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 DiedPicnic 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.


Selby Bateman said...

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

6:35 PM

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.

11:43 AM

Overview Institute Unveiled

A long day in DC yesterday, making the formal public announcement of The Overview Institute, an organization aimed exploring the ramifications, implications, and the possibilities for changes in perceptual and consciousness that arise (as it were) from our ability to rise from our planet.

The Institute is named, and its concerns and avenues of inquiry and speculation flow from, the exemplary work of Frank White, whose The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution marked, upon its publication in 1987, the first sustained and consistent attempt to examine how human perception is altered (and perhaps transformed) by off-Earth experience.


Frank's book was of (groundbreaking) necessity anecdotal — reminiscences, accounts, insights from individuals who'd been to space, all of them at the time astronauts or cosmonauts. To those anecdotes Frank brought and brings his sharp analytical intelligence and clear, focused thinking.

An indispensable book, and one that has refused to release its hold upon the imaginations and scientific curiosity of those who've read it.

Twenty-one years later and the handful of people who's been off-planet in 1987 has now swelled to more than 500, a number that will itself grow dramatically as various private-enterprise human space transport enterprises come on-line over the next few years.

At yesterday's event we unveiled our Institute's Declaration of Vision and Principles as well the other members of the Institute's Core Overview Group.

Most importantly, we called for others to sign our declaration, and join us in exploring the issues, opportunities, and areas of scientific, cultural, artistic, spiritual, philosophical inquiry raised by the Effect's effects.

As Frank pointed out in his eloquent remarks, the Overview Institute doesn't have an ideology or agenda — the implication of his work and findings is that 500, or 500,000, or 500,000,00 people experiencing the effect in orbit might well manifest 500,000,000 different personal responses to and manifestations of the experience.

What we're hoping to apply quantitative scientific methodology to is whether or not the Effect itself exerts measurable neurophysiological/cognitive effects on the brain.

But we're also quite deliberately seeking to engage the vision of artists from all media, cultural and thought leaders, activists, and above all interested individuals of whatever stripe and profession in exploring the question of just what space means — and can mean — to and for us here on Earth.

In my remarks I noted that it's now close to forty years since Norman Mailer launched his magnificent (if magnificently underrated) Of A Fire On The Moon with the words:

"Are we poised for a philosophical launch?"

As I said yesterday, and believe, "Now we are."

Take a look at our Declaration and, if it appeals, sign up for The Overview Institute (it's free.)

And tell others about it.


Rick said...

Well said Keith!

I am sorry I missed the event, but gather the team did great!

We are developing a cultural ripple effect here, that begins a transformation that will, when the wave grows high enough and strong enough, be Copurnican in its effect.

And if those of us working the cause of opening the frontier to mass access do our job the Effect will be something each one us can experience.

Poco a poco d'estrella, Rick N. Tumlinson Space Frontier Foundation Orbital Outfitters Space Diver Inc.

6:47 PM

Pat Cadigan said...

Hey, pal!

Completely off-topic: Happy Birthday, dear friend!


3:50 AM