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Eastercon is over

So that’s Satellite 4, the 2014 Eastercon, over and done with. It was a con of ups and downs. On the one hand, it’s always good to spend time with friends, especially ones you don’t see IRL all that often. On the other… I didn’t reckon much to the programme, the dealers’ room was disappointingly small, and the hotel isn’t all that well-suited to conventions – the main bar and function space are separated by two staircases… or a shortcut through the main restaurant.

The train journey to Glasgow didn’t start too well, but proved mostly painless. British railways are still an embarrassment, however. The ROSCOs seriously need to be nationalised, they’re robbing us all blind. I hadn’t managed to get a room in the con hotel, the Crowne Plaza, but was instead staying in the Hilton Garden Hotel about five minutes’ walk away. It proved to be the better hotel – while the rooms were small, and the en suite bathrooms tiny, they did contain a fridge, a safe and an… iMac. The hotel breakfast was nothing special, although unfortunately I managed to poison myself on the Saturday – I suspect the mushrooms. I think they must have been cooked in butter, because I spent most of the day feeling like I’d been kicked in the stomach. Lactose intolerance will do that to you.

In fact, I didn’t eat well all weekend. It was either bar food or the hotel restaurant, and there wasn’t a fat lot on the bar food menu I could eat. So I pretty much had chips. Just chips. Every day. Including a trip to Strathbungo with the Steels and Dougal. (Which happened during the Hugo Award announcement, so I watched the shortlists appear on Twitter on my phone with mounting disbelief, sitting in a car in Strathbungo, eating chips.) Bizarrely, the con ended with Hal Duncan and myself eating in the hotel restaurant on the Monday night… which is what happened the last time the Eastercon was in that hotel, back in 2006.

Other “downs” – being glass-fronted, the hotel was uncomfortably hot throughout the weekend. What is it about the UK and its inability to air-condition buildings effectively? And on one night, someone turned off the lights in the gents while I was in one of the cubicles. I was not happy.

I only managed to make three programme items, though I’d promised myself I’d be more diligent. First was the NewCon Press / PS Publishing launch. It occurred to me during it that it’s only small presses who launch books at Eastercon now. It must be several years since I last saw one of the big imprints do so. Then there was Neil Williamson’s talk about how he uses music in his writing – which managed to put one member of the audience to sleep (the second time that person has done so during one of Neil’s readings). And finally I attended the BSFA Award ceremony. It’s gratifying to see the BSFA can still be resolutely amateur – with the slideshow not always working, at least one of the list of nominees given to a presenter proving incorrect, and a plain lack of script. Still, I guess it’s an improvement on (some) previous years… I correctly called the winners in three of the categories, but I thought Christopher Priest might take the Best Novel. I certainly wasn’t expecting a tie, and while Ancillary Justice was my second favourite to win, I hadn’t thought Ack-Ack Macaque stood much chance. I’d not reckoned on the effect being on-site has, however. Anyway, congratulations to all the winners.

I spent much of Satellite 4 in the hotel’s main bar, talking to friends and meeting new people. In that respect, the convention was much like any other. I can remember the topics of only a handful of the conversations, nor can I remember everyone I spoke to. But it was nice to speak to you if I did speak to you. I do sort of recall one conversation about Apollo Quartet 4 All That Outer Space Allows, and discussing a dinner scene from something that I fancied taking off in the novella… But when I got home on the Tuesday, I’d completely forgotten in what it was the dinner scene had originally appeared. Which was bloody annoying. But then – and this is apparently how my brain works – last Sunday I was reading a short story by Margaret Atwood and it mentioned in passing Walden Pond and I remembered I had a copy of Thoreau’s book, Walden, which I wanted to read for All That Outer Space Allows because in Sirk’s film All That Heaven Allows it’s Rock Hudson’s favourite book and he shows it to Jane Wyman just before… the dinner party. Aha! After all that, it proved the most obvious answer – the dinner scene is in the movie which partly inspired the novella and which its title references. Doh.

Anyway, I digress. I enjoyed Satellite 4 for the socialising, but after the 4 am finish on the Saturday, I was definitely wondering if I was getting too old for this shit… Except one of the other people who stayed up until that ungodly hour was Jim Burns. And he has a couple of decades on me. So clearly I must be doing it wrong. Ah well.

No con report would be complete without a catalogue of book purchases. So here it is…

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My haul from the New Con Press / PS Publishing book launch: Neil Williamson’s debut novel, The Moon King; the first in the Telemass Quartet by Eric Brown, Famadihana on Fomalhaut IV; his latest collection, Strange Visitors, part of NewCon’s Imaginings series of collections; The Uncollected Ian Watson is precisely that; and Memory Man & Other Poems is Ian’s first poetry collection. (The NewCon Press titles have yet to appear on their website, so the titles link to the site’s front page.)

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Some books for SF Mistressworks: Second Body by Sue Payer I just couldn’t resist after reading the blurb – “Five hours later, Wendy’s head was fused to Jennifer’s tall, voluptuous body, and her life would never be the same!”. Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan, The People: No Different Flesh by Zenna Henderson, The Journal of Nicholas the American by Leigh Kennedy and A Billion Days of Earth by Doris Piserchia are all books I’ve heard of – in fact, they’ve all been reviewed once already on SF Mistressworks.

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I also collect fictional treatments of first landings on the Moon published before Apollo 11 – First on the Moon by Hugh Walters from 1960 is one such novel. The Testimony by James Smythe and The Serene Invasion by Eric Brown are both books I didn’t have and want to read.

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Finally, Paul Kincaid’s latest critical work, Call and Response.

As for Whippleshield Books… All three books of the Apollo Quartet were available in the dealers’ room throughout the con on the TTA Press table. I even sat behind the table for an hour with Jim Steel, so Roy could attend a programme item. We were not exactly mobbed. Over the entire weekend, I managed to sell around two dozen books, which was slightly better than I’d expected. I still had a 1.5 boxes of books to ship back home, however.

Next year’s Eastercon is in Heathrow, with Jim Butcher and Seanan McGuire as Guests of Honour. I doubt I’ll be going. I don’t like the site, and I’m not a fan of urban fantasy. I shall stay home and write something instead…


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Moving pictures, #2

A choice selection of yet more films watched so far this year – since my last moving pictures post, of course. I’m keeping the descriptions short, or I’d never get this post done…

Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer (UK/USA, 2014)
My first trip to the cinema this year. I remember not liking the book when I read it a decade ago, but I did like this film. The guerilla filming in Glasgow was especially effective, and Scarlett Johansson was excellent in the lead role. Very unsettling – and a lot of it is left up to the viewer to interpret. It probably requires a bit too much work on the part of the viewer to be commercially successful.

Kin-Dza-Dza, Georgiy Daneliya (USSR, 1986)
I found this for sale on a US site that specialises in Russian DVDs (see here), and it was in an edition which included English subtitles. I’d heard much about the film and always wanted to see it, so I bought a copy. It is… bonkers. But also really good. A Russian construction foreman and an Armenian music student are accidentally transported to a planet in the Kin-dza-dza galaxy, and must figure out how to get home.

Eolomea, Herrmann Tschoche (East Germany, 1972)
This was actually a rewatch – it’s one of the films in The Defa Sci-Fi Collection box set I bought a couple of years ago. A number of ships have disappeared on supply missions to space stations. Professor Maria Scholl becomes suspicious – and more so when one of the space stations falls silent. Meanwhile, rumours that a way has been found to reach fabled exoplanet Eolomea have begun to surface. I love the look and feel of this film, with its 1970s future; but it’s also something Hollywood does badly: an intelligent sf film.

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My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, Werner Herzog (USA/Germany, 2009)
Sideways look at a police seige of a house where a killer has holed up with hostages. The cops had arrived at the scene to find a murdered woman… and her son then walks across the road and takes the neighbours hostage. Flashbacks show what led to the murder – and it’s the usual off-kilter Herzog stuff. This film was produced by David Lynch, and it does feel very Lynchian, with that sort of fevered supra-reality he used in several of his movies.

Byzantium, Neil Jordan (UK/Ireland, 2012)
Vampires on the run. Gemma Arterton is a young woman in early nineteenth-century England, forced into prostitution by Navy officer Jonny Lee Miller. Years later, dying of TB, she steals Miller’s map to an island that gives a person immortality – by making them a vampire. The all-male vampires aren’t happy but let her go. But when Miller gets his revenge by raping Arterton’s daughter, Aterton takes her to the island… This is all flashbacks as the film’s set in the present day, with Arterton and daughter Saoirse Ronan shacking up in Daniel Mays’ delapidated Byzantium Hotel… and opening a brothel. A polished film, but throughout it felt like one that needn’t have been made.

On the Threshold of Space, Robert D Webb (USA, 1956)
A dramatization of the work of Captain Joseph W Kittinger II, with his parachute jumps from stratospheric balloons as part of Project Manhigh. It’s played completely straight – these were important tests, and though highly dangerous they had to be done. In that respect, it’s not unlike William Holden’s Toward the Unknown (see here). I find all this sort of stuff completely fascinating, and if the film doesn’t actually have much of a story it doesn’t matter to me. Besides, I could watch Virginia Leith in anything.

Riders to the Stars, Richard Carlson (USA, 1954)
One of a trilogy of films about the Office of Scientific Investigation, which tries for scientific accuracy but falls flat on its face. OSI satellites have been blowing up once in orbit and they suspect this is due to cosmic rays. (See what I mean.) So they decide to send up a man in a rocket designed to capture a meteoroid… because meteoroids don’t blow up in space. (Um…). The OSI invites a dozen men to their headquarters, not telling them for what, tests them, and selects three – one of whom happens to be the son of the chief scientist. They build their rockets, launch them, two of them blow up, but the third – the scientist’s son, natch – captures a meteoroid… and they discover that the rock’s secret is its carbon shield! (Sigh.)

Test Pilot Pirx, Marek Piestrak (USSR/Poland, 1978)
An adaptation of a story by Stanisław Lem. Pirx has to evaluate a new type of android and is ordered to fly a mission to Saturn. One of his crew will be an android, but he isn’t told which one. It all looks a bit like a 1970s near-future thriller… and then they climb into a spacecraft and fly across the Solar System. The bit where they fly through a gap in Saturn’s rings, and it looks like an ice chasm, is silly; but the rest of it is good.

Something in the Air, Olivier Assayas (France, 2012)
Intense drama set in and around the student riots of 1968. I’ve liked a number of Assayas’ films but this was surprisingly dull.

It’s a Gift, Norman Z McLeod (USA, 1934)
WC Fields, and I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen one of his films before. This is the one where a relative leaves him some money and he uses it to buy property in California. I was surprised at how nasty his character was, although the slapstick bits were funny – well, as Confucius said, the funniest sight in the whole world is watching an old friend fall off a high roof…

To the Stars by Hard Ways (Через тернии к звёздам), Richard Viktorov (USSR, 1981)
The final purchase from that Russian DVD site. I’d seen a version of this previously, a badly-butchered English-dubbed version titled Humanoid Woman. It had never made sense. Now I’ve seen the full three-hour original, I finally understand the story. But it’s still bonkers. In the first half, a strange woman is discovered in a wrecked spaceship and goes to live with a scientist’s family. The second half covers a rescue mission to her planet to save it after rampant capitalism has brought about ecological disaster. Also features the WORST ROBOT EVAH.

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Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie, Martyn Pick (UK, 2010)
I’m not a fan of the game so I’ve no idea what possessed me to stick this on my rental list, but I did and… All-CGI with some well-known names providing the voices, and a plot stolen from every modern war film ever. The characters don’t look quite right – their shoulders are in the wrong place – and they move weirdly, and the whole thing is extremely dull and badly-paced. Avoid. Even if you’re a Warhammer 40k fan.

Between Your Legs, Manuel Gómez Pereira (Spain, 1999)
A twisty-turny thriller that aims for Hitchcock but misses and hits De Palma. Javier Bardem is a sex addict who takes up with fellow sex addict Victoria Abril, only to discover that someone has been selling tapes of private phone sex he’d been having with another woman. Abril’s husband, meanwhile, is a detective investigating the murder of a young man, and the evidence is starting to point to Bardem… You know when you get to the twist in a De Palma film and you realise it’s been done before? That. Not bad, though.

Anna Karenina, Joe Wright (UK, 2012)
This adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel is notable because it’s filmed as though it were set inside a theatre, with overt theatre sets becoming the mise en scène of shots. A nice idea in theory but it turns the film into a Sixth Form play. Also, Keira Knightley in the title role. I find her really hard to watch.

La Boulangère de Monceau, Eric Rohmer (France, 1963)
The first of Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales, filmed in black and white on 16mm. A young man falls in love with a woman he passes on the street every day, but when she no longer begins appearing, he hunts for her in the surrounding streets… and stumbles across a bakery where he starts buying something to eat every day. Then he and the girl in the bakery start flirting with each other, and he decides he’ll go out with her since he’s lost the other one… only for her to re-appear. It’s supposed to be a moral dilemma – which girl does he choose? – but it only works because the young man is shallow and self-centred, and the women only exist in relation to him. Later films in the series were much better.

La Carrière de Suzanne, Eric Rohmer (France, 1963)
A group of shallow twentysomethings live it up in Paris, and Suzanne is dragged into their circle. Guillaume ruthlessly exploits her, getting her to pay for things, dropping her and only returning to her when his present relationship ends… But she seems more than willing to put up it, and even gives up her job, the better to be at the group’s beck and call. The film aims for deep truth, but uses shallow characters to explore it. Not entirely sure it’s a workable technique.


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April book haul, part 1

The following books I bought between the last book haul post and Eastercon. I’ll include the books I bought in Glasgow in a post on the convention. Meanwhile… a few for the collection, a few for research, a few because they looked interesting… The usual, in other words.

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A pair of hard-to-find first editions for the Anthony Burgess collection: I read Honey for the Bears years ago in paperback, but I’ve yet to read The Worm and the Ring. The latter, incidentally, is the 1970 revised edition. The original version was withdrawn and pulped after a complaint that one of the characters was an obvious caricature, and copies of it are very expensive.

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A pair of women-only sf anthologies (see my post on the topic here). The Venus Factor is, I believe, the earliest such; and Daughters of Earth is the latest – at least until The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women is published this coming December. Daughters of Earth is actually a mix of fiction and non-fiction: each story is followed by an essay.

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While researching Soviet sf for my Gagarin on Mars story, I decided to pick up a few anthologies of science fiction from the USSR. The Ultimate Threshold and Path into the Unknown are from 1970 and 1966 respectively, and share no contents at all.

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The Feminine Mystique is research for Apollo 4 All That Outer Space Allows. Yup, I’m writing a hard sf novella and I need to reference a classic feminism text… Woman’s World I’d seen ages ago but only now bothered to buy. It’s billed as a “graphic novel”, but it’s not really – the prose has been put together using words cut from women’s magazines. So it’s like a novel-length ransom note, with a, er, plot.

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Finally, a handful of graphic novels. The Oath of the Five Lords is the eighteenth book in The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer series. It’s not an original Edgar P Jacobs book, but by Yves Sente and André Juillard. I think Sente writes cleverer stories than Jacobs did – this one is about TE Lawrence, and an anti-government pamphlet he wrote but was not allowed to publish. On the False Earths is the seventh book of Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin’s Valerian and Laureline series. It was originally published in French in 1977, and Cinebook are slowly publishing English-language editions – and about time too. They’re clever little science fiction bandes dessinée. The Underwater Welder I bought because of the subject, but I can’t say it really grabbed me. And while I subscribed to 2000 AD throughout my teens, I managed to miss the Halo Jones stories – but I’d always wanted to read them so I finally got hold of an omnibus edition, The Ballad of Halo Jones. I might well get a few more trade paperbacks of stories from the comic.


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Well, the Hugos… are not

So they went and announced this year’s Hugo shortlists last Saturday evening, and it was all looking quite good for a bit… and then it turned into a total bag of shite. My dissatisfaction with the Hugos over the past few years has hardly been much of a secret, and I was mentally preparing myself to be disappointed yet again. But for one brief moment there, as the fan categories shortlists appeared, I was actually hopeful. And then…

Three things happened.

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First, a bunch of right-wing scumbags campaigned to get some of their right-wing scumbag friends onto various of the shortlists. And they mostly succeeded – of the twelve people on their “ideal ballot”, seven made it onto the shortlists. What they did was perfectly well within the rules, and similar campaigns have taken place in the past – although none have been as successful as this one. Let’s be clear about this, however – this wasn’t because they wanted to see their friends on the shortlists, this was a direct attack on a part of genre fandom. And yes, it’s an attack on the part that exhibits the qualities genre fandom should exhibit – inclusivity instead of misogyny and homophobia, diversity instead of racism and marginalisation, progressiveness instead of regressiveness… you know, the qualities associated with civilised human beings.

Secondly, some bright spark discovered that the entire Wheel of Time was eligible for Best Novel as a single work. And enough people voted for it so it’s made the shortlist. That’s fourteen fat epic fantasy novels which vary in quality from mediocre to rubbish. There’s no denying they’re a notable genre achievement, but a Hugo Award for Best Novel is not the way to recognise that. The series’ presence on the shortlist only makes the award even more of a laughing stock than it already was.

And finally, despite some small victories which reflect the genre and fandom which interest me, the same old names appear, demonstrating little or no progression in the tastes of the bulk of the Hugo electorate. But then, I suppose, it has little to do with taste – and zero to do with “best”. Fandom is now partisan to an extent it never has been before, and becoming increasingly so each year. People nominate their favourite authors, irrespective of whether the work in question is award-worthy – because if you think Neptune’s Brood and Parasite are the best sf novels of last year, you need to read a hell of a lot more widely. There’s a reason they haven’t appeared on any other award shortlist.

The reason all this has taken place – or rather, the reason the shortlists are like this, is because so few people vote in the awards that blocs don’t have to be especially large to have an impact. The only way to prevent this from occurring again is to open the voting to a wider pool. But that won’t happen because the Hugo Award is heavily invested in protecting a model of fandom which hasn’t existed for decades and it has the bureaucracy in place to ensure change is either extremely difficult or impossible.

Given this, I think there are five possible responses:

1. Pretend it’s just a “blip” and treat this year’s awards just the same as other years. It isn’t the same, of course, and it would be either foolish or mendacious to suggest it is. Taking this option would require total blindness to the situation.

2. Vote “no award” in preference to anything by the right-wing scum. This at least would have the benefit of showing the right-wingers exactly what they’re worth. Likewise for the Wheel of Time. Nonetheless, it would still require treating the shortlists seriously – and I think the fiction categories are beyond that.

3. Vote “no award” in preference to everything on the shortlists. Doing this would certainly send a message – the 2013 Hugos were so shit, no awards were given at all. But while that may be true of the fiction categories, it isn’t for some of the others – and it’s unfair that they should also suffer.

4. Vote for the right-wing scum, in the hope they win and destroy what little credibility the Hugos have remaining. Again, like 3., this punishes everybody and not just those who deserve it.

5. Don’t vote, don’t attend the award ceremony; having nothing to do with the Hugos ever again.

According to the Loncon 3 website, 6786 people have purchased attending or supporting memberships for the convention. There will likely be a couple of thousand walk-ins too. Only 1923 people voted in the Hugo awards. The figures look even worse by category – 1595 for novel, 847 for novella, 728 for novelette and 865 for short story. So for best novel, I make that 23.5% of the membership. Over three-quarters of Worldcon members couldn’t give a shit about the Hugo Award for Best Novel. That number has just increased by one. Apologies to the people I know and like on the various ballots – I know it’s unfair on them – but I’ve had it with the Hugos. I will not be voting. Nor will I attend the ceremony. And if I’d been on any of the fiction shortlists, I would have pulled my story.

It goes without saying that my one vote will have zero impact on the final results, whether I choose to exercise it or not. I choose not to. I will do the same next year, even though I am eligible.

Finally, one last request: the Hugo needs to remove the word “world” from its constitution. It is not a world sf award, it is an American one. It should at least have the decency to acknowledge that.


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Women-only science fiction anthologies

Men-only sf anthologies are hardly rare, and anthologies where the male writers hugely outnumber the female writers on the table of contents are sadly commonplace. But there have been attempts in the past to redress this. As far as I can discover, there have been thirteen women-only sf anthologies published since the 1970s, and one that describes itself as a feminist anthology and has mostly female contributors. Late this year, of course, we get Alex Dally MacFarlane’s The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what stories she has chosen. But for the time-being, there are…

venusThe Venus Factor, Vic Ghidalia & Roger Elwood, eds. (1972) This is the earliest women-only sf anthology of which I’m aware. It appears to have been sold on the fact it contains “Agatha Christie’s only science fiction story”, ‘The Last Séance’. The remaining stories are by Cynthia Asquith, Gertrude Atherton, Miriam Allen deFord, and the more familiar Zenna Henderson, Anne McCaffrey, Judith Merril and CL Moore. It covers most of the decades from sf’s beginnings to the book’s publication, with Christie’s story from the 1920s, three from the 1930s, one from the 1950s and three from the 1960s.

wowWomen of Wonder, Pamela Sargent, ed. (1975) Perhaps the most celebrated of the women-only sf anthologies – or rather, the trilogy which this book begins is perhaps the most celebrated. Sargent lays out her agenda in an excellent introduction (in fact, all three Women of Wonder anthologies are worth getting for Sargent’s introductions) – this is more than just science fiction “by women about women”, it’s about women’s place in the genre, and in the history of the genre, as both protagonists and writers. There are no obscure names in the table of contents, and one story even won a Nebula Award. The stories are by Sonya Dorman, Judith Merril, Katherine McLean, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, Kit Reed, Kate Wilhelm, Carol Emshwiller, Ursula K Le Guin, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Joanna Russ and Vonda N McIntyre, and date from 1948 to 1973. I reviewed it on SF Mistressworks here.

mwowMore Women Of Wonder, Pamela Sargent, ed. (1976) Although the Women of Wonder anthologies were plainly intended to demonstrate that, “Look! Women write science fiction too!”, Sargent does seem to draw her contributions from a relatively small pool. Admittedly, she explains that the anthologies are as much about sf stories about women as they are sf stories by women. Appearing in this volume are CL Moore, Leigh Brackett, Joanna Russ, Josephine Saxton, Kate Wilhelm, Joan D Vinge and Ursula K Le Guin, three of whom appeared in the earlier volume. I reviewed the anthology on SF Mistressworks here.

auroroaAurora: Beyond Equality, Vonda N McIntyre & Susan Janice Anderson, eds. (1976) This billed itself as a “feminist science fiction anthology” because its contents were not contributed wholly by women – three of the stories in the anthology were by men, David J Skal, PJ Plauger and Craig Strete. The remaining stories were provided by James Tiptree Jr (twice), Mildred Downey Broxon, Ursula K Le Guin, Joanna Russ and Marge Piercy. The stories are all original to the anthology.

crystalThe Crystal Ship, Robert Silverberg, ed. (1976) Although a male sf writer’s name appears prominently on the cover of this book, it actually contains three original novellas by women: ”The Crystal Ship’ by Joan D Vinge, ‘Megan’s World’ by Marta Randall and ‘Screwtop’ by Vonda N McIntyre. The last also appeared in The New Women of Wonder (see SF Mistressworks review here), and was published in 1989 as one half of a Tor double with James Tiptree Jr’s ‘The Girl Who Was Plugged In’.

millennialMillennial Women, Virginia Kidd, ed. (1978) Kidd was a member of the Futurians and an influential editor. While this anthology is perhaps not as strong as any of the Women of Wonder anthologies, it does present a wide variety of sf stories – provided by Cynthia Felice, Marilyn Hacker, Diana L Paxson, Elizabeth A Lynn, Cherry Wilder, Joan D Vinge and Ursula K Le Guin. Some editions of the book were sold as Le Guin’s short novel, “Eye of the Heron and other stories”, with Le Guin’s name most prominent on the cover. I reviewed it on SF Mistressworks here.

nwowThe New Women of Wonder, Pamela Sargent, ed. (1978) The third and final Women of Wonder anthologies until their 1995 reboot. Sargent once again turns mainly to women writers she has previously published – only Eleanor Arnason, Pamela Zoline and James Triptree Jr are new in this volume. Mind you, their three stories are pretty much stone-cold classics of the genre. Also inside are stories by Sonya Dorman, Vonda N McIntyre, Josephine Saxton, Kit Reed, Carol Emshwiller, Joanna Russ, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Joan D Vinge. This volume is the strongest of the three. I reviewed it on SF Mistressworks here.

cassandraCassandra Rising, Alice Laurance, ed. (1978) Not an easy book to find, this anthology contains nineteen original stories by Ursula K Le Guin, Kay Rogers, Joan Bernott, Zenna Henderson, Katherine MacLean, Kathleen Sky, Rachel Cosgrove Payes, Josephine Saxton, Grania Davis, Raylyn Moore, Alice Laurance, Anne McCaffrey, Steve Barnes, Barbara Paul, Sydney J Van Scyoc, Beverly Goldberg, Miriam Allen deFord & Juanita Coulson, Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Steve Barnes, incidentally, is not male writer Steven Barnes but the pen-name of Margaret L Barnes (an introductory note explains she used the name “as a way of preserving her family name, Stephenson, lost in marriage”). Judging by some of the introductory comments to the stories made by Laurance, this was an open submission anthology, which may explain the presence of the more unfamiliar names. There is also a foreword by Andre Norton.

spaceAsimov’s Space of Her Own, Shawna McCarthy, ed. (1983) As the title indicates, this anthology contains women-authored stories originally published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Asimov’s regularly published themed anthologies of contents drawn from the magazine – McCarthy herself edited four of thirty such anthologies. The contents date entirely from 1981 to 1983, and are provided by Connie Willis, Mary Gentle, Leigh Kennedy, Sydney J Van Scyoc, Ursula K Le Guin, Pamela Sargent, Joan D Vinge, Julie Stevens, Mildred Downey Broxon, Cyn Mason, PA Kagan, Sharon Webb, Pat Cadigan, Lee Killough, PJ MacQuarrie, Tanith Lee, Stephanie A Smith, Cherie Wilkerson, Janet Asimov, Beverly Grant and Hope Athearn. None of the stories are especially well-known.

despatchesDespatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind, Sarah LeFanu & Jen Green, eds. (1985) During the 1980s, The Women’s Press published a number of science fiction paperbacks by women writers, all in similar grey livery. This was the only anthology. It contains original stories by Josephine Saxton, Margaret Elphinstone, Joanna Russ, Gwyneth Jones, Beverley Ireland, Tanith Lee, Lannah Battley, Pamela Zoline, Mary Gentle, Frances Gapper, Lisa Tuttle, Pearlie McNeill, Naomi Mitchison, Zoe Fairbairns, Penny Casdagli, Raccoona Sheldon (AKA James Tiptree Jr) and Sue Thomason. Many of the authors also had novels published by The Women’s Press, reprints and original. The Zoline is a coup – she has only ever written five stories… and one of those was original to her collection, Busy About the Tree of Life. Jack Deighton reviewed Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind on SF Mistressworks here.

newevesNew Eves: Science Fiction About the Extraordinary Women of Today and Tomorrow, Forrest J Ackerman, Janrae Frank & Jean Marie Stine, eds. (1994) An excellent introduction to science fiction by women from the genre’s beginnings through to the year of publication of the anthology – indeed, the anthology is organised by decade. The editors’ introduction is mostly good, but sabotages itself with a final section which undermines the quite sensible argument presented in the preceding pages – no doubt the lone male editor insisted on this. The stories are organised into sections by decade: ‘The 20s & 30s’, ‘The 40s’, ‘The 50s’, ‘The 60s & 70s’ and ‘The 80s – and Beyond’. Not all of the older stories work for modern readers, but it’s good that they’re documented – works by Francis Stevens (AKA Gertrude Barrows Bennett), Leslie F Stone and Hazel Heald, for example. Later authors may be better known but there are still many who have been unfairly forgotten. I reviewed the anthology on SF Mistressworks here and here.

wowcalssicsWomen of Wonder: the Classic Years, Pamela Sargent, ed. (1995) The first of a pair of reboots of the Women of Wonder series, it actually contains more stories than the the original three volumes – and, in fact, contains many of the stories from those anthologies. Zenna Henderson, Margaret St Clair and Lisa Tuttle are new to the volume, and CL Moore, Leigh Brackett, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Joan D Vinge are all represented by different stories than those in the Women of Wonder trilogy. As for the rest… The stories by Judith Merril, Katherine McLean, Anne McCaffrey, Sonya Dorman, Kit Reed, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Joanna Russ and Vonda N McIntyre all originally appeared in Women of Wonder; those by Josephine Saxton, Kate Wilhelm and Ursula K Le Guin were in More Women Of Wonder; and the stories by Pamela Zoline, James Tiptree Jr and Eleanor Arnason were in The New Women of Wonder. There is enough of a difference to consider buying this book if you own the original trilogy, but perhaps less of a reason to track down the three Women of Wonder anthologies if you have this one.

wowconWomen of Wonder: the Contemporary Years, Pamela Sargent, ed. (1995) While the “classic” volume covered the years 1948 to 1977, the same years covered by Sargent’s original trilogy, this one covers the following two decades – with stories from 1978 to 1993. Contributions are provided by CJ Cherryh, Tanith Lee, Suzy McKee Charnas, Carol Emshwiller, Sydney J Van Scyoc, Angela Carter, Mary Gentle, Octavia E Butler, Jayge Carr, Rosaleen Love, Sheila Finch, Pat Cadigan, Pat Murphy, Karen Joy Fowler, Judith Moffett, Connie Willis, Lisa Goldstein, Nancy Kress, Storm Constantine and Rebecca Ore. Although there are names in common with New Eves: Science Fiction About the Extraordinary Women of Today and Tomorrow, there is very little overlap – only the Van Scyoc story, in fact, appears in both. I reviewed this anthology for SF Mistressworks here and here.

doeDaughters of Earth, Justine Larbalestier, ed. (2006) Unlike the other anthologies in this post, Daughters of Earth is a mix of fiction and non-fiction, as each of the stories is followed by an essay discussing that story and/or its author. Daughters of Earth also covers the widest spread of time of all the anthologies named above – the earliest story is from 1927 and the latest from 2002. The fiction is provided by Clare Winger Harris, Leslie F Stone, Alice Eleanor Jones, Kate Wilhelm, Pamela Zoline, James Tiptree Jr, Lisa Tuttle, Pat Murphy, Octavia E Butler, Gwyneth Jones and Karen Joy Fowler. Some of these stories have appeared in other anthologies mentioned in this post; one or two of them I consider personal favourite sf stories. The non-fiction is provided by Jane L Donawerth, Brian Attebery, Lisa Yaszek, Josh Lukin, Mary E Papke, Wendy Pearson, Cathy Hawkins, Joan Haran, Andrea Hairston, Veronica Hollinger and L Timmel Duchamp. If this anthology has a fault, it’s that it could do with being much larger – it contains eleven pieces of fiction, but I can think of at least another dozen I think deserve the same treatment.

I’ve mentioned throughout this post where reviews of the anthologies on SF Mistressworks exist, and I’ve linked to those reviews. The ones that have yet to be reviewed… will be done some time during this year as I own copies of them all. For those interested in reading more on the subject, there is Partners in Wonder by Eric Leif Davin, The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction by Justine Larbalestier, Decoding Gender in Science Fiction and, if you can find a copy, Future Females: A Critical Anthology by Marleen S Barr. There are probably many other books on feminist science fiction, as well as books on, or by, individual feminist writers – for example, Joanna Russ: On Joanna Russ by Farah Mendlesohn or The Country You Have Never Seen by Russ herself. And, of course, everyone should own a copy of Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing

ETA: Despite owning copies of them, I managed to miss out both Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind and Cassandra Rising, as noted in the comments below. I have now added them. Other people have pointed me in the direction of themed all-women anthologies from major publishers and small presses, many of which include both science fiction and fantasy. Those, I think, are a post for another day. The above are explicitly science fiction anthologies, covering the historical spread of the genre and demonstrating that women have been writing sf since its beginnings.


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The future we used to have, part 23

Time for another one of these, I think… Bit of a mishmash this time around – some boats, some fashion, a jet or two, and a giant radio transmitter…

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A proposed Soviet tank hydrofoil. That’s… TANK HYDROFOIL.

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In the future, all cars will be invisible. No, I’ve no idea…

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Ruben Torres fashion, 1967

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Raquel Welch dressed by Pierre Cardin, 1969

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Nuclear-powered supersonic bombers from Popular Science, April 1957

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A nuclear-powered supersonic bomber from Popular Science, April 1957

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Space Age fashion from Pierre Cardin, 1968

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VLF transmitter at Cutler Naval Station, the most powerful radio transmitter in the world

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The Lockheed F-94C Starfire, which was armed with 24 rockets in the nose and a further 12 in each wing-pod

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A jet-propelled hydrofoil

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A hydrofoil with two giant turbo-props on it

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André Courrèges’ Space Age Collection from 1965

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More André Courrèges

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It’s always good to be sure you don’t get confused between a thunder cloud and a nuclear bomb explosion


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8-question meme from SF Signal

John DeNardo posts these regularly on SF Signal and I usually have a go at them. This week it’s the following eight questions:

1. The first science fiction, fantasy or horror book I ever read was:
Technically, it would be Doctor Who and the Zarbi by Bill Strutton, a novelisation of the TV series, which my parents gave me as a Christmas present in, I think, 1974. But the first category sf novel I read was Starman Jones by Robert Heinlein, which was lent to me by a classmate in my first year at prep school – so that would be either late 1976 or early 1977.

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2. The last science fiction, fantasy or horror book I read that I’d put in my “Top 20″ list is:
I guard my Top 20 jealously and, sadly, it’s mostly not sf, fantasy or horror. No genre book has made it into the list during the last couple of years. However, if I were to run a category genre-only Top 20, then the last book I read which might make the grade would probably be… Extra(Ordinary) People, a 1984 collection by Joanna Russ, if only because it contains a story, ‘The Mystery of the Young Gentleman’, which immediately became a new favourite. I reviewed it on SF Mistressworks here. If I were to restrict myself to novels, the last three genre reads with the most stars from me on GoodReads were, in no particular order: Europe in Autumn, The Violent Century, Rapture and Ancillary Justice.

3. The last science fiction, fantasy or horror book I couldn’t finish was:
That would be Palimpsest by Cathrynne M Valente. I’d heard a lot of positive things about it, and was quite chuffed to stumble across a copy in a charity shop. But the reading didn’t go very well at all. I baled around page 100, unable to put up any longer with the over-writing. I think it was something about a character being able to taste a snail’s foot in his mouth or something.

4. A science fiction, fantasy or horror author whose work I cannot get enough of is:
I have my favourites – who doesn’t? Paul Park has a new novel and a collection coming out this year, which has made me very happy – doubly so, in fact. Sadly, Gwyneth Jones doesn’t seem to have anything due out in the foreseeable future. A couple of years ago, I’d heard a US publisher had contracted for a sequel to Dr Franklin’s Island (as by Ann Halam), but I’ve yet to see it mentioned anywhere online. I’m also eagerly awaiting David Herter’s new sf novels/novellas from PS Publishing.

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5. A science fiction, fantasy or horror author I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read yet is:
But I’ve read everyone! Ahem. Of course, I haven’t really, just rather a lot of them – but many of those I’ve not read have been a matter of choice. I don’t think there’s anyone I’m ashamed I’ve not read – because if I was, I’d have read them; or at the very least I’d have one of their books on my humungous TBR pile. PC Hodgell, for example; or Michael Cisco… I own books by both but have yet to read them. Which reminds me, I really must get around to purchasing a copy of Laurie J Marks’ Fire Logic, as I really want to read it. Um, in fact, now I think about it, there’s a whole bunch of authors I want to read but have yet to buy anything by…

6. A science fiction, fantasy or horror book I would recommend to someone who hasn’t read sf/f/h is:
Easy. The Wall Around Eden by Joan Slonczewski. I reviewed it on SF Mistressworks here, and have been singing its praises ever since. Sadly, it’s currently out of print; but it really needs to be introduced to a new audience.

7. A science fiction, fantasy or horror book that’s terribly underrated is:
Where do I start? Many of my favourite genre novels were highly regarded when they were published, but they’ve never been reprinted since. One or two are now in the SF Masterworks series… so I can hardly claim they’re still under-rated. Instead, I will chose something completely out of my comfort zone – a fantasy novel: The Grail of Hearts by Susan Shwartz (1991). It was never published in the UK, had two reviews on publication (in Locus and amazing Stories), has zero reviews on GoodReads and two on Amazon (including a 5-star one by Katherine Kerr!), Kirkus called it a “formless hodgepodge of a book”, and the first five pages of Google are links to places to buy the book rather than online reviews… I think it qualifies as under-rated.

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8. A science fiction, fantasy or horror book that’s terribly overrated is:
There’s a lot of recent sf I think is horribly over-rated – just look at the Hugo Award and Nebula Award shortlists for the past few years. But many of those books I’ve not actually read myself, so my opinion is chiefly the result of other stuff written by those authors. However, I have read Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey, and it was shortlisted for the Hugo Award for 2012, and made it into the top 5 on the Locus Poll for that year. I thought it was terrible, and I refused to read its sequels. I now hear it’s been optioned for television. Sigh.

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