Applauding the Ladies — An Exercise in Fisking


A blog I often enjoy reading is that of J.A. Konrath. Once there, one of my favorite activities of his is when he fisks a letter, blog post, review, whatever. The Internet is a fantastic place. In fact, just the other day, I posted my blog post about my grandmother. That night, I got a message from my uncle’s cousin. Turns out he was the best man at the wedding about 50 years ago of the man who lives in my town who used to be the funeral director. About 10 years ago, I worked with that man’s daughter. I put them in touch, shrinking an already contracting world.

That’s one of the things I love about the Internet.

One of the things I don’t like is the ways we can hurt each other.

darkA few weeks ago, I published my review of Dark Beyond The Starsand then a few days after that, an interview with anthology curator Patrice Fitzgerald. I was enthralled with the anthology, but when I saw the book’s line-up, I was afraid that the trolls of the Internet would somehow find their way out from under the various bridges and sewer grates to attack the collection. You see, DBTS has an entirely female author line-up. The lone man to be involved was editor David Gatewood. When I mentioned the composition of the anthology to Fitzgerald, she really didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. They were all authors — sci-fi authors no less — who all just happened to be women. Good enough. They didn’t seek out that line-up, but it happened somewhat organically.

I love it. As my daughter grows and matures, I would love for her to be able to emulate one of these fine women with their grace and style in the publishing world that sometimes holds their gender against them.

Case in point, one of the latest reviews of the anthology. A previous look at this review by Brian K. Lowe discussed the review, but didn’t name the reviewer or link it. No matter, the review is easy enough to find, but the writer of the review deserves to be named. He did purposefully leave his name there, complete with the name of one of his latest books as well.

But let’s look at that review, line by line, with my reaction in bold.

I’m sorry to offend fifty percent of the population but it has to be said that when it comes to writing Science Fiction, it still remains a purely male domain.

First off, if you are truly sorry about not wanting to offend the female portion of the earth’s population, maybe you shouldn’t have left a review in the first place. But, you did, so let’s take a look at the rest of his statement. “When it comes to writing Science Fiction, it still remains a purely male domain.” 

Now this being an Amazon review, I can’t necessarily expect him to quote statistics or anything, but this is actually true. Changing, but true. Well…we don’t have up-to-date stats, but according to a 2013 blog posting by an editor with Tor Books, the percentage of women submitting to the publisher was just 32 percent for genre fiction (22 percent for just sci-fi). So yes, the numbers are lower. BUT…they are improving. The percentage of female writers in the 1940’s was pegged between 10-15 percent. 

That doesn’t even take into account indie publishing. And as we know, the two years since 2013 has been a lifetime in the course of publishing, indie or traditional. So while we can’t say that women are publishing more, we certainly CANNOT say it remains a purely male domain. I myself was a big fan of Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton as a child and women were very influential then, just as they are now. 

I bought the above book the other day, hoping to be proved wrong. It is a collection of stories under the banner of science fiction by an all female group of writers. They are: Patrice Fitzgerald, Blair C. Babylon, Annie Bellet, Elle Casey, Ann Christy, Autumn Kalquist, Theresa Kay, Susan Kaye Quinn, Sara Reine, Rysa Walker and Jennifer Foehner Wells.

So he was looking to be wrong about women in science fiction. I doubt that. In fact, with the context of the review, it reads more like someone looking for things to pick out to prove their case. As for the rest of that paragraph, good job. You correctly identified all the writers. 

While the stories are expertly edited by David Gatewood, without exception, sadly each one has that special something missing to make them true scifi, let alone memorable. Not one of the eleven writer’s offerings got my undivided attention.

Each was missing that special something. Let me tell you what women bring to the table that men struggle with: EMOTION. I think I am pretty in touch with my emotions, but I will probably never be able to write some of the scenes found in Jen Well’s story in DBTS. Women tend to bring out a tone of compassion and empathy, an aspect that MEN sadly usually cannot nail. While not all are mothers, there is a connection to motherhood in many of the stories and many of the tales women bring to science fiction. 

If you want to talk about what men to in science fiction, we can talk about the typical “space opera” with lasers in space and faster than light speed and whatnot, but sadly we often get hollow characterizations. Women know characters because they usually understand emotions better than we do. 

As for “not one of the eleven writer’s offerings got my undivided attention,” I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe turn off the soccer match or put down Angry Birds? 

For the publisher to make the claim that the anthology is space opera is laughable! Obviously neither Gatewood or anyone else connected with this collection of stories has a clue about what constitutes a space opera. Think Starship Troopers, District Nine, Farscape, Star Gate, even Star Wars and Star Trek. To borrow a quote – “I associate the idea of space opera with appallingly bad writing,” which is the perfect description of this book’s content.

OK. I googled the definition of “space opera” and got: a novel, movie, or television program set in outer space, typically of a simplistic and melodramatic nature. 

Based purely on THAT definition, you can rule out one of your examples. While District Nine is a fine science fiction story, it is in NO WAY a space opera. Set on Earth. Unless you consider South Africa to be a separate planet. Maybe you do. 

As for some of the others, Stargate (that’s the correct writing of that) isn’t your typical Space Opera either, with the teams established on Earth, and not getting space ships until the latter half of the series. As for your quote: if you knew that going in, why did you even bother? 

For any scifi story to be considered to be a space opera, it should always be a mixture of fast paced action combined with a large measure of the shoot-em-up mentality.

Again, I’ll refer you back to the definition. Your definition doesn’t even include some of YOUR OWN examples. Most of Star Trek is introspective, imaginative, and social boundary pushing. My favorite episodes (as is many people’s) are the ones were NOTHING REALLY HAPPENS. Picard plays a flute. Data has dreams. Odo discovers who he truly is. All great shows, but nothing “space opera” about them according to your definition. So, we go back to the original definition, where we are allowed stories merely set in space. All in this collection fit that example, many with stories that would fit very well in most any series Gene Roddenberry produced. 

I applaud the ladies for giving it a try, but I would suggest they forget going any further. Leave the genre to those of us who know how to write scifi, being well versed in it’s many nuances…



I applauded my kitten when she used the litter box for the first time. Women don’t need your applause, nor do they want it. There are plenty of people out there who appreciate good stories with well-developed characters. With this final statement, it’s convinced me that you, sir, are jealous. I saw this collection hover just outside the Amazon Top 100 for a few days, and I’m sure you did, too. You have written a couple of science fiction books that have gone nowhere. When a book written by women comes along and anihilates your “works of art” in days in terms of sales and reviews, you can’t stand it. You read, thinking you have an open mind, but your mind is the furthest thing from it. 

And you can’t even take criticism, either. Last I checked yesterday, there was nine responses to your review on Amazon (none by me, by the way). Today there are NONE. I imagine you sent Amazon a sob story how these people are ruining your reputation and soiling the Internet for you. 

Get real. Your review just shows that you are a caveman who looks at the stars and wonders how far you can go when the women in the cave next door have already developed the wheel and fire. 

Jack Eason, author of The Guardian

And there you go. There’s his name and his book. Look it up and you’ll find it has some decent reviews, but a ranking above 900,000, meaning no one has purchased it in months. This man wants recognition, and I suppose you could argue he got it here. But it isn’t good recognition. 

People like you are who I will warn my daughter about. When I send her out into the world, she will be told that people will doubt her. She will be told there are some that believe she cannot achieve things simply because of the chromosomes in her cells. She will be told this, and I will tell her to ignore them. Women can write science fiction. They can write it well, and if you don’t believe me, go pick up your own copy of Dark Beyond The Stars. If short stories aren’t your thing, pick up one of their full length novels. These women can write — and write better than me. 

Keep it up. Show the girls out there that men like this have no say in their lives. 

Will Swardstrom, Husband, Father, Author

3 thoughts on “Applauding the Ladies — An Exercise in Fisking

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