Postings to the Feminist Science Fiction Mailing List, 26 November 1998 to 2 June 1999

"The Cost to Be Wise" | "The Cost to Be Wise" | "The Cost to Be Wise" | BDG: The Sparrow | BDG: The Sparrow | BDG: The Female Man | BDG: The Female Man | The Female Man vs. "When It Changed" | Le Guin's The Eye of the Heron | BDG: The Female Man: Favorite Quote? | Le Guin's The Eye of the Heron | The Left Hand of Darkness and Pronouns | Generations of SF Writers | "Hard" Science Fiction | BDG: A Fisherman of the Inland Sea | BDG: Jaran | The Matrix | The Matrix | The Matrix




Subject: [*FSFFU*] The Cost to Be Wise (was Dark Water segue)
Date: Thu, 26 Nov 1998 14:08:33 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

There are

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

in this post.

At 07:16 AM 11/25/98 -0500, donna simone wrote:
>Has anyone read it? Care to jump in?

Coincidentally... I also read this story recently. I was struck by its relevance to the colonialism / moral relativism discussion that has been so woefully off topic on this list. It poignantly places the reader on the horns of the dilemma: how to handle "first contact" with a culture that is much less industrialized than one's own? The Terrans in this story have taken the path of "appropriateness", only allowing trade of items that the natives can make themselves to keep them self-sufficient. History is rife with examples of local economies being destroyed by the introduction of outside trade. Often with the consent of the locals. (The protagonist, Janna, REALLY likes plastic.) But of course trade can't be policed completely and some of the natives get their hands on some guns. The confluence of several factors leads to the massacre of Sckarline.

Britt-Inger Johannsson wrote:
>Your summary indicates that this short story has the classical build up
>where every action or inaction irrevocably, unavoidably, and in one
>sense even logically, lead on to the final cataclysmic moment of
>destruction - and the reader/spectator with horrified attention intuits the
>progression towards the tragic end, unable to intervene.

Not at all! That is one of the most interesting things about the story -- much of the action seems random or spontaneous and one is taken horribly by surprise by the ending. The story is something quite other than the Greek Tragic tradition (which is what your summary brought to my mind). A better example of the form of tragedy you are talking about is Mary Doria Russell's *The Sparrow*, which the BDG will be discussing in December.

donna simone again:
>McHugh does a marvelous job of drawing no clear lines from which one
>can point and say...."see _they're_ right." All of the players are
>credible in their choices it seems to me.

Yes, the story was in some ways frustrating to read. I kept expecting some clear answer, an emotional payoff or catharsis, and it wasn't there. Like real life. There is no right answer here. But there is plenty of pain.

This story intersects interestingly with Ursula Le Guin's Hainish tales, which all background a world-spanning confederacy called the Ekumen which is in the process of rediscovering worlds previously "seeded" with humans. (The Hainish stories include *Rocannon's World*, *Planet of Exile*, *City of Illusions*, *The Left Hand of Darkness*, *The Dispossessed*, several stories in *A Fisherman of the Inland Sea* and all of *Four Ways to Forgiveness*.) The Ekumen takes a similar approach to first contact, sending a few "mobiles" to each new world and cautiously establishing a presence based on non-interference in local culture (somewhat like the Prime Directive in Star Trek -- as if the Federation ever actually observed the Prime Directive!). Le Guin's approach is thought-provoking. She believes strongly that "all knowledge is local knowledge", that is that there is no pure objectivity, but she clearly believes in her own version of right and wrong. There is a tension between these two positions that I find very fruitful. Being human, we have beliefs, but how do we temper our actions based on those beliefs so that we do not infringe upon the rights of others? How can one simultaneously believe that one is right and that one may be wrong without being paralysed? There are no easy answers to these questions. They must be redecided with every passing moment.

"The Cost to Be Wise" raises similar issues. The Terran teachers, Ayudesh and Wanji, have lived on this world for many years, somewhat like the "stabiles" of the Ekumen, and have strictly avoided introducing any "inappropriate" technologies. However, they have attempted to alter the conceptual world of the natives by teaching them English and giving them lessons in economics, history, etc. In Janna's narration they come across as important members of the community who are somewhat ineffective in their aims -- I gathered that they were partly responsible for the founding of Sckarline, a mixed community with no blood clan affiliations, but Janna, one of their brighter students, obviously has no understanding of the teachings she recites to her Terran guest. Their material influence is what is most important to her. And near the end, after Janna's father has been shot to death, Wanji breaks her own rules and gives Janna some high-tech body enhancements which she later uses to save her Terran guest. The moment of indecision that Wanji faces, "should I or shouldn't I give these to her?" seems a little silly in a life and death situation, like it's taking non-interference too far. And Wanji sees it too.

There is more to say about this wonderful story, but I am late for Thanksgiving dinner! I look forward to the comments of others.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Tori Amos -- From the Choirgirl Hotel
"...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*] The Cost to be Wise
Date: Tue, 1 Dec 1998 16:28:42 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

On Mon, 30 Nov 1998 06:52:21 PST Daniel Krashin wrote:
>Also, I had to question the motives and intelligence of the
>"Missionaries" from Earth, in building a mission in the middle of
>nowhere, then selling hard liquor to the local (heavily armed)
>nomadic tribesmen, without taking any defensive measures.

I think some of these things make more sense than it would seem. First, Ayudesh and Wanji are not "running things" in Sckarline (though Janna does comment at one point, "We were all supposed to be equal in Sckarline, but Ayudesh was really like a headman"). Ayudesh and Wanji's main focus is determining the appropriateness of various technologies; presumably they don't have much say about whether or not the other residents of Sckarline build a distillery and trade their whisak (a native drink, nothing "inappropriate" there).

I saw the massacre as stemming directly from the increased number of guns the outrunners brought with them. Janna notices when they arrive that they have many more than usual. I have a feeling the villagers would have been far more able to defend themselves against a rowdy mob if it was armed with, say, knives rather than guns. The outrunners probably would have been less likely to start a confrontation also.

I think the story makes a lot less sense if there is no connection drawn between the issue of "appropriate technology" and the guns. Clearly, other Terrans are not as high-minded as Ayudesh and Wanji and have no scruples about selling guns to the natives and introducing massive power differentials into the culture. (There is even a hint that the Terrans use the need for ammunition as a means of controlling gun-wielding natives -- to what end, one wonders.) When Wanji says, "It was a mistake," I think she is saying that she and Ayudesh misjudged the extent to which the society outside of Sckarline is being changed; that their focus on appropriate technology may have had the unintended effect of leaving the settlement helpless and backward in comparison.

This lack of uniformity among the Terrans was part of what I found interesting in contrast to Le Guin's Hainish Ekumen, which seems inhumanly moral and upstanding in comparison. I wondered if there was a little conscious criticism of Le Guin in there, actually.

>But it seemed to me to be a historical story with a thin veneer of
>SF content (not the worst sin in SF, admittedly).

Hm. It seems to me that if you strip off the "veneer" of many SF stories you end up with historical, military, imperialist or other mundane fiction. That veneer is mighty important!

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Tori Amos -- From the Choirgirl Hotel
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] The Cost to be Wise
Date: Tue, 8 Dec 1998 20:32:32 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

On Wed, 25 Nov 1998 07:16:56 -0500, donna simone wrote:
>I am struck at the multiple meanings of the title... at least what
>I read as multiple.

I've been pondering this for some time and I confess I can't come to any solid conclusions. What immediately came to my mind was that the "wise" were Ayudesh and Wanji and the original founders of the settlement, who made the conscious decision to avoid the economic upheavals that history led them to expect in first contact situations and the "cost" of the title was paid by the villagers of Sckarline when they died. So, in this interpretation, the wisdom led to the cost, indirectly, in the same way that passive resistance might be said to lead to the deaths of the resisters. But another possible meaning may be that Ayudesh and Wanji, by deviating from the expected course of history, were trying to avoid the cost that their own ancestors paid to be wise? And the outrunners were the debt coming due... In this interpretation, wisdom can *only* be achieved through direct experience, and attempting to avoid it will only lead to greater disaster. Not sure I like this take on it very much, but it's sounding more plausible (in terms of authorial intent) the more I think about it...

On Thu, 3 Dec 1998 at 16:23:16 -0500 Jean Bocchino wrote:
>Sckarline is one of the coldest places out there... weather-wise of
>course, but people-wise too. Mam hits Janna; Janna may have
>been sexually abused by her Da (her thoughts on Veronique's attack
>make me think this); no one, including Tuuvin (who she lets kiss her
>so she can "whisper" to him and walk with him) and Wanji (who coldly
>lies to her about the implants) are especially nice to Janna.

And donna simone replied:
>I felt fairly certain that Janna very much enjoyed the kissing. She is
>the one that argues with her mother that her and Tuuvin ought to be
>able to go further.

I found Janna's reactions to what we might view as feminist issues interesting. First we see her kissing with Tuuvin in the back of the distillery. I got the impression that she liked the kissing until he "slipped her the tongue", when she didn't know what to do -- but she tolerated it in return for Tuuvin's whispering. How many times have women said they will abide with men's sexuality in return for intimacy? This seemed like a more subtle version of that sentiment. (This reading is given more support in the novelization.) Clearly Janna is also hankering for the adult status of a married woman, quite apart from the concessions she will have to make to Tuuvin to achieve it. Sex and romance seem to be a lot less important to her than her family and her own status and eventual independence.

We also hear Janna's thoughts as she impatiently watches Veronique struggle against the Scathalos outrunner. "Stop it, I kept thinking, just stop it, or he won't let you alone." It's hard to tell if this is panic thinking or a coherent world view. Janna has already revealed that her mother was beaten by her father when she was younger. Obviously, violence against women is not unknown in this world. Rather than being incensed, I appreciated the moral ambiguity of Janna's reactions. She seemed more real to me because she did not occupy the moral high ground. Several people have mentioned Mary Daly lately -- Janna might be an example of a young female collaborator in patriarchy. It's not easy to be in that position, at the crossroads, half-convinced you know what is good for the oppressed, but at the same time fiercely convinced you know what is good for yourself...

As far as the ending, with Janna and Tuuvin standing in the snow with their gifts... I was also affected by it. It seemed such a bitter ending, speaking of the Terrans' ultimate heartlessness in the face of so much suffering. Who would leave two teenagers in the middle of their devastated village with nothing but a couple of blankets and some packets of food? I thought Wanji's indecision about "appropriateness" was ridiculous, but these folks in the skimmer beat her by a mile!

On that depressing note, I will send this message...

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Tori Amos -- From the Choirgirl Hotel
"...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: BDG: The Sparrow
Date: Tue, 8 Dec 1998 20:35:00 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

It seems a bit like cheating, but I am reposting this message I wrote on 14 Dec 1997:

See previous posting.



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] BDG: The Sparrow
Date: Wed, 16 Dec 1998 19:31:18 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 05:45 PM 12/9/98 -0800, Jessie Stickgold-Sarah wrote:
>Don't get me wrong-I don't mean to downplay the devastating effects
>that rape has on many, many people. On the contrary, that's exactly
>why this portrayal bothered me. I felt we were supposed to feel like
>it counted more, like somehow this was a really different thing than,
>say, all the other rapes we've heard about. As I said, I eventually
>understood what she was trying to use as the distinction; but it just
>left me cold.

This gets at my one of my big beefs with the book. Sandoz is persistently characterized as being "closer to God" than other people, as if there is something more noble than usual about his quest to understand and fulfill God's plan. Russell states in the back-of-the-book interview that "the risks [of religion] have to do with believing that God micromanages the world, and with seeing what may be simply coincidence as significant and indicative of divine providence. It's very easy then to go out on a limb spiritually, expect more from God than you have a right to expect, and set yourself up for bitter disappointment in His silence and lack of action." There seems to be an implied critique here, but from the text I get the sense that Russell feels that an aspiring mystic like Emilio really IS closer to God than more pragmatic folks like Candotti (who says at one point that he does not experience God directly, but rather through serving His children). Rather than being awed by and sympathetic to Sandoz, the end effect for me was the elevation of yet another self-absorbed sensitive guy to the level of "saintliness". In secular terms, sort of like a romantic unbalanced artist whose life is presumably interesting and worthy because he *feels* things so much more intensely than the rest of us. I just couldn't buy into it.

Sandoz's specialness extends to his treatment by the Jesuits when he returns from the mission. They act as if what he has been through is simply unprecedented and never seem to think of approaches that are obvious to me, such as bringing in a counselor experienced with post-traumatic stress disorder. The closest thing to a treatment paradigm we see is Giuliani's brutal quasi-Freudian approach to making Emilio tell his story. In front of a hostile audience no less. And (this was the part that really got me) IT WORKS!

Deafening in its absence was a parallel to the all-too-common rape of women. It would seem so easy to connect the dots. At one point Anne even draws an analogy between Emilio's growing faith in God to being in love with another person. Later, after his "betrayal", it would seem obvious to compare his rape to the much more common rape of women, whose faith in romance or the goodness of men has been shattered so often. Sofia's past history seems amazingly à propos. But Russell never makes the connection.

Though it's obvious that the Jesuits operate missions around the world, in war-torn and variously deprived places (Emilio is posted to some of them), I felt a strange discontinuity in the novel between human belief in God and political awareness. For anyone who has read the second book or has a tolerance for spoilers, I recommend reading L. Timmel Duchamp's very perceptive essay about it which can be found at http://www.halcyon.com/ltimmel/cog.html. She really gets at what I am trying clumsily to express.

All this being said, one thing I really liked about the book is that the characters are so vocal and generally intelligent that I find it easy to imagine debating issues with them and feel like I've been rambling on and on! (This message was originally a lot longer and less coherent.) It's an interesting book to discuss, particularly for an atheist like me.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Sunny Day Real Estate -- How It Feels to Be Something On
"...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 The Female Man
Date: Thu, 4 Feb 1999 23:06:33 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 04:45 PM 2/4/99 EST, S.M. Stirling wrote:
>Personally, I always viewed separatism as simply irrelevant, rather like a
>passionate conviction that everything would be great if only everybody obeyed
>the Golden Rule.

Huh. So separatism is irrelevant, eh? Sort of like "immortality".

At least separatism is somewhat possible in today's world. And thinking about it is VERY interesting for some women.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Sunny Day Real Estate -- How It Feels to Be Something On
"...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 The Female Man
Date: Fri, 5 Feb 1999 12:55:46 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

"S.M. Stirling" wrote:
> It is possible for individual women to chose not to have more than
> they must to do with men, and if that's their choice, that's fine --
> it's a free country, after all.
>
> It just isn't very culturally or politically significant. Some women
> chose to live on Hutterite religious communes... and _they're_ not
> very significant, either, big-picture-wise. (Neither are male
> Hutterites, of course.)
>
> >And thinking about it is VERY interesting for some women.
>
> -- Didn't say it wasn't. I was merely questioning its general
> utility, except as a basis for literary satire, like Swift's lands of
> talking horses and Lilliputians.

"Culturally and politically significant": this begs the question, "significant to whom?" A large measure of feminism is realizing that for quite a lot of recorded history the opinions and lives of women were not deemed significant enough to even mention except as asides. The writing of history and the determination of what is "culturally significant" is a subjective process, if only because it means choosing not to include certain things, much as the process of physically seeing with one's eyes is a subjective process. I would like you to explain how you have arrived at the conclusion that separatism is insignificant. Maybe that would be an enrichment of the discussion rather than a blanket statement that insults all those who *do* find the idea or (incomplete) practice of separatism significant.

I think Russ' chapter on separatism in *What Are We Fighting For?* quite ably outlines some of the reasons that it is an important concept in the feminist toolbox, even if many feminists don't take it seriously or are downright opposed to even thinking about it. And personally I find the question "what would we be like if we were not taught to be women" (to paraphrase Karen Joy Fowler) fascinating and intimately tied with ideas of separatism, women-only spaces and single-sex education. I think Whileaway is a thoughtful, full-bodied imagining of an answer to that question. Ditto the Riding Women of S.M. Charnas' *Motherlines* and the people of Jeep in Nicola Griffith's *Ammonite*.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Tori Amos -- From the Choirgirl Hotel
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: [*FSFFU*] The Female Man vs. "When It Changed"
Date: Fri, 5 Feb 1999 20:53:37 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 07:08 PM 2/5/99 EST, Nicola Griffith wrote:
>I don't recall _The Female Man_ in great detail (I
>read it nearly twenty years ago), but I seem to remember thinking, when I read
>it, that Janet's attitude in the novel (self-confidence) was *much* more
>consistent with her history and upbringing than her attitude in the novella
>(instant feelings of inferiority on meeting men for the first time). It would
>be interesting to find out what others think about this.

I felt exactly the same thing. I read "When It Changed" several years after *The Female Man* and found myself wondering why anyone would prefer it. It struck me as psychologically false and irritating that the narrator would be so worried by the men. As in the novel *Angel Island* (which I have not read, but which has been discussed on the list), there seemed to be an underlying assumption that men would always be able to intimidate women, no matter when, no matter where. I don't believe it, and I think it's a safe bet that Russ doesn't believe it any longer either, if she ever truly did.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Sunny Day Real Estate -- How It Feels to Be Something On
"...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*] Le Guin's *The Eye of the Heron*
Date: Sat, 6 Feb 1999 16:23:29 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

On Sat, 6 Feb 1999 01:16:41 EST, S.M. Stirling wrote:
>>The City, Not Long After.
>
> -- Good book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But the defenders had the
> author on their side, and it _was_ a fantasy... 8-). Ursula LeGuin tends
> to pull that sort of fast one too.
>
> Eg., in that one where the descendants of pacifist-anarchist political
> exiles are stranded on the same planet with the descendants of mafiosi.

Interesting that you mention this book. I don't think her message can be boiled down to anything that simple. The Shantih Towners engage in passive resistance à la Gandhi and it gets them nowhere! Several of their number are killed (including one of the main characters) and the survivors begin talks with the Victoria mafia types that may not change much at all. So the main character, Luz, leaves in the middle of the night with several others to found a secret colony. It's a theme Le Guin has treated before, most famously in her story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" -- the option of simply leaving the confrontation or relationship that is so destructive. I find that this option is denigrated as "running away", the option of the coward, so often in our society. I think that is macho bullshit. Sometimes it really is the best choice. Not all the time. Sometimes not even possible. But it's good to be reminded of it.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Sunny Day Real Estate -- How It Feels to Be Something On
"...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: Female Man -- what's your favorite quote?
Date: Sat, 6 Feb 1999 17:43:36 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 02:29 PM 2/3/99 -0800, Jennifer Krauel wrote:
>When I was reading it I kept wanting to get the highlighter so I could go
>back and find the bits that were just perfect so I could quote them later.
>I enjoyed the quote that Susan typed in of her favorite part. What were
>your favorite lines?

Here are a few:

"It is the old who are given the sedentary jobs, the old who can spend their days mapping, drawing, thinking, writing, collating, composing. In the libraries old hands come out from under the induction helmets and give you the reproductions of the books you want; old feet twinkle below the computer shelves, hanging down like Humpty Dumpty's; old ladies chuckle eerily while composing The Blasphemous Cantata (a great favorite of Ysaye's) or mad-moon cityscapes which turn out to be do-able after all; old brains use one part in fifty to run a city (with checkups made by two sulky youngsters) while the other forty-nine parts riot in a freedom they haven't had since adolescence.
The young are rather priggish about the old on Whileaway. They don't really approve of them." (p. 53)

"Boys don't like smart girls. Boys don't like aggressive girls. Unless they want to sit in the girls' laps, that is. I never met a man yet who wanted to make it with a female Genghis Khan. Either they try to dominate you, which is revolting, or they turn into babies." (p. 67)

"There is an unpolished, white, marble statue of God on Rabbit Island, all alone in a field of weeds and snow. She is seated, naked to the waist, an outsized female figure as awful as Zeus, her dead eyes staring into nothing. At first She is majestic; then I notice that Her cheekbones are too broad, Her eyes set at different levels, that Her whole figure is a jumble of badly-matching planes, a mass of inhuman contradictions. There is a distinct resemblance to Dunyasha Bernadetteson, known as the Playful Philosopher (A.C. 344-426), though God is older than Bernadetteson and it's possible that Dunyasha's genetic surgeon modelled her after God instead of the other way round." (p. 103)

"Romance is bad for the mind." (p. 153)

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Sunny Day Real Estate -- How It Feels to Be Something On
"...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*] Le Guin's *The Eye of the Heron*
Date: Sat, 6 Feb 1999 18:46:49 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 05:22 PM 2/6/99 EST, S.M. Stirling wrote:
>Ultimately, if someone's going to use force on you, you have to either fight
>back or submit. There is no box marked "other".

Yes, there is. I think the problem here is the "ultimately". No one can tell the future. If you delay a confrontation with someone today, maybe they will be hit by a bus tomorrow and you will never have to deal with them again. Maybe you will gain enough time to sneak away when they aren't looking (as Luz did in the book) to a place that they may never find. There are many more options than the false binary you propose. There are some situations that do boil down to that binary, but they are so few when compared to the huge number of human interactions that occur every day that it strikes me as very odd how prevalent this "eat or be eaten" mentality is.

As an aside, I've often been dismayed at the insistence on binaries / opposites in Western thinking. Once I saw a children's book, called, I think, *Opposites*, which was filled with supposed opposites like dog / cat, man / woman, etc. I was horrified! No wonder we turn out so weird... Of course Le Guin's bible, the Tao Teh Ching, is also filled with binaries, though it's more clear that these are creations of the mind that need to be re-evaluated frequently in order to remain useful. Still, I have never been exactly comfortable with the idea of yin / yang or the idea that the female principle is cold and dark, while the male is hot and bright. They are supposed to be intertwined, but it still sounds like separate is not equal...

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Sunny Day Real Estate -- How It Feels to Be Something On
"...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*] Left Hand of Darkness and Pronouns
Date: Wed, 10 Feb 1999 12:48:29 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Syela Shratdeshm wrote:

> I would note that LHoD is told in the first person.
> Genly Ai comes from a society with 1950's sex roles, including
> the division of labor. He is the sort of person who would
> consider "he" to be appropriate for "any person whose sex is
> not specified" (as my dictionary alleges), and who would
> translate a genderless third-person pronoun as "he".

Only parts of the novel are told from Genly Ai's point of view. Of the remaining, some are reports from other Hainish researchers, some are retellings of Gethenian folktales and myths, and some are Estraven's thoughts and journal entries. Leaving aside Ai for the moment, why does the rest of the book use masculine pronouns also? As far as point of view goes, it doesn't make any sense that Estraven would borrow Ai's masculine pronouns, or even that the Hainish would translate into masculine pronouns instead of adopting the pronouns the Gethenians use for themselves. Unless the Hainish are indeed "a society with 1950s sex roles", which would cause a whole lot of plausibility issues (we're talking about a galaxy-spanning confederation that has the power of telepathy) as well as not being supported by the text. When Ai speaks of the differences between men and women (p. 223 in my edition), he is giving an overview of all the societies that are part of the Ekumen, some more gender equalized than others. The contact team itself appears to be completely gender-equal (one of the research entries, "The Question of Sex", is written by a woman and the first person off the lander at the end is a woman). The generic masculine simply doesn't fit, and Le Guin admits as much today.

As far as Ai's individual thoughts on gender... he certainly didn't come across to me as a sexist barbarian. I think Le Guin intended his musings on gender to represent the thoughts anyone from a dual-sexed society might have when faced with the Gethenians. I believe she fell short in not considering that two-sexed does not necessarily mean two-gendered. But I still love the book.

> 36 degrees <pixiegrrrl@HOTMAIL.COM> writes:
> >i haven't actually read the work in question, but i have read some
> >essays by leguin & in one of them she says that she regrets her
> >treatment of the pronoun there...

I have the 25th anniversary edition of *The Left Hand of Darkness*, which includes an essay by Le Guin as well as some reworkings of passages of the book with a) an invented neuter pronoun; b) feminine pronouns; c) neuter pronouns that change to gendered pronouns when Gethenians come into kemmer; d) masculine pronouns that change to female pronouns when a Gethenian comes into (female) kemmer. I find that options b and d really grate on me (d reinforces even more strongly than across-the-board masculine pronouns the defaultness of the male sex). The other two I can't really tell from the original since the maleness of the characters is so imprinted on my brain that a change to an invented pronoun has no effect. It may work for someone who had never read the book before, though.

> I can see practical reasons to use "he" in LHoD.
> In retrospect, it would be nice if the book had influenced readers
> to look at things a different way, but I doubt that it would have
> been as influential or as widely read with another default pronoun.

I agree. Sigh.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Sunny Day Real Estate -- How It Feels to Be Something On
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] Generations of SF writers/reply to Mike Stanton
Date: Wed, 10 Feb 1999 12:49:49 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Santanico wrote:

> Interesting that you should mention this; I recently found a website
> that, in part, devotes itself to reviving interest in (and book sales
> for) forgotten feminist-themed SF/F authors of earlier days, such as
> Marie Corelli, Olivia Howard Dunbar and Sarah Orne Jewett. It's run by
> an author called Jessica Amanda Salmonson, and while it's not entirely
> devoted to female authors of the period (it's basically just for all
> old, forgotten SF/F books and authors), I'd say that theme occupies
> about 95% of the site. It can be found at:
>
> http://www.violetbooks.com/

Cool! Thanks for the link, Santanico. Salmonson edited an anthology of short stories called *What Did Miss Darrington See?*, which contains work by some of the authors you mention. I read it back in the summer of 1989 when I REALLY needed some feminist speculative fiction to keep me sane. As well as older, obscure authors, it includes work by some newer writers. The final story in the volume is "The Little Dirty Girl" by Joanna Russ, perhaps the first Russ I ever read. Different generation or no (I turned 20 that summer), that story made me cry!

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/jedhome.htm
Listening to: Sunny Day Real Estate -- How It Feels to Be Something On
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] "Hard" Science Fiction
Date: Thu, 18 Feb 1999 13:42:24 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Dave Samuelson wrote:
> Men write (or get published) both literary and scientific sf.
> Women don't seem to, and I assume there are good reasons for that,
> some of which are political (probably they are all political in the
> broad sense of the word).

What I wonder is why the concept of "hard sf" is so often posed in contrast to sf written by women. You say here that "women don't seem to write scientific sf", a claim I have heard before but never seen substantiated. I would be very interested to see a comparison, for example, of all the books published as science fiction in the span of a year, broken down by sex of author and classification as "hard" or "soft". Something objective rather than a list of books that someone just happened to read because of pre-existing prejudice or time constraints. I have a hunch that there is a strong self-fulfilling prophecy at work: readers expect that women will write "soft" vs. "hard" sf and end up not paying attention to the scientific details in books written by women or not reading the works at all.

A good example is Nicola Griffith's *Slow River*. The sewage treatment plant in that book is a fascinating extrapolation of current technology and plays a crucial role in the plot -- yet I have heard very few reviewers characterize the novel as "hard sf". I think it qualifies. Of course, it is *also* 1) well-written; 2) a gripping character drama and; 3) a novel of suspense. I don't see how "hard sf" could usefully be defined as science fiction that is *only and exclusively* about science. Do you?

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Mercury Rev -- Deserter's Songs
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: [*FSFFU*] BDG: A Fisherman of the Inland Sea
Date: Mon, 29 Mar 1999 23:30:28 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

I'm a little tardy with this, but I thought I'd make a stab at A Fisherman of the Inland Sea before the month is over...

I agree with some other people that this collection of stories is not very strong overall, at least for Le Guin. I found "The First Contact with the Gorgonids" shallow and nasty rather than darkly humorous. "The Ascent of the North Face" seemed pointless, though it's possible that I didn't fully get it. (Small people climbing up the side of a suburban house as if it were Mount Everest, right?) I appreciated the central idea of "The Rock That Changed Things" -- that a narrow, fixed view of reality can reinforce itself so strongly that it prevents one from physically seeing anything else -- an idea that is developed more fully in some of the other stories in the collection. However, I found the story itself to be too obvious and heavy-handed for me to enjoy it. I liked the way "The Kerastion" sketched out a culture in a few pages of spare prose -- it's more impressive for being an "unimproved" workshop story -- though I can't read much more into it than an exercise in imagining strangeness (in this case, a society that views permanent works of art as desecrations of the Mother).

The remaining four stories strike me very much as a thematic group concerning individual perspective and the creation of meaning and story. In "Newton's Sleep" the character of Ike represents the danger of mechanical, hyper-rational thinking. He believes in simple facts, freedom from superstition, to the point that he seems to disapprove even of metaphor: "The light in Vermont quadrant was just the right number of degrees off vertical, Susan said -- 'It's either late morning or early afternoon, there's always time to get things done.' That was juggling a bit with reality, but not dangerously, Ike thought, and said nothing." (p.27) There's Ike, standing watch at the gates of Truth!

Le Guin has said, in an interview with Larry McCaffery, "I'm rather afraid of purity in any guise. Purity doesn't seem quite human. I'd rather have things a little dirty and messy." (Across the Wounded Galaxies, p.170-171) Purity is sterility, purity can kill. I once heard the Nazi death camps described as "an incredibly efficient, spic-and-span hell". The future of Earth as described in "Newton's Sleep" can be imagined as the logical end result of self-selected enclaves repeatedly redrawing the lines and denying responsibility for what is going on "out there", denying knowledge of the other. An attitude that is carried with the few escapees to Spes, where some want to remove even the reminders of their old, dirty home.

The story is rather obvious, it's true. But it has meat, and I like the connections it draws between various symptoms of an underlying cause.

Le Guin describes the last three stories as "metafictions, story about story". As in "The Rock That Changed Things", perspective has a profound effect on what is called Truth. To me, the narrative function of the churten (aside from instantaneous travel) was to increase the effects of pre-existing thought patterns on perception. So in "The Shobies' Story", when the crew churten to a previously unvisited planet, their experiences differ wildly. Perhaps stress makes it worse?

Stylistically the story is a mess and its ending may seem to advocate the power of "groupthink" over individual perception. But it's important to remember that the Shobies never decide upon a single, "correct" story. They "agree to disagree" about some elements of their experience (like who went down in the lander to the planet's surface); it's the weaving of the story, even with its contradictory elements, that brings them home.

"Dancing to Ganam" shows what might happen when a powerfully charismatic person unbalances a crew. Interestingly, Forest and Riel break with him early on, fairly clearly because they are women (cute how Le Guin left out any mention of their sex until halfway through the story, eh?), and Dalzul and Shan are men. It's a theme that's sounded many times in the collection: women are more in tune with base reality than men are. Shan, who has been bewitched by Dalzul's illusions, begins to wake up. By the end of the story, Dalzul is all alone in his view of reality. But Aketa says that he believes Dalzul "knew what he was doing." Meaning what? That Dalzul knew he was going to die and chose his death? Perhaps that his ritual death was the inexorable last word of his life's sentence?

"Another Story" is the emotional heart of the collection for me. It is longer and takes more time developing characters and settings. Superficially, it's plot is much simpler: boy leaves home; boy is emotionally crippled; magically he is given the chance to do it all over again; he returns home to his true love. But along the way we learn about the fascinating four-way marriages of O, about "thick-planning" (I love that term); about the history of churten research; and about "The Fisherman of the Inland Sea", whose story is inverted by Hideo. Rather than returning unchanged to a land where his descendants are all dead, he returns ten years older to an unchanged farm.

Le Guin is very good at describing moments of utter, lonely despair. The center of this story for me is the night when Hideo is in his room at Ran'n after returning from his visit home. He tries to sleep but can't stop thinking how meaningless his life is. He begins to cry helplessly and can only bring himself out of it by imagining that he will call Isidri in the morning. But when the night has passed, he does not call her. He still denies his need for balance.

Pamela Bedore asked, "I wonder how much influence Jung and post-Jungian theorists have had on her writing over the past decade or so..." I think the answer is a lot. Both Hideo and Ike are characters who have walled off parts of their own minds out of fear, and both suffer because of it. In her essay "The Child and the Shadow", Le Guin quoted Jung: " 'Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.' " She goes on to say, "The less you look at it, in other words, the stronger it grows, until it can become a menace, an intolerable load, a threat within the soul." (The Language of the Night, p. 59), Hideo and Ike get another chance; Dalzul does not (nor does he want one).

Whew! This message is gigantic! I think I had better send it now. I would love to read further comments on the book -- any takers?

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Hooverphonic -- A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular
"...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*] BDG: Jaran
Date: Thu, 22 Apr 1999 13:02:10 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

I too finished Jaran recently.

Jessie Stickgold-Sarah mentioned that we may be getting a distorted view of male/female roles through the viewpoint character, Tess. Because of her own preconceptions and goals, she views the Jaran men as more desireable companions. I agree with this, but only so far. Obviously, Tess' goal from the beginning of the book is to travel to Jeds, and the only way she can do this is to accompany the jahar. On that journey she comes to identify with the men and value what they value, so it might be difficult for her to adjust to the world of women when she returns to it.

But... there are other signs that this is not a conscious strategy on the part of the author. Tess never shows any signs of being uncomfortable with the Jaran women and it is never indicated that Tess is an "unreliable narrator". I got the impression that her powers of observation were supposed to be quite good and that she was able to get along with just about anyone. So the fact that the narrative is almost entirely moved along by the actions of men and Tess herself, even when they are among the women, says to me that the supposedly central power of women is being paid mere lipservice.

In this respect, Eleanor Arnason's Ring of Swords provides an interesting contrast to Jaran. In Ring of Swords, the structure of the Hwarhath society is very similar to the Jaran, the women staying at home for the most part and the men roving around in spaceships making war. As in Jaran, the women are considered dominant. But in Ring of Swords we actually see that they are dominant when, near the end, they decide that they cannot leave the problem of humanity to the men and they step in to decide if humans are "people" and whether or not they should be exterminated like vermin. (!) Nothing like that happens in Jaran. It is mentioned several times in the book that warfare is the province of men, but I'm sorry, an all-out jihad against the khaja is too important to leave to them alone, particularly when we know that the khaja will not hesitate to kill women. It can be assumed that the Jaran women will have some impact on the course of the war, but it is very clear at the end, when Ilya makes his speech about how "the Jaran are mine now", that power has been shifted to him. Given the society, I don't find that believable.

I get the impression that things are explained a little more in the subsequent books, but this novel alone does not convince me. Or am I missing something?

On another subject... I could not make sense of the sexual customs in the book. Why, in a society that seemed not to value monogamy at all (as distinguished from marriage), was sexual jealousy such a constant theme? I was particularly bothered by the subplot of Tess' relationship with Kirill. Sure, she has sex with him and clearly cares for him a lot (and vice versa), which is transgressive in a way given that she is also deeply invested in Ilya. But there seems to be an unquestioned assumption on everyone's part that once Tess commits to Ilya and accepts her role as his wife, she has made a choice and her sexual relationship with Kirill must end. WHY?

Frankly, I liked Kirill a lot better than Ilya. He is continually reprimanded by everyone for being too forward with women, but I thought he was much more respectful of Tess than Ilya was. Throughout the book I was amazed at how Ilya's attempts to dominate her were met with surprisingly little disapproval from his fellow Jaran. The pieces didn't fit together. (And I don't buy that his behavior was OK because she was not Jaran -- allowing her to break the rules because she is an outsider is not the same as allowing him to violate the morals of his own society).

This post is coming across as a pan of the book, I know. I did enjoy some aspects of it and may even read some of the sequels some day, particularly if some of the issues I have raised are dealt with in a more satisfactory way. Can someone who has read the sequels give me an idea of what to expect? (Spoilers are OK.)

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Hooverphonic -- Blue Wonder Power Milk
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [*FSFFU*] The Matrix
Date: Sat, 29 May 1999 12:48:37 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 05:13 AM 5/29/99 PDT, Claudia Lyndhurst wrote:
>Early this week I saw The Matrix which is almost all special effects
>and nothing else. After the first 30 minutes I got bored. All I could
>think about was how derivative it was ... an uneasy blend of Virtuosity,
>Brazil, Conspiracy Theory, Hackers and the Lawnmower Man.

I had a very different reaction to the Matrix -- it's one of my favorite movies in quite a while. It's true that it hearkens back to other movies, but I think it ends up being better than most of the movies it references (for instance, in your above list, Brazil is the only movie I would say is better than Matrix, and in a completely different way). You aren't the first to say that it is only about special effects, but I am still baffled to hear it -- I thought this movie had, for a science fiction film, a very well realized, interesting plot, almost Philip K. Dick-ian in its questioning of perceived reality. And it's one of the better treatments of Buddhist enlightenment that I have seen on screen. It had its silly ideas (humans-as-batteries is right up there) but overall I was very impressed. And ObFemSF: Trinity kicked ass!

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: XTC -- Apple Venus Volume 1
"...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*] The Matrix
Date: Sun, 30 May 1999 14:37:01 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 12:48 PM 29/05/99 -0400, I wrote:
>And ObFemSF: Trinity kicked ass!

At 03:33 AM 5/30/99 -0500, Santanico wrote:
>Yeah - for about fifteen minutes in the beginning, before being relegated
>for the rest of the movie to the role of Faithful Sidekick. Sigh...

I sure would have liked to see more of her, but I don't think she can really be called a "sidekick". Neo never controls her. When he tries near the end to prevent her from entering the matrix with him she chews him out for telling her what to do! Of course, the "loving female" theme at the end is tiresomely familiar, but it may be partially redeemed by the fact that if she had not fallen in love with Neo he certainly would have died and it all would have been for nothing. Some hardcore fans of the film in rec.arts.movies have even claimed that "The One" is not Neo himself, but the trio of Morpheus, Neo and Trinity, a la Babylon 5's "One" consisting of Sheriden, Sinclair and Delenn. I wouldn't go that far, but it's an interesting idea.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: XTC -- Apple Venus Volume 1
"...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*] The Matrix
Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 00:30:10 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 11:20 PM 5/30/99 -0500, Santanico wrote:
>I'm afraid I have to disagree; the "love theme" at the end didn't seem at all
>necessary. In fact, it seemed positively bizarre, especially considering that
>both Trinity and Neo haven't displayed a whole lot of emotion towards each other
>beforehand, and that this kind of movie genuinely does not need a Romantic
>Subplot (TM) to support itself - it was cruising along just fine on its own energy
>prior to this odd "Suddenly, Neo, I Realise I Love You For No Apparent
>Reason! Callooh, Callay!" development.

I agree that in terms of character development it comes out of nowhere. There is very little buildup of anything in a psychological sense. What I meant was that according to the plot Neo would have died during the final confrontation with Agent Smith if Trinity had not felt for him as she did and given him the ol' kiss of life (TM). Somewhat of a reversal of the Sleeping Beauty tale, come to think of it. Though I seriously doubt the Wachowski brothers were consciously doing that.

>Not to mention that it kind of casts Trinity in a rather shallow light - she
>only fell for Neo because, it seemed, that she'd told herself ages ago that
>she would fall in love with the One, whoever he might be. Neo himself not
>turning out to have much in the way of personal charisma (he's played by
>Keanu Reeves, after all), you really have to wonder whether she 'loves' him
>because he's such a wonderful guy and all, or because he's the One and it's
>expected of her.

It's pretty clear from dialogue at the beginning and elsewhere that Neo is not the only person who has been a potential "One". There have been others who simply haven't worked out. I imagine that Trinity didn't fall in love with any of them and that that's why she takes her feelings for Neo as proof that he is the One.

As for Keanu... generally, his acting is pretty terrible, but for this movie, I thought his style of non-acting fit pretty well. Sort of like the Buddhist state of "no-self"!

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: XTC -- Apple Venus Volume 1
"...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



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