Stories read this week include Kathryn Yelinek, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, Zachary Jernigan, Lucy Sussex, and Melissa Scott (only 5, since I ran out of brainage).
"Heart of the Magpie" by Kathryn Yelinek, Electric Spec, February 2013
On the surface a simple story of a woman trying to protect her daughter from an unwelcoming committee of birds, but dig deeper and we have a nice story of a mother-daughter relationship (rare enough that it's worthy of comment), inter-connected family relationships, and the communities that bind. The bird attacks are creepy, calling on Polish folk lore, and even when the story is resolved there's still a sense of unease left over that evil spirits must be appeased in an ongoing manner.
"Vintage Millennial Cookery Infomanual by the Geusian Ladies Society" by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, Crossed Genres Magazine 5, May 2013
Here's a story with a neat trick. For 95% of the story, you're lulled into a false sense of security, amused by the bickering and posturing of a community forced into close quarters while they await the return of their service people from war. The entries in the manual sometimes even read like passive-aggressive blog posts one would expect from an intimate fanbase or community on the internet. The ending cleverly lays to waste everything you've just read, and makes you completely reassess the behaviours of everyone involved. Startlingly familiar for anyone who has lived under duress or been in that holding pattern of waiting for troops to return home.
"Map Ref, -4.29 N 239.193 E" by Zachary Jernigan, "Daughters of Icarus: New Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy", edited by Josie Brown, Pink Narcissus Press
Upon befriending Zachary as ToC partners in "Daughters", he described this story as a fanfiction love story between Joanna Russ and James Tiptree Jnr. I thought "AWESOME! My sort of ship!" Indeed, it is a lesbian erotic love story, the characters are named Joanna and Alice. Once you look past that it's mostly a sex scene, one can pick apart how cleverly Jernigan has combined the cool, disinterested characters Russ used to write with the more aggressively masculine Tiptree protagonists. While I'm sure on some level there would have been fans that shipped these two together, the sex is also an interesting metaphor for something that never was - what would have a Russ-Tiptree joint effort story (love child) looked like?
"My Lady Tongue" by Lucy Sussex, Strange Horizons, reprint, April 29, 2013
An introduction from Tansy Raynor Roberts lays out the history of this story, originally published in 1988, and a little of the history of Australian feminist science fiction. While there's definitely a hint of Tepper, Charnas and Russ about the story, echoing the 70s penchant for matriarchies and womanly utopias, there's a playfulness with the language. The protagonist is allowed a huge range emotions, from young and foolishly in love, to devious and crafty around a male rescuer, and experimental and clever when it comes to technology, geography, and recycling. There's an interesting shock value to finding out the foolish lovesick character is actually in her 40s (or perhaps older) pining over an 18 year old!
There's plenty of discussions about the layers of a matriarchy, or the "Haven", from heterosexual women being kept on the outside of the walls, to more worldly "softcore" lesbians on the outer ring of the town, to the "hardcores" living in a sanctuary exhibiting fundamentalist leanings.
With all these themes together, the story is another step in the history of women's feminist science fiction, showing how far it had come in the 80s, and being another stepping stone for my generation of feminist SF writers to build upon.
"Finders" by Melissa Scott, "The Other Half of the Sky" edited by Athena Andreadis and Kay Holt, Candlemark and Gleam
Melissa Scott presents something completely different in tone and science again from her seminal "Shadow Man", with the opening story in a space opera anthology that puts women at the forefront of the action.
Here, Scott has mixed nice crunchy science with an alien mystery, all intertwined with space pirate action. With the protagonist, what strikes you as cool removal from her emotions eventually comes to light as something far more complex, and I especially appreciated how prepared she was for the conclusion of her situation (no spoilers!). She didn't crack up under the pressure, and was the boss of the entire mission, with respect from her crew members.
The story moves at a fair clip, and even involves a polyamory situation.
A very high class opening to the anthology.