Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

2011 Arthur C Clarke Award Statistics: Sex And Violence

with 19 comments

The last post talked about the general characteristics of contemporary science fiction. Now I want to talk about a specific pair of issues.

In the real world, sex is a good thing and violence is a bad thing. Yet there is a feeling – one I share – that science fiction is overly bloodthirsty whilst simultaneously too childishly squeamish about sex. And the stats reflect this. In the real world, a single murder would be extremely notable; in science fiction, this is small beer:

What goes around, comes around:

Don’t worry though, death is not the end!

I also looked at rape since its depiction in fiction is so controversial and it is often not felt to be well handled in genre fiction.

From these statistics I have excluded Blood And Iron by Tony Ballantyne which includes robot “rape”. Whilst it is stated in the novel to be directly analoguous to human rape I am not comfortable grouping the two together. However, I have included Sylvow by Douglas Thompson which features rape by an intelligent tree.

Science fiction is happy to deal in extremes like this but I wondered how it fared on a more domestic level. As well as looking at sex itself, I also looked at whether any protagonists started the novel in a relationship.

So a protagonist in a science fiction novel is more likely to kill someone than have sex and yes, it does seem authors are much more squeamish about depicting sex than violence.

Written by Martin

2 March 2011 at 14:07

Posted in awards, sf

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19 Responses

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  1. [...] Sex And Violence: er, violence and sex. [...]

  2. That’s fascinating. I didn’t realize you were going to get into the guts of the novels in this way.

    I’d love to see more of this analysis on other issues related to the actions, etc., in the novels.

    JeffV

    Jeff VanderMeer

    2 March 2011 at 16:14

  3. Two questions: first, what do you mean by a “depiction” of sex? And second, of the 17% of books where a protagonist is raped, do you know how that breaks down by gender of protagonist?

    Liz

    2 March 2011 at 16:22

  4. And second, of the 17% of books where a protagonist is raped, do you know how that breaks down by gender of protagonist?

    Or by gender of author…?

    Niall

    2 March 2011 at 16:31

  5. Quite often the author draws a discrete veil over sex and either says something as brief as “they made love” or simply implies it. So a “depiction of sex” means something that gets into the mechanics of who does what. This is very common when someone is handling a gun, less so when they are handling a penis.

    I think everyone who is raped is a woman and only one woman wrote about rape: The Meat Tree by Gwyneth Lewis, although Jaine Fenn has a borderline non-consensual scene in Guardians Of Paradise in which a character uses sex to interogate prisoner. Fenn is also the only writer to actually depict gay sex.

    Martin

    2 March 2011 at 17:25

  6. “Fenn is also the only writer to actually depict gay sex.”

    Erm …

    Adam Roberts

    2 March 2011 at 18:00

  7. This is brilliant. Especially the part where 22% of protagonists die and then come back to life.

    I’m not sure what it says about the state of the field that I was actually pleasantly surprised that only 17% of protagonists were raped…

    Nic

    2 March 2011 at 18:26

  8. Sorry, that should be “22% of the protagonists who die come back to life”, of course.

    Nic

    2 March 2011 at 18:27

  9. If you look on p.162 of New Model Army you will indeed find gay sex. Sorry, Adam.

    And Nic, that is 22% of books have a viewpoint character who dies and comes back to life compared to 39% that have one who dies and stays dead. I forgot to record those who die, come back to life and then die again but stay dead.

    Martin

    2 March 2011 at 18:34

  10. No need to apologise. I’m glad you made it to at least p.162, though. More relevant, maybe, is the fact that neither Jaine nor I are gay.

    Adam Roberts

    2 March 2011 at 18:44

  11. [...] Speaking of the Clarke Award, in the build up to the announcement, Martin Lewis, one of the judges, has published a series of posts last week with statistics about the submitted novels and they are pretty interesting to read about (my personal favourite is the one that reflects how “science fiction is overly bloodthirsty whilst simultaneously too childishly squeemish about sex.”) [...]

  12. I’m sure you noticed that, but your first Pie Chart can impossibly be correct.

    Gerd D.

    6 March 2011 at 15:57

  13. Thanks for spotting that. The percentages were right but I’d made a typo in the underlying data so the chart wasn’t reflecting this. It is now a much more dramatic representation of just how much killing there is in SF.

    Martin

    6 March 2011 at 17:06

  14. [...] 8) Let’s Push Things Forward – in which I implore SF bloggers to raise their game. 9) 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award Statistics: Sex And Violence – in which I analyse, er, violence and sex in British science fiction 10) 2011 Arthur C [...]

    Three « Everything Is Nice

    27 October 2011 at 16:07

  15. There’s lesbian sex in Savage City. I suppose it doesn’t go into much detail beyond ripping off nightdresses and trying to be quiet, but it happens.

    Sophia

    22 April 2012 at 22:04

  16. I did think about doing this again this year but in the end I couldn’t summon up the energy.

    Martin

    23 April 2012 at 10:17

  17. [...] Joanna Russ in many of her writings. One of the things that drove this home for me was seeing the statistics compiled by Martin Lewis for the Clarke Award (among the highlights: around 90% of the books had at [...]

  18. [...] Russ in many of her writings. One of the things that drove this home for me was seeing the statistics compiled by Martin Lewis for the Clarke Award (among the highlights: around 90% of the books had [...]

  19. [...] Joanna Russ in many of her writings. One of the things that drove this home for me was seeing the statistics compiled by Martin Lewis for the Clarke Award (among the highlights: around 90% of the books had at [...]


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