Tag Archives: joanna russ

[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!

East meets West (September 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction, second half; 8-04-1959)

A thousand pardons for my lateness.  It is partly to blame on mundane matters taking precedence, and partly to blame on my magazines showing up late this month.  Perhaps laziness is also a factor.  It’s languidly warm this Summer.

We left off half-way through this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Fifth in the line-up is Will Stanton’s Who will cut the Barber’s Hair? It is the very definition of a two-start story; I’ve had to go back several times to remember what it was even about.  In brief, a human from the far future, when creativity has disappeared, takes over a hayseed’s body to experience a bizarre cocktail party and feel the full gamut of human emotions.  Utterly forgettable.

On the other hand, newcomer Joanna Russ’ Nor Custom Stale stayed with me far longer than it ought to have given the silliness and simplicity of the premise.  A husband and wife shut themselves into a near-immortal house with the ability to generate Air and Food in limitless quantities.  They discover that adhering to an extremely regular schedule every day contributes to longevity.  In fact, the couple end up sleep-walking through thousands, if not millions, of years until the ultimate end of the Earth in a fashion recalling Leiber’s A Pail of Air.  I don’t know why I liked it so much, but I did, and I look forward to more by Ms. Russ.

Robert Graves’ Interview with a Dead Man is a cute reprint from 1950 about an embalmed fellow who still finds time to write.  It’s over almost as quickly as it begins, and it seems mortar for bricks, but I enjoyed it.

The Makers of Destiny, by Edward S. Aarons, is a direct sequel to his The Communicators, although it is so different in tone and content that I’d forgotten until recently, when I looked through my catalog of stories.  The world is rather fascinating–the Ten Day War erupts between East and West when an American bomber inadvertently bombs Moscow near the end of the century.  The United States and the Soviet Union are reduced to barbarism for decades, and the rest of the world shuns the erstwhile superpowers as pariahs.  Slowly, painfully, the United States reforms as a loose confederation with the aid of a group of psionically adept “Communicators.” 

In the instant story, Private Mugrath is a soldier of the Northern Union fighting in the last battles of the 15-year Civil War, which has waged since 2050.  But he is more than that–he is an esper under the control of the Communicators.  Their goal is to alter the course of history through the creation of squad of psychic superhumans–but there is resistance, and whether that resistance is some fundamental property of the universe or a traitor in the organization, is unknown.

I liked it a lot.  Evocative, dramatic.

Last up is Leslie Bonnett’s Game with a Goddess, a delightfully lusty (though oblique) tale of the ravishing of a comely acolyte by the Goddess of Love.  There aren’t many stories dealing with the mythology of the Orient, and this story does a great job of conjuring the setting and style. 

Apropos of nothing, have you read Robert van Gulik’s Chinese Detective novel, The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee?  It is excellent and lots of fun, a recreation of Ching dynasty mysteries set in the Tang dynasty. 

That’s that for this issue.  A unremarkable but not unpleasant 3-star issue.  See you in two days.  I’m sure I’ll have something for you!

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