Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

20 Works Of Feminist SF

with 17 comments

I am currently reading A Concise History Of Science Fiction by Mark Bould and Sheryl Vint and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the field. As well as the conventional narrative of each chapter, the book also includes pop out lists designed to stimulate further investigation. In the context of the SF mistressworks and 21st Century SF mistressworks lists, I thought it would be interesting to post their list of twenty works of feminist SF:

Rosel George Brown, Galactic Sibyl Sue Blue (1968)
Monique Wittig, The Guerilleres (1969)
Doris Lessing, Memoirs Of A Survivor (1974)
Kit Reed, The Killer Mice (1976)
Vonda N. McIntyre, Dreamsnake (1978)
Joanna Russ, The Two Of Them (1978)
Suzette Haden Elgin, Native Tongue (1984)
Jody Scott, I, Vampire (1984)
Ursula K. LeGuin, Always Coming Home (1985)
Connie Willis, Fire Watch (1985)
Pamela Sargent, The Shore Of Women (1986)
Carol Emshwiller, Carmen Dog (1988)
Pat Murphy, Points Of Departure (1990)
James Tiptree Jr, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990)
Katherine Burdekin, The End Of The Day’s Business (1990)
Rebecca Ore, The Illegal Rebirth Of Billy The Kid (1991)
Marge Piercy, He, She And It (1991)
Melissa Scott, Shadow Man (1995)
Candas Jane Dorsey, Black Wine (1997)
Tricia Sullivan, Maul (2004)

I have read precisely one (the Piercy), though another is scheduled for my year of SF by woman (the Sullivan). Edit: I originally left The Two Of Them off this list, I am planning to read that this year too.

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Written by Martin

12 May 2011 at 17:27

Posted in criticism, sf

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17 Responses

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  1. It’s a challenging list. I have read every author but the first, but not necessarily every book because they have often avoided the best known choice.

    Farah Mendlesohn

    12 May 2011 at 19:23

  2. I’ve read two (Piercy and Tiptree) and like you have Sullivan in my TBR stack. But Always Coming Home for Le Guin? I tried to read it as a teenager as my first crack at her, and the fact that I was never able to make it past the middle is probably the reason that it’s taken me so long to rediscover her as an adult.

    Abigail

    12 May 2011 at 20:08

  3. That is an interesting list. I’ve read three (Emshwiller, Tiptree, Sullivan) and have been meaning to read the Elgin and Dorsey for literally years. There are only two writers I hadn’t heard of (Brown and Scott J), but quite a few books I hadn’t heard of (those two, plus the Reed, Sargent, Burdekin, Murphy, Ore) — “She wrote it, but she only wrote one of it” in action, I guess.

    Niall

    12 May 2011 at 21:04

  4. I love Always Coming Home but it wouldn’t be my choice for this list, because I think it is a deconstructed narrative, and I think it splits readers 50/50. I think if you go with it, and are indulgent of the Californyisms it’s an incredible work. Deep ideas coming out through narrative decisions and construction. IMHO.

    On the whole I think feminist SF tends to be formally as well as politically challenging.

    I’ve read Memoirs of a Survivor – a loose, rambling, open narrative, without any resolution. But brilliantly written IMHO, and ideas in it come back to me after thirty years.

    Dreamsnake – actually a quite conventional narrative, despite what I just said. This was great for me as a teenager, because it made me feel there were other, older, women who felt the same things that I did.

    Native Tongue Suzette is a very interesting person, and Native Tongue is packed with ideas I think. Another one which has stayed with me for decades.

    Her Smoke Rose Up Forever Amazing, bleak, heart-wringing. The Screwfly Solution, The Women Men Don’t See, She Waits for All Men Born. These are amazing stories that everyone should read.

    ‘He She and It’ was published as Body of Glass in the UK, so people might look out for it with that name. Utopian feminism is not to everyone’s taste, but I think this is a readable and palatable version. Again, comes to mind regularly when other more conventionally crafted books have long faded.

    I don’t know most of those books though.

    Alison

    13 May 2011 at 08:24

  5. Like a lesser Farah, I have read works by all of these authors save four; but I’ve only read six of these specified novels.

    Adam Roberts

    13 May 2011 at 09:28

  6. No Joanna Russ (no relation)? Bizarre – one of the most important (and challenging) feminist SF writers. The injustice prompted me to google Ms. Russ only to find that she’d died ten days ago.

    Ruzz

    13 May 2011 at 10:52

  7. That does seem a surprising ommission. So surprising that I counted the number of books on that list: there are 19. It is therefore quite possible that Russ’s ommission is down to me rather than Bould and Vint. She is also given substantial coverage in the text.

    Martin

    13 May 2011 at 11:07

  8. A few more titles you should add to the list:
    The Door to Women’s Country, by Sheri S Tepper
    Ruins of Isis, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
    Pollen, by Joelle Wintrebert (franch)
    Chroniques du Pays des Mères, by Elizabeth Vonarburg (french, probably translated)

    Georges

    13 May 2011 at 11:10

  9. At the risk of asking a stupid question, what marks these books as being feminist sf rather than simply sf written by women?

    Lal

    13 May 2011 at 14:46

  10. My answer to Lal:
    Most of them, if not all, have feminist subjects… even if I’d have chosen The Dispossessed rather than Always coming home, because the feminist question is explicitly tackled in this one.

    Georges

    13 May 2011 at 14:59

  11. I’ve read ten of these titles and works other than those listed by four more authors, and I think this is a very excentric list. How did they manage to omit Suzy McKee Charnas?

    Susan Loyal

    13 May 2011 at 17:56

  12. Yes, Walk to the End of the World, I was also thinking of Wanderground, The Passion of New Eve, Herland, Handmaid’s Tale, Parable of the Talents and Ammonite. (I was thinking of ‘Woman on the Edge of Time’ not Body of Glass in my previous comment – sorry, being stupid.)

    Alison

    13 May 2011 at 18:09

  13. I meant to ask: presumably there are similar lists of other traditions – which traditions, and are they as eccentric?

    Niall

    13 May 2011 at 18:23

  14. I’m not sure I would describe it as eccentric so much as a deliberate attempt to address the “She wrote it, but she only wrote one of it” tendency you identify. The list is from Chapter 7 (New Voices, New Concerns) which also covers race and environmentalism. There is no list for the latter but they do give a list of “Black fabulations”:

    Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
    Ishmael Reed, Flight To Canada (1972)
    Barry BEckham, Runner Mack (1972)
    Gayl Jones, Corregidora (1975)
    Chester B Himes, Plan B (1983)
    AR Flowers, De Mojo Blues (1983)
    Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
    Charles Johnson, Middle Passage (1990)
    Jewelle Gomez, The Gilda Stories (1991)
    Phyllis Alesia Perry, Stigmata (1998)
    Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist (1999)
    Tananarive Due, The Living Blood (2001)
    Nalo Hopkinson, The Salt Roads (2003)
    Anthony Joseph, The African Originas Of UFOs (2006)

    Martin

    14 May 2011 at 13:30

  15. I didn’t mean it as a criticism!

    I’d like to see a list for environmentalism. I don’t even have a clear sense of what the canon would be that they might diverge from, and I would like to.

    Niall

    14 May 2011 at 19:30

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