Vonda N. McIntyre and Susan Janice Anderson’s 1976 Aurora: Beyond Equality is a science fiction anthology that aims at collecting non-sexist SF. All the stories and essays are original to this collection.
Feminism and Science Fiction: Beyond BEMs and Boobs • essay by Susan Janice Anderson1
Anderson, a teacher, wanted to feature non-sexist SF in a course, but couldn’t find sufficient material. Thehe solution: currate an anthology that met her teaching needs.
Although not named, the commentary on the varieties of sexist SF available — which is to say, almost all the SF then on offer — references the story “Queen Bee” as an extreme example of what was acceptable at the time.
“Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!” • short story by Raccoona Sheldon
A harmless madwoman wanders modern-day America, convinced that she lives in a post-apocalyptic world in which everyone and everything is essentially friendly. This is not the case. Alas.
At this time, it was not known that Sheldon was Tiptree.
Hands up, everyone who is surprised that optimism is a terminal medical condition for a Tiptree Sheldon character?
Houston, Houston, Do You Read? • novella by James Tiptree, Jr.
An all-male crew of American astronauts are catapulted through time to an era in which male-female discord has vanished. How this was achieved is revealed only slowly. The men are the product of an ancient era. How can the utopia of tomorrow possibly integrate these guys?
At this time, it was not known that Tiptree was Sheldon.
Hands up, everyone who is surprised that Tiptree’s solution is to just kill people deemed surplus to needs? This is not restricted to men, although the male astronauts are the only murder victims. The world population is a few million, mainly descended from eleven thousand survivors of a narratively convenient sterility plague. The future people think they saved “all the major races” but admit they’re not sure what was lost.
“Have we tried killing all the men?” does not quite conform to my notion of what a non-sexist text should be.
“The Mothers, the Mothers, How Eerily It Sounds” • short story by Dave Skal
In a post-apocalyptic America, a woman is torn between a local culture that is trying to live in a transformed world and her culture’s ideas of the way things should work.
Her culture … well, her domineering male lover, who is of the “we the strong have the right to do whatever we wish to the weak” school of thought. He may have reconsidered this when he discovered he was the weak one, right before he died.
I could complain about two stories in a row in which the male problem is solved by killing the pesky critters. However, a tough-minded man who makes tough-minded decisions and who is killed by his next target is pretty funny.
The Antrim Hills • novelette by Mildred Downey Broxon
An Irish woman sets out to rescue her husband from the Fairies. She succeeds but it takes longer than she expected.
If I ever need a story illustrating fantasy’s misuse of Irish history, this will do nicely: paganism, Catholicism, and the recent Troubles are all presented in the most clichéd manner possible
Is Gender Necessary? • essay by Ursula K. Le Guin
The genesis of The Left Hand of Darkness . Le Guin later decided that her thought process (where gender was concerned) had been flawed.
“Corruption” • short story by Joanna Russ
A covert agent plays a very long game in the facility he has infiltrated. Too long, perhaps.
A second story about covert agents eventually siding with the people on whom they are spying. It would be easy to put together an anthology of such stories.
“Here Be Dragons” • short story by P. J. Plauger
Cunning appropriate technologies allow farmers to circumvent restrictions imposed by their tech wizard overlords.
Narrow gender roles are but one way the rulers hobble themselves and others.
“Why Has the Virgin Mary Never Entered the Wigwam of Standing Bear?” • short story by Craig Strete
A bitter and disapproving commentary on white folk’s effects on native peoples, from the perspective of a native woman who may be a goddess.
Woman on the Edge of Time • novelette by Marge Piercy
An excerpt of the then-upcoming novel, this depicts a utopian world as seen in visions by the inmate of a 20th mental asylum. The reality of the visions may be open to question, but the effect on the woman having them is very real.
Other Works of Interest • essay by uncredited
A list of works of interest to the reader of this book, a fair number of which I have not read.
About the Authors (Aurora: Beyond Equality) • essay by uncredited
What it says on the tin.
A number of these stories and novellas are beyond obscure. Others are frequently collected classics. What the stories don’t seem do in any consistent way, the Pierce, the Strete, and the Le Guin essays aside, is explore “the future of human potential after the equality between the sexes has been achieved,” which is, after all, the ostensible point of the anthology.
Several tales do critique sexism (rather tepidly, in the case of the Plauger, but points for a steadfastly Analog author for doing it at all). I also note that the stories feature women with agency and who are something other than housewives and secretaries. But it seemed to me that the anthology as a whole is not as good as one might expect.
Pity. The anthology is worth a look if you can find a copy, but (IMHO) it did not achieve its goal.
Aurora: Beyond Equality is out of print.
- BEM = Bug-Eyed Monster