Berman (Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers, 2014, etc.) edits an anthology of sci-fi and horror from queer perspectives.
In this new anthology from Lethe Press, a cavalcade of emerging writers from the realms of horror and science fiction riffs on the concept of female (mad) scientists. The convention has a heritage: as Connie Wilkins points out in the introduction, if these women are the daughters of Frankenstein, then they are the granddaughters of Mary Shelley and great-granddaughters of Mary Wollstonecraft. Jess Nevins offer further contextualizing with the essay “From Alexander Pope to Splice: A Short History of the Female Mad Scientist,” laying out the history and evolution of the trope. Then come the stories themselves: in “The Moorhead Maze Experiment,” an ambitious psychologist attempts to outdo the Stanford Prison Experiment in terms of innovative sadism; in “Love in the Time of Markov Processes,” a lab assistant falls in love with a scientist against the backdrop of a finite universe; in “Meddling Kids,” an oddly familiar mystery-solving team with a Great Dane in tow foil a professor’s sinister plans. The tones of the pieces vary from campy to earnest to unsettling to literary, though in each case the author works to shift the ground beneath the reader and recast his or her assumptions. Standouts include a Lovecraft-evoking but ultimately intimate submission from Claire Humphrey (“This is Salem at its oldest and spookiest: cold fog off the ocean, daylight dimming early, gables and gambrels looming at odd angles”) and a wonderfully original piece by Romie Stott about a girl trapped by her father in a Fabergé egg during the Bolshevik Revolution. A few fall flat, but they are in the minority, and the freshness of the voices outweighs the occasional lack of polish. The result is a rare combination of subverted gender norms and nostalgic pulp: sometimes provocative and generally fun. While the anthology’s theme may sound niche, the reading experience argues the opposite. Short fiction fans of all stripes will find much to compel them (and to scare, excite, arouse, and amuse them, as well).
A lively and engrossing collection of female-driven fiction.