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The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of Science Fiction Feminisms

by Helen Merrick

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$9.95 (e-book) EPUB
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winner of 2010 William Atheling, Jr. Award
Honor List for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award
nominated for 2010 Hugo Award

In her cultural history of science fiction feminisms, Dr. Merrick explores the stories told about feminist science fiction by the various communities responsible for creating feminist sf culture, including authors, editors, fans, and scholars from across the disciplines. The Secret Feminist Cabal will appeal to every member of the feminist sf community, to fans and critics interested in the history of the science fiction genre, and to anyone interested in the production of feminist culture, history, and theory.

Advance Praise

"I really enjoyed this. It's a wonderfully thorough, analytical, and inclusive account, sure to become an indispensable resource. Better than that, it's a terrific read. Here you'll find everything you always wanted to know about women in fandom, women in publishing, women as writers. . . with the added value that the snippets of tasty vintage gossip are woven into a rich fabric of discourse. Helen Merrick's style is unassuming yet authoritative; she manages to be a scholar and an entertainer at the same time. Years ago, I read Women of Other Worlds, edited by Helen Merrick and Tess Williams, and was impressed. The Secret Feminist Cabal is more demanding, an ambitious project, but equally successful: this is a fine book. "
   — Gwyneth Jones, author of White Queen and Deconstructing the Starships

"An amazing book for cultural analysts of all kinds. This is a story-laden feminism, one that weaves together not only the historical contexts for women's presences in SF and the varieties of feminisms women did and did not espouse, but tells us HOW all this happened. Merrick's work allows us to learn how to practice this kind of story-telling ourselves, demonstrating how many knowledge worlds co-created feminist SF. She has a genius for letting us feel out what one knows and embodies when trafficking among worlds of academic critique, commercial publication, visionary futures, institutional intervention, and science studies. She teases out how dynamic networks linking stories and publications respond to new contexts, newly reattaching meanings to feminist SF itself, the body and embodiments, cyberpunk and cyborg feminisms, feminist versions of naturecultures, and sexual and racial politics. The very basis for what might count as feminist SF, for better or worse, is de-normalized and re-genred year after year, as told in cautionary stories about the James Tiptree Jr. Award, titled after pseudonymous feminist author Alice Sheldon's pen name. Perfect for teachers, theorists, authors and critics, and for fans, The Secret Feminist Cabal is a new kind of transdisciplinary writing, a demonstration of the spaces that are continually coming into being for increasingly complex practices known as feminisms in SF."
   — Katie King, author of Theory in Its Feminist Travels: Conversations in U.S. Women's Movements

"The Secret Feminist Cabal is an extended answer to the question Helen Merrick asks in her introduction: "why do I read feminist sf?" In this wide-ranging cultural history we are introduced to a multiplicity of sf feminisms as Merrick takes readers on a tour of the early days of sf fandom, tracks the upheavals of the 1950s and 1960s and the explosions of feminist sf in the 1970s, and contextualizes subsequent developments in feminist sf scholarship. Her history is expansive and inclusive: it ranges from North America to the UK to Australia; it tells us about readers, fans, and academics as well as about writers, editors, and publishers; and it examines the often uneasy intersections of feminist theory and popular culture. Merrick brings things up to date with considerations of feminist cyberfiction and feminist science and technology studies, and she concludes with an intriguing review of the Tiptree Award as it illuminates current debates in the feminist sf community. Broadly informed, theoretically astute, and often revisionary, The Secret Feminist Cabal is an indispensable social and cultural history of the girls who have been plugged into science fiction."
   — Veronica Hollinger, co-editor of Edging into the Future, Blood Read: the Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture, and Queer Universes


"Merrick boldly goes where no...academician has gone before and brings back an entertaining tale of women writers, editors, publishers and fans. It's SF convention girl-gossip channeled by a university scholar. The results are bracing, well-informed, and sort of shocking. Literature and feminism entwined in an unusual manner in that primordial soup. What emerged was, not surprisingly, sort of magical.... What's interesting to more general readers is the existence of an intensely active, intensely intelligent literary, cultural and sexual discussion taking place in the back waters of a genre that many think begins and ends with, as U2 calls them, "Stories for Boys." You'll meet a lot of wonderfully outspoken women in this book, writers, critics and, critically, fans." ( read the whole review)
   — Rick Kleffel, The Agony Column, November 2009

The Secret Feminist Cabal provides a context for many of the recent online discussions about gender and the politics of gender. The book is brilliant in how it fills in a potentially lost history of the genre, detailing the involvement of female fans in the genre community from the early days, the birth of feminist SF and criticism, and also the many arguments back and forth between male and female writers in the 1970s and 1980s. I may be unaware of similar books on this subject, but for me it was fascinating to read Merrick's documentation of discussions between writers like Joanna Russ and Michael G. Coney. Better yet, Merrick's excellent prose makes The Secret Feminist Cabal a compulsive reading experience. (For an even more complete reading experience, read the Merrick in conjunction with another excellent nonfiction book from 2009, the Farah Mendelsohn-edited On Joanna Russ; it contains a variety of perspectives on Russ and her work from, among others, Gary K. Wolfe, Samuel R. Delany, Graham Sleight, and Merrick herself.)"
   — Jeff VanderMeer, Locus Online, February 11, 2010

Merrick had me from her Preface, where she describes her journey towards writing the book in ways that resonated deeply with me, from the nerdy adolescent to the discovery of feminism and the dismay that many female acquaintances not only do not share our love of science fiction, they are completely mystified by it. Having only recently discovered the niche community that is sf fandom, the fact that so much of this book is concerned with expressions of feminism within that community—and how they impacted on sf broadly—was the icing on the cake...
... A critical work based in a deep-seated love of the genre, Cabal is a testament to the enduring impact of women, feminism, and fandom on the fractured behemoth that is science fiction. 2010 saw it shortlisted on the Hugo ballot for Best Related Work, and win the fan-voted William Atheling award for best critical work. These are well-deserved honours. It is to be hoped that coming generations of both writers and fans will make use of the cornucopia of references Merrick has gathered, both to understand the history of the field and because most of them make for wonderful reading. (read the whole review)
   — Alexandra Pierce, Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus, September 19, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-933500-33-1 (13 digit)
Publication Date: Dec 2009
paperback 360 pages