The news flashed through the field almost instantly yesterday: Joanna Russ has been hospitalized after a series of strokes. Her friends are not optimistic.
This is terrible news.
Joanna was for the longest time one of the intellectual centers of science fiction. Her knowledge of the genre was encyclopedia, she knew everybody, and her reviews were the most insightful in the field. She wrote some of the most challenging and exhilarating fiction any of our kind has ever made.
There was some ferocious anger directed at her, back in the day, because her last several novels were, among other things, implicit criticisms of genre SF. You're being soft-headed and lazy, they said. You're not willing to do the hard work of thinking things through honestly.
But only by implication. Only by example.
If you go back and look at her reviews and criticism, the one thing that comes through strongest is how much she loved science fiction. How thrilled she was as a new writer to meet her heroes. How she refrained from ad hominem attacks. How full of praise she was for good work of all kinds. What a force she was for the betterment of our literature.
All of Joanna's career was defined by her love of science fiction -- of what it was and of what it could be. We should remember that always.
And we should reread her work regularly.