The 2012 SF Count
By Niall Harrison
22 April 2013
VIDA started it. In 2010, they published the first iteration of "The Count", a straightforward analysis of how literary coverage is affected by gender. For a range of notable publications, VIDA calculated the proportion of books reviewed that were by women, and the proportion of reviewers that were women, and published pie charts illustrating their findings. They published similar analyses for 2011 and, most recently, for 2012. Each year, a consistent imbalance has been observed: more books by men are reviewed, and more book reviewers are men.
Following VIDA's lead, for the past two years Strange Horizons has published "SF counts", looking at the same parameters as VIDA for speculative fiction review venues. The SF count for 2010 is here, and for 2011 is here. In addition, the writers at Ladybusiness have carried out related counts for coverage in SF blogs in 2011 and 2012.
This article presents the results of the SF count for 2012.
We surveyed reviews coverage in 14 speculative fiction magazines and journals published in the US and the UK: Analog; Asimov's; Cascadia Subduction Zone; F&SF; Foundation; Interzone; Locus; The New York Review of Science Fiction; The SF Site; Science Fiction Studies; SFX; Strange Horizons; Tor.com; and Vector.
For the reviews count, we tallied the number of reviews of prose books (novels, short stories, and related non-fiction) authored or edited by women and by men published in each venue in 2012. For books with co-authors, the gender attribution was fractioned as appropriate. We did not track coverage in non-review formats (e.g. essays, interviews).
For the reviewers' count, we tallied the number of individuals who published at least one review in each venue in 2012. We did not track numbers for individual reviewers across different venues.
Both of these counts have obvious limitations. In particular, they take no account of pseudonyms, and reduce a spectrum of gender identities to 'women' or 'men'.
In addition, we conducted a count of Locus 'books received' columns for January, April, July and October 2012. This count has a number of additional limitations, discussed below, but provides one form of context for the results of the main count.
In all charts, women are in blue and men are in red.
Figures 1 to 3 show the author gender breakdown of 1326 books received by Locus in January, April, July and October 2012. The gender breakdowns for each month were broadly similar, so it is assumed that these four months are representative of the year as a whole.
However, these data have some limitations as a proxy for the gender balance of the SF field as a whole or the pool of books from which reviews editors select. First, the Locus listings include reprints and paperback editions of earlier novels, in addition to new (2012 books). Second, Locus does not see all SF books that are published; in particular, mainstream-published SF books may not be included in this dataset.
Some of the publications we have included in the main count are US- or UK-specific; others cover books published in both countries. We have therefore provided country gender breakdowns as well as the overall count.
The overall count includes 1326 books, of which 694 were by men, 605 were by women, 15 were attributed to mixed-gender partnerships, and 12 could not be attributed.
The US count includes 963 books, of which 489 were by men, 455 were by women, 12 were attributed to mixed-gender partnerships, and 7 could not be attributed.
The UK count includes 363 books, of which 205 were by men, 150 were by women, 3 were attributed to mixed-gender partnerships and 5 could not be attributed.
The 2012 SF Count
Table 1 lists the total number of reviews and total number of reviewers for each venue. Overall, 1250 reviews were included in the count. The venue publishing the most reviews was Locus (318 reviews); the venue publishing the fewest reviews was Foundation (17 reviews).
Figures 4 and 5 show the coverage of books by women, and the proportion of reviews written by women, respectively.
Table 1. Total number of reviews and reviewers for each venue, 2012.
|Venue||Reviews in 2012||Reviewers in 2012|
|Cascadia Subduction Zone||26||22|
|New York Review of Science Fiction||27||19|
|The SF Site||52||16|
|Science Fiction Studies||55||44|
Notes on the venues:
- Foundation, Interzone, SFX and Vector are venues focusing primarily on books published in the UK; Analog, Asimov's, Cascadia Subduction Zone, F&SF, and Science Fiction Studies focus primarily on books published in the US.
- Analog and Asimov's have all-male reviewing staffs; they also have the smallest reviewing staffs of any of the venues surveyed, with one and three regular reviewers, respectively. The venues with the largest reviewing staffs were Strange Horizons (50 reviewers), Science Fiction Studies (44 reviewers) and Vector (34 reviewers).
- Cascadia Subduction Zone is a semiprozine with a specific mission statement: "to treat work by women as vital and central rather than marginal."
- The topline Locus figure obscures a disparity within the magazine. Carolyn Cushman's column typically includes 8-10 short (single paragraph) reviews per issue, 88% of which are of books by women. Other columnists typically tackle 3-5 books at greater length (3+ paragraphs); 35.8% of these longer reviews are of books by women.
Gender and genre
This year, in addition to the overall gender count of Locus books received, we attempted to count genre as well. Table 2 lists the overall number of SF, fantasy, mixed-genre and unknown-genre books in the US, UK, and combined totals. Figures 6 and 7 show the gender proportions of each category.
In addition to the general limitations of the Locus data, a further health warning must be imposed here. Coding of genre is highly subjective at the best of times; coding of genre on the basis of short blurbs, as has been done here, must be regarded as tentative.
It has become a commonplace to observe that the UK market is not friendly to science fiction written by women: see, for instance, much of the reaction to the all-male shortlist for this year's Arthur C. Clarke Award, for the best science fiction novel published in the UK. This count supports this contention: fewer than 1 in 3 of the UK science fiction novels received by Locus was by a woman. However, the count indicates a similar gender disparity in the US. What is different are the absolute numbers. In the four months counted, Locus recorded 30 science fiction novels published by a woman in the UK, compared to 69 in the US.
Table 2. Locus books received (January, April, July and October 2012) by genre for the US, UK, and combined data.
As in previous years, in the majority of the SF review venues surveyed, disproportionately few books by women were reviewed, and disproportionately few reviews by women were published.
Thanks to Liz Batty and Martin Lewis for assistance with this year's count.