Helen Merrick and Tess Williams had the chance to attend WisCon 20 in 1996. This book, which they co-edited, sprang directly from that experience. It’s a thick book – well over 400 pages – filled with fiction, poetry, and a variety of non-fiction pieces: some critical essays on authors or particular works, some collected correspondence, a few along the lines of memoirs. I haven’t read the whole lot yet, but the pieces I haven’t read are those that relate to work I’m unfamiliar with. So there are a couple relating to Lois McMaster Bujold, for example, which I’ll read when I’ve finally caught up with the world and read her stuff.
A complete review of the book would be… extensive, to say the least. But there are a few pieces that especially made me think. For a start, there were a few pieces of fiction that I didn’t really like. That’s an odd place to start a discussion of the collection, perhaps, but it was an important thing for me to realise and come to grips with. Part of me expects to always like everything in a particular set: all feminist SF, for example, or everything by Ursula le Guin… even everything SF, period. (This account for my dismay at not enjoying Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds as much as I had hoped, given my love of everything else he’s written.) So to discover that I didn’t like everything chosen by Merrick and Williams for inclusion was interesting, and gave me pause, and was ultimately quite useful in helping me think through my attitudes. There was much fiction I did like, of course, and one of those in particular was “Home by the Sea,” by Elisabeth Vonarburg. It’s a marvellous tale about struggling with identity, and family, and personal history, in the context of a vague environmental disaster. Kelley Eskridge’s “And Salome Danced” is also a brilliant piece, creepy and lush and subtle. Showing just how useful the internet has become in facilitating criticism, it’s followed by a essay comprising email correspondence from the Fem-SF list about that story, allowing for all sorts of interesting comparison and discussion.
As an anthology relating to WisCon, there are of course a couple of pieces relating to James Tiptree Jr, although – not unexpectedly – they’re neither straight biography nor criticism. There’s an excerpt from one of the cookbooks put out to raise money for the eponymous award, which is hilarious and sounds delicious and makes me want to buy the book, and Pat Murphy’s reminiscences about how the award got started. And Justine Larbalestier contributes an essay on “Alice James Raccoona Tiptree Davey Hastings Bradley Sheldon Jr”, and the stories told about that collection of identities, that makes me itch to go read the bio sitting on my shelf.
Judith Merrill, to whom the anthology is dedicated, finishes the anthology, with an excerpt from her memoirs, and a reflection on the compiling of the same. She had been a Guest of Honour at the con, and died before the anthology was completed. It’s another bio that I really must get my hands on, because she sounds like a most amazing woman, especially in the context of her time but really for all time. I’ve read hardly any of her work, and I’ve tried looking for one of her novels (Shadow on the Hearth), but she seems to be totally out print, which is tragic.
What Merrick and Williams show in this book is how different sorts of writing can work together to give an impression of a community, all its different aspects and ways of relating and divergences. It’s my sort of book; good fiction, good criticism, humour and an attempt to understand the world, or bits of it anyway.