Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Carolyn Ives Gilman and Me

I just started listening to Carolyn Ives Gilman's Dark Orbit. I was immediately struck how her set up parallels the SF saga I've been working on for years: Mischief's World (working title). Both stories feature a female protagonist with a science background in alien life who has a reputation for holding authority and official conventions at arms length. Both protagonists are compelled by a difficult circumstance, skillfully exploited, to accept a job. Both jobs put her on a journey to an unknown alien world, and both alien worlds were discovered by a message from an ancient exploratory vehicle that people had given up expecting to hear from. Both alien worlds also give a previously unseen look at alien life--the first-ever non-terrestrial life in Gilman's, the first compatible with terrestrial life (i.e. human) in mine.

The parallels end there. Dark Orbit goes off into mysterious deaths and fractal space, Mischief into mysterious passengers, a romance, power and domination, and [SPOILER DELETED]. But that's an awful lot of overlap. Although Mischief might be more light-hearted and temperamental than Gilman's Sara, they would certainly be friends if they met.

I met Carolyn once, at Readercon, years ago. I'd had the great privilege to have her read one of my short stories and offer insightful feedback, and I was pleased she remembered it some months later. At that point, Halfway Human was her only title, and she wasn't accustomed to strangers looking up at her and saying, "Oh, Carolyn's here!" At that point in time, I only had one completed novel manuscript, and, curiously, like Halfway Human it was a "Gender SF" story. Hers shook up gender roles by creating a world where exists a third, neuter gender, mine by reversing the power dynamic by eliminating 90% of the male population (on a continuing basis).  The parallel would be truly astonishing if Mischief's World were my current project, but I confess it is stalled. It has an epic scale akin to The Fellowship of the Unloved, and epic scale means an epic undertaking for me.

When I tried to look her up online, I discovered that Carolyn's better-paying job is Historian, and my paycheck is for teaching High School Social Studies (and other subjects, but that's my favorite). I've always felt a kinship with Carolyn. A little envy, too, of course. But I like it that she sent a little of the spirit of Mischief O'Malley out into the published world. She was feeling a little cramped, stuck on my hard drive all these years. I hope we will meet again some day. I wonder how she would react if she got to see the opening for my story.