Women SF Writers of the 1970s
August 5, 2018 3:49 AM   Subscribe

Fighting Erasure is a series by writer and critic James Davis Nicoll where he recommends books by female science fiction and fantasy writers who debuted in the 1970s. It's in ten parts: A-F, G, H, I-J, K, L, M, N-P, R-S, and T-Z. Some writers Nicoll hasn't read, or has missed, are discussed in comments. He was inspired to start the series by Jeanne Gomoll's classic 1987 essay An Open Letter to Joanna Russ, which noted that erasure of the previous decade's women writers and fans had already begun, and Susan Schwartz' 1982 article in the New York Times about women and science fiction.
posted by Kattullus (37 comments total) 93 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is really cool!

Two authors who wrote in the 1970s who I don't see on the lists are:

Doris Piserchia : Recommended to me right here on Metafilter and an excellent example of one of the 1970s aesthetics: matter of fact writing but weird as hell.

Phyllis Gotlieb: One of my favorite women authors; wrote an excellent 1970s SF potboiler called "O Master Caliban" (which unfortunately has one of the all time worst original covers).

James Tiptree Jr. is also not mentioned but I assume there's a reason for that as the author seems well aware of her.
posted by selfnoise at 6:15 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]


OTOH the authors I mentioned do have a bit of writing that extends into the 1960s so maybe that's why they aren't there?
posted by selfnoise at 6:16 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


In a somewhat less “public service announcement“ sense, Those covers bring back so many memories. I read science fiction voraciously during the 70s, and I don’t always remember the contents super-clearly (to be fair, I might have only looked at some of them at the bookstore), but the covers are burned into my memory.

If I remember correctly, part of the reason Tanith Lee’s career dropped off in the US was that her open gay content led to banning by chain stores like Waldens and B. Dalton’s. I think Delaney was also removed around the same time.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:27 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


> OTOH the authors I mentioned do have a bit of writing that extends into the 1960s so maybe that's why they aren't there?

Yup. From TFA: "In an attempt to keep this list to a manageable length, I will focus on women authors who first published in the 1970s. That means skipping some significant authors who were already active at the time."

Thanks for this great post!
posted by languagehat at 6:28 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


C.J. Cherryh's Morgaine series is one of my favorite under-appreciated science fantasy / sword & sorcery series. Salmonson was one of the last pioneers of sword & sorcery in its waning days and Amazons! should be sought out. If you want a long, closely medieval series with psionic powers, you could do a lot worse than Kurtz's Deryni series.

Part of why I like this kind of thing is that there have always been prominent women authors in SFF, and it's great to see some of the older generations acknowledged. The view of it being an all-male preserve often feels like gaslighting – and I say that as a man who has long enjoyed the work of women in SFF.
posted by graymouser at 6:36 AM on August 5 [7 favorites]


C.J. Cherryh had a lot of impact on me in my late teens and early twenties. Some of it was due to her fairly unique tone, and some to her lack of interest in conventional romantic plots. The male and female characters often form Close bonds with each other, but in very non-heteronormative ways. To say this was a breath of fresh air would be an understatement.

Also, as I’ve said before, and with the caveat that she’s a friend, if you have not read Eleanor Arnason, drop what you’re doing and go read some right now. I personally prefer Ring of Swords to A Woman of the Iron People, but I would suggest reading both. Her novels have a very dry wit alongside a sharp examination of social relations.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:44 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


Excellent list.

Doris Piserchia! Thank you for the reminder, selfnoise. I loved a novel of hers when I was a teenager.
posted by doctornemo at 7:54 AM on August 5


I wonder if Esther Friesner's books have held up. I bet they have; I still think of some of her jokes, even though I haven't found my copies of her books in years. I read her a lot as a young teen, and I particularly liked her because she was the only female writer of humorous fantasy that I was aware of. I wanted to be one myself, so that was important.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:09 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


He missed Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, who published several books in the 1970s: False Dawn (post-apocalypse), Hotel Transylvania & The Palace (St. Germain vampire series #1-2), and several short stories. Her actual first novel was a mystery in 1976. She's still writing and is up to over 80 books published.
posted by MovableBookLady at 8:17 AM on August 5


Oh, bless you all -- I'm pretty much always craving older SF, and I'm excited to leap into this and the suggestions on this thread.
posted by kalimac at 9:07 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Add her in the comments section of the relevant post, if you’re certain her first work was in the 1970s. Nicholl is pretty good about acknowledging oversights.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 9:23 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Man, I wish Amazon had a sort of playlist where you could subscribe and just read all the books, without having to go seek out each individual one.
posted by signal at 9:34 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


*checks the C's for Jo Clayton*

Yay, she's there. One of my favorites growing up in the eighties. I'd suggest starting with her utterly fabulous Skeen trilogy in which the titular space rogue finds herself stuck in a portal fantasy.
posted by egypturnash at 9:46 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


It's sobering to see how many of these entries conclude with "out of print, never e-published, maybe you can find a used copy online somewhere". Which I suppose is the whole point.
posted by Mogur at 9:55 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


> He missed Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, who published several books in the 1970s

But she started publishing in the '60s (I met her at the '68 Worldcon!).
posted by languagehat at 10:24 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


I use my Kindle as a sort of playlist, where I download previews and then return to the books as time permits.

That doesn’t help in the case of books that are out of print, of course.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 10:34 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


languagehat: But she started publishing in the '60s (I met her at the '68 Worldcon!).

I was reading about that Worldcon the other day. From what I gathered it was a bit wild, by Worldcon standards. What do you remember about it?
posted by Kattullus at 10:53 AM on August 5


A lot of people talk about scents bringing back memories better than anything else, but for some of us, it's the covers of paperback novels we remember from our youth.

Also, Rachel Pollack! Unquenchable Fire! I was trying to remember the author and title of this wonderful novel just a few weeks ago and I couldn't. Thank you, Kattullus!
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 11:21 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Yeah Unquenchable Fire and Temporary Agency are two fascinating and very different books set in a really interesting “the modern world but with magic” setting. She deserves to be better known than she is.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:24 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]




> I was reading about that Worldcon the other day. From what I gathered it was a bit wild, by Worldcon standards. What do you remember about it?

Where were you reading about it? I'd love to refresh my memories. Since it's the only one I got to, I have no idea what about it differed from other Worldcons; it was all weird and wild and wonderful to me. My strongest memories are getting authors to sign my copy of Dangerous Visions (which cost some outrageous amount like $7.50; I had to go in with my aunt on it) and seeing Harlan in a crush of fans across the lobby, trying to get on an elevator—I didn't even bother trying to get close enough to have him sign. (Just as well, since he probably would have told me to get lost.)
posted by languagehat at 2:21 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


languagehat: Where were you reading about it?

From what I gather, Baycon was very much colored by being held in San Francisco. There were hippies, and tear gas wafted into the hotel from a close-by anti-Vietnam demonstration. Also, the Society for Creative Anachronism, then only recently founded, held a tournament at the con. Oh, and Philip Jose Farmer detailed at length in a speech his low opinion of editor John W. Campbell, who was in the room. My favorite thing I read was a piece by Ginjer Buchanan (later a Hugo winning book editor) called I Have Had No Sleep and I Must Giggle.
posted by Kattullus at 3:30 PM on August 5


Baycon was very much colored by being held in San Francisco.

Berkeley. In '68, Worldcon could fit in a venue as small as the Claremont Hotel.
posted by Zed at 5:19 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


> Berkeley.

Exactly. I didn't get near SF, and didn't get a whiff of tear gas. In fact, I was barely aware of the protests—I was totally focused on sf. ("Hippies"? Hippies were everywhere in those days; they were just young people!)
posted by languagehat at 5:37 PM on August 5


Yay that Megan Lindholm is here under that name. Her book Alien Earth (subject of one of my first metafilter questions) is one of my fave ever sci-fi books.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:52 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Megan Lindholm’s Cloven Hooves put me to the blush when I was twelve or so. I found the paperback in Waldenbooks, and I didn’t really understand that a book about a modern woman’s relationship with a satyr was going to get explicit. I came upon the sex scene during the few minutes before a class started, while I sat in the front row with all my special colored pens out. I felt so guilty, but I just couldn’t stop reading until the teacher made his you-kids-settle-down noises.

It was not a romance novel, though; it was honestly a very sad book, and I remember that it shocked me emotionally. It definitely wasn’t for a kid, not for sexiness reasons but because you had to understand a lot of difficult things about being a grown woman. I don’t remember if I finished it. It’s out of print; maybe the library has it.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:34 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Cool stories about Worldcon ‘68! I’m not well versed in SF (as in sci fi, not the city across the bay) and I had no idea the Claremont, of all places, hosted a convention like that.

Also woah, I didn’t know (again, not being well versed in sf) that James Tiptree, Jr. was a pen name. I have the Norton anthology of science fiction that Ursula Le Guin edited, and I was always wondering who she was referring to when she said that one of the most powerful stories in the book was written by a woman, and that everyone had been amazed to find out she was a woman; and that we’d all discover her and share the same joy. But of course, I never figured out who it was. Now I know! And yes, the story is as wonderful as she says it is.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 8:26 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Awesome stuff! Those covers remind me of spending hours of my childhood searching through the used book store’s sci fi section for something weird and wonderful.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:40 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Shapes that haunt the dusk, there's a really fascinating biography of James Tiptree Jr called James Tiptree, Jr: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon that I really encourage even casual fans to read.
posted by thebrokedown at 9:50 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]


One I was looking for was Jacqueline Lichtenberg, whose Sime~Gen series debuted in the 1970s. On retrospect I think it prefigured some of the themes in Octavia Butler's work, dealing with the tensions between biological determinism, social relations and power dynamics, and self-determination (usually coming in last...)
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 10:11 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Janet Morris is included! Yay!!! Jane Gaskel is not. Booooooo!!!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:05 PM on August 5


As to Yarbro, she published one short story and one essay in the late 1960s. Everything else came in the 1970s, including her first novel (Ogilvie Tallant & Moon) in 1976. So I think of her as a 70s writer.
posted by MovableBookLady at 5:05 AM on August 6


If you want a long, closely medieval series with psionic powers, you could do a lot worse than Kurtz's Deryni series.

I loved these books when I was a kid. I spot them occasionally in the used bookstores but am afraid they won't hold up.
posted by gauche at 9:41 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Jane Gaskel is not. Booooooo!!!

From TFA, as quoted above: "In an attempt to keep this list to a manageable length, I will focus on women authors who first published in the 1970s. That means skipping some significant authors who were already active at the time."

Gaskell's first book was published in 1957.
posted by Lexica at 10:53 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]


Yay that Megan Lindholm is here under that name.

Wow, I had no idea that Robin Hobb was a pen name - having read absolutely everything under that name, I'm excited to have new books to check out now! Those were some of my favourite books ever, and I've read a lot of fantasy books.
posted by randomnity at 10:58 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Gaskell's first book was published in 1957.


Oops, sorry, somehow I read that as authors whose work was mostly in the 70s. My bad.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:54 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Nicoll has begun a new series of Fighting Erasure, focused on women writers who debuted in the 1980s. The first part is limited to the letter A. Here's the introduction:
The number of women active in SF continued to grow in the 1980s, despite pushback that ranged from angry tirades to attempts to erase women from SF history. One can get a sense of the trend by comparing the master lists of woman authors that I have compiled: Women authors who debuted in the 1970s: five pages. Women authors who debuted in the 1980s: sixteen pages.

There was a time when it was possible for a single person to read everything in the field. That changed in the late 1970s and 1980s; more publishers, more titles published. The upside: readers with particular genre tastes were more likely to find something they liked. The downside: it became easier for authors to suffer the mid-list death spiral and vanish.

In a spirit of inclusivity, I am including any woman who debuted in speculative fiction in the 1980s, even if they were active in other fields beforehand. Because I am monolingual, I am only focusing on people who published in English.
posted by Kattullus at 9:53 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


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