Classifying Wolfe’s work with any taxonomical precision is further complicated by the allegorical cast of his imagination and his willingness to intermingle magic and fantasy elements together with scientific principles. Wolfe’s sensitivity to the ambiguities and contradictions of human experience (and those of the physical universe, as well) makes it similarly difficult to reduce his thematic preoccupations to simple polarities (“optimistic/pessimistic,” “liberal/conservative”) or formulas. Like Joanna Russ, Samuel Delany, Stanislaw Lem, and Gregory Benford, Wolfe frequently plays with and eventually deconstructs SF’s stock paradigms in order to question their assumptions. In a certain basic sense Wolfe’s works oppose the usual principle guiding most SF in its emphasis on the subjectivity of human perception rather than on the assurances of rational thought and scientific methodology. An even more radical departure from SF norms is Wolfe’s suggestion that it is religious faith, science, or any other system, which provides our most profound insights about our relationship to the universe. This religious orientation — akin to a sort of cosmic mysticism but specifically associated with Catholicism — finds its most complete expression in New Sun. Undoubtedly there will continue to be readers and critics within and without SF’s boundaries who will be bothered or puzzled by many paradoxical features of Wolfe’s literary imagination. But if it is true that a great man is one who never reminds us of someone else, then Gene Wolfe has the marks of greatness.

Larry McCaffery
On Encompassing the Entire Universe: An Interview with Gene Wolfe


December 30, 2018

Women speaking of mirrors and prettiness make it all too clear that even for pretty women, mirrors are the foci of anxious, not gratified, narcissism. The woman who knows beyond a doubt that she is beautiful exists aplenty in male novelists’ imaginations; I have yet to find her in women’s books or women’s memoirs or in life. Women spend a lot of time looking in mirrors, but the “compulsion to visualize the self” is a phrase Moers uses of women in her chapter on Gothic freaks and horrors; the compulsion is a constant check on one’s (possible) beauty, not an enjoyment of it.

Joanna Russ
Aesthetics, How to Suppress Women’s Writing

his nasty insistencies

June 28, 2018

books and the wind from nowhere

Nothing came. Nothing good, nothing bad. I heard the lawnmower going on. I would have to face by myself my father’s red face, his heart disease, his temper, his nasty insistencies. I would have to face my mother’s sick smile, looking up from the flowerbed she was weeding, always on her knees somehow, saying before she was ever asked, “Oh the poor woman. Oh the poor woman.”

And quite alone.

No more stories.

Joanna Russ
The Second Inquisition

put this together

June 5, 2018

Federico Bebber

There is the vanity training, the obedience training, the self-effacement training, the deference training, the dependency training, the passivity training, the rivalry training, the stupidity training, the placation training. How am I to put this together with my human life, my intellectual life, my solitude, my transcendence, my brains, and my fearful, fearful ambition? …You can’t unite woman and human any more than you can unite matter and anti-matter…

Joanna Russ
The Female Man


The techniques for mystifying women’s lives and belittling women’s writing that I have described work by suppressing context: writing is separated from experience, women writers are separated from their tradition and each other, public is separated from private, political from personal – all to enforce a supposed set of absolute standards. What is frightening about black art or women’s art or Chicano art – and so on – is that it calls into question the very idea of objectivity and absolute standards:

This is a good novel.

Good for what?

Good for whom?

One side of the nightmare is that a privileged group will not recognize that ‘other’ art, will not be able to judge it, that the superiority of taste and training possessed by the privileged critic and the privileged artist will suddenly vanish.

The other side of the nightmare is not what is found in the ‘other’ art will be incomprehensible, but that it will be all too familiar. That is:

Women’s lives are the buried truth about men’s lives.

The lives of people of colour are the buried truth about white lives.

The buried truth about the rich is who they take their money from and how.

The buried truth about ‘normal’ sexuality is how one kind of sexual expression has been made privileged, and what kinds of unearned virtue and terrors about identity this distinction serves.

Joanna Russ
How to Suppress Women’s Writing

all sorts of cats

May 10, 2018


Dear –

Do you like cats? I never asked you. There are all sorts of cats: elegant, sinuous cats, clunky, heavybreathing cats, skinny, desperate cats, meatloafshaped cats, waddling, dumb cats, big slobs of cats who step heavily and groan whenever they try to fit themselves (and they never do fit) under something or in between something or past something. I’m allergic to all of them. You’d think they’d know it.

Joanna Russ
The Dirty Little Girl