A.C. Wise is the author of numerous short stories appearing in print and online in publications such as Clarkesworld, Apex, Lightspeed, and the Best Horror of the Year Vol. 4. In addition to her fiction, she co-edits The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, an online magazine devoted to fiction and art about bugs. Follow her on twitter as @ac_wise.
by A.C. Wise
In the conversation about women in speculative fiction, the same names tend to come up over and over again: Ursula K. LeGuin, Shirley Jackson, Anne McCaffrey, and so on. While these authors are all more than worthy of mention, it’s far past time to turn our attention to the authors making their mark on the field today. To that end, I recently put out a call for recommendations of authors who made their first paid sale (pro or otherwise) within the last two years. Based on the fabulous responses I received, I compiled a list of new voices in speculative fiction on my blog. In this installment of Women to Read, I’ll highlight a few of those new voices.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit bias here: Lindsey’s first paid fiction sale was to the ‘Hello World’ mini issue of the Journal of Unlikely Entomology, which I co-edit. However, I promise not to be entirely self-serving here. The story I recommend as a starting point appeared in Crossed Genres‘ ‘Touch’ issue in August 2013. ‘Touch of Tides‘ features a character with synesthesia whose gender is never defined, and is an example of an alien communication/first contact story done right. Too often fiction takes the easy way out when it comes to communication, either relying on hand-wavy technology that might as well be magic (see the Tardis translation circuit), or ignores the question completely. Lindsey’s story ‘Touch of Tides’ encapsulates the problem of interspecies communication with a very simply question: How do you communicate the idea of ‘from another planet’ to a being that has never even seen a star? Humans haven’t conquered the problem of communicating with the creatures on Earth; alien communication shouldn’t be easy. Even within our own species, we regularly fail to make ourselves understood – another point Lindsey makes within ‘Touch of Tides’. No two people experience the world in exactly the same way, complicating the old axiom of treating others as you want to be treated. So how do two beings with no common ground at all talk to each other? All that said, the story isn’t bleak. Even with vast differences, there are ways to make ourselves understood, but it’s a slow process, requiring patience.
Another admission of bias here: A.T. Greenblatt and I share a critique group. However, I hope you’ll take this knowledge in the spirit it’s offered – as proof I know what I’m talking about when I say you’ll be seeing work from Greenblatt everywhere very soon. The first of her stories I encountered recently appeared in Daily Science Fiction, and that’s the one I’ll recommend as a starting point. ‘Tell Them of the Sky‘ has a lovely, fairytale-like quality. It’s set in a world ruined by pollution and war, but like Lindsey’s story, it isn’t without hope. But hope comes with a price, underlining the truth that those things in life truly worth having often require sacrifice and pain. It’s another story demonstrating important of patience, showing that even in a fantasy world, sometimes a lifetime of waiting, growing-up, and living hard must be endured before your dreams come true.
There is a semi-bias here, only in that I have a personal experience with the author’s work leading me to this particular recommendation. At this year’s Balticon, I had the pleasure of hearing Pinsker read an excerpt of my recommended starting point for her work, ‘In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind‘, prior to its publication in Strange Horizons. The portion of the story she read immediately hooked me, providing a glimpse of a bittersweet tale containing elements of the fantastic, but at the same time, very much rooted in real and relatable loss and pain. There is a beautiful subtlety to this story. It never hits the reader over the head with the speculative element, leaving much of that side of the story between the lines. Pinsker handles the subtext so deftly that two full stories present themselves to the reader, even though only one is fully outlined on the page.
There is no bias here. I came upon my recommended starting point, “This Villain You Must Create“, which appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, with no prior knowledge of the author, and I fell in love with the story right away. Okay. I will admit a bias for superhero/villain stories, but that’s my only bias here, I swear. As with my favorite superhero/villain fiction, this story humanizes the characters, moving beyond archetypical comic book depictions. I was honestly taken by surprise at the story’s ending. It avoided the easy path, veering from the easy and expected solution into darker territory, taking my appreciation to the next level.
I expect to see wonderful things from all of these authors in the years to come. Pay attention, these names are among the ones we’ll be offering up in the future as shining examples when people say that women can’t/don’t write speculative fiction.