Mike Resnick, editor,
Women Writing Science
Fiction as Men

(DAW, 2003)

Not the catchiest title going, a dreadful cover, a less than stellar line up of writers ... but with some very good stories from authors Linda J. Dunn, Susan R. Matthews and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Women Writing Science Fiction as Men is a collection that's worth the seven-dollar price tag. Then again, it could have been much better.

Editor Mike Resnick is famous for helping to keep the science fiction short-story market alive via his mostly low-concept anthologies. He's brought us Alternate Presidents, Alternate Warriors, Alternate Tyrants, etc. He's the editor responsible for Whatdunits, Sherlock Holmes in Orbit and a whole slew of books in which the stories range in quality to such a degree that it suggests very little true editorial input.

For this anthology Resnick decided to mine SF's sexist past for a premise. Years ago many of science fiction's female authors needed to work under male (James Tiptree Jr.) or neuter (Andre Norton, C.L. Moore) pseudonyms in order to be published. Almost invariably these authors also had to anchor their stories to a male protagonist in order to sell their fiction. So Resnick asked a group of newer female writers to work within similar gender-based constraints. He asked them to build stories told from the first-person, male perspective. His second instruction to his writers was, "if changing the narrator from Victor to Victoria didn't invalidate the story we didn't want it." Women Writing Science Fiction as Men is the result.

A few of the stories included here, while they are indeed first-person male, do not strike me as likely to have been written by a man. Leah A. Zeldes' story "Big" concerns a guy who, after responding to one of those pervasive "bigger penis" e-mail solicitations, runs into huge problems. Meanwhile, Laura Resnick's James Bond spoof, "Licensed to Reclaim," has its chauvinist protagonist nearly lose his manhood before being rescued by a far more capable female character. Considering that SF was for far too many years populated with two-dimensional female characters created by male authors, the fact that these authors chose to turn that situation on its head shouldn't be surprising. But it still makes these stories as unimpressive as the hoary old cliches they're mocking. One example of this simplistic approach to Resnick's directive would have been more than enough.

I also found it a little disappointing that so many of the writers chose to make their quintessential male characters either cops or killers. But there are some gems in this anthology as well.

The first really terrific piece in Women Writing Science Fiction as Men is "Blackbird, Fly!" and it's a shame it doesn't appear earlier in the book. Then again, five of the six stories that precede it would have seemed even weaker in its wake. "Blackbird, Fly!" is the story of a pilot who gives up his dreams for his family but manages to reclaim his passion and his relationship with his son after his marriage collapses. The relationships that author Linda J. Dunn envisions between her protagonist, John Wagner, and his wife and child are about as complex as the short-story form allows. The second outstanding story is Susan R. Matthews' "Thumping the Weaver" in which the author drops the reader into the midst of a world that greatly exceeds the boundaries of its 20 pages. As I read the story I knew its setting had been created in far greater detail than I was seeing. And while the introduction points out that "Thumping the Weaver" takes place in a world Matthews has built for a series of novels, it takes a good deal of skill to convey everything necessary about that world while convincingly implying the rest.

One rung down, the stories by Kristine Kathryn Rusch ("Homecoming"), Mercedes Lackey ("Sweeps Week"), Jennifer Robinson ("Jesus Freaks") and Severna Park ("Call For Submissions") are all well worth reading though not quite as strong as the Matthews and Dunn pieces. But what is Severna Park's story doing here? "Call For Submissions" is a first-person female story. It's good but it just doesn't fit the premise of this anthology.

One has to applaud Mike Resnick's willingness to invest in newer authors. But it would be even more valuable to the science-fiction field if he took the time to do more than toss out story ideas and dole out checks. After all, Resnick's own award-winning stories such as "Kirinyaga" and "Bully" prove that he knows a thing or two about constructing powerful short fiction. Many of the authors featured in Women Writing Science Fiction as Men would have been better served by a firmer editorial hand.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 13 December 2003

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