Friday, September 19, 2008

Fem SF: Leslie F. Stone's Out of the Void (1967)

Originally published in a shorter version in the August and September 1929 issues of Amazing Stories magazine, Out of the Void (1967), a
hard-to-find novel by Leslie F. Stone about the first human voyage to Mars, has received little attention outside of feminist science fiction circles.

As Femspec 2.1 (2000) notes, this work “explores gender roles, androgynous aesthetics, homosexual relations and cross-dressing
... the main character, a woman, cross-dresses as a man in order and goes to outer space on an experimental voyage.”

Here’s a detailed description of the novel, taken from the jacket:

"Now it can be told that, nearly thirty years before the Russians startled the world with their first Sputnik, a rocket ship bearing two men set out for Mars. Nothing was heard of them thereafter. Professor Ezra Rollins, who, with his colleagues, and with the quiet assistance of the fabulously wealthy and world-famous Dana Gleason, had constructed the ship, considered himself a murderer. He had sent two men -- Dana Gleason, Jr., and Richard Dorr, who had joined Gleason at the last moment -- to their death.

Carl Wooten knew none of these things that week-end in 1930 when he slipped away to his small fishing lodge in south New Jersey. He had heard of Dana Gleason, and of the mystery surrounding the sportsman’s son, but after the death of his father, Dana Gleason, Jr., had dropped out of the public eye. Wooten had never heard of Ezra Rollins.

The mystery, for him, began when he arrived at the lodge to find that some old clothes he kept there were missing, and what looked like a strangely cut but immensely valuable ruby had apparently been left in their place. He remembered having seen a flash of light the evening before on his way to the lodge, and thinking that he had a new neighbor. But who would exchange a valuable ruby for old clothing?

The next day, he decided to call on his new neighbor to see if any explanation could be found there. He made his way through the underbrush beyond the forking in the path where he had seen the light. Finally, he came to an open glade -- and stopped short. There, in its center -- or, rather, almost filling the entire clearing from one side to the other -- lay a long cylindrical body with conical ends, fully two hundred and fifty feet long and perhaps thirty-five feet around!

Why Wooten was captured by men from another world under the command of a silver-skinned leader who could read minds, why they had taken Wooten’s clothes, why they wanted to find Professor Ezra Rollins, and the message they bore from Dana Gleason and Richard Dorr make for one of the strangest stories ever told. And their most startling revelation of all -- the reason Richard Dorr, who had been opposed to the Mars project, forced his way into the ship just before take-off -- also solved the mystery surrounding Dana Gleason, Jr. For the intended, solitary pilot of
The Wanderer, who would have been the first man in space, was a woman!

Originally published in a shorter version in 1929,
Out of the Void retains the impact it had upon readers at the time, for Leslie Francis Stone was the first to write about a female “spaceman”: here is a gripping tale of worlds unknown and unsuspected."

How hard-to-find is Stone's novel?

The Science Fiction Foundation Collection at the University of Liverpool Library does not even hold a copy. This is odd, considering Batya Weinbaum’s “Twentieth-Century American Women's Progress and the Lack Thereof in Leslie F. Stone's ‘Out of the Void’” was published last winter in Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, The Science Fiction Foundation’s journal.

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