More Women Of Wonder (book review)

I had hoped to lay my hands on ‘Women Of Wonder’, but the first book of this late 1970s anthology series is both elusive and can be very expensive or hard to get in the UK, contrary to its sequel, ‘More Women Of Wonder’. Its editor Pamela Sargent gives a 40 page introduction about the lack of female SF writers at the time and then goes through quite a number of them, although she seemed to have missed out on Zena Henderson but had quite a few since the 1950s. Obviously, its still likely to be smaller or less significant compared to the number of male SF writers up to that time. Her main argument being SF, for a long time, was aimed at the male population. From my time working in a lab, women worked scientifically but very few of the men were actually interested in SF neither. The two don’t necessarily go hand in hand. It might be worth me coming up with an article on what makes an SF fan and the key influences directing it. After all, not all geeks are SF fans neither. I doubt if women had any preference for who wrote the books but can see the early problems of women selling their SF stories to publishers who just though their audience was male. Nevertheless, its an interesting read that might send you off looking for early lady SF stories and certainly give you some thinking about today.

The first story of any anthology tends to shape expectations for what follows. Here, the seven novelettes, start off with C.L. Moore’s ‘Jirel Meets Magic’, which is fantasy. Hardly a way to entice an SF fan to read on. One can’t fault Moore’s writing and descriptive prose but it has a telling impact on Leigh Brackett’s ‘The Lake Of The Gone Forever’ which didn’t really sink in, despite being SF because of similar descriptive technique.

Whatever the age, the choice of stories in an anthology is up to the editor and usually a pattern is easily worked out. With earlier volumes, there was less of a scattershot to ensure there was something for a variety of readers so they will forgive the other odd choices. It appears here that Sargent has chosen by quality of writing against having strong ideas or even a good combination of both. It isn’t as though her select of authors aren’t good writers but they, generally, aren’t their best work here. For the record, the other stories are ‘The Second Inquisition’ by Joanna Russ, ‘The Power Of Time’ by Josephine Saxon and ‘The Funeral’ by Kate Wilhelm.

At last, Joan Vinge’s 1974 50 page novelette ‘Tin Soldier’ hits the SF note. The title character is a cyborg called Soldier who’s real name is Maris, runs a bar and has prolonged life develops a relationship with Brandy, a captain of a near-lightspeed spacecraft who visits every 25 years or so. A mixture of applied relativity and romance and an intense read. I think the ending could have been a little sharper but it makes buying this book worthwhile.

The final story, ‘The Day Before The Revolution’ by Ursula LeGuin gets there, too, as we follow Asieo ploughing her way through a crowd and reminiscing over her times in various jails which should still strike some chords today but pointing out change still happens.

My comments on a book some 45 years ago isn’t likely to change anything. The selling points for this book is Sargent’s introduction and Vinge’s story. These days, the opportunities for female SF writers are far better now, just a shame, because of covid, SF publishers have yet to get back up to speed yet.

GF Willmetts

June 2023

(pub: Penguin SF, 1979. 269 page paperback. Price: varies. ISBN: 00-4980-8)


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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