Streets like the one she lived on were no accident. They were the North's lynch mobs, she thought bitterly; the method the big cities used to keep NegStreets like the one she lived on were no accident. They were the North's lynch mobs, she thought bitterly; the method the big cities used to keep Negroes in their place. And she began to think of Pop unable to get a job; of Jim slowly disintegrating because he, too, couldn't get a job, and of the subsequent wreck of their marriage; of Bub left to his own devices after school. From the time she was born, she had been hemmed into an ever-narrowing space, until now she was very nearly walled in and the wall had been built up brick by brick by eager white hands....more
So I went into this more than a little worried that it would be an ode to essentialism, but it turns out that this is as non-essentialist as a story aSo I went into this more than a little worried that it would be an ode to essentialism, but it turns out that this is as non-essentialist as a story about a planet of women who are in tune with each other and nature can be. Griffith presents here the radical idea that a planet inhabited only by women would be... pretty much like any other human population. There are good people, bad people, peaceful societies, violent societies, honesty, cheating, etc. I cannot commend Griffith for this enough.
_Ammonite_ is set on Jeep (Grenchstom's Planet = GP = Jeep, eh?), centuries after a plague wiped out all of the men and most of the women of the original colony. "The Company" (often just referred to as "Company" in what I found to be a very annoying affectation) has sent a new expedition to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of opening the planet up for exploitation again, only to fall victim to the plague once more. The story follows one Marghe Taishan, an anthropologist sent after that last expedition by the SEC, some sort of governmental organization which isn't the same as Company (see how annoying that is?) but might as well be. Anyway Marghe is going to try to reestablish contact with the natives and test a new vaccine against the virus. Once there she has some misadventures among the various tribes of the planet and there's some sort of looming thread regarding a spaceship Company has stationed there and then some other looming threat of a marauding group of nomads, but this is mostly just a story about Marghe finding a home (and, subtextually, of a woman becoming aware of the shared history of other woman-identified women and forging a place in such a community for herself). It's notable also, I think, that the words "lesbian," "gay," "homosexual," and so forth never appear in this book. The characters have sexual or romantic relationships with other women, or they don't, and no one's sexuality prior to coming to this all-woman planet is commented upon.
So socially/politically, I can absolutely get behind what Griffith is doing here. The actual plot and characters, though, never really grabbed me - and I'm not even exactly sure why. This was Griffith's first novel, and I'm definitely interested in reading her other work....more
An odd hodgepodge of a book that is perhaps more successful as a manifesto or call to arms than an academic collection. There are some important contrAn odd hodgepodge of a book that is perhaps more successful as a manifesto or call to arms than an academic collection. There are some important contributions here, but it seems like the book can never decide if it's:
1. a study of science fiction by African-American women who are commonly understood to be writers of such (Butler, Hopkinson, Shawl, etc) 2. a call for the inclusion of fiction by African-American women written outside of the realist mode (so the above plus Morrison, Bambara, etc) in some sort of larger inclusive genre project 3. a study of Afro-futurism in general (ie including art outside of the realm of literature) 4. a collection commemorating Octavia Butler 5. a work regarding the overall relationship between race and science fiction
Now, any and all of these would be worthwhile projects, but I think some focus would have helped a lot here. The introduction by Marleen Barr would lead you to believe that #2 is the primary goal of this work, and a few of the essays follow that lead. Barr's own major contribution, though ("On the Other Side of the Glass": The Television Roots of Black Science Fiction) falls more into #5 (and #3?), examining the role of TV characters in normalizing images of black Americans.
I am honestly kind of mystified as to why the interviews with two men were included, especially given that the Samuel Delany interview is (I think) the single longest piece in the book. Similarly Steven Barnes's piece on black male sexuality in the movies, which was interesting (if rather essentialist), but had pretty much nothing to do with literature written by black women (or Afro-futurism).
The collection also includes a few short stories by African-American women:
Octavia Butler - The Book of Martha: in which God enlists the help of a Seattle-based female African-American science fiction author named Octavia Butler Martha to reform humanity. A fun insight into escapism.
Andrea Hairston - Double Consciousness: An excellent example of the ability of SF to literalize important concepts, in this case Du Bois's idea of double consciousness as the African American individual's experience of both self-consciousness/American identity and constant critical scrutiny from white society. In this, a scientist and a... mystic? end up imprisoned in the same body together after falling in love when one invades the other's world (or nation?). I wasn't really clear on what was going on in this story, but a little bit of research has led me to believe that it is a side- or back-story to Hairston's Mindscape, which I now plan on reading sooner or later.
Nisi Shawl - Dynamo Hum: Again, science-fictional literalization, this time of the reclamation of sexual agency by an African American woman.
Sheree R. Thomas - The Ferryman: this one had kind of a Beloved-ish feel to it, given its horror-tinged gothic atmosphere and story revolving around slavery and the family, and while I can't claim to have followed much of it at all, I will be rereading it.
Nalo Hopkinson - Herbal: This is a story about the elephant in the room.
All of these were above-average stories that exemplify the use of the novum-as-literalization that is probably the most important social use of this genre, and I think that might actually be the biggest contribution of this volume to the literature....more
By the time of her death at the age of 48, Shirley Jackson was a full-blown agoraphobic shut-in who refused to leave her house. Ironically enough, thoBy the time of her death at the age of 48, Shirley Jackson was a full-blown agoraphobic shut-in who refused to leave her house. Ironically enough, though, the vast majority of the works in "Novels and Stories" are pretty unrelenting attacks on the bourgeois American home; deconstructions of the idea that women should find any safety or comfort in the life of a mid-century housewife. In fact, the only time that the women in these stories are more uncomfortable and lonely and exploited and miserable than they are at home is when they... leave their home.
we are lost, lost; the house is destroying itself. She heard the laughter over all, coming thin and lunatic, rising in its crazy little tune, and thought, No; it is over for me. It is too much, she thought, I will relinquish my possession of this self of mine, abdicate, give over willingly what I never wanted at all; whatever it wants of me it can have....more
An early (1989) examination of the usefulness of sf to feminist writers, this book provides an interesting overview/call to arms, but the whole thingAn early (1989) examination of the usefulness of sf to feminist writers, this book provides an interesting overview/call to arms, but the whole thing feels slightly flat and shallow: it's split into two parts, one grouped into thematic chapters and the other divided by focus on specific authors (Tiptree, Le Guin, Charnas, Russ), but each section is only about 100 pages, and the chapters in the former tend toward scantiness: "The Reduction of Women: Dystopias," for example, clocks in at an impressively slight 5 pages.
That said, though, Lefanu does make a compelling argument for the use of science fiction, such a traditionally masculinist stronghold, for feminist works, due to the genre's basis in "skeptical rationalism." This is what makes a work "feminist sf" instead of "feminized sf" in Lefanu's reading: rather than simply featuring a strong woman protagonist, feminist works of sf apply this skepticism to the social construction of gender and patriarchal culture (Lefanu's point here also revolves around form-beyond-the-traditional-novel-narrative in addition to content, but she never really makes that argument convincingly, I don't think). This is a very constrictive definition, clearly, but one that I think makes clear what exactly could be accomplished by applying a feminist lens to science fiction....more
This is a very important book. It is also an extremely depressing and upsetting book, but they go hand in hand, right? In reexamining the civil rightsThis is a very important book. It is also an extremely depressing and upsetting book, but they go hand in hand, right? In reexamining the civil rights movement through the lens of sexual abuse of black women by white men in the South, McGuire challenges the prevailing wisdom of a number of commonly accepted historical narratives: the growth of the CRM at large and especially Rosa Parks's role, the gendered violence of the white backlash, and the courageous resistance of black women in the Jim Crow South decades before the Second Wave dragged the issue of rape into the public eye nationally.
One of the best examinations of intersectionality around, including a truly impressive deconstruction of the ways class differences manifest themselveOne of the best examinations of intersectionality around, including a truly impressive deconstruction of the ways class differences manifest themselves culturally (in addition to the more highly visible and easily essentialized gender and race).
My one complaint is that Bettie failed to do much problematizing of gendered presentations of self....more
The Gloria Steinem of second-wave-inspired post-apocalyptic novels of gender separation? (making Walk to the End of the World Shulamith Firestone, perThe Gloria Steinem of second-wave-inspired post-apocalyptic novels of gender separation? (making Walk to the End of the World Shulamith Firestone, perhaps, and The Shore of Women... Simone de Beauvoir? I don't know, I haven't actually read those two yet) Anyway my point is that this is the sort-of-essentialist (but maybe not?) liberal feminist version of the story, wherein men and women are fundamentally different and need to be mostly kept separate for their own good, except for those "womanish" men who have opted out of the warrior lifestyle and live among the women (no, not gay men-homosexuality has been medically eliminated... I know, I know), and where women are just better suited to lead because of their biological drive to nurture.
Anyway 300 years after the "Convulsion" women live in towns while the male warriors are garrisoned outside of them, kept uneducated and without access to most tools or technology in order to prevent another war.* We explore this world through a Councilwoman's daughter, Stavia, whose main purpose appears to be making terrible choices in order to drive the narrative along. Not that there's that much narrative, anyway-this book is an exercise in social worldbuilding and little else. There's an "enemy" culture introduced like 2/3s of the way through to provide some conflict and a short adventure, but their whole episode feels rather tacked on, which is too bad, because if they had been developed from the beginning it would have strengthened the novel considerably.
I remain, I must confess, a little mystified as to whether Tepper was trying to reinforce or deconstruct this essentialist society-although much of that might be my own disdain for such ideas rendering it a little difficult for me to take this stuff seriously. I guess it didn't help that the society didn't really make any sense at all anyway.
* It must be noted too that a lot of negative reviews of this book on here center on Tepper's "unfair' characterization of men, which is great because A) turnabout is fair play, chumps, and B) these male characters are carbon copies of the heroes of most speculative novels....more
A book chock full of lines like "Ludic feminism becomes-in its effects, if not in its intentions-a theory that inscribes the class interests of what bA book chock full of lines like "Ludic feminism becomes-in its effects, if not in its intentions-a theory that inscribes the class interests of what bourgeois society calls the upper middle class."
or: "The impact of ludic theories is considerable: as the dominant knowledges produced and commodified in the West, they participate in the colonization of indigenous knowledges globally and are often deployed to marginalize more revolutionary knowledges, especially Marxism."
I've kept an eye on Nnedi Okorafor's career for a while now. Her books always intrigued me-I have a hard time resisting anything post-apocalyptic,* anI've kept an eye on Nnedi Okorafor's career for a while now. Her books always intrigued me-I have a hard time resisting anything post-apocalyptic,* and hers are set in Africa, a great antidote to the typical lily-white American version-but the fact that they were always targeted at young adults kept me away. I like books to have some subtlety about them, paragraphs that don't have the same words in each sentence, lines of dialogue that don't end with "she said ___ly." (To be fair these are certainly also faults of the pulpy SF of earlier decades, but I have a higher standard for newer work, I guess)
So when hype about Who Fears Death, her first "adult" novel, started bubbling up, I couldn't wait.
Turns out that what separates this novel from her more kid-friendly ones is the content, not the construction. Certainly the themes and events of the story are undeniably, brutally adult, and Okorafor certainly deserves a great deal of respect for her willingness to unflinchingly examine rape, genocide, and female genital mutilation.** This is an author committed to the use of science fiction as a dialectical examination of our own present, and this left some scenes of the book excruciatingly difficult to read. The prose, however, is still rather plodding and simplistic, while the dialogue.... oof. It was hard not to laugh through most of the arguments the couples in the book had (of which there were so, so many).
Other than that, though, I was pretty disappointed. Outside of the on-point politics, this was a pretty standard coming-of-age/quest novel. I have absolutely no patience left for the magical bildungsroman anymore (which also left me deeply disappointed in that Pat Rothfuss book). Other people have held this up as a sterling example of subversion of genre tropes, but I just didn't get that from the text at all. The nuances might be different, but this is still, at heart, a young person gaining a teacher, learning they are the subject of a prophecy, and going to defeat an evil lord. Where I thought this was going to go, however - the heroine realizing that rather than only defeating her opponent, she needed to upend the systemic problems that produced him - ended up being only partially the case, and rendered the ending rather cheap and disappointing. This was such a shock, actually, that it probably means I misread a lot of the book and should go through it again... only I didn't enjoy the book enough to invest that extra time in it, I suppose.
So, basically, a book whose ideas and arguments I fully respect, but at the same time a novel I didn't really enjoy much.
* There was actually very little in the way of post-apocalyptic imagery or themes in this novel, sadly. Again, though, that was a problem with my own expectations, not Okorafor's work. ** Apparently people have attacked her for glorifying female circumcision, which is... insane. Other people have attacked her for criticizing the practice, which is wrong-headed in the opposite direction (although more in-line with what she actually does in the book, I guess.) Either way, I feel like I need to emphasize again how painful and important her discussion of female oppression is....more