Saturday, May 18, 2019

The New You

Kit Reed (1932–2017)
From The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women

Advertisements from the late 1950s and early 1960s suggesting that women could become slimmer by consuming (from left to right) Domino’s Sugar, Diet Delight canned fruit, and Post Grape Nuts. Images from Flickr and Advertising Archives (UK).
Fifteen years ago Kit Reed published her twenty-second novel, the darkly satirical Thinner than Thou, which imagined a near future when a new religion has formed around weight loss and body consciousness. The advance notices, most of them filled with praise, prepared readers for a disturbing read. “Unsettling, sometimes appalling: satire edging remorselessly toward reality,” concluded the notice in Kirkus Reviews. The starred review in Booklist agreed that “Reed’s visionary tale is brilliant, though at times painful to read.” When an interviewer at Axxón, an Argentinian fan site dedicated mainly to speculative fiction, asked Reed what inspired her to write such a novel, she responded:
. . . it became obvious to me that with people more and more body-conscious, diet and exercise and fitness had become a kind of religion. For many in the American society, it has replaced religion. It supplies them with a guilt-and-atonement component that may be missing from their lives. Fitness is equated with virtue, at least for body-image snobs.
Thinner than Thou more specifically takes aim at the gym craze that arose before and after the turn of this century, but the subjects of body-image and weight—particularly for women—have pervaded Reed’s writings throughout her entire career. “I had a brief fat period as a kid, i.e. weighed 20 pounds more than I do now,” she explained to the British SF novelist Gwyneth Jones. “Once you get past it you think about it every day; if you don’t, it sneaks back up on you and pounces.” In 1974 she edited the anthology Fat, which gathered stories and essays about compulsive eating. Among her best-known works from the 1960s are such quirky stories as “The Food Farm” and the “The New You,” the latter of which we present as our Story of the Week selection.

Born in 1932, Kit Reed published her earliest-known science fiction story, “Space Traveler,” in the Sunday magazine of the St. Petersburg Times in July 1955. “The Wait,” in the April 1958 Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, set her on a professional writing career that ultimately included almost a dozen story collections and thirty novels, as well as occasional nonfiction. Principally known as a writer of speculative fiction, she published works in a variety of genres, including the comic novel Mother Isn’t Dead, She’s Only Sleeping (1961), psychological thrillers under the pseudonym Kit Craig, and the horror novel Blood Fever (1986, as Shelley Hyde). She died two years ago in Los Angeles at the age of eighty-five.

Reed avoided the familiar science fiction terrains of extraterrestrial species and space travel and instead created domestic dystopias and cynical fantasias. “She told stories about beauty pageants, illicit adoptions, eating disorders, a violent high school built like a maximum-security prison, the sudden vanishing of an island’s population, a monkey who writes best sellers using a story-writing app, and a woman who becomes obsessed with a fantasy island that she discovers online,” summarized The New York Times in its obituary for her. Reed’s fiction often defied categories (she often proclaimed herself as “trans-genred”). “For a lot of publishers and readers, they’re useful marketing tools,” she told John DeNardo of SF Signal. “For some writers, too. Genre gives them a set of ground rules. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to play by the rules.”

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“Now—the New You,” the ad said. It was a two- page spread in one of the glossier fashion magazines, and it was accompanied by a shadowed, grainy art photograph that hinted at the possibility of a miraculous transformation. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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