Review of Lightspeed Magazine, June 2014: Women Destroy Science Fiction! Special Issue by

Book cover for Lightspeed Magazine, June 2014: Women Destroy Science Fiction! Special Issue

I actually don’t read Lightspeed all that much, so it’s hard for me to evaluate this special edition in that context. All I can say is that this is packed full of good content. In addition to original stories there are reprints, some good flash fiction (one of which is my all-time favourite of the volume), non-fiction discussions and essays, and a novel excerpt. It’s good times.

I didn’t like every, or maybe even most, of the original short stories. I’m starting to think that’s probably a good thing when reading a multi-author anthology. If I liked every story, then the anthology would only appeal to people with very similar tastes to mine. Rather, this indicates that the anthology might appeal to a broader audience, some of whom will have very different tastes from me and consequently like different work. Here’s a few highlights, according to my tastes.

Rhonda Eikamp’s “The Case of the Passionless Bees” was a cool take on the Sherlock Holmes mythos that I had never seen before. She swiftly captures the delicious irony that Holmes, like many great detectives, is so good at his job because he is so close to that line (though in this case, because Holmes is a robot, there is an emotional twist to that line of reasoning).

“In the Image of Man,” by Gabriella Stalker, posits an empty world in which we are reduced to arcologies within shopping centres, and suddenly any faith feels new and exciting.

Charlie Jane Anders once again demonstrates her ability to use strange technology to explore the boundaries we create in our relationship with “The Unfathomable Sisterhood of Ick.” Imagine you could download memories of your girlfriend’s ex so you don’t have to waste time learning her likes and dislikes? Now imagine your best friend does this with your ex’s memories to get closer to you. Yeah.

And “A Burglary, Addressed By a Young Lady,” by Elizabeth Porter Birdsall was just alt-Victoriana fun. I would love to read a novel set in a universe where upper class women have to burgle houses as part of their coming out into society.

Of the reprints, I particularly enjoyed the first and last: “Like Daughter,” by Tananarive Due, and “The Cost to Be Wise,” by Maureen F. McHugh.

Perhaps unusually, the flash fiction section was my favourite. I am not a big short story reader, and even less so flash fiction (though I suspect that’s more a matter of opportunity rather than preference). So I really appreciated being fed some as a kind of coffee break between the short fiction main course and the non-fiction dessert. I enjoyed pretty much every piece.

Carrie Vaughn’s “Salvage,” is interesting because it belies the typical idea that overt conflict must drive a story. Stuff happens, but there is little conflict. It’s an almost entirely descriptive story driven by the protagonist’s narration. The only conflict is in the emotional fatigue of the protagonist.

“The Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced” is a nice little time travel piece from Sarah Pinsker. (I know Sarah from here on Goodreads, and she is good people. But I single it out because I have a soft spot for fun takes on time travel that resonate in an emotional way.)

By far my favourite piece in the entire collection, however, is “#TrainFightTuesday“ by Vanessa Torline. As with many of the pieces in this collection, you can find it online—in this case, on Lightspeed’s website. Go read it—it’s flash, so it’s short. Enjoy.

Plenty of authors embrace the new wave of epistolary writing that email, blogs, and now Twitter offer up. Torline is not the first, nor will she be the last, to experiment with storytelling in micro-blogging form. But she just does it so well. “#TrainFightTuesday” is a pitch-perfect recounting of a bystander’s observations of a superhero/supervillain showdown in a city where this is the norm. Torline manages to make this world utterly convincing in a short piece of fiction. I like the idea of postmodern superhero fiction, but so far, most of the postmodern superhero novels I’ve read don’t quite work. Maybe shorter fiction is the way to go. Anyway, I was laughing out loud through most of this piece.

There is some good stuff in the non-fiction as well. I liked hearing some perspectives on how the field has changed from people like Ursula K. Le Guin and Nancy Kress in “Women Remember: A Roundtable Interview”. I think it’s important to remember that women have always been a part of science fiction. As exciting and excellent as it is to see so many new women authors receiving accolades and acclaim, we should also celebrate those whose voices stretch back into the decades.

That’s where the personal essays come into the picture. They are short, poignant, and like the rest of the collection, diverse and uneven and of varying appeal. This is what makes them valuable, particularly to me, as a man. I love science fiction, but I am lucky enough that, as a result of the way I perform gender, I have never had my SF fan or geek credentials questioned. No one has ever barred me from science fiction and said I couldn’t read it or write it or attempted to circumscribe whether I could write it “soft” or “hard” (how I hate those designations now). So I can mansplain about misogyny and sexism and barriers all I want … but at the end of the day, it’s academic in the most visceral sense, because the truth is, I just don’t know.

These essays, then, can help me understand, at least a little bit, what it’s like. Because it’s tempting—and the more privilege you have, the more tempting it becomes—to think that we have succeeded in equality for women, or for minorities, simply because authors who fall into those categories are more numerous and more visible. These stories make it clear that’s not the case. And while not every woman experiences discrimination in the same way or to the same extent, it’s there. And for those of us who identify as men, our duty is to listen to women when they tell us about that discrimination and believe them, instead of just shaking our heads and telling them to stop being so hormonal and worrying about nothing.

Do we even need an all-woman special edition of a science-fiction magazine?

The fact that some people are even asking the above question seriously in 2014 shows that we do.

That Women Destroy Science Fiction! happens to be a wonderful exercise in giving women SF authors voice and space doesn’t necessarily make it good. (The wonderful stories it contains take care of that.) It’s possible to laud this effort for its aims even if one doesn’t enjoy many of the stories. Likewise, it’s possible to enjoy the stories herein even if one isn’t as convinced as I am about the wider sociopolitical issues that led to its existence. (And if that’s the case, I hope you read the non-fiction section with an open mind and allow yourself to listen to the wider discussion, of which this work is only a small part.)

Really though, at the end of the day, we won’t truly be able to call ourselves equal and unbiased until we get a special edition of Lightspeed authored entirely by robots.

We can call it Our Gracious Machine Overlords Destroy Science Fiction!.

Robot rights: it’s the issue of 2015, people.

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