Nominated by: Bridgett T.
Kelley Armstrong has the one of the best author sites I've ever visited. In fact, it was her free e-serial novellas that seduced me into buying all her books. Three of the free novellas are prequels to Bitten and act as a fabulous introduction to Armstrong's writing style. A visit to her site is highly recommended:
The Bitten reader reviews at Amazon.com are worth a look. A web search also provided many positive reviews. I've included one of the more descriptive reviews below.
REVIEW OF BITTEN: BOOK I, WOMEN OF THE OTHERWORLD
by Jason Vey
Bitten is the first novel by Canadian author Kelley Armstrong, and if it's any indication of works to come, she's a superstar in the making.
Oh, Before I go any further I should clarify that this review will contain minor SPOILERS, both thematic and plot-based. I will endeavor not to give away anything major, however.
Over the past ten years or so in the genre of modern gothic fantasy (you can't really use the term "horror" anymore) there have been an influx of popular female characters: Anita Blake, Sonja Blue, Magiere (of the Dhampir series), etc. These women all seem to have 2 things in common: they're tough as nails and they are either part-vampire or spend a lot of time killing vampires.
In Bitten, Armstrong puts a not-so-clever twist on the theme that for some reason nobody else has thought of yet: her heroine, Elena Michaels, is a tough-as-nails werewolf.
I'll be honest; this book snared me as an impulse buy for 2 reasons. First, I needed something to read on the bus ride home from the mall; second, well, I love werewolves and it's so painfully rare to find a half-decent werewolf story. I'm not sure why it is, but nobody seems to be able to really nail the heart and soul of the werewolf story. The original Howling did it; An American Werewolf in London was a classic, despite its camp, and An American Werewolf in Paris to this reviewer's mind was a very underrated werewolf film. But other than those three films, good werewolf stories seem to be slim pickin's. I didn't expect much better from Bitten, but I picked it up simply because I love werewolves.
I was pleasantly surprised. More than pleasantly surprised. I was downright impressed. Armstrong has a very accessible, straightforward and conversational style. She doesn't hesitate to use metaphors where she feels it's necessary and doesn't bother to try and be too original or unique in her metaphors. While this may at first seem boring or cliched, in fact the end result is that the turns of phrase Armstrong uses are not obscure. A reader doesn't have to stop reading to think "what does that mean?" or worse, go do a google search for the reference. More authors need to have the "back-to-basics" style that Armstrong adopts.
The book is told in first person, a point-of-view that can very easily become trite and tired in novels, and one that is not, despite how prolific it is, easily pulled off. Even well-known and successful authors such as Nancy Collins in her Sonja Blue books or Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake often fail to pull it off, and many of us have been victim to Anne Rice's longwinded first-person expositions. In such works, the first person grows detached and almost sterile. It simply becomes a narrative tool rather than a true point-of-view storytelling.
Armstrong once again shines in this area. Her character narrates the story--really narrates it, even on occasion catching herself going off on a tangent, then apologizing before getting back on track. Once again, at a glance this may seem distracting but in practice it has the opposite effect. It draws the reader in; the reader gets to know the character personally, her idiosyncracies and modes of speech become second-nature, and by the end of the first chapter the one can almost envision himself sitting across the table from Elena (our heroine) in a coffee shop as she relates her tale over a cup of java.
In short, Armstrong's writing has character and personality and that is something that is far too rare nowadays.
Another trap that Armstrong manages by and large to avoid is the women author's convention of sex scenes every other page, or of sex as a primary motivator in the actions of the main character(s). See Anita Blake and the Vampire Chronicles for prime examples of this growing trend. Armstrong doesn't fall prey to this temptation. That is not to say that there is no sex in the book; I counted four sex scenes, all brief, and though two were a bit graphic for my tastes all served the events of the overall story and served to strengthen a specific relationship within the story and cement events that had happened in Elena's past. None felt gratuitous.
As one might expect in a book such as this, Armstrong lays the ground rules for her take on werewolves throughout the book. Werewolves can be killed by any means that can kill a normal human; silver has no special effect on them. They age much more slowly than humans do, but are not immortal. Certain werewolves have empathic and even telepathic bonds with one another. They can change at any time they wish, but if they don't change often enough, the Change forces itself upon them. Likewise, if they change too often, it becomes difficult to change. They retain some semblance of their normal mind and personality while in wolf form, but are largely ruled by their instincts.
There are two types of werewolf: bitten wolves and born wolves. Born wolves endure their first Change sometime in their teens. Bitten wolves are rare and often don't survive; the book makes it a point that Elena is the only woman ever to survive the first days of being a bitten werewolf. There are no born female werewolves, as the werewolf gene passes from father to son (presumably attached to the Y chromosome). You feminists can have fun interpreting that one, though the book goes to great pains to debunk the easy interpretation that all men are monsters.
The plot centers around the extended family unit that rules werewolf society: The Pack. The Pack is a small unit comprised of the elite. Elena is an estranged member of the Pack. All werewolves that do not belong to the Pack (for varied and sundry reasons) are Mutts and the Pack keeps a tight leash on the Mutts. As one might imagine, the story deals with a confrontation between the Pack and a group of uppity Mutts who get it in their heads to cause trouble. Tragedy, hilarity, romance, action, and horror ensue. It is in some ways a coming of age story, as through the tale Elena must come to grips with the juxtaposition of her life in the human world with her place in the world of the werewolves. The book resolves itself somewhat predictably, but satisfactorily and I did find myself looking forward to the sequel (called Stolen.) In point of fact, I was caught off guard by certain events during the work's climax, which I later thought I should have seen coming. But Armstrong is a skilled enough writer that one never knows what to expect. By doing away with certain seeming major characters early on, she warns us that nobody is safe (except, presumably, our heroine, who is narrating the book) and anything goes. I liked that.
In conclusion, I give a hearty "thumbs up" and a wholehearted endorsement to Kelley Armstrong's Bitten. 5 out of 5.
Bujold, Lois McMaster: Ethan of Athos
Nominated by: Bridgett T.
I've been thinking a lot about reproductive ethics and would therefore like to renominate....
Ethan of Athos is a fun little novel set in Bujold's Vorkosigan universe. It isn't the sort of book to win grand honors, and I doubt it inspired any award winning academic papers. It is a stand alone space opera with the sort of cover illustration that makes me want to buy one of those quilted purple flowered contraptions people hide risque romance novel covers with. But this is just the surface.
Ethan of Athos examines issues such as homophobia, ethics involving donated reproductive material, and the value of parenthood. Though most of the action is set on a space station, the glimpses we have of life on the all male planet of Athos are intriguing. Bujold does an excellent job of fleshing out this utopia, even though it is not really central to the action oriented plot.
Ethan of Athos also features one of the Vorkosigan series' strongest female characters, Elli Quinn. Quinn is a kick butt warrior woman who is both intelligent and resourceful. When Quinn meets the naive Athosian Dr. Ethan Urquhart, hilarity follows.
In one of the book's funnier scenes, Quinn rescues Ethan from a bar room brawl. Relieved to find an area free of women, Ethan enters the pub and issues a general invitation to emigrate to Athos. Coming from a planet where homosexuality is normative, Ethan is dismayed by the reactions of the homophobic bar patrons. Here and throughout the book, serious issues are examined with a levity which is refreshing.
Ethan of Athos isn't the type of serious, provocative literature usually discussed by the Book Discussion Group. On the other hand, it is one of the few books available featuring an all male utopia. Though we have many visions of female utopias in science fiction, our visions of the male utopia seem nearly absent. What would a male utopia look like? Would it really look like Athos, where parenthood is valued above all else?
I think this could be an interesting discussion.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins: Herland
Nominated by: Crystal W.
An early example of feminist science fiction, first published in 1915 and reissued several times. I have come across at least two recent editions listed and it seems to be listed widely on amazon.com and other online bookshops.
There is a lot of info on Gillman on the net, with the site below giving a brief biography and loads of links.
Inside Flap Copy
On the eve of World War I, an all-female society is discovered somewhere in the distant reaches of the earth by three male explorers who are now forced to re-examine their assumptions about women's roles in society.
Book Description at online bookshop:
Delightfully humorous account of a feminist utopia in which three male explorers stumble upon an all-female society isolated in a distant part of the earth. Early 20th-century vehicle for Gilman’s then-unconventional views of male-female behavior, motherhood, individuality, privacy, sense of community, sexuality, and many other topics. Mischievous, ironic approach used to telling effect.
Jakober, Marie: The Black Chalice
Nominated by: Angela B.
I would like to nominate Marie Jakobar's The Black Chalice. I bought a copy after being mesmerized by hearing her read the first chapter at a convention a couple of years ago. I believe that it has been nominated several times.
Below are some snippets of review I found on google.
If you'd like to read the first chapter before voting go to:
The Black Chalice tells the story of the struggle between pagan and Christian beliefs in medieval Germany. It's a historical novel insofar as Jakober has done her research on the conditions of life, as well as the typical ways of thinking, of the era. It's also a fantasy novel, with many of the trappings of such, like magical powers and artifacts. The closest comparison is to The Mists of Avalon, especially in the conflict between the fading pagan ways and the ascending Christian ones, also in the explicit favouring of pagan over Christian. Jakober's book might be a thematic descendant of Bradley's, but The Black Chalice is far more tightly written and situates itself with greater detail in a historical moment. The Black Chalice also has some interesting parallels to Guy Kay's Sarantine Mosaic, most pertinently in the concern over whose version of events will survive for later generations. Jakober is less subtle than Kay in this regard, as we will see . . . As I said, Jakober has done a great deal of research on the era. Two main points emerge from the narrative: the crusades were a bad idea, and medieval times were filled with misogyny. No news flash in either case of course! But Jakober takes a somewhat nebulous idea like medieval misogyny and explicates it lucidly and fully. Most of that comes from the narrative itself, but Jakober has also chosen the chapter epigraphs with care.
. . . So begins the story told in Marie Jakober's The Black Chalice, a novel that will engross readers who love medieval historical fiction, neo-pagan fiction, or feminist fantasy. The Black Chalice's representation of this struggle between militant Christian piety and sensual pagan magic deserves comparison to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon and Guy Gavriel Kay's A Song for Arbonne, as well as to less ambitious popular classics of medieval historical fantasy like Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books or Judith Tarr's The Hound and the Falcon series. Like all of these works, its plot is built on a conflict between an ascetic, rigid Christian orthodoxy and a broader view of a sacred world that celebrates compassion, sensual pleasure, and magic as well as the worship of God or the gods.
Lee, Tanith: Metallic Love
Nominated by: Bridgett T.
Tanith Lee's The Silver Metal Lover was a BDG selection for February, 2003. One of the primary criticisms of this much-loved novel was our inability (as adults) to relate and empathize with Jane/Jain, the rather immature, poor little rich girl who falls in love with a sentient robot. Another was that the narrative did not allow us to really know and understand the robot, Silver, who seemed rather simplistic. The archived discussion can be read here:
But what if we really did get to know Silver? And what if the protagonist were someone different, say an orphan from the wrong side of town? What would happen then? Tanith Lee revisits The Silver Metal Lover in her new novel, Metallic Love, and opens by asking:
<<What do you do when you have a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end--and one day you find that the ending has altered--into a second beginning?>>
Are you curious? I am. Let's read it together.
Lessing, Doris: Mara and Dann
Nominated by: Crystal W.
Lessing's latest venture into science fiction, in this case set on earth in the far future, was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2001 and there was an entire conference session devoted to it at the 1999 MLA conference. I am busy reading it at the moment and thought it would be interesting to discuss it on this group.
The book blurb is below and the following site is a good intro to Lessing and her work. I don't even want to think how many others there are out there.
Thousands of years in the future, all the northern hemisphere is buried hundreds of feet deep under the ice and snow of a new Ice Age. At the southern end of a large landmass called Ifrik, two children of the Mahondi people, seven-year-old Mara and her younger brother, Dann, are abducted from their home and family in the middle of the night. Left in the care of a sympathetic Mahondi woman, Mara and Dann are raised as outsiders in a poor rural village. They learn to survive the hardships and dangers of a life threatened as much by an unforgiving climate and menacing animals as by a hostile community of Rock People who wish them ill. Eventually they join the great human migration North, away from the drought that is turning the southern land to dust, and in search of a place with enough water and food to support human life.
Trekking through a barren countryside, Mara and Dann discover different people and places and survive a series of hazardous adventures. They outwit hostile travelers and city dwellers who would kill them for a pittance, and join the increasingly desperate struggle for subsistence in a world transformed by unpreditable climatic change. Captured and enslaved by the Hardon people, they eventually escape and continue North, through the wet heat of the River Towns, only to be captures again by a military commander in the country of Charad. Dann becomes a general in the army, while Mara is recruited as a spy and even abducted for breeding purposes by a rival ethnic group. Traveling across the continent, the siblings enter cities rife with crime , power struggles, and corruption, learning as much about human nature as about how societies function.
Mara's mind is as restless as her feet, and she hungers after knowledge and answers to her questions: Who are my parents? Where do Dann and I come from? Who once lived in these ruined cities we find in Ifrik, and when? And why did they disappear? What will we find up North, and where, exactly, is the North? All the while she dreams of water, trees, and beautiful cities, and of gentle, friendly people. Powerful natural forces, indifferent to human life but essential to its survival, determine the course of Mara and Dann's journey. And Marawith a thirst to learn almost as strong as her thirst for water, and a compassionate, loving nature that survives despite the cruelty of the environment and of human behavioris one of Doris Lessing's most appealing heroines. Filled with shrewd observations and a clear-eyed vision of the human condition, Mara and Dann is imaginative fiction at its best from a master of the genre.
Lethem, Jonathan: Girl in Landscape
Nominated by: Susan H.
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. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP.
Morehouse, Lyda: Archangel Protocol
Nominated by: Monika P.
I am nominating a novel which sounds quite fascinating. It also crosses genre borders (sf/crime fiction) and the reviews each focus on a different aspect - I copied one below (sorry, don't remember the source), another one can be found at www.sfsite.com/05a/ap103.htm
Almost everyone is LINKed to the cybernet, so when angels appear on the cybernet, the world debates their appearance, while in America, a return to traditional beliefs sweeps the nation. A year ago, Deidre's partner assassinated the Pope and her own LINK was severed. She never questioned his guilt, until a mysterious man named Michael leads her to believe there's a conspiracy here. He offers her a return to the LINK, but only if she helps him discredit the cybernet angels and the Presidential candidate who claims to be the Second Coming. With her judgment clouded by her attraction to Michael, Deidre enters into a dangerous game and reconnects with old friends like Mouse, with cybernet connections across the world, and Rebeckah, the leader of an underground Jewish army who is also a lesbian.
The novel offers multiple motifs relevant to gender and sex. The angels are not sexual beings in the same sense that humans are, but they are capable of taking on sex and gender. Some become male, some become female, one is a complete mishmash of sex and gender ... and one manages make his human girlfriend pregnant by the end of the book. Then there are the artificial intelligences: Page, created by the human (male) Mouse, who like his "father" tends to identify himself as male and masculine; and the Dragon of the East, created by multiple programmers but mainly by (female) Mai, who like her "mother" tends to identify herself as female and feminine, although instead of Page's human form she does appear as a cybernetic dragon. Also an engaging futuristic adventure story, narrated by a hard-hitting detective on the trail of a religious mystery. 2002 Shamus Award for Best Original Paperback Private-Investigator Novel <http://www.thrillingdetective.com/trivia/triv72.html>.
Pratchett, Terry: Monstrous Regiment
Nominated by: Rain D.
Pratchett is a satirist and in my opinion one of the best in our generation. In Monstrous Regiment he turns his wit to the subjects of war and the traditional gender roles that support it. This book focuses primarily on newly introduced characters and should be readable by someone who hasn't read any of the other discworld books. I think this will be a fun book to read and I hope it will spark some interesting discussion.
War has come to Discworld ... again.
And, to no one's great surprise, the conflict centers around the small, arrogantly fundamentalist duchy of Borogravia, which has long prided itself on its unrelenting aggressiveness. A year ago, Polly Perks's brother marched off to battle, and Polly's willing to resort to drastic measures to find him. So she cuts off her hair, dons masculine garb, and -- aided by a well-placed pair of socks -- sets out to join this man's army. Since a nation in such dire need of cannon fodder can't afford to be too picky, Polly is eagerly welcomed into the fighting fold—along with a vampire, a troll, an Igor, a religious fanatic, and two uncommonly close "friends." It would appear that Polly "Ozzer" Perks isn't the only grunt with a secret. But duty calls, the battlefield beckons. And now is the time for all good ... er ... "men" to come to the aid of their country.
"Mate gender politics with geopolitics and you get either a PC nightmare or something very funny. Fortunately, in Monstrous Regiment, it's the latter." --Washington Post Book World
Slonczewski, Joan: A Door into Ocean
Nominated by: Janice D.
First published in 1986, this feminist SF classic was out of print for quite a while until it came out in Tor's "perpetual reprint" series, Orb. Now we can discuss it!
Here's the description from the back of the book:
A Door into Ocean is the novel upon which the author's reputation as an important SF writer principally rests. A ground-breaking work both of feminist SF and of world-building hard SF, it concerns the Sharers of Shora, a nation of women on a distant moon in the far future who are pacifists, highly advanced in biological sciences, and who reproduce by parthenogenesis--there are no males--and tells of the conflicts that erupt when a neighboring civilization decides to develop their ocean world, and send in an army.
Winterson, Jeanette: The PowerBook
Nominated by: Monika P.
I liked Susan's idea of renominating books, so this is in favour of The.Powerbook.
In the last round of nominations, Grete sent in a description by the author, I think (http://www.jeanettewinterson.com/pages/content/index.asp?PageID=10):
The.Powerbook is 21st Century fiction that uses past, present and future as shifting dimensions of a multiple reality. The story is simple. An e-writer called Ali, or Alix (because x marks the spot), will pin up a story for you, cut it to fit. She is a language costumier, writing to order, letting you be the hero of your own life, offering you freedom just for one night.
The price? Risk. You risk entering the story as yourself and leaving it as someone else. But if the narrative changes, then so does the narrator, as Ali discovers this is a price she too will have to pay.
Set in London, Paris, Capri and cyberspace, this is a book that re-invents itself as it travels. Using cover-versions, fairy tales, contemporary myths and popular culture, The.Powerbook works at the intersection between the real and the imagined.
It's territory is you.
I really liked reading it and if you've read (or struggled as I did) with Vonarburg's Dreams of the Sea, this is easy in comparison.
Wylie, Philip: The Disappearance
Nominated by: Petra M.
The novel was originally published in 1951. It "ingeniously assaults the double standard through a tale in which the men and women of Earth disappear from one another, having been suddenly segregated into 2 parallel worlds." [The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction]
It is probably not feminist by today's standards but it was one of the first SF novels by a male SF author that tackled the gender question at all and - according to several account - with an open mind (in the fifties!). And the writing is said to be superior (for a SF classic). I am curious about this book and am glad that it was reissued (by a University Press (!) - unthinkable in Germany).
"The female of the species vanished on the afternoon of the second Tuesday of February at four minutes and fifty-two seconds past four o'clock, Eastern Standard Time. The event occurred universally at the same instant, without regard to time belts, and was followed by such phenomena as might be expected after happenings of that nature."
On a lazy, quiet afternoon, in the blink of an eye, our world shatters into
two parallel universes as men vanish from women and women from men. After
families and loved ones separate from one another, life continues in very
different ways for men and women, boys and girls. An explosion of violence
sweeps one world that still operates technologically; social stability and
peace in the other are offset by famine and a widespread breakdown in machinery
and science. And as we learn from the fascinating parallel stories of a brilliant
couple, Bill and Paula Gaunt, the foundations of relationships, love, and
sex are scrutinized, tested, and sometimes redefined in both worlds. The radically
divergent trajectories of the gendered histories reveal stark truths about
the rigidly defined expectations placed on men and women and their sexual
relationships and make clear how much society depends on interconnection between
Let's read it.