This isn't a "bad" book per se, but it's curiously pointless. While Blank sets out to limn the history of heterosexuality as a concept, what she really ends up doing at great length and to little new effect, is to write about the legal and social concepts of marriage (companionate and otherwise) and the cultural history of dating. None of this is fresh, none of this has not been done dozens of times before decades before, most more thoroughly and from a more deeply informed historical and/or philosophical perspective. None of this illuminates our current understanding of what's "heterosexual" and what's "homosexual". In fact, beyond the brief personal revelations that open and close the volume, there's virtually nothing here I haven't read many, many times over.
I guess I just can't imagine who's the audience for this book. Anyone seriously interested in the subject of sexuality, sexual/gender identity, and the history of how society and individuals assign labels is not going to find anything fresh, interesting, or particularly useful here. And those who aren't especially interested or knowledgeable are probably not going to read or seek out this book. Sooo?
I really, really wanted to love this, but overall this special edition of Lightspeed is just OK.
The best stories here are reprints: Tiptree's haunting "Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death", Eleanor Arnason's charming take on Bashō, "Knapsack Poems" (although this strikes me more as fantasy than science fiction), and Maureen McHugh's novella "The Cost to Be Wise", which would eventually be expanded into her fine novel, 'Mission Child'.
None of the new work is anywhere near as strong but the opening story by Seanan McGuire, "Each to Each" is compelling (at least, after a few terribly clunky initial paragraphs) and I also found N.K Jemisin's "Walking Awake" a thoughtful piece. "Dim Sun" (Maria Dahvana Headley) is great fun, especially if you're a foodie like I am, "The Sisterhood of Ick" by Charlie Jane Anders felt a little manipulative but was still a pretty good read, and I enjoyed Rhonda Eikamp's "The Case of the Passionless Bees", an sfnal take on Sherlock Holmes, despite the fact that it contained no real mystery at all. But the other new pieces were less engaging and many felt rather tired and predictable, a judgment I found taking hold more deeply as I moved into the flash fiction and the many essays. Only Pat Murphy's passionate, articulate histories of the Tiptree award and Kameron Hurley's justly praised 'We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle, and Slaves Narrative' had much to offer beyond bland exhortations to keep on keeping on...or something.
Again, none of this is bad (well...OK, a couple of pieces here are bad but I'm being nice and really they're just a tiny blip in a larger whole), but so much of it feels tired and over-done and kind of stale. Not very destructive or revolutionary. There are just so many damn good, really fresh and exciting female SF writers out there that I can't help but wonder why they're not present in this anthology. I know these things take time and commissioning work is a crap-shoot because the writers one desperately wants aren't always interested or available, but where are the writers like Catherynne Valente, Aliette de Bodard, Yoon Ha Lee, L. Timmel Duchamp, Jennifer Marie Brisset, Carmen Maria Machado, Gwyneth Jones, Vandana Singh, Andrea Hairston and others? These are women who are not just "destroying" science fiction as we know it but rebuilding it in new and beautiful, previously unknown forms. I wish this volume had focused more on writers like these and less on the same old stuff written with different third-person pronouns.
This is a solid collection of ghost stories by American and British women writing in English. Featuring a mix of old and new, thematically there's something for almost everyone, with an especially strong selection of haunted house type tales. I would have liked to see more diversity in setting and some stories by Anglophone authors from outside the US and UK, as well as some translated works if this was really meant to an anthology of ghost stories "by women" rather than women writing in English (Anne-Sylvie Salzman's work would have fit in very well-at least as well as Caitlin R. Kiernan's, which is featured here). A few clunkers (including the opening story, the only one I DNFd) mar the book's pacing and weaken the whole, but overall this is a nice addition to the Mammoth Books series and I'd love to see a (slightly more inclusive) second edition of 'Ghost Stories by Women'.