Friday, March 23, 2018

FFB: MEMORIES AND VISIONS: WOMEN'S FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION edited by Susanna J. Sturgis (Crossing Press 1989)

From (insit), Summer 1990: "'Other'nesses"

Fantastic fiction has an obvious appeal to those who dislike the current state of affairs; those who are oppressed can play with notions of other ways of living, while those who are savagely oppressed can have a wider range of metaphor to express their outrage and joy (when expressing same nakedly wouldn't be wise). Hence, this volume: an anthology of original fantasy, sf and surrealist fiction by women [I didn't know at the time, and I think it's not mentioned on the copyrights page, that one story apparently had a previous or perhaps nearly simultaneous publication; see index below]. 

Memories and Visions features few familiar bylines [in 1990]; only R. M. Meluch has had a novel published by a major commercial house, and only Lorraine Schein and Kiel Stuart have sold much to the magazines devoted to various sorts of fantastic fiction. This is a collection devoted mostly to newer writers, or writers just beginning to play with fantastic motifs. In her funny and informative introduction, Susanna Sturgis notes the difficulties she had, during her tenure as book-buyer for DC's feminist bookstore Lammas, in generating customer interest in speculative fiction: "Some were already converted, some were willing to try, but many more were not even tempted by the well-drawn women characters and feminist themes, even lesbian love stories, of [Elizabeth] Lynn, [Marion Zimmer] Bradley, [Ursula K.] Le Guin, [Suzy McKee] Charnas and [Joanna] Russ, among others, [in mass-market paperbacks] at cover prices roughly a third of the trade paperback alternatives. 'I don't read science fiction,' was the explanation. 'It's too unbelievable. I can't deal with spaceships and elves.' [Ah, the elves of sf...or was that the cattle-rustlers of sports novels?] They bought lesbian romances instead.

"I could recommend plenty of titles with neither spaceships nor elves, and as to 'unbelievable'...Well, did you hear the one about the beautiful, brilliant woman with no apparent income who runs off to a secluded resort with an equally beautiful but shy, recently divorced woman, has perfect sex on the first try, and lives happily ever after?"

The stories range from very straightforward sf through allegorical surfiction to humorous fantasy. Caro Clarke's "The Rational Ship" is a solidly traditional space opera with high-tech overtones in form, though definitely not so in incident: a spaceship captain pilots her ship over long distances with the help of a "writer", another woman, who devises a scenario for the entire crew to grapple with telepathically as they go about their tasks--particularly the captain herself, who engages sexually with the writer, as a matter of course, necessity and grudging pleasure during the subjectively brief trip. Charlotte Watson Sherman's "Killing Color" is a horror story about racial murder and related diversions in the Old South; "The Harmonic Conception" by Nona M. Caspers is probably the funniest story in the book, about a lesbian living in an all-woman household who finds herself the victim of immaculate conception. Schein's "The Chaos Diaries" is meta-cyberpunk. Not everything here is as adept as everything else, and some of the best work is toward the middle of the volume, not the typical anthologist's trick, but the fourteen-story (including a set of novel excerpts, and a free-verse poem as last contribution) collection swings.

To read this book online, see the Internet Archive "library" here. It's also easily available secondhand; only the Laurell Hamilton story seems to have been reprinted so far (she's certainly seen the most commercial success among the contributors)...I don't see evidence of the novel the Shirley Hartwell excerpts are taken from being published, either. 

The Locus Index to the volume (the ISFDB index linked on the title):

Memories and Visions: Women’s Fantasy & Science Fiction ed. Susanna J. Sturgis (The Crossing Press 0-89594-391-3, Sep ’89, $9.95, 201pp, tp) Anthology of 15 feminist sf and fantasy stories, with an introduction by the editor. Also announced in hardcover (-392-1) but not seen.
Sturgis would go on to edit two more anthologies, mixing new and reprinted fiction, for Crossing Press, which would fold not too long after publishing both The Women Who Walk Through Fire: Women’s Fantasy & Science Fiction Vol. 2 (1990) and Tales of Magic Realism By Women: Dreams in a Minor Key (1991), both also recommended. Sturgis has continued to work as an editor and to publish fiction and nonfiction of her own, but has not assembled any further anthologies. 

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog. (And buy her new book!)


George said...

I haven't seen any of these books before now. And, I'm not familiar with Crossing Press, either. Thanks for bringing these books to our attention!

Todd Mason said...

Crossing Press was primarily a feminist publisher, reasonably active in the latter '80s, at least, which did the second edition of Joanna Russ's ON STRIKE AGAINST GOD (her contemporary/mimetic novella) and her essay collection MAGIC MOMMAS, TREMBLING SISTERS, PURITANS & PERVERTS, both of which would be Enough to justify its existence by themselves; the three Sturgis anthologies didn't hurt, either. ISFDB cites some more of their fantastic-fiction-relevant publications here:

Rick Robinson said...

TODD - off topic: are you going to be doing FFB while Patti is off?

Todd Mason said...

I am.