Book Reviews, Short Stories

Jirel of Joiry and the uncomfortable roots of feminist fantasy

Jirel of Joiry, an honorable, red-haired, female clone of Conan the Barbarian, could be considered the foundation for all ‘strong female characters’ in genre fiction today, but only in the most shallow sense of the term.

I appreciate that C.L. Moore broke ground in 1930s sword and sorcery, a hyper-masculine genre full of hyper-masculine (read: shitty) men, but any attempt to combat the intense sexism of the genre only goes as far: C.L. Moore was objectively a woman, and Jirel objectively a female character who sometimes swung a sword and killed things.

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Book Reviews, Novels, Short Stories

The Tiptree Awards: Star Songs of an Old Primate (1978)

Star Songs of an Old Primate was the first collection of short stories published by James Tiptree, Jr. after the unmasking of Alice B. Sheldon in 1978. It remains out of print today, but five of its seven stories — “And So On, and So On” (1971), “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” (1974), “A Momentary Taste of Being” (1975), “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” (1976), and “She Waits for All Men Born” (1976) — are currently available in the best-of anthology, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.

I just want to focus on the two unique stories to this collection. For my responses to the five other stories, see my review of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.

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Book Reviews, Novels, Short Stories

The Tiptree Awards: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990)

I won’t call her “James Tiptree, Jr.,” a name that tolls off the tongue like mud. Her name was Alice Sheldon. Alice Bradley Sheldon. She’s no longer hiding in a genre ruled by masculinity, so we could and should forego the dated sexism, and celebrate her work and her ideas and her mind as they were.

I rarely fall for short stories, so I approached this collection with trepidation, digging through lists of classic sci-fi authors associated with the cyberpunk movement. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever wasn’t just a pleasant surprise, but a constant state of shock and awe. With a fraction of the word count, Sheldon consistently put her peers to shame, creating believable characters of every gender and background, characters that oozed complexities, insecurities, prejudices, and all the signs of wonderful fiction.

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Book Reviews, Short Stories

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream about how absolutely terrible Harlan Ellison’s stories are

It’s not possible to read Harlan Ellison’s stories without thinking about Harlan Ellison the personality — he’s made a reputation marketing that personality as an unstoppable mixture of pretension and insincerity.

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Book Reviews, Novels, Short Stories

Stephen King’s Four Past Midnight (1990)

Four Past Midnight is a wonderful collection of four ‘short’ novels Stephen King wrote in the late ’80s. They include the Langoliers, a light-hearted adventure romp that revels in its own ridiculousness; Secret Window, Secret Garden, the closing of a thematic trilogy King wrote about the power of storytelling; the Library Policeman, in which a man is haunted by his childhood fears, traumas, and a monster feeding on the emotional turmoil of children; and the Sun Dog, a lead-in to Castle Rock’s final moments in Needful Things, and in which a demonic monster works its way across dimensions through a Polaroid camera.

Most of the four novels are wonderful, among my favorite work from Stephen King even under the weight of their own cheesiness and fluff, particularly…

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Book Reviews, Novels, Short Stories

Cyberpunk Roots: S.P. Somtow’s Mallworld (1981)

Mallworld is a brilliant playground for stories. Between 1979 and ’81, S.P. Somtow published a slew of seven stories set in the titular Malllworld, a mall 30 kilometers long situated near Jupiter,  floating in the void. Somtow’s vision of consumerism gone amok was simultaneously ahead of its time and forgettable. His ideas helped lay the groundwork for what would become cyberpunk (and the Mall of America): A grimy marriage of technology and class division, with extensive corporate intrigue and rebellious no-care attitude.

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Book Reviews, Non-fiction, Short Stories

Octavia E. Butler’s Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995)

Bloodchild and Other Stories was my introduction to Butler’s writing, and it reflects a masterful (and masterfully-thoughtful) writer. This collection features every short story — and two essays — that Octavia Butler wrote between 1971 and 2003. At just over 200 pages, it’s not many, and she herself admits to not being a writer or fan of short stories in her comments.

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