The James Tiptree Award Anthology 3
Edited by Karen Joy Fowler, et al. Tachyon, $14.95.
It’s a peculiar sort of writer who deserves the immortalization of three anthologies published in his or her honor. But science-fiction legend James R. Tiptree is one of the few who does, and this third installment of stories by science-fiction luminaries resonates with the power of both her writing and the story of her career. Yes, her. Tiptree, née Alice Sheldon, masked her gender for the sake of her career. As a story, it sits on a rich nexus. Was Sheldon, as she and others have claimed, afforded more respect as a feminist “man” than as an outed woman?
Good science fiction, after all, delights in fascinating hypotheticals, and this third installment of the Tiptree Anthology is full of them. Pulling largely from the annual shortlists and winners of the award given to honor Sheldon’s legacy, the anthology puts into play questions that are both intellectually and dramatically exciting. What if we could turn off the part of our brain that recognizes physical beauty? How would a creature composed of 16 bodies and minds understand the parenting instinct? What happens to the backwater expert when the communications revolution comes to her village?
It’s not just fiction, either; some of the best writing here is in essay form. Why are Octavia Butler’s otherwise strong women so insistently maternal? Why did the Sci Fi channel’s adaptation of Ursula Le Guin’s “Earthsea” cycle—science fiction’s first great multicultural epic—get whitewashed in the casting?
Not every entry is a winner, of course, but there’s a lot of quality writing between these covers. The inclusion of more mainstream writers like Dorothy Allison and Aimee Bender only broadens the appeal even further, making this a great choice for the sort of reader who might not yet know how much she loves science fiction.—Pete Coco