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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Not Lost in Space, talk by Lisa Yaszek

Not Lost in Space:
Scence and Technology as Women's Work in Postwar Science fiction
Lisa Yaszek, LCC, 27th September 2005, Georgia Tech.

I went to a very interesting open lecture today. Lisa Yaszek, who started the Science Fiction Lab (
at LCC at Georgia Tech spoke about science fiction written by women during the cold war. The fear of a nuclear war was then very real, and women worked outside the home, getting professional careers. Common themes in the fiction was how to survive and cope after the third world war, and how to balance a professional career with having a family.
Yaszek showed how these authors actually offered (fictional) solutions to these problems, that were of great immediate importance at the time. Dystopias, radical and often absurd and scary components.
She also punktures the myth that it was mostly male authors who established the genre in the fifties: During her research Yaszek found a lot of texts by female authors. Forgotten, as it seem to be in most genres.
What i found most interesting was Yaszek mentioned in the end of her speech; of identifying narrative structures in fiction written in times of change.

Some notes i threw down during the speech:

(the title "not lost in space": a tv series from 1960ies)

Dr Maureen Robinson: Scientist and Austronaut.

At these times, frequent theme of how women would cobine professional work with mother-role. Coiche between children and career. (showing a hilarius picture)

Yaszek found a lot of female post war writers creating "galactic suburbia" Wimens love, life and work.
Creating fiction where females escape the fate of Maureen Robson. They do work professionaly, but in a 'female' way; caring.

New patterns in society: domestic mashines that females use. Sowing mashines etc.

Postwar rapid domestic industrialization.

...women as cold warriors at home, bombshelters etc. Displays pics from Life Magasine 1959. Civil defence.

Radical motherhood. Women strike for peace - group.

//speaks extremely rapidly.

Explanation of why Soviet won the space race: they had both male and female technoscientists. NASA started a women in space program, which however didnt stay active for very many eards (till 1962)
Jerri Cobb.

Two story types
Nuclar war stories. -> towards barbarism from civilization or vice versa. Surviving world war III

Judith Merril 1923 - 1997
Mutated children. Setting in post war japan. Nuclear family with disabled child.

Alice Eleanor Jones
At the time:
Female peace movement.
Adjusting to a future with a nuclear war. As a reality.
Reason for survival: government having gene program. Loveless marrigies and children taken away at age of 3. Getting bonuses for children... Lending out childen to childless neighbors. Female protagonist wanting to kill the husband.

Carol Emshwiller (b 1921)
Family depicted have survived world war III. The son disabled, can only communicate through violence. Couple loving each other. Risky to have a child: mother might die. Loose-loose situation.

Authors explore: What would happen to women and theri families in the prospect of WW III.


"Shadow on the Earth" 1950 by Judith Merril.
Men and women working together, striving in the radioactivity. Gladys transforms from helpless houswife through allying with other women. Vita, Galdys, Eve cluster to protect children.
Partial solution: allying with scientists. The men, who have been outside, die of radioactivity. Makes a strong case of peace activity in the present.
Embracing the domestic realm.

Marion Zimmer Bradley. The wind people
Female officer: choose ship or child. Stays on an ailien planet with her son Robin. Who's father might be one of the wind people, the natives on the alien planet. Insestious theme, ending in death.

So how make a situation where professional work doesnt result in death and disaster?

Katherine MacLean (b1929)
Frankenstein. Madness. Female protagonist gives herself body of an 18 year old. Insanity, ends in hospital.

MacLean suggests that not only professional relationships are important (? I think i missed something here)

Judith Merril: "Daughters of Earth"
Six generations of women are followed as they leav earth. Technoscience society. Can it solve the gender work vs domestic life problem?
The way colonization is done is changed.
Learning to communicate better. "A feeling for the organism"

Myth: male authors created the realm in 1950ies. That the female authors started writing in the 60ies.
Not true.

Dystopian storytelling. Future in terms of disaster.

Z: begin identifying story telling structures that has been written in times of change.
Narrative strategy. ...understand the language of the enemy. Female authors did this. To help ppl think about the war differently.

Question time.
The research process?
...found loads of texts by female authors that she had never heard about.
Used for doing political work.

Reproductive technologies? Mutant childeren...