Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Annotated Reading List for a Chapter on Feminist Sf #4 and final

The Power Of Time: Josephine Saxton

I wanted to read Queen Of The States, but could I find it? I could not. My loft ate it, along with Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite & Lisa Vonarberg’s Silent City. This collection comes under New Wave sf, but there’s more New Woman, sixties style, than women’s lib. Josephine Saxton was someone I used to meet at sf affairs in the eighties, kind to a newcomer & always beautifully elegant, like her writing. She should be better known. Notable stories: “Love From Beyond The Dawn Of Time,” subversive Lovecraft sex-demon in a totalitarian far future. “The Power Of Time”, the wish-fulfillment-sf title story with a great last line (really I have never had any power. If I had, I’d have made everything go very differently. . .); and the one I liked best, “Living Wild”: where the heroine thinks the world has ended, and goes to live naked in a cave, on the winter moors, with a friendly lion that she rides.

Not Before Sundown: Johanna Sinisalo

A sex-and-horror lifestyle story, very readable and stylish, blink and it’s gone. Cryptic, rather worrying subtext equates male homosexual desire with the Beast of the Apocalypse. Trolls (sexy beasts), called up by Gaia from the Finnish forests, in response to the human threat to the planet, draw patriarchy to its nemesis, one worthless lover at a time.

Parable Of The Talents; Bloodchild: Octavia Butler

I’d never read the Talents series, I stopped at Xenogenesis. Couldn’t get hold of Parable of the Sower, I’d spent a mad number of rainy summer hours buried in this heap of books, & my family had declared me missing, so I made do with episode 2. A different, nineties take on the savage death-throes of patriarchy. Butler sees no need to imagine a nightmarish satirical future, well removed from middle class experience (as in The Handmaid’s Tale, or Walk To The End Of The World). Everything is ready right now. Outside the shrinking bubble of affluence there are many millions of women being treated as chattel slaves, stripped of all human rights, kept as prisoners, and the figures are going up, not down. . . Nasty, grim streetwise reality, awash with guns, pacifists go to the wall, kill or be killed is the only law. Women, girls, pretty boys, are specially vulnerable, but no one’s safe. Me not too happy about the New Religion with Female Messiah strand. Manifest Destiny as the palliative for unrest and the hope for the future, hm, is that a new and better idea? I prefer Matapoisett. Party hard, garden hard.

Bloodchild: Butler’s rare short fictions, powerful sketches for the novels, spanning a lot of years. The title story, a Xenogenesis out-take about “male” pregnancy (or possibly about bot flies), left me feeling maybe ANY human relationship involves a grisly invasion of the self.

Octavia Butler is an extraordinary case. A very private person, compromise not in her vocabulary; a great loss. A Black US woman with a powerful literary & educational presence, a certified “genius”, and an writer who may be read as feminist-sf: what a combination! Yet her material is unremittingly harsh towards women’s chances of finding a solution. Sense of destiny, spiritual illumination, sure, but scarcely a glimmer of actual hope. Rather like Doris Lessing (the Nobel laureate) in this respect. Major works, minor key, little comfort. Difficult to sort out the personal message of a powerful writer from the “message” she delivers about her times.


That’s all folks. Please note, these are not considered reviews, they’re edited and clarified from tactless off the cuff remarks, scribbled at the reader’s elbow. PS: some critical studies:

Daughters of Earth, ed. Justine Larbalastier.

What a great idea for a format! (collection of sf stories by women, each with accompanying critical essay, stories chosen by the essayists). I esp. enjoyed revisiting Pat Murphy’s “Rachel In Love”, and reading Karen Joy Fowler’s “What I Didn’t See” for the first time, which lead me to the annals of an interesting controversy. Is it sf? I don’t know. I can’t really envisage reading this story without realising it’s a commentary on “The Women Men Don’t See”

Utopian And Science Fiction By Women: Jane Donawerth & Carol Kolmerton

Very useful historical background and academic overview.

Women Of Other Worlds: Helen Merrick and Tess Williams.

Ditto, but definitely not a dry academic text (which Donawerth and Kolmerton tends towards). Especially rich in vintage writer interviews (long one with Suzy Charnas) and fandom history.

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