So much discussion lately over whether women SF/F writers actually exist, so I thought I’d post pictures of my office and my brag shelf. (Plus I spent a lot of time cleaning up my office and it looks nice now.)
Sneaking in at the last minute, it’s a shelfie for April! What we have here (in addition to a guardian squid) is a stack of books by women who were directly or indirectly formative on my writing process before THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA was finished. It’s not meant to be exhaustive, just suggestive… it’s what I could easily grab from my paperback shelves in a minute or two. For instance, I forgot to grab anything by Janny Wurts, Melanie Rawn or Margaret Atwood.
Going down the column, we have:
DOOMSDAY BOOK … Connie Willis
THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS … Ursula K. LeGuin
WAR FOR THE OAKS … Emma Bull
PARABLE OF THE TALENTS … Octavia Butler
THE SNOW QUEEN … Joan Vinge
THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD … Patricia McKillip
DOWNBELOW STATION … C.J. Cherryh
THE WALLS OF AIR … Barbara Hambly
RATS AND GARGOYLES … Mary Gentle
BURNING BRIGHT … Melissa Scott
THE POISON MASTER … Liz Williams
THE NEMESIS FROM TERRA … Leigh Brackett
MIRROR DANCE … Lois McMaster Bujold
SWORDSPOINT … Ellen Kushner
I’m not a fan of Willis’ most recent work (I think BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR is unacceptably sloppy) but DOOMSDAY BOOK is a startlingly unflinching examination of scholarship, attachment, and loss. THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS is justifiably a legend in its own time; I am also one of those weirdos who actually really likes THE DISPOSSESSED even if the subtitle “an ambiguous utopia” makes me snicker ruefully.
WAR FOR THE OAKS… where to begin? This was the city I dreamed of as a kid, lit up with magic and danger. So many of my theories on fantasy were formulated from awe of this book or in argument with it. That’s the mark of Emma’s greatness– she writes books you can have fabulous arguments with.
PARABLE OF THE TALENTS (and its predecessor PARABLE OF THE SOWER) were essential instruction for me in the art of the slightly unreliable narrator, and in helping me to realize that an author didn’t necessarily have to beam approval at everything a protagonist thought or did. As the years go by, I also find the world events described in these books to be frustratingly less and less implausible.
THE SNOW QUEEN is a big, sprawling, mythically-informed science fiction novel of the sort that’s sadly not seen very often these days.
THE FORGOTTEN BEATS OF ELD is heartbreakingly good, and started teaching me about the eventual relationship I wanted to create for Locke and Sabetha. See also OMBRIA IN SHADOW and the slightly flawed (strange tonal variations) but still rewarding RIDDLE-MASTER sequence. McKillip is a treasure.
DOWNBELOW STATION, my favorite C.J. Cherryh novel (though I’ve many yet to read). Tensely plotted conflict on cultural and character levels, showing off one of the biggest brains in science fiction.
THE WALLS OF AIR (part of the Darwath Trilogy)– interestingly enough, I’m not a complete fanboy of the Darwath books. They have some flaws I find frustrating, but those very flaws were extremely instructive to me, and the good parts are still quite good. Hambly in general is superb… DRAGONSBANE is a stone-cold classic that deserves wider fame, and THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT was the book that got me into vampires in a big way in the early 90s.
RATS AND GARGOYLES– it makes no flippity-fucking sense in the final analysis, but what a glorious, phantasmagorical, mist-drenched occult cityscape it has, and what a pack of brilliantly weird characters running around in it…
BURNING BRIGHT was recommended to me in the 90s by a gaming friend. It was one of the first novels I ever read that attempted to deal in a deep and thoughtful way with the serious gaming mindset, and the art of modeling the world atmospherically/artistically as well as physically. It was also one of the first novels in which I encountered an overtly homonormative society.
THE POISON MASTER’s lush atmosphere really hit me in the last year or so before LIES coalesced from scattered notes into concrete chapters.
Leigh Brackett was the unheralded queen of the field in the early 1940s, a writer with unusually advanced narrative sensibilities that have kept her work much fresher over the decades than some of the museum pieces still nailed to the walls in the Halls of Classic SF. She was a formative practitioner of science fantasy and a deep, sympathetic thinker in an age ruled largely by the facile and the jingoistic.
In the 90s, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga was leaping unstoppably from strength to strength, and I would argue that the MIRROR DANCE / MEMORY duet is still the highest of the sequence’s many high points.
Last but not least, SWORDSPOINT, by that damned Ellen Kushner, who floats on light and shoots genius beams out of her eyes while the rest of us are still fumbling around in the kitchen, wearing no pants, and trying to make coffee. Every field has someone like that. Ellen is ours.
Anyhow, your weekend assignment is to read all of these, and to remember that while a relatively small number of tiny-brained dickheads are making an awful lot of noise lately about how terrible it is that mere wimminses are taken seriously in the SF/F world, that’s because they’re bigots. On the inside, bigots are always frightened, grasping, desperately inadequate little creatures. They make so much noise because they can never feel sufficient in their own skins.
My comrades in San Francisco pooled their power to make every March 28th JANET MOCK DAY in San Francisco. Deeply humbled to be holding this proclamation, and am grateful to Cecilia Chung for presenting this award to me and surely making this happen with Mayor Edwin M. Lee.
My interpretation of Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer, for SF Brewlab’s March 8th event. We’ll be celebrating International Women’s Day and raising money for The Women’s Building on 18th in the Mission. Local ladies interested in showing work that night- click here!
Hagio Moto in Conversation with Tezuka Osamu (1977)
The following is a translation of a conversation between Tezuka Osamu and Hagio Moto, two giants of manga, which was published originally in 1977 in Special Issue New Review (Bessatsu shinhyo). It’s rather long, so I’m publishing just the first part of it here. I need to go back and do some cleanup of the English, but I’d like to get it out for a while. Let me know if you find any troubling passages, typos, etc at jonhulkholt AT gmail.com. Enjoy!
Interview with Hagio Moto and Tezuka Osamu
“Let’s Talk about SF Manga”
– Shôjo Manga and SF Manga –
Tezuka: You know, coming up I have a trip to Easter Island.
Hagio: Whoa! Neat! That’s neat, but what’s going to happen with your serials?
Tezuka: I’ll take a break and go. This trip just might be the thing that saves me. Yet, I might get over there, fall in love, and stretch my wings, but once I do, the serials will determined and I end up having to draw them on the island. Have you yourself ever drawn your manuscripts while living abroad?
Hagio: I have. I drew some in Paris. But somehow the job doesn’t get done, you know?
Tezuka: Paris figures most into your illustrations, huh? I thought so – it’s Paris I see when I look at your drawings. Where else though? South America? Brazil?
Hagio: No, I haven’t been to those places. I’ve often thought I’d like to go there though.
Tezuka: Even Greece?
Hagio: Oh yes. I’ve planned a trip there next spring .
Tezuka: This year won’t you go somewhere?
Hagio: This year’s work is pretty much set…last year I often took off, you know.
Tezuka: Right. It seems like you’re already into your series. Mitsuse Ryû’s piece and…
Tezuka: Will it follow Mitsuse’s original? Or will it be a Hagio adaptation?
Hagio: I’ve made some modifications, but the plot is the same.
Tezuka: I think even when you drew Bradbury’s short stories [her U wa uchûsen no u collection of adapted stories such as “R is for Rocket”], you make little changes. I guess certain things you change, right?
Hagio: More than a little – ultimately you do change them, don’t you agree? For those stories, Jesus Christ became a villain for the most part. Even so, I rather like Christ, so it made things quite difficult. But then you go, I gotta do this, and I made Christ the villain after all, and it was Judas who came alive. You know, speaking of that, a few days ago I was making a little tour of Nara and Kyoto, and I thought, wow, Teishakuten, Bonten, the four divine guardians and the twelve dieties, well, they are all pretty neat. So now I’m thinking about doing a manga with them in it next time.
Tezuka: Wow, that would be unusual for you. Normally we don’t see Buddhist elements in your work.
Hagio: What happened was that I was reading Mitsuse’s book and I thought, Ok, if I don’t try it once…When I was a high school student, I saw them all on a trip but it’s different when you look at [Buddhist art] at the age I am now.
Tezuka: Wait, are you saying you’re really going to put a Buddhist image in your manga?
Hagio: Certain arrangements will have to be made…
Tezuka: Writing [sentences] is not so hard, but you can’t make them work with manga pictures. Mitsuse and other writers like Komatsu [Sakyo, author of Japan Sinks!] usually put [Buddhist] things in their works, you know. It really seems like Komatsu looks at Buddhist imagery a lot. If you are a SF writer, on a certain level I think they generally have a connection to religious systems of like like Buddhism and so lately you get a lot of writers who have taken it as a second point of departure.
Hagio: I think so. We have this new home that is rather close to the back of the Tenmangû of Dazai-fu, then there is the Anraku-ji temple close to that. My mother now goes to Anraku-ji to copy sutras. Plus, Mom and Dad get up every morning and chant the Kannon Sutra, so I live in that kind of atmosphere. When I return home, Dad’s reading Umehara Takeshi’s Stupa. “Hey this is pretty interesting, give a read.” He’s right, it’s pretty good.
Tezuka: That’s what I’ve heard. So I guess you’re saying that from here on out, with you drawing those kind of [Buddhist] things, your stories might change with that influence?
Hagio: I don’t know.
Tezuka: What is the reason that you picked up Mitsuse’s novel?
Hagio: It started because the editor of Weekly Young Boys’ Champion was a fan of Mitsuse and when I told him that I had no experience with his novels, the editor kindly lent me all of Mitsuse’s books. Once I borrowed them, I had to read them, so…Well, we talked about how great his Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nightswas, so he said, “If you’ll draw it, then I will ask Mitsuse for you.” And that’s how it happened.
Tezuka: See, I have been wondering how it is you converted from Bradbury to Mitsuse. Was it a change in your opinion about them, I wondered, how you could go from something fantastic to, well, the other way, to serious SF?
Hagio: It’s nothing like that. After all, you Mr. Tezuka and Mr. Ishi[no]mori Shôtarô have drawn quite a bit of girls’ comics, and in just one panel you both have tightly drawn layouts, so that the manga page has great breadth. Since I was little, I grew up reading your work, so I think I can’t get away from your dual influences in my manga.
Tezuka: OK, but how is that connected to Mitsuse?
Hagio: Right, there is a connection to boys’ comics. What I’m saying is I want to try to draw for boys’ comics. Something with a big, wide space like SF. With girls’ comics you don’t get to develop any depth (okuyuki ga dasenai). Now that I’m working in this new area, I keenly feel [the chance to make something profound].
Tezuka: Oh, come on! If you say something like that, well there’s no hope [for girls’ comics]. It’s girls’ comics that probably has more of that potential, what do you call it? A profound view of human life. The kind of character description that has depth.
Hagio: Right, but I only do that because I cannot take a simple scene of a wasted desert and make it stretch across 5 or 6 pages.
Tezuka: Oh ho, you’re talking about how lazy I am in my work. (Laughs.) Don’t you think artists draw those [big, atmospheric] pages for people who like exactly that kind of thing? Or is it that the artist takes 1 page of art and spreads it over 2 or 3 pages in order to rake in more page fees?
Hagio: Really? You’re being modest. When I read your work, I feel intensely stimulated.
Tezuka: Oh no, it’s a terribly cheap technique. I guess you can’t do that in girls’ comics. We’re still at a stage where one shouldn’t do Oryaa or Dya. Speaking of that, in girls’ comics artists waste so much of their energy, taking so trouble to do things. With girls’ comics, so much details goes into the frills and flare of the characters’ costumes. I think the reason why it’s so hard to do girls’ comics is that you lose so much energy there. Guys [in boys’ comics] just trick the reader with lots of diagonal scratches.
Hagio: I wonder if that’s true… (laughs).
Tezuka: Even in my Black Jack, I get readers who say, “I think Black Jack is really mean to his own daughter. Why does she have the same dress story after story?!?” If my female readers think that way, then I’ve come to realize, gosh, I’m going to have to learn how to make vibrant costumes and scenery from the girls’ comics.
WHY ARE THERE SO FEW FEMALE SF AUTHORS?
Tezuka: When you think about most SF interviews or discussions, the most serious discussions become big messes. That’s why I’d like us to have a talk today on women’s SF today. I realize I’ll probably beat you up on this, Ms. Hagio.
Hagio: Oh no! Don’t scare me!
Tezuka: In the world of SF today, most the writers are men, but if you think about the really famous women of SF, there’s Judith Merrill – she’s one famous editor for the field – but I guess not many women write, are there?
Hagio: What about Ursula K Le Guin? Henderson?
Tezuka: Ok, I can’t come up with anyone I’d put on the same level with Asimov, Clarke, or Bradbury. So, with women, you might have many of them you become SF fans after reading male authors, and they then go on to write their own SF stories or draw their own SF manga. Instead of asking why there aren’t a lot of women SF fans, I really want to know why is it there are so few women who write it. At the same time I wonder if these women fans don’t feel the depictions of women and femininity by the male SF authors as being strange?
Hagio: Wow, I haven’t really thought about that topic too much.
Tezuka: For example, don’t you think a male hero drawn by a women, like Northwest Smith, is pretty good? But we really don’t have SF with a female, Barbarella-like heroine becoming a series.
Hagio: Not at all.
Tezuka: That’s why I think when a woman writes a SF story, a SF masterpiece can get created with a powerful, well-rendered heroine that even entices male readers. In SF we get depictions of a hero seeking the love of a woman in the far-future or among the stars, but that’s because it’s often the depiction of love, romance, etc., from the view of a man. Don’t you ever feel dissatisfied reading those stories?
Hagio: Sure, but I also don’t feel that much dissatisfied either.
Tezuka: For me, you know.
Hagio: They are dissatisfying?
Tezuka: Well, no. I think it’s the opposite. For example, look at the girls’ comics in the SF vein like yours or Takemiya Keiko – certainly we’ve seen an increase in them. So when I read SF girls’ comics, I think, “A man like me can’t draw that way,” and I really admire what you do. So it’s not that woman have a special female way of [visual] expression, but when you add up the themes, plot and descriptions in those comics, I strongly believe that you all have an extremely special power when it comes to SF. Maybe it’s natural and that men too will get pulled in those stories, but there just aren’t that many women out there doing SF. You are writing really unique stories, you know, and short-story were are common. Hmm.
Hagio: Mr. Oscar was one character who caused quite a sensation for his being a hero in a feminine mold.
Tezuka: OK, but that [Hagio’s The Poe Clan, 1972-1976] is not SF. In your case, when you’re drawing your Edgar and your Alan, do you do it feeling like a man? I’d love to hear more about this today from you. Even in Takemiya’s case, even for you, I wonder why do you enjoy drawing men?
Hagio: No, you don’t get it: I like [drawing] kids.
Tezuka: If that’s the case, is that your characters look androgynous (chûsei-teki)? Ôshima Yumiko also is like this, you know, she draws a lot of men. Is it androgyny?
Hagio: I guess so. How should I put it? Maybe they are ideal forms…?
Tezuka: If you put it that way, are you saying they don’t feel to you like sexual people?
Hagio: For me, I don’t feel they are that sexual.
Tezuka: What you’re saying is that inside the adrogny there is something like affection (aijô), right? So then you are consciously drawing the protagonist as a male character, aren’t you?
Hagio: Even in love there is the platonic kind, after all, they are children.
Tezuka: Don’t tell me things like it’s because they are children. Come on, I’ve drawn my share of children’s comics. When a man like me looks at your work, [it seems] that you are drawing your comics as a man. That’s why if the characters are kids, then you can feel their sexiness as kids. This leads us to our topic of SF. The SF a man writes, from my point of view, has a kind of inorganic feeling to it. Mr. Mitsuse’s is just one example, but his and other male SF doesn’t have that worldly smell (namakusasa ga nai: not fishy, not smelling of blood). Even in a work like Tomita Yuukô’s Himiko [queen-figure of pre-historical Japan], you have male and female interactions but they are colorless, watery depictions of love.
Hagio: That’s exactly right. They are ideal.
Tezuka: You say that, but from the way I look at it, that is so different from your work and that of Takemiya’s in which I feel has this sex appeal (iroke). So when a woman draws a story that comes off as truly sexy SF story, it doesn’t work for me. In that sense then I wonder we should have a lot more female SF writers coming out, but why not?