Nominator: Janice D.
For this one, I'm cadging Laura Quilter's notes from last time: "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."
Book description from Amazon.com:
The year is 1134. In an isolated German monastery, an aging monk begins the history of a war thirty-one years before. But a strange encounter with the Otherworld enchants his quill, and he can no longer write the cautionary Christian tale his superiors expect. He must write what he truly remembers.
"A novel grand in narrative, grand in ideas and, especially, grand in ambition." (Edmonton Journal)
Nominator: Diane S.
The blurb from the back cover:
A stunning and provocative spiritual odyssey reminiscent of the best work of Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin, Mission Child is a powerfeul fable, a stirring adventure, and a profoundly moving portrait of a lost woman in search of an identity as she walks the narrow fault line dividing female and male, child and adult, dark reality and illuminated dream.
From the inside front cover page:
Young Janna has lived her fourteen years on the icy northern plains of a world that has forgotten its history. Now the arrival of alien off-worlders--identical in appearance to her own kind but far different in thought and culture--has violently upset the fragile balance of a developing civilzation. The Earthers' advanced technology and cruel indifference to local life have brought despair and destruction to Janna's home, robbing her of family, husband, child...self. But with the cataclysmic end of everything she has ever known comes the opportunity--unsought and unwanted--for rebirth.
Nominator: Janice D.
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."
Book description from Amazon.com:
In a dark new age, technologically advanced humans have crossed vast stretches of space-yet have remained brutally, imperfectly human. In the star system ThreeSys, three members of the elite human "Meshed" caste have used their great gifts for evil purposes -- enslaving the lower orders in the addictive dreams of a powerful narcotic. Now hunted by those seeking bloody retribution, Corey, Annmarie, and Eve-along with Eve's lower caste lover, Naverdi -- must flee to Paradise, the first world in ThreeSys to know the curse of human habitation. But something is waiting for them on the now abandoned planet -- a sinister being that can turn their own powers against them, an entity that has broken down all barriers between virtual and real; a creature that has chosen Naverdi to bear its offspring into the world.
Nominator: Rachel W.
Body of Glass is the story of the creation of a cyborg who can love for the purpose of defending the Jewish freetown of Tikva - a small enclave of freedom in a eco-barren corporate ruled future. It is a radical/socialist feminist take on Cyberpunk and a moral treatise on what freedom could mean to those that [in many different ways] are owned by others.
as I will soon demonstrate [smile] I am a besotted believer in the utopian society Piercy portrays in Woman on ... and waited many years for her to write another Sci-Fi book. I think Body of Glass is insightful in it's own right and is in some ways a deeper exploration of eco-feminist themes but I also think of these 2 books together. Apart from this I got a great deal out of Piercy's treatment of the themes of AI consciousness, cyberworlds, violence/non-violence, resistance, transglobal corporate power etc. Finally... if we do Fifth Sacred Thing it would add to the discussion about magic as fact not fantasy [as the second narrative in the book is about the creation of a golem by Kabalistic methods].
Starhawk: The Fifth Sacred Thing
Nominator: Dave B."One of the great visionary utopian novels of the century" --Marion Zimmer Bradley.
Nominator: Arlene M.
this book is so cool. it start out about a woman who has been abused and put down and ends with victory. please lets do this.
Nominator: Petra M.
From Kirkus Reviews:
Near/medium-future deep-sea endeavor, from a Toronto-resident newcomer. To tap the energy of ocean-floor hydrothermal vents, the powerful Grid Authority sets up a power station in the Juan de Fuca Rift west of Seattle. Humans, physically modified to be able to live and work underwater without the restrictions of diving equipment, will maintain the facility. Of these volunteers (sex criminals, psychopaths, wife-beaters, and child molesters: their alternative is brainwashing), some cant adapt to the crushing, claustrophobic environment. Others brim with suppressed violence. Gerry Fischer takes to eating the local wildlife and never returns to the station. Lenie Clarke suspects that all the members of the group have been deliberately mentally damaged so they won't want to leave. But the Rifters develop a telepathic awareness of each other's thoughts and feelings. On the surface, meanwhile, smart gelsjelly-like intelligent neural networksrun most of the equipment and are slated to replace the Rifters, who refuse to return to the surface. The Grid Authority learns that the Rifters, and all deep-water life-forms, harbor an archaic non-DNA microorganism, ehemoth, that would destroy all DNA-based life if it reached land. At the same time, Lenie discovers on the ocean floor a nuclear bomb operated by a smart gel; it will trigger a devastating earthquake should ehemoth escape. Problem is, nobody at the Grid Authority understands how the smart gels evaluate information. What if the gels prefer ehemoth to orthodox life-forms? Plenty of first-novel flawspoor organization, drifting points of view, an inconsistently applied, tough-to-read present-tense narrativebut fizzing with ideas, and glued together with dark psychological tensions: an exciting debut.
Weekly Review by A. M. Dellamonica
Lenie Clarke has been turned--by crude scientific processes--into an amphibian. One of her lungs has been removed, replaced with a device that filters oxygen out of salt water. And her DNA has been tweaked so that her body produces the enzymes of a deepwater fish. With her diveskin on and white corneal caps over her eyes, she is barely recognizable as human.
Thus adapted, Lenie can swim in the deep waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait, performing maintenance on a power plant that steals the abundant geothermal energy of the seabed. But no amount of scientific tinkering can adapt a rifter's mind to the pressures of deep-sea living, with its constant threat of sudden death. The Juan de Fuca Strait is particularly dangerous, because along with the usual hazards--water pressure, industrial accidents and earthquakes--the sea life has grown to gigantic proportions. Fish that are less than a centimeter long elsewhere in the ocean grow as large as Lenie herself near the Fuca Strait, and the behemoths survive by devouring everything that moves.
As Lenie and her work partner prepare the power station, it becomes clear that they are experimental test subjects. The company that hired them is willing to risk their sanity to answer a critical question: what sort of person can best deal with the dangers and loneliness of life on the rift? Lenie, with a long history of abuse and an intense dislike of human contact, would seem to be the perfect candidate for a crack-up. In fact, she is just what the company is looking for.
Starfish is a first novel by Canadian writer Peter Watts, and it's a pleasing combination of hard SF and solid storytelling. A marine biologist, Watts knows the Pacific seacoast well, and he brings readers right into the eerie world of the Beebe power station, with its giant fish and psychotic staff. His characters are trapped in many ways--by the tons of water above them, by their psychological limitations, and by the arbitrary and menacing actions of the company that created them. This creates a dark and intensely claustrophobic atmosphere, which is very nearly the novel's true protagonist.
Among the rifters, Lenie's character is the most sympathetic, hardly a surprise considering that her peers are child molesters and failed suicides. Her development from an utterly passive victim into the de facto leader of the rifters is well handled and intriguing. Another treat in Starfish is the lack of narrative trustworthiness--as the rifters become paranoid about the company's plans for them, readers are left wondering if this is a justified reaction or merely a new manifestation of the group's psychosis.
Watts runs into trouble, though, when he brings the surface world into play. Integrating the deeply self-focused milieu of the rifters with a melodramatic save-the-world storyline, he bleeds off much of the novel's power when he provides a break from the crushing day-to-day reality of the seabed. He also weakens the book's hold on readers by revealing the nefarious plans of the company. By the time attention returns to the rifters, it is too late. There is considerably less impact in watching them play out the endgame once the seabed's mystery has been clarified.
Despite these flaws, Starfish is a worthwhile choice for readers interested in oceanography or who enjoy science-oriented SF.
More than anything, Starfish is like the Alien films, but without any truly likable characters.
Nominator: Petra M.
This book contains Sister Light, Sister Dark (1988) and the sequel White Jenna (1989). Jessica Salmonson has mentioned it in an essay on amazons as a positive example in which the Amazon/swordswoman is not presented as an anomaly in her society.
Amazon review (Buichiro@aol.com from Swannanoa, NC):
Jane Yolen has created a world and a story reminiscent of some old celtic myth. In fact you may wonder as you read whether or not there exists somewhere a legend much like this one sometime in our own world's past. The story centers around a central character named White Jenna who is raised by a community of women warriors similar to the Amazons. White Jenna is prophecied of and will reunite the (Sisters) with the world. She will bring change that some Sisters embrace and some resist to the bitter end. White Jenna is rescued as a baby in the forest and raised by a Light and Dark Sister. If you want to know what a light and dark sister are you'll have to read the book. Jane Yolen explains that concept much better than I can. The first part of the book is about the early life of White Jenna and her friends growing up in the community of sisters. The book really takes off after all this when Jenna and her friends have to go out on their missions. This is similar to young american indians going out into the wild and proving their manhood, having visions, and getting their spirit names. Alot of the happenings in this book parallel legends and myths from many sources. Once Jenna sets out on her mission things start to happen and the pace of the story really takes off and seldom slows until the end. Oh but don't worry about the ending. The ending is very satisfying and unlike many books, appropriate. This book has romance, fight scenes, adventure, war, fantasy, myth, quests, and all the elements one looks for in a really great fantasy. I was enchanted and spellbound as I sacrificed sleep to find out what happens next. Jane Yolen writes mostly children's books and you get a sense of that by the way this book reads but don't let that fool you into thinking it was written for children only. This book is definitely for kids of all ages. Enjoy!
Green Man Review
by Marian McHugh, quote:
"In quite a number of ways, this book reminds me of Ursula Le Guin's Always Coming Home. Both books are more than stories. They are anthropological studies of matriarchal civilisations created by the authors, the major difference between the two being that The Books of Great Alta is the study of a past civilisation, while Always Coming Home is that of a civilisation in the future. The Books of Great Alta not only provides the reader with the story, but, in parallel, we are also introduced to the myth, legend, history, songs, ballad, and parables of the civilisation. Yolen has ensured that these writings have been distorted over time, so that what has been retold is different from the story that we are reading. [...] We are also shown what happens to history when a matriarchal society becomes patriarchal. The stories are all about the women and how they helped the men overthrow the tyrant and put the rightful king on the throne. However, the histories, etc., show that it was only the men who were the victors. This represents that through time stories and histories change, and what we read is usually a corruption of the original and tainted with personal opinion."