Nominations for Book Discussion Group (BDG) from March to June 2003

Nominated books: 9. The nomination period is CLOSED.


Bujold, Lois McMaster: Ethan of Athos

Carey, Jacqueline: Kushiel's Dart

Emshwiller, Carol: The Mount

Nominator: Petra M.

Link: Book Page Review

Riding herd on the human race

Reading The Mount is a challenging, but ultimately rewarding, experience. Author Carol Emshwiller expertly forces readers to identify with a narrator who is shrouded in ignorance and stubbornly resists being coaxed toward enlightenment. Like the best sci-fi, the novel uses a fantastical setting to illustrate a painfully realistic internal struggle.

Charley is a mount, a member of the human race on an Earth that has been invaded by small, weak-legged aliens the humans call Hoots. Hoots have used their superior senses and intellects to enslave humanity, training and riding them as we do horses, keeping them in stables, even breeding them to produce specific characteristics. Charley's a Seattle, the breed engineered for superior strength and stamina. He's also a Tame, i.e., born in captivity. Escape has never crossed his mind. As the mount of the Future-Leader-of-Us-All, a baby Hoot called Little Master, Charley enjoys every luxury: a comfortable stall, good shoes, plenty of playtime, plenty of food. The only thing he lacks is something that, as an adolescent, he hasn't yet learned to value: his freedom.

When Charley's father -- a Tame who escaped and now runs with the Wilds scattered through the nearby mountains -- leads a raid on the village and frees Charley and his young rider, the teenage mount is resentful. Why should he give up his comfortable home just to run around in the mountains where there are no shoes, no racing trophies, not enough food and a bunch of Wilds who aren't even purebred Seattles? On top of that, he doesn't like his father -- partly because he's a giant of a man who can barely speak, thanks to the scars left in his mouth by the spiked metal bit he wore as a Guard's Mount, but mostly because the pure-blooded patriarch is in love with a lean, lanky Tennessee, not a Seattle. If his father and the Tennessee had a child, Charley frets, it would be a "nothing," neither Seattle nor Tennessee, and no Hoot would want to ride it.

As Charley struggles with his conflicting emotions -- devotion to his Little Master, desire for prestige in the Hoot world, pride in his breeding, a growing admiration for his father, inexplicable fondness for a "nothing" girl -- the foolish bigotry, misplaced loyalty and other trappings of his upbringing slowly fall away.

Emshwiller is a much-admired writer in the genre who won the World Fantasy Award for her short story collection, The Start of the End of It All. Her new novel is a beautifully written, allegorical tale full of hope that even the most unenlightened soul can shrug off the bonds of internalized oppression and finally see the light.

Reader comment at Amazon:

An Incredible Multi-Faceted Vision of the Future, October 13, 2002
Rather than write another synopsis of the novel, I would instead comment on the number of different themes which present themselves in this incredibly imaginative tale. I see themes of Whites and Black slavery, the relationships between parents and children, the universal process of coming to adulthood, the idea of dominance and submission in relationships, and our treatment of the other creatures on this earth which we call "animals." If we were not the "dominant" species on this planet, would we be treated like the mounts in this story? I believe that we would. And I wonder about something else: If horses could speak, what would they tell us? This is a disturbing story which does what all great literature does. It changes us forever.

Gearhart, Sally Miller: Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women

Nominator: Bridgett T.

It's considered a feminist classic, but it has yet to be officially discussed by the Book Discussion Group. That seems like a great reason to nominate Sally Miller Gearhart's Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women.

Originally published by Persephone Press in 1978, Wanderground was reissued in May 2002 by Spinsters Ink. The reissue of this classic coincided with the publication of The Kanshou, the first book in Gearhart's new Earthkeep Series. (The second book of the trilogy, The Magister, is due to be released this month.)

Wanderground is described by Top 500 Customer Reviewer blissengine as:

<<a classic utopian story of interconnected tales, as well as a potent novel about the power of women as a group. With a force equal to such feminist classics as The Handmaid's Tale and Woman on the Edge of Time, Wanderground inspires us to envision a world lived in harmony with each other and with the world, and shows us the possibilities of reward in such an environment.>>
(blissengine's Reviews)

But Wanderground is about more than just a feminist utopia. In her essay, "Single-Sexed Utopias and Our Two-Sexed Reality", Susan Stone-Blackburn discusses the ending of the book:

<<What follows takes readers who participate in the feminist movement, male and female, back towards their own reality. Though plot is as secondary to this poetic text as it is to Russ's postmodern one, what there is climaxes in the story "Meeting the Gentles," where some women's doubts about the advisability of granting any men, however well intentioned, credibility equal to women's are placed in conflict with the trust in them other women feel. Some readers will feel an affinity with women on one side of the conflict, some with those on the other; some will connect with the men who are being doubted. It appears in this story that the women can never withdraw entirely from the miseries of the City into the pleasures of their own society, because their strong presence in the City is necessary to keep the effect that controls the violent men working. Now, with the credibility of this 'effect' shattered, one is more likely to read the 'effect' as a metaphor for ecofeminist work in our society which creates whatever possibility there is for women to realize their potential in safety and the ecosystem to survive. It also appears that to be most effective, the women need the Gentles' cooperation, so they are faced with the question: are those who distrust all men right or are those who believe some men capable of true respect for women and seek their support for achieving feminist goals right? This is so familiar an argument among feminists that few readers will miss the real-world implications.>>

The full text of this essay can be found at:

More information about Sally Miller Gearhart can be found many places on the web, including our own site and Sally Miller Gearhart's homepage.

The book is less feminist oriented then the other nominees but the focus on novel is on two women and one man. You should know that one of the women is really a female fox (No, its not like Watership Down) Below are plot summery and reviews from Amazon.

Johnson, Kij: The Fox Woman

Nominator: Christine E.
In Western fairy tales, we've got the werewolf, the man who changes into a wolf. But in the East, it's the fox who does the changing, into a man--or, more often, a sensuous, seductive woman. In her skillful debut, Kij Johnson takes this classic Japanese myth (based in large part on a Royall Tyler translation of a particular story) and spins it into a luminous, lyrical tale, a tender and whisper-quiet study of love, desire, joy, and the nature of the soul. The Fox Woman follows two families, one of foxes and another of humans. The restless Kaya no Yoshifuji fails to receive an appointment in the Emperor's court and, distracted and seemingly unfazed, decides to relocate to a rural estate to pass a pensive winter, accompanied by his wife Shikujo and son Tadamaro. But a young fox named Kitsune and her brother, mother, and grandfather have set up their den in the run-down estate, and soon the fate of both families becomes intertwined; Yoshifuji becomes bewitched by the foxes, and Kitsune in turn falls in love with him, much to the distress of all others involved, especially Shikujo. Johnson tells her tale in measured, intimate passages, through Kitsune's diary, Yoshifuji's notebook, and Shikujo's pillow book. The rich, truthful depiction of the Heian-era setting, punctuated by exchanges of poetry and steeped in emotive descriptions of both the fox and human worlds, establishes a still, meditative, and rewarding pace. With her thoughtful ear, Johnson offers a mature and knowing first effort. --Paul Hughes

From Booklist:
Based on a traditional Japanese fairy story and steeped in medieval Japanese culture, this literary tale has a mannered pace well suited to its theme and subject. Alternating narrative point-of-view between Kitsune, a young female fox who falls in love with Japanese nobleman Kaya no Yoshifuji; the nobleman himself; and his long-suffering wife, Shikujo, Johnson poignantly explores the tangled web in which the lives of the three characters are bound. When Kaya fails to get a spring court appointment, he and his family retire to their country estate, where he suffers from severe depression and the sense that he is trapped in a drab existence. Enter Kitsune, who, with her grandfather's help, works the magic that makes her a human woman and lures Kaya into a completely illusionary life. All three protagonists are forced to face reality and truth and to make their own worlds out of the best of all he or she has experienced. The haunting novel may appeal more to mainstream fiction readers than typical fantasy fans. --Sally Estes

Spotlight Reviews
A beautiful book..., February 8, 2001
Reviewer: Sarah Calkins (see more about me)

I have to admit I wasn't expecting much of this book. Being an avid fan of Japanese culture, I've read too many books set in Japan that are too modern and/or too Western. This one, however, pleasantly surprised me. While you can tell that it was definitely written with a Western audience in mind, beautifully captures the feeling of Japan during the Heian era. And more importantly, it beautifully captures the experiences of the three main characters and the other people (and foxes) who get caught up in the paths of their destiny with the perfect mix of casual observation, high drama, simplicity and beautiful poetry.I also have to admit, though, that the ending didn't quite sit well with me. It was the perfect ending for this book, but that doesn't mean I can't wish it all ended differently. I was hoping for a little bit of a less poetic and more Western ending, but that's all right. And if Kij Johnson's next book is anything like this one, you can be sure I'll be picking it up.

Reviewer: Tammy M. Kelso from Anacortes, WA USA
This lyrical allegory is a must for anyone who has ever tried to be someone they are not in order to gain love, for anyone who has had to choose between two loves, for anyone who has had to fight to save their love. Written in a beautiful, poetic style reminiscent of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, The Fox Woman captures the reader from the moment it begins.

Kij Johnson tells this love story entirely through the diary entries of the three main characters; each with their own unique perspective and voice. One would think that by doing this she would risk redundancy, and yet the overlaps are few and natural, serving only to connect the characters to each other and to the storyline.

Besides the unique, mystical vehicle she has chosen to deliver this allegory, Johnson's strength lies in her imagistic detail. Here is an example: "The rain has stopped, but the eaves still drip. Overhead, the spiderweb glistens in the moonlight that filters through the eave openings. The gossamer lines are almost too fine to see as anything but a lightening of the darkness."

Her language is exquisitely beautiful and yet also accessible. This strength, combined with the universality of the topic, is what makes it possible for the reader to leave their world and enter fully into the story; and in making that possible, Johnson weaves a fox magic of her own.

Lethem, Jonathan: Girl in Landscape

Nominator: Petra M.

As far as I know Jonathan Lethem writes each time a completely different books, thereby he doesn't restrict himself to one genre. There were so many positive reviews of this book, I had a hard time to pick one.

From Kirkus Reviews
An ingenious and unsettling dystopian romance from the surrealist wnderkind who has in a scant five years produced five aggressively original works of fiction (As She Climbed Across the Table, 1997, etc.). The story begins on Earth--in Brooklyn, in fact--in a future transfigured by some unspecified (seemingly nuclear) catastrophe. The ozone layer is only a memory, people travel underground in private "subway cars," and beachgoers can tolerate the sun only when enclosed in protective portable "tents." These and similar phenomena emerge in some brilliantly managed expository scenes focussed on teenaged Pella Marsh and her two younger brothers as they endure the loss of their mother to a brain tumor and their removal (by father Clement, a defeated politician) to another planet. Arriving at a "new settlement" on the environmentally friendly Planet of the Archbuilders, the Marshalls gradually assimilate into a society of fugitive earthlings who coexist uneasily with their mysterious hosts. The Archbuilders, seemingly equal parts human, animal, and vegetable, pose a disturbing riddle: Are they benign protective beings evolved beyond humans (some of whom argue that they're only the "rubble" left behind by their more adventurous interstellar-explorer counterparts)? Or are these passive "aliens" a variety of lotus-eaters whose resignation to their stripped-down "planet" lulls their human neighbors into inert compliance with its norms? The possibilities are cleverly explored through a pleasingly melodramatic storyline that satisfies our expectations without overexplaining, and through a profusion of grimly comic details picturing life (or the imitation of it) in this bizarre new world. And Lethem's people are fully as real as his locale seems unreal. The protagonist Pella, a sturdy girl-woman altogether equal to the tests she undergoes, is especially memorable. Wonderful stuff. One waits eagerly to learn where Lethem will take us next. (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP.

Other reviews:

SF Site Review by Lisa DuMond

Excessive Candour by John Clute

McHugh, Maureen F: Nekropolis

Murphy, Pat: The Falling Woman

Schulman, J. Neil: The Rainbow Cadenza

Nominator: Julieanne

I think this book would have a number of themes for interesting discussion, a very thought-provoking and disturbing book about the future, the co-opting of feminism and gay/lesbian activism, and a chilling portrayal of "political correctness" gone mad - considered a libertarian classic, it won the 1984 Prometheus Award.

The book's female protagonist lives in a future Earth world where women are "free". The 'People Who Care' have remade the earth in their own image, humanity is joined together under a popularly elected world government, gay marriage is a normal institution, (and politically advisable for those who wish to advance their careers), and the First Lady, a lesbian, is Head of State.

But who are the new underclass of criminals called 'Touchables', and why are they legally hunted for sexual sport? Why are clones treated as inferior, despite the equal status of all citizens? In an age of "freedom", why do men outnumber women 7 to 1? And why are all women at age 18 drafted into government service for 3 years?

The female protagonist of the story is Joan Darris, a brilliant young artist in the medium of laser concerts, and we follow her life experiences from childhood through many experiences until she escapes Earth and flees to the space station colonies - which are presented as a utopian liberal contrast, a rainbow of hope, relative to the dystopian earth. Like Huxley and Vonnegut, The Rainbow Cadenza uses black humour to show a chilling future.

The 1999 re-released edition also includes an appendix of a number of commentaries by other contemporary authors and journalists etc - several of which hail it as having a "strong feminist message", but in some feminist fora it is denounced, or not even considered for discussion. Does libertarianism as espoused by this author offer a truly feminist 'vision'? Is any form of government always doomed to corruption?

Personally, I found the dystopian vision chillingly disturbing - very real & plausible - despite some patches of poor writing - similarly chilling to the dystopia displayed in The Handmaid's Tale. I also did not think the book had a 'strong feminist message', except inasmuch as giving warnings of the anti-feminist nature of libertarian rhetoric. But I suspect many would disagree - and hence would form a good discussion topic.