This post is about a woman writer, who originally wrote as a man. Her name was Katharine Burdekin and she wrote under the name Murray Constantine in 1937. This reminds me of another author, who also inspired me and also wrote under a man's name, James Tiptree Jr. I was introduced to these authors by Lucy Sussex, a well respected Australian writer.
How did Lucy Sussex introduce me to these authors?
When I first started out writing creatively, way back in late 2000, I sent my embarrassingly rough draft of my first novel for a manuscript assessment. Lucy Sussex was the assessor and it was her commentary about feminist science fiction (that I had no idea I was writing) that introduced me to the works of James Tiptree Jr (Alice Sheldon) and that there was an award every year all science fiction (speculative) writing that discussed gender issues.
I heard about Katharine through Lucy Sussex’s short story ‘Kay and Phil’ , which appeared in A Tour Guide To Utopia, a collection of short stories by Lucy Sussex published by Mirrordance in 2005. In this story, she has two deceased authors discussing their respective approaches to writing a Nazi dystopia. One is Burdekin and the other is Philip K Dick. I was fascinated by Katharine Burdekin’s story, well, how Lucy portrayed it. So I ordered the book.
Swastika Night is a very chilling tale, both because of when it was written and the terrifying future that it examines. I was also puzzled that I hadn't heard about this book and this writer previously. I had heard of 1984 by George Orwell, then a futuristic dystopia. (I read this in 1975). Why hadn’t I heard of Murray Constantine or Katharine Burdekin? Why did Katharine Burdekin need to write under another name, a male name?
Swastika Night portrays the world 700 years or so in the future, where the Nazi fascist dream has evolved. In this future, Hitler won. The hate of the Nazi regime has ripened. Having rid the world of Jews and Catholics, the hate refines itself. Women are kept like beasts in camps. The men are mostly sexual predators and prey on young boys. I can see perhaps why a woman writing this in 1937 would have a hard time publishing a story like this at that time. This was a time when the West apparently did not know what was happening in Nazi Germany, but apparently Burdekin did. I’m not an historian but still I wonder. I would like to peel pack time and peer into this nasty wound in history.
This story is not an easy read. It is dark and devastating. 1984 is dark too, but its truth is more palatable than Burdekin’s. She pointed a finger with a sharpened nail and ripped.
I think modern readers should read Swastika Night, because when it was written it was profound. The war had not been won. She was seeing into a bleak future. A world dominated and changed by fear. A future where no one wins.
So there you have it—an early female speculative fiction writer who dealt with social criticism. I thank Lucy Sussex for pointing her out to me in her short story ‘Kay and Phil’. I thank the universe for Alice Sheldon.
If you want to know more about Donna and her writing, she keeps a writing blog at http://donnamareehanson.wordpress.com