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The Lion and the Unicorn 28.2 (2004) v-viii

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Editor's Introduction I:

Girls and Science Fiction

When the opportunity to edit this special issue of The Lion and the Unicorn was offered to me at a conference several years ago, I was more than delighted. I've often attested that, as a child who grew up in a rural setting, science fiction saved my sanity, if not my life. The first book I remember reading for pleasure, at the age of seven, was Emory Holloway's Janice in Tomorrowland (American Book Company [1936]), what would now be called a "chapter book." Later, friends would tell me that it was one of a series of Alice in Wonderland spinoffs. But to me it will always be my first science fiction story in a long history of SF reading. Like some of you, I read the classic children's works of Heinlein, Norton, Nourse, Williams (original Danny Dunn series), MacGregor (Miss Pickerell series) and most of the other authors my coeditor Mike Levy mentions in his Introduction to this issue. But my interest in science, science fiction, and my hopes for a brighter future than that of a '50s farmgirl in rural Wisconsin all began with this story of another girl named Janice. This in many ways archaic tome was one of the few science fiction stories of that era (ask me sometime about Eloise Engle's Countdown for Cindy [1962], about a space nurse) that had a girl's perspective on how the future might be enhanced by science. And it spoke to me about improvements in daily life as well as in public life. It predicted NutraSweet®, waterparks, home-shopping networks, audiobooks and a host of other delights that I have checked off over the years (some have not yet happened). But it also let me know that there was a big world out there, more of a world and more of a universe than seemed available through family, school, church or even most other books. This is the lure of science fiction for young readers, with both similarities and differences for young girls and young boys. And many women who started reading their "fathers'" and "brothers'" science fiction as children [End Page v] in the '40s and '50s have come forward to acknowledge the hope this genre of fiction gave them.

While we now know that most writers and editors thought of 1950s and even '60s science fiction as written for boys, an outgrowth of the dime novels of the turn of the century (as noted by Robert Von der Osten in his article about the four Tom Swift series), we also now know that it was read widely by girls who are currently in their forties to seventies. Yet almost all SF was written by and featured males, to the extent that Andre Norton, one of the beloved '50s children's canon of SF, legally changed her name from Alice Mary Norton and used young male protagonists. Yet Norton's novels were my first introduction to the possibility of a matriarchal society and to the horrors of nuclear war. And Robert Heinlein provided me with my first introduction to women scientists, starship captains, or heroes. In fact, I would say my second and third favorite SF novels between the ages of eight and fourteen were Heinlein's Have Space Suit­Will Travel (1958) with a female alien and a little girl as major heroes, and Norton's Star Man's Son, 2250 A.D. (1952).

Most of the articles we have received eschew these classics for newer works, whether from familiarity or dissatisfaction with the texts. While these classics still have an enormous influence on young readers, the basis they provided for the now-adult readership is undeniable. They provided an introduction to the much wider field of SF writing, an introduction to science that did not exclude girls and a source of hope for the future during some very grim times. But the appeal of the newer writers, engaged with issues...


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