Fiction by Paolo Bacigalupi

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Posted on Nov 10, 2007 in Blog, Writing | 16 comments

SF Mags V – An SF magazine for girls?

Okay, after I posted my suggested boy teen focused sf marketing experiment Armored Magazine as a way of growing a new short sf mag’s circulation, Shara Saunsaucie, noting with exquisite politeness the almost inherently sexist premise of Armored, posted a question about what a teen girl focused magazine might look like.

And my answer was that I have no idea. With Armored, I can extrapolate from my own boyness and teen experiences to guess what might be marketable. With girls, I’m clueless.

So now I’m wondering if other people have thoughts about what an sf (or f) magazine might look like that targets female youth, in the same way that Armored targets males, and which tries to hook them to short written sf, but which speaks to them in the language of youth today. For boys, I used Halo and military sf as my touchstones to create a concept of a magazine. What would the touchstones be for girls?


  1. Well, since we’re talking about teenage girls as opposed to women, I have to try and remember what attracted me to books and magazines when I was a teenager, and at the risk of falling into gender stereotypes, I have to admit that dragons on a cover was guaranteed to get a second look from me. Ditto dolphins, or anything that resembled magic being performed in a medieval setting.

    What I remember consciously looking for and not really finding at the time was fiction with strong women protagonists. I think the closest I came was Lessa in the Pern novels. If there were other strong, kick-ass women, I didn’t know about them. I think that on a cover–a strong women, maybe a even a female marine in full body armor

  2. Didn’t finish that line. Meant to write:

    maybe a female marine in full body armor with a spatter of blood on her faceplate might attract some girls, too.

  3. I totally agree, Andrea. There’s definitely going to be appeal there.

    Though I still wonder if there’s SF that inherently appeals to girls the way the point-and-shoot stuff does to boys. Hmm…

  4. Andrea, I know I was the kind of girl who would have wanted the mag with the female marine in body armour, complete with blood spatter, on the cover. And at the same time, I did and still do buy anything with dragons on the cover.

    I know that the stereotype, if not the actuality, is that girls read fantasy and boys read SF, but I suspect that it’s possible to write SF adventures for girls that are crafted to have the same themes as fantasy adventures for girls, but with AIs and aliens instead of enchanted animals, vampires, dragons and fairies, and advenced tech instead of magic.

  5. For anyone who finds the “female marine in body armor [etc.]” story appealing, I’d suggest trying out Elizabeth Moon’s Kylara Vatta series (Trading in Danger, et seq.). Not that that answers the magazine question; I’m just saying. They’re great books.

    I don’t know how to answer Paolo’s/Shara’s question either, but Fantasy Magazine is, I think, specifically targeted at women.

    An equally puzzling question to me, though, is how to market SF to teens? While fantasy YA is wildly popular right now, I’d be hard pressed to name a popular YA SF writer other than Scott Westerfeld (who is really great, but something of an anomaly).

  6. Can you market SF to teens, or do you have to prime them earlier? I know I grew into the genre because my brother read it. I took Lord of the Rings from him, I took Dune from him. I took my uncle’s Hugo anthology. (I seem to be admitting to a history of book theft.) And this was all before I was 13. So perhaps you have to catch their interest at more impressionable ages, and approaching them as teenagers is already too late.

  7. JJA:

    I’ve got the first book of Moon’s series on my shelf, and I’ve put it on my required reading list for grad school for next term. Yes, my program is THAT cool. ;)

    Now, I’ll admit I’m behind again on my F&SF reading, and I’ll also admit that I’ve seen several stories during the course of my two-year subscription that are “targeted to women” though I’d say instead that your stories target literary readers more than anything, because your stories tend not to be big and flashy in terms of action.

    But one thing F&SF is not targeted at, and that’s TEENAGED girls, and that’s the crux of my question. ;) But like you, save for Paolo’s excellent idea of his point-and-shoot mag (which really only targets boys), I don’t know how one would market SF to teens. It’s hard, because like you, Scott Westerfield’s the only YA SF writer I can think of (and he’s one I need to read, dang it).

    It’s a very perplexing question. ;)


    I agree they’d have to be approached at more impressionable ages, and in my mind, the best way to do that would be through the visual mediums, unless there’s a market for SF children’s books. Now THAT could be fun… ;)

  8. I’m not sure about Andrea’s assertion that kids have to be approached at more impressionable ages. There’s that saying about the golden age of science fiction being 13–because that’s the age at which so many readers got/get hooked on the genre. It was certainly true years ago; perhaps it’s not today, due to all the other forms of entertainment competing for a 13 year old’s attention?

  9. I would disagree: if you want to win the battle for getting kids hooked on science fiction and fantasy, you have to start earlier, and far sooner than thirteen. For instance, I’ve been working with my wife with her elementary school library to bulk up her graphic novel offerings, and we’re now discussing what to do about her selection of science fiction . . . which practically doesn’t exist. Give librarians the tools they need to win kids over, and that’s a lot of the work right there.

  10. Call it Arsekickers! If you were going to have a fantasy themed one.

    Woman on front sticking her foot in bad guy’s face while protecting cowering boyfriend?

  11. Great comments. I think there are two separate questions here.

    One is about getting kids hooked on reading, which I think has to happen at a fairly young age. And the other is how to market to segments of kids who may be amenable to reading, but remain unconvinced that you have anything to offer them.

    I don’t have any illusions that something like _Armored Magazine_ would be interesting to every boy, or every gamer, etc. But it would at least not be directly in conflict with what they’re interested in. For a magazine for girls/young women, I wonder if Andrea’s comment could be dead on – strangely stereotypical, but still important. Maybe unicorns sell. So you can’t really fight that, if you want to talk to the demographic. Looking at something like _Fantasy Magazine_, which definitely looks like its aimed at a female demographic gives one a sense of a design that might work, but I wonder how focused the content also has to be.

    My feelings in general about short story magazines is that I, as a reader, am always unsure of the experience I’m about to get from a short story. With a book, I have all sorts of indicators of what I’m going to get(the cover, the blurb text, the back cover description), but with a magazine short story I’m always a little on edge. It’s very much the Tom Hanks box of chocolates metaphor, and if I only like the caramel-filled chocolates, reading a short story magazine is full of possibly unwelcome surprises.

    So, for the _Armored_ idea, one of the things I’d look to do is to create a consistent range of experience within the fiction – hence adventure, big guns, and things getting blown up. So what’s the focus for girls? Maybe the age splits are bad for the girls and there isn’t as much overlap, maybe tweens want one thing, and teen girls want another and college age young women want something else, but I’m wondering what they might be looking for in terms of a reliable and pleasurable reading experience.

  12. As far as the unicorn thing (the ‘pony porn’ phase a lot of girls go through as I have seen some people put it), that is the sort of thing Anne McCaffrey had been tapping into for a long time.

    Going by my sister and her friends as an example, they probably do grow out of this in general as they become older teens, not that ‘McCaffrey’s Fantasy Magazine’ wouldn’t have some crossover appeal, perhaps.

    As for stereotypical teenage girls and slightly holder can you wangle the Dolly/Cosmo style into tech/music/media/fantasy/SF for theirs?

  13. Anne McCaffrey’s books definitely do have wider appeal. Hey, I’m a 41-year-old heterosexual male and I have enjoyed most of the stuff by her that I have read.

    On the female side of the ledger, whenever I read a story in Analog and recommend it to my wife, 95% of the time,she also enjoys it. The main exceptions are when the story is too spooky or if it has too depressing an ending. (OTOH, I also am not keen on spooky stories and depressing stories — only my tolerance level is higher than hers.)

  14. You guys should try some Neal Shusterman on for size. I have a 15 year old daughter and she’s loved his work for several years now. Her first book of his was The Dark Side of Nowhere, and it was definitely sf. Yes, she reads fantasy as well (vampires, shape shifters, not so many dragons), but she can be drawn into a good sf story. I would say that most teenage girls could be drawn into the soft side of sf, aliens among us, that sort of thing. As a parent, I’m happy to see her reading anything, but as a sf/f lover, I’m thrilled to see her exploring both genres. Her friends are into the same types of books, so I believe that girls could love such a kick ass sf/f magazine if someone were to publish it.



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