What the Ladies of SF/F Want to See in 2017

Monthly Edition: 
As the end of the publishing year comes and goes, we have plenty of fond books to look back on. Becky Chambers wowed readers with The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Harper Voyager, Jul.), which received a Five Star Gold review, and Rachel Neumeier's The Mountain of Kept Memory (Saga, Nov.) swept up an RT Top Pick. Science Fiction and Fantasy writers are always breathing fresh air into the genre, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for readers in 2017. 
 
We caught up with a few of our favorite SF/F authors and got the scoop on what they hope for the genre in the future. 
 

Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Do you believe the SF/F genres as a whole are receptive to diversity? Is there change or is there pushback?
SF/F is, at its core, a genre about celebrating different possibilities. So yes, I believe as a whole, it is receptive, though pushback to any sort of social change is inevitable. We all bring our own cultural imprinting and biases to the table, and those are gruelingly hard to shake. But SF/F has always ultimately been about challenging the status quo. To say that our futures and fantasies only belong to one narrow slice of humanity (and you can slice that however you like) shows a lack of imagination and compassion — qualities that the stories within our genre so often champion. I personally don't understand how you could love SF/F and not see beauty in difference. To me, those things are inextricable from one another.
 
How do you push boundaries with your own work?
I write largely about aliens, so pushing boundaries rather comes with the territory. I usually start with biology. How does this species differ from us? How do they move? What do they eat? How do they reproduce? From there, I expand upon how those traits would affect things we so often take for granted: what's right, what's wrong, what a home is, what a family is. I'm not always comfortable with the answers I come up with, but that's the point. I want my work to challenge my — and by proxy, the reader's — assumptions about How Things Must Be.
 

Rachel Neumeier, The Mountain of Kept Memory

Moving forward, what do you most want to see for the SF/F genres in 2017?
What I would most like to see — but won't — is the death of the idea that younger readers, toward whom YA and MG are aimed, can only identify with protagonists who are their own age. Anyone who read and loved O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH knows it is just not true that kids are unable to identify with older protagonists, but you’d never guess this from modern MG and YA. 
 
How do you push boundaries with your own work? 
I'm mainly focused on writing an entertaining story! Often I write secondary world fantasy where many of the besetting sins of our modern world are simply absent — though sometimes replaced with some other equally troubling problem. 
In the future, there are several things I’d really like to do. I’d like to write something with an older female protagonist, for example; and I’d like to write something with an overweight female protagonist who does not hate herself or her body and is still overweight at the end of the book. I’m sure I’ll collect other “future intentions” as I go on!
 

KB Wagers, After the Crown

Moving forward, what do you most want to see for the SF/F genres in 2017?
I want to see more of everything. More stories with heroines who don’t need to be saved. More POC characters who aren’t sidekicks or best friends or stereotypes. I want to see more diverse books written by those #ownvoices who’ve lived the narratives they’re telling.
 
How do you push boundaries with your own work?
I like to take stories that seem commonplace and turn them inside out. The returning princess who’s not an untested leader. The answer to a prophecy who doesn’t care if the universe lives or dies. For me personally, the boundary pushing and challenge comes from making sure that I’m doing justice to the stories I want to tell. That I’m making sure the inclusive characters I’m writing are done in a correct and respectful manner and that I own up to the mistakes I’m sure to make.
 

Elle Katharine White, Heartstone

Do you believe the SF/F genres as a whole are receptive to diversity? Is there change or is there pushback?
In an elemental sense, absolutely. I believe diversity is foundational to what attracts us to SF/F in the first place. Both genres are at their core about discovering the familiar in the midst of the strange and the strange in the midst of the familiar, about exploring what it looks like when our stories intersect with stories beyond us, and about celebrating the wonder we find there. To exclude diverse voices from that conversation is to lose something precious. 
 
Moving forward, what do you most want to see for the SF/F genres in 2017?
Generally? Badass women redefining badassedness. Tropes turned on their head. Genre blending and gender bending. Unhappily-ever-afters. New worlds that take my breath away. Heroes that make me cry and villains that make me laugh. Specifically? A seventy-five-year-old Chosen One who manages to save the world before Jeopardy. 
 

Laura Bickle, Nine of Stars

Do you believe the SF/F genres as a whole are receptive to diversity? Is there change or is there pushback?
SF/F genres are, at their best, all about asking “what if” questions. What if sentient sea beasts rose out of the ocean? What if we tried to colonize worlds light years away? What if ghosts were constantly whispering in our ears about what’s living in the basement?
 
Part of that is … what’s it like to experience events from a new perspective? For me, that’s at the core of diversity. Not only are there new worlds to be explored, but exploration from new points of view. SF/F has been very comfortable with the new worlds for a long time. Now, it’s time for new perspectives, and market demand shows us that readers also want new standpoints. Not all class M worlds are the same, cookie-cutter planets, and not all protagonists are interacting with those worlds from a common frame of reference.
 
Moving forward, what do you most want to see for the SF/F genres in 2017?
I most want to see things I haven’t seen before. Characters with complex motives, worlds with fresh points of view. I don’t want to read stories that I’ve read before, with predictable formulae and predictable characters. Give me something that I haven’t seen before, with an ending that I can’t foresee in the first three chapters.
 

Genevieve Cogman, The Burning Page

Moving forward, what do you most want to see for the SF/F genres in 2017?
We have advanced in the last twenty to thirty years. I want us to keep on advancing. Ideally I’d like a world where books aren’t written off as “women’s literature” or “men’s literature,” but where people just read what they like. I realise that this isn’t so much asking for a change in the genres as it is asking for a change in society. But we’ve moved a long way forward from the days when a woman’s place was clinging to a man’s ankle while falling out of her fur bikini. I’d like us to keep on going. 
 
How do you push boundaries with your own work?
I’m not sure that I consciously try to push my own boundaries. I do try to maintain a strong female-character presence in my work, and a range of nationalities and races — really, with an interdimensional library that recruits from alternate worlds and cultures, I have no excuse not to have a diverse cast! But sometimes I’m surprised by my own unconscious habits. On one occasion while partway through writing a specific novel, I counted up male characters and female characters, and found that the proportions were roughly two to one, in spite of my plans to have a fairly even gender balance. (I then did some rewriting.) 
 

Seanan McGuire, Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day

Do you believe the SF/F genres as a whole are receptive to diversity? Is there change or is there pushback?
This isn't an "either/or" question. We have always lived in the castle; we have always fought. Women and people of color and people of all genders and sexualities have been writing genre since the beginning. Some of us have managed to be quite successful, either while openly sharing our identities or while concealing them. Others have vanished for no apparent reason, despite the quality of their work being incredible. I think we want to be receptive to diversity, because we want to think of ourselves as the kind of people who don't judge — who live up to our heroes. But we couple that with certain groups getting most of the hype and most of the marketing and most of the attention, which transforms easily into "Only those groups have value," and then suddenly "Oh, I don't pay attention to the gender/race/sexuality of authors, I only pay attention to the work" is a viable justification for reading nothing but works by those groups. It's a problem. We have a long way to go.
 
Moving forward, what do you most want to see for the SF/F genres in 2017?
I want to see us breaking loose of some of the "should haves," and moving into the "could haves," which are huge and glorious and grand. I am excited about them.