Nominator: Rudy L.
I have a book I'd like to nominate, but I've been struggling over how to phrase this. The book is Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop, and it is the 1st of a trilogy of 4.
I read it a few weeks ago, and have not been able to get it out of my head, even with reading the first Alta novel (which I really liked) between then and now. I wish I had time to read the next three in the series. I really really want to discuss this book with y'all as well.
The world is really well built, and it is built to play with our senses of right and wrong, power and strength, good and evil, and as such is very provocative, and very disturbing. There are key plot elements involving child rape, but they are not gratuitous, but rather a symptom of the wrongs in the world. That's the part that has had me hesitating adding this nomination.
Here is Amazon's review:
(BTW, Amazon finds it comparable to Laurell K. Hamilton's work, but I think that is a blatantly superficial comparison based solely on dark sex and magic. I don't think of them as the same as all -- Hamilton's books, imho, have just become an excuse for soft core S&M.)
Anne Bishop's debut novel, Daughter of the Blood, is like black coffee--strong, dark, and hard on delicate stomachs. Within the Blood (a race of magic-users), women rule and men serve, but tradition has been corrupted so that women enslave men, who seek to destroy their oppressors. Female children are violated before they can reach maturity; men are tortured and forced to satisfy witches' sexual appetites.
Bishop's child heroine, Jaenelle, is destined to rule the Blood, if she can reach adulthood. Her power is hidden; her family believes her mad. Saetan, High Lord of Hell and most powerful of the Blood males, becomes Jaenelle's surrogate father and teacher. He cannot protect her outside Hell, where he rules. She refuses to leave Terreille, risking herself to protect or heal other victims of violence. Can Daemon, Saetan's estranged son, keep her safe from the machinations of the evil High Priestess? Or will he lose his battle to control his destructive urges and endanger her?
Readers may find some aspects of Bishop's world confusing; not least that most of the good guys live in Hell. But her protagonists are compelling, sympathetic characters who overcome terrible adversity.
A reader's review:
This book and it's sequel Heir to Shadows are a must have!!! I read through the night to finish each of them, and I can't wait for the third book to come out! Already I have re-read each book more than three times in the last month, because the story is so gripping.
Anne Bishop's wonderful sense of humor is expressed in many of the scenes between Jaenelle and the other main characters (namely Saetan and Daemon). This precocious 12 year old never fails to confound them, and the encounters can become hysterically funny as they try to find a way to deal with a young girl with powers beyond anyone's imagination. She's got enough power to do the unimaginable, but can't do the simple things. Their sheer terror at what she is capable of (or sometimes not capable of doing), is humorously mixed with exasperation, frustration, and tenderness. I laughed out loud at so many scenes that my mother, who doesn't read fantasy, demanded that she get to read it after me... She's also an Anne Bishop fan now!!
The book also deals with very dark issues, including abuse and the kind of society that results when trust, respect, and honor between men and women is destroyed. What's saddest about it is that a few people have systematically destroyed those bonds in order to gain power for themselves. Anne Bishop weaves these dark threads with those of hope that with the coming of the new queen, Jaenelle, that things will change. If they can protect her long enough for her to grow up...
I was looking for something --anything-- that would conter-balance the boring, everyday junk that seems to be on the market these days. Well, I most certainly found it. I must admit, it took me a while to seperate the good from the bad characters. If your contemplating reading this book I warn you, it will force you to expand your horizons more, and it will give you a new perspective of good and bad. But, the characters themselves really bring this book to life. It brings you into their devious, yet interesting lives. They are so very intelligent, but their surroundings make them, at times, seem rather stupid. This book is something quite out of the ordinary, believe me, it gets you thinking.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Nominator: Jennifer K.
This story is a coming of age story about two sisters living in a remote California town. For various reasons, society breaks down and we follow them as they become isolated, and finally alone in their house in the woods. The writing is rich and compelling and the characters felt believable to me. The most real thing to me was their experience of the social decline. There was no cataclysm, no event strong enough to signal the end of civilization and yet that's what happened. It really made me look at little things in a different way: what if the market never recovers, and the war happens and the economy stalls and... well, maybe living in the woods is not such a bad place to end up.
I think there was considerable crossover success with this book when it came out a few years ago, and it's not really positioned as SF. But I think this group would really enjoy this book. Think of it as a dystopian response to The Fifth Sacred Thing.
Here's the amazon review:
"Jean Hegland's prose in Into the Forest is as breathtaking as one of the musty, ancient redwoods that share the woodland with Nell and Eva, two sisters who must learn to live in harmony with the northern California forest when the electricity shuts off, the phones go out, their parents die, and all civilization beyond them seems to grind to a halt. At first, the girls rely on stores of food left in their parents' pantry, but when those supplies begin to dwindle, their only option is to turn to each other and the forest's plants and animals for friendship, courage, and sustenance. Into the Forest, an apocalyptic coming-of-age story, will fill readers (both teens and adults) with a profound sense of the human spirit's strength and beauty."
And hey, if we get stuck on the discussion there's even a list of questions for book groups: http://www.randomhouse.com/resources/bookgroup/intotheforest_bgc.html
Lee, Tanith: The Silver Metal Lover
Nominator: Petra M.
Early this year when I asked whether list members could point out gaps in my bibliography of feminist SF&F The Silver Metal Lover was recommended and my interest was raised. A look at Amazon and through the web in general shows that this book is extremely popular with the readers. It was originally published in 1981 and went out of print for several years. People petitioned the publisher to reissue it.
A review by Victoria Strauss at SF Site:
I read my first Tanith Lee novel when I was in my teens, and I've been eagerly devouring her fiction ever since. Sadly, a great deal of her work is out of print, and so it's an occasion for rejoicing when one of her books is re-issued. The re-publication of The Silver Metal Lover (out of print for more than a decade) is an especially exciting event, for it's one of Lee's best--lush, sensual, dark, and utterly enthralling.
Jane is a pampered rich girl. She lives in a fantastic house raised high above the city on metal struts. Her doting mother gives her everything her heart could desire: luxurious rooms, fabulously expensive clothing, a bigger allowance than she can think how to spend, all the conditioning and cosmetics and beauty aids that money can buy. Jane has no idea that she's bored until she encounters Silver, an impossibly beautiful, impossibly human-seeming robot created by a company called Electronic Metals Ltd. Silver has been built to be a musician, and his exquisite singing stirs something in Jane that she has never felt before.
Jane knows it's crazy to fall in love with a robot. But she thinks she's seen something in Silver--something more than clockwork and computer chips, something beyond the machine. When she discovers that Electronic Metals intends to dismantle Silver, because he hasn't checked out on their function tests, she persuades a wealthy friend to buy him. Together, she and Silver flee to the only place where they can live undisturbed: the city's decayed and violent slums. There, in a dilapidated apartment they transform into a fairytale refuge, Jane begins to understand that she wasn't mistaken when she glimpsed a soul inside the metal body of her lover.
The accompanying literature describes The Silver Metal Lover as
a romance. And indeed it is, capturing with breathless intensity the delirium
of first love. But it's also a story of becoming human. Silver, acquiring
free will, learning to feel love and fear, makes this journey; and so does
Jane, who has spent her whole life cocooned in wealth, parroting the tastes
and beliefs of those around her, pre-programmed by her environment and education
just as Silver has been pre-programmed by his builders. Layer by layer they
shed their conditioning, a struggle to freedom that parallels their unfolding love story, and lends it depth and poignancy.
Lee's prose is lush and lyrical, her settings exotic and powerfully atmospheric. There's a cyberpunk feel to the world she creates, with its machine-driven culture and huge gap between rich and poor, but unlike a lot of early cyberpunk, it doesn't seem dated. The characters--Silver and Jane especially, but also the many secondary players--are unforgettable, rendered with great feeling and delicious flashes of humor.
The Silver Metal Lover is a feast for the mind and the heart, one of the most purely enjoyable reads I've had in ages. Bantam is to be commended for bringing this wonderful novel back into print, and giving a new generation of readers a chance to discover it.
Miéville, China: Perdido Street Station
Nominator: Petra M.
Note: The UK edition is published by Pan, ISBN: 0330392891; 880 pp; List Price £7.99.
This is one of the most lauded SF&F books in the last years. It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Fantasy Award. It was nominated for the Hugo (and nearly won), for the World Fantasy Award and for the British Science Fiction Association Award. And, of special interest to this list, it was short-listed for the James Tiptree Jr. Award (comments of the Tiptree jury: "An amazing read, a big epic wonder of a novel that constructs an urban fantasy world that is both Dickensian and futuristic. Its main themes are about inter-species relationships and what it is to be human, but there is a strong gender sub-theme that weaves its way through the city and the lives of its main characters.").
Because of its darker aspects and its length I haven't read the book so far but so many people have recommended this book on the web, I am very curious.
New Crobuzon is Metropolis meeting Gormenghast in the heart of Dickensian London, inhabited by humans, mutants, alien species and modified criminals of all kinds. Into this city polluted by industrial effluents and the less natural by-products of sorcery comes a stranger punished for an almost incomprehensible crime and a life-form which becomes an almost unimaginable threat. Drop-out scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin and his khepri lover Lin find themselves threatened by the city's law-enforcers and its criminal underworld.
The first sentence of the last paragraph looks to past art-forms to describe the book. But what is remarkable about it (or one of the things which is remarkable about it) is its contemporary feel. China Miéville is a new writer (his previous novel, King Rat, charted some of the meaner London gutters) with an ambition to pull fantasy out of the reactionary faux-medieval trough in which it has languished for several decades. He's not the only writer with this ambition. In New Crobuzon's environment of shabby scholars and underground-press journalists living in a world which offers both what appears to be magic and a firmly post-industrial revolution economy, he echoes Mary Gentle's stunning Rats and Gargoyles. Unlike Gentle, though, Miéville gives us not Renaissance Hermeticism as a touchstone but (as I am not the first to remark) delves farther into cyberpunk thaumaturgy with crisis engines, machine intelligences, and Isaac's search for a Unified Field Theory "which unifies all the forces: mental, social, physical". Isaac remarks to himself at one point, "He was a scientist, not a mystic."
If one of the traits which has bedevilled science fiction over the past few
years is the way it so often reads like fantasy, Miéville is giving
us fantasy which reads like science fiction. The insect-headed khepri, the
vodyanoi, and the cactacae are firmly-imagined beings which in a slightly
different context could be aliens from another world. The urban environment,
perhaps too fashionably squalid (a legacy from cyberpunk as much from Mervyn
Peake?) is vivid. One can see, behind it, our own metropolitan wastelands
and inner cities. The plot is complex and at times - as surprise is piled
upon surprise - shocking, but it is heightened by the numerous grotesque set-pieces:
the references to the horrific practice of "Remaking" criminals
(a woman has the arms of her murdered baby grafted to her face to remind her
of her crime) or the torture of one major character by a drug-lord. Some of
the characters - the spider-like Weaver, the handlingers, the above-mentioned
khepri (who sculpt using a bodily excretion) and the garuda - are magnificently
hallucinatory creations. There's possibly a sense in which Miéville
is throwing too much at us - what can he possibly have up his sleeve for subsequent
books? But even if he is, this is a feast of excess which we can only stand
back and wonder at. And I suspect that this is only the beginning.
Cheryl Morgan's review:
Our hero Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is an outcast scientist, a dabbler in obscure disciplines such as vodyanoi watercraeft and Crisis Theory. He is middle-aged, fat, something of a rebel, and could be rather brilliant if only he could apply himself to something for long enough. He is very fond of his beer, and even more fond of Lin.
The lady is a khepri gland artist. The insect-headed females of her race are capable of digesting coloured berries and combining them with various natural secretions to make a fast drying paste with which they create fabulous sculptures. Lin, who is also a bit of a rebel, has forsaken traditional khepri styles and has become quite popular amongst human art lovers. In fact, she is rather too popular for her own good.
Of course Isaac and Lin have to keep their relationship secret. Other than
amongst the free-thinking artistic community of Salacus Fields, cross-species
relationships are deeply frowned upon. But soon their social
embarrassment will become the very least of their problems. A mysterious, bird-headed visitor from the far deserts of Cymek, a terrifying client whom Lin dare not turn down, and accidental involvement in one of the many money-making schemes of the city government place our heroes, New Crobuzon, and all of its inhabitants, in very deadly danger.
Lovers of ideas on the other hand will nod happily at the way Miéville uses Isaac and Lin's relationship as a way of introducing the occasional gay character without raising an eyebrow. They will ponder on the nature of the legal system of the garuda from Cymek and consider the possibility of making the book required reading for all Libertarian theorists. They will compare the desperate hopelessness of New Crobuzon's social revolutionaries with the romanticism of Ken MacLeod, and they will wish that Miéville had more time to spend on all of these topics, instead of simply revelling in the joy of beautiful prose.
Murphy, Pat: The Falling Woman
Nominator: Jennifer K.
I'll read any story that Pat writes. I really wanted to nominate The City Not Long After, which would be a great comparison to The Fifth Sacred Thing (also set in a future San Francisco), but sadly that's out of print. This book is more standard SF than Into the Forest, as you can see by the Nebula award. The characters are compelling, and the story is magical. I'd love to have this excuse to re-read it.
Here's the Amazon.com review:
"Elizabeth Waters, an archeologist who abandoned her husband and daughter years ago to pursue her career, can see the shadows of the past. It's a gift she keeps secret from her colleagues and students, one that often leads her to incredible archeological discoveries and the realization that she might be going mad. Then on a dig in the Yucatan, the shadow of a Mayan priestess speaks to her. Suddenly Elizabeth's daughter Diane arrives, hoping to reconnect with her mother. As mother, daughter and priestess fall into the mysterious world of Mayan magic, it is clear one will be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. The book won the 1988 Nebula Award."
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."