Reading SFF in my teens
The first book series that I truly remember reading by a female author is Harry Potter by JK Rowling.
The first series that I truly remember reading by a female author with a female protagonist is Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.
These are quintessential authors for people born in Canada in the early 90s, who rose to fame when we were young and made lasting impressions on our generation.
When I read Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF) books, I always felt like I was encroaching on a male-dominated space, even with the above authors and Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games). With male authors like JRR Tolkein, CS Lewis, Terry Brookes, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Neil Gaiman, and – I could go on ad nauseum, but I will spare you – it felt like all of the writing powerhouses in that genre were men. All of the books to take seriously by adults were not by women or for women. Women could, and did (and do!), enjoy them, but I didn’t feel like there was any real space for us.
Where do books written by women belong?
This question arises for me when I go onto bookstores: where do I go to find SFF books written by women? While I do enjoy reading YA, there are times when I specifically want to read books written for adults. But it’s not as simple as going to the adult Science Fiction and Fantasy section.
In my local bookstore in Canada, Harry Potter was relegated to both children’s literature and general adult fiction, while Twilight and The Hunger Games were solidly in the Young Adults (YA) section. The Harry Potter placement was a bit ridiculous; to have the same books be in two completely different sections with the only difference being in the covers and no changes to the content?
That doesn’t make sense.
But were the other two fair? Sure, with those specific series. I’ve seen a lot of talk about SFF books written by women being placed in the YA sections of bookstores, even though they are determinedly not for young readers.
V.E. Schwab has spoken about her books being placed in YA when they should be in the general (adult) SFF section, and there are fairly regular conversations on social media that go out proclaiming a book to be placed incorrectly.
As I have been reading more books by female authors (because I’m an adult now and I can), I have seen this more and more – and heard about books by SFF authors being relegated to YA because they were written by women, even if YA isn’t the most appropriate audience.
A good example of this is with Sarah J Maas. Her Throne of Glass series started off being appropriate for YA, but quickly became much more mature and, I would say inappropriate. I love the series and I love her writing, but I was shocked that this was being sold as appropriate for kids. I’m not a complete prude and I don’t think that teens are incapable of reading this content or that they should be banned from doing so, but there are a lot of explicit sex scenes in them. For those alone, I would put them in the adult section so that they are not being directly marketed towards young adults (i.e. teenagers and children in the publishing sense). Her other major YA series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, has had to have a rebrand and all of the cover art has been changed to try to appeal to older readers for this reason (and in the middle of the series, as well!).
There are female authors who write for multiple audiences, but this can cause issues as their adult work can be placed in the YA sections. V.E. Schwab, Sarah J Maas, and Leigh Bardugo are examples off of the top of my head of big-name female authors who do write in both.
Big names in SFF
There are, now, big-name female authors in SFF. The three mentioned above are in that list, of course, but also Robin Hobb, Charlie Jane Anders, Martha Wells, Samantha Shannon, Tamsyn Muir, R.F. Kuang, Margaret Atwood and so many others.
When I was younger, I considered it to only be a male space. When I read SFF, even though I enjoyed my time reading, I felt I was only a visitor; now, because of the strides made by women who have made space for themselves and others in the SFF genre, I feel like I am home.
I still enjoy books by men – this isn’t a post to in any way to bash male authors or invalidate their work and contributions, but instead to make a comment about art by female creators in a traditionally male genre and how there are still ways we need to do better. Those spaces are for everyone and we need to ensure that they stay open.
Having that representation matters.
There are a lot of wonderful books by female authors, and a lot of these have strong female protagonists, which means more to me now than I thought it would when I was younger.
Choosing books with intent
I didn’t start intentionally choosing books written by women until my early twenties, but I really wish I had started earlier.
I want to make a more targeted effort to read more books by authors of colour and other marginalized groups, especially SFF books, because a wonderful thing about literature is that it can be vast and that everyone’s voices are important in creating a genre and a literary landscape. If there missing voices, the entire genre sufferers. Voices that would have contributed to it are never heard, and other people lose representation that would have been important to them.
A great thing about being a reader is that we have power to shape whose stories get told by which authors we read. Talking about the books we love can be helpful, as well. We can make as many or as few connections as we want, with the book and with other people, through reading.
Reading is a solitary endeavour, but it also lets us be a part of a greater conversation and to have meaningful and impactful contributions – even if that’s just reading some words on a page.