Posted by: Mish | May 22, 2010

Worlds Apart

“When science-fiction came into being, it too incorporated common cultural stereotypes in its treatment of sexual variance.  Homosexuals were portrayed as evil, demented, or at least spiritually weak. Gay men made convenient villains- traitors, slave owners, corrupt effeminates. Their characters were secondary to the plot and wholly one-dimensional. The lesbian character fared no better… Science-fiction has the power to create, as critic Douglas Barbour has written, ‘worlds out of words’. As lesbian and gay readers, we can find reflections of our own dreams in the alternate societies that others have envisioned, supportive of our loves and worlds apart from the intolerance of the societies in which we actually live. There are adventures, romances, and excitement in these worlds, and maybe some genuine alternatives for the future.”

In Worlds Apart, the future, society, gender, and sexuality are explored.  How do societal norms become the norm? What if sex changes were easily available? Would that change relations? If so, how? These are just a few of the questions brought up in this anthology published in 1986 and edited by Camilla Decarnin, Eric Garber, and Lyn Paleo.

Edgar Pangborn – “Harper Conan and Singer David”:
An ex-hunter befriends one who becomes his eyes. 3/5

James Tiptree, Jr. – “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?”:
A time warp causes male astronauts some surprise and confusion. The good plot was a little confusing at first. 2.5/5

Marion Zimmer Bradley – “To Keep the Oath”:
A Free Woman struggles to keep her promise to her guild and to other women. 4/5

Walt Liebscher – “Do Androids Dream of Electric Love?”:
A two-page set ’em up and knock ’em down about the sophisticated possibilities of mere metal. It moved Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep up on the reading list. 5/5

John Varley – “Lollipop and the Tar Baby”:
A story set in a time and place when one can clone or change their sex easily and cheaply. 3/5

Joanna Russ – “the Mystery of the Young Gentleman”:
Disguises, freedom, and survival mark the journey aboard the SS President Hayes. 3/5

Elizabeth A. Lynn – “the Gods of Reorth”:
A tale about a goddess and what she did when she was mortal. 3/5

Nicholas Fisk – “Find the Lady”:
A look at behavior and stereotypes. 3/5

Jewelle Gomez – “No Day Too Long”:
A vampire can have sexual desires too. 3/5

Rand B. Lee – “Full Fathom Five My Father Lies”:
A story about societal expectations and taboos. 4/5

Samuel Delany – “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones”:
Sex and sexual orientation play key parts in this tale. 3/5

Overall, Worlds Apart is a good anthology. I like it more for its raison d’être than the stories it contains. Delany’s story was written in the sixties when so many things like sex, much less “deviation”, were mentioned aloud. Born in 1915, Alice Bradley Sheldon felt the need for a male pen name and so used James Tiptree Jr. Although their short stories weren’t the best of introductions, I look forward to reading more by them.

Considering that way before the Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote gay and lesbian pulp fiction in the fifties and sixties, I’m really not surprised that one of her shorts was used in the anthology. There’s still a ton out there I haven’t yet read, but so far what I have read I’ve liked a lot. MZB is a long time favourite.

I’ve also read stories by John Varley and Joanna Russ in 1980 Annual World’s Best SF. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but Varley’s rub me the wrong way. I’d be more inclined to read more by Russ though.

Worlds Apart goes towards the Sci-fi Challenge, 100 Shots of Short, and completes a GLBT challenge. Thanks, Amanda, that was fun.



  1. That sounds like a fairly heavy line up of sci-fi stories and looks like an interesting read. Thanks for sharing and giving us your feedback.

  2. Yep, heavy and interesting sum it up. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. It sounds like a fascinating and original anthology, although I suppose the point is that the commentary on sex was always there, you would just have to look for it. Interesting theme to highlight anyway, and I have always liked Marion Zimmer Bradley…

  4. It really is. It’s a shame that it’s hard to find nowadays.

    I actually cried when I found out MZB passed away.

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