The James Tiptree Jr. Award, 2010

The James Tiptree Jr. Award is presented annually to a “gender bending” work of speculative fiction, one that explores and expands gender roles in a thought-provoking and imaginative way. It was created in 1991 and is given annually at a ceremony at WisCon. Previous winners have included China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh, Light by M. John Harrison, and Ooku: The Inner Chambers by Fumi Yoshinaga (first volume reviewed here).

Each year, there is also a Tiptree Award Honor List with recommendations for various books and stories by the jurors. This year, in addition to the winner and the honor list, there’s also a “recommended reading” list of books that were found worthy of attention.

Each year, a panel of five jurors selects the Tiptree Award winner. The 2010 jurors were Penny Hill (chair), Euan Bear, Jessa Crispin, Alice Kim, and Lawrence Schimel.

The winner of the 2010 Tiptree Award is Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, by Dubravka Ugresic (Canongate, 2010). The Tiptree site describes the book in this way:

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg impressed with its power and its grace. Tiptree juror Jessa Crispin explains that the beginning of the book “does not scream science fiction or fantasy. It starts quietly, with a meditation on the author’s aging mother, and the invisibility of the older woman…. But things shift wholly in the second act, with a surreal little tale of three old ladies, newly moneyed, who check into an Eastern European health spa. There’s another revolution in the third act, where what looks like a scholarly examination of the Russian fairy tale hag erupts into a rallying cry for mistreated and invisible women everywhere.”

Crispin notes that the fairy tale figure Baba Yaga is the witch, the hag, the inappropriate wild woman, the marginalized and the despised. She represents inappropriateness, wilderness, and confusion. “She’s appropriate material for Ugresic, who was forced into exile from Croatia for her political beliefs. The jurors feel Baba Yaga Laid an Egg is a splendid representation of this type of woman, so cut out of today’s culture.”

The Honors List is as follows, from the press release and the Tiptree Award website:

The Bone Palace by Amanda Downum (Orbit 2010)—Noted for a deliciously complicated plot that challenges 21st century Earth attitudes toward transfolk. One juror noted that this book came closest among the honor list to meeting her Tiptree ideal by including a character that not only embodies a challenge to prescribed roles, but also creates a crack in or addition to the structure that carries forward to future generations. (Reviewed here!)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit 2010)—Set in a matriarchal society where the privilege and expectations between the sexes are reversed, while the gender roles are different but recognizable (and believable).

“Diana Comet and the Disappearing Lover” by Sandra McDonald (published as “Diana Comet,” Strange Horizons, March 2 & March 9, 2009)—A (true) love story, in which the author does something simple but radical with the identity issues at play.

“Drag Queen Astronaut” by Sandra McDonald (Crossed Genres issue 24, November 2010)—A wonderful exploration (and ultimately an affirmation) of a gender presentation that tends to be ignored or ridiculed.

The Secret Feminist Cabal by Helen Merrick (Aqueduct Press 2009)—An academic look at the history of early feminism in science fiction, science fiction criticism, and fandom that provides a valuable documentation of our beginnings. (Also reviewed here!)

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (DAW 2010)—A strong female lead character breaks out of restrictive gender roles to change her life, perhaps changing history as a result. A well-written perspective on prejudice and discrimination and the lessons needed to overcome their bonds on our identities and imaginations.

Living with Ghosts by Kari Sperring (DAW 2009)—An unusual perspective in a main character—a feminized man who makes much of his living as an escort/high-class sex worker who sees ghosts when he is not expecting—or expected—to be able to do so. An excellent read.

The Colony by Jillian Weise (Soft Skull Press 2010)—Takes on the idea that pervades our culture that women have to be perfect in order to have sex with men. One juror notes: “I’ve never read a book that made a woman with one leg so sexually normal.” Smart and well written with subtle gender politics.


The recommended reading list is as follows:

  • Beth Bernobich, Passion Play (Tor 2010)
  • Stevie Carroll, “The Monitors” (Echoes of Possibilities, edited by Aleksandr Volnov, Noble Romance Publishing 2010)
  • Roxane Gay, “Things I Know About Fairy Tales” (Necessary Fiction, May 13, 2009)
  • Frances Hardinge, Gullstruck Island (Macmillan 2009)
  • Julia Holmes, Meeks (Small Beer Press 2010)
  • Malinda Lo, Ash (Little, Brown 2009)
  • Alissa Nutting, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls (Starcherone Books 2010)
  • Helen Oyeyemi, White Is for Witching (Doubleday 2009)
  • Rachel Swirsky, “Eros, Philia, Agape” (, March 3, 2009)

So, that’s that for 2010! It’s a great list, with a variety of books that look at gender from an even greater variety of angles.

(Many thanks to Pat Murphy for the press release.)

Brit Mandelo is a multi-fandom geek with a special love for comics and queer literature. She can be found on Twitter and Livejournal.


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