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  • Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century
  • Robin Roberts (bio)
Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century edited by Justine Larbalestier. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2006, 424 pp., $65.00 hardcover, $24.95 paper.

A wide-ranging anthology featuring eleven science-fiction stories, this collection pairs each tale with an insightful and thought-provoking critical analysis. A few of these stories have appeared in other collections, but Daughters of Earth differs significantly from Pamela Sargent’s earlier Women of Wonder anthologies (1975; reprinted 1995). Where Sargent presented two volumes, one spanning the 1940s to the 1970s and a companion volume covering the 1970s to the 1990s, Larbalestier strives for a more comprehensive survey, beginning with a 1927 text and concluding with a 2002 story. While there is some overlap in authors, the stories are different, with the exception of Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe” and Pat Murphy’s “Rachel in Love.” An even bigger difference is the inclusion of critical commentary after each story. While Sargent’s anthologies still remain the gold standard, Daughters of Earth offers a more sharply focused introduction to feminism and science fiction.

Daughters of Earth provides compelling insights into the development of gender in science fiction and feminist science fiction criticism. One of the most recent developments in feminist science fiction criticism is the focus on the women writers from the first half of the twentieth century. Led by Jane Donawerth and continued by Lisa Yaszek (both of whom have pieces in the book) and others, these critics present subtle, nuanced readings of gender issues of a pre-Second Wave context. By the end of the collection, the feminist tradition has become self-conscious and self-referential, so that L. Timmel Duchamp can identify references to the feminist writer Alice Sheldon, who wrote award-winning feminist science fiction as James Tiptree, Jr., in the final story, “What I Didn’t See,” by Karen Jay Fowler. Daughters of Earth offers readers unfamiliar with this compelling tradition of women’s writing a clear and provocative introduction. For those of us who are already science-fiction fans, however, it provides a new lineage and some thought-provoking juxtapositions. [End Page 262]

There is not enough space here to discuss all the selections and commentary, but suffice to say the stories and the analysis are all well written, perceptive, and engaging. The book can be read from beginning to end and is thoroughly enjoyable in this fashion. However, it can also be used effectively in courses, especially in an introduction to women’s studies or feminist theory class. I have found that many students benefit from science fiction’s use of defamiliarization or cognitive estrangement, where an issue present in the real world appears in an unfamiliar context (aliens, a futuristic setting). Some (although, of course, not necessarily all) of a reader’s preconceptions can be minimized, allowing a person to see an old problem in a new way. Lisa Tuttle’s “Wives,” for example, provides a fascinating depiction of aliens forced to serve as wives for human males, and Cathy Hawkins’ insightful commentary situates the story in terms of 1970s feminism and the Vietnam War. Hawkins sees the alien planet as providing a coded way for the author to explore antiwar and antipatriarchal sentiments. Locked in a war with humans, the aliens have accommodated human males by literally becoming the passive and submissive sexual objects the human males desire. The way that one of the aliens desires another “wife,” and attempts to tempt her away from compulsory heterosexuality with the human males, raises issues of sexual orientation in a new and interesting fashion. Other stories and commentaries also address race, class, and sexual orientation in thought-provoking settings and characters, including a female scientist who discovers that gender is evolving and loses her job (“Balinese Dancer” by Gwyneth Jones) and a chimpanzee with the mind of young girl who struggles with gender and racial stereotypes (“Rachel in Love” by Pat Murphy).

The collection’s title comes from a novella by Judith Merril, one of science fiction’s important writers and editors. I prefer to see...


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pp. 262-263
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