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[June 28, 1961] The Second Sex in SFF, Part IV

Many years from now, scholars may debate furiously which decade women came to the forefront of science fiction and fantasy.  Some will (with justification) argue that it’s always been a woman’s genre – after all, was it not Mary Shelley who invented science fiction with Frankenstein’s monster?  (Regular contributor Ashley Pollard says “no.”) Others will assert that it was not until the 1950s, when women began to be regularly published, that the female sff writer came into her own. 

It’s certainly true that a wave of new woman writers has joined the club in just the last few years.  If this trend continues, I suspect we’ll see gender parity in the sf magazines by the end of this decade.  Right around the time we land on the Moon, if Kennedy’s recently expressed wishes come to fruition. 

Come meet six of these lady authors, four of whom are quite new, and two who are veterans in this, Part IV, of The Second Sex in SFF. 


Photo generously provided by the author

Kit Reed: Born in my hometown of San Diego, Ms. Reed happens to be the one person on these lists with whom I am friends.  Like me, Ms. Reed was previously a reporter.  She’s been a rising star in sff since her debut in 1958 of The Wait in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF).  Interestingly, she does not consider herself a “woman” author and thinks the distinction superfluous.  I’ve only read the four stories she’s published in F&SF, so I may not have a complete picture of her talents.  Nevertheless, I’ve liked each successive story I’ve encountered more than the last.  She’s going to be famous someday, I predict.

Jane Dixon Rice: I understand Mrs. Rice was a fairly prolific writer during the War, but so far as I can determine, she has written just three stories in recent past, all of which came out in F&SF, and all of which were pretty good.  The last was over a year ago.  I hope she hasn’t disappeared for another decade-and-a-half long hiatus.

Jane Roberts: Ms. Roberts popped on the scene in ’56, writing for F&SF, and she was a regular for the next several years.  The only woman invited for the first science-fiction writer’s conference in Milford, PA (also in 1956), her work is beautiful and haunting.  She hasn’t published anything in the genre since the ’59 piece Impasse, which is really too bad.  I hope she comes back soon.

Joanna Russ: An English graduate of the distinguished universities of Cornell and Yale, Ms. Russ has to date published just one story in the genre, the quirky Nor Custom Stale.  It’s something she squeezed in the cracks in between studying for her Masters’, and it shows great promise.  Now that she’s gotten her advanced degree, I’m hoping we’ll see more of her work!


From Fanac

Evelyn Smith: Ms. Smith has been writing in the genre since 1952, back when she was Mrs. Evelyn Gold (wife of Galaxy editor H.L. Gold).  In fact, much of her early work was featured in Gold’s magazine – editor Gold was always keen on publishing at least one woman author in every issue to garner female readership.  I understand that Gold’s increasing agoraphobia broke up their marriage, but they remain friends.  In any event, Smith is now a regular in both Galaxy and F&SF, and her stuff is always worth reading.  She is truly one of the pillars of the sf authorial family.

Margaret St. Clair.  Last, but certainly not least, is an author who has been around under one nom de plume or another since just after the War.  Her work bespeaks a broad-ranged talent.  If you know her as Ms. St. Clair, you’ve no doubt enjoyed her playful sense of humor.  If you are acquainted with her alter-ego, Idris Seabright, you’ve seen her more somber, fantastic side.  She regularly appears in Galaxy, IF, and F&SF, and she’s also turned out several novels (which I’ve unfortunately not yet had the pleasure to read.) I expect she’ll continue to be a household name for a long time to come.

Thus ends the last of the list I’d compiled as of the end of last year (1960).  Just in the course of creating this series, several new (to me) woman authors have made it into print.  Thus, this installment shall not be the last of the sequence

Stay tuned!

Starting strong (July 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction;6-13-1959)

It’s those haunting, evocatively written F&SF stories that keep me a regular subscriber.  July’s issue opens with Robert F. Young’s To Fell a Tree, about the murder (mercy killing?) of the tallest tree imaginable, and the dryad that lived within.  It’ll stay with you long after you turn the last page, this sad, but not entirely desolate, tale.  So far, it’s the best I’ve seen by Young.

Asimov’s column, this month, is a screed against the snobbery of the champions of liberal arts and humanities to the practitioners of science.  I’m told that the rivalry is largely good-natured, but Dr. Asimov seems to have been personally slighted, and his article is full of invective. 

Avram Davidson’s Author, Author is next: venerable British mystery writer is ensnared by the very butlers and baronets who were the subjects of his novels.  I found most interesting the interchange between the author and his publisher, in which the latter fairly disowns the former for sticking to a stodgy old format, the country-house murder, rather than filling pages with sex and scandal.  I found this particularly ironic as my wife is a mysteries fan who appreciates whodunnits of an older vintage, from Conan Doyle to Sayers.  She has, of late, become disenchanted with the latest, more cynical crop of mysteries.  I suspect she would have words for the publisher in Davidson’s story.

For Sale, Reasonable is a short space-filler by Elizabeth Mann Borgese about a fellow soliciting work in a world where automation has made human labor obsolete.  Damon Knight’s following book review column is devoted to The Science Fiction Novel, Imagination and Social Criticism, a book of essays written by some of the field’s foremost authors.  It sounds like a worthy read.

Jane Roberts’ Impasse hits close to home–a young lady loses her last living relative, her grandfather.  So great is her grief that, by an act of will, she returns him to life, though the old man is not too happy about it.  The story struck a chord with me as I lost my family when I was quite young, and I can certainly identify with the poor girl’s plight.

The Harley Helix is another fill-in-the-space short short by Lou Tabakow, the moral of which is There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch (i.e. the First Law of Thermodynamics).  Success Story, which I reviewed last time, is next.

Raymond E. Banks has the penultimate tale, with Rabbits to the Moon, a thoroughly nonsensical tale about the teleportation of creatures (including humans). Its only flaw, that the transported arrive without a skeleton, is made into a selling point.

Last up is The Cold, Cold Box by Howard Fast.  The richest man in the world becomes afflicted with terminal cancer and has himself frozen in 1959 so that the future can cure him.  But the members of his company’s board of directors have a different agenda, particularly after they become the world’s de facto controlling oligarchy. 

It’s good reading all the way through, but it’s the lead novella that really sells it.  3.5 stars, I’d say.

I’m off to the movies tonight, so expect a film review soon!

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Odds and Ends (April 1959 Fantasy & Science Fiction; 2-24-1959)

A bit of a grab bag today as I finish off the odds and ends before the new (diminishing) crop of magazines comes in. 

Firstly, the sad news regarding Vanguard II has been confirmed: the wobbly little beachball has got the orbitum tremens and is unable to focus its cameras on Mother Earth.  So much for our first weather satellite.

Secondly, the sad news regarding the April 1959 Fantasy & Science Fiction.  Yes, Poul Anderson does have a story in it.  The Martian Crown Jewels is a science fiction Sherlock Holmes pastiche.  As a mystery and as a story, it is fairly unremarkable.  Still, Doyle-philes may enjoy it.  As can be expected, both for the genre and for the author, the only women’s names are to be found gracing ships, not characters.

There are a couple of oddball pieces in this issue.  One is a translated Anton Checkhov parody of a Jules Verne story called The Flying Islands.  Perhaps it’s better in the original Russian. 

There is also a chapter of Aldous Huxley’s new book, Brave New World Revisited, comparing the myriad of mind-altering substances available today to the simple and perfectly effective soma that appeared in the original Brave New World.  It is an interesting contrast of prediction versus reality.  It is also a great shopping list for some of us.

As I mentioned earlier, Damon Knight is out of an editorial job after just three issues at the helm of IF.  F&SF has found him a new place to hang his reviewer’s hat–as the new writer for the magazine’s book column.  Good news if you like damonknight.

Jane Roberts, an F&SF regular, contributes a two-page mood piece called Nightmare.  It’s another two-minutes-to-midnight fright.

But the real gem of the latter portion of the magazine is Fred Pohl’s To see another Mountain about a nonagenarian supergenius being treated for a mental illness… but is he really sick?  Interestingly, I never liked it when Pohl and Kornbluth teamed up, but Pohl by himself has been reliably excellent.  This story is no exception. 

Where does that leave us in the standings?  There isn’t a bad piece in the bunch (the Anderson and Chekhov being the least remarkable).  Let’s say “four”, maybe “four-and-a-half” given the greatness of the lead story.

Two days to Asimov!



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