At close to five hundred pages, this June special issue of Lightspeed Magazine is less what you think of as a “magazine” as it is an anthology. This compilation is a response to dudebros’ hurt feels that women are “destroying science fiction” or “not writing science fiction” or “not writing the right kind of science fiction” or otherwise infecting the genre with their icky girl cooties. A conversation on Twitter about the matter quickly morphed into a kickstarter project that was written, edited, designed, and illustrated entirely by women.
For the sake of brevity, I’m going to review the new original fiction here and the rest of the issue, which includes not just previously published fiction but also flash fiction and essays, in subsequent part(s).
Editor Christie Yant selected eleven shorts from all sorts of subgenres. The results, bookended with stories set in the ocean, are fantastic. They also feel all over the place — but that’s sort of the point. Nearly every science fiction subgenre I can think of is represented here, because women do write it all, from theological SF to hard SF. Some of the stories are tragic, others hopeful. Some are very cerebral; some are action-adventure romps. There’s no constant except the fact that all are written by women. So while it’s a great collection, I think it’s probably better as a read-a-story-or-so-a-day collection than an inhale in one sitting *cough* one. Then, you know, you can browse the authors’ other works as you go along and watch your TBR pile grow and whimper at its enormity.
These three do not represent all of my favorites, but they are the ones I could talk the most about:
“In the Image of Man” by Gabriella Stalker was my biggest surprise, and not just because it appears to be the author’s first publishing credit. The story takes place in a near-future in which almost everyone lives, worships, and works inside shopping malls, and follows teenage protagonist Wendell as he transforms from a sullen gamer who spends his time compulsively shopping for electronics to a young adult who is curious about the world beyond the mall and has a vision for the future besides an endless commerce-a-thon. While the tone is light, it’s a story about exploitation. And while it is not at all subtle, I found it absolutely riveting.
Heather Clitheroe’s “Cuts Both Ways” is a tale of love and loneliness from the perspective of a traumatized cyborg. It’s also a close examination of what it means to be the Other, which succeeds because it’s not a clumsy stand-in for something that already exists. And yet, while the protagonist’s most defining characteristic (perfect memory recall) does not exist in our reality, the story does address issues that people in different real-world marginalized populations experience: Spencer is both heavily scrutinized by airport security and also doesn’t have the freedom to love. This is the story that I found most emotionally evocative. While you don’t get to know the love interest very well, the longing that Spencer feels is tangible.
“Each to Each” by Seanan McGuire (also known as Mira Grant) features a world of sea exploration rather than space exploration, in which the Navy is the most significant part of the new military. After climactic shifts have rendered the surface of Earth all but impossible to live on, the Navy creates new battalions of all-women submariners with the options of genetic and physiological modifications that allow for fins and gills. Charting and claiming oceanic floor for bubble cities, swimming in schools, these Mermaids serve as much as propaganda as they do soldiers. This story asks the question: what would an all-female battalion of soldiers look like, taken out of its environment and granted freedom from men, from military rank, from the limitations of gravity… and from the human body?
McGuire can also write one hell of a sentence. Joseph Conrad would be jealous:
But moments like this, when it is us and the open sea, remind us every day that we are more than what we were, and less than what we are to become, voiceless daughters of Poseidon, singing in the space behind our souls.
Other shorts include a portrait of insanity on a small spaceship with only a decaying corpse for company, a far future story re-envisioning courtship, and a space opera that combines a convincing portrayal of mental illness and an extra-planetary sea made of liquid diamonds. Several of the stories examine femininity as a concept; for example, N.K. Jemisin’s “Walking Awake” takes on the role of caretaker and challenges it by making the cared-for commodities. Some, like Charlie Jane Anders’ “The Unfathomable Sisterhood of Ick,” explore the bonds of friendship between women. And a few, like “The Lonely Sea in the Sky” by Amal El-Mohtar, are stunning in their poetic verve.
If this is what it’s like when women destroy science fiction, I’d like to see them annihilate it and cackle gleefully over its carcass.