Edited by Bruce Gillespie and Jan Stinson
Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce, June 2010
I love the idea of Steam Engine Time. I love that Gillespie obviously has a long-standing history with chunks of the science fiction community, and they write articles for him and they write letters to him and, through his zine, to each other. I also love that, while I read a bit of fan stuff online, this is something different. It’s less immediate, so people often put more thought into their articles and letters than they do online; and the actual production of the zine takes more effort, too, demonstrating a love of the community and the genre. All of this makes browsing the zine an instance of remarkable connection to the history of science fiction. Or maybe that’s just me.
There are three editorials to this issue. The first, from Gillespie, looks over the magazine, as well as noting many of the female authors who inspired the theme for the issue – “Today’s women of wonder”. The second editorial, from Stinson, is a very personal discussion of the last few years, including a reflection on the effects of depression for her. She backs this up with another editorial, more a short article really, “Urban fantasy on the rise”. In it, she briefly discusses what urban fantasy is – a definition I wouldn’t attempt with body armour on – and then lists a number of the, primarily female, proponents of the genre, including C.E. Murphy and Justina Robson. Just what I needed; more names on the to-read list.
The first article for STE 11 is from Lyn McConchie, in New Zealand: “Illegible history”. In it, she considers the issues that many fan groups are currently experiencing, and will continue to experience, in that the minutes and other such records of such groups have been kept solely in handwriting – handwriting that is frequently difficult to read, and may only get more difficult to read as people less frequently read handwriting. It’s an interesting issue, and one I hadn’t considered. Her solution is, of course obvious: transcribe to computer-based records (which of course brings its own issues, of backing up files and transferring them between programs). It is to be hoped that groups will indeed put in the effort required to safeguard their history.
This issue’s title, “Today’s women of wonder”, plays on the anthologies edited by Pamela Sargent. It is fitting, therefore, that it includes a long article from Sargent herself, although not specifically looking at a feminist or female topic. Instead, she writes on whether editors are necessary, based on both her experiences as an author and as editor. It’s a very personal article, in many ways, relating some helpful – and other not helpful – anecdotes of her experiences with editors from various magazines and publishing houses. She does ultimately come down on the necessity of editors, but only when they are “very good” – a challenge indeed to up-and-coming editors. The article was originally written in 1996; she adds a coda from 2009, with a note that she is still receiving useful advice from editors, and that good editors still exist, often in small press. I’m not a writer, so to a great extent this article was not aimed at me. Nonetheless, it was an insight into the writing process that many consumers of the end-product often do not bother to consider.
In considering “women of wonder”, of the last forty or so years, the names C.J. Cherryh and Ursula Le Guin have frequently occurred, and they are both treated in this issue. Stinson herself treats of Cherryh, in “The doors of perception”. I’ve never read any of Cherryh’s novels, although I have come across some of her short stories. Stinson begins with a short biography, and then details some of what I presume are Cherryh’s best-known works, by looking at both influences on her writing and the major themes she has explored. Again, way to go adding to my to-read pile.
Le Guin is the recipient of two article. I am a very big fan of Le Guin, although I know that I have a long way to go in covering her oeuvre. Terry Morris writes on the Earthsea stories, which were my own introduction to Le Guin, although reading her article made me realise that I actually haven’t read them since high school, when I clearly did not appreciate them fully. Morris begins by discussing the movie Tales from Earthsea, from the Japanese studio Ghibli; I think I am glad I’ve never come across it, since it sounds like a travesty. It’s a great article overall, discussing what I thought was a quartet but is apparently a quintet (again with the to-read…), a discussion of magic and identity in the books, obviously from a fan.
Secondly, Gillian Polack contributes “What shape is a wave”, looking primarily at Always coming home, Changing planes and The wave in my mind. I’ve not read any of these, so perhaps that contributed to my lack of appreciation for the article. While some of the issues she touches, such as the anthropological approach that Le Guin often takes, are fascinating and I think a really great way of thinking about her work, too much of the article still unstructured for me to really enjoy it.
Sandwiched between Cherryh and Le Guin comes an interview with Kaaron Warren, by Liz de Jager. Warren’s work regularly freaks me out, and I have no intention ever of reading Slights because I just can’t do horror, but I was still interested to read the interview – what has influenced her, her own attitude towards horror, and her own personal zombie apocalypse survival plan.
The last twelve pages of the zine comprise of letters. In theory, I would like to read and enjoy these. However, it does feel a little bit like reading someone else’s mail (and this is different from reading the comments on someone’s blog how? Don’t ask me, I just work here). Additionally, of course, I don’t have the history with either the people or the community to really appreciate the stories or discussion you find in them. For a look at how such a community works, though, it’s quite interesting.
Finally, let me mention the cover. Called Creatrix, by Carol Kewley, it’s utterly bizarre and totally cool.