THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES IN SCIENCE FICTION
by Justine Larbalestier
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Justine Larbalestier attacks the subject of The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction in her book of the same title. In this scholarly, but eminently readable, volume, Larbalestier traces the role of women as writers and in the fannish subculture, eventually examining the pivotal role of Alice Sheldon, better known as James Tiptree, Jr., and the award named in her/his honor.
Larbalestier has a strong command of her material, however, she often focuses on novels and stories which are currently out of print. A companion anthology containing the stories she references would have been an excellent addition to the current work. However, she quotes lengthy passages and explains their context in order that the reader knows what she is discussing and how it grew out of earlier works of fiction.
Larbalestier's premise seems to be that the male version of the battle of the sexes is the status quo, and it is challenged only when feminist ideology enters into the discourse. Larbalestier notes that women were a minority of the writers through much of science fiction's history (although always present), and many of the male authors rose to the challenge to defend the status quo she portrays. Interestingly, Larbalestier refrains from discussion of some of the more blatantly anti-feminism works, such as the writings of "John Norman." At the same time, there is only a cursory discussion, at best, of the winners of the James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award.
The book, alas, treats much of its topic in a vacuum. There is little discussion of the treatment of similar themes in the literary world outside of science fiction or, for that matter, in the non-literary world. Larbalestier also ends much of her discussion with the advent of the seventies. Larbalestier does discuss some of the work during that time, notably the writings of Joanna Russ and James Tiptree, Jr., but her focus seems to be primarily on the earlier period.
One personal preference is to see footnotes rather than endnotes, especially in the case, such as Larbalestier's, where the notes contain information which is interesting and informative rather than merely citations. As it is, the interested reader is kept flipping from their place in the text to the end materials to find out what pieces of information Larbalestier felt worthy of inclusion, but could not fit into her main text.
The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction is an interesting book, although it doesn't cover the topic as thoroughly as could be desired, leaving room for a follow-up volume that takes the battle from the 1970s through the present. Larbalestier clearly knows her topic and has affection for it. She admits that she has become a part of the community which she set out to chronicle, however in this case, that seems to give her a better understanding of the topic and its intricacies.
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