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Movie Reviews:

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Okay, another set of stories, another set of opinions...

Pamela Sargent - Fears

An examination of a very gender-oriented "what if" scenario; if men are more valued by the world then women, what will happen when technology allows parents to choose the gender of their children? Sargent's scenario is a decidedly bleak one.

Of course, gender imbalance isn't exactly a new issue -- China, for instance, has the worst gender imbalance problems in the world. The sort of nightmare scenario Sargent describes is exactly what some governments are desperately trying to avoid.

I find it interesting that this story puts forth the idea we'd already seen in The Women Men Don't See, namely that for all the movements, efforts, organizations, and headway made for women's rights, women really only have the power men choose to give them, and only keep it as long as men allow them to keep it. Another rather bleak idea, one central to the premise of the story; one which I'd like to think is also quite inaccurate, but perhaps that's just wishful thinking on my part. Query: Is this idea a commonly found within feminist science fiction, or merely dystopian feminist fiction?

I found Sargent's the style of the writing to be very reminiscent of Roger Zelazny... She has that same sort of language which is too stiff to be entirely personal, but far too personal to be truly stiff. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, of course -- I generally really like Zelazny -- I'm just making an observation. That, and she had cars with auto-drive features which, I've noticed, was always a favourite trope of Zelazny's.

Connie Willis -- All My Darling Daughters

This story alternately delighted me and horrified me. Of course, anyone who's read the story will immediately know why it horrified me, so I'll start with an examination of that.

The parallel drawn between the Tessels (small, helpless animals) and the girls who are victims of sexual predations of their fathers (also quite small and helpless compared against their father figures, whom society expects to protect them) is about as subtle as a tactical nuclear strike, but that's okay -- the story wasn't trying to be subtle, it was trying to evoke and shock to get a greater reaction from the reader. The idea of incest, of irresponsible (and even downright criminal) father figures is always centre-stage; besides Zibet and her sister, and the pseudo-paternal relationship between a Tessel and its owner, there's the constant father imagery, a father who abandoned a daughter to a trust fund, a father who would take advantage of a girl who could be his daughter, a father who built a hellish place for all his children, boys and girls... although it is a hell infinitely preferable to the personal homes of these sorts of fathers.

The ending isn't meant to uplift, but to nauseate -- while the Tessels may have been dealt with (whether liberated to be freed or simply put down, we aren't told, though the implication is that either would be better than their present situation), the true problem, the true focus of the story remains; nothing is done to help Zibet or her sisters save to provide another helpless creature for her father to victimize, with the hope that he will prefer the Tessel to his daughters. It's like trying to cure cancer with band-aids -- even if it helps, the problem's still there.

Okay... Now that I'm done with that, what delighted me about the story? The language. I've always loved fictional slang; whether slang is the vehicle of counter-culture or merely its last bastion, I find it fascinating. Of course, Willis didn't give her lexicon the same depth that Anthony Burgess did in A Clockerwork Orange, or even the same depth that Brian Campbell gave Ratkin (which I was later able to add to when I was given the privilege of converting that book), that's easily excusable... You can't expect the same detail in a short story than you can in a novel or even a full-sized RPG supplement. It was just a nice touch, methinks, and helped immerse me in the world Sargent was building for me.

Pat Murphy - His Vegetable Wife

Wives (and women in general besides) are all too often the victims of the sexual predations of husbands (and men in general besides). Got it. Marriage is a wife's prison. Okay, I get what your saying here, too -- not too common in western cultures, but all too common in many other parts of the world. The men who are responsible absolve themselves of their guilt by choosing to believe traditions, wisdom accepted as common in their culture, or even just willfully ignoring the evidence right in front of them in favour of reading their instruction booklet. Got that too. They'll even try to excuse their actions with token efforts of kindness or appology, and often their victims are objectified, seen as nothing more than property. Check.

I'm no stranger to the horrors of domestic violence, nor am I unsympathetic to the plight of women who are preyed upon by the men in their life, who feel trapped with no way out; I'm not even unsympathetic to the plight of the woman who, feeling she has no other options, finally breaks and repays violence with violence. And I, in no way, want to make anyone think I excuse domestic violence for any reason (whether committed by men or women, it's a horrible crime). I really want to make that clear, because I don't want to be lambasted in class for having written this. But, I've gotta say it:

I found this story terribly tedious.

I'm not sure why -- I mean, I've read other stories along these lines which certainly evoked a strongly sympathetic emotional response in me. Or maybe it was the fact that the woman in this was actually a plant which . But for whatever reason, this one... I dunno, maybe I just reached the limit of my "men = bad" fiction for the week.

Rick Wilber - War Bride

Interesting... I'm still not sure I enjoyed this story, but it at the very least made me think, especially after reading about how Wilber adapted his tale from the goings-on in the Philippines in WWII.

Of course, I'm no fan of imperialism (in any of its forms) to begin with, so it certainly wasn't necessary to read this story to put all of imperialism's evils into perspective. What I found provoking was my own reaction to the story -- I found myself rather unsympathetic to Jimmy's plight. Well, that's not entirely true... I understood why he did what he did (prostituted himself to maintain a semblance of a good life, didn't bother warning his friend Tom or the rest of the world for that matter of the Bendaii attack due the next day), and can't honestly say whether I would have had the courage to have done differently, but I didn't feel particularly sorry for him... And I found myself wondering if my feelings would have been stronger had Jimmy been a woman.

Admittedly, my feelings might have been muted by the idea that James was previously an affluent sports star, one who played basketball professionally. My disdain for professional athletes and the greed that often seems to come naturally to them may have something to do with it.

Of course, the idea of having sex with an amphibian is also rather revolting, so I felt rather badly for him on that account, but he didn't seem to particularly mind... Each to their own, I guess.

Does anyone know what book Wilber was referring to when James packed his "Yossarian"? I recognize Ahab, Huck, Nick Adams, and Horatio Hornblower, but my ignorance of Yossarian is preventing me from finding a pattern in his choices (the ones I recognize are all tales of male adventure and men triumphing against the odds).

Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 8:33 p.m.


Monday, September 22, 2003

Well, I've read the first four stories in the class kit now; I think I'll start off talking about my favourite of the four, and work my way from there.

Cordwainer Smith - The Ballad of Lost C'mell

*sniff* Ouch... This was a real tear-jerker for me. It was just so sad! I had a lump in my throat by the time I finished it. A very emotional story that's obviously intended to appeal to the heart.

I really loved the high-blown, epic feel of the story, where everything was depicted in as dramatic a way as possible. The story wasn't just set in the future -- it was set farther in the future than the reader can fathom. The animals weren't just slaves -- their lives were completely and utterly without value, disposed of like so much garbage when they ceased to be of value. The ruling body wasn't just a bunch of politicians -- it was a host of telepaths, each hundreds of years old, with access to technology beyond anything which the lower castes could possibly acquire.

To further this 'epic' feel, the story even starts with an except from a non-existent ballad. VERY nice touch, that. Even outside the ballad the language was more high-blown than in the other three stories, and at times it felt like it was almost bleeding into the realm of fairy tale. The subject matter, too, was a sort of sci-fi take on a medieval courtly romance -- a great love forever denied thanks to insurmountable barriers of class, circumstance, and propriety.

Yet, also, it remained the most human of the tale. Perhaps it lacked the angst of "The Women Men Don't See," and didn't offer the same personal insight into the protagonists that "Shambleau" and "The Woman from Altair" did, but it definitely played to my own emotions best. Only real point of criticism I have is that for an "alien," C'mell was a little bit too easily understood. Really, she was more a human woman painted a different colour (and not really that, even, since the text made it pretty clear she, like most animal people, looked for the most part indistinguishable from true humans).


Poor C'mell.... That really chokes me up.

Leigh Brackett - The Woman from Altair

A murder-mystery disguised as science fiction. Interesting, but not something I'd go out of my way to read again.

Of course, anyone who's read any science fiction at all (or even watched any episodes of the Outer Limits, for that matter) knew exactly what was going on the moment Rafe's dog, Buck, attacked Bet. Still, even in 1951, I imagine that Science Fiction was a fairly young genre, so that can be forgiven... As can the idea that, somehow, in the future of interplanetary travel $1 million can be a lot of profit for Earth's foremost interplanetary trading company (as if inflation were somehow magically halted in 1951 -- honestly, when I read David McQuarrie talking about the profit of his last venture as if it were some extremely impressive amount, it brought to mind memories of childhood where kids would dreamily speculate about the true meaning of A Million Dollars, like it were some absolute, a sort of mysterious, perfect object in the realm of money).

Just like in "The Ballad of Lost C'mell," the alien woman Ahrian wasn't really alien at all when you really looked at the story. She was just a human woman with a funny-looking body (in this case, sized down). Her behaviour and thought processes were all decidedly human -- when she decides to murder David McQuarrie's family, it's a tragically understandable human motive which drives her.

James Tiptree Jr - The Women Men Don't See

Finally, we're getting into something a little more truly 'contemporary' (not that I minded in the case of "The Ballad," as I think I've made clear, I just mean it's nice to get to something a bit more recent). A very subtle story which made me ponder it quite a bit after finishing; I'm still not sure I entirely understand what Tiptree was trying to get at.

The women in this story definitely felt quite alien to me, even though the implication is that they probably were quite typically human -- merely disenfranchised by society and seeking a, shall we say, alternative method of escaping from not-particularly-tender attentions of the world of men. Although, to be honest, for most of the short story I was quite certain they were aliens in disguise. And maybe they were. I honestly don't know.

I'm also somewhat puzzled by the author's decision to have the two most prominent characters involved in the U.S. government... One of whom was appariently schooled in espionage techniques and doesn't even go on vacation without a tiny, concealed firearm (though he's still a really lousy shot, I guess). I can only assume Tiptree was trying to get at something by doing this, perhaps making Ruth seem even more alienated by the fact she feels the way she does about the world around her despite the fact she has an apparently successful, affluent job... But I'm really not sure.

The aliens that were presented in this were, to me, suitably alien in nature.

An interesting bit of trivia -- while quite skittish (and prone to attack when afraid or bothered), lampreys are apparently capable of being quite friendly to humans who are patient enough to let them get used to their presence. You can even feed them by hand... though better watch your fingers, since they've got very strong jaws and can sometimes get a bit over-enthusiastic on that first bite.

C.L. Moore - Shambleau

The thing that struck me the most when I read this story was just how dated it felt. Although it was obviously intended to be a science fiction story, one could have easily changed a few words here and there and the bulk of it would have read more like a western than anything else. Still, that's a minor point.

I enjoyed reading the alternative take on Greek mythology; it could have been presented with a bit more subtlety, but that's a problem common to short stories which, by their very nature, must necessarily be fairly direct and compact. I found Yarol's exposition at the end of the story to be awfully clumsy, unfortunately. However, one thing I'll definitely credit this story -- among the four short stories we've read in the class kit so far, the Shambleau seemed by far the most "alien" of the females presented. I found myself trying to figure out what kind of thought processes must have driven her -- they seemed particularly difficult to decipher. Not human-feeling at all.

Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 10:31 p.m.


Finally found some time with which to start a blog. Very soon, I'll be able to include some of my thoughts, which I'm sure everyone will agree are utterly brilliant.

Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 8:48 p.m.


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ENGL 3621: Fantomina The moral of Fantomina (unge...
Superman Returns The teaser trailer for the new S...
ENGL 3621: Concerning Frances Burney... ...and N...
English 3621: Essay Just finished my essay; sinc...
Okay, I'm Big Enough to Admit It. I was wrong. T...
Teh Funnay! What if Fox News had been around thro...
English 3621: Makin, Astell, and Wollstonecraft ...
09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003
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02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004
03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004
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07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004
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10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004
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05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005
09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005
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