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On Joanna Russ

Farah Mendlesohn

Publication Year: 2009

Joanna Russ, a feminist writer best known for The Female Man (1975), has produced a fierce, intense body of fiction and essays whose influence has been wide-ranging and complex. Her many publications include How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983), and she has won both of science fiction's most prestigious awards, the Nebula and the Hugo. The essays in this volume examine every aspect of Russ's body of work and provide a critical assessment that is long overdue. The first part of the book, "Criticism and Community," gives readers a context for and overview of Russ's works, and includes discussions of Russ's role in the creation of a feminist science fiction tradition. The second part, "Fiction," offers detailed analyses of some of Russ's writing.

Contributors include: Andrew M. Butler, Brian Charles Clark, Samuel R. Delany, Edward James , Sandra Lindow, Keridwen Luis, Paul March-Russell, Helen Merrick, Dianne Newell, Graham Sleight, Jenea Tallentire, Jason Vest, Sherryl Vint, Pat Wheeler, Tess Williams, Gary K. Wolfe, and Lisa Yaszek.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xi

In a frequently quoted letter to Susan Koppelman, Joanna Russ wrote that she does not trust people who can write without anger. I do not intend to begin with an apology, to explain “this is not what she meant” or to attempt to ameliorate the impact of rage (Russ 1998c, 63). Instead, I introduce a writer whose angry creativity burns the complacent veldt of narrative....

Part I: Criticism and Community

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1. Alyx among the Genres

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pp. 3-18

The Orbit series of original anthologies edited by Damon Knight from 1966 to 1976 has often been regarded as one of the chief expressions of the American version of science fiction’s New Wave, as well as one of the most highly visible: with some eighteen volumes appearing in less than eleven years, it very nearly achieved the periodicity of a magazine. Edited with an eye to...

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2. Russ on Writing Science Fiction and Reviewing It

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pp. 19-30

Between 1966 and 1980, Joanna Russ contributed twenty-five reviews to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (hereafter F&SF) covering some 110 books of all descriptions.1 She was never more than an intermittent reviewer; when she started, Judith Merril was the usual reviewer for the magazine, and during her time at the magazine Merril, James Blish, and one or two others were far ...

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3. A History of One’s Own: Joanna Russ and the Creation of a Feminist SF Tradition

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pp. 31-47

In her essay, “Recent Feminist Utopias” Joanna Russ proposed that contemporary women authors are compelled to tell stories about all-female futures for one simple reason: because men “hog the good things of this world” (emphasis mine; 1981, 140). Among these good things, of course, are literary tastemaking and canon formation. Although these processes are most often ...

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4. The Female “Atlas” of Science Fiction? Russ, Feminism and the SF Community

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pp. 48-63

Acclaimed as one of SF’s most revolutionary, stylistically accomplished writers, recognized as an insightful and stringent critic, and marked as an angry polemicist: Joanna Russ is an inescapable part of SF history from the late 1960s. Moreover it is her presence as feminist writer and critic that is acknowledged — if not necessarily admired — by even the most trenchantly...

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5. Learning the “Prophet Business”: The Merril-Russ Intersection

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pp. 64-80

The year 1968 appears to have been pivotal in the evolution of Joanna Russ as an author and an authority in SF circles. In 1968, Russ was a thirty-one-year-old beginner who was gaining recognition in the field of American science fiction through her intelligent 1960s stories in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF) and her inclusion in an anthology of New Wave science fic-...

Part II: Fiction

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6. Joanna Russ’s The Two of Them in an Age of Third-wave Feminism

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pp. 83-98

The Two of Them (Russ 1978b) is the most troubling and most pessimistic of Joanna Russ’s works. The novel ends, as Sarah Lefanu (1988) notes, not with a vision of utopia or hope, but rather with the killing of Ernst and Irene left alone, “a thirty-year-old divorcee in a hotel room in Albuquerque, with a child to support” (195). Two things trouble critics and reviewers of the novel: the...

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7. “That Is Not Me. I Am Not That”: Anger and the Will to Action in Joanna Russ’s Fiction

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pp. 99-113

In an article written over ten years ago, “Empathic Ways of Reading: Narcissism, Cultural Politics, and Russ’s ‘Female Man,’ ” Judith Gardiner (1994) says she was “struck not by how fresh it was but by how dated it seemed.” She goes on to say: “This is a heavy-handed treatment of a situation that I now find embarrassing even to recall. It’s hard for me to recapture the fresh moral indignation...

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8. Les Human Beans? Alienation, Humanity and Community in Joanna Russ’s On Strike Against God

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pp. 114-130

Joanna Russ’s On Strike Against God (Russ 1980c) is remarkable for its deft intertwining of many themes: not only the overt one of “coming out,” but many intricately (and inevitably) interlaced stories of alienation, a search for community, and rebellion against how our society defines women. These themes are interdependent: how our society defines women leads to alienation leads ...

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9. Kittens Who Run with Wolves: Healthy Girl Development in Joanna Russ’s Kittatinny

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pp. 131-142

Psychologists and educators have argued that the stories we tell children change how they see the world and their place in it. As a reading specialist with more than thirty years’ experience working with disabled and emotionally disturbed children I believe in the importance of giving children stories that will help them live happy, productive lives. For those who have a difficult ...

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10. Medusa Laughs: Birds, Thieves, and Other Unruly Women

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pp. 143-156

There is a moment in a chapter of Joanna Russ’s What Are We Fighting For? that threatens to sink this contribution before it even gets going: “A combination of Freud, Chodorow, and Cixous is not enough equipment for the study of anything” (Russ 1998c, 64) As it is my intention to offer a reading of some of Russ’s fiction using the ideas of Sigmund Freud and Hélène ...

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11. Violent Women, Womanly Violence: Joanna Russ’s Femmes Fatales

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pp. 157-167

In 1974, Philip K. Dick published an anti-abortion story titled “The Pre-Persons” that, Dick (1992) later recalled, “incurred the absolute hate of Joanna Russ,” who, after reading it, “wrote me the nastiest letter I’ve ever received; at one point she said she usually offered to beat up people (she didn’t use the word ‘people’) who expressed opinions such as [mine]” (393). Russ never ...

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12. Art and Amity: The “Opposed Aesthetic” in Mina Loy and Joanna Russ

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pp. 168-184

In her study of postmodernism and feminist science fiction, Jenny Wolmark (1994) briefly refers to Joanna Russ’s novel, The Female Man (1975), as exploring “the pleasures of dissonance and incongruity that occur when gender and genre are in conflict.” Wolmark continues by arguing that the novel’s fragmented narrative disrupts “the familiar discursive practices of science fiction ...

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13. Joanna Russ and D. W. Griffith

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pp. 185-196

My claims for Joanna Russ are large. She is one of the finest — and most necessary — writers of American fiction to publish between 1959, when her first professional short story, “Nor Custom Stale,” appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and 1998, when St. Martin’s Press published her overview of feminism What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of ...

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14. Extraordinary People: Joanna Russ’s Short Fiction

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pp. 197-209

Joanna Russ’s “When It Changed” is one of the most well known — and certainly one of the most quoted — stories in science fiction. It originally appeared in Harlan Ellison’s anthology Again, Dangerous Visions in 1972, and was subsequently collected in The Zanzibar Cat (1983). It begins urgently: “Katy drives like a maniac; we must have been doing over 120 kilometers an hour on...

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15. Castaway: Carnival and Sociobiological Satire in We Who Are About To . . .

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pp. 210-224

We Who Are About To . . . is an SF story of a doomed group of castaways, a “lifeboat population” stranded on a tagged but uncharted planet. It is also a dark tale about physical vulnerability and the failure of social identity and power. Eight characters, from very different backgrounds, suddenly lose ...

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16. The Narrative Topology of Resistance in the Fiction of Joanna Russ

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pp. 225-238

Narrative is both a kind of engine and a kind of friction, creating a tension that both drives and prescribes story. The stories of our lives motivate us along certain narrative arcs, but to stray from those arcs is to move out of bounds. Narrative, in other words, is a way of mapping and transacting with the epistemologically dicey territory of life, culture, and world. Narrative is ...


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pp. 239-249

Works Cited

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pp. 251-269


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pp. 271-274


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pp. 275-285

E-ISBN-13: 9780819569684
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819569011

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2009