The 2013 SF Count
By Niall Harrison
28 April 2014
Welcome to the fourth year of Strange Horizons' "SF count" of representation in reviewing. The idea behind the count is straightforward: for the last calendar year, for a range of SF review venues, to calculate the gender balance of books reviewed and of reviewers. The aim is to draw attention to imbalances in literary coverage.
As the title indicates, the proximate inspiration for this series is "The Count" by VIDA, which started in 2010 (the most recent VIDA count can be found here). Within SF, recent antecedents include the Broad Universe reviewing statistics calculated for 2000 and 2007, the Ladybusiness counts of coverage on SF blogs for 2011 and 2012, and, further back, Joanna Russ' counts as reported in How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983).
This article presents the results of the SF count for 2013. Previous counts are available for 2010, 2011, and 2012. In addition to gender, this year's count includes a first count of coverage by race.
We surveyed reviews in 18 speculative fiction magazines and journals published in the US and the UK: Analog, Asimov's, The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Extrapolation, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Foundation, Interzone, io9, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Locus, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Romantic Times, The SF Site, Science Fiction Studies, SFX, Strange Horizons, Tor.com, and Vector. Extrapolation, io9, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Romantic Times have been added to the 2013 count.
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 2013. For books with co-authors or co-editors, the gender attribution was fractionated 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 2013. We did not track numbers for individual reviewers across different venues.
The gender count has a number of obvious limitations. In particular, they take no account of pseudonyms, and only take account of public presentation of gender. Further, they reduce a spectrum of gender identities to "women" or "men". We not aware of anyone counted for this year's survey who publicly/professionally IDs as non-binary, but intend to add such a category when it becomes applicable. For this year, if anyone thinks it's likely we have overlooked or misgendered them, corrections are welcome.
Further caveats apply to the race count. As for the gender count, we tallied the number of reviewers and the number of reviewers; in this case, the categories were "white" and "person of color." These categories are also crude, and since race is hard to determine using only names and Google, it is likely that some authors or reviewers have been incorrectly allocated, for which we apologise.
In addition to the reviews and reviewer counts, we conducted a count of Locus "books received" columns for April, July, and October 2013. This count has a number of additional limitations, discussed below, but is the best proxy we are aware of for the number of books actually published, and provides at least one form of context for the results of the main counts.
In all charts, women are in blue and men are in red; white people are in green, and people of color are in purple.
Figures 1 to 4 show the author gender and race breakdown of 926 books received by Locus in April, July, and October 2013. The gender breakdowns for each month were broadly similar, so it is assumed that these three 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, paperback editions and late-seen books in addition to new first edition 2013 books. Second, UK and US editions are counted separately, and may therefore be double-counted. Third, Locus does not see all English-language SF books that are published; in particular, mainstream-published SF books, or English-language SF from outside the US and UK, 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 for gender includes 926 books, of which 495 were counted as by men, 401 were as by women, 19 were attributed to mixed-gender partnerships, and 11 could not be attributed.
The US count for gender includes 678 books, of which 333 were counted as by men, 319 were as by women, 15 were attributed to mixed-gender partnerships, and 11 could not be attributed.
The UK count for gender includes 248 books, of which 162 were counted as by men, 82 were as by women, and 4 were attributed to mixed-gender partnerships.
The overall count for race includes 926 books, of which 24 were counted as by people of color, 886 were counted as by white people, and 16 could not be assigned. Of the books by people of color, 8 were recorded from the UK data and 16 from the US data; due to the respective country totals, this is actually a marginally higher percentage of UK books (3.2%) than US books (2.4%). Unlike in the case of gender, since racial demographics vary from country to country, and the pool of books published within a country draws on authors of many nationalities, it is unclear what the baseline "should" be; however, it should certainly be higher than this.
The 2013 SF Count
Table 1 lists the total number of reviews and total number of reviewers for each venue. In total, 1860 reviews were included in the count. The venue publishing the most reviews was Locus (334 reviews); the venue publishing the fewest was The Cascadia Subduction Zone (28 reviews).
Table 1. Total number of reviews and reviewers for each venue, 2013.
|Venue||Reviews in 2013||Reviewers in 2013|
|Cascadia Subduction Zone||28||21|
|Los Angeles Review of Books||51||41|
|The New York Review of Science Fiction||34||19|
|Science Fiction Studies||48||34|
Figures 5 and 6 show the coverage of books by gender, and the proportion of reviews counted as written by women, respectively.
Figures 7 and 8 show the coverage of books by race, and the proportion of reviews counted as written by people of color, respectively. A large disparity in coverage is evident. Unlike in the case of gender, percentage coverage of books authored or edited by people of color is slightly higher than the estimated baseline; bearing in mind the caveats about this baseline in methodology, above, it is likely that both baseline and coverage "should" be higher than their current values.
Notes on the venues:
- Foundation, Interzone, SFX and Vector are venues focusing primarily on books published in the UK. Analog, Asimov's, The Cascadia Subduction Zone, F&SF, io9 and Romantic Times focus primarily on books published in the US.
- Asimov's and Analog 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. Asimov's, Analog, Extrapolation, Interzone, Locus, Romantic Times and SFX had, by our count, all-white reviewing staffs. The venues with the largest reviewing staffs were Vector (54 reviewers), Strange Horizons (47 reviewers), and The Los Angeles Review of Books (41 reviewers).
- The Cascadia Subduction Zone is a semiprozine with a specific mission statement: "to treat work by women as vital and central rather than marginal."
- As usual, the topline Locus figures obscure a disparity within the magazine. Carolyn Cushman's column typically includes 8-10 short (single paragraph) reviews per issue, 83.3% of which in 2013 were of books by women. Other columnists typically tackle 3-5 books at greater length (3+ paragraphs); in 2013, 23% of these reviews were of books by women.
Changes over time
For venues that have been included since the start of the SF count, figures 9 and 10 show changes in reviews coverage and reviewer gender over the last 4 years. Overall coverage has improved slightly in this subset (from 27.0 to 29.5%), but few clear trends are evident for individual venues. Representation overall remains below parity.
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. Analysis of 2010-2013 gender data confirms that there have been few changes in coverage over this time period. A first survey of coverage by race found that in terms of both what is published and what is reviewed, books by white authors and editors vastly outnumber books by people of color.
Thanks to Regina Small for providing Romantic Times reviews data.