05 August 2009


For certain reasons, I've been musing on some of the science fiction stories that, over the years, at one time or another, I might have classified as "mindblowing". Just a little personal list, one made very quickly...

"The Lost Kafoozalum" by Pauline Ashwell
"Blood Child" by Octavia E. Butler
"Fool to Believe" by Pat Cadigan
"Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang
"Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones" by Samuel R. Delany
"The Start of the End of It All" by Carol Emshwiller
"The Faithful Companion at Forty" by Karen Joy Fowler
"Midnight News" by Lisa Goldstein
"The Violet's Embryos" by Angélica Gorodischer
"Out of All Them Bright Stars" by Nancy Kress
"The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin
"Tiny Tango" by Judith Moffett
"No Woman Born" by C.L. Moore
"Rachel in Love" by Pat Murphy
"A Scarab in the City of Time" by Marta Randall
"The Food Farm" by Kit Reed
"Souls" by Joanna Russ
"The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet" by Vandana Singh
"Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled with of Light!" by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon)
"The Mile-Long Spaceship" by Kate Wilhelm
"The Last of the Winnebagos" by Connie Willis

(Some of those writers, I could have put many stories on the list, but I decided to limit it to one story for each writer, choosing the one that most immediately stood out in my memory.)

Update 8/7/09: And here's a collection of online stories you can actually read now:
The Mammoth e-Book of Mindblowing Mars SF (2009) presents 20 of the finest examples of mind-expanding, awe-inspiring, 21st-century Martian science fiction that are free and ready-to-read on the Internet. The storylines range from a spunky young bride-to-be truding across Red Planet sands, to a classical concert on Earth interrupted by unannounced guests, to a brutish psychic that roams the twisting urban alleys of the north face of Mars. These are works that take you across time and space -– from today’s top-name contributors, including Camille Alexa, Kage Baker, Terrie Leigh Relf, Patricia Stewart, Mary A. Turzillo, and Liz Williams. So sit back, adjust your glasses, and prepare to have your mind blown!
(via SF Signal)


  1. Judith Moffett8/06/2009 12:11 AM

    A very cool list to find oneself on.

  2. The Tiptree title ends "Filled of Light!"

    The list that I made after hearing of MammothFail II has just one overlap with yours, Matt: the story by your fellow New Englander, Vandana Singh. Which suggests that a) Making lists is fun and b) There's a lot of Mindblowing stuff out there by women and PoC.

    (really creepy capcha below my message here: "jewsmove." I'm gonna sit right here, thank you very much, capcha)

  3. And if you could do it, so could the editor of that anthology.

    Which, of course, meant that he didn't even try, and probably didn't intend to.

    In any case, I'm going to speak with my wallet, and not buy either this or any anthology that editor has his name on, not unless he straightens up and flies right.

  4. Thanks for the correction on the Tiptree title, Josh -- I've read that story a bunch of times and yet have always thought it was "Filled With", and have previously referred to it as that in print. I just looked it up, thinking, "How could I have missed that so many times?" and you're absolutely right. It's "of".

    And I'm so glad Judith Moffett found the list -- "Tiny Tango" is a story I read when it first appeared in Asimov's, and it completely blew me away and broke my heart. I was young and just learning what science fiction could do, and it was one of the key stories in showing me the breadth of emotional and conceptual possibilities.

  5. The Delany, Le Guin, Russ, and Wilhelm stories all fall within my pantheon of "Mindblowing". Some of the other authors as well, but not with the same stories. Great stuff! And a great way to think about the anthology--we all like lists but what goes into what we put on lists?

  6. Thanks, Eric -- I'm not surprised if anyone has lots of differences with the list, since the reasons some of these stories were, for me, mindblowing is entirely based on when I read them, so it's a really personal list. I just wanted to see how long it would take me to put together a list of such stories made up entirely of the sorts of people excluded from the anthology under discussion elsewhere on the intertubes. (The answer: not very long.)

  7. I haven't read most of those and now I want to!

    Some of mine, off the top of my head:

    "Press Enter[]" by John Varley
    "Flying Saucer Rock 'n' Roll" by Howard Waldrop
    "All My Darling Daughters" by Connie Willis (the first story I ever wrote fanfic for, and yes, it was very fucked-up fanfic)
    "The Man Who Would Not Do Terrible Things to Rats" by James Tiptree Jr.
    "Planet of the Rapes" by Tom Disch
    "San Diego Lightfoot Sue" by Tom Reamy
    "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts" by Shirley Jackson
    "Sandkings" by George R.R. Martin
    "The Little Black Bag" by C.M. Kornbluth
    "Summer Solstice" by Charles R. Harness

    You can tell what era of book I was reading when SF started blowing my mind. *) These are stories that have stuck in my head for fifteen or twenty years. And even the stories by men have, I note, a lot to say about women, and the interactions between men and women, plus some bonus queer characters. (Not so much with the racial diversity, though, for which I cannot entirely blame the selections of Carr, Merril, and Ferman; I know I read some stories by S.P. Somtow and Dean Ing and Octavia Butlery and Chip Delany in there, but none of them stuck with me the same way.)

    No surprise, also, that many of them are what I would consider SFnal horror stories, and if we were diverge from strict SF I'd include "Window" and "Instructions" by Bob Leman and "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" by Stephen King. I find that really good horror blows my mind the way nothing else can.

  8. Wandered here from Jeff Vandermeer's site.

    The TOC, I haven't read any of the stories.

    Your list, I have read several.

    So I'd be much more eager to read the ones in your list that I haven't read than to read the ones in the TOC.

  9. Yep, what people find mindblowing varies a lot.

    I'd never in a million years consider cheesy Lone Ranger pastiche mindblowing - or the more commonly mundane like the Food Farm, etc.

  10. I just realized that the Kit Reed story I was thinking of is "The Wait" and not "The Food Farm", but for years I've conflated the two in my mind for some reason. In any case, I wrote about it in the early days of this blog. I also wrote about the Fowler story, which will give some context to what I meant by it having been personally "mindblowing".

  11. Helps to have the right one, yeah. :)

    To me, you can have a great story without having a mindblowing story.

    e.g. The Sherlock Holmes story The Speckled Band is a great story. Not in the slightest bit mindblowing.

    Same goes for Godwin's The Cold Equations.

  12. Just in case someone tracks down this blog post in 2014 (and beyond), I wanted to let them -- and Matthew Cheney -- know that Judith Moffett's Hugo and Nebula award-nominated novella, Tiny Tango has just been published as a Kindle single on Amazon. Just follow that link.