Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, March 13, 2015


The Zanzibar Cat by Joanna Russ (1983)

Joanna Russ (1937-2011), novelist, short story writer, essayist, and critic, was one of the most important and influential voices in science fiction in the recent past but (I fear) she is little read today, and that's a shame.  Adjectives that might best describe her?  Radical, angry, fearless, ironic, acerbic...take your pick.

Russ published her first story in 1959 and then came into her own in the Sixties, blazing her way through that decade with a stunning series of stories, followed by ground-breaking novels like Picnic on Paradise (1968), And Chaos Died (1970), The Female Man (1975), and We Who Are About To... (1977).  In all, she published seven novels and four collections culled from her over five dozen stories.  In the late Eighties, Russ turned away from science fictions, publishing only one story in 1996, and instead concentrating on essays that showcased her thoughts on feminism and human dignity -- subjects that always been part and parcel of her fiction.  Through her writings, Joanna Russ has shown us (male and female alike) a new (well, new for most of us) and courageous way of thinking.  We are the better for it.

The Zanzibar Cat (Arkham House, 1983), her first collection, contains 16 stories covering fantasy, science fiction, and I don't know what.  These are powerful stories.  Sly stories.  Difficult stories.  Glorious stories.  Russ writes with the power of a poet and the ferocity of a poet's truncheon.  Read, for example, "Old Thoughts, Old Presences" and see if you can cope with the pain, joy, and triumph it relates.  Or "Useful Phrases for the Tourist" without smiling.

A varied, worthwhile collection.

  • "When it Changed" (from Again, Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison, 1972)  A Nebula and Tiptree award winner
  • "The Extraordinary Voyages of Amelie Bertrand" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1979)  A Nebula Award finalist
  • "The Soul of a Servant" (from Showcase, edited by Roger Elwood, 1973)
  • "Gleepsite" (from Orbit 9, edited by Damon Knight, 1971)
  • "Nobody's Home" (from New Dimensions 2, edited by Robert Silverberg, 1972)
  • "My Dear Emily" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1962)
  • "The New Men" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 1966)
  • "My Boat" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 1976)
  • "Useful Phrases for the Tourist" (from Universe 2, edited by Terry Carr, 1972)
  • "Corruption" (from Aurora:  Beyond Equality, edited by Susan Janice Anderson and Vonda N. McIntyre, 1976)
  • "There Is a Shore, You Know, Upon the Other Side" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1963)
  • "A Game of Vlet" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 1974)
  • "How Dorothy Kept Away the Spring" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 1977)
  • "Poor Man, Beggar Man" (from Universe 1, edited by Terry Carr, 1971)  A Nebula Award finalist
  • "Old Thoughts, Old Presences (originally published in two parts in Epoch, published by Cornell University, as "Daddy's Girl," Winter 1975, and as "Autobography of My Mother," Fall 1975)  The second part was an O. Henry Prize story.
  • "The Zanzibar Cat" (from Quark 3, edited by Samuel R. Delaney and Marilyn Hacker, 1971)
The paperback edition of The Zanzibar Cat (Baen, 1984) has slightly different contents, dropping "How Dorothy Kept Away the Spring," "Poor Man, Beggar Man," and "Old Thoughts, Old Presences," and adding the following three stories:
  • "The Man Who Could Not See Devils" (from Alchemy and Academe, edited by Anne McCaffrey, 1970)
  • "Dragons and Dimwits" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December1979, as "Dragons and Dimwits or There and Back Again:  a Publisher's Holiday or Why did I do It? or Much Ado about Magic or Lord of the Royalties or...or...or...")
  • "The Precious Object" (1970, source unknown)


  1. These are all stories from an era when Science Fiction was good, even Fantasy, and these are among the best of them. I didn't realize that the paperback edition, which I have, is different from the hardcover. Do I need both books? It's something to think about.

  2. I wasn't aware of those differences, either...that qualifies as stupid (on the part of both publishers). I'll need to gather up the hardcover, since those are both decent trios (though "Dragons and Dimwits" doesn't quite rate with "Useful Phrases for the Tourist" nor "I Had Vacantly Crumpled It in My Pocket..." as the height of Russ's wit.

  3. Even fantasy, Steve? Koff.

    Russ, unfortunately, was plagued by distracting back problems that helped keep her production down in her last years...and WHAT ARE WE FIGHTING FOR?, a hefty book about the feminist movement, took up most of her late energy, and while the book isn't as brilliant as her shorter essays as collected previously and since, it didn't get the reception it deserved.

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