Leigh Brackett and Science Fiction’s Biggest Lie

Sunday , 20, August 2017 9 Comments

Cirsova Editor Alex Kimball has a great find from the May 1943 issue of Planet Stories:

Jane, if the Vizigraph were but the length of one letter, yours would be printed! By golly, we’ve waited years for somebody to brag about our yarns, other than ourselves– and you’re our adopted fan club as of this very moment.

Seriously, we hope you’ll write again, for our feminine readers seem to think this department is only for the men. We want your opinions, too, for you make up a goodly portion of our readers– and we’d like to publish stories of the type which you enjoy.

But, sotto voce, Leigh Brackett is not a man. And poor male that we are, we don’t even profess to guess what any (except you, of course) woman is talking about. All we know, is that she is destined to be one of the finest science-fiction writers of this generation.

Emancipation…!

Cordially,

The Editor

And it’s funny, but nothing written here adds up with anything I’ve heard from the commentariat on this point.

Consider Tor.com’s recent spin on this back in July:

The genre was not friendly to female authors in the post-WWII era, but Brackett’s gender-ambiguous first name allowed her to write under her own name.

Also, Jeet Heer at the New Republic just flat out making stuff up back in 2015:

Ever since science fiction coalesced as a distinctive fan community in the late 1920s (as a result of the efforts of editor Hugo Gernsback), it has been a white boys’ club. The virtual absence of non-white writing in the field was paralleled by the near invisibility of women writers. For many decades, the most successful female writers had to cloak their identity with initials, ambiguous names, or pseudonyms (C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, James Tiptree, Jr.). Even the women writers who didn’t disguise themselves as men adopted a male point of view in order to get their fiction published.

And finally, Michael Moorcock running with the same bogus factoids back in 2002:

There was a time when the kind of science fantasy Brackett made her own was looked down upon as a kind of bastard progeny of science fiction (which was about scientific speculation) and fantasy (which was about magic). Critics of the 50s hated it because it was very uncool to be as blatantly, gorgeously romantic as Brackett, to combine the natural and the supernatural so effortlessly. Maybe that was why, too, she deliberately obscured her gender in the early days. It was a pretty unladylike form.

That’s just three examples of a talking point that is very nearly ubiquitous in science fiction and fantasy discussion.

Let’s count the ways in which it fails to correspond to reality:

  1. The letter the editor is responding to a woman that wrote in to say that she was was baffled by Leigh Brackett’s story and couldn’t understand it. That’s right. The horrible men that gave Leigh Brackett such a hard time for attempting to crash their science fiction sausage party? This time they were a WOMAN!!!
  2. Leigh Brackett’s sex was not in any way a secret. While World War II raged away, the editors took time to correct the record when readers wrote as if she were a guy.
  3. Furthermore, the editor runs the absolute worst He-man Women Hater’s club in history. They guy not only published a girl’s letter, he begged her to write back. Why? Because women read the magazine and he wanted to be sure to include the sort of stories that they liked.
  4. Finally, rather then being put on probation for being a dame, Leigh Brackett was endorsed by her editor as being “destined to be one of the finest science-fiction writers of this generation”. That turned out to be true and she is rightly revered by true science fiction fans to this day.

Does this whole scenario come off like a situation where masculine sounding name was the only reason Leigh Brackett could get her foot in the door here…? Does it sound at all like she begged the editor to please please please keep a lid on her identity so that she could have half a chance to express herself in the horrible no good male dominated world of the forties?

Here, let me clear that up for you: NOT IN THE SLIGHTEST.

Now, while we’re on the topic, let’s deal with this claim:  Even the women writers who didn’t disguise themselves as men adopted a male point of view in order to get their fiction published.

No one that has read C. L. Moore’s seminal contributions to Weird Tales could say that. Yeah, her Northwest Smith tales ostensibly feature a rugged male protagonist that seems to anticipate the enduring appeal of Han Solo today. But he is upstaged, rescued by, and/or nearly consumed by fantastical, mind-blowingly feminine characters. And Moore’s Jirel of Joiry is neither a “Conan With Boobs” nor an early anticipation of the “Xena Warrior Princess” school of “strong female character.” If you haven’t read them, then you need to; most people today cannot imagine fantasy and science fiction stories that handle feminine nature this deftly.

Ah, but let’s say you arbitrarily declare C. L. Moore out of bounds because she is a total sell-out to the sisterhood. No woman in these bad old days could have gotten published if she had tried to write the sort of man-hating anti-heroic stuff that all the cool people got into during the sixties and seventies, right?

But that’s just not true, either. Because Francis Stevens’s work was not only welcome within the pages of Argosy magazine during World War One, but her work was mistaken for the leading fantasy author of the twenties, A. Merritt. In fact, some of A. Merritt’s best work was influenced directly by Francis Stevens. And finally, she experimented with writing weak leading men paired with strong heroines– and even wrote a futuristic vision of a female-dominated world where everyone took it for granted that women were superior to men.

So it turns out that the women of science fiction and fantasy repudiate nearly everything that is said about women in science fiction and fantasy. Which is why the people pontificating on this subject at all those other sites are incapable of talking about them at all. And those rare times that they do, they have no other recourse but to simply make things up.

It’s the only way they can maintain the narrative.

9 Comments
  • John E. Boyle says:

    “Let’s count the ways in which it fails to correspond to reality:”

    What a polite way of saying that its all politically motivated baloney.

    That’s right up there with Jerry Pournelle’s

    “As it happens, that turns out not to be the case.”

    Thanks to you and Cirsova for keeping these great writers in the public eye: Moore, Brackett and Stevens deserve to be remembered for their work.

  • Xavier Basora says:

    Jeffro

    But why is this lie perpetuated and who benefits?
    As fat as I can tell The Grench Spanish and other simply don’t get hung up for any genre. Scifi is an acquired taste for most Europeans despite Verne

    xavier

    • Jeffro says:

      Xavier,

      Communism failed. Disastrously and repeatedly. How can you remain a disciple of Marx under the circumstances? You take the bogus economic argument, and you translate the worker/capitalist split into woman/patriarchy, non-white/white, and/or non-Western/imperialist. Virtually all criticism of the pulps coming from the commentariat pays obeisance to one of these mutant strains of Marxism.

      Who benefits from pushing a false narrative? Basically anyone that hates the West and wants to see it burned to the ground. Though I guess useful idiots that are genuinely bigoted towards men get something out of it, too.

      For more on this topic, I recommend Jordan Peterson’s videos, Stefan Molyneux’s videos, and Xavier Lastra’s book “Dangerous Gamers”.

      — Jeffro

      • Xavier Basora says:

        Jeffro Thanks. Gramsci again. Yuck.i should pick up the other Xavier’s book 🙂 sound like a helpful book for the intellectual side of gamer

        xavier

  • Andy says:

    Didn’t Alice Sheldon use the Tiptree pseudonym because she worked for the CIA and needed an alias to help protect her identity?

  • Man of the Atom says:

    All this demonstrates is that ‘Our Betters” are retards.

  • […] I would’ve included some more links, but Jeffro scooped me on writing the actual article, since I found this over the weekend and was gonna wait (but clearly this was important enough that […]

  • Keith West says:

    I’ve been swamped with work and am just now seeing this post. Thank you providing a voice of truth. I addressed this same issue myself on my blog a few years ago:

    http://adventuresfantastic.com/the-women-other-women-dont-see/

    The whole idea that women weren’t part of science fiction in the pulp years simply isn’t true, especially that they didn’t write it. I wish this myth would hurry up and die already.

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