Suzy Charnas’ Introduction to “Cargo”
Back in 1978 or so, I was asked for a short story for a collection. I saw myself as a novelist only, never having done short work, but I let myself be persuaded to try. The result was “Scorched Supper on New Niger”, a miniature space opera heavily flavored with my memories of a stint in Nigeria with the Peace Corps in the early sixties. It ended up quite contrarian for its time —well, that was the fun of it for me, doing a little story-judo to turn a common pattern on its ear. So my story wasn’t about white dudes, alien life forms, imperial space war and politics, and a clear-cut and easily recognizable resolution.
I kept the happy ending, in my own style, but my planetary colony was of African origin and run by commercially successful women instead of tough guys on rough frontier worlds and caught up in wars and revolutions. My space pilot was a woman estranged from her successful space-faring family, with a cat for a companion instead of a grizzled old space fighter or an unctuous onboard computer or maybe a wookie. Her problem wasn’t pirates, enigmatic aliens, or lethal space emergencies, but evading a very hostile takeover. She resolved it by means of an ingenious improvisation around social customs rather than by scientific calculations.
Now, a hundred years later — well, no, but sometimes it feels that way — in the early twenty-first century, this story appears afresh, paired with a new story by a new author, also about a woman — more than one woman — dealing with a threatening future. These two stories may have been over thirty years apart in production, but as I see it, they are linked by a sort of fictional DNA that carries and reflects the sharp and the subtle mutations of cultures that writers (and readers) of SF perceive around them.
My protagonist is used to making decisions, first as a captain of industry and now as a free-lance master of her own vessel, and she is struggling to keep her independence and her work. Vivian’s Mara begins as a lowly factory worker with no power — “What choice did she have?” is a recurrent refrain — who learns to fight to gain her independence as conditions beyond her control force decisiveness upon her, willy-nilly. Both women find their truest allies not among the men around them but in other women with lives and purposes of their own, and in the intelligence, ingenuity, and the risk of mutual trust that enables them to join forces with these allies. They aren’t competing for masculine attention. They’re reaching for and exercising agency of their own.
So they aren’t “heroines” — female characters looking for male heroes to team up with. They are heroes themselves. True, one story ends with a marriage (albeit a rather unconventional), and one story ends with a baby (albeit an extraordinary one), but throughout the events that lead to endings common to stories with heroines in them, here both women are the heroes of their own stories.
I think if they could meet, they would recognize each other’s strength and toast each other’s victories.
– Suzy Charnas
You can find both stories in SnackReads Generations 1 – Charnas and Caethe.