Our final guest blog associated with the Women in Fantasy Storybundle comes from Leah Cutter. Like some of the other writers this past week, Leah published her first novel, Paper Mage, in this century. The novel, set in T’ang dynasty China, immediately received a starred review from Booklist. Leah was underway.
These days, she doesn’t limit herself to fantasy. She also publishes literary fiction, mystery, science fiction, and horror fiction. Her short fiction has been published in magazines like Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Talebones, anthologies like Fiction River, and on the web. You can find out more about her novels through Knotted Road Press. Or you can read her blog at her website, LeahCutter.com.
Since I sometimes go a month or so without updating this site, I figured the last blog from the bundle would be up for a while. After you read it, you’ll see why I wanted to end here. This is how fiction survives.
My Mom, the Trekkie
by Leah Cutter
My mom was a Trekkie.
Now, you may have been raised by nerdy parents. Parents who were into Doctor Who or who took you to conventions as a youngster.
I think I got you beat.
My mom was born in the 1920s. She graduated with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University in 1945. (She was one of three women in her class.)
My mom was brilliant. And not just because she was my mother. She has patents in her name. Some of the math she discovered is still quoted and used today.
She was also raised at a time when children were seen and not heard. Difficult for a smart young woman who knew she was right but couldn’t say anything about it. (Her relationship with her own parents was rocky at best. The family dynamics as to why and how she became an engineer, and not her older brother, are complicated.)
Mom was also a feminist. She successfully sued a company for sexual discrimination in the 1970s, long before that kind of thing was accepted or done. She raised me as a feminist, again, long before it was accepted or usual.
She encouraged my own love of math and computers. She’s part of the reason why I got a degree in Computer Science (as well as a degree in English Literature).
Mom loved science. She loved learning. And she loved to read.
I was fortunate that she passed that love of reading onto me.
I remember going to the public library with her. This was sometime after I’d graduated from the kids’ section—a mere three-foot high shelf that ran along one wall—to what was called the Juveniles’ section.
It was an entire room with books on metal shelves that reached from floor to ceiling. It was probably 20×20. I thought it was huge. I always had to get a stool or help when I wanted to reach the top shelves. They didn’t divide out the genre fiction from everything else at that time, or maybe just at that library. Fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and literary were all mixed together.
I remember walking in there, rubbing my hands with glee, and thinking, “Okay. I’ll just start at the A’s and work my way through all the shelves.” Figured it would take me about a year.
Mom, however, had a different idea.
She walked to shelves other than the A’s and pulled down some books for me, suggesting that I start there.
She chose mostly female authors.
Andre Norton. Ursula Le Guin. C.L. Moore. Caroline Keene (who turned out to not always be female, but how could we have known in those days?) Susanna Clarke. Leigh Brackett. Madeleine L’Engle. Susan Cooper.
Then more, later. Louise Fitzhugh. Zenna Henderson. Anne McCaffrey. Judith Tarr. Marion Zimmer Bradley. Kate Wilhelm. Patricia McKillip. Lois Duncan. Doris Lessing.
Sure, there were some men in there as well. Isaac Asimov. Robert Heinlein. Harry Harrison. Clifford Simack. Stanislaw Lem. Kurt Vonnegut. Jules Verne. Harlan Ellison.
But I always remembered those early lessons from my mom. Perusing the library shelves. Seeking out female names. Unfamiliar names. The different. The new.
Mom read pretty much everything I did. I figure that was both a way for her to keep tabs on what I was reading. It wasn’t until later that I realized it was so that we could have things to discuss together.
I wasn’t old enough to truly appreciate Star Trek when it came out. When it was in re-runs and I was in my teens, Mom was so happy to have someone to talk about the show with. Though my dad had been in the military, my mom was the one who impressed upon me how important Uhura was, that an officer (not a yeoman) was a woman.
As for that whole Trekkie thing? Mom never dressed in costume or encouraged me to do so. She didn’t go to any conventions.
However, when Kashi cereal first came out, my mom promptly bought it.
It was a cereal that advertised that it was composed of all these different grains.
One of those grains was triticale.
And Mom remembered Tri-Triticale, from “Trouble with Tribbles.” Even though it wasn’t exactly the same, it was close enough for her to want to try it.
My mom passed over a decade ago. I’m still grateful for her lessons, though, of the importance of including women authors in my reading, of insisting that I deserve equal consideration regardless of my gender, that I continue to explore and sample strange new worlds.