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Tuesday News: Google funds gender roles analysis in film; FTC says...

Google Doodle Ada Lovelace

Yesterday was Ada Lovelace’s birthday and given her historical significance, it brought to mind the recent debate about women’s place in historical fiction. One reader shared with author Scott Lynch his dismay that Lynch would write about a wish fulfillment story featuring a black middle aged female pirate. Lynch profanely tells the reader that he can take his desire for “realism” elsewhere.

Ada is a historically accurate figure. After all, she lived from 1815 1852, the only legitimate child born to Lord Byron. “Her notes on the [Analytical Engine] include what is recognised as the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine. Because of this, she is often considered the world’s first computer programmer.” Her mother fostered Ada’s mathematics training in an effort to root out any inherited madness. Oh, authors of Victorian era books, you have so much to work with!

“With Google’s grant, the institute will reach out to developers to automate the collection of data, designating how women fit into fictional and non-fictional worlds. The institute has not made clear how it hopes to identify women and further establish their marginalization through that automation process (presumably that’s mostly for the developers to figure out), but we imagine a combination of audio and visual analysis that check for a number of typical female identifiers would do the trick.”

  • Old bundles will no longer be available at bundle-pricing.
  • Some books will need to be removed from the Baen Free Library (download and back them up now!)
  • Future webscription style ebooks will be available only until publication date.  After they will be available only as single purchase titles.
  • Backlist prices are increasing from $6 to $9.99 for hardcover and $8.99 for grade.  Mass markets will be at $6
  • Unlikely that CDs will be bundled into hardcovers.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. ms bookjunkie
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 06:02:04

    Thanks for the heads-up on Baen. I went to the store immediately and bought the two Vorkosigan books missing from my library. (Somehow, Memory isn’t in any of the bundles, and Lord Vorpatril’s Alliance as the newest book is unbundled. Both cost $6 for now.)

    (I was having trouble getting through Brothers in Arms so I got the audiobook… (It’s funny, I pretty much have trouble getting through all the Miles books—Cordelia was more my thing—but once I do, they stay with me. I think about them often and go back and reread bits. I can’t wait to get to the romance! *g*))

  2. DS
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 07:15:40

    Just went to the Baen website and saw that the 3rd book of the Martha Wells Rasurka series was out: The Siren Depths. $6 on Baen, $9+ on Amazon. Think I’d better go ahead and buy.

  3. LG
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 07:53:56

    I spent way more money than I maybe should have on the Baen website last night, buying up the series books I wanted and didn’t yet own. The Vorkosigan saga was the biggest chunk of my shopping cart. I don’t necessarily mind the prices on the bundles going up a bit, because many of the bundles are pretty amazingly priced right now. As far as the individual books go, I already thought some of them were more expensive than they should be. $6 is coming close to the maximum I tend to be comfortable paying for a single e-book, and $5-6 for a book that’s been out for a couple decades or more seems like a bit much. If The Siren Depths were $9+, it wouldn’t have ended up in my shopping cart. I’d have waited to get it from the library or eventually just forgotten about it and moved on to something else.

    Also, I think most of the Free Library quietly went away some time ago. I was checking it over the weekend and had wondering why so many of the things I’d downloaded for free a year ago were gone. It’s a sad little section now.

  4. Susanna Kearsley
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 08:09:37

    Jane, thank you so much for that link to Scott Lynch’s response to his critic. While in most cases I think we authors should just keep our mouths shut when criticized, in this particular case I’m overjoyed that Mr. Lynch did respond, if only because it gives me paragraphs like this to read:

    “Why shouldn’t middle-aged mothers get a wish-fulfillment character, you sad little bigot? Everyone else does. H.L. Mencken once wrote that ‘Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.’ I can’t think of anyone to whom that applies more than my own mom, and the mothers on my friends list, with the incredible demands on time and spirit they face in their efforts to raise their kids, preserve their families, and save their own identity/sanity into the bargain.”


    “As for claims to ‘realism,’ your complaint is of a kind with those from bigoted hand-wringers who whine that women can’t possibly fly combat aircraft, command naval vessels, serve in infantry actions, work as firefighters, police officers, etc. despite the fact that they do all of those things— and are, for a certainty, doing them all somewhere at this very minute. Tell me that a fit fortyish woman with 25+ years of experience at sea and several decades of live bladefighting practice under her belt isn’t a threat when she runs across the deck toward you, and I’ll tell you something in return— you’re gonna die of stab wounds.”

    Awesome. My day is officially made.

  5. Julia
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 09:04:14

    Yay! Ada Lovelace love! I never made the connection between her and Lord Byron before. As the only female computer science student in my program (there were three total in the college), it was always so cool for me to know that Countess Lovelace was the first one to write down a program. It baffles me that she was able to do this before there was even an idea of a computer! If there was a romance novel written about her or inspired by her I would be all over that like white on rice.

    Thinkgeek had a really cool shirt series a while back featuring Lady Lovelace, Marie Curie and Mary Shelley. I wish more did that… maybe the Google thing will help prompt that.

  6. Karenmc
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 09:23:39

    The Lynch response was gold.

    Google’s grant for the gender research is a welcome thing. Molly Haskell, in her book From Reverence to Rape (published in the mid 70’s) covered that ground, but only from one critic’s perspective. Hard data will be interesting (but perhaps not surprising) to read.

  7. Laura Florand
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 09:29:01

    I often think the version of women’s roles in history that most people believe in was formed by an equivalent of taking twenty years of Cosmo and all those comments people post on the bottom of CNN and Fox articles, stacking them up, reading through them, and then deciding that’s what the 21st century must have been like.

    Legal documents from much of history are fascinating, but hard to get at (when they exist), and not nearly as much publicized research is available that goes to those sources as you might think. But what you do see, plus actual biographies and letters about/from/to actual women, show that, yes, women had to fight some serious systemic problems, that’s certain, but many of them did it much better than people give them credit for.

    Anyway, I’ve never been entirely sure why it’s perfectly feasible for the hero to be, let’s say, in 1813, a billionaire duke spy who saved England from Napoleon but the heroine should not, God forbid, step too much farther outside her “woman’s role” than going for a ride astride in Hyde Park and getting chewed out by the hero for it. (And while we’re on the topic, don’t get me started on the actual history of sidesaddles and riding astride.)

    But anyway…I don’t know why we should even have to debate reality when the bottom line is that Scott Lynch is right. :)

  8. Estara
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 09:51:17

    Ladies if you want to read an AWESOME interpretation of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, may I suggest the Webcomic 2dgoggles by Sidney Padua? Even if she hadn’t made the webcomic about Lovelace, the steampunk and historical research merger is amazing! I wish she did a printbook version.

    Aside: Isambard Kingdom Brunel also shows up. ‘Nuff said.

  9. Isobel Carr
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 10:24:38

    I have never heard of Scott Lynch, but based on that post, I am off to buy some books!

    Also, I never understand when I get emails complaining that “real” women didn’t behave as my characters do (note: they never complain about the heroes having an ahisotical monogamist bent). I’m left wondering what version of history it is other people are reading, because my research is filled with real women who did extraordinary things and behaved in ways that were often surprising, shocking, and inspiring. It’s those women, the improbable but fascinating ones, that interest me.

  10. Ridley
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 10:35:26

    The Bookseller says that for print backlist titles, Amazon may not be the lowest priced retailer on the internet.

    I know I’ve found that Harlequins are almost always cheaper at BooksOnBoard than at Amazon, and you get a small rebate on top of that.

    I think this Kate Beaton comic says it all about why we think women were absent from history. Men simply claimed their ideas as their own and erased women from the record.

  11. Julia
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 10:37:13

    @Estara: If I wasn’t at work right now, I would be all over that comic! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  12. Laura Florand
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 10:54:16

    @Isobel Carr: You said it, Isobel. And yet it would be impossible to write a historical male character who was too big or powerful for people to swallow, you would think.

  13. Courtney Milan
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 10:54:37

    I love Scott Lynch. His books are awesome.

    Along those same lines, I love Foz Meadow’s takedown of the notion that women “didn’t do that stuff.” They did. It’s just that men have always tried to erase the role that they played.

  14. Courtney Milan
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 11:18:25

    @Laura Florand: And yet it would be impossible to write a historical male character who was too big or powerful for people to swallow, you would think.

    …Isn’t that the premise of Passion?

    *runs away*

  15. Ridley
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 11:37:53

    @Courtney Milan:

    …Isn’t that the premise of Passion?


  16. Laura Florand
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 11:48:10

    @Courtney Milan: You had to go there. :)

  17. wikkidsexycool
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 11:55:51

    Many thanks for the Scott Lynch link. I hope at some point the person who complained to him so rudely has a change of heart and mind, but somehow I doubt it.

    And Courtney Milan, thanks so much for the foz meadows link. Very useful information in that post.

  18. Isobel Carr
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 12:31:28

    @Laura Florand:

    And yet it would be impossible to write a historical male character who was too big or powerful for people to swallow

    I got a review for one of my books that said the heroine’s father (a duke) was too dictatorial, LOL! Maybe his shocking level of privilege and aplomb would have been easier to swallow had he been the hero? I just can’t imagine any duke thinking he DIDN’T have the right to force the world to bend to his will.

  19. SAO
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 12:34:14

    I think the reason Romance is so often despised, or treated like a joke rather than a genre is that women’s wish fulfillment looks ridiculous to men, who swallow without a second’s thought the most far-fetched scenarios. Woody Allen and Dan Brown come to mind. Woody Allen was fond of the tall, tanned and toned beautiful 20-something falling for his short, balding 40ish dweeb. Dan Brown did him one better. The middle-aged Mr. Ordinary professor not only got the younger, hotter woman — but she was a direct descendant of Jesus to boot!

  20. Donna Thorland
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 13:35:08

    Hopefully the Google study will bring some attention to this problem. The Celluloid Ceiling report has the numbers on women behind the camera, and they are not good:

  21. Carrie G
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 15:33:04

    @Ridley: Every year I teach my students about Rosalind Franklin first, before I move on to Crick and Watson. They used her radiographs as the final piece of the DNA structure puzzle and never gave her credit, even when award the Nobel prize. At least our current textbook credits her with the accomplishment.

  22. Emily
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 15:37:49

    @Laura Florand/Courtney Milan/Ridley
    What is Passion?

  23. Moriah Jovan
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 15:43:27


    The middle-aged Mr. Ordinary professor not only got the younger, hotter woman — but she was a direct descendant of Jesus to boot!


  24. Shelley
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 15:49:17

    Loved the Scott Lynch link and like Isobel, am off to buy books!! Hmmm…wonder how many *new* readers he has gained with that post because I simply can’t believe he would lose that many. I’m thinking Mr. Commenter didn’t see that one coming. Thanks!!

  25. Michael
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 18:09:23

    and most of the Baen Free Library is already gone. That’s what I get for not coming here yesterday!

  26. Joy
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 22:09:04

    @Courtney Milan:

    Along those same lines, I love Foz Meadow’s takedown of the notion that women “didn’t do that stuff.” They did. It’s just that men have always tried to erase the role that they played.

    Reminds me of an exchange about Gillian Bradshaw’s _Render Unto Caesar_ in the Amazon reviews. Yes, not only WERE there female gladiators in ancient Rome, but this was actually well documented for a change.

  27. Evangeline Holland
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 22:20:57

    @Isobel Carr: Perhaps it’s because historical romance focuses on a ridiculously tiny portion of society, and it marches along in the well-worn (fictional) path trudged by Heyer, et al? “Unusual” heroines wouldn’t be such a difficult pill to swallow–nor would authors have to twist their characters into fantastical but anachronistic plots–if everything wasn’t all Heyer’s Regency, all aristocracy all the time.

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