Size / / /

This past year, I was privileged to serve as a juror for the 2002 Tiptree Award, along with four other jurors: Jae Leslie Adams, Matt Austern, Molly Gloss, and Farah Mendlesohn. There are quite a few awards given out in spec fic, and while Greg Beatty has done a wonderful job of detailing the different awards and their purposes, I suspect the process of selecting the winners is still quite obscure to most readers, especially for the juried awards. So in the following paragraphs, I'm going to tell you a little bit about the Tiptree Award, about what we were looking for as we read stories and novels, about the selection process, and about how I, personally, made my recommendations, helped select a winner, and helped create the annotated primary list, plus a secondary list of recommended titles.

The History

The James Tiptree, Jr. Award was created in February of 1991 at WisCon (the world's only feminist-oriented science fiction convention, and incidentally, my favorite convention, full of intelligent conversation and fascinating, welcoming people). The award was created by Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler; with the help of many others, they raised the money for the $1000 cash prize through bake sales, auctions, and other small fund-raising events. According to the Tiptree site:

Alice Sheldon

The Tiptree is an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender. The award is named for Alice B. Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. By her impulsive choice of a masculine pen name, Sheldon helped break down the imaginary barrier between "women's writing" and "men's writing." Her fine stories were eagerly accepted by publishers and won many awards in the field. Many years later, after she had written some other work under the female pen name of Raccoona Sheldon, it was generally discovered that she was female. The discovery led to a great deal of discussion of what aspects of writing, if any, are essentially gendered. The name "Tiptree" was selected to illustrate the complex role of gender in writing and reading.

When they invited me to serve on the 2002 Tiptree jury, I was delighted, honored, excited. I had long admired the award, and had a strong interest in questions of gender -- gender in culture, gender in the past, present, and future. I very much enjoyed the previous three years' winners: Hiromi Goto's The Kappa Child (2001), Molly Gloss's Wild Life (2000), and Suzy McKee Charnas's The Conqueror's Child (1999), and I adored Raphael Carter's 1998 winner, "Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation." I agreed eagerly to serve (not quite understanding just how much work serving on the jury would entail), and, a year later, am grateful for the fascinating, if sometimes exhausting, experience.

The Process

The Tiptree jury considers any work that is submitted for its consideration. That means that if you read a work that you think is a possible contender, then all you have to do is to take a minute and fill out the online nomination form. The titles will be collected and sent along to a kind volunteer who will then contact the publishers and inform them that their work is under consideration for an award. Most publishers are then happy to send along five copies to the jurors. (In a few small press cases, when free copies were not available for us, we resorted to libraries and the sharing of texts instead.) If you're looking for a massive stack of free spec fic (often in hardcover) to read, serving on a jury is a great way to get those books.

In addition, we divided up the pro-level magazines among us, so that stories from all of them would also be sure to be considered. (One interesting element of all this for me, of course, was that it wouldn't have been professional for me to participate in any discussion of Strange Horizons stories, since there's no way that I could have been objective. We resolved that early on by creating a separate list for discussion of any SH stories that were in contention, a list which I never saw. It worked fine, and the jurors selected two of our stories for the secondary list; I'm very pleased and proud of our authors.)

As you can imagine, this process results in quite a lot of reading material. Do we all read every single piece? No, not at all. All the books got sent to us, and at the beginning, we were all very excited, and most of the titles were read by most of us. I had privately hoped to be very good and actually read everything sent in, but it's a good thing that I didn't make that pledge out loud, because I didn't even come close to fulfilling it. In the first several months of 2002, books trickled in slowly, and it was fairly easy to keep up. We took notes, we made up a master list, we discussed which titles we thought were possible contenders over e-mail, and then we read some more and did it again.

It all went pretty calmly until, oh, October or so. Then things started to heat up. Lots of publishers started sending us their end-of-the-year books. Some of them finally got around to sending in titles that had been published earlier in the year. Suddenly I had a huge tottering stack of books piled against my bookshelf, waiting not-so-patiently to be read, and since I was racing a novel-writing deadline at the same time, I started to feel more than a little panicked.

We all went into triage mode, some time around December. Every book got read, and if it seemed even semi-promising, it got read by more than one juror. By February, we had put together a solid list of potential titles, and at that point, every juror had read all the possible winners. I was expecting that we'd have a nice long argument about the winner then -- but as it turned out, we all very quickly agreed that there were two standout titles, and that rather than choosing one over the other (particularly difficult because one was a short story and the other a novel, so that they were trying to do very different things, at different levels), what we really wanted was to give the award to both of them. The Tiptree motherboard kindly allowed us to do so (which meant giving out an extra $1000, so hooray for the generous board!)

After that decision was made, there was quite a bit of wrangling over how we wanted to sort the remaining titles. We eventually ended up deciding that we wanted to put out two lists: a primary list, that would be the titles that at least three jurors strongly recommended, and which we would annotate for publication, and a secondary list, that included the titles that only one or two jurors felt strongly about. Once this division was determined, it actually didn't take us long at all to figure out which titles went where; it was a simple matter of raising our hands (electronically) and counting. At that point, Matt Austern did a fabulous job of sorting through all our comments and putting together annotations for the primary list titles. He sent all this information along to the motherboard, and oof! We were done.

The Criteria

I've told you all about the process of choosing the winners and the recommended titles -- what I haven't talked about is how we knew what we were looking for. After all, "science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender" is a pretty broad category. We asked for more guidance, and the Tiptree motherboard informed us that it was up to us to define what we were looking for; that every year, the new jury had to decide that for themselves. So before we actually read any titles, there was, in fact, a preliminary step -- we just talked.

We talked about gender, about what interested us about previous Tiptree winners, about what questions about gender were interesting us today. An interesting nexus of interest developed -- quite a few of us were fascinated by questions of masculinity; we felt that some of the most difficult gender problems confronting society today had to do with issues of maleness, and we hoped that we would see some work that addressed those concerns. We talked about that, and about other aspects of gender, and then we found a rough sense of what was interesting us, and then we put all that aside and started to read.

I've already talked about the reading process. What was surprising to me, and somewhat disappointing, was that while many of the titles we read were well-written and interesting, and while lots and lots of them were quite feminist, few of them seemed to actually do much that was new or exciting with gender, per se. We read little that was actually gender-bending; most of what was sent to us seemed to be feminist stories, which sometimes raised interesting questions about feminism, but not so often about actually being female (at least to the extent that those two things can be divorced from each other). If I were to give one piece of advice to a writer trying to win a Tiptree Award, it would be that they actually think about what gender is, what its boundaries are, where it can or can't be pushed. And then write about that.

The winners, as it turned out, ended up being the two titles most focused on masculinity. I don't actually think these texts were selected solely because we were originally interested in questions of masculinity -- I think these really were the most interesting titles about gender published in the spec fic field last year. Neither title is a comfortable read -- and to be honest, if I were loaning Light to a friend, I'd feel the desire to issue all sorts of caveats along with it. It's a very disturbing book, with a protagonist who is often quite horrible. But gender plays a huge role in this book, especially intense masculinity, and when it is considered in tandem with Kessel's "Stories for Men," I think the reader can't help walking away with new ideas about what it means to be male, what it means to be gendered in society. Which is what the Tiptree Award is all about.

The annotated list is below; I'll note that quite a few of the short stories are available for free online -- just follow the links. I especially want to commend to you the stories from the Conjunctions anthology -- a very impressive collection! And, of course, I can now feel free to tell you that you shouldn't miss the stories we published: M.C.A. Hogarth's "Freedom, Spiced and Drunk," Ruth Nestvold's "Princes and Priscilla" -- and while we didn't publish Amy Unbounded, we have published quite a few cartoons and medieval articles by its author, Rachel Hartman, so check her out! Amy is utterly charming, and not to be missed.

It was a pleasure and a privilege, being on this jury. My co-jurors were intelligent, articulate, passionate about the field, and extremely dedicated to the job. I felt that I was drowning in books by the end, but I'm very glad that I had the opportunity to serve. I hope that you enjoy the fruits of our labors.


The 2002 Tiptree Award Winners

Light cover

M. John Harrison, Light, published by Victor Gollancz (UK): Light is a stunning work that's part space opera and part Something Else. Some of us found the protagonists (a physicist and serial killer; a mass-murdering pirate; a VR addict) to be unlikable; others found them brutal, cruel, self-deluded, but completely real, people about whom we cared deeply. All the characters are shaped in ways that very specifically have to do with the structuring and exploration of gender. The male characters are in love with ostentatious masculinity as a thing that's sometimes joyful and sometimes horrifying; the female characters are often consumed with fierce denial of their bodies and their own femaleness. Hanging over all of this is the enigmatic figure of the Shrander, whose gender identity, like so much else, is ambigous and complicated. Light is rich, horrible, sad, and absurd, and says a lot about how the body and sex inform one's humanity. It will reward rereading.

Asimovs Oct/Nov 2002 cover

John Kessel, "Stories for Men," published by Asimov's, Oct/Nov 2002: "Stories for Men" is a story about masculinity, about how individuals define themselves in the context of kinship and community, and about how we construct gender roles by telling ourselves stories. The story begins with a female-centered society that mirrors some of our assumptions about social power relations between men and women, and then explicitly refers to our own society's assumptions (in the main character's encounter with a twentieth-century fiction anthology) in a way that makes those assumptions seem new and strange. It reexamines those tales of outcasts and lone heroes and manly individualism within the context of a story of community. It raises questions about the links between connectedness and exclusion, consensus and stifling conformity, patriarchal protectiveness and sociopathy. "Stories for Men" is a short work, one that's more subtle than it first appears.

The Primary List

  • Eleanor Arnason, "Knapsack Poems," published by Asimov's, May 2002: A story that explores the boundaries of personal identity, and the relationship between personal identity and gender, in the context of a culture where the basic unit of identity is a "team" rather than a single biological individual.

  • Ted Chiang, "Liking What You See: A Documentary," anthologized in Stories of Your Life and Others, Tor: This story presents what's literally a different way of thinking. It makes the familiar (perception of beauty) seem strange, and makes what we normally consider necessary seem contingent. It doesn't deal directly with gender, but rather works by implication: it raises questions about how many of our ideas about gender are tied in to contingent habits of thought.

  • John Clute, Appleseed, published by Tor Books (US), Orbit (UK): An homage to science fiction, with barely a trope untouched. Sexuality and sexual imagery are central to the book, which shuffles through the implications of dimorphism and dualism as components of human thought and experience.

  • Karen Joy Fowler, "What I Didn't See," published by SciFi.com: In dialogue with the Tarzan stories and with Tiptree's "The Women Men Don't See," this story examines gender and heterosexual attraction within the frame of an emerging feminist and ethical consciousness. Not eligible for the Tiptree Award, because the author is one of the founding mothers.

  • Gregory Frost, "Madonna of the Maquiladora," published by Asimov's, May 2002: This coolly told story is in large part about the way women (and men) are treated in the maquiladoras of Juarez. It explores several kinds of power relationships: dispossession, complicity in institutional oppression, the blindness of well-meaning individual help, and the self-image of masculinity as a mark of colonial identity.

  • Shelley Jackson, The Melancholy of Anatomy, published by Anchor Books: A collection of thematically linked short stories that, taken together, form a unified whole: surrealist play on sexuality, gender, and the body.

  • Larissa Lai, Salt Fish Girl, published by Thomas Allen & Son, Ltd. (CA): A beautifully written novel about class and female identity. Salt Fish Girl draws on Chinese mythology, and is simultaneously fantasy and science fiction.

  • Peter Straub (ed.) Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists: Many of the stories in this anthology deal with gender issues in one way or another. Some of the most interesting stories are the ones by John Crowley, Elizabeth Hand, Nalo Hopkinson, Kelly Link, James Morrow, and Paul Park.

The Secondary List

 

Copyright © 2003 Mary Anne Mohanraj

Reader Comments


Mary Anne Mohanraj is Editor-in-Chief of Strange Horizons.



Mary Anne Mohanraj was editor-in-chief of Strange Horizons from its launch in September 2000 until December 2003. Her most recent book is The Stars Change, and she is currently the editor-in-chief of Jaggery.
No comments yet. Be the first!

 

%d bloggers like this: