The TranzCon Series

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I’ve just finished reading Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. You know, the one that won the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the BSFA Award. More success than you can shake a stick at, but what an odd book.

Did I enjoy it? Well, to some extent.

Was it easy to read? Not really, some of it was hard work.

Will I remember it? Will it have a lasting impact on me? Yes and yes again.

The question is, which of those three considerations matters most? I’m sure many people would say it’s the enjoyment they get from reading a book. After all, people read fiction when they want to sit down and relax, as they’re settling down in bed, or perhaps while they’re on holiday somewhere. If you’ve got time to read and you don’t mind a bit of hard work, perhaps you should bull up on your knowledge of quantum physics or some other worthy subject.

The next question I ask myself is, why did it win so many awards? I don’t honestly know. It’s a good book in some ways, it presents a new way of looking at some aspects of gender, it’s a thought provoking book, but I’m surprised it’s been such a mega-successful award winner.

So what did I like about it? What do I think are it’s unique features that made it an award winner? Well, I’m still in two minds. Although (as a man) I’m quite prepared to read books with loads of action - shooting, bombing, blowing things up, people dying by the thousand. That sort of thing that makes a good blockbuster movie, but it isn’t what I want to read all the time. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the best stories are more subtle. And many of them are written by women.

One of the best sci-fi novels I ever read is “Life after Life” by Kate Atkinson and it isn’t even listed as being sci-fi. Perhaps if it had been it wouldn’t have upset Ms Atkinson’s regular readers who were gobsmacked to find their favourite author had moved so far from her usual subject matter. For myself, as a regular sci-fi reader, it gets at least five stars (and it didn’t have a single mega-death battle in it).

Other works I’ve read by female authors have been just as good. Unfortunately women don’t feature in “regular” sci-fi as much as they used to at one time and seem to have moved in the direction of fantasy (which isn’t my chosen genre).

So maybe the sci-fi world was looking for a new heroine to pick up the fallen banner. I know it sounds sexist to say this, but if Ancillary Justice had been written by a man (just another man) it would still be sitting in a slush pile somewhere.

Let’s try to put that in more positive terms. Women don’t write in the same way as men. They put different values on so many aspects of life. So in a genre dominated by male writers, anything written with a female slant is likely to stand out from the crowd. It’s an award winner just for daring to be different.

Why am I so interested? Well, so many of the beta readers for TranzCon (the forerunner of Female 22,) were women, and on average they enjoyed the book more than the men who read it. I’d go so far as to say that, despite being a mere male-freak, I wrote a story that was “women’s sci-fi”.

So where did I go wrong? Perhaps I might have had more success if I’d done the reverse of what so many female writers have done over the years and chosen a pen-name that indicated, or at least implied, I was a woman.