Tag Archives: SF Women of the 20thC

7. C.L. Moore & “No Woman Born” [SF Women of the 20th Century]

Catherine_Lucille_MooreCatherine Lucille (“C.L.”) Moore is one of the most prolific female writers of the pulp magazine era of science fiction – her most active period being from the 1930’s through to the late 50’s. She was married to Henry Kuttner, another active writer of the period, and the two often collaborated on their work which was published under a wide variety of male pseudonyms (including Lewis Padgett and Laurence O’Donnell in Astounding Science Fiction) as well as their own names. (Indeed, they first met after Kuttner wrote a fan letter to Moore in appreciation of her work – the ultimate writerly romance connection!)

Moore’s first story “Shambleau,” is a vampire planetary romance set on Mars published in Weird Tales (1933). Its protagonist, the hero Northwest Smith, was a central figure of many of her stories. Perhaps her most iconic work, the Jirel of Joiry stories, helped to shape the sword-and-sorcery subgenre and are credited as the first fantasy series with a female hero as protagonist.

In 1944, Moore’s story “No Woman Born” was published in Astounding. Often cited as the first cyborg story, it has a great deal to say about perceptions of beauty and femininity which are still all too relevant today.

Deirdre, a beautiful and successful performer, dies tragically in a theatre fire and is brought back within an exquisite body of golden metal by a robotics specialist, Maltzer, at the behest her manager, Harris. These two men obsess over Deirdre’s body and her existence in minute detail, greatly concerned that she intends to relaunch her career as an actress, dancer and singer.

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6. Wendy Froud & Yoda [SF Women of the 20th Century]

Froud, Brian, Wendy's dollsWendy Froud is a celebrated dollmaker, puppeteer and artist. She’s primarily known and recognised for her fantasy work, including puppetry created for several Henson productions, including The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. Her work has been featured in several books by Terri Windling, and her solo book The Art of Wendy Froud was published by Imaginosis in 2006.

Wendy came to mind when I first thought about writing these posts, because she’s an artist who works in three dimensions, and also because being married to a famous artist, Brian Froud, often means that she gets mentioned in the field as an ‘and’ instead of as a creator in her own right.

Hmm, I thought, I’d love to write about her work in Labyrinth, but that’s fantasy. Should I include her anyway, given that I’ve just been listening to a podcast talking about how women who write fantasy get excluded from conversations about science fiction, and men who write fantasy don’t?
Sure, or I could do a bit of research and see if she’s contributed to any science fictional art project…


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5. Octavia E. Butler & Dawn [SF Women of the 20th Century]

octavia-butler-799659Octavia Butler (1947-2006) is one of the most fondly remembered SF writers in the history of the field. She has won several Hugo and Nebula awards as well as being, to date, the only SF writer to receive the MacArthur “Genius Grant.”

Many of her works look at characters who are dispossessed, whose autonomy is taken from them or compromised. Her stories acknowledge race, sexuality, feminism, and the cost of survival. An African-American writer, Butler’s highest bestselling novel is Kindred, a time travel story about black slavery and the issue of survival vs. compliance.

There’s been some recent excitement (and more than a little apprehension) at the news that Octavia Butler’s book Dawn (1987), first of the Lilith’s Brood series (also referred to as the Xenogenesis trilogy), is being developed for TV, which is why I picked this book for the SF Women of the 20th Century.

This is the point where I admit that I am terribly under-read when it comes to Octavia Butler – until recently I’d only read a couple of her short stories, so Dawn was the first of her novels that I picked up. This book is fantastic! I found myself racing through it in about three days, and while I don’t plan for this blog series to be made up of book reviews, apparently some of the posts are going to be.

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4. Clare Winger Harris & “The Fate of the Poseidonia” [SF Women of the 20th Century]

amazing_stories_192612-e1403619869179Clare Winger Harris was the first female short story writer to publish ‘scientifiction’ in the pulp magazines under her own name, rather than a male pseudonym. Her second published story, a space opera called “The Fate of the Poseidonia,” won third place in a contest run by Hugo Gernsback for stories inspired by a particular piece of artwork by Frank R Paul, and was duly published in Amazing Stories in June 1927.

Gernsback said of the story:

“That the third prize winner should prove to be a woman was one of the surprises of the contest, for, as a rule, women do not make good scientification writers, because their education and general tendencies on scientific matters are usually limited. But the exception, as usual, proves the rule, the exception in this case being extraordinarily impressive. The story has a great deal of charm, chiefly because it is not overburdened with science, but whatever science is contained therein is not only quite palatable, but highly desirable, due to its plausibility… We hope to see more of Mrs Harris’ scientifiction in Amazing Stories.”

Men expressing surprise that women should have any interest in science fiction as creators or indeed as readers was to be a longstanding theme of the SF pulps, especially in the letter columns. The existence of women in SF is one of those things that is discovered over and over again, like a Groundhog Day themed episode of your favourite TV show.

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3. Connie Willis & To Say Nothing of the Dog [SF Women of the 20th Century]

To-Say-Nothing-of-the-DogI first heard about Connie Willis at Aussiecon Three in 1999 – my first worldcon, held in Melbourne. I didn’t go to the Hugo ceremony, because it wasn’t something I knew anything about (I had been a published author for exactly one year, and was completely at sea about international fandom etc.) I spent the evening with my fellow Random House authors, and heard the results come in by rumour and word of mouth. Maxine McArthur, whom I’d only just met, was super excited that Connie Willis won the Best Novel Hugo for To Say Nothing Of the Dog.

(To put 1999 into context, Willis was the only female Hugo winner that year in any category, though the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer was awarded to Nalo Hopkinson)

The following year, I went to my first Swancon, where Connie Willis was the Guest of Honour, and read aloud a chapter of her fascinating, then-in-progress novel Passage, which hooked me entirely. I bought up copies of her books over the next several conventions (until Passage came out, I never saw her on an Australian bookshop shelf) and I soon fell in love with To Say Nothing Of the Dog all on my own.

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2. Diane Marchant & Kirk/Spock [SF Women of the 20th Century]

grup3p2Fanfic, and slash fiction in particular, is a huge part of SF fandom history – and its overlapping communities have mostly been built and shared by women.

Diane Marchant is generally regarded as the writer of the first published fic featuring Kirk/Spock – the ship which popularised slashfic as a fan phenonenon. And she was Australian, to boot!

You’re welcome, rest of the world.

The story, “A Fragment Out of Time,” published in Grup #3 in 1974, contained a steamy sex scene but named no names (and played the pronoun game, so it wasn’t even clearly marked out as a m/m relationship).

Still, the piece was illustrated with a Kirk & Spock picture drawn by Diane, making her intentions fairly obvious, and a cartoon underneath the final page of the story shows Bones saying to Kirk: “Impossible….. No, Jim. I warned you about messing with aliens…….. especially Vulcans.” (The look on Kirk’s face in the cartoon implies he has just been told about the existence of slash fiction. Oh, sweetie.)

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1. Raccoona Sheldon & “The Screwfly Solution” [SF Women of the 20th Century]

030-PseudoSignaturesI’m feeling a bit defensive about Raccoona right now, after re-reading the excellent biography James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips. Like many people, I’d always got so swept up in the Tiptree legend that I let Raccoona fall by the wayside.

But she’s terribly interesting, particularly in light of a recent article about the different reactions that an author received from agents who received her manuscript as being authored as a man, or as a woman.

Writing science fiction under the name James Tiptree Jr from 1967, Alice “Alli” Sheldon quickly became known as an important, groundbreaking writer in the field. She did her networking via correspondence, often by writing fan letters to her fellow writers, though she was also befriended by many editors who encouraged “Tip” in his work early on, giving personal feedback and demanding more work from him as his reputation grew.

Julie Phillips, in the epic biography James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, tells the anecdote of how Harlan Ellison rejected a couple of Tiptree’s trunk stories from Again, Dangerous Visions in 1969, and gave the writer a second chance along with an ultimatum: “You can do better than this, and I expect you to do so.” In a later letter, he instructed Tiptree to write something that was “brilliant,” to “bust your ass” and demanded: “A story on which to build a first-rank reputation. The best story you ever wrote.”

Inspired and challenged, Sheldon wrote “The Milk of Paradise,” a story that Ellison not only published but raved about directly to Tiptree: “You are the single most important new writer in science fiction today. Nobody touches you! Not me, not Delany, not Blish, not Budrys, not Disch, not Dick…”

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SF Women of the 20th Century: Introduction

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Regardless of when you think science fiction started, and how far back you want to trace its origins (cough, Mary Shelley, cough, Verne and Wells, cough, Margaret Cavendish, cough, Lucian), the 20th century was undoubtedly a time of great development for science fiction as a recognisable genre. SF was in the pulp magazine, in the cinemas, on our radios and televisions, in novels and comics and artwork and fanzines and jewellery and action figures and glam rock.

And while 20th century science fiction is so often framed as a masculine genre, as a sexist genre, as a boys club, and as a hub of male geekery, male childhood, male second childhood and a world peopled by old white men, it was always a place where women existed, and worked, and played, and created wonderful things.

The history of women’s participation in science fiction is often troubling and problematic and difficult to talk about, and enraging, and inspiring, and so many other things. But most often, the history of women in science fiction is forgotten. (Too often, it ends up being a conversation about ‘where are the women in science fiction’ which is pretty insulting to those who were standing there in front of you all along, as Judith Tarr describes in her recent essay Where Have All The Women Gone?)

History is a living, dynamic thing, and we shape it as people when we decide what is important and what is not.

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SF Women of the 20th Century & More

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MUSKETEER SPACE IS NOW COMPLETE. In 15 months I wrote 62 chapters, a bonus novella, 20 Musketeer Media Essays and rewatched 73 episodes of the classic space opera cartoon Robotech. You can still read it all for free right here on the blog.

My plan for the rest of 2015 is to return this to the eclectic blog it used to be before Musketeers ate my brain: a space for me to write about superheroes, science fiction and fantasy, women’s history, links, reviews, Doctor Who themed birthday parties, and the occasional Mighty Feminist essay.

By supporting my Patreon, you are making it possible for me to balance my fiction writing with a healthy output of thoughtful, critical, snarky geekbloggery. I’m at my best as a writer when I can afford the time to do both.

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