Lisa Yaszek’s 2018 The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories By Women, From Pulp Pioneers To Ursula K. Le Guin is an anthology. As promised by the title, it contains twenty-five classic stories by women, published over a span of time stretching from the early days of commercial science fiction to the late 1960s.
Introduction • 2018 • Lisa Yaszek
A brief history of women in SF. It may astound the Guardian to discover that this history did not begin with the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
“The Miracle Of The Lily” • 1928 • Clare Winger Harris
The great war between insect and humanity ended with total victory over nature… and crushing ennui. At least until the messages from Venus arrived.
To save humanity, it was necessary to eliminate all life on the land aside from humans. This included plants, which must mean that in this setting, all the necessities of life can be produced artificially. It’s odd that this tech doesn’t seem to be used when humans are settling other worlds.
The story covers several millennia; none of the characters are developed in detail.
“The Conquest Of Gola” • 1931 • Leslie F. Stone
The matriarchs of Venus were not prepared for the barbaric Men of Earth. The Men of Earth proved even less prepared for what they found.
One has to wonder if a male author of this era would have ended such a tale with the Venusian matriarchs going all swoony over the hunky Men. That’s not the direction Stone takes.
“The Black God’s Kiss” • 1934 • C. L. Moore
To regain her fiefdom, Jirel would consort with the very demons of hell!
The first Jirel story, which establishes one of the basic rules of Jirel: Jirel always carries out her projects to the bitter end, regardless of personal cost.
“Space Episode” • 1941 • Leslie Perri
Their rocketship was disabled. It was up to one of the three space farers — two utterly useless men and a single brave woman fully aware of the consequences of her actions — to sacrifice their life to save the other two.
Take that, “The Cold Equations.”
That Only A Mother • 1948 • Judith Merril
Every mother’s baby is a perfect little gem, whether born in a pristine world or in a radioactive hellscape.
My Young People’s reactions to this story can be found here.
“In Hiding” • 1948 • Wilmar H. Shiras
A teacher grants an extraordinary young man the one thing the young man he needed but could not attain: hope.
I would be astounded if Stan Lee and Jack Kirby didn’t have Shiras’ “In Hiding” and its fix-up novel Children of the Atom in mind when they created the X‑Men. But the ultimate lesson of the Shiras stories is that neither segregation or conquest are the correct solutions for the super-children of tomorrow. This is not the lesson of the X‑Men.
Contagion • 1950 • Katherine Maclean
Spacefarers struggle to save their men from the dreadful Melting Disease. The cure is almost as dire as death itself.
The Inhabited Men • 1951 • Margaret St. Clair
Three castaways rescued from a cursed planetoid each discover the nature of that world’s curse, but none truly understand it.
Oddly reminiscent of Asimov’s 1950 “Green Patches,” although much more tragic.
“Ararat” • 1952 • Zenna Henderson
Refugees from space, the People conceal their true nature by avoiding the Outsiders, as they call the humans of Earth. There is one exception: lacking teachers of their own, they must accept an Outsider in their little schoolhouse. Until now, all the teachers have been elderly. Miss Carmody is young and beautiful, and Jemmy is immediately smitten. But should People marry Outsiders?
When this was published, many people regarded so-called mixed marriages with disgust. That possible reader reaction shaped the story, which in some ways has not aged well.
“All Cats Are Gray” • 1953 • Andrew North
A brilliant spinster and her cat contend against the secret horror that left a spaceship derelict.
Our hero is single because she is utterly convinced nobody aside from her cat could love someone with her particular handicap. [Rot13]
Andrew North is Andre Norton.
“Created He Them” • 1955 • Alice Eleanor Jones
She hates him and he hates her and necessity requires they stay together forevermore.
There’s actually no reason that the couple have to live together. True, they are interfertile, which is rare and valuable. But they don’t have to cohabit; artificial insemination is possible even without hi-tech and was when this was written. But the author wanted to write a story about domestic abuse….
“Mr. Sakrison’s Halt” • 1956 • Mildred Clingerman
An eccentric elderly lady searches for the forgotten stop where she hopes her lost beau and a better life wait for her.
Just in case anyone is arguing with someone convinced that SJWs are something new in SF: one of the lost Mr. Sakrison’s virtues is a distaste for the American racial caste system. As long ago as 1956, some authors knew that bigotry is bad!
“All The Colors Of The Rainbow” • 1957 • Leigh Brackett
Galactic emissaries to backwater Earth make the mistake of visiting Grand Falls, a town which still embraces the traditional American racial caste system. A town where the aliens’ technological and social superiority is nowhere near as important to the white locals as the green color of the aliens’ skin.
See previous note. Brackett’s take is far more brutal than Clingerman’s.
“Pelt” • 1958 • Carol Emshwiller
A hunter gets his just comeuppance, as seen by his faithful dog.
“Car Pool” • 1959 • Rosel George Brown
A harried mother agrees to add a delicate alien child to her car pool. Tragedy ensues.
The kids are casually violent towards each other, and the adults don’t bother to do anything about it. Ah, the 1950s, when major mayhem wouldn’t rate more than a stern lecture.
“For Sale, Reasonable” • 1959 • Elizabeth Mann Borgese
A human eager for employment in a world dominated by automation does their best to prove that affordably priced humans are a reasonable alternative to machines.
This may have been inspired by Norbert Weiner’s The Human Use of Human Beings, specifically the passage that reads “Any labor which competes with slave labor must accept the economic conditions of slave labor.”
“Birth Of A Gardener” • • Doris Pitkin Buck
A physicist’s last words to his wife were needlessly cruel. Widowed, he is given a second chance to be with his wife, thanks to the universe next door.
The universe next door is made of antimatter, but for some reason the mass of the (anti) proton is different. The potential for total annihilation is a minor side issue, however. What matters is that the protagonist is a complete asshole who deserves everything that happens to him.
“The Tunnel Ahead” • 1961 • Alice Glaser
Even in an America with a billion people, families can afford a day at the beach … provided they are willing to dare the Tunnel between their home and the beach.
Because in pre-sexual-revolution America, it seemed possible that a US crushed by an unending baby boom would refuse birth control while practicing random mass murder.
“The New You” • 1962 • Kit Reed
The New Her had only one problem: what to do with the Old Her?
READ THE FUCKING MANUAL FIRST, PEOPLE.
“Another Rib” • 1963 • John Jay Wells & Marion Zimmer Bradley
Reduced by a space kerblooie to a handful of men, the last remnants of humanity faced a dreadful choice: submit to extinction or submit to the conversion of at least one of them to female!
Told from the point of view of the crew member with the strongest objection to the idea. That said, one could make a case that any anthology with an MZB story in it is one story too long.
“When I Was Miss Dow” • 1966 • Sonya Dorman
A shape-changing alien does her very best to conform to human expectations.
“Baby, You Were Great” • 1967 • Kate Wilhelm
How far will producers go to keep their legions of voyeuristic viewers happy? As far as it takes.
My Young People’s reactions to this story can be found here.
“The Barbarian” • 1968 • Joanna Russ
He was almost a god; she was a barbarian warrior. Who would prevail?
I was reminded of the Ana Mardoll collection I reviewed earlier this month: bragging about what cannot kill you only draws attention to that which can.
“The Last Flight Of Dr. Ain” • 1969 • James Tiptree, Jr.
A well-meaning scientist travels the world, sharing his gift with everyone he meets.
“Love Is the Plan the Plan is Death”
Not every Tiptree story ends in tragedy and or death, but it’s a safe bet that any randomly chosen Tiptree will end in tragedy and or death.
“Nine Lives” • 1969 • Ursula K. Le Guin
The clone workers functioned as a perfect team, even in death. But what is to be done with the sole survivor?
Self-explanatory. The author does not paper over MZB’s despicable behaviour.
Sources & Acknowledgments
I had already read a number of these stories. In most cases, I found them in single author collections. I was happy to revisit many of them.
I was a little worried that the collection would recapitulate earlier anthologies like Women of Wonder, Amazons!, and Millennial Women. If you’re going to choose the best stories written by women, wouldn’t you end up with a lot of repeats? I am happy to say that this was not the case. The Future is Female builds on the foundation of the earlier collections; it does not recapitulate them. Unlike some other themed anthologies I could name (harrumph, ahem). Of course Yaszek was able to choose from a large body of work, work that the previous anthologies had not exhausted.