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A Woman of the Iron People

(Woman of the Iron People #1-2)

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  477 ratings  ·  84 reviews
Lixia and the members of her human crew are determined not to disturb the life on the planet circling the Star Sigma Draconis which they have begun exploring. But the factions on the mother ship hovering above the planet may create an unintended chaos for both the life on the planet and the humans exploring it. As the anger increases on the ship, the ground crew becomes ...more
Paperback, 424 pages
Published December 1st 1991 by (first published 1991)
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Average rating 3.83  · 
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Althea Ann
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wish I knew of a list of all the books that Ursula K. Le Guin has ever personally recommended, blurbed, or otherwise endorsed, because she’s pretty much always spot-on. I got this book because of her blurb, and was delighted by it – and surprised that I hadn’t heard of it previously. I’m going to blame poor marketing. I’m also going to give Part One of the paperback edition of this book (A Woman of the Iron People is one book; split into two paperbacks as part of that poor marketing) this year ...more
Peter Tillman
A+ : wonderful anthropological first-contact novel

There's always some trepidation when one begins to re-read a fondly-remembered book. Will it hold up? Will it be as good as I remember? I'm happy to report that this one has stood up to (so far) four readings. My highest possible recommendation! Arnason's masterwork, and right up with the best of Le Guin.

Lixia, the viewpoint character, is a Hawaiian anthropologist from an Earth still recovering from the excesses of the 20th century. She's
Reto 27: Un libro ambientado en otro planeta.

This is a First Contact story. With furry hominid aliens.

The alien society portrayed here is of the matriarchal variety. Pre-industrial. The females live generally in nomadic villages , they grew vegetables, take care of the children, tan skins, cure, knit, and are the shamaness and smiths. The males are encouraged and expected to leave after puberty, where they live in the wild , hunting alone, herding animals, guarding territories if strong , and
Matthew Gatheringwater
If you have ever wondered what it'd be like to experience menstruation on another planet, this book is for you. It is also for anyone who appreciates thoughtful, character-driven science fiction.

Periods in space sounds like a joke—maybe an ill-conceived title for an anthology of science fiction by women—but the inclusion of this detail is something I truly appreciate about Arnason's book. She has done the hard work of imagining what life might really be like for her characters. Consequently, her
Aug 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
I'm a sucker for any good human/alien contact book that's socially smart. This one is.

Recommended for any social science dork. There's very little hard SF here (and what there is is mostly biology). The people spend a lot of time arguing about social/political/anthropological theory, in a very compelling, interesting, and accessible way. I loved it. Also, Arnason's idea of the future of Earth is a unique one that rings true.

I was having so much fun in this world, I didn't want the book to end.
Aug 26, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: didnt-finish
This book is 25 years old as I write this review, and it recalls the sort of anthropological science fiction that was just beginning to be popular in the 90's. It actually holds up fairly well when it comes to playing with tropes about research ships and encountering alien populations. Why didn't I rate it higher?

First, the author commits the sin of having her anthropologist character make all sorts of assumptions about the aliens she encounters. She assumes that they have two genders. She
Rift Vegan
Dec 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tiptree Award 1991.
I had abandoned my desire to read all the Tiptree Award winners after I read a couple books I hated. But, somehow! this book got downloaded onto my kindle. :) Thank goodness: I loved reading this book.

Anyway. Yeah, the language of the story is really dry and "matter of fact". I liked this, and it really worked for this story. This is the first book I've read by Arnason, and I have to wonder if this is her normal story-telling style or if it was just for this book. Will have
Sep 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
I hadn't really read any sci-fi in a while and looked online for recommendations of "classic" reads and this came up as one of them. This book is an anthropologically oriented SF tale which explores the cultures of the humanoid people of a planet. Li Lixia is one of eight field anthropologists set down on Sigma Draconis II after the first starship from Earth detects pre-industrial intelligent life there. The book split between the narratives of Lixia and Nia, an exile of the Iron People. But I ...more
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sff, ebooks
Lixia has just landed on an alien planet. Humanity have come exploring the stars, with high-minded ideals, and rules about what action should be taken depending on how advanced the peoples they meet are.

Nia has grown up among the Iron People. Her mother died when she was young so she went to live with one of her mother’s sisters. She has always felt a little different from the other women of her village.

And I really don’t want to say much more about the plot. Suffice to say it is a first contact
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi
I saw this referred to as anthropological sci-fi. That it is. I loved it! Arnason does character very well, regardless of what peoples might be involved and the world she has created here is quite interesting (not that I would like to see all men banished from the village, mind you).

One thing that was most interesting to me, as someone who came of age addicted to "Star Trek" was lack of firm commitment to the Prime Directive. Imagine the controversies amongst various factions of the "visiting"
Nicholas Whyte
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it

I enjoyed A Woman of the Iron People a lot. It's a great piece of speculative anthropological writing, about vulnerable Earth people exploring a planet where gender roles are very different from ours (men live solitary hunting lives, and possibly are not all that bright; women run all the settlements and technology). The tensions in the human starship crew and among the locals are sharply defined. It's in the shadow of The Left Hand of Darkness,
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scribd, 2017
For some reason I thought I had read this years ago. But when I actually read it here, I remembered nothing about it. So it must just have been the title that stuck in my brain.

A spaceship from a kinder, gentler earth arrives at an alien planet. There is indigenous, intelligent life there. The societies are nomadic or pre-urban and mostly unindustrialized. It's also a matriarchal society, because when males reach puberty, they become extremely quarrelsome and difficult. So the men go off to live
Aug 15, 2018 rated it liked it
There are some very interesting things here, as far as the human-meets-alien thing, exploration of a new world, and the debate on the pros and cons of getting involved with an alien species. I even appreciated the straight-forward narration style.

However, I was never able to enjoy the book as much as I might have, primarily because it feels so strongly rooted in some very dated politics - in particular, what I would describe as second-wave white eco-feminism. For one, I find any book with a
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
A triumph of the author's imagination, "A Woman of the Iron People" was an entertaining read. At the same time, it was worrisome because of the fact that HUmans proliferate too much and are hateful and destructive, so now I'm worried about the future of the planet they invaded. At the ending, the shamaness tells them to stay on their island, and not to bring more HUmans from the ship, but in the last chapter, it is questionable if they are obeying those orders. See how believable Arnason made ...more
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well done for an older sci fi. Much more character- and place-based story than plot-driven. But interesting, and with excellent world building.
Karen Heuler
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book. Steady, thoughtful, plain language that begins to sound like poetry, or, actually, like wisdom. The inhabitants of the planet have understandable patterns of social behavior and beliefs--enough to make them different from us, but not so much to make them completely beyond our reach. It's a fairly slow book that completely grabbed me. It's about the impact of the outsider on the social group, of the new on the old, of the strange on the normal--and vice versa. And a lot ...more
I have two reactions to this book: on the whole and bits and pieces that aggravated me. I'll separate them accordingly.

On the whole:

The part of it that's a story about how humans must take into account their natures and how they interact with the world when exploring something new to them is wonderful. This book portrays the discussions we should be having. I'm even happy that they didn't come to any conclusions, just arguments and debates that couldn't be resolved. I pretty much never
Eric Mccann
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I think I picked this up as part of a Humble Bundle bundle. I ran across it as part of a group of ebooks on my PC and started reading it.

The story itself could be interesting, but ... it's just not. I'm on page (according to my ereader) 1154 of 1334 and I think I'm just done. It has been a slog. There hasn't really been a "hook" that's kept me reading other than "well, is something going to happen? Sometime?" Which is thoroughly disappointing.

That's not the only problem, though. The other
Stig Edvartsen

Some of the books I read are rebound books. The books I read after having consumed something new by by favourite authors usually don't get a fair chance. They are compared to something I am primed to love and most of the time they fail. It's unfortunate, but I am will defend my right to be fickle.

This book was lucky enough to experience the reverse. I just finished the dire Shikasta by Doris Lessing and was ready to love a book again. This happened to be next on my reading list.

This is a story
Apr 22, 2018 marked it as to-read
It has come to my attention that (and I really shouldn't be surprised, given the sexist bias, present still in 2018, but I'm in a bit of a shock and frankly, I'm appalled,) women writers have essentially been systematically erased; forgotten. presents

In an attempt to bring awareness to this very important--and saddening-- issue, I thought I'd present them here. Maybe we can learn from the mistakes of the past and build a better future. That is my
Kat Forder
Dec 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Engaging and unique

A fully developed and unique world with a well thought out social system. The story is paced well, and the characters well developed for the large number that make an appearance.

Curiously, the prose consists of predominantly short sentences. At first I thought the style to be indicative of the alien world and their language patterns, but the style.of abrupt sentences, sentences fragments and phrases continues throughout the book. This isn't a detriment to the story, but it is
Buzz H.
Sep 20, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: f-sf
I have mixed feelings about this book. The writing was pretty good as was the characterization. The pacing was really glacial at times, but I really enjoyed most of the first half. My major criticism is that the aliens were too human like. The author did a pretty good job of giving them different biology, but their emotions, ways of thinking, and cultural patterns were too close to ours. That is a cardinal sin, for me, in first contact stories. I gave the book three stars because the rest of the ...more
Apr 13, 2015 rated it liked it
I like anthropological SF and first-contact SF and I generally like Tiptree Award winners, so this book has been on my to-read list for a while, but on the whole I don't think it lived up to the hype for me. I liked Nia and Lixia but I could not stand Derek so that made reading large chunks of the book an annoying experience. Also I really didn't like pretty much anything that happened in the last quarter of the book, with the spaceship; mostly I just wanted it to go back to them all wandering ...more
Aug 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anthropologists
Anthropologists from a future Earth land on an alien planet. The story follows Lixia, one of the anthros, in her exploration of the alien planet and its denizens. There’s a lot in here about language and how societies develop, but there’s still a lot of adventure and character development.
Jennifer Stoy
I really loved this. It was such a smart tale of first contact, and it was neither grimdark dystopia nor gee golly techno-optimism. Not a lot happens, but that's a good thing, I think. It was just so carefully constructed and smart and I took a lot of pleasure in it.
Nov 20, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An expedition of humans study the intelligent life form on another planet, a species that lives a nomadic life in which adult men mostly live like hermits. One of the humans, Lixia, travels with one of the natives, herself a bit of an outcast from her people, and later others join them and they explore different groups while humanity tries to decide what the right way is to interact with the natives.

This is an example of anthropological science fiction, in which a species (or an entire world)
Deborah Laux
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The anthropological adventure in this book is a great read as is the dialogue.

I am bothered by the idealism of Communism/Socialism and the vilification of Capitalism – both views are highly prejudicial and inaccurate. Likewise the seeming idealism of a female dominated society and the same vilification of male dominated society [wars, fighting]. The author was a little more balanced on this matter as some people on the planet seem to be working out that men are not "bad" and dangerous and women
Isabelle B.
Nov 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: speculative
IS 289: Readers' Advisory

This is the story of two women. There is Nia, a woman of the iron people. She is covered in fur with only three fingers on each hand and golden yellow eyes, but is otherwise humanoid. She lives on a planet orbiting a distant sun, where her species exist in a pre-industrial stasis. But perhaps not for long, because our own species of human has arrived from Earth, and they are waiting in a spaceship above the planet, trying to determine the best course of first contact.
May 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Luckily I borrowed this book as a Kindle book from my library so I did not notice the cover until now. In this case, the book should definitely not be judged by the cover.

Lixia, an anthropologist, is an outstanding main character as she observes and thinks about implications. She does not intend to be an active participant so that when she is one there is an philosophical element to her observations.

The story line of this book had several intriguing points:
A matriarchal society of the alien
James V
Dec 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a first contact novel with explorers from Earth studying a planet and the life upon it. The natives are stuck at the cusp of what we would consider Bronze Age technology but probably won't be able to move past it for reasons of biology.

The bulk of the book is from the viewpoint of Lixia, one of the explorers from Earth. She learns the trade language of the natives and befriends Nia, the eponymous woman of the Iron People.

This was okay. I enjoyed it but it was only so-so for me overall,
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Eleanor Atwood Arnason (born 1942) is an American author of science fiction novels and short stories. From 1949 to 1961, Arnason and her parents lived in "Idea House #2," a futuristic dwelling built by the Walker Art Center. Arnason's earliest published story appeared in New Worlds in 1972. Her work often depicts cultural change and conflict, usually from the viewpoint of characters who cannot or ...more

Other books in the series

Woman of the Iron People (2 books)
  • In the Light of Sigma Draconis (A Woman of the Iron People, #1)
  • Changing Women (A Woman of the Iron People, #2)
“I am the Little Bug Spirit. I come to people when they begin to take themselves too seriously. They think they are big. I cut them down to size." This angered me. I tried to speak, but I couldn't get my thoughts together. The person went on, “I am the stone under your foot. I am the bug that bites you in the ass. I am the fart that comes when you are introduced to the important visiting professor. I am menstrual cramps and diarrhea." I kept getting angrier. “My tools are lies and tricks, misunderstandings and accidents. Everything stupid and undignified happens because of me. Hola! I am something!” 1 likes
“Who of those born in future generations will believe this? I myself who saw it can hardly believe that such was possible.” 0 likes
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