Postings to the Feminist Science Fiction On-Topic Mailing List, 19 April 1999 to 15 February 2000

Recent Reading | Mission Child | The Conqueror's Child | BDG Nomination: The Slave and the Free | Eleanor Arnason | BDG: Wild Seed | BDG: Wild Seed | Arslan | BDG: The Slave and the Free | BDG: The Slave and the Free | BDG: The Slave and the Free | BDG: The Slave and the Free -- Satire | BDG: The Slave and the Free -- Bek and the Man Problem | BDG: The Slave and the Free -- Bek and the Man Problem | BDG: Flying Cups and Saucers | Female Characters in Harry Potter and Diana Wynne Jones | BDG: "Chemistry" | BDG: Dawn | BDG: Dawn / Contact | BDG: Dawn / Xenophobia  | BDG: taking off from Dawn discussion




Subject: [FSFFU-LIT] Recent Reading
Date: Mon, 19 Apr 1999 22:13:38 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 07:27 PM 4/19/99 -0400, donna simone wrote:
>Until we decide if we will have a formal BDG, why dont folks just
>mention titles that are surfacing to the top of their reading pile.

Okay! Just yesterday I finished Jaran. Can't say I liked it that much -- I agree with others who were bothered by the romance, not because I have a problem with romance, but because I thought Ilya was an asshole. I did not enjoy reading about his attempts to bend Tess to his will -- passion is not an excuse. But more about that in a full-fledged BDG message...

Today I gulped down The Ruby Tear by Suzy McKee Charnas, which suffered from a too-blithe adoption of genre romance/vampire novel style, I thought, but was very satisfying in its divergences from the expected, particularly at the end.

Somewhat recently I reread Ring of Swords by Eleanor Arnason and would enjoy talking about it (particularly as it was passed over for the BDG this past round). Ditto for Pamela Dean's Tam Lin, which upon my second reading seemed a lot nastier in a subtle way than I remembered it being...

A couple of months ago I read Susan Matthews' third installment in her Andrej Koscuisko epic, Hour of Judgment, which, though certainly not feminist, continues to puzzle me in a rewarding way. I keep waiting to hear the punch line.

And a very rewarding recent read was Maureen McHugh's Half the Day Is Night. I think I've finally learned how to read McHugh's work, because this one was a pleasure from start to finish, whereas her other novels have had to sneak up on me and catch me only near the end. I look forward to rereading them, perhaps spurred by a discussion of Mission Child when everyone else is ready?

Next on the agenda is either Linda Nagata's The Bohr Maker or Jewelle Gomez' The Gilda Stories. So much to read, so little time!

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Hooverphonic -- Blue Wonder Power Milk
"...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-LIT] Mission Child
Date: Fri, 7 May 1999 17:22:48 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

I liked this book a lot. Like Donna, I think it succeeds at what it tries to do, but I can also understand the bad reactions some people have had to it. Some people may be able to appreciate McHugh's novels on a first reading, but I would guess that such people are rare, simply because she intentionally undermines some of the common foundations of SF novels.

My first McHugh was China Mountain Zhang. Having heard great things about it after it won the Tiptree, I had high expectations and found when I first picked it up that I could not identify with Zhang and found his life boring. I only read about 20 pages and gave up. Many months later I picked it up again and determined to forge on. I was so glad I did. As often happens when I listen to unfamiliar music that challenges my expectations, it took me quite a while to appreciate the book. By the end I was astonished to realize how my opinion of Zhang had changed and how much warmth I felt for him and the author herself.

McHugh is not a showy writer; in order to appreciate her work I have to actively interpret rather than wait for important events to be highlighted for me. And over and over again, expectations about what sorts of important events will be related in the story are overturned. The first, most obvious, surprise in Mission Child is that the offworlders who come to the village in response to Janna's distress call don't rescue her. As a reader, I was shocked and appalled, but Janna did not seem to question the situation at all. At this point I don't think it's far wrong to characterize her as a "zombie". After all, her entire family has just been brutally killed, her community has been destroyed and she has been left with almost nothing. Emotional numbness is understandable.

But I do not think Janna remains a zombie for long. Several people have commented that they found Janna emotionless and without purpose. As far as emotions go, all I can think is that the unfamiliar style of the narrative is distracting people from what is actually being said, because the references to Janna's emotions are frequent. It's true that she doesn't spend much time thinking about long range plans, but to me this seems only realistic. In reality there are some people who want to make millions and know just how to do it, but they are mighty few. Most of us have our choices mapped out for us by class, race and parentage and spend our energy largely on day-to-day tasks, not on fulfilling a master plan. In SF there is a long tradition of writing about (mostly white male) underdogs who turn out to be geniuses and who outsmart the aliens, make great discoveries or become rulers of the galactic federation. (Who was it who said that American SF tends toward simple power fantasies?) I see McHugh as consciously addressing this tradition with her characters who can barely keep themselves alive, let alone save humanity, who never understand the Great Conspiracy, who aren't masters of the martial arts, and who aren't able to learn new languages at the drop of a hat. I find it new and interesting.

I think there is an issue of plot here as well. McHugh's writing is not what I would call "plot-heavy" -- I read her books more for the wonderfully-realized settings and the characters than to find out what happens next. Each of her novels can also be read as a series of short stories or vignettes. (Chapter 11 of Half the Day Is Night especially struck me as a brief, powerful statement on the multiple causes of drug addiction.) This is most obvious with Mission Child because two parts of the book are altered versions of previously published short stories. I don't view this as a shortcoming, though I can imagine that others would. Has anyone else ever read Ursula Le Guin's essay "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction"? In it she challenges the idea that stories must be told as a series of conflicts leading in a straight line to the end (like a spear being thrown toward its target). She says that an equally valid way of writing a novel is to envision it as a bag, filled with food or other useful items that can be taken out one at a time or all at once depending on preference. (Le Guin's own Always Coming Home is a prime example of such a carrier bag.) McHugh's novels seem to occupy the middle ground to me. Characters grow and change over the course of her books, but structurally the books can be considered in smaller pieces. I think this leads to fabulous rereading possibilities!

I don't feel that I have done justice to the book or other people's messages in this reply, but dang if it's not time to go home! I look forward to further discussion.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: XTC -- Apple Venus Volume 1
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [FSFFU-LIT] The Conqueror's Child
Date: Thu, 10 Jun 1999 12:53:38 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Petra Mayerhofer wrote:
> From what I gather from Hladik's review some of the content of _CC_
> is better to understand if one has read the first 3 books. Otherwise
> it would be a nice choice for the BDG. As soon as it's out in
> paperback of course.

In addition to The Conqueror's Child, Tor has reissued Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines as a combined trade paperback called The Slave and the Free. I think it would make a marvelous choice for the BDG. For those who don't know, Charnas received one of the Retrospective Tiptree awards for these two books. Some comments about them can be found at http://www.tiptree.org/retro/index.html

I was so excited about The Conqueror's Child that I was checking Amazon.Com almost daily during the month of May to see if it was available yet. Last week I finally got my copy and this past weekend I finished it. I'm still trying to marshal my thoughts about it. I liked it and was troubled by it -- there are some very sad moments. However, I was delighted by a smattering of humor here and there. At the beginning of the book Eykar Bek is in his beloved library puzzling over how to shelve an ancient book that, judging from a brief quotation, appears to be a trashy Western. Of course it would make sense that the books left over from before the Wasting would be a motley collection, but the image of this latter-day scholar grappling in all seriousness to understand genre literature that most people today would find trivial really made me chuckle. Much later on, Alldera asks him what he has learned recently from his reading and he replies that he has learned about fatness and how obsessed the Ancients were with their weight. Both find this a very strange thought.

Since reading The Conqueror's Child I've been inspired to revisit the older books. I highly recommend them. They are all currently in print, so get your copies now!

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: XTC -- Apple Venus Volume 1
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: [FSFFU-LIT] BDG Nomination: The Slave and the Free
Date: Fri, 25 Jun 1999 17:16:48 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

I am nominating Suzy McKee Charnas's The Slave and the Free (Tor Books; ISBN: 0312869126, $16.95 paperback - 448 pages).

This volume is a reprint of the first two novels of Charnas's Holdfast series, Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines. Together, these two novels were awarded one of the three Retrospective Tiptree Awards in 1996 (details available at http://www.tiptree.org/retro/index.html) and at last they are back in print.

These books amazed me when I first read them five years ago. Charnas writes in a spare, calm style that sets off the strangeness of the plot and setting to great effect. All of the Holdfast books (the series is now complete after four volumes) take place in an indeterminately distant future after the world ecosystem has collapsed and nearly all humans have died, along with most large species of animals. The residents of the Holdfast are descendants of the lucky few who were able to hide out underground in secret government shelters and who emerged after "the Wasting" to found a new society. They think they know what caused the collapse of civilization: the influence of women. Now known as 'fems', women are drudges and breeders and are beaten or killed for the flimsiest of reasons or no reason at all.

The first book recounts the journey of three men and a fem to find the father of one of the men. The plot twists are completely unpredictable and harrowing. It left me shaken, but giddy with all that the author had attempted and succeeded at. The second book follows the fem out into the wilderness beyond the Holdfast, where she discovers an undreamt of society of women who breed horses and reproduce without need of men. She also discovers a group of escaped fems like herself. And all is not sweetness and light. These are wonderful books that address power relationships with a psychological realism and depth of thought that I haven't often seen. And they are founding texts of feminist sf.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Julia Darling -- Figure 8
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [FSFFU-LIT] Eleanor Arnason...
Date: Wed, 11 Aug 1999 17:31:23 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Lindy wrote:
> Also, I don't suppose Eleanor Arnason has found a publisher for her
> latest yet. . .? I'm patiently waiting with fingers crossed for
> Tor or someone else to get smart.

I had the unexpected delight of conversing with Eleanor at Readercon last month. I asked her for the lowdown on her second hwarhath novel and she confirmed that it has so far been rejected. However, a number of people (including Ursula Le Guin) have read it and offered their suggestions, and she says that she plans on revising it, then (probably) having it published by a small press. So, it's not looking like any time soon, but we can still cross our fingers that it will be available sometime within the next few orbits of the sun... In the mean time, she has published several stories of the hwarhath:

"The Lovers" (reprinted in Flying Cups and Saucers)
"Feeding the Mother: A Hwarhath Religious Anecdote" (from Paradoxa, vol. 4, issue 10).
"The Hound of Merin", Xanadu I (Tor Books, 1993).
"The Semen Thief," Amazing, 68 (9) Winter 1994.
"The Gauze Banner" (from More Amazing Stories)

Many of these are in the form of hwarhath folk tales. What I have read I have really enjoyed.

> BTW--I was reading Amazon.com reviews for _A Ring of Swords_ and
> came across one by a reader which stated that s/he didn't appreciate
> how, at the end, the story seemed to boil down to "men are bad and
> women are good" or something like this.
>
> I didn't get that perspective, and was wondering if anyone else did.
> Might this opinion originate in the way the women were shown to have
> social power in their culture? I'm just curious.

I checked out the Amazon.Com page you mentioned. And frankly, I haven't a clue what that person was on about. I would think that the highly sympathetic portraits Arnason paints of Nicholas, Gwarha and Matsehar would make it obvious to any reader that she does not believe "Men = Bad".

BTW, Ring of Swords is our BDG selection for October, so you can look forward to more discussion of it then.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Velvet Goldmine Soundtrack
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: [FSFFU-LIT] BDG: Wild Seed
Date: Thu, 12 Aug 1999 17:36:40 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

On Thu, 12 Aug 1999 at 09:59:36 -0700, Suzy Charnas wrote:
> [there are] other, better ways of looking at this novel as a told
> SF tale rather than a very tough slog emotionally. I think a couple
> of earlier posts began to do this, but then we got side-tracked by
> this big, central block of discomfort, and I think we owe it to the
> book and the author to move past that.

Okay, you've inspired me.

Wild Seed made me uncomfortable, but not entirely for the same reasons as most other people have mentioned. I'm not sure if I will be able to explain myself very well, but I will give it a try...

I have read other books by Octavia Butler -- Adulthood Rites, Imago, Kindred -- and have reacted in much the same way to each. Her style is clear, her plotting well-done, her consciousness of power dynamics a welcome constant... yet I cannot fully engage with her work. It makes me feel itchy and constrained. The one theme I can clearly target as a cause of this feeling is, as Robin said, Butler's belief that humanity is imprisoned by its genome, that certain behaviors are linked to our biology and that there is no way around it except to breed ourselves into a new species. This belief (and Butler really does believe it to some extent, as I learned from Larry McCaffery's interview with her in Across the Wounded Galaxies) is one with which I am extremely uncomfortable. I disagree with it on a scientific basis, but, more fundamentally, I reject it because it robs us of any motivation toward long-term social change -- after all, you can't change Human Nature!

In the Xenogenesis trilogy, the Oankali maintain that "pure-bred" humans can never be free of their destructive tendency towards hierarchy. Ironically (or not?), I felt that Wild Seed was about the founding of just such a hierarchy. Doro's and Anyanwu's communities of telepaths, telekinetics, shapechangers, et al are the "next step" in human evolution; one-on-one, any of them can best a normal human easily, though in their greater numbers, normal humans are a threat. And above the rank and file, there are the special children, like Isaac and Joseph. Above them -- and this is where most of the book expends its energy -- are Anyanwu and Doro, the Immortals. It is their contest for dominance that is the real center of the book. I did not see Wild Seed as a love story, though by the end of the book I was half-convinced that that is how Butler saw it; I saw it as a battle of wills. And I think it is safe to say that Anyanwu won.

Intellectually I can see that the book makes a statement about the ghastly dilemmas the enslaved must face, but the book did not go into enough psychological detail for me to really feel it. Unlike, for example, Arslan, which I found devastating.

I kept wishing that Butler had spent more time concentrating on some of her throwaway plot elements, such as Anyanwu's time with the dolphins. When I read that she had given birth to dolphin babies, I inwardly exclaimed, "She what?! I'd like to know what that was like!" But no dice. I find it hard to believe that Anyanwu could function for months (years?) as a dolphin and come away with her values seemingly unaffected. The way Butler describes it, it sounds more like a vacation! But clearly her emphasis lies elsewhere, and I can't fault her for that. I'm just a little disappointed.

Does anyone have any insight into the Biblical overtones of the novel? It must be important that the three sections of the book are entitled "Covenant", "Lot's Children" and "Canaan", but I'm so ignorant of the Bible that I'm not seeing the connections. I can see that Doro is in many ways a God figure, even to the "bright light" people see when they merge with him. What does this say about Butler's opinion of Christianity? Hm.

--
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: The Velvet Goldmine Soundtrack
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: Re: [FSFFU-LIT] BDG: Wild Seed
Date: Wed, 18 Aug 1999 22:33:15 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 11:42 AM 8/13/99 -0700, Suzy Charnas wrote:
>>after all, you can't change Human Nature!
>
>Until you change the human genetic map.

Right.

>The really scary question, to
>me, is, once you can change human nature via interfering with the genome
>technologically, what are the chances that "we" will choose to do this
>with the intention of making our descendants less crazy and aggressive and
>selfish and narrow-minded?

Hm. I feel what I might call a "Butlerian pessimism" about the prospect. But that is because I see any such technology as being controlled by the same elite that rules today. I'm certainly open to alternatives!

>Incidentally, why do you disagree on a scientific basis? What I've seen on
>the subject from a scientific point of view still vacillates wildly between
>total behaviorism and total genetic determinism (kind of like my own
>opinions . . . ). One minute they've "found the gene for homsexuality,"
>the next it's all baloney, on and on, almost as bad as scientific studies
>of diet and heart disease.

As far as I know, all of the studies that have claimed genetic determinism of complex behavior have proven to be full of holes. And I imagine that they will continue to be, judging by the number of false assumptions and the amount of reductionist thinking that dog them. (A good debunking of "biological theories about women and men" is Myths of Gender by Anne Fausto-Sterling.) A stumbling block of such studies is that it's enormously difficult to define a term such as "aggression" (or "homosexuality") in a way that will be scientifically meaningful -- let alone measure it! Personally, I think we need a lot more study of behavior itself before we can address the issue of how genetics affects it.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: The Velvet Goldmine Soundtrack
"...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-LIT] Arslan
Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 00:28:51 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 11:42 AM 8/13/99 -0700, Suzy Charnas wrote:
>I truly hated ARSLAN, mainly because Engh chose to concentrate on
>the fate of a favored boy while tossing away in the margins some truly
>horrific treatment of girls and women as if that wasn't really worth
>bothering with -- the one whose abuse mattered was this lone male. It
>just made me grind my teeth! Very effective book, though, in other ways.

I guess it didn't bother me as much because I took it as a given near the beginning of the book (having skimmed chapter headings) that there were only going to be two narrators, and I knew they were both male. I was somewhat surprised at the dearth of female characters and the shallow way they were treated when they did appear, but I could explain that to some extent by the fact that everything we, as readers, know is mediated by these two, not-exactly-feminist male points of view. It doesn't surprise me, though, that Engh admits not having thought about it at the time.

Hunt was also a character I identified with, so that mitigates the offense for me, especially as he suffered some abuse that is often reserved for females in fiction (i.e. rape). His experience of humiliation by and forced co-existence with a man who could charitably be described as a monster echoes that of many abused women. I didn't get the impression that his abuse mattered any more than anyone else's; at the beginning he is chosen, along with two others (both female), more or less at random by Arslan. The near-randomness of many events is part of what made the book so chilling to me.

Now I am wondering: what would the book have been like if Engh had made an effort to think about women more? What if Hunt had been a woman? Hm.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: The Velvet Goldmine Soundtrack
"...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: [FSF-L] BDG: The Slave and the Free
Date: Wed, 8 Sep 1999 00:28:55 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

After a long holiday weekend it is now time to discuss The Slave and the Free.

What did you think? Of the treatment of feminist issues? Of the differences between the two books? What about the characters?

I first read these two books several years ago and was profoundly affected by their mix of sophisticated world-building, wordcraft, characterization and moral seriousness. Now, reading them a second time for this discussion, I notice more of an ironic detachment that lends authenticity to each character's viewpoint -- none is clearly the author's mouthpiece.

Are the Riding Women a utopian society? What do you think about the depictions of man/fem relations in the first book? Is Charnas being too harsh -- or not harsh enough? (Though it seems somehow shameful to admit it, Eykar Bek is one of my favorite fictional characters, particularly as he develops in the later books.) What do you think of the changes Alldera undergoes over the course of the two books?

I am nearly falling out of my chair with weariness, so I'm hoping this sketchy introduction can spur discussion of these very interesting books!

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: The Velvet Goldmine Soundtrack
"...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: [FSF-L] BDG: The Slave and the Free
Date: Tue, 14 Sep 1999 01:12:25 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Margaret McBride wrote:
>I'm not quite sure how you're using the term "ironic detachment,"
>Janice. Please explain more.

I'm not sure I used the right words to describe my impression, actually. Perhaps the irony and the detachment are two different things. The irony is in the Holdfast males' conviction that by keeping the fems in abject servitude they are controlling the forces that led to the collapse of their world, when it seems obvious to us that this sort of institutionalized scapegoating, given the available technology, would put them on an express train to Wasting II. These men are wrong, wrong, wrong, but in a way that is not at all unfamiliar in the real world -- there is a sort of bitter humor in it, particularly at times like the dreaming, when the boys chant the conveniently rhyming names of the unmen and the beast names of the fems. What a horrifying yet ridiculous ritual!

The detachment is harder to pin down. I guess it is the sense that each character and each social situation is being unsentimentally investigated, the bad as well as the good. This last week I received the September issue of the The New York Review of Science Fiction, which includes half of an interview with Charnas. I had an aha! moment when I read the following:

"People don't really understand what an adventure [Walk to the End of the World] was for me as a writer. I'm not sure I understood it myself at the time. This was my first novel; I didn't have that much awareness of my own mind during the writing process. I was too riveted by the challenges of the process: 'How can things have gotten this terrible socially? I've got these people, how would they interact with each other, what would they have learned to believe? This is how it works and this is where it is going. Now they smash everything up, good!'
     It was like playing with toy soldiers, almost. I didn't have such a deep investment in the characters then. It was more like reading somebody else's book and getting really into it and enjoying it, rather than getting worked up about the situation while I was writing. With Motherlines I felt like Lewis and Clark exploring the American West, living among people with a whole different take on the world."

Her comments fit exactly my sense of the tone of the books, almost a stance of "participant observation", as they call it in anthropology. I admire it while also enjoying how it leaves room for the later books to delve deeper into some of the characters and the emotional repercussions of events.

>my real question is about the way the Riding Women treat the girls.
>Charnas does suggest a philosophy of survival of the fittest (the way the
>women treat the grain silos and the predators who will steal from them),
>but I'm still bothered by how the girl-groups fit into the larger story.
>How does the separation of the girls fit into their philosophy/societal
>make-up? What comments do you think Charnas had in mind with
>regard to allusions to our world?

The segregation of the children into both the kit pits and the childpack was one element of the books that seemed unworkable to me. I have a hard time believing that children divided from adults at age six or younger would survive, let alone grow up to fit into the existing adult society. But we get so little detail of how these child communities actually function; perhaps with further investigation it would make more sense. I too wondered how they fit in conceptually to the worlds of the Holdfast fems and the Riding Women. It can't be an accident that these otherwise wildly divergent groups of women take much the same hands off approach to child-rearing. Is it simply because resources are so scarce? Or simply to show how the difference is all in the context? The girls of the childpack roam free and presumably have enough to eat, while the young fems are trapped and hungry. ...I'm still puzzled by this. I agree with Joyce that the proximity of the childpack to the horse herds might encourage them to bond more thoroughly than if the experience were mediated by adults. Maybe part of the message is that being "protected" by adults might not be such a good thing anyway?

Looking forward to more discussion. Thanks for your messages, Margaret and Joyce -- I've really enjoyed them. Anyone else care to chime in?

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: The Velvet Goldmine Soundtrack
"...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: [FSF-L] BDG: The Slave and the Free
Date: Thu, 16 Sep 1999 22:31:02 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 12:06 PM 9/16/99 -0700, Jessie Stickgold-Sarah wrote:
>It seems to me (for instance) that some parts of the Riding Women's
>culture couldn't survive as a two-sexed culture, however benevolent.
>All the fems who learn how they reproduce are disgusted. And indeed,
>if penetrative sex has been an abusive experience, I imagine a horse
>would seem like your worse nightmare. Conversely, if it's a personal,
>romantic, emotionally-involved experience, it would seem wrong to
>have the same experience with a horse who might be culled at the
>end of the year. As I read it, the Riding Women had a unique relationship
>with their horses that was unrelated to their romantic love among
>themselves, and that was why they were able to be comfortable with it.

Isn't it a lot more complicated than this? Sexual intercourse can have more than one meaning, depending on the context. To me, doing it with a man in private seems profoundly different from being mounted by a horse in a public ritual for the express purpose of conceiving a child. The fems confuse the two because they have no experience with the horse matings and can only extrapolate from their unpleasant memories of rape in the Holdfast. Presumably if one grew up with knowledge of both realities one would be able to make the distinction easily.

Alldera and Daya both experience a similar confusion when they first witness the cullings. They can only see the killing as brutality and betrayal, while the women look at it as an element of their bond with the horses and of the larger cycle of life and death. Both positions have their points -- I especially liked how Charnas complicated the situation further by pointing out that Daya's horse had been captured and tamed by Alldera, not the Women -- but in the end it seemed to me that neither Alldera nor Daya was qualified to evaluate the Women's morality in this case. A great example of culture clash.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: The Velvet Goldmine Soundtrack
"...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: [FSF-L] BDG: Slave and Free -- Satire
Date: Fri, 24 Sep 1999 16:26:37 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

On Thu, 23 Sep 1999 at 13:07:12 -0700, Suzy McKee Charnas wrote:
>Daniel remarked on the satire of WALK being maybe a little too broad for the
>serious intent of the book as a whole: this book did begin as an intentional,
>not to say gleeful, satire of the whole Nixonian ethos of the time.

For a film satire of government and the military it's hard to beat Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. I watched it for the second time recently and thought it made a great companion piece to the Holdfast books. One could easily read Strangelove's vision of the mineshaft society, complete with several nubile breeding women for every man, as a version of the Refuge...



Subject: [FSF-L] BDG: Slave and Free -- Bek and the Man Problem
Date: Wed, 29 Sep 1999 16:37:56 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

-- There are spoilers for The Furies in this post. --

Looking back at the first message I wrote about The Slave and the Free, I am dissatisfied by my comment that it feels somehow shameful to admit that Eykar Bek is one of my favorite fictional characters. Having just finished rereading The Furies, I better understand my original hesitation. On the one hand, the Holdfast series is an investigation of the relationships women might have amongst one another in a world free of male oppression. Margaret Atwood's comment about men's and women's stories makes evident how many more of these sorts of investigations we need. And in a way, characters like Eykar Bek seem almost like a distraction from the business at hand. But on the other hand, we are not Riding Women; for the foreseeable future, men are not going away. And I don't like to imagine that in order for women to break free of oppression we will need to become oppressors ourselves. Behavior, not identity, is what ought to judged. But must we make generalizations that may be unfair to particular individuals in order to take any truly effective action?

I am struck by how these books toe the line between these two positions. The anger that Alldera and the other Free Fems feel is fully justified, but what ought they to do about it? It's easy to say that genocide is never warranted, even in response to genocide, but I thought Charnas did a great job of showing how emotions that have built up over years of abuse simply cannot be banished for moral reasons. Something must be done about them. One of our oldest means of processing such emotions is to exact "an eye for an eye", and that is precisely what some of the Free Fems wish to do. I have to agree that there are some offenses that may never be forgivable. If I were given the opportunity to kill someone who had killed my loved ones, I would be tempted to do it. But then there are all the more questionable scenarios. What if the culprit is already dead? If they encouraged him in his wrongdoing, is revenge against his friends or peer group warranted? What if they didn't encourage it, but didn't prevent it either? What if they didn't know about his plans, but should have known and didn't take the trouble? What if they somehow benefited by his actions, even though they had no control over them, and might even have prevented them if they did?

These questions hovered in my mind throughout The Furies. When the Free Fems return from the Wild, the men they face are for the most part not the same men as the ones they knew. For fems, conditions have changed for the better in the Holdfast (though apparently not through any moral agency on the part of the men -- fems are merely scarcer, more valuable resources), but the Free Fems relate to the men as if everything were the same. They need to "spend their ocean of old poisons," and this batch of men are mostly guilty. Though I winced at the treatment of the prisoners and the use of epithets like "muck", after the impalement of the three fems, I too felt there was something justified about Reprisal Day. It was exactly the younger fems' trust in their kinder, gentler men that led to their deaths. Better then to trust in no man.

But... then there is Bek. By most accounts, he is an amazing character. He begins Walk to the End of the World filled with the same ridiculous notions and prejudices about fems as the rest of the men. He rapes Alldera in response to her defiance. But then, miraculously, he begins to change! I can't express how affected I was by this section of the book when I first read it. Alldera, angry, despairing and reckless, speaks the truth of her experience to Bek. He listens, questions, and understands. Even in the present day, this almost never happens; in the context of the Holdfast, it is even more remarkable. By the end of the book, when Bek helps Alldera escape from 'Troi, they have forged an undeniable bond.

And in The Furies they meet again. Now Alldera is the master. A less realistic author may have found a way to affirm their bond, to make everything all right. But not Charnas. Alldera cannot afford to treat Bek like an equal. Her followers will not allow it. And she herself is conflicted. The best she can do is try to keep him alive. And so she addresses him as "muck" and forces him to kiss the ground at her feet. It hurts me to think of it. I want them to meet as equals, but... in the midst of all the badness, what can this one positive relationship mean? As Alldera says, "It's only because of you that I ever hoped we could all do better together. But you're a sport, a freak among your own sex, or maybe just a man so far out ahead of his fellows that your existence is as good as meaningless." (p. 277) Is it meaningless, though, if it motivates Alldera to resist becoming the sort of monster she despises?

Perhaps E.M. Forster was naive in Howards End when he implied that if we "only connect..." in defiance of entrenched divisions, we will see our way to a better future. Economic and physical equality must be ensured in the public realm as well as the personal. But these books have affirmed for me (though sometimes painfully!) that no positive relationship can ever be meaningless. Thank you, Suzy.



Subject: Re: [FSF-L] BDG: Slave and Free -- Bek and the Man Problem
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 1999 16:24:31 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

I wrote:
>>Alldera, angry, despairing and reckless, speaks the truth of her
>>experience to Bek. He listens, questions, and understands. Even in the
>>present day, this almost NEVER happens;

And Suzy McKee Charnas replied:
>It happens often in our fiction, but usually among male characters from dis-
>parate backgrounds -- one up, one down -- thrown together under gruelling
>circumstances. Many "buddy" pictures fit, in a watered-down form, but the
>clearest example I can think of is that old movie with Sydney Poitier and
>Tony Curtis as fugitives chained together as they run -- THE DEFIANT ONES.

Yes. I was thinking specifically of women and men when I said this. When I talk about feminism with most men I get one of two reactions: 1) they are hostile in one form or another; 2) they act as if they already understand what I am getting at when it's obvious that their understanding is superficial at best; if I persist this often metamorphoses into 1). Men like Bek, who are willing to see the truth, even when spoken in anger, are extremely rare (at least in my experience).

>The gratitude is all mine, believe me -- for readers patient, alert, and
>committed enough to stay a tough course through some hard, painful stories.
>A lot of readers can't, won't, and have told me so.

Sadly true. Though I have been surprised at the success of a recent project: reading the books aloud to my friend Orson. Not only is he enjoying the tale, I am experiencing a new dimension of the texts by speaking the words. It's been very interesting.

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



Subject: Re: [FSF-L] BDG Flying Cups
Date: Thu, 9 Dec 1999 12:40:01 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 01:38 PM 12/9/99, Petra Mayerhofer wrote:
>What favourites do other readers have? To spur the
>discussion a bit.

I plan to write plenty more on this anthology (as well as the past two BDG books, which I have been too crazy lately to comment on), but this is a question that is easy to answer quickly.

"The Matter of Seggri" is a story I have reread several times and still find heartbreaking. I found the way in which Le Guin reverses some elements of sex roles and not others to be very interesting. And I very much enjoyed her technique of beginning with distanced 19th century-style travel narrative and in stages arriving at the very personal, detailed account of Ardar Dez. I felt drawn in inexorably. I think it is one of the best stories Le Guin has ever written.

"Grownups" by Ian R. MacLeod gets my vote as the weirdest tale in this anthology. And I mean that in a good way. I am still not sure if the main characters are aliens and futilely resisting their normal developmental process or if some unnatural change is supposed to have occurred to the human race (the necessity of the bitter milk and all that bleeding upon "growing up" seemed to indicate this). Whichever is the case, the story seemed stranger for the suburban setting -- it was really quite creepy. I'm interested to read some other stories by this author.

Others that I liked are "The Lovers" and "Forgiveness Day". Perhaps I need to reread stories individually, because when I read the anthology for the first time I became overloaded on the hermaphrodites and felt that some other themes were old hat. I look forward to talking about them more...

-- Janice



Subject: [FSF-L] Female Characters in Harry Potter & Diana Wynne Jones
Date: Sun, 12 Dec 1999 17:44:30 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 11:29 PM 12/11/99 -0800, Joyce Jones wrote:
>There are so many more male than female characters in everything
>I read, unless it is specifically feminist, or radical feminist, that I
>don't see equality anywhere in the foreseeable future. Even the
>Harry Potter books, written by a woman, willing to explore and
>validate the magical world of childhood. The main character is
>male, most of his friends and enemies are male, there are a few
>ancillary females, one sort of main character who's female but so
>far, I've read only the first two books, she doesn't have near the
>development of the males.

I agree with your assessment, Joyce. This is one of several things that bothered me about the first Harry Potter book (the only one I have read). What makes it worse is that the author knows better. She takes care to name quite a few female students in the admittance ceremony -- I didn't count but it seemed like about a 50/50 balance with the male names -- but she couldn't be bothered to feature any of them as characters. Most are mentioned that one time and never heard from again. And the one female friend of Harry's is only allowed to become his friend after she changes her personality to be more like his. UGH.

One author who does much better with similar material is Diana Wynne Jones. I wouldn't call her feminist exactly (at least from the evidence of the books I have read), but women are often protagonists in her books and her writing is often delightfully funny. So far my favorite of her books is Hexwood, a brilliant fantasy / science fiction hybrid with a female main character. The only others I have read are Archer's Goon, Cart and Cwidder, and Deep Secret. Has anyone else read her books? If so, do you have any recommendations as to what I should read next? She's got so many!

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: The Velvet Goldmine Soundtrack
"...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: [FSF-L] BDG: "Chemistry"
Date: Wed, 15 Dec 1999 22:43:14 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

I was intrigued by the premise of this story, but I don't think it followed through on it particularly well. I was hoping for a scientific investigation of what being "in love" is all about, preferably in a way that illuminated or questioned gender roles, but in the final analysis the story seemed quite conventional and unquestioning to me.

These are some issues that came to my mind:

Steve believes in "love at first sight". Apart from a couple of isolated comments Lily makes, the concept isn't questioned. Maybe the author was making a comment on typical male vs. female approaches to courtship -- after all, Steve knows he is in love right away, whereas Lily needs drugs and persuasion to reach a similar state of mind -- but I didn't get much of a sense of that. It seemed more like they were the lucky winners of the lottery, particularly as we are never given details about what they like about one another.

What sort of clientele would a place like the Hothouse really have? Granted, it is not exactly a whorehouse, as everyone is a paying customer, but when it boils right down to it, it is selling sex. Maybe people are even more naive in this projected future than they are now, but I find it hard to imagine most women believing, as Lily's roommate apparently does, that it "isn't about sex, it's about feelings". It seems to me that you would have an awful lot of sexual predators showing up at a place like the Hothouse.

In an atmosphere of heightened sexual arousal, why would everyone want only one partner? Where are the orgies?

I liked all the descriptive details of the Hothouse's architecture -- it seemed like a cross between a mall and an all-night club -- and some of the neurobiology was interesting, but overall I found this story lacking in freshness. Greg Egan has done better with similar themes. And the treatment of the aphrodisiac oil in Slow River seemed more realistic.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: The Velvet Goldmine Soundtrack
"...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: Dawn
Date: Sat, 5 Feb 2000 19:53:16 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

I finished Dawn this afternoon and thought I would get my thoughts down now rather than waiting for the official start of the discussion on Monday.

I found that, as with Wild Seed, the story gripped me, despite occasional irritation with what I'm beginning to think of as the author's blind spots. Her strength is her imagination of the alien. I really enjoyed learning about the Oankali's physiology and the way the ship worked. And at the end, the revelation of how the ooloi made themselves indispensable in sexual relationships wasa creepy extrapolation of what we already had been told.

The book is well-paced -- Lilith starts out in the "Womb" and works her way to the "Training Room" as we learn more and more about the Oankali and their plans and observe the growth of Lilith's relationship to Nikanj. I found this interesting, but the introduction of the other human characters was the point at which I felt the story would really bloom. I enjoyed the suspense of Lilith's overview of the dossiers -- it seemed almost like a mystery novel's review of the suspects, in reverse -- but when she actually began awakening people I was disappointed to find that the new characters were a lot less interesting than their profiles had led me to believe. I've concluded that Butler simply is not good at characterization. She knows that people have real differences that are acted out in their behavior, but when it comes to writing their dialogue or describing them in action, she makes them stereotyped and uninteresting.

From a feminist standpoint, I have a few problems with the book. Butler is very aware of feminist issues, but only to a point, at which she seems to become completely blind. There is more than one attempted rape in the novel, and the rapists are portrayed as brutish, though fairly typical, human men. The Oankali go so far as to say that there is something genetically wrong with human males that makes them behave in this way. Yet, at the end of the book, Nikanj reveals to Lilith that it has impregnated her without her knowledge or consent! Lilith is not happy about the situation, but only because the child won't be "human", not because she's unhappy about being pregnant. Throughout the book the women have known that they will probably be used in breeding experiments (though they don't know the details), and NONE of them react with the horror that I would feel at the thought of being forced to bear children. I don't find it believable.

Just as I don't find it believable that not one of the 43 humans awakened by Lilith is homosexual. Butler could have gotten around the issue by explaining homosexuality as a genetic imperfection that the Oankali have fixed (as Sheri Tepper did in The Gate to Women's Country). I wouldn't have been happy about it, but at least she would have shown some awareness that gay people really exist. There is no such explanation, though there is a clear opportunity for one when Nikanj asks Lilith what a "faggot" is. Very strange.

Another problem from a feminist standpoint is the lack of secondary female characters of any consequence. Near the end of the book Lilith thinks about how much she misses Tate and how there are no other close friends to take her place -- but since we were given no evidence of their friendship to begin with this doesn't carry much weight. The only characters that ever felt important to Lilith were Nikanj and Joseph -- one ooloi, one male.

Did anyone else notice how willing the Oankali were to behave like masters, despite their reservations about the human tendency toward hierarchy? Particularly in the beginning of the book, I was infuriated with their withholding of information when there seemed no point to it -- it seemed just a means of letting Lilith know who was boss. The fact that none of the human characters ever called them on this behavior made no sense to me.

I think I will stop there. What do other people think?

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Lo Fidelity Allstars -- How to Operate with a Blown Mind
"...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: Dawn/Contact
Date: Mon, 7 Feb 2000 23:02:04 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 08:28 PM 2/6/2000 -0800, Magdalena A. K. Muir wrote:
>One question the novel raised for me, and that I would like to raise for
>others, is whether human beings would be so hostile to alien contact and
>interaction. There seem to very strong emphasis on that instinctive
>revulsion, and the use of it to justify even the murder of one's fellow
>humans.

I questioned this assumption as well. As others have pointed out, there are plenty of examples in real life of racial or ethnic stereotyping leading to violence and death, but they are not directly analogous to the situation in Dawn. Nationalism, racism, sexism are conceptual constructs that are taught to children, reinforced over time, and often directed at specific groups. It takes work to maintain them. I can believe that some of the awakened humans would be ready and willing to begin work on an anti-alien mythology when they find out the Oankali's plans, but the structure is not yet in place when they are first awakened. And not all people would necessarily buy into it.

As Magdalena says, part of Butler's explanation for the uniformity of reaction is the instinctive aversion humans feel for the Oankali's creepy, otherworldly appearance. I found this vaguely plausible, though overdone (it would have been more convincing if the Oankali resembled some animal customarily feared by humans, i.e. insects or slimy creatures).* But this aversion stage eventually passes. From there on out, a mysterious "humanity first" sentiment takes over. Some are more hard-core about it than others, but the more temperate, including Lilith, are simply biding their time until they have some real hope of escape. Why are there no "traitors" who genuinely side with the Oankali and don't want to escape from them? And why aren't there more conflicts between the humans themselves? (The only things they have in common -- apart from their humanity -- are that they speak English and somehow lived through the nuclear war.) Maybe we are to assume that all of the "collaborators" have already been awakened and are living with Oankali families on the ship, but I would expect a much wider range of responses to the (nearly) all-powerful aliens. (What about cargo cults?) Jane Fletcher mentioned Gwyneth Jones's North Wind, and I can vouch for White Queen, the first book in the sequence -- it made me dizzy and definitely could use a re-read, but I came away with a powerful sense of how heartbreakingly strange things can get in the real world, let alone in a world invaded by aliens. I read fiction partly to learn how people can do and be things I've never imagined; Butler's novels leave me with a rather empty feeling on this front, though in some ways Dawn was a quite satisfying read. Sheryl mentioned that the Xenogenesis trilogy should be discussed as a whole, and I agree that that might help, but I also remember that my reaction to Adulthood Rites was much the same when I first read it, several years ago. Maybe it's due for a re-read.

-- Janice "sure, take my genetic material -- as long as I don't have to carry the baby" Dawley

* Nikanj explains to Lilith that all creatures fear the unknown because it might prove dangerous. We know that this isn't completely true as far as Earth creatures are concerned. Anyone remember the stories about penguins and/or seals in the polar regions walking right up to human explorers because they had never seen them before and didn't know they were dangerous?

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Lo Fidelity Allstars -- How to Operate with a Blown Mind
"...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: Dawn/Xenophobia
Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2000 11:28:53 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 06:09 AM 2/8/2000 -0600, Sheryl wrote:
>If you all will allow me a little biographical crit
>here, Butler is a black woman from the South of the U.S. who was raised by
>Baptists--I don't know what her economic class was. Her race, gender,
>regional affiliation, and religion would all likely have conspired against
>the kind of rosy "we can all get along if we only try" attitude that many of
>the respondents to this point have been searching for in her book(s).

I haven't gotten this message out of the discussion. I and several others have just been pointing out that there is a strange uniformity to the humans' reactions in Dawn. I don't doubt that some people would react extremely negatively to the Oankali. What I doubt is that they would all react as similarly as they do. I'm not looking for a happy ending or warm fuzzies, just a little more subtlety. An author who seems to feel much the same pessimism about human nature, but handles it in a more rewarding (to me) way is James Tiptree Jr. In her stories, humans are almost invariably doomed, but at least the doom takes on a wide array of forms! Her story "The Women Men Don't See" makes an interesting companion piece to Dawn, actually.

>I would just suggest that we all stay with her. We may not agree with her
>views, but so what? In my own experience, I've found that it is the views
>of the people who upset me the most that I learn the most from. WHY do
>those views upset us? Is it because they remove hope? Because we fear she
>might be right? Because she's goring a few sacred cows? Because we've
>heard it all before, but from male writers and in a slightly different
>context? There are many, many possibilities, and some of them cause us to
>question some of our ideologies.

Has Butler's fiction challenged your views? How has it rewarded you?

>As for her views on xenophobia...are there any anthropologists on the list?
>Are there any ethnographic studies which would illuminate typical human
>behavior amongst a group which has been so isolated that it was unaware of
>the existence of the outside world? Penguins may have blithely approached
>the first European explorers, but penguins are not humans.

I have a BA in Anthropology. And as far as I know, there is no "typical human behavior" when it comes to first contact with another group of humans. Some react violently, some are interested in trade, some are friendly. The pre-existing culture has a lot to do with the group's reaction, as does the behavior of the people meeting them. The cargo cults in Melanesia post-World War II present a fairly obvious alternative to the xenophobia Butler takes as a given. During the war, Allied troops stationed on the islands bestowed great wealth (supplies, otherwise known as "cargo") upon some of the indigenous peoples. Though somewhat disorienting to the affected cultures, this was viewed as a good thing. At the end of the war the troops left, and various groups began to engage in (and are still engaging in, in some areas) a wide variety of ritual behavior intended to magic into being the much-desired cargo and usher in a new era of prosperity. Cargo is something they would much rather have than not. And the Oankali's ability to increase strength, cure disease and improve memory is something I imagine I would rather have than not if I were Awakened by Lilith. On the other hand, I wouldn't like to be forced to have babies. Other women wouldn't mind that so much. The pros and cons of the Oankali presence would likely be tallied differently by different people. The point I am making is that I find Butler's emphasis on a very limited palette of human behaviors to be tiresome and a serious limitation of her work. I can accept, for the sake of the story, her axiom that all humans are hierarchical; what I can't accept is that "hierarchical behavior" boils down to resentful looks, insults and fights. It's more complex than that.

>And finally, before criticising the book(s) too much, let's all be sure to
>have our facts straight. The humans do not all speak English, for instance.

This seems to be a response to my last post (at least I don't remember anyone else mentioning it). I was making this point specifically about Dawn, since it is the book being discussed. All of the humans that Lilith is given to Awaken are English speakers. Nikanj specifically mentions it. Of course there are other groups of humans being Awakened elsewhere in the ship, but we never meet them.

I may seem contrary, but I am enjoying the discussion. It's really picked up with this book!

-----
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Lo Fidelity Allstars -- How to Operate with a Blown Mind
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin



Subject: taking off from DAWN discussion
Date: Tue, 15 Feb 2000 14:48:46 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 08:33 AM 2/15/2000 -0600, Robin Reid wrote:
>What makes us as humans think that another species should have to "morally"
>be obliged to show us any more compassion or to grant us "rights" than we
>have shown or given to the species we consume and use in various ways?

Well, it's fairly important to the story that the Oankali do not treat humans as humans have treated other species on Earth. They communicate verbally with their captives and seem genuinely committed to integrating them into their families. They are curious about the various human cultures and find their distinctiveness valuable (it is explained that that is the reason the humans haven't merely been cloned and raised to take the Oankali for granted -- not very convincingly, IMO). They want to breed with the humans. In most ways, they behave as if they are a powerful, odd-looking group of humans, invading in a peaceful, yet inexorable and in some ways horrifying fashion. That's why the captives (and many readers) expect them to respond to moral arguments and talk of rights.

More generally, I agree that humans on Earth treat many other species terribly, but I don't believe that this amounts to a collective "species crime" for which all of humanity deserves to suffer. Should vegetarians and animal rights activists be lumped in with trophy hunters and the Beef Promotion Board when the alien judges arrive? What kind of sense does that make? I'm reminded of the comment Lyla made (somewhat jokingly) that since nuclear war had devastated the globe, humans clearly hadn't measured up, so they had no right to complain about how the Oankali treated them. Granted, the anti-Oankali sentiment was rather one-note, but it seems more than a little unfair to blame these random people for someone's pushing the Big Red Button in Washington or Moscow. This idea of a species-wide responsibility or guilt is a theme I've encountered in science fiction many times, and it's bothering me more and more. I think it was Hannah Arendt who pointed out that "if all are guilty, none are guilty"; that is, a sense of shared guilt leads to head-shaking and shame, but little direct action to change things. Dawn certainly gives one the sense that there is no need to bother, since humanity, without alien intervention, is doomed to fail anyway. Why not just lie back and enjoy the sensory arms?

-----
Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Loop Guru -- The Fountains of Paradise
"Almost any interesting work of art comes close to saying the
opposite of what it really says." -- Gene Wolfe



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