Review of Memoirs of a Spacewoman at SF Mistressworks

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Just a quickie…

I’m sure everyone already follows the SF treasure box that is the SF Mistressworks website, but just in case you don’t, my review of Naomi Mitchison’s 1962 novel Memoirs of a Spacewoman appeared there today, thanks to the rare occurrence of me reading a really good book while also managing to not sound like an ignorant asshole when I review it. Look at me, Mom! Appropriate for grown up venues!

SF Mistressworks is an attempt to balance the gender-lopsided SF Masterworks list by highlighting older works of female science fiction authors, and review submissions are always welcome. Ian Sales, the creator and curator, is also happy to accept reviews of books that have already been reviewed, which is good news for those of us who are playing vintage catch-up. So get to submitting, blogger friends!

Ian is also a BSFA award-winning science fiction author who just published two books this year, with another one soon to come. One of those books was recently covered in The Guardianso he’s kind of a big deal.

He’s also fun to follow on Twitter @ian_sales.

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And, as you also probably already know, I discovered Mitchison’s wonderful novel by reading Joachim’s perceptive review at Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations, another one of my favorite blogs. Joachim is often the guilty party behind my SF impulse purchases. (Walk to the End of the World, which sounds absolutely horrifying, is already in the mail.) Joachim is also fun to follow on Twitter @sfruminations.

Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962) by Naomi Mitchison

MemoirsofaSpacewoman1Hats off to Joachim at Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations for his promotion of this underappreciated sci-fi jewel from the early 1960s. First published in 1962 by Gollancz, then reprinted by The Women’s Press in London in 1985, it’s no argument that this novel has experienced swings of attention at times, yet without a place on any of the major SF lists, and despite Mitchison’s long literary career, its memory as a critical piece of genre is threatened.

In Memoirs, we meet Mary, a communication specialist for Terran interstellar missions in the far undetermined future. She writes about some of her more memorable experiences in this capacity, describing the strange planets and beings she has visited, including her struggles to decode the various unique ways other beings communicate, including by touch and telepathy. Her memoirs also reflect upon her relationships with former lovers, a couple of unusual pregnancies, and the way in which parent/child affiliations have changed in the far future, particularly when interstellar space travel is involved.

A kind of anthropologist, Mary inserts herself into these strange alien civilizations to decode the mostly nonverbal communications of lifeforms drastically different from humans. Ambigendered Martians. Psychic radiates. Centipede-like creatures with brain matter smeared on their sides. Oozy tissues that symbiose with Terran hosts in a kind of pregnancy. Giant butterflies in need of some surgical lessons on C-sections. Mitchison presents a wide variety of strange lifeforms, all encapsulated in this little novel, making this the most creative book I’ve read about alien cultures. Continue reading