Bug-Eyed Monsters and the Women Who Love Them

Bug-Eyed Monsters and the Women Who Love Them by Cora BuhlertSix short science fiction stories that subvert the tropes and clichés of the golden age and caricature the gender dynamics of classic science fiction.

In these pages, you’ll travel from suburban America to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. You’ll visit New Pluto City and Garrett’s World. You’ll encounter the terrors of the Brazilian jungle and the horrors of American suburbia. You’ll meet phantom lovers and alien she-devils, devious man-eaters, unseen underwater monsters and the tentacled menace of the fearsome Eee’chuk-chi’up. You’ll encounter dashing space heroes who don’t get the girl and bug-eyed monsters that do. And you’ll meet intergalactic heroines who know exactly what they want from a lover.

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More information:

  • Bug-eyed Monsters and the Women Who Love Them is a collection of six short and strange science fiction stories of 7700 words altogether. All stories in this collection are digital premieres and have never been published previously.
  • All stories contained in this collection were written as part of the July short story challenge. The idea was to write a short story per day in July 2015.
  • The theme unifying all the stories in this collection is that they poke fun at the gender politics of Golden Age science fiction with its manly spacemen, bras bikini-clad damsels in distress and bug-eyed monsters menacing said damsels. I’m not quite sure why I wrote several stories in this theme during the July challenge, but I suspect that reading the (excellent) non-fiction books The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction by Justine Larbalastier and Galactic Suburbia by Lisa Yaszek while doing the challenge is probably at least partly responsible. Indeed, the 1950s suburban settings of “Women Who Prowl For Men” and “The Scourge of the Phantom Lover” are probably attributable to Galactic Suburbia, while “Garrett’s World” and “Bug-Eyed Monsters and the Women Who Love Them” are likely attributable to The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction.
  • “Women Who Prowl For Men”, “The Scourge of the Phantom Lover” and “Ravished in the Black Lake of Terror” were inspired by headlines I found in this art book collecting the covers of 1950s/1960s men’s adventure magazines. The mags in question were known not just for their lurid cover art, but also for their over-the-top headlines for stories and articles of questionable accuracy. Plus, those mags seemed inordinately concerned with the fact that someone somewhere might be having sex, while its manly male readers were getting none, hence they fit the theme perfectly.
  • That said, only “Women Who Prowl For Men” and “The Scourge of the Phantom Lover” used the unaltered headline. “Ravished in the Black Lake of Terror” was originally called “Raped in the Black Waves of Terror”, but I replaced “Raped” with “Ravished”, because a lot of e-book vendors don’t like the r-word, plus the sex isn’t exactly nonconsensual. The black waves became a black lake, since it turned out the story was set at a lake.
  • I have no idea what the stories that originally went with the headlines were about, though the cover illustration that went with “Raped in the Black Waves of Terror” shows a man being attacked by water snakes (very Freudian), while the illustration that went with “Women Who Prowl For Men” shows a women leaning to a lantern, watching drunken sailors leaving a bar. The latter scene actually made it into the story, though I doubt the prowling women in the story are actually man-eating aliens.
  • “Ravished in the Black Lake of Terror” was also influenced quite a bit by the classic B-movie The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And indeed, Professor Arnold who leads the expedition into the Amazon, is named for Jack Arnold, director of several classic 1950s science fiction and monster movies including The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
  • “We Need to Talk…” was one of several stories I wrote for this challenge that were inspired by SFF concept art. In this case, it was this piece of artwork.
  • The title story “Bug-eyed Monsters and the Women Who Love Them” is a flat-out parody of the golden age science fiction cliché of manly spacemen rescuing busty, brass-bikini-clad space babes from bug-eyed monsters. Only that the twist is that the busty, bikini-clad space babe actually likes the bug-eyed monster, because it makes for a great sex partner.
  • I did look at several typical bug-eyed monster covers from the pulp era such as this Planet Stories cover and this one, though none of them directly inspired the story.
  • “Garrett’s World” finally is a take on a very old SF trope, namely the “We’re stuck on an uninhabited planet, so let all the men have sex with all the women and use the women as breeding cows, regardless of what they want.” It’s a trope I’ve always hated and yet one that is surprisingly persistent. A variation (though with greater female agency and no men) even shows up in Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, a novel published in 2015 to great acclaim. “Garrett’s World” was my way of refuting that trope. And yes, I know that Joanna Russ already did it in We Who Are About To back in 1976, that is almost forty years ago, but considering that trope’s persistence, it always needs to be refuted again and again.
  • The direct inspiration for “Garrett’s World” was coming across a particularly repugnant version of the trope, namely the 1958 short story “The Queen Bee” by Randall Garrett, which is frequently considered to be the most sexist short story ever published by John C. Campbell in Astounding Science Fiction and was probably what inspired Joanna Russ to write We Who Are About To. “The Queen Bee” has been out of print for decades (and with good reason, too), though a PDF may be found here. Author Randall Garrett coincidentally is infamous for his somewhat blunt propositioning of women at SF conventions. Indeed, the Captain in the story (and the planet – sort of) are named after Randall Garrett.
  • Katrina Walther, Captain Garrett’s counterpart and nemesis, is named and modelled after Christine Walter, a character in the long running German women’s prison series Hinter Gittern – Der Frauenknast (Behind Bars). As portrayed by actress Katy Karrenbauer, Christine Walter was a blunt lesbian and the inofficial leader of the inmates. Her character was initially conceived as an antagonist, but proved to be so popular that she soon became the star of the series and lover of the original lead, a sweet and innocently imprisoned mother of three.
  • Coincidentally, my initial idea was to use the crashed convict ship scenario of Garrett’s World as the starting point for an erotica story to publish under a pen name. However, once I started writing, I realised that I both hated the whole trope and that I couldn’t take the story seriously either. So I wrote it as a parody and Garrett’s World as we know it was born.
  • The cover is stock art by Luca Oleastri and is supposed to evoke the covers of vintage science fiction pulps like Planet Stories or Startling Stories. Indeed, the cover font is based on the font used for the Startling Stories logo.
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