Women finally beaming in to sci-fi conventions

Saturday, September 1, 2001

PHILADELPHIA -- You were more likely to spot a UFO than run into a woman at the first World Science Fiction convention six decades ago.

But women were everywhere as the 59th convention opened its doors to 5,000 fans this week. Men still outnumber women on the list of convention presenters, award nominees and panelists -- but not by much. With a huge number of female authors and publishers on hand, the genre finally appears to be exploring its feminine side.

"When I first started to go to these things in the '70s, there were a lot of men and a lot of boys who read comic books," said Alyson Abram-owitz, 43, of Cupertino, Calif. "I was outnumbered 10 to 1. You'd walk in the door and people would stop talking and stare for a minute."

Not anymore. Sci-fi has come a long way from its early years, when female authors like Andre Norton took male-sounding pen names so they could get their novels published.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden, a consulting editor for science fiction publisher Tor Books, said female writers have added elements of fantasy and magic realism -- and women -- to the "hard science-fiction" roots of robots, space ships and time travel.

At times, she said, the female characters in older books were "as alien to me as the aliens themselves," in part because the male authors "probably didn't interact much with women."

The changes have sparked a surge in female fans at conventions and changed their character: What were once small gatherings of single men have become bona fide mixers.

More women around to impress meant better clothing. Bizarre costumes, once staples of the convention scene, are out. Designer sunglasses and stylish black leather like Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss wore in "The Matrix," are in.

"Science fiction is sort of losing its stigma as geek," said Jae Brim, 27, an aspiring author from New York.

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