I agree with Nancy Jane that The Female Man was a landmark work. Ground breaking if for no other reason than it’s an example of feminist humor. And they say we don’t have any. There are a lot of other reasons why it was groundbreaking, but I’ll not go into them here. Go read Nancy’s post for an idea.
My favorite Russ book, though, is “We Who Are About To.” Groundbreaking in its own way if for no other reason than it might just be the most depressing science fiction story ever told. (Well, On the Beach is pretty sad.) I think that’s why it’s not very popular. And yet it’s an important book.
Science fiction often depicts dystopian worlds. It often questions our technological progress. But Russ’ book is worlds beyond those crummy little ideas. She makes a statement that undermines our entire current culture. It’s not just a story about how bad things can get if we screw around with nature too much. She turns one of science fiction’s favorite scenarios (last people on the planet and now we need to recreate the human race) on its head and says it’s wrong and we’re not going to do it. And she makes a good argument. Boy do people get mad with this book. It’s so un-American with its loser mentality.
Russ’ ideas are radical. They’re scary in a genre that has the potential to be the most revolutionary of all but usually opts for the safety of the mainstream. She’s one author that is definitely out there. That alone is deserving of praise, but the best thing about her writing is that the style is sublime. From a literary standpoint, she’s one of the best and yet, I have not often heard people remark on that. I keep the secret of Joanna Russ to myself so that whenever I find myself at cocktail parties where someone starts in with that line about how genre writing is not particularly artistic or interesting in a literary way, I can say, Ah, but there’s Russ.
We’ll miss you, Joanna Russ.