Everything Is Nice

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2011 Arthur C Clarke Award Statistics: The State Of The Art #1

with 15 comments

Having dispensed with the state of the industry, let’s actually look inside the books.

A fairly predictable split between first and third person. A handful of authors wrote in both but no one was brave or mad enough to go for second person. Charles Stross is one author who has previously risked the second person; in The Fuller Memorandum, he cunningly deploys what we might call the hypothetical third person but I’ve put it down as first person. Similarly, Generosity is actually narrated by its author, Richard Powers, but I’ve put it down as the third person it more usually resembles.

So the good news is that women are well represented and only two novels have multiple male narrators but no female counterpoint: Black Hand Gang by Pat Kelleher (which focusses on a bunch of First World War soldiers) and Guardians Of Paradise by Jainne Fenn (which focusses on the male sides of a love triangle). However, male viewpoint characters still clearly outweigh female viewpoint characters and multiple female viewpoints simply don’t exist.

More troubling is what these statistics might mask. As I was noting down the stats for this I soon realised I should have been recording the number of viewpoint characters. For example, how often is that “Multiple Mixed” four men and one woman? It is clear that most authors believe a story with mulitple protagonists must feature a woman but it is less clear from these stats whether this is simply a tokenistic response. I do have another proxy measure though:

Whilst it is pleasing to see a majority of novels passing the Bechdel Test that is a pretty narrow margin. If the diversity of the characters is greater than the diversity of theirauthors then it still isn’t much to shout about. For example, the narrator of a science fiction novel is more likely to be an alien or a robot than gay or bisexual:

I would caution that all these stats should be taken with a pinch of salt because my primary purpose in reading these books was artistic rather than scientific. I may have missed things. However, I am confident that they are relatively robust.

Written by Martin

1 March 2011 at 15:25

Posted in awards, sf

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15 Responses

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  1. Once again, fascinating stuff.

    That last graph: is that representing the identity of the narrator of the novels, or just novels in which non-white, queer etc. characters appear? Also: are the numbers on the x-axis there numbers of novels, or percentages of the whole?

    Adam Roberts

    1 March 2011 at 17:26

  2. The stats are absolute numbers and for identity of a viewpoint character (usually not the sole narrator). So your own New Model Army is one of the five novels with a gay protagonist. The Technician by Neal Asher has both alien and AI protagonists. Blood And Iron by Tony Ballantyne has nothing but AI protagonists, it is set on a planet entirely populated by robots. And they aren’t mutually exclusive categories since Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness has a gay alien protagonist. I think Surface Detail by Iain M Banks is the only submission with non-white, gay, alien and AI protagonists.


    1 March 2011 at 17:34

  3. Oh, and that is identity whilst a narrator. Stone Spring by Stephen Baxter contains a viewpoint character who is revealed and depicted as gay only after he has ceased to be a viewpoint character. I’ve not counted this.


    1 March 2011 at 17:37

  4. Interesting stuff.

    I feel I should point out that neither of the male protagonists in ‘Guardians of Paradise’ is straight: one’s gay and one’s bi (or, according to one reader, ‘not fussy’). And I do have two female viewpoint characters in the book, it’s just that they don’t get as much ‘page-time’ as the male ones, though I have to confess that the only time they meet they do talk about one of the male characters. Damn, and I thought I was doing so well there …

    Jaine Fenn

    1 March 2011 at 21:45

  5. […] is usually pretty clear if your narrator is an alien but we are heading into more subjective territory now. We can still be relatively certain about […]

  6. Numbers are fun, aren’t they? However, I think you mean “point of view” rather than “tense” there.

    Patrick H

    2 March 2011 at 10:50

  7. You’re right, I’ve corrected it. I’ve also been a bit imprecise in using narrator and protagonist to refer to all major viewpoint characters.


    2 March 2011 at 14:22

  8. For shame!

    Patrick H

    2 March 2011 at 15:08

  9. […] The State Of The Art #1: who we see and how we see them. […]

  10. […] evaluation of the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke award shortlist. Depressing bits include the fact that a full quarter of the shortlisted novels have no female viewpoint characters and only a little over …. Protagonists are also more likely to kill someone than have sex, they are more likely to have sex […]

  11. Slightly put out by your singling out Black Hand Gang as having no female POVs. I just finished reading it, and there are two female POV characters, one of which has her own sub-plot.

    I totally acknowledge the masculine bias of the book – as you say yourself, it is based on the exploits of a trenchful of Tommies, so there are about six or seven male POV characters throughout the book – but the nurse Edie gets a fair amount of page space, and the driver Nellie gets a little.

    Aside from that, good work again.

    David Moore

    3 March 2011 at 11:54

  12. […] broadly, Martin also looked at the setting of the books and the nature of the narrators. Thus, I can report that that only 54% of the novels passed the Bechdel test, 30% of the books are […]

  13. Yeah, I need to be a bit clearer on both my methodology and phrasing next time. Quite often authors introduce additional viewpoint characters at certain points in the narrative but I haven’t included this as main viewpoint characters. To take another example, I’ve recorded A Matter Of Blood by Sarah Pinborough as single male, third person even though the viewpoint doesn’t stay with the main character 100% of the time. Obviously this is subjective and my notes aren’t very clear on the distinction.

    Along the same lines and looking at my notes again, I’ve discovered that one author was brave enough to use the second person. However, although Ken MacLeod does use it in The Restoration Game, he uses it in very small amounts.


    3 March 2011 at 19:24

  14. […] Nebulas. 2) ‘The Star’ by Arthur C. Clarke – in which I dislike a short story. 3) 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award Statistics: The State Of The Art #1 – in which I analyse who we see and how we see them in British science fiction. 4) 2011 […]

    Three « Everything Is Nice

    27 October 2011 at 16:07

  15. […] broadly, Martin also looked at the setting of the books and the nature of the narrators. Thus, I can report that that only 54% of the novels passed the Bechdel test, 30% of the books are […]

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