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The James Tiptree Award Anthology 2: sex, the future, & chocolate chip cookies    edited by Karen Joy Fowler & et al order for
James Tiptree Award Anthology 2
by Karen Joy Fowler
Order:  USA  Can
Tachyon, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

What do you think of first when you hear the word gender? Moreover, how would you define gender? As defined by the Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, the noun gender is primarily a subclass within grammatical classes; secondarily, however, at least as specifically construed by the dictionary's editors, gender is a denotation for the 'behavior, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.'

Immediately, therefore, gender seems to be clearly conflated with sex. Of course, if you take time to ponder that conflation, especially as you try to refine or expand upon the dictionary's secondary definition cited above, you may decide that gender is (1) easy to define, (2) difficult to define, or (3) impossible to define, and depending upon your own experiences and attitudes, any one of those reactions might seem perfectly reasonable to you. However, if you turn your attention to the provocative short stories and nonfiction included in The James Tiptree Award Anthology 2, you may find yourself reconsidering your notions of gender.

So, when all is said and done, what is gender? The editors of this important anthology, in the informative introduction which explains the history and criteria of the James Tiptree Award, state that posing that (rhetorical?) question is the underlying purpose for the award and the anthology. The award, in fact, is given to works in SF that examine (reconsider? refute? redefine?) the troublesome concept of gender; moreover, the award is named in honor of James Tiptree, Jr. (whom readers of SF recognize as the pseudonym for the late Alice Bradley Sheldon - world traveler, U.S. army veteran of World War II, CIA employee, psychologist, and notable SF writer who wrote under a male pen-name for a variety of reasons).

Among the eight short stories and the other assorted pieces of nonfiction in the collection, readers will find plenty to pique their interests and challenge their notions of gender. Exceptional selections showcased in the anthology include works by well-known authors Jonathan Lethem, Joe Haldeman, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Other notable, thought-provoking stories include the following: Carol Emshwiller's allegorical 'All of Can Almost ...' introduces an unlikely couple who hope for a future together but must remain wary of expectations imposed upon them based on appearances, traditions, and so-called normal behaviors; Eileen Gunn's and Leslie What's brilliant short story 'Nirvana High' showcases a special skills high school student of the future who finds herself forced to choose between momentary (conventionally gender specific) pleasures and living up to her (unconventional) cognitive potential; in 'The Gift,' a wonderful tale by L. Timmel Duchamp, a travel journalist on assignment to a distant planet pursues sexual (romantic?) pleasures in a society wherein cultural prerogatives and restrictions challenge her personal (limited?) perspective on pleasure and sensuality; Raphael Carter, author of 'Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation,' a fascinating short story written in the form of an academic paper, uses anthropology, psychology, and linguistics to explore gender in different locales (India and Minnesota!) within the framework of the unresolved nature v. nurture controversy; and Jane Lawrence's 'Kissing Frogs,' an imaginative reinvention of the classic fairy tale involving a princess and amphibian, humorously dramatizes the transforming (and disorienting) power of gender-based sexual attractions, expectations, and rejections.

As often happens in reading most other anthologies, readers will enjoy familiar authors and discover important new voices in The James Tiptree Award Anthology 2. Readers, of course, know that many SF anthologies are notoriously uneven in the quality of their contents; this award anthology, however, is solidly grounded and nicely unified in its thematic significance. Moreover, each work in this recommended collection is paradoxically both entertaining and instructive - the kind of intriguing dichotomy found in the best SF.

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