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The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1
edited by Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Murphy, Debbie Notkin, Jeffrey D. Smith
Tachyon Publications, 320 pages

The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1
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

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Kit O'Connell

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The best thing about The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1 is "The Snow Queen," a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson which is over 150 years older than the oldest Tiptree award-winner in the book. That's not to say there aren't other rewarding stories in this diverse anthology, but this beautifully constructed fable, newly translated by Diana Crone Frank and Jeffrey Frank, is easily the most compelling. With beautiful, lyrical language, we are drawn into the lives of Kai and Gerda, two childhood friends who take a seven part, multi-faceted journey into fable which begins when some trolls take an evil mirror up to heaven to try to reflect the image of God. A sudden wind shatters the mirror, setting in motion the events of the story.

Of course, the real reason "The Snow Queen" is included in this anthology is that it is followed by two modern, Tiptree award-winning retellings of the story. "The Lady of the Ice Garden," by Kara Dalkey, is a Japanese retelling of the fable that suffers by such close comparison to the original. The plot lacks the depth of Anderson's work and, despite cultural changes, cleaves too closely to the original until the ending. Her novel The Nightingale makes a far better fairy tale retelling not to mention a much better display of the author's literary talent. Kelly Link's "Travels with the Snow Queen," by contrast, seems stronger thanks to close familiarity with the original story. "Travels" is a clever, post-modernist interpretation that uses the fable as a metaphor for the emotional upheaval of relationships and breakups and cleverly draws from numerous other fairy tale themes. I enjoyed it but suspect it may not be to all readers' tastes; I also believe it would be weaker without such fresh knowledge of the "original."

Another gem in this anthology is Richard Calder's "The Catgirl Manifesto: An Introduction," a weird story masquerading as a scholarly introduction on the origin and effects of an extremely seditious document. It successfully builds what feels like a complete reality even though it only gives us tantalizing glimpses of the alternate historical events that take place in it. The "story" raises some disturbing issues about gender, sexuality, and death making it perhaps The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1's most successful attempt at pushing back the boundaries of the gender debate.

Other stories in the anthology are a bit more problematic. "Birth Days" by Geoff Ryman featured a barely developed setting and a juvenile premise -- gay men giving birth anally -- and thus made a strange choice to begin the anthology. "The Ghost Girls of Rumney Hill" by Sandra McDonald is a competent enough examination of transgender issues through a horror story but feels as though it lacks depth. I found "Looking Through Lace" by Ruth Nestvold to have some really interesting ideas about culture, gender, and language but it suffers from a stereotypically misogynistic antagonist who seems otherwise out of place. "Boys," by Carol Emshwiller, and "What I Didn't See" by Karen Joy Fowler were both interesting to read but left little impact on this reader.

However, my biggest problem with The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1 is the inclusion of an excerpt from Matt Ruff's 2003 Tiptree Award-winning novel, Set This House In Order: A Romance of Souls; although the novel might be excellent, I just can't stand novel excerpts in anthologies. I acknowledge that this flaw is one that this anthology shares with other award anthologies, but I don't see that as any excuse. In my experience, novel excerpts either give a dissatisfyingly brief glimpse of a complex work or entirely reveal all the major aspects of the plot; the Ruff excerpt falls into the former category. Discussions with my book-reading friends suggest that many of them are equally irritated by novel excerpts, and as one pointed out, on the rare occasion you do get interested in a novel from reading part of it, you can almost never find it when you go looking for it in stores. The most frustrating aspect of this editorial decision is that in the same anthology, Ursula K. Le Guin's humorous and illuminating essay "Genre: A Word Only the French Could Love" is included in lieu of one of her Tiptree Award-winning novels -- if only a similar decision had been made with Matt Ruff, I think I would ironically have been more inclined to read his novel.

Although I enjoyed many of the stories in The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1, learned a good deal about James Tiptree herself, and am especially grateful to discover through this anthology the existence of The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen: A New Translation from the Danish, I find I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it. Readers seeking books to read on the themes of gender and sexuality may be better off visiting the James Tiptree Award home page and using its list of award winners and short-listed books to find more satisfying books to read. This is an anthology to borrow from the library, or at least skim thoroughly at the bookstore before deciding whether to buy.

Copyright © 2005 Kit O'Connell

Kit O'Connell is a writer, bookseller, and ne'er-do-well from Austin, TX. Ever since visiting "Camp Catgirl" at Burning Man, he regularly falls prey to nympholeptic fits. When he is in better spirits, he occasionally updates his journal, todfox.livejournal.com.


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