Readers Feedback and Forum

Dear Jeremy
I read with interest your editorial in No 12 and the discussion in it about gender issues. I'd like to make a few comments, if I may, because I have the unusual perspective of being: a woman writer of SF/F, with a trilogy presently accepted and in preparation for publication by Pan MacMillan Australia; one of the female writers you've nearly published, then turned down; a well-published writer in many fields; an ex-editor; and an ex-Equal Employment Opportunity professional, with a thorough understanding of gender issues.

Credibility established? Then I'll just add that I'm the most happily married person I know, so that no one can justifiably accuse me of being a man-hater - yes, it's happened so often in the past that I feel I have to state this up front.

I have several points to raise:

1. I'm not surprised that your magazine, high quality though it is, has a fairly low percentage of female writers included. Truly, my friends, like Aurealis, Eidolon reeks of male dominance and tastes. (We won't get into a discussion as to whether these are gender intrinsic or due to socialisation, but they're very visible in your publication, believe me.) Some of the features of a purely masculine focus are that the stories have a harsh edge and do not have strong people and relationships in focus. Whatever science does or becomes, it will still be created and used mainly by people. The people in your stories are not tenderly depicted. And why is there no romance in science fiction? Good heavens, pair-bonding is the basis of society and yet it's mainly ignored in SF, or is included only as a two-dimensional background effect. I'm not suggesting you follow the Mills and Boon track, though not all their books are of poor quality, but I do believe that you at Eidolon demonstrate a certain imbalance if you're meant to be reflecting future possibilities. Given the delights of sex and pair-bonding, I can't see them as going out of fashion, but I rarely see them focussed on in SF. And is there something wrong with a happy ending, for goodness' sake, or an optimistic theme?

2. Who accepts that "on the whole, the fiction written by men and women cannot be distinguished by content alone"? I don't agree at all with that statement! I was an English lecturer or teacher for two decades, and I currently read three to five novels per week, as well as writing novels. I can tell, in about 90% of cases, without looking at the author's name, whether a novel is written by a man or a woman. And if you look at the most popular and lucrative fiction market - romance writing - you will see that a lot of women feel like this and have voted with their feet by opting out of male-dominated literature and creating their own genre, which now takes the largest slice of the world publishing cake by far.

I actually dithered for a while as to whether to take out a subscription to Eidolon and Aurealis for the very reason that they're both so visibly male. In the end, I decided to regard it as 'homework' and to study why I can't get my feminine SF/F short stories in through your doorways when I'm getting paid $500-750 for other short stories, and then selling them a second time abroad. In fact, all my non SF/F short stories have sold - though I've yet to sell on SF/F story - and one of my novels won a $10,000 prize. I can't be that bad a writer, surely?

3. You say that few women seem to write 'hard-SF' and I get the impression that you regard that as a fault in those women. Maybe, just maybe, hard SF is not the only way to go! Maybe soft SF, dealing with people against a future/SF background, is equally worthwhile?

4. I'm utterly sure that you take great care to avoid bias. The letters of rejection to me from your group have been kind and thoughtful. I've come to the conclusion generally that men don't (or perhaps can't) value the female-filtered viewpoint and literary products. I sometimes think we're two alien species trapped in similar bodies - is there a tale there?

One of the reasons I stopped working in the EO area is pertinent to this discussion. Apart from the fact that it nearly killed me to be the focus of so much undeserved hostility from the outright bigots (male and female), I was working with many nice men, who tried hard to be gender-neutral in their dealings, and yet who demonstrated bias at every step. I couldn't see any way to change this gently - and I certainly tried - and I liked them too much as individuals to want to attack them. I've come to believe that one basic reason is that male-filtered value judgments are so deeply ingrained that men can't value equally the differences in women. Consequently, most women who 'get on' are those who have learned to put on male-filter spectacles, behave in a mock-masculine way, and to use or write male-speak.

I also found that if I worked in EO only with females, I too became biased towards men, however hard I tried. I did best when my subordinate was a male because, working as a team, we could get that gender balance. I was shocked sometimes at my own bias, when it was pointed out to me, so I'm not accusing you editors at Eidolon of something I don't understand. I think that the only way you can eliminate male bias at this stage in our society's development is by having mixed male/female management (or in your case editorial) teams.

Sorry, but a "conscious recognition of the need to avoid bias" isn't enough. You ought to have at least one female editor working with you if you really want to avoid bias, and not a female who speaks with a male 'voice', either! You just can't see your own bias clearly. No one can.

5. You may or may not be receiving "higher-quality submissions from men than . . . from women" - how can I judge without seeing them? - but I'm certain you're right in one thing and that many women are not considering submitting their best work to you, simply because they grow tired of banging their heads against a brick wall. I'm thinking seriously of stopping writing SF/F short stories, because I now earn my living by writing and I doubt the mainly-male Australian SF/F editorial world will change. Maybe when my fantasy trilogy is a brilliant best-seller . . . Maybe. I continue to allow myself some eclectic dreams.

6. Affirmative action doesn't necessarily mean allowing inferior material or people through - it means changing the way things are viewed and taking a more serious look at selection techniques and the male values which still predominate in our society. You don't have to lower standards, just get more balance into your selection procedures and then see what comes out. I've sat as the only woman on several high-level committees and have made 'original' input which has set the men back on their heels and changed their viewpoint/behaviour - without lowering standards. I've had my own viewpoint similarly changed by male colleagues.

Oh dear, I'd better stop. I have gone on at length, haven't I? I do hope you don't see me as some man-hating harridan haranguing you unjustifiably. I feel very deeply about gender bias, having encountered it throughout my life and having at one time earned my living by understanding it. I hope this letter has provoked a few thoughts. I felt you and your colleagues were important enough for me to devote and hour to writing to you. If you and your fellow editorial committee members would like to discuss the subject with me in more depth, either before or after your peregrinations, I'd be happy to meet you and talk it through.

In the meantime, I leave you with Van Ikin's summary comment on my fantasy novel, hopefully to show that I am a good writer and know what I'm talking about, and that I have something special and feminine to share with the world.

"This is a wonderful novel! It's an absolutely engrossing story, tightly plotted and full of characters so strong that you really care about them (or loathe them!) And although it's a story about dark, dark deeds, it's wonderfully lyrical and positive and uplifting . . . Tell Sherry-Anne Jacobs she had me in the palm of her hand." Van Ikin

Happy Editing!

Sherry-Anne Jacobs
(writing SF/F as Shannah Jay)
Lathlain, WA.

Jon's editorial (page 5) explores the gender-breakdown issue a little further, and it's not something we're particularly keen to pursue at length in the letters column. We'd go a long way to balance our male/female publication ratio; it's just a matter of how far. We do this for love, not money. Nobody's paying us (our sales cover printing costs, not our costs) and it's unlikely we'd be able to find anyone, man or woman, who's prepared to spend the several hundred hours per issue for no remuneration whatsoever just to introduce a feminine angle into the selection criteria for stories. And you should remember, Sherry-Anne, we're talking about "Science Fiction" here (although of the 56 pieces of fiction we've published in three years, there've been at least six stories with a romance/ human-relationships theme, another dozen or so with morality, politics or social comment as their raison detre and a further twenty which are either fantasy, horror/ghost stories, surrealist mainstream or otherwise non-SF), and SF is generally regarded as a literature of ideas. We pay no attention whatsoever to apparent gender, cultural background, publication history or entreaties from our contributors. We apply the simple rule of publishing what we consider to be good, and we cannot really do otherwise. Art and literature, beyond simple correctness, must comes down to personal opinion after all. To quote Jesus Jones's Mike Edwards:

Who to believe and who to trust?
Well it might as well be you,
'Cause it seems that no one else
has got a clue.

Dear J, J & R
Ah, I get it: a child-abuse issue, with Pam Jeffery and Robert Hood contributing in particular, and Duncan Evans more or less. An intentional thread? I didn't think so.

Duncan Evans is, in my opinion, the shining newcomer of the moment. "The Castellan's Niece" is the best vampire/fantasy story I've ever read. Honest. Christ, I wish I could write as well as he does. How he compacts so much imagery into so few words is beyond me.

Misha Kumashov's "Heart of Clay" was almost as good - as powerful, more emotionally draining, but neither as florid nor as economical in style. And Pam Jeffery's "Suffer The Little Children" was well-written - almost painfully so.

Lots of emotion in these three stories. Veritable bucket-loads. Interesting to note that they aren't sf, but horror and fantasy. . .

On the sf side, I thought Robert Hood's "Mamandis Dreaming" to be interesting, but not quite there; maybe it was the aboriginal magic and legends which he incorporated in the tale. (I've researched and, to a certain extent, experienced tribal aboriginality, and thought that the story somehow missed the point . . . I'm not sure where. But I get the feeling RH plucked the legends from a book and transplanted them into a story without feeling them. (With so many tribal traditions extant even today, however, it's hard to know all of them, so maybe it's just me who's at fault.)) Anyway, I found it to be a bit cut-and-dried, strangely shallow, but interesting nonetheless.

Only one story left me flat, that being Dave Luckett's "Jupiter Tonnens". It wasn't bad, just not as good. It lacked that vital spark, the virtual joy, of the others.

The artwork was, as always, outstanding - but all of it paled in comparison to Shaun's illustration for "Heart of Clay". I was expecting great things from Shaun, after "White Christmas", but was totally flabbergasted when I reached it. Words cannot do it justice . . . so I'll just give up. (And I can't wait to see "Reunion".)

The non-fiction was interesting, of course. What else? Good to see Robin bursting forth again (as is his inimitable wont). Can't help but wonder what there could be left for Sean to talk about, regarding Oz sf. The interview with Terry Dowling was extraordinarily punctuated; is this really the way Terry talks, or was this interview conducted like Greg Egan's, last issue?

So, another fine issue, overall and in detail. The only quibble I have is that you published my letter unedited. Next time I'll be sure to write DO NOT PRINT THIS BIT YOU BASTARDS, just to make sure.

And the last letter in the letters column came as a terrible, terrible shock. You see, I was born in Whyalla (where Stephen Stanley comes from) and all my relatives on the maternal side of my family live on that side of SA; so I've driven through Port Germein literally hundreds of times, and even stayed there on the odd occasion . . . Just for the record, I did check the spelling in the back of my telephone directory, then saved it into my spelling-checker incorrectly anyway. Oh well. Many a slip 'twixt cup and lip . . . Rest assured, I will correct it for Aboriginal SF.

Lastly, great to see that Shane [Dix] and I will be appearing together in another issue of Eidolon, the last before your well-deserved sabbatical. And - God! - the latter part of this year is going to be a drag without either Eidolon or Aurealis coming until Summer.

All the best,

Sean Williams
Cowandilla, SA.

Wow Sean: the "Child Abuse Issue"! Wish we'd thought of that - the Fantasy Special pales by comparison. About the interview; it was conducted by mail (as was Sean McMullen's in this issue), but yes, that is the way Terry talks. And what do you mean "unedited" Sean? I omitted the section where you discussed your intention to take the Australian SF scene by storm with the simultaneous release of your seven-part Hard-SF epic with accompanying CD-soundtrack and computer-game tie-in. Seriously though, we're more than pleased to provide whatever coverage we can of the successes and development of Australian genre authors. Let us (and/or Steve Paulsen at Australian SF Writers' News) know, and we'll let our readers know. There's no room for modesty in this game!

Dear Jeremy
I've just had time to browse through issue 12 and absorb the impressively varied gallery of quality artwork, all well-presented. Good to see some feedback on illustrations (the letters are one of the first bits I read). As for Chris Lawson's comment that my double-helix crucifix was "a work of graphic genius" - gosh, at the time I just thought it was a nifty idea. And I was on the verge of abandoning my first attempt at "White Christmas" before deciding after some hesitation to try to resuscitate it. Well, it's good to know all the technical headaches, attention to detail and research into what DNA strands and fleas look like pays off. Undoubtedly, the interest and status given to illustration in Eidolon seems to be returned in the general level of artwork produced. Perhaps this is the reason many pieces in major US publications are, as Chris Lawson mentions, uninspiring. My impression at the [Illustrators of the Future] workshop last year was that a lot of illustrations in professional US mags are largely treated as cosmetic, subsidiary components to stories rather than a complimentary work of art: not exactly conditions for aspiring to heights of artistic greatness. Clearly Eidolon is moving in the opposite direction thanks to a healthy respect and appreciation for illustrations as independent artworks.

Keep up the good work,

Shaun Tan
Hillarys, WA.

We do care about art in Eidolon - but probably don't do it justice. We'd love to be publishing story layouts like Omni's, and featuring lush internals in the style of the Aboriginal SF of old, but budget and format prohibit such extravagance (many of you will no doubt recall Issue Six's little problems). Our reproduction methods aren't the best; and we're restricted to manual paste-ups when dealing with screened artwork, but we try. Of course, without our artists we'd be lost.

Interzone (April, 1993) said of the magazine: "Very well presented, with terrific, even elegant, artwork . . ."

Dear Idle Ons
Swanning around the US and Europe indeed! That unanswered mail pile is going to be Everest-like by the time you get back; perhaps you could send me instead?

Seriously though: a matter from [Issue 12] needs replying to.

In his article on Australian SF Small Presses, Sean [McMullen] talked about Aphelion "having no Literature Board grants". This is quite true - but not (as some might have concluded) because (a) grants are no longer available, or (b) the Literature Board has chosen to spurn Aphelion. In fact Marion and I, from the outset of book publication, took the decision not to apply for Literature Board or any other kind of assistance. We were determined that Aphelion would stand or fall on its own resources, and that writers we published would be published because they warranted it, and not because they were being subsidised. (We intend retreating slightly from this position with the big anthology for '94, by applying for a Royalties Grant - many reasons, but mainly because it's a "once only" project in which we're involving as many writers as feasible and giving a wide as possible viewing window of Oz SF (and that needs a lot of up-front money) - but otherwise we will continue to "go it alone". (And, of course, we might not get the money anyway.))

Peter McNamara

(Aphelion Publications)

What was that about the mail, Peter? Send it to you instead? What a good idea!

Our philosophical outlooks on grants are obviously different, but then we're in different fields. As you'd no doubt agree, magazines are harder to sell than books, and I think we've proved our authors "warrant it" by being able to exist unsubsidised for three years. For us, it's more that we feel they deserve payment for their work, rather than that we need subsidisation to publish them. Nevertheless, Aphelion Publications deserves support and commendation for its philosophy.

Dear Editors
[Re] Leigh Edmond's article in Issue 12 "Science, Technology & the Five Bikers of the Apocalypse". It is to your credit you publish pieces like this, even though I found much of the reasoning flawed and felt that the whole thing smacked of the "repent and be saved" philosophy. But it gets people thinking!

Incidentally, while on the subject of Issue 12, may I add that "The Castellan's Niece" by Duncan Evans was the best piece of fiction I've read in the four issues that I have of Eidolon. It was beautifully written, mood-altering material. More like that, please.

Yours faithfully,

Cathi Humphrey-Hood
Toukley, NSW.

Hear that Duncan? More like that, please.

Dear Richard, Jonathan, Jeremy
Concerning Issue #12:

I haven't been able to get into any of the fiction as yet, so I can't comment on that - but Eidolon has a long life at my place and I still browse my first issue (#7 I think) quite regularly. The dose of non-fiction in Issue 12, however, was generous and much appreciated.

There are bananas here on the Queensland coast, or so I'm led to believe, but very few specialist bookshops. Without Eidolon and Aurealis reviews, we would not even hear rumour of Australian novels or authors, unless a major house has picked them up. [Martin Livings'] colourful review of The Vicar of Morbing Vyle has left me very tempted - and I'm not a horror reader. (At least I think it's a horror novel.)

I do have a copy of The Sea's Furthest End - my biggest quibble with that being that I would have used italics where they've used capitals, [as well as] plain text rather than bold and italics rather than plain text in the hyperdream . . . But personally I think Damien Broderick has captured the mood of each stream quite well with the choice of style, though it seems a little odd when the "real-time" and "flash-back" streams appear to be happening simultaneously in a different tense. I disagree with Michael Tolley that each stream is directed toward a different age-group. Perhaps the publisher was wrong in suggesting that the novel was aimed at both adult and teenage readers, as this implies there is some distinction between two. I was reading mainstream [SF] at thirteen, and I think writers underestimate their market if they feel the need to "write down" to the older teens when it comes to SF. However I do agree that it was a quick, compulsive read - somewhere between six and eight hours for the average insomniac writer on a break.

[I] enjoyed Sean McMullen's contribution (and am eagerly awaiting his novel) and can only agree with what he has to say. Those of us "out here" can only applaud those "in there" that are willing to put such time and effort into SF small presses that operate in the difficult Australian economic climate. This is on top of their "real" jobs - and yet they find time to publish and cultivate new talent. As a writer I have always received detailed and constructive criticism of work from Eidolon, Aurealis and Aphelion, even though they are bogged down amongst the deluge. I've received two- and three-page responses from mere enquiry letters, and I think this shows the dedication of the small press editors who are willing to put in the time for completely unknown writers. We can only hope that there is some light at the end of the tunnel and that healthy returns will be forthcoming.

Enjoyed the Dowling interview (which was courtesy of Jonathan if I read between the lines correctly) yet I found it almost as difficult to read as some of Terry's fiction. I have always hoped we might see more of Wormwood, and was a little disappointed that the readership tended toward the Rynosseros tales. The world of Wormwood is perhaps the most mundane and yet terrifying vision of the future that I've seen in years, but what it really needs is a novel-length plot to carry the full "reality" that I know is locked inside Terry's head somewhere.

As for Robin Penn (which, I'm assured, is his real name) . . . I thought there was a distinct lack of B-grade flicks from his list. What about James Cameron's second-unit work in Universe of Terror (the un-cut version), or Prisoners of the Lost Universe (which worked quite okay as a comedy), or Invasion Earth (with 53% new footage - all inside the cinema). Actually I think all three were comedies, and at least one was deliberate.

Tim Fairchild
Kuttabul, QLD.

Well Tim, healthly would be nice, but we'd settle for any return, and I can truthfully assure you that Robin's surname is spelled with a single "n" (although we do print his first name sans the second and third "b"s). Thanks for the feedback.

Originally appeared pp. 91-95, Eidolon 13, July 1993.
Copyright © 1993 Eidolon Publications. Individual contributions are copyright to the respective authors.
Reprinted with kind permission of the authors.