Saturday, April 30, 2016

Substantialreads: Space Chicks

It's not like I haven't read sci-fi by women before. This isn't an apology or amends, it's just me clutching at a theme for the month that doesn't involve cracking open a dreary tetraology.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

1818 (revised 1831) / Audiobook / 218 pages / UK


The "first science fiction novel" (one of them, anyway) comes down heavily against the science part. For God's sake, don't seek knowledge. Take a holiday in the mountains and come back calmer and contented with your privileged life. While the electrifying Boris Karloff incarnation is always going to be the most iconic, going back to the source confirms that Frankenstein is the monster after all; his surprisingly eloquent creation, not so much. That major point tends to get missed out when every bloody TV series does its Frankingstein episode. You can also take delight in paragraphs overflowing with nature symbolism and groan at a significant woman author making all of her female characters depressingly pathetic.

Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

1963 / Audiobook / 211 pages / USA


There's no denying its sci-fi credentials. It's in space, it dallies with concepts like the bending of space-time, post-three-dimensional geometry and a conformist dystopia, but at its heart this children's adventure book is still rooted in the magical fantasy tradition of C.S. Lewis and E. Nesbit, down to its similarly insufferable brats. It feels distinctly less magical than Narnia, but admittedly I am 30 now. I wouldn't have minded it when I was 10, though I preferred my juvenile space voyages trippier and less overtly Christian. I could deal with Narnia's crucified lion imagery, but name-dropping your Lord and Saviour is a bit exclusive.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

1971 / Audiobook / 184 pages / USA


A dreamer reluctantly screws with reality every time he has a kip, and his mildly nefarious psychiatrist hatches a plan to abuse this miracle for his own ends. Condensed to 25 minutes, it would have made a great Twilight Zone, which could have lost the distracting romance plot too. Broads, right?

Connie Willis, The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories

1982-2007 (collected 2013) / E-book / 473 pages / USA


Like greatest hits albums, I usually avoid best-of anthologies and prefer to seek out the original collections - filler, obscure album tracks and all - which arbitrarily punctuate a writer's career every time their folder of uncollected odds and sods breaks 200 pages. These are mostly very good stories, but when every one was the proud recipient of a prestigious industry award, where's the jeopardy? At least there's some variety, including a compulsory Women's Issues story that's probably the best of the bunch, though it would have been better if I hadn't read some of her full-length novels before the succinct stories they were developed from.

Faves: 'Inside Job,' 'Even the Queen.'

Worsties: 'A Letter from the Clearys,' 'At the Rialto.'

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