Amazons! is an anthology of heroic fantasy short stories edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson. As you may have guessed by its title, the connecting theme is female heroism---all the stories feature powerful women protagonists. The book features a good mix of styles, moods, topics, and themes; its contents range from standard "sword and sorcery" action-packed epic adventures, distinguished only from thousands of others by a switch of gender for the lead character, to magical love stories, all the way to more experimental fiction that tries its best to transcend the genre. Before I give any more away in my comments, here's the title/author lineup from the table of contents:
- Introduction: "Our Amazon Heritage" by Jessica Amanda Salmonson.
- "The Dreamstone" by C. J. Cherryh.
- "Wolves of Nakesht" by Janrae Frank.
- "Woman of the White Waste" by T. J. Morgan.
- "The Death of Augusta" by Emily Bronte, edited by Joanna Russ.
- "Morrien's Bitch" by Janet Fox.
- "Agbewe's Sword" by Charles R. Saunders.
- "Jane Saint's Travails (Part One)" by Josephine Saxton.
- "The Sorrows of Witches" by Margaret St. Clair.
- "Falcon Blood" by Andre Norton.
- "The Rape Patrol" by Michelle Belling.
- "Bones for Dulath" by Megan Lindholm.
- "Northern Chess" by Tanith Lee.
- "The Woman Who Loved the Moon" by Elizabeth A. Lynn.
- List of additional reading on women in fantasy and historical women warriors, compiled by Salmonson and Susan Wood.
Of particular note are: "The Death of Augusta", a story in verse compiled from the notebooks of Emily Bronte by Joanna Russ; "Agbewe's Sword", the only story in the anthology by a male author; and the hilariously surreal "Jane Saint's Travails (Part One)", which revealed what I thought was the collection's greatest weakness: its lack of humor. Yeah, yeah, I know: Do you know feminists have no sense of humor? Hold on for a second while I discuss this a bit more.
What I found most striking about Amazons! was its unabashed sincerity. Both its editor and the authors who contributed stories were acutely aware of the male-dominatedness of their industry, and the social and political implication of fantasy stories with strong female protagonists. At the time they were written and published together, any one of the stories featured in the anthology was therefore a bit radical, and combining them deliberately was a strong statement indeed. If a book like Amazons! were published today, it would seem quite humorlesss and heavy-handed unless it were leavened with a lot of cheeky, self-aware Third Wave attitude and wit. Nor would the editor introduce any stories by openly admitting they had moved her to tears. While I found it oddly touching to realize what was behind all of the sincerity and seriousness in Amazons!, I can't help but feel that it would have been better served by a more lighthearted approach overall. Heroic fantasy is, after all, rather a fundamentally silly genre, and it's good to be able to get away from taking escape literature too seriously.
Salmonson, Jessica Amanda, ed. Amazons! New York: DAW Books, Inc., 1979.
In case you were wondering how and where I came across such old-school nerdchick reading material, it was more or less entirely by accident: there were only a few books in English on the shelves in the private room Jongleur and I rented for a few days in Oslo during our travels of Summer 2002.