Nominations for Book Discussion Group (BDG) from November 2002 to February 2003



Nominated books: 11. The nomination period is CLOSED.

Recommendations:


Bishop, Anne: Daugher of the Blood

Bradley, Marion Zimmer: The Saga of the Renunciates

Nominator: Bridgett T.

A recent post compared and contrasted the current BDG selection, Jane Yolen's The Books of Great Alta with Marion Zimmer Bradley's renunciate novels The Shattered Chain (1976), Thendara House (1983), and City of Sorcery (1984). Since we're on the subject of Amazons, and since these three books just happen to have been published in an affordable omnibus edition, I suggest we revisit Darkover and see how and/or if it has changed for us.

There is only one customer review so far for the omnibus at Amazon.com:

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strong women's story, September 2, 2002
Reviewer: Kathleen Watson (see more about me) from RIVETT, ACT Australia The Saga of the Renunciates is an omnibus of MZB's three "Darkover" novels that deal with the Renunciate's Guild - a group within Darkovan society that allows women to free themselves from the oppressive rules of their world. At this point of Darkovan history, the planet (a lost colony of Earth) has been rediscovered by the Terran Empire. It works well as a single volume, as it's the three-part story of a "Terran" woman (Margali) who becomes involved in the guild by accident, and her personal growth as a result.

Personally, I find the third story rather tedious - it is a quest story in which a group of women go searching for a mythical or secret Women's City, involving a lot of walking through frozen mountains and (I thought) a fairly anticlimactic ending.

Some of the Terran gender relations in the book seem somewhat dated, reading like a reflection of the late 70s-early 80s period when the stories were written, although the alien Darkovan version seems much less so.

In general, a rewarding book, which should appeal to anyone who enjoys speculative fiction with strong feminist characters.
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The Shattered Chain is still out of print and Thendara House has no Amazon.com customer reviews, but there are several for City of Sorcery. Interestingly enough, the majority of reviewers disagree with the opinion that this last book is disappointing. Indeed, the following review states that it is the best.

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Really gripping!, October 15, 2000
Reviewer: vintage_girl (see more about me) from Wenham, MA USA This is the third in the mini-series focusing on the Renunciates, within the larger Darkover series. It features the characters that have developed within the previous two novels, Jaelle, Magda, Camilla, and the Terran Cholayna. This novel is much more action packed than the previous two had been, with a fraught and perilous journey across mountains, facing dangers both natural and supernatural, in search of a mythic city mentioned in obscure legends--the city of sorcery.

This novel takes place seven years after 'Thendara House', and Jaelle and Magda are full-members now of the Forbidden Tower. They've both been fully trained in the use of their Laran, and their abilities have grown considerably.

If you've enjoyed the other two books in this series-within-a-series, 'Shattered Chain' and 'Thendara House,' you will love this one--it's definitely the best, and it truly delivers on the potential of the other
two. If you've missed the first two, you'll still enjoy this one on its own--Bradley makes sure to provide recaps of relevant past events and relationships, allowing a new reader to dive straight into this story. But, there's no question, if you already know and love these characters from their previous adventures, you'll be even more deeply engaged in this great story.

Delany, Samuel R: Babel-17

Nominator: Janice D.

A very entertaining and insightful book from the less wordy early Delany. Rydra Wong is a renowned poet and linguist called in by the Military to decipher Babel-17, a code (or is it a language?) that is the only evidence left behind by a mysterious enemy specializing in sabotage. Gathering her own crew and captaining her own spaceship, she races to stop the next attack.

Originally published in 1966, Babel-17 was unusual in placing a female main character in a position of authority and strength. It is also chock-full of poetry and musings on the power of language to alter perception. (A Nebula Award winner.)

Emshwiller, Carol: Carmen Dog

Nominator: Janice D.

Pat Murphy describes it this way: "Imagine a world where all the women are turning into animals and all the animals are turning into women. The heroine is Pooch, a former golden retriever who leaves home (taking the baby with her) when her master starts showing her unwelcome attentions. Her mistress (who is becoming a snapping turtle) presents a danger to the baby, so Pooch takes the child along. Pooch's heart's desire is to sing Carmen. Though I won't tell you what happens I will say this: there's a happy ending. When Carmen Dog came out, I couldn't understand why people weren't paying more attention to it. It was funny, ironic, painful, and wonderfully true in its consideration of women and other animals."

Entertainment Weekly pronounced, "Emshwiller has produced a first novel that combines the cruel humor of Candide with the allegorical panache of Animal Farm. In the hyper-Kafkaesque world of Carmen Dog, women have begun devolving into animals and animals ascending the evolutionary ladder to become women. . . . there has not been such a singy combination of imaginative energy, feminist outrage, and sheer literary muscle since Joanna Russ' classic The Female Man."

This book has turned up on quite a few lists of recommended feminist sf, has been lauded extensively by Ursula Le Guin, and was on the Retrospective Tiptree shortlist. This all makes me very curious about it.

Gloss, Molly: Wild Life

Nominator: Janice D.

A Tiptree Award winner and previous nominee.

Tiptree.org says: "Charlotte Bridger Drummond, the heroine of this novel, is a free-thinking feminist who makes her living as a Jules-Vernesque fantasy writer. She lives both physically and symbolically on the fringes of society, in Western Oregon at the turn of the 20th century.

"She rides a bicycle, smokes cigars, and dresses in men's clothes because they are comfortable. She is a staunch advocate for women's rights, with a sense of strength and humor that informs everything in her daily life and how she chooses to raise her five sons.

"When she embarks on an adventure into the wilderness, a mission of mercy, she encounters danger at every turn. <...>

"Gloss is a brilliant stylist. In this novel she encompasses exquisitely researched historical fiction, a compelling mystery story, a wilderness adventure, and a fantastic journey with a tribe of mythic creatures. She manages to pull off that risky literary feat with such skill that by the end the novel becomes a meditative musing on wildness and human nature, told by one of the most memorable heroines in recent memory."

Hambly, Barbara: Sisters of the Raven

Nominator: Petra M.

I have read several of Barbara Hambly's fantasy novels. They are usually entertaining, with original ideas that run counter to fantasy cliches, in general the protagonists face some hardships and there are no glib happy ends. My favourites so far are the Windrose trilogy and its follow-up Sorcerer's Ward.

This book was published 2 months ago and there are already several positive reviews on the web and at Amazon.

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BookLoons Review by Hilary Williamson

Barbara Hambly is one of my favorite authors across two very different genres. She writes both excellent historical mysteries (her New Orleans Benjamin January series) and a variety of fantasy tales in which she typically stacks the odds heavily against her protagonists, but makes up for it by giving them strong romantic interests.

Sisters of the Raven introduces a new world, in which men, who previously had a monopoly on magic, are fast losing it, at the same time as magical djinni are disappearing. A scattering of women have developed a range of powers from clearing out pests to healing. The setting is the Yellow City, its style hinting of medieval Japan, including its Pearl Women who are reminiscent of geisha but with the addition of martial arts to their training. The general subjugation of women and their veiling reminds us of fundamentalist Moslem societies.

There are some wonderful characters. Oryn, the king, is an overweight dandy who is also sensitive, intelligent and underestimated. He loves the Summer Concubine, a Pearl Woman and his partner in all things, who has gathered to her other women of power as the Sisters of the Raven. One of them, Raeshaldis, is a novice wizard (and the only woman) in the College of the Mages of the Sun. She has been working with them in an attempt to summon rain, desperately needed in a city surrounded by desert.

But women with magic are disappearing, a mysterious master wizard has tried to kill Shaldis, and Ravens dream of sisters screaming for help. If that were not enough, the king's uncle is plotting against him along with the founder of a new and gory religious movement. Also a slave race, the teyn, are discovering the absence of magic that has long been used to force their labour in field and mine. The mystery unfolds alongside treachery and rebellion, leading to a climactic confrontation in a tomb.

Oryn tries to lead his people away from a reliance on magic and to build aqueducts. While helping him, the Summer Concubine also works to empower women and has reservations about her people's treatment of the teyn. In addition to their established romance, the author develops one between Shaldis and a straitlaced young guardsman. It's an entertaining fantasy/mystery in a well-developed world, and I hope to see a sequel.

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By another reviewer the novel is described as a "major, provocative new fantasy in the tradition of Ursula K. Le Guin, Sheri Tepper, and Suzy McKee Charnas...". Well, I suppose that goes a bit far but I expect a fun read.

Hegland, Jean: Into the Forest

Lee, Tanith: The Silver Metal Lover

Miéville, China: Perdido Street Station

Murphy, Pat: The Falling Woman

Woolf, Virginia: Orlando

Nominator: Diane S.

Orlando is my favorite book by Woolf and although you won't find it in the SF section of a bookstore it has some fantastical elements to it and is definitely worthy of a feminist-based discussion.

Here is a review from someone at Amazon:
"Woolf's Orlando is the story of a young nobleman of the Elizabethan Age, who by a mysterious quirk of Fate is allowed to experience the pains and privileges of both genders. The fascinating story is at times poetic, at times verbose, but always fascinating. The reader witnesses Orlando's transformation from a sixteenth-century man to a twentieth-century woman; by employing the stream-of-consciousness technique, the androgynous protagonist's secret dilemmas and longings are clearly enunciated. By the conclusion of the novel, Woolf's stance on the matter of gender is obvious: whether the trappings of Orlando be taffeta or leather, the personality is the same.

"Woolf wrote during a period which did much to shun the traditional sex-barriers; rather than joining the hoardes of suffragettes or their opposing army of conservatives, she crafted a philosophy which effortlessly combined the two. Women are not superior to men, nor are they weaker; both sexes are inherently equal; more than that, one cannot differentiate between the two. We are the same. We are all members of humanity, and that bond is enough to surpass the role played by gender. Woolf is begging us not to label our neighbor as a "man" (complete with all that word connotes), for to do so would be to divide mankind with an imaginary line. Look to yourself and your friends merely as a person, for the soul can never change."


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