What’s With Sci-Fi’s Fixation on Single-Gendered Planets?


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I recently reread three thematically similar books: Poul Anderson’s Virgin Planet, A. Bertram Chandler’s Spartan Planet, and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Ethan of Athos. All three imagine single-gender planets: worlds whose populations are either all men or all women. This particular selection of books to reread and review was mere chance, but it got me thinking…

There are actually quite a few speculative fiction books set on single-gender planets (in which gender is mainly imagined in terms of a binary model) 1. Most of them are what-if books. As one might expect, they come up with different extrapolations.

Some single-gender planets are near-utopias; humans manage quite well with just one gender, once reproductive solutions are in place.

  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland and James Tiptree, Jr.’s “Houston, Do You Read” suggest that the world can get along just fine without the missing gender. In these cases it’s men who are ...

Classic Sci-Fi Star Systems Keep Getting Ruined by Science


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Having recently discussed some possible SF solutions to the vexing problems posed by red dwarf stars, it makes a certain amount of sense to consider the various star systems that have served as popular settings for some classic science fiction—even if science has more or less put the kibosh on any real hope of finding a habitable planet in the bunch.

In olden days, back before we had anything like the wealth of information about exoplanets we have now1, SF authors playing it safe often decided to exclude the systems of pesky low-mass stars (M class) and short lived high-mass stars (O, B, and A) as potential abodes of life. A list of promising nearby stars might have looked a bit like this2

 

Star System Distance from Sol
(light-years)
Class Notes
Sol 0 G2V
Alpha Centauri A & B 4.3 G2V & K1V We ...

How SciFi Can Solve the Problem of Red Dwarf Stars


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Certain facts about M-class red dwarf stars are vexing for authors and readers of SF. Not to mention reviewers. I am vexed.

First fact: they’re economical. Because they are low mass, you can make a lot more of them from a given amount of matter than you can make of mid-K to mid-F class stars1). Also, they last a long long time, even by galactic standards. Someone or something must have been frugal, because the vast majority of stars are red dwarfs. This proportion will only increase once the stelliferous era draws to an end in the near future (by galactic standards).

What’s so bad about most of the galaxy being composed of long-lived stars? Well, I am happy you asked…

A lot of science fiction authors simply ignore red dwarfs, if only because simple math suggests that the odds of an Earthlike world being in the habitable ...

Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, Part VIII


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In this foray into the past, I cover women fantasy and science fiction authors who debuted between 1970 and 1979. In stark contrast to the previous instalment, this essay covers a sparsely populated range of the alphabet. Accordingly, it will include authors whose surnames begin with N, those whose surname begins with O, and those who begin with P. Even so, it’s not as long as the M entry.

Previous instalments in this series cover women writers with last names beginning with A through F, those beginning with G, those beginning with H, those beginning with I & J, those beginning with L, and those beginning with M.

 

Mary C. Pangborn

Mary C. Pangborn’s published works were all short pieces published in respected venues like Terry Carr’s Universe anthologies, Silverberg and Randall’s New Dimensions series, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Lamentably, ...

Why Are There So Few SFF Books About the Very Real Issue of Population Decline?


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I discovered last week that if one wants hundreds of likes and retweets on Twitter, one can do worse than to tweet this:

“Inexplicable drop in birthrates for generation systematically denied healthcare, affordable education and even the smallest prospect of economic security.”

…in response to this.

Of course, I was joking. Well, half-joking. What’s going on here isn’t merely an expression of the hopelessness of the current generation. It’s part of a longer trend, one oddly absent from Western SF: the demographic transition.

As the article notes, “The rate has generally been below replacement since 1971.” This isn’t unique to the United States. It’s part of a general process that demographer Warren Thompson noted as far back as 1929, in which economic transformation is accompanied by a demographic change. Nations go from high birth and death rates to low death and birth rates1. When birth rates fall ...

Why Editors Matter: David Hartwell’s Extraordinary Timescape Books


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Avid SF readers may know the late David G. Hartwell (10 July 1941–20 January 2016) as one of Tor Books’ senior editors. Or perhaps he may be familiar as the editor and co-editor (with Kathryn Cramer) of Year’s Best SF and Years Best Fantasy, not to mention many other themed anthologies. They might be aware of his role with the New York Review of Science Fiction. Con-goers might well remember his striking fashion sense. His technicolor shirts, waistcoats, and jackets were of eye-searing brilliance and contrast.

Thanks to Asimov’s repeated admonitions that editors matter, I began at an early age to pay attention to the humans responsible for the books I consumed en masse. When I knew which editors were behind the works I liked, I would follow them from company to company. Thus I first became aware of Hartwell as the person behind Pocket Books’ remarkable Timescape imprint...

Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, Part VII


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At this stage of James’ Tour of Disco-Era Women SF Authors, we have reached M. Certain letters are deficient in authors whose surnames begin with that particular letter. Not so M. There is an abundance of authors whose surnames begin with M. Perhaps an excess. In fact, there are more authors named Murphy than the authors I listed whose names begin with I. Efforts to address this, by providing authors with exciting new initials, perhaps involving the exclamation mark or ampersand, have thus far been greeted with something less than enthusiasm by the powers-that-be.

For readers who have just joined the tour: there are several previous instalments in this series, covering women writers published in the 1970s with last names beginning with A through F, those beginning with G, those beginning with H, those beginning with I & J, those beginning with K, and those beginning ...

Tugging on Superman’s Cape: Simple Suggestions for Avoiding World-Destroying Disaster. Or Not.


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The Mummy running archaeology disaster warnings

There are, I think, a few basic safety rules which, if consistently ignored, will almost always provide would-be adventurers with sufficient diversion to create an exciting plot.

Rule number one: do not engage in archaeology. Do not fund archaeology. Above all, do not free that which has been carefully entombed. In most SF and fantasy settings, there were good reasons for entombment…and they still hold.

Indiana Jones did not manage to keep the Nazis from grabbing the Ark of the Covenant. No, the Ark protected itself. As you can see…

Melting Indiana Jones GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The upside of this experiment in archaeology was that the outcome was beneficial: pesky Nazis conveniently melted! This is not always the case. Angry gods are not always quite so particular about their victims; supernatural phenomena don’t care at all about good or bad. (I shouldn’t have to add this, but it’s 2018: Nazis are bad.)

In the future ...

The Vang: The Military Form

Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, Part VI


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Once more we venture into the 1970s, this time to celebrate women who debuted between 1970 and 1979 and whose surnames begin with the letter L.

The five previous instalments of the series cover women writers with last names beginning with A through F, those beginning with Gthose beginning with H, those beginning with I & J, and those beginning with K.

 

J.A. Lawrence

J.A. Lawrence may be best known as an illustrator, but she is also an author. She is perhaps best known for “Getting Along” (featured in 1972’s Again, Dangerous Visions) as well as for the collection Star Trek 12, which was part of a long-running series adapted from scripts of the original Star Trek. While many of her works were co-authored with her then-husband, the late James Blish, 1978’s Mudd’s Angels is a solo work by Lawrence.

...

Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, Part IV


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Another few weeks, another foray into the world of women authors of the 1970s. This time, my subject is women SF writers whose names begin with I or J and who debuted in the 1970s¹. There also three previous instalments in this series, covering women writers with last names beginning with A through F, those beginning with G, and those beginning with H.

This week’s instalment is short due to a peculiarity of (primarily) Anglophone surnames that I notice every time I look at my bookshelves. For some reason, there aren’t many authors whose surnames begin with I or J. When one filters by debut date, the resulting set is downright tiny. I once suggested to a publisher that they rename some of their authors so the distribution of surnames by initial was more equitable, but I fear this was greeted with the same lack of enthusiasm as ...

Why the Hell Are These Books Out of Print?


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About two years ago, I reviewed Raphael Carter’s The Fortunate Fall. I could not add a link that would allow readers to purchase the book because as far as I could tell, The Fortunate Fall has been out of print for more than twenty years. I was astounded because I had the impression that the book was warmly regarded. The evidence suggests it was warmly regarded by a small number of very vocal fans1.

I tend to expect that many others will love the same books that I do. I have been proved wrong again and again. Books that I love are not reprinted. Even in this era of ebooks, all but a few lucky books come forth like flowers and wither: they slip away like shadows and do not endure. Ah, the sorrows of the reader!

Not to mention the author….

But there is also a certain satisfaction ...

Why the Hell Are These Books Out of Print?


This post is by James Davis Nicoll from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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About two years ago, I reviewed Raphael Carter’s The Fortunate Fall. I could not add a link that would allow readers to purchase the book because as far as I could tell, The Fortunate Fall has been out of print for more than twenty years. I was astounded because I had the impression that the book was warmly regarded. The evidence suggests it was warmly regarded by a small number of very vocal fans1.

I tend to expect that many others will love the same books that I do. I have been proved wrong again and again. Books that I love are not reprinted. Even in this era of ebooks, all but a few lucky books come forth like flowers and wither: they slip away like shadows and do not endure. Ah, the sorrows of the reader!

Not to mention the author….

But there is also a certain satisfaction ...

Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, Part III


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Today’s joyful romp through history: women SF writers whose names begin with H and who debuted in the 1970s1. There also two previous installments in this series, covering women writers with last names beginning with A through F and those beginning with G.

 

Vicki Ann Heydron

Vicki Ann Heydron wrote most of her published fiction in collaboration with her husband, Randall Garrett. Best known of their collaborations is the six-volume Gandalara Cycle (1981–1986), in which a dying intellectual of our world is transported to a new, young body in a strange desert realm called Gandalara. Although both spouses are credited, Garrett was reportedly in a coma for much of the period in which the series was published. I rather suspect that unconsciousness would have significantly impeded active participation. Presumably, whatever Garrett’s role in plotting the series, Heydron did most of the actual writing. The Steel of Raithskar is ...

Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, Part III


This post is by James Davis Nicoll from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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Today’s joyful romp through history: women SF writers whose names begin with H and who debuted in the 1970s1. There also two previous installments in this series, covering women writers with last names beginning with A through F and those beginning with G.

 

Vicki Ann Heydron

Vicki Ann Heydron wrote most of her published fiction in collaboration with her husband, Randall Garrett. Best known of their collaborations is the six-volume Gandalara Cycle (1981–1986), in which a dying intellectual of our world is transported to a new, young body in a strange desert realm called Gandalara. Although both spouses are credited, Garrett was reportedly in a coma for much of the period in which the series was published. I rather suspect that unconsciousness would have significantly impeded active participation. Presumably, whatever Garrett’s role in plotting the series, Heydron did most of the actual writing. The Steel of Raithskar is ...

Talkin’ ‘Bout My G-G-Generation (Ships)


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When it comes to crossing the vast gulfs between the solar system and other stellar systems, SF writers turn to two main solutions: small and fast1 or big and slow. Perhaps the best known example of “big and slow” is the generation ship, large enough to qualify as a large town or even a small nation, slow enough that entire lives will be consumed getting to its destination.

Generation ships live in that delightful overlap between “seemingly practical” and “nearly certain to inflict lives of deprivation and misery on their inhabitants.” You might wonder what sort of person imagines the immiseration of many many others. SF authors do. Misery is drama. Generation ships offer so very much drama.

Two 20th century authors wrote stories sufficiently remarkable to imprint the essential details of their plot on many—most?—of the generation-ship stories that followed. The best known is Robert ...

Climbing Mount Tsundoku: On Acquiring More Books Than It’s Possible to Read


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pile of books

One of my little projects last year was something I modestly called “Twenty Core [Subgenre] Speculative Fiction Works Every True SF Fan Should Have On Their Shelves.” Reading is a huge part of my life. Thanks to my freakish cognitive architecture, I read quickly, and thanks to the fact I am as gregarious as a stylite, I have the time to read prodigiously. Putting together the core lists was an amusing application of my resources and yet in amongst all the lists, readers found Twenty Core Speculative Fiction Works It May Surprise You To Learn I Have Not Yet Read Every True SF Fan Should Have On Their Shelves.

It’s worse than that list may at first appear. Not only have I not read any of the books on the list, despite the fact that I’ve owned copies of a number of the books in question since their ...

Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, Part II


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Once more into the past, this time armed with a more comprehensive list of women who debuted in the 1970s¹. In fact, my list has become long enough that I am going have to tackle the authors letter by letter, moving forward. In this case, I am looking at women authors who debuted between 1970 and 1979 and whose surnames begin with G.

 

Sally Miller Gearhart

Gearhart may be best known now for her political activism and her decades of scholarly work. The Sally Miller Gearhart Chair in Lesbian Studies at the University of Oregon is named for her. SF fans unacquainted with her work might do well start with The Wanderground, a novel about feminist separatism set in a near future. Any of you planning to write a feminist separatist novel (or found a separatist feminist community) might want to explore prior art, including Gearhart’s contributions.

 

...

Almost-Classics: SF Concepts and Settings That Deserve Better Execution


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In a previous essay, I said:

Something I was reminded of while watching the third, most famous movie version of The Maltese Falcon: the works to remake in one’s own image aren’t the classics but the almost-classics, the works whose central conceit was much better than the final product. Singular, perfect works are hard to improve on but there are lots of books and films sabotaged by their creator’s shortcomings and the commercial realities of the day. If anyone wants an essay on “books I wish someone would use as a springboard for executions that are actually good,” just ask.

People did ask, so here we are.

Fred Pohl and Jack Williamson’s The Starchild Trilogy is one of the series that made me think of the idea in the first place. It’s full of wonderfully zany ideas, from an entire ecosystem fuelled by living fusion reactors out in deepest ...

Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, A Through F


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You may have been annoyed by recurrent comments from a certain surprisingly flammable Waterloo-region reviewer. He complains about the erasure from SF memory of women writing SF back in the 1970s—but has that reviewer ever bother to name names? Suggest books? I think not. It is time to confront the erasure directly. Forward! Excelsior!

In an attempt to keep this list to a manageable length, I will focus on women authors who first published in the 1970s. That means skipping some significant authors who were already active at the time. I also reserve the right to cheat a bit by including a few works published after the 1970s. I am also going to break this list into several installments, beginning with A through F. Which should tell you just how many women have been erased. Whole binders full of women.

 

Lynn Abbey

Probably the best place to begin with ...

A Brief History of the Big Dumb Object Story in Science Fiction


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For reasons relating to my on-going Because My Tears Are Delicious To You reviews over on my site, I was reminded of the golden age of what reviewer Roz Kaveny called the “Big Dumb Object” story. Perhaps a definition is in order.

Contrary to the name, BDOs are not necessarily dumb. In fact, most of them have rather sophisticated infrastructure working away off-stage preventing the story from being a Giant Agglomeration of Useless Scrap story. What they definitely are is large. To be a BDO, the Object needs to be world-sized, at least the volume of a moon and preferably much larger. BDOs are also artificial. Some…well, one that I can think of but probably there are others…skirt the issue by being living artifacts but even there, they exist because some being took steps to bring them into existence.

There may be another characteristic BDOs need to have to be ...