I felt like a traitor giving this book only three stars on Goodreads. But it has to be said that I don’t feel the anthology lived up to what it was setting out to do.Does that make me a heretic? Possibly.
In the introduction, Susan Janice Anderson discusses how hard a lot of people said they found the topic. That they had to invent an entirely new society in order to talk about men and women being actually equal (to which in my head I say, duh; you’re writing SF aren’t you? Maybe that’s a bit harsh). It was very interesting reading about what they wanted to avoid (female monsters), and how hard it was to find models of what they did want. The Dispossessed and “When it changed” were of course mentioned.
I just love these anthologies. I love what it showcases – the diversity of what the different Tiptree panels have judged as falling into the category of ‘exploring and expanding gender,’ which is the remit of the Tiptree Award each year. I love that it shows diversity within the genre, full stop. I love that the anthologies don’t just have fiction, and don’t just have fiction from one or two years, but that there’s non-fiction and older works as well. And that the introduction and sometimes the introduction to each piece are interrogating themselves, the pieces, and the scene in general.
There’s a lot to love.
I’ve had this volume waiting to be read for aaaages. I thought it appropriate to read as I rode public transport on my way to interviewing Rosaleen Love – what I’ve read of her work fits into the broader milieu of the works represented here. As I read, I couldn’t believe that I’d allowed myself to leave this book festering on the shelf for so long.
The non-fiction includes an essay of Pam Noles’, called “Shame,” which struck me very deeply: about the experience of watching and reading science fiction as a person of colour, and not seeing yourself. Her dad sounds awesome: he called the movies she was watching “Escape to a White Planet,” and “Mars Kills the White People.” There’s an enormous amount in this essay that I, as a privileged white reader (gender does not trump race – it’s not a competition) probably need to read it again. Several times. And that the editors paired it with Dorothy Allison’s essay on Octavia Butler was very nice – the latter doesn’t talk all that much about race, more about Butler’s vision of women in the future, but the two are surely entwined… perhaps not especially in Butler, but certainly in Butler. And then there’s a letter from L Timmel Duchamp to Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr, which is a lovely musing on what Sheldon/Tiptree as person and as author has meant to one individual.
Geoff Ryman looks at some possible consequences of the internet arriving in an out of the way village; Nalo Hopkinson goes domestic, sinister and mythological all in one hit; Margo Lanagan does weird weird things that I’m still figuring out in “Wooden Bride” – the story that, I think, gets the shortest introduction of all, since “some stories shouldn’t be introduced” and doesn’t that just describe all of Lanagan’s work? Aimee Bender’s “Dearth” is a devastating, heart warming, bewildering story about maternity and mothering… and I’ve just realised the protagonist is never named. And isn’t that a statement in itself. All of the stories so far were new to me, and Bender was a new name. And then it gave me Ursula Le Guin’s “Mountain Ways,” one of my favourites of her short stories. I can’t possibly pick a favourite story, because that would mean choosing between Le Guin and Ted Chiang: “Liking what you see: A Documentary” is another of his glorious mucking-with-structure stories in which the question about whether you should turn off the ability to see/appreciate beauty is presented as if as a transcribed documentary. And the fact that there are no visuals to accompany this story about visuals just adds to its power and general gloriousness. And for the editors to pair this with Tiptree’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” – well, I’ll admit that I did not reread the Tiptree. It was just going to be too raw an experience. So too was “Litte Faces,” by Vonda McIntyre, but I didn’t know that before going in. Deeply disturbing and weird (but not entirely in an unpleasant way), as well as powerful and impressive – and so very different. So, too, the final story – different that is, slightly less weird and disturbing – is “Knapsack Poems,” from Eleanor Arnason. She uses a character who is effectively distributed over eight bodies to tell a story of travel and experience, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. I’m not sure the similarities are much more than superficial, but they’re intriguing anyway.
This anthology works as something read from cover to cover in a sitting or two; it could be dipped into over months; it could be hopscotched. It should be read in any way you can.