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Lightspeed_49_June_2014Well, that certainly was invigorating! This book-length issue of Lightspeed is the Book of Honor at this year's Potlatch science fiction convention. This issue was originally published as an e-book only, but it was popular enough that with the help of a Kickstarter campaign they were able to publish a printed "limited edition" -- and, because they raised so much money, will be doing special printed editions of similar collections of fantasy stories and horror stories by women. Because that's what this special issue is all about: science fiction as written by women. It was published as part of a reaction to a growing sense amongst some folks in the field that sexism is still alive and all too well, as evidenced by Hugo-nomination lists and unreconstructed male chauvinists in SFWA and the like.

As at least some of you will have noticed, I've mostly been reading older science fiction in recent years, so this was the biggest dose of current science fiction I've read lately aside from getting caught up with Iain Banks' Culture novels last year. One thing that was interesting to me was that these stories didn't seem all that different than the Golden Age stories I've been reading in the Asimov & Greenberg Great SF Stories/Golden Years of Science Fiction collections that cover stories from 1939 to 1964. I guess that's when modern science fiction matured, and maybe the basic tropes and rhetorical approaches haven't changed much since then. The other thing that struck me is how few of these writers I'd heard of, let alone read before. Two of the reprinted stories, Tiptree's great "Love Is the Plan, the Plan Is Death" and Maureen McHugh's "The Cost to Be Wise," were things I'd read before, and I've read other things by Eleanor Arnason, although not the story reprinted here. I'd heard of Seanan McGuire, N.K. Jemisin, Charlie Jane Anders, Amal El-Mohtar, and Tananarive Due, but that's it amongst the fiction writers. That makes me feel both that I've totally lost track of what's going on in the field (no big surprise), and that's there's plenty of interesting stuff going on.

I'm not sure that I have a lot to say about specific stories. I didn't think there were any great stories amongst the new ones, but I thought all of them were good. Maybe I should give a particular shout-out to K.C. Norton for "Canth," which combines pirates, coelacanths, sentient ships, and cryptozoology. What I really liked about this as a collection is that it was all over the place in terms of subject-matter and style. It's bristling with ideas and narrative energies. I also really enjoyed the section in which the writers reflected on what they were trying to do in their stories. For me probably the least interesting section was the "Personal Essays," which I thought got a little bit samey after a while. On the other hand, even those were interesting for revealing how many scientists still want to try their hand at science fiction and for creating an unofficial list of influential writers. Le Guin scores highest on that front, probably to no one's surprise, but what did surprise me was how beloved Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is (I was not impressed when I read it in high school) and especially the number of times Naomi Mitchison's Memoirs of a Spacewoman was mentioned. I really liked that book when I read it a number of years ago, and I'm pleased that it has been so influential.

Perhaps the greatest tribute you can give a book is that it makes you want to read a bunch of other things. I really should read the whole novel that "The Cost to Be Wise" was excerpted from. I was very happy to learn that Nisi Shawl's Belgian Congo steampunk novel is finally being published by Tor this year, and I'll definitely be reading that. And I just took Memoirs of a Spacewoman off the shelf for another read. Feminism is alive and well in science fiction, and we are all better for it. I look forward to the discussion at Potlatch.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 1st, 2015 11:56 pm (UTC)
"sexism is still alive and all too well, as evidenced by Hugo-nomination lists"

I've compiled the statistics on that, and will post them very soon.
Feb. 2nd, 2015 06:23 pm (UTC)
I look forward to seeing that.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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