Science fiction and fantasy have long been held to be predominantly male-dominated realms, in terms of fans and creative artists as well as storylines and protagonists. However, whereas Ursula K. Le Guin, Judith Merrill and Madeleine L’Engle were once lonely standard bearers of a female point of view, a host of women writers now compete for readers among the fans of sword, sorcery and science adventures. Over the past fifty years, as science fiction and fantasy moved into the mainstream of society, it has attracted a wider audience among both sexes. Pioneering women like Joanna Russ and Marion Zimmer Bradley would stake their careers on these genres long aimed at male readers. New generations of writers, including Octavia Butler, Jewelle Gomez and Gwyneth Jones, have charted new directions with stories centering on female protagonists. At the same time, mainstream authors like Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter and Ayn Rand have incorporated speculative themes into their writing. The stunning commercial success of Anne Rice and J.K. Rowling make it less likely that any future Mary Alice Norton (Andre Norton) or Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr.) will have to adopt a male penname simply to attract readers of the opposite sex.
As the title indicates, this new guide to speculative literature explores the roles that female characters play in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. However, the historic change from passive, supporting characters to leading protagonists owes much to the rise of women authors in these fields. Thus, this set also documents the growing contributions of women writers to science fiction and fantasy. The first volume is a selection of 29 thematically arranged essays. Many chronologically trace the use female characters in fantasy and science fiction from its roots in medieval Arthurian romance and gothic novels to the novels and short stories of the twentieth century. From comics and anime to television, film and video games, the use of graphic arts by speculative fiction also is examined. Other entries analyze the thematic connections of gender to age, race, class and sexual identity. Parallel developments in fandom and feminist criticism also are traced. These ideas are carried over to the second volume which provides 230 briefer entries on individual writers, genres, themes and national literatures. The works of more than 100 writers are profiled. That number includes examinations of female characters in the work of influential male writers like Isaac Asimov and J.R.R. Tolkien. Science fiction has been heavily indebted to devoted followings among publishers, editors, scholarly critics and fans. So the contributions of each of these groups are acknowledged here in entries on awards, presses, publications, conventions, and fan fiction. In addition to the usual themes of science and fantasy, issues of sex and gender receive particular attention. Likewise, from independent comics to the internet, the influence of visual media, particularly successful film and TV franchises, is examined in numerous entries. Each article provides additional sources of criticism for further research. Oddly, there is no attempt to provide a critical list of relevant creative works. In addition, the separate indexing of the two volumes weakens what is generally a strong research tool. Nonetheless, the set is highly recommended for academic libraries.