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Catalyst: the Science and Science Fiction Issue

by Rose Lemberg and Shweta Narayan

Telepathy by Gioia De Antoniis.

This issue of Stone Telling arises, in many ways, from a question the SSF writer and poet Catherynne M. Valente asked in July 2010: What the hell is wrong with science fiction poetry?  Going through her slush as the editor of Apex Magazine, she remarked upon the unrelenting monoculture of the science fictional material she found there:

"It's that heartbreaking sameness that deeply creeps me out. It worries me, because I don't think anyone is conferring on the rules of SF poetry. And yet, the vast majority of the SF poetry I've seen seems to think that simply explaining an oft-used science fictional concept and putting those words in a column is sufficient to create poetry."

So, what's wrong with this? Nothing much, we feel, except that we want more. We want variety. We want, as readers, to be awed and amazed, to open our eyes to new things in the universe. Over the years, we've read plenty of science fiction poetry that would appeal to the readers of, say, the golden-age Analog, but little to appeal to the readers of Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ and Nalo Hopkinson, Samuel Delaney and Lois McMaster Bujold — in short, to us, and to our readers. We are unabashed geeks and grew up on science fiction; its narratives transformed our lives. When SF tells our stories, in all their varied forms and voices; when people feel familiar and aliens don't; when we get a sense of how immense this universe is — there's nothing to beat it. The Left Hand of Darkness, The Telling, Midnight Robber, even (Shweta admits sheepishly) the Foundation books. Within science fictional prose, we have found narratives that sustain and inspire us. But just as science fictional prose benefits from a variety of approaches, viewpoints and ideas, so does poetry. Like Cat Valente, we are big fans of poetry with agency and emotion; and yet, like her, we didn't often come across science fiction poetry that burned us — burned with us. We wanted to feature SF poetry to break our hearts, to show us ourselves through a glass, darkly, to turn our brains 90 degrees to reality. We wanted science poetry that would appeal to us as social scientists, to not only tell us about the wonders of the universe, but also about the people dedicated to discovering these wonders — often at great personal costs.

Casting a net for such poetry, we couldn't help but feel apprehensive. Yet, the response has been nothing short of amazing. We chose twelve excellent science and SF poems to share with you, and we were proud to discover that some of them were written especially with this issue in mind. The poems in this issue take us out into space, and back into our histories and our ghosts. We run from the monsters, we fight them, we become them. We spend countless hours at the observatory, and tinkering with programs that shape our lives. We are the spaceship navigators, and the people wishing the ships had never come.

The issue is rounded out by two non-fiction pieces: Lisa Bradley's review of Mary Alexandra Agner's new collection of science poetry, and Brit Mandelo's column on Joanna Russ's poetic heritage, the first installment of a two-part investigative article based on unpublished archival material. And the roundtable discussion is especially rich this issue, focusing on gender and women in science and science fiction. As always, we are proud to bring offerings by well-known and emerging poets, by poets new to Stone Telling and repeat offenders.

We hope this issue will serve as a catalyst for future S/SF poems; and we are looking forward to publishing many more. Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy the issue!