2019’s Rediscovery Vol 1: SF by Women 1958 – 1963 is an anthology of classic science fiction written by women. The managing editor is Gideon Marcus; editing and arrangement are thanks to A. J. Howells, Janice Marcus, and Erica Frank.
Each story is preceded by a short bio. Marcus has assembled a small army to comment on the stories. They are, in order of appearance:
Doctor Laura Brodian Freas Beraha
A. J. Howells
Foreword by Dr. Laura Brodian Freas Beraha
A brief discussion of women in science fiction.
Introduction by Gideon Marcus
What began as a desire to read a vast collection of old SF magazines bequeathed to Marcus by his father developed into Galactic Journey, a review blog in which the author slowly reviews his way through the SF of fifty-five years ago as though he were a contemporary. In the course of the project Marcus became aware of the many women authors now forgotten. This collection is his attempt to bring the forgotten back onstage.
Marcus also discusses SF by women in the context of an earlier era.
“Unhuman Sacrifice” (1958) by Katherine MacLean
A well-intended, self-appointed missionary decides to help an alien. He assumes that the alien is an ignorant native and plans to rescue the poor thing from what he believe to be a barbaric, pointless custom.
Persons outraged at the rise of modern-day criticisms of certain cultural infelicities might take note of this story.
“Wish Upon a Star” (1958) by Judith Merril
Aboard a generation ship, a young person chaffs against the sexist social hierarchy set in place at the beginning of the voyage. It’s possible society will change once they find a second Earth, but perhaps those in charge will simply refuse to land.…
The ship was sent out to find new worlds for overcrowded Earth, or to colonize what they found if it took too long. This does not seem like an effective response to overpopulation. On an unrelated note, this story was written seven years before Griswold v. Connecticut and fourteen years before Eisenstadt v. Baird.
A Matter of Proportion (1959) by Anne Walker
A veteran may win a new life, if only he can overcome a seemingly insurmountable impediment: a simple set of stairs.
This is a futuristic world with advanced technology but no sign of the ADA. Mind you, I know of at least one recent case where a person invited to speak on accessibility was faced with an inaccessible podium.
“The White Pony” (1960) by Jane Rice
The world may be very nearly lifeless, but humans do survive, and a large fraction of them still need love. Our bold protagonist believes he has found his one true love. But has she found hers?
Our bold protagonist thinks of his sweetie in affectionately condescending terms throughout the story, so it’s not much of a surprise to learn that he doesn’t always listen to her carefully.
“Step IV” (1960) by Rosel George Brown
A young woman learns the wisdom of her people — too late!
“Of All Possible Worlds” (1961) by Rosel George Brown
An explorer finds love and loss on an alien world.
“Satisfaction Guaranteed” (1961) by Joy Leache
Dispatched to Felix II to assist the natives of that world to find some good or service they can sell worth admitting them into the Federation, young, hapless loser Andy finds himself at a loss. If only he had more substantive assistance than Edith Featherpenny, a mere girl (but with nice legs)!
Andy is rather bitter about his long string of failures. Alas, the story makes it clear that he is not the victim of misfortune. Unless it counts as misfortune that he was never previously paired with a competent woman like Featherpenny, for whose work he could take credit.
It says a lot about Featherpenny’s self-control that she never stabs Andy in the face with a handy memo-spike.
“The Deer Park” (1962) by Maria Russell
A minister’s perfect world is disrupted by a barbarian envoy who has the temerity to reject his values.
“To Lift a Ship” (1962) by Kit Reed
Mary Lee’s efforts to use her unique talents to better herself inspire suspicion from those used to looking down on her.
“The Putnam Tradition” (1963) by Sonya Hess Dorman
No good could come of a mixed marriage, or so the family matriarch was convinced. Her great-granddaughter’s absence of tangible psychic powers seemed to be proof.…
Even if this wasn’t a Dorman, one way to tell that this was not going to be a grim screed about marrying those unlike one is that it was published in Cele Goldsmith’s Amazing and not John W. Campbell’s Analog.
“The Pleiades” (1963) by Otis Kidwell Burger
What irresistible diversions could the Seven Sisters offer a universe of jaded immortals?
“No Trading Voyage” (1963) by Doris Pitkin Buck
A poem about a cursed voyage.
“Cornie on the Walls” (1963) by Sydney van Scyoc
She was an unacceptable distraction from the house’s perfection; how could its guiding mind resist orchestrating a fatal accident? But the housekeeper’s demise did not bring the peace and happiness the house desired.
“Unwillingly to School” (1958) by Pauline Ashwell
Lizzie Lee, a plucky young girl with a gift for well intended interference and a propensity for lies and half-truths, claws her way out of her backwater world into a Terran university program for cultural engineering.
There were moments in this where Lizzie reminded me of Mattie Ross in Portis’ True Grit—specifically the Mattie of the horse- trading scene. Lizzie predates Mattie, so if there’s an influence, it is Ashwell to Portis. I read the fix-up in 1993 and didn’t care for it; now I think I misunderstood something and need to reread it.
I was astounded that in a story of this vintage, the question of whether it is ethical to tinker with societies without their permission came up. Lizzie Lee is not much inhibited by ethics as other people comprehend them, but at least the issue is acknowledged.
Hugo Awards Ballot (1958)
Something of which I was previously unaware: Pauline Ashwell and Paul Ash were finalists for Best New Author that year. They are, of course, the same person.
What it says on the tin.
About Journey Press
What it says on the tin.
There are a lot of present-day contributors to this anthology. It’s interesting to see the varying takes on the history of the Before Times. One can see a consensus shaping, but it clearly hasn’t taken its final form.
These stories reflect the genre conventions of their times. It is SOP to dispatch colony ships before ascertaining if there were planets in the target system. Explorers make wild assumptions about the beings they meet long before they know enough about the local ecosystems to understand what’s going on.
A number of the stories acknowledge that the first strategy is likely to result in high losses. The second… well, these stories are written by women in a time when folks like Don Draper probably thought they were pretty advanced in their treatment of women. One gets the sense the authors have extremely personal experience with a certain sort of person barging in, assuming they know best (or even enough to have an opinion), taking all the credit when things go well, and being very hurt and surprised when things don’t. The fact that this is still relevant suggests authors can plan on being able to use this idea for decades or centuries to come.
Kudos to the editing team for going beyond the usual selections for the classic authors featured herein. Most of these stories were entirely new to me.
An exemplary assortment of SF from half a century ago, this anthology should appeal to people familiar with the period and people unfamiliar with it wishing to gain familiarity. At least that’s my hope, as it will be the featured text in my upcoming series, Young People Read Old SF
Rediscovery is available for pre-order here. Unless it’s after August 30 when you read this, in which case it is available for order.