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Women Writing Science Fiction As Men (Daw Science Fiction) Mass Market Paperback – June 3, 2003
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
When an anthology is titled Women Writing Science Fiction as Men, readers expect either stories on the cutting edge of feminist/gender theory, or a tribute to the late James Tiptree, Jr., the female author everyone thought was male. However, the anthology meets neither expectation. It has a different mandate.
In his introduction, editor Mike Resnick states, "there is a difference in writing about a male and writing as a male." The all-female contributors were charged to write "as a male," with "each story...told in the first person of a man, and...if changing the narrator from Victor to Victoria invalidated the story we didn't want it." However, the anthology doesn't follow two-thirds of its own rules. Neither sex "change" nor biosex has had a discernable effect. The narrators tend to hold "traditionally male" jobs like astronaut, cop, soldier, engineer, superspy, and messiah, but females in these roles are hardly unusual (except messiah, a role also rare for males, and superspy, a role that doesn't exist in reality). Further, four of these sixteen original stories present Victors that cannot readily be turned into Victorias: a rapist, a James Bond parody, and two fellows fighting near-future paternity suits. Additionally, one story is narrated by a Victoria!
The contributors include some big names and hot up-and-comers, among them Kay Kenyon, Mercedes Lackey, Susan R. Matthews, Terry McGarry, Severna Park, Laura Resnick, Jennifer Roberson, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Karen E. Taylor, and singer-songwriter Janis Ian. --Cynthia Ward
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1. The story was to be narrated in the first person by a male character;
2. The story would be unworkable if the main character were changed into a woman;
The goal was for the female authors to write like a man, i.e., getting into the mindset of a man.
I think that only five of the sixteen stories actually succeeded. Of these five, I liked "All My Children" by Leslie What, and Leah A. Zeldes grotesquely funny "Big" the best. I thought that "Homecoming" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and "Jesus Freaks" by Jennifer Roberson were promising, but fell flat in the end. I think that other people may like them; in particular I know few people who are bothered by the things that I didn't like in the latter.
Severna Parks' "Call for Submissions" failed the most objective rule: it is narrated by a woman. Although I loved Laura Resnick's "Licensed to Reclaim", I think that I would have assumed that it was written by a woman, unless it was written for the companion anthology, Men Writing Science Fiction As Women. I do think that it captures a certain male mindset, but from a woman's point of view. There are a couple more that are iffy in that regard.
As to requiring a male narrator, I am reminded that someone once remarked that there are only two gender-specific jobs: wet-nurse and sperm donor. I gather that most of these authors wouldn't agree. I think that ten or possibly eleven of the stories could have had a female narrator. In some cases, making the main character female would have required that the spouse be male, or in other cases, that they be a lesbian couple, but I consider that minor. The main characters fill roles that were traditionally male, but could certainly be held by a woman. Increasing the confusion, they often have a female partner or colleague, making it clear that they could have been women. Still, although I don't think they satisfied the criteria, I enjoyed "Better than Ants" by Barbara Galler-Smith; "A Good Idea at the Time" by Karen E. Taylor; "Blackbird, Fly!" by Linda J. Dunn. I thought that "Maxwell's Law" by Adrienne Gormley was fun, but the ending was a little flat; and "Diving After Reflected Woman" by Terry M. McGarry was very interesting if not exactly enjoyable.
I would say that in most cases, the authors do succeed in "writing like men" in that I wouldn't have been able to guess from the story that it was by a woman. Although this may seen odd in view of my coming remarks, almost all the authors write quite well in a technical wordsmith sort of way: they use words well, but I found most of the stories unsatisfying.
Normally, I don't like all the works in an anthology, and I don't really see that as a problem since authors are likely to be a diverse group. I won't say that these were bad stories in any cosmic sense: other people may like them just fine. What I found odd is that I usually didn't like the stories for the same reason: what one might call the "huh?" factor.
Janis Ian's story "Prayerville" is well written, poetic, and I thought was going to be moving. At one point a character says to the narrator: "'Now you understand, yes?' Yes, I understand." Well, I don't. I get the theme, but the story seems full of holes. It's not that I don't understand the "Joes", they're aliens after all, and an essential part of the story is the difficulty that humans have understanding them. The problem is that I can't make sense of the human characters. Why was the narrator human, never mind male or female? What about the children? After this epiphany, why does he gets on the bus like nothing happened? The answer to the first question is of course that the author wanted a character to whom explanations would need to be made - if you have to explain it, it didn't work.
It was the same with many of the other stories: I felt there was too much left out, or the stories simply didn't have a satisfying ending. This of course, is quite subjective, so I am sure that many people will love stories I found disappointing.
To sum it up, there are some good stories here, it's a worthwhile anthology for people who like science fiction short stories. I don't think it succeeded at its stated goal, however.
Three stories that stood out, if I can put it that way:
There had to be at least one "penis" story. Leah Zeldes offers "Big" as her view of what happens when men respond to those "enlargement" emails. The story is hilarious. Although I never laughed loud enough to drown out the author's own laughter, ringing out from between the lines of every page. Nicely done.
Kay Kenyon's "Kingdom Come" follows one man's retreat from an alien jungle advancing across the Earth. It doesn't destroy Earth materials--it just revises them. I didn't see the gender angle to this story. And that's just fine. It has a very imaginative setting and is good SF.
Terry McGarry's "Diving After Reflected Woman" give's the protagonist the unusual profession of filming criminal confessions for prosecutors who will use them in court. This one pits his sympathy for rape victims against his feelings about being a man. It's a well-written and troubling story.
I liked most of the stories in this collection. Unlike its sibling volume, Men Writing Science Fiction As Women, most of this book's stories work well as stories without the gender theme looming overlarge in the foreground. It's a good volume that I will add to my list of high-quality themed anthologies.
Her contribution to this anthology, "Prayerville", is admittedly her first story. The first story she ever wrote alone?! Given that, it is stunning. Borrowing a leaf from Tennessee Williams, she begins the story with "I took the Lone Star from base down Hope Highway, where I switched to a local." She goes on to describe, in the best tradition, a true tragedy - one where both sides are right, and both sides are wrong... and there is no easy solution.
If for no other reason, this book is worth purchasing to see Ian's first real entry into published prose.
That aside, the anthology is fun to read though there is little gender bending in most of the stories (no pregnant Mork from Ork). In fact the jobs, with one Holy exception, tilt in percentage towards the male, but women hold many of them in real life too. Fans will enjoy the stories as solid science fiction that run much of the gamut, but the gimmick fails dismally to bring out any unique revelations.