the Little Red Reviewer

The Future is Female! Edited by Lisa Yaszek

Posted on: January 9, 2019

The Future is Female!  25 Classic Science Fiction Stores by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin, edited by Lisa Yaszek

published in 2018 (features scifi stories from 1928-1969)

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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When a friend offered to let me borrow his copy of The Future is Female,  I jumped at the chance. The volume features science fictioni short stories dating back to 1928, and featuring authors like C.L. Moore, Kit Reed, Judith Merril, Kate Wilhelm, Leigh Brackett, and of course Ursula K. LeGuin and James Tiptree, Jr., among many, many others.   I pick up a lot of random scifi anthologies and single author collections, I liked the idea that this one pulled fiction from across so many decades and generations. There is also a companion website, womensf.loa.org, that offers more in depth author biographies, and a truly excellent trove of cover art of the magazines and anthologies where these stories were originally featured. (Note to self: remember this website later this month when we’re talking about scifi cover art!)

 

The introduction, by editor Lisa Yaszek, gives a very, very quick summary of three generations of writers, and the pulp magazines they wrote for.  I got a chuckle out of Yaszek’s discussion of why these female writers often wrote under a pseudonym – in a number of cases it was to protect their jobs, their privacy, and to protect their government clearance.  I also laughed out loud at the editors mention of some authors with female names, who upon further research, turned out to be men!

 

Designed to be read in the order presented,  I was a jerk and jumped all around in the table of contents, reading what looked interesting first. So far, I’ve read only a handful of the short stories, here are my thoughts on them.   And yes, there are spoilers in some of these mini-reviews, and no I don’t feel bad about the spoilers. These stories are in many cases, older than my parents!

 

The Black God’s Kiss by C.L. Moore (1934) – this is a famous short story, which I am embarrassed to say I have never read until now.  A sci-fantasy starring Moore’s famous Jirel of Joiry, Jirel must defend her fallen lands against the invader Guilliame. Since no weapon on earth can destroy Guilliame, Jirel travels to an unearthly underworld in search of a weapon that can stop him. Here’s where things go from an epic fantasy to sci-fantasy – there are changes in gravity, changes in the laws of physics, possibly alien technology. I love the atmospheric feeling in this story! Makes me want to read a lot more Moore.  She hasn’t got time to wonder about all the amazing (and sometimes horrifying) things she comes across, her goal is Get the Weapon, and then Get Home, and then Kill Guilliame. What she has to do to get the weapon, and what the weapon is, I was not expecting any of this, and I hope it was shocking in the 1930s. Highly recommended.

 

Space Episode by Leslie Perri (1941) –  Lida, Michael, and Erik are astronauts, and upon return to Earth their ship was hit by a micro-meteor, doing damage to one of the engines. If they are going to survive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, someone has to go outside the ship to repair the engine. With the damage to the airlock, whoever goes outside will not be able to get back in. One of these astronauts must sacrifice their life to save the other two.  Lida assumes one of the men will make the sacrifice, but they turn out to be cowards, so (spoiler) she does it. When this story was originally published, apparently male science fiction fans took offense to having to read about two cowardly male characters. Is Lida a heroic female astronaut? Or is she a heroic astronaut?

 

That Only a Mother by Judith Merril (1948) – a cautionary tale. The bombs fell far away, but the radiation and chemicals are in the air here too,  causing children to be born with horrible mutations. Maggie is sure her unborn baby will be fine, and when her husband Hank gets called back to the labs after their daughter’s birth, Maggie sends him letters telling him about their little girls beautiful face, and her laughter, and her development.  If there is anything wrong with their daughter, Maggie hasn’t said a word. In fact, their little girl seems to be developing quicker than expected, at less than a year old, she can speak and can even sing a little! When Hank is finally granted shore leave to spend days on end with his wife and baby daughter,  he discovers a secret he must keep, forever. I was not AT ALL prepared for the shocker of an ending. In the biography area, it is mentioned that not only was That Only A Mother Merril’s first SF story, but it was written to win a bet with John W. Campbell. And yes, she won the bet handily.

The Inhabited Men by Margaret St. Clair (1951) – Very short, fast, and entertaining story about the quietest alien invasion you’ve never heard of.  If only these idiots hadn’t gotten killed so quickly by doing such dumb stuff! I don’t have much to say about this story because it was told so quickly and concisely.  Makes me wonder if the author was a journalist. If you are reading this anthology, and like me, you jump around the table of contents and aren’t sure where to start, you can’t go wrong with The Inhabited Men.  This is the kind of story, that if published today, would make a splash on a flash fiction site.

 

He Created Them by Alice Eleanor Jones (1955) – this is a creepy, truly difficult story to read. I almost didn’t get through it, the bile was climbing so far up my throat. I don’t mean it was badly written, it was beautiful written. I mean it is hard to read. Ann and her husband Henry hate each other. She tries to be the dutiful wife, but he’s an asshole and they are miserable. But they must stay together, they must maintain marital relations, as they are one of the few couples in town still able to have children at all.  Their two youngest still live at home, and when Ann says she’ll “take them for a walk”, what she means is she walks them around the neighborhood, and the other wives trade her their rationed food just for a chance to touch or hold these children. This story absolutely creeped me out, because Henry is such an asshole, and he knows there is nothing his wife can, or will do about it.

 

Mr. Sakrison’s Halt by Mildred Clingerman (1956) – if the movie Fried Green Tomatoes made you cry (shut up, you know it did!), this story may make you cry. The narrator is friends with elderly Miss Mattie, who rides the local trains, endlessly, searching for the train station where her fiance got off the train, and never got back on. Obviously, the man simply left her, as those awful Yankees do, because Miss Mattie couldn’t possibly be telling the truth about a train station where the waiting room allows whites and blacks to sit together, and allows children of all races to play in the park together.  The narrator hopes to find that train station too.

 

For Sale, Reasonable, by Elizabeth Mann Borgese (1959) – as automated machines became more popular in the workforce, are humans worth employing anymore? Could humans, if advertised correctly, actually be cheaper to employ than machines? This story had me laughing out loud, it is short, enjoyable, tightly written, and very to the point.  The writer of the advert is seeking an employment contract, basically: I work, you pay me. The letter writer’s goal is to have enough income to purchase automation in their home, to be free of . . . housework, i think? Enjoyable, even if I am not close enough to the 1950s to appreciate the point.

 

I do look forward to reading more stories in this volume.  That’s one of the nice things about anthologies that have extensive TOCs – you don’t have to read the whole thing cover to cover. You can read some stories, and then a month or two later, dip your feet back in and read more.

 

My only beef with The Future is Female is directly connected to the fact that it does cover three generations of science fiction written by women – with so much time covered, the editorial focus is on the whole, rather than the details. What I mean by that is while the table of contents is in chronological order, I felt like I was missing the context in which these stories were written.  Some of them I can guess by the publishing year and theme are responses to the bombing of Hiroshima, others I have no idea whatsoever. I can solve my own problem however, by identifying stories that I like and researching that author, or getting a “best SF of the year” for that year to identify contextual trends and how the fiction of that time period reflected its society.

 

 

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6 Responses to "The Future is Female! Edited by Lisa Yaszek"

The Isaac Asimov collection I just read where a group of passengers on a starship have to volunteer for a probably suicide mission outside the ship. The big talkers all come up with reasons why they shouldn’t go; the quiet accountant steps up.

You can borrow my copy of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s collection Women of Futures Past too, if you want.

I just finished a collection of Moore’s Jirel of Joiry stories. The imagery in Black God’s Kiss is just incredible. Moore could write stuff that was so vivid and unsettling. My favorite story from Rusch’s collection was Moore’s Shambleau.

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How is the Rusch collection?

Would you believe this is my first Jirel of Joiry? I was not expecting the intense and vivid imagery, it was incredible! twelve out of ten, would read more!

Liked by 1 person

The Rusch collection is excellent. It extends a bit further in time than this one does.

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It sounds like a great book! There have been some great sci-fi books by female authors, so it’s a good idea for an anthology… Did you have a favourite story?

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agreed! lots of good all-women-authors scifi anthologies too.

hmm… a favorite? hard to choose, and I’ve not even read half the stories in the collection yet. I’d say the stories that have made the biggest impact on me so far are “The Black God’s Kiss” and “That Only A Mother”

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I love reading old sci-fi stories. It’s always so surprising to me how so much of the time it doesn’t even feel like a plot from the past – it could just as easily have been written now.

I’m especially intrigued by That Only A Mother. I think I need to find a copy of that story because I need to know whats’s up with that baby!

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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