What seemed significant about my friend’s confusion was that it related to a persistent rumbling that I have heard echoing through science fiction. That rumbling says, in essence, that women don’t write science fiction. Put a little more rudely, this rumbling says: “Those damn women are ruining science fiction.” They are doing it by writing stuff that isn’t “real” science fiction; they are writing “soft” science fiction and fantasy.
Pat Murphy, Wiscon 15, March 12, 1991
So opens the introductory editorial for the Women Destroy Science Fiction! special issue of Lightspeed Magazine. Christie Yant’s introduction could easily have been the rallying cry that lead to the creation of Girls Errant–if it weren’t that I somehow miss all the best Kickstarters (my wallet is far happier than I am). There’s an overwhelming temptation to include quote after quote from editorials, interviews, and personal essays and simply exclaim, “This!”
Tempting. Easy. Not nearly what this fantastic double-issue of Lightspeed Magazine deserves.
Twenty-three years out and, just as Christie Yant writes, Pat Murphy’s quote could have just as easily been made last week. Or today. It could have been part of a discussion about fake geek girls or about whether ladies cosplaying in revealing costumes are just doing it for attention. Women writing science fiction doesn’t just threaten the genre: the mere presence of women at conventions threatens fandom itself.
Women, however, have been a part of science fiction since the beginning. We’ve been a part of it since Mary Shelley anonymously published Frankenstein. We’ve been a part of it since, in 1926, Clare Winger Harris was the first woman to publish science fiction under her own name. We’ve sometimes had to disguise ourselves with initials, as Ursula K. Le Guin had to do in order to be published in Playboy without alarming the male readers. Sometimes we’ve taken on a masculine pseudonym. We’re still here, as writers, as artists, as directors, as fans.
Women Destroy Science Fiction! was entirely written, illustrated, performed, directed, and edited by women–a total of 109 women. It includes original fiction, original flash fiction, reprints, interviews, essays, illustrations, and podcasts. The stories range through all different types of science fiction–destroying it by reaching beyond the nuts and bolts of hard science and technology and deeply into soft sciences, but ultimately telling us the stories of the people and creatures who live in these worlds or with these technologies. They feature characters of different genders and races and species, and they range from nearly familiar Earth to the far reaches of space.
The original fiction opens strong with Seanan McGuire’s haunting and perfect Each to Each, where gene modification meets mermaids in a story of women exploited and betrayed by a Navy that doesn’t quite understand what it has created. Even the stories that didn’t tickle my personal fancy were still excellent–I still want to take them and press them into the hands of people I care about and beg them to read them. Though it takes place upon a space ship outbound to an alien world, and though it features biology by way of a decaying body, the bones it leaves behind, and what the process does to the ship, A Word Shaped Like Bones, by Kris Millering, is ultimately the story of an artist, her art, and her heart-breaking pursuit of acceptance and appreciation for her work. Hard science–geology, space exploration, and teleportation–shamelessly meets psychology in the eerie The Lonely Sea in the Sky, by Amal El-Mohtar. Pirates, a Perpetual Motion Engine powered by a human heart, and cryptozoology mingle in Canth, by K. C. Norton. Cuts Both Ways, by Heather Clitheroe, explores the cost and economics of cyborg technology by way of one ruined life mired in PTSD. Walking Awake, by N. K. Jemisin, peeks into a future human race cultivated as hosts for parasites and explores the costs of revolution and freedom. The Case of the Passionless Bees, by Rhonda Eikamp, explores humanity and artificial intelligence by way of Gearlock Holmes. Taking a more humorous approach, Dim Sun, by Maria Dahvana Headley, presents galactic gastronomy and an absolutely shameless pun in the title. The sciences tackled are all different, the worlds each unique, but the 11 original short stories are, collectively, some of the finest I’ve read in years.
The reprints, featuring classic and recent work alike, were likewise strong. The Cost to Be Wise, by Marueen F. McHugh, offers a fascinating, then wrenching view of life on a long forgotten and recently rediscovered human colony, and it wraps up a sharp criticism both of colonialism and of the Prime Directive inside a devastating story. Like Daughter, by Tananarive Due, is a gut-punch of a story, and to reveal the science at its heart is to give away the story itself. We’re given a look into the life of a being that inhabits multiple bodies and sexes in Knapsack Poems: A Goxhat Travel Journal, by Eleanor Arnason, and we’re given a tour through the life of a completely alien being in James Tiptree Jr.’s Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death. The final inhabitants of a dying Earth hold out hope for a new home in Maria Romasco Moore’s The Great Loneliness, but the real beauty in the story is found in the science as art that motivates the main character.
The original flash fiction functions as a tour through many flavors of science fiction, from a salvage mission in deep space in Salvage, by Carrie Vaughn, to a profile of alien creatures and their resistance to creativity in The Mouths, by Ellen Denham, to time travel, touched upon in very different ways both in A Guide to Grief, by Emily Fox, and The Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced, by Sarah Pinsker. The use of a clone for parts to save and maintain an ill daughter receives a shudder-worthy look through the innocent eyes of a child in M1A, by Kim Winternheimer. Superheroes and villains even make an appearance in a story told entirely by a bystander using Patter (re: Twitter) in #TrainFightTuesday. No matter your favorite flavor of science fiction, there’s something for you in the 15 flash fiction stories.
Unfortunately, the fiction portion of the issue takes a stumble and ends on a down note with the novel excerpt. Teenaged me probably would have eaten up every bit of the story with barely contained glee, but I barely managed to cringe my way through an overwrought bundle of cliches and stilted dialog in Artemis Awakening, by Jane Lindskold. It’s possible that I’m just not the audience for this kind of purple prose-laden Mercedes-Lackey-but-with-a-spaceship type fare.
I was stunned to learn that in the history of the Hugo Awards, only three women have ever been nominated for the Professional Artist category. Those nominations came last year and this year. The interviews with the artists featured in this issue were fascinating to a non-artist, though the Kindle edition’s view of the art itself leaves something to be desired.
The interviews and personal essays were intimate, enlightening, and fascinating, offering views into the lives of women in science fiction. Some have had to fight, some are recent success stories who have been met with nothing but support. All have important and interesting things to say both about science fiction and about the women who are still creating it.
As for the women in the stories themselves? I’ll leave that to Maria Dahvana Headley, from her spotlight:
Growing up, I got more and more disgruntled with the way characters like Wendy ended up being flung into Neverland and FORCED TO BE EVERYONE’S MOTHER INSTEAD OF HAVING ADVENTURES. No, no, no. No to the nth. Okay, so being a mother *is* an adventure. I happen to be a mother myself. I have two stepkids, now in their twenties–and I spent my twenties raising them. It is a crazy, crazy beautiful adventure to raise children, but yo. It’s not the only adventure a girl can have.
Thanks to a phenomenally successful Kickstarter, women have not only destroyed science fiction, but they’re next going to take shots at horror and fantasy in Nightmare Magazine and Fantasy Magazine, respectively. I can’t wait.