Speculative fiction is a term I’m still grappling with as a reader in terms of its scope. It often includes Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but can include one-off stories as well that don’t neatly fit into any particular category. Sisters of the Revolution, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, is a collection of 29 such stories published just two years ago. Each one is written with a blend of feminism and either sci-fi, fantasy, or horror. Several of the authors included, like Kelley Eskeridge, Nnedi Okorafor, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Octavia Butler, made it an obvious choice to read.
Each one has a different approach to feminist stories within speculative fiction, from women’s words being so powerful she has to be locked up, to adult children imprisoning their mothers, to horror in theater, to feminist power being developed through intentional legend-creation, to the power of words used by women to garner respect, to scientist stories, and more. It deals with the relationships between women and other women, women and their families, women and employment, and women and society and expectations.
Some are excerpts from longer stories, but most are considered short stories in their own rights. They alternate between horrific, far-fetched, and surreally too close to what could happen for comfort. The contemplation of what it means to be a woman in different ways, if subtle changes were made to our experiences of the world, makes most of the stories quite engaging. Unfortunately, there were a few that were far too speculative for my liking – without much grounding in the real world or the realm of possibility.
The snapshots into these self-contained worlds are fascinating. One of the awesome things about this collection is that each author in here has such a distinct style. I always worry about repetitiveness with collections of short stories around a common theme, but this absolutely works. The breadth of what is considered speculative definitely helps with this aspect. Some are quite long, others are pretty short, and the rest are right in the middle for length, and each one is so distinct from the others in both style and content.
By and large, they were well-developed so that it seemed that each story was complete, without needing much more context than was provided. There were a couple that had hardly any context, making it difficult to follow. Mostly, though, they were pretty good with providing the right kind of details surrounding internal struggles, the environment the women waded through, and their relationships. They felt, mostly, like complete and complex characters with fully developed motivations, fears, loves, interests, and reactions to the uniqueness of their situation.
This is one of the better anthologies I’ve seen in terms of consistency in quality – yes there are a few I didn’t care for, but overall, I felt totally immersed in the stories, in the message, in the characters, and wanting to read more. For me, that says enough to recommend it to others. And maybe the ones I didn’t like would be adored by others.