Postings to the Feminist Science Fiction On-Topic Mailing List, 16 May 2002 to 5 March 2003

05.16.02  Recent Reading -- Help!
08.28.02  BDG: The Fifth Sacred Thing
08.30.02  BDG: The Fifth Sacred Thing
09.03.02  BDG: The Annunciate
10.02.02  BDG: The Annunciate
10.03.02  BDG: The Annunciate
10.25.02  Gender, Myth and Star Wars
11.04.02  BDG: Babel-17
11.05.02  BDG: Babel-17
11.08.02  BDG: Babel-17
11.11.02  Vampire Tapestry
BDG: The Saga of the Renunciates
01.13.03  Le Guin's Always Coming Home
02.06.03  'Funny' FSF?
02.13.03  BDG: A Note about Perdido Street Station
03.04.03  Lysistrata and GtWC
03.05.03  BDG: The Silver Metal Lover

Date: Thu, 16 May 2002 13:14:31 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: [*FSF-L*] Recent Reading -- Help!

Hi, all --

Maybe you can help me. Lately I have read two books by authors whose previous work I have enjoyed -- and found myself very critical. I would like to see their good points, but I think I need some assistance. So, has anyone read:

NEKROPOLIS by Maureen McHugh. As I was reading it I kept thinking, "this is really depressing." That's not necessarily bad, but in the end I felt that was all the book had to offer. No hints about how to address the problems of the book's characters, not even a real investigation of the AI and engineered human themes. I've liked the sparseness and lack of answers in her other books, but this one just seemed tired to me, as if the author herself weren't that interested in it.

A PARADIGM OF EARTH by Candas Jane Dorsey. This book's biggest problem is its tone. I found it exposition-heavy and self-congratulatory. I agree with the author on most political issues, but it really irked me to hear various opinions stated as some kind of dogma over and over again. There's a tie-in to the *Native Tongue* discussion here, as its a trope of the book that the Sapir-Whorf theory of language is true, that one's language shapes what one can think about. One of the characters is a sexless alien whom various other characters assign a gendered pronoun, pretty obviously because of their own emotional needs or expectations. That's an interesting topic, but the book's main character, who is the mentor of the alien, is able to avoid assigning a gender and *keeps pointing it out* throughout the book whenever anyone else does it. It seemed patronizing toward the reader and became *very* tedious. Then there's the stereotyping of conservatives, the murder mystery that's bizarrely predictable, and the over-the-top success of the main character in bed... Oy!

Please, someone help me appreciate these books.

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Television -- Television
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Wed, 28 Aug 2002 00:17:48 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: [*FSF-L*] BDG: The Fifth Sacred Thing

It looks like I finished The Fifth Sacred Thing just in time for the revived discussion.

This was a slow, rather laborious read for me. I didn't dislike it enough to give up on it, but I can't say that I enjoyed it either. To start with the positive, I will say that the settings were vivid and well differentiated: San Francisco clean, green and lively; the hills outside LA dry and dusty; the toxic currents of the ocean flowing through drowned city streets. There were sections, particularly in the latter half of the book, that were involving as vignettes. Madrone's sexual encounter with Hijohn and its aftermath had the ring of truth, as did Bird's imprisonment and torture by an army with the means of persuasion but very few pertinent questions to ask. Like Dave, I also appreciated the descriptions of the often boring and overlong process of consensus-based meetings. The principle is important, but there's no denying that there's a price in time and energy for those involved. I appreciated the author's honesty about that.

I did not appreciate her obvious bias toward a manufactured goddess religion. She has her beliefs, and she is entitled to them, but I wish she hadn't a) made a show of tolerating other religions while making sure hers always came out on top and b) been so literal and elitist about it. The scene in chapter 6 in which Bird leads the Monsters in a ritual was the worst example of this. The Monsters aspire to be witches, but they haven't had the teaching they need; Bird leads them through a precise sequence of actions that results in their first sight of a circle of protection. He thinks, "there was something touching about these halting, awkward attempts to keep the rites without really understanding how to raise and channel power." (p. 96) Could the condescension be laid on any thicker? How much better is this than any other religion that reserves "power" only for those who know the proper rites?

This is just one example of the "not practicing what you preach" problem that I ran across several times in this book. Another is the approach to polyamory. The author seems to want to believe in it and to want everyone else to believe in it, but her portrayal lacks substance. Bird and Madrone's partners -- Nita, Holybear, and Sage -- are so minimally characterized that they come across as mere placeholders. Sandy is more interesting, but is unfortunately dead, as are Maya's old loves, Johanna and Rio. All the other sexual partners are strictly temporary. I realize that depicting non-exclusive sexual relationships is in itself pretty unusual and plenty unsettling for the average reader. But as I understand it, polyamory (meaning "many loves"), is about a lot more than having sex with a bunch of different people. It is about forming loving, close relationships with more than one person. For all the sex Madrone and Bird have with other people (and there's a lot of it), their romantic energy is clearly directed at one another only.

Separate but related is the depiction of primary homosexual relationships. Did anyone else find it odd that Bird's relationship with Littlejohn, which had been going on for years, ended as soon as Bird regained his memory and sense of self? And that Madrone witnessed Littlejohn's death and found it so unimportant that she never even mentioned it to Bird? (Convenient Deaths of Gay Characters 101) Madrone's relations with other women also struck me as strange. Both Isis and Sara are characterized as possessive and controlling -- and Madrone thinks they should be introduced! How does it make logical sense to match up two people who both want to be in the driver's seat? But wait, I think I get it. They're both LESBIANS, those rare and difficult creatures who hate men and want sex only with others of their kind... They're meant for each other! (That's sarcasm, for those who can't hear my voice.)

The most damaging example of the "not practicing what you preach" problem was the playing out of the non-violent resistance storyline. I agree with Edie that the rebellion of the army units totally undercut the message the author had pushed to that point. Dave says that's the author being realistic, and I agree that the soldiers might plausibly do what they did in the book. What I find hypocritical is that none of the characters gave a thought to the irony that they had just been saved by a massive display of violence in their defense. In fact, many of them spent the last few pages engaging in V-Day style celebrations and jumping for joy at making it back into "El Mundo Bueno". Not one single twinge of guilt or regret about the manner of their victory.

The invasion and occupation storyline was seriously flawed in other ways as well. I kept asking myself, "what is this army's purpose?" They spent weeks dithering around with torture, a few killings here and there, damming the streams and damming them again after the previous dams were blown up, etc. Call me cold-blooded, but I could see no reason in the world why they didn't start by gunning down every single person in San Francisco and THEN begin work on the dams. Their behavior was monstrous enough in other ways that a massacre of the already depleted citizenry -- BEFORE their troops started to mingle with it -- seems just their style. Awfully convenient for the story that the general didn't think of it!

Well, this has gone on long enough. Consider this just another piece of the whole, and hopefully not too bitter...

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: The Chemical Brothers -- Surrender
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Fri, 30 Aug 2002 13:03:48 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] The Fifth Sacred Thing

At 10:11 PM 8/29/2002 -0700, Lee Anne Phillips wrote:
>At 01:05 PM 8/30/02 +1000, Maire wrote:
>>I think if you *wanted* a good army, you could easily create one.
>>err.... by that, I mean,
>>"if you *wanted* a GOON army"
>OK, I accept that. We do, after all, have quasi-armies of
>goons calling themselves skinheads and white power groups
>in this country. There are even a few in LA although their
>power base seems to be somewhat further in toward the
>middle of the country. But what the heck, if you wanted
>goons they're easy enough to come by almost anywhere.
>Maybe Starhawk's army recruited from prison gangs.

Though I find many of the book's details implausible or overly convenient, I have to give the author credit for building up the disaffection of the troops. She makes it very clear that large numbers of soldiers were in the army only because that was their one option besides prison (usually for crimes like stealing water). Most of them stay instead of deserting because they are afraid they will die without the immuno-boosting drugs the army feeds them. Once Madrone discovers a way to wean them from the drugs, many more are willing to turn on their captors.

Race tensions and generally poor treatment by their officers are also highlighted more than once. Given the setting as the author described it, it doesn't seem that odd that the invading forces broke down the way they did. Why the Stewards were stupid enough to send this poor excuse for an army north to begin with is another question.

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: The Chemical Brothers -- Surrender
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Tue, 3 Sep 2002 22:48:30 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: [*FSF-L*] BDG: The Annunciate

Labor Day weekend has come and gone, and it's time to discuss The Annunciate.

What did you make of this book? Was it simply a dark adventure tale, or did it have a deeper message?

Of the various blurbs included with the book, I found Maureen McHugh's most interesting: "The Annunciate has nanotechnology and spaceships, but at its heart is Severna Park's delicate calculus of human need -- the need for information, for a fix, for a place to live, for a lover and for a mother... the need for hope."

Eve's need for a mother figure certainly keeps her with Annmarie long after she should have left. Determined not to repeat this history, she assumes the role of mother to the succubus baby. Is this a hopeful ending or an apocalyptic one?

A propos of this question, I looked up William Burroughs' "Algebra of Need" (mentioned in the book's dedication):

"Junk [opium and its derivatives, including heroin and morphine] is the ideal product...the ultimate merchandise. [...] Junk yields a basic formula of "evil" virus: The Algebra of Need. The face of "evil" is always the face of total need. A dope fiend is a man in total need of dope. Beyond a certain frequency need knows absolutely no limit or control. In the words of total need: "Wouldn't you?" Yes you would. You would lie, cheat, inform on your friends, steal, do anything to satisfy total need. Because you would be in a state of total sickness, total possession, and not in a position to act in any other way."


The Burroughs quote is obviously relevant to Staze and Annemarie, Rose and Corey's plan to addict as many of their enemies as possible. But Burroughs extended the Algebra of Need to other areas of life besides drug addiction:

"For Burroughs, all systems of control are but "mathematical extensions of the Algebra of Need beyond the Junk virus" -- and all social struggle is analogous to his own battle against heroin addiction."


I think this larger meaning is more relevant to The Annunciate. The Staze addicts are relatively powerless and ineffective -- hardly evil compared to the controlling, practically sociopathic Annmarie and Corey. Was anyone else reminded of the Nazi doctors upon reading about their experiments on human subjects? I found them quite horrifying. (Corey's "re-pro-duc-tion" trial with Naverdi was particularly gut-churning and brought back the unpleasant memory of a short story called "Precious" by Roberta Lannes. Think gynecologist, sedated patient, worm that can live in uterus and snack on invading man-meat. Revolting is an understatement.)

What is evil in this book seems to be the use of technology, drugs and religion to control others. The mythology of the Annunciate was intertwined with the story to such an extent that it was obviously important, but I was never sure what to make of it. Was it an "opiate of the masses" or a metaphor for the overall story?

The dictionary says that "annunciate" is either a verb, meaning "to announce" or an adjective meaning "foretold". Both imply a future event. A transformation of the human race? The arrival of a human/alien messiah bearing the fruit of the tree of knowledge? Or just the end of the book?

What do you think?

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Coldplay -- A Rush of Blood to the Head
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Wed, 2 Oct 2002 21:07:45 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] The Annunciate

At 12:12 PM 10/1/2002 -0400, Dave Belden wrote:
>The most interesting ideas by page 65, for me, had concerned the network
>they were linked into, but it was never described clearly enough for me to
>get a real sense of how it worked - it never became plausible to me. There
>was a fight among spaceships, where I was really lost in understanding what
>was going on. Probably required a deal more concentration than I could give
>it, or more prior understanding of nanotech ideas in sf than I seem to have.
>Anyone else feel that way, or am I just out of it this month?

I'm with you, Dave. The propagats as described in the book made no sense, unless they possessed faster-than-light communication ability. Information just doesn't pass instantaneously from one corner of a triple-star system to another unless it's being transmitted by an ansible or something like it. Yet there was no mention of this detail. Likewise, there was no real investigation of how the succubus so conveniently transported people from planet to planet.

It was frustrating, but after a while, I concluded that technology just wasn't a priority of the book.

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Coldplay -- A Rush of Blood to the Head
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Thu, 3 Oct 2002 20:11:02 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] The Annunciate

At 11:24 AM 10/3/2002 -0700, Lee Anne Phillips wrote:
>And to belatedly add another bit to the mix
>on The Annunciate, Severna Park is an
>African-American woman. It doesn't take
>too much imagination to see where she's
>coming from with Staze.

Severna Park is a pseudonym. The author's real name is Suzanne Feldman. Check out her web page at -- I don't think she's African American.

Even if she were, it would seem reductive to me to say that Staze MUST be a reference to a particular conspiracy theory about crack cocaine. A person's race does not automatically tell you where they are coming from on any particular issue.

I took Staze to be just one flavor of the control metaphor that filled the book. We've been talking a bit about plausibility lately. I thought it odd that no one in this book ever attempted to go cold turkey. The idea of a drug that is addictive after one dose and that remains addictive forever, for all addicts, is pretty absurd. What's even more absurd is that no one appeared to be researching an antidote! The possible dollar value alone ought to have been funding multitudes of labs on every planet.

But economic and scientific possibility was secondary to the metaphor of "power over" that IMO took its most disturbing form with Naverdi's experimental "pregnancy". I've probably watched the Alien movies many more times than is good for me. I kept imagining the alien bursting from Naverdi's body in a fountain of blood, leaving her an empty, dead husk. That didn't happen, thank peep. In fact, I thought it interesting that both the pregnancy, which began with such a hideous violation, and the Staze addictions of billions of people, which seemed so hopeless, turned out to be not nearly as bad as I expected. The author seemed to be saying, "even if you're mercilessly oppressed and helpless, there is hope; things might not turn out the way you think."

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Coldplay -- A Rush of Blood to the Head
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Fri, 25 Oct 2002 12:03:31 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] Gender, Myth and Star Wars

At 09:49 PM 10/24/2002 -0500, Pamela Taylor wrote:
>As far as other films, how about the Alien series? Sigorney Weaver's
>character is pretty awesome. Although she is very asexual. It seems to me
>that there is a tendency to either make women overly feminine, and rather
>helpless, or, if they are very strong, to de-emphasize their feminity to
>the point that you say, what's the difference between this character and a
>man? What about the character and her behavior makes it clear she's a
>woman? Weaver's character is precisely the kind I'm talking about -- does
>her character act in anyway that is particularly feminine? Going back
>after the cat, perhaps?

This whole idea of "a man in woman's clothing" is such a gray area to me. On the one hand, it is discouraging to see female characters empowered only by taking on macho postures -- as if that is the only alternative most filmmakers or writers see to being a 50s housewife or a disposable sex object. On the other hand, when critics dismiss a woman character as being a "man with boobs" simply because she is strong and physically assertive, I get antsy. This criticism seems to assume that certain behaviors are mapped eternally to feminine and masculine gender roles and that any crossover is indicative of a desire to play the other role entire. That may occasionally be the case, but most often I don't think it's so.

Ripley, for example, is in no way a man in disguise. She wasn't conceived that way, and she doesn't come across that way (at least to me) in any of the films except, perhaps, the last one. In the first movie, Ripley doesn't kick ass and isn't a hero. She's just a little smarter and luckier than the rest of the crew of her ship. And don't forget sexy -- there's a fairly lengthy sequence near the end of the movie in which Ripley, clad only in miniscule underwear, has to creep across a room towards a protective space suit, trying to avoid the attention of the nearly dormant alien. Very reminiscent of the role of a helpless woman in a "slasher" movie -- except that she defeats the villain.

In the second movie, she's much more heroic, but again, not in a way that I see as "male" -- unless we're talking "Vietnam vet with PTSD". And as a couple people have mentioned, there is the whole subplot of Ripley's maternal feelings toward Newt, which in the director's cut are more explicitly linked to Ripley's discovery that her daughter died at an advanced age while Ripley was drifting through space in hypersleep. The Battle of the Moms theme that develops toward the end of the film is a little overdone for my taste (particularly Ripley's line to the alien queen: "Get away from her, you bitch!"), but I'm not sure it should be seen as a statement that females will only fight to protect their young. After all, Ripley agreed to go on the mission before she knew there would be a daughter-figure to protect, and she was explicit from the beginning that she wanted the aliens eradicated, not brought back for study.

In that she is betrayed by "the man", the Corporate employer personified by the weaselly Burke. The movie's take on gender is very interesting, actually, as it portrays a variety of male and female roles. Burke and Ripley and to an extent the lieutenant in charge of the mission are at first portrayed as weaker and more effete than the rough-and-tumble grunts. But it soon becomes clear that someone's macho or lack of it is immaterial to their chances of survival. The young girl Newt is the only survivor of the colony because she is adept at hiding. The one guy who survives (seriously injured) is himself a pretty straight-ahead strongman, but he's emotionally secure enough to be able to appreciate Ripley's strength and smarts. And Ripley is a damaged, reluctant protector of humanity whose decency could be tied to her femaleness -- her horror at Burke's plan to smuggle aliens back to Earth by implanting them in herself and Newt is at least as much a horror of the "ends justifies the means" thought process of the heartless and male-coded Corporation as it is fear for her own life -- but it is debatable. Truly an interesting film, and one of my favorites.

I have never seen the third movie all the way through, and I thought the fourth was a terrible mess, but I have enjoyed others' comments on them. There's much fodder for discussion there.

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Coldplay -- A Rush of Blood to the Head
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Mon, 4 Nov 2002 20:31:27 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: [*FSF-L*] BDG: Babel-17

Hi everyone. I'm glad to see that discussion has already begun! I'll post some responses in another message, after I've attempted to express my general feelings about the book.

Most broadly -- I liked it. It's been about 10 years since my first reading of Babel-17, and I feared that a return visit would reveal weaknesses now glaring to my older and (debatably) wiser eyes. But as before I was swept along by the book's energy and invigorated by the author's enthusiasm for the new and strange, even if much of it did not appeal to my own personal taste. (The majority of the body modifications, for example, struck me as grotesque and wildly impractical.)

Delany is an unabashed lover of cities and a seemingly fearless investigator of milieus and situations that most people shun. I find his books eye-opening just for that reason -- he's been places I probably will never go (like the porn theatres of Times Square) and he has interesting things to say about them. I appreciate his honesty and enthusiasm while keeping in mind that his approach to many issues, despite being considerate of feminism, is lacking awareness in certain ways.

In Babel-17, the clearest example of what I mean is the awakening of Mollya to be the third member of Calli and Ron's triple. She has been chosen because she fits certain criteria for the other two and because she herself is sexually inclined toward a relationship with two men. It all works out (despite a short rocky patch), and Rydra congratulates herself on her cleverness. It's Slot-A fitting into Tab-B. That may work for Delany, but as a woman, the idea of being placed like a puzzle piece into a predefined relationship structure would make me feel degraded and objectified. But Mollya is perfectly happy with it. IMO, the author just doesn't "get it" here.

A smaller objection regarding the book's feminism is that Rydra Wong is pretty much a "queen bee" whose primary relationships are all with men. Sexism is not addressed in the novel, it is assumed to be absent. Nevertheless, it is refreshing how Delany unselfconsciously places women in all positions of life: bureaucrats, bored wives, bioengineered wrestlers, fighter pilots, etc. A big strength of the book is its bending of gender roles, particularly with the male characters, many of whom are testosterone-powered hulks who are nevertheless very physically affectionate and concerned with relationships. Delany challenges the convention that to take on such female characteristics a man must "look the part", i.e. be effeminate in some way. He's a keen enough observer of real life that he knows how much variation there actually is in gender "performance", and he embraces that diversity. (His later novel, Triton, i.e. Trouble on Triton, takes the investigation of gender quite a bit further, into the realm of the baroque, not to say twisted.)

I also thought the mental merging of Rydra and the Butcher, with its reverse penetration imagery, was fascinating, if a little troubling at the same time.

The "I-You" conversation that leads up to it, which encapsulates the book's linguistic argument, was as others have pointed out a little too deterministic a reading of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of how language shapes the way we think. (A good overview for anyone who is curious is at But I thought it was interesting how difficult it was for me to perform a quick translation of the Butcher's misuse of "you" and "I" and grasp what he was really saying. I almost felt that this brain exercise was the real point of the passage, above and beyond any deeper message about subjectivity and morality.

This is a busy book, full of characters, incidents and ideas. Given its brevity, that means that many of these elements are sketched rather than detailed, but the book's core theme of communication, reaching out to the Other and trying to understand, comes through loud and clear. Babel-17 is far from a perfect book, but it is challenging and worthwhile.

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Coldplay -- A Rush of Blood to the Head
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Tue, 5 Nov 2002 01:28:52 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] BDG: Babel-17

At 10:22 AM 11/4/2002 -0800, Bridgett Torrence wrote:
>First of all, I couldn't really get into the culture. The violence and lack
>of regard for human life really bothered me.

On whose part? Ver Dorco and his weapons experiments were fairly gruesome, it's true, but I thought that was a satire on the mentality of R&D experts during a cold war (Dr. Strangelove came out about a year before this book was written). Rydra and the Butcher (not coincidentally Ver Dorco's son) are, by the end of the book, planning an end to the whole heinous, bloody conflict. IMO, this is fundamentally an idealistic, ridiculously heroic story about peace.

>If that weren't enough, I became really
>confused when a character's emotional reactions were inconsistent with the
>world view I thought I understood them to have. For example, the Butcher's
>reaction to the death of the infant. I really didn't get that at all. The
>passage explaining the Butcher's reaction didn't make any sense to me. Can
>someone explain?

This part of the story was confusing to me, also. Were we supposed to think that the Butcher's underlying personality and memories were trying to break free of the straitjacket of Babel-17? That he was trying to address a sense of loneliness that he could not consciously understand? Not sure. Pretty clumsy, I thought.

>As sentient beings, I don't believe anything, including language, can take
>away our self-awareness and our innate understanding of "you" and "I". I
>believe infants develop this sense before developing language, whether that
>language be verbal or sign. Do you agree? If not, please explain. I'm interested.

Normal human children can recognize their own reflections in the mirror at about a year old, if not sooner. Most are beginning to speak at about the same time. As far as I know, there is no proven relation between the two events, but it's not been disproven either.

Interestingly, there is repeated mirror imagery in the novel, starting with the first chapter and Rydra's meeting with General Forester ("She turned to him (as the figure in the mirror behind the counter caught sight of him and turned away), stood up from the stool, smiled.") and ending with Rydra's merging with the Butcher in Part 4 ("Mirrored in him, she saw growing in the light of her, a darkness within words, only noise -- growing! And cried out at its name and shape.") What does it all mean? Any guesses?

>Also, the Butcher referred to himself in the third person. What does this
>indicate, if anything? Whether first person or third, it seems to me that
>the "person" is still there. I have no background in linguistics, so I'm
>really fascinated by the whole topic.

The Butcher used the third person ("he", "she", "it", "they"), but not to refer to himself. He completely avoided self-referential pronouns, even possessives for his own body. So it's "the brain" rather than "my brain". It reminds me of the lack of possessive pronouns on Anarres in The Dispossessed; a compare and contrast study of Delany and Le Guin could be fascinating.

>The other thing I found really disturbing about this book was my inability
>to relate to the main characters. Usually, when a main character is female,
>I don't have any trouble relating to her. Even if I dislike her or her
>actions, the empathy is still there. However, I felt no connection with
>Rydra Wong. Did anyone else have this reaction? (I couldn't relate to the
>men, either.)

I can't say I related to the characters; they were too fragmentary. But at times I related to the narrative voice quite intensely. The observation of body language and minor cues, the veering away from the big story to intimate scenes like Rydra's conversation with Ron in Part 2 or moments in the life of the repressed (but improving) Danil D. Appleby, said a lot to me.

>The only character in the entire story I could relate to was the Baroness.
>What an eye opener! She hides behind fat and good manners, saying in
>essence, "Don't worry about those men and their weapons of mass destruction,
>dear; I've made a fabulous dinner!" I listen to NPR each evening while
>cooking dinner. Hmmm.

The Baroness was more sympathetic than that, wasn't she? She gets some of the book's great lines: "Oh, the bright young people who come here, with their bright, lively imaginations. They do nothing all day long but think of ways to kill. It's a terribly placid society, really. But why shouldn't it be? All its aggressions are vented from nine to five. Still, I think it does something to our minds."

I think she's on to something. ;-)

Thanks for your comments, Bridgett.

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Coldplay -- A Rush of Blood to the Head
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Fri, 8 Nov 2002 00:03:48 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] BDG: Babel-17

At 10:19 AM 11/5/2002 -0800, Bridgett Torrence wrote:
>It didn't seem odd to me that a "triple" would be the inevidable outcome of
>a psychic interface (if that's the term) such as the ear/eye/nose. I think
>of the relationships between actors and their co-stars, between artists and
>their models (the pre-raphealites come to mind) and it all seems very reasonable.

Interesting, but I think the kind of proximity you're talking about is just as likely to result in intense dislike or aversion. Which might explain why so much thought is put into "psyche indices" and personality matching from the beginning. They don't want a crew falling to pieces mid-voyage.

I guess my problem really is that this model of compatibility assumes that a happy and productive long-term relationship must be a sexual one. I just don't think that's true.

>In fiction, we have the sexual relationships between Anne McCaffery's
>dragonriders (determined by dragons, not humans) and Laurell K. Hamilton's
>triumvirate (I think that's what she calls it), though Hamilton's may not be
>the best example. Her triple would be interesting if she would only finish
>the porn interlude and get back to the story! Anyhow, I'm sure there are
>other examples in fiction of successful sexual relationships which are
>entered into for reasons other than love. Can anyone think of some?

Actually, I can't. But maybe I don't understand what you mean. I get the Anne McCaffrey reference, though I'd quibble about whether all the human pairings that resulted were "successful". Some were pretty dysfunctional when not overwhelmed by dragon passion. I've never read any Hamilton. What's the story with her triumvirates?

>It also didn't seem odd to me that Mollya had no objection to Rydra's
>matchmaking. I was convinced, unquestioningly, that the people of the
>Babel-17 universe felt very defined by their jobs, especially those in Transport.

I would agree with this, though I'm not sure that's any different from a person of the 20th century who feels defined by their economic class and their "blue collar" or "white collar" job.

>Heck, even prostitutes continue their profession after becoming discorporate.

Was she a prostitute before discorporating? I didn't see that.

>If it were me, I would also feel "degraded and objectified", but I'm not
>sure all women would agree with us. After all, there seem to be plenty of
>women who approve of arranged marriages.

Well, there's no arguing with that. Good point.

> > A big strength of the book is its bending of gender roles, particularly
> > with the male characters, many of whom are testosterone-powered hulks who
> > are nevertheless very physically affectionate and concerned with relationships.
>I'm really glad you mention this, because I have to admit I completely
>dismissed the Butcher when he was introduced. I'd been reading the Jaran
>archive, which includes a great discussion of the romance genre, and I read
>Babel-17 with those stereotypical romance characterizations still in mind.
>When the Butcher walked onto the set (so to speak), I just assumed he was
>the romantic love interest. Here's the scene:
>"The second man moved back and she saw the third who still stood at the
>rear. Taller, and more powerfully built than the others, he wore only a
>breech... Something about him was brutal enough to make her glance away.
>Something was graceful enough to make her look back."
>Sounds like a romance novel to me! :-)

Heh. Yeah, it was pretty obvious where their relationship was headed. But surprisingly there was no actual sex -- it was all cerebral, and intimately tied to the book's theme of communication. I guess it could be called "brain sex". (more below on that)

Apart from the Butcher, the other hulk I had in mind was Calli -- a big ugly galoot who's still mourning his Number One and who gets some pretty insightful dialogue from time to time.

> > I also thought the mental merging of Rydra and the Butcher, with its
> > reverse penetration imagery, was fascinating, if a little troubling at the
> > same time.
>How so?

I'm a sucker for telepathy, I guess. The blurring of boundaries and mixing of two minds is such an interesting idea (though prone to melodrama). In this case, their two ways of thinking complemented one another -- the Butcher's action-oriented and Rydra's thought- and language-oriented. Then there's the one thing they have in common: Babel-17. This symmetry, thismetaphorical mirror image, allows Rydra to see her true, complete self at last and to realize the effect the language has had on her. This idea of coming to know yourself by seeing yourself reflected in another could be seen as a statement about human social behavior, about constructed reality, about signs and symbols... On the level of prose poetry, it intimates a deeper truth about the interrelation of "I" and "You". I'm not sure I am expressing myself very well, but the scene still fascinates me.

At the same time, it was troubling because there was more than a hint of rape to it. Rydra doesn't ask, she just jumps in, and the Butcher's experience is (mental) pain. He cries, he howls, he says "You are so big inside me I will break." Even if metaphorical, this is a bit disturbing.

It's getting much too late, so I'm going to send this now. Anyone else want to jump in? Feel free to completely ignore my babbling and just tell us what you thought!

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Coldplay -- A Rush of Blood to the Head
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2002 10:44:28 -0600
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] Vampire Tapestry

On Mon, 11 Nov 2002 10:37:25 -0500, Diane Severson wrote:
>Actually, I'm personally not a huge fan of Vampire stories. And now
>that I think about it I'm not sure the story I read was called Vampire
>Tapestry. Could it be that it was called Unicorn Tapestry (or
>something like that)? I'm positive it was about a vampire, though.
>It was collected with stories by various authors and I'm not sure I
>would have read the had I known ahead of time that it was about
>Vampires. hmmm.

Yes, the story is titled "Unicorn Tapestry". It wasn't exactly expanded into a novel; it was collected with several other stories about Weyland in The Vampire Tapestry. The result is a somewhat disjointed, but hugely rewarding, account of several years in Weyland's life. The complete list of stories, in order, is:

"The Ancient Mind at Work" "The Land of Lost Content" "Unicorn Tapestry" "A Musical Interlude" "The Last of Dr. Weyland"

Part of what makes these stories interesting is that Weyland is a completely science fictional vampire -- the last hold-out of an extinct species, sort of like a blood-sucking and humanoid version of the Loch Ness monster. He is not "undead" or supernatural in any way. Charnas' other vampire book, The Ruby Tear, depicts a more traditional fantasy vampire and in my opinion is less well-written, but it is still somewhat interesting in the way it plays out.

-- Janice

Date: Sun, 12 Jan 2003 16:46:16 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: [*FSF-L*] BDG: The Saga of the Renunciates

Yesterday I finally finished The Saga of the Renunciates. I really had trouble with this book, not so much with of its interpretation of feminism as with the pacing and plot problems that began about 2/3rds of the way through Thendara House and continued to the midpoint of City of Sorcery. Much of this material seemed pointless beyond amassing a certain word count and had me staggeringly bored and frustrated. Things picked up again, though, and I was able to recover my earlier engagement with the story.

I found a lot to like in The Shattered Chain and Thendara House. Some of the discussion comments made me think that the feminist elements would be mere background material or subtly undermined by other elements, but I didn't think that was true at all. I do think that The Shattered Chain in particular was charged with an emotion that resists pigeonholing. Thus we have the strong and separatist Renunciates rescuing women from slavery in a brutal patriarchy, next to a fairly unexamined heterosexual romance, next to some vicious comments about female collaborators in the patriarchy, next to the sad and sympathetic story of Lady Rohana, a woman who chose marriage and childbearing, not wholeheartedly but out of a sense of duty, and who finds ways to aid the Renunciates clandestinely throughout her life.

There is a sincerity to this book that I really appreciate. There is no pretense on the author's part that she knows the answers to many of the questions her characters ask. But she is committed to standing up for certain possibilities, one of which is a space for women to live away from men and patriarchal systems entirely. If that turns out not to be the choice that either Jaelle or Magda make in the long run, it is no less powerful a symbol. Throughout all three books, the Guild Houses are portrayed in a consistently positive light -- safe havens that in defiance of convention are not boring!

My favorite section of the book was the first two parts of Thendara House, largely for the "consciousness raising" sessions and the bustle of life in the guild house, but also for the complementary story of Jaelle's growing disillusionment with marriage and alienation among the Terrans. Some of this stretched belief as far as Jaelle and Peter's characters were concerned -- how could they have changed so much since the end of The Shattered Chain? -- but I thought these sections worked as part of the overall investigation of sexism, internal as well as external, that was going on. The training sessions in the guild house impressed me with their breadth of subject matter -- this is feminism in the raw, refining itself through argument and discussion in a way that feels very real. The Renunciates are always questioning and searching for better ways of doing things -- this is no fixed bastion of eternal verities, but a community always learning from itself. I like that very much.

(By the way, has anyone read In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden? It is the story of several Benedictine nuns in an English Abbey that reminds me in some ways of the guild house. It too is full of personalities and intellectual activity, and not a little humor. Though I'm an atheist, I loved it and recommend it heartily.)

I have to admit that I was surprised by Magda's growing awareness that she was "a lover of women". That energy was there in Magda's first meeting with Jaelle, but I didn't think the author would have the guts to develop it. I was happy to be proved wrong, though I thought it strange that the only really sexual moment between the two of them in all three books was their kiss in the middle section of Thendara House. We know that they go on to be lovers and freemates by the third book, but it is all behind the scenes.

Editorial constraints may have had something to do with this, though Magda's relationship with Camilla is a bit more explicit. Theoretically, these two made a fascinating combination. Not only is Camilla Magda's first female lover, she's nearly twice Magda's age, she's an "emmasca", AND she's a repressed telepath of secret Comyn heritage! I would have liked to see a lot more investigation of what made Camilla tick, but it seemed like the author didn't quite know what to do with her. Imagine my frustration when, after the seemingly endless slog through the Hellers in City of Sorcery, Camilla and Magda choose to journey on to the Sisterhood and the book ends before they even get there! What a rip!

Does anyone who has read other Darkover novels know if the story of Magda and Camilla's experience with the Sisterhood is ever told? There are obviously other parts of the story that take place outside of these three books. I gather The Spell Sword and The Forbidden Tower provide some important background, but that's all I know.

Overall, though I found large sections of these books frustrating (I haven't really gone into it, but I could come up with a long list of pet peeves), I believe that MZB has gotten a bum rap as an "anti-feminist". Jenny Bonnevier already quoted Sarah Lefanu's In the Chinks of the World Machine. On the evidence of these books, Lefanu's claim that MZB's "[...] female characters, on whom her reputation as a feminist writer rests, all knuckle under to the notional Man", is clearly false. Obviously, I'm missing a lot of the story as far as Darkover goes, but in these books I don't see a lot of knuckling under. I see a lot of sisterhood and love between women. I've got to give the author credit for that, no matter what goes on in The Ruins of Isis (or The Mists of Avalon, which I didn't much like).

Thanks for the recommendation, Bridgett, and thanks to all for the discussion.


Regarding some of MZB's influences, I found the following amusing and thought some of you would too:

"At first Darkover was sort of tropical. People tended to wear diaphonous clothing and there were houses with token walls, or only curtains. There were swamps! Should you possess some of the early editions, you will find in them a Darkover remarkably unfamiliar from the later stories.

Then a remarkable thing happened. Marion read "The Left Hand of Darkness" by Ursula K. LeGuin, and the temperature of Darkover began to drop. I still remember the excitement in her voice as she called us long distance to tell us how wonderful LeGuin's new book was. And I remember how cold it was in that Old Lovecraftian Farmhouse where she grew up! I suppose that she was finally taking that advice about 'writing what you know.' "

Jon deCles, from (look out for annoying music!)

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Travis -- The Man Who
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 18:58:57 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] Le Guin's Always Coming Home

At 10:08 AM 1/13/2003 -0800, Lee Anne Phillips wrote:
>At 08:28 AM 1/13/2003 -0600, Chris Shaffer wrote:
> >There's a central story about a woman named Stonetelling, which is broken
> >into four (?) parts. The book also contains poetry, song, short stories,
> >ethnographic notes, etc. It's an interesting melange of storytelling, and
> >I quite enjoyed it.
>The original version with the cassette tape also
>includes audio of the songs and poetry of the Kesh,
>which seems to be absent in the reprint.

This is true, but the tapes can still be purchased directly from the composer. Basement Full of Books gives this information:


music by Todd Barton, words by Ursula K. Le Guin

This is an audio cassette originally released with the hardcover edition of Ursula K. LeGuin's book ALWAYS COMING HOME.

For further information, send SASE to:

P.O.Box 3220
Ashland OR 97520

Or call or fax 503/488-2492

I still listen to my tape occasionally. It is very well done, with some spoken word storytelling and poetry as well as songs. Le Guin didn't go as far as Tolkien in her creation of language, but what she did come up with is very impressive, as is Todd Barton's music.

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Travis -- The Man Who
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Thu, 6 Feb 2003 19:28:08 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] 'Funny' FSF?

At 03:11 PM 2/5/2003 +0000, Heather Stark wrote:
>But, unfortunately for me - because I do like a good laugh - I just didn't
>find To Say Nothing of the Dog to be at all FUNNY....
>[Neither, unfortunately, do I really like any of the normal genre spoofing
>SF that's supposed to be funny (e.g. Adams, Pratchett).]
>Can anyone out there recommend any FSF that they found funny? Qua genre,
>funny isn't the first word that comes to mind, when I think of FSF. But
>there must be exceptions. I'd be interested in any recommendations. It's
>February. I live in the Northern Hemisphere. 'Nuff said.
>I don't mean, necessarily, incessantly funny. Or laugh out loud til tears
>stream down your face funny. Wry or amusingly ironic would be just fine...

Hi Heather --

Like you, I did not find TSNotD funny, but I do like some Douglas Adams (particularly the radio version of *The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy*). Not sure about Pratchett, as I haven't read any of his books except his collaboration with Neil Gaiman, *Good Omens*, which I found only occasionally amusing.

With those preferences in mind, you may or may not find it meaningful that I find the following funny:

I'm sure there are others, but that's all I can think of at the moment.

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Travis -- The Man Who
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2003 20:09:20 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
S ubject: [*FSF-L*] BDG: A Note about Perdido Street Station

Hi everyone --

I still have not finished *Perdido Street Station* and thus have no substantial comments about it, but I thought you would all like to know that completely by accident I learned that the word "garuda" refers to a Hindu deity who is half bird, half man. He's identified with the sun, is the natural enemy of all snakes, and frequently gives Vishnu rides.

More info is here:

And here:

For what it's worth!

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Travis -- The Man Who
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Tue, 4 Mar 2003 16:01:33 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: Re: [*FSF-L*] Lysistrata and GtWC

At 11:27 PM 3/3/2003 -0800, Lee Anne Phillips wrote:
>Outside Women's Country, the naive young girl winds up
>trapped in non-consensual sexual slavery, just as do
>many Little Sisters in real life, after foolishly running
>off with her erstwhile boyfriend.

After re-reading GtWC for the book discussion a while back, I decided that in many ways it is the embodiment of a quote from *The Female Man*:

"Romance is bad for the mind."

Outside Women's Country, as you point out, fanciful ideas about her boyfriend get Stavia in some serious physical trouble, as it is demonstrated that without the social structure of Women's Country Chernon is quite willing to use Stavia like chattel.

This experience gives Stavia the grim knowledge of the stakes involved in the Council's secret eugenics plan: if these raping, dominating tendencies are not bred out of the men, even Women's Country could be heading toward a version of Holy Land.

It's a very effective book emotionally. It mines a deep fear of violence, both sexual and not, as well as the unhappy feeling on the part of many women that love, as distinct from sexual attraction, is not a big priority of the men in their lives. After reading it for the first time, in college, I began to wonder about a lot of guys around me, "Would he rape me if he knew there would be no repercussions?" Not a pleasant line of thought, though at the time I thought I was just being realistic, that Tepper and other authors had pulled the wool from my eyes and allowed me to see the world for what it was: a place where women, if not ever-vigilant, would be victims of predatory men.

Since then, I've realized that it's a bit of a cop-out to saddle men with all the responsibility. Tepper argued that violent tendencies and hierarchical thinking were determined genetically and that they could be bred out over generations. But even in Women's Country, the conditions need to be right for the males to develop these behaviors. They are sent at age 5 to the garrisons, where they are taught to identify and socialize with other males only. They visit their mothers inside the walls only a couple of times a year for most of their lives. When they are eventually given the choice of returning to Women's Country to live, they know they will have to bid farewell permanently to all their friends in the garrison and resign themselves to lives of servitude. (As far as they know, the "servitors" are just that.) Even most of the women in Women's Country think of the males who return as emasculated failures. Only the "damned few" on the council and the other servitors will appreciate their choice.

The fact that any men at all decide to return to Women's Country is astonishing. So astonishing that Tepper gifts most of them with psi powers to explain how they knew what to do. To call this inhumane to all the men in the garrisons, who out of ignorance fight and die in engineered battles, is understating it quite a bit. And to be fair, Tepper does not whitewash the situation. It is just as disturbing to the "damned few" as it is likely to be to most readers. But they see no other option. In their view, Men Must Change, by any means necessary, and indications are that their eugenics plan is working, slowly but surely.

In real life, we have no such proven link between genetics and behavior, despite the inflated claims of the sociobiologists. We don't even have a proven link between fantasy life and behavior. What we do know is that people are not motivated to change when they see that they will not benefit in any way. Sweeping generalizations about the proclivities of men to rape, particularly when they are phrased in a "Have you stopped beating your wife?" fashion, only make matters worse in my view, as any man who doesn't fit the mold has his existence dismissed as insignificant (or worse, delusional). And I don't buy the harsh realism argument, either, as none of the studies I have come across returned anything like 90% of men admitting that they would rape a woman if they could get away with it. In Tepper's world, maybe, but not in ours.

A work that gets the psychology right, I think, is Charnas' Holdfast series. Men rape and oppress in the Holdfast because that is what their society is all about, not because their genes tell them to. Once that society is altered, and the men have something to gain by throwing their lot in with the women, they start doing it (though some hardliners resist, and suffer for it). One could argue that Charnas is a little too optimistic about the power of culture to change behavior, but I don't think so. I think she is eminently pragmatic about what works in the aftermath of a war or other long-term conflict (the Marshall Plan, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa), and what doesn't (revenge killings, economic privation of the losers).

In short, the Holdfast series, though full of harsh realities, inspires me to work toward a better future, something that GtWC and other works that assume biology is destiny don't.

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Massive Attack -- 100th Window
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

Date: Wed, 5 Mar 2003 00:56:21 -0500
From: "Janice E. Dawley"
Subject: [*FSF-L*] BDG: The Silver Metal Lover

I've been meaning to send a message about The Silver Metal Lover for weeks. I decided I'd finally better do it before March gets too advanced!

Like Petra, I thought it was well-written, but couldn't identify with anyone really. Perhaps, as she suggests, that is because I never read it as a teenager. At my age, I know what it's like to live away from home and have a lover, and the fantasy of the idyllic hovel in which we open up to one another and actualize our potential free of society's demands is patently obvious as wish-fulfillment.

That said, I did think the story was interesting, not as a romance but as a coming of age story for Jane. It fits the model of the Bildungsroman (German for "novel of (character) formation"), in that Jane leaves home, struggles against society (though not at such length as in many examples of this genre), and is eventually reconciled to her place in it.

As I read it, the really important relationship in the book is Jane's with her mother. As long as they are locked into codependency, Jane is incapable of knowing herself or developing her talent. She must escape to grow. Silver provides the momentum needed for Jane to do this and a bit of a push later on to sing and realize her ability, but the real closure for me was after Silver's "death" when Jane realized that she was strong enough to confront her mother. On page 239 of my old DAW paperback, Jane says:

"I wonder if my mother will embrace me, or remain very cool, or if she'll help me, or refuse to help. Maybe I shall find out at last if she does like me in any way."

Uncertain as this sounds, I find it a hopeful indication that Jane's newfound equality with her mother (emotionally if not financially) might enable them to approach one another as people, rather than Mother and Daughter, and that they might even become friends. I appreciate that the author left that avenue open rather than portraying Demeta as an irredeemable control freak.

Petra asked:
>What do you think of the role of Silver in the book? Of Jane's mother,
>Clovis, or Egyptia?

Like Jennifer said, I thought Silver was really a plot device more than a person. I was also intrigued by Bridgett's comment that "Silver could be seen as an aspect of Jain's personality, rather than a separate entity." I found myself wondering a couple of times if Silver's metallic skin was supposed to be meaningful -- reminiscent of a mirror, perhaps? Showing Jane another aspect of herself to which she had previously been blind? I can't think of any other thematic or practical reason that these robots would have metallic skin, as I find the image pretty off-putting and not at all sexy! Speaking of which, I thought the author's invented term for homosexuality was very odd: "mirror-biased". The nasty implication seems to be that gay people are unusually self-involved. This hypothesis was borne out by the character of Clovis, who screamed "Oscar Wilde" to me. Not that I minded. I found his character to be much more interesting than Silver, and even wondered if the author would convert him to heterosexual at the end of the book so he and Jane would be together. I'm very glad this didn't happen, as I would have lost all respect for the author, but I thought it interesting that Jane was really the only person in his life that he appeared to treat decently. His boyfriends were clearly expendable, and their other friends were almost worse than enemies.

I'm not sure what to make of Egyptia. If anything, she seemed like one artist's commentary on the shortcomings of another artistic style. Jane as sincere and humble craftswoman vs. Egyptia as untrustworthy drama queen. I do think that this book is about art as much as it is anything else -- the art of musical and written composition, the diary, the theatre. I would have liked it if the author had delved into Jane's artistic awakening a little more. But as it was, I thought it was clear that she was on her way to a promising career as a musician, a writer, or both. She had found her place.

>What do you think of the relationship between Jane and Silver?

Theoretically, I should have been disturbed by the implied exploitation of a being with no volition, but since Silver read as a caregiver to me I just couldn't be upset about Jane's reliance on him. For the same reason, this book didn't read to me as a romance. Romance involves emotional risks and choices, and there weren't many of these in Silver and Jane's relationship. Even Silver's inexplicable orgasm in Chapter 3 just made me roll my eyes in disbelief. And the less said about the mystical mumbo-jumbo in the denoument, the better.

As a final note, these are some works I thought of while reading SML:

It's gotten much too late, so I think I will send this. Thanks for the discussion, everyone!

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Travis -- The Man Who
"I've built my white picket fence around the Now,
with a commanding view of the Soon-to-Be." -- The Tick

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