Women on the Edge of Time

Throughout the latter part of the last century my bookshelf held a rather good, if dog-eared, collection by spec women pioneers. I gave away these physical manifestations when we moved coasts in a single U-Haul UBox a few years ago. But they live on in my heart.

Some of the writers from my shelf have slipped entirely into obscurity outside of the most woke used bookstores. Some of the works were those of better-known authors that weren’t their most commercially successful, but were the ones I loved best.

Last month my friend C.R. Hodges offered insight into the fiction of two of his favorite trailblazers, Connie Willis and Elizabeth Moon. Thanks again, C.R., for painting my fence. What are friends for, right? Here’s his guest column.

And here are three of mine.

Margaret Weis

Weis’ books resided on our co-ed shelves, not on my Special Shelf, since my husband and I both loved them. Her early work definitely qualified as “gee whiz, look what women can do.” I was pleased to find out that Weis (read her bio here) and her co-writers are still churning out books. I’m looking forward to catching up.

In the early 1980s Weis co-wrote the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy, the first of many collaborations with Tracy Hickman. The trilogy and its universe became immensely popular. However, my favorite fantasy collaboration of theirs was an off-beat series called The Darksword Trilogy, written in the late eighties.

Moving from fantasy to sci-fi, my very favorite Weis series was a kick-ass space opera that she wrote solo, The Star of the Guardians. The first book appeared in 1990, with three more to follow and a slew of spin-offs which I thought were far superior to most series add-ons.

The world in this series is a vast, complete, and utterly believable universe ruled by imaginative future tech. The story revolves around a young prince, Dion, but the true main characters are Guardians Sagan and Maigrey; apparently, Weis wrote the fourth book just to complete their journey.

The Lady Maigrey is an amazing character, especially for the times, when women had yet to commonly hold positions of authority—not to mention swords that are linked to the user by a flow of nanobots from the hilt—in the science fiction world. Just as brave but more complex than Leia, she is a warrior who puts planet, prince, and right above love and personal satisfaction. Read Book One, The Lost King, just to meet her.

Joanna Russ

According to Goodreads, Russ’ The Female Man (1975) shows up on lists of essential science fiction. Yet Russ certainly does not share the prestige of some of her male counterparts from that era. It’s easy to see why; as you may gather from the title, her fiction is seriously political.

Goodreads says: “…THE FEMALE MAN is a suspenseful, surprising and darkly witty chronicle of what happens when Jeannine, Janet, Joanna, and Jael—four alternative selves from drastically different realities—meet.”

I don’t know how relevant Russ’ work will feel today. Although issues of equality are still urgent, the cultural context has changed dramatically. Definitely worth a look, though, even if you aren’t writing a dissertation on the portrayal of women in spec lit in the second half of the 20th century.

Another Russ work I particularly enjoyed was the The Adventures of Alyx (1976). All I could find was a paperback copy on Amazon for $15, so it’s a good title to ask your local used bookstore about (and probably cheaper that way too).

Russ was also a playwright, essayist, and author of nonfiction works, generally literary criticism and feminist theory. She died in 2011.

Marge Piercy

Piercy is probably best known as a poet, literary novelist, and social activist. Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), however, can’t be omitted from a list of speculative trailblazers.

Woman has a lot to say. It’s a time travel book and a utopia. It’s gender bending, feminist theory, and awareness of the rights of those incarcerated in mental institutions. And those are just a few of the dragons at which Piercy aims her lance.

Her other major speculative work is He, She, and It (1991), also published as Body of Glass. It’s classified as cyberpunk; how trail-blazing is that? This book takes on post-apocalypse, more gender-bending, and human-machine love. Buckle up if you check out the fearless Marge Piercy.

A tip o’ the hat to the LSQ blog and bloggers for keeping our spec pioneers from being forgotten. More next month!