The Hidden Side of the Moon, Joanna Russ

hidden_side_moonThe Hidden Side of the Moon, Joanna Russ (1987)
Review by Ian Sales

There can be little doubt by now that Joanna Russ was one of the most important figures in American twentieth-century science fiction, although for many years, particularly afterward, her contribution to the genre was downplayed or ignored. Much, in fact, as she described in her important work, How to Suppress Women’s Writing. Of course, she was not the only female sf writer to be “forgotten”. From the twenty-first century it seems like there was a concerted effort from the late 1970s through the 1980s to write female authors out of science fiction history. Only a few managed to hang on in there – Ursula K Le Guin, of course, who is often the only woman writer on so-called lists of “classic sf”. And this despite a huge number of female mid-list writers publishing throughout the 1980s, some of whom went on to bestseller status, like Lois McMaster Bujold.

Joanna Russ won four major genre awards, and was nominated 41 times, during her career; and yet by the turn of the century she seemed to be known only as the author of a little-read classic, The Female Man. In part, I suspect this was due to the fact she was a vocal feminist and feminist writer, and conservative sf fans, echoing a move in wider US culture, tried to demonise feminism and feminist sf. Fortunately, science fiction is a progressive genre, and many of its fans fought against this reactionary rewriting of sf history.

Having said all that, I still think Russ is under-appreciated. While her novels now often appear on “classic sf” lists, much of her short fiction output has been overlooked. And she wrote a lot of short fiction – fifty-six stories between 1955 and 1996. The Hidden Side of the Moon, a collection from late in her career, contains twenty-six stories published between 1959 and 1984. Some are less than a page long. Not all were originally published in genre venues.

Twenty-six stories is too many to cover individually.  Overall, they give an impression of fierce intelligence I don’t recall getting quite so strongly from other Russ collections (although certainly from individual stories). This is especially odd given I don’t believe the collection was curated, or its contents chosen for particular reasons. It may simply be a consequence of the fact that not all of the stories are science fiction or fantasy.

The opener, ‘The Little Dirty Girl’, is a chilling ghost story, told in epistolary style. In ‘Sword Blades and Poppy Seed’, a female writer rails against society, before being told she should, in fact she will, use the nom de plume George Sand. ‘This Afternoon’ describes a play in a park, in which one of the actors plays a satyr, only he may not be an actor…

‘”I Had Vacantly Crumpled It into My Pocket … But By God, Eliot, It Was a Photograph from Life!”‘ is a Cthulhu story. In fact, a number of the stories in The Hidden Side of the Moon play with, or reference, other literary works, something Russ did throughout her career. Given that ‘Window Dressing’ was originally published in 1970, in New Worlds of Fantasy 2, I suspect it’s not referencing the film Mannequin, although it shares the same story.  ‘The Clichés from Outer Space’ is about a friend of the writer who is an anthologist of science fiction stories and, well, the title says it all. After reading the slushpile for the anthology, the narrator: “… that pile of rejected mss must have been the vehicle for a curse … How do I know? I began to write trash.” Some of which is then given.

‘Nor Custom Stale’, published in 1959, is the oldest story in the collection. It’s a variation on ‘The Machine Stops’ by EM Forster, although here it’s the reverse which is true, and which leads to a strange, inexplicable result. ‘The Experimenter’ is a sort of fantasy, but ‘Reasonable People’ is definitely science fiction. Russ’s stories – and these two are good examples – often seem to end on single lines which question everything has gone before. The final three lines of ‘Reasonable People’, for instance, go:

Isn’t it a lovely world?
And so it is. It is.
For reasonable people


Both ‘Visiting’ and ‘Visiting Day’, titled here ‘I. Visiting’ and ‘II. Visiting Day’, although originally published in 1967 and 1970, and ‘Old Thoughts, Old Presences’, which contains two stories, ”The Autobiography of My Mother’ and ‘Daddy’s Girl’ are more literary experiments than genre fiction. And yet, genre reading protocols still work on them – if anything, Russ’s genre fiction had a tendency to confound genre protocols more than her non-genre work did. Or rather, ‘Old Thoughts, Old Presences’ can be read as genre; but something like ‘The Mystery of the Young Gentleman’ (collected in Extra(Ordinary) People) is clearly genre but resists an obvious read.

The more of Russ’s fiction I read, the further I want to explore her oeuvre. From what I have seen to date, it is variable but, to borrow from Longfellow, “when she was good, she was very, very good”. But more than that, there was a fierce intelligence driving her fiction – and her non-fiction too, of course – and a fierce commitment to feminism evident in pretty much every word she wrote. As I have said before, the giants of twentieth century fiction we have been lumbered with are Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov; when the true giants were, and are, Russ, Delany and Le Guin.


The Female Man, Joanna Russ

thefemalemanThe Female Man, Joanna Russ (1975)
Review by Megan AM

“Everyone knows that much as women want to be scientists and engineers, they want foremost to be womanly companions to men (what?) and caretakers of childhood; everyone knows that a large part of a woman’s identity inheres in the style of her attractiveness.”

“Laura is daydreaming that she’s Genghis Khan.” (p 60)

Joanna Russ’s 1975 turbulent treatise on female oppression, The Female Man, begs for interaction from the reader. It taunts with its candor. Even as a forty-year-old book, it dares you to disagree. For the modern reader of this not-really-tale, side effects may include chest tightening “buts”, understanding “ohs”, and flustered “oh come ons”.

In a recent article with, Kim Stanley Robinson describes Russ’s The Female Man as the “book that made me laugh the hardest while slapping me in the face”. He couldn’t be more precise.

The lives of four women collide: the uber-feminine doormat Jeannine, the rough-and-tumble person Janet, the agro-reactionary murderer Jael, and the rational, scholarly Joanna, our dear author, who communicates her own internal arguments and confusions via these four women. On the face of it, the women are presented as coming from four alternate worlds, but one infers quickly that the characters are non-entities, and that Russ is essentially arguing with herself, and with society, via these personalities. She conveys a divided female psyche that despises the status quo, yearns for gender equality, yet doesn’t want to annoy people, and feels guilty for achieving her own version of equality by essentially giving up her femininity in the academic world.

Four women. Four J names. Different facets of Russ. Different facets of womanhood. Sometimes the narrator refers to “the Weak One” and we don’t know who that is. Is it Jeannine, the young and naïve girly girl, who wants ever so much to get married, but for some reason she won’t? But she’s the quickest to accept and justify violence.

Uncertainties like that define the relative amorphousness of this novel. Its structure is as fractured as the author’s identity, with chapters ranging in length from one sentence to one paragraph to ten pages. Storylines bounce to and fro, interrupted by personal statements, poems, anecdotes, and uncomfortable revelations about self and society.

This is a book of harsh truths, stylized in biting, provocative, funny ways:

In 1975, Russ reminds us, “There are more whooping cranes in the United States of America than there are women in Congress.” (p 61)

She takes on marriage: “You can’t imbibe someone’s success by fucking them” (p 65).

She discusses social conditioning:

There is the vanity training, the obedience training, the self-effacement training, the deference training, the dependency training, the passivity training, the rivalry training, the stupidity training, the placation training. How am I to put this together with my human life, my intellectual life, my solitude, my transcendence, my brains, and my fearful, fearful ambition? …You can’t unite woman and human any more than you can unite matter and anti-matter… (p 151)

She posits a world without men by introducing Janet, from Whileaway, which is ten centuries ahead in an alternate future, where men have been long ago wiped out by way of disease: “And about this men thing, you must remember that to me they are a particularly foreign species; one can make love with a dog, yes?” (p 33)

Russ’s witty cantankerousness is hard to put down, even if some of her references feel outdated to younger readers. Her portrayal of a typical party includes inane social chatter that illuminates the patronizing gender games people play (“His Little Girl” and “Ain’t It Awful”), which seems ridiculous to this late-born Gen-Xer, who hopes no one still talks that way today. It’s hard to believe people ever talked that way.

Even if some of her portrayals might not quite mesh with today, enough truths bubble up to make this a relevant and influential discourse on gender relations. The majority of women I encounter still view marriage as a goal and career, their identities exist through their kids, and the career gap is still gaping.

But most compelling about this novel is the intimacy Russ shares. She splays out her soul, a psychic vivisection for the world to see. Blood pumping, heart beating, eyes agape, and mouth roaring. Sometimes it’s too much and we feel embarrassed for her. Its cringe-inducing roughness is a little too roar-full. Younger generations like myself may balk at the more extreme portrayals of casual sexism, or find this mid-century roaring tiresome. (Women of my generation don’t roar. We death-stare. Much more effective.) Most surprising for me is realizing that this was written only four years before I was born. I was born into this society???

But even if society has progressed beyond the immobile social roles of Russ’s generation, and even if younger generations can’t completely relate to the society Russ depicts, The Female Man still gives us kernels of familiar insidiousness that peek out from the corners. Today, social media has allowed us to see more brash displays of dangerous misogyny, but it’s the subtle sexism that’s most overlooked, and easiest to ignore. Russ reminds us of those places where our standards have been calloused, where our vigilance has waned.

Although The Female Man is a product of its time, we are not quite living in its desired legacy. This should be required reading for all. We should never become comfortable enough to allow this novel to be forgotten.

This review originally appeard on From couch to moon.

The Zanzibar Cat, Joanna Russ

zanzibarcatThe Zanzibar Cat, Joanna Russ (1983)
Review by Ian Sales

Although she was first published in the late 1950s, Joanna Russ’s first collection did not appear until 1983 – which at least meant she had plenty to choose from for its contents. And it seems Russ decided to select pieces mostly from the 1970s. With good reason, one suspects – as Marge Piercy writes in the book’s introduction: “One unavoidable observation as I read through these stories is the growth of Russ’s feminism … I doubt if ‘The New Men’ or ‘Poor Man, Beggar Man’ would be in any interesting way different if written by a man … If I seem to find Russ’s more feminist stories more successful than her less feminist stories, it is not only, I believe even chiefly, because I agree with her politics, although of course with any writer that always help. It is because her imagination is more liberated…” (p x). I have been saying for several years it’s past time we had a complete collection of Russ’s short fiction – and it would be a large book, since she published fifty-six stories between 1959 and 1996. However, The Zanzibar Cat, which includes a number of early works, does demonstrate that perhaps not everything she wrote actually belongs in such a collection. This is a much weaker collection than her later Extra(ordinary) People (1984) and The Hidden Side of the Moon (1988), although it does contain several of her more celebrated pieces. Incidentally, it’s worth noting The Zanzibar Cat was originally published by Arkham House, but a paperback edition was published the following year by Baen.

‘When It Changed’ (1972) is perhaps Russ’s most famous short story. It won the Nebula, was nominated for a Hugo, and won a retrospective Tiptree in 1995. And for good reason. The world of Whileaway has has been female-only for thirty generations, after the death of all the men in a plague shortly after the world was settled. But now men form Earth have arrived, and the local sheriff has been called to remote farmhouse to meet the visitors. Russ drops the reader straight into the story, and the casual sexism displayed by the men is brilliantly handled – the visitors keep on asking where are the men, and once they learn the truth… there is a conversation between the narrator and the leader of the visitors which is masterly in how it shows male privilege:

“I’m talking to you, Janet,” he said, “because I suspect you have more popular influence than anyone else here. You know as well as I do that parthenogenetic culture has all sorts of inherent defects, and we do not – if we can help it – mean to use you for anything of the sort. Pardon me; I should not have said ‘use.’ But surely you can see this kind of society is unnatural.” ( p 8 – 9)

A bona fide classic.

‘The Extraordinary Voyages of Amélie Bertrand’ (1979). This opens with the subheading “hommage à Jules Verne” which, to be honest, would be pretty obvious from the plot anyway. Set in the 1920s, the story takes places entirely at a small rural railway station near Lyons. The narrator is travelling on business and must change trains there. But as he walks through the passage linking the two platforms either side of the ticket office / waiting room / café, he seems to be thrown into a strange tropical landscape. A hand grabs him and hauls him back, and he finds himself back at the railway station. The woman who saved him explains that she too fell prey to the same phenomenon, and in fact spent many years exploring that other world – and on subsequent visits had even visited the jungles of Venus and the ranches of Mars. Although the woman’s adventures are well described, the fact the story is almost entirely told robs it of any immediacy. The pastiche is not entirely successful either – the premise appears to draw on a deep pool of pulp fiction inspirations, rather than Verne’s scientific romances.

‘The Soul of a Servant’ (1973). In a northern Russian (I think) town cut into the side of a mountain, the governor and his family await the barbarians. The town is commanded, and managed, by the narrator, who is from the south and is looked down on by the locals. The governor’s niece, however, finds him fascinating, although she is clearly playing at forbidden love rather than forming any real attachment. And then soldiers from the town capture some barbarians – and on seeing how they are being mistreated, the narrator realises he has more in common with them than the town’s inhabitants. Piercy remarks on the off-page rape, which “is used as a male writer uses it … the story buys the male rationalization, in its viewpoint character, that a woman being flirtatious, which may be the only form of friendliness she has been allowed to express, is asking for it”. It’s a well-deserved criticism as the violence serves no real purpose in the plot, and the setting is sketched in so thinly it’s unclear how it is meant to be taken.

‘Gleepsite’ (1971). This is a short and enigmatic story, set in a post-apocalyptic world. According to a footnote, the title is the name of an imaginary material and “[this] story is about another ‘imaginary material’ – the huiman imagination itself. Can it do as much as the the narrator thinks it can do?” The end result in places reads more like a writing exercise than an actual narrative.

‘Nobody’s Home’ (1972). A somewhat dated and hippy-ish vision of the future, in which a “stupid” (but “bright-normal” by present-day standards) is invited home by a family, only for them to grow quickly tired of his inability to fit in with their supposedly extremely high intelligence, this characteristic being chiefly illustrated by a silly verbal game played by the children. Although Russ displays her usual skill at setting up her world quickly and efficiently, some of the details are a little too much of the time of writing. This is a story which has not aged especially well.

‘My Dear Emily’ (1962). The first of two vampire stories in this collection. In this a young woman is liberated by being in thrall to a vampire. Her family insist she is ill, but she no longer considers herself bound by convention – the story is set in San Francisco during the 1880s – and behaves accordingly. It’s an atmospheric piece, but there’s little in it to make stand out above the huge number of vampire stories out there.

‘The New Men’ (1966). The second vampire story, this time set in communist Poland. A travelling Soviet official spends the night at the ruined mansion of a Polish count when his car breaks down deep in the countryside. There’s a nice play on dialectics, historical process and Marxism, but the story does end on a somewhat obvious twist.

‘My Boat’ (1976). The way a story is told is as important as what the story says, and I’m not convinced Russ chose the best way to tell ‘My Boat’ even though the premise is clever and works well. The story is framed as a verbal tale told by a screenwriter desperate for work in conversation with his agent. He recounts an episode from his youth, when the first black pupil joined his school, a girl called Cecilia Jackson. Although very shy, she proves to be a gifted actress, if somewhat erratic, and becomes friends with the narrator and his best friend, Al. One day, all three head to the marina to spend the day on Cecilia’s boat, and while on it – a rowing boat that has seen better days – the narrator witnesses a change come over Cecila and Al, and also the boat. Cecilia becomes a queen, and Al her Francis Drake-like consort, and they begin talking about mysterious lands (from Lovecraft’s “Dreamlands”, in fact). When the narrator jumps onto the jetty to untie the boat, he is accosted by a police officer, and while the two of them are looking away, the boat disappears.

‘Useful Phrases for the Tourist’ (1972). The title pretty much says it all. Mildly amusing.

‘Corruption’ (1976). An agent infiltrates another world, where everyone lives in sealed arcologies because the outside atmosphere is toxic. But the more time he spends in his undercover role, the more he sympathises with the society he is supposed to destroy through sabotage. Nonetheless, he follows his orders. The prose style is experimental – the story is broken down into eleven short sections, most of which begin with, “Look – “. I first read this in Aurora: Beyond Equality, edited by Vonda N McIntye and Susan Janice Anderson, and published in 1976, which is where it first appeared. On reread, it seems a much stronger piece, the prose depicting the regimented society of Outpost effectively, as well as the protagonist’s conflict over his orders.

‘There Is Another Shore, You Know, Upon the Other Side’ (1963). A young Italian man in Rome meets a young English woman, is much taken with her, and there follows a fairly straightforward holiday romance, his charm versus her diffidence. She doesn’t always meet him as promised, and she’s extremely vague about her own situation. Because she’s a ghost. As he discovers at the end of the story. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what this story adds to its overcrowded genre. It feels resolutely ordinary.

‘A Game of Vlet’ (1974). A captain of the guard discovers an assassin sneaking into the palace, but the assassin claims he has only come to challenge the king to a game of vlet. But the king’s new consort appears, and she accepts the challenge instead. The set the assassin has brought is “virgin” – unplayed, and untouched by human hands – which means that the game will be reflected in the real world. And so it is. But the assassin is not as good a player as he thought he was. This one is strong on atmosphere, as each move the players make is reflected in the world about them and violence overtakes the palace.

‘How Dorothy Kept Away the Spring’ (1977). Dorothy dreams a fairy tale with herself as the heroine, because her mother died recently and she is lonely. The fantasy elements feel as though they owe a little too much to The Wizard of Oz, a text which I suspect carries more sentimental baggage on the other side of the Atlantic. The end result reads over-long, its simple message diluted by a combination of whimsy and childish invention.

‘Poor Man, Beggar Man’ (1971). Cleitus the Black, who saved Alexander the Great’s life at the Battle of the Granicus but was later killed by Alexander during a drunken fight, visits Alexander as a ghost as Alexander’s army prepares to cross the Indus. Cleitus argues with Alexander, telling him he should return to Babylon and consolidate his rule, and not attack further into India. Alexander refuses, so Cleitus persuades Alexander’s wife, Roxana, to run away to the nearest Indian village and hide – in the hope her disappearance will change Alexander’s mind. During the search for her, Alexander gets lost in a nearby forest and becomes separated from his men. Cleitus comes to him and shows him something which persuades him to not cross the Indus (Roxana had returned of her own accord while they were looking for her). Russ freely admits in an author’s note that she has mangled the chronology of Alexander’s life… which makes you wonder what the point of the story is.

‘Old Thoughts, Old Presences’ (1975). In the introduction, Piercy describes this is “as much prose poem or essay as story” – at least the first section of it. ‘Old Thoughts, Old Presences’ is actually two stories, ‘Daddy’s Girl’ and ‘Autobiography of My Mother’, previously published in separate issues of Cornell University’s literary magazine. I found the second section more successful than the first, whose stream of consciousness narrative feels more like a work in progress. ‘Autobiography of My Mother’, however, is reminiscent of some of other Russ’s stories – particularly ‘Bodies’ (1984) – as it directly addresses the reader, and in the way it pulls together a narrative from a variety of incidents and anecdotes, presented in a variety of forms.

‘The Zanzibar Cat’ (1971). Another homage, this one of Hope Mirrlees. I’ve not read Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist, so many of the references in this story were lost on me. But despite that, it’s a well-told, if overly familiar in general shape, story about a young woman who confronts Death in one of its many guises and lives to tell the tale – unlike the army she was accompanying.

As collections go, The Zanzibar Cat is bit of a mixed bag. Many of the better stories have been subsequently anthologised, and only four or five appear here and in their original venue. As pointed out by Piercy in the introduction, the late stories are among the best ones. Not only did ‘When It Changed’ deserve its win, but ‘Corruption’ too is good, perhaps followed by ‘A Game of Vlet’ and then ‘My Boat’. Other stories, the dark fantasy ones especially, are a little too generic to stand out, and suffer poorly in comparison to the rest of the contents. What The Zanzibar Cat does demonstrate, however, is Russ’s breadth – from heartland sf to ghost story to fantasy to literary pastiche. The later stories also demonstrate just how good a writer she really was. It’s not just her economy, her ability to sketch out her worlds and cast so efficiently, but also the sharpness of her observation and the way she questions and comments on sensibilities in stories whose actual focus seemingly lies elsewhere. ‘When It Changed’ is a case in point, a first contact story about how the women of Whileaway react to the appearance of men on their world, but it’s really about the way the men behave toward women. But then there are stories such as ‘Poor Man, Beggar Man’, which seem too generic, too in love with their premise to actually interrogate it fully. Sadly, around half of The Zanzibar Cat falls into this latter category. Which, by definition, means half of the stories range from the merely good to excellent.

It’s definitely past time for a collected Russ.

Picnic on Paradise, Joanna Russ

picnicPicnic on Paradise, Joanna Russ (1968)
Review by Joachim Boaz

Joanna Russ’ first published novel Picnic on Paradise delightfully subverts traditional SF pulp adventure tropes. Although not as finely wrought as The Female Man, And Chaos Died, or her masterpiece We Who Are About To…, Picnic on Paradise is worthwhile for all fans of feminist SF and the more radical visions of the 60s.

Unfortunately, the metafictional implications/literary possibilities of the Alyx sequence of short stories and novels – of which Picnic on Paradise is part – are not realized until the publication of the short story ‘The Second Inquisition’ (1970).

She was a soft-spoken, dark-haired, small-boned woman, not even coming up to their shoulders, like a kind of dwarf or miniature – but that was normal enough for a Mediterranean Greek of nearly four millennia ago, before super-diets and hybridization from seventy colonized planets had turned all humanity (so she had been told) into Scandinavian giants. (p 1).

And so Alyx enters the fray… She’s a Trans-Temporal Agent, snatched from a near death situation and her difficult past (abusive relationship, realities of childbirth in the ancient world, et) in the time of the Phoenicians for a dangerous mission. The mission, extricate a series of “rich tourists” and nuns from a rare surface war on the planet Paradise from point A to point B. Unlike normal wars where the entire surface of a planet would be blasted into oblivion and re-terraformed by the winning side, Paradise is a tourist resort with little financial value other than its gorgeous mountains and vistas. But, there is a hitch: “no fires […] no weapons, no transportation, no automatic heating, no food processing, nothing airborne” (p 10) are allowed as they would be picked up on an infra-red spectrum at levels higher than the local wildlife. Weapons would narrow in and kill them on the spot.

Alyx, from the ancient city of Tyre, would have no problem trekking across the dangerous planet without modern necessities, but the inhabitants of this sterile, technologically dependent, rather coddled future would most likely die within days. Her survival skills and “sheer ignorance” of the modern world is the reason Alyx is assigned to the mission.

She has to contend with an intriguing and varied cast of individuals whose interactions with her and each other critique a range of social/cultural issues. First, there’s Maudey who is obsessed with plastic surgery: “You ought to have cosmetic surgery […] I’ve had it on my face and breasts. It’s ingenious. […] And you have to be careful dying eyebrows and eyelashes, although the genetic alterations are usually pretty stable. But they might spread, you know. Can you imagine having a blue forehead?’” (p 31).

And Maudey’s daughter Iris, who is the rebellious teenager desperate to escape her mother. The nuns are adherents to some vaguely defined Buddha inspired religion using sex and drugs to access the religious experience. Gunnar, an amateur explorer, initially challenges Alyx doubting the diminutive woman has the requisite skills necessary to lead the expedition. He belittles her before she proves him otherwise, “they had never, she supposed, seen Gunnar on the ground before. Or anyone else. Then Maudey threw up” (p 22). Gunnar starts to admire her. The Machine, a normally mute teenager, hides from his past but shows interest in Alyx’s. And then there is Raydos, an artist and “intellectual.” And finally there is Gavrily, a man who holds great influence.

In the first part of the novel the journey from point A to point B goes mostly without a hitch: Alyx learns about each of tourists and reaches some understanding of the foreign world in which she has been plunged. But then they discover that point B has been abandoned, and they must trek into the mountains to find some other way to escape: and unfortunately, “Paradise was not well mapped” (p 44).

At the time of publication Picnic on Paradise was and continues to be a radical vision. Alyx, although 26, is an “middle-aged” in her original time who has seen and suffered more than anyone can in Russ’ future. Her body is prematurely old and in no way adheres to western conceptions of beauty. Those around her are shocked and deeply suspicious of her abilities. But Alyx possesses an incredible drive to survive – the antithesis of the 1960s clichéd pulp woman in distress.

An outsider inserted into a varied cast is one of Russ’s favorite techniques: it is most adeptly used in We Who Are About To…. Despite their unappealing angst and frustration with Alyx, we come to feel for them as Alyx molds them into a group able to survive the planet. Their initial childlike perspectives on the world are perfectly embodied by the following passage:

“I ran away from home,” said Iris, “at the age of fifteen and joined a Youth Core. Almost everyone has Youth Cores, although mine wasn’t a delinquent Youth Core and some people will tell you that doesn’t count. But let me tell you, it changed my life. It’s better than hypnotic psychotherapy. They call it a Core because it forms the core of your adolescent rebellion, don’t you see, and I would have been nobody without it, absolutely nobody, it changed my whole life and my values. Did you ever run away from home?”

Yes, said Alyx. “I starved” (p 31).

Picnic on Paradise is a dense, well-written, and moving adventure. The appealing polemic is neatly integrated into the plot and Russ dismembers some of the more pernicious clichés in SF. Russ continues to impress me. Pick up a copy.

This review originally appeared on Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations.

We Who Are About To…, Joanna Russ

wewhoareWe Who Are About To…, Joanna Russ (1975)
Review by Ian Sales

The first realistic novel in the English language is generally reckoned to be Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, first published in 1719. In the three hundred years since, stories of marooned travellers have proven very popular – so much so the term “Robinsonade” was coined to describe them. When science fiction came into being in the first decades of the twentieth century, the Robinsonade effortlessly colonised the new genre. Alien worlds replaced desert islands, but little else changed – except, of course, the tools at the marooned person’s disposal. Ingenuity, leading either to rescue or a more comfortable existence, was a perfect fit for sf. And for much of the genre’s history, the Robinsonade remained pretty much unchanged, with perhaps one or two exceptions – such as Rex Gordon’s No Man Friday, in which an astronaut marooned on Mars survives with the help of the local fauna.

But if there’s a common shape to Robinsonades, Joanna Russ’s We Who Are About To… deliberately – perversely, even – subverts it. Because Russ is not interested in ingenuity in the face of adversity, or the perils hardy survivors must overcome, she’s interested in the group dynamics which come into play when a group of people find themselves shipwrecked. Especially a group containing both men and women…

A group of five women and three men crash-land on an uninhabited planet – although it does handily possess a survival shelter which they can use until rescued.  However, it’s not entirely clear when they will be rescued, and the narrator – the novel is framed as an audio diary by one of the marooned women – is doubtful they will ever be found. She is also doubtful they will survive very long, even though the planet seems relatively benign. For a start, they’re not entirely sure they can eat any of the local flora, and they only have supplies for about five weeks…

None of the group have useful skills: there’s a bureaucrat, a couple of academics, a retired couple and their young teen daughter, and a young man and a young woman… But the one thing they all do possess is opinions. And they’re not afraid to share them with the rest of the group. The three men want to start a colony, and so insist the women must consent to become breeding chattel. They even set up a kangaroo court to try and add legitimacy to this decision. The narrator, however, is having none of this. She disagrees with every suggestion because she doesn’t see the point of it. Unsurprisingly, this brings her into conflict with the rest of the group – not just the men, but also a couple of the women who have aligned themselves with the men. She tries running away, but they find her. So she escalates the conflict, kills the others one by one, but eventually succumbs to hunger herself.

There’s nothing in We Who Are About To…, other than the initial set-up, which remotely maps onto a Robinsonade. This is a novel driven by despair, not hope. The narrator is realistic enough to realise the chance of rescue is not just slim but non-existent, which means that any strategies for extending the survivors’ lives are pointless. This is an alien world, its habitability is an illusion… And though the narrator repeatedly points this out, she is ignored. This is clearly because the long-term viability of the group is less important to some of its members than the opportunity to wield power over the others – cf the kangaroo court mentioned earlier – especially the men over the women. And there’s a clear sense of entitlement from the male characters, as if the women’s biology gives the men leave to take control… It works in their favour that the narrator is a person they can easily turn the rest against – not only is she female, she is also outspoken, cynical, has an occupation the others do no understand (she’s a musicologist), proves to possess a useful pharmacopoeia she refuses to share, and is revealed to be a member of a religious group considered irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst.

Russ had a distinctive voice and it’s present in We Who Are About To… just as much as it is in her other works. Framing the novel as an audio-diary makes a strength of that voice. Because this is not a cheerful novel, it is an angry novel – told by someone who has good cause to be angry. We Who Are About To… is an important science fiction novel, but, as seems to be the case for many sf novels of the 1970s and many sf novels by women writers, it does not have half the reputation it deserves. Currently, only the 2010 Wesleyan University Press edition is in print. Let’s have less of Robert Heinlein’s unpublished manuscripts in print, please, and more of these overlooked, perhaps even deliberately forgotten, important sf novels by women back in book shops – with the logo of a major imprint on their spine, of course. In fact, doesn’t We Who Are About To… belong in the SF Masterwork series?

Extra(ordinary) People, Joanna Russ

Extra(ordinary)_People_coverExtra(ordinary) People, Joanna Russ (1984)
Review by Ian Sales

Recent years have seen the works of Joanna Russ rightly reclaimed as classics of science fiction. During her heyday in the 1970s and early 1980s, she was very successful, garnering eight nominations for the Nebula Award and winning once, but earning only two nominations for the Hugo, one of which was a win. Her The Female Man (1975) has long been considered an important work – and is now in the SF Masterworks series –  but much of her short fiction no longer seems so popular. This is a shame, as it is considerably better than that of many of her contemporaries, and large number of her stories have stood the test of time well. The five pieces of fiction in Extra(ordinary) People are excellent examples of this.

‘Souls’ (1982) was Russ’s only Hugo win. I read and reviewed it last year – see here – and on reread, the clues scattered throughout the text suggesting that the Abbess Radegunde is far from usual for the time the story is set not only seem more obvious… but also indicate she is almost non-human – reading at the age of two, for example. Then there’s the ease with which she addresses the raiding Vikings, even going so far as to crack a blue joke with them. But that unsettling sense that, despite the setting, Radegunde is a science-fictional creation still doesn’t help when it comes to deciphering what is really going on. It’s as if Russ deliberately offers an obvious reading of the strange figures in the wood – ie, aliens or time-travellers – but some of the foreshadowing doesn’t quite fit, and Radegunde’s subsequent revenge on Thorvald, the leader of the Vikings, undermines that assumption yet further:

“I cannot make long thy life – that gift is beyond me – but I give thee this: to the end of thy days, long or short, thou wilt know the Presence about thee always, as I do, and thou wilt know that it is neither good nor evil, as I do, and this knowing will trouble and frighten thee always, as it does me, and so about this one thing, as about many another, Thorvald Peacemaker will never have peace.” (p 54)

‘The Mystery of the Young Gentleman’ (1982) was shortlisted for the Nebula. It first appeared in Speculations, an anthology in which the authors’ names were given in code, and needed to be deciphered to determine who had written which. It’s tempting to wonder if Russ’s story was considered easily identifiable. Certainly, like much of her short fiction, it requires work by the reader – there is a lot happening, but very little is explained. This is one of Russ’s strengths, and a reason why much of her fiction continues to be readable today. ‘The Mystery of the Young Gentleman’ is written in the form of a journal by the eponymous young gentleman, who is travelling from London to New York aboard the SS President Hayes. It is June 1885, and he is accompanied by a twelve-year-old Spanish girl, Maria-Dolores. Except the young gentleman is not a young gentleman, and nor is Maria-Dolores who she purports to be. When one of the passengers, whom the young gentleman describes in his diary as “Dr Bumble”, takes a fancy to young man, a fancy he cannot explain, he decides it is because the young gentleman is in fact a woman in disguise. Except…

“An actress? Half a head taller than yourself? Where in Europe, on what possible stage? And this business of dye for the skin – which doesn’t smell, won’t wash off, and can’t be detected even in the most intimate contact, not even by a medical man?” (p 87)

There are clues throughout ‘The Mystery of the Young Gentleman’ which indicate the young gentleman and Maria-Dolores could either or both be male or female, but the last page suggests their identities are not so easily categorised. Like ‘Souls’, ‘The Mystery of the Young Gentleman’ reads for much of its length like historical fiction, and only takes an unexpected swerve into genre in its final pages. And, also like ‘Souls’, it resists an easy reading, genre or otherwise. It has become one of my new favourite pieces of short fiction.

The narrator of ‘Bodies’ (1984) is a resurrectee in the distant future, and she is writing a letter to another such person. Both are from the twentieth century – James, the recipient of the letter, from London in 1930, and the letter writer from Portland in the 1970s – and they have been resurrected two thousand years later. And it’s a world neither can really understand – not that its inhabitants understand them either. For one thing, it’s hinted they have non-binary genders. The letter-writer is asking James for understanding, that he accept his new life and come to terms with it, but she’s also explaining that she’s lonely, that she too finds this future world strange and alienating and that she needs his company. Like the preceding two stories in this collection, ‘Bodies’ is a story which needs work by the reader, and while it suffers a little because its setting is not historical but an invented future and so prone to feeling dated, it does showcase the strong voice which characterises much of Russ’s fiction. This story is original to the collection.

‘What Did You Do During the Revolution, Grandma?’ (1983) is another epistolary story, this time from a woman who has been sent undercover to a parallel Earth. In the world of the story, an infinite sequence of parallel realities have been discovered, where “the relation of cause to effect” varies by distance from the narrator’s “prime” Earth, called Ru 1.0. The narrator has been sent to Ru +0.892437521, which she has nicknamed Ruritania, disguised as a demon prince (ie, a male demon), called Ashmedai, in order to subtly steer local politics. Unfortunately, things don’t go quite according to plan – there’s a princess involved, of course – and then it transpires Ru 1.0 isn’t 1.0, after all. Again, Russ uses the letter format to put across the voice of her narrating character, and while it’s tempting to claim there’s a Russ “type” in protagonists, much as other sf authors of the same era relied on a handful of characters for their fictions, the narrator of ‘What Did You Do During the Revolution, Grandma?’ and, say, ‘Bodies’, do possess a characteristic forthrightness. ‘What Did You Do During the Revolution, Grandma?’ originally appeared in The Seattle Review.

‘Everyday Depressions’ (1984) is also original to Extra(ordinary) People and is structured as a series of witty letters by a writer to her editor in which she outlines the plot, and her thoughts regarding, a book she may or may not write. The novel will be a Gothic romance – there are numerous references to the literature of that time, such as Jane Austen’s novels – albeit between two women. There’s also a character called Alice Tiptree (obviously a reference to Alice Sheldon). In fact, the story is full of literary references and in-jokes and, while not at all genre, it makes a number of important points about gender politics and sexuality.

Between 1959 and 1996,  Joanna  Russ wrote fifty-six pieces of short fiction, and yet only three collections of her fiction have to date been published. There’s no denying the impact Russ had on the genre, nor the quality of her writing – which strikes me as more than reason enough for a volume of her collected short fiction. Recently, Ursula K Le Guin has had a two-volume collection of short stories published, there are plenty of male sf authors with complete collections available; and yet it seems only in recent years has Russ’s career been given the attention it rightly deserves. For such an outspoken author, this seems… peculiar. Perhaps it was her message, perhaps too many people didn’t want to hear it. Whatever the reason, the time is clearly right for Russ to be represented by more than just The Female Man. And the proof of that is in Extra(ordinary) People just as much as it is in any other piece of Russ’s short fiction. ‘Souls’ is an award winner and an excellent novella; ‘The Mystery of the Young Gentleman’ immediately became one of my favourite pieces of short science fiction. Let’s have Russ’s short fiction back in print, please. She was very, very good at it, and the genre needs to celebrate its good writers – not the ones its readers remember fondly from when they were thirteen years old…

The New Women of Wonder, Pamela Sargent

newwomenofwonderThe New Women of Wonder, edited by Pamela Sargent (1978)
Review by Ian Sales

This is the third of the Women of Wonder anthologies published during the 1970s, and while its title would suggest its aim is to introduce new female science fiction writers, only two – Eleanor Arnason and Pamela Zoline – did not appear in either, or both, of the two earlier volumes (see here and here). Unusually, there is no story by Ursula K Le Guin in the book, but Alice Sheldon does make an appearance under her male pen-name, James Tiptree Jr. It’s difficult not to wonder who exactly the “new” in the title refers to. The Women of Wonder series was rebooted in 1995 with two volumes: Women of Wonder: The Contemporary Years ( reviewed here and here) and Women of Wonder: The Classic Years.

Once again, Sargent opens the anthology with an introduction, this time 34 pages long. And, sadly, this only demonstrates that nothing ever changes. After a quick history of women in science fiction, she writes:

Even so, most science fiction is to this day has remained conservative in its sociological extrapolations. In pointing out this flaw, one is likely to be accused of seeking to impose an ideological test on the genre, rejecting works that do not measure up. But in fact I am asking why the the overwhelming majority of science fiction books limit female characters to traditional roles. (p xv)

After descriptions of several sf novels which break this mould – Samuel R Delany’s Triton, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, Kate Wilhelm’s The Clewiston Test – Sargent stresses that restrictions on female writers, and what they were allowed to write, still exists, and even notes:

One author of a successful first novel had her second novel rejected by the same publisher because the book was about an all-female world and there were no male characters in it. (p xxv)

While there are several such books now – Joanna Russ’s The Female Man and Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite immediately spring to mind – they are still very much in a minority… and yet sf novels which feature almost entirely male casts (and what few female characters do exist in them are either presented as victims or have no agency) are still relatively commonplace. Sargent identifies a nostalgia “in recent years” for “traditional stories with familiar trappings”. And that, according to the skewed view of the history of science fiction which seems to be the current-day accepted narrative, means science fiction stories for, by and about men. The fact that the three Women of Wonder anthologies were not repeated until almost twenty years later is testament to this. These anthologies were clarion calls, but more than thirty years later the message still hasn’t been heard:

Perhaps the genre as a whole, having often ignored women – as well as the old, the non-white, and the non-Western – does not quite hold together. It is within this context that we can view the role of women in sf. By adding their voices, they enrich the entire fictional system of science fiction. (p xxix)

The original The Women of Wonder anthology opened with a poem by Sonya Dorman, and so too does this one: ‘View from the Moon Station’. It’s a short poignant piece, which is pretty much described by its title – although its imagery is driven by memory. Though the passage of time has rendered its sentiments somewhat clichéd, it still manages to impress with its choice of imagery and its careful build-up to its emotional payload.

‘Screwtop’, Vonda N McIntyre. The title refers to a penal installation in the jungle on the human-settled world of Redsun. The prisoners are forced to labour drilling holes to deep underground pockets of superheated water, which is used to generate power for the various cities on the planet. Kylis is one such prisoner, and she has joined forces with Gryf, a “tetraparental”, and Jason, a new arrival. It’s Kylis who graces the cover art of The New Women of Wonder, although she does possess a disturbing likeness to Karen Carpenter. Kylis is a space rat, a person who travels from planet to planet as a stowaway, but the Redsun authorities caught her and sentenced her to Screwtop. Gryf is a political prisoner – as a tetraparental, a manufactured genius, he is obligated to work on government-chosen projects, but he refused. He only has to agree to the authorities’ demands and he will be set free. The three of them are plotting to escape Screwtop, although this would involve a potentially-fatal trek through hundreds of miles of alien jungle… There actually is not much in ‘Screwtop’ which actually demands it be science fiction. The penal facility could just as easily be on Earth, and the three inmates guilty of crimes against an existing earthly regime. Also, the entire installation itself doesn’t sound right. The inmates must drill a new hole when the last one has emptied itself of steam… Except that’s not how geothermal power works. Usually, water is pumped down the hole to be heated deep underground, and the steam which results is used to generate power. It is then cooled, and pumped back down the hole. Why would they actually siphon off all the superheated water? It makes little or no sense. It seems a shame that a story with such well-drawn characters and a nice sense of place should fail in such a fundamental fashion. ‘Screwtop’ was originally published in The Crystal Ship, a 1976 collection of three novellas also featuring Joan D Vinge and Marta Randall – but edited by Robert Silverberg.

‘The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons’, Eleanor Arnason. I expect that within weeks of the first science fiction story being written, someone wrote a story about writing a science fiction story. Certainly it’s an established tradition within the genre, if not within literature as a whole. The protagonist of ‘The Warlord of Saturn’s Moon’s is writing a story titled ‘The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons’, a pulp sf tale with spaceships, chases across “Titan’s methane snows”, “strange psychic arts from Hindu mystics”, assassins and the fate of the moon(s) in the balance. Unusually for the form, however, her story has a heroine. And the villain of the piece is perhaps not so villainous after all. As she considers her story, the rescue of her partner, 409, by the heroine, so the writer reflects on her own world. It’s a nicely-judged story, gently mocking the conventions of pulp sf while it carefully subverts them. Presenting it as a meta-fictional piece also makes it more thoughtful than perhaps it would have been had it been presented straight – at the very least, doing it this way doesn’t allow for misinterpretation of its subverted tropes. The story first appeared, unsurprisingly, in New Worlds and was deservedly shortlisted for a Nebula Award.

‘The Triumphant Head’, Josephine Saxton. I’m not entirely sure what to make of what little of Saxton’s fiction that I’ve read, and ‘The Triumphant Head’ is a case in point. It describes the beginning of a day for a married woman, as she wakes up, washes, puts on her make-up, and gets dressed. Yet it is presented as if the woman were an alien in disguise – or certainly not human. It feels like too obvious a conceit to bother fictionalising, but Saxton maintains a slight undercurrent of farce to the story, which not only works in its favour but also makes it an enjoyable read.

‘The Heat Death of the Universe’, Pamela Zoline. If there is one story which is often held up as emblematic of New Wave science fiction in Britain, it is this one by US author Zoline. (The introduction to the story mentions a novel, Dream-Work, on which Zoline is working; it was apparently never published. A shame, it would be interesting to read it.) Structured as 54 sections of text, some of which are titled, the story presents episodes – vignettes, almost – in the life of middle-class American housewife Sarah Boyle, juxtaposed with science-fictional commentary and short essays on a variety of topics, scientific and otherwise:

30. Sarah Boyle is a vivacious and witty young wife and mother, educated at a fine Eastern college, proud of her growing family which keeps her happy and busy around the house, involved in many hobbies and community activities, and occasionally given to obsessions concerning Time/Entropy/Chaos and Death.

31. Sarah Boyle is never quite sure how many children she has. (p 110)

A quick check on reveals that ‘The Heat Death of the Universe’ has been anthologised 16 times, the most recent in 2010. Zoline wrote a further four short pieces of fiction, the last of which appeared in 1988 in her only collection, Busy About the Tree of Life. I can only wonder what more she might have written had the genre been more welcoming to women who chose to write about women’s lives in a science-fictional mode.

‘Songs of War’, Kit Reed. In Los Angeles, the women decide they have had enough and form their own army, which occupies a farm up in the hills overlooking the city. Over a period of several weeks, women leave their husbands and families and join the army, which has itself already split into several factions. On first pass, this story reads like a criticism of the women’s movement – for all their ambitions, the women who gather at the farm soon begin to bicker and the various factions begin to work covertly and overtly against each other. The radical militants attack a few soft targets – a shopping mall, for example – while the housewives are given housewifely duties (kitchen, creche, etc). The teenagers are more interested in boys than solidarity, and the woman who becomes the army’s unofficial spokesperson would sooner promote her media career than the army’s manifesto. Eventually, the army disperses in ones and twos, although not after some violence, and the wives and daughters return to their homes, changed by what they’ve experienced – as, in some cases, are their husbands and fathers. As a commentary on the frationalisation of movements, especially ones without clear goals and policies, ‘Songs of War’ is a witty commentary, as it also on the quotidian lives of the women in the story. But there’s nothing in it that’s, well, science fiction. It appears to be set in the present day of its writing (ie, 1974), and there’s not a single sf trope to be seen anywhere. Which begs the question, does it get a pass as science fiction because sf is so bad at incorporating the lives of women into its stories?

‘The Women Men Don’t See’, James Tiptree Jr. This is one of Tiptree best-known stories, though personally I think some of her other works are stronger. The narrator is heading to Mexico on a fishing trip, but his charter plane from Cozumel proves to be unavailable. He persuades the pilot to let him hitch a ride on another plane heading south – and the other passengers prove to be a totally innocuous mother and daughter. The plane crashes en route, leaving narrator, pilot, mother and daughter stranded. Running short on potable water, the narrator and the mother leave the other two – the pilot is injured – and head for an inlet about a day’s walk away. Except it’s not really a walk, as they have to struggle through a mangrove swamp. The two of them witness something very strange – and the narrator belatedly realises it is a landing by extraterrestrials… and the mother has taken something from them. She persuades the aliens to return the two of them to the crashed plane, which they do. She then persuades the aliens to take her and her daughter with them on their interstellar travels. While the story is predicated on the (male) narrator’s realisation that such women have never really impinged on his worldview before, and that such women have thoughts, desires, ambitions no different to his own, like many of Tiptree’s stories it makes its point with a thumb heavily pressed on the scales. The central premise – aliens visiting Earth somewhere in the Mexican jungle – is presented without any real commentary, or any interrogation of the trope. Which perhaps weakens the point the story is trying to make. ‘The Women Men Don’t See’ feels like a story which was written as science fiction only because its author wrote science fiction. I don’t really see that as a strength.

‘Debut’, Carol Emshwiller. I would categorise ‘Debut’ as fantasy rather than science fiction, which does make its presence in this anthology somewhat puzzling. A blind princess is taken to the queen after years of being pampered, but the princess is paranoid and tries to stab the queen… who removes the mask blinding the princess so she can now see. But she cannot interpret what she sees and so fails in her assassination attempt. She escapes the palace and takes refuge in a wood… And, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what’s going on in this story. It feels like I’m missing the metaphor. There’s no denying that Emshwiller writes excellent prose, but the obliqueness of her imagination often leaves me foundering.

‘When It Changed’, Joanna Russ. This story describes the time men from Earth arrived on the world of Whileaway thirty generations after the Whileaway men all died in a plague. The Earthmen can’t process an all-female colony, especially one that functions perfectly well without men, and are by turns befuddled or deeply patronising. The narrator shows remarkable restraint. But the women of Whileaway have decided to accept the presence of the men, and reluctantly accept that their way of life may well be over forever. Though the story only suggests the path the future may take for the colony, it’s a far from happy ending – and all the stronger for what it leaves unsaid. This is easily one of Russ’s best short stories.

‘Dead in Irons’, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. This is heartland sf, both in terms of setting, tropes and its politics. Aboard an interstellar starship, stewards look after the passengers, including the frozen steerage ones. The stewards are run like a satrapy by the most brutish and violent steward, and anyone he dislikes or won’t do what he is told is given steerage duty. Shiller has only just joined the ship, and refuses to be Wranswell’s mate, and so is assigned steerage. But she quite likes it there. Wranswell’s previous lover wants to persuade Shiller not to accept Wranswell’s offer and so sabotage’s Shiller’s cold gear, which makes the duty even more onerous and dangerous. Eventually Shiller is waylaid and frozen with the steerage passengers. When she wakes, she discovers the ship is lost and the stewards have eaten all of the steerage passengers. This is not a pleasant read, and it’s, er, hard to swallow a starship crew that is so violent and savage.

‘Building Block’, Sonya Dorman. Norja is a space architect, but has been forced to visit a recall doctor to help retrieve Norja’s forgotten design, the Star Cup, a “radical and innovative” design for a space home. Norja’s business is failing because she is blocked, and even her frequent drinking binges have failed to unlock her memory. But Dr Bassey withholds the tape containing the results of the recall session and demands money for it. So Norja visits a family friend, Dr Moons, and asks for his help in recalling the memory. But once he has a tape of the design, he insists on being paid to hand over the tape. Since she can afford neither person’s demands, Norja decides the Star Cup is lost forever and so throws herself into the design for something new – a multi-occupant space condominium. It proves very successful, and as she leaves it, a contract for a second already signed, she sees a competitor building a Star Cup, and knows that she has just killed the market for single-occupant space homes… I’m not sure which is sillier in this story – that two people would ransom the information they obtained from a memory retrieval operation (and one of them is a medical professional); the whole “space home” thing; or the revelation that one form of space habitat would comprehensively kill the market for other forms. Norja may be a personable narrator, but as science fiction ‘Building block’ is sadly weak.

‘Eyes of Amber’, Joan D Vinge. T’uupieh is a cast-down noble and assassin who has been befriended by a demon, which possesses the eyes of the title. Except it’s not a demon, it’s a space probe from Earth, and T’uupieh is a native of Titan, the moon of Saturn. Although T’uupie’s narrativeh reads like a fantasy – but for the odd details which reveal her to be an alien, such as the mention of wings – Titan’s environment is rendered quite accurately for the story’s time of writing. It’s an impressive piece of worldbuilding. If the male human protagonist, Shannon, who is the sole human capable of communicating with T’uupieh, is a bit wet, that’s a minor flaw – T’uupieh is much more interesting a character. I’m not entirely convinced by the story itself, however. Shannon tries to impose his own morality on T’uupieh, which she roundly rejects. But in the end, she learns a lesson which aligns her moral compass a little more closely with his. But such sentiments were more widely acceptable in the 1970s than they are now – indeed, ‘Eyes of Amber’ won the Hugo Award for best novelette in 1978.

When the conversation turns to influential science fiction anthologies of the past, the ones most usually mentioned are Asimov’s Before the Golden Age series, or some of the New Wave anthologies such as Dangerous Visions or England Swings. I’m surprised the Women of Wonder books are not mentioned in the same breath. It’s hard to say which is the strongest of the three – it’s probably best to get all of them – because they are all very strong collections of short science fiction, and there’s not a dud story in them (though some stories are more successful, or have aged better, than others). It’s only a shame they have not proven as influential as they should have. Perhaps if cyberpunk had never happened, or had been a little more discerning in its choice of inspirations, they might have been. As it is, it took a further twenty years before the series was rebooted. And yet Sargent’s five Women of Wonder anthologies remain outliers in the genre. I have, to date, identified only a further six women-only science fiction anthologies, published between 1976 and 2006 (see here).

That’s not really a record to be proud of.