Secret Feminist Cabal by Helen Merrick

This book is a refreshingly community-centric look at sites of feminist struggle in SF fandom, as opposed to a feminist literary criticism approach which has been more popular, and which has been the focus of most of the work I've read on feminist science fiction. Merrick's cultural approach opens up new connections and avenues of discussion of the place and contributions of women to science fiction over several decades. This book is resonating for me a great deal, and if you are at all interested in feminist SF fandom, you really should read it. It gives so much provocative history, analysis, and recovering of feminist voice.

Merrick strikes a balance between giving an account of the history of women and different feminisms in SF fandom and offering an analysis of that history. She centers a great deal of her attention on fanzines and the letter columns of SF magazines and conventions reports, which is a brilliant move, as these are sites that have not gotten enough critical attention.

I appreciate her emphasis on context, on locating these discussions within SF fandom as well as within broader social trends like the women's movement and feminist academic criticism. Context is so crucially important to these conversations and interventions. I appreciate that Merrick explores that context as a major aspect of her analysis. I also appreciate that she goes beyond U. S. science fiction fandom to explore big name fans and fanzines in other countries. I particularly loved her exploration of the hoax at the heart of the British FEMIZINE which I had never heard about but which was completely fascinating. There are lots of little "aha!" moments in here, which together form an impressive and intricately detailed mosaic of histories and stories.

I also appreciate that Merrick takes pains to be descriptive about these contexts, rather than prescriptive. She charts different and contested meanings for what "feminist science fiction" meant in particular historical moments and spaces. She emphasizes that this is not a monolithic history of "Feminist Science Fiction", but instead discusses the many variations and justifications on particular, historically situated definitions of that and related terms. Each moment she describes feels like an entry point to learning more, thanks to the heavy footnotes and references. It's really engaging as a way of conducting history--it makes the conversations and contestations feel alive, and it highlights a multiplicity of voices and approaches, rather than centering the history on the author's particular opinions (though that perspective also still comes through).

I'm grateful for this book. It gives me a connection to communities I identify myself as being part of, a history that I knew existed before, but had less opportunity to really explore. I love her exploration of the inception of the Tiptree Award in Chapter 8, and how its meanings have evolved as fandom's feminisms have changed. I am proud to be in fandom now, today, at a time when we're seeing some much-needed shifts in discussions of inclusion, particularly for people of color and, I believe, people with disabilities in fandom, both as fans and within SF texts. It's exciting! I want to be a part of it. And I'm glad I get to see, through this book, some of where fandom has been and how far it's come before now.

The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of Science Fiction Feminisms Cover Image
ISBN: 9781933500331
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Aqueduct Press - December 1st, 2009