Monday, November 5, 2007

(Re)Reading Feminist SF: An Annotated Book List, Part III

The Godmothers: Sandi Hall

I count this one a missed opportunity. Written by a New Zealander, living in Canada, early eighties. The central narrative is low-key urban thriller: women’s liberation and community activism, the people going head to head with a wicked developer, plus a strand about a lesbian in danger of losing her teaching job, through machinations of a nasty piece
of work, also lesbian but in the closet. Then there’s the rich media folk in the far future, then there’s a mediaeval girl about to be burned as a witch, then there’s the quasi-religious Godmothers, who are on another plane and I couldn’t figure out what they were for. I liked the urban thriller strand —a gritty, normalised version of the Wanderground scenario, with real people, tragedy and a touch of psychic powers. Couldn’t get on with the overtly sfnal elements. Like Margaret Atwood or Jeanette Winterson’s sciffy bits, amateurish and clunky. Shame.

Despatches From The Frontiers Of The Female Mind: eds Sarah Lefanu and Jen Green

My, this takes me back. I did readings from this book, at gigs for the Women’s Press. I'm sure I never read from my own bizarre offering, I’d have cleared the room. Whose idea was that title, eh? Lesbian separatists whose only interest in sf is the opportunity to do away with men. Feminine, not to say girly sf; polemic sf; surreal sf; sf written by feminists (the excellent Mary Gentle makes this distinction about her own writing in the intro). A stellar collection of names, including a grim morality tale from a certain Racoona Sheldon; a brave outpouring of madness and painful longing, a respectful and very decent review in the New York Times by Jewelle Gomez, which is worth reading for itself.

Memoirs of a Spacewoman: Naomi Mitchison

In many ways my top favourite. Hard to believe this novel is over forty years old. Mitchison, upper-caste maverick, has no fear, no howls of Tiptree anguish; no pleas for equal rights, she just takes them. Writes about women doing science, a feminised science that has become the mainstream, NOT a soft option or an inferior version. A xenozoologist (think I’ve got that right) recounts her career, her students, her expeditions to various planets, her adventures, her pregnancies (two of them very bizarre indeed), her lovers, her children, her friends the lab animals. One of the best vintage science fictions, still fresh and compelling. Seek it out.

Woman On The Edge Of Time: Marge Piercy

With The Left Hand Of Darkness & The Handmaid’s Tale, the “feminist sf” novel the general public has heard of. Stands up well. The Utopians of Matapoisett remind me of Early Christians in the Acts of the Apostles, with their touching conviction that they’re going to get it right this time, they have the magic code for a truly humane civilisation. A likely story. And yes, they are flimsy, but now I can see that they’re identified in the text as Connie’s daydreams, made of the stuff of her life, her stifled anger, her longings. Utopias have a right to be flimsy, in fact the flimsier the better. They are hope for the present, not streetmaps of the future. The more solidly they’re constructed the more these New Jerusalems, ideal societies, start to sound like totalitarian states.

Dreamsnake: Vonda McIntyre

Post Global ThermoNuclear War with added aliens and normative polyamory. Hugo and Nebula. A wander-story, feelgood with bumpy bits to make it convincing, gentle in pace, in which Snake, altered-venom physician with a painful work-related arthritis condition, leads us through a melted and healed over scar-tissue US landscape. Criticised as too gentle at the time, mainly due to characterisation of male lead. Compare and contrast with McIntyre’s visceral recent short story, Little Faces”, where the “male leads” are treated very differently!

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