ICYMI: From the Attic V: Seven for a Secret

As previously noted, we will be republishing noted critic and reviewer Kev McVeigh’s ‘From the Attic’ columns over the coming weeks, to give new readers the opportunity to encounter his sage observations on some very important and all-too-often overlooked authors . . .


Seven personal favourite SF and Fantasy Novels by women that I think deserve a UK edition.


Elizabeth Bear – Dust

A couple of years ago I was able to pick up some of Elizabeth Bear‘s US editions in my local bookstore but not recently. Given her popularity in award polls and her prolific and varied output (23 books published since 2005!) I’m surprised they’re not more readily available over here.

Her work includes Urban and Historical Fantasy, near and far future SF. Dust is the first volume of the epic SF Jacob’s Ladder generation starship trilogy and is followed by Chill and Grail. Packed with adventure, Arthurian imagery, and classic SF conceits given a contemporary twist or three they make fun, fascinating and thought-provoking reading.

Cara Murphy says more at Speculative Book Review.


Rosel George Brown – Galactic Sibyl Sue Blue

Talking online I seem to be the only person I know who has read Rosel George Brown‘s two novels and handful of short stories. Sadly she died aged just 41 in 1967.

The eponymous Sibyl Sue Blue is a thirty-something single mother and detective with a deep interest in Greek classics. She’s interested in men, but on her own terms. With a drug-fuelled plot out of early PKD and a classic 60s heroine Brown’s short novels are great fun with hidden depths. Right from page one Sibyl resourcefully defeats alien attackers, fends off male advances, handles her stroppy teenage daughter and plans her future literary thesis.


CJ Cherryh – Foreigner

It took me too long to get into C J Cherryh‘s SF. Jo Walton recommended her frequently when she lived near me but I think I picked the ‘wrong’ one for me. Twenty years later I tried again with more success. (as an aside that’s been true of one or two authors I’ve initially struggled with.)

There are interesting series within the over all Alliance-Union setting of Cherryh’s many space operas, but Foreigner, and its sequels, is unusual in its conflicted portrayal of first contact and colonisation. Acclaimed new author Ann Leckie recently discussed agency in the Foreigner series in terms of small scale actions which much SF ignores.


Patricia Geary – Strange Toys

An author who won the Philip K Dick Award for this, her second novel, then disappeared totally from commercial publication for many years.

Strange Toys is a darkly surreal account of growing up in fear. Like Bradbury‘s Something Wicked This way Comes, Geary gets deep under the skin of small towns and family dynamics. Part road novel, part carnival sideshow tour, Strange Toys recognises where our fears come from and where they are amplified.

Allie McCarn talks about it on her blog.


Lisa Goldstein – The Dream Years

I’ve said it before, Lisa Goldstein is as good a contemporary fantasy writer as any of her more acclaimed male peers. She is one of those authors who I will always buy on publication day and she’s never let me down.

The Dream Years is a time-travel/alternative history set mostly in 1920s Paris. The hero, a member of Andre Breton’s surrealist group, keeps seeing a mysterious woman who it transpires has come from the future. He then follows her back (or forward) in time to 1968 and the Student Riots in Paris. Goldstein’s evocative descriptions and distinctive ideas support a bitter-sweet romance and thoughtful discourse.

Fans of Neil Gaiman, Tim Powers and their ilk really should look at Goldstein’s works. Lori Ann White talked to her for Strange Horizons.


Andrea Hairston – Mindscape

In some ways this is one of the most confusing SF novels I have ever read, at least amongst those I would describe as good. And yet I love it.

At some point in the future earth is divided into three zones by a mysterious and fatal alien energy barrier. Only certain griots can manipulate passage through. Following a peace treaty its architect is assassinated. What follows jumps back and forth in time and between viewpoints and zones, never trying to explain the premise, but to describe how people deal with it. Andrea Hairston throws in conceptual words drawn from Yoruba and German along with one memorable character’s use of contemporary black street slang. It’s hard work at first, we aren’t familiar with this cross-cultural input in SF yet, but Hairston’s concepts and energetic writing eventually gripped me. Her second novel, Redwood & Wildfire, may be the best I’ve read in five years.

M. Fenn seems to share my opinion.


Judith Moffett – The Ragged World

The idea that aliens might come to save us from ourselves is not new in SF but Judith Moffett looks unflinchingly at the consequences. The aliens are subject to racism, and the very human characters face complex moral issues and personal tragedies. The trilogy this launches proselytises ecological concerns, homesteading and mindfulness, explores issues of faith and religion from inside and out of several denominations and scatters in a genuinely broad range of sexualities without overly preaching. I’ve read these multiple times and keep learning from them.

A fascinating interview by Farah Mendlesohn gives insight into Moffett’s thinking.

There should be something to intrigue and inspire most of you there.

Update: since this post was first published, Gollancz has published eight of Elizabeth Bear’s novels in eBook – including Dust, which is published under the author’s preferred title: Pinion – and signed a major new space opera for publication in 2016. Gateway, meanwhile, has published all of Judith Moffett‘s SF – including The Ragged World.

First published ont he SF Gateway blog 19th March 2014.