A flock of flying saucers

THE PENGUIN BOOK OF MODERN FANTASY BY WOMEN ed. A Susan Williams & Richard Glyn Jones Viking pounds 17

What is it that women most desire? Handsome, noble Sir Gawain was stumped by the question. Only when he promised to marry the hideous crone he met in the forest did he receive his answer, an answer that still rings down the centuries. What women most desire is mastery over men, and boy are we still fighting for it, even - or especially - in our dreams.

At the beginning of this chronological collection is a ghost story. Written in 1941, "The Demon Lover" is a small, perfect thriller by that most elegant and discreet writer, Elizabeth Bowen. Her heroine, the weary, respectable, middle-aged Mrs Drover, is visiting her bombed London house when she discovers a message from her dead lover. It reminds her of an unfulfilled tryst she made with him many years ago, before he was killed on the Western Front. From that moment, there will be no escape for her: she is destined to be his victim.

Mrs Drover's "most normal expression was not of controlled worry, but of assent". By 1989, heroines neither worry nor accept their fate. Suzy McKee Charnas's protagonist is a teenager teased by the crass boys in her class about her new, embarrassingly large chest. Her gruesome revenge is to use the onset of her menstrual cycle for a monthly transformation. She becomes a wolf when the moon is full and tears out her tormentor's throat, having first practised on a neighbour's terrier.

There is more gore in this book than most of us would care to fantasize over. The unwary are stabbed, impaled or blown up. Hideous diseases abound. In Octavia Butler's "The Evening and the Morning and the Night", only gifted women can cure "Duryea-Gode" disease - why does she call it that? Could it be an anagram of o dread guy? - anyway, sufferers dig out and gobble up bits of themselves. In "Murder, 1986", P D James invents a similarly self-cannibalising race called the Ipdics, though her story has, as we might expect, a neatly-coiled twist in its tail. These Ipdics are aliens, as are the creatures from Parsaea and Iskar, the Crots and the even less appealing Subcrots. When all this ET nomenclature gets too much, it is a joy to discover Muriel Spark's "Miss Pinkerton's Apocalypse", which turns on the origin of a surreal flying saucer: ''It is not radio-active,'' says Miss Pinkerton firmly. "It is Spode'' - but it proves, in fact, to be Royal Worcester.

The future looks dangerous to fantasists. These writers imagine a fearsome world of routine cryogenics, though the weedy man who does the melting in Zoe Fairbairns' "Relics" would have been well-advised to leave Greenham Common Woman frozen. Meanwhile, back in the outer universe, colonising Americans have turned the indigenous triple-breasted lesbian inhabitants of a newly conquered planet into suburban replicas of Doris Day. The women in Lisa Tuttle's "Wives" stage a minor revolution, but it fails and red- necked Jack stays home happy. "Three tits and the best coffee in the universe," he says. "It kind of makes the whole war-thing worthwhile."

Two of the best stories are bogus historical documents. Joyce Carol Oates's "Night-Side" purports to be the journal of an observer at increasingly creepy Victorian seances, and in "Sur", Ursula K Le Guin produces a triumphant fantasy about a group of female explorers who beat Scott and Amundsen to the South Pole. This one inadvertently offered a good argument for using such a vast and varied book only for occasional dipping. The reviewer, dizzy with devouring all 38 fantasies at a sitting, reels back, questioning the very nature of reality, and the enormous volume tumbles to the ground. As she imagines Le Guin's jolly girls knocking back the Veuve Cliquot on their ice-floes, surrounded by those comical little headwaiter birds of Antarctica, she notices the book's full title. Is anything to be trusted any more? Can this huge hardback really be a Penguin?

Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit