Review of “The Conquest of Gola” and Other Stories by Leslie F. Stone
Weinbaum, Batya, editor. “The Conquest of Gola”: and Other Stories by Leslie F. Stone. JustFiction, 2021.
In her edition of “The Conquest of Gola” and Other Stories, Batya Weinbaum convincingly argues for a closer critical evaluation of the work of Leslie F. Stone, a Jewish-American woman author who wrote during science fiction’s pulp and golden ages. In brief, Weinbaum’s intent is to highlight Stone’s contributions to science fiction written from a Jewish female perspective and understood from within the context of 1930s America. According to Weinbaum, the value of exploring Stone’s work in this period is to acknowledge and appreciate her unspoken political view and desire for a more inclusive world. For Weinbaum, Stone’s political outlook can be found in her science fiction work in a subtext of race and gender that presents a complex negotiation between insider-outsider identities vying for acceptance and ultimately, assimilation. This recurring theme in Stone’s work, according to Weinbaum, presents the plight of the Jewish immigrant in alien form at a time when Jews were persecuted and viewed with suspicion in America. As Weinbaum argues, sensitive to the Jewish predicament, the key theme in Stone’s stories is the Jewish desire for Americanization, a goal pursued by both first- and second-generation Jews.
To give an overview of the collection, the edition begins with a preface, an introduction and five main stories, which are bookended by two short pieces of writing. The first is titled “Letters of the Twenty Fourth Century” (1929) and the second is the appendix, which is titled, “Day of the Pulps” (1997). To give a brief overview of these works, “Letters of the Twenty Fourth Century” features a male narrator who produces an up-beat letter to a friend about life in a bright new technological future. “Day of the Pulps” is Stone herself addressing a contemporary readership in 1997. In this address, Stone provides commentary about her writing career during the 1930s alongside her expressed desire to restart her career in later years. In a more sombre tone, Stone also includes in her discussion the reason for exiting science fiction at the end of World War II. As Weinbaum points out in her comment on the final piece, it was Stone’s Jewish beliefs in Kaballahism, in which words are believed to give life to what they describe, that brought Stone to the idea that it was her writing of science fiction that contributed to America’s decision to use nuclear weapons to end the conflict with Japan.
Situated between Stone’s initial optimism for the future and final dismay at the technological turn in WWII are the five main stories that showcase her utopian ideas of acceptance and the assimilation of diverse populations. At the start of each story, there is Weinbaum’s supporting explanation of cultural trends in science fiction alongside the social and historical events at the time, which help to foreground the relevance of Stone’s work. To sum up briefly: the five main stories are in chronological order and map out Stone’s science fiction that covers common themes of evolution, eugenics, sex, and race by using the trope of the human-alien encounter. In “Men with Wings” (1929) and “Women with Wings” (1930), two stories that focus on genetic engineering and the evolution of the human species, humans have progressed by evolving and developing the ability to fly. To ensure their survival, social progress depends on cooperation between the sexes by accepting human and alien alike in order to create a single species of winged human founded on a mutual respect for species diversity and racial difference. In contrast, “The Conquest of Gola” (1931) presents a battle-of-the-sexes scenario as an all-female society fights off a male invasion. “The Conquest of Gola” explores the limitations placed on women by an American patriarchal society as formidable female aliens refuse to be assimilated by their male counterparts. Instead, they, as a species, remain intact, and with their knowledge of science, keep their power and independence. Finally, in “The Fall of Mercury” (1935) and “The Human Pets on Mars” (1936), Stone turns to the tale of the space pioneer as humans from Earth meet aliens on Mercury and Mars. Again, it is the human-alien that Weinbaum argues reflects anxiety felt at the time over the Jewish presence in America. While the key idea in these stories is to promote similarities between species in order to establish a common ground in which to gain acceptance and find agreement, it is, as in “The Fall of Mercury,” the niggling persistence of the “foreign body” that threatens the stability of identity in these opposing societies.
Weinbaum’s academic quest to collect Stone’s writing into a single volume is motivated by a desire to let the voice of a Jewish-American woman writer be heard. Indeed, Weinbaum’s passion and choice to focus on Stone is a worthy project offering insight into one woman’s response to the precarity of gender and race between the two World Wars. Although Weinbaum makes it clear that Stone often wrote from the perspective of a male character, Weinbaum’s insight into cultural trends in science fiction, which she thoughtfully interweaves into the social and historical events of the time, provides a rich context within which to read Stone’s work from a Jewish feminist perspective.
Sue Smith has an interest in feminist science fiction with a focus on cyborgs, disability and gender. She has published articles on disability and cyborg fiction in FEMSPEC (2010), David Bolt’s edited book, Changing Social Attitudes Towards Disability (2014), BMJ: Medical Humanities (2016), Journal of Literary and Cultural Disabilities Studies (2017-2020); Journal of Transcultural Psychiatry (2020); and she has provided book reviews for a range of journals.