Postings to the Feminist Science Fiction On-Topic Mailing List, 24 August 2000 to 26 June 2001

BDG: Not of Woman Born | BDG: Ash, with some spoilers for the other volumes | BDG: Wicked | BDG: Wicked | BDG: Wicked | BDG: Wicked | Problematic Feminist Utopias | BDG: Nights at the Circus | Matrix with boobs | BDG: Conqueror's Child | BDG: Conqueror's Child | BDG: Conqueror's Child | BDG: Conqueror's Child --  Religion | BDG: The Terrorists of Irustan | BDG: The Northern Girl | BDG: The Northern Girl | BDG: The  Northern Girl -- Violence & Prosperity | BDG:  The Northern Girl -- Violence & Prosperity | BDG:  The Northern Girl -- Characters | BDG:  The Northern Girl -- Characters



Subject: [*FSF-L*] BDG: Not of Woman Born
Date: Thu, 24 Aug 2000 22:23:47 -0400
From: Janice E. Dawley
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

In answer to Pamela's question, this month is indeed the right one to discuss Constance Ash's Not of Woman Born.

I've been forging through this collection in the last week and have to say that overall I am not happy with it. Many stories hinge on simplistic either/or decisions, characters are in general unconvincing, and there is nary an original idea about reproduction to be found. I haven't found anything feminist about the collection, either. Silverberg's story about the clones who unanimously decide to poison their mother made me feel ill.

I have mildly liked a couple of stories so far: Nina Kiriki Hoffman's "One Day at Central Convenience Mall" was freshly conceived, though the ending was a little weak; and Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald's "Remailer" was interesting in its clipped, invented slang (though I have encountered its central plot device, the stabilizing third sex, in about four places by now). I have just gotten to "Of Bitches Born", though, so there is still a way to go.

What did you like about "Judith's Flowers", Pamela? How did the rest of the collection strike you? What do other people think?

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Massive Attack -- Blue Lines
"...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: Ash, with some spoilers for the other volumes
Date: Sat, 25 Nov 2000 15:51:57 -0500
From: Janice E. Dawley
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

I finished Ash some time ago but didn't have time to post on it until now. Having read the entire British edition, I find it hard to say anything substantial about the book without including spoilers, so be warned.

What a monumental tome! I am not used to reading for such lengths of time and making so little progress. The tightly packed pages and serious heft of the book gave me a physical sense of reading an epic story even when the text itself didn't. For the first volume, at least, the spell held. Like Jane Fletcher, I thought I was reading an alternate history until certain events made me realize that something much stranger was going on. Once the literal truth of the Eternal Twilight and the reality of the golems was established I became very curious about how things were going to turn out. It's unusual for me to be more interested in a book's plot than its characters or written style, but this was definitely the case with Ash. Even after finishing the book I'm not certain whether I would categorize it as science fiction or fantasy. The present-day scientists do their damnedest to explain it all away in terms of quantum physics and the many-worlds hypothesis. Having read some basic quantum theory, I recognize the science in Ash to be a series of junk interpretations of the real thing, but does that necessarily make it fantasy rather than just bad science fiction? Dunno.

As far as Ash, the character, goes... I found her irritating. I agree entirely with Julieanne's comments regarding Ash's mistakes and abrasive personality and second her doubts about how Ash maintained the respect of her troops. Looking back on the entire book, I can remember only a single battle in which Ash prevailed, but I can't count how many times she engaged in hearty cursing and bravado. Gentle seems to be saying that what counts in a leader is an aggressive, posturing personality, not results. For some, that may be true, but it would sure drive me crazy. The second book, when Ash was brought to Carthage and imprisoned, was the only time I felt real sympathy for her. I was shocked and moved when she was beaten by the guards and miscarried in her cell. And her reaction to the death of Godfrey was unexpectedly profound. But that was it. Once she was free again, she returned to her flippant ways for the duration. There was some hint near the end of the siege of Dijon that she was losing her taste for war and beginning to fear the loss of friends, but the epilogue tells us that the alternate Asche is just as enthusiastic about battle and the military life as the original Ash was.

Is Ash a role model? Sharon Anderson remarked that maybe the reverse is true, that Gentle intended Ash as a negative role model. Others have commented that her imperfections make her realistic. My feeling is that the character's changelessness, along with the occasional valedictory comments from the narrator ("She was quite genuinely not afraid of injury." "She is keen, uncomplicated as a blade; with that frightening smile that she wears when she goes into a fight..."), indicate that Ash is, indeed, a hero in the frame of the story, and that her heroism is closely tied to her warrior nature. Almost the last thing she says before the transformation of Burgundy is "I don't lose." When I read that, I thought "arrogant", not "heroic". I would never throw a book, but by the end of Ash, I was definitely exasperated.

I found some of the other characters more intriguing than Ash herself. Floria/n, in particular, was a great opportunity for some exploration of gender roles. And Fernando, such a cad in the first book, does transform into a much more likeable person later on. I was frustrated, though, by the thinness of their development. I can only wish that Gentle had spent more time on character and less on the minutiae of point arrangement and the disposition of sallets. As it is, I have to imagine what I would have liked to have happened. Did anyone else hope that Ash and Florian would get together? Or, failing that, Ash and John de Vere?

My feelings about the book's feminism are mixed. On the one hand, it makes an effort to show that Ash was not alone in achieving a leadership position as a woman. Joan of Arc is repeatedly mentioned as a predecessor; Ash gains special pleasure in meeting Onorata Rodiani; her main opponent is the Faris; Charles the Bold's wife Margaret is known as a formidable military commander; women soldiers are offhandedly mentioned many times over the course of the novel. So Ash is not a queen bee. And the problem of rape is clearly an important one -- both Ash and Onorata Rodiani kill for the first time in reaction to actual or attempted rapes, and Ash's policy of punishing rape with death leads more than the usual number of women to join her camp. On the other hand, the only solution the book proposes is reactive, not proactive: if you want to avoid being raped, you'd better learn to defend yourself. Apart from Floria/n, nearly all of the civilian women are portrayed as fussy, status-conscious weaklings. Of course, so are the civilian men. The division of the world into soldiers/non-soldiers is very explicit. One of the least plausible scenes in the book hinges on it: Ash's defusing of the situation in Carthage when a band of guards are about to rape her. She appeals to them as one soldier to another and somehow their resolve is broken. I didn't believe it for a moment. In that situation, the fact of her being a woman would never be less important than her military experience.

That sums up my reaction to the book, I suppose. It is a romance of the military. And as such it fails for me, as a general reader and as a feminist. But at least I can say I read it, which with a book this long is saying something.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Coldplay -- Parachutes
"...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: Wicked
Date: Fri, 8 Dec 2000 15:51:53 -0500
From: Janice E. Dawley
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

I just finished Wicked on my lunch break at work. I feel a little sick.

I'm surprised that no one else has mentioned how nasty this book is! It seemed that every time I turned the page I came across another stomach-turning example of hypocrisy, blinkered prejudice, oppression. That is, when the more obvious lynchings, war crimes and torture weren't taking center stage. I know that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it captures my impression of the book -- a snapshot of life in a despotic and decadent society. I've never read any of the Oz books, but I can easily see why you hated it, Robin. As it is, I'm hovering on the line between queasy and outraged.

It's not that I generally object to bad things happening in fiction. But the way that Maguire offhandedly tossed them in, heaping worse upon bad, then never resolved any of the outrage, made me feel as if there was no higher purpose beyond trying to shock. As an example -- why on earth include the scene in the Philosopher's Club? It is mentioned a couple of times later on in the book, but with never an explanation of why it might be significant. Elphaba wasn't even there. But I guess the trashing of Oz wouldn't have been complete without a little live porn thrown in to show just how degenerate these wretches really are.

I do have more to say about this book, but I just had to get this off my chest first. Consider me unburdened. ;)

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Coldplay -- Parachutes
"...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: Wicked
Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2000 14:59:39 -0600
From: Janice E. Dawley
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Well, I've recovered from my initial reaction to Wicked. Though discussion seems to have died down, I thought I would take some time to respond more thoughtfully to the book.

Despite my deep reservations, I didn't have any difficulty maintaining interest in it until the end. The prose was full of life and the imagery was at times very poetic. I will not forget the scene in which Elphaba was brought to the Princess Nastoya across the prairie, "a great flickering surface" of grass that she takes to be the origin of the "myth" of the ocean. I also enjoyed the depiction of student life at Shiz University. Though the students' dialogue was incredibly pretentious and their chumminess was a bit off-putting, this section still captured a sense of the exploration and change that I felt as a college undergraduate. I enjoyed Pamela Dean's Tam Lin for the same reason.

The "Gillikin" section also gave me the impression that Maguire had been reading up on the Bloomsbury group, which famously sprang from the halls of Cambridge. The homosexuals Crope and Tibbett (from Three Queens college -- ha ha) and Elphaba's sister Nessarose, whom she dotes on, call to mind, respectively, the various "buggers" of the group and Virginia Woolf's sister, Vanessa (also nicknamed "Nessa"). Elphaba at times reminded me of Virginia Woolf -- attached to the world, but uncompromising in her evaluation of it. Woolf's great feminist work, Three Guineas, was disapproved of, not only by the world at large, but by her closest friends, just as Elphaba's opinions about Animal rights fall on largely deaf ears even amongst her "charmed circle." And, even as the Bloomsbury group loved to talk about the nature of Good and Beauty, so Elphaba's friends discuss the nature of Evil. Sadly, I found these discussions hopelessly abstract and frustrating. If part of Maguire's point was that such talk is reserved for the privileged and bored, and has nothing to do with righting wrongs, all I can say is, not necessarily.

Of course, if we take the main characters of Wicked as our sample of humanity, morality is simply not an issue. Lyla Miklos commented, "I love how no one is really evil or good or right or wrong." On the contrary, by the end of the book, I felt as if I had seen the ten thousand faces of Evil and had been left with nothing Good. Just because Glinda, Boq, et. al. are not mustache-twirlers like Morrible or the Wizard doesn't mean that their cooperation with the police state is forgivable. There is an obvious parallel here between Oz and Nazi Germany. Even Elphaba, who went so far as to join a resistance cell, lost all ethical credibility for me when her self-absorption kept her from noticing that her son had been missing for two days. Regardless of maternal feelings, she was in some way responsible for this child, and her neglect nearly meant his death. Killing Manek afterward hardly made up for it. This sense of pervasive badness, with no workable alternatives offered, was my major problem with the book.

Joyce Jones wrote, "I liked the fact that Elphaba seemed to think of herself as unlovable and didn't care about that but that she was able to share love with Fiyero." I think this section of the book was where the "point of view" problem that Jane Fletcher pointed out really began to impinge on me. On the one hand, I appreciated that we got an extended experience of one, fairly sympathetic, person's life. I remember particularly the moment when Fiyero sees the Bear cub smashed on the head in the yard next door and seems to realize for the first time the enormity of the horror in Oz. Though he never gets the chance to involve himself in a resistance movement the way Elphaba does, and perhaps would never choose to, at least he seems to have grown in the course of this section.

What I didn't like about it is that we never get to see the relationship from Elphaba's side. This is the center of the book, both physically and emotionally. Its events are shattering enough to make Elphaba seclude herself for seven years, and she only comes out of seclusion to travel across Oz and apologize to Fiyero's wife. Since it is so important, I very much wanted to see the events from Elphaba's side, to understand how much Fiyero meant to her, to feel with her. But it never happens. Even in the "Vinkus" and "Murder" sections of the book, which give us Elphaba's viewpoint at last, there are no flashbacks, no real investigation of what makes this woman tick. If she really thought of herself as unlovable, for example, I'm sure she would have experienced some powerfully confused feelings about Fiyero's attraction to her. But all we see is her masochistic and self-involved focus on confessing to Sarima and her later disintegration into what seems to me like madness. How else to explain her mission to sew wings onto monkeys? Well, I guess another obvious explanation is that Maguire wanted to tie her story into the events of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and he was running out of time. In either case, I thought it made no sense in light of Elphaba's previous concern for both Animals and animals.

The point of view problem prevents me from viewing the book as feminist. Elphaba is the object of this story, not its subject. It is not enough to give an alternate view of the Wicked Witch of the West if she still comes across as a cypher, an "other". Which is how she seemed to me.



Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] BDG: Wicked
Date: Mon, 18 Dec 2000 21:54:55 -0500
From: Janice E. Dawley
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 06:30 AM 12/18/00 -0800, Lyla Miklos wrote:
>Now about Elphaba's "son". I never truly believed he
>was actually her "son". People had commented on
>someone giving birth and not knowing about it to be
>highly improbable. I felt he was someone she had
>projected a lot of stuff on to, but never did I think
>he was really her kid.

Huh... I didn't see any indications that Elphaba wasn't Liir's mother. If she were obsessed with him as a "possible" child of her beloved Fiyero or some such thing I might begin to suspect the same plot twist, but she's completely indifferent to the kid, at least until his brush with death. At that point she becomes slightly more interested, but not enough to make much of an impression. Am I missing something?

>The people in Wicked reminded me of people I meet
>everyday. There are very few people I know who are
>truly heroes that rise above it all and go against the
>grain. Most people plod along and follow the norm.
>There is a reason the Nazis rose to power and most of
>Germany barely raised an eyebrow at what was going on.
>Let alone object or rise up against them.
>Unfortunately I think that reason mostly stems from
>human nature.

Oz as dystopia could have been very effective, but where it faltered for me was in the lack of 1) a victim's viewpoint and 2) a credible resistance. None of the (very few) Animal characters get their own point of view section; neither do the Quadlings. It makes the atrocities committed against them feel very distant, almost like a backdrop. Now, it's my feeling that if an author makes so clear an analogy to the Holocaust, he ought to deal with it face on. And Maguire didn't. Elphaba's involvement with the resistance seems, once again, like backdrop material, since we never learn anything about the other people involved, and they are so ineffective as to seem almost a joke. Even the oppressed Cow in the "Vinkus" section responds with weary irony to Elphaba's crusading attitude. The overall feeling I get from the book is that Horrible Things Happen and There's Nothing You Can Do About It.

To echo Joyce Jones's comments about Ash: what is the point of such a book?

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Coldplay -- Parachutes
"...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: Wicked
Date: Wed, 20 Dec 2000 12:41:43 -0600
From: Janice E. Dawley
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

On 19 Dec 2000 at 18:35:41 -0800, Joyce Jones wrote:
>So, I guess the reason I can still like Wicked and still respect Elphaba is
>that she continued to fight even though we know, and she surmised, that she
>can't win. Yes, this hopeless fight drove her a little crazy, thus the
>flying monkeys perhaps, but she continued to fight. Now, I can't get all
>misty eyed and patriotic when men rush to certain death trying to take
>another hill in another battle. To me that's just mindless lemurism.
>Elphaba wasn't trying to take a meaningless hill. She was fighting alone,
>after becoming lost from her cohorts, for freedom. If she were a French
>resistance fighter we'd applaud her. Germany eventually lost the war, but
>that outcome certainly wasn't certain to many of the people who lost their
>lives fighting them. Winning doesn't make you a hero, fighting does.

I agree to some extent, but I'm not sure I understand the distinction you are making. Leaving Gallipoli aside, I think that military commanders most often have a good reason to "take another hill" that relates to winning the overall war. And though I don't think it's often true, the soldiers who follow their orders often believe that the war is being fought on moral grounds. How is this any different from Elphaba's involvement with the Animal rights cause? I'm not saying that the masterminds of that cause weren't acting on moral grounds, but the fact is that Elphaba had very little knowledge of what the other "cells" were doing or how her actions might relate to the overall plan. That sort of structure, it seems to me, invites the making of terrible mistakes, and I can't really view Elphaba's involvement with it as a positive thing, no matter how much I agree with her motives. Now, if she had been part of an Animal "underground railroad" or some other resistance activity that attempted to directly improve the lives of even a few Animals, I might feel differently. But she wasn't, at least as far as I remember. She does rescue Chistery, but the later wing experiments make that act a mockery.

In short, I found it very hard to identify with or care about Elphaba, realistic or not. But I'm glad that you were able to get something out of the book that I couldn't, and do enjoy discussing it!



Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] thougts on feminism, via Tiptree and Brin
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 2001 20:50:46 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 06:40 PM 1/22/01 -0600, Robin Reid wrote:
>In terms of "race," the major exception to all-white futures (sometimes no
>mention is made of skin color or anything else which means it kind of
>defaults to 'white') is Marge Piercy's WOMAN ON THE EDGE OF TIME with a
>Chicana protagonist and a possible future in which "race" is no longer tied
>to culture; another possible exception is Dorothy Bryant's THE KIN OF ATA
>ARE WAITING FOR YOU, a novel which I've never seen as feminist or utopian

You do mention Charnas later in a different context, but I want to point out that her Holdfast series is conscious of race from the beginning. The intro to Walk to the End of the World (1974) says:

"What else do [the men of the Holdfast] remember? They remember the evil races whose red skins, brown skins, yellow skins, black skins, skins all the colors of fresh-turned earth marked them as mere treacherous imitations of men, who are white [...] Of all the unmen, only females and their young remain, still the enemies of men."

This introduction sets the scene of a society obsessively based on scarcity and scapegoating. And of course it turns out that the Holdfast idea of reality is far from complete. Just across the mountains live the Riding Women, whose "motherlines" represent several different races. Nenisi Connor, the abiding love of Alldera's life, is a black woman. And in The Conqueror's Child, another mixed-race society is discovered.

Whether or not either of these latter societies counts as a utopia is a matter of debate, though.

>LeGuin's LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS has been critiqued by feminists and others
>on her use of the masculine pronoun and the fact that her protagonist,
>again, is a man -- her exploration of a society in which all individuals
>are neuter and become either functioning male or functioning female is
>still a fascinating one.  She's often criticized for not completely dealing
>with what homosexuality might mean in her future society.

Her short story "Coming of Age in Karhide" (1995) attempts to fill this gap.

>I think in some ways the "feminist utopia" (especially the lesbian utopia)
>concept did have major problems -- why did feminists quit writing
>utopias? This is a question I've asked elsewhere and really wonder about
>and haven't figured it out.  In the eighties, the only two I know of are by
>Joan [Slonczewski] and Sheri Tepper (and Tepper's GATE has been roundly
>criticized because of her exclusion of lesbianism -- of course earlier
>lesbian separatist utopias excluded heterosexuality -- and everybody
>ignored the idea/concept of bisexuality).

What about Nicola Griffith's Ammonite, Eleanor Arnason's Ring of Swords or Molly Gloss's The Dazzle of Day? They were published in the 1990s and are perhaps questionable as utopias, once again. Maybe this is really the evolution of feminist science fiction -- that the earlier, largely positive, works were absorbed and reworked in a more psychologically realistic way to acknowledge that, though it is worthwhile to work toward a better society, no single way of living will work for all people.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Feminist SF Posting Archive at:
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/femsf-index.htm
Listening to: Badly Drawn Boy -- The Hour of Bewilderbeast
"...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: Nights at the Circus
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 2001 23:04:20 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

Like you, Margaret, I have been quite behind in reading this month's BDG selection -- I just finished it today.

I guess it took me so long to finish because the narrative didn't have an overall arc that pulled me along. It did have what I think of as "riffs" that absorbed me in spurts, and it made me chuckle aloud more than once. (Particularly when the clowns were involved, its farcical humor reminded me of A Confederacy of Dunces). But I had a hard time investing myself in the fates of Fevvers or Walser. Maybe the structure was too unbalanced, the initial section in London overwhelmingly mannered and compressed in time compared to the Petersburg and Siberia sections. Maybe the book had too much the aura of a romp on the part of the author. Maybe the postmodern touches were too obtrusive. I don't know.

Like Angela, I don't think the book can accurately be called utopian. In fact, I wonder how Gasiorek supported that argument. So much that happens in the novel is ugly and depressing. Towards the end there are hopeful signs, at least for a few: the murderesses escape to their self-described Utopia; Mignon and the Princess settle down at the Conservatory. And Fevvers and Walser are at last reunited. But I am troubled by the end of the book. I'm not sure exactly what Fevvers means when she exclaims "To think I fooled you!" I don't think she means that her wings are a colossal fake. Is she referring to the "intacta" part of the statement? (i.e. she's not a virgin) Or is she talking about some more general ruse? In any case, the fact that she is so happy about having fooled Walser doesn't make me feel good about their relationship.

The lead in to this scene, in which Fevvers regains her confidence as she impresses her audience, reminds me of a line in Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own: "Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size." What kind of new woman is Fevvers if she needs such a looking glass to feel whole?

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Feminist SF Posting Archive at:
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/femsf-index.htm
Listening to: Badly Drawn Boy -- The Hour of Bewilderbeast
"...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*] MATRIX with boobs: Julianne
Date: Wed, 7 Feb 2001 22:49:47 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 04:46 PM 2/7/01 -0800, Sandy Candioglos wrote:
>--- Todd Mason wrote:
>
> > A very disappointing film, however flashy.
>
>After seeing it, I could not BELIEVE the hype and all
>the "deep meaning" I had heard people were finding in
>it. "disappointing" is not a strong enough word. As
>you said, it's flashy; some of the special effects
>were pretty cool, but that's about all the movie had
>going for it, IMHO. My fiance got more out of it than
>I did, I think, though he was groaning just as loud as
>I was when the whole "humans as batteries" thing was
>explained. Hello? Conservation of energy, anyone?

Well, I have to stick up for The Matrix. I can't defend silly plot elements like the artificial intelligences, who use "a form of fusion", also relying on the body heat of humans for their electricity. That is ridiculous, no two ways about it. But I could overlook one or two lame premises in light of the movie's strengths: a brilliant visual style, a higher than average level of plot coherence, and good performances. It is not, as so many blockbusters are, just a series of action scenes interspersed with rank sentiment (i.e. Independence Day or Jurassic Park). To call it "flashy" damns with faint praise; every frame of the movie is composed in an interesting way, and the use of color is brilliant. And I found that its use of virtual reality very cogently outlined Buddhist concepts of enlightenment. Neo's ability to manipulate the Matrix is limited only by his inability to transcend his habits of thought. And habits of thought can be very difficult to shed.

From a feminist standpoint... I did find the idea of a white, male savior to be a bit old hat (an understatement, there). But, strange to say, I think Keanu Reeves was an asset. His very lack of presence took some of the stuffing out of the standard movie hero role and allowed the other characters to shine. I loved Trinity. She was a no nonsense, competent fighter, efficient and controlled throughout the movie, even when her love for Neo came into the open. She didn't make any silly mistakes, and she didn't need to be rescued. Man with boobs? I don't know. How does one differentiate between a "man with boobs" and a physically confident, self-sufficient woman?

In any case, I'm pretty sure that the Oracle, one of the coolest characters in the movie, is immune to any such charge. I'm hoping to see a lot more of her in the upcoming sequels. :-) And I'm disappointed that Michelle Yeoh decided not to join the cast. :-(

p.s. to Christine Ethier and John Snead -- I'm a Farscape fan too. Aeryn Sun -- man with boobs?

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Gomez -- Liquid Skin
"...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: Conqueror's Child
Date: Thu, 8 Feb 2001 23:06:07 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

There is so much worth discussing in this book that it's hard to know where to start. Charnas took on a lot: the Fems not only had the task of reinventing society from the ground up, they faced serious divisions in their own ranks while doing it. But I think she rose to the challenge admirably. The interplay of the various groups was fascinating -- the Free Fems, the New Free, the Riding Women, the enslaved men, the Pool Towns survivors, the Bayo-born, the Ferrymen and all the gradations between incorrigibly angry, vengeful people (like Kobba) and forgiving, forward-looking people (like Beyarra) combined in unpredictable ways on the road to a state of reasonable stability at the end.

The most notable new theme introduced in the book was that of the parent/child bond. Given the old Holdfast taboo against knowing who one's parents or children were, the Fems' only model of family was the Riding Women. But new Holdfast children are too precious to run loose in a childpack. I thought their solution of a central children's house made sense. But I did think it a little weird how contemporary notions such as the innocence of childhood were so quickly adopted by Sorrel and others. I completely agreed with her about the unfairness (and counterproductivity) of male children being raised as slaves, but it struck me as very odd for a Riding Woman to be protesting about "innocence". Did anyone else feel that way?

Apart from the actual children, though, the theme of the parent/child bond was embodied primarily by Sorrel herself. Petra commented that Sorrel's relationship with Alldera is very unusual. I can think of only one other example, offhand -- Merwen and Lystra in A Door Into Ocean -- so I definitely agree. I can understand that Alldera, the Conqueror of the Holdfast, would be a very hard example to live up to, and that her apparent neglect of Sorrel could be very hurtful. All the same, I felt at times like shaking Sorrel and saying, "Get over it, girl!" Charnas' characterization of a hot-headed teen was certainly convincing. Overall, I found Sorrel's relationship with Eykar to be more nuanced, perhaps because she met him for the first time in the course of the novel and we got to see her perception of him change over time. There was never any proof of which man, Servan or Eykar, is Sorrel's father, but by the end of the book Sorrel was calling Eykar by that name. I found that very moving; it was an earned title, not a simple biological fact.

What torment Eykar endured in this book! The scene in which he was locked in a room and ignored, despite his desperate questions about Setteo's whereabouts, was one of the saddest in the book for me. As was his attempted suicide near the end. Throughout The Furies and most of The Conqueror's Child, he was caught in an extremely stressful nexus position, associated with Alldera and hated by some Fems because of it, known by his reputation as the Oracle among the men and alternately courted and tormented on that account. By the time Servan approached the Holdfast and Setteo was killed, he was at the breaking point. Though I have always loved his character, at times in the previous books I thought he might be too intelligent, too scrupulous and fair, to be true. Perhaps his "fall" in Conqueror's Child was Charnas' proof that he was, after all, just human like anyone else?

Servan, on the other hand, came across as much more monstrous in this book than in Walk to the End of the World. Charnas commented in our previous discussion of The Slave and the Free that "...a lot of his manipulative cleverness revolves around getting himself out of dangerous situations that he has blithely waltzed into on impulse. I sometimes think of him as the Trickster of some Indian cultures (US) -- Coyote, Raven, others. Part of his story is about the negative pole of that kind of behavior/character, particularly when you are not a kid any more (in CHILD) -- it gets to be a lot less appealing and a lot more destructive to others." It always seemed to me that Servan wasn't naturally inclined to the role of leader. He had smarts and ambition, but of a kind more suited to dancing around the margins rather than operating in full view. It surprised me that he was able to hold his band of desperados together even as long as he did; by the time he arrived in the Holdfast, he was clearly running on empty. His death was almost an anticlimax.

I never imagined that Daya would be the one to engineer his death. In fact, I'm still not sure what she intended. What a fascinating character! I felt that Charnas avoided ever nailing down her "essence" for the audience. So many of the things she did seemed evil and twisted, but she kept surprising me up to the end. Did she really believe in Moonwoman? Or was her holiness just an act? She seemed fully capable of deceiving even herself about it. In a way, a storytelling pet fem was the perfect foil for Servan -- her past as a slave had honed her skills beyond the reach of his considerable talents. But I was a bit disappointed with the way it played out. It's unrealistic to expect dramatic speeches, obviously, but I was hoping for more of a confrontation between them. Instead she was shot and easily thrown aside.

Her death was another of the saddest parts of the book for me. With all the terrible history between her and Alldera, I was very moved by this passage:

     "Alldera said quietly, 'Nobody but Daya is responsible for Daya's dying. It's what she set out to accomplish. It's how she's decided to end her own story.'
     Sorrel gazed at the pet fem's moist, scarred face with fascination now. 'Has she said that?'
     'To Beyarra. She hasn't said a word to me. I don't think she will. I think she is done with words.'
     She wanted suddenly to cry and wished that Sorrel would leave her alone to do so privately."

In so few words, Charnas sketches the complicated relationship of these two people who have loved and hated one another so intensely over the course of the books and who are approaching the moment of final parting.

The Epilog of the book, though shot through with the light of a promising future, gives me a sense of loss every time I read it. The disappearance of the Riding Women is depressing. In the Potlatch program notes, someone named Debbie exclaimed, "They're the Elves!" She was right on. The feeling of an age ending was, to me, very similar to the feeling I got at the end of The Lord of the Rings. It's very effective -- every few sentences an upwelling of emotion nearly makes me cry -- but I'm not sure the shift in tone is really appropriate. Maybe Charnas is saying, "Hey, you are your own Women now, so the Riding Women must go and leave you to your own devices." But it gives me the feeling that they are retroactively being defined as Symbols instead of a real society. And the fact that Alldera left with them goes as least part of the way toward making her into a god, as Eykar ironically predicted before their parting. What do other people think?

There is still much more to say about this book. I haven't even touched on the new societies that were revealed or the questions of history and literacy that cropped up, both very interesting topics. This book fully deserved the Tiptree Award.

p.s. Sadly, it could have won an award for hideous cover art as well!

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Feminist SF Posting Archive at:
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/femsf-index.htm
Listening to: Badly Drawn Boy -- The Hour of Bewilderbeast
"...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: Conqueror's Child
Date: Fri, 9 Feb 2001 15:35:33 -0600
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

On Wed, 7 Feb 2001 at 15:11:17 0100, Petra Mayerhofer wrote:
>There are two other societies presented in this book: the Bayo-born
>and the Pool towns. What do you think of them?

The Bayo-born struck me as an authorial device to highlight alternative means of dealing with men and keeping memory alive. Like the Holdfast women, I found the idea of controlling men by "gelding" them to be "a barbarically simple solution to a complicated problem" (p. 92), but I was intrigued by their tattooing ritual. Like the building of the cairns in the Holdfast, it kept alive the memory of the past the fems had survived and were determined never to repeat. I couldn't really understand why Alldera was so revolted by it. The Bayo-born's territorial conflict with the Breakaways was another authorial device -- a harbinger of things to come as the Holdfast continued to prosper and grow. But, with no viewpoint character and little time spent in their world, I didn't feel that we ever got to know them.

In contrast we learned a lot about the Pool Towns survivors. Their situation and, later on, the fates of Leeja-Beda and Tamansa-Nan, were gruesome reminders of the brutality the old Holdfast males were capable of. Salalli very much reminded me of Anyanwu in Wild Seed -- another woman trapped in a relationship with a brutal man who, despite it all, is grimly determined to survive and protect her children. I thought it was interesting that the mild sexism of the Pool Towns left Salalli vulnerable to d Layo in more than one way. The mildness of the sexism meant that she lacked the Fems' emotional calluses; the fact that it nevertheless existed meant that she viewed the rule of men as being in some way right. By the time they got to the Holdfast, she was cowed enough to believe that no one could defeat d Layo. I thought her hesitant dealings with Alldera, complicated by homophobia and issues of race, were very well done. More than the Bayo-born, the people of the Pool Towns came across as real and complex human beings. And of course they are the ones who are on their way to integration with the Holdfast at the end.

Did anyone else have the feeling that there were many more survivors of the Wasting waiting to be discovered? As the Holdfast was healed, the view seemed to open out wider and wider, to take in more variation and diversity. I imagine adventurous young women of the Holdfast making all kinds of voyages over time, getting to know more and more of the world they live in, and learning all the while. It is a hopeful vision.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Gomez -- Liquid Skin
"...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: Conqueror's Child
Date: Fri, 9 Feb 2001 16:08:38 -0600
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

On Fri, 9 Feb 2001 20:23:59 +1100, Julieanne wrote:
>But after the initial surprise at finding the Riding Women gone with
>Alldera - I thought I could understand it, and again I felt Charnas had
>made this more realistic, more real, more in character - than having all
>the loose ends tie up in a classic 'happy ending' with lets-all-live-
>together-in-harmony etc.

Yes. And I like how options are kept open for women within the Holdfast itself. The Breakaways, at the end, are living lives very similar to those of the Riding Women, wandering with their herds, no men (and no children) allowed. The fact that women and men are learning to live together in the cities doesn't mean that that's the way everyone must live. There is plenty of room for some women to live for themselves alone, free of unpleasant reminders or duties. It seems like a tremendously healthy alternative to have available.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Gomez -- Liquid Skin
"...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: Conqueror's Child
Date: Mon, 19 Feb 2001 14:19:52 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 07:49 AM 2/15/01 -0500, Rose Reith wrote:
>I spent a lot of time last night thinking about [...] what
>a lout Servan d Layo is, and wondering if part of the problem with
>these books is the authors seemingly blanket assumption that most men
>would just love to lord it over their fellow men and all the women.
>Are decent men that hard to come by? And would the men really become
>so openly vile if the world as we knew it ended and they had control
>over starting a new culture... if you can even call it that?

Well, the first book, which set the stage for all the others, was a satire. Charnas was writing an extreme inversion of the "Nixonian ethos" of the time, and that involved pushing sexism to its limit. What's so depressing, though, is that it doesn't take too much work for me to imagine the conditions in the Holdfast becoming reality. Two words: the Taliban.

I don't think that Charnas is making an essentialist argument, that men would do this and women would do this, etc. If she were, men would not be able to change enough to fit into the new Holdfast. At the end of The Conqueror's Child people like Payder look to be the model of the "new man"; they've realized that they have no investment in the old ways and are moving on. I see Charnas' stance to be very much skewed toward nurture, rather than nature, at least as far as sex roles are concerned. She is just realistic about how hard it can be to shed behaviors and thought patterns that are deeply ingrained. The reason it is relatively easier for the fems is that their lives as slaves forced them to be more aware of the range of human behavior and psychology; they had to know the oppressors intimately in order to survive. By the same token, the "junior" men have to know the "seniors"; d Layo is a master at manipulating these older guys in Walk to the End of the World. So we know that men are capable of insight. It's just that fems, being further down the totem pole, don't register for them. That's why the power structure needs to be totally upset to start over again.

This leads me to a question I've been pondering. At the end of the book Alldera says that killing d Layo was a task for Eykar and Galligan, that they must take it upon themselves to draw the line between what a man may and may not do and still be called a man. But... the drama in which this line was drawn was in some ways a stereotypical jealous rage. Galligan, seeing his woman done wrong, whipped d Layo's butt. Of course, with all his conditioning telling him that feeling love for a fem was wrong and perverted, Galligan was taking a pretty big step. But something still feels a little weird about Allldera's comment. Haven't men in the Holdfast always policed themselves? The difference is in viewing fems as equal players in the polity.

Ha ha. I just inserted my Microsoft Bookshelf CD and this very appropriate quotation popped up:

Whom do we dub as Gentleman? The
Knave, the fool, the brute --
If they but own full tithe of gold, and
Wear a courtly suit.
-- Eliza Cook, (1818-89)

That may be the answer to my question. That men in the old Holdfast could overlook any lapse in morality as long as the offender was powerful enough. Hierarchy is the root of their evil. By the end of the book, at least, the fems seem to have avoided this evil, if by the skin of their teeth. Alldera's refusal to stay in the Holdfast and "do everything" helps. She doesn't want to be an authority. And things are looking promising for the people she is leaving behind. Not happily ever after, maybe. But without the "ladder" of social status that Alldera mentions, the future is a lot more hopeful.

Did I mention that I love these books? :-)

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Feminist SF Posting Archive at:
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/femsf-index.htm
Listening to: Badly Drawn Boy -- The Hour of Bewilderbeast
"...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: Conqueror's Child - Religion
Date: Mon, 5 Mar 2001 23:29:11 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 04:42 PM 2/19/01 -0500, Phoebe Wray wrote:
>In a message dated 2/19/01 2:18:46 PM, J. Dawley writes:
>
><< What's so depressing,
>though, is that it doesn't take too much work for me to imagine the
>conditions in the Holdfast becoming reality. Two words: the Taliban. >>
>
>And two others: Christian Right.

I know we've begun discussing The Terrorists of Irustan, but this response made me think about the issue of religion in the Holdfast series, so I decided to throw out one more post. And, given my sense of The Terrorists of Irustan, it may be appropriate in that context as well.

Religion doesn't look good in The Conqueror's Child. Alldera, the person in the series who most deserves the designation of protagonist, is deeply suspicious of most metaphysical ideas. The men of the old Holdfast used a much-mutated version of Christianity to enforce their social order, and the results were deadly for fems. Rather than turning the tables with the Moonwoman cult, as so many other fems do, she rejects the new faith as well. To her, it's just more counterproductive superstition. As it was portrayed, it seemed that way to me too. The only spirituality I felt was authentic was the wacked out mythology of Setteo, who at times seemed to be genuinely tapping in to supernatural insight. But even that was perverted by the members of the Bear Cult in The Conqueror's Child.

All in all, religion comes across as a regrettable tendency of humanity that is too often used as an excuse to engage in abominable behavior. I'm largely in agreement on that score, and have to admit that I felt a stab of satisfaction when Beyarra and Eykar burned the remaining Bibles (not that I would do it in real life -- but hey, this is science fiction!), but it did strike me as a little strange that Alldera, given her upbringing and life-experiences, was such an atheist. I have the impression that atheism is pretty rare in the overall scheme of things, and even more so in stressful environments. How did others feel about this issue? Was spirituality given short shrift?

-- Janice, moving on to The Terrorists of Irustan once I finish the 2nd book in Dorothy Dunnett's "Lymond Chronicles" (it has occurred to me that if Servan and Eykar were fused in a transporter accident, Lymond might be the result)

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Gomez -- Liquid Skin
"...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 Terrorists of Irustan
Date: Sat, 17 Mar 2001 16:17:03 -0600
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

I finished The Terrorists of Irustan yesterday. Like Joyce, I breezed through it. It was a quick, gripping read.

The alliances and emotional connections between women were the highlight of the book for me. Zahra's mentoring relationship with Ishi; her protective anguish over the women brought, battered and bleeding, into her surgery; her Doma day gatherings with her longtime friends and the clandestine meetings she arranged at need. I liked how these elements not only illuminated the lives of women on Irustan, but were the building blocks of the plot as well, leading to the revolutionary climax. Men, though impinging on the lives of the women, were not the emotional focus of the book. I might have felt differently about this if I hadn't known from the beginning that Jin-Li was a woman (serves me right for reading spoilers), but I'm glad that there wasn't a heterosexual romance in the book. And I was very moved that as she was dying, Zahra saw neither her husband nor Jin-Li, but was embraced by the loving arms of her teacher Nura. An ultimate love that isn't romantic and isn't parental -- amazing!

I liked Zahra very much. She was an intelligent and moral person, but no superwoman. The descriptions throughout the novel of her psychological response to her actions -- alternating giddiness, numbness, and exhaustion - - were very well done. And, as others have said, her responses to Qadir were complex and convincing. I winced whenever he called her to his room, but she reacted in a practical way that avoided making a scene but still preserved her dignity. She would have sex, but not pretend to like it.

The fact that Qadir never seemed to notice her lack of interest made me feel ill. I really didn't like him. It's true that he didn't beat Zahra, and that within certain bounds he genuinely seemed to care for her, but the ease with which he could stop listening and "put his foot down" made it clear that he was fundamentally just another oppressive patriarch. I'm one who found his turnaround at the end implausible, not just on a character level, but on a societal level as well. How could he take a jackhammer to the bedrock of his society and remain in his position as director? And if he could do it after Zahra's death, why couldn't he have done it before and saved her life? Not that I would have wanted to cut Zahra's death scene -- like Joyce, I found it a very powerful moment. I just wonder if it was really necessary to the plot.

Jin-Li seemed like a Maureen McHugh character. I liked her brisk, competent personality and enjoyed the romantic tension between her and Zahra. However, I was bothered by the author's trick of letting readers assume she was male, pronouns cleverly withheld until the revelation, then blithely used for the rest of the story. Having been "spoiled" beforehand, I wasn't tricked, but on principle I object. And, as the book came to an end, Jin- Li's plot line just fizzled, leaving me wondering what the overall point was. An example to Zahra of how different women can be outside the constraints of Irustani culture? Or how much they have in common? Near the end of the book, Jin-Li said, "Irustan, Hong Kong -- it's all the same," but I find the parallel questionable at best. It was my impression that back in Hong Kong, Jin-Li was constrained mostly by her family's poverty, not by her sex. She did say that the streets were more dangerous for women than men, but fear of crime is *not* the same as being officially viewed as a non-person by the state, denied mobility and even the right to speak. I don't know whether to think that Jin-Li is very naive, or so in love that she's not thinking straight... or that the author wasn't quite sure what to do with her. I liked her. I just wished she had been integrated into the overall story a bit better.

My biggest concern about the book was the representation of Islam. Since the book is so transparently based on fanatical sects like The Taliban, I was left wondering how much research the author had actually done on Islam. The take on the veils, for example, seemed a particularly Western one -- that they are a denial of personhood and freedom, rather than shields or equalizers of women. Contrast the character of Katmer Al-Shei in Sarah Zettel's Fool's War, who, though a star-ship captain, still wears a hijab veil and prays to Allah twice a day. Of course, Al-Shei's future version of Islam is much less strict than the one on Irustan -- to some extent she can pick and choose what elements of tradition she will observe. But the contrast in representations still gives me the feeling that Marley is making some negative assumptions about Islam that happen to support her argument. I think it would have been really interesting if the character of Jin-Li had also been a Muslim, perhaps of a much more relaxed variety -- that way we could have gotten a more rounded view on a religion that is commonly misunderstood by insular, largely Christian, Americans.

Still and all, I enjoyed the book and am happy to have read it. It didn't say anything particularly new to me, but it did take on a serious subject with admirable gravity. The other day I found the author's web site and learned that she is an opera singer and that all of her other novels have focused on music to some extent. I wonder what prompted her to write this one?

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Feminist SF Posting Archive at:
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/femsf-index.htm
Listening to: Gomez -- Liquid Skin
"...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



Date: Tue, 3 Apr 2001 22:28:35 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: [*FSF-L*] BDG: The Northern Girl
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

It's April and time to discuss The Northern Girl by Elizabeth Lynn.

What struck me most about this book was its style. Short, blunt sentences; an absence of narrative emotion; a focus on everyday life as well as "big" events. When I first read it, over ten years ago, I found it hard to concentrate on what was happening in the story because it didn't follow the conventions of flow and emphasis that I was familiar with. As a result, I remembered almost nothing of its events. If I had I wouldn't have quoted the misleading blurb from the current edition's back cover in my nomination message: "a humble girl will become part of a revolution in which the common people will find the courage to stand up to tyranny..." Not quite. But I guess a blurb about what really happens in the book might not be exciting enough to get someone to buy it.

What does happen? Sorren does chores, plays drums for her employer's scheming brother, becomes friends with a drunken wreck, and avoids the people who may be able to help her develop her psychic talent. At the end she leaves her lover in the city to travel to a dilapidated keep in the frozen north. Not exactly riveting. Then why do I like it so much?

It comes back to the berries. The one image that stuck with me from my first reading of the book was that of Arré eating a bowl of berries. Having just finished it for the second time, the image seems trivial, but in another way a perfect distillation of what makes Lynn's style unique. Arré is one of the most important figures in her world's political landscape. Her wranglings with the Council and concern over the machinations of her brother, the Tanjo and the Ismeninas take up much of her time. Yet the details of her daily routine and her small satisfactions feel just as important. She is real to me in a way that many other SF and fantasy protagonists aren't.

I'm curious what other people thought of the book. Were you bored? Confused? Transfixed? Discussion is open!

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Gomez -- Liquid Skin
"...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



Date: Fri, 6 Apr 2001 23:08:32 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] BDG: The Northern Girl
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 07:56 AM 4/5/01 -0400, Jessie Stickgold-Sarah wrote:
>I was really blown away by the pronouns, the usage of "she" as an
>indefinite pronoun. I still remember my feeling of shock when someone
>said "Get someone to do such-and-such a job, and make sure she's smart"
>and I realized that it was not a woman-only job ("Talk to the child's
>mother and make sure she's..."). I'm not sure I've seen it anywhere
>else--certainly not so casually, in a book that's not self-consciously
>experimental.

Yes, I liked it too. Lynn pulls off a lot of ground breaking material by simply stating that something is so without explaining why or how. She also implies a lot without explicitly stating it. For instance, Paxe's reaction to her son's attempted rape of Sorren struck me at first as blaming the victim, or at least as being very callous. Just when Sorren needed support, Paxe began avoiding her. But as I read on and thought about the unquestioned power of women in Arun, I decided that maybe Paxe has no concept of "woman as victim". She makes sure that Sorren is physically all right and that is enough, because there isn't all the emotional baggage that comes along with sexual assault in our culture. Looked at this way, her behavior is still a bit self-involved, but not nearly as bad as I first thought. And later on Ricard is shown to have changed for the better -- unusual for a would-be rapist in fiction.

What did other people think of Lynn's treatment of this episode?

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Gomez -- Liquid Skin
"...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



Date: Thu, 19 Apr 2001 00:16:39 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] BDG: The Northern Girl -- Violence & Prosperity
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 10:27 PM 4/3/01 -0800, Sharon Anderson wrote:
>I was also, at the time, studying martial arts. Our school practiced a
>blend that was about 50% shotokan karate, 35% aikido, and 15% judo. The
>concept that the book had of soldiering evolving from the dance was very
>aikido-like, and thoroughly delightful.

This is a very interesting thread in Lynn's writing. In some ways I think Arun as depicted in The Northern Girl is a feminist utopia. Women's opportunities are not limited in any way. In fact, given that most families are matrilineal, they appear to have the upper hand. And physical violence, considered by many as the province of men, is minimized. But it is very clear in all of Lynn's work that violence is not always bad -- sometimes it is necessary and right. Arré is aware that the city policy on weapons may have the side-effect of leaving it helpless in the face of an invasion. But the Ismeninas' experiment with swords leads to quite a few senseless deaths.

The chearis, the dancing warriors, are the golden mean. They have a sharply honed skill in combat that slides easily into the art of dance, both tempered by a spiritual understanding of when each is appropriate. They are the living embodiment of "power to" rather than "power over". (As opposed to Mary Gentle's Ash, who seemed traditionally macho, at least to me.) It's interesting that the two closest approximations of the fabled chearis in this book were Isak and Paxe. Isak, a man and a theoretically more peaceful dancer, is set on dominating his sister, while the woman warrior Paxe doesn't want to dominate anyone, and in fact has considerable difficulty disciplining her son in any way. Though Paxe comes closer, it seems that both are missing the spiritual element, the connection to the chea, which has now been assigned as the realm of the witches. The chearis are now nothing but ghosts.

I wonder if Lynn is saying that this atomization and loss of wholeness is an inevitable consequence of a relatively just society? That to achieve universal prosperity, glory must die? What do you think?

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Coldplay -- Parachutes
"...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



Date: Thu, 19 Apr 2001 23:19:42 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] BDG: The Northern Girl -- Violence & Prosp
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 11:12 AM 4/19/01 +0200, Rowena wrote:
>I am aware you wrote "in some ways" but I would like to point out that
>I would be very hesitant to call a society wich practice slavery (bond
>servants) and is so clearly not democratic [a] utopia as I see it....

I completely agree. The system of bond, as we see it, seems fairly benign (I kept thinking that Sorren was the most free and easy slave I had ever read about), but it is still an in-your-face reminder of systematic oppression. And, as you say, the power of the Council was a bit scary, given that it consisted of only five people, three of whom were, respectively, stupid, weak and power hungry. (Funny that all three were men... I don't think Lynn is saying that all men are incapable of taking on such responsibility -- look at Tarn Ryth. But is it just a coincidence?)

What I am not clear on, not having re-read the other two Tornor books, is how bad things looked in the earlier days of Arun's history. My sense after first reading the trilogy was that it was in part an investigation of social transformation, if not progress, over long periods of time. Arun looked a lot different in The Northern Girl than it did in Watchtower. And simply because tNG was the conclusion of this journey, I found myself wondering if the state of things in Arun by the end was meant to be taken as a high point. Not utopia, maybe, but an investigation of what concessions might have to be made to ensure that certain key problems (e.g. sexism, war) are addressed on a wide scale. Hm. I just don't know. Lynn is nothing if not subtle!

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Coldplay -- Parachutes
"...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



Date: Sun, 22 Apr 2001 19:09:00 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] BDG: The Northern Girl -- Characters
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 08:21 AM 4/11/01 -0400, Marcie McCauley wrote:
>The figure of Marti Hok loomed large in my reading; I wish we'd gotten
>to know more of her story as well. So if I try to answer Janice's
>question for myself, I guess I liked it so much because of the
>characters that Elizabeth Lynn creates therein; it often comes down to
>character for me.

Marti Hok was a wonderful character, a crone in the best sense of the word. More than once her snippy comments made me laugh. And I enjoyed the friendship between her and Arré. Both professionally and personally they seemed very compatible, bouncing ideas off one another and providing support for one another in the often stressful business of the Council. Between them, these two "spiders", spinning their webs, appeared to be largely responsible for the orderly operation of the city, yet they never seemed larger than life. It's easy to imagine having lunch with them, sharing gossip over a glass of wine.

One glass, and one glass only, for Arré. Maybe because her brother was involved, she seemed much more affected by the stress of all the intrigue than Marti was. I was alarmed when Sorren found her dead drunk after downing two carafes of wine. I was also a little puzzled. In the preceding scene she had been calmly concocting a plan to force the Ron Ismenin's hand and didn't seem particularly distraught. But I guess she may have felt that she had earned some relaxation, some forgetfulness. Obviously it went too far. From the description, it sounded like she came very close to fatal alcohol poisoning. Yikes. I wonder if we are supposed to see her as an alcoholic? She's a very unusual one, if so.

Her brother Isak was an unusual villain as well. An incredibly skilled, charismatic dancer with a twisted, envious soul. I liked Lynn's approach to his character. He wasn't an embodiment of pure evil; through Arré we get glimpses of what he was like as a child as well as some guesses as to what might have made him the person he became. But there were no excuses made for him, either. However Arré may have slighted him, attempted murder was not an acceptable response. When Arré announced that he was to be exiled, I wondered if he would find some way to menace her from afar. But then I thought, no, it would be more like Lynn to have him change into a better person once his rank and wealth were stripped from him. The answer is beyond the bounds of the story, but it is interesting to think about.

It took me a while to warm to Paxe. At first she seemed like a traditional honorable warrior. But then there was her night on the town, first trapping the con-artists then being chased across the city, over roofs and through houses, by her second-in-command Kaleb. Afterwards, while falling asleep, she thought how much she needed him and loved him, how bereft she would be if he left the city. Even at this point, I think she knew that her relationship with Sorren wasn't going to last. Sorren had her whole life ahead of her; Paxe, as she said at the end, "made [her] trip to the mountains years ago." Maybe it's just the point I am at in my own life, but I sensed a poignant ennui in Paxe. Her days of glory were over, she was settled down in a high-status position that was largely routine, people who had been important to her were dead or drifting away... She seemed ripe for a big, life-changing event. Maybe travelling with Kaleb? Another unanswered question.

It's a tribute to Lynn's skill that so many of these characters seem to have a life beyond what we read about in the story. As another example, I really wanted to know what was up with Kadra. On the one hand, I found her sickeningly self-destructive; on the other I was very curious about her past as a messenger and how she had come to be such a sad sack. Unfortunately, Sorren didn't meet her until her date with death was imminent. Their lives touched only briefly, and that was all.

As a final note, I found that Sorren, the central character of the book, never really came into focus for me. She was more like a roving eye than a full person. I suppose this could be partly explained by her youth. But Arré and Marti Hok both make note of her pleasant personality. Am I imagining it?

> Anyone else have any character-driven favourites they
> would recommend?

Wow, I'm having a hard time narrowing down the list in my head. What SF & fantasy books, apart from The Northern Girl, have you read and thought of as good character-driven works? With a little more info, I'm sure I could come up with some recommendations.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Coldplay -- Parachutes
"...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



Date: Sun, 6 May 2001 18:53:26 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] BDG: The Northern Girl -- Characters
To: FEMINISTSF-LIT@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU

At 12:36 PM 5/6/01 -0500, Susan Hericks wrote:
>Janice wrote:
> >One glass, and one glass only, for Arré. Maybe because her brother was
> >involved, she seemed much more affected by the stress of all the intrigue
> >than Marti was. I was alarmed when Sorren found her dead drunk after
> >downing two carafes of wine. I was also a little puzzled. In the preceding
> >scene she had been calmly concocting a plan to force the Ron Ismenin's hand
> >and didn't seem particularly distraught. But I guess she may have felt that
> >she had earned some relaxation, some forgetfulness. Obviously it went too
> >far. From the description, it sounded like she came very close to fatal
> >alcohol poisoning. Yikes. I wonder if we are supposed to see her as an
> >alcoholic? She's a very unusual one, if so.
>
>Though I'm not a medical expert, it seemed clear to me that Arre had
>diabetes (her love for sweets, the similar health problems of her mother)
>and put herself into a diabetic coma with too much alcohol.

Thank you for this info -- it makes sense now! I just looked up the signs of hyperglycemia, and they match Arré's symptoms, down to the "fruity" breath.

-----
Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
http://homepages.together.net/~jdawley/
Listening to: Coldplay -- Parachutes
"...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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