Entry updated 29 October 2021. Tagged: Author.
(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), initiates the Twenty Planets sequence set in a distant Near Future universe where Homo sapiens occupies the eponymous worlds; the tale might in fact be most 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 world 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 (see Slavery). Any native belief in the Biological necessity of this setup is dealt with, in the usual manner, by the plot. Arkfall (September 2008 F&SF; 2010) and The Ice Owl (2012 chap) are set in the same loosely constructed universe, as is the more recent Dark Orbit (2015), which once again applies the visitor topos, in this case to investigate the Xenobiological conundrums posed by the blind indigenes of an inimical crystalline planet. The Forsaken Isles sequence beginning with Isles of the Forsaken (2011) is fantasy.
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
- Halfway Human (New York: Avon Books, 1998) [Twenty Planets: pb/J K Potter]
- Arkfall (Rockville, Maryland: Phoenix Pick, 2010) [novella: first appeared September 2008 F&SF: Twenty Planets: pb/]
- The Ice Owl (Rockville, Maryland: Phoenix Pick, 2012) [novella: chap: first appeared November 2011 F&SF: Twenty Planets: pb/]
- Dark Orbit (New York: Tor, 2015) [Twenty Planets: hb/Thom Tenery]
- Isles of the Forsaken (Toronto, Ontario: ChiZine Publications, 2011) [pb/Erik Mohr]
- Ison of the Isles (Toronto, Ontario: ChiZine Publications, 2012) [pb/Erik Mohr]
- Candle in a Bottle: A Novella (Seattle, Washington: Aqueduct Press, 2006) [in the publisher's Conversation Pieces series: pb/]
- Aliens of the Heart (Seattle, Washington: Aqueduct Press, 2007) [coll: pb/Kathryn Wilham]
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