Thursday, January 29, 2015

women? destroy? science fiction?

Women Destroy Science Fiction is the title of a special all-women issue of Lightspeed that's the Potlatch Book of Honor. I like short stories, but so many of them at once from different minds and imaginations is exhausting to read. I'd only heard of a few of the authors, and the e-book doesn't have any running heads, so I could never remember the author or title of what I was reading. I went back afterwards and made a list with reminder notes (the mermaid story, the Texas mall story, the aliens occupy our brains story). But I read all the way through, although I admit skimming at times, a tricky process with unfamiliar fiction.

Technically most of these stories looked pretty good. Tiptree's "Love is the Plan," the only one of the 5 reprints I'd read before, did not stand out in this company and actually looked less coherently written than most: possibly the suck fairy has been at it. Although few begin with exposition (I miss the lost practice of stories that begin with exposition), I rarely had much problem figuring out where I was and what was going on, the challenge of which is a large component of that exhaustion I mentioned.

But I'm used to science fiction as a fairly didactic genre - you tell a story because you have a point larger than the story itself to make - but that too seems to be passing out of fashion. I've noticed from other current authors, like Ted Chiang, a tendency to write stories that don't end, they just ... stop. (Possibly an influence from realistic modernism.) That was true of many of these; they read like just a slice of something, yet just depicting the slice didn't seem to be the point. I mean, I liked Gabriella Stalker's Texas-mall story, and the setting is unforgettable, but I couldn't fathom what she was telling it for. N.K. Jemisin's aliens-occupy-our-brains story was searing, and this time I'm sure there was a point to the ending, but I didn't get what it was. Same with Charlie Jane Anders' memory-cube story. A couple historical pastiche stories did not work for me at all; I couldn't buy the premises.

Accordingly, I found more satisfying stories like Kris Millering's artist-in-a-tiny-spaceship, the only real surprise-punch ending in the main section of the book, and laid out with adequate craft. Some of the (mostly) short-shorts in the "flash fiction" section had the same quality, but I didn't even try to keep track of those with notes. The only one I really remember without a reminder was the one with the heaviest didactic point, Ellen Denham's fable of the aliens who communicate by eating. (I also liked that it was mostly exposition, with an outstanding quick opening.) Ellen is, I think, also the only one of the story authors here I know personally.

Given the anthology's title, I was expecting something ground-breaking or fundamentally different from earlier SF, but I didn't get that sense. These were a bunch of decently-good stories of the same kind as other decently-good SF stories I've read from recent decades. Of course, the protagonists were mostly women (Stalker, in the interview section, says she made hers male just for a change from her usual practice), but I'm not the kind of reader who cares much about that. If a more fundamental femaleness to these stories is the point of the anthology, again it doesn't look different to me. As an SF reader I'm a child of the '70s. I grew up reading Le Guin and Russ and Wilhelm and Charnas and McIntyre and, yes, Tiptree. I'm used to women with distinctively and strongly female voices having a big part in this conversation.

The little personal testimonies that form most of the non-fiction at the back are largely about the struggle to establish women's place in SF. Some of them take a historical perspective, but most sound pretty current. And I'm trying to correlate that with what I've read in the past by women about their role in SF. It seemed the '70s was when they got their established places at this table. Is the current struggle for a further advance (because these struggles are never over)? Or, as Jeanne Gomoll perceived, has there been a retreat? And has it persisted since she wrote in the late '80s? Yet if so, whither authors like Willis and Bujold? Surely some of the biggest and most popular names in the field can't be ignored, or are they perceived as tokens?

I'm not giving answers here, I'm asking the questions. I hope to learn more at Potlatch.

No comments:

Post a Comment