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modern & women SF authors

Dear friends -

Jim and I are working on updating the SF Institute novel reading list for next summer. Specifically, we want to add more modern works - and I would like to see more female authors represented on the list.

1) The works must be seminal (hardee har har, I hear you thinking) - that is, they had a major influence on the SF that followed.
2) They represent movements in the genre that are not already represented in the current list.
3) They are by authors we don't already have on the list (preferably newer authors).

We're planning to cut about five novels, so we're looking to add five modern novels. Ideas, please!



( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 15th, 2007 03:06 am (UTC)
To name a couple of obvious candidates, Perdido Street Station and City of Saints and Madmen. Accelerando might qualify as well.
Oct. 15th, 2007 03:06 am (UTC)
Sorry for all the Italics. My thoughts were Roman as I typed.
Oct. 15th, 2007 03:09 am (UTC)
As for women authors, how about Anne McCaffrey?
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:22 am (UTC)
Yeah, others have suggested her, as well. One cannot argue her seminal-ness. But what would one teach of her novels? And which? Perhaps The Ship Who Sang....
Oct. 18th, 2007 10:31 am (UTC)
Or the original Pern book. She does call those SF...
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:19 am (UTC)
We're almost certainly going to use Perdido Street Station and Accelerando is very likely. City of Saints is a fine idea, too. Thanks!
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:21 am (UTC)
Y'know, a number of people have mentioned this, and I'm considering it, too. However, it's really a mainstream novel using SF tropes (the future, cultural change), and doesn't work as well as SF as regular fiction for our purposes of teaching SF and its evolution. But maybe - certainly many SF writers have read it and at least know of it if they weren't influenced by it.

Oct. 15th, 2007 03:19 am (UTC)
Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time has influenced both young adult sci-fi, and countless thousands of readers and future writers. Also the first female Hugo Award Winner, James Tiptree (really a woman writing under a man's name). Lou mentioned Mary Doria Russel's Child of God. Depending on how far you want to go back, Mary Shelley's works.
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:24 am (UTC)
I'm enthusiastic about adding A Wrinkle in Time to the list for all those reasons. Tiptree would be grand, as well. Not sure if we need another old novel, but Shelley would be a great addition. Thanks!
Oct. 15th, 2007 03:20 am (UTC)
Ideas, yes!
Octavia Butler!! Her Xenogenesis trilogy is great. She deals with issues of race, biology, difference, and religion in this series. Also interesting is Joan Slonczewski's A Door Into Ocean--feminism, nonviolence, environmentalism--it's an interesting book. Both Butler and Slonczewski are fairly well-known among feminist literary scholars.

For more popularly taught texts in general lit courses, I second Atwood's Handmaid's Tale. Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time is great, too.

And then here are some suggestions for books I haven't read, but that are on my comps reading list (and would thus benefit from having more incentive to read): Joanna Russ's The Female Man, Joan Vinge's The Snow Queen, Sheri Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country, Marge Piercy's He, She, and It, or Zenna Henderson's Ingathering.

Finally, I'm so glad to see you guys including more women authors in the course. Yay!

Oct. 17th, 2007 03:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Ideas, yes!
I have to second Butler -- the only SF author to win a Genius Award. She's one of the more powerful voices from the last two decades of SF. Her Parable novels in particular (Nebula nominee and winner) are accessible yet thought-provoking. Here Xenogenesis series also accessible, if a bit older and without the awards...
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:27 am (UTC)
Re: Ideas, yes!
Absolutely! Lots of excellent reasons to add her to the list. Thanks!
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:26 am (UTC)
Re: Ideas, yes!
Certainly Butler would be a grand addition. And I'm already enthusiastic about A Door into Ocean for all those reasons. I don't know that we need a second novel on a single theme or movement in SF, but perhaps we could move Le Guin's book off the list and insert another novel that deals with gender and/or feminism. Thanks again!
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 15th, 2007 04:01 pm (UTC)
It's too bad one couldn't tempt him with "The Ship Who Sang" by McCaffrey.

Oct. 18th, 2007 04:29 am (UTC)
That's the book I was thinking for McCaffrey. Thanks!
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:28 am (UTC)
You've offered many excellent recommendations and arguments for them; thanks again!
Oct. 15th, 2007 10:48 am (UTC)
I remember seeing your list a few months ago and wondering, as a thought-experiment, what my list would be. My first pass was:

* Brian W Aldiss, Non-Stop
* Isaac Asimov, Foundation
* Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination
* Greg Bear, Eon
* Octavia E Butler, Wild Seed
* Arthur C Clarke, Childhoods End
* Thomas M Disch, Camp Concentration
* Philip K Dick, The Man in the High Castle
* William Gibson, Neuromancer
* M John Harrison, Light
* Frank Herbert, Dune
* Robert A Heinlein, Have Spacesuit - Will Travel
* Ursula K Le Guin, The Dispossessed
* Barry Malzberg, Beyond Apollo
* Ian McDonald, River of Gods
* Frederik Pohl, Man Plus
* Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars
* Joanna Russ, The Female Man
* Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
* Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men
* Bruce Sterling, Distraction
* Theodore Sturgeon, More than Human
* Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep
* H G Wells, The War of the Worlds
* Kate Wilhelm, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
* Gene Wolfe, The Fifth Head of Cerberus

The ones that nearly made the cut were Kress, Beggars in Spain; Slonczewski, A Door Into Ocean; Haldeman, The Forever War; Blish, A Case of Conscience.
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:30 am (UTC)
Thank you very much for the thoughtful and excellent list. This would be a great class! Jim and I are discussing these now. I like your suggestion of alternate novels for some of the authors on our current list, and they're fine alternatives. Thanks!
Oct. 15th, 2007 01:30 pm (UTC)
If you're going Classic SF, then I wouldn't teach Atwood or Piercy, because they're the SF that non-SF people teach and don't have much of an idea of what is going on in the actual SF world. In short, they're genre, but they don't reflect genre sensibilities because the writers are just playing in the SF sandbox and aren't part of the larger community. McCaffrey has of course written SF, but she really writes more fantasy at the novel length.

For a short list to consider, view the James Tiptree Jr. award winners here. McHugh's China Mountain Zhang, Griffith's Ammonite, and Russell's The Sparrow are all on the list and are worthy contenders. Ironically, Tiptree herself mostly wrote at the shorter length and so unless you want to teach a book of short stories, her work might not be relevant for inclusion on your list.

I personally really like Russ's The Female Man and find it hilarious. However, I've taught it; male students (let's face it, the majority in SF classes) really, really hate it, and all students, male and female, find it dated and irrelevant, and they don't understand why Russ seems so angry. Still, in terms of impact on the genre, this has it in spades.

I am a huge Sheri S. Tepper fan, and practically any book by her is worthy of inclusion, particularly Grass, Raising the Stones, and Sideshow (which comprise her Marjorie Westriding series, though they can be read alone of course). Each of these brings up a million things to talk about with students. I don't recommend teaching her Gate to Women's Country; it's the weakest of her books, the most strident, the least subtext-y. Another good choice would be The Fresco; this is the book where fundamentalist men are impregnated by aliens, because the aliens take them at their word that "all life is sacred" and assume that their fetuses will not be aborted. Her Beauty is the best book to use if you want to focus on ecofeminism.

Joan Vinge's Snow Queen is another favorite; it has a great story, and its unfolding is riveting. This novel won a Hugo and was nominated for a Nebula.

Finally, Pamela Sargent's The Shore of Women might be another excellent choice.

Good luck! I have no idea which of these are still in print.
Oct. 17th, 2007 11:43 pm (UTC)
If you're going Classic SF, then I wouldn't teach Atwood or Piercy, because they're the SF that non-SF people teach and don't have much of an idea of what is going on in the actual SF world. In short, they're genre, but they don't reflect genre sensibilities because the writers are just playing in the SF sandbox and aren't part of the larger community.

On the other hand, it might be useful to have some SF that non-specialists teach in literature courses as part of the institute. It would be interesting to discuss what elements of SF those books use, what makes them more accessible to a general audience (both teachers and students), and how teaching them is different (or not different).

I think this would be valuable because it will provide a clear focus on pedagogy (and the institute is supposed to be about teaching SF, yes?) and will help address the issue of . . . what shall I call it? . . . SF separatism/elitism/ghettoization. In other words, it will help make connections between reading and teaching SF and reading and teaching literature more broadly and could provide an alternative to the "SF is superspecial" attitude that creeps in otherwise.
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:38 am (UTC)
Well, that would be an interesting way to use Atwood's novel; similarly, we could use Niffenegger's Time Traveler's Wife.

But, well, we already know that SF is super-special *g*
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:35 am (UTC)
Well, we're trying to drop some of the classic-ness of the list and update it rather than add more vintage stuff. I have similar concerns about Atwood and Russ. I also loved China Mountain Zhang and Ammonite, and I think we could teach some interesting modern movements in SF with them.

What movement-related context would you suggest we teach with The Snow Queen and The Shore of Women?

Thanks muchly!
Oct. 18th, 2007 03:28 pm (UTC)
Sometimes it's hard to see how something is important until years later. It's got to have time to make an impact. I think the Institute would do well to relax its stringent standards. I get the historical and important basis, but by so doing, it's constructing a model that will exclude a bunch of the texts. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For SHORE OF WOMEN, it's a kind of lesbian separatist ironic "utopia" thing that ends up valorizing heterosexual love; lesbian utopia is a whole subgenre of SF (check out the Women's Press SF line for other titles; I saw Elgin mentioned, and she's on their backlist). SHORE is a kind of implicit comment on the genre.

For SNOW QUEEN, the altered people (the sibyls) and their connection to computers make it all about posthumanism; and the connection between nature and culture (and its relationship not only to the Queen regimes, but Tiamat's tenuous link to the outside world) can be made much of as well.
Oct. 15th, 2007 04:57 pm (UTC)
Tepper has tons of books, as already mentioned.
Some other possibilities:
Slonczewski's A Door into Ocean
Elgin's Native Tongue
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:17 am (UTC)
I'm leaning heavily toward A Door into Ocean for its many themes. And I've heard Elgin's book mentioned a few times. Thanks!
Oct. 15th, 2007 05:50 pm (UTC)
modern and/or women SF authors
Are you looking for feminist literature specifically or a more general 'works by women'? There are a few books in the latter category that came to my mind, but I'm not sure if they fit an academician's bill. (I work at a public library.)
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 15th, 2007 11:44 pm (UTC)
Re: modern and/or women SF authors
[a bit shyly] In that case, may I propose Connie Willis and C.J. Cherryh?

They've each written several books, although the books I thought of when I first read the question were Doomsday Book and/or To Say Nothing of the Dog for Willis, and Cyteen, Downbelow Station and Rimrunners for Cherryh.

(and just for the record, I'm not too crazy about the feminist SF I've come across so far--Atwood and Russ weren't terribly subtle about their message)
Oct. 16th, 2007 01:37 am (UTC)
Re: modern and/or women SF authors
Pat Cadigan's Synners, winner of the Clarke Award and influence on at least one sf movie Strange Days (and probably others, although unacknowledged)
Oct. 16th, 2007 01:45 am (UTC)
Re: modern and/or women SF authors
Lois McMaster Bujold?

Marion Zimmer Bradley? (Not Mists of Avalon, though -- that would take over the slot of any three books, sizewise.)

I have to say, it may not be possible to do a focus on modern female SF writers without a nod to Ms. McCaffrey.
Oct. 16th, 2007 03:42 am (UTC)
Re: modern and/or women SF authors
Just because McCaffrey's popular doesn't necessarily mean she's good. (That said, I suppose I have to admit that she's one of my guilty pleasures, although I do sometimes think I should be reading the books in a brown paper wrapper.)

Bujold and Bradley may be worth a look, but I would also suggest Andre Norton.
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:16 am (UTC)
Re: modern and/or women SF authors
I agree about McCaffrey. It would be nice to have only great novels on the list, but one cannot argue her influence on the genre. Thanks!
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:16 am (UTC)
Re: modern and/or women SF authors
Oh, yeah; Cadigan has certainly been influencial, plus she was a student of Jim's just before I moved here. Thanks!
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:21 am (UTC)
Re: modern and/or women SF authors
Yup. I think I knew that she was a student of Jim's.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:14 am (UTC)
Re: modern and/or women SF authors
Good news about Memory being accessible to new readers of Bujold. Thanks!
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 18th, 2007 04:15 am (UTC)
Re: modern and/or women SF authors
Willis and Cherryh certainly have had a large influence on the genre. Thanks!
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 19th, 2007 09:54 pm (UTC)
Hmm...interesting. I don't remember Door Into Ocean being that dense. It's not a short book, certainly, and it has a few big ideas, but the ideas aren't terribly complicated or difficult to deal with.

If it helps, I wrote down some ideas about the book when I read it a few months ago. It's part summary, part reflection on how I would use this book in a course I was teaching at the time. I would still like to assign this book in one of my courses, actually.

I think it would be a good addition to the institute's reading list because 1) it's an award-winning novel, 2) it deals with several important issues at once and does a fairly good job of exploring connections between those different issues, and 3) it is, I think, quite teachable, both in a SF-oriented classroom and a more broadly-oriented classroom.
( 42 comments — Leave a comment )

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