The Past That Might Have Been, The Future That May Come by Lauren J. Lacey (book review).

Lauren J. Lacey’s book ‘The Past That Might Have Been, The Future That May Come’ comes with a less ambiguous sub-title ‘Women Writing Fantastic Fiction, 1960s To The Present’. Essentially, she is taking examples of some lady writers from both fantasy and Science Fiction to present her points. Lacey makes no bones about the writers she’s selected and, consulting the index, it’s more interesting as to who she left out than put in. Don’t expect to see the likes of Anne McCaffrey or C.J. Cherryh for instance. There’s always an argument that books such as these go for the more recognised authors and leave the smaller ones by the way side but you would still think some acknowledgement of their existence would be noted if only as contrast and their significance. It’s not as though neither writer didn’t have significant females and, in the case of Cherryh, a female alien in Chanur. As to how close to ‘the present’ this book is, you’ll have to judge for yourself but I would think at least a couple decades ago.


Lacey’s first chapter explores how a few different lady writers interpret ‘The Beauty And The Beast’ plot in different ways. It’s hardly surprising that Angela Carter, having done it twice, gets covered more although the likes of the now late Tanith Lee with an SF story is covered. I understand Lacey’s point that ‘The Beauty And The Beast’ plot was originally used to instil in young impressionable women that the undoubtedly older ugly men they were often married off to might be pretty inside but it must still have come as a shock that they might not be as well. The reworked plots still pretty much keep to this mantra when you would have expected the lady author examples to come up with some better endings.

When Lacey looks at historical fantasy, we must have rather different tastes as to just what is ‘fantastic fiction’. Certainly, Octavia Butler’s ‘Kindred’ qualifies as that and is a book I’ve reviewed here. Granted that there is no indication as to how Dana time travelled into her ancestor’s past but it isn’t as though other SF authors haven’t been vague about such things as well. I’m less sure about Jeanette Winterson’s ‘The Passion’ set in Napoleonic times as being part of our genre because I suspect booksellers would have placed it under ‘historical fiction’ or even ‘romance’. The same would also apply to Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, mostly because I’m not convinced they will make a connection to readers in our genre.

The final chapter focuses more on the SF elements of Ursula K. LeGuin’s ‘Hannish’ reality, Doris Lessing’s ‘Canopus In Argos’ reality and Octavia E. Butler’s ‘Xenogeneis’ series. I’m not familiar at all with Lessing but she gives a good account of the other two authors work. With LeGuin, it hadn’t triggered quite so much how she isolates a single individual so much on alien worlds so much but I suspect it gave her more of a focus there than on humans conflicted as to what to do there.

I have to confess that I’m not entirely sure at what Lacey was trying to achieve here. My scientific nature tends to think there is a need to show contrary examples as well to balance things out. With only a limited number of authors selected, that is less likely to happen. Her conclusions about how earlier fables affect futuristic stories could be equally applicable to either sex. I would see the indication from some of her examples is that lady SF writers relies on old material as doing a disservice to the overall talent that is out there.

GF Willmetts

June 2016

(pub: McFarland. 195 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £40.50 (UK), $35.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-47826-2)

check out websites: and

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.