Women Destroy Science Fiction! Lightspeed Magazine Special Issue: The Stories edited by Christie Yant, Robyn Lupo, Rachel Swirsky
Last June, Hugo-winning Lightspeed Magazine, which is edited by John Joseph Adams, devoted an entire issue (Women Destroy Science Fiction!, June 2014, issue #49) to female science fiction writers and editors. Under Christie Yant’s and Robyn Lupo’s editorial leadership, they accepted 11 original short science fiction stories and 15 original pieces of SF flash fiction. Rachel Swirsky chose and reprinted 5 stories previously published elsewhere. Last month, Skyboat Media and Blackstone Audio released an audio version of the stories from Women Destroy Science Fiction. They gave these their usual excellent attention, casting each story’s narrator perfectly and creating a high quality product. The narrators include some of the best in the business: Cassandra Campbell, Gabrielle de Cuir, Harlan Ellison®, Grover Gardner, Jamye Grant, Susan Hanfield, Jonathan L. Howard, John Allen Nelson, Bahni Turpin, Stefan Rudnicki, Molly Underwood, and Judy Young, and each is fabulous. The audio version is just over 15 hours long.
My only complaint about the audiobook production is that, as the title makes clear, it’s missing all of the non-fiction, personal essays, author spotlights, and editorial comments that are in the print version (these sections were mostly edited by Wendy N. Wagner and Jude Griffin). There are several of these pieces that I was hoping to hear, such as Kameron Hurley’s Hugo-winning story “We Have Always Fought.” I know I can read this over at Aidan Moher’s website, or I could buy the Kindle version of the magazine for only $3.99, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet and I was hoping to have it read to me.
So, the audio performances are great, but how are the stories? As you’d expect, if you have any experience reading anthologies, they vary. Here are the 11 original short stories you’ll find in Women Destroy Science Fiction! The Stories:
Each to Each” by Seanan McGuire — The United States Navy is using genetically modified human soldiers to chart the ocean floor, explore for new resources, and protect the nation’s waters. These soldiers are women who, through surgery and gene therapy, are gradually being given the characteristics of certain fish. But when a person’s circumstances change, so do their perceptions and feelings. Thus, when one of these military mermaids meets a “real” mermaid, her loyalties are tested. I liked how this military SF story didn’t try to make women and men the same, but highlighted women’s particular strengths. As a psychologist, I also thought it was (probably unwittingly) an interesting look at a peculiar rare psychological disorder called Body Integrity Identity Disorder.
“A Word Shaped Like Bones” by Kris Millering — Maureen, a sculptor who feels unappreciated on Earth, has been chosen to sell her art to aliens on another planet. There’s a decaying dead man on the very small spaceship she’s travelling on. I think he’s a metaphor representing some of the things that women struggle with. At the end of the story we learn who he is and how he inspired her latest creation.
“Cuts Both Ways” by Heather Clitheroe — Spencer has a really cool job. He’s a caster, which means that his brain has been modified so that he can interpret people’s brain waves. He can’t read their minds, but he can get impressions about their feelings and intentions. He’s in demand by such diverse groups as marketing agencies and Homeland Security. But Spencer pays a high price for this ability. He can never forget what he senses and the memories are easily triggered. This fascinating story will make you thankful that your memory isn’t better than it is. I’ll be looking for more stories by Heather Clitheroe.
“Walking Awake” by N.K. Jemisin — This creepy little horror story takes place at an anthroproduction facility where a woman named Sadie, who has bipolar disorder, is the caretaker of children who are bred to be host bodies for the “masters” of the human race. Jemisin’s more elegant spin on Heinlein’s famous The Puppet Masters is about slavery, revolution, sacrifice, bloodshed, and freedom. Best (or perhaps worst) of all, Jemisin’s puppet masters are not aliens. Bahni Turpin’s audio performance is amazing.
“The Case of the Passionless Bees” by Rhonda Eikamp — In this Sherlock Holmes pastiche, Holmes is a cyborg who raises bees. When his housekeeper is arrested for a murder, Holmes asks Watson to help him solve the crime. This steampunk story has a few nice touches for the Holmes fan, but the plot didn’t do much for me until the twist at the end. I really liked Jonathan L. Howard’s narration, though.
“In the Image of Man” by Gabriella Stalker — I’m surprised how much I liked this story about a teenage boy in a future United States where everything is owned by corporations and commercialized. He lives and goes to school in a mall and takes out his Teen Funds every week so he can buy more stuff. It doesn’t bother him that he’ll be paying off those loans after he turns 18. His eyes are opened when he starts going to church with a classmate whose family lives at the Walmart, rather than one of the posher malls, because they’re saving up to buy a (gasp!) house. The message is a little too blatant, but disturbing enough to be interesting nonetheless. The audio performance by John Allen Nelson was wonderful.
“The Unfathomable Sisterhood of Ick” by Charlie Jane Anders — This story pushed all the right buttons for me. It’s about a young woman who’s just been jilted by her long-time boyfriend. Her best friend suggests that she save time on her next relationship by asking her ex to download his early memories of their courtship for her potential next boyfriend to upload. Relationship memories are like equity in a house, she explains. As you’d expect, this doesn’t end well…
“Dim Sun” by Maria Dahvana Headley — The title of this story is a hilarious play on “Dim sum,” the Cantonese cuisine in which small portions of several dishes are served off a cart at the table. In Headley’s version of Dim sum, the Earth’s chief food critic runs into his bitter ex-wife, who is now the President of the Universe, at an off-world restaurant. There’s not a lot of plot going on here — Headley’s imagination and imagery is the highlight. The premise is brilliant and I won’t forget this one. Stefan Rudnicki’s narration is excellent, as always.
“The Lonely Sea in the Sky” by Amal El-Mohtar — A planetary geologist is studying Lucyite, a diamond-like element discovered on Neptune that allows instant teleportation when it’s heated. As she becomes obsessed with the material, she develops a new psychological disorder that afflicts people who work with it. This story feels a bit disjointed and vague at times, which may frustrate some readers, but this feeling of disconnection and unevenness contributes to the story’s power and beauty.
“A Burglary, Addressed By a Young Lady” by Elizabeth Porter Birdsall — This story is like a Regency Romance set in a high-tech future in which all of the social mores of the early 19th century are present alongside futuristic gadgetry. That premise is cute, but Birdsall added one more element that, for me, made it go over the top. In her world, debutantes flirt by burglarizing the young men they’re after. When two girls find themselves burglarizing the same man’s house, they have to strike a deal. I can imagine this story being a favorite of many readers, but it was a little too cute for me.
“Canth” by K.C. Norton — I didn’t much care for “Canth” either. It’s about a woman who’s the captain of a sentient submarine that has run away from her. As she follows on a hired ship, she eventually discovers why her submarine went astray. This story is more fantastical (less SF) than the previous stories and I thought it was a bit dull.
Next come the 5 reprints selected by Rachel Swirsky:
“Like Daughter” by Tananarive Due — Paige, the protagonist of this story has a friend, Denise, who had a hard life growing up and wants her daughter Neecy’s life to be better. But when Denise’s husband leaves her, she feels like everything is falling apart and she calls Paige to come take Neecy away. This powerful story is about the tragedy of sexual abuse and it’s a little too real to be fun. I loved the science fiction element here, which I’m not telling you about so as to avoid spoilers. Actress Jamye Méri Grant’s narration was especially superb.
“The Great Loneliness” by Maria Romasco Moore — In a post-apocalyptic, post-human world, a mother who enjoys genetically engineering her offspring thinks about the purpose of life and the problem of loneliness.
“Love is the Plan the Plan is Death” by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon’s penname) —This bizarre story, which was originally published in 1973 and won a Nebula Award, is written from an unusual perspective (again, trying to avoid spoilers). It’s about the “circle of life” and the cruelty of nature. The story and audio performance by Stefan Rudnicki were quite compelling.
“Knapsack Poems” by Eleanor Arnason — This story is about a traveling poet who has several bodies, some male, some female, and some neuter. It’s an interesting look at gender roles and language, but I liked the bad poetry best.
“The Cost to Be Wise” by Maureen F. McHugh — This is the longest piece in the collection. It’s about a clan on a planet that’s a colony of Earth. They have some strict anti-technology policies such as not allowing guns or plastic. This turns out to have some bad consequences. I thought this story was rather depressing and gruesome and not very entertaining. Though I don’t at all disagree with the “message,” I thought it was a fairly obvious one. The novella has been extended into a novel called Mission Child, which I think I’ll be skipping.
Next comes several pieces of flash fiction which are, of course, very short. My favorite of these was “A Debt Repaid” by Marina J. Lostetter. It’s about how addiction turns people into monsters and is brilliantly narrated by Jamye Méri Grant. My favorite audio performance, though, was “See DANGEROUS EARTH-POSSIBLES!” by Tina Connolly because it was narrated by Harlan Ellison®.
If you’re planning to read Women Destroy Science Fiction!, the audiobook is the way to go (for just the stories, of course). My enjoyment was definitely enhanced by the professional performances. I’d give the stories on average 3.5 stars, but the audiobook gets 5, so my overall rating reflects both components.
The Women Destroy Science Fiction! Issue of Lightspeed Magazine won the 2015 British Fantasy Award and is listed in NPR’s Best Books of 2015. You can find some samples and fun outtakes of the audiobook version at Skyboat Media’s website. Here’s a sampler:
Kat, just wanted to direct you to Podcastle, where an audio-version of “We Have Always Fought” was produced in July, 2014. It’s even read by Kameron, making it doubly awesome.
Thanks for letting me know about that, Aidan!
Adding this to the “must-read” list now…
This is a very helpful and thoughtful review, Kat; thanks!
Thanks, Marion! I know you’re not an audio reader, but I encourage you to watch the outtake videos and samplers. I think you might find it interesting.