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March 09, 2012

The Tiptree Awards 2012

Some few years ago I had this realization--I was working in a bookstore at the time and a friend challenged me to name the last female author I'd read. I'd been reading up a storm (bookstore + long commute on a train) but had really just been reading male authors. So I sought out some recommendations and I stumbled onto the Tiptree Awards. Named for James Tiptree jr., the pen name of Alice Sheldon, the awards highlight each year the works of scifi or fantasy that explore gender in interesting ways. The books are always interesting, even if some of them are gloriously ambitious failures. The bookshelves in my home are stuffed with books I discovered from the honor list or long list of the Tiptrees. They pick a winner every year, but I find that for me the winner leaves me cold. Often at least. And that the real gems are in the lists they publish. I have rarely heard of the books before the award, but that just makes it all the more valuable. The books are delightful and odd and often challenging and without the award they would languish in obscurity. Home — James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award Council
In addition to selecting the winner, the jury chose a Tiptree Award Honor List. The Honor List is a strong part of the award’s identity and is used by many readers as a recommended reading list for the rest of the year. This year’s Honor List is: Libba Bray, Beauty Queens (Scholastic Press 2011) — In this atypically comedic Tiptree candidate, a cast of iconic characters trapped on a hostile island (populated by the capitalist analog of Doctor No) illuminates the limited palate of roles for women and offers the hope of more rewarding and rounded lives. L. Timmel Duchamp, “The Nones of Quintilus” (in her collection Never at Home, Aqueduct Press 2011) — This standout story addresses the relationships between mothers and daughters and how the world looks different when you become (or intend to become) pregnant. Kameron Hurley, God’s War (Night Shade Books 2011) — Set on a marginally habitable world divided by a common religion with diverse interpretations, this engaging work explores a militaristic matriarchal society. Gwyneth Jones, The Universe of Things (Aqueduct Press 2011) — Running through these gorgeous stories is a fierce awareness of how gender roles and other social power imbalances are always factors in how we think, how we approach one another, how we see the world. The author questions the status quo, and then questions the questioning, so what emerges is a mature, honest, thoughtful complexity. Alice Sola Kim, “The Other Graces” (Asimov’s Science Fiction, July 2010) — This elegantly written short story revisits the role of mirroring in self-actualization and casts that path in a new and skiffy light as its heroine, Grace, is mentored by her older alternate selves. It also depicts racial/cultural intersections with gender roles. Sandra McDonald, “Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots” (Strange Horizons, 2010.10.04) — A surreal and subversive take on human-AI relations. An older female character exploring her sexuality is a rare thing in science fiction, and it is refreshing to see it handled here with such a deft hand. Maureen F. McHugh, “After the Apocalypse” (in her collection After the Apocalypse, Small Beer Press 2011) — This title story of an impressive collection brings to the foreground gender expectations concerning the practice of motherhood in extreme situations and then completely and matter-of-factly upends them. Delia Sherman, The Freedom Maze (Big Mouth House 2011) — A clear-hearted, magically immersive time travel story that explores powerful ideas. Thrown back through time to an antebellum plantation, a thirteen-year-old comes to understand how women’s experience is shaped by cultural expectations as they interweave with social, economic, and racial truths. Kim Westwood, The Courier’s New Bicycle (Harper Voyager Australia 2011) — This compelling novel depicts a variety of sexually transgressive characters and looks at themes of fertility and alternate family structures through a dystopic lens.