Joanna Russ (1937-2011)

Joanna Russ died April 29 at the age of 74 in the aftermath of a series of strokes.

Her novella “Souls” won a Hugo in 1983 and her short story “When It Changed” won a Nebula in 1973, despite which her best-known work is her novel The Female Man (1975). Also a nominee for both of the field’s top awards (though it did not win), The Female Man now is one of the standards of the field and appears on many recommended works lists, including the Guardian’s 2009 list of “1000 Novels Everyone Must Read” and Gardner Dozois’ recommended reading list, formerly posted at SFWA.org.

An example of the kind of pioneering SF for which Russ is known, “When It Changed” was described in the following way by Nancy Kress in her speech at ConFuse 93:

 ”When it Changed” takes place on a planet, Whileaway, in which several generations before the story start all the men have been killed by a plague. The women reproduce by parthenogenesis and by a cloning process. And they mate, all relationships are of necessity lesbian. They have a stable and successful society. Then, generations later, a spaceship lands which contains mostly men. And immediately there is misunderstanding on both side. The men view themselves as saviours of this particular abandoned castaway group of women and the women have no idea what they are talking about. This story made a lot of people very mad.

Russ also was a 1996 Hugo nominee for To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

Update 04/30/2011: Made corrections following comments by Steve Davidson and Jerry Kaufman.