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A Woman's Liberation: A Choice of Futures by and about Women    Editors Connie Willis & Sheila Williams order for
Woman's Liberation
by Connie Willis
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2001 (2001)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

AWoman's Liberation is a collection of thought-provoking short stories billed as 'A Choice of Futures by and about Women'. In fact its title is also that of one of its ten tales, one by Ursula K. Le Guin; an author that I have long considered the best writer of speculative fiction of either gender, for her remarkable novel The Left Hand of Darkness. Her story was, for me, the highlight of the collection, though others came close in quality.

The book is worthy of a place on your shelves for the introduction alone. Connie Willis writes about Women's Lib, "The Liberation," and the Many Other Liberations of Science Fiction. She talks about the representation of women in early SF writing, and surveys women writers - their impact on the genre and on women readers, and the ideas which they have explored. Stories in this collection were originally published in Analog and Asimov's, and display 'women facing all sorts of challenges, from superstition to sorrow to societies spinning out of control.'

I had read (and re-read) a couple before. Vonda N. McIntyre has written several stories about Snake, who faces superstition and fear as she uses serpents to heal in the powerful tale Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand. And Anne McCaffrey's remarkable creation, spirited shell person Helga, learns that she is not the only one to grieve in The Ship Who Mourned. New to me was Sarah Zettel's brilliant Fool's Errand, in which the ship's fool must deal with an escaped AI wreaking havoc. And Octavia Butler develops a fascinating premise in Speech Sounds, in which society is cripped by an epidemic that destroyed people's ability to communicate.

Nancy Kress's Inertia tells of a quarantined society, and of the power of 'destructive inertia' (the entire text of this one is included in the book's excerpt). In Even the Queen, Connie Willis takes her usual humorous look at a future society in which women are liberated from ... menstruation. Pat Murphy's Rachel in Love takes an unusual and effective approach to presenting the issue of human mistreatment of laboratory animals. S. N. Dyer takes us to share a doctor's experience in a future ER in The July Ward, and Katherine MacLean portrays a Lady Sorceror practicing biotechnology in a primitive world in The Kidnapping of Baroness 5.

They're all good reads, but Ursula K. Le Guin excels as always in A Woman's Liberation, a tale of progression from slavery to freedom of body and spirit. As an asset on Zerkra, Rakam did not feel angry ... 'I could not. It would have eaten me.' Her freedom gained, Rakam, once illiterate, studies and teaches history and fights for women's rights. After being owned and used, she finally learns to desire and to love. She answers her own rhetorical question about the importance of 'the joining of two people' when set against 'the history of two worlds' by acknowledging it as 'A little thing. But a key is a little thing, next to the door it opens.'

The marvellous collection of ideas in A Woman's Liberation will open many doors to its readers - don't miss some of the best writers of the genre in ten tales of healing.

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