I was thinking the other day about Joanna Russ, both because of her passing and because Ann and I had read so much of her short fiction while making decisions on stories for our The Weird anthology (Atlantic, November). I’d been absolutely stunned by the sheer quantity of the quality, because certain stories get reprinted over and over and this had created an assumption in my mind of why the others might not have reprinted…Wrong. And someone needs to do an omnibus. Right. Now. These stories are by turns horrifying, hilarious, eccentric, dangerous, comforting, and riotously good fun…and, yes, serious. They need to be returned, en masse, to the mainstream of SF and Fantasy reading, in the most accessible formats possible.
As importantly, in the rest of our reading for The Weird, Russ’s work helped me to appreciate other authors, both in the context of a general tradition of strange fiction and also a tradition of women’s fiction, especially from the 1970s and 1980s. In that latter vein, for example, Russ in combination with Shirley Jackson made me appreciate Kelly Link even more. (Although I’d not presume to claim those influences on Link’s behalf.)
I don’t have anything that profound to say about Russ—I think a lot of people have said much more interesting and personal thiings already. But I was happy to have a chance to engage with her fiction again, and happy it was in the context of The Weird and so many other fine authors–and that even reading so many stories (probably about four to five million words of fiction to get to our 750,000 words), her work stood out.
We’re not quite ready to reveal the entire 100-plus stories in The Weird, but I thought I’d give a sneak peek of a brief selection of the fiction by women in our anthology from before and after our Russ selection. This is only one context in which Russ or any of these writers can be seen, of course—in the anthology as a whole they and their stories tie in to many different themes and traditions, communicating with, and sometimes correcting, stories by male writers as well. (Nor are these selections all explicitly feminist stories.)
Shirley Jackson, “The Summer People,” 1950
Merce Rodoreda, “The Salamander,” 1967 (translation, Catalan)
James Tiptree Jr., “The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Terrible Things to Rats,” 1976
Jamaica Kincaid, “Mother,” 1978
Joanna Russ, “The Little Dirty Girl,” 1982
Octavia Butler, “Bloodchild,” 1984
Elizabeth Hand, “The Boy in the Tree,” 1989
Karen Joy Fowler, “The Dark,” 1991
Kathe Koja, “Angels in Love,” 1991
Lisa Tuttle, “Replacements,” 1992
Angela Carter, “The Snow Pavilion,” 1995
Kelly Link, “The Specialist’s Hat,” 1998