The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1: Sex, the Future and Chocolate Chip Cookies
edited by Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Murphy, Debbie Notkin and Jeffrey D. Smith
Published by Tachyon
302 pages, 2004
Reviewed by Andi Shechter
Where to start? Do I tell you that I get Pat Murphy's jokes in the introduction? That I contributed recipes to both Tiptree fundraising cookbooks and have helped out with a bake sale or two (and like Murphy, I'm not a bake sale sort of person)? Or do I tell you that my favorite part of this terrific collection is the essay by Ursula Le Guin (whose "Cream of Refrigerator Soup" recipe I can't exactly recommend)? Do I say that one sign of a really good anthology is that it leaves you wanting more, and I did, so where's the second one already please? Or do I say that when I was done reading, I immediately went to locate a copy of Matt Ruff's Set This House In Order because the excerpt took my breath away? OK: all of the above. All true. Not bad, huh?
Reading The James Tiptree Award Anthology was a joy. I know some of the history of the award and the writer after whom it's named, but I didn't know what went into the birth of the award so I found Suzy McKee Charnas' "Judging the Tiptree" fascinating. When a new award is created, there are no rules. Those with the ideas and those willing to do the work get to make the rules. And perhaps remake them, over and over. The inside story was thought-provoking. It made me think.
Likewise, the letter that Sheldon/Tiptree wrote to Jeff Smith, entitled "Everything But The Signature Is Me" is, well, buy this book for that. It's quintessential Tiptree writing. In fact, buy this book for any reason. It's worth it. This book honors a unique individual and the wealth of talent on the part of everyone involved, from the judges and the writers whose work is shown or even discussed here, to Le Guin's rousing fantastic defense of genre fiction. Trust me, just get this book.
You want details. I don't blame you. But you really don't need them. There's probably not a loser story here. Granted, this is an anthology of award winners, but that doesn't mean they always work. I'm not a major fan of fairy tales or the retelling of fairy tales, so I got a little itchy at all the "Snow Queen" stuff, but then stuck it out until Kelly Link's "Travels with the Snow Queen," an interpretation using modern style and language. It was funny and hip and made me laugh. Not, that I recall, my usual response to the stuff of Hans Christian Andersen.
Sandra McDonald's "The Ghost Girls of Rumney Mill" is piercingly sweet and haunting, about girl ghosts and boy ghosts and one who doesn't fit in. "Looking Through Lace" by Ruth Nestvold is terrific science fiction. While I could see where it was going some of the time, I still was surprised by some of it and I want to read more of this writer's stories. The valuing/devaluing of "women's work" is a theme here that is told well: not trite, not heavy, making a valid point while showing me an alien culture that was captivating from the first moment. It all worked.
Charnas' discussion of the birth and life of the Tiptree is one of the clearest discussions of "process" I've read. And no, it's not boring. The questions the judges asked of themselves and each other early on: all of the "how do we," "should we," "must we," "can we" questions inform the reader not only about how serious this award is intended to be, but also helps us understand it better. "Gender roles" is not an easy concept to wrap my brain around. This helped.
Then there's that Le Guin essay. I'll easily admit to being a demonstrative sort of person, but I really didn't expect that my reaction to a talk that she gave about "genre" at the 2004 Public Library Association would cause me to cheer out loud. I did. More than once. This isn't just a defense of genre, this is a powerful declaration of the pride she has in being a science fiction author. There are probably scads of people out there who would prefer to see such a fine author as Ursula Le Guin shelved on the mainstream fiction shelves of the library, not the ghetto shelves of genre. Le Guin would never allow it. This is her home: this is where the good stuff is. She's glad to be here. "How dare you call me a realist?" She asks at one point, and shakes her head at Margaret Atwood's denial that she writes that SF stuff (later noting that Atwood had "broken out of the marketing department's closet" and cheering her on).
So if you'll excuse me, I gotta go. I mean, Matt Ruff's brilliant work on multiple personality disorder awaits. When I'm done with that, there are all of those winners and short list titles in the back of the book to go read or reread. Then, well, I've got to make dinner. It's that Nancy Kress meatloaf recipe again. I'd be lost without it. | February 2005
Andi Shechter has been a publicist, chat host, interviewer, convention-planner, essayist and reviewer. She lives in Seattle with far too many books, an old-but-cute purple computer, not enough soft toys (including a small but select hedgehog and gorilla collection), many figure skating videotapes and an esoteric collection of hot sauces. There's a Hugo Award on her mantelpiece which belongs to her partner, cartoonist and artist Stu Shiffman.