Fighting Erasure: Women SF Writers of the 1970s, Part IX

This instalment of women whose science fiction writing careers began in the 1970s is brought to you by “letters that begin the surnames of women writers” (letters which are, of course, unevenly distributed) and covers women whose surnames begin with the letters R and S.

Previous instalments in this series cover women writers with last names beginning with A through F, those beginning with G, those beginning with H, those beginning with I & J, those beginning with K, those beginning with L, those beginning with M, and those beginning with N, O, and P.

 

Marta Randall

Born in Mexico, now resident in Hawaii1, these days Marta Randall focuses on short pieces. Between the late 1970s and the early 1990s, she published seven novels. Her Kennerin series, a family saga set on an alien world shared (sometimes uncomfortably) with its intelligent natives, may be her best-known work. Readers new to her fiction might try Randall’s standalone novel Islands, in which a mortal woman in a world of the ageless uses archaeology to come to terms with her condition.

 

Anne Rice

Anne Rice is a prolific and often colourful author with legions of loyal and easily energized fans on social media. Her disinclination to permit editors to tamper with her prose makes her later work…memorable. I would recommend starting with her debut horror novel Interview With The Vampire, which delivers exactly what it says on the label. Quite remarkably, the publishers of Interview decided that it warranted television ads, something I don’t recall seeing for books before or since. Though we do have internet book trailers now…

 

Jessica Amanda Salmonson

Jessica Amanda Salmonson is active as a writer and editor, as well as a reviewer. I am honestly torn which of two obvious choices to recommend.

A: 1981’s Tomoe Gozen (later revised under the title The Disfavoured Hero), which merges the life of a woman samurai warrior with fantastic elements drawn from Japanese myth.

B: the World Fantasy Award-winning 1979 anthology Amazons!, which was unusual for its day for its focus on women protagonists.

The Disfavored Hero is at least in print. On the other hand, print runs in the 1970s were large enough that it should be relatively easy to find a used copy of Amazons!

 

Pamela Sargent

Pamela Sargent first caught my eye with 1976’s Cloned Lives, which takes a refreshingly mundane look at the lives of the world’s first clones. Their unusual parentage does not confer on them any particular special abilities like telepathy or telekinesis. Her Venus terraforming epic (Venus of Dreams, Venus of Shadows, and Child of Venus) may have been denied its proper place in the public psyche due to a somewhat troubled publication history; all three are in print and worth consideration. Also of interest is Sargent’s Women of Wonder series (Women of Wonder, More Women of Wonder, and The New Women of Wonder, followed in the 1990s by Women of Wonder: The Classic Years, and Women of Wonder: The Contemporary Years). The difficulty of tracking down the rights at this late date probably precludes reprints, but used copies are easily obtained.

 

Susan Shwartz

Susan Shwartz played an indirect role in inspiring this series2, despite which I am shockingly poorly read in her works. I have read and would recommend her Heirs to Byzantium series (Byzantium’s Crown (1987), The Woman of Flowers (1987), and Queensblade (1988)), in which Anthony and Cleopatra’s survival has rather dramatic effect on subsequent history.

 

Angela Sommer-Bodenburg

Angela Sommer-Bodenburg, first published in German, is the author of the highly successful Little Vampire series, whose lead character is considerably less of a monster than is typical for the undead. (Though I should note that The Little Vampire series is only a small fraction of her work.) If you (like me) cannot read German, the Little Vampires books have been translated into English. Fans may want to track down the recent animated adaptation, The Little Vampire 3D. It features Jim Carter as antagonist Rookery, which may interest any of you who might have wondered how the Downton Abbey character Charles Carson would have faired as a vampire hunter.

 

Nancy Springer

Nancy Springer is prolific and active across a range of genres, from fantasy to mystery. When sampling multi-genre authors like Springer, you might want to consult their award lists. If you’re a mystery fan, you could try her Edgar-winning Looking for Jamie Bridger or Toughing It. If you enjoy fantasy, consider Springer’s Tiptree-winner, Larque on the Wing. If you fancy novels nominated for now-incredibly-obscure awards, try Springer’s The Book of Suns. That was up for the Balrog3 (but you’ll probably prefer the revised edition, published as The Silver Sun).

 

Mary Stewart

I was surprised to read (in a recent Facebook thread I have now misplaced) that Mary Stewart is now seen as a Young Adult writer. Hmmm. She was active in romantic mystery and historical genres, but the series by means of which persons of a certain age first encountered her was her five-volume Merlin series, which was comprised of the original three books (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment) and two follow-up works (The Wicked Day, and The Prince and the Pilgrim). The original trio are a retelling of the Matter of Britain from Merlin’s perspective. I believe that they shaped a specific demographic’s view of Arthurian legend, just as Rosemary Sutcliff’s exemplary The Lantern Bearers did for earlier readers.

 * * *

As usual, I’ve managed to miss the work of a number of women whose careers began in the 1970s. Pointers on where to begin with them welcome.

 


1: On the largest Hawaiian island, home of the volcano goddess Pele. Although my great-grandfather made his home on Maui (whose volcanoes are sadly defunct), he and his chums made their way to the Big Island, where they had jolly fun tramping around on the recently solidified lava in Kīlauea Caldera during one of its exuberant periods. The only minor drawback was that because it was hard to tell solid lava from liquid with a thin crust, “One had to keep constantly on the move to save the shoes from burning.” The moral here is that like bears and typhoons, volcanoes are our friends.

2: Because in the course of a discussion my attempt to document that she had been active in SF since the 1970s led me to discover this article of hers, which among other things documents the backlash against women SF authors in the early 1980s.

3: The coveted Balrog Awards ran from 1979 to 1985. While the award may not be well known today, readers interested in works of the era could do much worse than to peruse the nominee lists for potential reads. The Balrogs should not be confused with Gandalf Awards, which were conferred by the World Science Fiction Society (at the behest of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers’ Guild of America4) from 1974 to 1981. There is room in this world for many long-forgotten awards named for figures from Lord of the Rings. How easy it is to create a new award! How hard to sustain it for decades!

4: Swordsmen and Sorcerers’ Guild of America was also known as SAGA. Why not SASGOA or SSGA, I cannot say.

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 Reviewsand Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is surprisingly flammable.

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