Most science fiction and fantasy focus on humans – or at least societal structures that are recognisable from within cultures on Earth. Given that genre fiction is meant to be one of unlimited imagination, why do we find it so difficult to imagine societies where hierarchies aren’t defined by gender, and more specifically, where the default gender in power is male?

I have had quite an Adrian Tchaikovsky-heavy year, having read The Tiger and The Wolf, The Serpent and the Bear, Children of Time, and Dogs of War. Reading all these books, I noticed that Tchaikovsky does something I haven’t seen much of elsewhere – he regularly creates matriarchies in his SFF worlds. So I decided to sit down with him to discuss how he creates worlds that subvert accepted social and gender norms.

Psuedo-medieval historical fantasy has long-dominated the genre and encourages a very conservative approach. But the tide is turning. More and more fantasy and science fiction books are exploring truly other kinds of worlds. Adrian discusses his worldbuilding techniques, the kinds of subversion he’d like to see more of, and some of the books her loves that are doing it right.

Texts mentioned in this episode include:

  • Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
  • Star Trek
  • New Crobuzon series by China Miéville
  • Golden Witchbreed and Rats and Gargoyles by Mary Gentle
  • Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer
  • Split Worlds series by Emma Newman