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The First Tiptree Award Winner Review

A Woman of the Iron People

By Eleanor Arnason  

10 Aug, 2015

James Tiptree, Jr. Award


Eleanor Arnason’s 1991 A Woman of the Iron People was one of the two winners of the very first James Tiptree, Jr. Award. It also won the inaugural Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature and came in third in the 1992 John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Even in the Before Times, when computers were coal-fired and USENET still ruled the interwebs, A Woman of the Iron People got very good word of mouth … so it has been a considerable source of irritation to me that despite decades of bookstore browsing, I had never seen a copy of the hardcover or the split paperback versions (of which more later).

Huzzah for Open Road Media, which offers a very affordably priced edition! Huzzah for my various electronic devices, which allow me to read said edition!

Despite some very impressive efforts, humanity has failed to transform Earth into an anoxic, lifeless desolation (which says a lot for Earth, given the rampant resource plunder and widespread pollution in the backstory). Moreover, a surprisingly sensible humanity has spent centuries trying to undo the damage it did in the 20th century. About a century before the book begins, humans even managed to build and then send a sub-light starship to Sigma Draconis. This sun-like star is not too far from good old Sol on a galactic scale; but it is unimaginably far on a human scale … which is why it took a starship travelling at a good fraction of the speed of light more than a century to reach its destination.

Like the sun, Sigma Draconis has an Earth-like companion world, and like Earth, that world has intelligent inhabitants. Humanity’s first interstellar voyage is also going to be its first contact with aliens.

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