Alien Sex (review)
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Published in 1990 by Dutton, this book explores sexuality in a science/fantasy world. If reading about writings about sexy and/or sciencey stuff is not good for you, do go elsewhere. Below I've provided the brief synopses for each piece in this book; if you're afraid of even the slightest hint of a spoiler, then by all means skip this entirely.
These 19 works by different, well-regarded authors were edited/selected by Ellen Datlow, who wrote a general preface for the collection. She also wrote individual introductions for each piece. Many of these works were published elsewhere originally. Datlow was once an editor for Omni and while there turned down two of the stories that she selected for her book. Some of the stories here were published in the ill-fated New Dimensions 13, a SF anthology which was deemed too controversial by the publisher at the last minute—the entire print run, save for a few review copies, was pulped. As such, New Dimensions 13 remains a curious footnote in the The History of Science Fiction.
In her general intro, Datlow also mentions how her book is not the first of its kind. Before it came three anthologies: Strange Bedfellows: Sex and Science Fiction (1972), Eros in Orbit (1973), The Shape of Sex to Come (1978), and the 1960 collection Strange Relations by Philip José Farmer.
The contents are as follows:
Larry Niven's Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex began as a joke about xenofertility told at parties. At the urging of many eager listeners, Niven codified his thoughts on the matter of Superman's reproductive capabilities into this essay.
Philip José Farmer's The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod is a literary mash-up in which the story of Tarzan is told by William S. Burroughs instead of Edgar Rice. It's funny, if you know of the Cities of the Red Night or Interzone or even if you just enjoy irreverency in general. (Note that this same exercise is repeated in Mark Leach's Cutting Up Two Burroughs)
Lisa Tuttle's Husbands is a feminist triptych centered upon the idea that the gender divide is actually something more. In her post-script, Tuttle mentions the influence of the radical feminist Monique Witting's idea that One is Not Born a Woman.
Bruce McAllister's When the Fathers Go is a story about an alien coming in between a human couple. It's centered upon the lies couples tell each other in the event of an affair. Rather interesting if you like reading about the sociological effects of deep space exploration. In his postscript, McAllister states that in a certain sense, his story is a feminist story, although in an entirely different sense, it's not.
Edward Bryant's Dancing Chickens was the most disappointing story for me. Datlow rejected this story from Omni and then it was in an anthology that never saw the light of day, all because it is so controversial. It's hardly "normal" but I really didn't see what all the fuss was about. Just another alien invasion story, except with a small side of mild S&M.
Connie Willis's All My Darling Daughters is ultimately one of the more disturbing tales here. It is framed by two sets of dialogue from The Barretts of Wimpole Street, a 1930 play by Rudolf Besier about Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett and her father. Set in the future on a planet far, far away.
Lewis Shiner's Scales is more horror than anything else. Still, there is sex there and aliens in the guise of a certain foul creature of myth which shall remain unnamed here. This story begins as one of the more "normal" ones.
James Tiptree, Jr.'s And I Awoke And Me Here On the Cold Hill's Side is one of the more serious pieces here. It deals with intergalatic politics and the man's inherent desire to rise above his place of origin, socially. This is one of those stories that is primarily dialogue and contains more allusions to an outside world than actual descriptions thereof, which somewhat matches the narrator's naïveté. One of the few stories which did not satisfy me.
Each individual author (with the exceptions of Tiptree and Ellison) provide their own postscript.
However intimate your knowledge of the annals of science fiction may be, this collection has a surprise in store for you.