Thursday, November 1, 2007

Annotated Book List #2

The Second Installment of my summer reading project:

Machine Sex and Other Stories
: Candas Jane Dorsey

“. . . Machine Sex” is the definitive feminist cyberpunk story. Everything about it says so, from the babe programmer’s inside-out street costume, the white silk shirt over the black leather jacket, to the way she’s introduced, sexy naked young woman at the computer keyboard. I could wax intellectual about the take on the zeitgeist but hell, why ignore the obvious? Cyberpunk’s central myth is about the “fusion” between man and machine, Dorsey’s story says: oh, you mean masturbation? You mean, guys actively prefer to jerk off, alone with the little tool? Well, why didn’t you just say so? Funny, vicious and broken-hearted. . . Deft anti-gender fantasy in “The Prairie Warriors” & “War and Rumours of War”, chilling existential grief in “Sleeping In A Box”. “Black Dog” and “Willows”, different takes on the people who stay behind on earth, when everybody has gone somewhere else, and the people who return; both beautiful, so evocative of beloved landscape. In case you haven’t noticed, I loved rediscovering this collection.

A Spaceship Made Of Stone: Lisa Tuttle

Ghosts. Probability ghosts. A subtle account of how we discover that the aliens are among us, and then we forget. A touch of gothic family horror, in the saga of the thing lurking in the back room, once a sentient creature from another star; but that was long ago. Probability ghosting turns up again and again in feminist-sf, and everybody has their own reasons, but isn’t it always, deep down, a way of saying, the way things are is not immutable? It ain’t necessarily so. . . Most notable story, the powerful often anthologised, “Wives”. The defeated non-m/f inhabitants of an invaded planet have literally been forced to become women, squaw-brides; to submit to the male humans’ alien version of sexual reality. One rebel soul thinks (s)he can fight back, defy this miserable regime, become a person again. But (s)he’s wrong. “The old way is not waiting for our return, it is dead.”

A Door Into Ocean: Joan Sloncsewski

One of the first books I (re) read. As I’ve said elsewhere, at the time I didn’t want to like this. Don’t do it! was my cry. Don’t claim the moral high ground, the sf guys club will just love you for it, doesn’t that tell you anything. . .? A woman doing just what she’s supposed to do, being gentle and nurturing, looking after our spiritual growth, being moral so we don’t have to be. . . That’s not the revolution! I feel differently now, because these are very different times Best feature: A Door Into Ocean works like mainstream sf. Okay, it’s about the sixties US under the skin, but the skin is proper, sciffy, rich and strange sfnal skin.

The Warrior Who Carried Life /Air; Geoff Ryman

Cara needs to be something other than a weak female, so she can avenge her family. She takes on the fake magic that the old wives peddle, makes it real, and becomes a man, her slight body hung with slabs of muscle, massive thews and flesh-like living armour to wrap it all. . . Why can’t she wish to become a woman warrior and kick ass that way? Because that’s a different book. Because she’s got to experience the weirdness of inhabiting a male body, that’s the whole point. The Warrior Who Carried Life is fantasy Gilgamesh, a past distant beyond my imagining, (I can’t get Gilgamesh to stick in my head, although I’ve tried). Gruesome in the extreme, a pungent, meaty adventure that turns out to be a re-writing of Genesis, with Man as the serpent and Woman as the good guy. I think now as I thought then: a fine example of a story that’s all about gender & not at all about politics.Give this guy a Tiptree!

Air: Twenty years later, he did get a Tiptree. Air is a pleasure to read. A skilful, affectionate celebration of feminine culture, both in the imaginary near-future Asia, (where the telephone and the tv are morphing into spookily pervasive forms), and in long ago Ontario where (as the author makes plain in his dedication) these impressions were first formed. Only thing that worried me: Mae’s grotesque pregnancy and abortive birth — a motif that also features in The Warrior Who Carried Life, and in Ryman’s wonderful novella The Unconquered Country, but in both cases for obvious reasons. Here, I don't get it. It’s creepy. What’s it supposed to mean? That there has to be a gruesome bit? That the future is a monstrous birth, that birth is monstrous?

Nothing changes. The haves are still the haves, the have-nots are still the have-nots. Women find ways to live with this eternal verity, they make the best terms they can with their *lords and masters, (*I suppose I should say “their coded masculine alphas”, but I don’t feel like it. You’ll just have to paste Condoleeza in there for yourselves). The trouble with celebrating feminine culture is that it’s impossible to do so without also celebrating male supremacy. Male supremacy is the condition of feminine culture’s existence. Discuss.

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