Monissaw is still reading Despatches from the Frontier of the Female Mind
, but I finished it last night with a cat sitting on me to keep me in place until the job got done. Well, okay, the cat was probably cold.
Reading in the short introductions to the stories that this one took eight years to write, and that one fifteen years, these short, often very short, stories, I'm reminded of a quote from Joanna Russ:Long before I became a feminist in any explicit way, I had turned from writing love stories about women in which women were losers, and adventure stories about men in which the men were winners, to writing adventure stories about a woman in which the woman won. It was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life.
On the face of it, only LOTR
and its companion volumes in mass like Jonathan Strange
should take that long to write. What's the hold up, ladies? What's going on?
'A Sun in the Attic' by Mary Gentle struck me as an alternate history story, although it may be intended to be set on a different planet entirely. I felt a bit cheated by this story, as it opens with an apparent threat that turns out not to be a threat at all. But maybe that's the point. Maybe that's the trap the story intended me to fall into. If so, I fell. No denying it.
Inside a framing story, wife and husband team Roslin and Gilvaris are looking for Del, who's also Roslin's husband and also Del's brother. This is a matriarchial society that practises polyandry. It turns out that Del has been dabbling in forbidden sciences and is trying to flee the country with his invention. For the good of everybody, however, his invention must be suppressed. This struck me as a bit odd when we have a 'barbarian' character (from a patriarchal society, natch) extolling the superiority of science while at the same time stating that Del's country has "put walls around the mind". Despite being anti-science, the country is scientifically advanced. Still, I suppose that's the current state of America, so it's not impossible.
A thought-provoking story and probably worth a second read.
Wife and husband team! I wrote husband and wife team first. So engrained are these conventions.
Frances Gapper's 'Atlantis 2045: no love between planets' is a straight up wish fulfilment story that's not all that scientific, truth be told. At the darkest hour, a portal magically opens up to whisk the narrator away. Yeah, right. 'And with one bound she was free.'
Where does that leave the rest of us?
'From a Sinking Ship' by Lisa Tuttle irresistibly reminded me of HHGTTG and that Star Trek movie with the whales. Dolphins leave the dying Earth by means of aliens with whom they've been communicating. At the end, I said, aloud, 'So long and thanks for all the fish!'. The story postdates HHGTTG by a few years and predates the release of the Star Trek film by a mere year. Escaping dolphins must have been in the air.
(Again, where does that leave the rest of us?)
'The Awakening' by Pearlie McNeill is a chilling near-future tale of a dying Earth in which the government has total control 'for the public good'. It's a patchy story that keeps making huge jumps in time, driving a bulldozer through unity of time with cheerful abandon. In that respect, it's bloody annoying. There's also a hint of somewhat cardboard characters, especially Nancy, the protagonist's daughter, who plays such roles as the story demands while consistency of character is bulldozed along with much else. Plot-driven would be the term.
The ending however leaves you shuddering.
Looked at from one angle, 'Words' by Naomi Mitchison has a valid premise. What if electrical stimulation of the brain could open up new ways to perceive the world? But when one character postulates, "But that led on to asking, were these the only sense synapses or were there others for some other sense we had never experienced? Cells that had never been animated, so to speak." we're deep in FTL territory. If you can't swallow the premise you can't swallow the story. Shame.
Zoe Fairbairns' 'Relics' would be wasted on anyone who hasn't got a sense of humour, especially those unable to laugh at themselves. It's a fun romp through a post-apocalyptic world. No, really. Although I can't help feeling that the opening scene should have been cut as it has absolutely nothing to do with anything that happens next. Well, okay, it has its parallel in the post world, but I'm not sure it's strong enough for that scene to be given so much space. Have a laugh, anyway.
With 'Mab' by Penny Casdagli, we're back in FTL territory. Or maybe it's meant to be funny. It made me uneasy, although the insights from the author's work with children are of interest.
Raccoona Sheldon, aka James Tiptree, Jr, aka Alice Sheldon, has, in 'Morality Meat', written a story that's still topical. Perhaps even more so. In an America where abortion is illegal, we follow two congruent stories. That of Hagen, a trucker who has an accident while hauling meat to the rich men of the Bohemia Club North, and that of Maylene, forced by indigence to give up her baby daughter for adoption.
Their stories come together in exactly the way the title leads you to expect. Painful.
At times, the story feels a bit forced, and as if it really doesn't want the reader to miss The Point. As Sheldon is capable of writing much more subtly than this, I wonder if the constraints of space or the dictates of anger are to blame. It's a story that would be easy to dismiss on the grounds of 'preachiness'. After all, you can prove anything with fiction, as I'm fond of saying just before the book hits the wall. But Sheldon isn't a writer you can easily dismiss or ignore. Her simple, straight-forward prose has power.
The last story in the anthology is 'Apples in Winter' by Sue Thomason. Only a few pages long, it's one of the strongest stories in the book. The characters, especially Maia, leap off the page. It's a story of love and culture clash. Of jealousy and difference and pain. Definitely worth a read.
We can't afford to forget books like this. We can't afford to lose our heritage once again.