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When I was younger, I enjoyed Kate Wilhelm's science fiction writing - indeed, I've been collecting ebooks of those classics that are still available with an eye toward rereading them. But I had never explored her other genre writing.

That has now changed. I have read Death Qualified, the first of her mystery/courtroom drama series of novels featuring lawyer Barbara Holloway, and found it to be quite an enjoyable read.

At the outset of the novel, Holloway has been away from her home town of Eugene, Oregon, for some years, and has ceased practicing law. Her father Frank, a lawyer himself, asks her to return to Eugene and to the law to help him with a case he's not sure he can win. Reluctant at first, she eventually agrees, despite (or because?) of the fact that the prosecutor is a former lover who she feels betrayed their personal relationship to win a case.

The case seems straightforward at first. Nell Kendricks stands accused of killing her husband, Lucas, who deserted her and her children years ago and has now suddenly returned. But as the reader knows, and Holloway begins to realise, Lucas' absence is part of a mysterious research project gone terribly wrong, and this may be the real reason behind his murder - if she can only find the evidence.

Part of the fun of reading this is watching everything unfolding - the nature of the research and the reason for Lucas' long absence, the detective work that slowly uncovers what really happened the day Lucas Kendricks died, and the courtroom strategies Holloway employs in an attempt to raise reasonable doubt about her client's guilt.

I especially enjoyed the sciencefictional aspect of the novel that came long with the revelation of the mysterious research that Lucas had been a party to, but the mystery and courtroom elements were equally well done. I'll be checking out more of Wilhelm's mystery writing.

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Symposium: Women in Science Fiction (Khatru Issues 3 & 4), ed. Jeffrey D. Smith (1975); revision edited by Jeanne Gomoll (1993)

If you're a feminist and a science fiction reader, you've almost certainly heard of the Symposium. Published in the fan magazine Khatru in 1975, it was the record of an incredible roundtable discussion, an exchange of letters among some of the leading writers of feminist science fiction at that time (and since) - Vonda N. McIntyre, Suzy McKee Charnas, Kate Wilhelm, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, James Tiptree, Jr., Samuel Delany, Joanna Russ, Raylyn Moore, Luise White - plus agent Virginia Kidd and the editor of Khatru, Jeffrey D. Smith.

It's hard to believe, but I've never before read the complete Symposium. A landmark in the development of feminist science fiction and feminst criticism of science fiction - you'd have thought I would have read it long before now. But it hasn't always been exactly the easiest thing to get your hands on, and so I've languished for years reading only reminiscences, exererts and discussions of it.

But it is now available, in an annotated 1993 edition with additional commentary from some of the original participants and other scholars of feminist sf, from The James tiptree Jr. Literary Award Council, and if you are interested in feminism and women in science fiction, you really ought to order it.

Reading it was, for me, like going back to the late 60s and early 70s, when questions of the role of women in society were being hotly debated and challenged on all sides and being a feminist was, if you were like me, one of the most important things you could imagine doing for the future of humanity. Those were very heady times, and very scary times as well, when there seemed to be so much to think and re-think and do and change and challenge. The Symposium takes that moment in time and narrows the focus to science fiction, but you can heard the echoing clarion calls of a worldwide revolution behind it and around it, even after 30 years.


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