at least three times you have retreated to "people I know and like" which is rather what I assumed. At some point in the process you replaced each female name you thought of with a male name, because you did not have other female names in your head.

Furthermore, when you say "name recognition" you don't seem to have asked "to whom"? You have a market out there: you've just pissed off around 40% of it.

There is a solution to this: read more women writers, go out to meet them. This is a lot easier than it used to be because of Wiscon. I'll be there this year and if you'd like to meet people, come down and I'll do my best to introduce you to as many really impressive women writers as I can.

If you want to chat off list, my email is farah at sf dot gmail dot com.

Sutter said...

I'm truly sorry that folks are offended by the relative paucity of female authors in the collection, but when I put my list together, it was without regard for race, creed - or gender. In my mind, it was most important to get those qualified authors whose work has had the biggest impact on me personally. (Which, I understand, is not by any means a cross-section of the field... I make no claims of being a scholar, and which authors have meant the most to me over the years is as much a roll of the dice as anything. Most of my favorite musicians are male. Most of my favorite slam poets are female. That's just how things have worked out so far.) For the reasons mentioned in my earlier post, almost all of the women on my list were either unavailable or refused. Rather than dig deeper into the authors I wasn't as familiar with - given that there were still male authors near the top of the list available and interested - I went with the authors that I most enjoy *already*.

I agree that this is a conversation that needs to keep happening over and over in order to make sure people realize that there's a huge number of female authors and readers who deserve representation. But I would hope that, simply because a single book happens to have one female author instead of the many who were invited, it can still be enjoyable. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has, to my memory, one significant female actor, no black actors, no outwardly gay actors (or rather, characters), etc. And yet I would hope we can all agree that it's a great movie in spite of that.

I sent out a call to the team I wanted, and with the exception of Nicola, only the boys showed up. If the author list makes the book unreadable to a section of the community - be it female readers, or non-Caucasian readers, or LGBT readers - then I am truly sorry, but I stand by my claim that all the authors in the book deserve to be there. (Which of course does not preclude the fact that OTHER authors doubtlessly deserve to be there as well. And in fact, each author interview in the collection comes with an introduction explaining why I think a particular author is so significant to the genre - so if you're saying, "What? how could authors X, Y, and Z be considered a 'great'?", please consider thumbing through in the bookstore and seeing if I can change your mind about any of them!)

Also, though it shouldn't matter at all, I'd like to throw in early in the discussion that I'm a young, liberal, LGBT Seattlite who spends his off hour running a nonprofit aimed at empowering teens (and particularly young women) through the arts. I realize that's totally unrelated to the book, but I want to emphasize that, though we may have contrasting viewpoints on individual matters, I think we're all on the same team here. :)

-James

Sutter said...

Farah wrote:

>The problem with your response is that at least three times you have retreated to "people I know and like" which is rather what I assumed. At some point in the process you replaced each female name you thought of with a male name, because you did not have other female names in your head.

>Furthermore, when you say "name recognition" you don't seem to have asked "to whom"? You have a market out there: you've just pissed off around 40% of it.

>There is a solution to this: read more women writers, go out to meet them. This is a lot easier than it used to be because of Wiscon. I'll be there this year and if you'd like to meet people, come down and I'll do my best to introduce you to as many really impressive women writers as I can.



Thanks, Farah! If I could afford to make it out to WisCon, I'd welcome the chance - I'm well aware that there's a wealth of awesome female authors out there, and I'd be happy to read/hang out with more of them. As I said, I make no claims to encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, and the gender of the author has zero bearing on whether or not I read (and hence potentially love) a given book - I operate almost entirely off of recommendations from folks. It may well be that, by this time next year, I have a number of new favorite female authors. But at the time this was put together, I went with the folks I already knew and loved.

"Name recognition," in the case of the cover, was decided primarily through number of high-profile awards won and our general, subjective impression of how immediately recognizable the name would be to the general audience (male or female). And since the collection had ended up being primarily male, the cover did as well.

Also for the record, though I was the editor, fully 50% of the staff who worked on the book were female, from the female owner of the publishing company down to the female copyeditor and the all-female art team who designed the cover. Again, I'm not saying that it should matter to anyone else - reactions to such issues are personal, and everyone on here has totally valid reasons for feeling the way they do - but it's my hope that since our generally feminist, take-no-shit-from-anyone female staff (who are also LGBT, non-Caucasian, etc.) enjoyed the book, that we can all address the issue, agree that it's important for female voices to be heard... and then enjoy the book anyway for what it is, rather than what it has clearly failed to be.

-James

Matthew Brandi said...

"Personal impact", "roll of the dice", "most enjoy already", "name recognition", "awards" (awards, for heaven's sake!) -- repeat across the industry and what do you get?

Exclusion, and everyone saying, "Well, it's not my fault, mine's just one book; I'm a good guy really, look at my credentials."

Systematic exclusion isn't explicable only by conspiracy or self-conscious pursuit of exclusionist policies. (Don't take my word for it, ask an evolutionary biologist.)

And just when I thought Mike's blog had become the official Joanna Russ love-in ...

Sutter said...

If we're going with a hard-line, "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem" viewpoint, then clearly this book is falling down on the job. All I sought by posting (especially my "credentials," such as they are) was a chance to air where I was coming from, and to hopefully let folks know that the failings of one book is indicative of neither a systematic failure from Planet Stories (which I maintain has done more to advance the cause of female SF authors than most publishers in the few years it's been alive) or hopefully with the editor behind it.

Rest assured, however, that your message here has been received loud and clear! I guarantee you'll see more female authors in any future anthologies from me. (A possibility which, of course, rests heavily on whether or not this one sells.)

And now I'll do my best to hush up!

Thanks,
James

Matthew Brandi said...

James, at the risk of compounding the offence:

"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." I was about to say that I don't take that (MC5) hard line, but on reflection, I do. "All it takes for evil to flourish, ..."

I don't, however, subscribe to "if you are part of the solution, you're not part of the problem". (The self-satisfied often have a poor grasp of Venn diagrams/truth tables.)

I don't doubt your credentials (and I might hug you to my bosom if we ever met), but [a] I don't think they're to the point, and [b] although we're all inclined to offer them (me, too), the offer always smacks of "some of my best friends are black". Shouldn't we be past that by now?

I propose to play fair, however: I'd bought Planet's edition of The Ginger Star, and after posting my comment, I ordered a couple of the Moore collections.

As for "buy the book you unruly band of internet hooligans just laid into, or I won't be able to edit the book you wanted to see", I'm not going to touch that one. ;)

Peace.

Sutter said...

Matthew said:

>As for "buy the book you unruly band of internet hooligans just laid into, or I won't be able to edit the book you wanted to see", I'm not going to touch that one. ;)

Fair enough. :) I'm just saying that it's my first anthology, and after the amount of hell I've caught from both readers and authors I respect over the oversight, I'm definitely more educated about the issue than I started, and it's not a mistake I'll be making again... I'm just hoping I can stay off folks' blacklists long enough to prove it!

And I agree that we should be beyond stating credentials, but I know that I'm personally less inclined to write off the person with the gay friend as a lost cause than I am the person who doesn't have any. :) It's really easy on the internet to end up with an us vs. them mentality, when really, we're all close enough in viewpoints that we could be working together against the problem.

In any case: lesson learned!

-James

ukjarry said...

Not that it matters much, but going through the list of female authors whom others seem to think to think should have been included, most of them appeared in the series of books edited by Martin Greenberg for DAW, “Horrible Beginnings”, “Wondrous Beginnings” and “Magical Beginnings”. Greenberg managed to include 24 women out of a total 49 selected authors (whether he intentionally aimed for an overall spread of almost 50/50 might be interesting to know), and each one contributed an essay about the story too. So when Sutter says that many of the women he approached turned him down, it may well be because it’s territory they’ve already covered. I don’t think any of the authors in this book feature in Greenberg’s three books. Now there are more than just 24 women writers in sf/fantasy/horror, but many of the female “giants” people seem to righteously feel have been excluded have already gone down this road before (if not for Greenberg then in “Unearth” from the 1970s) and possibly exhausted whatever interest they had, and aren’t up for an interview on the subject. And it’s a reasonable assumption to make, since many of the authors in their forwords for Greenberg/Unearth have a definite affection for the thrill of publishing their first story, but as more mature and capable artists are embarrassed at offering these works to a contemporary audience that expects better of them. Once a philosopher, twice a pervert, and all that.

Sutter said...

Ukjarry is 100% correct. I also really wanted to avoid crossover with Unearth and the Greenberg books out of fear that the readers would be displeased with repeats, which canceled out a lot of obvious choices, both male and female.

-James

Matthew Adams said...

James, you defended yourself well enough when you stated that the mainly male lineup is due to those who accepted being published in the anthology. The opportunity was given and not taken by women writers. Any other complaints about the anthology from that angle is just hobby horsing.

And so for some more hobby horsing around, why does the cover depict a spaceman about to point his (need i say phallic?) laser rifle at a menacing tentacled floating vagina?

Matthew Adams said...

Anyway, I hope it sells well and you get to publish another anthology.

Sutter said...

Ha! Actually, in the original version of the cover, the resemblance was... uncanny. We had given the artist free rein to create "some kind of awesome tentacled alien monster" and he gave us a picture that - well, let's just say it didn't take a lot of imagination to make the connection you have. Our (female) art director really liked the image, but had him redesign the alien a bit to make it somewhat less obvious. Still, I like to think Georgia O'Keefe would be proud.

Given all that's happened since, the irony is truly fantastic....

shsilver said...

@ukjerry:

As Marty's co-editor on the Beginnings books, I will say that yes, my goal in selecting the authors was to have an overall balance. We did include several of the authors mentioned as missing from this book*, and since the Beginnings books only came out 7 years ago, I can imagine that those authors (I note no overlap, although some of the authors I tried to get and failed showed up in this new book) did not want to reprint their story again so soon.

*Le Guin, Bujold, Norton,

shsilver said...

And with specific regard to Andre Norton, I have to wonder if the rights to any of her stories would have been available given the legal unpleasantness that focused on her estate.

Matthew Brandi said...

I'd hoped we'd reached amicable agreement ...

I don't suppose for a minute that James wrote this, but:

"An invaluable look at the origins of speculative fiction’s greatest minds, ... this book is a must for any science fiction or fantasy fan, aspiring author, or teacher."

The lists offered by Farah and Pharaoh are to be seen in that context: they didn't expect Norton & Sheldon to rise from the grave to reminisce about first stories.

"He asked some women and they said no" won't do as a defence. It is certainly not equivalent to "as many women of interest as reasonably could be were approached sympathetically, but gender balance couldn't be achieved."

Matthew Brandi said...

On another tack, our gracious host says:

"... have a far stronger claim to have written in the pulp direction than do I, much less Gibson."

Is Gibson not the child of Hammett and Chandler, then?

Farah Mendlesohn said...

Dear James

Please don't cite your credentials. They can be wonderful. You can do wonderful work in many different areas. But this is not wonderful work.

When you give this collection to the teen girls you work with, what are you going to say? "There are many wonderful women writers, but not that many had enough of an impact on me that I wanted to include them." Suddenly not so empowering.

There are many, many points in your responses I could take you up on, but in the end, you said it yourself: instead of seeing an anthology as something directed at a market, and thinking about what that market looks like these days, you put together a collection of your favourites.

All the best
Farah

HANNAH'S DAD said...

I wonder if Michael knows his blog is on fire?

Tim said...

"When you give this collection to the teen girls you work with, what are you going to say? "There are many wonderful women writers, but not that many had enough of an impact on me that I wanted to include them." Suddenly not so empowering."

Or he could say that he called up a number of female authors and only one accepted the invitation. Some of you guys are suffering from a neat case of selective reading here.

Farah Mendlesohn said...

No we are not Tim. At some point James stopped asking women. James has made clear that his priority was whether they were his favourites. He also told us that he didn't know that many women writers. (He uses the word "several" which I understand to usually mean less than ten). As you will see in the quote below, he chose not to dig deeper.

"For the reasons mentioned in my earlier post, almost all of the women on my list were either unavailable or refused. Rather than dig deeper into the authors I wasn't as familiar with - given that there were still male authors near the top of the list available and interested - I went with the authors that I most enjoy *already*."

James produced the kind of anthology he wanted to produce. That's fine. But I (and others here) am allowed to point out that it is not the kind of anthology we want to read.

I am going to leave it here, because it is unfair to James who is, after all, only one person.

Sutter said...

People have made a number of valid points here. All I can say at this point is that I apologize publicly, it was an honest mistake, and that now that I'm better informed, any future anthologies I do will have a greater gender balance.

-James