More on feminist science fiction

In the wake of WisCon, the feminist science fiction convention, I think I’d like to put some serious time into reading the past winners of the James Tiptree Jr. award. More on the award:

In February of 1991 at WisCon, award-winning SF author Pat Murphy announced the creation of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender. Pat created the award in collaboration with author Karen Joy Fowler. The aim of the award is not to look for work that falls into some narrow definition of political correctness, but rather to seek out work that is thought-provoking, imaginative, and perhaps even infuriating. The Tiptree Award is intended to reward those women and men who are bold enough to contemplate shifts and changes in gender roles, a fundamental aspect of any society.

The award is named for Alice B. Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. By her impulsive choice of a masculine pen name, Sheldon helped break down the imaginary barrier between “women’s writing” and “men’s writing.” Her fine stories were eagerly accepted by publishers and won many awards in the field. Many years later, after she had written some other work under the female pen name of Raccoona Sheldon, it was discovered that she was female. The discovery led to a great deal of discussion of what aspects of writing, if any, are essentially gendered. The name “Tiptree” was selected to illustrate the complex role of gender in writing and reading.

Wikipedia has a nice clear list of past winners.

Special shoutouts to:

* Rachel Swirsky, a feminist blogger who comments here at Feministe under the name Mandolin, and who totally won a Nebula Award this year! (The Nebula is one of the most prestigious awards in speculative fiction.) Congratulations Mandolin, you’re so awesome. Here’s Mandolin’s archive of posts over at Alas, A Blog. And here’s her award-winning novella, freely available online: “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window“.

* Think Galacticon, an upcoming radical speculative fiction convention happening in Chicago. From their site:

Think Galacticon strives to create a space in which leftists can discuss politics and speculative fiction in an intelligent, engaging, and fun fashion. There will be multiple tracks of programming that seek to expand the boundaries of typical discussions. We want to explore issues of oppressive hierarchies, confronting topics of race, gender, sexuality, class and more.

Previously on Feministe (thanks Chally):

* Feminist speculative fiction recommendations

* Speculative and science fiction in colour

Comments with more recommendations, debate about various books, etc. are welcome.

About Clarisse Thorn

Clarisse Thorn is a Chicago-based, feminist, sex-positive activist and educator. Personal blog at; follow her on Twitter @clarissethorn; you can also buy her awesome book about pickup artists or her awesome best-of collection, The S&M Feminist.
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14 Responses to More on feminist science fiction

  1. LC says:

    Congrats Rachel!

    Now I want to read some Tiptree.

    I first encountered her in a collection that had obviously been reprinted right after she revealed herself. It is amazing in that it has the original forward by another author – I forget which – explaining in clear terms why despite some of the rumors, Tiptree was clearly not a woman. It was simply impossible. He was clearly just a recluse, not comfortable in the spotlight. Just after this was a one page second forward in which said author sheepishly admitted he had been wrong about that, hadn’t he, and it shows you how good a writer Tiptree is. Something of a non-apology apology.

    I wish Galacticon was closer… I’d like to start going to conventions again, and Wiscon and this sound like they would be the most interest to me.

  2. Yeah, a lot of male critics talked extensively about how Tiptree was obviously a dude. The apology you refer to is kind of hilarious and kind of infuriating. “She’s such a good writer, she made me think she was a man” … honestly!

  3. Filth says:

    Beautiful story.

  4. LC says:

    I really need to find it again to verify who it was. I might still have it buried in a box at my parents’ place. (Many things went into storage when I went down to Boston/Camberville and I haven’t reclaimed them since coming back.)

    My gut tells me it was “Warm Worlds and Otherwise”? (At work and probably shouldn’t be randomly googling for it right now.)

  5. LC says:

    Depending on Moderation, this may be out of order.

    It was this one, and it was Robert Silverberg.

  6. upyernoz says:

    i wasn’t able to make it to wiscon this year, but i’m really curious to find out if anything came of the elizabeth moon controversy.

    (a quick background: moon was originally supposed to be one of the guests of honor, then she posted some stuff about muslims on her blog last fall, which generated a big controversy, wiscon resisted calls to uninvite her as GoH, which caused more controversy and ultimately moon withdrew her guest of honorship)

  7. LC says:

    Oh yes, that was this year.

    I should poke some of my friends who did make it about it.

  8. shah8 says:

    I suppose I should mention that The Angry Black Woman blog has had some fairly cool people writing stuff in it, including Alaya Dawn Johnson (while I didn’t care for her YA, thought that Moonshine was one of the better paranormal romances) and NK Jemison, who I believe needs no introduction.

  9. wealhtheow says:

    Hey upernoz–It took about a month for the Motherboard and SF3 (the umbrella org under which Wiscon legally falls, iirc) to meet and decide on how to handle the Moon issue. When they did meet, they chose to disinvite her as Guest of Honor (although she was still, of course, welcome to attend the con as a private citizen). SF3’s statement to that effect is here. (They got a lot of flack for disinviting her; the comments sections of the announcements are vicious.) Additionally, the con created a values statement (so that in the future, if a Guest of Honor went so against the principles of a feminist con, the con would have an easily pointed-to method of handling the issue) and created the Daisy Khan fund (earmarked to assist members of Muslim and Arab backgrounds in attending Wiscon). I’m not speaking for Wiscon or its parent orgs–I just love the con and have attended for years because I find the discussions I have there to be so valuable and energizing. LC, I went to the last two Think Galacticons, and I loved them as well! I hope you can make it some year!

  10. Julian says:

    clarification regarding Elizabeth Moon – after pressure from its members, Wiscon ultimately withdrew Moon’s invitation as Guest of Honor. Moon did *not* withdraw herself.

  11. LC says:

    wealhtheow – thanks for the update. Yeah, the economic crash did some bad things to my travel. I am only just recovering, and honestly, I fell out of reading fiction for a while, too. Still, my friends Shira and Julia LOVE WisCon, so I keep saying I till try to go.

  12. upyernoz says:

    yeah, thanks for the clarification. i had to suddenly leave the country at the end of october, so that must have been how i missed the withdrawn invitation.

    but i’m still curious whether the controversy came up much at the con this year. i used to go every year, but i haven’t been able to make it since 2009.

  13. Mandolin says:

    I didn’t hear about it except for people talking about PR effects.

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