Sargent, Pamela

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Born 20 March 1948, Ithaca, New York

Pamela Sargent has since the late 1970s written science fiction that presents female characters as strong, intelligent, usually empathic individuals, as opposed to earlier, male-dominated science fiction that either ignored or greatly diminished the role of women in fictional societies. Sargent is also known as the editor of Women of Wonder: Science Fiction Stories by Womenabout Women (1975), More Women of Wonder: Science Fiction Novelettes by Women about Women (1976), and The New Women of Wonder: Recent Science Fiction Stories by Women about Women (1978), all of which portray early classics of pioneering women science fiction writers (such as C. L. Moore) as well as more pointedly feminist fiction of the 1960s and 1970s.

Sargent was born in Ithaca, New York, to parents who both had eclectic careers. Her father was at various times a Marine Corps officer, professional singer, insurance salesman, college admissions director, education professor, and county legislator. Her mother was a pianist and a high school chemistry teacher who worked for the New York State Education Department. Sargent's house was full of books, and she recalls reading children's fantasies such as Bambi and Charlotte's Web, mythology, and science books like Fred Hoyle's The Nature of the Universe. Her mother gave her The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, and while in an institution for troubled adolescents at fourteen, Sargent read science fiction such as The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester and claimed it helped her not feel like an outcast. At no time did she feel encouraged to pursue a writing career.

Sargent attended the State University of New York at Binghamton and secured an M.A. in philosophy in 1970. While attending college, she worked as a sales clerk, a runway model, a solderer on an assembly line, a library typist, an office worker, and a teaching assistant in philosophy. She submitted handwritten stories to publishers until a reader at the New Yorker advised her to type them before marketing them. At college she was good friends with Jack Dann, who later became a science fiction editor, and George Zebrowski, who later became a science fiction writer. Both of her companions became published while still in college, and they encouraged her to submit one of her own science fiction stories for publication. "Landed Minority," an eerie tale about college students becoming gradually stupider, then dying from an inexplicable epidemic that has turned the college greens into cemeteries, was published by the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in September 1970.

Sargent lived with George Zebrowski after college, though only rarely collaborating with him in her writing. During the early 1970s she wrote several children's stories that were later collected into three anthologies, as well as science fiction stories that were collected in Starshadows (1977). Most of her adult science fiction stories deal with children coping with bizarre circumstances and new technology. Earthseed (1983), Eye of the Comet (1984), and Homesmind (1984) were young adult science fiction novels, while The Sudden Star (1979), Watchstar (1980), and The Golden Space (1982) portray children as significant characters. Sargent, it has been claimed by critics, is both acknowledging the power of childhood impressions and decisions that could affect them later as adults and providing role models for the youthful readers of science fiction.

Sargent delved into alternative feminist societies in The Shore of Women (1986). Women control the technology while the men are hunter-gatherers in this reverse of stereotypical sex roles. Other topics beckoned, however, as she wrote about "terraforming" in Venus of Dreams (1986) and Venus of Shadows (1988), novels in which, as the planet Venus is made habitable for human life, colonists must create a new world society from scratch. Sargent also wrote a historical novel called Genghis Khan, Ruler of the Sky (1991), which emphasizes to some extent the women Mongols as well, and an alternate history novel, Climb the Wind (1998), in which Native Americans conquer settlers of the West after the Civil War. Sargent returned to women in science fiction in 1998 with Firebrands: The Heroines of Science Fiction and Fantasy, an illustrated guide to fictional women in fantasy and science fiction since the 1600s.

A prolific writer and editor of numerous anthologies, Sargent was awarded the best book for young adults by the American Library Association in 1983 for Earthseed, and she was a finalist in 1992 for the Nebula award by the Science Fiction Writers of America for the novelette Danny Goes to Mars.

Other Works:

Bio-Futures: Science Fiction Stories about Biological Metamorphosis (1976). Cloned Lives (1976). Elvira's Zoo (1979). Divide the Night (1981). The Alien Upstairs (1983). The Mountain Cage (1983). Afterlives: Stories About Life after Death (with Ian Watson, 1986). The Best of Pamela Sargent (1987). Alien Child (1988). Fury Scorned (with George Zebrowski, 1996). Heart of the Sun (with George Zebrowski, 1997).


Reference works:

CANR 8 (1983). CANR 41 (1994). DLB 8 (1981). Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993).