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It’s not just the women of sf


Though I’ve posted here about women sf writers – on both the sf mistressworks list and SF Mistressworks blog – I do read fiction of other genres written by women. And I thought it might be worth mentioning some of the non-sf works by women writers I’ve enjoyed and admired in the past:

Helen Simpson is one of my favourite mainstream short story writers, and has been ever since I came across her story ‘Heavy Weather’ in a collection of modern short fiction (it’s also in her Dear George And Other Stories). Simpson has yet to write a novel but she’s had six collections of short stories published. I have them all.

Given the amount of time I spent in the Middle East, it’s no surprise I’m fascinated by Arab culture – and yet I’ve not read that many Arabic authors. Of the few I have, the best book I’ve read so far is Hanan Al-Shaykh’s Women of Sand and Myrrh. Which reminds me: I must get hold of one of Freya Stark’s books…

Kate Ross wrote four novels set in Regency England featuring an upper-class dandy who turns amateur detective. As crime novels go, they’re a bit fluffy, but the last one, The Devil in Music, is an all together different matter. It is masterfully-plotted, surprisingly dark, and nothing like the consciously-Austenesque comedy of manners that are the earlier three books.

I’ve always preferred female crime writers to male; I’ve no idea why. The best of them is easily Sara Paretsky. But I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favourite VI Warshawski novel. Guardian Angel, perhaps; or Toxic Shock. Hell, just read them all.

Fisher’s Face, Jan Morris, is a sort of biography of Admiral of the Fleet Jackie Fisher, who was instrumental in building up the Royal Navy during the early years of the twentieth century. Fisher was responsible for HMS Dreadnought, the battleship which made every other warship on the planet obsolete the moment it was launched. Fisher’s Face is a fascinating meditation on the man.

You can blame the Acnestis APA for the fact that I’ve read most of Georgette Heyer’s books. Several of the members were fans, and their comments led me to try one of her novels. And so I too became a fan. The history is dubious at best, and some of her later books were a little too romantic for my tastes, but they’re also witty and great fun. I’m not sure I have a favourite – The Talisman Ring, perhaps; or An Infamous Army. It’s proper comfort reading, for when it’s chucking it down outside, there’s nothing on the telly, and you’re feeling a bit down in the dumps.

Years ago in my middle or late teens, while spending the holidays with my parents in the Middle East, the only books I had access to where the ones they’d bought. I worked my way through my father’s handful of thrillers quickly, but then I was stuck. So I picked up one of my mother’s books: MM Kaye’s The Far Pavilions. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so I read her other historical novels and, years later, I tracked down and read her crime novels.

It was the Lawrence Durrell connection which brought Olivia Manning to my attention. She was in Cairo during World War II, as he was, and they both belonged to the same loose group of poets and writers in the city. So I read The Balkan Trilogy and thought it excellent, and then read The Levant Trilogy and thought that excellent too. I even bought the DVD of the BBC adaptation, Fortunes Of War, starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. It’s also very good.

Finally, a couple of cheats…

RA MacAvoy is on the sf mistressworks list, but she has written both science fiction and fantasy. And her fantasy trilogy of Lens of the World, King of the Dead, and Winter of the Wolf is very, very good indeed. The books are out of print now, but definitely worth tracking down.

Also on the sf mistressworks list is Susan Shwartz, but she too wrote fantasy as well. Her The Grail of Hearts was a novel I never expected to like as much as I did. The title suggests it’s a fantasy romance, but it’s actually a clever re-telling of the Matter of Britain featuring a female Wandering Jew. It’s also worth hunting down.

3 thoughts on “It’s not just the women of sf

  1. Have you read Ahdaf Soueif?

  2. I love Dorothy Sayers – I probably reread the Wimsey books more than annually. By far the best of the “golden age” detective novelists, and with a depth of characterisation and societal understanding that puts her in a different category entirely.

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