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Women of Wonder: The Classic Years — Pamela Sargent
Women of Wonder, book 4

Classic-Years

The first three Women of Wonder anthologies came out over a span of three years in the 1970s. Seventeen years would pass before the next (and to date, final) pair: Women of Wonder: The Classic Years and Women of Wonder: The Contemporary Years. The two books were published in July and August of 1995. Two of my three sources say The Classic Years was published first.

The first issue that I have to deal with in this review concerns


the quite reasonable decision Sargent made to incorporate material from the first three books in this collection. This volume came out a generation after the first three; many readers would not have seen the first three books or having read them might not have copies; in many ways this is less a continuation of the 1970s series and more of a reboot. While I don’t in principle object to rereading and re-reviewing previously reviewed material, I don’t feel like doing it within a month of having read and reviewed the material the first time. Instead, I will provide links to the previous reviews.

I do have one complaint about the book, which is that the cover is by a man, Michael Koelsch. There are many qualified women artists in the field; it would have suited the theme of the series better if the cover had been by a woman. Margaret Brundage, for example, drew many covers for Weird Tales in the 1930s; she’s definitely of the right period, although perhaps too focused on damsel in distress art to be appropriate.

~oOo~

“Introduction (Women of Wonder, the Classic Years)” • essay by Pamela Sargent:

This twenty page introduction is another history of women in SF. While it is shorter than earlier introductions and incorporates older material, there’s the whole post-Disco Era history of women in SF for Sargent to cover.

Sargent notes that Norton became the first female Grand Master [link] in 1983; what she doesn’t mention is that Norton was still the only female Grand Master by 1995. Norton would not be joined by a second female grandmaster for nearly a decade after the publication of Women of Wonder: The Classic Years. SFWA appointed only one woman Grandmaster in the 20th century. If we include recent, 21st century Grandmasters, they total to only four of the thirty-one Grandmasters. My take on it is that the SFWA is slow to recognize notable women.


No Woman Born • (1944) • novelette by C. L. Moore:

Following a horrific accident, a brilliant scientist saves the brain of Deirdre, “the loveliest creature whose image ever moved along the airwaves” by placing it within a robot body of advanced design. Only when it is too late to undo this does it occur to him to wonder how the poor woman will deal with her transformation from beautiful woman to something less than human. It turns out that this is exactly the wrong way to think about the situation.

Read without any real-world context, the story is heartening: Deirdre embraces her new form. She believes that she is unique but certainly not lesser. The author, C.L. Moore herself, was not so fortunate. Her fate, essentially the opposite of Deidre’s, was bouncing around in the back of my head when I read this. From Wikipedia:

She had ceased to attend the meetings when […] she was nominated to be the first woman Grand Master of the Science Fiction Writers of America; the nomination was withdrawn at the request of her husband, Thomas Reggie, who said that the award and ceremony would be at best confusing and likely upsetting to her, given the progress of her disease. That caused dismay among the former SFWA presidents, for she was a great favorite to receive the award.

Moore died after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s in 1987.


“That Only a Mother” • (1948) • short story by Judith Merril:

Reviewed in Women of Wonder.


Contagion • (1950) • novelette by Katherine MacLean:

Reviewed in Women of Wonder.


The Woman from Altair • (1951) • novelette by Leigh Brackett:

A starfarer returns from the stars with an exotic new bride; her arrival signals … DEATH!

You know how in a lot of stories, the native girl is just thrilled to be married off to the bold white explorer? This isn’t one of those stories; she’s not happy and he deserves everything that happens to him (although the bystanders don’t).


“Short in the Chest” • (1954) • short story by Margaret St. Clair:

In a war-torn future where inter-service rivalry is mitigated by mandatory sexual liaisons between men and women of different services, one hard-working robot does all it can to ensure the happiness of the people it counsels.

I was a bit surprised to see an SF story from 1954 that explicitly acknowledged sex.


“The Anything Box” • (1956) • short story by Zenna Henderson:

Acting out of the best of intentions, a teacher shatters a student’s dearest illusion; the ramifications of her actions occur to the teacher almost too late.

It’s a good thing for the teacher that she is in a Henderson story. She can reasonably hope for redemption and reconciliation after making the mistake that she does.

Huh. I would have sworn anything this was a People story and that I had reviewed it in January. Nope. I must have remembered it from that time it somehow managed to end up in a Gordon Van Gelder anthology despite having been written by a woman.


“Death Between the Stars” • (1956) • short story by Marion Zimmer Bradley:

Despite the social barriers between humans and telepathic aliens, a woman agrees to share her cabin with an alien desperate to get home before it dies. The unfortunate alien dies on route; its death prompts a marvelous and unexpected discovery.

Well, marvelous for the aliens at any rate…


The Ship Who Sang • [The Ship Who …] • (1961) • novelette by Anne McCaffrey:

Reviewed in Women of Wonder.


“When I Was Miss Dow” • (1966) • short story by Sonya Dorman:

Reviewed in Women of Wonder.


“The Food Farm” • (1967) • short story by Kit Reed:

Reviewed in Women of Wonder.


“The Heat Death of the Universe” • (1967) • short story by Pamela Zoline:

Reviewed in New Women of Wonder.


The Power of Time • (1971) • novelette by Josephine Saxton:

Reviewed in More Women of Wonder.


“False Dawn” • (1972) • short story by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro:

Reviewed in Women of Wonder.


“Nobody’s Home” • (1972) • short story by Joanna Russ:

Reviewed in Women of Wonder.


The Funeral • (1972) • novelette by Kate Wilhelm:

Reviewed in More Women of Wonder.


Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand • [Snake] • (1973) • novelette by Vonda N. McIntyre

Reviewed in Women of Wonder.


The Women Men Don’t See • (1973) • novelette by James Tiptree, Jr.:

Reviewed in New Women of Wonder.


“The Warlord of Saturn’s Moons” • (1974) • short story by Eleanor Arnason:

Reviewed in New Women of Wonder.


“The Day Before the Revolution” • [Hainish] • (1974) • short story by Ursula K. Le Guin:

Reviewed in More Women of Wonder.


The Family Monkey • (1977) • novella by Lisa Tuttle:

A woman resists both society’s demands that she marry and her father’s demands that she devote her life to caring for him hand and foot. An alien rescued and hidden from xenophobic locals proves to be as close to a soulmate as she will ever find. She intends to stay with him, come what might. She does not foresee the possibility that her lover’s people might be as conventional and hidebound as her own people are. [**too many owns]

Yeah, generally it’s not a good sign as far as interstellar relations go if a story is set in the American South. The alien runs a good change of being lynched by angry townsfolk.

Tuttle is one of those authors whose other work I really need to read. I read this in the New Voices series (another fine anthology series I might review some day) and I don’t think I’ve ever read a Tuttle story that I hated. Still unread: ten of her eleven novels, also six story collections.


“View from a Height” • (1978) • short story by Joan D. Vinge:

Cut off from society thanks to her lack of a functioning immune system, a woman finds purpose in life by serving as the sole crew of an infra-stellar probe on a one-way sub-light mission to the interstellar deeps. Her decision to accept this solitary life is thrown into question when word comes from Earth that there is now a cure for her condition.

So, remember how when I reviewed Vinge’s “Eyes of Amber” in New Women of Wonder I mentioned the Rusting Bridges Rule?

There’s a rule I used to call The Niven Rule but which I just now have decided to call the Rusting Bridges rule. It came to me after reading Niven’s “All The Bridges Rusting.” In this story, humans have by the early 21st century explored the Solar System and sent not just one but two crewed ships to Alpha Centauri … despite which the characters moan endlessly about the dire state of the space program. “Eyes of Amber” would be another example of the Rusting Bridges Rules: No matter how much the space program you actually have has achieved, whether it’s first contact with aliens or trips to nearby stars, it can never have achieved as much as the space programs you can imagine would have achieved in its place, given that imaginary programs aren’t limited by issues of politics, funding, or engineering.

View from a Height” is another example: this is a world where humans have launched a ship into interstellar space but as far as the protagonist, WHO LIVES ON A STARSHIP, is concerned, the space program is underfunded and disappointing.


“About the Authors (Women of Wonder, the Classic Years)” • essay by uncredited:

This is exactly what you would expect, a series of short biographies.


“About the Editor (Women of Wonder, the Classic Years)” • essay by uncredited:

This too is exactly what you would expect.


“Recommended Reading: Science Fiction by Women, 1818-1978” • essay by Pamela Sargent:

This is one of the highlights of the anthology. It’s a twelve page list of recommended works, arranged by author/editor. It’s true that it’s mainly a list without commentary but that only means there’s room for me to track down as many books on this list as I can, in order to review them.

Had I been the publisher, I would have put this reading list before the biographical bits. Placed as it is, it is easy to overlook.


~oOo~

If I had not just read the first three anthologies, this would have been a very fine read indeed. Even having methodically reread the series over the last month, I thought this stood up very well, I heartily recommend it to readers. Unfortunately it is out of print. Used bookstores, online and bricks and mortar, are your friends in this matter, as are libraries.

The used copy I purchased is a former library copy and while it was in acceptable shape, I can tell that in its time this was a well-read book. That pleases me. Surely some publisher can take on the job of reprinting this series or at least rebooting it?


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