The Big Idea: Corie Weaver
Posted on December 8, 2016 Posted by John Scalzi 21 Comments
Picture a mad scientist in your head. Got it? Now, here’s editor Corie Weaver explaining why that image should be a more diverse one, and how her 2017 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide anthology helps to make that possible.
Mad scientist should be an equal opportunity career.
I firmly believe this. So when a friend mentioned that she was having a hard time finding science fiction books for her aspiring mad scientist daughter, I figured she just wasn’t looking hard enough. (Sorry, Kim.)
How difficult could it be? She wanted a science fiction book for an eight year old, with a female main character and no romantic subplot. A Wrinkle in Time, The City of Ember, Zita the Spacegirl – there were certainly stories that fit the bill, but not as many as I expected or desired.
Where were all the SF books for girls? I got curious and started digging. According to a 2011 study of 6,000 children’s books, only 31 percent had central female characters, and even fewer featured main characters of color.* The odds, apparently, were against me.
All of this happened about the same time I became aware of the Sad Puppies and their, shall we say, issues. I honestly don’t know how to argue with adults who are so convinced of their position that they can’t see outside their own bubbles.
But I do know how to reach children.
What better way to ensure the bright future of the genre I love than to encourage more kids to read science fiction? And not just great science fiction, but diverse stories where everyone is welcome?
In 2014, we put out a call for submissions for the first Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide, an anthology of science fiction short stories for middle grade readers. We didn’t just want great stories. We wanted stories that showed the universe was big enough for everyone – that anyone can be a hero.
A wide variety of authors responded to the call, from relative newcomers to the field to award winners such as Beth Cato, Eric Choi, and Nancy Kress. Nancy has sent us a story for every year of the anthology, and as our author with the most time working in the genre, I couldn’t help but ask what had drawn her to the project.
She answered: “When I was a child, the school library had a Girls’ Section, which included fairy tales, and a Boys’ Section, which included all the science fiction. Things have changed, of course, but not enough. There is a strong need for science fiction, as opposed to fantasy, aimed at girls, especially in the middle grades. This anthology is an important contribution to the effort to fill that need, and I’m delighted to be a part of it.”
I think about how much things have changed. As a girl I read all the fantasy and science fiction I could get my hands on. The library wasn’t divided by gender. But stories I read then I’d be reluctant to pass off to a kid now, at least without some disclaimer, some explanation. “Things were different then,” I’d say. “You should come talk to me when you’re finished reading the story, and we’ll talk about how some attitudes have changed.”
Sally Ride, first American woman in space and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, famously said: “Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Girls need to read stories where any number of possible roles are modeled for them. Just as importantly, boys need to read stories where girls are active participants in adventures. And children of all colors and backgrounds need to know the future includes them.
Which means there needs to be space for those stories to be told. Every year we get a great mix of stories, and we comb through the submissions to try to make a perfect anthology to get kids hooked on science fiction. What’s it like to be a space station detective or reluctantly hold your society’s cultural knowledge for your return to Earth? What do you do when your robot gets you in trouble or when you’re homesick for Mars?
What we want, what all of our contributing authors want, is for all kids to be able to see themselves as active participants in the future.
The 2017 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide is the third year of our journey.
Science fiction is for everyone. Girls, boys, robots – everyone is welcome here.
* “Gender in Twentieth-Century Children’s Books: Patterns of Disparity in Titles and Central Characters.” (http://gas.sagepub.com/content/25/2/197.full.pdf+html) The results of the study are also discussed in this Guardian article: (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/may/06/gender-imbalance-children-s-literature)
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Agreed! And I’m happy to see a man make this comment. :) Thank you.
I absolutely love everything about this and hope girls will devour these stories. Boys too. It’s one of the reasons I’ve loved the rise of Rey in Star Wars, science fiction needs more Kick Butt women.
Drawing a blank on the exact spec: SF, female, teen, no romantic subplot. Ouch! But “no romantic subplot” by itself eliminates most books & stories. My favorite SF female protagonists are Cherryh’s Chanur and Cyteen books, Kress’s Beggars in Spain. Fantasy has some awesome characters, although not entirely without romance: Pierce’s two series, Protector of the Small, and Bekka Cooper, feature women warriors & cops. Moon’s Paksenarrion is a breathtaking feminist vision of derring-do. And Sherri Tepper & Lois McMaster Bujold tower above the field. Hope this helps!
Just finished reading this (I backed it on kickstarter). Lots of great bite-sized stories here!
In regards to the woeful Sad Puppies (the little darlings), I think they’re like a lot of Trumplings: they think the world is rigged against them because women and POC and other under-represented groups are now being allowed to join the game.
Let’s liken “the game” to baseball. The under-represented groups I mentioned above are finally getting to bat. They’re facing a wicked fastball/curve/knuckle ball pitcher. By comparison, the white guys are seeing fat, lazy pitches right down the middle. (No, I am not suggesting white males never face hardships–I’m a member of that group, but the challenges I’ve faced were episodic and not institutional, perhaps with the exception of financial class-based obstacles.)
As the father of a daughter, I want the world to be wide open for her, better than it was for me. Let everyone play, and play by the same rules and with the same equipment.
Alexei Panshin’s “Rite of Passage” is one I still enjoy and highly recommend. And from it and its protagonist, Mia Havero, I learned at a young age that each of us is the hero of our own story, and that in real life “there are no foot soldiers”…characters to be swept away to make the hero look triumphant.
On the fantasy/sci fi side, as a teen I enjoyed Anne McCaffrey’s “The Ship Who Sang” series and Dragon series (although they were sort of fluffy for my tastes) and Zenna Henderson’s “The People” which had a pretty even mix of male and female protagonists.
For teen sci-fi, I’d like to add “Killer of Enemies” by Joseph Bruchac and “Orleans” by Sherri L. Smith to your list. Both feature young women in dystopian sci-fi wastelands and no romance. For younger readers the “Frannie K. Stein” series by Jim Benton and “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur” are worth checking out.
This anthology looks great.
Robert O’Brien’s Z for Zachariah is survival in a post-apocalyptic world.
Graphic novels: I liked Cleopatra in Space and Girl Genius (a small amount of romance, but much overshadowed by Mad! Science!)
One more I forgot, Little Robot, another graphic novel by Ben Hatke. The main character is 5, and wicked good with a screwdriver.
Thank you all for the book recommendations – I’m still always looking!
I’m not a huge fan of YA books, although I’ve picked up a few lately that have been some good fun. I really like Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain, which is actually the first thing I thought of with “Mad Scientist” in the article. Lots of fun, and equal opportunity villainy and superheroing.
Don’t remember a romance in Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars… but that was like the only one of his juvenile fictions that i didn’t read until adulthood.
My cousin noticed this, and was in a position to do something about it: she started her own publishing company, Tumblehome Learning (tumblehomelearning.com). She wrote the first of the Galactic Academy of Science books, The Desperate Case of the Diamond Chip, whose hero is a black girl (with a drag-along white boy)., tasked with retrieving the prototype of a carbon-based transistor. I enjoyed it.
It’s not space sci-fi, but LeGuin’s Tombs of Atuan features an awesome young female protagonist.
Just ordered it in paperback… it’ll make the perfect Xmas present for a special young lady!
I’m a librarian and mother of a daughter, so I’m always on the lookout for good books for her. In the last few years I’ve noticed more sf books with female protagonists and I’ve been able to get them for her.
Some recent books she has enjoyed include:
Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall
Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung
Shadows of Sherwood (Robyn Hoodlum #1) by Kekla Magoon
The Fog Diver by Joel Ross
This collection sounds like something my daughter would enjoy. I’ll keep an eye out for it!
Doubling down on @Frank’s comments. LeGuin’s Hanish series has great protagonists of all genders, although not your typical mad scientist types. Her Powers series is a bit hard to read, but feels accurate & authentic.
Very timely. This will be a great gift for my 10-year old daughter. She just devoured “The Neptune Project” and “The Neptune Challenge by Polly Holyoke”. She was enthralled by these books like no book before, and her 4th and 5th grade friends are talking about the books and characters. The story starts in a dystopian setting, but moves undersea after a group of young teens undergo gene therapy which allows them to live underwater.
“Mad scientist should be an equal opportunity career.”
Dear God, YES! Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES! Speaking for mad scientists everywhere, we can use all the help we can get!
I remember being in middle school and finding a fantastic book with a female protag and SF setting and no romance! Keeper of the Isis Light by Monica Hughes. I LOVED that book. I found her and Tamora Pierce before I discovered Le Guin. In fact it had such an impact on me that I looked it up and purchased a copy about ten years ago. I loved that book and the others in the series. YAY for more Middle School appropriate female skewed SF!!
I’m with Althane, the four “Please Don’t Tell” books by Richard Roberts were my first thought, excellent stories.