Sunday, March 25, 2012

K.J. Parker, what does it say about SFF reviewers?


For the past few weeks there's been plenty of talk around the blogosphere about the coverage, particularly in reviews, female authors get in SF/F. This was in part due to this study posted on lady business website. I think it's interesting, but as with stats and sampling, if not handled with care they can lead to "dangerous" conclusions. And I think there are plenty of those conclusions going around (not necessarily by those who made the study, but all sorts of commenters not limited to those on the site). The one I'm going to pick on is the idea that male reviewers don't review female authors. Not really because I disagree with that notion, but because the studies being made don't really care to differentiate about the subgenres and gender dominance in those subgenres, in particular how they skew the stats in ways that can easily mislead and/or deceive.

More importantly, people see the data, see the results and they seem to be more interested in drawing these "dangerous" conclusions from them than stepping back and asking the most important question of all, "why?" Why is this data presenting itself as it is? The most common answer is "oh, girl cooties", which I think is just over-simplistic and misleading.

My theory is, though I think someone with a science background might say that it's actually a hypothesis, that even though there will be tendencies towards reviewing same sex authors, the variable that most impacts what is being reviewed is the subgenre the blog focuses on. Now, why that is, I don't know. That's a question and problem for someone else to figure out. Is it a problem of what and how authors are writing? Is it a problem of what publishers are picking up? Is it a problem of what review copies are being sent and to whom? A marketing problem? Or is there a real problem of gender bias in the SF/F review community? I don't know.

One of the things that the study on lady business was interested in was finding out if it's true that women are more diverse in their reading and reviewing habits. The study does illustrate that, and I can agree with that notion. For good or bad, the study is an eye opener for some to self examine their habits and it does bring focus to the issue and gets people talking.

The reason these stats have shown such a divide on male to female reviews is that many of the blogs studied from female reviewers have a lot of urban fantasy reviews and also reviews from YA categories. As I understand it, these are dominated by female authors. I take a look at a review site like All Things Urban Fantasy and the studied Janicu's Book Blog on lady business and all I see is the same divide found in genres like epic fantasy and science fiction, only the inverse. But somehow, this divide is considered by many as acceptable; it balances the scale so to speak. When in reality, it's doing nothing of the sort. The male reviewers, though, as depicted, don't venture into these areas as often which is a problem in itself, but does nothing to rectify the idea that female authors aren't being as reviewed in epic fantasy and science fiction genres. These stats while illustrating the diversity of female reviewers, it says nothing of how much they're contributing in non-UF subgenres.

For example, there are very few female bloggers I currently follow that really focus on subgenres outside of urban fantasy, two of them being Bookworm Blues and Little Red Reviewer who I think are great; if people can point me towards more of them I'd appreciate it. I take a look at their review index, and on the eye test, it's quite apparent that they review more male authors than female authors. As a quick confirmation I asked Bookworm Blues' blogger about this, and she told me that she was certain she reviews more males than females. Now that doesn't jibe with what was found in the lady business research and what it says about female reviewers' habits. Then I take a look at what's been reviewed on our blog, a blog that has a tendency to review urban fantasy, and what I find doesn't jibe with what is found in the lady business study either. We're two male reviewers and 58% of our reviews contain a female author component (some are co-authored) if I'm counting right.

So maybe males and females aren't as distinct in what sexes they review, but the difference lies in the diversity of genres/subgenres they review. Or are we the exception?

Which brings me to my initial intent of this post: K.J. Parker. Sorry for the detour, I honestly had no intention of writing any of the above, at least in that exhaustive manner. But, the show must go on. Over the past week or two, I've been discussing K.J. Parker quite a bit, mainly on how I'm missing out since I haven't read any of his/her books. So after everyone made me feel like a complete turd for not reading any of Parker's books, we got to asking if anyone really knew what his/her sex is. You see, K.J. Parker is a fantasy author who is widely believed to be female, but for some time now rumors of Parker actually being male have surfaced. Few know, and they're not telling.

And that got me to thinking, what does K.J. Parker mean to the state of the SF/F community, particularly in regards to the idea that men don't review female authors? But keep in mind that Parker is not the only gender neutral author around.

As a matter of laziness, I took to the same blogs that lady business studied to see how widely Parker was reviewed. Keeping in mind that I excluded two sites, one because it was difficult to search through, and another because the sex of the reviewers are unknown, I researched 19 of them. From those 19, male review blogs accounted for 11 of them, 6 of them were for females, and 2 of them were mixed. On 19 blogs, K.J. Parker was found to be reviewed 26 times, and 16 of them were from male review blogs, while 3 reviews were from female blogs. There are still 7 reviews unaccounted for, which I'll add to the males since they were reviewed by a male reviewer. So of 26 reviews, 23 were done by male reviewers on 9 blogs out of 12 (remember I added one). Comparing it to females, they got 3 reviews in 2 blogs out of 6.

I don't know, but I find that quite curious. Am I onto something? Maybe what we need is more female bloggers reviewing female authors outside of urban fantasy? How many of these blogs have reviewed some of the recent female debut authors from Night Shade Books, various of whom have been reviewed and enjoyed by male reviewers, for example?

Also I ask, why has K.J. Parker been so successful with male reviewers? Is it something about how he/she writes? Is is the mystery of his/her sex? But remember, K.J. Parker to this point has been believed to be female. But whatever he/she is doing, it's resonating very well in the SF/F community.

Some final thoughts. There's certainly gender inequality all around, but let's not limit it to how women are having a tough time in epic fantasy and science fiction, I see plenty of men struggling to find an audience in urban fantasy, too. Maybe what we need is more men reading and reviewing urban fantasy, as well as more women reading and reviewing epic fantasy and science-fiction (regardless of the sex of the author)? I don't think the burden has to be entirely in a shift of habit from what current bloggers are doing in the respective subgenre they're reviewing.

If reviewers, both male and female do their part, so to speak, and there still exists a divide on epic fantasy and science fiction reviews, then I think the only recourse is for changes to be made outside of blog reviewers. I don't think that forcing, well exhorting for that matter, bloggers to review more females for the sake of reviewing them is the way to go, I think it should come naturally and organically, but maybe that's just me being idealistic. But I'm of the idea that if more female reviewers are interested in fantasy and science fiction, outside of UF, and more male bloggers get interested in UF it might cause a chain reaction on what books are picked up by publishers and how books are sent to be reviewed.

And last question, if K.J. Parker were revealed to be a male writer, what does that say about SF/F reviewers,  and does it mean anything at all?

55 comments:

  1. Well written. I do wonder if the publishers ran the numbers of epic fantasy and non-romantic fantasy and SF what the %'s of male vs. female authors would be.

    And then looking at UF, as well. There's got to be a spread sheet somewhere ;)

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  2. I read cozy mysteries (as well as just about everything else) and I'm very active on cozy review blogs and forums. And guess what? The authors are predominately female and so are the reviewers of such. I've recommended a few books by male cozy authors and ... sorry to say, some of the responses are, "Well, I don't really like cozies by male authors as much." Yet when we all name names, there's a number of good male authors (often with male protags, which is another complaint by some readers: Don't like male protags as well as the female ones.) There's a definite bias, but no one worries much about it.

    For one, I think it's okay that men might just like (in general) different types of books. It's okay that women might like different types of books and it's possible women are more likely to branch out and try a different genre or focus (although, again, from my cozy groups, there's a definite bias. The women in my cozy groups--and we are predominately women--are MUCH MORE LIKELY to pick up a book perceived to be written by a female with a female protag.) No one thinks much of it either--it's all about "empathy" -- reading about a character much like we picture ourselves now, as we were or as we might be.

    I don't consciously look to see whether an author is male or female when browsing. I don't look to see if the protag is male or female. When I checked my shelves after reading a similar article to the ones you point out, I was tilted slightly toward women authors and women main characters in UF and Sci/fi. My cozy reads were predominately female, but there is definitely smatterings of male authors/protags.

    I think bias is worried about more in sci/fi fantasy because women TRY to break into the genre.

    Before I submit any review copy to a review site, I to try to see what types of books they read. I have never submitted one of my cozy mysteries to a book review site that has only male reviewers. It's not that I'm avoiding them, it's that I've never seen one. I have submitted my UF to sites with male reviewers and thought nothing of it.

    (And for those unfamiliar with cozy mysteries: Think Agatha Christie, Murder She Wrote, MacGyver could be considered cozy...and what is that other bumbling detective show...Columbo (See, there are male protags in cozy and they are quite beloved!)

    Great article. Enjoyed reading it.

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  3. I read cozy mysteries (as well as just about everything else) and I'm very active on cozy review blogs and forums. And guess what? The authors are predominately female and so are the reviewers of such. I've recommended a few books by male cozy authors and ... sorry to say, some of the responses are, "Well, I don't really like cozies by male authors as much." Yet when we all name names, there's a number of good male authors (often with male protags, which is another complaint by some readers: Don't like male protags as well as the female ones.) There's a definite bias, but no one worries much about it.

    For one, I think it's okay that men might just like (in general) different types of books. It's okay that women might like different types of books and it's possible women are more likely to branch out and try a different genre or focus (although, again, from my cozy groups, there's a definite bias. The women in my cozy groups--and we are predominately women--are MUCH MORE LIKELY to pick up a book perceived to be written by a female with a female protag.) No one thinks much of it either--it's all about "empathy" -- reading about a character much like we picture ourselves now, as we were or as we might be.

    I don't consciously look to see whether an author is male or female when browsing. I don't look to see if the protag is male or female. When I checked my shelves after reading a similar article to the ones you point out, I was tilted slightly toward women authors and women main characters in UF and Sci/fi. My cozy reads were predominately female, but there is definitely smatterings of male authors/protags.

    I think bias is worried about more in sci/fi fantasy because women TRY to break into the genre.

    Before I submit any review copy to a review site, I to try to see what types of books they read. I have never submitted one of my cozy mysteries to a book review site that has only male reviewers. It's not that I'm avoiding them, it's that I've never seen one. I have submitted my UF to sites with male reviewers and thought nothing of it.

    (And for those unfamiliar with cozy mysteries: Think Agatha Christie, Murder She Wrote, MacGyver could be considered cozy...and what is that other bumbling detective show...Columbo (See, there are male protags in cozy and they are quite beloved!)

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  4. I've been thinking about this a lot recently, since I'm a female author writing in a corner of the fantasy genre (epic/historical/swashbuckling - there's a lot of overlap!) dominated by male writers. My book is getting a lot of good reviews, mainly from male bloggers, so I'm wondering - are women really getting overlooked by male reviewers because of "girl cooties" (which in my case might be counteracted by being published by Angry Robot, who are not exactly known for their soft'n'fluffy fiction!) or are there simply more men writing it and getting published?

    The analysis I did of Locus's reviews over ten issues showed that male reviewers reviewed 75% male writers, whereas female reviewers reviewed 66% female writers. There were more short reviews by female reviewers, with the result that the final total was almost exactly 50/50.

    The situation with Locus seems to be unusual. In the lady business example, there were more male bloggers in the survey - and the same is usually true in professional print media. Very simply, there are more men reviewing books and the books they enjoy are predominantly written by men. I think we should be encouraging women to review books - and shaming newspapers into employing more of them - and then the gender balance within the reviews themselves would sort themselves out.

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    1. I think you're right and it's probably a case of more male authors in a given genre of preference. Or, at the very least, reviewers receiving more books by male authors.

      I think something interesting to look at would be how the rate of positive reviews of female-authored books on a site that has a male-author balance advantage. If the reviews are all/mostly positive, then it's probably not sexism accounting for the imbalance.

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  5. @Anne that's part of what I was going for, but I really didn't want to come off as putting the burden on female reviewers, but I think more progress could be made within female reviewers paying more attention to the subgenres where females aren't as reviewed, than expecting men to change their ways :)

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  6. First, I think this is an excellent post.

    Second, I wish everyone would zero in on this statement: "female reviewers have a lot of urban fantasy reviews and also reviews from YA categories."

    I don't read very much UF, romance, or YA. Out of the twenty or so novels I've read in 2011, only one has been YA/romance: Matched by Ally Condie. Two adult urban fantasies: Alex Bledsoe's The Hum and the Shiver; and Stina Leicht's Of Blood and Honey.

    Everything else has been either fantasy written at an adult level (Mazarkis Williams' The Emperor's Knife, Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns; Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself, etc.) or female authors who aren't normally reviewed by some of the fantasy reviewers because they write adult fiction (examples would be everything by Sarah Waters (with my favorite being The Little Stranger), everything by Gillian Flynn (I would read Gillian Flynn's grocery list), etc.).

    So my question--since all of you seem to have oodles of time on your hands for all these studies--is simply this:

    Out of all those book review sites that reviewed women's fiction: I wonder how many reviewed ADULT fiction vs. YA fiction? I'm just curious.

    A good book review site by a female blogger who reviews an excellent cross-section of YA, UF, and adult fantasy is:

    Fantasy Cafe http://www.fantasybookcafe.com/

    You've got The Qwillery listed in your links, but I'll name it again as a blog I trust. http://qwillery.blogspot.com/

    Also: Layers of Thought http://www.layersofthought.net/

    Great job on the post, B.
    T

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    1. Thanks for the link ups, particularly with Layers of Thought. The other two I follow, but since they don't focus on epic fantasy and scifi they didn't seem appropiate for the narrative.

      I follow a lot of female blogs, more so than male blogs I think (I need to update the blog list), but as has been mentioned, they offer a more variety of genres, and most I follow have a focus on urban fantasy.

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    2. Now, how many MALE run blogs like yours focus on UF? ;) You might be the only one!

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    3. Seems to be the case Justin lol. If you find another one, let me know so that I can retire.

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    4. Sorry about the dup sites, I was trying to go by your links. I thought you followed Fantasy Cafe, but I wasn't sure. I tend to follow bloggers who read a variety of genres like I do, so I'm not as good at pulling out the sub-genres. #MajorGenrefail on my part, huh? ;-)

      Meanwhile, what Justin said ... I don't see many male bloggers that focus as much on UF as you do. Even if there were, we don't want you to retire.

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    5. Very interesting post.

      But I am wondering - if you're saying maybe women should read and review more science fiction and fantasy, why do they have to do so exclusively? As was mentioned, I do sometimes review YA or urban fantasy, but I have reviewed lots of epic fantasy and science fiction books over the years (and many of them written by women).

      Teresa - I am going to check out Sarah Waters and Gillian Flyn now. :)

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    6. Oh, I'm not saying that. And if did it was not my intention. The reason I used the focus of epic fantasy and science fiction was merely to illustrate the point that female author review problems go beyond males not reviewing them. Even females who focus on those aspects seem to also review more men than women.

      If anything, what I'm saying is that female reviewers could make a better attempt in reviewing non-UF/YA titles instead of wondering why men don't review more females in SF/F.

      And even if we see a pattern that female authors are still not as reviewed, I think the increased attention from female reviewers would make publishers re-examine the books they pick up, what they send for reviews, etc. which I hope can ultimately lead for better equality.

      On the other side, I review quite a bit of UF, yet I still review more women than men in the subgenre, but even so I hope that I'm giving male authors a bit more attention than they would otherwise have, and maybe publishers will see my blog and send me more review copies of male authors in UF to see if I'd review them.

      I don't know really, just an idea.

      But by the same token, I'd like to see some more female run blogs that focus on non-UF, just the same as I'd like to see more men blogs that focus on UF.

      But mixing and matching is very good too. I think it's great to have a bit of everything, particularly since it attracts different audiences.

      Anyways, as said before, the focus aspect was merely to illustrate a point, not that it's something that current bloggers should do. But something that would be nice to see too.

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    7. @Kristen

      You're correct. I don't think I looked at your index carefully enough, as I've not followed your blog long enough and most of our conversations have been concerning Urban Fantasy.

      Also, your blog was one of the studied blogs on ladybusiness, and actually one of the two blogs that has reviewed Parker.

      So even though you have a good mix of reviews, I think you focus plenty of epic fantasy/scifi and I should have also made noticed of that in my narrative. And also, your blog would have been a great counter-point to my hypothesis since you do indeed review a lot of female authors.

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    8. Thanks, Bastard! (You need a new name - that sounds like I'm being sarcastic. ;) )

      I have reviewed more urban fantasy than usual recently due to a new must-read book and a nasty cold that put me in the mood for a comfort read from one of my favorite UF series. So I can see why you thought that since I think we've only really been talking books on Twitter in the last month or two.

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  7. I think this is a great post, and I'm sorry I can't contribute to thoughts on male/female writers but I can (I hope) contribute some thoughts concerning K.J. Parker.

    I have been a huge fan of K.J. Parker since I read his/her first trilogy about 3 years ago. It's my personal feeling that K.J. Parker is a male. I think Parker is a male because I have a limited edition novella called Purple and Black that Parker signed, and the signature is distinctly male.

    Also, you might find this intriguing if you haven't already seen it... Mark Lawrence makes an unusual blog post on his website... Not sure if it's relevant but it just adds to the Parker mystery. I really think K.J. Parker is a male, just from the feel of his/her books. I honestly would be surprised if it turned out to be female... I hope that doesn't make me sound misogynistic lol

    http://mark---lawrence.blogspot.com/2012/01/hi-my-name-is.html

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  8. So many great points and I still need to read KJ Parker too. I'm just impressed she/he has been able to keep her/his anonymity for so long. Usually someone slips up.

    Regarding gender, I really do think people fail to take into account that there are many more things that go into reading choices. Plus, even if males tend to read males and females tend to read both, aren't there many more females who read than males?

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  9. Bookspotcentral.com (I used to review there) has several female reviewers and they review a very large mix of fantasy, sci/fi and urban fantasy.

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  10. I think the male/female review disparity also is a result of cover art (another recent topic in the SFF blogosphere). Author gender and book genre are coded into the cover art. Guy in dark hood = fantasy, probably starring a thief or assassin and written by a man. Girl in tight leather pants = urban fantasy, probably including vampires and written by a woman. If a female author has a cover with a girl in tight leather pants on the cover, I'm probably not picking up the book. Not because the author is female, but because I dont usually read urban fantasy. The female authors I read (Robin Hobb, Naomi Novik, K.J. Parker (?)) all have cover art coded to the genres I like to read (usually epic fantasy or some offshoot, no need to get into ID'ing subgenres here). My suspicion is that SFF readers are gender blind when choosing books, but not blind to the genre-coding found in cover art.

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    1. Good point. I've also been wondering about how much cover art may affect the books people are likely to pick up.

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    2. Cover art is very important. I wonder about covers for Douglas Hulick's Among Thieves, for example. Were they trying to target it to urban fantasy readers, even though it isn't?

      If early reviews weren't as positive as they were, I wonder if any of the epic fantasy community would have bothered with his book.

      What about Carol Berg's Collegia Magica books? Also seems like they were trying to attract the UF crowd, but Carol Berg is a big recognizable name, so that by itself carries some weight regardless.

      And recently, The Traitor's Daughter by Paula Brandon which I hear the cover is very deceptive of the content.

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  11. I'm going to wade straight in here and make myself unpopular here by saying that there are so many false assumptions at the start of all this that interpretation subsequently is meaningless.
    Lets see, UF is mainly by women? Well apart from Tim Powers, Fritz leiber, Ray Bradbury, James Blaylock, China Mieville, Martin Millar, KW Jeter, Mark Helprin, John Crowley, etc.
    But that's a symptom of a different issue. The statistics I see seem based on a few populist blogs and i doubt they take account of http://www.sfmistressworks.wordpress.com where only books by women are reviewed, mostly by men. I doubt my own blog http://www.performativeutterance.wordpress.com gets considered either. Or other sites that go off-piste to review non-populist sff and other literature. The trouble with only looking at the populist sites, which themselves only condider the populist books, is that it both skews the figures and also reinforces the perceptions. So you are led to believe wrongly that UF is mostly female, mostly read by women, and mostly reviewed by women, because all those men above are reviewed on blogs that aren't considered trendy (or don't toe the party line of 'play nice so we get free books')
    KJ Parker, you assert, has been assumed female up to now, which I disagree with. Parker was at least for a few years assumed to be a pseudonym of Tom Holt, to the extent that a UK bookstore used that as a competition answer. - Kev McVeigh

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    1. Good points all around. But name dropping a few male authors doesn't really prove anything wrong, and the definition of what is considered urban fantasy is not that well defined, but I'll tell you right now that some of those authors' books are distinctly different from what the UF community would consider as UF.

      If I was going to name drop, I'd go Kevin Hearne, Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, Charlie Huston, Anton Strout, Harry Connolly, etc., etc. Having a book set in a city does not UF make.

      I like the idea of that blog that only reviews women, but I think that really do much with the idea of blogger habits. Though it has its purposes.

      As for KJ Parker, well a few years I consider a recent development, particularly when books have been published since late 90s or so. And my phrase was "for some time now". I think that can fit the time span you propose.

      As for the data used, I agree that it's not a good one. Which I mainly focused on asking questions and not drawing any conclusions, just proposed a hypothesis, nothing more. But I only used them to counter a point which was proposed on lady business.

      In all, the purpose of my post was to ask questions, not really to answer any.

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    2. And then there is Rob Thurman, who many assume is male. And John Levitt and Frank Tuttle, two of my favorite UF authors, who are male. Most of the authors Bastard listed, I associate with UF (and have read most). Most of the authors listed by anon...I've read some and don't really consider it UF. That definition thing. But it really is neither here nor there. My favorite author of all time is Patricia Briggs and she writes a MEAN fantasy and some of the most awesome UF out there.

      I'm female. I review PLENTY of female authors in UF. Plenty. I just happen to review male authors as well, but I'd venture to guess it's a nice mix unless someone is looking to only get one or the other.

      I wouldn't be as interested in a review site that ONLY reviewed male or female. I don't browse for books in that manner, so that kind of breakdown simply wouldn't work for me. Neither would all books by Hispanics, Whites, Grays or piano players who are left-handed. I *do* shop by genre, so blogs that list what they review by genre are creating a useful breakdown for me.

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    3. Actually the definition of Urban Fantasy is clearly defined in the Encyclopaedia of Fantasy, and I discuss it here http://performativeutterance.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/where-the-streets-have-a-name/
      That sections of the blogger community apply the label predominantly to women and ignored the hugely famous authors I mentioned is part of the problem. Historically the (false) perceived wisdom followed this route:
      1 Women don't write SF, so when women did it was labelled Fantasy (and derided as such by some)
      2 Fantasy became popular and much Fantasy by women was shunted into a perceived backwater called UF (and derided as such by some.) Hence the massively important Bradbury is deemed too good to be UF.
      3 UF gets popular so some women's writing instead is dismissed as Paranormal Romance (and derided as such by some.) or YA (and derided as such by some.) The thing is, not all UF is PR, and not all PR is UF, but some is both but most bloggers don't recognise this.
      Do you see the pattern? Like the 'if its good it can't be SF' lit fic argument, some taxonomies are beased on 'if its by a man it can't be UF (or whatever)'
      So it is important to include major and critically acclaimed names in the UF definition to counter this, as long as they do actually fit.
      -Kev

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    4. I'm not sure you can "clearly" define something that is subjective. And most of the readers I interact with know there is PR and UF and understand there is some crossover.

      If people wish to dismiss women writers (or men writers as sometimes happens in cozy mysteries) no amount of defining and redefining will change that.

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    5. @Kev I think one can't limit oneself to a definition when the application of that definition is different. Let's say it has evolved.

      I really don't know how to explain it. I read The Magicians by Lev Grossman, how can I recommend that to an Urban Fantasy reader?

      But I see your point, and am with you to a degree. But when you read the books it's evident that they don't really fit with what the UF readers consider UF?

      Hey maybe I'm limiting my scope, but my main interest has always been reaching the populace and helping them choose books for them. So while by definition those books might technically be urban fantasy, some of them I can't recommend them in good conscience to someone who considers themselves an urban fantasy reader.

      But in those occasions like The Magicians, I may go and call the contemporary. Not perfect, but helps me make some sort of distinction to an audience.

      I don't know, I personally find these discussions interesting, particularly when I'm not interested in placing labels on books, but a necessary evil of sorts when recommending books.

      All this said, maybe being more inclusive and following the definition might do the world good.

      It's the same problem I find when people discuss Romance, it seems like everyone is talking about a different definition of what Romance is.

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    6. I understand that common usage of the term has evolved, but as a critic if I diverge from a firm definition then I need to be able to defend my position. Labels are not spuriously applied, they have meaning.
      But yes, merely calling a book UF doesn't help in some ways. The thing is that miscalling something UF when the city element is trivial or non-existent is equally or even more unhelpful.
      -Kev

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    7. I sometimes wish that urban fantasy wasn't the phrase that caught-on to represent the Butcher's and the like.

      But you're totally correct in that context.

      I've had a couple of blog post drafts, that never seemed right to post, about this issue, particularly of genre definitions and how different people apply them.

      In some ways I wish that urban fantasy, as used commonly, were more of an umbrella term with its own subgenres, instead of it being narrowed as a specific subgenre.

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  12. I'd actually love to see a full survey of genre review blogs, broken down by sub-genre, and seeing how that reflects.

    From what I understand, part of the issue isn't that reviewers pick titles of their gender (although there may be some correlation there), but that female writers are being ignored regardless of the reviewer's gender.

    (Good study of the major literary publications, here: http://www.vidaweb.org/the-2011-count)

    All part of the discussion.

    IWe can't assume KJP is a woman. Nor can we assume that reviewers think that KJP is a woman (in many cases, reviewers don't even know that KJP is a pseudonym). In many circles, the dominant theory is still that KJP is Tom Holt (who is a bloke). The KJP phenomena is intriguing because KJP is completely gender neutral. That's even reflected in the covers - neither hooded men nor leather pants, generally a sort of pattern or iconic object.

    (In fact, you could probably argue that KJP is the perfect post-feminist author - where gender is completely irrelevant. OR make the argument that KJP is the perfect un-feminist author, based on the fact that readers assume that a fantasy novel is written by a man. OR... etc. etc.)

    Anyway, all fun stuff. Also, go read some Parker, darnit.

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    1. Hey Jared, this post was really supposed to be something simple about KJ Parker and then I got some other ideas that ran through my head and evolved it what it's currently.

      Believe me I'm the first one to know how flawed my arguments are, if arguments they are, but thought it interesting nonetheless.

      But, that's the one point I was trying to make, that female writers are being ignored despite of the gender of reviewer.

      In any case, I just wanted to throw some ideas in the air to see how people react and thing, and not fall into the conventional wisdom of female writers' problem lying squarely on male reviewers.

      The funny thing is that I'm the last person who should be doing this sort of post. I'm inexperienced and don't understand the industry all that well. But curiosity go the better of me, so here we are.

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    2. And great point in the assuming that reviewers read KJ thinking she was a woman. I think I addressed it a bit there, but maybe it didn't come off properly.

      Let me just say that I've been working on a review for Mazarkis Williams thinking he was a man, but been recently told that he/she has not revealed his sex, so that's another curious thing. It really puts all my convos with him/her in a different perspective lol.

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    3. That's quite cool - didn't realize that Mazarkis Williams was a pen name. Nifty!

      Sorry if it sounded like I was being critical, wasn't meant - I was just thinking aloud (er, writing quietly, but you know what I mean). I like what you're doing and think the blog post is great. Goal being to generate discussion around a very interesting topic, and, judging by the volume and passion of comments, you've totally succeeded.

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    4. Oh bring it on. Too many people agreeing with me makes me think there's something wrong with the world.

      And I really didn't do much research so I opened myself to being contradicted, etc. Let's just say I saw the smoke and started to ask if there was an actual fire.

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  13. Great post B and you got a lot of folks thinking as well.

    @ Kev.

    While you make some excellent points, I think you might be missing something which B is implying which is simply that surveys as done by lady Business can be misleading (If I'm not wrong, she states something to the same effect).

    The names which you recite are great ones and possible did dabble in the same sub-genre however I believe Laurell Hamilton is possibly the first author whose books outrightly made the genre visible to the publishing world. Her Anita Blake books got many people thinking about these types of stories and even influenced Jim Butcher to a certain degree.

    So all in all while we might all quibble about opinions and definitions, I think we should all review books that excite us and make us want to review them. This way the readers get the choice of reading whatever they want and you enrich the blogosphere.

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    1. @Mihir
      I'd go back before Hamilton, who I don't think incorporates the city as much as many, at least to Megan Lindholm and Emma Bull and especially Charles De Lint as the first authors properly labelled UF. To suggest that Powers, Bradbury, Leiber etc merely dabbled though is harsh. Neil Gaiman will acknowledge Leiber in particular as a major influence. I recommend Our Lady Of Darkness and Conjure Wife, along with Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes and others.
      -Kev

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    2. @Mihir

      You are really highlighting part of the problem with the discussion on Urban Fantasy. Hamilton started the trend that has led to UF, the new definition of Urban Fantasy. And that is the definition most people online use today. I'd go as far as to say the current UF/PR is a different subgenre than Urban Fantasy as it was defined in the '90s. Even the Wikipedia page on Urban Fantasy ignores the '90s definition of Urban Fantasy, and doesn't even mention Charles de Lint. And author who arguably started the modern Urban Fantasy genre (, old definition at least).

      Unfortunately the old definition of Urban Fantasy has been totally usurped by UF/PR, and I see very few of the fans of UF/PR even being aware of Urban Fantasy as it was. I've even seen some deny that '90s Urban Fantasy is what they consider Urban Fantasy, i.e. UF/PR.

      I've even had a discussion with someone who has self-published an Urban Fantasy novel who didn't want to call it that. Because she wanted to seperate her book from UF/PR, and didn't feel it fit into that definition. She did agree she had written Urban Fantasy when I told her about the '90s definition, but didn't go with that for fear she'd alienate the UF/PR fans by calling it Urban Fantasy.

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    3. @Weirdmage
      I recently had a conversation where a reviewer claimed UF doesn't even have to be set in a city, just the modern world. This ignorance of the genre history and broader view is the principle failure of most populist blogs. As a consequence they only review what is popular, people mostly only buy what is popular, so you get a classic feedback loop.
      -Kev

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    4. @Kevin

      Yes, I see more and more people using Urban Fantasy as a synonym for Contemporary Fantasy.

      When it comes to ignorance of genre history, that seems to be normal for those who discovered SFF in the internet era.
      My "favourite" is the Twilight fan who complained that Universal's "The Wolfman" was a total rip-off of Twilight. -For those that don't know: It's a re-make of Universal's 1941 movie "The Wolf Man"...
      Oh, and I found a link to that :-) http://gawker.com/5475773/twilight-totally-invented-werewolves-and-the-wolfman-is-just-copying

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    5. @ Kevin

      The two examples you have given are good ones and perhaps you can even add Mercedes Lackey to that list however my point was that publishers really took notice of this genre after LH's success and they then proceeded with it as the next cash cow.

      @Weirdmage

      You are correct the current market is definitely at odds with the older books and this perhaps is a demand of the current market. I agree this might not be a good thing and Charles De Lint's books definitely should be more popular.

      However I think the current evolution of PNR from UF(current one) has managed to give a certain type of readers what they want and so long as they pay for the specific books they want to read. We all can quibble over definitions but publishers will look to sell what makes them the most money.

      Btw the Wolfman letter was hilarious :)

      Mihir

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    6. @Mihir

      I understand that publishers need to make money, and that they publish what sells.
      My problem is that the UF/PR definition, at least how I see most fans use it, doesn't seem to include any limitations on what can be defined as Urban Fantasy.

      (An interesting aside is that when I started hanging out on Twitter at the end of 2010, PNR was not used, but it seems that during 2011 it has almost totally replaced PR. I have no idea why, it's not like it's full name is Para Normal Romance. And it's not like there was any confusion as to what PR meant when talking about genres either.)

      I'm not sure it's even meaningful to seperate UF/PR. The fans seem to disagree what is UF and what is PR in most cases. However there is no mistaking Urban Fantasy for Paranormal Romance, which is why I seperate Urban Fantasy and UF/PR. And I see most people who've followed SFF since before approximately 2000 do the same.

      For me the easiest way to look at it is that UF/PR is a cross between Urban Fantasy and Romance, with any single UF/PR book belonging somewhere on an axis connecting the Urban Fantasy and Romance genres.
      But that is just the impression I get from what I see online, so that could be wrong. I haven't studied UF/PR, although I loved Gail Carriger's "Parasol Protectorate" books, and I have seen them defined as Paranormal Romance by fans of that genre.

      It does get more confusing when, as both I and Kevin mentioned above, Urban Fantasy is also often used to describe all Contemporary Fantasy.
      In some ways the very clear '90s definition of Urban Fantasy has lost all meaning, while there are still books being published that definitely belong to that subgenre. (For example "Kraken" by China MiƩville.)

      This became a bit rambling.
      My point is that Urban Fantasy is, or at least was, a well defined genre with little argument as to what belonged to it. I'd argue that the '90s Urban Fantasy definition is still valid, and that UF/PR is a seperate subgenre of Contemporary Fantasy. (And that UF/PR is connected to Romance as I outlined above.)

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    7. @Weirdmage

      Interesting points. The problem I have is that even with the colloquial use of UF, it's not the same as PNR. They're two different things. In UF the lines have been blurred a bit, but still quite different.

      Gail Carriger's books are not PNR, even though they contain a subplot which heavily focuses on the relationship of its two main characters.

      But it's becoming hard to tell them apart, particularly for people who usually read outside of the subgenre, and also for people who are averse to reading any type of love drama plot.

      But other than that, it's certainly interesting how the urban fantasy definition has evolved.

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    8. @Bastard

      I certainly wouldn't define Carriger's books as PR, but I have seen PR fans do it online.

      There may be a line between UF and PR, but I don't see much agreement of where it goes from those who read it. Which is why I suggest the Urban Fantasy to Romance axis to put the UF/PR books on. (The same as a "left to right" political axis.)

      It is hard to get a grip on UF/PR. I freely admit that I haven't read enough of it to be anywhere near an expert, and can only base my assumptions on what I see the UF/PR fans say online.

      Generally I use the rule that if the plot doesn't work without the romance it is a Romance novel. And subsequently, if the plot works without the romance, it is a Fantasy novel. (Ignoring further genre distinctions for the moment, to make things a bit easier.)
      I'm not sure however if that rule is valid for UF/PR, but am interested to hear what you think about it.

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  14. And let's not forget authors who were out and influential at the same time or even before Hamilton: Mercedes Lackey (Diane Tregarth series) Ellen Guon (Bedlam Boys) Holly Lisle to name just three who were solid UF writers before UF had that tag. As for men writing around that time...Mike Resnick wrote Stalking the Unicorn (I believe it has since been republished and while not my favorite in the genre, it is probably a good example of early UF, certainly fits the genre). I'm sure there were many others that were labeled fantasy at the time.

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  15. Oh and A. Lee Martinez is another male author who I believe was writing UF before it was cool.

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  16. Good female run review sites:
    http://a-fantastical-librarian.blogspot.co.uk/
    seems to do a lot of epic fantasy

    &
    http://www.roncnieto.com/search/label/book%20reviews
    an eclectic mix that includes fantasy I approve of :)

    As to the analysis... there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. When the tools of statistical analysis are applied to something as poorly defined as 'a genre of writing' and the results are viewed in isolation... you may 'prove' what you care to. There are many factors omitted from the few studies I've glanced at - prime among them the impact of the changing author demographic. The long-established works will have a higher proportion of male authorship than those coming out today ... because the proportion of male authors was higher 20 years ago. The long-established authors may draw more interest/reviews as they have big fan-bases. Such factors are hard to remove from the statistics and may bias the results.

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    1. I'm completely with you Mark. Most of these curious studies are done by amateurs, like moi, and often neglect a number of variables that bias the results as you say. And we forget about the assumptions those making the studies make.

      I find them fun and interesting, but when one tries to draw conclusions from them, particularly from an authoritative position it can be "dangerous" as I say.

      I really do hope that the people reading this post realize that I'm not trying to make some sort of statement, or conclude, or judge but more interested in throwing ideas and questions in the air and see if someone with the right/proper expertise can shed some light on them. But until then, glad to see people discussing crap here.

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    2. And great links by the way.

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  17. I just went through my list of reviews (http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/reviewers/Ryan-Lawler.html) and turns out that 4/39 of my reviews have been for books by female authors. Whether that says anything about my reading tastes, or the books that have been submitted for review, I'm not sure.

    Looking at my reviewing queue now, 13/40 of the books I am yet to read have been written by female authors (seven unique authors - Kathryn Meyer Griffith, Suzanne Collins, Mary Robinette Kowal, Mary Victoria, Anne Lyle, Erin Morgenstern and Isobelle Carmody) which is less than a third of the books in my queue. What does this mean? Is it a reflection of the current balance between male and female authors in the scifi/fantasy genre? Does this mean anything at all? Does it even matter?

    My job as a reviewer is to be consistent in the way I review books so people can identify my personal criteria for judging a book and decide whether or not they agree. I treat all books the same way, I look at the standard of wordbuilding, plotting, characterisation and writing, and whether or not an appropriate balance has been struck between these four elements. During my review the author is treated as an object, the pink squishy bit that turns an idea into words, and I would like to think that the personal attributes of any author has no affect on the way I review the book (ie. Orson Scott Card, I dont agree with a lot of his opinions but I dont let that affect the way that I review his books).

    I dont think gender discrimination is an issue in scifi / fantasy, as the genre becomes more popular the gender balance is slowly moving back to 50/50. Where I do see discrimination is between traditionally published and self published / indie - with the internet making it so easy to publish your own book the big publishing houses make the argument that only they can guarantee quality, which tars all self published / indie authors with poor quality brush.

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    1. BTW love K.J. Parker. Being an engineer myself, I was automatically drawn to The Engineer series, which then put me on to The Fencer series. Haven't read his/hers latest stuff.

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  18. It's an interesting discussion, and I have to admit I've always assumed 'female' when coming across authors who hide behind the androgyny of initials.

    Having said that, I honestly don't think the question of an author's gender has ever swayed my decision to read a book. Yeah, looking at my shelves, there are probably more male authors there than female authors, but that's less a conscious choice and more a matter of odds - there just seem to be more male authors being published, especially in the SF/Fantasy genre.

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  19. You seem to come to some interesting conclusions based on limited research in your article about not coming to 'dangerous' conclusions based on limited research. You're proposing that more men, who apparently prefer SF and fantasy, should read more UF and YA, and woman, who apparently prefer UF and YA should read more SF and fantasy, so as to create more of a gender balance in reviews.

    Wouldn't it make more sense for bloggers to read more books by men/women in their preferred subgenres? Yes, branching out is great, but if you're not keen on a particular subgenre, why should you force yourself to read it simply to review a book by an author of the opposite gender of what you like and normally review? Ie, if you like hard sf, and review mostly men, why not find some books by women who write hard sf? If you like epic fantasy and read mostly men, find some by women. If you read a lot of UF by women, find some by men. There are lots. And as for the idea that YA is being written mostly by women... you need to look at more YA bookshelves. Or maybe reviewers need to review more male authors in the YA field.

    I did my own site's states last year and found I'm just a little overbalanced on male reviews (by the way, I review mostly fantasy and SF, with some YA and the rare UF, so apparently I don't fit your gender stereotype when it comes to reading preferences).
    http://scififanletter.blogspot.ca/2011/04/on-book-reviews.html

    Ultimately, I believe in expanding your reading boundaries, by finding books outside your comfort zone that appeal to you. I also believe in reading what you love. There's too little time to do otherwise. And I think these discussions are good for making readers and reviewers examine their reading habits and - if they choose - make changes.

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    1. Hi Jessica,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Much of what you say is pretty much what I was alluding to in some regard, but maybe didn't come across that well. I think branching out is healthy, but solely in the sense of sampling to see if it's a genre/subgenre that might interest a particular person. I really don't believe in conscious efforts to read books by X sex, but I think there's room for some reviewers to do that kind of dynamic. But it was more of an invitation for new reviewers, than changing the pattern of current reviewers. And if current reviewers feel there's a slight somewhere in a particular subgenre, that they focus their energies in the right direction.

      For example, if a female reviewer feels there's an imbalance of gender in epic fantasy, then the best thing she can do is simply review more books of that subgenre rather than complain about how male reviewers aren't paying attention to female authors. Not saying that she should review female authors to make up for it, but I think a female reviewer's voice adds different perspectives, and I think ultimately will start altering the industry, if it occurs in a large enough scale. But there's always a first step. I mean, I can't exhort fellow male reviewers to pay more attention to UF, simply because I know many of them won't care for the subgenre, but I can review more UF so that's what I do.

      That said, since I posted this I've been rewarded with plenty of links to female ran blogs that focus on epic fantasy and scifi, so at the very least I've gained that much, but certainly hope to see more of them around.

      But it's curious no? That seemingly there's a tendency to review male authors in fantasy and SF regardless of the reviewers' sex?

      That said, I don't think that pleading to male reviewers to diversify their reading by branching out into other subgenres is going to do anything about the imbalance found in SFF (non-UF).

      I'm very glad that when you wrote that post you linked to you broke down the sexes by the subgenres, I think that's an important distinction to make. I don't think it's fair, for example, when one reviewer has reviewed 80% female authors, then complain about female authors imbalance in epic/scifi, then find out that she's barely done any reviews in those specific subgenres.

      There are different issues to tackle, diversity in reading genre habits, and trying to fix gender imbalance in a specific subgenre.

      In all, I was interested in putting thoughts in the air, and asking questions.

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  20. These posts are good for creating discussion. And I've also found a few new blogs to follow from the comments here. So thanks for that.

    I think looking at subgenres you review is as instructive as looking at genders. I'm surprised by how many of the urban fantasy novels I read were by men, considering the fact that there is a greater proportion of female written UF out there.

    I'm definitely going to have to read more SF by women though (and men, since I don't read nearly as much of it as I'd like to). Here again, tastes change over time. I used to read only fantasy with some SF when I pushed myself. Now I'm catching up on all the SF I missed over the years - which is a LOT - and going to the pulp classics. I have to remember that there were pulps written by women, and to look those up as well.

    I didn't know Mazarkis Williams was a pseudonym either and I not only reviewed The Emperor's Knife but did a spotlight on the author. I just assumed, based on the name, that the author was male.

    I remember learning that Rob Thurman was a woman, when I contacted her for an interview after reading a few of her books. I was shocked - and impressed that she'd written such convincing male characters (and I don't mean that as a slight that women can't write good male characters, I was writing at the time and always felt that I needed a guy to vet my work to make sure the men felt like men, and so was highly impressed by her skill in that regard). I also remember questioning what it meant that my impression of the book... altered when I found out the author was a woman (because I was so impressed by how realistically she'd written the men), which of course made me question why I found that so impressive...

    I'd like to think it doesn't matter what gender the author is - and often I feel it doesn't (when you're reading it at least). Our society is so structured around gender though, that I think we use the gender of the author to make conclusions about the writing, even after the fact if we discover we were wrong about the gender.

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