When It Changed

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"When It Changed"
Author Joanna Russ
Language English
Genre(s) Science Fiction
Published in Again, Dangerous Visions
Publication type Short story
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date 1972

"When It Changed" is a science fiction short story by Joanna Russ. It was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story 1973, and won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story in 1972. It was included in Harlan Ellison's anthology Again, Dangerous Visions.

Plot summary[edit]

The story is told from the perspective of Janet Evason. It takes place on a human colony on another planet, called Whileaway. 30 generations earlier, a plague killed off all the men and the population now consists only of women, who have figured out how to combine eggs to produce offspring. It is a largely agricultural society, and the whole range of human behaviors exhibited by men and women on earth are now in evidence within the all-female society. For example, Janet has fought several duels, and girls love to hunt and have adventures. When astronauts from earth arrive, they are bemused by the all-female society, find it quaint, are sure that the women must be missing men, and that the society must be deficient in some way due to the lack of men. Janet doesn't at first understand that she is being treated insultingly, and does not understand the men's amusement. The men for their part leer at the women and look forward to having children with them. Janet's wife tries to kill the men. Janet stops her, but then that night a part of her regrets doing so. She muses upon how things will change once the men are there. They told her that they now have equality between the sexes on earth, but she wonders how that can be true, given their casually condescending attitude toward the all-female society of Whileaway, and she fears how their contempt will influence her daughters.

Themes[edit]

In the afterword, Russ states "When It Changed" was written to challenge ideas in science fiction that had not, at the time of writing, been addressed. These ideas were related to the way women - and societies consisting solely of women - were handled by writers who are male.

I have read SF stories about manless worlds before; they are either full of busty girls in wisps of chiffon who slink about writhing with lust (Keith Laumer wrote a charming, funny one called "The War with the Yukks"), or the women have set up a static, beelike society in imitation of some presumed primitive matriarchy. These stories are written by men. Why women who have been alone for generations should "instinctively" turn their sexual desires toward persons of whom they have only intellectual knowledge, or why female people are presumed to have an innate preference for Byzantine rigidity, I don't know.[1]

Russ also mentions Ursula K. Le Guin's novel The Left Hand of Darkness as an influence on the story.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Sources and external links[edit]