One of the many things I’ve discovered this year is how much I didn’t know about the historical side of writing – particularly women’s writing in specOne of the many things I’ve discovered this year is how much I didn’t know about the historical side of writing – particularly women’s writing in spec fiction. There are many reasons for this, but it makes the historian (and reader) in me want to know more. So, I was thoroughly intrigued when Alisa and Alex started talking about James Tiptree Jr and their plans for this fabulous book.
James Tiptree Jr was a highly considered, award winning short story writer who was involuntarily ‘revealed’ to be Alice B Sheldon. Tiptree – or Tip – was a fairly prolific letter writer, sharing communication with editors and fellow writers and a lot of this correspondence continued on after the ‘reveal’. So it made sense to create this tribute – released to celebrate 100 years since Alice B Sheldon’s birth – as a series of letters from those who had been inspired or touched by Tiptree’s work.
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from the letters, but I wasn’t quite expecting what I found. These letters are thoughtful and passionate. They’re thankful and admiring and occasionally angry. They talk about inspiration and invisibility and gender and power. They are simply magnificent pieces of work and I would have been happy with just the letters in this book.
But then we get selected letters between Ursula Le Guin and Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr and those between Joanna Russ and Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr – both starting with the letters Alli wrote about her ‘real life’ identity. They are amazing pieces of work – completely undrafted letters, absolutely fascinating to the social historian in me, yet almost too personal.
The third section of the book presents a selection of academic material on Tiptree’s work and significance. I admit that some of this went over my head a bit, but in some ways it was a welcome break from the raw honesty in both the modern and historical letters. Finally the editors wrap the book up with their own letters – demonstrating the passion which obviously led them to creating this work.
I’ve spent a bit of time talking about editing this year – especially how jarring it can feel to a reader when there’s no authentic flow to the book. Letters to Tiptree flowed beautifully, from modern letter to modern letter, from modern letter to historical letter and so on. I can’t imagine how long it took to work out the order of the letters, but the editors have done a fabulous job – you find yourself so totally engrossed from one letter to another that you have to consciously take a moment to breathe.
This is a wonderful book, which I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. I can’t imagine a better tribute to such an interesting author.
After violent attacks on women in both India and Australia, Eat the Sky, Drink the Moon was created as a collaboration between authors and artists froAfter violent attacks on women in both India and Australia, Eat the Sky, Drink the Moon was created as a collaboration between authors and artists from both countries. The book consists of speculative fiction short stories, graphic stories and a script looking at imagining women in a different world.
As you would expect when you look at the list of authors involved in this project, there’s some wonderful writing in here. The one that stands out most vividly is Margo Lanagan’s Cat Calls, which shows a collaboration of characters coming together to confront street harassment. It’s not a big or showy story, but it’s incredibly effective at hitting the point.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Cooking Time by Anita Roy. Unlike Cat Calls, this was an expansive story – stretching from a futuristic world where all our food comes from tubes to time travel back in the past for a television cooking competition. I’m not even a television cooking competition fan, but I would totally watch MasterChef of All Time – it’s such an imaginative and interesting idea!
What a Stone Can’t Feel by Penni Russon was a really lovely and quiet piece of writing. It felt really contemporary, like we were in another version of our world right now (or a hidden part of our world). The part I love the most in this story is the character talking about how she’d knit memories:
“I’d knit it,” Lyss says again. “I’d knit the whole history of human memory. And if I made a mistake, I wouldn’t frog it. I’d just keep knitting. I’d make the knots and holes part of the fabric”
While there’s lots of great stories in the anthology, it doesn’t quite feel like it’s following a singular purpose as a whole. Some of the stories feel a little indulgent or like they’re trying a little too hard without having a really clear idea of what they’re trying to achieve. A lot of the worlds are ‘different’, but the things happening to the young women in the stories aren’t particularly different to what we see today. I wonder if this was the best way to create an anthology like this or if there were other ways which might have produced a more cohesive piece of work.