Tansy, Rivqa: I hear you have an exciting new project coming up. Care to share what it is?
Hi, Alex! We’re about to launch a crowdfunding campaign for a new speculative fiction anthology of artificial intelligence stories: Mother of Invention.
So tell me about this title. Who came up with it, what’s the point, and so on?
Artificial intelligence stories, from the very beginning, have always been dominated by the idea of a male creator ‘giving birth’ to robots or intelligent computers. This in turn means that we end up with a lot of artificial intelligence narratives with a sexy female robot, or a disembodied voice played by Scarlett Johanssen. Starting with Frankenstein (though even going back to the Ancient Greek Pygmalion/Galatea myth) the stories so often centre around the idea of what happens (or what goes terribly wrong) when men create life. Is Susan Calvin the only iconic female creator of artificial life in our whole genre? We’re happy to be ‘well, actually’d on this one, but she’s definitely outnumbered by her male counterparts.
To be honest, the ‘isolated dude builds/interacts with sexy robot girlfriend/daughter and/or angry robot/computer son who wants to kill him’ tropes have become the SF equivalent of ‘middle-aged college professor has affair with younger female student’. And just because (some) women can have babies biologically doesn’t mean they can’t build robots or super-smart imaginary friends as well as, or instead of, creating life the squishy old fashioned way.
We wanted to challenge the gender dynamic of artificial intelligence stories, and rather than focus on the ‘why are all robot women sexy and adorable’ trope, we thought we’d let some fantastic writers explore the idea of what kind of artificial lifeforms women, and other under-represented genders, might create.
As for the title… it took us ages to find something that captured what we want, but ultimately the quote ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ gave us the answer. When it comes to artificial intelligence stories, the motivation is often just as interesting as the ‘how it all went terribly wrong’ part, and we’re interested to see how the gender of the creator in these stories will affect what they build, and who they make.
The anthology will be published by Twelfth Planet Press… why go with them?
Twelfth Planet Press have a reputation for smart, thought-provoking projects and for challenging the gender dynamic of SF publishing, so they were absolutely our first choice. We’ve both worked with them before, though mostly at the fiction writing end of things, so it’s exciting to be getting our teeth into an editing project this time around.
We want to follow in the footsteps of Kaleidoscope and Defying Doomsday, which were both fantastic, diverse anthologies with strong political concepts behind them.
Do you have a stash of money up your collective sleeves to pay the authors for the project, or do you have some other plan?
Crowdfunding is our plan! With a project like this, a crowdfunding campaign has a lot of benefits to it, particularly that you can create advanced buzz for the book, and also gauge the interest of the readers. If we can’t make our target, then we don’t have enough interest to make the book viable, and it’s better to know that up front. The best thing about crowdfunding is that we are able to comfortably pay the authors (and editors and designers and artists and everyone) professional rates, which is often a hard ask for an Aussie small press budget.
Twelfth Planet Press has run a couple of very successful crowdfunding campaigns for anthologies like this one, and each time that has helped to bring international awareness to the book which is hugely important. We may be working out of the Australian suburbs, but we want to get this book into the hands of readers all around the world.
This will actually be the first time Twelfth Planet Press has worked with Kickstarter rather than the locally-based Pozible, so that’s an exciting adventure. It will be interesting to see whether it makes a difference to international reach.
Are there any authors associated with the project yet?
Yes, there are! We’ll also be opening for general submissions after crowdfunding closes, from July-August 2017.
Our core team of Mother of Invention authors are Seanan McGuire, John Chu, Kameron Hurley, Nisi Shawl, Sandra McDonald, E.C. Myers, Justina Robson, Bogi Takács, Rosaleen Love, Cat Sparks and Joanne Anderton. We also have an essay coming from Ambelin Kwaymullina, which we are very excited about.
Do you have dream plots or ideas you’d like to see reflected in your slush pile?
Tansy: I’m not gonna lie, I kind of want at least one super smart sexbot story and/or a gender-reversed Stepford Wives story. So many robot-as-person stories are about beauty and perfection and the unrealistic expectations on human/artificial female bodies, so I’d love something that turns that around to look at the potential sexuality/sensuality of artificial male bodies. I’d also love to see stories that look at how women socialise and connect to each other, and how intelligences that are created by women might reflect that. I’d definitely like a range of ages of the creators — a 96-year-old woman and a 15-year-old girl are going to create a different intelligent software, presumably. What would you get if they worked together?
I also really want stories that challenge our premise, challenge the gender binary, and allow for a wide, inclusive definition of what gender means anyway. Artificial intelligence is a theme that invites a complex exploration of gender (or an absence of gender) beyond just the creator themselves, so it would be fantastic to get stories that do this.
Rivqa: While I’m sure we’ll be including some ‘AI turns evil’ stories, I’m personally more excited to see stories that explore our creators’ creations in more subtle ways. In particular, autonomy interests me as a writer and a parent. At what point do we let go of our children, whatever their nature? What does it mean to make an autonomous AI, whether purposefully or accidentally?
Like Tansy, I’m excited to see how our authors use the theme to explore gender identity and expression. Would a female, genderqueer or agender creator necessarily invent something different to a cis male creator? Or is that just playing into the kyriarchy’s hands in a different way? I can’t wait to see how our submissions subvert the tired old trope of the cis male inventor, because I have no doubt that they’ll do so in a multitude of ways.
At a simpler level, I’m just looking forward to reading stories from people who love robots as much as I do, because I think they’re awesome.
What’s the timeline for all of this?
It all starts in June 2017, just a few weeks from now! We’ll be crowdfunding for the whole month. We’ll then have our open submission period and be reading, selecting and editing for the rest of this year. We’ll be delivering crowdfunding rewards from early 2018, with the book itself delivering to supporters in June 2018.
We also have a stretch goal planned for a companion series of gender and artificial intelligence essays which would, if we reach the target, extend beyond the original timeline.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is a writer, Hugo Award-winning podcaster and pop culture critic based in Tasmania. Her award-winning fiction includes the Creature Court trilogy and the Love & Romanpunk short story collection. Tansy has edited various magazines and books, most recently the Cranky Ladies of History anthology which was crowdfunded in 2014. She also regularly assesses manuscripts for the Tasmanian Writer’s Centre.
Rivqa Rafael is a writer and editor based in Sydney. Her speculative fiction has been published in Hear Me Roar (Ticonderoga Publications), Defying Doomsday, and elsewhere. In 2016, she won the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent. As an editor, she specialises in medical and science writing, both short and long form; she has also edited memoir, fiction and popular magazines.
I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages. And I do mean years. Finally got it this year because I was reminded of it by someone when I read a very poor version of the Snow Queen.
Many of the stories are excellent, although it’s not quite the anthology I was expecting. I wasn’t expecting there to be discrepancy in whether the stories were pretty faithful or quite different versions; I found it a bit disconcerting to bounce from one to the other, and then have completely made up (that is, not based on commonly told fairy tales) stories in there as well. I’m not saying any of those three options is bad but it felt jarring to have them all mixed together. But I think that’s mostly my expectations.
Lisa Goldstein’s use of Hansen and Gretel motifs to tell a story about a woman’s relationship with her daughters was a delight and a really intriguing way to end the anthology. I loved Patricia A McKillip’s take on the snow queen and Esther M Freisner’s “Puss” was deeply troubling. Actually a lot of them were deeply troubling, but that was kind of the point both because original fairy tales just were troubling and because this anthology was always intended to be about both the fantasy and the horror aspects of the stories. Hence the title. There were a lot of really great stories in this anthology and I can see why it keeps getting talked about. I guess I finally need to read Angela Carter now
A book that celebrates the marginalised throughout history. The women. The black. The brown. The queer. The trans. The freaks.
Stories that give the marginalised agency, even when they’re oppressed; purpose, even when they’re condemned; existence, even when they’re ignored.
I loved this anthology. I at least liked, if not loved, every single story.
Every story is set in a historical time and place: parts of the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe. They deal with real instances of marginalisation and oppression: sometimes minorities within hostile communities, sometimes systemic social oppression. In each story the characters are those whose stories have tended not to be told in Official History – at least not until the last few decades, and still slowly at that. In some cases the stories are triumphant; in some cases the stories tell of loss and woe. But almost always there’s an element of optimism, or hope. That through oppression, defiant humanity shines through. That despite others trying to remove that humanity, the marginalised know that they are human, and deserving of dignity. Even if in this instance, they’re not accorded it. I found it an unexpectedly uplifting anthology.
It reminded me of Cranky Ladies of History, for its agenda of shining light into often unlit areas of history. But the difference is that this is consciously speculative fiction about the margins. Most often that’s expressed as magical ability of various kinds, rooted in real religious systems or within individual humans; or there’s the occasional science fictional element. Sometimes it’s zombies or shape-changing, or magical/otherworldly creatures. Sometimes the speculative element is central to the story, and sometimes it’s just there, part of the world. It’s always done well.
Everyone should read this anthology.
This book was sent to me by the editor, at no cost.
I have loved the Infinity series so far. I like that the focus is on science fiction, that it’s often a focus on the engineering side of the future but that that doesn’t preclude fascinating characters and intriguing worlds. I am consistently impressed by the variety of worlds presented and the writing talent included.
The anthology opens with a series of stories focused on the solar system. Alastair Reynolds gives us a problem with the sun where the narrative jumps tantalisingly between now and later, while Pat Cadigan provides what might be a prequel story for her “The Girl-Thing who went out for Sushi” in a story set on Earth but focused on colonising near Jupiter. Stephen Baxter goes to Venus with a sweeping story about human hubris and the problem of families. Charlie Jane Anders totally mocks the whole idea of going to space in a hilarious story of being, like, an adolescent in space? Tobias S Buckell and Karen Lord also take the long view, temporally speaking, about what it might mean to undertake engineering projects within the asteroid belt and elsewhere, given the distances (and therefore time) involved. Plus Calypso.
Naturally, there are some stories in the anthology that confront climate change – it’s understandably becoming a go-to theme. Cadigan’s story references the issues in passing; stories by Pamela Sargent, and Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty, suggest possible ways of dealing with the problem – the latter is one of my favourites, being both optimistic and pessimistic, and largely set in the Arctic. Ken Liu writes over an extremely long period of time in posing the idea that the coming of the singularity might solve climate change in a rather radical manner. And Thoraiya Dyer posits a rather intriguing solution to the loss of island real estate while also dealing with the problems of family.
There are also several stories with extra-solar settings. Kristine Kathryn Rusch combines desert urban planning on alien planets with a devastating mystery to great effect; Robert Reed writes a Great Ship story about how the materials you use (and the tools) can impact on the thing you’re making. Allen M Steele’s story sounds like it might be from a pre-existing set of stories, like the Great Ship suite, in that it’s focused on a group of wanderers in what is effectively a Dyson sphere called Hex. It’s less focused on the engineering and more focused on human exploration of alien tech.
A few stories didn’t especially work for me. Karin Lowachee’s story of a contractor alone on a supply depot installation didn’t have enough character development for me to get my teeth into, while Gregory Benford and Larry Niven made my teeth ache with their extra-heavy serves of techno speak and missing out on character or plot. An Owomoyela’s narrative didn’t quite seem to go anywhere… which given the narrative itself is kind of funny, but it still didn’t work for me.
Highly recommending this anthology for lovers of science fiction.
I supported this book through its Kickstarter campaign and I am so excited that it is finally here. You can pre-order now and get your own copy on May 30.
“People with disability already live in a post-apocalyptic world,” says Robert Hoge in his Introduction to this volume. The central character of every story in this anthology has some sort of disability or chronic illness – but the point of the story is not that. The point is people getting on with surviving the apocalypse. Some do it with more grace than others; some do it with a lot more swearing and crankiness (I’m not saying that’s bad; looking at you, Jane, by KL Evangelista). Some do it almost alone, others with a few people, still others with lots of people around (which can be good and bad). The apocalypses (apocalypi?) they face are also incredibly varied, from comets hitting the planet to various climate-related problems to aliens to disease to we-have-no-idea; the settings include Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the moon, space, and indeterminate.
The first four stories give an excellent indication of what the anthology as a whole is like. Corinne Duyvis opens the anthology brilliantly with a story that includes a comet, refugees, spina bifida, food intolerances, teen stardom and adult condescension. “And The Rest of Us Wait” sets a really high bar. Next, Stephanie Gunn throws in “To Take into the Air My Quiet Breath” which combines cystic fibrosis, sisterhood, influenza, and taking desperate chances. Seanan McGuire serves up a story that somehow manages to combine being really quite cold and practical with moments of warmth; the protagonist has mild schizophrenia and autism, and not only does she have to deal with surviving a seriously bizarre problem with the rain but also one of the girls who used to tease her. No. Fair. And then Tansy Rayner Roberts does banter and romance with “Did We Break the End of the World”? Roberts somehow makes looting not seem quite so bad and THEN she does something REALLY unexpected at the end to actually explain her apocalypse which I should have seen it coming and totally did not.
So that’s the opening. A focus on teenagers, and I guess this could count as YA? But some of the protagonists in other stories are adults, so I don’t know what that does to the classification. At any rate I’d be happy to give it to mid-teens with an understanding that yes, there is some swearing, but as if that’s a problem. They should maybe skip “Spider-Silk, Strong as Steel” if arachnophobia is a problem, though.
Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench have created an excellent anthology here. The fact that each protagonist has a disability or chronic illness isn’t quite beside the point, but it kind of is: that is, most of the time while reading the stories I wasn’t thinking “oh, poor blind/deaf/handless/whatever person!” I was thinking “I want to be with that person when doomsday comes down because they’ve got this survival thing down like nothing else.” Of course I’m not suggesting that these stories could or should have been written with able-bodied protags, or that the disabilities have been added in to be PC (which, remember, isn’t actually a bad thing). Instead what this anthology shows is that being diverse and inclusive isn’t bad for fiction. In fact it’s great for fiction. It’s an important reminder to (currently, mostly) able-bodied types like me that HELLO you are not the only people; and for people living with disability and illness this is of enormous importance, because it reminds them that (unlike what we see in many other books and films) they’re not automatically destined to die in the opening scenes of an apocalypse. They have stories and they’re important, like everybody else who’s not a straight white (able-bodied) man.
Soooo this anthology came out in 2013 aaaand I’ve only just got around to reading it. Um. Oops. I have no excuse for this. It just didn’t happen.
The subtitle is “An Anthology of Discoveries” and what’s really interesting is that this is such a broad anthology but yes, the theme of discovery – of place, or self, or strangers – is the unifying factor. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s subtle; sometimes there are world-shattering consequences and sometimes not so much.
The other superbly interesting thing about this anthology is that it’s all women. From memory of Tehani discussing the process, pretty much accidentally so. And it’s not all just dresses and kissing! (Sorry; /sarcasm.) It’s basically a who’s who of established and emerging Australian writers, too, which is a total delight.
Some of these stories really, really worked for me. Michelle Marquardt’s “Always Greener” is a lovely SF story that ended up being simultaneously darker and more hopeful thanI expected (yes that’s a contradiction, too bad). And then to have it contrasted with the fantasy of Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter’s “By Blood and Incantation” – which is not my favourite HannSlatt but is still quite good – neatly skewered expectations that it was going to be an SF anthology, pointing out that ‘discovery’ is a mighty broad concept. And then “Indigo Gold” by Deborah Biancotti! Detective Palmer!!! and !!! The Cat Sparks story is awesome (it feels like ages since I read a Cat Sparks story), Penelope Love is quietly sinister in “Original,” Faith Mudge does fairy tale things beautifully in “Winter’s Heart.” And the final story, “Morning Star” by DK Mok, is a magnificent SF bookend to match Marquardt but on a much grander, more extravagant scale.
This is a really fun anthology and I’m sorry it took me more than a year to read it. You can get it right here.
What do you do when you have a major heart attack and you’re also creator/sustainer of Clarkesworld? You decide to edit an anthology. Natch. (Read an interview with Neil Clarke here.) And you decide to make the theme of that anthology cyborgs, because you are now one yourself. Thus, Upgraded.
Now, before you go all ‘hmm, themed anthology’ side-eye on me, just steady on. In some stories, being a cyborg is the point; in others it is incidental. Sometimes being a cyborg is a good thing, a positive addition, welcomed. Others, it is something to be dreaded, confronted, Dealt With. Sometimes being a cyborg makes you better, and sometimes it seems to make you less. Cyborg-ness ranges from fully integrated and augmented body modifications to one seemingly small addition. Augmentation might be for aesthetics, or employment; for someone else’s sake or your own. It ranges from being socially acceptable to being almost beyond the pale.
Some stories happen tomorrow, here; some of them are way over there, temporally and physically. Sometimes there are aliens. Sometimes there are robots. Sometimes they are in love stories, detective stories, war stories, family stories. Not all the cyborgs are attractive characters. Sometimes they become cyborgs before our very eyes, and sometimes they’ve been cyborg so long it’s just what they are. Sometimes they were actually made that way from the start.
These stories feature men, and women, and sometimes genders are unstated. There are white characters and black characters and a variety of ethnicities. One of the central issues is that of disability, dealing with it and changing it and how those around you react to it. There’s queer and straight and none-of-your-business. Authors are from a variety of backgrounds, too.
So sure, it’s a themed anthology. But this is no Drunk Zombie Raccoons in Upstate New York. This is a vibrant, fun, intriguing and varied set of stories that have a basic concept in common.
The stories. Well, let me say upfront that I was so destroyed by Rachel Swirsky’s “Tender” that I had to put the book down and go to sleep. No more reading for me that night. As for the rest, here’s a sampler: Yoon Ha Lee’s “Always the Harvest” is creepy and disconcerting and sets a really great tone for the anthology – it’s the opening story – by being completely unlike any of the others. Ken Liu’s story is also deeply disconcerting because (very mild spoiler here) it is absolutely not the story you think it is. Alex Dally McFarlane does wonderful things with maps, while Peter Watts taps into the zeitgeist to suggest uncomfortable things about the military. And I have a feeling I know something Greg Egan might have read before writing “Seventh Sight” but I’m not going to mention it here because that would be way too much of a spoiler.
This is a really great anthology, with stories that absolutely stand as marvellous science fiction quite apart from their brethren. You can get it from Fishpond!
Reviewing an anthology is always a bit more difficult than reviewing a novel. So is rating it. Does one poor story deserve to bring down the entire anthology? Should I mention every single story?
I gave this anthology a 5-star rating on Goodreads. I did not do this because every single story blew me away; they didn’t, although I don’t remember any story that I loathed, which is impressive in its own right. Partly I was predisposed to being impressed by the anthology because of the theme: the menial. That is, no heirs-misplaced-at-birth, no admirals or planetary governors or princesses starring here; instead, it’s the miners, the sewerage workers, the grunts who feature. Not to say that the stories don’t feature action or adventure – they do – but largely it’s action that happens in the course of everyday work, and often because of accidents: the sorts of things that you’d really rather didn’t happen. The anthology points out the dignity in the menial tasks, as well as acknowledging the sheer back-breaking work that’s likely to still be necessary in the future; it points out the importance of the menial while remembering the danger. And even though the menial workers shine in the stories, it’s clear that for most of them, this isn’t going to lead to a huge change in fortunes. It’s part of a day’s work, or it’s not but it’s not enough to propel them out of drudgery – or indeed it’s something that leads to them getting fired and the consequent uncertainty of unemployment.
This anthology shows that good SF can be escapist in letting the reader escape from their own immediate situation, but can simultaneously speak to the reader who is unlikely to be a spaceship pilot or lead an army, but may well have a dead-end job that they hate. It can provide ways to imagine a different world but also reassure and comfort that even people in crappy jobs can actually have interesting lives, and do interesting things – something much SF ignores.
This anthology imagines a range of possible futures. They’re mostly fairly far future, and involve space travel of some sort; some have humanity spread far and wide, others are a bit more restricted. Because of its focus on the working class, there is less emphasis on the political or military than one often finds in SF, because really, when you’re scraping to get food on the table who has time to worry about the expansion of the empire? Many of these stories are united in their focus on the nitty-gritty details, those details that make up the everyday. Some of them are very familiar, some are familiar but in foreign contexts, whilst others are utterly alien. And the best stories make this work in clever and occasionally utterly bemusing ways.
I was initially dubious about the possibility of making an entire anthology based on the concept of skilled labour; not because I thought the concept was boring but because I wasn’t sure how there could be enough variety within that to keep having different stories. This is because I am not an author. There is, of course, infinite variety in the stories you can tell from the menial perspective – because there’s an infinite variety of stories to tell about humanity.
You can get Menial from Fishpond.
1. Twelfth Planet Press is running a Pozible campaign to get a new anthology off the ground. Edited by Alisa Krasnostein (one of the voices of Galactic Suburbia; the other one, Tansy, is already writing her story…) and Julia Rios, this is a really awesome anthology: the idea is that (to quote them):
The main characters in Kaleidoscope stories will be part of the QUILTBAG, neuro-diverse, disabled, from non-Western cultures, people of color, or in some other way not the typical straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied characters we see all over the place.
Please consider contributing if you can – and either way, spread the word! I’m tardy in posting this, so there’s just 12 days to go (closes 31 October), and they’re not quite halfway yet. Halfway to what? $12000 will allow them to pay pro-rates AND publish the book AND do all the other rewards stuff. That’s not a lot for a whole lot of brilliant. If you need more convincing, they’ve already got three names to the anthology: Ken Liu (!!!), Sofia Samatar, and Jim C Hines. Magnificent.
2. A Kickstarter that I backed ages ago is now live! Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond (that link takes you to Fishpond) is an anthology that does just what it says; wrenches the future from overly white, American hands and puts it into more ethnically diverse ones. My copy came with a mixtape, and when George Clinton’s dulcet tones announced “ah-good evening” as the first track… well, I admit that I squealed a little with joy. Watch this space for a review!
For those just joining us, James Tiptree Jr was a magnificent SF writer whose work Robert Silverberg once described as “ineluctably masculine.” Which is amusing because she was actually Alice B Sheldon. Anyway, in 1991 some people decided there should be an award named for a woman, and that it should be given to works that “explore and expand gender”. So, to be quirky, they named it for Sheldon/Tiptree. And the award has been going since then, and there are now a number of anthologies that reflect it: excerpts from novels, complete short stories, but also other work that reflects the issues that the award desires to highlight. Which is awesome.
Debbie Notkin’s introduction does a marvellous job of discussing the very first award and how it was decided on, as well as – most interestingly – pointing out that each jury has been forced to decide all over again what it means to “explore and expand gender.” Which is good to be reminded of, because there are definitely stories in the anthology whose inclusion I was a little confused by. And this, Notkin says, is totally fine.
In honour of Tiptree/Sheldon, the anthology opens with a short essay from Julie Phillips, the biographer of Tiptree/Sheldon (which I reviewed here, and as I write I am listening to The Writer and the Critic discuss it), about talking and talking too much which is completely fascinating (and somewhat connected to the current furore over Hilary Mantel’s words about the media representation of royalty?). It’s matched with a letter from Sheldon herself, to the psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, talking about identity and science fiction and science and friendship, which is such a nice touch. And then the anthology jumps straight into Raphael Carter’s “Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation by KN Sirsi and Sandra Botkin,” which can only be read by itself, must be read in a single sitting, and may then require that you sit staring at a wall for a few minutes. Because it is mind blowing. It’s written as a thoroughly researched scientific article, where two scientists from different backgrounds come to a startling discovery about how gender is perceived and what that means for identity and… that doesn’t really explain it at all. It’s very accessible as well as challenging and I can absolutely understand why it won.
L Timmel Duchamp’s collection Love’s Body, Dancing in Time was shortlisted in 2004, and from it this anthology includes “The Gift.” For all that it’s set in a distant future where the narrator is a travel writer who discusses other planets rather than other countries, there’s something rather medieval in its suggestion that there is more to an understanding of gender than a basic dichotomy. And I don’t mean ‘medieval’ in a pejorative sense, but in the sense that some medieval thinkers seemed to be groping towards a similar sense – and for similar reasons as suggested here. That aside, one of my favourite parts of this story is the description of the meal composed around the ideas of Matrix Aesthetics. And made me wish that something similar could possibly exist, that combined visual, aural, and taste sensations all designed to complement one another.
The next two parts of the anthology are again from 2004, this time excerpts from the winning novels. The Tiptree Award is an interesting one in that it seems to me one of the few really big-name awards that considers all work for one award (shorts and novels), and which is not afraid of having a tie (which has happened a few times). Firstly here, Joe Haldemann’s Camouflage – the first four chapters and “and two from a little further along,” according to the reading notes. I HAVE to read this novel. It’s utterly gripping, right from the start: an alien comes to earth millennia ago, and is capable of changing its outward appearance to be… whatever it likes. Imagine the consequences of that on ideas of gender and identity. This is complemented by an excerpt from Johanna Sinisalo’s Troll: A Love Story, which I imagine I will also get around to reading. Translated from the Finnish, it does indeed involve a troll, as well as (again according to the reading notes) mail-order bride slavery and Finnish folklore and homoerotic imagery. In this excerpt, the narrator’s night has started badly, with a failed date, and gets worse when she finds a bunch of boys attacking an animal. Things get weirder after that.
“Looking for Clues” is Nalo Hopkinson’s guest of Honour speech from WisCon (the convention where the Tiptree is announced) in 2002. As a woman of colour, as she explains in her speech, finding people “like her” was one of the aims of her extensive early reading – because there weren’t that many. She takes a winding road through various media and her experiences to look at the different sorts of role models (and not) available through her childhood and teenaged years, as well as making pointed remarks about people who insist on remaining ignorant about the issues. It would have been a brilliant speech to hear in person.
Eileen Gunn’s collection Stable Strategies is another one that got shortlisted in 2004, and as a representative this anthology chose “Nirvana High,” co-written with Leslie What. This is one of the inclusions that I simply do not get. It’s a clever story and it says interesting things about difference, and about growing up as ‘different’, but I don’t see that it says things about gender that connect it to the Tiptree. But I’m sure Notkin would say “and?”
From 1996 comes Jonathan Lethem’s “Five F***s” (sorry, I would like to keep this profanity free!). It’s a series of six vignettes, and in all of them there is a woman whose life appears to be different each time she has sex with a particular man. Indeed, it’s not just her life, but the world around her; in this sense it reminds me a bit of Lathe of Heaven. The lover does not appear in every story; in all but the first, there is a different man – Pupkiss, a policeman (mostly). So there are elements of the procedural to some of the sections, but not really. It’s one of those stories, as you may be able to guess, that is particularly hard to explain. It should just be read.
Carol Emshwiller’s “All of Us Can Almost…” is another story in the I don’t entirely get it pile. Shortlisted in 2004, it’s about desire and lying and determination, and while I think it’s a very good story and fascinating in what it says about interactions between people and expectations, I don’t entirely see that the gender aspects – which I can see – are an interesting enough or explored enough aspect to get it shortlisted. Again, refer to Notkin’s advice.
Gwyneth Jones is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors, so I was pleased to see an entry from her here. Rather than a piece of fiction, it’s a paper she gave called “The Brains of Female Hyena Twins: On the Future of Gender,” presented at the Academic Fantastic Fiction Network conference in 1994. In it, she ranges far and wide over scientific papers that discuss aspects of gender and biological sex in animals (those hyenas, peacocks, lizards and fish…), as well as gender and sex in humans and their malleability, as well as some frightening aspects of the battle of the sexes. It’s erudite and occasionally witty (insofar as such a topic ought to be), and outright challenging to biological determinists.
The penultimate place belongs to Ursula le Guin, for Another Story, or A Fisherman of the Inland Sea which I have read before but fell in love with all over again, reading it here. The planet of O is such a richly realised place – their marriage customs so breathtakingly original – and they’re not even the centre of the story, which is I think mostly about scientific research and its impact on individuals, as well as the impact of family, and the choices that we make… It’s wonderful.
Finally, Jaye Lawrence’s “Kissing Frogs” is described as “a pleasing after-dinner mint of a story” by the reading notes, and I think that’s about right. It’s a retelling of the fairy story, of course; it’s amusing and sweet and I can’t go into any details because the point of it is the little twists Lawrence weaves in. A highly enjoyable way to complete the anthology, anyway.
What this anthology does, and I presume what it set out to do, is give a broad overview of the point of the Tiptree Award – showcasing works that various juries have thought worth honouring, as well as including work that must help to inform the juries, and authors, and readers about the ideas of gender that the award wants to recognise. It succeeds in this aim, and no doubt in a secondary aim as well – of publicising those names whose work has been recognised, so that they get more recognition, and more people are challenged and inspired by their words.
You can get this anthology from Fishpond.