Continuing our A-Z of women sf writers for International Women’s Day, we take up the list at:
It is purely a accident of the alphabet, but this tranche begins with writers who have made a particular impact with their short fiction. Kij Johnson’s novels have tended to be animal fantasies, but her short fiction has been more generically fluid and has won a variety of awards including three Nebulas, a Hugo, a World Fantasy Award and a Theodore Sturgeon Award. The best of these stories, including the sexually disorienting “Spar”, the disturbing “Ponies”, and extraordinarily rich and complex work like “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”, “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” and “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change”, are all included in her collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees.
Leigh Kennedy’s work tends to examine the cost of being an outsider. In The Journal of Nicholas the American a young man is driven to alcohol and almost to madness by his inherited ability to sense the emotions of people around him. In Saint Hiroshima an unlikely relationship is followed from the Cuban Missile Crisis up to the 1980s, but the two people concerned have already imaginatively experienced World War III. Though she has not produced a novel for some time, her short stories still appear intermittently, the most recent ones being collected in Wind Angels.
It is practically impossible to define a Kelly Link short story. It might start out as mainstream or as fantasy, but it will never remain there. Typically her stories drift through science fiction and horror and magic realism, and yet they feel whole, as if every change of pace or sudden about turn was exactly as it should be. The chances are you won’t be able to say exactly what happened in the story, but it will leave you breathless with excitement. Which is why Kelly Link is recognised as perhaps the finest short story writer working today. Pick up any of her collections for adults, Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners or Get in Trouble, or her YA collection, Pretty Monsters, and the only thing you will know for sure is that you won’t want to put the book down again.
Maureen F. McHugh
Like each of the writers we’ve covered so fr in this tranche. Maureen McHugh has written some stunning short stories. “The Lincoln Train”, included in her first collection, Mothers and Other Monsters, won both a Hugo and a Locus Award, while her more recent collection, After the Apocalypse, tells of different kinds of apocalypse, the best of which is probably an America devastated by climate change in “Useless Things”. But But it was with novels that she first made an impact, particularly her first novel, China Mountain Zhang, which won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, and which tells of a near future dominated by China. The way that characters in her apocalypse stories have to deal with desperately straitened circumstances is actually typical of most of her fiction, from the overcrowded future of Half the Day is Night, to the disastrous intervention in the ecology of a colony planet in Mission Child, and the various forms of enslavement experienced in Nekropolis.
Anyone who imagines that women writers cannot do hard sf or military sf simply hasn’t encountered Linda Nagata. Her early novels form a sequence, beginning with The Bohr Maker (which won a Locus Award) and concluding with Vast, which presents a grittily realistic future of nanotechnology and space elevators, androids and cryonics; the result is complex, wide-ranging and utterly compelling. Later novels, such as Memory, are even more complex; Memory being set upon an artificial planet whose inhabitants cannot even trust their own reality. Most recently she has turned to military sf with The Red, a trilogy consisting of First Light, The Trials and Going Dark, in which a squad of soldiers realise that they are pawns in an elaborate money-making game run by the defense industry, while a rogue AI starts to direct their fight back.
Rebecca Ore first attracted attention with a trilogy of novels beginning with Becoming Alien, in which a young man is uprooted from a xenophobic Earth and introduced in rapid succession to a multitude of alien races. That sense of a lone figure out of his place and time would become more focussed in later novels, particularly The Illegal Rebirth of Billy the Kid, in which Billy the Kid is genetically recreated and then used as a sex toy, and Gaia’s Toys, in which sex and genetic engineering are again the twin poles of a dystopian future. Over the last decade or so, Ore’s fiction has become more intermittent, but Centuries Ago and Very Fast is a collection of linked stories in which a gay, immortal stone age man is able to travel through time to visit key moments in homosexual history.
It is surely no coincidence how many women sf writers use the trappings of the genre to tell profoundly feminist stories. Thus, on the one hand the diptych of Speaking Dreams and Hand of Prophecy with which Severna Park began her career , are colourful planetary romances in which two civilisations battle for the chance to create a galactic empire. But within this the story focusses upon people who genetically engineered to become slaves, but one slave carries the secret that could lead to freedom. There’s a similar story of people held in thrall for sexual purposes underlying her stand-alone novel, The Annunciate, in which those who have used nanotechnology to enslave the less fortunate suddenly find themselves becoming the hunted. Her short story, “The Cure for Everything“, included in a collection of the same title, won the Nebula Award.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.