The Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award was initiated in 2001, and to date has handed out nineteen awards to honor underread science fiction and fantasy authors. Five of those awards (26%) have gone to women. I met one of them, Katherine MacLean, at the WisCon feminist science fiction and fantasy convention some time after the turn of the millennium. As time goes on, I’ve come to cherish that contact and our brief conversation about science fiction. If things had been different when MacLean was writing, she would certainly have been better-known. As it was, MacLean was one of three women in 1959 to be nominated for a Hugo award (none of them won that year).
Mildred Clingerman, who I never met and who died in 1997, was honored with the Cordwainer Smith award posthumously in 2014. She was a contemporary of Katherine MacLean’s; both published their stories mainly in the 1950s. I recently read the new anthology of her work, The Clingerman Files (Size 5 ½ B Publishing, 2017).
Mildred Clingerman’s stories appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and elsewhere. She was a charter member and a founder of the Tucson Writer’s Club, and it shows. Her stories are well-written, and some lines are memorable. Some of Clingerman’s fantasy works contain surreal elements, reminiscient of another woman’s stories I have on my bed stand: Leonora Carrington.
There is something about her stories that pull at the feminist heart. Clingerman wrote about the fantastical in everyday life, and in the 1950s, that meant a culture of major mansplaining, and worse. At times, Clingerman describes incursions into a woman’s space that make clear her private area was open if a man wanted to come in for a closer look. Still, there are hints of a woman maintaining her power in this culture. Some are humorous. In “Letters from Laura”, a time-traveling tale set in ancient Crete, there’s a bit of kerfuffle when the Minotaur realizes our heroine is not a virgin. Laura’s reaction is one of the woman who protests too much, and that brings a smile.
Other times the observations are more serious, as in “Watermelon Weather”, about a married woman who dreams of an actual meeting with an extraterrestrial: “One woman is a whole crowd of people, she thought – a child, a sweetheart, a mother, a femme-fatale-that might-have-been. And lost, deep in the middle of the crowd, the shut-away individual who walks alone, always.”
Reading Clingerman’s stories makes me wish I’d met her, as I met Katherine MacLean. I wish I’d been able to know this individual who walked alone better. However, I’m grateful to know her through her stories, and understand the 1950s were full of talented, determined women who smiled at all the mansplaining, but kept to their goals.
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