Between Planets

Let the heroine carry the big gun: Seven local women writers talk about creating their own worlds- and the problems with life on earth

Lately, I've been visiting writer's museums. The Pushkin museum brought into focus for me something I'd been noticing subliminally for some time: that none of the writers who are presented to us in school as though they were lone geniuses were, in fact, alone. Every one of them, when I looked further, came out of a context of other writers, readers, letter writers and other correspondents, editors, artists, bright friends, and just people generally who cared enough to argue about the issues around which they wrote. --Lois McMaster Bujold

PHOTO BY JANA FREIBAND

(Left to right) Lois McMaster Bujold, Patricia Wrede, Pamela Dean, Peg Kerr, Lyda Morehouse, and Caroline Stevermer (not pictured: Eleanor Arnason)

Eleanor Arnason:In 1978, Arnason published her first novel, The Sword Smith; four others followed, including the acclaimed Ring of Swords (1993), a slippery account of political negotiations between humans and a homosexual alien race, the Hwarhath. Since then, Arnason has concentrated on short stories, many about the Hwarhath: "The Potter of Bones" and "Knapsack Poems" were nominated for Nebulas this year.

Lois McMaster Bujold:Author of the Nebula-winning Miles Vorkosigan series, tricky sci-fi space opera for people who like their heroes self-conscious and their moral dilemmas well-examined. Bujold also writes a complex fantasy series, the latest installment of which is Paladin of Souls. Moved to Minneapolis from Ohio in 1995 after years of friendship with Patricia Wrede.

Pamela Dean:One of the original "Scribblies"--a writing group including Wrede, Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, and Steven Brust who first started meeting in 1980. Dean's best-known Scribblies-era work was Tam Lin, a literary college tale infiltrated by Faerie. In 1998, she published Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary, another contemporary story tilted by magic. Her Secret Country YA fantasy trilogy was just re-released; a sequel will follow.

Peg Kerr:Says Wrede inspired one sharply opinionated character in the gem-cutter's fantasy Emerald House Rising. Her The Wild Swans (1999) intertwines 17th-century fantasy and 1980s AIDS struggle. Kerr's husband was at Carleton with Dean and Wrede and she was mentored by Arnason. She writes with Caroline Stevermer.

Lyda Morehouse:Fashions masterful train wrecks out of hard-boiled detective fiction, angelic fantasy, cyberpunk, and apocalypse prose. Apocalypse Array, the fourth book in her near-future series, will be released later this year. "Potentially younger than the other people here," she calls Arnason a mentor.

Caroline Stevermer:Her "fantasy of manners," A College of Magics, is at once an alternative history of Europe, circa 1900, with magic and extra countries; a women's college cosy; a queasy adventure; and a topsy-turvy romance. The just-published sequel is titled A Scholar of Magics.

Patricia Wrede:Prolific inventor of flying blue donkeys and other comically fantastic stuff for her award-winning children's Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Wrede also writes fantasy in both medieval and regency settings. The epistolary novel, Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, written with Stevermer, was re-published in '03, and a sequel, The Grand Tour, is expected before the year is out. Helped midwife Bujold's entry into writing.

Minneapolis-St. Paul has altogether more good science fiction and fantasy writers per capita than it deserves. Credit the surplus to the state's 39-year-old Minicon science fiction and fantasy convention, or our two independent sci-fi and fantasy bookstores, DreamHaven and Uncle Hugo's (both opened in the '70s), or longtime Uncle Hugo's manager, the late Scott Imes (a one-man message board). Or it may be the many writing groups, or the continuing efforts of networkers like Eric Heideman and his magazine Tales of the Unanticipated. Perhaps the root cause is the frigid winters, which a certain kind of sensible person endures indoors, with nothing else to do but write. Most probably, credit goes to all of the above.

It may be just as difficult to figure why most of our best known and most celebrated sci-fi and fantasy writers are women. One, Eleanor Arnason, will be the guest of honor this weekend at WisCon--the world-renowned feminist science fiction convention in Madison, Wisconsin. In a spirit of inquiry, we decided to round up Arnason and six other ingenious local women sci-fi/fantasy novelists for a chat outside the Anodyne Cafe. It was hardly the first time they'd met; most of them have been in writing groups together. Their zigzagging discussion visited a cosmic range of subjects: the metaphor of violence, male-on-male porn (written by lesbians), differing definitions of "conservative", and the lasting influence of Han Solo. Arnason missed the group grope and was interviewed separately at the Black Dog in St. Paul.

 

CITY PAGES:Many of you have written stories from the point of view of a man with a weapon: a gun or a sword. What's the attraction of this image?

ELEANOR ARNASON: One thing that's happening is that you're dealing with the stereotypes of science fiction. Which has had kinda butch guys since the 1930s pulp magazines: two-fisted, tough, and violent. The pulp tradition tends to lead to plots where problems are solved by violence. And I think we're seeing a really good example in Iraq of precisely how useful violence is in solving problems. So one of the things I've done in a lot of stories is have characters who don't manage to use violence successfully. Or who decide, when they reach the point of crisis, that violence is not an option. Ring of Swords came out of two things. One was that I wanted to write about a culture where homosexuality was normal, and heterosexuality was weird. And I also wanted to write the kind of story I would not normally write. I have no use in general for military space opera; I don't like anything that glorifies war. So it was really a thought experiment. In the end, it's a story that is set up to have a war, and the major characters decide that, instead, they're going to have a Shakespeare festival. Much better idea.

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