Joanna Russ was a tall woman with strong opinions and a voice trained to dominate an auditorium. Novels provided room enough for sharp elbows, close-quarters combat, and dialectic layering. Most of her shorter stories taste comparatively watered-down.
‘The Second Inquisition’ is an exception, a uranium-dense fruitcake of 1920s Americana, 1950s science fiction, and 1970s disgust, a coming-of-age and a protest against the age come into, with an exchange I’ve always found inspiring:
“We despise you,” she said. “That’s what we do. We think you’re slobs. The scum of the earth! The world’s fertilizer, Joe, that’s what you are.”
“Baby, you’re blue,” he said, “you’re blue tonight.”
The story ends — is this a spoiler? — “No more stories”, which works best in its place at the end of The Adventures of Alyx omnibus. Russ’s later novels The Female Man and The Two of Them both, in very different ways, restart and retell the tale and they could easily join Alyx in a Library of America volume.
First published in Orbit 6, edited by Damon Knight, 1970. Reprinted as the conclusion of Russ’s Alyx series in 1976 and several times since