Nominations for Book Discussion Group (BDG)
from January to April 2000

The nomination period is CLOSED.



Nominated books: 12

Recommendations:



Dorothy Bryant: The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You

Octavia Butler: Dawn




Raphael Carter: The Fortunate Fall

C. J. Cherryh: Cyteen
Winner of the 1989 Hugo Award for best novel.

This was the first Cherryh book I ever read, and it made me a fan for life.  Although its main focus is not on overtly feminist themes, I think it would be very interesting to discuss the character of Ariane Emory in a feminist context.

A word of warning: it's a tough book to get into, and Cherryh's writing style is purposely very dry and dense.  However, she's a master at developing and interweaving politics, ethics, science, and personal relationships, and it all comes together in _Cyteen_.  In my opinion, it's worth a bit of grinding to get to the good stuff.

Amazon.com synopsis and review:
"Genetic manipulation, murder, intrigue and politics are just part of the story of a young scientist in this substantial book. C. J. Cherryh, who won the 1989 Hugo Award for this novel, following on her Hugo Award-winning Downbelow Station, offers another ambitious work. A geneticist is murdered by an adviser, but the scientist is replicated in the lab, leaving a prodigy who attempts to chart a different fate. The book is intense and complex yet always presented with the flow of true storytelling."

"This book gripped me for three days straight. Cherryh has a profound gift for imagining the extraordinary as normal, developing and sustaining characters and their relationships, and offering at once a profoundly
disturbing and hopeful vision of a future. I also should add that this work has one of the most tender treatments of same-sex relationships that I have seen in print."

Nominator in June 1999:
This volume is a reprint of Cherryh's 1988 novel reuniting the 3 parts originally split up for paperback publication as Cyteen: The Betrayal, Cyteen: The Rebirth and Cyteen: The Vindication. I've loved this book since I first read it. I'd appreciate the opportunity to be able to discuss Ari's struggles with other members of the list.

Nominator in October 1998:
Probably the best cloning sf written. A powerful woman who heads, among other things, a vast genetic-engineering concern (designing, birthing, training customized workers) dies suddenly, and a clone is very carefully reared to take her place. Most of the book deals with the raising of her clone (with computerized advice from the original) in a dangerous political atmosphere, and her relationship with the man the original traumatized in his adolescence. Much science, much action, intriguing characters. Interesting issues of sex, power, network associations, and genetics. Beautifully put together, crisp writing, great dialogue, nothing sloppy.



Molly Gloss: The Dazzle of Day
Amazon.com Synopsis:
" Earth is ailing, and Quakers from various countries band together for a brave mission: build a self-sustaining spaceship, and travel to the stars to find another home. The Dazzle of Day chronicles the lives of people who grew up on the Dusty Miller and lived to see it reach its destination.

Spiritual, steady Kristina plays the middle note in Gloss's triadic exploration of the inner lives of women; Verano begins the journey from Earth, and Vintro's story comprises the finishing notes after the journey's end. Onboard the Dusty Miller, a depressive malaise spreads throughout the colonists, and Kristina's daughter-in-law
Juko witnesses a suicide by a co-worker while mending the ship's solar sails. Other players include Juko's son Cejo, her quiet ex-husband Humberto, and her husband Bjoro, a scientist who visits the new planet's inhospitable surface and lives to bring back reports. The colonists, who've lived their entire lives on a small climate-controlled ship, must decide whether to adjust to life on the chilly planet, prepare to terraform a section on its surface, or continue on to search for a more suitable home.

Gloss's lyrical and leisurely prose describes the lives of the spacefarers: religion and politics, quarrels and friendships, love and despisal, illness and death. At times this science fiction feels homespun as the gentle but human Quakers strive for consensus in their community during a time of wrenching change. "

BTW,this book has a beautiful cover!



Phyllis Gotlieb: Flesh and Gold
This one gets unanimously good reviews and has a certain exotic/weird appeal:   Skerow, a telepathic alien woman judge, fights to protect the rights of an enslaved amphibious human in planetary settings peopled by a wide variety of sentient beings.  Gotlieb, also a poet, uses her language skills to tell a colorful, exciting SF murder mystery with layered subtextual meanings and commentary on contemporary social/political issues. I'm yearning for a good excuse to read this one!

Reviews: SF Site Review (Review by Lisa DuMond), Science Fiction Weekly, Issue 64 (Review by Susan Dunman), Review by James Schellenberg, New York Times 12 April, 1998 (Review by Gerald Jonas) (only accessible after free registration)



Louise Marley: The Terrorists of Irustan
Review From Booklist , May 15, 1999
On Irustan, a planet settled long ago by humans, the Book of Second Prophet painstakingly details the proper way of being. Despite space travel and advanced technologies, men are the absolute decision makers. Women, draped in shapeless silks, their faces heavily veiled, are chattel. Only a select few get a glimpse at independence by becoming medicants, who are trained in the medical sciences. Such work is regarded as too distasteful for men. The beautiful Zahra is a young wife, a talented medicant, and a murderer. Sickened by a world of abusive husbands, Zahra's choice to kill is believably righteous, but it is fraught with treacherous subsequent ramifications.
Marley realizes Irustan in dynamic detail, and she manages real, consistent character development so that not only does Zahra mature, but secondary characters subtly grow as situations demand. Throughout, Marley's acclaimed, exquisite prose and her universal themes of feminist heroism light the book brightly. (Karen Simonetti,Copyright© 1999, American Library Association. All rights reserved )

Review from SF Weekly (by A.M. Dellamonica) -- rated as an "A" pick:
Zahra IbSada has a life of rare privilege. On a world where women are rarely taught to read, she has slipped through a gap in Irustan's strict religious laws to become a medicant, a doctor and surgeon. Her devoted husband Qadir is respectable, intelligent and even gentle. Zahra's career widens what would otherwise be her very limited contact with society, and when the time comes to take an apprentice, she can choose from the brightest girls the colony has to offer.

It is her apprentice's arrival that changes everything for Zahra in Louise Marley's The Terrorists of Irustan. Childless by choice, Zahra finds that her relationship with the brilliant and energetic Ishi erodes her carefully
nurtured detachment from the world. On Irustan, women are veiled and hidden from everyone but the men of their household. They are forbidden upon pain of death to travel unescorted, to use a wavephone or even to visit with friends more than twice a month. Upon reaching sexual maturity, they are ceded by their fathers to become the wives of strangers, men who are usually 30 years older than their brides.

Even before Ishi comes into her life, Zahra is rebellious, struggling with Qadir to be allowed to treat prostitutes in her clinic. As she and the child become close, she finds it harder and harder to live within Irustan's restrictions. Then danger threatens when a close friend's husband agrees to marry her daughter to a brutal mine worker. Torn between her duty as a healer and her friend's plight, and all too able to envision Ishi falling prey to a similar fate, Zahra must decide if she will cross the line from minor rule-breaking to open revolution.

Marley is unflinching in her portrayal of the repressive and unjust society on Irustan. There are no pulled punches here--Zahra's patients bleed both physically and spiritually, and readers bleed with them. But The Terrorists of Irustan is realism in the best sense of the word--it is neither one-sided nor simplistic. The characters in this novel are drawn with precision, and each has made a different accommodation to the Irustani regime. Qadir, for
example, is motivated at times by his responsibilities, at others by his love for Zahra. His actions run the spectrum from villainous to heroic.

The Terrorists of Irustan also boasts vivid imagery, meticulous medical writing and complex relationships, with plenty of terror and suspense thrown in. The pace is as measured as slow poison. Despite its dark tone, the novel
entertains while informing. Readers who like happy or tidy endings will not appreciate this one. Nor will those who strongly dislike feminist SF, though The Terrorists of Irustan avoids most of the pitfalls of the sub-genre.
Perhaps its only weakness is that, in basing Irustan's culture on civilizations far from North America, Marley is giving readers a chance to distance themselves from the day-to-day horror of Zahra's life.

The Terrorists of Irustan is set apart from other books of its type by an understanding that people are as enmeshed in their societies as Zahra is hidden in her concealing veil. Marley shows readers a world where women collaborate in their own oppression, and where it is life-threatening for even the men to talk of change. Totalitarianism is so absolute that fighting it seems impossible, and it is so diffuse that Zahra and her friends despair of even identifying a target.

Fight they do, however, and though Zahra IbSada pays a high price for her revolution, readers will appreciate the payoff.

(NOTE:  There are lots more reviews at Amazon.com -- but a word of warning: the Kirkus review contains a major spoiler and should be avoided).

Other review: SF Site Review by James Seidman



Elizabeth Moon: The Deed of Paksenarrion
Paksenarrion, the daughter of a sheep-farmer, runs away to join the army. She works her way up through the ranks, then takes a sudden twist to become a sort of spiritual knight--but things don't work out as planned.

I bought this when it was nominated a couple of cycles ago and enjoyed it a whole lot more than the average Epic Fantasy Trilogy (TM). Although it seems to appeal to many because of its peasant-rises-to-greatness theme, I liked it for the way Moon demonstrated the effect of  epic wars on the grunts, the soldiers and the  con-combatants. Towards the end of the trilogyv there's some clever perspective reversal, exposing the tendency of heroic fantasy to show only the superheros and nobles. The traditional meteoric rise to greatness and power is subverted to some degree; and to top it all off, we've got a strong, independent female hero and a fun read.

Other reviews: Review by Patrick Conway, Linköping Science Fiction and Fantasy Archive (Review by Dani Zweig)



Elizabeth Moon: Remnant Population

Katie Waitman: The Merro Tree
This book was the "Del Rey discovery of the Year."

Synopsis:
"Mikk of Vyzania, the galaxy's greatest performance master,commanded stages on all the myriad worlds with his
sublime and ethereal performances. But when the Somalite songdance--the extraordinary dance form Mikk treasured to the point of obsession--was banned, he was devastated, until his sense of justice  forced him to defy
the law. His trial will be the most sensational in the galaxy's history.And the sentence he faces is death--unless he can summon all his gifts to overthrow the stranglehold of censorship. "



Terri Windling: The Wood Wife
I've ordered it after I read all these reviews. According to them it is poetic and inspired. And I am curious about the Native American 'magic'. However, it's probably not overmuch feminist.

From Kirkus Reviews , August 15, 1996
Distinctive contemporary fantasy set in the Arizona desert, from the well-known editor (the annual Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, with Ellen Datlow, etc.). When the prize-winning, gin- sozzled English poet Davis Cooper died in a dry gully (of drowning!) near his home east of Tucson, he left his house, papers, and real estate to budding poet Maggie Black, with whom he had corresponded but had never met. Separating from her talented but demanding musician husband Nigel, Maggie takes up residence in Cooper's old house, discovering fragments of unpublished poems, together with a gallery of extraordinary paintings left by Cooper's lover, Anna Navarra --paintings that Maggie finds both provocative and disturbing. The locals, too, seem to hint of another, unseen world behind the real one, a world of magic and metamorphoses that Maggie can almost perceive, whose landscape is defined by mysterious, powerful mages operating by rules that she finds herself gradually able to comprehend. To understand Cooper, Navarra, and the unseen world, Maggie must delve deep inside her own being, where, ultimately, she will find the key to her own poetry--as well as the means to transcend space and time, to actually meet Cooper and unravel the mystery of his bizarre death. A splendid desert enchantment that flows with its own eerie logic-- arresting, evocative, and well worked out despite the entirely superfluous last couple of chapters.

Mythprint Review by Eleanor Farrell
'Windling's choice of approach and style has similarities to the stories of Charles de Lint and Robert Holdstock, but I think here, at least, she is a better writer thaneither of these authors. Where Holdstock's creation of mythagos and their appearance in the wood in which his stories center is often over-written and convoluted, Windling tells a clear straightforward tale, bringing the magic of the Sante Fe mountains quietly to the surface and into the life of her main character. [...] I must say that I found her setting and use of mythic figures a refreshing change. Windling uses the Native American motifs of the Trickster, shape-changing and the spiral path, weaving these with Celtic elements like the Wild Hunt into a pattern which demonstrates the universal nature of spirit myths.'

Strange Words Review
'Terri Windling’s The Wood Wife [Tor, 1996] is a richly detailed, engaging modern fantasy replete with deep friendships, self-discovery, and spirits of the land.'

Kinrowan Review
'Windling's characters are brilliantly unique, and real; in many ways, they remind me of the myriad persons peppering Charles de Lint's novels, and indeed The Wood Wife has echoes of novels like Moonheart. But where Charles de Lint can occasionally stray into obscurity, Windling keeps a tight grip on her tale as mystery transforms into fantasy, and reality widens to accommodate it. At only 292 pages, it may seem that The Wood Wife is a quick read. But in an era when most fantasy authors live by the rule "Why use 300 pages when 900 will do?" (Tad Williams, are you reading this?), Windling never wastes a word, never meanders down a diversion. The result is a novel with an edge like a well-forged blade that will leave you breathless and gratified. The final unfolding of the
plot is magnificently complex, and the climax is bracing and worthy of the name.'

Read Chapters 1 and 2 Online



Jane Yolen: Briar Rose
A 1992 Nebula nominee. Mythopoeic Award winner in 1993.

Summaries from amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com:
"A young woman's promise to her dying grandmother leads her on a quest to {Poland to} discover the truth of her own family's mysterious beginnings in this . . . retelling of the classic fairy tale 'Briar Rose,' or 'The Sleeping Beauty.' In Yolen's modern-day novel, the wall of thorns becomes a barbed-wire prison, while the sleeping princess is both victim and heroine." (Libr J)
Around the castle there grew a hedge of thorns, which every year grew higher, and at last there was nothing more to be seen, not even the flag upon the roof. But the story of the beautiful sleeping princess, Briar Rose, went about the country so that from time to time the King's sons came and tried to get through the thorny hedge . . . So goes the German fairy tale of Briar Rose, the Sleeping Beauty ... an old, old tale, yet so potent that few among us do not know it today. Now one of America's most celebrated writers tells it afresh, set this time in forests patrolled by the German army during World War II - a tale with no guarantee of an ending that reads they lived happily ever after. A young American journalist is drawn to Europe and to the past as she investigates the mystery of her grandmother's life. From her grandmother she inherited a silver ring, a photograph, and the traditional tale of Briar Rose: clues that will ultimately lead her to a distant land and an astonishing revelation of death and rebirth. The story of the Holocaust, like the story of Sleeping Beauty, is indeed familiar - yet such is a master storyteller's skill that along the way we learn the tale anew. This is a tale of life and death, of love and hate, despair and faith. A tale of castles and thorns and sharp barbed wire. This is Briar Rose.
A powerful and moving novel that deftly blends the legend of Sleeping Beauty with the historical tragedy of the Holocaust. After her grandmother's death, a young American woman struggles to uncover the truth behind the old woman's past. The trail eventually leads to Europe and the darkest days of WWII.

The only review I could find, from Kirkus Reviews, was very negative. You can read it at amazon.com.
I was originally unsure if this book fit the speculative fiction category, although it is listed at several of the online booksellers as science fiction and fantasy. It is also a part of Terri Windling's excellent Fairy Tale Series. If anyone else on this list who has read Briar Rose considers it realistic fiction and therefore unsuitable for the BDG, I will withdraw the nomination. Do not confuse this book with Briar Rose by Robert Coover, published in 1997.

Other review: Linköping Science Fiction and Fantasy Archive (Review by Evelyn Leeper)


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