Recommend

Recommendations are open for the 2014 James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award.

James Tiptree, Jr. Award 1994 Winners

Winners Short List Long List Jurors

“The Matter of Seggri”
Ursula K. Le Guin
, ,

Anthology Link This story is in Flying Cups and Saucers.

“The Matter of Seggri” is a story that is bigger than it looks. Within its thirty-some pages the world of Seggri is discovered, explored, and altered. Half a dozen distinct and memorable storytelling voices give us comic misunderstandings, tragedies enacted and averted, histories recounted and dreams revealed, all within the frame of a convincingly strange society. Fourteen hundred years are distilled into a few key moments. One of the ways Le Guin has managed to pack so much into this tale is by making it a gateway-a mental hypertext-to a lot of other stories, including her own explorations of gender and society in The Left Hand of Darkness and A Fisherman of the Inland Sea as well as the thought experiments of other gender explorers like Joanna Russ, Eleanor Arnason, Sheri S. Tepper, and James Tiptree Jr. The world of Seggri invites comparison with Gethen and Whileaway and Women’s Country without being an imitation or a simple answer to any of them, just as it invites comparison with aspects of our own world without being reducible to an allegory or a simple inversion of existing gender roles. Whereas Larque on the Wing. uses the machinery of fantasy to get at the inner experience of gender, “The Matter of Seggri” uses science fiction to map out social implications. It asks how gender enters into institutions like schools and marriages and how it might do so differently. It asks how power and love and justice might be redistributed along gender lines, and what the effect might be on individual lives. It asks what stake society has in enforcing models of femininity and masculinity and what happens to those who fail to follow the template. Most remarkably, Le Guin makes us care about the people we meet: First Observer Merriment and her never-seen partner Kaza Agad, young Ittu and his sister Po, even the fictional-within-a-fiction lovers Azak and Toddra and Zedr. In the few pages each gets on the scene, we recognize their uniqueness even as we learn the social patterns of which they are a part. They make the Matter of Seggri matter. (BA)

It could be a how-to manual on how to explore gender issues through the use of science fiction. (EK)

A short story perfect in its parts as a snowflake, or Chekhov’s “Lady with a Little Dog.” This is the first time the Tiptree has been awarded to a work of short fiction, and “Seggri” proves that explorations of gender can be as efficient pithy as lengthy. (LS)

This deals with gender issues in a way that only science fiction can: by creating a society that has different assumptions than ours, thus forcing us to examine our own. It makes stunning use of different viewpoints to give us an understanding of the society that we couldn’t obtain any other way. Fascinating for its anthropological detail, “The Matter of Seggri” shows the emotional and societal consequences of a different social organization, and the consequences of changing or disrupting that organization. (PM)

Just when I was beginning to fear that no work of short fiction could stand up to the powerhouse novels contending for the Tiptree-along came “Seggri.” On Seggri, women far outnumber the men, an imbalance that, notes one Hainish observer, “has produced a society in which, as far as I can tell, the men have all the privilege and the women have all the power.” Men and boys over the age of 11 live in hierarchically organized “castles.” They gain glory by competing in games, cheered on by the women; the women do all the productive and political work of the society, and the two genders meet only in the “fuckeries.” The women may enjoy sex with men, but naturally they form their primary erotic and social bonds with other women. Both the society and the story are complex, covering several generations and told from various viewpoints. Though undeniably different from our own society, Seggri eerily echoes it, and like several of this year’s shortlisted works-notably Arnason’s “The Lovers” and Charnas’s The Furies-the focus is on those who, by asking questions and/or not fitting in, become harbingers of change. (SJS)

Larque on the Wing
Nancy Springer
, AvoNova 1994

When is a middle-aged woman not a middle-aged woman? When she’s a ten-year-old girl and a young gay man. In Nancy Springer’s Larque on the Wing, the main character unintentionally releases her grim and grubby child self as part of a mid-life crisis. Her young doppelganger leads her to a place called Popular Street, which is both gay ghetto and enchanted land. There she is transformed from frumpy Larque to handsome Lark, who was, it seems, always there inside. Lark can have the adventures Larque has denied herself: can explore the dangerous night world, wear cowboy boots, beat up homophobic thugs, act on erotic impulses (gay because Larque is attracted to men). As engaging as Larque (and her husband Hoot) may be, what sticks in the mind from the novel is Popular Street. Cheerfully sleazy and genuinely magical, Popular Street manifests unpredictably wherever the forces of order aren’t paying attention. It is a place of desires and of truths, both of a sort that conventional society covers over. On Popular Street, features of homosexual subcultures-the lure of the forbidden and the secret, irreverence toward middle-class values, acknowledgment of the varieties of pleasure, a sense that gender identity is something that can be put together and tried on like a costume-become the basis for a powerful and transforming enchantment. What fantasy does best is to take the insides of things and express them as outsides. An ent is the inside of a tree, a beast is the inside of a prince (and vice versa). Nancy Springer has used this property of fantasy to get inside gender and sexuality. She shows that the inside of intolerance is fear, the inside of art is truth-telling, and the inside of a woman is a whole cast of characters of all ages and genders. (BA)

Playful and outrageous, this book taps into some of our less-admissible and more potent fantasies! (EK)

Gender is 90 percent of comedy, but seldom does the comedy step outside traditional sex roles. Larque is the exception, managing to be simultaneously challenging, disturbingly so at times, and hilarious. (LS)

Springer’s novel considers the startling, funny, indescribable adventures of Larque, a middle-aged woman whose mid-life crisis takes on concrete form. A ten-year- old version of Larque (blinked into existence by Larque’s own uncanny abilities) leads Larque into an exploration of her life and the compromises she made while growing up. Along the way, Larque is transformed into Lark, an adolescent boy, and works magic of many kinds. A rollicking, offbeat, thoughtful fable for our time. (PM)

Larque on the Wing was a front-runner from the day I read it, very early in the year. In this wittily, wildly original contemporary fantasy, Nancy Springer expands, explores, and bends more gender conventions than most authors recognize. Most notably, Larque emerges from a makeover session not with a new hairdo but with the body of a 20-year-old gay man. And Springer restores scruffy, nose- wiping vitality to a useful concept turned tedious cliché: the “inner child.” Then there’s Larque’s mother, Florence, who sees what she wants to see-with a vengeance. Larque does have a weak point or two. Larque’s best female friend, Doris, is characterized mostly by her carrot addiction. More significant, and striking in a novel that draws explicit parallels between the Otherness of women and gay men, is the absence of lesbians, from both Popular Street and the ranks of Larque’s inner selves. Lesbian characters, erotic love between women: these are still out on the gender-bending frontier. (SJS)

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