“Women of Wonder: The Classic Years.”

“What else had there been to do?
Bravery, courage–what was courage? She had never figured it out.
Not fearing, some said. Fearing yet going on, others said.
But what could one do but go on? Had one any real choice, ever?”

–from “The Day Before the Revolution” by Ursula K. Le Guin–

There are plenty of things I’ve been slacking on this year, but I’d have to say that the biggest one has been reviewing the books I’ve been reading. I used to this fairly regularly, but, lately, my time management skills have been abysmal and the stack of books I’ve finished but having reviewed has been growing taller since March. Recently, World Unknown Review author Robert Allen Lupton finished and published a new novel, Foxborn, and graced me with a copy for review. Which made me realize that I haven’t done any review for any of the books I’ve read so far this year. And it made me realize that I really need to get back on that wagon.

So here we go, back on the review train. Yes, I’m mixing my metaphors. Deal with it!

One of the first books I finished this year was Women of Wonder: The Classic Years, an anthology of science fiction written by women in the 1940s through the 1970s. Edited by Pamela Sargent, this was a real gem of a find for only $2 in a used book store, featuring some of the most iconic and influential names in science fiction: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, Vonda M. McIntyre, Ursula K. Le Guin. 21 in all, all women, all writing in the Golden Age of sci-fi. It was such a trip, seeing how the subject matter and the styles developed and grew through the year, reflecting not only the political and social landscape of the time they were published, but also with a distinctly feminist bend. These are women and stories that paved the way for women like me, stories like mine, so I felt just honored to discover these tales that should have been in my lexicon from day one.

“Terrans have something called tragedy.
It’s what one of them called being a poet in the body of a cockroach.”

–from “When I Was Miss Dow” by Sonya Dorman Hess–

There really weren’t any stories I disliked, but there were certainly stories that stood out for me as particularly good and meaningful and inspiring. “No Woman Born” by C.L. Moore is a familiar story, a classic tale with a modern bent, one that we’ve seen repeated many times since, of a man-made woman intended to fit the mold, only to find herself wanting to break it. “The Ship who Sang” by Anne McCaffrey also struck me, about ships being sentient and what that means for humanity. Sonya Dorman Hess’s “When I was Miss Dow” explores the idea of alien lifeforms taking the place of human people, from the perspective of the alien, which again takes into consideration what it means to be human. So many of these stories reflect on that idea, what is humanity, what are humans, and they do it so beautifully. They seem familiar, but that’s because these are the stories that brought these subjects to the forefront, leaders in presenting these questions in science fiction that gripped us and made us yearn for more. Shades of The Handmaid’s Tale ring in Kate Wilhelm’s “The Funeral.” We get the meta of a writer’s life in Eleanor Arnason’s “The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons,” which reminded me of another Margaret Atwood book, The Blind Assassin. And we end on such a beautiful, heart-rendering note with “View from a Height” by Joan D. Vinge, of a woman sent out into space with nothing but a broken heart and a pet parrot. The loneliness and the cycles of depression and hope are so staggering and real that it lingers with you for a long time, as nearly all these stories do.

“My God, they hated.
That’s who wins, who hates the most.”

–from “The Funeral” by Kate Wilhelm–

I’ve listed just a few highlights here, and I didn’t even cover all my favorites. And there are so many more stories, and the back of the book includes advice from the writers themselves to accompany their biographical information, which in itself is worth the price of admission. Any lover of science fiction would do well to track down this amazing collection of classic stories. I know my science fiction will be greatly improved by having met these women through their groundbreaking tales, and I’m excited to see what Women of Wonder emerge in the current era and beyond.

“Space is even emptier than anyone dreamed,
you could count on both hands the bits of cold dust or worldlet I’ve passed in all this time,
lost souls falling helplessly through near-perfect vacuum…all of us together.”

–from “View from a Height” by Joan D. Vinge–

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