Wednesday 27 July 2011


My obit of Joanna Russ is in today's Independent; you can link to it here. In the flower of my sf reading, late teens and early twenties, I was more impressed by Russ' work than fond of it, though I remember loving Picnic On Paradise, in its Ace Special edition with a beautiful cover by Leo and Diane Dillon, the illustrators of choice for 'New Wave' sf. I made the comparison with Ursula LeGuin deliberately, because they seem to me to be two sides of the feminist coin, in a time and a genre when 'liberation' was still primarily a male game. But they approached it in different ways, and Russ' work always seemed more didatic, more rooted in theory and argument. I could be wrong, but my suspicion is LeGuin's work, more accessible and making its points more metpahorically, will hold up better and survive longer--though as I said in the obit, I think Russ' criticism will continue to be important.

In the piece I used the term 'sci-fi' when I was making a deliberate contrast between the work of Leigh Brackett or CL Moore with the 'speculative fiction' or 'sf' Russ wrote. Call me unreconstructed, but I still love Brackett and Moore and their space opera. But I did use sf in all my other references, which the Indy rendered as sci-fi. If any of you hardcore new wave sf fans were offended, I apologise.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Wow - the independent has its finger on the pulse (as it were). JR died 3 months ago. Will they be asking you to do an obituary of JFK in the near future?

"Impressed by rather than fond of" is a good way of putting it - she was not especially approachable as a writer - a sense that you the reader had to measure up to her standards, and any shortfall was a failing on the reader's part. Maybe this was a side effect of the didactic impulse - although arguably (of all the feminist writers of SF of that generation) she was most rigorous in following through the consequences of her character's choices - no easy all women enclaves, or comfortable women-only families. I still remember the shock of reading We Who Are About To, as a teenage boy omnivorously hoovering through the excellent but traditional SF section in my local library - I'm still not sure that in the 35 years since I've read anything like it.