Sunday, 2 August 2015

The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women



I haven't blogged here in a very long time. Probably due to being back at university, but also because to be honest I haven't enjoyed anything as much as I enjoyed reading the Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women, edited by A. Susan Williams which I read, I think, about a year ago now. Basically everything I've read since then has been an author I discovered thanks to this anthology, and everything else has been re-reading what I'd already read by familiar authors in the collection. So, I thought I would just get it off my chest how much I adore it. It's an incredible anthology, possibly the only collection of short stories of which I haven't sneakily skipped a couple (or a few, or like half?). And, every time I go back into it I find out something new and impressive about various authors. It includes the obvious gold standard queens of female fantasy - Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Leguin, and our beloved Janet Frame. However, the lesser known writers are actually just as good or even better. I don't know if they're really lesser known, I figured out I was a bit late to the party with Shirley Jackson, but anyhow. A little list of my favourite figures from the anthology:

Leigh Brackett: Her story in the anthology, 'The Lake of Gone Forever' is a stand out to me, and I just found out she wrote the screenplay for 'The Empire Strikes Back'??? I'm embarrassed I wasn't already reading her. If you like good science fiction, find her here!

Anna Kavan: 'A Bright Green Field' also stuck out to me in this collection (for all the good things you want in sci fi/fantasy: imagery, spookiness, palpable political allegory) and I then found out she has some ties to the New Zealand literary landscape. Kavan spent 18 months or so here, meeting the likes of Frank Sargeson, and offending some with her bleak characterizations of New Zealand published back in the UK - quoted as saying that New Zealanders live "in temporary shacks, uneasily, as reluctant campers too far from home". In 'Anna Kavan's New Zealand', Jennifer Sturm offers a broad and sympathetic reading of Kavan and her time here, analyzing the effect of her time here on later works (notably her novel Ice), and her indeed quite fond feelings toward our still relatively young, and culturally ambiguous country. It's an interesting, if slightly glum read - Kavan was not a happy woman, but, as often goes her writing did not suffer. You can find more of her here, and I suggest you do.

Leonora Carrington: I had only known Carrington as a surrealist artist, and her painting 'The Giantess" graces the anthology's cover. Her writing is as wonderful and odd as her art, and "My Flannel Knickers" manages to stand out in the collection at not quite 3 pages long. You can find more of her here.

Christine Brooke-Rose: I adore Christine Brooke-Rose, and fell in love with her about a paragraph in to her story 'The Foot', narrated by the phantom pain in the amputated foot of a beautiful young female patient. Very nasty and disturbing, and full of exhaustingly mellifluous sentences. Brooke-Rose is not easy to read, in fact she can be very hard to read, but she is very, very worth it. If you want an author that plays with language and narrative stance, but doesn't leave you feeling like that was the entire point of the exercise, please read her! After I read 'The Foot', I was dying to read her collection 'Go When You See the Green Man Walking' and tried to suggest a purchase, only to learn it was out of print. However, a few months later on in October 2014 I learned that it had been republished, and promptly had it ordered in, and you can find it here.

I could go on forever. Joanna Russ introduces the anthology and is another favourite, and whose literary criticism is essential, particularly 'How to Suppress Women's Writing' which I am suggesting for purchase right this second. Kit Reed is definitely worth a look. Muriel Spark is in there, Octavia Butler too. I'm not even really a fan of Anne McCaffrey (bit romantic for me?) but that said her short story in this anthology "The Ship Who Sang" might actually be my favourite (and, to be honest, it's very romantic and made me tear up). I recommend this anthology to everyone I know, and am slowly making it my mission where possible to add as many of its authors as I can into our collection. If you're into sci fi or feminism then it's essentially a guide to people you should know about, and would like to have been. Read it!

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