Postings to the Feminist Science Fiction Mailing List, 16 July 1998 to 29 October 1998

Good Intros to Feminist SF | Good Examples of SF Romance | Elgin's Characters | Elgin's "For the Sake of Grace" | Elgin's Characters | Reverse Oppression | Elgin and Russ Writing for a Niche Market | Sales of Feminist SF Books | Joanna Russ and Her Anger | Women's Hard-Won Rights | The Female Man | Male Characters | Snow Crash | BDG: Black Wine | Walk to the End of the World and Grimness | Essentialism & "The Matter of Seggri" | Fake/Real Violence | An Exchange of Hostages | An Exchange of Hostages | An Exchange of Hostages | An Exchange of Hostages | Ursula Le Guin and Politics | The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of | Wolfe, Le Guin, Disch | Ursula Le Guin and Politics | Wolfe, Le Guin, Disch




Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] Reading suggestions
Date: Thu, 16 Jul 1998 23:10:31 -0400
Reply-To: "For discussion of feminist SF, fantastic & utopian literature"
<FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU>
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Anthea wrote:
>To date the reading suggestions discussed have been for
>youngsters. I have a different problem: a reading list for someone
>whom I'm pretty anxious to introduce to feminist sf/f in a way which
>WON'T put him off the genre.

And in reply, Patrick Boily wrote:
>What about "Native Tongue", by Suzette Haden Halgin [Elgin]

Good god! This is the last book I would recommend to a man leery of feminism. I was downright offended by the straw men Elgin set up as her sexist villains, and I'm a militant feminist. I can only imagine how he might react.

I suggest:
*Four Ways to Forgiveness* by Ursula K. Le Guin (particularly "A Woman's Liberation")
*Woman on the Edge of Time* by Marge Piercy
*Ammonite* or *Slow River* by Nicola Griffith
*The Clewiston Test* by Kate Wilhelm
*The Adventures of Alyx* by Joanna Russ

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Faith and the Muse -- Elyria
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] Trends at cons/Book suggestions
Date: Thu, 16 Jul 1998 23:30:11 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

On Thu, 16 Jul 1998, Catherine Asaro wrote:

> I'm trying to find good science fiction/fantasy to counter the lousy
> opinion many romance readers have of our genre, science fiction in
> particular. They see it as unfriendly to women, sexist, concerned with
> gadgets above people, and wooden. I'd like to put together some
> suggestions to show that our genre =isn't= all like that.

*War for the Oaks* by Emma Bull -- this book has one of the most riveting romances of any I've read. I brought the book with me to an art gallery opening once and spent almost all my time on the couch reading.

*Swordspoint* by Ellen Kushner -- the two main characters are men, but the book is woman-friendly.

*Ring of Swords* by Eleanor Arnason -- I found the relationship between the exiled human Nicholas and the Hwarhath Ettin Gwarha quite romantic.

I quite agree with your choices of "Forgiveness Day" by Le Guin and Joan Vinge's *Snow Queen*, but once again I have to dis-recommend Anne McCaffrey due to the recurrent rape imagery that I quoted a few days ago.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Faith and the Muse -- Elyria
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] Elgin's characters
Date: Tue, 21 Jul 1998 22:00:15 -0400
Sender: "For discussion of feminist SF, fantastic & utopian literature"
<FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU>
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 12:56 PM 7/21/98 -0500, Robin Reid wrote:
>I'm supposed to be doing Other Work, but have been still thinking about some
>comments on Elgin's work, especially what someone (don't remember the name,
>didn't save the post, sorry) saw as "straw characters."

That would be me.

> This comment reminded me of a discussion I had with someone
> at a conference about Joanna Russ' "anger" and how this person
> could not take it. I realized then that there's a generational issue. I
> was born in the fifties and raised in a small town in Idaho where the
> sixties never came; I am now in my forties. I wasn't old enough to be
> an adult during the sixties and seventies feminist movement, but I grew
> up in that culture--and had to fight my way out on my own (not finding
> feminist work until LATE in graduate school). So I resonate to Russ'
> and Elgin's anger. They were adults during the fifties, and Russ still
> has a LOT to say about that decade.

<snip memories of youth>

It's good to hear another in-depth opinion on the subject. I understand what you are saying, but I don't believe that my age has anything to do with my opinion of Elgin. I harbor plenty of anger towards men and felt an incredible rush of catharsis when I read Russ' *The Female Man*. So it wasn't Elgin's anger that bothered me -- it was her patronizing tone, particularly toward the male characters. If men were really so predictable and stupid as they ultimately all are in the Native Tongue books, they would not be so hard to overthrow. This is what I meant when I described them as "straw men", the definition being "an argument or opponent set up so as to be easily refuted or defeated." As Elgin said in a message to this very mailing list on September 27th of last year, she was raised in the Ozarks where it is taught that "(1) when men do most things well it's an accident, that (2) it's a woman's responsibility to clean up the messes men make and protect men from the consequences of those messes as far as possible, and that (3) it's a woman's responsibility to see to it that men never know about (1) and (2)." "It's reverse sexism of the most maternalistic kind," she said and admitted struggling against it in herself; I found her struggle unsuccessful in the Native Tongue books.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Faith and the Muse -- Elyria
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] _Native Tongue_ (and other Elgin stuff)
Date: Wed, 22 Jul 1998 08:47:05 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Cynthia Gonsalves wrote:

> I've enjoyed everything Suzette's written... [...]
> Maybe someone can remind me of the title, but there was a story
> where people took tests to find their future profession and a girl
> tested out for Poet which was Just Not Done.

That's "For the Sake of Grace", a wonderful story that sparked Joanna Russ' novel *The Two of Them*. The girl's aunt also took the tests to become a poet -- and failed. Failure for a woman in this world means solitary confinement for life -- to teach the other women not to reach for things they aren't supposed to have. There's a wonderful image at the end of *The Two of Them* of the biblical valley of bones being stirred by the voice of Zubeydah's mad aunt. Great stuff.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Faith and the Muse -- Elyria
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] Elgin's characters
Date: Wed, 22 Jul 1998 12:20:10 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

On Tue, 21 Jul 1998, I wrote:
> As Elgin said in a message to this
> very mailing list on September 27th of last year, she was raised in
> the Ozarks where it is taught that "(1) when men do most things well
> it's an accident, that (2) it's a woman's responsibility to clean up
> the messes men make and protect men from the consequences of those
> messes as far as possible, and that (3) it's a woman's responsibility
> to see to it that men never know about (1) and (2)." "It's reverse
> sexism of the most maternalistic kind," she said and admitted
> struggling against it in herself; I found her struggle unsuccessful
> in the Native Tongue books.

In reply, Pat Mathews wrote:
> Why not respect her culture for what it is and note that her books
> are an accurate reflection of what she's seen in front of her eyes
> for 60 years?

Because I don't believe that they are an accurate reflection. She admitted to being biased. I found that her bias largely ruined the effect of the story she was telling. And once again let me be clear that I DO NOT think that my reaction to the Native Tongue books has anything to do with my being of a younger generation than fans of the book (your use of quoting made this unclear). I'm sure there are plenty of women younger than I am who love them. I simply don't believe that "reverse sexism" is a good thing and found the books unpleasant to read on that account.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Faith and the Muse -- Elyria
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] reverse oppression?
Date: Thu, 23 Jul 1998 13:23:35 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Robin Reid wrote:

> I don't believe in reverse (fill in the blank with racism or sexism).
> How can you have reverse oppression?

<snip>

> So--Elgin and bias? Reverse sexism? Or Culture? (Should we debate
> whether culture is bias? If you start talking about a writer's world
> view as bias--I just don't know.)

You are preaching to the converted with all of the above. It was not I who used the term "reverse sexism", it was Elgin herself. I agree that it isn't really the right term for what bothered me about the Native Tongue books. It was Elgin's personal bias about the relations between the sexes which I found objectionable. Her list of the three maxims (men are incompetent, women must clean up their messes and make sure the men never know about it) approximated quite well my sense of the relations between men and women in the books. There is a certain truth to these maxims, at least some of the time -- what bothered me was that Elgin seemed to believe that these were true ALL THE TIME, EVERYWHERE. I have no interest in cutting men slack for their sexist behavior, believe me. I simply don't think that assuming they are all the same helps the feminist cause.

> And if she's angry--well, it's a bit much to
> expect a member of a "minority" group (women are the majority in
> society, but in terms of power, you can still say oppressed) NOT to be
> angry at their situation. As a feminist academic at a small college
> in rural Texas, I am often angry, especially when I'm perhaps the only
> woman on a specific committee, or one of two or three women on another
> committee being accused of having a "secret feminist agenda."

Agreed. As I said, Elgin's anger did not bother me at all. It was her characterizations, as mentioned above. As far as anger goes, one of the angriest feminist books I've ever read was Suzy McKee Charnas' *Walk to the End of the World* -- a book that I found much more effective than the Native Tongue books partly because it showed the genuine variability among the men of the Holdfast and how different men have different ways of enforcing oppression. It also showed a great deal of variation among the women, which the Native Tongue books did not.

> I agree that Elgin's characterization of men in _Native Tongue_ can be
> read as fairly limited in some ways. I still think it works, and
> isn't all that dated (I see things on these committeesss.....)

Dated? No. But it still did not work for me for the reasons stated above. In a similar way, I found the villains in Joan Slonczewski's *A Door Into Ocean* and Ursula Le Guin's *The Word for World is Forest* tiresome and unbelievable. I guess you could say that I like a little more subtlety in my bad guys.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Faith and the Muse -- Elyria
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] Elgin and Russ writing for a niche market
Date: Fri, 24 Jul 1998 12:39:26 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

On 23 Jul 98, at 10:16, Robin Reid wrote:
> Elgin's (and Russ') books are not found in every bookstore (I
> check these things out). Piers Anthony, on the other hand, takes
> up an immense amount of space .... I find his portrayal of women
> characters ...stereotyped and misogynistic.

In reply, Anthea wrote:
> You're comparing "apples and pears" here. Piers Anthony's books
> are good fun. They're well-written and make easy reading although I
> _personally_ find much of his later work irritatingly silly. I agree
> that his female characters seem stereotyped but so do the males. The
> only misogyny I noticed was restricted to essential parts of the plot.

Piers Anthony is what I would call a hack. I think it's ridiculous that so many of his books are taking up shelf space.

> But much of Elgin and most of Russ make heavy reading. Elgin's
> endless patronising, tendentious diatribes in the first NT book or
> the host of pooly developed characters popping out of the
> woodwork in "Earthsong" made them difficult to read, hard to
> appreciate. Much as I respect Russ' work, I don't always enjoy her
> writing because her anger too often threatens to swamp the logic of
> her argument. If I didn't have an _absorbing_ interest in her subject,
> I'd probably regard her books as unreadable.

On the subject of Elgin, I happen to agree. But what does that have to do with sales figures? As must be obvious by now, quite a few people on this list have read AND ENJOYED Elgin's Native Tongue books. I imagine the books could do fairly well if they were republished. As far as Russ goes... what do you mean when you say her anger threatens to swamp her logic? Anger and logic are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps you mean that you find her anger distracting. Well, I and many others don't. In fact, I often find Russ's writing playful and witty, even in the midst of anger (as in *The Female Man*). And a fair portion of her writing is not angry at all. I think she has been unfairly categorized.

> > If you count up how many male authors are sold in the genre SF/F
> > section, vs. female (let alone feminist), the system is completely
> > biassed toward the DEFAULT/MASCULINE view.
>
> Of course it is but not for the reasons you imply. The "masculine"
> books are written for crass commercial reasons - for entertainment
> value and to attract the widest readership, so their authors, I find,
> write as inclusively as possible, without preaching or lecturing.
> Many feminist authors, on the other hand, appear to write for a
> selected readership with strongly exclusive views (I find all Russ'
> non-fiction and most fiction work to be like this). They often
> "propagandize" more than they entertain (as the NT series amply
> demonstrates).

Hm. What books are you talking about when you say "masculine books"? I'm confused. There are plenty of male writers who would not say that they write for crass commercial reasons (Piers Anthony might even deny it, though I wouldn't believe him). And many of them certainly don't seem to have much sensitivity to women (the majority of the book-buying public). Just think how big their readership COULD be if they made more of an effort to reflect the reality of women. Though I have been a science fiction fan since my early teens I have largely avoided reading the works of the male "classic" authors such as Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Niven, Pournelle, etc. etc. because I found them, when not outright sexist, boring. There are so many other science fiction books out there that I find rewarding (many of them by women) that I see no reason to slog through any more of their works. So I've been voting with my dollars, as have quite a few other women and men, and my impression is that in the past ten years there has been quite an increase in the number of female SF authors being published. Any further imbalance is due, in my mind, to the slowness of certain publishers to "get with it" and realize that there is market hungry for these so-called "niche" books.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Faith and the Muse -- Elyria
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: [*FSFFU*] sales of feminist SF books
Date: Sat, 25 Jul 1998 00:53:58 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Anthea wrote, re: SF publishers:
>Perhaps they believe/know that what they produce is what the
>buying public like - certainly their sales bear this out. Anyway who
>is to say what "reflect[s] the reality of women"? Your reality or my
>reality or the reality of the many women (judging by sales) like
>Piers Anthony, David Eddings and his ilk?

"Which came first, the product or the demand?" (My own version of a cliche question.) Perhaps we will never know. It's like nature or nurture, in a way. But one thing that advertisers HAVE figured out over the years is that the greater the exposure to and knowledge of a product, the more likely someone is to buy it. Surely you don't disagree that women buy a lot of books. I don't see anything inherent in science fiction that prevents women from buying it; it's just gotten a bad rep over the years because of all those white male authors writing for their own little niche of white male adolescents. But if women come to understand that science fiction is now available that makes sense to them, they may begin to purchase more books in a genre that they have traditionally viewed as uninteresting and/or outright hostile to them.

As I said, I think this is already coming to pass.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Faith and the Muse -- Elyria
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas



Subject: [*FSFFU*] Joanna Russ and her anger
Date: Sat, 25 Jul 1998 01:21:53 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Anthea wrote:
>Her anger, perhaps "rage" is a better word, colours
>all her writing. I can discount the rage to some measure but I find
>that her rage is an essential part of her arguments. The problem is
>that she rages against a world long gone, and against enemies
>defeated or fighting a last futile rearguard action. _I_ read her work
>although _I_ do not always find it easy, but I question whether
>there are many other people prepared to make the same effort.

Perhaps we should resort to specifics here... how exactly does her rage color, for example, *And Chaos Died*? Or her short story "Souls"? How much Russ have you read?

A world long gone... here again I would like some specifics. I did not find *The Female Man* at all dated in 1990 (the last time I read it). I just read in the paper how the US Congress has voted to override President Clinton's veto of an anti-abortion bill that would make it harder for teenagers to have abortions. Bit by bit the victories that were won in the 1970s are being whittled away. And women continue to make $.72 to the male dollar. And every week or so I hear about the latest wife-killing. So please give me some hard evidence as to how things are all well and good for women in the United States and how Russ' rage is inappropriate.

>A friend on another list refers to her "What..." as the feminists' "A
>Brief History of Time" - the sort of book people buy to show that
>they're "intellectuals" but never bother to read.

Already? The book was published a scant four months ago. Did your friend look into some crystal ball to learn that no one will ever bother to read it? (I've been reading it all week, and am looking forward to the CRONES discussion.)

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Faith and the Muse -- Elyria
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas



Subject: [*FSFFU*] women's hard-won rights -- off topic
Date: Sun, 26 Jul 1998 10:56:20 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Marina wrote:
>And when
>things in a society go bad, rights of women is the first thing that goes
>up in smoke. Always. So, hate to say that, but don't fool yourself that
>any of "patriarchial" stuff is gone for good. On certain conditions, the
>achievements of the last 200 years can evaporate so fast, it will be hard to
>believe that they ever existed.

And in reply, Julieanne wrote:
>Marina - you are very right.
>Also, women's rights and freedoms have only been given to women when it has
>been in patriarchy's interest to do so.

This is a bit off-topic, but I think both of these statements are too simplistic. There are many levels of "going bad". Does the Great Depression count? I think many would say that it does. Yet women's suffrage, a right that had been fought for and won in 1919 in the United States (and which was NOT in the interests of the patriarchy), was not repealed. Obviously patriarchy has not been eradicated and the rights of women are shaky in many areas (and non-existent in some countries), but I don't think anyone ought to make blanket claims across cultures about what would happen given certain conditions. You'd too often be wrong.

Julieanne again, re: changes in child support in Australia:
>Women won't complain about these changes, because of fear. Fear that if
>they open their mouths and cry injustice, or worse still get angry and
>fight back - worse injustices will follow. Women will do what they have
>always done - cope as best they can with whatever they do have. They will
>make alliances with men, individually or collectively, for their own safety
>and that of their children.

This statement seems to ignore all the women who HAVE complained over the years about their treatment and squeezed concessions out of the establishment. (As in the aforementioned women's suffrage movement). Women have often risked short-term backlash in order to secure long-term gains (to the point of risking their lives) and they have, on occasion, succeeded. I think it's a big mistake to forget their accomplishments.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Faith and the Muse -- Elyria
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] Joanna Russ--The Female Man: Levy
Date: Mon, 27 Jul 1998 16:14:04 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 02:54 AM 7/27/98 EDT, Todd Mason wrote:
>Maybe because I lived through the 1970s, maybe because I've always been
>sympathetic to feminism and other liberation movements, and perhaps because
>I've been such an obsessive reader...but it still strikes me oddly to read
>that THE FEMALE MAN is a genuinely difficult book.

Me, too, but not for the same reasons. Since Russ has been so often categorized as a "feminist writer", and apparently nothing else, I think people are apt to attribute her difficulty to her feminism or anger. I think it has more to do with her postmodern narrative tactics, which make *The Female Man* difficult in the same way that some of works of Virginia Woolf (*Mrs. Dalloway* and *To the Lighthouse*) and William Faulkner (*Absalom, Absalom!* and *As I Lay Dying*) are difficult. Stream of consciousness writing and the assumption of a constructed reality take some getting used to if one has never encountered them before. So unless a person is already used to this style, perhaps *The Female Man* shouldn't be their introduction to feminist science fiction. There are many other writers of feminist SF who employ more traditional narrative forms and thus are not as confusing to the average reader. Some examples are Pat Murphy, Karen Joy Fowler, Ursula Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre, Kate Wilhelm, and the list goes on... So, to hark back to Anthea's concern that feminist SF is not accessible enough -- I don't believe it's an issue. I suppose it depends on what your definition of "feminist science fiction" is, of course, but at least in the United States, the number of books being published that fit MY definition, as well as the back list of older books I haven't yet read, exceeds my reading speed. The vast majority of these works are not "difficult" in the way that *The Female Man* is. I happen to love its style, and at this point do not find it difficult, but I can see that it may not be for everyone.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Faith and the Muse -- Elyria
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] Male Characters (was: Gattaca)
Date: Thu, 30 Jul 1998 14:54:36 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Stacey Holbrook wrote:

> To bring this back on topic for this list: are there any books that
> are feminist that have a main character that is male? Or have a
> majority of male characters?

Suzy McKee Charnas' *Walk to the End of the World* has three prominent male characters and one prominent female character. (In contrast, the second book in the series, *Motherlines* has NO male characters.) As I recall (it's been a couple of years since I read it), there are separate sections devoted to the viewpoint of each character, the woman (or "fem" as all women are known in this dystopian future) coming last. Each of the male characters is a fully realized person, but each is focussed on his own agenda. That makes the power of the fem's viewpoint immense when you get to it and see that she is so much more aware of the others than they are of her -- and she makes obvious the underpinnings of some of the bizarre ideas the men have. She is so much more aware because she has to be to survive in a world where women are treated even more abominably than black slaves in the American south.

Definitely feminist and very good.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Faith and the Muse -- Elyria
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] Snow Crash - spoilers
Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 16:47:05 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 05:00 AM 9/19/98 -0500, Marina wrote:
>I just finished reading Snow Crash (if I could say that, since I pretty
>much skimmed through the last quarter or so). And God, what an incredible
>bunch of crap! How could it start so promising, and turn into
>something so idiotic?

I couldn't agree more, Marina. I read this book several years ago when it was considered the "revitalization of cyberpunk" or something to that effect. It was mildly amusing up to the point you describe, the theories about language and ancient Sumer, etc. but I quickly lost interest after that. I was irritated, not only because it was a load of poorly reasoned claptrap, but because it didn't fit with the rest of the book in terms of tone and pacing. I can't comment on the depiction of women since for whatever reason I didn't pay much attention to it at the time and I'm not willing to reread the book. I have found that cyberpunk in general is reactionary and hostile to women, though there are exceptions like *Trouble and Her Friends*.
 
As another issue, even *TaHF* conceived of cyberspace in a way that I found grating -- to me the whole point of cyberspace is that it ISN'T like concrete reality, but too often authors spend a lot of time describing how it all looks and too little time dealing with issues of processor time, parallel computing, and what it means to have hundreds of copies of the same information cached throughout the Internet. (It always makes me laugh when the plot of a novel or film hinges on a bunch of people fighting over The Disk, as if no one ever thought of making a backup!) Oh well. Maybe someday I'll read a depiction I like.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Tricky -- Maxinquaye
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] BDG Black Wine
Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 19:42:11 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

I originally read *Black Wine* several months ago and it's taken me this long to skim through it and get a grip on it again. I found myself resubmerging in its world -- wow, what a book!

The first thing I noticed about the book was its wonderful style, free from cliche or repetition. It's rare to find a science fiction work that's truly well-written as well as thought-provoking. And it soon became obvious that sexuality in all its variety was going to be a common theme. I disagree with others who found the sex in the book depressing and sordid. Some of it is disturbing, but some is very affirming and positive. It all depends on the circumstances of the participants. Ea's grandmother engages in very harmful, brutal sex because that is how she relates to everything in her life. But Essa approaches sexuality from a different, more healthy perspective, because that is how *she* approaches everything.

About the multiple viewpoints: I began to suspect the connection between the women at the second appearance of the abacus, when Essa is in the Trader town. Then when it was revealed that her mother had left when Essa was young I imagined that she would reappear eventually, so I counted how many viewpoints were cycling, and there were only three, so I concluded that the travelling diarist must be Essa's mother. I can't recall how I decided that Fierce-frightened and Essa were the same, but I was not mystified for long. I liked how the three viewpoints were distinguished by their tones, Ea's worldly-wise and analytical, Essa's adventurous and spontaneous, Fierce-frightened's cautious and ignorant. And at the end there's Elta, who from Minh's viewpoint seems almost like a Gen X-er, playing in her band, not caring about the past... but who's more complex than that, really. Though her life doesn't have the tragic elements of her foremothers', we can see that it's still interesting because Minh takes the time to get to know her better.

The multiplicity of viewpoints seemed to be its own end to me. It's possible that Dorsey was making a point about escaping the cycle of abuse and about the evils of individuality... but I couldn't see it. I don't think she was saying that people are always and only the products of their environment. In some ways Annalise had a sunnier and more adventurous spirit than Ea, though the abuse she suffered appeared to be worse. And Elta shares none of her mother's and grandmother's gift for language -- instead she has music. The message came across to me as more general, something along the lines of "things change" or "people are different from one another." And I saw the book as an investigation of difference, between personalities and generations. And about the different ways people search for meaning.

Marina wrote:
>What I really liked was the fact that it had so many female characters --
>lots and lots of them. What I did not like that much was the fact that
>there was not even one decent male character to speak of.

I don't agree at all. I thought the characterizations of Minh, Lowlyn, and Escape-from-bondage were very good, as good as any of the women. The regent did seem somewhat of a caricature, though. At certain points in the book the line between realistic characters and mythic figures seemed quite blurry -- this happened with the Carrier too. I can't say it seems like a fault in the book, though, since I feel that it was in some way questioning the imposition of meaning on our daily lives. (Essa has some misgivings about this early in the book after witnessing the riot in the square. Though it all seemed like chaos at the time her mind "edits" her memories afterward, adding clarifications like sound and motivation.) So maybe these overly powerful characters are meant to seem like caricatures, figures that Essa's mind in some way creates when she is under extreme stress... Just an idea.

Petra Mayerhofer wrote:
>What do you think of the title, Black Wine? It is a beautiful title
>but I expected it to have more significance to the story. There
>is one scene in which Essa gets very drunk on black wine and her
>daughter Elta prefers beer to black wine but otherwise? Did someone
>figure out whether black wine is different from red or white one
>(besides the color)?

Red and white wine don't appear to exist in this world, so I don't have much confidence that it even resembles wine in its potency. And it is described as being "iridescent" at one point, which would imply some sort of oil content. In terms of its symbolic meaning, Essa seemed to drink it when she was in a mood to push things, to alter her circumstances, emotionally or physically. So it became a sign of change to me, change that could be freeing or wrenching, depending on how it is viewed.

Petra Mayerhofer wrote:
>According to the information given on the side of the review Dorsey
>will publish 'The Book of Essa' soon. Perhaps it will tell the story
>of Essa after she goes back to the Remarkable Mountains. But I wonder
>a bit about that. For me the whole story is closed and a sequel would
>be awkward.

I was puzzled by this as well, but I have since come to the conclusion that *The Book of Essa* was the working title of *Black Wine* and her web page simply hasn't been updated yet.

Does anyone have thoughts about whether this book is set on Earth or not? And when? I found myself puzzled by what technology cropped up. The reproductive habits of the sailors begged explanation, as did Essa's ability to make light. Also, some of the description of sexual responses seemed... odd. Made me wonder if these people were even human.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Tricky -- Maxinquaye
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas



Subject: [*FSFFU*] *Walk to the End of the World* and Grimness
Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 20:32:48 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Nicola Griffith wrote:
>SLOW RIVER, I'd introduce it by saying it was, in the end, a novel about
>hope, about finding beauty in the darkest places, about being able to go on
>and to win.

To which, Suzy McKee Charnas replied:
>This is always a risky strategy, but the challenge, once sighted, is irre-
>sistable! People tell me they "can't" read WALK TO THE END OF
>THE WORLD because it's too grim, but I think of it as a story
>of men and women finding ways to love even though they live in a
>totally irrational and love-hating society which is bound to self-destruct
>by reason of its inherent faults.
>
>But I have had to accept that the more negative reading is "in" there too,
>for those who are too struck by it to get to the next level where the
>positives lurk.

I guess it depends on how much of a shock it is for someone to face how bad things can get. I found the descriptions of the Holdfast in *Walk to the End of the World* disturbing and powerful, but I've noticed enough horrible things happening in the real world that I didn't find it unthinkable or implausible. I was very impressed by the relationship between Alldera and Bek given these circumstances. But my housemate, who hasn't spent much time at all thinking about feminist concerns or the plight of women worldwide, read the book and seems to remember hardly anything beyond the "curdcakes". He found the idea of people eating their own dead too absurd. Oh well.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Tricky -- Maxinquaye
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] Essentialism & "The Matter of Seggri"
Date: Wed, 23 Sep 1998 10:42:57 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Suzy McKee Charnas wrote:
>This is the problem with essentialist feminism (or masculinism, for
>that matter), and in my opinion it is a trap: your story ends up being
>about what rights men should have if they are "simply" human beings,
>and what rights if they are by nature aggressive etc., instead of
>addressing the problem, which is making sure that women are not
>deprived of *their* human rights as we have been deprived in most
>cultures throughout most of history. It's a way of shifting the focus
>back to men (of course), and I hate to see authors who want to take on
>feminist questions decoyed into it.
>
>The only problem about men and their rights in a feminist Utopia would
>be the men's own problems of figuring out how to behave like acceptable
>human beings around an in-place structure of assertion of and
>safeguards for the full rights of women. And that is not women's
>problem to work out, although like all men's problems it is easily and
>customarily foisted off on us as *if* it were ours.

Interesting. This issue came up when we were discussing Nicola Griffith's *Ammonite*. Some readers couldn't get over the fact that she didn't "deal" with the question of how traumatic it would be for these women to be without men. Quite a double standard, as in much science fiction there are men living without women with little mention of the fact beyond, "I can't wait for shore leave... where I get to bone some prostitute." It does seem to be assumed that whatever utopia is for women, it's "caring", as Petra said of *Childen of Mother Earth*. But what if it isn't? What if women could focus on themselves for a change? There was a very appropriate quote in Russ' *What Are We Fighting For?*, but alas my copy is at home.

As an interesting middle ground, what does everyone think of Le Guin's "The Matter of Seggri"? The women of that world do seem quite focussed on themselves, but it's hard to tell if Le Guin approves or disapproves. Their lack of concern for the outnumbered men isn't admirable, but the conditions in the male-only enclaves are not their fault. As the story ends, positive change is occurring, but it is assumed that the men carry the bulk of the responsibility for changing their own lot, though the women grant them access to some of their resources, like university schooling. The story centers on the man/woman problem, but the message does not seem essentialist to me. Thoughts, anyone?

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Elliott Smith -- Either/Or
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] Fake/real violence
Date: Tue, 20 Oct 1998 16:51:34 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Madrone wrote:
> I guess what I was trying to say is, it is possible to have
> communities where the people are not afraid to go outside, and where
> trust exists among people. Burglary was simply unheard of: and the
> suggestion that one lock one's door was considered an act of really
> awful insult to the characture of one's neighbors. And I think I'm
> trying to say that if you haven't lived like that, it becomes hard to
> believe such communities could exist. And I really think that has to
> change the tone of the stories we write. So, maybe if we change the
> tone of the stories..?

There are certainly many ways to live, but I can't imagine that aggression and violence are ever going to disappear. I come from a very small town that to this day has few locked doors. I can't remember ever hearing about someone's house being robbed. So there was a level of trust regarding personal possessions and many times town residents would bring over extra food for my family (we were quite poor). But my siblings and I were always conscious as children that our family "didn't belong" because our parents had moved there from somewhere else and, gasp! were well-educated book-reading types. There was plenty of bullying at school and a fair amount of blinkered prejudice.

I now live in Burlington, the largest city in Vermont (even so, it barely deserves the designation of "city"). There's a lot more crime (for instance, my bike was stolen from my apartment last summer). The community is much less closely knit. And I vastly prefer it to South Ryegate. The tradeoff of dealing with a few more thieves and creeps is worth it if I don't have the sense of being watched and pressured to conform to values I do not share.

It's an interesting question whether small communities that persist for generations can ever be as open and accepting of difference as cities seem to be. To bring this topic back to SF, Ursula Le Guin grapples with this question frequently. Sometimes it is recast as the old days vs. the new, but I wonder if this is simply because life in the United States has become so much more urban in the last century. Anyway, I guess what I am saying is that physical violence per capita may be lower in small towns, but people may experience equally violent, though nonphysical, oppression instead.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Elliott Smith -- either/or
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: [*FSFFU*] *An Exchange of Hostages* (was Fake/real violence)
Date: Wed, 21 Oct 1998 11:00:28 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Elethiomel wrote:
> Of course this doesn't mean that I don't agree with the idea that
> people who live very pacific lives feel the need to experience the
> thrill of danger and violence. And I also think there is a pornography
> of violence. I don't know if anybody's read _An Exchange of Hostages_
> (to get a little back in topic: it's sf, it's written by a woman, but
> I wouldn't call it feminist: its worst character is a woman, not only
> a sadist but an incompetent one...) which is I think a wonderful
> example of how bad this kind of pornography can get.

In defense of this book, I don't consider it to be pornography. I've read both it and its sequel, *Prisoner of Conscience* and still have the feeling that I'm missing something regarding the author's intent. The second book added quite a bit of background and I have the feeling that a long series of books may be on the way that paint a broad picture of this ghastly future (basically, the Spanish Inquisition goes galactic). One may wonder why the author has chosen to spend so much time imagining so disturbing a dystopia, but I think it's jumping to conclusions to decide that it's because she gets a naughty thrill out of describing torture. From the comments I've read on Usenet and Amazon.com the people who have read the book have either been completely sickened or interested by the psychological and sociological implications. I don't think anyone who liked the book did so because they thought the torture was cool.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Elliott Smith -- either/or
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] *An Exchange of Hostages* (was Fake/real violence)
Date: Wed, 21 Oct 1998 12:57:24 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Jane Franklin wrote:
> [*An Exchange of Hostages*] doesn't seem to have feminist implications
> so much as gender-characteristics-for-male-people ones and class ones.
> I was truly creeped out by the main (upper class) character's
> ignorance of non-upper-class life and by the images of control and
> order in all aspects of life.

Yes, the station where he studies torture is amazingly claustrophobic. It highlights the deathly stasis of the entire society, one which we learn in the next book is seriously beset by conflict on its borders. As far as gender issues, they exist but are not addressed directly (somewhat like the child abuse in *Alien Influences*). I noticed that when women become bond-involuntaries they seem to universally serve as sex toys, whereas the men become guards and personal servants (though they are often sexually abused as well). It's clear that this is not because the author thinks women are incapable of being soldiers -- one of the major characters in the second book is a very competent woman officer. I think it's more that she views this future society as being a slightly more equalized version of our own: women are more often seen in roles of power, but they are still subjugated in many ways (as is a huge percentage of the population).
 
> I didn't really feel that the author was interested in criticizing the
> society she described (where legal torture is the norm..much more
> interesting to read Gene Wolfe's Shadow of the Torturer books) so much
> as interested in describing one person's reactions to it. It really
> just seems like an SM/SF novel, what with the main character being
> forced to carry out these acts that he finds repellant yet alluring...

I think describing the society is criticism in itself. It's damn ugly. But I think she goes further in the second book, which is about a prison where Holocaust-like abominations are occurring. It's a biting irony that the officials crack down on the prison simply because they have been torturing and executing without a license! I can't believe this was unintentional on the author's part.

Re: *Shadow of the Torturer*. Just finished reading all four books of the New Sun. I didn't find that there was that much psychological insight or sociological relevance to the books. They were much too heavily weighted with Christian symbolism, which I personally found off-putting. It's implied that the only reason Severian is able to transcend his upbringing in the Torturer's Guild is that he was fated to do it. And the new sun, which will save this dying world from itself, will cause a devastating flood a la Noah, conveniently ridding the planet of all these "corrupt" folk. They were interesting books simply for the style and all the obscure references but culturally penetrating they were not.

> I do think it was pornographic, but that doesn't mean I disapprove,
> exactly. It seemed like the logical extension of violent
> pornography...it didn't leave out the horrible parts, like Anne Rice
> books do. People actually died, grotesquely. I found myself really
> jolted by the death of the women the main character executed. It's so
> unusual for a writer to have a relatively sympathetic main character
> do something like that, in such detail.

Hm... I thought pornography was supposed to be enjoyable. Who enjoyed the violence in this book? Does it become pornography because the main character enjoys torturing people while simultaneously being presented as a fairly moral person (compared to those around him)? I found Koscuisko's quasi-sexual enjoyment of torture to be the most problematic element in the books, a sticking place that couldn't be avoided. It was interesting to me because it made me question the us/them boundary. I identified with Kosciusko to some degree simply because he was the main character and struggled to do good. But his torture trances were undeniably BAD, about as evil as can be. I struggled to imagine how I might resolve such a contradiction in my own psyche. It's a difficult question, one I think is worth asking.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Elliott Smith -- either/or
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] *An Exchange of Hostages* (was Fake/real violence)
Date: Thu, 22 Oct 1998 15:06:24 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Jane Franklin wrote:
> Although I suspect that this is not the place for a discussion of what
> pornography is, I think that to say "pornography is supposed to be
> enjoyable" really oversimplifies it. Even a "classic" like the
> writing of DeSade--is that enjoyable in a puppies-and-chocolates kind
> of way? And for who is pornography intended to be enjoyable? I
> emphatically do not enjoy Playboy, squeaky clean and relatively
> wholesome as it may be. And what is meant by enjoyment, anyway?

Apparently the word "enjoyable" is just as inexact as the word "pornographic". I meant it in a broad way, certainly not in the cutesy sense of "puppies-and-chocolates". If the torture in AEOH were in any way pleasurable to me, if I wanted to reread the passages involved, for example, or got a charge out of thinking about them, or if I thought that a significant percentage of readers did, then maybe I would think it was pornographic.

> [...] I think Exchange is pornographic because the depictions of
> violence, I believe, are intended to excite the reader--among their
> other functions. By excite, I don't mean particularly sexual
> excitement, but sort of allurement.

This is the crux of the argument, I think. I did not find the depictions of torture in the book exciting or alluring. I had to fight my way through them. I have gotten the impression that many others have felt the same. So I fail to understand how anyone is deciding that Matthews intended her audience to find the torture pornographically exciting.

It's interesting that Elethiomel mentioned Iain Banks in connection with this book. My reaction to his novels (of which I have read *The Wasp Factory*, *The Player of Games* and *Consider Phlebas*) is somewhat similar to my reaction to AEOH: I found them interesting and ultimately quite puzzling because I COULDN'T figure out what his intentions were in writing them. His approach to the plentiful violence hovered on the boundary between mere description and gleeful abandon. Were we supposed to be appalled at the situations being described or happily exclaiming, "Wow, that is GROSS!" in the same way we would laugh at, for example, the movie *Dead Alive*? *Wasp Factory* stepped over into absurdity -- I found myself laughing helplessly at times -- whereas *Consider Phlebas* was ultimately quite depressing and hopeless. The actual opinions or intentions of Iain Banks, the author, are a mystery to me, so I am left completely to my own interpretation. I feel the same about AEOH. My interpretation of the torture in that book leans toward "sickened and appalled", but obviously you had a different reaction. Short of a direct statement from the author, I don't think either of us is equipped to judge which reaction she intended.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Elliott Smith -- either/or
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] *An Exchange of Hostages* (was Fake/real violence)
Date: Mon, 26 Oct 1998 16:11:07 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Jane Franklin wrote:
> My belief that there's a pornographic element to AEOH comes from
> having had several friends who read and and who are into SM remark on
> this aspect of the book, also on the book's similarity to some SM
> lesbian pornography. [...] I did not linger over AEOH, but I think it
> shares some qualities with things people are meant to linger over.
> What I admire about AEOH is that it shows the logical outcome of
> extreme violence and, I think, lays bare some of the fears and needs
> that underly SM.

As a matter of fact, I did find parts of the book erotic, if not pornographic. They weren't the torture scenes, though. I thought the relationship between Koscuisko and Joslire had plenty of Unresolved Sexual Tension (TM), partly because it is fraught with power issues. Joslire's caution and uncertainty when faced with this new master are explained over time as we learn what some past students have done to their bond-involuntaries and Joslire himself. The tension is heightened by Joslire's shocked realization of what K. is capable of in the torture chamber. But their relationship remains unexpectedly free of exploitation. By the end of the book Joslire trusts Koscuisko enough to give his knives to him. (The fighting knives have some mystical significance that is only partially explained.) It seemed to me that Joslire respected Koscuisko more because he knew that most people, given nearly absolute power over a bond-involuntary, would be corrupted by it. Maybe it isn't realistic that someone with the sadistic tendencies of Koscuisko could relegate them strictly to his "work" life. (In fact, in the second book, he does overstep the line traumatically.) But I don't find it unbelievable. Some emotional states are very context sensitive.

Joslire's character fits pretty well the "/" profile that Rebecca and Anne were talking about in their messages -- he's been terribly abused but has survived and reaches a level of "comfort" with Koscuisko. I guess I'm a natural for this "/" fiction because I really felt for Joslire, much more than I did for Koscuisko.

BTW, in case anyone is interested, the third book in this series will be coming out in a couple of months (titled *Hour of Judgment*). There is more information, as well as background on the author and her other books, at http://www.sff.net/people/Susan.scribens/. She also has a link to her own newsgroup.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Elliott Smith -- either/or
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: [*FSFFU*] Ursula Le Guin and Politics
Date: Tue, 27 Oct 1998 13:15:49 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Daniel Krashin wrote:
> IMO, a political reference that is
> too easily decoded and which turns out to be a perfect allegory of
> some present-day political concern is distracting and detracts from
> my enjoyment of the book.
>
> Another example is in Ursula K. LeGuin. "The Word for World is
> Forest" has very obvious reflections of Vietnam, but it also stands on
> its own as an SF story. I thought some of her stories in _Four Ways
> to Forgiveness_ stepped over that line, and became narrowly
> political or didactic. A friend of mine called that book "Uncle
> Tom's Planet."

Interesting that you chose these examples. I could say the same except I would REVERSE them. "The Word for World Is Forest" is one of my least favorite Le Guin books precisely because it was so obviously based on a particular war, and because the villain was so cartoonishly bad. The stories in *Four Ways to Forgiveness* seemed much less narrowly based on individual historical events and the characters were far better developed. As time goes on I think Le Guin is becoming better at portraying the variety of humanity and less prone to polemics. But some people, reacting to her growing awareness of and engagement with issues of sexism, racism, sexual orientation, have branded her as narrow and "politically correct". Funny how even noticing that such things exist in our society makes a person "political" in some other people's eyes...

These latter comments are not directed at you personally, Daniel. You just got me thinking about various criticisms of Le Guin I've read in Usenet & elsewhere. In his collection *The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of*, Thomas M. Disch wrote a bizarrely vitriolic essay about feminist science fiction that spends much of its length dumping on Le Guin for her choices of what to include in the *Norton Book of SF*. (According to him, her selections were based on ideology, not literary merit.) Perhaps there is something about her style that presses people's buttons. Personally, I think her stories of the last five years show her at or near the top of her form.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Elliott Smith -- either/or
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] The Dreams Our Stuff...
Date: Thu, 29 Oct 1998 09:40:03 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Michael Marc Levy wrote:
> I've read the Disch book and didn't like it much. Disch can be a
> brilliant writer and some of his criticisms are spot on, but he sees
> science fiction from a somewhat distorted angle, and often ends up
> criticizing apples for not being oranges. Totally aside from this
> Disch can be very nasty. My wife reviewed a collection of his own
> reviews of poetry books and there was hardly a positive review in the
> entire bunch. Disch has always had a bit of a misogynistic streak, is
> particularly intolerant of anything that smacks of feminist thought
> and truly does seem to hate LeGuin. Of course he and LeGuin came up in
> the SF world at about the same time and, although Disch had his share
> of critical successes, he never succeeded either critically or
> financially to the extent Le Guin did, so there might be a fair amount
> of jealousy at work.

Yes, that was my impression as well. He seemed angry about the *Norton Book of SF* mostly because Le Guin wanted to include a story of his that he thought unworthy, then was unreceptive when he suggested another one. So NEITHER story is included in the book. I pulled my copy off the shelf today, since there's been some discussion of it lately, and found the following puzzling, probably Disch-related sentence in the introduction: "We regret the absence of the one author who refused us the story we wanted, offering us instead a recipe for pudding, which we found did not meet our criteria."

As far as Disch's misogyny and thoughts on feminism... I don't know if it's as simple as that. He seems to think quite well of Joanna Russ, whose feminism is much more obviously present throughout her body of work than Le Guin's. But Russ is more of an outsider than Le Guin, who was raised in the academic world of ideas and never seems to have suffered for her lifestyle or her art. The only book of Disch's that I have read is *334*, and I was bowled over by it. I loved it. There are a number of very interesting female characters in that book (all three viewpoint characters in the longest story, titled "334", are women) and I did not detect any hint of misogyny. What about his other books?

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Elliott Smith -- either/or
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] Wolfe, LeGuin, Disch
Date: Thu, 29 Oct 1998 10:29:28 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

John Everett Till wrote:
> *The Autarch, if memory serves is a hermaphrodite. What are we to make
> of that?

IIRC, the Autarch was a man who was neutered for failing the test that Severian passes. It was explained to Severian at one point what would happen to him if he failed, and I thought it funny that so many previous Autarchs had refused to take the test because they were afraid of being desexed! "Hm... certain doom with the dying of the old sun or the chance that I might become a eunuch. ...I'll take certain doom!"

I know it's not as simple as that, because certain doom could take hundreds more years whereas castration would occur right away. It's always tempting to pass the buck. But it seems like a very strange punishment for a universal god-like race to choose. Perhaps it says something about Wolfe's own preoccupations with gender and sex.

p.s. welcome, John. I liked your post!

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Elliott Smith -- either/or
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] Ursula Le Guin and Politics
Date: Thu, 29 Oct 1998 16:25:23 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

John Bertland wrote:
> I'm assuming from your dismissal of it as "bizzarely vitriolic" that
> you disagree with his essay, although you give no reasons why.

Hm... do I disagree that the subgenre of feminist science fiction is essentially a bunch of no-talent ideologues interested only in asserting their essentialist agenda? Yes. What I couldn't figure out was why Disch felt qualified to make general statements about feminist SF when he doesn't appear to have read much of it. It seemed like he was just in a bad mood one day and chose a random target.

> After all, there is an obvious ideological element to Le Guin's
> selection criteria for the anthology, as Disch points out [...] I'm
> not sure how one could deny that. Depending on one's feelings about
> that ideology and the role of polemics in writing and editing, one
> could still find it to be a wonderful anthology. Given that it is a
> Norton anthology, I think, as Disch argues, that it is misleading and
> a disservice to the genre.

I'm not denying that there is an ideological element. But I believe that there is ALWAYS an ideological element in the compilation of any anthology or the writing of any fiction, even if the author is unaware of it or outright denies it. At least Le Guin is aware of it and states in the introduction what the criteria were for inclusion. I also don't think that these criteria in any way lowered the quality of the stories included. As far as your statement "given that it is a Norton anthology..." I would like to point out that its official title is "The Norton BOOK of Science Fiction". I have the feeling that the words Book and Anthology have distinct meanings for Norton. (I could be wrong!) At any rate, I'm curious as to how the genre is disserved. Do you think non-fans reading the book will get a bad impression of the genre? Or simply the wrong impression? And how would you have done it differently?

> (and he only spends about three and a half pages out of twenty two -
> hardly much of its length).

You've got me there. I read the essay in a bookstore and haven't actually got the volume to refer to. It still seemed like he spent a disproportionate amount of space on it.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Elliott Smith -- either/or
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] Wolfe, LeGuin, Disch
Date: Thu, 29 Oct 1998 17:21:50 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Jane Franklin wrote:
> I also thought that if the autarch, after failing the test, could have
> children, then the autarchy might become hereditary rather than being
> passed on by eating the flesh of the Autarch.

Except that hardly any of the Autarchs took the test.

> So what do we think of the fact that the aliens decide whether or not
> we get the new sun? This reminds me very much of Doris Lessing and
> her infuriating nostalgia-for-totalitarianism Shikasta series (let me
> just add that I adore Doris Lessing with a passion and consider her
> perhaps the most important white female Western writer of her era.
> (Note the perhaps) Anyway, that doesn't keep me from just hating
> those Shikasta books.)

It does remind me of Shikasta (I only read the first volume of the series, and I also was very troubled by its philosophy). It also reminds me of Vonda McIntyre's *Starfarers* series, several episodes of Star Trek and any number of science fiction books, movies, and TV shows with the humans-as-cosmic-children theme. I'm always puzzled when the aliens/gods insist on dealing with humans as one big group who can either be admitted into the galactic federation or not en masse. And often their decision is based on the behavior or trial of one individual or small group. This seems like an archaic and rather stupid way of doing things. I think it says a lot about ingrained ideas of hierarchy.

> And is Wolfe a fatalist?

Yes, that was my impression. All of the coincidences and circular time references in the *Book of the New Sun* reminded me of conspiracy-theory works like Thomas Pynchon's *The Crying of Lot 49* -- everything seemed absurdly overdetermined. I'm not sure how much of that was ironic authorial metanarrative, how much musing on the nature of time travel, and how much his actual worldview.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Elliott Smith -- either/or
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



home | authors | music | movies | bloomsbury | gallery
creative writing | journal | criticism | resume | links