Group Read 27: The Big Book of Science Fiction
Story #92 of 107: “Burning Sky” by Rachel Pollack
My initial reaction to “Burning Sky” was indifference. I have no background with comics, so I find stories inspired by superhero themes unappealing. But the coda to the story intrigued me.
I remember seeing a short documentary about William Moulton Marston who wrote as Charles Moulton and was the creator of Wonder Woman. I also remember reading reviews of The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lapore in 2014. So I know just enough of Wonder Woman’s literary origin story to know it had kinky aspects. Then I wondered if Rachel Pollack knew of that history in 1989? That meant I had to reread the story and do some research.
I then wished I had a copy of Burning Sky, the Pollack collection in which the title story is gathered with 26 other stories. That’s because I read that each story has an autobiographical afterward which would probably help me. As luck would have it, that collection is available at Amazon for $1.99 for the Kindle edition. However, you don’t need to buy a copy to read the afterward to “Burning Sky.” Just use the Look Inside feature. You can also read Samuel R. Delany’s introduction to the collection where he praises Pollack highly. Here are three key paragraphs from the afterward:
This isn’t very illuminating since I already got that much from the story. I was hoping Pollack would explain the Wonder Woman connection. Delany also explained that Pollack was an authority on Tarot cards. I can see why Delany admired Pollack because his stories often deal with sexuality, and Tarot cards were part of his novel Nova.
“Burning Sky” is told by Maggie in the first person, and tells us about two other women, Julia and Louise, and about a strange group of vigilante women called The Free Women. These women wear skintight blue plastic outfits that cover everything but their faces. They attack men who attack women. “Burning Sky,” tells two stories, Julia’s run-ins with The Free Women, and Louise helping Maggie find an orgasm. Neither story really interested me. Most of the imagery deals with S&M and fetishes.
“Burning Sky” is really feminist fiction and not science fiction. For the reread I had hoped it would provide allusions to the early days of Wonder Woman comics, but I didn’t find any that I understood. I just don’t have any real knowledge of comic book history. I assumed the ceremonial hall and Free Women connected with the comic’s past. And certainly, WW was full of S&M/fetish imagery. The story had a tiny bit of the Dangerous Visions vibe, but not really, especially for 1989. Maybe the story had a bite when it was first published, but it’s rather quaint now compared to feminist fiction today.
I believe this is just a case of me being the wrong reader. I’m curious what women who enjoy S&M and loved old Wonder Women comics got out of it?
James Wallace Harris, 2/18/22