Lisa Yaszek’s The Future Is Female!

The Future is Female! represents The Library of America’s continued efforts to provide authoritative volumes on any given subject. This is a large collection, featuring twenty five stories that show a wide rang of fiction. In addition, there are notations both in the text proper and on a convenient website that the jacket links the reader to, detailing the history of the authors in question and their work.

At the start is a wonderful introduction by editor Lisa Yaszek, in which she discusses the history of early science fiction by women, particularly in America.  What’s more, she discusses common myths, such as the idea that any given woman chose a male name purely because science fiction readers were thought to be ridiculously misogynistic and unwilling to accept works from women. This may or may not have been the case in any individual circumstances for a reader, but figures such as Andre Norton and C.L Moore had slightly different reasons, as did certain others.  Truly, this introduction works as an essay in its own right, educating the reader upon the history of the american science fiction scene from a  decidedly woman-centric point of view.

The fiction is an excellent assortment, with periodic oddities of particular interest. The second story is Leslie F. Harris’ “The onquest of Gola” from 1931. This is a classic “humans invade aliens plot” and is executed as such, with social relevance that’s hard to miss. Certainly some degree of message is shown at times, including the assumption that there must be a man in charge somewhere. In spite of their very different appearances, the human men managed to deduce the gender of the being they’re speaking to and assume that ” women are all right in their place, but it takes men to see the prophet of a thing like this.”

Two interesting thoughts come to mind from this of course. The first is that, after realizing he is wrong, the man in question on the next page apologizes and explains he simply assumed that things were the same as they were on his world but he admits ” it is just as possible for a woman to be the ruling factor of a world as man is elsewhere.”

This comment alone shows a correction in thinking that it’s surprising to see from a character that is obviously being depicted as sexist in a story written in 1931. More interesting than that however is the fact that throughout the preceding sections of the story the rulers of Gola and other viewpoint characters have found the concepts of commerce, e.g. capitalism, that the man had been speaking of ridiculous or unintelligible.  Indeed, after the initial offensive speech the narration notes that it was considered “so much gibberish to us” and only the last part caused a reaction. Whether intentional or not this leaves the reader unable to avoid noticing that the matriarchal society of this story indeed cannot understand the concepts the visitor thought a man was necessary for. Anyone who either enjoyed leftist economics or the concept of gender equality might find this a strange decision looking at the story from a purely political point of view.

This is not to say any demands should have been a acceded to of course, however it is made quite clear they simply lack the ability to conceive of such matters for whatever reason.

By modern standards much of the rest of the story is a standard pushing away the invasion tale, with the kind of social commentary that has largely been baked in since War of the Worlds. The evil men are pushed away, and there seems to be no particular  thought as to the fact that mind control of other members of their own species was the only thing that saved them. The culture of Gola has gone back to its more or less indolent way, now sure it understands everything about the former visitors and having no fear of any new developments, in spite of ironically having killed their prisoners to a man.

On a note of development of science fiction story telling it is interesting to note that this society contains both devices to pull spaceships to a particular location via some sort of almost magnetic or gravitational pull, and “beam stations” which served to send someone from place to place instantaneously. Teleportation and tractor beams from later space opera in one convenient location, and used in  a pseudo-utopian society no less.

The following story, C.L. Moore’s “The Black God’s Kiss” is longer, and sports an excellent example,of the sword and sorcery genre, featuring a redhead lead in the same year that Robert E Howard wrote a story (“The Shadow of the Vulture”) that would be credited for inspiring Red Sonja.  Muriel is a powerful woman; she is also vengeful, determined and a warrior in a world of men from the start. It is quite an excellent little piece, and delves into determination and a question of how far one should go for revenge. While stories featuring this character have been reprinted before, it is decidedly good any time they are highlighted.

Much later in the volume comes Doris Pitkin Buck’s “Birth of a Gardener” from 1961. This story  begins with a man looking down on the woman he saw as his wife, Lee. He finds her less intelligent than himself and further finds it completely irritating the way she attempts to take an interest in his work. During a disagreement about this matter he suggest she take up gardening and in response she explains that she believes she evoked him into the world. He at best half listens to this concept and instead continues ignoring her, as well as any sense of what she says. After an argument she goes to bed and he stays up reading, seeing her unconscious later and not realizing she’s dead till late in the next day. The bulk of the story is the man’s attempts to process his grief as he starts seeing visions of her and thinking back to her idea of conjuring someone up from another reality, wondering if the right circumstance might bring her back to him.

The  mix of a relatively unlikable but regretful protagonist and the kind of science fiction that borders on fantasy is quite interesting, and the fact this story was released in the early 60s goes a long way towards making the reader see him as more the standard of a man at the time. The contempt he shows for others and how it expresses itself is a key theme in the story, as is the regret that can follow many actions.

Stories not covered in detail include classic monster stories, an insect apocalypse tale questioning the importance of strife, stories of captured heroines and despicable men, and a wide variety of other tales. There are works from legends like Ursula K. Le Guin and Joanna Russ and comparatively forgotten figures like Leslie F. Stone and Carol Emshwiller.

After the stories proper the book includes a series of fairly good bibliographical sketches of the authors and notes upon the texts. These are very valuable both as contextual reference and for someone who might want to go deeper into an author’s work.

Overall these stories represent fascinating cultural artifacts at worst, and brilliant storytelling at best. The variety is impressive and the stories quite enjoyable, and the historical and biographical details included in the book are a real plus. The website is an enjoyable addition.

(Library of America 2018)

About Warner Holme

Born in the mid-south and keeps getting dragged back there. Warner Holme is well studied in fantastical and mysterious fiction.