Gauging the influence of women on genre fiction can be rather difficult due to years of gender bias in criticism and historical recording. As a result I was pleased to hear the announcement of Monster, She Wrote by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson. I love histories and biographies, and this work combines the two rather effectively. Written in a colloquial, almost casual, style this book nonetheless is informative and clear. As a result it is not only useful, but could easily serve as a textbook in a class for beginners studying the subject matter.
The creative team is an excellent set of women for such work. Both have experience writing about genre fiction. With Lisa Kröger’s experience as a writer of fiction, one even has the storyteller’s mindset contributed. Further the pair’s work on The Know Fear Podcast shows a steady familiarity with the genre, and places them as capable of a relatively colloquial style. An excellent pair to be writing such an introductory volume.
Each section covers a specific period of time, a collection of authors related by time period or subject matter, as well as an introduction explaining that very thing. This is followed by a series of very short biographies of the women. Each of these biographies is in turn capped by a reading list which includes “Not to Be Missed” “Also Try” and “Related Work” sections, which detail the subject matter suggested by their respective titles. The portions are invaluable, serving as combination reading lists and further study recommendations.
After the individual sections and biographies end there is a glossary, a section of notes, an additional suggested reading portion, an index, and a set of Acknowledgements. Each of these in turn is quite useful, and expounds upon some earlier element of the boom quite well. The glossary is perhaps a little basic, but still their inclusion can help those less well versed in the myriad subgenres mentioned throughout the book.
The design work for this book is wonderful, with the illustrations from Natalya Balnova keeping on theme without being overly graphic or grotesque. They are spread liberally throughout the text, as are large print quotations from each author’s work showing some odd or horrifying moment. The limited color pallet is further fitting, helping to make a book about many women with very different lives and styles an additional subtle level of unification.
This is not to say that the book is flawless. Indeed, the subtitle The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction hints toward this. Occasionally a work is not tested as quite appropriate, particularly with The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish treated as science fiction or speculative fiction, rather than the clear and impressive early example of secondary world fantasy that it is. Given the rest of the volume focuses on the scifi and horror genres in abundance, it’s hard not to see a less than subtle decision to avoid categorizing works as fantasy even as they might belong there. Such a bias against fantasy is unfortunate, as it is a speculative genre in it’s own right, with it’s own fantastic examples. To ignore this is not only adding inaccuracies but also invites forgetting other influential women.
Overall Monster, She Wrote is a nice book, and should be very useful as a reference. That said, there is much to speak in favor of it, but like any reference there are mistakes and holes, and cannot,be accepted as exhaustive. As a primer it is invaluable for the subject matter, and as a reference or a history book is both entertaining and fascinating.
(Quirk Books, 2019)