Joanna Russ has died at the age of 74. She was formidable person in the science fiction community, especially to women of my generation, an impressive writer of fiction and an impressive feminist critic. I found it difficult to read her fiction, since much of it seemed angry to me, and I have trouble with anger. Open anger — expressed anger — has always made me uncomfortable. At the same time, I feel I am too often angry, mostly at this society, which is both greedy and stupid. I don’t think anger is useful, unless it leads to action. Even then, angry action can backfire. It’s better to remain calm and act.
The person I would most like to emulate is Howard Zinn, a good-humored man whose life was full of action. The world didn’t make him angry. It made him act to change the world. He was in the civil rights movement and the peace movement, opposing Vietnam and Iraq. I’m probably missing a few other wars. His most famous book was The People’s History of the United States, but he wrote much more — and taught and spoke. Zinn kept going till he died at 88 while swimming laps in a pool.
Anyway, I have difficulty with Russ.
She was troubled with chronic back pain and chronic fatigue syndrome; and in her later years she didn’t write much — no fiction, as far as I know, and little criticism. It’s hard to judge another person’s pain or fatigue. Did her health make it impossible for her to write? Or had her passion burned her out?
In her case, she had acted enough through her writing and criticism. She didn’t need to do more. Someone who knew her said she got the impression that Russ had lost interest in science fiction, had moved on and was enjoying her new life. She retired to Arizona, a better climate for her health, and took up watching birds.
Thinking about her life has made me want to keep writing. I feel I’ve picked a very small area in which to be effective: science fiction. But it’s my community, and it talks about the future. It says change is possible and inevitable. The question always is, what kind of change will it be? What kind of future can we make? What kind of future are we making now?