Books, Feminism, Gender, Sexism

Women Destroy Science Fiction Part 1: Original Fiction

Women Destroy Science Fiction is a special edition of Lightspeed Magazine, an online magazine dedicated to fantasy and science fiction. It is entirely written, edited, and illustrated by women, and was funded by a very successful Kickstarter.

Women Destroy was put together because too many of these authors had heard people say that women don’t write “real” science fiction. That Mary Shelley and Octavia Butler and Ursula LeGuin don’t count somehow, as their focus wasn’t just on the brave explorer in the rocketship. The inclusion of women, feelings, and sex invalidated the science part of their fiction, and the future they described wasn’t as glorious, as epic, as the “real” masters of the genre: Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley, or Isaac Asimov.

Women Destroy Science Fiction Lightspeed Magazine John Joseph Adams 2014Women Destroy Science Fiction shows just how wrong that idea is, as well as delivering on what the title promises. These women have broken down the rules of science fiction, and delivered amazing prose imbued with passion, brokenness, and the search for connection with others that underlies the best of classic sci fi. They write from the perspective of outsiders caught in a culture fraught with conflict over how to feel about them, and that shows through in these stories. None are the expected shiny rocketships and heroic white men looking over barren red landscapes; instead we are given messy, human voices living in inhuman conditions, and they are all the more human for their pain, and their struggle to overcome it and become something more.

This review will be broken into a couple of parts: Fiction will contain Original Short Stories, Reprints, and Flash Fiction, while Non-Fiction will include Interviews, Personal Essays, and Author Spotlights. Fiction is to follow in this first one, but keep an eye out for the other part. You can find this issue and some of these stories on the Lightspeed website, but this issue in particular is well worth your attention.

ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES — edited by Christie Yant

In Each to Each by Seanan McGuire, the Navy has reengineered its all-female crews into real-life mermaids. McGuire outlines the loneliness and longing of such a life in chilling detail, and shows how even these strong military women are controlled by the long arm of society’s expectations when their modifications are tempered by what the media and society would consider beautiful over what is functional.

I wasn’t sure what to make of A Word Shaped Like Bones by Kris Millering at first. Maureen, an artist is on her way to trade her art with an alien race. She is excited. She won a grant. She tries to focus on her work. But there is a dead man in the one-room ship with her. Maureen tries to ignore this rotting corpse invading her space for days and days, revealing what’s underneath his skin to her. I had a gnawing suspicion who the man was and how he had gotten onto the ship, but the reveal at the end was still heart-wrenching.

Cuts Both Ways by Heather Clitheroe made me quite uncomfortable, and I mean that as a compliment. Spencer is a forecaster, augmented with machinery in sophisticated ways in order to read the thoughts and feelings of other people. He teeters on the verge of collapse during the holidays, interacting with his family in the manner of a drug addict trying to hide his habit, whereas Spencer is desperately trying to conceal the toll his job has taken on his mind and body. His disconnection and self-destruction recalled trauma victims, and the overall story was deeply disturbing.

Walking Awake by N.K. Jemisin was a devastating look at those who serve Masters at the expense of their own kind. The Masters in this story literally possess the bodies of their slaves – children grown and groomed since birth to replace the crab-alien creature’s aging bodies. The narrator, Sadie, struggles with a growing awareness of her role in this process and is horrified at the scope of her complicity.

The Case of the Passionless Bees by Rhonda Eikamp was just kind of weird. There was a steampunk version of Sherlock Holmes and a mysterious death by bees. I’m not sure if it was the writing or the subject matter that turned me off, but this was one of the weaker entries for me.

The near-future protagonists in In the Image of Man by Gabriella Stalker spout off familiar brand names for a reason – they all live in malls. This story is a heavy handed meditation on consumerism and a subsequent loss of spiritualism. It was an enjoyable read, even if it reminded me of the student loans hanging over my head.

The Unfathomable Sisterhood of Ick by Charlie Jane Anders is a bit like Single White Female turned up to 11. When Roger and Mary break up, she’s left adrift in a manner that’s very relatable, even as the technology she turns to is not. Her closest friend Stacia is not a very good friend at all, and her stalking of Mary as Mary is trying to turn her life around is disquieting but realistic. The author lets her story stand on its own without relying on overwrought language, and it’s a strong entry in the collection.

Dim Sun by Maria Dahvana Headley was just totally bizarre. The author did a fantastic job describing truly wild conversations and dishes in the titular restaurant. Although well-written, the characters didn’t grab me.

The Lonely Sea in the Sky by Amal El-Mohtar uses the conceit of a personal journal interspersed with scientific reports about a new disease the protagonist is suspected of suffering from. It’s feels so intimate to read the journal entries from the protagonist to her friend Hala, who is the one who has diagnosed her with the disease and assigned the journalling as part of her treatment. The scientific articles are jarring, especially as each one appears right before a segment where the author displays the very symptoms the article was talking about, all while she claims not to have this disease. It’s a story about gaslighting, and feeling betrayed by friends, and diamonds in the sky. Lovely and sad.

Imagine a society where young debutants don’t have a ball, but instead put on their nicest thieving dress and break into the house of the young man they hope will call on them. This is exactly what happens in A Burglary, Addressed By a Young Lady by Elizabeth Porter Birdsall. It also includes weird, interesting, distinctly feminine technology like hair ribbons that muffle sound and pantaloons that hide you from motion detectors. Genevieve finds another girl in the house she’s burgling, and there’s a very sweet, honest moment where they connect and begin to plot against their mother’s plans for them.

Canth by K.C. Norton, revolves around a ship powered by a mother’s heart. Captain Aditi Pearce has lost her ship and hired pirates to help her recover the lovingly hand-crafted vehicle she spends most of her time in. There’s a hint of cryptozoology and a mid-sea hijacking, but the story revolves around one woman’s desire to get back to the home she made with the help of her mother, the domain she alone masters.

Stay tuned for the next part: Reprints and Flash Fiction!

Full disclosure: I was a backer of the Kickstarter.