Periphery was originally published as a paperback by Lethe Press in 2008. I'm thrilled that it has now been re-released as an ebook by Untreed Reads because I anticipate that this will give more readers a chance to enjoy it, particularly science fiction (sf) readers who may not have thought it would be their cup of tea because of how it was originally subtitled.
Although I dabble in speculative fiction, I'm not an sf writer, so I could never have conceived of creating this collection, let alone of editing it. I've therefore been very eager to find out what was going on in the brain of the person who did, Lynne Jamneck. I have pounced upon the re-release of Periphery to ask Lynne a few questions, and I thoroughly enjoyed her answers. I hope you do, too.
Sharon: My first question is, why did you want to edit an anthology of erotic lesbian sf?
Lynne: I wanted to put something together that could be both entertaining and subversive. Sex is such a great divider; what some find erotic or sexually alluring others find immoral, degrading, dangerous. sf introduces the context of future possibilities, and with that, future ways of thinking. The moral panic that persists around the world with regard to what people do in their own bedrooms behind closed doors (or open ones) can only change if people are willing to challenge their own thought processes.
Sharon: I remember at the time that you were still seeking submissions -- and I hadn't sent you anything because I thought I was not "sf enough" -- that you said you'd gotten a lot of good "sex in space" pieces and that that wasn't what you were going for. That gave me the nerve to submit something. Although there is some space opera in Periphery (such as what I think is one of the hottest and funniest stories, Elspeth Potter's "Silver Skin"), you were clearly going for something unique. So, what would a lesbian "sex in space" anthology be, and why didn't you want to edit one?
Lynne: I'm so glad you decided to send me something. "Sideways" is one of the stories in Periphery that gets positively mentioned to me almost always when I discuss the antho with someone who has read it.
What I was trying to avoid was a collection of stories that was, basically, erotic stories set in space, where the context of space or the future was incidental to the stories. I wanted the futuristic elements to be intrinsically coupled with the eroticism. The stories in Periphery are about loss, hope, possibilities, passion, resistance -- elements that, to me, are an integral part of humankind's evolution as a species. We stick our toes into ethical, political and social lakes filled with crocodiles on an almost daily basis as we gaily blast off into Tomorrow. I like stories to say something, even if it's something that doesn’t come across immediately. That's part of the fun of reading, isn't it? Sex in space is fine. It's great! But honestly, not for twelve stories in a row.
Sharon: I was intrigued by how cohesive the book was in its themes. One is a classic sf theme -- the future, especially dystopia, and another popular sf trope, crime (punishment, imprisonment, fighting back, revolution). Did you seek out these themes or were they simply in the air when the stories were written? What, if any, effect do you think a lesbian sensibility had to do with it?
Lynne: I never intentionally sought out any particular theme. The tropes you mention are – sadly – always present somewhere in the world. The notion of "first world countries" is true only insofar as it designates a group of people who are materially well-off. Right now, I can rattle off the names of countries that are in actual fact dystopias owing to the presence of archaic laws, moral oppression, anti-intellectualism and spiritual poverty. "Fighting back" does not always indicate violent physical behaviour, but it remains the context in which many people frame rebellion.
As for a lesbian sensibility… I'm very careful when talking about stuff like this. I'm not a good feminist, haha. Obviously, there is a queer history of oppression to draw from, which is undeniable. I'd like to think that fighting back and being revolutionary isn't limited to one particular gender or sexuality, though; rather, it's a human trait.
Sharon: One theme which totally surprised me was illness and disability. In my own piece, disability is central, but illness-related themes appear also in several others (Gwyneth Jones's "The Voyage Out," Kristyn Dunnion's "They Came from Next Door," and Lyda Morehouse's "Ishtartu"), and most notably Melissa Scott's "The Rocky Side of the Sky," which to me felt like an sf version of the Karen Thompson/Sharon Kowalski story. Because it's so subtle and organic in these stories, I don't know if it hit other readers' radar, but because I'm one of few erotica writers who frequently write disabled characters, it caught my attention. What's your thought about why illness and physical difference are an element in several of the stories?
Lynne: That's an interesting question. I think people who are "different" are uniquely qualified to address those social aspects that label them as somehow not being "normal. Perhaps physical otherness provides a perspective which enables those with illness to perceive the future less rigidly. That's a fairly important ability, in my opinion, to have, writing-wise, if you are going to write sf. Well, any speculative work of fiction, really.
Sharon: Humor's very important to me, as a writer and as a human being. Speculative fiction has so much humor potential because there's such a big field to play in, with& The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy being the most obvious example, but there's also a lot of subtle humor in sf. Do you have any favorite winks or nudges in Periphery?
Lynne: You mentioned Elspeth Potter's "Silver Skin" earlier. I have to agree, there is some fairly wicked word-play on display in that story that subtly pokes fun at a number of sf conventions. Also, one of my favourite sentences in the anthology is the first one from the first story, Marianne de Pierres' "Origins." Read it and you'll see what I mean! [Note from Sharon: I did, and I burst out laughing.]
Sharon: Although Periphery is classified as erotica as well as sf -- and it was a finalist in the erotica category for a Lambda Literary Award -- the stories here are not usually what the public thinks of as "erotica," I think. There's not a lot of "throw down and fuck" going on, which is what I think some readers loved about it and others found disappointing. How did you approach the erotic element in choosing material?
Lynne: Several times, when I initially pitched the idea to publishers, I had to stress the fact that it would be a sf anthology with erotic aspects. Nevertheless, as you mentioned, it was shortlisted for a Lambda Award in the erotica category. Likely, that's where some of the reader disappointment may have stemmed from. To a degree, the anthology was marketed as something it wasn't entirely. Untreed Reads has just re-released Periphery. The publisher and I agreed to truncate the original title, "Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures" to simply "Periphery." Hopefully, this will put it on the radar of sf readers who may have missed it first time around.
The erotic elements had to be integral to the stories in a way that, if it was removed, the story would be altered in such a way that meaning or emotive response would be compromised. I wanted the eroticism to be a reflection of the characters, their thoughts, hopes and desires beyond a sexual scope. Eroticism is a complex beast. It involves psychology, and can to a large degree be dependant of the culture that an individual lives in. In that sense it's fluid, making it hard to pin down a static, go-to definition. But that's probably where ninety percent of people's issues with, and misunderstanding of sexuality and gender concepts stem from – the inability to clarify why something is the way it is, when instead they should be considering that we don’t live in a world where complex organisms like people can be shoved into a preconceived mould of "normality."
Thank you, Lynne, for sharing your process and insights! The first time around, Periphery got terrific reviews and was a Lammy finalist. I'm really hoping that this recent re-release in digital format will give more people a chance to enjoy this great collection. Grab a copy here. (Or as an Amazon Kindle or a Barnes & Noble Nook.)