WOMEN OF FUTURES PAST
Edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
According to Brian W. Aldiss, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the first example of a science fiction novel. As early as 1917, Gertrude Barrows Bennett was publishing science fiction in the pulps under the pseudonym Francis Stevens and in the 1920s, Clare Winger Harris became the first woman to write science fiction for the pulps under her own name. Nevertheless, it seems that every few years, the long history of female science fiction writers is “rediscovered” in one anthology or another. The latest such rediscovery is Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Women of Futures Past, which presents a dozen stories by women from C. L. Moore to Pat Cadigan.
Rusch's selection is a good representation of the field, showing stories in a wide variety of the subgenres that make up science fiction. Moore's "Shambleau" (1933) is the story of Northwest Smith trying to rescue a damsel in distress on an alien world. She turns out to be much more than Smith bargained for. Leigh Brackett also provides a tale of planetary wonder in "The Last Days of Shandakor," although it is vey different in scope from Moore's, perhaps more akin to the dying world stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs. In some ways, "The Last Days of Shandakor" is a nice counterpoint to "Shambleau" since both start with the hero responding to an individual who is ostracized by civilization. Aliens don’t fare much better in Nancy’s Kress’s “Out of All Them Bright Stars,” an exploration of the way aliens are treated in society when they are still something of an oddity. The story offers a look at humanity which is a mix of optimism and pessimism as good intentions and outgoingness are overwhelmed by the groupmind.
"The Smallest Dragonboy" is part of Anne McCaffrey's long-running Pern series, which began with the Hugo Award winning "Weyr Search" in 1967. In this story, McCaffrey tells the story of an underdog, a young boy smaller than most, who has allowed the opinions of others to influence his own opinions of himself. In many ways, it is thematically in line with other story McCaffrey relates in the Pern sequence. Connie Willis's story in the anthology, "Fire Watch," is also part of a larger, although more loosely connect, series. "Fire Watch" introduces the time-traveling department of Oxford University, which would re-appear in Willis's novels Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Blackout/All Clear. In this initial outing, they travel back to the time of the London Blitz during World War II, although that isn't quite what her protagonist had in mind when he set out. Lois McMaster Bujold isn't known for her short fiction, but "Aftermaths" is a short story that served as an epilogue to her first novel, Shards of Honor, as it part of the Vorkosigan series and looks at the aftermath of a space battle.
Space is also the location for Andre Norton's short "All Cats Are Gray," which focuses on the salvage of a derelict spaceship. Not only is it a space opera, but it also demonstates that science fiction can be written for a variety of audiences, with Norton's intended audience being the young adult market, although the story is enjoyable by a much wider range of readers.
Variety is the watchword for this anthology edited by Rusch. The twelve stories cover time travel, extrasensory perception, space opera, and more, primarly demonstrating the breadth of science fiction and its subgenres. The fact that these dozen stories were all written by women is almost incidental to the collection, whcih serves as a showcase of science fiction over several decades. There are details of some of the stories which appear dated, but overall Rusch has selected stories which mostly stand up to the test of time, remain entertaining, and may even cause the reader to think.
|Zenna Henderson||The Indelible Kind|
|Anne McCaffrey||The Smallest Dragonboy|
|Nancy Kress||Out of All Them Bright Stars|
|C. J. Cherryh||Cassandra|
|C. L. Moore||Shambleau|
|Leigh Brackett||The Last Days of Shandakor|
|Andre Norton||All Cats Are Gray|
|Lois McMaster Bujold||Aftermaths|
|James Tiptree, Jr.||The Last Flight of Doctor Ain|
|Ursula K. Le Guin||Sur|
|Connie Willis||Fire Watch|
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