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Memoirs of a Spacewoman

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  227 ratings  ·  44 reviews
Establishing communications with aliens has its extraordinary hazards. Imagine negotiating with intellectual super-centipedes who enjoy nothing so much as a feast of warm-blooded mammals! Or mediating between sentient, innocent caterpillars being bullied telepathically by butterflies.

Naomi Mitchison has created a contemporary classic of imaginative fiction in this thoughtf
Paperback, 176 pages
Published June 9th 1973 by Berkley (first published 1962)
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3.63  · 
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 ·  227 ratings  ·  44 reviews

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Amal El-Mohtar
Apr 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
I thought this was amazing. I didn't want it to end -- and indeed, it more stopped than ended -- because Mitchison's narrator is so fascinating in her own right, and the perspective she offers on the experiences of her life, the communication lens through which she sees everything, feels so very much like an antidote to the kind of space exploration SF enshrined in canon. The one thing that surprised me was how conservative it was in terms of gender politics, given how progressive everything els ...more
Anna Anthropy
Sep 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
here's a science fiction book that actually delivers on the promise of science fiction: not the drama of interstellar warfare but of trying to communicate with and understand genuinely alien beings, in between return trips to a future earth that sixties culture must have seemed on a trajectory to - a world where women desire and fuck whoemever they choose without guilt or shame, and where having a child is not a life-dominating decision. science fiction! the chapters that take place on earth are ...more
Jun 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Imaginative, inventive, contemplative. Come for the cool alien lifeforms, stay for the dissection of communication at personal and galactic levels. This is a sci-fi book that should please everyone. Should be on every important classic SF list. Don't fear, anti-feminist crowd, Mitchison isn't angry and she won't inconvenience you with female outrage.
This was fascinating! It was exactly the kind of thing which I feel is *missing* from classic sci-fi, whenever I go there - reflections on culture, individual identity, and communication with other species.

My chief complaint is that its sixties-ness shows in the treatment of sexuality. "Explores her sexuality with friends and colleagues, including the bisexual Martian Vly!", trumpets the book cover. Hah. For the most part, Mary explores *reproduction* with friends and colleagues - actual sexuali
Dec 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Weird and wonderful and instantly added to my to-reread list. It explores a lot and takes the reader to numerous odd places in less than 200 pages. Wow! Some stunning moments.

Notable:This novel about space exploration with a policy of non-interference was published in 1962 (before Star Trek's prime directive).

Quotable: "Occasionally, even, in an attempt to rock personality, young people try the experiment of becoming temporary carnivores. I never did that myself, but then, I am greedy, very muc
Feb 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
I very much enjoyed this book but find it difficult to describe. It is written as exactly what it says on the tin. A space explorer by the name of Mary is writing a record of her adventures. Set at some point in the undefined future, the heroine is a scientist, explorer and "communications expert" who explores and establishes communication with alien species. It's never stated what "communication" is, although it's clearly not just language, and it's suggested that some form of telepathy is invo ...more
daphny drucilla delight david
the description for this book is ridiculous. every chapter was about her learning a new, completely alien language with a different planetary species. the narrative comes from a scientific point of view and does not focus on the narrator's sexuality whatsoever

theres a couple mentions of her body

theres a huge problem in sci fi where if a woman experiences something, it is read as hyper sexual. this is an important issue to address

Michael Hanscom
May 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Really neat thoughtful, hard sci-fi exploring ideas of communication with truly alien intelligences, and the adaptations our society might make when exploring the galaxy while dealing with relativistic time distortion, where explorers may see a few subjective months go by while years pass on Earth. An unexpectely good find in my used book impulse purchasing adventures.
Mar 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

The fact that part of this book is satire seems hardly noticed by reviewers. Maybe my reading was influenced the review of Sirius on Gaping Blackbird. That review highlighted the comic significance of a scene I didn’t perceive as comedy at all, so that may have sharpened my senses a bit. Still, this next quote more or less puts all the deep thoughts about empathic communication in a different light.

We used to take our rations and eat them where the creatures could observe us. This roused th
Jun 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf12
Mary is a future Terran communications expert and explorer. She goes on long expeditions to search for and communicate with other usually extraterrestrial species. The society she lives in is very open-minded, and has apparently learned lessons from history about misguided attempts to help or interfere with non-personal issues. Her relationships with her children are thoughtful and unique--notably unpossessive and respectful.

I love the portrayal of relationships--I particularly liked that marri
Emperador Spock
Jun 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The earlier explorers had their trousers pulled off, and were asked very sympathetically if they weren't happier that way

'Memoirs of a Spacewoman' is a very entertaining story, or rather a set of stories, about the contacts with intelligent extraterrestrial life. The book surprisingly and pleasantly sticks to a fairly hard science-fiction, with some thought clearly put into the limitations of space travel scale-wise, and the life-forms on distant worlds, their behaviour and life cycle (and naugh
May 04, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The intro said that the book didn't make much pretence at really being memoirs, but I thought it was a pretty good example of such - some episodes from a life, rather than an autobiography. Not too much scene setting, and it suddenly stopped. The back cover tried to persuade the reader that it was all about sex, but that's piffle. It was a tale of an alien communications expert, which has evolved as a female-dominated profession in a universe where alien contact without interference is a major p ...more
Oct 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So very, very good - a re-read for research purposes for a paper I'm writing, but it pulled me in nonetheless. (And lots of useful material for this and future paper.)
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Seriously innovative and interesting but odd and mannered in the prose and characterisation, in a very 1960s way. Not exactly an enjoyable read, but leaving me with lots of ideas and images to chew over. Some of the thinking is groundbreaking - playing with communist or kibbutz-like childrearing ideas to address the implications of "frozen time" for people coming and going from Earth - and some of her ideas - particularly about what women are intrinsically like - are precisely from the time, pla ...more
Gabriel C.
An interesting historical artifact, serving as a kind of mirror on some kind of late sixties second-wave feminist utopian thinking. Peppered with distasteful racist, sexist, and colonialist anachronisms (despite, or even because of, let me say, its best efforts) and delightfully dated slang or invented future-slang. The plot, as it is, is disjointed and lacks internal rigor, but this is not a book to read for plot. The atmospheric effects are still pretty good today, and the small pleasures are ...more
Charles Harrison
The SF masters series is more high risk than the similarly named masterworks series. Importance to the development of the genre is ranked more highly than strength as a novel. I enjoyed this book but didn't love it perhaps because it was a little too full on. The focus on relationships, sex and maternal instincts is incredibly well written but a bit overwhelming for my palate. The aliens were brilliant with some real originality. What I would like to see is more books which draw on this to spice ...more
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recs-sf
I really enjoyed the protagonist's matter-of-fact competence as a scientist/explorer and the weirdness of the aliens she communicates with. I wished Mitchison had written more episodes in her life, because the book just kind of stops without much resolution.
Apr 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Super cool futuristic, feminist world and a "memoir"? I'm in. Love this interesting little book.
Stig Edvartsen
This book has not stood the test of time and was mainly dull.

The snobbery in the introduction of this edition also sets a high bar for the book which it completely fails to clear.
I will admit, I probably went into this book with higher expectations than I should have. Classic sci-fi about female protagonists by female authors is not a common find, and I tend to expect slightly more progressive gender politics when I do find them. However, this book fell right into the gendered trap - women are more nurturing and emotional, more suited for communications than hard sciences, etc. Blah.

That aside, I was impressed to find a relatively cold account of the details of Mary's li
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I won't say this book is totally crisp and new (it was after all written in 1962). That said, I love it for its unabashed feminist nature and its attempt to be open-minded and not racist, even though there is this one super-awkward moment near the beginning where the narrator (white, I think), is kind of fetishizing a black colleague and his hair :/. I mean, these women of the future choose when and when not to have babies and with whom, no bones about it. Committed relationships are not normal, ...more
Jim Neeley
Dec 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A truly interesting read. Again a female writer brings a more human touch to science fiction.

The perspective on communications with aliens was refreshingly different. As well as the aliens themselves. The idea of a dedicated group, who specializes in seeking out new life and then establishing communications, all the while maintaining relationships with other non explorers and very alien life was well told. The encounters with alien life was well balanced.The writer also well defined time blacko
Lizzie Newell
Feb 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Memoirs of a Space Woman first published in 1962 is a forerunner of second wave feminism. It postulates a world where marriage and the family unit as we know it no longer exits. Children are treated as "Human beings, individuals with the inalienable right not to be owned..." Within this milieu, Mitchison explores the ethics of interaction between species and between parents and offspring. By modern standards the plot is slow. It has an episodic plot structure similar to the plot structure of I r ...more
Thomas Hale
Early 60s sci-fi, this reads like a zoologist's field notes from different expeditions and studies of alien races. The protagonist is a gifted communcator (she can even talk to dogs, due to future understandings of animal psychology), and we get an intimate, if detached, look into the mindset and life impacts of both long-haul space travel and the relativistic passage of time. The book takes a while to get going - the "field notes" vibe means that the prose is often very dry, and it look longer ...more
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
I liked this book very much. Mitchison's view of the future is really interesting, and very like Roddenberry's. It's all about equality and non-violent exploration, although the memoir does cover moments of violence because those are some of the things that stand out in what Mary remembers from her long life. I thought the sections about laboratory animals was particularly interesting, since in this future animals can be communicated with and can therefor give meaningful consent to experiments ( ...more
Howard Kistler
Feb 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
Comprised of a far-flung set of missions that cover an arc of the eponymous spacewoman's life, the threads of the stories also join together into a cohesive whole. A variety of interesting lifeforms are encountered, and an equal number of interesting perspectives are engaged. Her aliens are truly alien, and yet it is finding the commonality with humanity where the strength of her stories lie. And while she is building bridges with distant cultures, the protagonist finds difficulty in maintaining ...more
This is my first outing with Mitchison, and I definitely enjoyed it. I'd connect it to a couple of things within the genre - any Ursula Le Guin which features an anthropologist is an obvious comparison, and not just because of the subject matter but also the style; also Cordwainer Smith's A Game of Rats and Dragons; and, in the menacing butterflies, perhaps a precursor for Mieville's slakemoths.

I read it all at one sitting, and it pulled me along, but, for me, it didn't quite have that spark to
Sep 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
This is a tour de force of speculative fiction. That it was told from a female pov in an era when space stories were all about engineers and rockets and ray guns only scratches the surface of its uniqueness. Mitchison imagines space travel as a process of communication and then sends her explorer into worlds where the beings are truly different, not just humanoids with colorful skin. The fascination comes from reclassifying the world from within their consciousness. The stories are episodic flas ...more
This one was interesting. However, Memoirs of a Spacewoman reminded me of a Ursula K. LeGuin book in that it reads like it did not have a much substance/detail to it as other books and thus the after-read feeling is akin to that of a kind-of-remembered dream. While I appreciated not needing to read a trilogy of each volume being 800+ pages, I found myself wanting more detail.

The species highlighted in Barlowe's Guide was only in the first section.
David Stuckey
Aug 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Esoteric, and more about how the exploration of space and encounters with non-human intellects changes the narrator, this feminist SF work is a truly new experience to anyone who has been reading the usual line of SF or fantasy for a while . . . Although an older classic, it still is relevant to modern readers in that it describes the possibilities of futures in an open way and shows a new viewpoint of human understanding.
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Memoirs of a Spacewoman in relationship to Star Trek 1 3 Feb 22, 2016 10:37PM  

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Naomi Mitchison, author of over 70 books, died in 1999 at the age of 101. She was born in and lived in Scotland and traveled widely throughout the world. In the 1960s she was adopted as adviser and mother of the Bakgatla tribe in Botswana. Her books include historical fiction, science fiction, poetry, autobiography, and nonfiction, the most popular of which are The Corn King and the Spring Queen, ...more