The Dreaming Sex: Early Tales of Scientific Imagination by Women

The Dreaming Sex: Early Tales of Scientific Imagination by Women - Mike Ashley, L.T. Meade, Mary Shelley, Harriet Prescott Spofford, Alice W. Fuller, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, G.M. Barrows, Roquia Sakhawat Hossein, E. Nesbit, Clotilde Graves, Muriel Pollexfen, Greye La Spina, Clare Winger Harris, Adeline Knapp Although it is (IMO) questionable as to whether all these stories are really science fiction, or even proto-sci-fi, they are all very interesting and I enjoyed reading them. A worthy companion volume to the editor's prior collection of Victorian/Edwardian women writers, The Darker Sex: Tales of the Supernatural and Macabre by Victorian Women Writers.The Stories are: The Blue Laboratory by L.T. Meade: Mad doctor, abominable medical experiments, young woman in mortal danger in a countdown to death! A good one to start off the collection.The Mortal Immortal by Mary Shelley: The only story in the collection I'd read previously and a strong offering from, arguably, the progenetrix of science fiction. However, is this a sci-fi story? I don't think so - the "technology" here is alchemy, which is a spiritual tradition with only the surface trappings of the true science of chemistry. That aside, a very good tale.The Moonstone Mass by Harriet Prescott Spofford: Even the editor seems to have qualms about including this story in a sci-fi collection, as he says it is the spirit of enquiry, of exploring geographical regions then unknown to science (to boldly go...?) that has warranted this story's inclusion. By that argument, King Solomon's Mines could be classed as sci-fi. So, perhaps this shouldn't have been in the collection, but... it's very good! A journey to the Arctic to find the North-West Passage ends with the protagonist adrift in unknown regions. It reminded me somewhat of Lord Dunsany and early H.P. Lovecraft.A Wife Manufactured to Order by Alice W. Fuller: Basically, "The Stepford Wives". In which it is shown that men are idiots.Good Lady Ducane by Mary Elzabeth Braddon: More of a Gothic romance with a medical element than SF. I've recently read The Haunted Hotel: A Mystery of Modern Venice by Wilkie Collins, and this story put me rather in mind of Collins's novel. The story has some good characterisations in it and I was chuckling in places. I really enjoyed this one.The Hall Bedroom by Mary Wilkins Freeman: Creepy! It's almost a ghost story in feel, but it's actually about accessing other dimensions. A bit Clark Ashton Smith-y, and leaves much to the readers imagination, in the best way.The Curious Experience of Thomas Dunbar by G.M. Barrows: This would make a great super-hero origin story. Eccentric scientist aids recovery of the man he's accidentally injured; a hidden laboratory where things go disastrously wrong during an experiment; a strange new element with mysterious properties; a daring rescue by the providentially empowered hero.The Sultana's Dream by Roquia Sakhawat Hossain: A Utopian fantasy which asks the question, "What if women instead of men assumed the dominant role in Indian society?" The answer, Everything would be better, even though men are now repressed in exactly the same way that women are repressed in the narrator's waking life. Apparently, women just make better decisions. We won't know until we try it, will we? Again, not sure is this is really sci-fi as it's presented as a dream rather than an actualised society.The Five Senses by Edith Nesbit: One of the best stories in the collection. Science versus sentiment; pros and cons of vivisection; medical experimentation (gone wrong, obviously); the horrifying prospect of premature burial. What a versatile writer Nesbit was. Her "weird" fiction is usually very chilling, but she's also responsible for well-loved children's classics like The Railway Children and Three Children and It. People are complex, aren't they? Lady Clanbevan's Baby by Clotilde Graves: Similarish idea to The Picture of Dorian Gray, but the ending really threw me. I wasn't sure if Graves's intent was shock, humour or a mix of the two. As I reacted in the third way, I hope that's what she was going for. It was kind of like the end to a Little Britain sketch!Monsieur Fly-by-Night by Muriel Pollexfen: What a brilliant authorial name! And my absolute favourite story in the collection. This is a cross between the Ruritanian romance of The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope and a Steampunk adventure. I imagined the whole story shot as a Studio Ghibli anime: Mysterious, youthful and adventurous "Sky Captain" is called upon to use his miraculous airship to help rescue the princess of a mid-European pocket-country from her dastardly uncle Osric, who is fomenting revolution!I so wish that Pollexfen had done a series of stories about Maxton Domville, "Monsieur Fly-by-Night"!The Ultimate Ingredient by Greye La Spina: Reminiscent of H.G. Wells's The Invisible Man or Jack London's The Shadow and the Flash. Another dastardly doctor - were Edwardian woman really as distrustful of the medical profession as would appear from this selection of stories?The Miracle of the Lily by Clare Winger Harris: A very well told story of environmental collapse, mass extinction, evolutionary impetus, scientific and social sterility. The narrative form is a series of journal entries by members of the same family over the course of centuries. I really liked this one, too.The Earth Slept: A Vision by Adeline Knapp: In which we learn that you can't stop the march of evolutionary progress and that rampant capitalism is bad.And that's it: a great book of brilliant stories.