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Saturdays in Books

Reviews of speculative fiction, YA, middle grade, and graphic novels, along with stray thoughts, links, and pictures.

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The SFWA European Hall of Fame: Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent
Kathryn Morrow, James K. Morrow

Lightspeed has apparently done enough for the ladies already.

[Note from September 30th, I've written an update to this post, please also read it.] The magazine that recently brought you Women Destroy Science Fiction is launching two regular review columns, both written by men. This rather disheartening news is completely unsurprising if you've seen what the professional review landscape looks like.


To summarize, Strange Horizons looked at 18 SF magazines and journals in the US and UK, and found, among other things, the following:


15 of these venues (including SH) had fewer than 50% female reviewers

2 of those 15 had no women writing reviews

All of the 3 venues with more than 50% women still had male reviewers


I will note that one of the new Lightspeed columns will be written by a person of color, which is an even more underrepresented group. I'm happy about that, and Patel's reviews on goodreads are something I already read regularly.


But this isn't about who they chose. It's about who they didn't choose.  And how they've so far responded to questions. 


For example, Natalie Luhrs of The Radish tweets the perfectly valid question:


"did you even TALK to any women before deciding 2 male-authored review columns would be a good idea?"


And gets the following response (available in the previous link):


"We did consider some women for the columns, yes. And I did solicit input from our mostly-female staff."


Which seems all well and good until she asks her followers if any of them were asked.


"So, female SFF book reviewers & critics I know. Were any of you contacted by @Lightspeedmag for either of their new columns?"


And Lightspeed responded with:


"I can tell you we didn't ask any women for these two columns. We did consider some. But there's a third column in the works, FWIW."


Um, guys, what's your story again? You asks some ladies for input, and tots considered them, but only asked men to fill the two slots you've announced? And you've buried the existence of this mystical third column in a reply that many of your followers aren't likely to see and ISN'T REFERENCED IN THE ANNOUNCEMENT?


And it gets better when they decide to also reply with:


"The third column, not announced yet, is still TBD, but I'm waiting on a response from a woman who I asked to write it."


OMG you guys! They found one of those rare unicorns! A woman who might review SFF! Let's all wait and hold our criticism for the day when 1/3 of their reviewers are women and they didn't even consider women for two of those slots!


Kameron Hurley tweeted a response stating that she'd been asked and had declined. Kameron Hurley, award winning fan writer and novelist, not actually known for her reviews, though. She writes movie reviews on her blog at times, but a casual search turned up only 2 reviews of books, and one of those just went live in the last week on a different site. So, clearly it's something she does, but who the hell thinks "book reviewer" and comes up Hurley? [Note from 17 September: in the comments Hurley clarifies that it was an entirely different column she was asked to write. I'm not revising my text, but I may add more of these notes as I find out new things] She's already said no, though, so she isn't the "a woman" we're waiting for. I actually only bring up her tweet because I think it provides valuable context for the next series of tweets by Lightspeed.


"I asked reviewers whose work I knew that I thought would do a good job. There were several women candidates we considered."


(But, remember, not for the two announced slots.)


"Andrew's been with the magazine a long time and written lots of reviews elsewhere. I'd say he's clearly qualified."


"For Sunil, I liked his goodreads reviews, and thought his style would work well in a column."


Liptak and Patel were asked because of their volume of online reviews. Hurley was asked to fill the woman slot. It makes me wonder if they asked any POC's to fill the slot given to Liptak or if Patel is filling the POC slot. After all, everything they've said makes sense if they started with the desire to hire a reviewer, and then a not-white reviewer, and then a not-male reviewer without having given any thought to the fact that they're generating a set of categories around an assumed white male default.


Everything except for the fact that there are a gazillion women writing reviews all over the internets, and they clearly consider goodreads a source for reviewers. If only anyone knew of any women reviewing speculative fiction there. Or anywhere online.


Anywhere at all.


And yet the only one they've asked isn't one of those many, many potential candidates. It is instead a woman well known for blogging, but not for reviews. Because they're looking for a lady first and a qualification second.


Way to fuck it up, Lightspeed. 


Way to maintain the status quo.