Talking of online kerfuffles here is another example, albeit of rather less significance than the one discussed earlier. British sci-fi writer Rod Rees, author of the popular if sometimes derivative Demi-Monde series of novels, has penned an article for the publisher Joe Fletcher Books pondering aloud if male writers can create authentic female characters. To me it is a somewhat odd question in the first place. The gender of a character should be irrelevant to an author’s ability to imagine that fictional person in the first place. Either you can or you can’t. Great writers write great characters. Where most authors fail is in the area of cultural-specific characterization where it is easier to indulge national and racial stereotypes (out of ignorance, intellectual laziness or knowing bias). For centuries most British fiction writers couldn’t create a realistic Irish character, male or female, if their life depended on it. Nor indeed did their audiences want one.
Rees’ controversial conclusions have drawn the ire of several notable authors including (a somewhat irate) Tricia Sullivan and (an equally angry) Foz Meadows, as reported by reviewer Liz Bourke. The original piece and the rebuttals are well worth reading as the world of Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature finds itself of late questioning the inherent and observable male bias of the respective fields. It’s not the first time that we’ve seen such soul-searching in the SF and Fantasy community but the growth of female fandom over the last decade (especially given the genre-busting popularity of literary and media phenomena like Harry Potter, the Game of Thrones and Doctor Who) is making it harder to ignore.