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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Amazons!, edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson

Sunday, December 8th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Michael Whelan

Cover by Michael Whelan

The World Fantasy Award was established in 1975 as part of the World Fantasy Convention. Seen as a fantasy version of the Hugo and the Nebula Awards (neither of which are strictly for science fiction), the nominees and winners are selected by a panel of judges, although currently, two positions on the ballot are opened up to nominations from members of the World Fantasy Convention. The Anthology/Collection Award was presented from 1977, when it was won by Kirby McCauley for Frights, through 1987 when James Tiptree, Jr. won it for Tales of the Quintana Roo.  For two years prior to the award’s establishment, a Best Collection Award was presented. In 1988, Best Collection and Best Anthology were each split out into their own categories and remain so until this day. Originally, the trophy was a Gahan Wilson created grotesque bust of H.P. Lovecraft. In recent years as more and more authors, fans, and winners of the award spoke out against Lovecraft’s misogyny and racism, the trophy was replaced by a sculpture of a tree created by Vincent Villafranca. In 1980, the award was won by Jessica Amanda Salmons for the anthology Amazons!

Salmonson’s introductions to each of the stories are lengthy and provide insight not only into the stories that follow, but also her process in creating the anthology. She discusses her motives for putting the book together, her reasons for selecting the specific stories, related anecdotes about how the stories came to her and, in the case of Charles Saunders’ story, addresses the fact that only one story by a male writer appears in the anthology.

Following the general introduction by Salmonson, in which she discusses both historical and mythological warrior women, the book presents the short story “The Dreamstone,” by C.J. Cherryh, which the author would eventually combine with her novella “Ealdwood” and publish as the novel The Dreamstone in 1983.

“Wolves of Nakesht” about a woman warrior who dressed as a man when she left her native lands was the first short story by Janrae Frank, who went on to published six additional stories in a career that spanned nearly thirty years, as well as editing the anthology New Eves: Science Fiction About the Extraordinary Women of Today and Tomorrow. Her own stories were collected in In the Darkness, Hunting.

T.J. Morgan offers up a story that is a mixture of a rape revenge fantasy and a woman gaining a sense of self and  volition in “Woman of the White Waste.” While Morgan focuses on the vengeance part of the story and only hints at the actualization of the character, it feels like the more interesting part of the story is yet to come, when the character has her revenge and must figure out the next stage of her life.

“The Death of Augusta” is a poem written by Emily Brontë with background provided by Joanna Russ.  The poem is part of an elaborate world Brontë and her sister, Anne created and shared. Eventually it found its way to publication in the verse novel Gondal’s Queen, edited by Fannie Ratchford in 1955.

Janet Fox tells the story of a besieging army in “Morrien’s Bitch,” which focuses on the aide to the general, Morrien. The Lady Riska provides him with advice useful for the siege and their victory, but learns that allies one makes in war can become an embarrassment in time of peace.

While Charles R. Saunders’s story “Agbewe’s Sword” is immediately set apart as being by a male author, it is also unique in its inspiration in the Mino of Dahomey. Saunders would eventually take this story and subsequent stories published in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress series and turn them into the novel Dossouye.

Josephine Saxton provides a surrealistic fantasy with “Jane Saint’s Travails (Part One),” which appears to be a mix of a woman looking for her lost children and a story in which both the reader and character have no clue where they are or what is happening and must learn as the story progresses. Jane Saint seems to have been transferred to another world in her search, and then Saxton introduces a level of mysticism.

Margaret St. Clair may not be a familiar name to many these days, but she began writing science fiction and fantasy in the 1940s and continued to publish for nearly forty years. Her submission for this anthology, “The Sorrows of Witches,” one of St. Clair’s last stories, draws on her own knowledge of Wicca, which into which she was inducted in the 1960s. The story of the necromantic queen Morganar’s love for Captain Llwdres is told at a distance, never really allowing the reader to relate to the characters or their situations.

The idea of mortal enemies having to rely on each other is a common theme (see my earlier discussion of Barry B. Longyear’s “Enemy Mine,” which Andre Norton explores in “Falcon Blood.” Following a shipwreck a Falconer with a broken arm must allow himself to be helped by woman, Tanree. In their quest for rescue, they come across the remnants of the very incident that caused Falconers to keep women at bay. Using the same basic trope as Longyear, Norton, of course, delivers a very different story.

Michele Belling revenge fantasy “The Rape Patrol” is more memorable for the story behind the story, which Salmonson relates in the introduction than for the story itself, about a sisterhood of vigilantism.While the story does call upon magic, it is so understated as to be questionable, making the story one which could easily fit into a mainstream anthology rather than a work of fantasy.

“Bones for Dulath” was the first professional short story sale for Megan Lindholm (who also writes as Robin Hobb). When I reprinted the story in Magical Beginnings, she wrote about her inspiration for creating her characters Ki and Vandien, who first appeared in this story, as well as the discussions with Salmonson that resulted in the use of the name “Megan Lindholm” as her byline.

Tanith Lee’s “Northern Chess” has a woman warrior attacking an impregnable fortress that had remained standing against the onslaught of men, a situation foreseen by prophecy.  The first of two stories Lee wrote featuring Jaisel, the ending is a rift on a similar prophecy that occurs in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King.

The final story in the anthology is Elizabeth A. Lynn’s “The Woman Who Loved the Moon,” which was previously discussed as one of the winners of the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction. Following Lynn’s story, Susan Wood provides a short bibliography offering both fictional and non-fiction looks at warrior women.

Several of the stories included in Amazons! have been reprinted in other works, either anthologies or collections of work by the original authors. The others have only been published in the various editions of Salmonson’s anthology. Salmonson would published a second volume in the anthology series, Amazons II, in 1982.

Salmonson faced competition from a field of five other anthology (no collections), including Charles Grant’s Nightmares and Shadows 2, Robert Lynn Asprin’s Thieves’ World, Stuart David Schiff’s Whispers II, and The Year’s Finest Fantasy, Volume 2, edited by Terry Carr.


Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. His most recent anthology, Alternate Peace was published in June. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.

4 Comments »

  1. So many anthologies I really need to read someday.

    Comment by Joe H. - December 8, 2019 2:38 pm

  2. Is this science fiction or fantasy? Or both?

    Comment by Martin Christopher - December 9, 2019 4:39 am

  3. “Is this science fiction or fantasy? Or both?”

    Who cares? An excellent anthology, regardless.

    Comment by deuce - December 11, 2019 1:59 am

  4. Janrae Frank self-published a ton of books in her last decade. Sadly, most of it has been erased from the ebook sites, leaving readers no way to read much of it. This situation sucks.

    Comment by Robert Adam Gilmour - December 14, 2019 5:02 pm


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