Elgin, Suzette Haden: Native Tongue
Nominator: S. McI.
Book description from Amazon.com:
"First published in 1984, Native Tongue earned wide critical praise and cult status, not only among science fiction fans but among followers of women's literature and feminist theory and language buffs of all persuasions. Often compared to the futurist fiction of Margaret Atwood and James Tiptree, Jr., Suzette Haden Elgin's gripping dystopian vision is enlivened and enriched by her wry wit, her fierce intellect, and her faith in the subversive power of language and of women's collective action.
"Set in the twenty-second century after the repeal of the Nineteenth Amendment, the novel reveals a world where women are once again property, denied civil rights and banned from public life. In this world, Earth's wealth relies on interplanetary commerce, for which the population depends on linguists, a small, clannish group of families whose women breed and become perfect translators of all the galaxies' languages. The linguists wield power, but live in isolated compounds, hated by the population and in fear of class warfare.
"But a group of women is destined to challenge the power of men and linguists. Nazareth, the most talented linguist of her family, is exhausted by her constant work translating for the government, supervising the children's language education in the Alien-in-Residence interface chambers, running the compound, and caring for the elderly men. She longs to retire to the Barren House, where women past childbearing age knit, chat, and wait to die. What Nazareth does not yet know is that a clandestine revolution is going on in the Barren Houses: there, word by word, women are creating a language of their own to free them of men's domination. Their secret must, above all, be kept until the language is ready for use. The women's language, LŠadan, is only one of the brilliant creations found in this stunningly original novel, which combines a page-turning plot with challenging meditations on the tensions between freedom and control, individuals and communities, thought and action. A complete work in itself, it is also the first volume in Elgin's acclaimed Native Tongue trilogy."
Nominator: Susan H.
Gloss is such an amazing writer, I would read her without knowing anything
about the bookbut here is some info:
Editorial review from Amazon.com:
"One of the many pleasures of Molly Gloss's extraordinary third novel is watching it repeatedly change shape and direction before your eyes--a feat all the more wonderful since the narrative consists almost entirely of the fictional diaries of one woman. Charlotte Bridger Drummondan early-20th-century single mother who supports five young sons in the just-tamed wilderness fringe of western Oregon by writing pulp fictionpresents herself as a bluff, free-thinking feminist, the kind of woman who would tumble her youngest son off her lap and onto the floor for whining. When her housekeeper's frail young granddaughter disappears from a logging camp, Charlotte unhesitatingly sets out to join the inept search parties. So, within 90 pages, Molly Gloss (The Dazzle of Day and The Jump-Off Creek) whisks us from pitch-perfect historical fiction to unsentimental lament over the devastation of the "dark and supernatural woods" of the Pacific Northwest to a kind of wild and woolly mystery story.
"All of this is immensely engaging, mostly because Charlotte herself is such excellent if occasionally astringent company. But the book really catches fire when Charlotte herself gets lost in the woods. The diary continues through the harrowing days of wet, cold, hunger, hope, despair, and then her fantastic rescue by a band of semihuman giants of the deep woods. Introducing the Sasquatch legend into an otherwise scrupulously realistic historical novel might seem like a risky narrative ploy, but Gloss brilliantly pulls it off. Indeed, so deft is her fusing of the fantastic and the actual that by the end, the narrative transmogrifies once more into a profound and troubling meditation on wildness, nature, and human nature.
"Wild Life brings to mind the works of Jean M. Auel, Marilynne Robinson, Ken Kesey (that dank Oregon setting of Sometimes a Great Notion), and more distantly Willa Cather--but the breadth and daring of Gloss's imagination really puts it in a class of its own. In a sense, unifying all of the many strands of this fictional tour de force is a fiercely candid portrait of the artist, an artist who in Charlotte's words fears "coming face-to-face with my Self on the printed page--it would chill me through to the heart," but who does it anyway." David Laskin
Note: This novel won the 2000 Tiptree Award.
Hartman, Keith: Gumshoe Gorilla
Nominator: Tracy M.
Editorial review from Publishers Weekly:
"Set in 2025 Atlanta, this sequel to Hartman's first novel, The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse (2001), features gay detective Drew Parke, his Wiccan partner Jennifer Grey and a large supporting cast of strange people. Like its predecessor, it employs the same irresistible zaniness and wit, multiple viewpoints, high sexual content (both gay and straight) and cheerfully chaotic narrative technique. Jennifer is hired by a young deaf-mute named Skye, who wants to find out whether her boyfriend, Charles Rockland (an actor, and one of five cloned hunks), is cheating on her. Meanwhile, Drew's sidekick and sometime lover, Daniel, is in trouble with the law. In both cases, it turns out that there's extremely nasty blackmail behind the troublemaking what might be called a family feud in real life. Add to this a band of Cherokees trying to get back Georgia, while lurking in the background are dueling televangelists, each with his crop of the ambitious or the thuggish (you expected the devout?), and it's obvious that the author has produced another engagingly weird novel of the near future, satirizing everything he can get his word processor on and doing most of it extremely well. In the absence of conventional narrative, readers can instead enjoy jumping from good part to good part. Nominated for a Lambda Award in both the mystery and SF/fantasy categories.
Jakober, Marie: The Black Chalice
Nominator: Laura Q.
Jakober has been writing sf and non-sf for a while; she's a Canadian feminist author who has done some interesting stuff. THE BLACK CHALICE is reminiscent of THE MISTS OF AVALON, in that it takes a mythography (Germanic) and puts a feminist spin on it. Some of the themes -- Christianity, sexual repression -- are the same. I think it would be well worth talking about. The characters are really well done; the sense of place is nice; the plot flows well. It's a good story, and she has some things to say.
From a review by Victoria Strauss
at SF Site:
"It's 1134. In a bleak monastery somewhere in Germany, Paul of Ardiun begins the chronicle he has been ordered by his religious superiors to write: the story of the knight Karelian Brandeis, for whom Paul once served as squire, who fell prey to the evil wiles of a seductive sorceress, thereby precipitating civil war and the downfall of a king. But before Paul can set down more than a sentence or two of this cautionary tale, the sorceress herself magically appears to him. He is a liar, she tells him, and always has been. She lays a spell on him: from this moment, he will only be able to write the truth.
"And what is the truth? To re-discover it, Paul must go back thirty years, to the day Karelian and his men are driven by storm deep into the menacing Forest of Helmardin. There, they come upon a mysterious castle, where they're received as if expected. Inside is light and luxury -- and Raven, the castle's mistress, more beautiful and fascinating than any human woman could be. Karelian and his men fall deeply under her seductive spell. Only Paul, good Christian that he is, is able to recognize Raven's pagan sorcery, and to resist it.
"Thus begins a powerful tale of ambition, delusion, obsession, and betrayal, focused upon four memorable characters: Karelian, jaded by too many years of fighting, who has come to question the beneficence and even the worthiness of the Christian god; Raven, priestess of the old gods, struggling to keep their power alive against the encroaching threat of Christianity; Gottfried von Heyden, Duke of Reinmark and Karelian's patron, who believes himself the heir to an incredible destiny and is determined to create God's kingdom on earth; and Paul, devoutly religious yet unable to suppress the forbidden desires of his true nature, doomed always to fall short of the purity he longs for more than anything else. These four, with their opposed beliefs and agendas, draw one another inevitably into an escalating spiral of violence that reaches out to engulf the whole of Reinmark. Meanwhile, behind their human conflict, a larger one plays out: between the ancient pagan gods and the new god of Christianity, who cannot rest until he possesses all the world. [...]"
Kerr, Peg: The Wild Swans
Nominator: Kristina S.
Book description from Amazon.com:
"Two different interweaving stories that mirror each other in theme and character study. The first story starts in 1689 England, where 15-year-old Eliza finds her 11 brothers turned into enchanted swans. Rejected by her father, Eliza is flown to America by her brothers. There, Eliza has a chance of saving her brothers, until she is accused of witchcraft-and now must fight for her own life. In the second story, Elias, a young man living with AIDS in the 1980s, is also rejected by his family and must learn to live life on the streets. With his new companion Sean, Elias finally finds personal acceptance amid the ostracism of a scorning public. Like Eliza before him, Elias struggles to understand the needless suffering he must endure."
Reviewer: Pandora Brewer from USA (amazon.com)
"This novel is actually two stories woven together by images and thematic inferences rather than plot. Both stories are told in very spare, simple prose (though one feels distinctly more "modern") and I was intellectually engaged and certainly emotionally provoked throughout. I read the last hundred pages in one sitting, unable to tear myself from what felt like twice the attraction. It has been a long time since I have cried at the end of a book and although this alone cannot recommend your time, it is indicative of how much I grew to care about the characters and the troubling patterns of hate and intolerance throughout our history. I can see where critics would fault the not always subtle symbolism that connects each story, but the traditional purpose of stories like this Hans Christian Andersen's retelling was to warn, teach and ultimately transcend evil and danger. I think that Kerr captures and holds many universal and heartbreaking struggles within her fairy tale "net." More importantly, she will reach many people who might never have read one or the other story alone but when juxiposed with the more familiar, will open their heart in a whole new way. I was swept away and truly apreaciated the ride."
I'm not sure if this book is particularly feminist except that it shows an interesting historical aspect of colonial America and a woman's place there (especially the characters of the Goodies), and a realistic look at monogamy within the gay culture of the 80's (and even today, IMHO), as well as touching on class segregation. When I finished reading this book (after wiping tears from my face), I wanted to share it with everyone.
Le Guin, Ursula K: The Dispossessed
Nominator: Petra M.
Why? It is one of the most important and popular utopias of the seventies. From a feminist point of view it is ambiguous.
From a review by Victoria Strauss
at SF Site:
"The Dispossessed -- which has not been out of print since its original publication in 1974 -- is perhaps Le Guin's most famous work, and arguably her most intellectually challenging. It's a book of opposites: a utopian novel that doesn't flinch from exposing the flaws of its model society, a feminist-themed narrative with a male protagonist, a social commentary that presents communal cooperation as the truest human ideal, yet focuses on the inevitable separateness of the creative individual within such a structure. Through these dichotomies, Le Guin examines the tension between human aspiration and human nature, between what can be dreamed and what can be achieved. This larger theme, together with Le Guin's mature mastery of her craft, give The Dispossessed a universality that has prevented it from becoming dated, despite its roots in the political issues of its time (the communal counterculture of the late 60s and early 70s, the original women's movement).
"The Dispossessed takes place on twin planets: Urras, a lush world that supports a number of diverse nations, and Anarres, Urras' arid moon. Two centuries before the story begins, the followers of the anarchist philosopher Odo, seeking an alternative to the oppression and corruption of Urras, established a utopian society on Anarres. The Anarresti anarchists aren't the bomb-throwing, chaos-loving dissidents of popular imagination, but idealists who believe that most human ills grow from living under governments, and that the only just society is one based upon communal sharing, mutual tolerance, and voluntary cooperation. "To make a thief, make an owner," runs one Odonian aphorism; "to create crime, create laws." On Anarres there are no laws, no property, no governors, no nations, no money, no marriage, no police, no prisons. Even the language, deliberately created by the colony's first settlers, reflects anti-propertarian ideals: there are no possessive pronouns.
"Shevek is a physicist who possesses the kind of genius that comes only once in many generations. His life's work is to unite the principles of Sequency (time moves forward in a linear fashion, like an arrow) and Simultaneity (all times are present at once; it is we who move) into a General Temporal Theory that, among other things, will make instantaneous communication possible across space. But in the environment of Anarres, he can't complete this work. ..."
Another note: The UK edition currently in print is published by Gollancz. List Price: £6.99 Paperback - 318 pages (12 August, 1999), ISBN: 1857988825.
Murphy, Pat: The Falling Woman
Nominator: Janice D.
From the back cover:
"Elizabeth Butler is an archeologist with a special gift, one that has made her a popular success and has drawn the disapproval of other scientists who suspect her of being less than serious. Elizabeth Butler can see the past. She can see it everywhere around her, present-day vision overlain by the apparitions of long ago. The ghosts Elizabeth sees never speak to her, never appear to see her at all. But one morning in the Yucatan, as Elizabeth watches ghostly Mayan women drawing water from a long-vanished well, one of them turns and speaks to her. For among the ancient Maya, there is one who can see the future. Now the two women are bound together across time -- and as a Mayan Great Cycle draws to a close in both eras, the ancient priestess draws the modern woman closer and closer to madness and tragedy."
I'd like to discuss this book not only because of the investigation of women "professionals" of very different eras, but also because of what Murphy may have to say about the role of family in the main character's life. The back cover doesn't mention it, but there is another narrator of the novel: Elizabeth's estranged daughter Diane, who comes looking for her mother after her father's death. Diane's feelings for her mother are the sort normally reserved for absentee fathers in fiction -- an interesting reversal.
It's also true that I have owned this book for over ten years but have somehow never read it -- and I do want to, especially after re- reading "Rachel in Love".
Note: This novel won the 1987 Nebula Award.
Park, Severna: The Annunciate
Nominator: Janice D.
"Imagine a world where everything is networked, where nanotechnological machines propagate in the air, the people, even the nearly empty space between planets. Imagine tapping into that network, able to alter almost anything in the world or access almost any information. Now imagine that you don't have that access and others do, and you'll have your finger on one of the central conflicts in Severna Park's new novel, The Annunciate. The Annunciate tells the story of Eve, Annemarie, and Corey, three fugitives roaming the isolated trinary star system of Threesys -- three is a important number in the book, and shows up in all sorts of places. They're among the last survivors of the Meshed, able to control the rapidly eroding nanotech network of the Mesh with their minds, but hunted by two factions who have wages a successful revolt against their former Meshed masters. Having discovered the secret of a powerful and almost instantly addictive narcotic, Annemarie plans to wage a counter-revolution of her own. By getting the peoples of ThreeSys on hooked on the drug, she plans to bring them back under control before they can finish destroying the Mesh. [...]" -- Chris Aylott
From the Tiptree Award web site (it was on the 2000 shortlist):
"A fresh and interesting feminist take on the Garden of Eden myth, with new treatments of the familiar symbols of apple, gate, and garden."
From Sf Site:
"[...] So let's review: class struggle (Meshed/Jacked/Jackless), dope pushers and addicts, genocidal vendettas, feminist mythology given full expression, lesbian characters with depth, virtual reality, great sex, and all in under 300 pages. Woooo-hoooo!" -- Thomas Myer
The variety of critical comments on this book give the impression that it is pretty complex and fascinating, not to mention disturbing. Seems like good discussion material.
Piercy, Marge: Woman on the Edge of Time
Nominator: Terri W.
From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Holly Smith:
With honest and compelling prose, Marge Piercy delves into the mind of thirty-seven-year-old Consuelo (Connie) Ramos, a woman who exists on the fringes of life in contemporary New York City. Early in the novel Connie beats up her niece's pimp and is committed - again - to the psychiatric ward in Bellevue Hospital. The novel shifts between the horrible conditions in psychiatric wards and the year 2137, as Connie at first talks to, then time travels with Luciente, a person from that future time. Luciente lives in a non-sexist, communal country where people's survival is ensured based on need, not money. A sense of freedom, choice, and safety are part of Luciente's world; Connie's world is the complete opposite. Though Connie struggles to stand up for herself and others in the treatment centers, she knows that the drugs she is forced to take weaken her in every way. She knows she shouldn't be there, knows how to play the game, and tells herself "You want to stop acting out. Speak up in Tuesday group therapy (but not too much and never about staff or how lousy this place was) and volunteer to clean up after the others." But she knows she is stuck. Connie spends more time "away" with Luciente, trying to develop a way out of her hell. Ultimately Connie makes her plan of action, and the book leaves us with our own questions about Connie's insanity and decisions.
Smith, Deborah: Alice at Heart
Nominator: Maryelizabeth H.
Just became aware of this, so not sure how feminist it may be...
Annotation: Among the sultry society of coastal Georgia, the Vonavendier family at Sainte's Point Island is considered mysterious, notorious, and extremely odd. Now, simple, plain Alice Riley, an outcast who is far more extraordinary than she ever imagined, is about to find love, kinship, and adventure in the family's amazing world.
From Library Journal:
"Reclusive, wary, and known locally as Odd Alice, orphaned Alice Riley has always known she was different; but it isn't until she saves a child from drowning by using her phenomenal underwater abilities and links minds with drowning salvage diver Griffin Randolf and saves him, too, that her half-sisters learn of her existence, and she discovers how special she and Griffin really are. Old secrets, revenge, and passion fuel this compelling, intricately plotted story of love, trust, and acceptance, which successfully straddles the line between romance and fantasy and should appeal to fans of both genres. Recalling Susan Krinard's werewolf romances, Smith's new work nicely sets the stage for her projected romantic fantasy series, "Water Lilies." Smith (On Bear Mountain) is a respected writer of romances and other types of fiction and lives in Dahlonega, GA."
Of course, I could be unduly influenced by the Maxfield Parrish cover...
Tepper, Sheri S: The Gate to Women's Country
Nominator: Carol R.
Quote below is from the Feminist SF, Fantasy and Utopia web site:
"A post-holocaust society has been designed by, and is controlled by, women. The protagonist of this story is a young woman throughout most of the story who has interactions both with the male society outside the gate to "women's country" and a Biblically fundamentalist society outside the territory controlled by the women's cities. The women's society has adopted a re-telling of the Iliad (from the women's perspectives) as one of it's fundamental myths. Tepper has been fairly successful in recent years and this novel has generated quite a bit of controversy in science fiction circles for its biological determinism and the ethical decisions made by the women who control the society."
Other reviews at:
Wren, M.K.: A Gift Upon the Shore
Nominator: Kristina S.
Book description from Amazon.com:
"A Gift upon the Shore is a lyrical, haunting story of two women, an artist and a writer, surviving in a dark near future. Driven by rich and fully drawn characters, this is a powerful, compelling story of a friendship that survives the devastation, only to face a more difficult test from the 'gift' found upon the shore... It is also about remaining human under the worst of conditions, and the humanizing influence of books and art, even when their existence is threatened."
Reviewer: BHillan from Beloit, WI USA (amazon.com)
"I am a prolific reader who especially enjoys books that deal with "post apocolyptic" story lines. But "A Gift Upon The Shore" is that and so much more. I read it over and over again. I have a large library and re-read many of my favorites, but each time I see this book I want to pick it up and read it again. It is, to me, the perfect book for a writer to read. If you love books, and all that they represent you will love "A Gift Upon The Shore". I believe that once you've read it you will never forget the story and the two women (no make that three women) who are so much a part of the tale."
I'm not sure if this book can be nominated because of its high price... but the reviews I read of it were very interesting... some compared it to The Handmaid's Tale. I plan to buy and read it even if it's not one of our books.