- Frankenstein’s Daughters: Women Writing Science Fiction
Jane Donawerth, who has previously written and edited works on women and science fiction, contributes a sense of continuity—both in history and in theme—to the study of women writing science fiction. In her introduction, Donawerth uses Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to establish both a maternal literary heritage and a model of study that controls the presentation of material in her book.
Frankenstein, Donawerth argues, provides women writing science fiction with not only a female progenitor but also with the central constraints of the genre for these women: the male narrator, science as a male preserve and its objectification of women, and the construction of woman as alien. The rest of the book is organized according to these three central constraints.
Chapter 1, “Utopian Science in Science Fiction by Women,” discusses how female writers create a utopian science that constructs women as subjects rather than objects. Women authors break with contemporary science in their creation of female scientist-heroes, technologies that utilize female experience, new origin stories and definitions of science, and changes in the relationship of humans to nature.
In chapter 2, “Beautiful Alien Monster-Women—BAMs,” Donawerth describes the reconstruction of the female alien within science fiction. While the BAM has traditionally been depicted by male authors as marginal, dangerous, and sadomasochistic, women authors reclaim and revise the female alien, empowering her.
The male narrator is so entrenched within science fiction that he has become a generic convention. In chapter 3, “Cross-Dressing as a Male Narrator,” Donawerth discusses four techniques women authors use when dealing with the established convention of the male narrator: cross-dressing as a male narrator, converting or punishing male narrators, constructing androgynous or transvestite narrators, and using multiple narrators. These techniques destabilize the authority of the [End Page 491] male as narrator and open the text to female voices and experience, allowing the movement of women from the margin to the center of the text.
While Donawerth is concerned with twentieth-century American and English writers in the majority of her text, the epilogue presents a different field of inquiry: non-Western women writers of science fiction. “Epilogue: Virtual Women in Global Science Fiction” briefly presents the question of how the conventions of science fiction and the revisions of Western women writers have affected the science fiction writings of other cultures.
Jane Donawerth is clearly well read in science fiction written by women and in the critical works of feminist psychology, science theory, literary theory, and gender and cultural studies. She skillfully interweaves the insights of these fields with analyses of texts by both well-known and lesser-known artists. It would be useful, however, for Donawerth to discuss the audience for women writing science fiction. How is the work of women writing science fiction received within the audience of a genre catering traditionally to men? Who reads these female-authored texts and what is the response to them? Although Donawerth’s focus is the way in which female authors have revised the conventions of science fiction, it would be enlightening to know how these revisions have been received.
In addition, while Donawerth mentions the need to deal with race, sexuality, and class as well as gender in science fiction texts, her analytic lens remains firmly fixed upon gender. Gender does not explain all in analyzing these works. For instance, Octavia Butler’s work is clearly influenced by racial, economic, and sexual factors as well.
Donawerth also resists the insights of postmodern theory in her text, largely on the basis of its potential pessimism, although her discussions of the challenges to the authority of the narrator and to the value of individualism as well as her analyses of the constructedness of definitions of history and science and the performativity of gender in these texts suggest links with postmodern theory. This is problematic; as Marleen Barr reveals in Feminist Fabulation: Space/Postmodern Fiction, the recognition of the postmodernist elements of what she terms “feminist fabulation” can lead to the recognition and empowerment of female authors...