Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
The James Tiptree Award Anthology 2
edited by Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Murphy, Debbie Notkin, Jeffrey D. Smith
Tachyon Publications, 250 pages

The James Tiptree Award Anthology 2
The James Tiptree, Jr. Award
In February of 1991, 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. She created the award in collaboration with author Karen Joy Fowler. The award is named for Alice B. Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr.

The James Tiptree, Jr. Award Website
SF Site Review: The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1
SF Site Review: The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1
SF Site Review: The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Paul Kincaid

Advertisement
The James Tiptree Award is probably the most idiosyncratic award in science fiction. While all other awards aim at recognising some version of the 'best' in the genre, the Tiptree Award goes to fiction 'that explores and expands our notion of gender.' While other awards announce a short list and then draw their winner from it, the Tiptree Award chooses a winner and then publishes a short list. While other awards separate out novel, novella, novelette and short story (if they consider the shorter forms at all), the Tiptree Award has recognised, without fear or favour, novels, short stories and collections. And no other award finances itself by bake sales, cook books and auctions -- or would even dream of doing so.

Out of such curious origins -- at no point is it explained what might be meant by exploring and expanding our notion of gender -- has emerged a succession of fascinating work that has often been overlooked by more traditional awards. Now, presumably following the example of the Nebula Awards, selections of winning and short-listed titles are starting to be republished in these Tiptree Award anthologies, though even here the idiosyncracy continues, since despite the numbering this is actually the third Tiptree Award anthology, the first one, Flying Cups and Saucers appeared in 1998.

What we have gathered here are extracts from the two novels that shared the most recent, 2004, Award (Troll: A Love Story by Johana Sinisalo -- the Tiptree has an honourable tradition of recognising work that did not originally appear in English -- and Camouflage by Joe Haldeman). Alongside these there are four stories from the 2004 short list, one story from the 1996 short list, one from the 1994 short list, and the only short story to have won the award on its own, Raphael Carter's extraordinary 'Cognitive Agenesis of Gender Ideation by K.N. Sirsi and Sandra Botkin' from 1998. Alongside these nine fictions there's a surprising amount of non-fiction: an introduction by Debbie Notkin, a piece on James Tiptree, Jr. by her biographer, Julie Philips, a letter from Tiptree which reveals much about her attitude towards writing science fiction, Nalo Hopkinson's Guest of Honour speech from Wiscon in 2002, and a fascinating paper given by Gwyneth Jones at a conference in 1994.

The problem that all reprint anthologies face is familiarity. I sense that the Tiptree Award anthologies are trying to get around this with the non-fiction (though despite the fact that Hopkinson's speech has much to say about being black and female in an SF world, and Philips's piece whets the appetite for the forthcoming biography, only the paper by Jones really makes you sit up and take notice). But the peculiar perspective of the Tiptree Award means that the fictions gathered here are not as frequently reprinted as is usually the case. Okay, 'Another Story, or A Fisherman of the Inland Sea' by Ursula K. Le Guin has made it into more that its fair share of collections and anthologies, as you might expect of a story that is touching and perceptive and has the name Le Guin attached to it. It's good, of course, but there are two stories that do a better job in this anthology that are not so familiar. Jonathan Lethem's 'Five Fucks' is a tour de force in which the very nature of reality is undermined by sex. It's the sort of radical, superbly controlled story that we should have seen everywhere in the ten years since it was first published, and of course haven't. But even this pales beside Raphael Carter's award-winner. I remember being bowled over by this story when it first appeared in Starlight 2, a mind-boggling pseudo-scientific paper which presents the idea that there are many more than just two sexes, though most of us don't actually recognise the fact. It is the sort of sustained exercise of the imagination that science fiction achieves far more rarely than we like to pretend, and of course it sank without trace. Only the Tiptree Award recognised (and perhaps could recognise) its unique brilliance, and revisiting the story here it is pleasing to discover that it has lost none of its startling power.

Besides such stories, cherry-picked from the best of thirteen years of short lists, the handful of stories taken from the 2004 short list have a lot to live up to. They don't quite make it. 'Kissing Frogs' by Jaye Lawrence is an amusing variation on the old old story, but it is little more than a lightweight confection that has no great statement to make about gender -- whatever that might be. 'The Gift' by L. Timmel Duchamp, on the other hand, does try to make a grand statement about gender in a novella about a planet with a particularly exquisite form of art that is dependent on a type of castration, but it could have been said as well in a story set among the opera houses of 18th century Europe, and it is far too long for what it is trying to do.

Carol Emshwiller, with typical economy, manages as much in considerably shorter space: 'All of Us can Almost ...' is an exquisite fable about birds who have lost the power of flight. 'Nirvana High' by Eileen Gunn and Leslie What is part of what seems to be a curious trend in American science fiction of the last few years, the futuristic school story. In this case it centres of a disaffected class of pupils with paranormal powers and is in many ways the most promising of these newer stories, but also the most disappointing since it never quite explores its idea with the courage it demands, and ends flatly rather than with the resolution that could have lifted it.

Alongside these, the two novels that shared the Award are represented by extracts that are enough to whet the appetite and make me at least want to read the full novels, but not enough to give any real idea of how, exactly, they explore and expand gender issues. But novel extracts in an anthology like this are par for the course and always disappointing. We are fortunate that the Tiptree Award gives equal weight to short fiction, because it is the stories which really make this collection worth reading.

Copyright © 2006 by Paul Kincaid

Paul Kincaid is the administrator of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and reviews for most of the critical journals in science fiction, as well as contributing to numerous reference books.


SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to editor@sfsite.com.
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide