Karen Joy Fowler, et al, editors,
The James Tiptree Award Anthology 2
(Tachyon, 2006)

Male, female and everything in between -- such is the spectrum of possibilities offered by this anthology, which features stories that either won or were shortlisted for the annual James Tiptree Jr. Award honoring those works that best expand our perceptions of gender.

James Tiptree Jr. was, of course, Alice Sheldon in verbal disguise, a woman who assumed a man's identity in order to write science fiction. I enjoyed reading biographer Julie Phillips's essay on Tiptree -- included in this anthology -- as well as a compelling letter written by Tiptree in 1972 in which she describes why she writes: "I want to make faces, sing songs before I disappear."

As with any collection, some stories are stronger than others, more evocative, more "literary." Others are more matter of fact, less concerned with verbal artistry than in presenting their dilemmas in direct, unadorned prose. For instance, K.N. Sirsi and Sandra Botkin's "Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation" mimics the formal language of a scientific paper while presenting two researchers' discovery of people born with a genetic disorder that makes them able to detect interesting gender variations. The formal tone is very believable, although an interesting divergence exists between the format of a scientific paper and the necessary dialogue and narrative description that kept me reading.

The best ones are "The Gift" by L. Timmel Duchamp and "Another Story or a Fisherman of the Inland Sea" by Ursula LeGuin. Both are, at their essence, stories in which unfamiliar worlds come alive through rich, carefully chosen language and characters. Unconventional love is another common element. The authors fully worked out their understanding of the philosophical and societal values of these worlds and employed them in the development of their narratives. Both tales awakened in me feelings of comprehension and empathy for their characters that lingered long after the last paragraphs. They even inspired me to sit down and work on a sci fi story of my own.

Such masterful creations make some of the other stories in this collection seem flat by comparison.

by Karen Trimbath
2 December 2006

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