Women Have Always Been Here: A Conversation with Lisa Yaszek
Lisa Yaszek just might be an anthologist and scholar we all should be talking about more.
Yaszek was born in Dearborn, Michigan and grew up in various Detroit suburbs. She could read fluently by the time she was three. She earned her bachelor’s in English from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, first putting in two years in an experimental program that combined premedical studies with literary and cultural studies. She switched to the English program, realizing she liked reading and writing about science and medicine better than the idea of practicing them. She graduated magna cum laude, then went on to earn her master’s and Ph.D.—both in English—from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Already involved in geekdom, she helped organize the local SFF convention WisCon while she was there.
But she didn’t just skate by: “I supported myself through college and graduate school as an editor-of-all-trades: I worked for lawyers, engineers, and Hollywood writers. Oddly enough—or maybe not, given my interest in science fiction—the engineers were the most fun to work with. I learned about all kinds of cool new cutting-edge engineering technologies from them.” Yaszek moved to Atlanta, Georgia after grad school for a postdoctoral position at Georgia Institute of Technology, as a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow, and was hired as a tenure track professor the next year.
In 2002, Routledge published Yaszek’s exploration of “the intense controversy about how to best understand and represent human subjectivity in a technology-intensive era”, The Self Wired: Technology and Subjectivity in Contemporary Narrative (Literary Criticism and Cultural Theory). Over the next few years, she received awards and grants from the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA), the National Science Foundation Science and Society, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. These were the beginnings of what would become a long list of accolades and grants.
Ohio State University Press published her Galactic Suburbia: Recovering Women’s Science Fiction in 2008, and in 2009 she became president of the SFRA. That year she also joined the journal Extrapolation as one of their editors, having been a celebrated contributor. In 2010, McFarland published Practicing Science Fiction: Critical Essays on Writing, Reading and Teaching the Genre, which Yaszek coedited with Karen Hellekson, Craig B. Jacobsen, and Patrick B. Sharp. In 2016, Wesleyan University Press published Yaszek’s Sisters of Tomorrow: The First Women of Science Fiction, co-edited with Sharp; but along the way she continued to publish nonfiction across a number of respected venues and publications, such as “Feminism” in Rob Lathem’s 2014 The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction.
In 2018, publisher Library of America released Lisa Yaszek’s anthology The Future Is Female!: 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, From Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin. A few in genre (beyond the SFRA) finally took note: the book landed on the Locus Recommended Reading List and was a Locus Award finalist. By this time, she had accumulated a slew of academic accolades; plus, that same year, she appeared in four episodes of AMC miniseries James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction. She co-edited Literary Afrofuturism in the Twenty-First Century with Isiah Lavender III, published by Ohio State University Press, which again landed her on the Locus Recommended Reading list and was a Locus Award finalist.
Lisa Yaszek has been featured on television, in The Washington Post, and in USA Today. “I’m also a regularly featured expert on the Wired podcast, Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, and on Bored Panda, a Lithuanian-based website that celebrates international art and design.” And yet somehow, her name isn’t as widely known (or talked about) in genre circles as perhaps it should be. Good news: it’s not too late! Her latest effort, The Future Is Female! Volume Two, The 1970s: More Classic Science Fiction Stories By Women, just came out from Library of America in October.
Did you grow up reading a lot of science fiction, or was it something you came into later?
I’ve been surrounded by science fiction all my life. Both of my parents are science fiction nerds, and my very first memory in the world is hanging out with them in our TV room, watching Star Trek (TOS) reruns and eating organic radishes from our garden. I disliked the radishes but loved the show—the thrilling opening music! The exotic planets! The fight scenes! The women who talked to computers and hung out with aliens and ran ships and looked amazing doing it! It was everything a three-year-old could want, and it’s still pretty much everything I want at fifty-three.
At what point did focusing on women in science fiction become important to you, and why?
As my anecdote about Star Trek suggests, I’ve always been interested in women in science fiction. Growing up in the 1970s with parents who were both science fiction nerds and good second-wave feminists, I didn’t even think this was remarkable: our house was filled with science fiction by Judith Merril and Joanna Russ and Samuel Delany; our movie outings were to films including Star Wars and Alien, where women took lead roles in saving themselves and the galaxy at large (pretty much for the first time ever in Hollywood film history, I might add). I was genuinely surprised to eventually learn that women and people of color weren’t the center of everyone’s science fiction universe.
Lately, women have gained more notability in science fiction than ever. This is reflected across many of the major awards. Is a series like The Future Is Female still vital, still critical, and still important to genre?
Absolutely! Anthologies like the FIF series show us where all the mind-blowing, award-winning women authors we enjoy today came from, providing context for their literary achievements and reminding us that women have always contributed to our visions of the future. Women have always written science fiction, and from the start women were a small but significant minority in science fiction, comprising about 15% of all science fiction authors, artists, and editors. But the ephemeral nature of the magazines where the modern American science fiction community came of age means that most of us don’t know that history—many of the old magazines have been destroyed, and those that are left are fragile and usually stored in either private or university collections. Fans are beginning to put those magazines online for all to enjoy, but it’s a long, slow, unpaid labor of love.
For a long time, this meant that science fiction historians had to rely on early science fiction anthologies for our genre history. But as pioneering women authors such as Leslie F. Stone and Lilith Lorraine recollect, many of the editors who produced those anthologies were influenced by the feminist backlash that swept the United States after women gained the vote in 1920, and so women’s contributions to early SF were often marginalized or erased altogether in those volumes—and then later editors, who only had those early volumes to rely on, repeated the histories they had inherited.
Expanding science fiction history to include “herstory” was a central project for feminist science fiction authors in the 1970s, and it was often done in anthologies. Pamela Sargent’s Women of Wonder series was groundbreaking in this respect, as was Virginia Kidd’s Millennial Women collection. At the end of the decade, Jessica Amanda Salmonson would do something similar for the herstory of women’s fantasy with her Amazons! anthologies. Meanwhile, Vonda N. McIntrye and Susan Janice Anderson’s Aurora: Beyond Equality introduced readers to the depth and breadth of original feminist science fiction. Even feminist science fiction fans got in on the action with fanzines such as Janus and The Chameleon and the Witch.
Unfortunately, like so many other science fiction publications—and like many other publications in general—most if not all those anthologies and magazines have gone out of print, and now they are difficult to find unless you have access to a university library or are willing to scour the Internet for used copies. As such, I see the FIF series and similar anthologies as continuing the pioneering efforts of Sargent and her peers. They are the volumes that preserve important aspects of science fiction history.
Finally, I’d note that anthologies like the FIF series can double your science fiction pleasure and fun! For the past fifty years, feminist science fiction writers from Joanna Russ to Mary Robinette Kowal have revisited the themes and techniques of earlier women writers in their fiction. So, if you want to be in with the in crowd and understand all the sly jokes and intertextual references, it helps to read pioneering women writers such as C.L. Moore and Judith Merril.
What were some of the biggest challenges in putting together this anthology?
The biggest challenge by far was putting together a book during the pandemic. It simply wasn’t possible to travel to archives to look at rare magazines and anthologies as I had done with the first volume, and supply chain issues resulting in printing paper shortages meant that we had to put the book together on a radically compressed but still oddly fluid schedule. Fortunately, Georgia Tech has an excellent interlibrary loan system and I had a fantastic student research team with more free time than they would have under normal circumstances, so we were able to deliver the manuscript on time without any serious difficulties.
The other, more interesting challenge had to do with negotiating differing aesthetic values. There were several stories that my commissioning editor and I (both Gen-Xers) were interested in including as examples of women’s ability to take on taboo topics with sensitivity and style, but as my twenty-something students made clear to us, the times have changed and no amount of talk about how the sexual revolution and the new direct-to-video porn industry changed artistic representations of sexuality in the 1970s could convince them that the physical and sexual violence in those stories was anything but gratuitous. Of course, we initially hired my student research team precisely because we wanted to make sure we were selecting stories that still spoke to young people today, and clearly, those did not, so we decided to honor their gut instinct and eliminate those stories from the final table of contents.
Ultimately, I’m glad we did so—it’s not that we eliminated all representations of violence from this volume, but the stories we included that do feature violence do so as a natural and necessary part of the worldbuilding. So ultimately, that student rebellion forced us to live up to the Library of America’s own ideas about what constitutes good literature.
Finally, my student researchers—all members of the digital nomad generation, who have grown up believing that all the information they could ever want is at their fingertips—were shocked to realize that sometimes historical information is not that easily available. They were particularly annoyed with the differing levels of security in state birth, marriage, and death records and so, in good Georgia Tech engineering fashion, ended up writing programs to help navigate different state systems, which I have to say was pretty darn cool.
Other than the time frame, what were the things that determined if a piece would go into The Future Is Female volume 2?
While FIF1 was broad in scope, mapping all the different kinds of science fiction that women wrote in the opening and middle decades of the 20th century, I knew that the story I wanted to tell in this volume was the rise of feminist science fiction as a distinct mode of speculative storytelling, complete with its own authors, editors, fans, cons, and publishing venues. So, the first question I asked was if and how a story embodied the energies of 1970s feminism. Sometimes the answer wasn’t obvious: nobody was writing stories directly about abortion or Title IX; instead, I needed to look for stories more generally about bodily autonomy and gendered patterns of education.
The other major question I asked was: does this story have literary merit as well as big ideas? Literary merit is something that Library of America has insisted on from the start, and that is sometimes challenging to negotiate: early science fiction authors often saw themselves as forging a “literature of engineers” defined by its lack of literary frippery—the narrative equivalent of a blueprint with no architectural detail. We had a few tussles over this with volume 1 but fortunately, volume 2 focuses on an era when science fiction authors were increasingly graduating from college with literary degrees and experimenting with avant-garde and postmodern writing techniques, so it was much easier to agree on what counted as good science fiction.
What are a few of the stories that you would have liked to include in this book, and why?
There were indeed several stories we were excited to include but did not, for various reasons. We initially planned to include Octavia E. Butler’s “Childfinder” and Phyllis Eisenstein’s “Attachment” but were not able to do so due to copyright issues. My commissioning editor and I were also very intrigued by Lisa Tuttle’s “Stone Circle,” which we thought was a chilling anticipation of cyberpunk but swapped it out for “Wives” when my student research team vetoed it as Just Too Much for This Moment in History. And we were all torn between two Vonda McIntyre stories: “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand” and “Wings.” The latter is a gorgeous love story between a very old and a very young alien and everyone should read it, but ultimately, we agreed that the big idea at the center of “Of Mist” (bioengeering snakes as medical tools) was so cool we had to go with that story.
I also wanted to include some non-fiction essays in this volume as well. After all, this is the era of the feminist manifesto, and the women of science fiction generated some really good ones! In my fantasy world, we would have included Joanna Russ’s “The Image of Women in Science Fiction” (which lays out the problem of how poorly women are often represented in genre works) and “Some Recent Feminist Utopias” (which provides one of the first and I think still best definitions of feminist science fiction). Ursula K. Le Guin’s “American SF and the Other” is another important feminist assessment of science fiction that reminds us, amongst other things, that “about 53 percent of the Brotherhood of Man is the Sisterhood of Woman” and should be reflected as such in culture.
I would also have loved to share with readers some of the essays about her transition that Jessica Amanda Salmonson published in fanzines like Mom’s Apple Pie. We tend to think of trans authors as relative newcomers to genre fiction, but Salmonson’s story reminds us that trans women, like cis women, have long called the science fiction community home. Finally, I would love to have included poetry in this collection—after all, this is the moment when Suzette Haden Elgin founds the Science Fiction Poetry Association and Marilyn Hacker’s “Prayer for my Daughter” opens Virginia Kidd’s Millennial Women anthology.
One thing you talk about in the introduction is that in the 1970s women became much more visible in general. What we are seeing nowadays, with the increased visibility of a number of historically marginalized groups, is a certain amount of backlash. Did the rising visibility of women in science fiction through the 70s also come with reactionary backlash from within the science fiction community?
Sadly, these things do indeed go in cycles. In the early 1970s—the heyday of New Wave science fiction and the feminist revival—male authors were often champions of women’s science fiction: Brian Aldiss and Harlan Ellison claimed that “the best writers in SF today are the women”; Isaac Asimov was publicly impressed with Ann McCaffrey’s status as a New York Times bestseller, claiming that you couldn’t argue with that kind of money, and Robert Silverberg co-edited the last volumes of his prestigious New Dimensions series with Marta Randall. Joan Vinge recalls being “very proud” of her male counterparts, who seemed to be embracing women as equals more quickly than men outside the science fiction community.
But then the backlash against feminism that swept the US in the 1980s swept through the science fiction community as well. Silverberg threatened to quit New Dimensions if Randall did an all-female issue; Asimov sexually molested Randall while she was SFWA president; Bruce Sterling infamously claimed that nothing important happened in 1970s science fiction, thereby erasing the achievements of an entire generation of women writers and prompting leading feminist fan Jeanne Gomoll to write the infamous “Open Letter to Joanna Russ” in which she despairingly concludes that she has yet another item to add to Russ’s list of strategies historically used by male authors to discredit women’s literary accomplishments: it’s not that they didn’t really write it, or that they had help, or that they could only do it once, but that they wrote it—and “it was a boring fad.”
Of course, I’d point out that even that was not the science fiction community’s first encounter with feminist backlash. After universal suffrage in 1920, feminist backlash swept the United States (often in the form of new laws that allowed employers to fire women if they got married or pregnant) and eventually the science fiction community, as a new generation of young male editors, led by John W. Campbell, loudly claimed that women could not write science fiction while quietly erasing pioneering women from the first generation of science fiction anthologies. Even Frederic Pohl eventually wrote on his blog that there were no women science fiction writers in the genre’s early days—this, despite the fact that he married two different women science fiction writers! One of my goals with the FIF series is to illuminate these cycles of history in hopes that we can finally learn from and break free of them.
You also talk about the progression of feminism and science fiction through that same period. Which are the stories in this volume that you feel are still the most relevant to today’s issues, and to the needs and expressions of today’s feminism?
Broadly speaking, feminists today continue earlier projects to create political, economic, social, and scientific equity for women. But contemporary feminists extend those projects in three specific ways: by using transmedia activism to connect with other women and expose the injustices of patriarchy (think of the Everyday Sexism Project and the #MeToo movement); exploring the diversity of women’s experiences at the transnational level (something enabled by transmedia activism!); and allying themselves with trans rights activists who argue for expanded notions of womanhood, sex, and gender.
We see the seeds of all these interests in FIF2. James Tiptree, Jr.’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” provides an early critique of what we now call influencer culture, while Joan D. Vinge’s “View from a Height” explores how technology can foster surprising new and tender ways of connecting with one another across vast distances. Marta Randall’s “A Scarab in the City of Time” revolves around an archaeologist of color who finds herself trapped in a white supremacist dome and who hopes to escape by connecting with young people who dream of a different and more open future, while the hermaphroditic aliens who are forced to pass as sexy human females by their human male conquerors in Lisa Tuttle’s “Wives” speak to all people who have been asked to deny their true selves and to inhabit sexed and gendered identities not of their own making.
Some of the stories featured in FIF2 might speak to readers in more immediate terms as well. In many ways, Vinge’s “View from a Height”—which relates the tale of an isolated astronaut traveling to the edge of the galaxy with nothing but intermittent radio connections to Earth—captures the feelings of isolation, desolation, and intermittent hope that many of us felt throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. And unfortunately, since the fall of Roe in June 2022, stories about who controls our reproductive futures, such as Kate Wilhelm’s “The Funeral” and Joanna Russ’s “When It Changed,” feel more relevant than ever.
But we were sure to include tales that resonate with the many other good and hopeful things we see happening around us today as well. Pamela Sargent’s “If Ever I Should Leave You” and Cynthia Felice’s “No One Said Forever” imagine that women and men work together to create new and more nourishing futures for each other and the families they make together; Miriam Allen Deford’s “A Way Out,” Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Day Before the Revolution,” and M. Lucie Chin’s “The Best is Yet to Be” celebrate the newfound political and sexual power of older women; Eleanor Arnason’s “The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons” and Gayle N. Netzer’s “Hey, Lilith!” remind us that even in the darkest of times, women can take comfort in the pleasures of art and one another’s company.
Are there stories here that may surprise some readers, and how so?
I think readers will be surprised by how many of these stories celebrate women at stages of their lives not usually represented in science fiction. With the exception of a few naïve girl children who stowed away on rocket ships at their peril, most of the women featured in early- and mid-20th-century science fiction tended to be young and defined by their relation to reproduction. So, you got your nubile scientist’s daughters or lab assistants/love interests, your married-with-children-but-still-young! Housewife heroines, and your sexy but scary beautiful alien monsters—who, once again, were somehow always, magically, between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five. Little wonder that Joanna Russ once wryly noted there were plenty of images of women in science fiction, but very few women! Feminist authors set out to change that.
And indeed, the authors featured in FIF2 give their readers very different female characters! For instance, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s “Frog Pond” imagines that young mutant girls might inherit the postapocalyptic Earth; Connie Willis’s “Daisy, In the Sun” explores the universe-shattering power of a teenager experiencing her first period; Sonya Dorman Hess’s “Bitchin’ It” celebrates female lust across species; Kathleen Sky’s “Lament of the Keeku Bird” follows the adventures of a menopausal alien searching for a new life after motherhood; M. Lucie Chin’s “The Best is Yet to Be” shows how women, like men, might enjoy sex, drugs, and politics until the day they die. None of these are topics that showed up in earlier science fictional stories about women as love interests, lab assistants, or beautiful alien monsters, and quite honestly, we still don’t address many of these topics extensively or well in culture today.
Are there one or two stories in this volume that you feel will challenge readers more than others, and how so?
One of the most aesthetically challenging stories readers will encounter is Sonya Dorman Hess’s “Bitchin’ It,” which was originally published in Samuel Delany and Marilyn Hacker’s notorious Quark magazine. I don’t know how to explain it except as “happy housewife heroine fiction meets feminist utopia meets 1970s porn film, with dogs and Jell-O.” To say it is an avant-garde stylistic experiment is something of an understatement, but it’s a wonderfully chaotic, strange, and estranging celebration of female sexuality (in humans and dogs alike). Oh, and it’s also about the satisfaction of hanging new curtains.
Who are the feminist writers (or what are the feminist works) that a lot of people don’t know about and may not have heard of, but that you wish had received more notability?
Vonda N. McIntyre—well known and loved in the SF community, but we need to find more ways to get her stories to people—especially young people—outside that community. She has important things to say about alternate ways of engaging Western science and technology—and about possible alternatives to Western technoscience itself! Important and timely today.
Do you feel that fantasy as a genre saw mirrored feminist progress with science fiction? And where does horror fall into all of this?
Whew, those are big topics that I take an entire semester to cover in my “Women in Speculative Fiction” class! The short answer is yes: women have always contributed to fantasy and horror, but the revival of feminism in the 1960s and 70s contributed to the rise of distinctly feminist identities and storytelling practices in both. This is especially evident in the fantasy of the 1970s—authors such as Tanith Lee turned the conventions of fantasy upside down with monstrous females who refuse to be pitied or saved by men and female knights who successfully negotiate both tribal and gendered politics; editors such as Jessica Amanda Salmonson compiled the first anthologies and first “herstories” of female fantasy writers. And of course, many of the women writing dystopian science fiction in the 1970s were essentially writing horror fiction as well—what could be more horrifying for women than tales of sexual enslavement (Lisa Tuttle’s “Wives”), forced breeding (Russ’s “When It Changed” and Wilhelm’s “The Funeral”), and female genocide (Racoona Sheldon’s “The Screwfly Solution”)?
Having said that, women such as Anne Rice and Angela Carter brought feminist sensibilities to their vampire and grim fairy tales, reworking the masculinist conventions of those genres to demonstrate the humanity of those who are so often dismissed as monsters while celebrating female desire and alternate models of sexuality. This trend comes to full fruition in Black women’s horror, beginning with Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred and Wild Seed around the same time.
Did science fiction cinema through the seventies trace a similar path as literature? Was it a mirror or was it left behind?
The 1970s was the decade when science fiction became Hollywood big business, with the proliferation of both what we now call “blockbuster” and “smart science fiction” films. Perhaps not surprisingly, “smart science fiction films”—that is, movies that revolved around big ideas as much if not more than action, including Omega Man, Silent Running, and Soylent Green—tended to be fairly pointed in their techno-social critique, much like New Wave science fiction.
The 1970s also marks the beginning of feminist science fiction filmmaking, with Dara Birnbaum’s experimental video, “Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman” (1978) and, if we’re willing to stretch things a bit to talk about “The Long 1970s,” Lizzie Borden’s feature-length film, Born in Flames (1983), both of which, like their print feminist counterparts, identify patriarchy as the root of technoscientific modernity’s ills.
Many of the big-budget blockbuster movies of the 1970s—including Star Wars, Alien, and Star Trek—also draw energy from the literary and political experiments of science fiction’s New Wave. Star Trek is easily the most properly science fictional and the most techno optimistic of the three, but was utterly groundbreaking in its own moment, as it was the first TV show and then film franchise to imagine a future where space work is a respectable, middle-class, professional option anyone can train for—and that the space professionals of the future will indeed come from all races, classes, and genders. Star Wars gave us technological spectacle like the pulp serials of yore, but also an urgent anti-Vietnam War message about what happens when you turn men into weapons. Meanwhile, the Alien franchise gave audiences their first sustained Hollywood critique of capitalist greed as it sacrifices human life in the name of corporate profit. And of course, all three of these franchises nodded to the feminist revival with their strong female protagonists.
But from the beginning, critique in those blockbuster films tended to be more muted than in their smart science fiction counterparts, in large part because blockbuster films are hugely expensive and expected to make back their financial investment very quickly. This often leads (and still leads) blockbuster directors to make their films as much of “open texts” as possible, diluting their techno-social messages to appeal to the widest audience possible; that is how people of all political stripes can identify with Star Wars’ rebels and against the Empire.
From the beginning, smart and blockbuster science fiction films tended to differ in their approach to genre as well. Smart science fiction films tended to be more fully realized genre films, following and adding to the conventions of science fiction created by the genre community itself. By way of contrast, blockbuster films, have, from the very beginning, mixed science fiction with other genres such as fantasy, gothic horror, and even the samurai tale. This resulted in groundbreaking aesthetic statements that appealed to a wide audience, but also often eclipsed any serious message within the films themselves.
One of the other things you talked about in the introduction was the role of anthologies as being important to the feminist movement in science fiction. Do you see anthologies as the same kind of space for sociocultural discourse and social change?
I think anthologies are more important spaces for sociocultural exploration than ever before. Anthologies first emerged in the US in the 1940s when science fiction, as a distinct popular genre with roots in turn of the century magazine culture, was suddenly old enough to have its own history, central enough to the American imagination to be of interest to many readers, and big enough that no one person could reasonably expect to read it all by themselves. From the beginning, these volumes enabled the science fiction community to create a history of its own, and they provided newcomers with a roadmap to what that community considered its finest and most important works of art.
Anthologies became central to science fiction in the 1970s because they were prestigious, selective, and well-paying. They were the premier spaces where New Wave and feminist science fiction authors published their most daring pieces of work. Even as they became the showcases for very new and different kinds of inward-oriented, technocritical speculative fiction, anthologies of this era continued to serve the same purposes they had in the past: as new groups of authors brought new thematic concerns and literary techniques to the science fiction community, anthologies became a way to make sense of these groups, mapping their histories and celebrating their most beautiful and challenging stories. This was especially important for feminist science fiction authors and editors such as Pamela Sargent, Vonda N. McIntyre and Susan Janice Anderson, and Virginia Kidd, who were writing the first histories of women in speculative fiction and connecting them to the literary projects of feminist science fiction authors actively transforming science fiction in their own moment.
Anthologies are more important than ever today because science fiction is in another moment of momentous growth. New digital technologies allow creators from around the globe to produce and share new kinds of science fiction content that weave together Western science fiction and other speculative storytelling traditions from around the world in surprising new ways, and new digital tools enable scholars such as myself—and many, many, many dedicated fans—to access the science fiction historical archive, recovering voices that were previously marginalized in or lost to science fiction history.
Once again, anthologies provide an ideal way to make sense of all these old and new voices, giving us a roadmap for new and newly recovered modes of science fiction storytelling. And of course, like their 1970s predecessors, contemporary science fiction anthologies often have explicit political agendas as well. Consider the Lightspeed Magazine “Destroy SF” series, which introduced readers to the best new voices in women’s, BIPOC, queer, and disabled people’s science fiction from around the world as a direct response to claims from conservative corners of the science fiction community that all these new identity groups and the aesthetics they brought with them to SF were destroying the fun of the genre.
This book is a haven for readers who love science fictional innovation. What are a few of your favorite science fictional innovations or ideas from these stories?
I have three favorites in this volume! First, I love the idea of modifying human bodies to fit the environment, rather than modifying the environment to meet all our demands, as in Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s “Frog Pond.” Second, I’m entranced with Vonda N. McIntyre’s proposition in “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand” that we can create new and better modes of medical care by partnering with nature rather than bending it to our will. Third and finally, I love Pamela Sargent’s vision of a future where time travel is so mundane that people use it for the simple but profound purpose of allowing kindred souls to meet. I desperately want to live in a future where we harness the power of space and time for love.
Having spent two anthologies looking at the history of women and feminism in science fiction, what is your hope for feminist science fiction moving forward from here?
I want to see feminist science fiction authors continue to expand their domain—or, more properly, domains. Early twentieth-century women authors were often quite public about their feminism, which they sometimes incorporated into their stories, but they represented themselves and were treated by the larger genre community as individual contributors whose primary mission was to help build their chosen genre. With the rise of domestic science fiction featuring children and housewife heroines after World War II, male authors, editors, and fans began to treat women as a thematically and aesthetically coherent group of writers who created either “sensitive stories from a woman’s point of view” or “heart-throb-and-diaper-fiction,” depending on your perspective.
With the revival of feminism in the 1970s, women—including women from those earlier generations—began to define themselves as a thematically, aesthetically, and politically coherent group who, as Joanna Russ put it, wrote stories about the kinds of female identity, community, and liberty that women often felt they lacked “in the here and now.” Now I want to see us start talking about many different “feminist science fictions” rather than one monolithic “feminist science fiction!”
This is precisely what we see in feminism itself these days: a recognition of “women” as a diverse group whose experiences of patriarchy are intersectional—that is, conditioned by gender, race, nationality, economic brackets, ability, age, and other identity markers. Story collections such as Ann VanderMeer’s Sisters of the Revolution and Lightspeed Magazine’s “Women Destroy SF” are excellent starting points for this more expansive approach to feminist speculative writing. And shameless self-promotion: I’m currently putting together an anthology of scholarly essays on gender in science fiction for Routledge Press that revolves around this same idea.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you, your work, or these anthologies?
Yes! Although I am listed as the sole editor for the FIF series, it really does take a village to produce these volumes. There has been a lot of talk about how both the Library of America and science fiction audiences tend to skew older these days, so my commissioning editor and I wanted to make sure these volumes ended up in the hands of the young people who are literally building our futures on the ground today. We decided the best way to do this was to create student research and design teams to help with story selection and volume production.
To that end, I’d like to shout out to Miranda Fyfe, Kaitlin Shea, and Cody Trawick, who did the biographical research for FIF1; to DJ Baker, who designed a special variant of the Library of America logo for the FIF series; and to Josie Baker, Kate Heffner, Olivia Kiklica, Jessica Taetle, and Edeliz Zuleta, who ranked stories, wrote biographies, and selected artwork for FIF2.
If you’d like to hear this latter group talk about what it means to be young women reading old feminist SF in an era when stories of better futures are more important than ever, I hope you will check them out on the Outer Dark #110, “The [SF] Future is Female!” at https://www.thisishorror.co.uk/tod-110-the-sf-future-is-female-the-1970s/.
Arley Sorg is co-Editor-in-Chief at Fantasy Magazine and a 2021 World Fantasy Award Finalist. He is also a finalist for two 2022 Ignyte Awards, for his work as a critic as well as for his creative nonfiction. Arley is senior editor at Locus Magazine, associate editor at both Lightspeed & Nightmare, and a columnist for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He takes on multiple roles, including slush reader, movie reviewer, and book reviewer, and conducts interviews for multiple venues, including Clarkesworld Magazine and his own site: arleysorg.com. He has taught classes and run workshops for Clarion West, Augur Magazine, and more, and has been a guest speaker at a range of events. Arley grew up in England, Hawaii, and Colorado, and studied Asian Religions at Pitzer College. He lives in the SF Bay Area and writes in local coffee shops when he can. Arley is a 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate.