Sex-Role Reversal in the Thirties: Leslie F. Stone’s “The Conquest of Gola”
This essay will focus on Leslie F. Stone’s “The Conquest of Gola,” a short story which appeared in Wonder Stories in 1931 and which was reprinted in Groff Conklin’s The Best of Science Fiction in 1946. Recently collected in Frank, Stine, and Ackerman’s New Eves: Science Fiction About the Extra-ordinary Women of Today and Tomorrow (1994), “The Conquest of Gola” is once again readily available.1 In a brief biographical note about Leslie F. Stone, the editors of New Eves identify her as the daughter of Lillian Spellman, a celebrated turn-of-the-century poet and author. Stone was also “the leading female light” of Hugo Gernsback’s inner circle (29-42).2 “The Conquest of Gola” appeared well before the narrative experiments which the second wave of American feminism inspired in the science-fiction field—many of which have generated controversy of their own (Duplessis 1979; Howard 1982; Russ 1975)—yet Stone’s brief futuristic fiction contains many elements familiar to readers of much later feminist sf.3 Stone’s story is distinctly modern in that it differs in many ways from those of her American predecessors who wrote sex-role reversal stories in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see, for example, Mary Bradley Lane’s Mizora: A Prophecy, 1881; Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant’s Unveiling a Parallel: A Romance, 1893; Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, 1915; and Inez Haynes Gillmore’s Angel Island, 1914).4
Stone’s story shows women who consider themselves superior to men and who can fight off physical attack if need be, whereas her predecessors tended to create women’s worlds in which women appeared to be like angels. Stone wrote and published her story at a time when the economic pressures of the Depression brought gender differences and gender antagonism to light. Employment utilized different sexed and aged members of families, effectively undermining the system of the family wage.5 At least one world war had been fought as the result of expansionism, imperialism, and colonialism.6 Both the Depression and the First World War, as well as the expansion of the American imagination into outer space, may have been factors which radicalized Stone’s view of sex-role reversals. More precisely, technological development and the increasing popularity of sf literature may have encouraged Stone to set her fiction on another planet where women utilized superior technology to win their battles. Furthermore, Stone’s women represent both the primary form of the Amazon archetype from Greek and pre-Greek cultural history—the collective horde of fighting women—and the secondary form derived from literature, in which the Amazon figure is isolated as a highly exaggerated anima type for men.7 I would suggest that the women in Stone’s story also represent a tertiary form of the Amazon, one which emerged as women themselves began writing. Her women characters fight collectively, but the feminine aspect of their appearance is grossly exaggerated. They are aliens whose bodies have taken on super-feminine, rounded, blond, non-human dimensions, forms emphasizing the body as devouring mouth.8 Here, certainly, Stone is ridiculing the male fear of a feminine all-consuming, all-devouring orifice, the Freudian vagina dentata. Here also Stone exaggerates the conventional contrast between masculine (hard) and feminine (soft), since her Golans have no skeletal structure while the Detaxalans—of whom more below—are described as being both skinny and bony. The Golans’ view that the Detaxalan body is an aberration of the normal—that is, Golan—body can be read as a satirical counterpoint to popular Freudian ideas gaining currency when Stone was writing her story.
Although very few women wrote sf at this time, Leslie F. Stone was well known in the pages of the sf pulps in which she published during her own lifetime.9 Her fall into obscurity coincided with the demise of Gernsback’s magazines, and the waning of general editorial support.10 Stories by other writers from those early years tend to conform to the standard narratives of conventional sf: women are portrayed in typical family situations as secondary to men, men struggle to dominate machines, which they frequently refer to by female pronouns, and so on.11 With some rare exceptions, such as Stone’s characters in “The Conquest of Gola,” typical women characters in sf literature of the 1930s tended to be beautiful, white, clad in revealing, wispy garments, often tall and athletic, but never superior to men.
The collection in which I first discovered Stone’s writing, Groff Conklin’s The Best of Science Fiction (1946), covered 18 science-fiction magazines of the 1940s. Stone’s parable-like utopian fiction comes to us with neither tag nor flag announcing its feminist politics. The story begins as a matriarch reminisces about a past era, of which she is the only survivor. This opening is similar to that of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898), in that it includes a description of how her desirable planet must be perceived by envious invaders from afar. This planet is surrounded by cloud and mist, through which can be seen a great star with a terrific glare that “glows like a malignant spirit.” Gradually we realize that the speaker referred to as “the matriarch” is talking about a planet on which “women are supreme.” “We knew,” the narrator says, “of the nine planets that circle the great star [Earth’s sun] and are subject to its rule...” (31).12 And so, the speaker continues,
we are familiar enough with the surfaces of these planets to know why Gola should appear as a haven to their inhabitants who see in our cloud-enclosed mantle a sweet release from the blasting heat and blinding star of the great sun. (31)
Having established the setting, the speaker then recalls how men migrated from Detaxal, the third planet of the sun, which, it seems clear, is meant to be taken as our own Earth. The narrator makes clear that she sees the very fact of such exploration as fundamentally masculine. Foreshadowing Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Ruins of Isis (1978), in which a female supremacist world, “banned from the unity because of its sexism” (Arbur 113), is skillfully created,13 the narrator here speaks of how the men arrived to conquer, to lay waste, to struggle and fight as animals do over a morsel of worthless territory. Still nameless, as is the narrator of Wells’s novel, our narrator here remembers when the men first “pushed their way in,” undertaking, as her language makes clear, a kind of imperialist rape.
Stone also incorporates “mind transfers” into her story—as does Sally Miller Gearhart in her more recent feminist utopia, The Wanderground (1979). The narrator recalls her mother, Geble, watching the landing of the men:
Geble watched without a word, her great mind already scanning the brains of those whom she found within the great machine. She transferred to my mind but a single thought as I stood there at her side and that with a sneer, “Barbarians....” (32)
Here Stone reverses the roles typically played out in imperialist scenarios, in which the conquerors view the “natives” who greet them as inferior.14 In this, perhaps, it is possible to decipher again the influence of the socialist H. G. Wells, whose reading of a newspaper account of the British treatment of a tribe of Australian pygmies inspired his critique of imperialism in The War of the Worlds. The nonplussed reaction of a complacent world in which people remain by and large safely enmeshed in their own activities, unaware of the impending disaster of alien invasion, is also similar to what was portrayed in Wells’s classic.
Thus, at this stage the situation is determined by two factors: innate female superiority and masculine imperialism. We can go on to trace a clearly emerging female chauvinism in the narrator’s observation of her mother’s reaction when the men bow to her:
Again Geble sneered, for only the male things of our world bow their heads, and so she recognized these visitors for what they were, nothing more than the despicable males of the species. And what creatures they were! (33; emphasis added)15
The anti-male tone continues: “On recognizing our visitors for what they were, simple-minded males, Geble was chagrined with them for taking up her time” (34). In this, again, it is possible to detect Stone’s satire on the male chauvinist view of “simple-minded” women.
In The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells satirized the first moments of communication between two alien species as an exchange of flags and flame (34-35). In contrast, Stone explores the difficulty of communicating across cultures with no common language, a common trope in all early colonial travel literature. The leader has her secretary summon food to feed the men. Having thus dealt with the invaders, Geble goes off to council; “she said nothing of the Detaxalans,” for “Geble had dismissed them from her mind, as creatures not worthy of her thought” (35).
The Golans feel that the subject is closed. But then they hear reports of the men flying around, inspecting their planet’s cities. The inhabitants of Gola find this annoying, since people interrupt work to stare at the cylinders passing overhead. This serves only to upset the morale of the male Golans, “for on learning that the two ships contained only creatures of their own sex, they were becoming envious, wishing for the same type of playthings themselves” (36; emphasis added). Notice the dismissive reference to males, represented themselves as playthings, completely removed from the productive realm and objectified as incomplete adults, as childish objects.
The problem of the men’s distraction in turn creates a problem for women on Gola, since “shut-ins, as they were, unable to grasp the profundities of our science and thought, the gentle fun-loving males were always ready for a new diversion” (36). On Gola, this limit to the males’ intelligence and imagination results from their limited role as domestic consorts, that is, it is a consequence of the space they inhabit in the social relations of production. Gola’s “gentle fun-loving” males seem bred as pets, kept at home to amuse the women.16 Rather than allowing this role to be disrupted, Gola’s woman ruler brings down the cylindrical ships of the men from the other planet; the text states that the matriarch had the pleasure of seeing her power defeat them. Thus, in this sex-role reversal, women use power for their own pleasure, overturning the more familiar role of women on Stone’s earth where powerless and self-sacrificing women are reared to be afraid of their own power. The leader then orders the captive men out of their ships through the use of an antiquated “museum piece” (36), a thought-transformer. Thus, the author indicates that, on Gola, women-dominated social systems are more evolved—more intelligent, more powerful—than those of men. Again she is speaking to sociological positions of the period which held that women, along with primitives, animals, and children, were less evolved than men.
In a continued interlaced critique of imperialism and colonialism, Stone has the men respond arrogantly. One of them sputters, using his planet’s name for Gola—Stone here spoofs the outlandish re-naming of already existing territories upon their discovery by colonialist explorers. “Listen here—I don’t get the hang of you people at all,” the man claims. “We came to Gola with the express purpose of exploration and exploitation. We come as friend...” (37). He apparently fails to see the contradictory nature of these intentions. As the narrator shows, the man’s blindness is even more exacerbated by his obvious frustration at not getting his “express purposes” met at once, something to which he appears to be unaccustomed. “Already we are in alliance with [the planet] Damin,” he goes on, where they have “established commerce and trade,” and now “we’re ready to offer you a chance to join our federation peaceably” (37).
When stated like this, the point of view of the conqueror seems absurd. But here Stone’s story foreshadows the situation in Joanna Russ’s Picnic on Paradise (1968), where other planets are developed for tourism. The man continues:
What we have seen of this world is very favorable; there are good prospects for business here. Why, except for your clouds this would be an ideal paradise for every man, woman and child of Detaxal and Damin to visit.... Why, you’ll make millions in the first year of your trade. (37)
That which he sees as a defect (“your clouds”) the inhabitants of Gola see as an asset, and describe lovingly as their “mantle” (31). He not only seems oblivious to this, but makes a first outrageously sexist remark as he asks:
Come on now, allow us to discuss this with your ruler—king—or whatever you call him. Women are all right in their place, but it takes the men to see the profit of a thing like this—er, you are a woman, aren’t you? (31)
The narrator then demonstrates that it does indeed take a man to see the profit in things, as she explains that “the first of his long speech of course was so much gibberish, to us, with his prate of business arrangements, commerce and trade, tourists and profit and what not—”(31). But the woman leader responds strongly to the second part. He gets the point, that she is irate. He apologizes for having insulted her. “I didn’t intend that. I believed that man holds the same place here as he does on Detaxal and Damin, but I suppose it is just as possible for women to be the ruling factor of a world as man is elsewhere” (31). She responds strongly to this:
“There has been enough of this, my fine young man,” she shot at them. “You’ve had your fun, and now it’s time for you to return to your mothers and consorts. Shame on you, for making up such miserable tales about yourselves. I have a good mind to take you home with me a couple of days and I’d put you in your places quick enough. The idea of men acting like you are!” (38)
The men, barely affected by such maternalism, laugh. They make “heathenish sounds” (38) and respond that they are sorry that the women take them for children out on a spree. They claim that this only shows they are accustomed to a “low type of men” (38). “I have given you your chance to accept our terms,” the leader of the men says, “but since you refuse, under the order of the federation, I will have to take you forcibly for we are determined that Gola become one of us.... You may go now to your supercilious queen and advise her that we give her exactly ten hours to evacuate this city...” (38). He threatens to lay the city in ruins if she doesn’t comply, and then to proceed to destroy all the other cities on Gola as well.
This threat is dismissed by the queen as “childish prattle” (38) as soon as she is told of it, and she withdraws “her red eyes on their moveable stems back into their sockets” (38). This latter touch reminds the reader, who might have been identifying with the women rather than with the men, that we are dealing here with aliens. These aliens also cannot understand the reference to “ten hours” (38) in the threats of the men, because they have a different system of time. Thus Stone demonstrates her familiarity with some of the finer nuances of cultural imperialism and colonialism.
Stone’s narrator then calmly moves to protect the city with a force zone “by turning a dial” which has been set previously for peace, not for defense purposes (38), a move for which she silently receives recognition from her mother. Just two “ous” later—the unit by which the Golans reckon time—``the hovering ships above let loose their powers of destruction” (38), both recalling the ominous heat rays of the Martians in The War of the Worlds and predicting the powers of the atomic bomb. Immediately, the Golans beam through an imaginary predecessor of laser-beam technology to Tubia “the second greatest city of that time” (39). Next a beam fixates the men in their ships as they move onward to other cities, as the Martians had in War of the Worlds. The women cut a hole in one of the downed flyers and go in. Fear shows in the eyes of the men. The women are untouched by the power of the beam, as the narrator tells us, because of the strength of their own minds. Here again, Stone emphasizes female superiority: “They [the men] could have fought against it if they had known how, but their simple minds were too weak for such exercise” (39).
Geble picks up “specimens” (39) to be taken away and gives the order for the complete annihilation of the two powerless ships. This ends the first foray of the people of Detaxal, and there is peace upon Gola again.
In the lab, the thirty “specimens” are examined and studied. The men become afraid and docile when they hear that their ships have been destroyed. “Those that were unruly were used in the dissecting room for the advancement of Golan knowledge,” the narrator reveals (40). Here Stone critiques the human use of animals, as she also does in “The Human Pets of Mars,” demonstrating another congruency with modern feminist aims. Since Geble becomes bored after undertaking a complete study, she yields a little, and even finds pleasure in “having the poor creatures around and [she] kept three of them in her own chambers so she could delve into their brains as she pleased. The others she doled out to her favorites as she saw fit” (40). Such authoritarian rule in Stone’s story is rather unusual, since it is a trait more often associated with all-female or women-dominated fantasies created by men.
Life goes smoothly for awhile. The Golans keep the protective force up around their cities, but when the flyers came, the zones were not in operation. When they descended, our world was sleeping.... The first indication [the narrator relates] I had of any trouble brewing was when, upon awakening, I found the ugly form of Jon bending over me. (40)
She tries to get up. He embraces her. For a moment, a new emotion sweeps over her. For the first time, she knows “the pleasures of being embraced in the arms of a strong man” (40). But that emotion is short-lived. She sees “in the blue eyes of my slave that he had recognized the look in my eyes for what it was, and for that moment he was tender” (40). Later, she grows angry realizing this expression of his is pity. The next minute he grins. Then he binds her to the couch. Geble and every other woman in Gola in that moment is being treated the same way.17
“That was what came of allowing all men to meet on common ground with the creatures from Detaxal—for a weak mind is open to seeds of rebellion and the Detaxalans had sown it well, promising dominance to the lesser creatures of Gola,” (41) the narrator concludes. She thus implies that men must be kept unequal and debased. Otherwise, as she demonstrates in her story, they will rape and have a tendency towards using brute strength and violence to dominate women. Thus, even though sex is a powerful pleasure, the tender feelings that it arouses are not powerful enough to stay the will towards physical, and hence social, domination, even in this other-worldly 1930s role-reversal story.
“That was only part of the plot,” the narrator goes on, “on the part of the Detaxalans, who wanted to revenge those murdered, but also to gain mastery of our planet. Unnoticed by us they had constructed a machine which transmits sound as we transmit thought” (41). In some kind of imaginative predecessor of ultrasound technology, they had communicated to their own world, “advising of the very hour to strike when all of Gola was slumbering. A masterful stroke—only they did not know the power of the mind of Gola—so much more ancient than theirs” (41).
Here Stone raises evolutionary issues: although before this, the story seemed to indicate that the woman-dominated race is more evolved, here it suggests that its superiority may also arise because this race is also more ancient. Once again, Stone brings to the fore the superior mental capabilities of her female characters.
Lying bound on the couch, the narrator feels fear. She sees the flyers descend, and “in fear I watched the hordes march out of their machines, saw the thousands of our men join them” (41). As she watches, the shut-ins, free from restraint, “were having their holiday, and how they cavorted out in the open, most of them getting in the way of the freakish Detaxalans” (41) who were taking over the city. But then the narrator receives a message from Geble, clear and definite. Hope returns to her heart just as all the other women receive it. Then Stone shows the power of their combined mental concentration. The Detaxalans haven’t realized that, if the women could conquer their own men, they could conquer alien men also. “As they went about their work of making our city their own, establishing their autocratic bureaus wherever they pleased” (41)—surely also a critique of imperialism—the women of Gola concentrate on the Detaxalan men, “hypnotizing them to their flyers” (41) and soon they were all inside their flyers, held by the Golan women’s common will. Thousands upon thousands are annihilated at once; Stone’s female characters have no trouble killing in self-defense. Then, again using the power of collective mind, the women “began to disintegrate every ship and man into nothingness...” (42).
More come after this second invasion, but no sooner do they appear than the Golan women similarly annihilate them. As the narrator completes her relation, “Detaxal gave up the thought of conquering our cloud-laden world. Perhaps in the future they will attempt it again, but now, we are always in readiness for them. And our men? Well, they are still the same ineffectual weaklings, my daughters” (42).
Thus concludes a 1930s’ foray to a woman-dominated planet, one in which female-chauvinist women, through female power, rule both their world and their men. Some possible scenarios about the superiority of women have been explored, including the superiority of certain aspects of women’s physical existences, such as softness and non-localized sensuality. Women have been shown in full use of an advanced technology, giving orders, being obeyed, not dependent on physical strength, able to use and enjoy power, and killing in self-defense. The author has raised issues about imperialism in her sensitivity to the ecological balance of conquered areas, the social nature of speech and communication, and the absurdity of one sex dominating the other. Her Golan men have been kept intellectually and physically weak, and have been turned into shut-in slaves, consorts, and playthings, much like the evolving figure of the upper-middle-class and bourgeois American “housewife” at the time of Stone’s writing.
Yet the specter of repressed sexual violence leading to domination always remains. As Stone portrays this separately evolving existence as part of a larger solar (social) system, she raises questions about proper leadership, mob rule, violence, and cruelty—what Jung has called the power of darkness—which remain unanswered. This world represents, to the author, a survival of the past, a parallel present, and a possible distinctly non-colonized future. Analogies between women and the “first world’s” “third world” have been made. My discussion here has tried to show possible different influences, similarities with past and future reorderings of similar situations from different contexts, reflections of social concerns prevalent at the time in which Stone was writing, and how, in particular, this 1930s revision of the archetype of a woman-determined territorial space or kingdom connected with other critiques of male-centered histories and social theories of the times.18
This paper owes much to the opportunity to present at the Northeast Modern Language Association panel on Theoretical Approaches to Feminist Science Fiction (Boston, April 1995); at the Science Fiction Research Association Conference (North Dakota, June 1995); and at the Mid-Atlantic Popular/American Culture Conference (Syracuse, November 1995). I thank the organizers, the panelists, and the interactive audiences. I also thank my advisor, Dr Joseph T. Skerrett Jr., for his support, Margo Culley and Javier Cevallos for their enthusiasm and interest, and Veronica Hollinger for her careful editing of my work. Sincere gratitude is also expressed to Alison Scott, head librarian, and her staff at the Popular Culture Library, Bowling Green State University, as well as the enthusiastic readings of many students in numerous classes.
1. See the review by Lynn F. Williams in the SFRA Review, #218: 56-57, July/ August 1995.
2.“The Conquest of Gola” also surfaced a good fifty years after its original publication in Kathleen Cioffi’s critical discussion of the “world without men” paradigm in women’s fantasy literature—``Types of Feminist Fantasy and Science Fiction,” Women Worldwalkers: New Dimensions of Science Fiction and Fantasy, ed. Jane B. Weedman (Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech, 1985), 83-90. This is to be distinguished from the “world without men” paradigm utilized in male fictions from Sir Walter Besant’s The Revolt of Man (1882) to Thomas Berger’s Regiment of Women (1973). The latter is discussed by Joanna Russ in “Amor Vincit Foeminam: The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction,” SFS 7:2-15, #20, March 1980.
3. For a summary of the current state of the genre, see Rosemary Arbur’s Reader’s Guide to Marion Zimmer Bradley (1985). Bradley also pioneered “women’s work” in the male realm of science fiction and combated male bias in editors as she wrote in the 1950s and attended her first “con” in 1946. There, conceivably, writing for the same sort of magazines, she may have run across the issue in which “The Conquest of Gola” appeared. In outline, her creation of the planet Darkover follows Stone’s story in significant ways: Darkover is a world inhabited by non-conventional women with psychic powers which are not understood by the approaching colonizers.
4. Brief summaries of other American sex-role reversal stories which preceded and followed Stone’s can be found in Lyman Tower Sargent’s British and American Utopian Literature, 1516-1985: An Annotated Chronological Bibliography (NY: Garland, 1988). See also Angelika Bammer’s Partial Visions: Feminism and Utopianism in the 1970s (NY: Routledge, 1991) for her discussion of the “planet of women” theme in nineteenth-century American literature. For a discussion of more inclusive genre concepts, see Marleen Barr’s Alien to Femininity: Speculative Fiction and Feminist Theory (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1987) and Feminist Fabulation: Space/Postmodern Fiction (Iowa City: U Iowa P, 1992), as well as Barr and Nicholas D. Smith’s Women and Utopia: Critical Interpretations (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1983).
5. From 1929 to 1932, the real gross national product dropped by almost one third and personal income decreased by 45%. Unemployment increased rapidly to the point where one quarter of the labor force was unemployed. Many employers encouraged job sharing, and hours worked in 1932 were 40% below 1929 levels. See Sidney Ratner, James Soltow, and Richard Sylla’s The Evolution of the American Economy (NY: Macmillan, 1993).
6. See Laurence Davies’s “The Evils of a Long Peace: Desiring The Great War,” Fights of Fancy: Armed Conflict in Science Fiction and Fantasy, ed. George Slusser and Eric S. Rabkin (Athens: U Georgia P, 1991), 59-69, for a discussion of the impact of World War I on science-fiction writers between the two wars.
7. Unfortunately, in recent critical literature on feminist sf, the Amazon has come to stand only for the anima/woman wreaking vengeance, which makes it an unrealistic stereotype removed from its original context which presented Amazons with more dignity and authenticity as a sign pointing to some pre-patriarchal, matriarchal, or matrilineal society outside the text. Part of this stems from what was lost in the transition from oral to written culture. For a discussion of the Amazon trope in male science-fiction literature, see Sarah Lefanu’s chapter on “Amazons: Feminist Heroines or Men in Disguise?” in her Feminism and Science Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1988), 33-36; for a discussion of contemporary women writers who are trying to free the figure of the Amazon from the Amazon stereotype, see Susan Wood’s “Women and Science Fiction,” Algo/Starship 16.1:9-18, Winter 1978/79.
8. How women fight, and whether or not they win or lose, has become a key way to distinguish between literature that reclaims the notion of women’s autonomous existence and literature that reacts against such a concept. See Rosemarie Arbur’s “Fights of Fancy: When the ‘Better Half’ Wins.” However, the fighting women who win, in reclamation literature by women, are usually androgynous in nature, their dress and demeanor counterposed to the feminine, rather than representing it.
9. It is worth noting, for instance, that Stone’s later story, “The Human Pets of Mars” (1936), was an influence on the sf writing career of Isaac Asimov, as he attests in his own reflective editorial commentary in which he acknowledges her role as a pioneer—Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930s (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974), 834-36. When I interviewed him in 1996, Forrest J. Ackerman said that Stone had been a personal influence on his own “gender-bending” science fiction. In the Reader Speaks column of the June 1931 issue of Wonder Stories he wrote that “It’s been a long time since we’ve had one of Miss Stone’s remarkable stories grace the pages of Wonder Stories. ‘The Conquest of Gola’ is one of her best” (3:136). On the other hand, Harry R. Panscoat reacted critically to Stone’s story in the September 1931 issue: “I sympathize with Leslie F. Stone in her right to uphold the importance of women, yet I feel she has overdone the thing...” (3:281). Stone did receive entries in both the Clute and Nicholls’ Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993), as well as Nicholls’ earlier Science Fiction Encyclopedia (1979), but, with the exception of the New Eves collection, she has neither been referenced nor anthologized in the collections of pioneer women writers of science fiction of the so-called Golden Age.
10. Janrae Frank, Jean Stine, and Forrest J. Ackerman suggest a direct causal connection here, although, for lack of sufficient evidence, their claim must remain suppositional. They write: “Unfortunately with the death of Gernsback’s magazines and the sudden transmutation of science fiction into a category of men’s and boy’s adventure pulps, the market for Leslie Stone’s work dried up quickly.... It is impossible to overestimate the significance of her loss to the field”— “About Leslie F. Stone and ‘The Conquest of Gola,’” New Eves: Science Fiction About the Extraordinary Women of Today and Tomorrow, ed. Frank, Stine, and Ackerman (Stamford, CT: Longmeadow, 1994), 28. For more indication of the effect of the loss of Gernsback’s supportive editorial disposition, and its effect on Stone’s career, see her autobiographical comments given, according to Sam Moskowitz, at the 1974 Baltcon (“The Day of the Pulps,” forthcoming in Fantasy Commentator #50).
11. The titles of some of the now-forgotten stories which appeared in Wonder Stories around the time in which Stone was published help to indicate her immediate contexts, as well as the general historical trend beginning at least with Homer that women who dominate often appear as quasi-monsters and seductresses, characterized as abnormal and aberrant, and posing a threat to men: Wesley Arnold’s “The Struggle for Venus” (2:716-37, Dec 1930); Henrik Dahl’s “The Martian Revenge,” (2:198-211, Aug 1930); Francis Flags’ “The Synthetic Monster” (2:1152-61 + 1182, May 1931); Raymond Gallun’s “The Moon Mistress” (3:1330-41, May 1932); R. F. Starzl’s “Hornets of Space” (2:564-73 + 607, Nov 1930); and Jim Vanny’s “The Radium Master” (2: 240-51 + 271, July 1930) and “The War of The Great Ants” (2:140-49, July 1930). Stone’s stories which had already appeared by this time included “Across the Void” (Amazing Stories 5:6-27 + 142-86, April + May, 1930); “Men With Wings” (Air Wonder Stories 1:58-87, July 1929); When the Sun Went Out (1929; pamphlet; [Gernsback’s] Science Fiction Series No. 4); and “Women with Wings” (Air Wonder Stories 1:985-1003, May 1930). The latter is the story of a women-dominated planet where women have bodies with scales like fish. They breed with a race of winged men from Planet Earth, in the patriarchal cross-breeding scheme of an earthly fascist dictator seeking to create the perfect race.
12. All page references to “The Conquest of Gola” are from Frank, Stine, and Ackerman’s New Eves: Science Fiction About the Extraordinary Women of Today and Tomorrow, which is currently the most accessible edition of Stone’s story.
13. For a critical analysis of Bradley’s Isis, see also Thelma J. Shinn’s Worlds Within Women: Myth and Myth Making in Fantastic Literature By Women (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1986), especially her chapter on worlds ruled by and/or solely populated by women (88-89).
14. At the time, this particular moment of first contact between cultures was on its way to becoming a trope in the genre of ethnographic literature, according to James Clifford in The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature and Art (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1988) and Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (Berkeley, U California P, 1986). His “Traveling Cultures”—Cultural Studies, ed. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula A. Treichlich (NY: Routledge, 1992), 96-112—is also insightful for its recognition that much science fiction, as imaginary travel literature, expresses an increasing sense of the uprootedness and displacement of modern times where, because of industrialization and massification, it has become increasingly commonplace to have forced interaction with others outside one’s own cultural milieu.
15. Stone also wrote several stories during her career that critiqued gender roles and sex-role stereotyping. For example, in “Out of the Void” (Amazing Stories 4:440-455 + 544-65, Aug + Sept 1929), Dana Gleason is selected as a man “of great daring and courage” (447), a man willing to sacrifice everything to travel to outer space. Both greatly learned and greatly honored for war service, Dana Gleason is actually a woman posing as a man, one who later goes on to build radios and to win the respect of the inhabitants of another planet for her technical know-how and inventiveness. In this story, women are presented as central to the plot and a woman’s diary is used as a technique to present information, legitimating women’s testimony about their own lives. In her diary, Gleason confesses the self-hatred she developed in her effort to carry on the heritage of her wealthy father. On the planet she visits, women “as well as men, did their part in the nation’s work, and wives were as well acquainted with statescraft as were their husbands. Nor were they denied the right to do any manner of work they desired” (555). (This story was published in book form as Out of the Void in 1967.) Other stories in which Stone carries on her critique of conventional gender roles include “The Human Pets of Mars” (Amazing Stories 10:83-120, Oct 1936), and her two-part series, “Men with Wings” (1:58-87, July 1929), and “Women with Wings” (1:985-1003, May 1930).
16. In Stone’s “The Human Pets of Mars” (Amazing Stories 10:83-120, Oct 1936), a later story, the confinement of one species by another, as a form of slavery, also comes under criticism.
17. Stone’s story appeared chronologically close to two letters written by teenage girls seeking alternatives to male-dominated sf stories in the Reader Speaks column, a regular feature in the magazine in which the story appeared. While no direct causal connection can be made between these letters and Stone’s stories, it is possible to hypothesize, given what Jung calls synchronicity, that “The Conquest of Gola” and others of Stone’s works are attempts, direct or indirect, to answer these young readers’ expressed desires to find their own experiences and needs reflected in what should be everybody’s fantastic literature. See, for example, Frieda Kolus’s “What Can a Girl Know?” (Wonder Stories 2:1481, May 1931), and Carmen McCable’s “A Challenge to Men” (Wonder Stories 2:276, Aug 1930). McCable complains of the stories then dominant in the genre, implying that the magazine of popular culture should be more democratic. Although it is well beyond the scope of this essay to explore the significance of these letters more fully, at the very least it could be said that the writing, submission, encouragement, and printing of the story of a female-dominated planet in which love and desire between women and men appeared as a central factor was by no means an anachronistic fluke, but was reflective of at least a minority of the consciousness articulated and supported at this historical moment. Qualitatively, if not quantitatively, these signs might point the careful researcher to important seeds of what later grew into fully-formed protest and outburst in the science-fiction community, leading to such panels as the 1995 Science Fiction Research Association meeting’s “Have Women Taken Over Science Fiction?”
18. See, for example, Helen Diner’s early study, Mothers and Amazons: The First Feminine History of Culture (1929; Garden City, NY: Anchor/Doubleday, 1973). For a fuller discussion of the recurring use of matriarchal-dominated physical space in world literature and culture, see Batya Weinbaum’s “Islands of Amazons and Women: Representations and Realities,” diss., U of Massachusetts, 1996.
Arbur, Rosemarie. “Fights of Fancy: When The ‘Better Half’ Wins.” Fights of Fancy: Armed Conflict in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Ed. George Slusser and Eric S. Rabkin. Athens: Georgia UP, 1991. 79-91.
─────. Marion Zimmer Bradley. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont, 1985.
Duplessis, Rachael Blau. “The Feminist Apologues of Lessing, Piercy and Russ.”Frontiers 41 (Spring 1979): 1-8.
Howard, June. “Widening the Dialogue on Feminist Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Dialogues. Ed. Gary K. Wolfe. Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1982. 155-68.
Russ, Joanna. “Amor Vincit Foeminam: The Battle of the Sexes in SF.” SFS 7: 2-15, #20, March 1980.
Shinn, Thelma J. Worlds Within Women: Myth and Myth Making in Fantastic Literature By Women. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1986.
Stone, Leslie F. “The Conquest of Gola.” 1931. New Eves: Science Fiction About the Extraordinary Women of Today and Tomorrow. Ed. Janrae Frank, Jean Stine, and Forrest J. Ackerman. Stamford, CT: Longmeadow Press, 1994. 29-42.
Wells, H.G. The War of the Worlds. New York: Harper, 1898.