Another few weeks, another foray into the world of women authors of the 1970s. This time, my subject is women SF writers whose names begin with I or J and who debuted in the 1970s¹. There also three previous instalments in this series, covering women writers with last names beginning with A through F, those beginning with G, and those beginning with H.
This week’s instalment is short due to a peculiarity of (primarily) Anglophone surnames that I notice every time I look at my bookshelves. For some reason, there aren’t many authors whose surnames begin with I or J. When one filters by debut date, the resulting set is downright tiny. I once suggested to a publisher that they rename some of their authors so the distribution of surnames by initial was more equitable, but I fear this was greeted with the same lack of enthusiasm as my suggestion that all editors be ear-tagged to make voting on the Best Editor Hugo more convenient for me. Progress is hard.
Still, “not many” is not “none.”
Eva Ibbotson’s books tend to fall into one of two groups: genre and aimed at children, and non-genre aimed at adults. Still, it’s a miserable adult who cannot occasionally enjoy a children’s book². Readers new to Ibbotson (or perhaps children of readers new to her) might enjoy her 1975 The Great Ghost Rescue³, in which a family of Scottish ghosts (most of whom suffered violent deaths, as Scots often do) are forced to deal with a sudden housing crisis.
Marie Jakober (who passed away just a little over a year ago) was an award-winning Canadian author perhaps better known for her historical novels than for her genre work. Still, F&SF readers may find 2000’s The Black Chalice, in which a judgmental 12th century monk is cursed to write only the truth, of some interest.
Diana Wynne Jones
Diana Wynne Jones was prolific and talented, which makes singling out a particular work as a starting point especially problematic. The fact she’s the subject of one of my review projects doesn’t help, as it only expands the number of worthy candidates. Although it is a bit of a cheat, what I would recommend is not a single novel but an omnibus: 2003’s The Dalemark Quartet. It is composed of four early secondary-world fantasy novels that recount the history of troubled Dalemark, from its age of legends to a quasi-medieval period thousands of years later.
Habitual award nominee Gwyneth Jones’s novel Bold As Love won the 2002 Clarke. Bold As Love is a retelling of the Arthurian mythos, recast from a chaotic and violent post-Roman Britain4 to an equally chaotic and violent futuristic Europe.
The inclusion of Erica Jong may surprise some of you. Many because you’ve never heard of her and others because you’ve only heard of her in the context of the 1973 second-wave feminist novel Fear of Flying and its discussion of a certain kind of copulation—one that is absolutely pure, free of ulterior motives, and rarer than the unicorn.
Jong also wrote a small number of genre-related works, among which was the variously titled time-travel novel Shylock’s Daughter, AKA Serenissima. A rather privileged modern-day (well, Reagan-era, now thirty years in the past) actress travels back in time to meet Shakespeare himself.
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This installment’s list of shame-on-James authors is short, because the essay itself is so short. Although I am sure the following authors have works of interest, it just so happens that I have not encountered them. Suggestions on where to begin appreciated!
1: This series only covers women whose published careers began between 1970 and 1979. If their career began before 1970 or after 1979, then they fall outside my target range. Because I am concentrating on women whose surnames begin with I or J, I am excluding all women whose surnames begin with A through H and K through Z. For example, Lee Killough is a fine author, but since K is neither I nor J, she is not listed here. Similarly, Shirley Jackson is omitted because, although her surname does being with J, her career began long before the 1970s.
2: If you are worried about judgmental looks while reading the book on public transit, use the book cover from a serious adult book like Fifty Shades of Gray or Jonathan Livingston Seagull to conceal what you are reading.
3: Her 1994 The Secret of Platform 13 shares a minor detail with the later and somewhat more famous Harry Potter books—the significance of a train platform in King’s Cross Station—but is otherwise not especially similar. Still, the mention of the platform recalls one of my earlier Tor.com essays.
4: I am not one to hold a grudge, but I am still angry about the Roman invasion of Britain. I am not exactly happy about the conquest of Gaul, either. Romanes eunt domus! That said, if a fantasy Arthur is not set in a recognizable post-Roman Britain or analog thereof, it’s not really Arthur.
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is surprisingly flammable.