I'm looking for a short story I read in an anthology -- I had thought it was one of "The Year's Best Science Fiction" anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois, but I'm not sure of it. I'm pretty sure the author was a woman, and I remember recognizing the name when I read the story, though I can't remember it.

The point of view character is a young man working in a factory. Throughout the story, he seems almost childishly naive. At night, he and other men attend a ritual in which a woman dances, then chooses a man from the audience to be a sexual partner. The men among the audience, including the POV character, talk about how much they are in love with the dancer.

This is, we find out, the norm for sexual behavior. Women are given a chance to compete for a career as a dancer; those who do not become dancers are expected to remain celibate. There are rude jokes and gossiping among the factory workers about exceptions, including a supervisor and assistant who are retiring to live together.

One woman who is a friend to the point of view character surprises him by expressing her attraction to him. Later, meeting him privately, she dances, and goes on to explain she had qualified to be a dancer but rejected the position. She discusses the peculiarity of their social arrangements, but admits that being aware of how arbitrary the rules are does not entirely free her from their influence.

1 Answer 1


"It Walks in Beauty" by Chan Davis.

The original version of this story carries itself well. If not of masterwork status it ranks as notable, for it imagines a future Western society that recognizes the pronouns “she” and “it” for women, with the “she” being applied to stage-elevated and conventionally hyper-sexualized women, and the “it” being applied to career-oriented and, to our eyes, more socially normal women. On the other hand, the story presents men as being of a single, fairly adolescent type. These men do have some instinctive sympathy remaining in their heavily conditioned brains for the “it” women, although their cerebrums seem incapacitated by the “she” variety. As a critical expression of the human soul subjected to top-down imposed social roles, the story has distinct value: for even if it renders its male characters as imbeciles, it does offer the split between socially acceptable female types as a conundrum of a certain complexity. During the story’s unfolding the dichotomy creates appealing effects, as in the following exchange. Paula, not present in this passage, is the “it,” while Max, the first speaker, is the sympathetic male character.


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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. This does indeed seem like a fit; however you could still improve your answer by linking the story to an anthology the OP might have read it in.
    – DavidW
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 12:59
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    @DavidW - Most likely read in one of the old Star Science Fiction anthologies; isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?60641. They're not recent, but they're still basically 'in print' if OP is getting them in ebook format from somewhere
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 15:12
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    I purchased and downloaded an anthology of Chandler Davis's writings, titled after this story, and it's definitely the story I was looking for. The ending is slightly different than I remember; I remember more exposition from Paula that spelled out the point about her being influenced by her received sexuality even as she criticized it, which I thought was an interesting comment on the experience of feminists. It's clearly implicit though. I must have read the version published in 2003 with the original ending. aqueductpress.com/e-books.php
    – bgvaughan
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 16:36
  • Actually, I think the version in the 2010 anthology is the author's original story. I may also be misremembering the ending a bit.
    – bgvaughan
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 16:50
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    Chandler Davis died a month ago, aged 94
    – Henry
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 19:56

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