It's very hot here in Seattle, & somehow iced tea and the fan running on high just isn't cutting it. Sad to say, I'm a weary zombie from lack of sleep. Nevertheless, I thought I'd note that a certain perennial subject came up last night at Kelley Eskridge’s reading at the Science Fiction Museum. Kelley read an excerpt from her story "Alien Jane" (which closes Dangerous Space) and longer excerpts from the new title novella, "Dangerous Space." She took care to leave about half an hour for the Q&A typical of Clarion West readings, during which she fielded a wide variety of questions about her work. Among these included a request that Kelley explain how “Alien Jane,” a story without any fantasy or science fiction elements, came to be included in a collection labeled “science fiction” and whether she had had any problem getting it published originally in genre publications.
Kelley began her response with a review of the story’s genre history. In sum: "Alien Jane" debuted in the first issue of the prestigious, beautifully produced Century edited by Robert K.J.Killheffer; it was a finalist for the Nebula award and won the Astrea Award (for lesbian literary fiction); it was reprinted in Nebula Awards 31 (ed. Pamela Sargent); and finally, the SF Channel then based an episode of Welcome to Paradox on the story. The story, Kelley noted, was treated within the genre as sf, and that was all that mattered. The label is just a label. She’s happy to have the label of being an sf writer (and herself chooses to call her work “speculative fiction”), but she doesn’t care about definitions.
On reflection, I think “Alien Jane” offers a good example for the argument that sf is not identifiable through a set of definable parameters but is, simply, what people who edit sf choose to publish and what people who read sf choose to read. “Alien Jane” is, in fact, less “speculative” than Karen Joy Fowler’s “What I Didn’t See.” For some reason, this didn’t provoke the sf Border Police back in the mid-1990s the way Karen’s story did in 2002. And for some reason, the SF Channel made it into a television drama. I could, I believe, make a comparable argument about “Alien Jane” to the one I made about “What I Didn’t See” in “Something Rich and Strange: Reading Karen Joy Fowler’s `What I Didn’t See’.” “Alien Jane,” like most of the stories in Dangerous Space, is in conversation with feminist sf. Like “What I Didn’t See,” most of Kelley’s stories can be read with pleasure as literary fiction: but how much richer and deeper they are for those engaged in the conversation of feminist sf!