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[personal profile] helloladies
Ana and Thea are two of the most well-respected and thoughtful Speculative Fiction book bloggers on the block and remain personal favorites of ours here at Lady Business. They blog regularly at The Book Smugglers.





First of all, thank you Ana, Jodie and Renay for inviting us to be part of this great event. As you know we are voracious readers of Speculative Fiction and we have been following the conversations for the past months about female representation (or lack of) in Science Fiction and Fantasy, AKA, the Ladies Are Missing. Yes, they are. Yes, there are less women writing in these genres and the ones that are, are reviewed less frequently, or completely ignored (the Unknown Syndrome as our hostesses pointed out earlier this week). But you know what? There are a LOT of cool, under-appreciated stories being written by women RIGHT THIS MOMENT.

So, here we are. Our mission is to list some of our favourite stories written by ladies with ladies as protagonists. YOUR mission is to read and talk more about these books so that MOARS will get published.

Without further ado, we present The Book Smuggler’s Most Excellent (and Non-Exhaustive) List of Awesome SF Books Written by Ladies about Ladies. (Also, please note that we've tried to focus on books that are less known or a bit older — so no Suzanne Collins here!)

The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/492490.The_Song_of_the_Lioness_Quartet)
Young adult, Fantasy

Why read it: Tamora Pierce is the Godmother of YA Fantasy with strong heroines. Alanna is a cornerstone of many a young girl's growing up, as she switches places with her twin brother and trades a life of magery for a sword. Or at least…that's how it all begins.

The Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale (http://www.goodreads.com/series/41718-the-books-of-bayern)
Young adult, Fantasy

Why read it: The Books of Bayern all feature a strong female protagonist (you can argue about your favorite heroine with friends) and weave magic and romance with the themes of responsibility and growing up. These are a must-read for any lover of YA fantasy.

The Sevenwaters Series by Juliet Marillier (http://www.julietmarillier.com/books/daughteroftheforest.html)
Adult, Fantasy

Why read it: Because no one, male or female, does Celtic fantasy as well as Ms. Marillier. Lyrical prose, alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking, the Sevenwaters Saga is the story of a family in the wild, magical woods of Ireland and the evils they face.

The Kushiel's Legacy Series by Jacqueline Carey (http://www.jacquelinecarey.com/books.htm)
Adult, Fantasy

Why read it: One of Thea's favorite authors, Jacqueline Carey is a master of worldbuilding, courtly politics, destiny, and desire (in all its forms). The Kushiel's Legacy books are epic in scope, and span three protagonists in three separate trilogies. For the fan of fantasy that isn't squeamish.

Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs (http://www.patriciabriggs.com/books/)
Adult, Urban Fantasy

Why read it: Mercedes Thompson is the best Urban Fantasy heroine around. That's a bold statement, but we're making it. Mercy isn't superpowered or supersexy — she's just who she is. And she knows that, is cool with it, and uses her brain to her advantage. It doesn't get any better than that.

The Hero series by Moira J Moore (http://www.moirajmoore.com/books.html)
Adult, Urban Fantasy

Why read it: Largely underread, the Hero series by Moira J. Moore is hilarious and deceptively lighthearted at first. Detailing the relationship between a "Shield" (Lee) and her "Source" (Taro), and narrated in Lee's wry, no-nonsense voice, the Hero books deserve a lot more attention than they get. (That's probably because of the hideous covers — but you know how the old adage goes, so don't you be judging!)

Anything by Marjorie Liu (http://marjoriemliu.com/index.php?/main/)
Adult, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Comics

Why read it: Marjorie Liu is a wonderful, seriously good writer of Urban Fantasy (her Hunter Kiss series), Paranormal Romance (her Dirk and Steele series) AND Comic books (she writes for MARVEL'S X-Men universe). Cool worlds, great heroines, her books have it all.

The Guardians series by Meljean Brook (http://meljeanbrook.com/books/the-guardian-series)
Adult, Paranormal Romance

Why read it: Meljean Brook's Guardian series is one of the best Paranormal Romance series out there at the moment. And if you just turned your nose up: we don't understand the bad rep that PNR gets, as it is simply Fantasy with a focus on romance. The worldbuilding of the Guardian series is well thought-out. Each book features a different pairing with incredible heroines. Start with Demon Angel and go from there. Be ready for the scorching hot sexy-times.

Anything by Linnea Sinclair (http://www.linneasinclair.com/books.html)
Adult, Science Fiction Romance

Why read it: We always wonder why, whenever we see lists around of Science Fiction written by women, there is always a distinct lack of Science Fiction Romance (actually, no we don't really wonder. We know it is because of the "Romance" part of the equation that turns people off). There are a whole bunch of ladies writing it right now and you can find loads of good recommendations here. ANYWAYS, Linnea Sinclair is one of the best and we loved all of her books: they are fun, romantic and feature awesome leading ladies. Our favourite is possibly Captain Chasidah “Chaz” Bergren, the heroine of Gabriel's Ghost and Shades of Dark. And for more Science Fiction Romance, this link (http://www.thegalaxyexpress.net/p/sfr-authors.html) will take you to a list of authors per decade.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin (http://nkjemisin.com/books/the-inheritance-trilogy/)
Adult, Fantasy

Why read it: Before you go any further, read this article by N. K. Jemisin titled "The Limitations of Womanhood in Fantasy (and everywhere else, but for now, fantasy)" . It is a great article and it gives an indication on what to expect from her books and her heroines. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was one of the best releases of 2010: great world, fantabulous heroine.

Cold Magic, Jaran by Kate Elliott (http://www.kateelliott.com/default.asp?cmsnumber=1&page_id=71)
Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Why read it: Kate Elliott is another author that we feel is criminally underread and underappreciated. The first book in her new trilogy, Cold Magic, may start off seeming like just another fantasy novel — but believe us when we say that there's a nice twist that will grab your attention about a third into the book. And Jaran is a science fiction novel that runs the gamut from alien colonization to romance. You want versatility? Look no further.

Cordelia's Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/61900.Cordelia_s_Honor)
Adult, Science Fiction

Why read it: Lois McMaster Bujold is renowned for her Miles Vorkosigan books (which are FANTASTIC and we highly recommend to readers of all different persuasions). But did you know she also wrote books about Miles' mother? The lovely Cordelia Naismith is a fabulous heroine in her own right — so go ahead and read Shards of Honor and Barrayar, and then go on to devour the Miles books. You won't regret it.

And this is it from us. These are some of our favourite series and books and we highly recommend them.

How about you? Any favourites you'd like to share?
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
[personal profile] renay
cover of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins with a golden bird inside a golden circle on a black background


The Hunger Games. Surely everyone knows this series by now, what with the buzz about the books and the upcoming movie fronted by an Oscar nominee. In the remains of the former United States, a new country, Panem, has risen, oppressive and cruel, ruling over their 12 Districts, controlling them with the yearly Hunger Games. Two tributes from each District, all pitted against each other. Only one person can survive. Well. Sort of.

It's Battle Royale for a western audience, basically, with less bloody violence — seriously, the violence in THG is so tame — and rape commentary. It's odd that the rape commentary is what I remember most from Battle Royale and the thing I was most relieved not to see, although there's still awesome sexual skeeviness that generally goes unremarked. Rad!

I read this book a few years ago. Of course, when I did my city was in the middle of the worst ice storms in years, we were out of power for three days and I was freezing and grumpy. Also, I had just finished Battle Royale and was wigging out about how terrifyingly awesome it was even with a shaky translation. It was not the best time to read The Hunger Games. There was no way I was going to give it a fair shake under than hostile and extremely chilly circumstances. When we discussed this week, I thought it would be the perfect time to give it another shot! Dsytopia for the win! A fresh start, a new chance!

Except distance, as they say, did not make my heart grow any fonder.

Before I get into the plot and the characters at all, I have to boggle over the writing. Which grew really long and personal so have a cut hiding the Wall of Text )

I liked the story itself, especially since I spent most of the book rewriting it in my head to be more interesting. It's a plot that can interest me, after all. I like Evil Empires and the characters who take them down, so I consider myself pretty easy. This time around, I decided to not let it bother me that Collins coded the ending of the book with a love triangle where one side was absent for most of the novel and only cropped up when it was convenient. Seriously, YA, what is it with the love triangles? What it is with the heterosexual love triangles, even, I might even take them with a little variety. I knew what was going to happen, and I thought, "well, if I just let that go maybe the rest will be okay!". But it wasn't okay.

I found myself weirdly sidetracked by the characterization of almost all the female characters. In a Surprise Twist™, the Dead Father is golden and the mother, surprisingly, is useless. I see this is other types of fantasy, too. The mother is downplayed. Maybe she dies or leaves. Father is alive and he's moving the plot along. Or maybe the father dies, and the mother remains, but she doesn't do anything but sit there like a lump while the protagonist calls up fond memories to get them through the hard times.

Other female characters are treated badly, too. Katniss often critiques their looks and behavior in offensive ways or the book frames them in really problematic ways. In the opening chapters before the game, we meet several female characters, and all the adult women are worn down, bony, have super awesome gross nicknames marking them out (crones) or are actually called witches or otherwise shown to be evil and no-good. Attractive women are judged for clearly "working for" the attractiveness. The one man like this is very flamboyant. Boy, where have I seen that before?

It's very strange and it hit me the wrong way all through the beginning of the book and into the story once we leave District 12. I also found it very weird how many of the women were useless, evil, "bad", or ditzy — while the men were expert hunters, kind and generous and thoughtful, or a special snowflake dead father who imparted wisdom. Unless they were flamboyant. Then they were probably gay, and therefore like women, and therefore catty and shallow.

There is a problem with this picture. This is pretty much where the book lost me.

It's not kind to its female characters. Katniss manages to be a good character and fairs pretty well, except she's given male traits, a male role in her life, numerous male role models, and for all intents in purposes is a man (she even looks different than her other family members, marking her out). Unless she needs to be cute and young and innocent (which she does later). She is terrible at emotions, and several times in the text she rejects the role of "nurse" — typically a female role — even as she goes through the motions. I'm sorry, but I expect a little more than this. I've talked about this before, where a female character is assigned a traditional male role, a traditional male attitude, and considered to be spunky and badass. But you gain that by them being someone emotionally stunted, and Katniss's problems manifested in her trust issues and failure to recognize her own emotions and be led around by the metaphorical nose when it came to heart issues. So you can have a strong woman, physically, but she has to be an emotional dimwit to offset all the awesome.

I don't find that cool or subversive. I find that predicable, boring and ignorant.

There's no suspense. Everything in the novel is handed to us on a platter. Yes, easy reads are one thing, but the level of telling is obscene. Even the premise — the games themselves — fail as a tool of suspense, because so much of it is off-screen, bumped for a ham-handed, sexually exploitative romance that was never really dissected in the text.

All in all, I get why these books shot to super stardom. It's easy to see, because they are easy to gobble up, popcorn-style, and I like books like that. Think they're totally fine. But when they come paired with what I think are really problematic characterizations, I just pop out and can't get back in again. My first reading of this book was not wrong: it's just not that good if you try to critique the text.

Here is what I said last time I read this book and I find it still applies:

The Hunger Games is too busy shacking up its main characters. Theme? it asks. Here, Katniss, make out with your competition for some drama as men (don't think I missed that) steer you into appropriate sexual behavior that will get you rewarded. Is that actual critique of our reality-obsessed based entertainment, that the big corporate sponsors (men, in the form of Haymitch) bully and entrap people (girls) into doing stuff that maybe isn't so smart for fun times for other people? Maybe the whole thing works as a critique of something. Maybe I'm not the audience. Maybe I am a big old bummer who wants to dislike everything popular!


I don't know if I'll be reading the second and third books. Friends want me to, and I might do so just for comparison's sake: to see if Collins manages to mature in her writing, to see the resolution of all the obvious hint-drops in the book, to watch the (vomit) love triangle play out in a horrible way just for my own personal pleasure. TAKE THAT, YA GEOMETRY.

Lady business: big old bag of bile.
Minority report: there were a few (don't look here for GLBTQ reps), but the body count was high in this one, captain.
Ink notes: I've read fanfiction better than this. In fact, I bet the fandom for this book writes better than the author.
Shelf impact: themed, carried off nicely. Possibly the best thing about the book.
Final thoughts:

photo of bear with arms out with text reading How About No


Other reviews: Iris On Books, The Literary Omnivore, 1330v, Bibliotropic, yours?
helloladies: Horseshoe icon with the words Lady Business underneath. (Default)
[personal profile] helloladies
Susan is a recent graduate of the school of AWESOME, a huge fan of speculative fiction and also captain of Renay's minion-squad. You can find her on Livejournal at [livejournal.com profile] not_cynical or on Dreamwidth at [personal profile] spindizzy.


Being friends with Renay leads to some interesting requests. I mean, she has in the past asked me to help her pick out somewhere in my home city for a fictional career criminal to live, write 100,000 words of fic with her (... She's winning), and get in Wordpad to write her porn (No really, there's an icon and everything.). So being asked to review scifi books for Lady Business? Shouldn't phase me apart from, y'know, being surrounded by incredibly smart feminist ladies!

With that in mind, have five micro (or... Not so micro as the case may be!) reviews:




The Honourable Mention

cover of Crossover by Joel Shepherd showing a woman with a gun shooting at a flying vehicle


Crossover by Joel Shepherd [GoodReads]. I’ll be perfectly honest with you — this was the book I was going to review for this post. I didn’t know the context prompting this week of scifi (It was kindly rounded up a few days ago for those who’re also behind!), and thought “Cassandra Kresnov is an amazing female character —' she is smart, incredibly badass, and she manages to be a hot character who enjoys sex without a) being treated badly for it and b) having a single explicit sex scene." before I realised this week was for female authors. The Cassandra Kresnov books are excellent — but this week is not the week to discuss them.




cover of Clover by CLAMP showing a girl with wings sitting on the ground


Clover by CLAMP [GoodReads] Ah, CLAMP. Your artwork is absolutely GORGEOUS, especially in this book. It has PAGES of CLAMP’s gorgeous, detailed artwork in COLOUR, and I freely admit to being way too distracted by that. If you like CLAMPs art and the combination of simple layout and detailed accessories/art, this might be relevant to your interests. The character designs are lovely by the way — Sue, Ora and Gingetsu have my favourite designs of anyone in the manga, and the weaponry designs are fantastic.

The story is told backwards, which makes more sense than it seems it should — the first two volumes deal with Sue and her journey, the third with Ora before that, and the last with Ran even before that. My favourite story arc has to be Ora’s, I’ll admit — she is my favourite character, just because she’s got a dream, and she’s got things that she loves and make her happy and regardless of what’s going to happen and when, she is going to live her life and her dream and enjoy it. She is my favourite. I would have loved to see more about the mystery plot that’s touched upon involving her as well — the plot of the main storyline doesn’t interest as much as that would. SPOILERS: click for spoilers )

Also, as an aside, CLAMP! I see you are keeping up your trend of having the relationships be a touch on the creepy side — Sue is a tiny girl who appears to be about twelve or thirteen (there is no proof that she is or isn’t, SPOILERS: click for spoilers ), and Ran doesn’t look that much older, and — well, there is love and suggestions that some of these relationships are intimate and my brain is still flagging this as creepy. … On the other hand, still not as creepy as the guy who seems to want to kill Kazuhiko and keep his corpse for um. Personal use. Um.

BASICALLY, this is CLAMP being CLAMP in its usual “pretty but not necessarily wholesome mode," and just. Yes. If you have read and enjoyed CLAMP you will probably enjoy this!1




cover of The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold showing two men and a woman on the bridge of a spaceship. Woman is posed sexily wearing pink, of course.


The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold [GoodReads] Hilariously, I got whole chapters into this book before I realised that it was actually the third in the series! What I’ve read is very fun. It feels a little like a fantasy novel in space, what with the focus on the politics and the family line declining in importance, and as far as I’ve got Miles is an entertaining protagonist! He is somewhat like Joker, for those who have played anything in the Mass Effect franchise — his internal commentary is very much full of snark and wild fantasy, and he too has a bone disease that causes them to shatter. He is one of the rare few scifi heroes who ISN’T marvellously handsome and strong — which STILL doesn’t reassure me regarding the ladies in this book.

TV Tropes assures me Miles’ mother is amazing, badass and smart (she knows her own mind! No one gives her shit! EVERYONE QUAKES IN FEAR OF HER PASSING!), but so far the only female character who’s shown up in more than one scene is the Beautiful Damsel. Not in distress, and quite eager to go off and join the army if only she could — and considering the blurb promised me that he somehow the main character ends up with an army of mercenaries, so I am going to hope and pray that it beats the generic cover it was cursed with (Really, the only thing stopping it from being the most generic 80s scifi cover ever is the fact that Miles is sitting in a corner going “Really? You’ve stuck me with THIS?") and has the female characters being awesome.




cover of Trouble and her Friends by Melissa Scott showing a woman looking to her left on a black background


Trouble and her Friends by Melissa Scott [GoodReads] This book! I love this book. It is a cyberpunk mystery2 where all of the main characters are queer, a particular type of hacker with the ability to access the net with all of their senses, and not necessarily white. And I do love how all of these of these things matter to the characters but they’re not necessarily important — Trouble and Cerise were partners, and no one cares about that beyond “Are you two still connected and involved in illegal activities together?"




cover of Grimspace by Ann Aguirre showing a woman sitting on a piece of machinery with a weapon in hand


Grimspace by Ann Aguirre [GoodReads] I’m not actually sure where to start with this one! It is entertaining, and I read through it quickly! It’s full of action and drama, and the main character, Sirantha Jax develops a lot over the course of the novel. The concepts for the planets and worlds, and for the secondary characters are really interesting and I find the characters reactions to BIG things (Loran’s response to Sirantha offering to be friends in particular — I cannot say more without spoilers, but it’s believable and not a massive cliche.) But! (... You knew that was coming.)

The thing is, this story feels... Inconsistent to me? Sometimes what the first person narrative shows and what the first person narrative says are completely different things. For example, for chapters Jax shows empathy and respect for March, only to follow it with an offhand

I can’t remember not hating March at this point; it’s the one truth to which I cling.


… This hatred hadn’t been mentioned before (Maybe as vague mistrust, not hate.), never been mentioned — my response to that line was “It is? But you haven’t — you never —"

The secondary characters, as I said, were interesting — but a character that arrives two or three chapters before the end has almost exactly the same amount of characterisation as characters that had been there since the beginning of the novel. Just saying.

I also found the plot to be really inconsistent, if I’m being honest — the part about breaking the monopoly is a small fraction of the plot, and then the group gets distracted. And distracted again. And again — in the book’s defence, all of the distractions follow a logical path, and I can see why they get distracted. It’s just that the main plot resolution comes about without the main characters really doing anything.

The friend who lent me the copy I’m using for this review (I have an ebook copy, which I don’t find practical for reviews; I’m not intending to cheat.) thinks that the reason for this is that it’s actually a character study — the point of the novel isn’t the plot, or the Defeat The Faceless Evil Corporation! — it’s actually Sirantha Jax’s development. I can definitely see where he’s coming from with that — Jax starts of a semi-broken wreck wracked with guilt (although still ready with a snappy comeback for all occasions, empathy, and daring heroics), and over the course of the novel she becomes a... More stable, functional hero? On the other hand, I have read Rose Madder by Stephen King [GoodReads] which does a similar thing (the best summary I have found of it is that Stephen King "buil[t] a feminist theology as a metaphor for the reconstruction of a battered woman's sense of self-determination.") and it has a coherent plot. Therefore, I am unconvinced that a character-oriented piece has any reason to not have decent plot.

I realise this sounds like I didn’t like Grimspace, but that’s not true! I did enjoy it, it just... It is Ann Aguirre’s first novel and it feels like one? I found out in the course of this review that this is actually the first in the series, so the books may improve as the series goes on. They’re definitely worth getting out of the library at least.




It is not just the Guardian list
I have a confession to make. Putting this post together was something of an experience for me.

When Nay mentioned this post, I decided I’d just go through my shelves and review the books I found there — after all, people had been buying me lots of scifi books! I MUST have lots of books that would work for this! I did actually go upstairs almost immediately, promising to be back in five with A List! A list of books that were a) scifi, b) written by ladies, and c) written about ladies!

… Fifteen minutes later I came back very confused because out of all of the books I own (at least two hundred, three hundred) that were written by ladies or about ladies (half to three quarters of that), I had a grand total of FIVE that came near my criteria. As for ones that fit the whole thing — scifi by and about women primarily... I had one. Just one.

I’ll be honest, that was not what I was expecting. I like to think I’m equal opportunities in what I read, I like to think that I read all genres equally — so if nothing else, this has shown that I’m not as even on these things as I thought I was! I hope that the upside of this is that I’ve introduced some new books to people!




1: If this is relevant to your interests, might I also recommend Stigma by Kazuya Minekura [GoodReads] — it’s the artist of Saiyuki doing a full colour manga that ALSO involves a bitter man guarding a small child on a journey and possibly loving them inappropriately, with 100% fewer girls with wings and equal amounts of creepy nemeses who seem to want to have sex with the hero, kill the hero and possibly do both of these things at EXACTLY THE SAME TIME. It is beautiful and about as messed up as you expect.

2: And it’s nineties cyberpunk. The nineties had the best cyberpunk, if only because of the scale the authors thought at. The internet is a magical place in cyberpunk, magic that is connected to your brain and looks like a high-speed film of New York. I... Kinda love it a lot. See also Hex by Rhiannon Lassiter [Goodreads] for the YA genetic mutation nineties cyberpunk (albeit without as many queer characters).
helloladies: Horseshoe icon with the words Lady Business underneath. (Default)
[personal profile] helloladies
What would a theme week be without a giveaway? Free stuff is great! We decided to take this opportunity to shove books we found interesting at you with no remorse, chain you to a couch and make you read them share a chance to send copies of books featuring lady authors out into the world.

GIVEAWAY, starring:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott
Kindred by Octavia Butler


QUALIFYING COMMENTS, a set of directions:
1. OpenID is for winners!
2. A comment from a logged-in Dreamwidth account.
3. An Anonymous comment, signed with your Name and URL.
4. An email sent to thisisladybusiness@gmail.com.


ENTERING, the rules for play:
1. To enter, please prepare a short book recommendation list (three to five items1).
2. Items should all be speculative fiction (bonus points for science fiction!2):
3. Each item should follow first two tenets of Lady Business: Stories written by ladies about ladies and Stories written by ladies about dudes.
4. Share why you like each title. No adherence to Lady Business tenet of tl;dr required; we're just nosy.
5. Post/email your list!
6. PROFIT!3


The giveaway will run through now to July 29th and end with us sending someone some free books and more importantly, end with lots of recommendations for us to drool over. This is awesome!



1 We're basically demanding homework. No shame.
2 These bonus points are not actually real and will be awarded in our hearts only.
3 No actual profit unless you win, although sharing lady-recs is very profitable in a mushy soul-warming kind of way.
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[personal profile] bookgazing


My portion of this blog could so easily turn into 'Jodie takes in the media Ana and Renay tell her to and loves everything'. Ana kindly gave me 'To Say Nothing of the Dog’ when we first met offline last year. It's the second book, recommended to me by Ana to get its own post on lady business ('The Dispossessed was the first). I'm already planning to talk about a couple of others.

Renay is going to have to plot pretty hard to come up with a rec that can challenge the awesomeness of 'To Say Nothing of the Dog'* because it’s like this novel was written specifically for me to squee over. There’s an inexhaustible list of things what I like contained in this novel including:

sci-fi comedy involving miscommunication and time travel
a male/female detective partnership
romance
harried employees
a Victorian setting
a loveable fop and...
a comic dog (bonus points)

and I could go off on a fannish trip about any one of those elements, but today I'm focusing on the deliciously morish science fiction logic that is woven into this fun, literary romp.

In 2057 Oxford university agrees to help Lady Shrapnell, a rich, rather demanding American woman, rebuild an exact replica of Coventry cathedral before it was bombed in WWII. In exchange she agrees to provide funding for Oxford’s research into time travel. Unfortunately, Lady Shrapnell is rather exacting about the minor details of the replica and the history department finds itself bullied into arranging hundreds of time drops to check the tiniest of details.

After being forced to investigate many, many 1950s jumble sales for a particularly ugly piece of Coventry ironwork called The Bishop’s bird stump, Ned Henry, time travelling employee of Oxford history department, is beginning to lose his composure. On a tip that The Stump can be found somewhere in Coventry cathedral, just after the air raid that destroyed it, Ned and his time travelling partner Carruthers undertake one time drop too many in a desperate bid to make. the jumble sales. STOP.

The problem is the stump isn't in the cathedral and both men return to 2057 exhibiting all the symptoms of excessive time travel (including 'maudlin sentimentality' and a tendency to mishear words). Ned is ordered to rest and recuperate, but Lady Shrapnell is determined to send him back in time until he finds The Bishop’s bird stump, so he can describe it to the recreation team. Ned’s desperate attempt to escape Lady Shrapnell's uncomprehending demands and the co-operation of his superiors result in funny, sometimes almost slapstick sequences of misdirection and panic:

‘ “...Finch, where is she?”

“In London. She just phoned from the Royal Free.”

I started up out of the chair.

“I told her there’d been a mistake in communications,” Finch said, “that Mr. Henry’d been taken to the Royal Masonic.”

“Good. Ring up the Royal Masonic and tell them to keep her there.” '

When Ned says ‘Lady Shrapnell didn’t believe in slippage. Or time-lag.’
it reminded me of harassed wizards trying to keep one step ahead of Terry Pratchett's Ridcully as he wilfully misunderstands the full significance of what he's asking people to do.

To keep Ned from being sent to yet another 1950s jumble sale in search of the Bishop’s bird stump, his superior Professor James Dunworthy launches him into the Victorian era for two weeks of calm and rest. As the team furiously prepare Ned so that he’ll blend into Victorian society, Professor Dunworthy asks him to do one small time travel related task. It should be simple he's assured. The problem is, Ned can’t make any sense of his instructions through the fog of time lag. I’ve consumed enough time travel narratives to know that doing anything to history is a sensitive business. Ned is poorly prepared, quite ill and trying to follow instructions he doesn’t understand. His attempt at carrying out the task set does not go well.

Here's the science part. The characters in ‘To Say Nothing of the Dog’ take the view that history is based on the ‘for want of a nail, the kingdom was lost’ theory. Everything is connected. Small personal events influence the lives of those directly involved, but they may also influence the wider scope of history. If a time traveller interferes with history and say, a meeting doesn’t take place, causing a woman to marry a different man, that time traveller will have changed both their lives. By preventing the meeting this time traveller could also potentially change the lives of any number of other people. People don't get born, or end up being born in a different place and important historical events lack the people they need to make them happen. In the world of 'To Say Nothing of the Dog' history can be dramatically changed by one missed meeting.

Too late, Ned and his colleague Verity realise that they may have broken the historical continuum by changing certain small events in Victorian England. An important WWII event might now disappear from history, changing the course of the war for the worse. Horrified, they set about trying to correct the historical timeline, but the study of how time travel effects history, is still in its infancy and they have little real idea of what they’ve done, or how history will react to their actions. Here Verity and Ned’s story becomes a detective narrative**. They use their little grey cells, to work out just how history might be influenced back into its correct shape and follow the often unclear clues as to just what that original shape might have been. Their attempts to fix what they’ve (maybe) done often appear to make things (hilariously) worse.

As the narrative progresses Ned and Verity learn more about how changes to history can affect the future. They also discover that the rules of time travel, which Oxford university has identified so far, may not be as fixed as they had though. New rules emerge for time travel, which lead them down new paths of confusion. I have to admit that in the beginning, when the rules for the operation of time travel changed, I thought Willis’ was pulling a Dr Who stunt. You know the kind of thing. The Dr waves his sonic screw driver, garbles some sciency sounding stuff that doesn’t hold up to logic and everything works because that’s the way the Dr says it works. I assumed I was catching Willis readjusting the sci-fi workings of her novel to facilitate plot developments that wouldn’t have been possible under the original sci-fi rules.

And then, about half way through the novel, I had a totally obvious realisation. 'To Say Nothing of the Dog' goes meta on the reader. One of the many fictional pairings that Ned and Verity keep referencing in this novel is Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, hero and heroine of Dorothy L Sayers' detective novels. All the false leads, all the corrections to the ways in which the rules of historical interference worked are Willis replicating the structure found in an old school detective narrative. The structure of Verity and Ned's investigation into how the historical timeline operates, mirrors Verity and Ned’s surface detective efforts as they try to work out the identity of a mysterious man and find The Bishop's bird stump.

'To Say Nothing of the Dog' isn't just a detective story taking place under a set of science fiction circumstances; it's a novel of sci-fi detection, where the reader is led through an investigation of the fictional logic*** of time travellers. By interrogating her initial depiction of time travelling intervention in historical events, through the realisations her characters have along the way, Willis creates an internally logical version of how the main sci-fi conceit works in ‘To Say Nothing of the Dog’. Her characters test and reassess the logic of her ideas on time travel, just as someone might test the logic of a scientific theory, or a detectives analysis, so that by the end of the book all the holes in her original theory have been addressed (if not conclusively solved, as I said, time travel study is still new).

And the reader is lead through all of this logic step by well explained step. By showing readers red herrings, or incorrect lines of investigation detective novels explain the process that leads a detective to uncover the solution to a crime. This allows the reader to feel engaged and part of the story, as they follow the detective’s reasoning and test their logic. The reader also arrives at a greater understanding of the crime, which adds to the reality of a story. By setting up and knocking down initial ideas about how time travel interference might affect history Willis is leading her readers through the process of elimination and investigation that detectives go through to identify the correct solution to their mystery.

I like a bit of Dr Who (alright I lurve it) and a bit of the deliberately unguessable end of the detective fiction spectrum. I'm not about to reject every piece of science fiction that can have holes punched in its logic. Still, there's something so satisfying in a piece of fiction that hands you a selection of cleverly fitting puzzle pieces, so you can track the logic of a mystery back through a film, or book.

I often find myself saying that sometimes you need to trust your author to get you somewhere good? Readers need to trust Willis to get you to a logical final solution, otherwise they’re going to spend most of the book with rebellious thoughts, sure that Willis’ sci-fi doesn’t make any sense. Whether they’re prepared to give Willis’ that kind of unconditional trust is up to each individual reader. I say do it, I wish I’d done it sooner when I was reading.

* I'm a little afraid I'm going to start some kind of epic rec battle now, but that's all good for me so I don't care!

**Ana you're going to think me terribly stupid, but I didn't fully appreciate the connection between the characters references to Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey and this sci-fi detective element until I'd read 'Strong Poison', even though I knew they were referencing a detective novel.

*** I'm not suggesting that 'To Say Nothing of the Dog' explains how time travel might work in the real world. Willis doesn’t even include much fictional explanation of the science behind Oxford university's discovery of time travel. She creates a theoretical idea, of how time travel works and can impact history, that makes sense in the world of 'To Say Nothing of the Dog'.

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[personal profile] helloladies
Sidetracks is a collaborative project featuring various essays, videos, reviews, or other Internet content that has caught our attention that we want to share with each other. All past and current links for the Sidetracks project can be found in our Sidetracks tag.



Oh My GAWD the Ladies are MISSING! (or a rough timeline of recent realisations regarding female authors and science fiction)

September 2010
• TJ at Dreams and Speculation creates the Women of Sci-fi 2011 book club.

October 2010
Torque Control, the blog for editors of Vector magazine, starts discussions about Women and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, which leads them to explore the subject of women publishing science fiction in the UK more widely in the comments.

• Niall, the current editor of Vector at the time begins a plan of action, which involves Torque readers creating lists of their top ten novels by women in science fiction.

Some of the lists are reposted along with links to other commentators who have started examining their own reading.

January 2011
Torque Control's new editor Shana decides to read all eleven books voted best science fiction by women, written between 2001 and 2011 as voted by Torque Control readers.

Tor.com hosts the Best SFF Novels of the Decade Readers Poll.

February 2011
The Nebula nominees are announced and five of the six nominees for Best Novel are written by women.

March 2011
[personal profile] owlmoose examines some of the results of the Tor.com Best SFF Novels of the Decade Poll once the project is over and the final list is announced. Spoiler: it's kind of discouraging.

May 2011
Forbidden Planet's list of 50 science fiction books you must read appears, featuring four books by women.

• The Guardian publishes What's your favorite SF novel?. Nicola Griffith responds with some observations: And always, always name the behaviour around you: we can't change behaviour until it's named. Later, The Guardian posts a follow-up article, with the following theory examining the results of the previous article which:

Which means, if we're looking for a culprit, that suspicion must fall on the genre's very active fanbase: as this Guardian poll suggests, if there is sexism in the SF world, it may well be a matter of representation by the readership.


June 2011
• Cheryl Morgan posts at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America with a huge round up of recent developments in discussions about women writing sci-fi.

SF Mistressworks is created, partly in response to the Orion SF Masterworks series which is overwhelmingly male.

• Nicola Griffith creates The Russ Pledge.

SF Signal holds its regular Mind Meld feature with the topic What's The Importance of 'The Russ Pledge' For Science Fiction Today?. Comments quickly turn from interesting discussion to defensiveness, outright attacks, and eventually devolves into What About the Menz?!?! and becomes a great example of Don't Read the Comments™. Although Morgan Dempsey's comment springing up from the pity of misery and snakes that was that comment section was hilarious and unexpected. It almost made up for it all. Almost.

• Anthea Andreadi of Starship Reckless responds to Nicola Griffith with actually intelligent reasoning about why she won't be taking The Russ Pledge and the frustrations of dealing with new allies (a good reminder for us all).

July 2011
• Cheryl Morgan provides some data on female writers and editors in science fiction anthologies, showing the US and UK split.




➝ Presenting the winners of the Google Science Fair. Look at those awesome trophies. :D

➝ Discovered a link to a list of women writers on the Feminist SF wiki. Pretty neat resource!

➝ Complain station: The trailer for John Carter is out and prompts that same old feeling of, "Oh."

Look, a science fiction movie based on the book A Princess of Mars. It's like you can play bingo: white dude! In an alien culture! Oh, by the way, because of Random Fact X, you're more awesome than all the people here and I guess they'll need saving. YOU MAY BE THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN DO IT.

Carey Elwes as Robin Hood looking turning his head with a flat look on his face.


Blah blah written by Burroughs in the early 20th blah blah not representative of anything blah blah product of its time blah. Because we don't already have a slew of movies where a white dude is the key to solving the problems of an alien race/another culture written in our own century, we've gotta go back to the 1900s. There's an argument for the "timeless" nature of inspirational science fiction and then the fact we're dumping this stuff on a public who largely don't understand the context — so it just becomes a reflection of what's already there, in this case "dudes are always the heroes! Woo!"

I need 20cc's of Ladies in Space recommendations, stat. Until then, I will be over here in the corner weeping quietly.

James Nicoll started a project where he lists women writers and the years they debuted. It's pretty fantastic.

➝ A nice long post about female science bloggers and the science they do. Give me all the recs.

➝ We already mentioned the SF Mistress works series above, but I wanted to make a point of singling out a review of Suzy McKee Charnas' 'Holdfast' series, because these books are very, very cool.

When I was a kid I love science. I watched and read 'The Magic School Bus' so many times and I was just generally into it, as kids are into EVERYTHING. Somewhere along the way I lost that restless interest in how everything works and transferred all my love to humanities subjects.

Recently (as that interest reasserts itself) I've been trying to identify why I stopped digging science. Gender bias in sciences exists, but the majority of my female friends went on to take science based careers, or at least took a science subject at A Level. I think in my case it was our school system that killed my interest (although lord knows our teachers tried hard and some of my favourite teacher memories come from science lessons). I wasn't as good as others at science, no matter how much I enjoyed it and I was really good at English. Standardised exams care about that kind of thing and try as teacher might it's hard to encourage kids to have fun with things they're not necessarily talented at when at the same time you're telling them what a BIG DEAL results in each subject can be.

But now, as every popular science book sounds so inviting and every history of science must be in my grabby hands right now I'm reminded of how fascinated I was by stuff like 'The Magic School Bus'. I'm so glad you existed Ms Frizzle (note the Ms).

➝ We aren't alone out there! Back in May, Book Chick City did a similar project which featured lots of women writers.
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[personal profile] nymeth
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox has just awakened from a long coma. The coma was the result of a terrible accident in which she lost not only a year of her life, but all memory of who she was. The persons she’s supposed to call mother, father and grandmother are complete strangers to her. She watches videos of the previous years of her life hoping they’ll bring something back, but all along she senses that something is not quite right. Jenna’s own life has become a mystery to her, but this is only one of many mysteries surrounding her. What exactly is it that she’s not being told? What is the truth about Jenna Fox?

Ah, highly spoilable books: how I love reviewing you (not). I could probably make The Adoration of Jenna Fox sound appealing and enticing and do my best to convince those of you who also resisted the buzz back in 2008 to give it a try without including any spoilers. But I’m afraid I absolutely cannot discuss this book in any amount of depth without them. The thing is, spoilable though it is, The Adoration of Jenna Fox is not really a twist! surprise! revelation! sort of book. Jenna discovers what her family has been hiding from her about halfway through the story, and attentive readers will likely have a very strong suspicion long before that. It is then that the real business of The Adoration of Jenna Fox begins: the business of considering the implications of the situation Jenna finds herself in. Nevertheless, if you want to go into the book knowing nothing, beware from this point on.
Spoilers ahoy! )
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[personal profile] helloladies
image with Amy Poehler reading I guess some people object to powerful depictions of awesome ladies


If you put three feminists with wildly diverging interests in a room, what do you get? The classic feminist, who looks with a keen eye toward the past and relates it with a careful hand toward the future, the cultural critic feminist, who parses popular media and cultural commentary through a feminist gaze to ask tough questions that might not have answers, and the fannish feminist, who spends most of her time reading about the dudes romancing other dudes and feeling complicated and conflicted even though those stories are written by women. We're all different and come from different places with the same goal: we want stories by women, whatever those women choose to write about, to be celebrated and discussed and treasured, and we can't do those things if the stories never make it to the stage or are devalued or ignored when they do.

2011 has been an interesting year for ladies in science fiction (and fantasy, as well, as the two are often mixed in the discourse and ladies in fantasy suffer the same problems). Ladies are taking over award lists, but many are still suffering from Unknown Syndrome. Entertainment choices are everywhere but so often, the more mainstream those choices are, the less likely it is that you'll find a woman at the center of it as anything other than decoration for the male protagonist. Unconscious choice of the gentlemen, even for those of us who actively read women, can often leak into a summer full of books and movies and video games written, created, directed and performed by men just by nature of the spread of the content.

Men's stories are more culturally important, so men's stories are going to be the biggest item on the buffet menu. Over the past few months we've talked, both in our entries on reading and reading while female, about how we can request that the management please, please put out some lady-entertainment platters. It doesn't have to be 50/50; sadly, so often we settle for crumbs. And so, we wondered: what happens when we stop settling for crumbs? What happens when we demand to not be erased, a fair number of story-platters, an equal seat, a megaphone so we can be heard over the din of the dudes slicing their steaks against the dishes consuming entertainment that's catering to them?

With that in mind, we organized a week-long fest focusing on ladies in speculative fiction stories, written about by ladies who likes stories about ladies, based on our first two Lady Business tenets:

#1 - Stories by ladies about ladies.
#2 - Stories by ladies about dudes.

Over the next week we'll share our collection of content with each other. Feel free to grab a plate and slide in. Our table is open.

cover image for The Adoration of Jenna Fox


On Monday, Ana will bring us her thoughts about The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson.

Tuesday will be full of links with a special themed edition of Sidetracks and also a giveaway!

cover image for To Say Nothing of the Dog


On Wednesday, Jodie will delve into To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.

On Thursday, Susan will visit and share a few mini-reviews of books she's been reading lately.

cover image for The Hunger Games


Friday, Renay will revisit The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

And lastly, on Saturday Ana and Thea will be dropping by with an awesome recommendation list full of awesome lady authors and leading ladies.
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[personal profile] bookgazing


Ana said she’d like to hear what I thought of ‘The Dispossessed’ by Ursula K Le Guin (I suspect she is looking forward to hearing about how I have come to my senses on the Le Guin matter – alright you were right :P). I want to put together something, especially as Le Guin is a woman writing sci-fi and right now certain parts of the UK sci-fi community are looking around, wondering where all the women are*, but I’ve read quite a few books since I finished ‘The Dispossessed’ and it is a complex book to review even when all the pieces are spinning vibrantly in your mind. So, my thoughts here are going to be focused on providing a broad outline of the main chain of ideas that I noticed when I read ‘The Dispossessed’, rather than an in depth analysis of the human relationships, the writing, or more specific components of those ideas. Let’s see how this goes shall we?

‘The Dispossessed’ follows a gifted physicist named Shevek, as he travels from his home planet Urras to a planet called Anarres. Annarres is Urras’ moon and was settled by colonists when anarchists on Urras decided they needed to follow the path of their leader Odo by creating a new, fairer society. Shevek believes he is returning to Urras to encourage the sharing of scientific knowledge between the two planets, as Anarres culture (which initially sounds much like an ideal vision of a communist society) has imbued him with the idea that sharing resources freely is fundamental to a healthy society. However, as the reader learns more about Shevek’s life on Anarres and his time on Urras, it becomes apparent that Shevek’s motivations and his current work are more subtle than this idea of sharing might imply.

Shevek has come to Urras to forge a General Temporal Theory, ‘the unification of Sequency and Simultaneity ’. Shevek is responsible for creating the Simultaneity Principle and explains the idea behind his earlier breakthrough best when he uses a metaphor about books and pages, so here are his articulate words:

‘Well we think that time ‘passes’, flows past us, but what if it is we who move forward, from past to future, always discovering the new? It would be a little, like reading a book you see. The book is all there, all at once, between its covers. But if you want to read the story and understand it, you must begin with the first page, and go forward, always in order. So the universe would be a very great book, and we would be very small readers.’
Shevek’s Simultaneity Theory is a perceptive metaphor for how people experience life. Each new person arrives into a fixed world, but as they grow each person feels they are discovering new things. A teenager suddenly discovers anti-capitalist theories and they think they’re discovering something new. ‘Why has no one ever thought like this?’ they wonder. Of course, as they grow they realise their brave new ideas have been well established for decades, it’s just that world economics continue to operate on a capitalist model. That doesn’t stop them from getting to their twenties, generating another idea and seeing it as revolutionary, even if again it’s been long understood. Shevek’s own life story, from his early childhood on Anarres to his decision to go to Urras, is told in chapters that alternate with chapters about his experience on Urrass. As he grows his understanding of how Anarres society operates develops. Anarres societal structures stay the same way they have been since Shevek was a child, with all their problems, but he discovers these flaws almost as if they were new. Shevek’s life story is, in its simplest interpretation, an example of the Simultaneity Principle at work in everyone’s lives.

Le Guin offers her reader a science fiction metaphor that proposes an explanation for how people experience life and presents a detailed study of one life that illustrates and humanises that metaphor. Just looking at this one strand of exploration shows that ‘The Dispossessed’ contains some thinky thoughts. If the patterns of personal development was the only idea this novel dug into it would be a satisfying novel to engage with, especially as the novel focuses on Shevek who is a strangely like able character to follow despite his remoteness and his idealism. Still, it’s fun to read a science fiction novel that contains multiple ideas, which turn up in every part of of the novels workings. ‘The Dispossessed’ is getting its intellect on and it wants readers to KEEP UP!

Shevek’s scientific principle doubles as a metaphor for Marxist theories of history. Wikipedia will now explain Marx’s theory of historical materialism to you in full. In brief, he felt that history was made up of a number of identifiable economic stages, each one characterised by particular material conditions. Each set of conditions led to circumstances that caused the destruction of each economic model and encouraged the growth of a nw economic model. Marx believed that circumstances would eventually create a dominant communist economic model. The pages that the reader keeps turning represent different stages of material circumstances. The book represents an over arching historical time line and the future time line, which Shevek’s metaphor suggests is fixed with a predetermined ending. Readers move through the book, just as society moves through history, discovering more as they go along, but the book has already been written and it has a set end point. Marx thought that he had identified all the stages that had already taken place and that he could predict which stages would follow. In his theory of material circumstances, he predicted that the state of material conditions would cease to change once a communist model of circumstances dominated the world. In Shevek’s metaphor communism would be the end of the story.

Le Guin uses her fictional societies on Urras and Anarres to set up a Marxist commentary on systems of society. First a very important caveat: I have to admit that when we ran through introductory modules to schools of historical study and literary criticism at uni, Marxist theories of analysis were the ones I paid the least attention to. I did read some of The Communist manifesto, I did study Marx’s theories on stages of history, but I did so with little joy. To eighteen year old me, The Industrial Revolution (which our introductory module focused on) seemed like a snooze fest, full of problems that my set texts were reluctant to criticise. So, when I talk about how Le Guin’s anarchist utopian society on Anarras represents Marxist theories I do so from a very shallow knowledge base. Robin Edman on the Dreams and Speculation ‘Women of Sci-fi’ discussion thread said that the anarchist society on Anarras ‘degrades into communism’, implying a separation between schools of anarchist thought and communism, or Marxism and I think I’m going to try to keep the idea that there is some distinction in mind as I write my thoughts. Otherwise I guess I’ll just hold up my hands and say ‘there may be some glaring inaccuracies here, please correct them as you find them’.

Urras contains a system of nationalist societies that in some ways represent those found on Earth. It also operates a capitalist system of trade, which influences all other areas of life. Racial, gender and class inequalities are common. In contrast Anarres operates an anarchist society where everything is shared. People generally live in dormitories, eat communally and only take as much as they need. Everyone takes part in work rotations, so that they all share in the upkeep of society. That all sounds like the standard trappings of a communist society and it’s a little complicated to explain how Urras’ system of society differs from traditional conceptions of communist societies, without going into the details of how every aspect of Anarres society is set up. The key difference between Anarres’ anarchy and a communist society from history, like 1930s communist Russia is that on Anarres people only share voluntarily.

So, women choose to share themselves with a variety of sexual partners. Parents choose to send their children to live in collective places, instead of keeping them at home. everyone shares the hard times, as well as the good. When a prolonged drought decimates crops everyone in Anarres society shares the discomfort equally. Those who don’t participate are not reprimanded, shunned, or shamed. Although Anarres society will necessarily display displeasure, this displeasure is a manifestation of how citizen’s are free to act as they wish (although culture regulates citizens from behaving in physically harmful ways, without impinging on their freedom) not an attempt to bring those who won’t share back in line. The idea of sharing freely was one of the ideas behind Russia’s communist society, but during Stalin’s rule the governing forces relied on enforcement of those ideas, while in Anarres these choices are supposed to be made voluntarily with co-operation from citizens. That’s the theory anyway, although as the book goes on the reader sees how this theory has been quietly breaking away from the early ideals.

Shevek’s science fiction theories are the centre of the novel and encourage the reader to discover the ideas I’ve outlined. However, the intellectual appeal of ‘The Dispossessed' doesn’t end with Shevek’s ideas. I mentioned the narrative of Shevek’s life seems to provide evidence for his Simultaneity Principle. As the book progresses the narrative structure is revealed as Le Guin’s attempt to plot out of the pattern of the Simultaneity Principle in her chapters, narrative lines of investigation, tense and story choices. There are two linear narrative lines. The first narrative line is set in the present, where Shevek works on Urras, which progresses in a linear manner. The second narrative line is set in the past, following Shevek on Anarres and again moves in a linear fashion. The narratives are told in alternating chapters. So, we’ve got two narratives one present, one past that through their intermingling alternate chapters come close to existing at the same time, like the present and the past do according to Shevek’s principle. The present narrative moves in a constantly linear direction, as a person traveling through the present does according to the principle. The past narrative continues to reassert its existence even as the present narrative keeps going, just like the principle.

Connecting narrative structure to ideas within the novel, transforms the structure into an active part of the novel. The revelation that the structure is connected to the science fiction ideas is surprising, as all the best meta should be, delighting the reader with a sense of cleverness and wonder at trickery concealed until the appropriate point. Once the reader notices that Le Guin has taken to connect structure and rhetoric, the crafting of ‘The Dispossessed’ takes on a newly rigorous appearance. It becomes clear how deliberate each writing decision must have been to create a structure that reflects the novel’s ideas, instead of wandering off where ever it fancies.

As ‘The Dispossessed’ comes to a close Shevek is running from the people of Urras, desperate to return to Anarres, yet through the chapters set in the past the reader has seen that Anarres utopian ideals have been gently twisted. Corruption would be too strong a word, but the society no longer operates in the pure way Odo wanted it to and Shevek is too much of an idealist (and I mean that kindly, with approval even if I never could be an idealist of Shevek’s kind) to be satisfied with a mildly flawed society. At this point he meets an Ambassador Keng from Terra, who provides some clarity on his dislike of Urras:

‘ “Now, you man from a world I cannot even imagine, you who see my Paradise as Hell, will you ask what my world must be like?”
Sheveck was silent, watching her, his light eyes steady.
“My world, my Earth, is a ruin. A planet spoiled by the human species. We multiplied and gobbled and fought until there was nothing left, and then we died. We controlled neither appetite nor violence; we did not adapt. We destroyed ourselves.” '
There’s a clear didactic message for the reader in Keng’s comments about Terra’s fate, identified by Keng as the direct substitute for the Earth we all know by her use of Earth as a name and by the use of Terra as the Urras name for the planet. Much like Charlton Heston’s ‘You maniacs! You blew it up!’ speech at the end of Planet of the Apes, Earth was destroyed by its own people’s appetites. However, the fate of Terra is a minor note, not a major plot point. The didactic commentary that relates to the novel’s sustained metaphorical plot ideas is Shevek’s rebuttal to Keng’s idea that Urras is like paradise.

Each planet Terra, Urras, Anarres represents a stage in the development of history and how society works. Terra is an old stage collapsed, Urras is the capitalist present and Anarres the anarchist/communist future, representing Marx’s idea that collapsing stages of economic circumstances lead to the creation of new economic epochs. Shevek alludes to the importance of past and future stages in Marx’s theory in this passage:

‘ ”You can’t understand what time is,” he said. “You say the past is gone, the future is not real, there is no change, no hope. You think Anarres is a future that cannot be reached, as your past cannot be changed. So there is nothing but the present, this Urras, the rich real stable present, the moment now. And you think that it is something that can be possessed! You envy it a little. You think it’s something you would like to have. But it is not real, you know. It is not stable, not solid – nothing is. Things change, change. You cannot have anything.... ’
Then he reinforces that each stage is dependent on and leads to the next when he says later that ‘least of all can you have the present, unless you accept with it the past and the future.’ and he reminds the reader that each stage collapses when he says ‘it’s not stable, not solid’. Through the device of placing different stages of development on different planets that remain in the same universe Le Guin reminds readers that each stage continues to exist as parts of the same grand progressive narrative, as pages do in a book even after a reader has moved to new pages. Shevek’s Simultaneity Principle is in operation and nothing can be achieved without an appreciation and acknowledgment of the wider narrative.

By Shevek’s logic nothing can be created in the present without a proper understanding of the past and the future; nothing can be maintained in the present. He provides a damning savaging that could easily be seen as an argument against the sense of security and finality that capitalist systems promise to provide. Although it seems weird to talk about that sense of security during a recession I’m not sure recession has really rocked the majority’s ideas about capitalism and the end of this speech by Sheveck seems to agree that people may not really want change from this system:

‘You are right, we are the key. But when you said that, you didn’t really believe it. You don’t believe in Anarres. You don’t believe in me, though I stand with you in this room, this moment...’

None of the ‘stage planets’ matches the ideal in this book and Shevek vows to build a new society that works based on Odo’s pure ideas. As Robin Edman put forward the idea that Anarres degrades into communism, I would suggest that the reader is being shown that communism could never be the end of history’s development as Marx predicted. Instead Le Guin proposes a continuum of development that never ends, unlike the book that Shevek used to illustrate his Simultaneity Principle. A sci-fi author, with a continued interest in how the future might develop – all is right with the world then!

* just to note that there were many cool for cats women who had already noticed this and have been doing work in the sci-fi arena for a long time

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What's with your subtitle?


It's a riff off an extremely obscure meme only Tom Hardy and Myspace fans will appreciate.


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