Bibelots

a place for the curious

Category: science fiction

From laser guns and weird bug-eyed aliens to the burgeoning night sky and the empty, terrifying universe.

Of fire and will: a letter for Lyra

'letters to myself' old faded cover of a magazine

Letters to myself and other words I’ve never set free, image via British Library

Dear Mr Phillip Pullman

I’m a bit angry. You see, I only recently started to read Northern Lights. The world is full of books and somehow I missed this/you/the boat. I’m halfway through and I’ve had to stop and put it down. It’s not that I’m not enjoying it. I’m loving it.

Oh, yes. It’s exactly my cup of tea. No question there. And it’s not that I don’t like Lyra. I madly, deeply love her. I don’t want to be like her, I want to be her. Lyra is a thousand million types of wonderful. She’s wilful. She’s fierce. She’s a firebrand. She’s on fire. She is luminescent and wild. She runs across rooftops and breaks my heart with every bound. Because it’s all a little late.

She’s who I wanted to be when I was a young girl. Only I didn’t know her. You hadn’t written her yet. I can’t say she didn’t exist, because she did. In my mind and, no doubt, in the minds of countless others.

So, yep. I’m angry. But only with your timing. You’re only a few decades too late. What’s that between friends? Everything, I tell you. Everything. What wouldn’t I have given to have her as my companion. But it’s okay. I think I did. It feels like I did. Did you know? Where you inside my head? Could you hear me? But, no. You couldn’t have. It all came too late.

I’ve put her aside, because when next there’s a day that I want to steal boats and set fires, I can pick up the book and be there again. I’ve done this with books before; there’s one book on my shelf with 3 pages unread. Its story will never end. I know it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t need to. My younger self – my version of Lyra – she’d understand. If a treasure is good enough, you should bury it deep.

So, Mr Pullman, I’ll forgive you and your rotten sense of timing. If you’ll forgive mine.

Yours

 

A fellow firebrand, aka Pirate Rose

A matter of gravity: women in space

Last week, The Mary Sue had a small piece about the dull and quite insane question of ‘periods in space’.

In typical Mary Sue form, their approach was both tongue-in-cheek and appropriately dismissive. Their story refers to a longer NPR article about the same question. Neither of them are, in reality, about answering the question. They’re about women, NASA and feminism.

In fact, the NPR article is so focused on NASA’s culture, it seems to skip over the fact that a woman first went into space in 1963: Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. That’s not to say the Soviets were sending women up every other month. After they nabbed this important ‘first’, it was another 19 years before any more woman cosmonauts were launched into space – for the curious, that was Svetlana Savitskaya.

In the article, there’s a snippet from a NASA report in 1971:

“The question of direct sexual release on a long-duration space mission must be considered. Practical considerations (such as weight and expense) preclude men taking their wives on the first space flights. It is possible that a woman, qualified from a scientific viewpoint, might be persuaded to donate her time and energies for the sake of improving crew morale; however, such a situation might create interpersonal tensions far more dynamic than the sexual tensions it would release.”

– NASA technical memorandum, 1971

This snippet reminds me of a scene in an old Heinlein story; All You Zombies. Written more than 10 years before the NASA report, it too talks about sexual tensions:

“It was when they first admitted you can’t send men into space for months and years and not relieve the tension. You remember how the wowsers screamed?—that improved my chance, since volunteers were scarce. A gal had to be respectable, preferably virgin (they liked to train them from scratch), above average mentally, and stable emotionally.”

– All You Zombies, Heinlein, 1958

Both story and snippet in turn remind me of a fierce and angry piece by science fiction author Alice Sheldon – James Tiptree Jr. Her short story ‘With Delicate Mad Hands’ was republished in a collection, ‘Her Smoke Rose Up Forever’. It focuses on a young woman with a disfigured face. Her name is CP. Her nickname is far worse. It’s this scene about CP that came to mind as I read the NPR article:

“And to these tinderboxes you want to add an even reasonably attractive woman, sonny? We know the men do better with a female along. […] But on board a long flight, what we need sexually is a human waste can.”

– With Delicate Mad Hands, James Tiptree, Jr. 1981

I won’t quote any more. The words are ruthless. Tiptree at her best. Written 10 years after the NASA report, the sentiment is clear. When Tiptree wrote, she wasn’t extrapolating. She was responding. She always was. Her fiction is as harsh as the truth.

I read Tiptree as a young woman. I would sometimes find her in a pile of other stories about space and space adventures that were mostly written by men. I knew she was different. Her words filled me with fire. It wasn’t until much later that I realised she was a woman and a fierce and unrelenting feminist. I imagined that much of what she wrote was as a response to the other stories being told at the time. But snippets like this NASA report make it clear it wasn’t only in response to fiction. It was to the world.

The question, the extract, the stories. None of them are funny. They aren’t happy. And they don’t end well. They just are.

It’s good to take a moment and remember why all of this matters. Why people matter. People, refugees, women – any and all of us.

Better‘ isn’t good enough. It’s better, and that’s all.

Dear Mister Asimov – a memory

science-fiction magazine coversToday I briefly described myself as a science-fiction fan at heart. Nothing new. Nothing unusual. For some reason, this time as I said it I was suddenly struck by a memory of the moment that I learned of Isaac Asimov‘s death.

Asimov died over twenty years ago. That makes it pre-internet-as-we-know-it, so I can’t be sure of the exact date that I found out. Still, Asimov wasn’t sure of his exact date of birth, which he celebrated on January the 2nd, so I guess that’s okay. If I had read the news online, I know I would have been reading about it on the exact day of his passing. But perhaps it wouldn’t have impacted me in the same way.

I was standing in a specialist science fiction bookshop called Galaxy. It was a little shop, but packed tight with  every type of science fiction a woman could hope for.

I was browsing amongst the A books. I always stopped there first. There was Aldiss, then Anderson, then Asimov. And above Asimov’s set of star-filled words sat a small newspaper clipping. Asimov had died.

I don’t know how long I stood looking at the clipping. At one point, my hand reached out to touch the newspaper, perhaps in hope that it wasn’t real. After a time, I turned to see someone at the counter watching me. I can’t recall her exact words, but I can still see her face.

‘I know,’ she said. ‘It’s just so sad.’

He’d always been there. I’d grown up reading short stories and articles by Asimov. At first, in all the astounding science fiction magazines, then later in books from libraries and bookshops. He had started writing nearly twenty years before I was born. From the Stars, Like Dust to Gold, he just kept coming. Whenever I wanted a bit of pure sci-fi, but with the finest of humanitarian sensibilities, I knew where to look.

A is, was and will always be for Asimov.

Other wonderful authors have since passed from our midst. Harrison and Dickson and Sprague de Camp, White and Norton and Sagan. Stories and authors who delighted and amazed me. None of them, though, felt quite like this.

I wasn’t there, not in this way. I felt like I was with him. Him and his books. His grainy, grey, side-burn-bearing face looking back at mine. I can still see it. I hope to never forget it.

I never got to meet him. I’ve stood in long and winding book-signing queues for other authors and I would have stood an eternity if he had ever come here. But the man who taught me to love the stars didn’t like to fly.  My biggest regret is that I never wrote to him. To say how much he meant to me. He might have heard it all before, but maybe not. And he never heard it from me.

Asimov is gone, but his words will outlive both you and me. And that’s what it’s all about. His unstoppable words.

All the same, you’ll bear with me for a moment as I say this.

This is for you, Mister Asimov. This is my unwritten letter.  With the warmest of affection and the greatest of admiration.

Thank you, dear Asimov. Thank you.

Where is the hope?

Recently I listened to an action-packed, science and sci-fi friendly podcast from studio360.org. There are so many fascinating and stellar ideas and names in the Will Sci-Fi Save Us podcast that it would fill up a week’s worth of blog articles to go into it. Think of everything from David Brin to the Benford brothers and you have a hint. Add in a touch of electric sheep and blade runners… and I know you’ve run off and are ignoring the rest of this article.

One of the main themes at the start of the podcast was the notion of the loss of hope – or the onset of dystopian popularity – in science fiction.

I am not here to say what’s wrong about that. I’m a fan of both China Miéville and James Tiptree, Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon). You couldn’t get much further from hope than the stories of dear Alice. But I am also a fan of hope.

To quote the podcast: “…everybody ‘knows’ that good science fiction is grim…”   But it hasn’t always been so and it doesn’t need to be that way. As David Brin says “It’s so easy to make money with a tale that says ‘our civilization is garbage’…”.

So, the more hopeful your sci-fi story the harder it is to sell? Yet author after author has done just that. I can give you examples, but it is best you discover them for yourself. No spoilers here.

I won’t leave you hopeless though.

As a way to celebrate National Science Week I’ve written a short-short that has a smoking gun of hope. It was done as a writing challenge, so it’s under a hundred words and in the first person, but a story it is. Enjoy.

Found

a short story by Rosalie Wodecki

“Oh, my god. I can’t believe it.”

I looked back over my shoulder. My family looked as stunned as I felt.

There was smoke rising from a chimney in the rundown house on the hill. There were no flames nearby. No trees burnt from lightning. But there was a garden. I couldn’t remember the last time we had seen a garden. My youngest probably wouldn’t even know what it was. We’d been walking for so long.

I touched my wife’s arm. “We’re not alone.”

For the first time in what must have been months, we’d found it. We’d found hope.

 

© 2017 Bibelots

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑