Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is Tiara from The BiblioSanctum! She, Mogsy, and Wendy run an excellent blog—The BiblioSanctum is a great place for speculative fiction and graphic novel fans with lots of reviews, interviews, and discussions. It’s one of my favorite book blog discoveries of the last year or two due to the fantastic work these three are doing. Besides writing for The BiblioSanctum, Tiara also blogs at DigitalTempest.net.

The BiblioSanctum

Before beginning, I’d like to say that this post is equal parts a love letter to science fiction and a review of the book The Feminine Future: Early Science Fiction by Women Writers edited by Mike Ashley, which the publisher provided me in exchange for an honest review.

Science fiction has always been a huge part of my life. From grand stories about future civilizations with technology I could only imagine to your every day comics about mutants and superbeings who police their cities, these stories are rooted firmly in my heart.

While other little girls wanted to be princesses and frolic in medieval castles (not that there’s anything at all wrong with that either), I wanted to be some space pirate raiding unknown galaxies or maybe an intergalactic bioengineer creating the latest organic technovirus or maybe I wanted to be one of the first humans to make contact with a new alien race or maybe I just wanted powers like my favorite member of the X-Men (Storm). Science fiction opened up a world of endless possibilities for me. From a very early age, science fiction stories showed me there was nothing I couldn’t achieve and there was nothing I couldn’t be.

Science fiction isn’t just about radical stories set in the future with aliens and a lot of hard science talk that’s hard to follow. Science fiction can be as simple as writing about how a flu pandemic has devastated the earth as in Emily St. John Mandel’s beautifully tragic science fiction novel, Station Eleven, or something as bold as Lois McMaster Bujold’s Falling Free, part of Bujold’s space opera the Vorkosigan Saga, which follows a human space engineer as he navigates life and morality with a group of humanoids coldly classified as “post fetal experimental tissue cultures.”

I always cite my favorite Ray Bradbury quote when discussing science fiction and what it means to me:

“Science fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it’s the history of ideas, the history of our civilization birthing itself… Science fiction is central to everything we’ve ever done, and people who make fun of science fiction writers don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Science fiction is what inspired me to pursue tech related activities, hobbies, and studies, and there’s no end to my love of science and technology as we advance further and further. This love is something I’ve passed on to my own daughter as she gets starry-eyed about the world of Mass Effect‘s Commander Shepard or begs me to read Sanity & Tallulah: Plucky Teen Girl Space Detectives just one more time.

Diversity in the various medias I consume, from books to video games, is important to me, and as a mother of a young girl, it’s become doubly important to me that she sees representation of herself in these things, especially in areas considered “male dominated” as science fiction. I want her to see that women have always been involved in helping to shape the world of science fiction as a genre. I want her to know there have always been women who have gotten lost in the world of science fiction and that women will always have a growing impact on the genre in years to come, including her.

There seems to be some debate that women have only started writing science fiction in recent years discounting the effort of such women as Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein in 1818 or Jane Loudon who penned The Mummy!: A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century in 1827. While there may be fewer female writers in science fiction, there have still been considerable contributions made by women that are a foothold to modern writers, and they shouldn’t be ignored or forgotten for what they’ve contributed. That’s why it’s so important that we have books such as The Feminine Future that are dedicated to bringing women pioneers in the genre to the forefront.

The Feminine Future: Early Science Fiction by Women Writers

The Feminine Future is a collection of short stories by women writers mostly pre-1920. Each story gives a brief history of its author’s life, if she went on to write more science fiction (or just more works in general), and a brief glimpse of what the story is about. Many of these women, I hadn’t heard about before (like Mabel Ernestine Abbott) or I know them from other literary works (like Edith Nesbit who wrote many children’s books). These stories range from lighthearted future visions to stories that question the reliability, if not the sanity, of its character.

This book presented a wide range of themes and ideas. Along with the science fiction, you find many other literary elements weaved into these stories such as horror and the supernatural. There are stories that explore life happening in reverse with a deeply human explanation, predating F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Benjamin Button.” You have stories with the burgeonings of hard science stories such as Harriet Prescott Spofford’s “The Ray of Displacement” that toys with atomic theory. There are stories about experimental drugs creating superhumans (“The Third Drug” by Edith Nesbit), stories that explore Utopian feminist societies (“A Divided Republic” by Lillie Devereaux Blake), stories about suspended animation and telepathy (“The Painter of Dead Women” by Edna W. Underwood), stories about cyborgs (“The Artificial Man” by Clare Winger Harris), and even humorous stories about “Automatic-Electric Machine Servants” (“Ely’s Automatic Housemaid” by Elizabeth W. Bellamy).

My personal favorite in the bunch was a story called “The Automaton Ear” by Florence McLandburgh. This was a dark, lyrical story that asked, “What if sound is never lost?” The protagonist of this story believes that sound is diffused to a point where it is no longer able to be heard by the normal ear. Subsequently, he ignores the visual beauty of the world as he tries to regain these sounds. This story was an unsettling, psychological romp that left the readers to decide if the protagonist was brilliant or mad.

Despite how readers feel about the stories, there’s no denying that in this book you see hints of the modern stories that we’ve read, and it’s a shame that many of these writers’ offerings have been lost to time. Many of these women were considered bold and imaginative for the subjects they tackled in these stories, as many of these concepts were rarely explored or new. Any argument that women are not interested in reading or writing about science fiction is debunked a multitude of times by our historical sisters in this book. As with any anthology, the stories can be hit or miss, but I appreciate the effort made to bring these women, some very obscure, to the attention of science fiction fans.