Listening to the Coode Street podcast with Gary Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan and thinking about how well it pairs with some of the other fabulous podcasts that are more focused on NEW! EXCITING! writers. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I think a lot of genre writers could benefit from the perspective they’re bringing to their conversation, the long view of the field.
Just now, I was listening to them talking about Sturgeon, about how newer writers were unlikely to stumble across him, and it was a shame, because Sturgeon was one of the first in the field to do really interesting work with gender, and he married that with a literary quality that would make him entirely appropriate for, as they say, Strange Horizons or Uncanny or Conjunctions — I’d add the Boston Review and other lit fic places that aren’t scared of genre.
I’m just old enough to remember picking up More than Human and Venus Plus X in the library as a kid, and having those stories widen my angle of vision — and his “The Widget, the Wadget, and Boff” is still one of my all-time favorite spec fic stories (an amazing exploration of asexuality, among other things, published in 1955). And I am now thinking for my Gender and Sexuality Lit class that I’m teaching starting on Tuesday, I should perhaps start with Sturgeon, use him as a bridge to LeGuin, and I’m going to go poke around and see what’s available.
I’m afraid there won’t be much in print, or if there is, it’s in big expensive editions, when what I really want is a story or two available for free online, so that I can both introduce my students to the spec fic conversation around gender that way, and hopefully some of them will get hooked, and go buy and read more Sturgeon. And I think genre writers working with gender and sexuality would likely benefit from tasting some Sturgeon too.
So now I want Gary to make me a reading list and/or syllabus, something we can post at the SLF, perhaps, or that he could publish at Strange Horizons, or both — a historical introduction to speculative fictional explorations of gender and sexuality. Is there such a thing out there already, that I don’t know about? I’d love to have a list that starts in the 50s or so, and comes forward by decade, and links to the work that’s available online. (Sidebar: Gary, if you’re accepting assignments, I’d also like one for ecological spec fic.)
When I was first doing my bachelor’s thesis on Samuel Delany, back in 1993, I started maintaining an Alternative Sexuality in SF/F booklist, digging up everything I could find, which is still archived on my site, though I stopped updating it long ago, when we hit a point where there was SO MUCH being published in that area that you didn’t need to go hunting to find it anymore.
Which is great (SO GREAT), but I think we’re now at the point, where that SO MUCH also means that we’re in danger of losing the thread, and for so many people — writers, readers, students — it’d be useful, interesting, provocative, to see where we came from, in relation to where we are now.
(Quick check — I’m having trouble finding Widget online, BOO, but it looks like “Baby is Three,” the central novella in More Than Human is available, in a hard-to-read photocopy of the original publication. Jed, I don’t know if Sturgeon is in your republishing queue, but if I could put in a request…)