Swankivy's Reviews > Time Travelers Strictly Cash

Time Travelers Strictly Cash by Spider Robinson
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I was a little disappointed that a lot of this book was not Callahan stories. I tend to really like the Callahan stories, and a good chunk of them were unrelated or nonfiction pieces Mr. Robinson has published. The good news is, I enjoyed those stories that took place at the saloon--for the most part--and I really like the concept of the bar. That said, I noticed some stuff that put me off a bit more than such things used to, and because of the addition of the Heinlein defense/review in the book, I started to put some pieces together that made me less inclined to excuse what I thought I saw.

So let's just get that out of the way first: Robinson wrote a bunch of stuff about why most of the reasons people don't like Heinlein are silly and misinformed, and while I have read very little Heinlein in my time, I can say that as a female SF reader the common objections to his writing of women stuck out to me. Having a guy tell me it's silly to have these problems with how Heinlein writes women seems a little unfair. Especially since I'm quite tired of men defending a certain kind of female character written by men with "but she's empowered--she's a Strong Woman who Owns Her Sexuality (which is portrayed, by a man, over and over again, as having a lot of sex, being horny a lot, and being obsessed with having babies)." I'd honestly like to see more Strong Women Owning Their Sexuality by saying no, meaning it, and not being vilified by the story as a prude or a shrew for that. This seems a little out of nowhwere to zero in on Robinson's defense of Heinlein straight out of the gate, but it leads into this:

The women featured in Robinson's stories are more diverse than this, but the female characters kept leaving this weird taste in my mouth. A lady is empowered enough to take down a shitty time traveler, but she's also the one who offers herself up sexually to whoever wins a contest. It's Her Choice, she LIKES doing that, so why is this wrong? It isn't, necessarily, but this isn't actually a woman choosing this. This is a man writing a woman who chooses this. When men write women this way and then continuously ask what the big deal is, they just don't see to get that their own fantasies of sexually ambitious women not having so many inconvenient HANGUPS about sex and choosing to frame themselves as sex objects/sexual rewards in stories is not the same thing as having liberated characters, you know?

Taken on their own, each female character is not necessarily problematic, but when you round up all the ladies and find that you know something very intimate and formative about each of their sex lives while a dude doesn't necessarily have to have such details available to be interesting, you have to wonder what ideas about The Ladies these ol' straight white dudes have about us and why they react the way they do when we criticize this aspect of their work. Women who become interesting characters through relationships with men are starting to get very stale for me, and considering this collection contained a woman who has sex with contest winners, a woman who became suicidal after a lifetime of trying to process sexual abuse, a woman who was obsessed with getting her husband back, and a woman whose life story was defined by a husband with future-seeing powers and a child lost in an accident, I still feel like we're still not getting stories about women who aren't reacting to men/tied up with men/defined by men at this point. Women are often frustrated by stories about them being framed in terms of their relationships with men or family and so rarely focusing on their agency. Compare that with the book containing men's stories where they pair up with talking (male) dogs, invent mirrors to jump between dimensions, and attain practical godhood in wizardry, I remain suspicious.

Especially when the last afterword of the book lumps women's rights together with many others using a difficult-to-read tone carrying an overall effect of minimizing their importance. He implies that all these groups are clamoring for "rights" now that it's en vogue to claim oppression over everything from gender to dominant hand. Here's the gem: "This is the age of the Minority Group. Women's rights, Indians' rights, writers' rights, left-handed people's rights [...] ...a minority group need not even have the franchise to achieve its aims (women's suffrage, ex-cons' rights, wetbacks, etc.), although it helps. All you really need are the sympathies of enough liberals who do have the vote, and you're in." You'll notice he uncritically said "wetbacks" here too, and though this is not a super new book, that was certainly known to be derogatory in the early 2000s. Not one but two of the stories directly compare a black character with a monkey, too--one saying "his monkey face" and the other having the character mistake HIMSELF for a GORILLA in a mirror. Yikes. This character is also given a very pronounced dialect different from the white characters, apostrophes and "dem" for all the "them" and whatnot. It's distracting and uncomfortable.

I still enjoy the spirit of science fiction that inhabits these stories, for all the problems I had with lady stuff and racial insensitivity above. (Though I must stress, it's not possible for me to just "put that aside" and judge the stories otherwise. It is part of the stories. It's reasonable to rate them as such, and to consider persistent issues I have with female characters' presentation as relevant to the stories.) I really like that there's a real camaraderie between the characters that you can feel even if you've just met them, that you can see they're really and truly there for each other and willing to cover for each other, that they have history, that they are fundamentally good people with appreciation for art and soul.

Some of the concepts are really innovative too, and easy to get invested in. I like the idea of fivesight and how it can manifest as an everyday dimension of someone's relatively mundane life. I like the talking dog helping out the mute outcast and having a ruse together. I like the soul search idea and the wizard who thinks he's above it all. I like the time travelers and the tall tales. And I remember reading the book with the full-length story that one of these included stories began with. I've had that haunting image of the woman in her chair hooked up to a pleasure machine on the edge of starvation and death for a long time. (It influenced a scene I wrote in one of my books.) I like the ideas in the stories he writes and I'm sure I'll keep enjoying his work even though I'm a bit critical of some aspects of it.
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Reading Progress

August 18, 2008 – Shelved (Paperback Edition)
September 18, 2019 – Started Reading
October 24, 2019 – Shelved
October 24, 2019 – Finished Reading

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