Women

Suzette Haden Elgin 1936 – 2015

Suzette Haden Elgin; photo by George Elgin

One of our elders left us this week. Suzette Haden Elgin was a writer of science fiction, a professor linguistics, the founder of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and a feminist, among many other things. Continue reading

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Monday Morning Music

So, yesterday was Alpha Reader’s birthday. It turned out to be a lovely day of noodling around town, looking at art, and eating ALL THE FOOD! I made flan and stuffed pork chops for him and we had amazing smoked salmon melts at the Madison.

I asked AR who he’d like to see on this week’s Women’s History Month edition of Monday Morning Music. He gave me a list and I told him I’d see what I could find.

Continue reading

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Monday Morning Music-St. Patrick’s Day Edition

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone! If you’re into that. I’m not really, but it seemed like a good excuse for music videos today. 🙂

I’m also continuing the Women’s History Month celebration so that means… Irish women!

Continue reading

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“‘Tis not right, a woman going into such places by herself.”* – A Book List

As promised, here’s the list of books containing older women as important characters that my friends and I came up with on Twitter a couple weeks ago. Clicking on the photos will take you to the book’s Amazon page.

Thanks to @grumpymartian, @whateversusan, @chrysoula, @AthenaHelivoy, @JustinSRobinson, @byharryconnolly, @LJLietya, @KateElliottSFF, and @clundoff for chiming in!

Mindscape Mindscape, Andrea Hairston: an older woman gets the action going; another older woman has a hand in trying to destroy what the first set out to accomplish.
The first four books of the Deverry series, Katharine Kerr: I didn’t get any details on this one. Deverry
Crown of Stars Crown of Stars series, Kate Elliott: “One of the POVs … is a scholar who is about 50. She’s technically a secondary POV.”-@KateElliottSFF
Silver Moon, Catherine Lundoff: main character becomes a werewolf as part of menopause at 50.  silver moon
 paladin Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold: the main character is in her 40s/50s, possibly late 30s (there was some discussion about this).
The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle: Molly Grue and Mommy Fortuna  last unicorn
175px-CherryhDownbelowStation20thAnnCover Downbelow Station, C.J. Cherryh: I’m not sure of her age, but as commander of an interstellar battleship, Signy Mallory must be a mature woman, close in age to Captain Janeway.
Tehanu, Ursula K. Le Guin: the main character is Tenar, a woman who has aged through the Earthsea series and is now middle-aged.  tehanu
throne Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed: “majority of characters are older”-@grumpymartian
The Day Before the Revolution (from the short story collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters), Ursula K. Le Guin: the protagonist from The Dispossessed returns as a much older woman. twelve
Swan Song Swan Song, Robert R. McCammon: “mostly the older characters tell the story”-@grumpymartian

Another book was brought up in our conversation that hasn’t been published yet: The Great Way, an epic fantasy trilogy by Harry Connolly. It’ll be out later this year.

And, to finish up, these are the Discworld books that involve Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. To quote Wikipedia:

[Weatherwax] has starred in six Discworld novels (Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade and Carpe Jugulum), has appeared briefly in Wee Free Men, acted as a significant supporting character in A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight, and was referenced in three other Discworld books (by name in Mort, and anonymously in Thief of Time as well as Going Postal). She also appeared in the short story “The Sea and Little Fishes” and in The Science of Discworld II: The Globe.

Nanny Ogg appears in the same Discworld novels as Granny W., as well as the short story “The Sea and Little Fishes.” She also makes a cameo appearance in Thief of Time. Have you read any of these? Are there others you’d recommend? Let us know!

*–Granny Weatherwax, Wyrd Sisters (Terry Pratchett)

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“Aging children, I am one”*

Jim Hines’ call for guest blogs about representation in fiction got me thinking. And the folks who have posted over there since have kept the thoughts coming. Seriously. Go check out the last several guest posts on Jim’s blog. They’re great.

Another thing that’s added to my thinking is the latest kerfuffle with the gatekeepers of “real” science fiction. Some folks have been remarking that when all the old farts die, the sexism/racism will die with them.

Hahahahahaha. No.

That’s not how it works. Assuming that the only sexists/racists/homophobes/trans*phobes/etc are old guys is lazy thinking. And assuming that at 51, I’m one of those folks? Well, that just pisses me off.

It also makes me want to do my best to wreck spec fiction by writing about people who aren’t all straight, white men. Which brings me back to the matter at hand. Continue reading

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The Sword of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett – A Review

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Finally, I’ve reached the end of the Women of Genre Fiction Challenge I signed up for back in May! I’m a little late, but I’m done! Continue reading

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Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh – A Review

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Eleven down, one to go. That’s how things stand with me and the Women of Genre Fiction Challenge I took on back in May. Not sure if I’ll get review #12 posted before 2013 comes to an end, but #11 is here right now.

For some reason, I haven’t read much C.J. Cherryh. In fact, before starting Downbelow Station, I can only remember reading one other of hers, and I don’t even remember what it was. It’s been a while.

Thanks to this Hugo-winning book, I’ll be amending that.

Downbelow Station is the first novel (not including the prequels) of Cherryh’s Company Wars series and takes part in her Union-Alliance universe. Published in 1981, it’s a complicated story, setting up a universe where a giant corporation (Earth Company) has become wealthy exploring the stars, building space stations around uninhabitable planets, all except for Pell’s World, a planet inhabited by the Hisa (called Downers by the humans who inhabit Pell Station, which orbits the planet).

When the novel begins, war has been raging between the Company and the Union, a group of colonists who have chosen to declare independence from Earth and the Company. The Union augments its military strength with clones. The Company has a fleet of warships commanded by Conrad Mazian. There is also a loose confederation of Merchanter ships involved in all this. Pell tries to maintain its neutrality and do business with all three groups: the Company, the Union, and the Merchanters. A crisis point starts the narrative of the novel, with one of the Company warships (led by Signy Mallory) unloading hundreds of refugees from another space station that’s been attacked by Union forces, causing the disruption of the people living on Pell.

There’s a lot more to the novel than that, but if I give you the whole synopsis, you’ll be reading for hours before even getting to my opinion of all that plot. Suffice it to say, there is a lot of political intrigue amongst all the groups and within them, except for the Hisa, who act more as observers than anything else. Or so it would seem.

I really enjoyed Downbelow Station. It took a while to get into as there is a lot of world-building/info-dumping in the first chapter or so, all of which is necessary to give the reader any idea of where they are. The book is a slow read, as well, because Cherryh’s prose is occasionally plodding and there’s just so much going on.

But I think the story makes up for those problems, and it eventually becomes an exciting read. Cherryh does a fine job establishing her universe and the conflicts therein. She also succeeds when working on the smaller scale of Pell Station and Downbelow (as the stationers call Pell’s World), translating the bigger conflicts to a more personal level, with stationers fighting for control of Pell against Union and the Mazianni (the Earth warships) alike. Her characters are decently drawn and she made me care about them.

The Hisa definitely fall into the “noble savage” trope of so much fiction. They’re sentient primate-like folks, assumed to be childlike by the humans that deal with them, but then surprisingly deep when they need to be. While reading, I went back and forth in liking them and not. Ended up settling into the liking them box, mainly because of Satin (Sky-sees-her) and her journey up to Pell to meet “the Dreamer” and see her planet’s sun, something the hisa on-planet can’t do, because their skies are always overcast.

Another thing I liked about the book was that both men and women were in positions of authority without any sexist weirdness. I loved Elene Quen, a former Merchanter married to Damon Konstantin, one of the leaders of Pell. She finds herself back in space aboard another Merchanter ship (hers was destroyed by the Union) and ends up doing significant work to bring about peace talks. This announcement of hers made me bust out crying, because I’m just a dork that way.

This is Quen of Estelle. We’re coming in.

Signy Mallory, the commander of the warship Norway, is also incredibly bad-ass and I would love to see Sigourney Weaver play her, if a movie was ever made of Downbelow Station. It would be a fun film, for a lot of reasons. I’m kind of surprised it hasn’t happened yet. I guess rebooting Star Trek and Star Wars is just that much more profitable, huh? 😉

(4.1/5)

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Mindscape by Andrea Hairston – A Review

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Mindscape

In my last WOGF reading challenge review, I remarked on how one of the main points of Native Tongue gets bogged down amidst all the other plot threads Suzette Haden Elgin tries to bring together. That point being the attempt of a group of women Linguists to create their own language, a necessary thing given their oppression. Andrea Hairston brings up a similar point in her 2006 debut novel Mindscape and does so in one sharply written paragraph–one amongst many.

All the thugs is laughin’ at me, but I don’t go off. I take a deep breath, work calm in my center, like Ray Valero do to act. Ethnic throwbacks be like the ole Israelis bringin’ back Hebrew after two thousand years, after so many words was fightin’ against ’em. Why anybody wanna speak the truth, raise they children, know themselves with gas chamber language? Survival be havin’ words to call home, havin’ idioms and syntax to heal the Diaspora. In your cultural rhythm and rhyme, that’s where the soul keep time. — Lawanda Kitt, p. 51

The rest of Mindscape is like that: a lot of heavy things said that, at least to me, doesn’t get lost in a stew of wobbly prose.

Mindscape is a complex tale of a future Earth dealing with the aftermath of the invasion of some sort of alien/magical barrier that has cut the planet into several regions that can no longer interact with each other except for when seasonal corridors open up in the Barrier. All of these regions are constantly at war until a seer/prophet/something named Celestina convinces everyone to sign a peace treaty, ushering in a new era, presumably. She is then assassinated.

So much for the prologue.

The rest of the book concerns the aftermath of the treaty signing. Like I said, it’s complex and Hairston leads us through with the help of five perspectives: Elleni, Celestina’s spirit-daughter who might not be completely human; Lawanda Kitt, an ambassador called upon to interact with the rulers of a rival region; The Major, a man of mixed loyalties, one of which is Lawanda; Ray Valero, a celebrated actor who finds himself in the position of having to be a real hero; and Aaron Dunkelbrot, an entertainment producer with an interesting past.

Through these five people, Hairston shows us a dystopian world where epidemics rage, poor people who don’t have the “right” appearance become Extras in snuff films, “ethnic throwbacks” fight to not be disappeared while gene-art mutations flourish, and a chosen few try to communicate with the Barrier to figure out its plans.

I enjoyed Mindscape quite a bit. Hairston’s prose is delightful and her characters are strong and interesting. The story carried me right along, and her insights into race and culture never felt preachy or heavyhanded. My only complaint might be that the ending felt a little rushed with a ton of plot threads coming together all at once. It’s a minor complaint, though, and I’m looking forward to reading her novel from 2011, Redwood and Wildfire. 4.85/5

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Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin – A Review

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native tongue

Suzette Haden Elgin published Native Tongue, the first book in this eponymous trilogy, in 1984. I was 22 in 1984.

I remember Reagan’s election and how many of us on the left (I was already quite at home way over on the left wing) were frightened by the possibilities, many of which have come to pass. I also remember the beginnings of the backlash on feminism, a backlash that just keeps growing 30 years later. So, I get where Haden’s coming from with her story of a dystopian future USA where women have lost all their rights and are now the property of men in worse ways then they were before the second wave of feminism. My 22 year-old self would have eaten this book up and looked for more.

I’m sad to report, however, that the book didn’t really do much for my 51 year-old self. The story immediately irked me with the premise that the constitutional amendments revoking the 19th amendment and turning women into minors under the law would have happened by 1991. I mean, okay, Reagan and his ilk scared me, too, but 1991? That seems awfully premature.

That’s always a risk writers take, putting events in the super-near future. I’m still miffed that 2001 came and it was nothing like the movie. There was a 33-year gap there. To predict something this cataclysmic happening less than 10 years from when you’re publishing? Might have wanted to think that through a little more.

So, I had to try to push that aside as I read further. Fortunately the rest of the book takes place centuries in the future, the 22nd to be exact. There we discover that not only do women still not have any rights, but society has been divided up into two antagonistic groups: the Linguists and everyone else. The Linguists are the only people capable of communicating with all the alien societies humans have met, so they’re necessary as translators to make all the treaties and do all the negotiating. Regular people hate them, so the Linguist families (the Lines) live in large communal houses buried in the earth away from prying eyes and violent reaction.

One of the reasons that regular folk hate the Linguists is that Linguist women are allowed to work outside the home as translators because, apparently, there’s so much translating that needs to be done, they have to. Then we have all the stuff happening with babies blowing up because they can’t fathom non-humanoid alien languages (no, really). I haven’t even gotten to the Linguist women’s work on creating a language that allows women to express their thoughts better than standard English, French, German, whatever. This, one might argue, is really the point of the book, but it gets lost, to me, amidst all the other stuff.

Oh, and there’s a serial killer. (Who’s actually my favorite part of the novel; her first murder? That chapter would make a great Tales from the Crypt of something.)

I hate to say this, because Elgin’s short story “Old Rocking Chair’s Got Me” remains one of my favorite short stories (Top 10, no question. It’s awesome. And hard to find. I have it in Dick Allen’s Science Fiction: The Future (1983 edition).), but I found Native Tongue to be too bloated and ponderous, too preachy and heavyhanded. While not all the women are saints, by any means (see: serial killer), most of them are and there isn’t one kind man in the whole thing. They’re all stupid, misogynistic assholes, every one of them, which is just bullshit. Even in 1984, I had allies. Still do.

None of the characters are really developed at all; they’re all just game pieces for Elgin’s philosophical/linguistic chess board. And there are so many plot holes. What do the aliens in the Interface do all day when they’re not communicating with (and occasionally destroying) the babies? And what happened to all the kids who’d been fed hallucinogens in an attempt to keep them from blowing up after they were taken to the orphanage? The list goes on.

Things I liked? The serial killer character, as I said. She’s really the only person whose character evolved (however slightly) over the course of the novel. I also enjoyed Elgin’s discussions of language and the linguistic “tricks” that one male linguist in particular would use to win arguments. Those were interesting. And I liked the notion that an academic field such as linguistics would become so powerful. But the negative outweighs the positive for me.

Biggest disappointment? The cover of the edition I read. Nothing like that image happens in the book. I wanted my motherly alien! (2.625/5)

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Up the Walls of the World by James Tiptree, Jr. – A Review

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Up the Walls of the WorldI came to Up the Walls of the World knowing very little of James Tiptree, Jr. I knew that the author’s real name was Alice Bradley Sheldon and that her publisher kept her identity secret until 1977 (the year before Up the Walls of the World was released). The science fiction community argued over who Tiptree was (some sort of government spy perhaps) and what gender (both Robert Silverberg and Harlan Ellison assumed male).

But that’s all I knew. I’d never read her stuff, even though several of her books have been on our bookshelves for ages. So, it was with a lot of curiosity and excitement that I started reading what was Tiptree’s first novel for my next WOGF challenge book. It held up to that approach, I’m happy to say.

Up the Walls of the World is a complicated tale, starting in the brain of the Destroyer, an entity larger than a solar system moving through space in existential pain. It considers itself evil and a betrayer of its kind.

Tiptree introduces us next to an entity that can pick up on that evil. She is a Tyrenni, part of a race of creatures resembling manta rays who ride the winds of a large gas planet’s atmosphere and communicate telepathically and through the changing colors of their bodies. Something is destroying the Tyrenni’s planet.

Next we meet a group of plain old humans. Well, not exactly. They’re a group of supposedly telepathic folk conducting experiments at a US Navy laboratory.

The book moves amongst all three of these. I was most interested in the Tyrenni because I had never read anything like them before. Tiptree did a great job of creating a wholly other sentient species that is utterly unhuman, and she still found space to play with gender and society. In Tyrenni culture, males are the childbearers and hold a higher place in society because of it. The females are the explorers and have all the fun.

The humans took time to grow on me. I initially found the group’s medical doctor (and our introduction to this aspect of the book) to be annoying in his attitudes and near fetishization of the team’s only Black member and IT chief, Margaret Omali. But there’s an aspect to Daniel Dann’s character that reveals itself slowly through the book and helped diffuse some of that.

The Destroyer itself is simply brilliant and the reveal of its true mission made me smile, as did the way Tiptree wove all three elements of the book together into a satisfying conclusion.

Up the Walls of the World is one of the most original books of any genre I’ve read in a long time and a fun read. I ended up loving most of her characters, especially Tivonel, the first Tyrenni we meet. And the book kept me guessing most of the way. Highly recommended. 4.6/5

I also wonder if this is where Whedon got Faith’s catchphrase, because there it is on page 133.

“Five by five!” Costakis calls out again, and then Winona exclaims in a strained voice, “Doctor Catledge, this is wild. I know we’re getting them.”

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