1. Russ’s Place in the Genre
Over the last three decades of the twentieth century Joanna Russ produced an important body of work, ranging from short fiction and novels to incisive criticism, essays, and a book of acute political analysis. In On Joanna Russ, Graham Sleight declares that Russ “produced one of the three or four finest bodies of work in speculative short fiction” (p. 200), while Samuel R. Delany names her “one of the finest—and most necessary writers of American fiction to publish between 1959 . . . and 1998″ (p. 185). Most feminist SF critics would also credit her with having laid the foundations of feminist SF criticism besides having written one of feminist SF’s most acclaimed and necessary novels. Wesleyan University Press’s publication of On Joanna Russ is therefore both appropriate and welcome.
In her introduction to the volume, editor Farah Mendlesohn establishes the centrality of anger in Russ’s work, implicitly inviting the reader to attend to its presence (or not) in each of the book’s chapters. She characterizes Russ as “a writer whose angry creativity burns the complacent veldt of narrative” and asserts that the “core of Russ’s work” is “rupture, or the refusal to go along with the storying of the world” (p. vii). “Burning through each tale are the questions, Whose narratives are these? Who benefits from this storying of the world?” (p. viii) “Reading Russ,” she confesses, “can be exhausting, emotionally harrowing” (p. ix). Most intriguing for me, she states that “Russ produced a body of work whose influence has been complex. She is a writer whose work provokes reaction rather than emulation . . . ” (p. ix).
Two-thirds of the way through the volume, in the first paragraph of his outstanding “Art and Amity: The ‘Opposed Aesthetic’ in Mina Loy and Joanna Russ,” Paul March-Russell notes the persisting tendency of critics to smooth over the jagged, angry edges of Russ’s work, to effectively neutralize the challenges it continues to issue, by reading her wit as merely entertaining and—in effect—apolitical. Even those critics who declare Russ’s work as subversive do this, he says. “To claim a text is subversive,” he argues, citing Alan Sinfield,
is “to imply achievement—that something was subverted,” only for that subversion to be subsequently contained. To overemphasize the pleasure and delight of Russ’s writing not only glosses the stylistic brutality that other critics have noted, but also presents an overoptimistic reading of her politics that effectively forecloses the continuing dissidence of her fiction. Russ’s work can still unsettle contemporary critics such as Adam Roberts. Yet even one of her most astute advocates, Sarah Lefanu, concludes her account of The Female Man with a passage that makes her laugh—as if laughter were Russ’s chief legacy. (p. 168)
On reading this, the realization struck me that the collection’s essays could be divided into those that, on the one hand, seek to smooth over Russ’s angry edges and those that, on the other, attend closely and carefully to all that is uncomfortable and challenging in Russ’s work. Such a division, however, would create so sharp a difference between critical approaches that I had to wonder: does recognition of the angry edges in Russ’s work matter? Ought critics to engage directly with them? Psychological experiments have shown that subjects more easily recognize anger in men’s faces than in women’s , confirming feminist observations that women’s anger is commonly treated as derisory, unnecessary, or unwarranted. What, then, is a (feminist) reader to make of a critic’s ignoring or patronizing of that anger?
Certainly readers react in a variety of ways when confronted with writing that is openly angry and “whose angry creativity burns the complacent veldt of narrative”; most of those ways will be influenced if not inflected by their emotional rather than intellectual response to that anger. When readers are not critics, they do not have to worry about what that emotional response will do to their critical faculties, nor struggle to conceal it behind a façade of critical detachment. Not many literary scholars, however, consider their emotional engagement with a text to be an appropriate aspect of their criticism. (Feminist critics like Lynne Pearce mark the exception.) Surely that very sense of the appropriate creates an awkward situation for the critic writing about an author whose anger can be “emotionally harrowing.” If they don’t acknowledge a text’s anger, they are misrepresenting the work. If they judge a text’s anger a weakness, they are refusing to take the work on its own terms. And if they dismiss anger as a symptom of the author’s personal delusions or celebrate it as delightful and “subversive,” they are, as March-Russell says, being patronizing. In short, writing about Joanna Russ’s work necessarily forces the critic to negotiate a minefield. It can be no wonder, then, that relatively little scholarship has been devoted to Russ’s work.
Mendlesohn’s mentioning the complexity of Russ’s influence and implying that that influence has taken the character of reaction more often than emulation made me hope that all the book’s essays would engage directly with Russ’s influence—via reaction—on the genre. But after nearly three pages of talking about how Russ’s work “serves as an electric shock to the imagination,” the introduction shifts into neutral, putting such frank talk aside in favor of the standard academic patter. Russ’s voice “needs to be understood from different perspectives,” Mendlesohn declares, “because she is “a thoroughly three-dimensional author and cannot be viewed through only one lens” (p. ix). And so on. The question of Russ’s influence on the field drops out of sight even as the image of criticism as the examination of an object under multiple lenses douses (if not wholly extinguishes) the burning the previous three pages evoke. At that point, I thought longingly of feminist critic Lynne Pearce’s brave style of criticism and realized I was hungry to read intelligent work able to grapple directly with what Russ actually does to her readers. For the most part, however, that is not the book Mendlesohn delivers, and so it is not, obviously, the book I here review.
The lead essay, Gary K. Wolfe’s “Alyx among the Genres,” explicitly states its purpose as reclaiming and recognizing “Russ’s identity and achievement as a science fiction writer—not simply a writer who used science fiction toward other ends—and to establish the extent to which Russ’s work was deeply connected to the mainstream dialogue of genre SF prior to and concurrent with her most famous ‘breakout’ works” (emphasis in text) (p. 4). The Alyx stories, Wolfe argues, “both celebrate and subvert” the sword and sorcery tradition, playfully drawing, in particular, on Fritz Leiber’s work; they “underline the degree to which” Russ was “embedded in the ongoing dialogue concerning the field’s potential” (emphasis in text) (p. 5). Interestingly, Wolfe reads the Alyx narratives not as fantasy but rather as a “survey” of several forms of science fiction narratives. I was entirely convinced by his reading—even as I found it peculiarly partial. In Mendlesohn’s words, “Burning through each tale are the questions, Whose narratives are these? Who benefits from this storying of the world?” Wolfe’s insistence on Russ’s celebrating the traditional stories avoids these questions even as he ignores the anger seething through the Alyx stories.
Edward James, in the second essay in the book, curiously confides that he was inspired to write it because “many years ago” someone he identifies only as “a feminist SF critic” declared she never read science fiction written by men, and so he feels the need to establish the obvious, viz. that Joanna Russ was “well versed in the science fiction of the 1950s and 1960s” (p. 19). To this end, he renders a cursory description of Russ’s reviews for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and other publications. These were recently collected in The Country You Have Never Seen (2007), and so his very long block quote in which Russ replies to the fans who hated her reviews, though of great interest for anyone thinking about what reviewing entails, will offer nothing new to anyone familiar with Russ’s oeuvre, as many of the readers of this book likely are.
The next three essays mark a significant shift in orientation as their authors consider Russ as a critic who, after an initial period of writing fiction that “test[ed] the limits of her chosen genre to see how it might facilitate or limit certain insights about the relations of science, society, and gender” (p. 43). explored in both her criticism and her fiction “the unique potential of SF for women writers” (p. 36). In “A History of One’s Own: Joanna Russ and the Creation of a Feminist SF Tradition,” Lisa Yaszek reviews the male-dominated state of SF criticsm at the time Russ entered the scene in the 1960s and notes some of Russ’s feminist challenges to the many unquestioned conventions that made it so difficult to create future societies in which women played roles other than those stereotypical in the 1950s and ’60s US. Helen Merrick’s “The Female ‘Atlas’ of Science Fiction? Russ, Feminism and the SF Community” attends to Russ’s stormy relations with fandom. And most insightful for me, Dianne Newell and Jenéa Tallantire, in “Learning the ‘Prophet business': The Merril-Russ Intersection,” take a close, incisive look at Russ’s competitive relations with Judith Merril on the eve of Russ’s turn to feminism.
Merrick’s contribution offers a close reading of Russ’s participation in the famed Khatru symposium as well as her correspondence in fanzines during the 1970s, providing clear evidence of the changes wrought in Russ’s relations with both men and women in the genre, including those that Newell and Tallantire mention at the end of their essay. There’s a certain grim fascination in reading about Michael G. Coney’s savaging Russ for being the author of “When It Changed,” which he apparently took as a personal attack on himself: “I’m a white non-religious male of heterosexual leanings, a member of a vast and passive majority which seems to tbe the target of every crank group under the sun” (p. 49). Her intense exchange with Marion Zimmer Bradley is particularly moving, while the account of Philip K. Dick defending “Joanna’s anger” to Poul Anderson is . . . bemusing.
Yaszek, in her opening sentence, aptly quotes Russ’s explanation in 1981 for why so many women writers had taken to creating all-female futures: because men “hog all the good things of this world.” Russ’s identification of an emergent “feminist SF tradition” was, in a sense, an extension of the need to create another sphere in which men don’t hog “all the good things.” Yaszek focuses tightly on what writing Russ excluded as well as included in her conceptualization of that tradition. She quotes Russ’s critique of the tendency of “the more intelligent, literate fiction” to carry “today’s values and standards into its future Galactic Empires” (p. 39) and concludes from that in 1971 Russ dismissed from her “emergent tradition” all science fiction that had so far been written (presumably including her own fiction)—a totality that doesn’t actually follow from the quote provided. Yaszek notes that among the authors who carry “today’s values and standards” into their futures, Russ included most women SF authors but then asserts that Russ contended that all women science fiction writers (before 1971?) set their stories in a “galactic suburbia that looks suspiciously like a high-tech version of life on Earth in the here-and-now” (p. 40). Given my earlier inability to follow Yaszek’s inference from a text she quotes, I wanted to know Russ’s words verbatim in this case, too. But when I followed up the citation in the text—”Recent Feminist Utopias” in Future Females (1981)—I discovered that the page Yaszek repeatedly cites belongs to an essay by Lyman Tower Sargent. Though I pored through the pages of Russ’s essay, I could find no mention at all of “galactic suburbia” or “ladies magazine fiction,” so I suspect this is a case of an unfortunate transposition that crept into Yaszek’s notes that the book’s copyeditor failed to catch. Since in her F&SF reviews Russ castigated male writers for creating “galactic suburbia,” Russ obviously did not use the term interchangeably with “ladies magazine fiction,” as Yaszek in this essay implies Russ did. Moreover, reviewing “The Plastic Abyss” (which Russ found interesting if flawed) by Kate Wilhelm (whom Russ characterizes as “an escapee from the feminine mystique”), Russ characterizes the novella as “the eerie fusion of women’s-magazine ‘reality’ and real reality, as if sentimental pictures had suddenly begun to move and speak” (The Country You Have Never Seen, p. 64). From that and other references to “women’s magazine” fiction, I suspect that Russ was referring to (non SF) genre conventions well-known at the time, and that her allusion was meant not as a dismissal (which “galactic suburbia” so clearly is), but actually was shorthand for those conventions. (Interested as I am in the history of women’s writing, I’d love to see a scholar fully unpack its meanings in Russ’s criticism.) After arguing that others followed Russ’s lead in excluding all prior SF by women from the “emergent tradition,” Yaszek then asks and attempts to answer the question of why Russ “suppressed” all prior SF by women by falsely categorizing it as “ladies’ magazine fiction” (which “suppression” Yaszek does not here document, given the citation error) by looking at Russ’s “authorial experiences” writing stories set in “galactic suburbia.” (Her invocation of How to Suppress Women’s Writing is nicely done.) After examining two such stories, Yaszek persuasively argues that Russ discovered that although such tales “clearly critique patriarchal relations” (p. 47). they effectively exclude women characters from participation in the public sphere.
Newell and Tallentire’s essay focuses specifically on Russ’s relations with Merril, but it nevertheless provides wider insight into Russ’s lack of sympathy with (and sometimes outright hostility toward) women predecessors in the field. 1968, they write, was a pivotal moment in Russ’s career. Merril, an influential editor and critic, was about to leave the field and could, at that moment, have “passed the torch” on to Russ, who was clearly a rising star. But Merril did not. Instead, she belittled Russ’s work. Russ for her part challenged Merril’s “credentials as an intellectual leader and connoisseur of science fiction who was pushing science fiction in the new, experimental directions to which Russ (later) seemed committed” (p. 71). After noting “the generational and intellectual tensions within science fiction in the 1960s,” the authors examine Russ’s and Merril’s reviews of one another’s work, in which each damned the other for not writing “real” science fiction, and describe Russ’s harsh treatment of other women SF writers. Like Yaszek, they invoke Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing to charge Merril with suppressing Russ’s writing and Russ with suppressing the work of not only Merril but also other women SF writers. And then they explain (without seeming to notice that mentorship requires a willing mentor): “A need to carve space and claim a reputation seems to have led Russ to adopt a posture of exceptionalism—’I was the first, the only’—rather than the mentorship model more commonly found in SF circles” (p. 73). Merril, of course, was not a feminist. As the authors later point out, she was the token in the male clubhouse, and
A barrier to connection and mentorship between women is the traditional pattern of competition for scarce resources and recognition in male-dominated enterprises . . . the weight of gender inequality and the need to be “exceptional” to achieve the success of mediocre men builds barriers between women in predominately male enterprises. (p. 76)
They quote Rosabeth Moss Kanter: “For token women, the price of being ‘one of the boys’ was a willingness to occasionally turn against the girls” (p. 76). The essay concludes with a section titled “When It Changed,” discussing the maturing of Russ’s feminist ideas and the importance that feminist community came to hold for her. In all, it is a moving, fascinating, necessary essay.
2. Russ’s Fiction
The remaining essays in the book discuss Russ’s fiction; their authors’ interests vary considerably. Samuel R. Delany’s essay plumbs Russ’s creative imagination. Sherryl Vint’s, Keridwen N. Luis’s, Sandra Lindow’s, Paul March-Russell’s, and Tess Williams’ essays each focus on particular novels, while Graham Sleight’s offers an overview of Russ’s body of short fiction, giving close attention to several stories to reveal what makes her short fiction so extraordinary. Pat Wheeler’s, Andrew Butler’s, Jason P. Vest’s, and Brian Charles Clark’s essays discuss thematic material that they believe characterize Russ’s work.
In his elegant “Joanna Russ and D.W. Griffith,” Samuel R. Delany ventures audaciously into mysterious territory where few critics dare to go. The creative imagination, that unconscious pool of images, structures, and sometimes even words and phrases that all fiction writers draw on as easily and naturally as they breathe, is uniquely a writer’s own and embodies the area of a writer’s work that cannot be taught or learned. Readers familiar with Russ of course have an intuitive sense of her creative imagination, but critics generally don’t address that aspect of a writer’s work. Before going there, however, Delany’s essay begins with a laudatory overview of Russ’s fiction and a lengthy quote of theorist Jane Gallop’s description of what it meant to have Russ as a professor in 1971. He then turns to pioneer filmmaker and bigot D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance. In his description of the film, Delany characterizes it as unintentionally feminist. He believes his description of it establishes
the field that might have interested the young Russ, perhaps during her years at the Yale Drama School after her graduation from Cornell—a field that shows a shared concern for women even as it leaves ample room for Russ to criticize what remains of Griffith’s post-World War I vision. That, I am convinced, is the structure necessary for the process that criticism so frequently speaks of as influence to take place. (p. 192)
This is a rather different notion of influence than that advanced by Wolfe’s focus on generic tropes and forms or James’s more general focus on a certain set of male SF writers. So instead of looking to Fritz Leiber’s sword and sorcery tales to explain Russ’s invention of Alyx, Delany identifies Griffith’s Hill Girl, with a biography intriguingly similar to Alyx’s, as its origin. He also identifies characters, situations, and narrative structures found in Intolerance similar to those found in The Female Man (1975) and We Who Are About To . . . (1977). His explications of the correspondences he sees are precise and specific. Delany concludes by noting that after composing his essay, he wrote to Russ about it and received the reply that she has no conscious memory of drawing on the material in Griffith’s film. But as Delany notes, “The critical interest of such correspondences does not require a finding of intentional borrowing” (p. 195). On my first reading, I felt doubtful about the correspondences. But after a second reading and further thought, I find myself wholly persuaded. The creative imagination is a magpie’s nest, peculiarly retentive, operating on its own time and by its own rules. Though it is a writer’s most precious hoard, it is never under her control.
Sherryl Vint’s very fine essay reads The Two of Them (1978) from the perspective of Third-Wave feminism. In powerful resonance with Newell and Tallentire’s essay, Vint points out that The Two of Them is about the need for women to get beyond “the belief that one is ‘special’ and that one’s own achievements despite the sex/gender system deny the continued dominance of this system” (p. 87) and reads the novel as a story about the relations between two generations of women who might (and need) to be allies, with Irene corresponding to a second-wave feminist and Zubeydeh a third-wave feminist. “Both Irene and Zubeydeh,” she concludes, “need to learn to stop being exceptional and realize that it is the gender system that needs to change, not their individual circumstances. Feminism as a movement and individual feminists within it must do likewise” (p. 98).
Keridwen N. Luis’ “Les Human Beans? Alienation, Humanity, and Community in Joanna Russ’s On Strike against God” celebrates Russ’s coming-out, non-speculative novel (1980) as a “profoundly insightful myth that enables us to break out of traditional gender roles, articulate our experience, and find/establish a community in each other” (p. 119). Luis homes in on a theme similar to that in Wheeler’s chapter: “What do you do when the club won’t let you in, when there’s no other, and when you won’t or can’t change?” she quotes Russ’s novel. “Simple. You blow the club up” (p. 128). And it is access to the lesbian continuum (first theorized by Adrienne Rich), Luis argues, that allows the novel’s protagonist to do just that.
Since I’d never read the one work of fiction that Russ wrote for children, Sandra Lindow’s “Kittens Who Run with Wolves: Healthy Girl Development in Joanna Russ’s Kittatinny” came as a welcome surprise. Lindow argues that Kittatinny, published in 1978, provides a model for a girl’s development that challenges heteronormativity and identifies her “real enemies” as “the great warlords and the evil kings,” which Lindow interprets as “the good old boys of the patriarchy” (p. 137). The tale’s protagonist, Kit, has a series of adventures that test her and show her possible ways to live. “Like all adolescents,” she experiences moments of anger—and despair, “which is anger turned inward.” Since in Kit’s culture (and ours) “being angry is a privilege usually relegated to men” (p. 136). Kit must work through her anger. Lindow claims that she learns to become “an androgynous mix of male and female characteristics” (p. 142). which does not quite sound like Russ (nor, also, does her use of the language of transcendence). Nevertheless, Lindow’s chapter left me eager to read Kittatinny.
Tess Williams’s “Castaway: Carnival and Sociobiological Satire in We Who Are About To . . . ” reads that novel as a satirical carnival text and the narrator as a “witch figure,” by way of the theory of Mikhail Bakhtin and Mary Russo. Williams’ reading is not only nuanced, but also precise—she is actually one of the few critics in the book to talk about this novel without claiming that the narrator murdered all (or all but one) of the other characters. Her reading attends particularly to the role that cultural delusions play in a narrative that has traditionally been told as a gut-level, instinctual drive-for-survival story: “when the colonizing story of the castaways was countered by a different, skeptical story, the responding anger and threats come from contemporary notions of nature and survival, not from some base biology that is surfacing in the characters because of their predicament” (p. 219). Although the notion of We Who Are About To . . . as Rabelaisian satire is not an obvious one, Williams’ reading of it as such richly illuminates the novel.
Pat Wheeler’s “‘That Is Not Me. I Am Not That': Anger and the Will to Action in Joanna Russ’s Fiction” directly addresses the anger in Russ’s fiction—and values it. “Anger is a unifying force in Russ’s fiction,” she writes, “an oppositional strategy that offers ways of reading and writing that subvert the notion that the female subject is acted upon, rather than active” (p. 100). Wheeler argues that for Russ, anger is not merely a means for venting or even catharsis, but actually alters the normative politics of narrative for both Russ’s characters and readers, granting access to an “affirming self-knowledge” that would otherwise not be available and offering a means of bonding between women; anger, moreover, impels women to refuse to play by the rules of the dominant political and social structures constraining and oppressing women and “is used as a positive force of expression” (p. 113). In Wheeler’s explication of Russ’s fiction, a woman character’s refusal to play by the rules often entails an act of violence. And so, for instance, Ernst must be removed from the story Russ tells in The Two of Them in order for Irene to “achieve the freedom to take that step toward agency” (p. 110).
Jason P. Vest’s essay, which also directly addresses the anger in Russ’s work, is the weakest in the book. It expounds on the “womanly violence” of Alyx, whom he characterizes as a “femme fatale.” “Womanly violence,” he tells us, is “the physical expression of aggression and anger that is entirely natural to a woman’s character” (pp. 157-158). I don’t believe I need to say more than that. Anyone who knows Joanna Russ or is reasonably familiar with her work will know what sort of “analysis” must follow from the premise inherent in that definition (or, indeed, from characterizing Alyx as a “femme fatale”).
The next piece, as I have already mentioned, ranks among the best in the book. Paul March-Russell’s “Art and Amity: The Opposed Aesthetic” in Mina Loy and Joanna Russ” begins with an expression of concern that the pleasure and delight of Russ’s writing not be used to gloss over its “stylistic brutality” nor that an overoptimistic reading of her politics not be used to “foreclose the continuing dissidence of her fiction” (p. 168). To that end, he reads The Female Man through the poetry and essays of the feminist and modernist Mina Loy with great eloquence and clarity. In resonance with Wheeler’s contribution, he pays particular attention to Russ’s location of “fractures within the dominant sexual ideology” that veal the limitations of “normal” discourse. I could not help comparing his discussion of the politics of discourse in The Female Man with Andrew M. Butler’s (see below), for March-Russell takes us step by step through a close-reading that carefully illuminates his points. This essay and Graham Sleight’s are the most illustrative in the book of Mendlesohn’s declaration that the refusal to go along with the storying of the world” (p. vii) is the core of Russ’s work.
Graham Sleight’s “Extraordinary People: Joanna Russ’s Short Fiction” is another very fine essay. Sleight nails Russ’s short fiction as depicting “the arguing out, with extraordinary fierceness, of a series of tensions. Perhaps the overarching one is the tension between the world we have inherited and live in, and the world we can imagine (and, therefore, could construct” (p. 204). Because of this, he says, “the miracle is that [the stories] hold themselves together at all under the stresses of Russ’s imagination” (p. 204). His essay provides an overview of Russ’s short fiction, but focuses particularly on “Souls,” which won a Hugo in 1983. Sleight falls clearly into the grouping of critics who acknowledge and attempt to engage with the anger in Russ’s work. “There is no anger in Russ except that which is earned,” he observes (p. 207). In the end, he declares that Russ’s fierceness places “the onus” on the reader.
Andrew M. Butler’s essay, “Medusa Laughs: Birds, Thieves, and Other Unruly Women,” tosses out a lot of allusions to works by a grab bag of theorists as it samples snatches of Russ’s fiction and talks about “male language” without ever explaining what “male language” is. He begins by arguing that Hélène Cixous’s famous “The Laugh of the Medusa” shares “congruences” with Russ’s fiction—and then notes Russ’s distrust of psychoanalytic theory, worrying that that might put him “on the fast track to nowhere” (p. 143), presumably because he thinks an author’s opinion of the critic’s tools must be taken into account when analyzing her work. He grants that there is no chance that Russ—when writing The Female Man—and Cixous—when writing “Laugh”—influenced one another and sensibly accounts for the “echoes” he finds between these two works to the “cultural epoch” in which they were written. But although he notes Russ’s scorn for the very idea of “women’s writing,” he does not carefully distinguish between Russ and Cixous’ theoretical and stylistic differences, which raises questions about his attempts to equate their attitudes toward and uses of language. This failure is compounded by Butler’s careless description of écriture feminine as “female writing.” Although he admits that such “female writing” is not something that women as opposed to men naturally do (since Genet and Joyce are the two examples Cixous gives of authors of female writing), and although he also admits that Russ’s view of women and language is at odds with Cixous,’ he still declares that Cixous’ celebration of écriture feminine and Russ’s feminism constitute an “intriguing parallel.” Other parallels he proposes are even more strained. The essay eventually descends into a muddle as Butler makes a series of sketchy, decontextualized allusions to work by a variety of scholars and theorists without explaining what any of it has to do with Russ’s writing. He for instance simply mentions Natalie Zemon Davis’s “identification” of the “unruly woman” as an “alternate to the Medusan woman” (p. 150)—presumably referring to an article “Woman on Top” about the multivalent uses of the figure of the disorderly woman by men (and sometimes women) on festive occasions and during riots in early modern France, though no one who has not read “Women on Top” would have any idea of that from Butler’s offhanded allusion—as though the connection with Russ’s work is self-explanatory. Though I’m familiar with all of the work he references, I finished his essay without a clear idea of what he was actually trying to say.
The final piece in the book, Brian Charles Clark’s “The Narrative Topology of Resistance in the Fiction of Joanna Russ” is more a paean to Russ’s fiction than an essay. It leaps and soars over the (topological) surface of Russ’s fiction at speed, sampling literary and theoretical allusions even more promiscuously than Butler’s essay does, with manic energy and delight, never lighting on the surface for more than an instant. While Butler’s essay invokes Cixous’s style, Clark’s, never burdened by the gravid weight of critical pretension, actually emulates it. Clark’s essay serves as a coda, taking the book out on an appreciative—even ecstatic—note of Russ’s still-standing challenge.
On Joanna Russ has much to offer both those who know her work well and those who don’t. Naturally the contributors contradict one another in numerous places; in certain instances I found myself wishing, no doubt unreasonably, for some direct engagement exploring those disagreements. I also wished that the book’s contributors had given as much attention to Russ’s influence on the genre as they did to establishing influences on Russ. My biggest gripe is with Wesleyan’s decision to make the bibliography of Russ’s work a hodgepodge of references to the particular editions of the texts the critics cite in their essays rather than a comprehensive, authoritative bibliography of Russ’s work, or even one that deigns to mention the original publication dates of each work cited; and it was a pity they didn’t see fit to offer a comprehensive secondary bibliography rather, again, than merely a list of works cited. More grievous were the omissions from the secondary bibliography of works actually cited in the text, which the copyeditor ought to have caught. But in sum, I hope this volume will pave the way for further study of Russ’s work, for I enjoyed the time I spent with it immensely.
 See, for instance, L.M Goos and I Silverman, “Sex Related Factors in the Perception of Threatening Facial Expressions”. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 2002:26(1);27-41 (15).
L. Timmel Duchamp is the author of Love’s Body, Dancing in Time, the five-volume Marq’ssan Cycle, and a lot of short fiction and essays. She has been a finalist for the Nebula and Sturgeon awards and short-listed several times for the Tiptree. She lives in Seattle.