It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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The apples and oranges of genre

Apples and oranges are fruit, and you’ll find them in fruit bowls and packed lunches around the world. They’re sold in supermarkets and greengrocers, but not in fishmongers and betting shops. Some people prefer apples to oranges. They like the appleness of apples more than the orangeness of oranges. Or vice versa. Some people like both equally. But the fact you can find apples and oranges in a fruit bowl doesn’t make an apple an orange or an orange an apple.

Comparing_Apples_to_Oranges

Just like science fiction and fantasy.

Everyone knows what apples and oranges are, and they could give any number of reasons why one is not the other. Yet when it comes to science fiction and fantasy, most people can only say, “they’re fruit”. As if that’s all that matters. Of course it isn’t. Otherwise everyone would like the two genres equally – and fantasy wouldn’t outsell sf by five or seven to one.

But because sf and fantasy stories both take place in invented worlds, people lump them together. But not every sf/fantasy story has an invented setting; and not every story which takes place in an invented world is sf or fantasy. So that’s a piss-poor definition. And where do we stop with the invented elements? Robots. Dragons. FTL. Magic. What about an invented organisation? Like… SPECTRE? Are Fleming’s Bond books science fiction? Maybe it’s the degree of invention in the story, then. Like that’s not a movable bar…

The point is, when you start looking at what science fiction and fantasy have in common you soon find yourself tied in knots. However, when you consider why they’re different… then things begin to make sense. Which, logically, implies they must be different things.

So they share a “fruit bowl”, and have done since fruit bowls were invented – but they still exhibit more readily-definable differences than they do similarities. Please stop trying to insist apples are oranges, and vice versa. Accept that they are each their own thing, no matter how many fruit salads you make.

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The SF Mistresswork list, revised

Who remembers the SF Mistressworks meme, a list of science fiction by women writers from the twentieth century (and earlier)? I originally posted it in March 2011 (see here), and it then inspired me to create the SF Mistressworks website. Which is still going strong.

But that original list had a few problems. A couple of the titles I’d proposed turned out to be fantasy and not science fiction… The list also contained only 91 books, as I’d not managed to think of 100 suitable titles.

But three years later, I’ve read a lot more sf by women writers, and I’ve done more research on the topic. So I felt it was time for a new version of the list. Also, many more of the books are now available once again – either published by small presses, or made available on Kindle by the SF Gateway or the authors themselves self-publishing their back-catalogue.

The list below mostly unchanged from the original – I’ve simply expanded it to 100, removed the fantasy novels, made a few alternative selections for a couple of writers, and added some more writers I’d unfairly missed off first time around. It now looks like this:

  1. Frankenstein*, Mary Shelley (1818)
  2. Herland†, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1915)
  3. Orlando, Virginia Woolf (1928)
  4. Lest Ye Die, Cicely Hamilton (1928)
  5. Swastika Night, Katharine Burdekin (1937)
  6. Shadow on the Hearth, Judith Merril (1950)
  7. Judgment Night, CL Moore (1952)
  8. The Sword of Rhiannon, Leigh Brackett (1953)
  9. Agent of the Unknown, Margaret St Clair (1956)
  10. Pilgrimage: The Book of the People, Zenna Henderson (1961)
  11. Catseye, Andre Norton (1961)
  12. Memoirs of a Spacewoman†, Naomi Mitchison (1962)
  13. Sunburst, Phyllis Gotlieb (1964)
  14. Heroes and Villains, Angela Carter (1969)
  15. Armed Camps, Kit Reed (1969)
  16. Darkover Landfall, Marion Zimmer Bradley (1972)
  17. Ten Thousand Light-years from Home, James Tiptree Jr (1973)
  18. The Dispossessed*, Ursula K LeGuin (1974)
  19. Walk to the End of the World†, Suzy McKee Charnas (1974)
  20. Star Rider†, Doris Piserchia (1974)
  21. The Female Man*†, Joanna Russ (1975
  22. Missing Man, Katherine MacLean (1975)
  23. Arslan*, MJ Engh (1976)
  24. Don’t Bite the Sun, Tanith Lee (1976)
  25. Floating Worlds*, Cecelia Holland (1976)
  26. Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang*, Kate Wilhelm (1976)
  27. Islands, Marta Randall (1976)
  28. Dreamsnake, Vonda N McIntyre (1978)
  29. False Dawn, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (1978)
  30. Shikasta, Doris Lessing (1979)
  31. Kindred†, Octavia Butler (1979)
  32. Benefits, Zoe Fairbairns (1979)
  33. Leviathan’s Deep, Jayge Carr (1979)
  34. A Voice Out of Ramah, Lee Killough (1979)
  35. The Snow Queen, Joan D Vinge (1980)
  36. The Silent City†, Élisabeth Vonarburg (1981)
  37. The Many-Coloured Land, Julian May (1981)
  38. Darkchild, Sydney J Van Scyoc (1982)
  39. The Crystal Singer, Anne McCaffery (1982)
  40. Native Tongue†, Suzette Haden Elgin (1984)
  41. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (1985)
  42. Jerusalem Fire, RM Meluch (1985)
  43. The Children of Anthi, Jay D Blakeney (1985)
  44. The Dream Years, Lisa Goldstein (1985)
  45. Last Letters from Hav, Jan Morris (1985)
  46. Queen of the States†, Josephine Saxton (1986)
  47. The Wave and the Flame, Marjorie Bradley Kellogg (1986)
  48. The Journal of Nicholas the American, Leigh Kennedy (1986)
  49. A Door into Ocean†, Joan Slonczewski (1986)
  50. Angel At Apogee, SN Lewitt (1987)
  51. In Conquest Born, CS Friedman (1987)
  52. Pennterra, Judith Moffett (1987)
  53. Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988)
  54. Cyteen, CJ Cherryh (1988)
  55. Unquenchable Fire*, Rachel Pollack (1988)
  56. The City, Not Long After, Pat Murphy (1988)
  57. Carmen Dog†, Carol Emshwiller (1988)
  58. The Steerswoman, Rosemary Kirstein (1989)
  59. The Third Eagle, RA MacAvoy (1989)
  60. Grass*, Sheri S Tepper (1989)
  61. Heritage of Flight, Susan Shwartz (1989)
  62. Falcon, Emma Bull (1989)
  63. The Archivist, Gill Alderman (1989)
  64. Winterlong, Elizabeth Hand (1990)
  65. A Gift Upon the Shore, MK Wren (1990)
  66. Red Spider, White Web, Misha (1990)
  67. Polar City Blues, Katherine Kerr (1990)
  68. He, She and It (AKA Body of Glass), Marge Piercy (1991)
  69. Sarah Canary*, Karen Joy Fowler (1991)
  70. Beggars in Spain, Nancy Kress (1991)
  71. A Woman of the Iron People, Eleanor Arnason (1991)
  72. Hermetech, Storm Constantine (1991)
  73. Synners, Pat Cadigan (1991)
  74. China Mountain Zhang, Maureen F McHugh (1992)
  75. Correspondence†, Sue Thomas (1992)
  76. Lost Futures, Lisa Tuttle (1992)
  77. Doomsday Book*, Connie Willis (1992)
  78. Ammonite*, Nicola Griffith (1993)
  79. The Holder of the World†, Bharati Mukherjee (1993)
  80. Dancing on the Volcano, Anne Gay (1993)
  81. Queen City Jazz, Kathleen Ann Goonan (1994)
  82. Happy Policeman, Patricia Anthony (1994)
  83. Shadow Man, Melissa Scott (1995)
  84. Legacies, Alison Sinclair (1995)
  85. Primary Inversion, Catherine Asaro (1995)
  86. Alien Influences, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (1995)
  87. The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell (1996)
  88. Memory, Lois McMaster Bujold (1996)
  89. Remnant Population, Elizabeth Moon (1996)
  90. Looking For The Mahdi, N Lee Wood (1996)
  91. An Exchange of Hostages, Susan R Matthews (1997)
  92. Fool’s War, Sarah Zettel (1997)
  93. Black Wine, Candas Jane Dorsey (1997)
  94. A Thousand Words for Stranger, Julie E Czernada (1997)
  95. Halfway Human, Carolyn Ives Gilman (1998)
  96. Vast, Linda Nagata (1998)
  97. Hand of Prophecy, Severna Park (1998)
  98. Brown Girl In The Ring, Nalo Hopkinson (1998)
  99. Dreaming In Smoke, Tricia Sullivan (1999)
  100. Ash: A Secret History, Mary Gentle (2000)

Although there were around sixty women actively writing science fiction or fantasy in the 1940s, I can’t find a sf novel written by any of them which was published in that decade. Several of the writers on the list are better known as writers of fantasy, but they have written science fiction and that’s what I’ve listed. Books in Gollancz’s SF Masterworks series I’ve marked with an asterisk (*) – many of these were added to the series after I posted the original list three years ago. Books that were published by The Women’s Press back in the 1980s/1990s I’ve marked with a dagger (†).

Myself, I’ve read 49 of the books, and have a further eight on the TBR. Forty-eight of the books have also been reviewed on SF Mistressworks, some of them several times.

Finally, are there any writers I’ve missed who really belong on the list? Don’t forget it’s books published up until 2000. Perhaps some of the books on the list are not the author’s best work, perhaps another title would better. One or two were, I admit, judgement calls – for example, Marge Piercy’s He, She and It (as Body of Glass) won the Clarke Award in 1992 but is no longer in print; her Woman on the Edge of Time, however, is (but it was also first published in 1976, and I felt I had more than enough books from that year). There are, as far as I’m aware, only two cheats on the list – Tiptree is represented by a collection rather than a novel; and Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind is an anthology  – and, to be honest, there are a good number of women-only sf anthologies which might be better choices.

ETA: removed Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind as it’s an anthology, and added Joachim Boaz’s suggestion of Kit Reed’s Armed Camps. I’ll be posting a list of women-only sf anthologies shortly.


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Title story

PS Publishing have released details of the next Postscripts anthology, Far Voyager Postscripts #32/33. The TOC looks like this:

  • ‘Far Voyager’ — Ian Sales
  • ‘3 A.M. in the Mesozoic Bar’ — Michael Swanwick
  • ‘Dear Miss Monroe’ — Andrew Jury
  • ‘The Case of the Barking Man’ — Mel Waldman
  • ‘One Hundred Thousand Demons and the Cherub of Desire’ — Andrew Drummond
  • ‘An American Story’ — Darrell Schweitzer
  • ‘Irezumi’ — John Langan
  • ‘Sister Free’ — Rio Youers
  • ‘A Little Off the Top’ — Tom Alexander
  • ‘Sweetheart, I Love You’ — Mel Waldman
  • ‘Winter Children’ — Angela Slatter
  • ‘A Girl of Feather and Music’ — Lisa L. Hannett
  • ‘Thirty Three Tears to a Teaspoon’ — Alan Baxter
  • ‘The Rusalka Salon for Girls Who Like to Get Their Hair Wet’ — Angie Rega
  • ‘The Psychometrist’ — Suzanne J. Willis
  • ‘Sea Angels’ — Quentin S. Crisp
  • ‘Plink’ — Kurt Dinan
  • ‘Xaro’ — Darren Speegle
  • ‘We Are Not Alone’ — Richard Calder
  • ‘The Curtain’ — Thana Niveau
  • ‘Playground’ — Gio Clairval
  • ‘What Once Was Bone’ — Gary A. Braunbeck
  • ‘Darkscapes: Three Journeys to the Night Side’ — Mel Waldman
  • ‘Services Rendered’ — Bruce Golden
  • ‘GW in the Afterlife’ — Robert Reed
  • ‘Eskimo’ — Andrew Hook
  • ‘With Friends Like These’ — Gary Fry
  • ‘An Inspector Calls’ — Ian Watson
  • ‘Confessions’ — Mel Waldman
  • ‘A Legion of Echoes’ — Alison Littlewood
  • ‘Talk in Riddles’ — Mark Reece
  • ‘The Mermaid and the Fisherman’ — Paul Park

Yup. My story is the title story. Cool, or what? There’s some good stuff in that TOC too, including a few favourite authors. No publication date as yet, but it’ll be sometime this year, I imagine.


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The Apollo Quartet that never was

The Apollo Quartet is hard sf, but it’s also alternate history. And the books of the quartet themselves have their own alternate history too. They say a plan never survives contact with the enemy and, in pretty much the same way, a synopsis never survives unscathed once you actually get into writing a novel, novella or story.

I can’t remember at what point in the writing of Adrift on the Sea of Rains I decided it would be the first of the quartet… but once I’d made the decision I obviously needed to come up with three more stories. I had one sitting in my “ideas book” (actually, it’s just a Google doc) that I thought would be suitable. It was only when I started writing the second book of the quartet that I realised it didn’t quite fit. So I kept one narrative thread, left the other as implied, added a new narrative about the mission to Mars, set the story decades earlier… and changed the title to The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself.

The original Apollo Quartet 3 and 4 bear no resemblance to the ones that have been/will be published. The original synopsis for Apollo Quartet 3 just simply didn’t fit in with how the quartet was shaping up. And I’d decided I really wanted to write about the Mercury 13 and the bathyscaphe Trieste. So I did.

With the Mercury 13 as the subject of Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, another theme was rising to the forefront of the four novellas… and so I needed a new story for the final book. I’d already “borrowed” the title of my favourite film, but the link to Sirk’s masterpiece was too thin. That wasn’t going to work. But with a little sleight of hand, I had myself a new plot which provided a suitable end to the quartet, and then the title – with a little tweaking – would suit it perfectly. Instead of an Avro engineer, my protagonist would be an astronaut’s wife. And rather than just a fan of science fiction, she’d be a writer…

So here, for your delight and delectation, are the original synopses for Apollo Quartets 2 to 4, which I recently discovered in a Google doc created back in September 2011.

2. Wave Fronts The Earth has a single interstellar colony – administered by NASA, ESA and JASA – on SuperEarth2 at Gleise 581, twenty light years from Earth, and which has been in existence for twenty years. By now radio waves from the colony should have reached Earth, but there has been nothing. So Shepard has been sent to find out what’s happened. He travels to Gleise 581 by bubble-ship, and when he arrives at SuperEarth2, he discovers that the colony has completely vanished. Using one of the bubble-ship’s re-entry capsules, he lands on the surface and treks across the land to the settlement’s location. But it is as if it had never existed. And now he stuck there as there is no way for him to get into orbit. A second narrative depicts the dismantling of a colony and its preparations to leave its world before the light front reaches Earth. The colonists move onto another planetary system… where they meet an alien race, engaged in the same method of colonisation as themselves.

3. The Shores of Earth Earth is now home only to the empress of the Healing Empire, her family and staff, who all live in a vast palace. The rest of humanity lives off-Earth, scattered throughout the Solar System. The protagonist travels to Earth and lands in capsule which can reconfigure itself into lifting-body/glider. He is immediately arrested by the empress’s personal guard, and subsequently interrogated by a captain of the guard. The protagonist has come to report the arrival of a vessel from an interstellar colony populated centuries before by a generation ship, but its arrival is too soon – there’s not been enough time to get to the exoplanet, and then build the necessary infrastructure to send the ship back. Perhaps the visiting ship is alien? Except no evidence of aliens has ever been found…

4. All That The Stars Allow It is the late 1950s, and a British electronics engineer is offered a job in Houston with NASA, which entails moving from his current job in Canada where he works for Avro. (A lot of Mission Control was designed and built by British engineers, many of which had previously worked for Avro in Canada.) He packs up and drives south, anticipating the future of manned spaceflight given what he knows of NASA’s plans. The engineer is an avid reader of science fiction, and the second narrative is the text of a story of the period of an engineer in a future in which humanity has colonised the Solar System.

Perhaps one day these stories may appear, no doubt in somewhat changed form. But when all’s said and done, I think the Apollo Quartet as it now exists is a much better piece of work than it would have been had I used the above plots.


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In which I gaze into a crystal ball

… although I’ve no idea why because it still hasn’t given me a winning number for the lottery. But now that the Hugo nomination period is closed, and everyone who was going to nominate has done so, what can we expect to see when the shortlists are announced over the Easter weekend?

There’s been quite an interesting discussion over the last month or so among (mostly) British fans, prompted by the fact the Worldcon is in London this year. We plan to attend, so for the first time (for many of us, anyway) we’ve made a serious effort to nominate works for the Hugo Award. And one point that has come out of this discussion, and the various draft ballots posted on blogs, etc, is quite how stupid many of the Hugo categories are. I mean, seriously, what bunch of idiots thought up “semiprozine”? What type of bulbhead defines dramatic presentations long form and short form with such specific language that long form is open to both tentpole summer blockbuster movies and the entire 26-episode season of a television series? As for the novelette… I accept that the term once had historical significance, but it’s now an anachronism and needs to be summarily dispatched. And let’s not talk about awards going to people rather than works… Or the fan categories…

Whatever. I saw a whole bunch of varied draft ballots covering a widespread of fiction and non-fiction in each of the categories. And the really sad thing is… I think the eventual shortlists will be full of the same old shit. The novel shortlist will be Gaiman and McGuire and Corey… and the novellas will be all Valente and Swirsky and Chiang… and the short stories will be all Liu. Though Leckie might well make it onto the novel shortlist, and Samatar to the short story shortlist.

In other words, it’s going to be fascinating seeing how much of an impact hosting the Worldcon in the UK will have, how much of a blip in the old guard’s voting us vocal online Brit-based (and other non-US-based) fans will have on the final shortlists. Having said that, in 2005 the Worldcon was in Glasgow and the Hugo best novel shortlist was entirely British – and only two of the books were published in the US during the preceding year. (The other fiction categories, however, were overwhelmingly American.) But that was nine years ago, and the online sf community is so much bigger and more vocal now. And more balkanised too.

Which may well be part of the problem. I’ve only seen draft ballots from those within my circle of friends and acquaintances, so I’ve no real idea of what the wider Hugo voting public has been nominating. The fan categories will be a good indicator of this. Do the old farts and their paper fanzines outnumber those from the online community? Will the fan categories join the twenty-first century or remain stuck back in the 1950s? Will a blog make it onto the best fanzine shortlist?

Like I said, I’m not holding my breath. The Hugo Awards, for all their claim they’re “world awards”, are resolutely American, with rules designed to maximise the visibility of works to US voters. The Worldcon, despite its name, is a US con. Even for Loncon 3, there are more US members than UK – although, to be fair, more UK-based members will be attending; but more US-based members have bought supporting memberships. Don’t forget, however, that members of last year’s Worldcon, which was in San Antonio, Texas, also get to nominate in this year’s Hugo Awards. As does anyone who’s bought membership for next year’s Worldcon in Spokane, Washington…

So that conversation we’ve been having online about the Hugos over the past couple of months? I suspect we might as well have not had it for all the good it will do. But I sincerely hope to be pleasantly surprised.