Twelfth Planet Press has started doing some novella doubles, which I really like. It’s a clever idea, not least since the idea of just buying a novella – or a novelette – sometimes feels like a bit of a waste of time, depending on how much it is and who the author is. But with two novella, back to back, you feel like you’re getting a better deal.
TPP is not original in this idea, of course, and does not claim to be. Ace Books did doubles years ago and, I discovered recently, so did Tor. I discovered this because, in browsing Better World Books I found a double of Joanna Russ (whose work I’ve been meaning to read more of) with James Tiptree Jr (ditto)! How awesome is that! And, of course, the idea of the great feminist critic and author matched with Tiptree, the revelation of whom as Alice Sheldon totally rocked the sf world and who is now remembered through an award honouring gender exploration and disruption – well, it’s just perfect. It would only have been made more awesome if the double had been published before Tiptree was revealed as Sheldon, but alas that was not the case.
Tiptree’s story is “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” (glaringly announced as a Hugo and Nebula Award Winner on the front). I could tell you what story it really reminded me of, but then I’d totally spoil it for you. At any rate, three astronauts are on a solar mission and when they come back around to the Earth side, things are… different. Houston doesn’t answer, but someone else does. This story does what my favourite stories do: with an awesome sf story, its focus is on the people – their reactions, their attitudes, their problems. The astronauts are appropriately different from one another such that a range of reactions can be explored, but they don’t feel like ciphers; Tiptree deftly sets them up as individuals. I believe this story first came out when Tiptree’s true identity was unknown; all I can say is, Seriously? Did people think that he was an awesome feminist man? Or did they just not see the feminism?
Russ’ story is totally different. Called “Souls” (and glaringly announced as a Hugo Winner), I was quite dubious about it, reading the cover quote: “The Vikings thought the pickings would be easy – but the Abbess was more than she seemed!” Urgh; tacky. Anyway, I was interested to see where Russ could take a medieval-ish story, and hey – I’m a bit of sucker for Vikings stories, usually to see how bad they are. This one is told from the point of view of a young boy who follows the Abbess, Radegunde around, and who is consequently on hand when a bunch of Vikings come marauding. I had hoped that the story was going to be set on Lindisfarne, having been there last year, but it wasn’t identified as such. Again, I shan’t give away any of the story; suffice it to say that it was definitely worth reading. Again, it’s a fascinating study of humanity, and the variety of reactions that people can have in difficult situations. For me, one of the really interesting aspects was the religion. I’m guessing Russ is an atheist, and she said some things that made me a trifle uncomfortable, but said some really insightful things at the same time – about Christianity in general, and about its status in the historical context. (I also really, really liked that the narrator was hoping that the Vikings would have horns on their helmets, and then notes that Vikings never actually did that.)
This double? Totally worth it. And there a number of others listed in the cover… I wonder how book stores categorise these: under which author?