Thursday, July 8, 2010


I've been mostly offline for the last ten days, with a stiff neck that made work at the computer excruciating. And the reviews of Aqueduct books to report on have been piling up.

Nancy Jane Moore, writing for the Broadsheet, reviews Helen Merrick's The Secret Feminist Cabal and Gwyneth Jones's Imagination/Space in a thoughtful and provocative essay titled Aqueduct Press Educates and Delights in Two Nonfiction Books on Feminist SF. Here's a bit of what she says:
Perhaps the most intriguing point about the two books — and the reason why I wanted to consider the two of them in one review — is the intersection between Merrick’s last chapter, Beyond Gender (pp. 262-292), and the ideas on gender found throughout Jones’s book. It should not come as a surprise that Merrick discusses Jones’s work — particularly her novel Life, also published by Aqueduct, in which genetic change is likely to push us in to a society that lacks the Great Divide — in that chapter on taking feminism “beyond or outside the terms of the sex/gender system.” (p. 286)

Following on a discussion of criteria for the Tiptree Award, Merrick observes, “From my own perspective, Life was a more radical book by far, both in terms of its feminism and what it did with gender, than either of the two books awarded the Tiptree that year [2004].” (p. 286) She then goes on to explain Jones’s ideas on the Great Divide.

Both Merrick and Jones provide challenging feminist thought for demanding readers of science fiction. But be forewarned: Once you start considering the ideas in these two books, you may find yourself spoiled for “feel-good science fiction,” even with women in the starring roles.

The truth is, despite all the talk about post feminism and retiring feminist science fiction “to the agenda farm,” feminist ideas in both theory and fiction have grown into something far more complex than equal pay for equal work or even reproductive freedom. And they are no longer important only to women; as we begin moving beyond gender, society will change.
Be sure to go read the whole piece.

Another review of The Secret Feminist Cabal, this one by Adrienne Martini, was published originally in Locus Magazine a couple of months back, but is now available through Locus Online here. Rereading it just now, it resonated with Nancy's review:
While Merrick does an amazing job of tracking the rise and fall and rise again of feminism in the genre and its attendant fan communities, what strikes me most as a reader is that her analysis could also be applied to feminism in society as a whole; that is, genre plays out as a microcosm of greater political thought. Which isn’t really a surprise, since SF is made up of people who interact with the larger world – but it hammers home again that these sorts of analyses are not only a history of a community but of a larger movement as well.
Last week, Strange Horizons posted a review by Paul Kincaid of both Imagination/Space and Ursula K. Le Guin's Cheek by Jowl (which was nice timing, really, given that the latter had just won the Locus Award). Kincaid talks in detail about the centrality of feminism to the essays in both books. His conclusion is one that most readers of this blog would likely agree wholeheartedly with:
But what is most interesting about both these books is the centrality of fantasy and science fiction, not just in their careers but in their political (primarily feminist) consciousness. Or, at least, that is one partial reading of the books.

And finally, the July issue of Locus Magazine has a lengthy review by Russell Letson of Eleanor Arnason's Tomb of the Fathers. Here's a taste:
As with A Woman of the Iron People, I kept thinking of Larry Niven at least as much as, say, Ursula K. Le Guin. Not for the specifics of gender politics, certainly, but for the plot-framework of the semi-involuntary exploration of exotic environments coupled with considerations of species biology and social/cultural dynamics. (I suppose this reaches to the roots of modern SF, through Stanley Weinbaum right back to Stapledon and Wells. It's a sturdy and inexhaustible branch of the tradition.) In fact, Arnason seems to be looking for ways out of the various traps and the dead ends that biological determinism offers when thinking about gender relationships-- or any other important area of human (or intelligent alien) activity, for that matter.
Letson characterizes Tomb, by the way, as a "yummy appetizer that leaves you hungry for more."

And finally, just today, at Blog of the Fallen, Larry reviews Rachel Swirsky's Through the Drowsy Dark. Here's a taste:
Swirsky's characters feel so "real," with their frailties and insecurities bleeding through, that often there is a heartbreaking quality to several of these fictions. Swirsky is a damn fine writer and considering how she has already been nominated for several awards and had some of her fiction chosen for anthologies such as Best American Fantasy 2, she will almost certainly continue to be an outstanding writer, whether she continues with short fiction or if she branches off and writes novels as well.
He discusses a couple of other Aqueduct Press books too.

ETA:Oops-- I forgot one!

Lambda Lterary posted Meredith Schwartz's review of Centuries Ago and Very Fast earlier this week. She picks up on the aspect of the book that I personally found most fascinating: "It is Vel’s relationship with the generations of his mortal family that is Ore’s most original and charming departure."

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