Saturday, April 30, 2011

Joanna Russ

Sad news this morning, with word that Joanna Russ has died.

Although she published relatively little fiction in the past couple of decades, and was never prolific, there was a decade or so, from '68 to '78, when she was producing some of the most challenging and well-written SF in the world. Her best work included the novels The Female Man, the remarkable And Chaos Died, Picnic On Paradise, We Who Are About To, and shorter works including "Souls," "When It Changed, "Poor Man, Beggar Man,,"  every one of which worked beautifully as fiction and as science fiction, a tough double-act from which she never flinched.

I taught The Female Man in 1976, and can still, 35 years later, recall both the excitement and distress the students expressed, often simultaneously, at the unflinching challenges that novel offers. The richness and rigor of Russ's imagination, matched and even exceeded by her gifts both with prose and dialectic made that novel one of the outstanding accomplishments of the 1970s. It was an audacious and substantial novel then, and remains so today.

The first Russ I read were some early Alyx stories in Damon Knight's Orbit anthologies, and bought the Alyx fix-up, Picnic On Paradise when it first appeared, as an Ace Science Fiction Special in 1968. Russ and Alyux turned "heroic" fantasy" on its head even as the success of Conan reprints was beginning to spur much of heroic fantasy's long and ongoing retreat into pulp cliche and convention.

Joanna Russ was a stern and tasking critic as well, a scholar and a playwright.

But it is as a writer of fiction that I will best remember her, and it is with her fiction that I will, a bit later today, curl under a tree and do just that:

Remember her.

2 comments:

Selby Bateman said...

Thanks so much for this tribute to Joanna Russ! I will immediately start looking for her works.

Karl said...

Keith, thank you for posting this informative tribute about Joanna. My local paper posted the announcement today, more than a week after she passed away. But I'll certainly keep an eye out for her works.