A Fresh Start

SF Mistressworks is back! After a nine-month hiatus, SF Mistressworks will once again be posting reviews in 2018.

Since June 2011, we have posted over 400 reviews of science fiction novels, collections, anthologies and novellas, published before 2001, by women writers. When we began, very few women science fiction writers had publishing contracts in the UK – and things were not that much better in the US. And the SF Masterworks series published by Gollancz contained only a handful of works by women writers. Since then, the situation has improved considerably – with the SF Masterwork series now featuring many more women writers, and women dominating sf awards over the last couple of years…

But there is still a persistent myth that women writing science fiction is a recent phenomenon. This is simply not true. Women have always written science fiction. Before the appearance of Amazing Stories in 1926, Francis Stevens, AKA Gertrude Barrows Bennett, was an enormously successful writer of genre short fiction. ‘The Fate of the Poseidonia’ by Claire Winger Harris came third in a competition in Amazing Stories in December 1926, and she became one of the magazine’s most popular writers…

It has always been this website’s mission to show up the lie that women did not historically write science fiction. And to demonstrate that many female-authored science fiction works of the twentieth century are in many ways superior to those of their male colleagues. We think the reviews on our site show this.

Now that we’re back, we’ll stick to the same schedule as before, one review per week, posted on the Wednesday. Again, the reviews will be of science fiction only books – novels, novellas, collections or anthologies – published prior to 2001 by women writers. Lined up already, we have reviews of works by Emma Bull, Joanna Russ, Katharine Burdekin, Leigh Brackett, Tanith Lee, Gwyneth Jones, Margaret St Clair and Kate Wilhelm. But we are always looking for new reviews, and would welcome reposting ones that have appeared elsewhere. It doesn’t matter if the review is of a book we have previously reviewed. We will, of course, include a link back to the review’s original appearance.

You might also notice a slight change in appearance. We decided a redesign was a good way to signal our re-appearance. We hope you like the new layout.

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Happy Holidays

SF Mistressworks hopes you all had a merry celebration of your choice last weekend, and will have a happy New Year this coming weekend. Let’s hope 2017 doesn’t turn out to be as bad a year as 2016 is promising it will be.

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SF Mistressworks will continue to post a review a week of science fiction novels, collections or anthologies by women writers, published before 2001, for as long as we have reviews to publish. If you’d like to volunteer some reviews, email us at sfmistressworks(at)gmail(dot)com.

A NEW YEAR

SF Mistressworks has been reviewing science fiction novels by women writers published before 2001 since June 2011. That’s four and a half years. During that time, we’ve posted 346 reviews of 276 books by 128 authors. The reviews were contributed by 51 reviewers. Some were original to SF Mistressworks, many were not. From the end of February, we switched to posting one review a week, which is I think a sustainable frequency – although, of course, we’d like to be able to post more. Reviews of eligible books are always welcome. We’ve no plans to stop, since there are a number of women sf writers, and books written by them, we have yet to review – writers such as Alison Sinclair, Ann Tonsor Zeddies, Anne Gay, Barbara Paul, Carolyn Vesser, Cecelia Holland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Dana Stabenow, Deborah Christian, Denise Vitola, Denny Demartino, Diann Thornley, Doris Lessing, Eleanor Arnason, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Emily Devenport, Emma Bull, Helen Collins, Jane Emerson, Jane Yolen, Janet Kagan, Janet Morris, Joan Cox, Julie E Czernada, Karen Joy Fowler, Katherine Kerr, Kathleen M O’Neal, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kristine Smith, Lisa Goldstein, Lisa Mason, Liz Williams, Martha Soukup, Mary Rosenblum, Molly Gloss, Nancy Springer, Patricia Anthony, Pauline Ashwell, Rebecca Ore, Sage Walker, Severna Park, Sheila Finch, Stephanie Smith, Susan M Shwartz, Susan Torian Olan, Syne Mitchell, Wen Spencer and Wilhelmina Baird. (If you spot any missing names, please let us know – but remember: science fiction only, and twentieth century or earlier only.)

It’s traditional at this time to offer a few stats about SF Mistressworks. So here they are…

Most popular reviews in 2015:

  1. The Feminine Future, Mike Ashley, ed. (Jun 2015)
  2. The Word for World is Forest, Ursula K Le Guin (Jun 2011) – down from #1 last year
  3. The Passion of New Eve, Angela Carter (Jun 2011) – up from #4 last year
  4. The Female Man, Joanna Russ (Jun 2011) – up from #5 last year
  5. Passing for Human, Jody Scott (Jun 2011)

I’m not sure why reviews from the month SF Mistressworks first appeared have proven so popular, but it seems they are. Dropping off the list is Doris Piserchia’s Star Rider, which had been linked to by io9. As has The Handmaid’s Tale, which has been, and probably still is, a set text in schools.

Most popular reviews of 2015:

  1. The Feminine Future, Mike Ashley, ed. (Jun 2015)
  2. Shards of Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold (Feb 2015)
  3. The Highroad Trilogy, Kate Elliott (Apr 2015)
  4. Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (Apr 2015)
  5. The Best of CL Moore, CL Moore (Jan 2015)

I’m not sure why The Feminine Future, an anthology of early sf by women writers, has proven so popular. Bujold is a popular author, so her presence is no surprise.

Most reviewed book in 2015:

  1. Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm (twice)

The only book reviewed more than once during 2015.

Most reviewed authors

  1. Ursula K Le Guin (19)
  2. CJ Cherryh (17)
  3. Lois McMaster Bujold (16)
  4. Joanna Russ (15)

Le Guin keeps the top spot, but Cherryh overtakes Bujold to take second plac. Russ remains in the top five. There were three authors vying for seventh equal: Norton, Brackett and Wilhelm.

Most reviewed books

  1. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K LeGuin (6)
  2. Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm (5)
  3. The Dispossessed, Ursula K Le Guin; We Who Are About To…, Joanna Russ (4 each)

Again, The Left Hand of Darkness remains the most-reviewed book, but Where The Late Sweet Birds Sang moves up to second place. The remaining two books have been constants in the top five for the past few years. Competing for the next spot were ten books – Ammonite, China Mountain Zhang, Downbelow Station, Frankenstein, Kindred, Memoirs of a Spacewoman, Shards of Honor, The Female Man, The Ship Who Sang and The Sparrow – all of which have three reviews apiece.

It only remains for us to wish everyone a prosperous 2016, and don’t forget to spread the word about SF Mistressworks.

SF Mistressworks – the year just gone

All things considered, 2014 was a good year for SF Mistressworks. Although we opened the year posting only one review a week, we moved to two per week at the beginning of March and kept it up until the end of the year. In total, we published 94 reviews of 85 books by 56 women sf authors. The reviews were provided by 20 contributors.

Here are some stats:

Most popular reviews in 2014

  1. The Word for World is Forest, Ursula K Le Guin (Jun 2011)
  2. Star Rider, Doris Piserchia (Oct 2013)
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (Jun 2011)
  4. The Passion of New Eve, Angela Carter (Jun 2011)
  5. The Female Man, Joanna Russ (Jun 2011)

The number one spot is a surprise – it’s not Le Guin’s best-known work, after all. I can’t think of any good reason why it might have proven so popular. The review of Star Rider, on the other hand, was linked to by io9 in a post on ‘Great Unsung Science Fiction Authors That Everybody Should Read’ back in March 2014. The Atwood and Carter are popular outside genre, so their presence is understandable – they may also be taught in schools. And The Female Man has, for some reason, been a much-talked about book in 2014, perhaps because of an ongoing re-evaluation of Russ’s place in the science fiction corpus.

Most popular reviews of 2014

  1. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin (Sep 2014)
  2. Rocannon’s World, Ursula K Le Guin (Dec 2014)
  3. The Children of Men, PD James (Apr 2014)
  4. Fireflood & Other Stories, Vonda N McIntyre (Feb 2014)
  5. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (Feb 2014)

Le Guin, possibly the best-known female science fiction writer of all time, takes the first two spots. And the number one book is the most-reviewed book currently on SF Mistressworks, having been reviewed six times to date. PD James and Atwood are popular outside genre, and the McIntyre was one of the reviews chosen by Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly to re-publish in their magazine.

Most-reviewed authors in 2014

  1. Ursula K Le Guin (9)
  2. Lois McMaster Bujold (8)
  3. CJ Cherryh (6)
  4. Kate Wilhelm (5)
  5. Marta Randall (3)

See comments above re Le Guin. One of SF Mistressworks’ reviewers contributed a series of reviews of Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, hence her appearance at number two. It’s good to see Cherryh appearing, as she seemed to be one of those well-known authors who had slipped through the cracks. Wilhelm is a favourite of one of SF Mistressworks’ reviewers, and Randall is doing well considering her oeuvre comprises only half a dozen novels.

Most reviewed books in 2014

  1. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin (4)
  2. Shards of Honour, Lois McMaster Bujold (2)
  3. The Dispossessed, Ursula K Le Guin (2)
  4. Downbelow Station, CJ Cherryh (2)
  5. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (2)
  6. The Warrior’s Apprentice, Lois McMaster Bujold (2)

Not much to say here – Le Guin and Bujold… While SF Mistressworks obviously attracts reviews of popular books, it has also posted reviews of far more obscure novels and authors. There’s a real sense of satisfaction to be had in discovering some long-forgotten masterpiece of science fiction, even if, sadly, a few of the more obscure books unearthed by SF Mistressworks reviewers – like Worlds for the Grabbing, Brenda Pearce; Second Body, Sue Payer; Countdown for Cindy, Eloise Engle – proved not very good. But there are certainly forgotten books which deserve to be much better-known, such as Busy About The Tree of Life by Pamela Zoline, or The Revolving Boy by Getrude Friedberg.

Although the majority of books reviewed by SF Mistressworks in 2014 were novels, not all of them were. The numbers broke down as:

booktypes

While science fiction is a much more diverse genre than it used to be, during the twentieth century and earlier Anglophone sf was very much dominated by American writers. The nationalities of the authors reviewed on SF Mistressworks reflects this… Which is not to say we would not like more reviews of books by non-US, or even non-UK, women sf authors. The nationalities for 2014 break down as (N/A applies to anthologies):

nationality

The Year Ahead
What can we expect in the coming year? We’d like to maintain the two reviews per week schedule, which means we need more reviews. The guidelines are simple: science fiction, female author, published in or before 2001, review at least 500 words. Send reviews and offers to contribute to sfmistressworks (at) gmail (dot) com. We’ve no intention of giving up or closing down the site, although we may have to post less frequently if we don’t have enough reviews. There are certainly no shortage of books to write about.

We’ve also been considering an infrequent short fiction feature, an in-depth review of an eligible piece of short fiction. One of those may or may not appear in 2015. In the past, we’ve posted the odd career retrospective, and we might try doing more of those – particularly for the lesser-known women sf authors.

In 2014, SF Mistressworks partnered with Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly and Kwerey. We’re happy to do the same with any other relevant website – anything to spread the word. Just send an email to the address mentioned above.

It only remains to wish every all the best in the coming year, and hope you’ve enjoyed and appreciated what SF Mistressworks has done in the past three years.

Another Year Ends

In the two and a half years since SF Mistressworks began, it has posted reviews of 196 different books by 95 women science fiction writers, some of those books more than once. Thirty-six people contributed those reviews, most of which were reprints from other places  – but some were original to SF Mistressworks. That’s an achievement to be proud of, I think. And we’ve no plans to stop.

For a number of reasons, the schedule has unfortunately slipped on occasion. Toward the latter half of 2013, we had to go to a fortnightly schedule, but we’re back now to posting one review a week. Perhaps at some point we’ll be able to return to our earlier schedule of two reviews a week. In other words, more reviews of eligible books are always needed. That’s for science fiction books – novels, collections, anthologies, even standalone novellas – written by women and published before 2001. Reviews should be at least 500 words, and if not original to SF Mistressworks we’ll include a link to their first appearance.

We’re toying with the idea of introducing an irregular series of reviews of short fiction during 2014. These won’t be scheduled, but posted as and when. The idea is to review – in 500 words or more – a single science fiction short story by a woman writer. Again, the story must have been published before 2001. Contributions are welcome.

Here’s hoping 2014 is a good year for everyone. SF Mistressworks will carry on, and perhaps we’ll do something special when we hit the site’s third-year anniversary in June. We shall see…