The lesser-known Janis Ian – Science Fiction Fan and Writer and Editor of Stars: The Anthology
Sometimes a work goes beyond capturing one’s attention; it captures you. On occasion a book should be read more than once, savoured, with parts of it read aloud just to hear the words dance. I picked up Stars: The Anthology, edited by Janis Ian I was captivated by the beauty of language, her lyrics brought to life. Positively brilliant.
Short stories provide a fantastic introduction to any genre or as way to “shop around,” for new authors – rather like a taste test for fiction. An excellent short story can be a breathless ride into a world-building event that instantly mesmerizes the reader, with fully engaging characters, and a focus so tight, that the reader doesn’t notice the brevity of the tale. It isn’t a stretch to write that the author of a short story has the same job as a songwriter: within a few moments, tell a compelling tale, in both a memorable and unique manner, that resonates timelessly.
So, not at all surprising, Janis Ian, one of my favorite songwriters, edited an anthology of science fiction short stories entitled; Stars: The Anthology. In her introduction she informs the reader: “I am no editor at all. I’m a songwriter…”
Janis Ian perfectly captures the reason that I am drawn to science. She writes; “Science fiction is a home for the homeless; for those of us who have spent our lives on the outside, staring through a plate glass window.” In other words, such stories allow our imagination to look at the world from a the gaze of the other – as apart from the world as is, while at the same time, searching for a means to create/explain/fix the world in order to find our place within rather than outside. Ian’s most poignant song, “At Seventeen,” embodies the outsider feeling and parallels her description of science fiction completely. What makes this particularly special to me is that Ian writes as a lesbian who experienced life as an outsider and turned to science fiction as a means to escape, something that I absolutely identify
Stars: The Anthology is one of the better anthologies that I have ever had the pleasure to read (and re-read.) What makes this something more than a standard Science Fiction anthology? At first glance, current science fiction phenomena, a few who happen to be Nebula and Hugo Award winners, fill the table of contents — from Mercedes Lackey and Tanith Lee to Orson Scott Card and Harry Turtledove. That alone would draw me to the book. However, this anthology had a theme for inclusion: each story was inspired by one of Janis Ian’s songs.
“Inspired” by does not imply taking the lyrics and creating a story based on said lyrics. That result would be rather cheesy, in my opinion. No, the inspiration comes from what the author takes from the lyrics, emotional content, something that resonated – perhaps one particular line that seemed to lead the writer somewhere else. For example, Mercedes Lackey gleaned her story, “On the Other Side” from the lyric “Oh, but all that I remember is the children were in danger on the other side.” In typical Lackey style, she weaves a tale set in a world with following the horrors of war, with the children left in insidious orphanages of Valdemar.
Kay Kenyon takes a line from Ian’s “Society’s Child” and creates a fabulous tale, entitled “An indeterminate State” about artificial life and human downfall. Suffice it to say, the rest of the book follow suit with a plethora of amazing stories, yielding one of the better science fiction anthologies out there. In this case, “better” as well as unique. Stars: The Anthology provides an extra bonus: a link for the playlist of the all the songs incorporated. Obviously, I highly recommend this book.
Even if you are not a fan of Janis Ian, this book provides the reader with some very unique short stories written by some of the better science fiction writers of the current era. For those readers that wonder why I’m writing this review for benefit of lesbian readers of science fiction, I believe that Janis Ian does an excellent job of capturing many of our experiences in her songs. While many of the writers included are not lesbians, their work is exemplary and befitting the lyrics of a timeless songwriter, who is openly lesbian and articulate on the experiences of being “other.”
For more information on this book, I recommend reading the article from NPR
(publisher review copy received)