This issue of Vector is dedicated, in part, to revisiting the subject of women writers of science fiction. Few female UK-based science fiction authors currently have contracts, but worldwide, there’s a great deal going on, a geographic, cultural, and linguistic diversity which Cheryl Morgan surveys in this issue. I came away from reading it with a massively expanded to-read list, and I hope it inspires you similarly. Tony Keen examines the roles of death and transformation in Justina Robson’s books Natural History (one of the books on last year’s list of the previous decades best science fiction by women) and Living Next Door to the God of Love. In contrast, Niall Harrison examines a very different author, Glasgow-based Julie Bertagna. Her post-apocalyptic trilogy, which begins with Exodus, provides an intriguing comparison with Stephen Baxter’s current series of prehistoric climate change novels which began with Stone Spring.
The second part of Victor Grech’s three-part series on gender in science fiction doesn’t focus on women science fiction authors, but does deal with quite a few of them in the process of discussing the variety of single-gendered world in science fiction. In particular, he examines the in-story reasons, the biological explanations for their existence, and the degrees to which those mechanisms are found in the ecologies of our own world.Shana Worthen
No, I think it’s more about the way to do it. With Tolkien, as I said in the book, it was “Gosh, you can write a whole three-volume fantasy – this is marvellous, let’s do this thing.” With other influences like C.S. Lewis, the “how to do it” thing that grabbed me was that he was always so completely clear about what was happening. You are never in any doubt who is where, and doing what – and much more complicated things than that.Diane Wynne Jones
Certain topics ask for poetic treatment—love is one of them, and unrequited love in particular. Poetic writing is, through its intensity, writing that says more than it appears to say. Thus the love that dare not speak its name, in Lord Alfred Douglas’s words, lends itself to poetic treatment, in times when it focuses on an expressly forbidden topic. What we have here is, of course, essentially a literary structure: At its center is a guilty secret—and the guilt and the secrecy are both pivotal. The guilt and the secrecy creates a relationship between two persons, one who knows, and one who does not know. I suspect all writers, from time to time, can be drawn to that structure more or less strongly, whether the secret involves gay sex or not. But I suspect its hard to write a story using such a structure, possibly for its poetic potential, that is not going seem, to some readers, a coded gay tale—even to the surprise of the author; which I think may have been what happened here.Samuel R. Delany
But the fact is, none of the writing I did about that time—or during that time—gives a direct portrait of my sexual life back then. To repeat, this was three, four years before Stonewall. Back then you didn’t write about things like that, except in code. You left clues that people could—sometimes—read, between the lines. But it was actually dangerous to write about them. You could get in real trouble. You could get your friends in trouble. So you didn’t do it—not in journals, not in letters, not in fiction. A few brave souls, like Ned Rorum or Paul Goodman, were exceptions—and later on, I tried to fill in a few incidents myself. But basically, that wasn’t me.
I tell you this, because it’s important to remember, when considering fiction—like “Aye, and Gomorrah”— just how wide a gap can fall between life and literature—and how social pressures control that gap, so that, in looking at, say, the two award-winning stories of mine that deal with matters gay from the second half of the ’sixties, you have to realize they are finally fairy tales in the way my anecdote about the African medical student cruising the park and his friends is not—even though the Science Fiction Writers of America, who handed out the awards, doubtless felt that they were congratulating me for bringing a new level of “mature realism” to the genre, simply because I was dealing directly with something they thought of as sordid and probably wouldn’t have recognized it at all if I had presented it in any other way. Possibly, at that time, I wouldn’t have recognized it either.
For much the same reasons Nabokov says that Madame Bovary— famed at its time of publication for its realism, it even helped found the school of realism—is finally as much a dark fairy tale as “Jack and the Beanstock” and “Sleeping Beauty.”Samuel R. Delany
3 • Torque Control • editorial by Shana Worthen
4 • A Year in Review: Looking Back at 2010 • essay by Martin Lewis
5 • 2010: Books in Review • essay by Graham Andrews and Lynne Bispham and Mark Connorton and Gary Dalkin and Alan Fraser and Niall Harrison and David Hebblethwaite and Tony Keen and Paul Kincaid and Jonathan McCalmont and Martin McGrath and Anthony Nanson and Martin Potts and Paul Graham Raven and Ian Sales and Jim Steel and Martyn Taylor and Sandra Unnerman and Anne Wilson
15 • 2010: Television in Review • essay by Alison Page
20 • 2010 in Film: Not My Kind of Genre • essay by Jonathan McCalmont
24 • Strip Club: A Fanciful Flight • essay by Terry Martin
26 • The Promises and Pitfalls of a Christian Agenda in Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle • essay by Anthony Nanson
30 • Scholars and Soldiers • [Foundation Favourites • 12] • essay by Andy Sawyer
32 • Alpha Centauri • [Resonances • 61] • essay by Stephen Baxter
34 • Kincaid in Short • [Kincaid in Short] • essay by Paul Kincaid
37 • Review: Finch by Jeff VanderMeer • review by Paul Graham Raven
38 • Review: Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan • review by Jonathan McCalmont
39 • Review: Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks • review by Marcus Flavin
40 • Review: The Technician by Neal Asher • review by Stuart Carter
40 • Review: Version 43 by Philip Palmer • review by David Hebblethwaite
41 • Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu • review by Martin McGrath
41 • Review: Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson • review by Anthony Nanson
42 • Review: Music for Another World by Mark Harding • review by Dave M. Roberts
42 • Review: The Immersion Book of SF by Carmelo Rafala • review by Maureen Kincaid Speller
43 • Review: Zombie: An Anthology of the Undead by Christopher Golden • review by Colin B. Harvey [as by C. B. Harvey]
43 • Review: The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer • review by Niall Harrison
44 • Review: Feed by Mira Grant • review by Alex Williams
44 • Review: Tomes of the Dead: Anno Mortis by Rebecca Levene • review by Shaun Green
45 • Review: Songs of the Dying Earth by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin • review by L. J. Hurst
46 • Review: The Black Prism by Brent Weeks • review by Donna Scott
46 • Review: The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood • review by Anne F. Wilson
47 • Review: Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal by Sherryl Vint • review by Gwyneth Jones
[Mary] Gentle’s prose is sharp, her powers of invention brilliant, her characters real, especially the greasy, obese Casaubon with his pet rat. They are not necessarily likeable. Casaubon is a Lord, and not on Our Side (there’s a neat scene where he’s confronted with the woman who does his laundry who has to live on far less than the cost of one single garment), and when Valentine re-appears a couple of novels down the line she does a dreadful and unforgivable thing. But, in the best tradition of the malcontents in the Jacobean drama, boy, are they vivid! This was a new thing.
For a time I used the word scholarpunk for this fusion of erudition and bad-ass attitude. Fortunately no-one noticed.Andy Sawyer
Nowhere was this tiredness more evident than in the lugubriously self-indulgent Iron Man 2. Jon Favreau’s Iron Man (2008) was something of an unexpected hit; its combination of clever casting and pseudo-political posturing caught the public’s imagination while its lighter tone and aspirational Californian setting served as a useful counterpoint to the doom and gloom of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). However, the second Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark steps on stage in the sequel, it is obvious that something is terribly wrong. The film’s onanistic triumphalism and bare-faced declaration that social ills are best confronted by private sector moral entrepreneurs feels astonishingly ugly and politically insensitive at a time when private sector entrepreneurs are having their companies propped-up at the expense of the poor and the hungry. The decision to cast Mickey Rourke as a shambling Russian baddy is laughably pretentious in a film that ultimately boils down to a bunch of computer-generated robots punching each other in the face for about an hour.Jonathan McCalmont
I found a Darwin site where a respondent asked “who else thinks Beatrix Potter may have developed her stories, about animals with increasingly human characteristics, from acquaintance with Darwin’s theory?” The idea that Beatrix Potter had to wait for The Origin Of Species before she thought of writing about reprobate foxes, trusting piglets, thieving magpies and insolent rats may seem ridiculous but this internetgeneration query is revealing. Our animal folklore is no longer refreshed by experience. In my own lifetime, here in the UK, the estrangement that began as soon as agriculture was established, has accelerated almost to vanishing point. We see animals as pets; as entertainment products we consume through the screen (where their fate, nowadays, holds a tragic fascination). We see them, perhaps, as an increasingly problematic food source. We no longer ‘meet their gaze’ as independent neighbours. The neo-Darwinists have even been doing their damnedest to break the link that Charles Darwin forged, when he transformed our deep intuition of continuity with the animal world into ‘scientific fact’.Gwyneth Jones
And was Karel Čapek really writing about newts?Gwyneth Jones
On the whole, however, Vint does a good job of disentangling “the animal” from the mix and Animal Alterity is an impressive achievement. A study of this kind isn’t meant to offer solutions and there are none (beyond a rather vague promise that post-humanism will blur the line between human and animal). Instead there’s a mass of evidence identifying sf as a resource: a treasury for Animal Studies academics; a rich means of bringing those moral arguments to life —drawn from an overlooked genre that has (always, already) developed sophisticated ways of thinking about looming problems that have only just occurred to the mainstream.
To the general reader, Animal Alterity offers food for thought and a quirky compendium of offbeat and classic titles. Could a “related book” on this topic become widely popular? I don’t know. In my day, sf fans tended to be petrol-headed meat-munchers, their concern for our stewardship of the ecosphere constrained by a passion for beer, mayhem and go-faster starships. Times have changed. The younger generation may feel very differently: I hope so.Gwyneth Jones
Ken Slater sent me Vectors 41, 42 and 43 when I was asked to do this article and it all came flooding back to me.
I was the Secretary of the BSFA. We had a new Publications Officer, Steve Oakley, and review books and money were sent to him. Heh lived about 20 miles from me, but he had romantic problems (his mother refused to speak to me, as I had introduced the lady in question), and I don’t believe Vector ever came out during his tenure. In fact, he went off to university in the autumn. I had applied for and got a job in charge of a legal department, and was attending evening classes studying law, when Ken rang me about the non-appearance of Vector.
I arranged to go over to Wisbech, and we had a committee meeting. We decided that Ken and I would jointly edit Vector until the AGM at Easter, and Ken gave me a load of stencils (remember them?) which I took home to type. We had no material, so I wrote to Dan Morgan, Ted Tubb, Chris Priest (who was also auditor, and wanted to know whether we had any money), Ken Bulmer and Phil Muldowney.
Then the fun started. Ken typed his own stencil — no spelling errors — and I typed the rest. We got in touch with Phil Rogers (the Chair) and all me at Ken’s on Saturday. Phil turned up late in the afternoon to find Joyce and I stood there, duplicating. Ken had a really old Roneo, and on every fourth page it got stuck and destroyed the paper. We stood on our feet from 10am to 4pm. When the men appeared we had something to eat, and I remember getting very drunk that night and motoring back to Deeping St James with all the papers, envelopes given to me by Ken, and money for postage from Phil.
We were pleased with theh outcome, and carried on for Vector 42 and 43. You ought to read those Vectors get the flavour of them.
In the meantime Ken and I were meeting weekly (with Joyce, of course) and spent hours trying to think how to make the BSFA safer. Phil sometimes joined us, staying late on Saturdays — but never overnight, as he had a regular Sunday appointment. We expected there was a lady involved, but later when I married Phil (in 1972) and asked him, he just smiled and said he never kissed and told.
I was working, as I said, in a legal office. I was in charge of Probate; there was a company solicitor, Danny, in the same office who went all over the world forming companies. It was office policy that all solicitors and clerks had to do a certain amount of conveyancing. Danny hated conveyancing, though, and asked me to do it for him. I agreed, or the condition that he would help me. I explained all about the BSFA, and whether it would be feasible to form a Limited Company with shares. He said now, and explained to me about a Limited Company by Guarantee, which was one of the options that had been suggested by Ken. Whilst looking into this question, of course, we were still producing Vector as before; Trish (aged 9) was proofreading and helping me to assemble the pages, which we then stapled and posted. Ken and I had such good support — although of course not everyone was pleased with our efforts.
In the meantime, I was also studying for my examis, which I took in February (and passed), and approaching authors, publishers, etc. to ask whether, if the company was formed, they would become Directors. I asked everyone from Edmund Crisping to Brian Aldiss.
We decided to enact the change by referendum, and not at the AGM. There was a lot of approval, and a lot of opposition — some of the loudest from Peter Weston, who refused to become a member. I was surprised and hurt, as we had become […] good friends — it wasn’t until I read With Stars in my Eyes that I understood we were at cross-purposes. Peter thought I wanted to break up fandom; I wanted science fiction to be recognised and respected as a genre, but not at the expense of the breakup of fandom. I thought fandom was a vital part of science fiction.
We formed the company before November when the law was changed. (After forming BSFA Ltd., the company solicitor made me form another company for the theatre he’d started in Peterborough.)
I don’t remember who took over Publications. We never saw Steve again. I carried on for a few years, but after a time, with other things on my mind, my membership lapsed, and I haven’t seen Vector for years. I’m sure it isn’t typed on stencils any more.
What energy and what fun we had in those days! Terry Pratchett said recently that there are no old people, just young people looking around and saying “what happened? Where did the time go?” I couldn’t agree more.Doreen Parker [Rogers]
In 2006, it is perhaps difficult for people who have grown up in a culture where science fiction images and references are splashed all over the place to understand what it was like in the days when sf readers were a comparatively small group, when the racks in general bookshops were not overflowing with trilogies with individual volumes the size of house bricks. Star Wars, Blake’s Seven and various other things were beginning to generate a new wave of popular interest in visual sf, and Dr Who had not entered its long hiatus at that point, but readers were still, on the whole, very isolated from one another, and I wanted the BSFA to put them in touch with one another. I also wanted to break down what I considered to be very narrow definitions of science fiction, the ABC — Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke — approach, with a little H for Heinlein thrown in for good measure. SF was undergoing its most radical transformation since the New Wave of the 1960s, with the arrival on the scene of William Gibson’s Neuromancer in 1984, and I wanted to challenge people to read widely, think about speculative fiction, not just science fiction. In Matrix I listed anything that looked as though it might have some sort of vaguely fantastical component — magical realism was particularly flourishing at that time, I recall, alongside cyberpunk — and did not simply focus on the output of the sf publishers. Paul Kincaid was taking a similar approach material reviewed in Vector. Soon enough, the Clarke Award would begin its eclectic odyssey to explore the boundaries of sf. What I enjoyed then, still enjoy now, is to find a book in an unlikely place, or from an unexpected publisher, and think ‘yes, this isf’, whatever the author and/or publisher might thing. It’s like prospecting.
I don’t know if any of us at that point actually started a revolution; I don’t think we effected any kind of reconciliation between two sf cultures. I’m not even sure there was a revolution that needed starting, or a reconciliation thaht needed to be made. Twenty years is enough time to realise that what goes around, comes around. Something becomes important for a while, then something else arises to take its place. I freely admit I glaze over when the discussion turns to Buffy but I will be there with bells on when the discussion turns to text again. The most important thing any of us has done, still does, is to stoke the fire, keep the discussion going, and make sure there is a place for it to keep going; one way or another the BSFA has been doing that since 1958 (the year before I was born) and keeps on doing so.Maureen Kincaid Speller