Can science fiction be female?

It isn’t a secret that nowadays most fiction readers are women (at least it is true in my country, Italy, but I guess it applies for most countries), therefore it isn’t a case that the most read fiction genres are those loved by women. I’m not just talking about romance or erotica or, generally, women fiction; it would be too easy. Actually the most read genre worldwide is no doubt thriller & mystery and, yes, women devour thriller & mystery novels. It’s such a transversal genre that is able to gather any kind of female readers. I know, also because I’m part of them.

But what about science fiction?
Traditionally science fiction is considered a male genre. The reasons are various and probably root from the so-called classic science fiction, characterised by male protagonists, stories that face great social, political topics and of course science. Even if science fiction has always been considered an entertaining genre, actually most of these books aren’t quite ease to deal with; who isn’t interested in certain topics might even get bored.
But on the other hand, there have always been the less committed face of this genre, the one often bound to mass market and kiosk products (though it included some books that actually became classic!), characterised by a lot of action, unlikely dialogues, ultra-bad aliens and so on. Pure entertainment, often addressed to a very young male public, which had practically nothing that women might like.

Either side you see it, science fiction in the past never had a big number of female fans, even if it includes several authors of this gender.
But why is the presence of more or less committed topics or of elements such as action and adventure sufficient to keep female readers away? Actually these elements aren’t the real problem, the lack of others is.

Science fiction novels from the past were often lacking another fundamental aspect, which instead is the cornerstone of contemporary fiction (including science fiction): real characters around whom a story was created.
I’m persuaded that a book based on its characters, on their humanity (even if they are not human), and on the capability of creating empathy between them and the reader, whatever the genre, may be liked by (almost) anybody, even if it bears complex topics, which the same reader might normally find less interesting. In fact, a reader that is even ignorant in such topics, anchoring to the characters, might discover them (or re-evaluate them) and maybe end up liking them.

Today’s science fiction is not like in the past. It includes stories that work, regardless to the fact they are set in a science fiction context, because they are founded on characters. Nonetheless in some countries, like Italy, it is still considered as a niche genre and I suspect this is due to the fact it can’t still persuade women, who are the most of readers, to be a genre suitable for them.
It isn’t a little problem for those like me, a woman, who writes science fiction, telling stories based on characters, even with a female protagonist, uncovering her emotions (but also those of male characters), talking about feelings and, yes, love, but at the same time packing the plot with action, suspense, mystery, thriller elements (yes, because my stories are primarily thrillers), adventure, science and technology described accurately but without exaggerating, and social topics (like the intolerance against diversity). A complex mixture including elements that are attractive for male readers, especially science fiction fan, who is usually very demanding, but also for female readers, who aren’t necessarily experts of this genre.

Yet most readers of mine are men and sometimes I consider the problem of how to get to them: female readers.
I haven’t found a real solution yet, but as time passes I’m noticing with pleasure that, by word of mouth, some woman, outside from the circles of science fiction fans, comes to my series, “Red Desert, and like it, often (even!) surprised to have found all that in my novels.

Will we be able, sooner or later, to remove this annoying “male” tag from science fiction and let the readers, men or women, understand that science is often a spark, a context, in the scope of which living characters are moving, on whom you can identify, able to move you and even make you fall in love?
I’m not losing my hope.


This article has been originally published in Italian on Anakina.net.