(1954- ) US historian and author whose nonfiction works, beginning with The Northern Expeditions of Stephen H. Long (1978) with Lucile M Kane and June D Holmquist, focus on the exploration and history of the American Mid West, and who began publishing work of genre interest with "The Trial of Victor Genovese" for Tales of the Unanticipated, Fall 1986, soon establishing a reputation for cognitively challenging work, often from a standpoint of a late, conceptually far-ranging Feminism. Some of these stories were assembled in Aliens of the Heart (coll 2007). Her first novel, Halfway Human (1998), might in fact be more usefully treated as a narrative analysis of Gender issues, along lines most influentially laid down by Ursula K Le Guin in novels like The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). Gilman's tale is similarly set on a planet colonized by humans – then abandoned, then rediscovered by a renascent comity – all long before the story begins. The planet Gammadis is a skewed Utopia complete with visitor-protagonist who must try to understand the consequences of its complex gender structure: the natives of the planet trifurcate at puberty into male, female and neuter cohorts; the latter are oppressed, and the novel unfolds in terms of the tradition of the American slave narrative. Any native belief in the Biological necessity of this setup is dealt with, in the usual manner, by the plot.
Gilman's second book, the shorter Candle in a Bottle: A Novella (October/November 1996 F&SF; exp 2006), continues in Le Guinian fashion to expose a constructed (in effect Utopian) society to visitors with clear vision, though in this case the exemplary venue – a culture governed through algorithms generated by "savants" who preside over affairs from an Shangri-La-like redoubt – is reminiscent of Hermann Hesse's Magister Ludi (1943). The society generated, a pastoral so intensely mentated that it could almost be understood as a Pocket Universe, is subtly unpacked. The use of sf and other modes of the fantastic by author such as Gilman is a sign of the health of speculative literature in the twenty-first century. [JC]
Carolyn Ives Gilman
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