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Sooner or later, every author with strong opinions seems to find a publisher willing to collect and print a representative sample of those opinions. The View from the Cheap Seats is such a collection of assorted non-fiction writings by Neil Gaiman on a vast range of topics. As Gaiman says in the Introduction.

"This book is not “the complete nonfiction of Neil Gaiman.” It is, instead, a motley bunch of speeches and articles, introductions and essays. Some of them are serious and some of them are frivolous and some of them are earnest and some of them I wrote to try and make people listen. You are under no obligation to read them all, or to read them in any particular order. I put them into an order that felt like it made some kind of sense—mostly speeches and suchlike at the beginning, more personal, heartfelt writing at the end. Lots of miscellaneous writing, articles and explanations, about literature, film, comics and music, cities and life, in the middle."

It is not surprising that one of the themes that runs through much of the collected work is a love of books, of reading, of ideas. (Indeed, I've found this to be a common theme in many similar collections of essays and the like by authors of all genres.) Gaiman writes movingly about the importance of books, of reading, and of his own history with these things, how the books of his childhood and his experiences around the reading of them made him who he is. He writes about himself as reader and as writer, and how these are linked. He writes about genre, and story, and the power of myth.

Between having spent some time as a journalist, finding fandom early in life, and apparently being quite a social sort of chap, Gaiman seems to have met and in some cases had long and significant relationships with a fair few British writers and other industry people - and has been called on to prepare introductions both to their books and to their personal appearances at conventions and such. These collected pieces provide insights not only into the subjects, but in many cases, into Gaiman himself - and they are often funny and wise at the same time.

Gaiman's subjects range from science fiction and fantasy books and authors to film to music (with, quite understandably, several articles on the work of his wife Amanda Palmer) to comics (quite extensively, it's clear that he has a deep and abiding love for the artform). And on all of them, he has interesting things to say. If this is the view from the cheap seats, the show is well worth the price of admission.
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What a joy it is to read anything by Ursula Le Guin. In this instance, the "anything" is a collection of non-fiction writing - occasional pieces, book reviews, forewords to other people's books, essays on writing and writers and life. Given the somewhat lengthy title and subtitle of Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000–2016 with A Journal of a Writer’s Week, this collection is a smorgasbord of delights from one of the finest writers and clearest thinkers of our time.

The essays presented here are collected into three sections. The first, titled Talks, Essays and Occasional Pieces, offers exactly what it suggests. Most of these essays deal in one way or another with writing, publishing, writers, books. About genre vs. "literature" and the effects of the new media on reading - she is optimistic about the future of the book, in some form or other.

One essay that does not focus on the worlds of words - her account of choosing to terminate a pregnancy during her university years, well before Roe v. Wade, and the importance of being able to make that choice - was difficult to read. In it, she says: "I can hardly imagine what it’s like to live as a woman under Fundamentalist Islamic law. I can hardly remember now, fifty-four years later, what it was like to live under Fundamentalist Christian law. Thanks to Roe vs. Wade, none of us in America has lived in that place for half a lifetime." But I could not stop thinking about the very real possibility that American women will face that reality again.

The second section, Book Introductions and Notes on Writers, contains an assortment of mostly commissioned pieces in which she briefly discusses - as is appropriate for an introduction to the text - authors and books she respects and loves. From Huxley's Brave New World to Boris and Arkady Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic to Vonda McIntyre's Dreansnake, Le Guin's insights into these books are both profound and inviting.

The final essay section of the book collects Le Guin's critical reviews, most of which were published in the Manchester Guardian. These reviews cover books both literary and genre, by such authors as Margaret Atwood, Italo Calvino, Doris Lessing, Salmon Rushdie, Jo Walton, Jeannette Winterson and others. Le Guin's critical eye is discerning and unflinching and she delivers both praise and critique with thoughtful analysis.

The last section of the book consists of journal entries made by Le Guin during a week spent at a writers' retreat for women. In her introduction to the journal, she talks about the practice of gender segregated events:

"I hold it self-evident that so long as we live in a man’s world, as we still do, women have a right to create enclaves of learning or work where, instead of obeying or imitating what men do and want, women can shape what they do, how they do it, and why they do it, in their own way and on their own terms. No enclave is the whole reality, no exclusivity is entirely rightful, but when a great injustice prevails, any opportunity of counteracting it, undoing it even temporarily, is justified. Intellect and art have been so wholly owned by men, and that ownership so fiercely maintained, that no woman can assume society will simply grant her a rightful share in them. Many women still find it difficult, even frightening, to name themselves thinkers, makers, to say I am a scholar, a scientist, an artist. A place where such fear has no place, and a period of time given purely to doing one’s own work, is for many men a perfectly reasonable expectation, for many women an astounding, once-in-a-lifetime gift."

In her journal she writes about the environment of the retreat - the natural world around her, the animals she observes - and about the other people in residence during her week's visit. She talks about the writing, the reading, the thinking and the drawing that she does. It is a small window into the creative process of a great artist under 'ideal' conditions - solitude, no distractions, nothing to dilute the flow of ideas and words.

All four sections of the book highlight slightly different aspects of Le Guin the wordsmith - the thinker, the lover of literature, the critic, the artist, while serving to demonstrate the truth of the volume's title - words are her matter, and her opinions and insights are, as always, well worth reading and thinking on.

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I must confess that I had not, until now, read any of Carrie Fisher's memoirs or novels (at least some if which, I understand, are semi-autobiographical in nature). I am not an avid consumer of biographies or personal narratives of popular entertainment figures unless they have some other element to recommend them - a commitment to political action, say, or an unusual life experience, a career that contains some piece of work that affected me deeply or a particular gift for their craft.

However, the confluence of Fisher's untimely death and the publication of a memoir focused on her experiences filming Star Wars and inhabiting the very public image of Princess Leia impelled me to read Princess Diarist.

Fisher's style is light and easy to read without sacrificing perception or wit, and I thought that sections of the book that were taken from her original diaries, while overwrought in that "young woman on the threshold of everything" way that many of us probably remember all too well, contained flashes of her mature gift and showed some degree of insight and introspection amidst the angst.

I found her general observations on being trapped in an iconic role more interesting than all the business about her affair with Harrison Ford - unfortunately, there is much more of the latter than there is of the former. But then, I read bios of Laurence Olivier for insight into his acting process, not his relationship with Vivien Leigh. I'm odd that way.

It is, despite Fisher's light touch in the sections written by her mature self, a sad book, and one that bears witness to the utter wrongness of the sexual politics of the time (not that it's all that much better now). The early diaries reveal an intelligent, talented and witty young woman who cannot find a way to respect herself. The present day matter that bookends those diaries is a strange mix - wise and a little world-weary in speaking about the nature of celebrity, but oddly lacking in a feminist perspective on her younger self's issues with self-esteem, body image and sexual experiences.

The older Fisher, looking back, tells a disturbing story of the young Fisher and the start of her relationship with Harrison Ford without batting an eye. She recounts being the only woman at a party full of older men, being pressured into drinking far more than she is used to. As she becomes more and more inebriated, the men around her speak about her as a piece of meat, reducing her to an available sexual orifice - a scenario that screams prelude to gang rape. And when Ford intervenes, one breathes relief for only the minute it takes to read on about how he bustles her into a cab and has sex with her in the back seat. And this is the beginning of the affair that generates so much pain for her that it oozes off the pages of her younger self's diaries and poems. One wishes for the older Fisher to present some insight into this dynamic, but the closest she comes to this is to say:

"If Harrison was unable to see that I had feelings for him (at least five, but sometimes as many as seven) then he wasn’t as smart as I thought he was—as I knew he was. So I loved him and he allowed it. That’s as close a reckoning as I can muster four decades later."

I will always treasure the character Fisher created for us, both in the first Star Wars trilogy and in her return to the role some 40 years later, but her recollections and musings on the circumstances surrounding that creation saddened me more than anything else.

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It has been said that the Inklings - the community of writers that surrounded C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams - was the most influential group of writers of the 20th century. In Bandersnatch: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings, Diana Pavlac Glyer traces the story of the Inklings as a working writers' group from its beginnings, detailing the evidence for the extensive influence the members had on each other's writing. The book itself is an adaptation of her earlier and more scholarly work, The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in community, and has been organised in such a way as to offer not only illuminative anecdotes about the writers and details of the process of critique and collaboration that marked their interactions, but observations on what made the group so successful in fostering each other's work and the lessons other groups might draw from that success.

The story of the Inklings begins with Lewis and Tolkien. Both employed in teaching English at Oxford, their association began when Tolkien, who believed that study of mythology and early languages was essential to the study of English, started a club, named the Kolbítar (Old Norse for “old cronies who sit round the fire so close that they look as if they were biting the coals") for the study and appreciation of old Icelandic literature. Lewis, long fascinated by Norse mythology, joined the club.

Then, in 1929, Tolkien asked Lewis to read his early draft of the Lay of Leithian, the poem about the love of the mortal Beren for the elven Lúthien Tinúviel, which would eventually become part of The Lord of the Rings. Lewis praised it highly - but he also offered a detailed critique on all levels, from conceptual matters to word choices. Tolkien responded with extensive revisions. Lewis then shared some of his own work with Tolkien, and eventually the two began meeting regularly to read and critique each other's work. They were eventually joined by Lewis's brother Warren, retired from military service, who had engaged on a project of editing the Lewis family papers for eventual publication (Warren Lewis would later turn his efforts to historical research and write several well-respected books on 17th century France.)

Glyer notes that while we tend to associate the Inklings with writing and scholarship, a third key element - like the first two, a matter of commitment, even devotion rather than simple interest - that bound them together was Christian theology and faith. As C. S. Lewis wrote when inviting Charles Williams to join their company, “We have a sort of informal club called the Inklings: the qualifications (as they have informally evolved) are a tendency to write, and Christianity."

Over time, the group, which adopted the name of the Inklings, grew to include other working writers - poets, essayists, scholars in a wide range of subjects from literature to medicine, novelists and playwrights - though not all participated to the same degree and several members came and went during the years. In all, 19 men are considered to have been members of the Inklings - Owen Barfield, J. A. W. Bennett, David Cecil, Nevill Coghill, James Dundas-Grant, Hugo Dyson, Adam Fox, Colin Hardie, Robert E. “Humphrey” Havard, C. S. Lewis, Warren Lewis, Gervase Mathew, R. B. McCallum, C. E. Stevens, Christopher Tolkien, J. R. R. Tolkien, John Wain, Charles Williams, and C. L. Wren.

Glyer focuses her attentions on the writers 'at the heart' of the Inkings - Tolkien senior and later his son Christopher, the two Lewis brothers, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams - detailing their influences on each other and their collaborative projects. What emerges is a remarkable portrait of a group of intensely intellectual and creative men who shared some of the most intimate aspects of their lives - their creative processes and their spiritual selves. A rich community of authors, whose individual works would influence many other writers beyond their circle. Without their connections to each other and the long ongoing conversation that encompassed them all, English literature of the 20th century - including genre fiction - would have been very different, and much poorer for the loss.

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André M. Carrington's critical assessment of race in science fiction, Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction, looks both at what he calls "the whiteness of science fiction" and "the speculative fiction of Blackness," thus examining "racialized patterns in the production and interpretation of speculative fiction" from two complementary perspectives.

In his Introduction, Carrington identifies himself as a Black man who is both a fan of speculative fiction and an academic, a critic of the genre. As such, his chosen focus in this critical work is:

"... what speculative fiction, in the many ways we encounter it and embody it, has to say about what it means to be Black. It is also about how placing Blackness at the center of discussions about speculative fiction augments our understanding of what the genre might be and what it might do."

Rather than taking a survey approach, Carrington selects specific areas of the broad spectrum of works and activities that make up the culture of speculative fiction, and examines these as representations of 'the whiteness of science fiction' or 'the speculative fiction of Blackness.'

"Speculative fiction is as saturated with race thinking as any other variety of popular culture, and it tends to reproduce conventional understandings of race for reasons I explore in this introduction and throughout the book. By analyzing works that represent the production and reception of speculative fiction, I also demonstrate that race thinking is a salient factor in the way actors on the media landscape employ genre distinctions and reproduce genre conventions in practice. Ultimately, I hope to establish a basis in the interpretation of popular culture for a more expansive understanding of what it means to be Black. I also hope to encourage SF readers and critics to acknowledge that race matters in speculative fiction; whether we realize it or not, our engagement with the genre entails a variety of complex relationships with Blackness."

The first aspect of the sff culture that Carrington presents as indicative of the whiteness of sff is fandom itself, which he views through the lens of fan reaction to the 'career' of Black fan writer Carl Brandon - a creation of several fan/writers, primarily Terry Carr.

"I have used Carl Brandon as a lens through which to view a moment in the development of a community around speculative fiction and the creative use of media, and I have reasserted Brandon’s Blackness as an essential feature in my examination of this moment because the fake fan made his participation in the network of relations among fans notable through his self-identification as a Negro. Although Carl Brandon emerged to inoculate fans against the charge of racial exclusion, the fact that he did not exist and disappeared before another fan identified herself as Black left the presumptive Whiteness of science fiction intact. By understanding the means of producing Brandon’s Blackness, however, we can recognize its continuity with the race thinking in science fiction fandom, rather than treating it as a lacuna. Interpreting the first letter that firmly identifies Carl Brandon’s textual persona with Blackness requires us to invoke a chain of correspondence reaching back to August 1954. When Carr made a splash by identifying Brandon as Black, fans were already in the middle, not at the beginning or the end, of a long dialogue about the meaning of Blackness in their community. This dialogue looks backward to James Fitzgerald [the first known black member of sf fandom] and forward to the continuing work of the Carl Brandon Society."

Carrington also interrogates the whiteness of the idea of space travel, a key element of science fiction, through the singular presence of Nichelle Nichols both as Uhura and as a spokesperson for NASA.

"Because of the ways in which Black women have been marginalized in the production of popular culture, including the relative alienation of Black women from the SF genre’s conventional ways of envisioning race, gender, and sexuality, Nichelle Nichols, I argue, has yet to be recognized for her transformative contributions to the public interrogation of questions at the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and utopian discourse.

Carrington continues his examination of popular sff genre fiction, through a look at the various ways the Marvel Comics character Storm embodies representations of white ideas about Black womanhood. Staying within the graphic narrative genre, he also reflects on the brief career of Milestone Media, a black-owned comics publishing company, and particularly its flagship title, Icon, which he argues "positioned a highly intellectual Black female protagonist, Rocket, in a critical dialogue with comics fandom." In both examples Carrington situates his discussion of Blackness in speculative fiction, as represented by Storm and by the Black characters Rocket and Icon in the Milestone Media comic, in the midst of a genre that remains conspicuous in its whiteness.

Carrington returns to an examination of black representation in the Star Trek universe with his exploration of the Deep Space Nine character Benjamin Sisko. He places particular focus on the time-travel themed episode "Far Beyond the Stars" and on the novelisation of this episode by black writer Steven Barnes.

"The episode recontextualizes the television series, which was enjoying its sixth season at that point, by presenting a story within a story. Casting Avery Brooks’s Blackness in stark relief against the trenchant White supremacy of the mid-twentieth-century United States, the episode would raise troubling questions about the inspirational rhetoric of science fiction—and Star Trek in particular—by situating the dynamics of racial conflict squarely within the history of the genre."

In his final chapter, Carrington returns to fandom, and in particular the transformative activity of writing fan fiction. He selects as his point of examination the online archive Remember Us, which "catalogs representations of people of color in popular media through fan fiction, fan art, and music video, providing a space in which a variety of critical relationships to Blackness appear possible, now and in the future."

Through critical discussion of these specific topics related to speculative fiction in all of its manifestations, Carrington examines both the history - the past and present - of representations of race, and illuminates possible futures for inclusivity. As he concludes in his Coda:

"Much of Speculative Blackness has concerned how the entrenchment of speculative fiction in the norms of popular culture limits the meaning of Blackness in the genre, but in this work I am also constantly looking forward to what Blackness can do, with the aid of speculative fiction, to transform cultural politics."

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The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of essays by author and social critic Kameron Hurley on being/becoming an sff writer and being a woman in that profession, on sff and geek culture and being a woman in that culture, and on the ways that sexism and geekdom play out in the broader 'mundane' world. In her Introduction to the collection, Hurley says:

"At its heart, this collection is a guidebook for surviving not only the online world and the big media enterprises that use it as story fodder, but sexism in the wider world. It should inspire every reader, every fan, and every creator to participate in building that better future together."

The essays in this collection range widely: from the important of persistence in becoming a writer to a discussion of Joanna Russ's How To Suppress Women's Writing. They are painful, inspiring, rage-honing, insightful, and even funny at times, and include the Hugo Award winning "We Have Always Fought." They are definitely worth reading.

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This is what you need to know about Letters to Tiptree, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce:

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Alice Sheldon’s birth, and in recognition of the enormous influence of both Tiptree and Sheldon on the field, Twelfth Planet Press is publishing a selection of thoughtful letters written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans to celebrate her, to recognise her work, and maybe in some cases to finish conversations set aside nearly thirty years ago. [1]

Either you know who James Tiptree Jr. - the primary pseudonym used by Alice Sheldon in her writing - was, what she did, what she wrote, how she was viewed, or you don't. If you do, you will understand and celebrate this book. If you don't.... Well, I am sorry that you have not yet encountered some of the greatest and most provocative short stories in the canon of science fiction, and that you have missed out on a long, thoughtful and vital conversation on the meaning of gender. I heartily recommend that you join the conversation by reading Tiptree immediately.

The book is divided into four parts:

Section one, “Alice, Alice, Do You Read?”, is composed of letters written to Alice Sheldon, James Tiptree Jr., or Raccoona Sheldon (or all of them). The second section, “I Never Wrote You Anything But The Exact Truth”, presents selected letters exchanged between Sheldon and Ursula K. Le Guin, and Sheldon and Joanna Russ. Sheldon had had a long paper relationship with both women as Tiptree, and this continued well after the revelation of Tiptree’s identity. ... In “Everything But The Signature Is Me”, we have reprinted academic material on Tiptree’s work and identity.

Finally, the editors include their own letters, and their thoughts on the process of editing this volume, in the fourth section, “Oh Joanna, Will I Have Any Friends Left?”

The contributors to the first part of this volume speak to the person, the work and the conversation. They speak to each contributor's personal thoughts on gender, identity and writing, and on how Tiptree's life and work relates to that. They raise questions about the things we cannot know about Tiptree, and speculate on possible answers. They show us where others, touched by the fire in Tiptree's words, are taking us. Each of these letters to Tiptree - or Alice, or Raccoona, or some combination of all the personas - is unique and fascinating, but I must mention Rachel Swirsky's contribution, a marvellous tribute of a poem that draws on the images in Tiptree's story titles to make her own contribution to the conversation.

In the next section, Tiptree's correspondence with Le Guin and Russ opens windows into all three women's hearts, a generous and intimate sidebar to the conversation.

The third section contains introductions to Tiptree's works by Ursula K. Le Guin and Micheal Swanwick, an excerpt from Justine Larbalestier's The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction which discusses one of Tiptree's iconic stories, "The Women Men Don't See," an excerpt from Helen Merrick's The Secret Feminist Cabal discussing the evolution of the James Tiptree Jr. Award, an essay by Wendy Gay Pearson on "The Text of this Body: “Reading” James Tiptree Jr. as a Transgender Writer" and finally, an article on being Tiptree by Tiptree/Sheldon herself.

The final letters to Tiptree from the editors wrap up and revisit the themes expressed in earlier letters in the volume.

When she was outed as being Tiptree, Sheldon wrote to friends, wondering if she would have any friends remaining after the science fiction world learned of her "deception." I, like others, wish she had lived long enough to see this book and know how many friends her work has made, and continues to make.


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I've been eagerly awaiting the publication of Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel Delany, edited by Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell, since I first heard it was in the pipeline, for a very personal reason. Delany was one of the first authors - not just of science fiction, but of any genre - who wrote books that crawled inside my brain and stayed there. There are others - Suzette Haden Elgin and Naomi Mitchison among them - but I can honestly say that simply reading Babel-17 was such a world-altering event for me that, had I never encountered it, I might be a very different person today.

In short, Samuel Delany and his work are very important to me.

Contributions to this volume include fiction and non-fiction, and they are tributes, reflections of how Delany has influenced other writers rather than attempts to recreate Delany's aesthetic. As Kim Stanley Robinson says in his Introduction:

These tributes mostly don’t try to imitate Delany’s style, which is good, as it is a very personal style, one that has morphed through the years in complex ways. Imitation could only result in pastiche or parody, forms of limited interest, although a good parody can be fun, and I’ve seen some pretty good ones of Delany’s work elsewhere. A “Bad Delany” contest would be at least as funny as the famous “Bad Hemingway” and “Bad Faulkner” contests. But a better tribute, as the writers gathered here seem to agree, results from considering not style but substance. Delany’s subject matter, his mode or method, involves a characteristic mix of the analytical and the emotional, the realistic and the utopian. By exploring this delanyesque space (and I think delanyesque has become an adjective, like ballardian or orwellian or kafkaesque), the stories and essays here make the best kind of tribute. They perhaps help to make the Delanyspace a new genre or subgenre. However that works, it’s certain that Delany’s work has effected a radical reorientation of every genre he has written in. Time and other writers will tell the sequel as to what that means for science fiction, fantasy, sword and sorcery, pornography, memoir, and criticism. Here we get hints of what that will be like.

There are no weak contributions in this collection, only strong, and stronger. Among those that hit hardest for me:

- Chesya Burke's powerful, heart-breaking short story "For Sale: Fantasy Coffins (Abobua Need Not Apply)"

- Walidah Imarisha's essay on the importance of imagining black futures, "Walking Science Fiction: Samuel Delany and Visionary Futures"

- "Be Three" by Jewelle Gomez, a parable about forbidden relationships and the desperate need to find some way for love to survive

- Junot Diaz' "Nilda," a bleak story about the existential despair of the marginalised, the unvoiced pain of personal loss and the self-destructive roles we are pushed into by social forces beyond our control

- "River Clap Your Hands" by Sheree Renée Thomas is a powerful story about loss - loss of heritage and lineage, loss of home and comfort, loss of future hopes - and about going forward to find a new life in spite of it.

- "Jamaica Ginger" by Nalo Hopkinson and Nisi Shawl, a steampunk tale of a young woman who finds her way out of a seemingly dead-end situation.

*This anthology contains 14 contributions by women out of 34 pieces (including the Introduction).

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Every once in a while, I get a hankering to read some literary history/criticism that takes as its subject my favourite genre, science fiction. This time around, I picked up The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by Edward James and Farah Mendelsohn. The essays in this volume cover a range of topics relevant to the study and understanding of science fiction. As Mendelsohn notes in the introduction,
The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction is intended to provide readers with an introduction to the genre and to its study. To this end, we have divided this book into three parts: an historical overview of the field which discusses the major authors and editors, the people and market forces which have shaped the literary structures of the field; a section on critical approaches to science fiction (sf); and finally a collection of essays exploring some of the issues and concerns which have been considered by both critics and writers to be intrinsic to the genre.
I was a bit disappointed at first - the volume begins with a "chronology" that starts off in 1516 with Thomas More's Utopia, but neglects Margaret Cavendish's 1666 publication of The Blazing World. At least Mary Shelley was included. (Though I must acknowledge that Cavendish and several other women who wrote utopias and scientific romances in the time before science fiction became a recognised genre are mentioned in the book's first essay, "Science Fiction before the Genre" by Brian Stableford.) However, things improved from there, for the most part.

After Stableford's quick survey of early science-fictional works, from Francis Bacon and Cavendish to H. G. Wells, Brian Attebery' contribution discusses the era of the pulp magazines, beginning with Hugo Gernsbach's Amazing Stories. Attebery reminds us that for over 30 years, magazines were the primary venue for science fiction. Short stories, novelettes, and novellas dominated the field, and most novels were first serialised in magazines before they were published as complete works.

The next chapter in the "history section," Damien Broderick's "New Wave and backwash: 1960-1980 addresses the excitement of the New Wave of the 1960s and its influences on science fiction. John Clute's essay on the development of science fiction between 1980 and 2000 was somewhat of a disappointment, virtually ignoring the contributions of women writers during that era, and leaving out altogether the beginnings of a more inclusive understanding of science fiction.

Mark Bould provides a quick trip through the history of science fiction in film and television, beginning with the sfnal short films of such pioneers as the Lumière brothers and Georges Méliès (best known for Le Voyage dans la lune), early feature-length film director Fritz Lang, and sf serials such as Flash Gordon. After discussing the "boom" in sf films in the 50s, Bould looks at the beginnings of science fiction in television before moving on to a summary of the trends in recent decades in film and TV.

In the final essay in the history section, Gary K. Wolfe offers an interesting look at the editors and publishers who have helped to shape science fiction in a way not seen in other genres. As Wolfe notes: "While relatively few readers of other genres such as mystery and romance are even aware of the names of the magazine and book editors who select and sometimes shape the texts that collectively define those fields, sf editors have from the beginning played a more visible and sometimes even celebrated role; it is perhaps indicative of this that the leading American mystery award is named the Edgar, after Edgar Allan Poe, while the most publicized sf award, the Hugo, is named after an editor and publisher, Hugo Gernsback."

Following these essays on the history of science fiction, the next section of the book focuses on a survey of various critical approaches to science fiction. In these essays, critical theories are applied to key science fictional texts, demonstrating how these theories contribute to a deeper understanding of science fiction as a genre, its history, development and themes. Specific approaches examined in this section include Marxist analysis, feminist analysis, postmodernism, and queer theory.

The final section is devoted to an overview of subgenres and common themes in science fiction. Gwyneth Jones introduces the section with an overview of the "icons of Science fiction" - as Jones defines it, "the signs which announce the genre, which warn the reader that this is a different world; and at the same time constitute that difference." These include rockets and other self-contained space habitats, and virtual environments; non-human sentiences from robots and androids to aliens; imagined ecologies; and heroes with a knowledge of science.

Also included in this section are essays examining the wide range of themes taken up by science fiction writers:
The use of life sciences from genetics to reproductive biology to ecology and the environment;
The exploration of the utopian society;
Politics, or the variety of ways in which societies may be organised, regulated and governed;
The exploration of sociocultural understandings of gender;
Examination of issues surrounding race and ethnicity; and
Exploration of religion and its place in society.

This section also includes several essays on what may be identified as subgenres of science fiction, such as "hard science fiction" and its stepchild cyberpunk, space opera, and alternative history.

One of the best aspects of this Companion, for me, was how the various contributors made extensive use of examples in their work, thus reminding the reader of books and shorter fiction read in the past, and introducing the reader to works similar in some fashion that they may not have read or even known about before.

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This is an odd group of nominees, several of which appear to have nothing to do with Science fiction or fantasy, and as such hardly seem to qualify for a "Best Related Work category. Which is sad, because there was quite a variety of interesting and unquestionaly relevant works published this year. But this is what we have to work with.

“Why Science is Never Settled”, Tedd Roberts

Published in two parts on the website, this nominated related work is in part a fairly straightforward description of the scientific process as performed in the modern scientific community, from the basics of the scientific method through to publication in peer-reviewed journals. The author states clearly that he, as a research scientist himself, agrees with the process. But. There's the other part to this, which I find myself a bit uneasy about in terms of how it's expressed even though I agree with it in both principle and fact.

The author is very concerned with what he fears is a general belief that science is "settled" - and that this is a problem both of the general public who don't understand that science keeps moving, that theories are tested and sometimes re-evaluated, and sometimes replaced with a theory that better explains the facts, and of the scientific community, which he suggests clings to consensus even when new theories are shown to be more effective in explaining phenomena.

Yes, both these things can be shown to happen, but putting too much emphasis on them also opens the door to the kind of thinking that says intelligent design should be accepted as an alternative theory to evolution because it challenges the status quo, or that the near-universal consensus on the human role in climate change means it's an outmoded theory that is only being held to because people fear change. I may be reading too much into Roberts' essay, but there it is.

Above and beyond that, I'm not sure that this is all that strongly related to science fiction or fantasy. Certainly there were a good many works published last year that were more closely related - the second volume of Patterson's biography of Heinlein, Jill Lapore's Secret History of Wonder Woman, critical looks at the fiction of Greg Egan and Robert Heinlein, the second volume of Jonathan Eller's study of Ray Bradbury, and critical essay collections by various people looking at sff, to mention just a few.

The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF”, Ken Burnside

The hardest of hard sf writers and fans insist that sf should always be based on science that works. No transwarp drives to get us quickly to the action, no ansibles to give us faster than light communications, no transporters to mysteriously beam us up. It's not an argument I agree with, although I'm one of those who is comfortable seeing science fiction and fantasy as a continuum, with a great deal of material that one might label science fantasy in the rich, yummy middle. Ken Burnside starts from the premise that hard sf should conform to physics, and proceeds from there:
Ignoring thermodynamics is one of the cardinal sins of science fiction authors writing military SF; the same authors who wouldn't dream of saying that a Colt 1911A fires a .40 caliber bullet will blithely walk into even more galling gaffes through simple ignorance and unquestioned assumptions.
In this essay, Burnside takes on many of the "errors" made by science fiction writers who fail to appreciate the way that the laws of physics would shape travel - and war - in space: "As combat moves from the bosom of the Earth, and into orbital and interplanetary space, it will be limited by increasingly complex logistics and by thermodynamics."

He addresses such topics as the impossibility of stealth in space, the need for plausibility in propulsion systems (you can take off, orbit and land, or you can travel from orbit onwards, but you can't do both in one ship), and the weapons and tactics that would work in real space combat.

There's some interesting technical material here, and it clearly has something that some of the other nominations lack: actual relevance to science fiction or sff fandom.

Discussion of a nominated work of John C. Wright behind the cut. I am including discussion of this work out of respect for the Hugo nomination and voting processes despite this person's history of public hate speech. Feel free to skip. )

Letters from Gardner, Lou Antonelli

The Hugo Voters Packet includes a "preview" of this book, which appears to contain roughly one-third of the material in the published version. My impressions are based on this truncated text.

Letters from Gardner is several things all at once - a folksy autobiography, a home for some early short stories that are, if they were ever published at all, not out of print, and some scattered advice on how to become a writer. Oh, and there's some correspondence with editor Gardner Dozois, hence the title.

Unfortunately, Antonelli is not really notable enough for anyone other than his fans, friends and family to find a memoir all that fascinating, the stories are, as early stories tend to be, somewhat lacking in many areas - not the least of which is female characters who are more than window dressing - the writing advice is pedestrian, and Dozois' notes to a promising novice writer are pretty much what you'd expect any editor to write under such circumstances. And - one of my personal pet peeves, having worked as a proofreader myself - the book is quite sloppily copyedited.

Wisdom from My Internet, Michael Z. Williamson

I am at a complete loss in trying to figure out what on earth this compendium of mostly unfunny one-liners has to do with science fiction or fantasy. Ok, he mentions Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and a few other sff texts that have become part of mainstream culture in North America, but I really don't think that's enough to justify the nomination.

And there's really not much more to say about it.

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Ursula Le Guin is one of the great writers of our time. I've been avidly reading her work for most of my life, I've grown up to become the woman, the feminist, the lover of books that I am today with my mind and passions fueled by the wide-ranging Hainish stories, the wonders of Earthsea, the unforgettable vision of the child in the cellar of Omelas, the challenge to established notions of gender posed by the people of Gethen (Winter), the ambiguous utopia of Anarres, the fascinating future of the Kesh, the recovered life of Lavinia, the annals of the Western Shore, and so many more worlds that Le Guin held open for us.

I love reading her work, and I love reading about her work and the life and mind behind that work. Recently, I've read two books that encouraged me to look at Le Guin's writing, and my relationship to it, in terms of its progression and change over time. First, a collection of interviews with Le Guin, gleaned from the past and covering most of her life as a published author, and second, an analysis of Le Guin's work from a feminist perspective, which examines how her work changes as she engages with feminist theory, and expressed her own developing feminist awareness.

Carl Freedman (ed.), Conversations with Ursula K. Leguin

This collection of ten interviews conducted with Ursula Le Guin by various people between 1980 and 2006, including one by the editor himself, gives the reader insight into Le Guin's thinking about writing - both her own and the craft itself - and many other subjects relevant to her life and work. I found these interviews quite fascinating to read, not just because they illuminate key aspects of a remarkable author's career, but also because Le Guin gives very good interviews. As editor Carl Freedman notes:
Le Guin takes every interview not as an opportunity to recapitulate long-held views but as an occasion for authentic intellectual discourse, with all the unpredictability that this implies and all the attendant dialectical give-and-take. She never hesitates to challenge an interviewer's assumptions when they seem to her to be inadequate to the issues at hand, and at least some interviewers return the compliment - that of conceptual seriousness - by issuing challenges of their own. The fundamental project of a Le Guin interview is learning, on the part of both parties to the interview and, of course, of the reader as well; and the topics about which one can learn are varied indeed, from U.S. foreign policy to the history of architecture, and much else besides.
this volume is, I think, an important piece for anyone interested not only in Le Guin's writings, but in what lies behind - and beyond - them.

Amy Clarke, Ursula K. Le Guin's Journey to Post-Feminism

Amy Clarke has produced in this volume the first full-length examination of Le Guin's changing understanding and expression of feminism as seen through her work. As reviewer Sandra J. Lidnow comments in Science Fiction Studies,
This succinctly written book represents a thorough reading of Le Guin’s work and traces the evolution of her feminist thought from early in her career, when she professed to her mother, Theodora Kroeber, that she did not know how to write about women, to the present when Le Guin, along with authors such as Joanna Russ and Pamela Sargent, are acclaimed as the most influential speculative writers to have explored gender. (
That aspect of the book is exciting and wonderful and makes it well worth reading. However, i feel a need to talk about the whole "post-feminist" element of Clarke's thesis for a bit.

Post-feminism is a tricky topic. It suggests a way of thinking that, while influenced by feminism, is no longer in need of feminist theory, analysis or praxis. It says "it's time to move beyond feminism" and leaves open to the listener the reasons why this might be so. Post-feminists, it is sometimes argued, don't want to exclude men, the way feminists did. They are pro-sex, unlike the oddly prudish second wave feminists. They are conscious of diversity and intersectionality in ways feminists never dreamed of. As Clarke says, quoting Ann Brooks's Postfeminisms: is both porous and comprehensive, a "non-hegemonic feminism capable of giving voice to local, indigenous and post-colonial feminisms." The post-feminist embrace extends as well to theories like post-structuralism, especially in rejecting singular, master narratives and instead seeking out the individual story, accepting multiple points of view. Unlike the story-telling of the early women's movement used in consciousness-raising sessions, the goal is not collectivity by seeking sameness, but instead by accepting difference. Along those lines, post-feminism rejects the essentialism inherent in much feminist theory. Taking lessons from gender studies, post-feminism is more male-inclusive, building as it does on a belief that gender lies upon a continuum. This inclusiveness extends to matters of personal choice as well, including those of work, dress and sexual practices.
This is where my problem comes in, because unlike most post-feminists, I was there when the second wave got rolling, and it was never as homogenous as these critiques suggest. We knew we were at the beginning of a long period of analysis and theory-making, and that much of our early ad hoc thinking would evolve. Among us were women of colour, women of varied sexual inclinations, trans and passing women, proud sex workers and even (gasp) men. Many of us were sex-positive from the word go, we simply wanted to be sure that it was our sexuality we were being positive about, not a patriarchal society's self-serving master narrative about what our sexuality ought to be. Many of us questioned essentialist thinking from the beginning, and found it wanting. It sometimes seems to me that what those who make these critiques are reacting to is not second wave feminism itself, but second wave feminism as seen distorted in the lens held up by its enemies.

So.... I must ask, are we speaking of our (Le Guin's and other feminists') journey to post-feminism, or our journey to a mature and evolved feminism? My view is more the latter, and it is with that observation - and reservation - that I read, and now comment upon, Clarke's work.

Clarke's thesis, as stated in her Introduction, is that Le Guin's writing has been profoundly shaped by feminist theory, and has in turn contributed to the growing body of feminist literature.
Le ​Guin ​has ​also ​been ​a ​central ​figure ​in ​feminist ​theory. ​She ​has ​frequently ​said ​that ​her ​writing ​was ​utterly ​reshaped ​by ​a ​feminist ​awakening ​she ​experienced ​in ​the ​late ​seventies ​when ​she responded ​to ​criticisms ​that ​her ​work ​was ​anti-feminist ​by ​immersing ​herself ​in ​the ​feminist ​debate. ​ ​Once ​having ​accepted ​feminist ​principles, ​Le ​Guin ​evolved ​a ​poetics ​of ​non-linear ​narrative, ​emphasizing ​"female" ​values ​and ​experimentation ​with ​language ​and ​syntax.
This thesis is presented through an extensive analysis of Le Guin's work, including not only her speculative fiction, but also her non-genre fiction, her poetry, and her essays (although I must add that relatively less attention is paid to Le Guin's more recent work, including Lavinia and the three-volume Annals of the Western Shore). Clarke also draws on interviews, including her own conversations with Le Guin about her work and process.

Clarke sees LeGuin's career as a writer engaged and engaging with feminist theory as divided into stages (with some overlap); in her book, she devotes one chapter to each stage. The first stage encompasses all of her early work, including The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and is characterised by Clarke as a highly productive period in which Le Guin seeks to maintain “good manners” while still producing work which challenges the social order, a period in which she is clearly writing within a literary tradition based on male writing, but is exploring the social position of women and subverting the traditional image of the male hero. Clarke argues, in reference to early feminist criticism of Le Guin's works in this period, that "she ​was ​never ​as ​tradition-bound ​and ​
hero-oriented ​as ​has ​been ​described. ​In ​fact, ​with ​The ​Left ​Hand ​of ​Darkness ​and ​The ​Dispossessed, ​she ​was ​an ​early ​feminist ​voice ​even ​before ​she ​aligned ​herself ​with ​the ​movement."​

Clarke's analysis locates the second stage of Le Guin's journey as a period of reaction and re-evaluation, in which she produces (relatively) little original work and begins to "question her relation to gender issues and the literary tradition, to consider her art through a feminist prism."

By the middle of the 1980s, Clarke argues, Le Guin has entered a third stage in which her work becomes both more experimental and more explicitly feminist. She explores ways of storytelling that focus on non-hierarchical relationships and the patterns of women's lives, or that challenge the idea of linear narrative altogether. In this period, Le Guin incorporates into her writing the feminist literary theory of women such as Helen Cixous and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, "writing the body" and "beyond the ending." Her approach to fiction altered by her deep engagement with feminist thought, Le Guin writes women and women's magic into Earthsea, explores women's varied experiences in the linked stories of Searoad, and produces the profoundly experimental and women-centred Always Coming Home. In assessing Le Guin's work of this period, Clarke notes that
In "Why Are We Huddling About the Campfire?" she suggests that we tell stories as a way of constructing reality, of making ourselves understand both that we do exist and offering explanations for why we exist. If we tell stories about men only, feminist theory has taught her, women will not exist. Her writing in this period has been in the service of women, telling their stories. What she has learned from feminism, are ways in which to narrate the lives that do not fit in men's stories.
It is following this period, which Clarke characterises as "high feminist," that she sees Le Guin moving into what she variously calls post-feminism and next-stage feminism (a conceptual tag that I prefer).

Examining the differences in both subject and style that separate Le Guin's work in the 1990s from that of her experimental period, Clarke asks
Having ​
followed ​the ​feminist ​tide, ​does ​she ​now ​emerge ​as ​post-feminist? ​Can ​she ​help ​us ​define ​this ​still ​ambiguous ​term? ​I ​argue ​that ​Le ​Guin ​has ​in ​fact ​moved ​into ​next-stage ​feminism. ​​Her ​return ​to ​the ​imaginary ​lands ​of ​her ​earlier ​writing ​is ​marked ​not ​by ​feminist ​essentialism ​and ​narrative ​experimentation, ​but ​by ​her ​seeming ​rapprochement ​with ​traditional ​forms. ​Her ​recent ​writings ​represent ​Le ​Guin ​at ​another ​artistic ​height, ​but ​they ​also ​indicate ​a ​narrative ​journey ​back ​to ​her ​own ​beginnings, ​her ​own ​"native" ​
content ​and ​style. ​Yet, ​she ​returns ​with ​the ​express ​aim ​of ​shifting ​paradigms ​and ​breaking ​with ​the ​literary ​rules ​of ​engagement, ​a ​legacy ​of ​her ​feminist ​empowerment.
According to Clarke, the hallmarks of this next-stage feminism in Le Guin's writing are greater inclusivity, an engagement with post-colonialism (though I would suggest that through her anthropological perspective, Le Guin was exploring post-colonial narratives well before they were identified as such) and post-modernism (particularly in its valuing of multiple narratives over master narratives), and a return to less experimental styles. In this period, Le Guin continues the project begun with Tehanu, writing women and other non-privileged voices into her prior creations, including the Hainish and Earthsea universes.

While Clarke attempts to equate this shift to a post-feminist stance on the part of Le Guin, she acknowledges that Le Guin herself has not embraced that label for herself and her work.
in Le Guin's world, true journey is return and her evolution into postfeminism marks a spiral trajectory, nearly coming back to origins. She does not reject her feminism but builds it into her mental architecture in a way that makes it seem second nature, so that the writing that springs from it seems more organic. But she moves on from some of the fervor of high feminism, including its experimentalism, essentialism and exclusion. Le Guin has not engaged in discussions of post-feminism. Nonetheless her work of this period shows a clear backing away from the experimental non-linear narratives of her high feminist period. She is certainly assessing the lot of men differently as well. ... There is less universalising of the male experience; more dimensionality and more recognition that men can be as constrained by social roles as women.
As much as I enjoyed Clarke's detailed analysis of Le Guin's works, and the ways in which they embody the feminist process, here is where I (and other feminist reviewers) part company with her thesis. As Sharon de Graw notes in her review, "Given Le Guin's extensive critical and fictional interactions with feminism, some weight should be given to the fact the she has not explicitly disengaged herself from the term feminist nor specifically identified herself with post-feminism in these contexts. (

Given that Le Guin's place in literature is well-secured, the fact of her very public espousal of feminist theory and concerns in her work is an important area of criticism, and this book is a good beginning to that project; I hope to see more feminist analysis of her work in the future.

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Brit Mandelo's momgraph, We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-Telling, is yet another of the wonderful volumes of feminist sf criticism and history published by one of my favourite small publishing houses, Aqueduct Press.

In this study, Mandelo examines what she sees as one of Russ' primary foci in both fiction and non-fiction - the telling of the truths that lie beneath, and are obscured by, the mystifications of sexism (and heterosexism), and by doing so, bringing those truths into everyday life.

It's hardly a secret to anyone who's followed this blog that Russ is one of my favourite wrtiers, both for her groundbreaking fiction and for her fierce and uncompromising feminist criticism (How To Suppress Women's Writing should be on the reading list of everyone who chooses to engage with the printed word/world). Mandelo's exploration of Russ's development as a radical truth teller deepened my appreciation and understandingof her work - and what more can one ask for in a work of criticism?

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Life's been too much of a bitch for me to keep on writing about books much, but I still read, and I may as well at least post lists of what I read this past year. Here's the first list.


Much of the of the non-fiction I read was a bit of a hodge-podge. Cultural/political studies, feminism, history, biography. All in its way interesting and nothing I regret reading.

Helen Merrick, The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of Science Fiction Feminisms

Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender

Adam Kotsko, Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide to Late Capitalist Television
Arundahti Roy, Talking to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy
Tim Wise, Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority

Lillian Faderman, Naked in the Promised Land

Alison Weir, The Wars of the Roses
Leanda de Lisle, Tudor: The Family Story

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I did not read a lot of non-fiction this year, and what I did read was mostly personal narratives, biographies, and books about science fiction and fantasy.

Thelma J. Shinn, Worlds Within Women: Myth and Mythmaking in Fantastic Literature by Women
Gwyneth Jones, Imagination/space: essays and talks on fiction, feminism, technology and politics
Margaret Atwood, In Other Worlds

Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy

Suzie Bright, Big Sex, Little Death: A Memoir
Nancy Mairs, Dynamic God: Living an Unconventional Catholic Faith
George Takei, Oh Myy! There Goes the Internet

Jack G. Shaheen, The TV Arab

Alison Weir, The Princes in the Tower
Tracy Borman, Elizabeth's Women
Stacey Schiff, Cleopatra: A Life

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The non-fiction I read in 2011 was a small and somewhat mixed assortment.

William H. Patterson, Jr., Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century, The Authorized Biography, Volume I: Learning Curve

This was somewhat interesting but essentially unsatisfying. Patterson does not appear to have the detachment or the analytical bent (at least when discussing this subject) to provide more than a highly detailed but ultimately superficial look at Heinlein as man or as writer, and both his accuracy and his treatment of sources is open to question. A biography must be more than a collection of everything one could find about the subject, set down without comment even when the various sources are contradictory.

Sarah Schulman, Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and its Consequences

Schulman makes an interesting but not completely convincing argument that lack of full acceptance and support of queer people by their families is the basic cause, not only of social intolerance of queer people, but also of all the ills that can be found within the queer community. I think she has a point - that being that if families would fight for the rights of their queer members, both within the family and within the greater society, then much positive change would occur - but I think her argument simplifies the situation somewhat. But still, she poses some very interesting ideas and points out how easily gay men, lesbians other members of the queer community settle for the most modest shows of acceptance from their families of origin, and how much more many parents, siblings and other family members need to go in supporting, encouraging and defending the queer people in their lives just to provide the same kind of support that is automatically given to the straight people in their lives.

Arundhati Roy, An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire

Roy is one of the most eloquent critics of the global imperialist project. These essays are from the periods of the Bush administration in the US and address issues having to do with the Iraq war as well as challenging imperialism and its effects around the world and in her own country.

Lee Maracle, I Am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism

Maracle's book is part personal narrative, part history of the development of the movements of resistance and change among First Nations peoples, and part sociological analysis of the situation of First Nations peoples, and First Nations women, in their own communities and within north American mainstream society.

Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Writing a Woman’s Life

A fascinating examination of the ways that women's lives are chronicled, and how the ways that biographers and women writing personal narratives structure and organise their work differs from traditional approaches taken toward the writing of the lives of men.

Jennifer K. Stoller, Ink-stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors

Stoller offers the reader an interesting and lively survey of many of the fictional heroines that have become part of popular culture over the past 70-odd years, from Wonder Woman to Buffy and Xena.

Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America

Ehrenreich looks at the history, the current manifestations and the effects of the positive thinking and self-help movements in American culture, and demonstrates how what appeared to be a beneficial response to the restrictive culture of Calvinist thought in the 19th century has become a dangerous mass delusion in the 21st.

Stephanie Coontz, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Woman at the Dawn of the 1960s

Coontz does three things in this book, all of which are quite interesting - perhaps especially to someone like myself who remember when The Feminine Mystique was first published. First, she looks at the book itself. Second, she presents narratives of women who read the book and have described how it affected them. Third, she looks at the social history of women and the the women's movement in the US using the book as a touchstone.

And finally, a book that is not really classifiable, but which I am including here because taken in whole, it is an example of writing about a woman's life, and is hence no more a fiction than are the lives of any of us.

Karen Joy Fowler & Debbie Notkin (eds.), 80! Memories and Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin

To celebrate the occasion of Ursula Le Guin's 80th birthday, editors Fowler and Notkin invited contributions of many kinds from a variety of writers. Here are reminiscences of Le Guin, personal accounts of what her books have meant to various writers, poems and short stories presented in her honour, pieces of critical analysis, a brief biographical sketch by Julie Phillips (who wrote the definitive biography of Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr.) and a few other kinds of things that one might produce in order to celebrate a most extraordinary woman.

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Naomi Mitchison: A Biography, Jill Benton

The more I learn about Naomi Mitchison, the fascinated I am by the woman herself and by her vast (and alas, mostly out of print) literary legacy. Each of the books of hers that I have read so far has been very different, and yet each has spoken to me very strongly. This biography showed me more of the author herself, Mitchison the socialist, Mitchison the feminist and sexual radical, Mitchison the girl coming to womanhood, the woman coming into her own place and power, in the midst of a very highly over-achieving circle of family and friends.

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The Country You Have Never Seen: Essays and Reviews, Joanna Russ

There are not enough words to express how much I enjoyed reading this collection, which is mostly reviews of science fiction novels spanning several decades. It didn’t matter if I’d actually read the book Russ was reviewing or not, the review was a delight and a source of thought in and of itself. What’s also delightful is the way the reviews, read in order, reveal the development of Russ’ thinking, about speculative literature, about literary criticism, about feminism, and about the interrelationship of all three in her own and other’s work.

And the (smallish) collection of essays and letters are another treasure trove of early feminist criticism and theory.

I could burble on incoherently for a while longer, or simply direct you to Sarah Monette’s review at Strange horizons, which is as glowing a comment on the collection as this is, but rather more coherent.

A must for those who think , as I do, that Russ is one of the (many) important feminist thinkers and science fiction writers.

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The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed, Laurence Davis & Peter Stillman (eds.)

I'll admit it, this wasn't an easy book to read, and it took me a long time to go through it, reading one section of an essay at a time and taking more than a few side-trips into the philosophies of the major thinkers of the anarchist movement to fill in some of the gaps. for the most part, I'm still digesting what I've read.

I will say that making my way through these essays has given me a far more profound appreciation of The Dispossessed in particular and LeGuin's way of examining political and philosophical points of view in her work. From now on, I think I will see more - which is saying something, because there's always been a lot to see in her work. I also think that I might want to go back and re-read some of my favourite LeGuin yet again, to see what new thoughts come forth.

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Demand My Writing: Joanna Russ, Feminism, Science Fiction, Jeanne Cortiel

A fascinating study of Joanna Russ’ fictional works (which also pays some attention to her critical and feminist non-fiction writing, but primarily as the themes she addresses inform a feminist and science fictional understanding of her creative oeuvre). Cortiel constructs her analysis around two distinct but interwoven frameworks: first, three major concerns - women's agency, female sexuality, and the indeterminacy of both these categories – that she sees as running throughout Russ’s work, and second, three generations in 20th century feminism (as described by Julia Kristeva) - the radical, materialist feminism of the late 60s and early 70s, the separatist, essentialist feminism of the late 70s and early 80s, and the post-structuralist feminism of the late 80s and 90s.

Reading this study has given me a much deeper appreciation of Russ, both as a writer and as a pioneer of modern feminism.
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Aliens and Linguists: Language Study and Science Fiction, Walter E. Myers

Walter Meyer’s book, published in 1980, is and overview of the use of the science of linguistics in science fiction. As Meyers notes:
Recent years have seen a number of introductory critical works bent on discussing the “science” of science fiction, to shoe how the field achieves that alchemical mix of art and science that is its distinguishing characteristic…. But we notice a gap in works of this kind: they neglect linguistics.
Meyer goes on to discuss the irony inherent in the lack of interest in the use of linguistics in a genre that places so much emphasis on communication – not only within the works of the genre, where first contacts and other challenges to communication are prominent, but also in the nature of the genre as, at least in part, a genre in which "what if" scenarios are used to propose and explore and communicate ideas, speculations, theories, thought experiments, cautionary perspectives or future possibilities.

Meyers looks at how both the ideas and theories of linguistics, and the technical specifics of language formation production, and development, are used in a wide variety of classic science fiction (and fantasy) texts and for a number of different purposes.

It’s an interesting way to look at many of these older texts, and I enjoyed the new perspectives that reading this book gave me on some familiar (and not-so-familiar) works - even though it is occasionally disappointing to discover that a book that seemed so insightful on precisely these issues of language and communication (to a layman reader such as myself) is in fact riddled with inaccuracies (as is my beloved childhood favourite, Samuel Delaney’s Babel-17).


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