Feminism and Science Fiction
OSCLG 2002

Out of the Past and into the Future

MJ Hardman


James Tipree Jr. Award for gender-bending science fiction winners & short & long lists available on the website:  http://www.tiptree.org/

Tiptree Jr, James. “The Women Men Don't See” (1973) reprinted in Star Songs of an Old Primate; Ten Thousand Light Years from Home; Warm Worlds & Otherwise; More Women of Wonder; Future Earths; and “Houston, Houston Do You Read?” (1976) reprinted in TOR double (with Chaos Joanna Russ) (& in collections)

These two stories are classics. The first is about an airplane crash in Mayan territory and a decision that two women make.he glory is in the quite details of perception and counteracting behavior between the male narrator and the woman who is the real protagonist. The second story is of a future earth without men (thanks to virus/gene-meddling laboratories) where three anachronisms arrive from a NASA accident. We see those we live with through the eyes of women who have never met those who cannot behave as people. Again, Exquisite language, and a most marvelous thought experiment, especially given all the current interest in


Vonarburg, Elisabeth. Chroniques de Pays de Mères Québec/Amérique 1992 -- giving us in English: In the Mother’s Land. Translated by Jane Brierley, 1992 Spectra/Bantam. Maerlande Chronicles. Translated by Jane Brierley. 1992 Tesseract (Beach Holme). On the Tiptree 1992 short list.

The first role reversal fiction that I ever found that is believable. Men destroyed the world with their play with armaments, so the survivors in the
 post-holocaust novel develop other social structures to make sure they never do it again, while coping with the genetic effects of pollution both for people and for the earth. A really marvelous book. [I have only found one other role reversal that I find convincing -- and it is a satire; utterly different in tone and impact:
      Brantenberg, Gerd. Egalia's Daughters: A satire of the sexes. The Seal Press translated from Norwegian by Louis Mackay 1977-85.

“Linguistics is our best tool for bringing about social change and SF is our best tool for testing such changes before they are implemented in the real world, therefore the conjunction of the two is desirable and should be useful.”
                                                                                    — Suzette Haden Elgin 1996.

Elgin, Suzette Haden. Native Tongue (original 1984). Feminist Press Reprint edition 2000.

Elgin invented Láadan, a constructed language by and for women, and a world with aliens where linguists are essential. In a way, this is an SF and linguistic answer to the more famous Handmaid’s Tale, and, for me, far more believable. The first time I read it I found it too realistic — the ERA has failed and the politicians in Washington have sent women back to the home, as though the Promise Keepers had been completely successful. The story is the development of the language. This is the first book of a trilogy; Feminist Press is just now bringing out Judas Rose and I understand that the third, Earthsong, will be out again soon.

”It was tough trying to keep writing while bringing up three kids, but my husband was totally in it with me, and so it worked out fine.” Le Guin’s Rule: One person cannot do two fulltime jobs, but two persons can do three fulltime jobs -- if they honestly share the work. The idea that you need an ivory tower to write in, that if you have babies you can't have books, that artists are somehow exempt from the dirty work of life – rubbish.  

—Ursula LeGuin http://www.ursulakleguin.com/FAQ_Questionnaire5_01.html#Autographs

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Birthday of the World & other stories. HarperCollins 2002.

An excellent introduction with the relationship of the stories to each other & to the rest of the work. Many are Hainish. The introduction & 'Paradises Lost' are new; the rest are reprints. Overall, a wise, thought-provoking collection.
1) Coming of Age in Karhide — An 'inside' story of somer & kemmer. Nicely done, delicate & tender. Of adolescence & coming into adulthood & the formation of sexual mores where sex is not fixed. Complements 'Left Hand of Darkness', makes the people more believable.
2) The Matter of Seggri — A thought experiment about the imbalance of the sexes — now possible with selective abortion. A world where there is one man to 16 women — the men are spoiled & limited. Women run everything. It is an interesting look at stereotyping, limiting by category, men not being taken seriously
intellectually, having no place to go, inequality in love relationships. As always, her great skill shows the emotional content of policy & culture. Nature of Freedom. Nature of competition.
3) Unchosen Love — From Planet of O — with 4 people in a marriage — the sudoretu, based on moities with a 4 person marriage where one has sex with to partners but with one prohibited. This story deals with a relationship unlooked for where one person feels so strongly it weighs on the second. A good love story with a fantasy element. Very nice on the emotional content of a cultural practice.
4) Mountain Ways— Another story from Planet of O involving difficulties in setting up a sudoretu — which illuminates the structure itself. Again, her deft and beautiful painting of emotions, without judgment, in their wise & foolish complexity.
5) Solitude — Children as research assistants! Neat! And also — how one's culture makes one's soul. An interesting definition of magic - which fits with the notion that language (prayer??) has actual physical results and that one must not violate another's autonomy with magic. There is the 'harmless magic' between women and
men. The culture depicted is at an extreme of valuing personal autonomy and agency. Again, (as on O) women carry the culture; men have it rough. Also, clash of cultures and the Hainish way. The Mother is an ethnographer, the main character her daughter who actually learns the culture, rather than learning about. Very though-provoking. Magic being power over -- and a bad thing. Interesting.
6) Old Music and the Slave Women — A Hainish story. A local story of the horrors of war and the dehumanization of war - both sides. How a revolution may eat its own. How violence begets violence. And of love and affection even in such pockets. Compassion for who/what one is. Great beauty out of great misery and great wrong.
7) The Birthday of the World -- The death and creation of god and the limitations and values thereof. Quite a thought-provoking piece, from the point of view of god's daughter becoming god. It draws on a number of traditions, including Egypt & Peru. Nature of belief and what it creates. Personal affection even across enemy history. Depicts a paired god— without woman how can god create? Give birth? Gods created by believers. And lost by chance events, like the arrival of aliens.
8) Paradises Lost — a 6 generation ship story. What happens in generations who know ONLY a ship? Also developed is the nature of belief systems, the use of metaphor, interpretation. Human desire for / fear of change. Good language-over-time material - mostly vocabulary. Rise of belief systems - even among science types.

Bradley, Marjorie Kellogg. Harmony. Roc Penguin1991.

The author works in the theatre which she uses in the depiction of a domed future, when the air is too polluted to breath, and the threat of expulsion is the ultimate punishment. The cities become like independent states, and behave very much like multinational corporations. There is high tension between the cities themselves and ecology of the early. Well written. Thought-provoking on art, reality, magic, performance, values, group vs. individual, greed as well as
on nature and the use of 'magic' and on nature and use of 'reason' and the value of outsiders to a closed society. She illustrates nice the fine line between: high/unknown/skilful technology & magic — a much thinner one than one might think.

Tepper, Sheri S. The Fresco. HarperCollins 2000.

This book is on this year's Tiptree short list for gender-bending SF and is a very, very good read. The author is also a mystery writer and this book partakes of both. It deals with religious dogma / doctrine is a most delicious wish-fulfilling way with quite fascinating ETs, our superiors, who come to cope the current insanity. The main character is an Hispanic woman from New Mexico (where the author lives).Along the way we get a look at family relations, the extreme right, international politics, and just what 'origin-myths' are after all, and the nature of sacred texts. It's a page turner, a perfect respite to have a good laugh and a good fantasy about what we could do with all the mess.

Thomson, Amy. The Color of Distance. Ace1999.

A most amazing book. The author invents a language based on color and lets a watch a biologist learn the language after she is shipwrecked on the planet. A most marvelous book, in every way. The aliens language media are the colors on their chests, a fully developed language in skin colors and patterns.  Marvelous. And a race where death, for the fully adult, is optional, but new adults are made — by hormonal linking — only upon the death of an elder — perfect zero population growth. The contact situation — so beautifully done — is fully empathetic, yet still tied to human values, who behave not perfectly but also not badly — very, very well done. This is part of the growing literature on how difficult first contact is even if everyone is good-willed. It also is an ecological statement of consequence. The aliens are greatly sophisticated but in other ways; they are NOT primitive — and they promise not to teach humans anything that will harm them! There is a sequel, a good novel in its own right, Through Alien Eyes, dealing with a visit to Earth.

Moon, Elizabeth. Remnant Population. Baen 1996.

An old woman decides not to leave home when the powers that be order her to. She is a colonist on a planet believed to have no sentient species. Her own growth is a marvel to read, and her interaction with the inhabitants in a first-contact situation delightful to read — and a most unusual one. Corporate greed, inexpert ‘experts’, inability to listen as part of hierarchy — all lovely, very, very lovely. And an old woman as the protagonist!

Others of interest not included in the paper (just a very short list):

Arnason, Eleanor. A Women Of The Iron People. Morrow 1991.

This book won the first Tiptree award at WISON 1992. Superb read! Deals with anthropologists, linguists & other experts on an alien planet where sex roles are not earthen. Main character is a woman, a linguist, who learns the trade language and becomes good friends with one of the iron workers, a woman.

Butler, Octavia E. Parable Of The Sower. [Four walls, Eight windows 1993] and Parable Of The Talents. Seven Stories Press 1998.

These two books post-holocaust, collapse of the cities. Set in southern California. The creation of a new religion together with associated liturgical language and text. The founder is a young black woman, girl, really, at the beginning. Earthseed religion is quite superb, has lots of good quotes.

Griffith, Nicola. Ammonite. [Del Rey 1992] and Slow River. Del Rey 1995.

Both of these are good reads. They are separate stories, but both deal with women in large diversity, with change over time, with respect of difference and with future technology also w/ ecology. Slow River won both the Nebula Award and the Lambda Literary Award. It is the story of Lore, born into a rich bioengineering family and deals what she learns about herself & her society after being kidnapped. Ammonite is the 1994 James Tiptree Jr. Award winner. An anthropologist on a planet where a virus has wiped out all the men and most of the women & the newborns are genetically diverse.

Kress, Nancy. Beggars In Spain / Beggars And Choosers /Beggars Ride.  Tor 1996.

A triology -- about bioengineered people who need no sleep, and its social consequences. A set of twins, one bioengineered, one not.

McHugh, Maureen F. China Mountain Zhang. Tor 1992, Tiptree award winner.

This book is about what it's like to be a second class citizen of the world — China is first, covert racism, preference to Chinese. Also deals with
homosexuality. The main character is a gay man.

McIntyre, Vonda N. The Moon and the Sun. Pocket 1997.Tiptree short list 1998.

A superb read; woman scientist without options in Luis the Sun King’s court; first contact -- water beast.

Murphy, Pat. Wild Angel = Sarah of the Wolves. TOR Tom Doherty Associates 2000.

Mary Maxwell Max Merriwell.Part of a trilogy that spoofs the genre. This one is a good read; set in the old West gold rush days, Sarah, the major character, has real agency.

Zettel, Sarah. Playing God. Aspect / Warner 1998.

Excellent. Good Humanistic questions — like agency. Good for pacifism — or at least anti-war. Good for questions of marginality & friendship across borders / cultures & individual vs. group. Excellent aliens. Results of war; blindness of war. Excellent main character — idealist, peacemaker, woman. Balance of power. One well-drawn anthropologist gone native & betrayed.

Also see listings under course summaries for Linguistics and Science Fiction.


1999 “Linguistics and Science Fiction: A Language and Gender Short Bibliography” in Women and Language 22:1 Spring 1999 pp 47-48 [Some of
      the same books are included, but not all.]

Broad Universe is a new organization with the primary goal of promoting science fiction, fantasy, and horror written by women. Anyone excited about that project is welcome to join us. If you would like more information, email info@broaduniverse.org <http://www.broaduniverse.org/>

Flying Cups and Saucers Gender Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy Anthology edited by Debbie Notkin and the Secret Feminist Cabal.
"These stories are beautiful and thought-provoking. They make you laugh and help you to understand the world better; what more could you ask of literature?"-- Kim Stanley Robinson, Author of Antarctica and the Mars trilogy.
Ever wonder what happened to the rest of the tea party when the saucers went off into space? Here's your chance to find out! What would it be like to go to a club where you could buy an injection of sexiness? To grow up in a world where you didn't know what gender you would be until puberty -- and the discovery could be painful? To find yourself and your secret pitted against the entire United States government?
The James Tiptree, Jr. Award has been recognizing science fiction and fantasy novels and stories that explore and expand gender for the past six years. Although the award itself is given to one or two works of fiction a year, each jury also produces a "short list" of notable works that were considered for the award.
This first anthology contains almost all of the short fiction that has either won or been short-listed in the first five years of the award. Contributors include Ursula K. LeGuin (who has won twice, for "A Matter of Seggri" and "Forgiveness Day"), Eleanor Arnason, L. Timmel Duchamp, Carol Emshwiller, Kelly Eskridge, Graham Joyce and Peter F. Hamilton, R. Garcia y Robertson, Delia Sherman, and more.