Friday, December 19, 2014

This Shattered World Blog Tour + Giveaway
Author discussion: Gender in Science Fiction

This Shattered World blog tour is hosted by The Midnight Garden
Go HERE for the first stop on the tour (see below for the full schedule)

This Shattered World is book two in Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner's Starbound trilogy. Although the planet and narrators are different from These Broken Stars, the danger these characters are fighting against is only getting more strange and frightening. You're going to want to get to know Lee and Flynn, and see them get to know each other. 

Read my five point review of This Shattered World  

Even for a mild science-fiction reader like me, it's obvious that Amie and Meg have made a conscious effort to pull their main characters out of the "standard" sci-fi gender roles (thank goodness). But even more telling, are the quieter ways they've crafted their story to challenge our perspectives. I don't know if it's good or bad that I didn't realize how intentional they were, but it makes me incredibly thankful they've shared this post with us! 

Welcome to Love is not a triangle, Amie and Meg!

He Said/She Said: Gender in Science Fiction
by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Gender, feminism, equality, diversity—all charged words, especially in the current landscape of YA literature. For us, one of the best things about creating the far-future universe of the Starbound Trilogy was that we could decide what issues would still haunt humanity and what humanity would have moved beyond. Characteristics like race and sexual orientation, in the Starbound universe, are no longer excuses to discriminate, abuse, or divide people from one another. And the biggest one, for us, was gender.

It’s no secret that for a long time science fiction has been considered a boy’s game. Pulpy SF covers with busty green girls in silver bikinis hasn’t really helped matters, but when you consider the panoply of women in classic (and not-so-classic) fantasy wearing chainmail underwear and anatomically implausible breastplates, science fiction isn’t alone there. But with science fiction there’s an added level of “but girls don’t like science” that makes bringing science fiction out in the YA industry an uphill battle.

Both of us grew up reading classic science fiction, ranging from “soft” SF authors like Anne McCaffrey to the “harder” stuff like Asimov, Heinlein, and Bradbury. And it’s no accident that science fiction written by women is often labeled “soft” while that written by men isn’t. Stories driven by characters and philosophical morality are soft. Stories driven by plot and scientific abstracts are hard. (Don’t ask us why. We didn’t make the rules, we just like to break them.)

We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard comments like “this is pretty good… for girl’s sci-fi” or “science fiction by women isn’t real science fiction.”

But that’s another blog post.

For now, we’ll assume that you, dear reader, are among the enlightened who get that “science” doesn’t mean “boys only,” and talk instead about how science fiction (specifically, far-future science fiction) lets us create our universe our way.

In These Broken Stars, it’s easy to mistake Tarver’s initial disregard for Lilac as sexism, because so many of us in current society have been dismissed because of gender. But in TBS, that prejudice is all about her class, her pampered lifestyle, her family’s wealth. We were surprised to discover, after the book’s publication, that readers were surprised and tickled by Lilac’s electronics expertise because of her gender. It was meant to be a surprise based on her station in society, but the fact that electronics and engineering are careers dominated by men in our society meant that this characteristic subverted that expectation.

So in This Shattered World, we wanted to play with that even more. We could only take things so far in book one, with only two characters who have any significant “screen” time. In This Shattered World, though, we’ve got a planet populated by an entire cast of soldiers, rebels, and civilians. And while our pacifist rebel Flynn and warrior Jubilee required very little to make them gender trope benders, it’s the little pieces, the characters who show up for one line and never again, that paint the bigger picture. If your main characters are the only exceptions, then all you’ve done is create exceptional characters in a universe that is, despite them, still the same as your own.

To that end, every choice we made while drafting, we went over with a fine-toothed comb in revisions to make sure that the preconceptions we have due to our current society when it comes to things like race and gender weren’t influencing us subconsciously. And that involves a whole toolbox of techniques.

Gender Flipping

As author Jim C. Hines so vividly (and hilariously) demonstrated, sometimes characteristics and clichés we don’t even notice when attributed to a woman seem ridiculous on a man, and vice versa. There are things we’ve been trained to accept. So for some of our side characters, we’d try gender-flipping them as an experiment to see if we’d made character choices about them based on gender. With one of these experiments we realized we’d totally done that, and we ended up leaving said character a woman, because we liked “him” much better that way.

Inverting Tropes

A poet and an engineer. A pacifist and a warrior. Right or wrong, we attach gender to characteristics, professions, and hobbies. Male nannies used to get raised eyebrows, and sometimes still do. Female attorneys are constantly asked how they balance work and home. So in our books we try—whenever it works with the story—to invert these tropes. In This Shattered World, the heroine is the soldier and the hero is the diplomat. Our military base commander is a woman. The person in charge of teaching and caring for the children at the rebel base is a teenage boy.

Language Choices

Never have we more wished that English had gender-neutral pronouns that don’t imply inanimate objects. In the end, we had to bend the rules of grammar a little in This Shattered World to avoid the male default. It’s startling how often male-as-default comes up in our own society, but we don’t notice it because we don’t really have alternatives. Sure, we could say “him or her” every other sentence, but how awkward is that?

Take this example from This Shattered World:

“One of the techs must have had [the footage] on a local drive so they could keep working while evicted from the repository.”

In copy edits, “they” was changed to “he,” because “one of the techs” does imply singular. But we insisted on changing it back to the gender neutral “they,” because we just couldn’t stomach the idea of Jubilee, the POV character at the time, making the subconscious mental assumption that the computer tech in question would have been male. In our far-future society, that assumption just wouldn’t happen. There’d be no reason for it. And while that, in itself, is only one tiny sentence, it’s the way all the little tiny sentences add up that create the larger impression of the universe and the society. We were more than happy to sacrifice grammatical correctness to preserve our vision of that universe.


About Amie and Meg

Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner are longtime friends and sometime flatmates who have traveled the world (but not yet the galaxy), covering every continent between them. They are sure outer space is only a matter of time. Meagan, who is also the author of the Skylark trilogy, currently lives in Asheville, NC, while Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia. Although they currently live apart, they are united by their love of space opera, road trips, and second breakfasts.
Visit the These Broken Stars website for the latest news on the series and follow the authors on Twitter at @AmieKaufman and @MeaganSpooner.This Shattered World is available for pre-order (with fun swag!) and will be released in North America on December 23, 2014.


Follow the Blog Tour

Monday, December 8          The Midnight Garden    Secrets of Starbound: Characters   
Tuesday, December 9         The Book Smugglers    Making an Audiobook
Wednesday, December 10  Ivy Book Bindings        Secrets of Starbound: Science and Settings
Thursday, December 11       Cuddlebuggery             How Amie & Meagan Met
Friday, December 12            Little Book Owl             Video Interview
Monday, December 15         Mundie Moms               Shooting the Cover
Tuesday, December 16        Xpresso Reads             Starbound Inspirations
Wednesday, December 17   A Book Utopia               Video: Your New Book Boyfriend
Thursday, December 18       Supernatural Snark       Q & A
Friday, December 19            Love is Not a Triangle   Gender in Science Fiction



THANK YOU Disney-Hyperion for these amazing prizes!
Grand Prize:
— Autographed copies of These Broken Stars and This Shattered World
— Starbound swag
— A secret letter from Tarver to Lilac, which you may keep secret for yourself, or may be posted and shared with others (PLEASE SHARE IT WITH MEEEE!!!)
— Your choice of coffee with the authors at one of their upcoming U.S. tour stops (locations TBD) OR a Skype chat!
Runners up:
5 people will win hardback copies of This Shattered World
Open to US and Canadian residents aged 18 and up, or 13 and up with parental permission. See entry form for complete details. Good luck!

If the Rafflecopter form isn't showing up, go HERE.


  1. Christina R. in the rafflecopter

    I LOVE how their future society doesn't discriminate based on gender and sexual orientation and race!! It would be awesome to have that happen right now:)

    It's so interesting to see how edits made both authors adopt Jubilee's perception, to make sure today's stereotypes don't seep into Jubilee's everyday interaction. LOVE how they turned he back into one of the techs :)

    So much world building went into both books and I love how it stretched to culture and stereotypes as well.

    Lovely post :)

    1. I know! I didn't realize the small things like pronouns that the authors altered. Subtle things that we all do pretty unconsciously, unfortunately. It is so fun to see all the background work and intention they put into their story. It makes me appreciate it all more!

  2. Nooo today is the last stop! What a great post! I love how Amie and Meg do unexpected things with the characters, that's exactly why I loved TBS in the first place it was so unpredictable and the things you would never even consider happens! Love!!

    1. I can't believe it's over either! This has been a great tour. I guess we shouldn't be surprised by what Amie and Meg did with the characters. But we might not expect badass soldier Lee to be a girl or Flynn the pacifist to be a boy. There's even a funny scene where Lilac realizes Lee is a girl.

    2. Ahh, but if you visit the first tour post, you'll also see awesome animated quotes from the book on Monday--17 blogs in all! So you'll get a little bit more material to get you excited about its release on Tuesday. :)

      Lauren, thanks so much for being part of the tour!

      Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  3. Oh wow, that's so interesting about they "They' "to "He"! Crazy how many things you don't notice until you look into it.... I love this series so much and all the gender neutrality :)

    1. Yes! So much I didn't even think about when reading the book. I love seeing all the intentional details the authors put into their story.

  4. This is quite possibly my favourite post for the blog tour. Kuddos to both Amie and Meg for being so amazing and not only writing this amazing piece, but for tackling issues like discrimination head on through their books by showing that in the world they created, humanity has moved past the petty issues. Thanks for sharing Lauren!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, dear! I must admit, I didn't even realize all this from the authors until I read the post. I'm so happy they shared it with us.

  5. It is really interesting how Amie and Meagan took such care with the small (but also big) details like that tiny sentence. That kind of attention to detail is why their books come to life as you read, all of the small elements of the story adding up to create one amazing sci-fi world!
    Their concept of gender equality is also very different from most YA books today; usually YA books are about girls proving themselves to society, or they're trying to break free of unfair societal bindings. Similar stories told over and over again, and some of them are really great, but Amie and Meagan took a different approach, and I think that choice has added a lot to the "Starbound" books!

    1. YES to all of this. So much of those intentional details, I didn't even realize. They've crafted their world so naturally. And what a thoughtful point about YA today. Even the nature of this story structure is different in how it approaches gender. I love that these authors did this with not only their main characters, but the minor ones only mentioned in passing too. It's the entire world they've created. Thank you for your comment!

  6. I STILL have not gotten to the first one, but this discussion of gender in Sci-Fi really makes me want to start it. Also, Jubilee is a woman of color, yes diversity!

    1. You must read these ASAP! The story is so good. Plus the amazing world building and characters the authors created. I hope you love the series!

  7. I LOVED These Broken Stars (in fact, I reviewed it on my blog today) and part of that was the surprise subversive subtleties (like Lilac's engineering skills and passion for it). I'm so, so glad to hear that this was a deliberate, planned detail in their writing. Suffice to say, authors who think, communicate, and analyze these social issues (and affect change through their writing) as basically my favorites for life.

  8. Wishlist wishlist wishlist!!! I've read so many positives for this book. I really dislike the whole "don't send a woman to do a man's job" phrase, and vice versa. It's so great that gender equality is getting better as the years progress. I love diversity in characters that I'm reading about. Being awoman of color, I stress about equality and diversity in books, not just real life.

  9. I just have to say that I very much noticed the gender neutral pronouns and swapped roles and LOVED IT SO MUCH! As a woman in computer science where it is assumed that coders are guys, it was awesome to think about a future where that is no longer the case. As far as whether they should be used for one person, they'll have to accept it as a new grammar rule if we just keep using it ;-). What it comes down to is that we need a true gender neutral pronoun and the only way to get that is to make it and use it and not let anyone stop us :D

  10. I think the authors must have put so forethought into making the characters so dynamic and diverse!
    Mary G Loki

  11. As a woman engineer, I am ALL FOR Lilac's interest and skill with electronics and whatnot. Fabulous post, ladies!

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

  12. I love reading books where stereotypes are thrown out the window. i loved when Lilac showed what she could do and I know Jubilee won't be any different. I think it's important for authors, especially YA authors, to show young girls that they don't have to be put in a category, that they can do whatever they set their minds to. This was a great read and I hope everyone reads it!

  13. Aw, I love love love this blog tour post. <3 Sigh. Just so so awesome. Amie and Meagan are all kinds of awesome :) I just loved This Shattered World SO MUCH. <3 And I'm so happy that you did too Lauren :) Now I'm just waiting and waiting for book three, lol. <3 Thank you all so much for sharing this gorgeous post :)

  14. This post is so interesting to me! I love the part about changing the word and sacrificing grammar for gender neutrality. I saw one of these authors at the Girls Gone Sci Fi event in Asheville NC, which was an event that was very supportive of things like this. I checked the audiobook for the first book out this summer so I could give it a listen while I was moving - I ended up not making it very far into the book because I was ENJOYING it so much and I wanted to sit and pay attention to the book more than I was able to while I was packing and getting ready to move (I'm rereading a ton of those books from that time of 2014). Excited that I'll be able to go straight into the second book now that it's already published. (:

  15. I LOVE that they stuck with a gender neutral "they" instead of changing it to "he" because they were more dedicated to gender neutrality than grammatical correctness! Great choice!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  16. Another 'yes' for the gender neutral singular of 'they'. It was actually common to use 'they' as a singular until 1848 when it was basically decided that using 'he' if the gender was unknown would be the correct choice. Obviously this is problematic. I use 'they' whenever gender is unknown when I am writing, and I also use it in conversation, when I feel that gender is not relevant to the situation. Language evolution! Or revolution, in this case, as we roll back to an older accepted form.

    I'm really excited to read this series!

  17. The general treatment of women as equals here is so refreshing. Even Lilac in TBS wasn't a stereotype - she was a strong woman with strong opinions that fought to be taken seriously. What I love most here in TSW is the fact that Lee never has to sacrifice her more feminine qualities for the sake of being a soldier/badass. Anytime women are portrayed fairly (and the whole language of the thing gets equalled out) the playing field is evened - and that's always a good thing. And the diversity here is also wonderful - a woman of colour and an Irish guy? Thank you Meagan and Amie for not excluding those of European descent for the sake of a broader cultural scope. It's all here. Brilliant!

  18. I am surprised that in an essay about gender in sci-fi that there is no mention of Octavia Butler! She is a phenomenal writer and addresses not just gender, but race, class, and sexuality as well. You cannot have a discussion of "feminism" without thinking about those (and more). I do appreciate that the authors were very conscious of pronouns in This Shattered World though. Too often it is easy to assume a male voice.


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