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Tuesday, October 21, 2003

"A university is concerned with preparation for the future and there is an underlying philosophy that overcrowded living conditions and a lack of the comforts of the middle class is not only excused but somehow educational" (China Mountain Zhang, pg. 212)

Happy Malloween Everyone!

Or something...

More on Women's Country

Jason -- thanks for the info. I actually didn't know much about the roots of martial art suffixes (save the -te in karate for hand, but anyone who was alive for the Karate Kid movies knows that.) I'm actually quite surprised that Aikido has an aggressive cousin -- Aikido's always struck me as just about the most polite martial art in existence.

I actually had heard of kenjutsu before, but I wasn't aware that it was still in much practice today. I guess I stand (well, sit) corrected. :)

Maureen F. McHugh - China Mountain Zhang

Once again, Jason's the first person who's got his blog up, and once again his thoughts cover what most of mine would have been, but are probably put in a much better way than I would have. Methinks I'm going to have to find a way to blog sooner. Well, let's see if I can add anything...

I really loved this book -- to place it among the course selection we've come across thus far, I'd have to put this second, just after The Ballad of Lost C'mell (which is saying a lot, since that was a short story and this is a novel and, quite frankly, I didn't have enough time to read this but I did anyway). I had a really hard time putting it down... In fact, I didn't do so on purpose, but eventually I just sort of konked out at around page 240 or so, late last night at 3 or 4 am. I would have finished it in one sitting if I'd been able, but unfortunately the remaining 70 pages had to wait until today.

McHugh is a natural writer; her characters seem easy and real, even when she's dealing with the cliche, such as the stereotypical overprotective Chinese patriarchal father, the sweet little girl living in squalid poverty, or the aggressive, predatory heterosexual male (though something about this did bother me -- which I'll touch upon later.)

Political Theory

I find Marxist thought fascinating, and it's obvious to me that Maureen McHugh studied it pretty closely in writing this novel (much more closely than I ever likely will). The problem with me is that I don't like capitalism, but then I don't like communism, either; I'm not entirely sure which McHugh prefers, herself, but she seems to have come to the same conclusion I have: in capitalism, man exploits man; in communism, it's the exact opposite.

Of course, the political theory, and even the science fiction setting, take a back seat to the story -- which, as Jason points out, is exactly the way it should be. We're never beat over the head with the setting, save a few sledgehammer love-taps at the very beginning to help us get our footing. After that, we're eased into the world culture, given one new setting-related tidbit to chew on every few pages. Enough to keep our interest, but never enough to overwhelm. We never do learn exactly what year it is, nor do we really ever care. Coincidentally, this focus on the personal also makes it easier to analyze the aspects of gender and sexuality within the book.

Gender

The attitudes towards gender that McHugh plays with seem extremely mature. We aren't presented with the naive proto-feminist idea that the genders are exactly alike, nor are we exposed to the sexist idea that one gender is necessarily superior to the other. We're presented with a number of different successful individuals of either gender, devoid of any bias that I was able to notice.

Homosexuality and Zhang

The plight of the homosexual was presented extremely tastefully; I didn't have any problem relating to Zhang even despite our different sexual outlooks. He's frustrated and unhappy, and he's also brilliant -- and these aspects of his character are directly related to one another. As the reader comes quickly to understand, at heart Zhang is a very honest person and he wants the freedom to be as honest outwardly as it is to himself. Unfortunately, the larger world doesn't allow him this freedom. In fact, the only place he can be free is among the marginalized, often terrified homosexuals of the world. "Government is big, we are small. We are only free when we slip through the cracks" (44).

But Zhang doesn't take well to simply slipping through the cracks. He has too much ambition and too much intelligence, as shown by the way that he flourishes in Nanjing University, as well as the fact that he manages to achieve that blend of the artistic and the scientific as an organic engineer (something which we are led to believe is an extremely difficult thing to accomplish). He has what it takes to be part of the social elite -- he could even succeed in China. Only he's gay, which makes him a criminal deserving of social ostracizing at best, or a bullet to the back of the head at worst.

Zhang's Three Trials

Obviously, Zhang is complicated. When he goes to Baffin Island, he was simultaneously drawn to the landscape for the way it made him feel so small (71: "It has nothing to do with me. It is perfect, sterile, dead. I think I love this landscape. I know I am afraid of it"), yet at the same time it frightens him because of its lack of "human reference" (73) and eventually makes him go near-mad with despair.

Actually, if I'm being honest, I don't think it's really the human reference that bothers him about the landscape (though that's obviously what Zhang thinks he thinks), I think it's more the lack of distractions. Throughout most of the book, it seems to me Zhang is struggling with himself, trying to find some way he can fit into the world around him that gratifies his natural intelligence and ambition yet doesn't sacrifice the freedom he holds so dear. He doesn't like thinking about this, though, so he's always distracting himself -- going out cruising or to the kite races, taking dead-end jobs where he has to work most of the time so he even lacks the option of bettering his social position (since that would require he think about what kind of social position he's looking for). In Baffin Island, which serves as something of a first trial-by-fire (ironic, in this case, as it’s a trial-by-ice), he lacks those distractions, and he's forced to face some things he doesn't want to face: " carry myself wherever I go, and it is myself I want to escape from. I hate myself. I hate this place. And I find it is very tiring to carry hate all the time" (87). In the end, though, he finally learns to adjust, and to let go -- that no matter how bad things may get at night, morning will always come eventually.

We find an interesting contrast between Zhang and Haitao during Zhang's second great trial (appropriate, since his second trail is to lose the man that he loves so much). Zhang looks up to Haitao a great deal, yet it seems to me that Zhang has a more mature outlook by this point -- Haitao is stuck more in the self-hating mentality that Zhang moved past during Baffin Island. Haitao even calls homosexuals a "disease in society ... bad cells" (157). Zhang is much more forgiving in his attitudes by this point, saying that "no one is guilty, just maybe unlucky" (158).

What I see as Zhang's third and final trial of his hero's journey is the merging of the artistic with the scientific in the Wuxi complex -- here, he learns to simply accept and let go, much in the Taoist/Daoist tradition. Alternately, one could argue that his third trial is instead setting up the business, but I see that more a resolution as a result of his surviving the three trials -- the reward of his quest, if you will, attaining both the freedom and the social standing he's been looking for all along. Regardless, after the Wuxi complex, there's no way he can go back to being "just a job engineer, another dumb construction tech" by this time, no matter how much he might want to (273).

Marriage on Mars

Most of the side-plots (tangentially connected to the main story) seemed to exist mainly as a way to explore the world McHugh builds without having to rely exclusively on Zhang (who, while honest, can sometimes get a little tiring after a while). I really enjoyed Martine and Alexi's story -- I suspect that McHugh might have set that all up simply to present the "punch line" of a married couple having their first real argument in a kitchen full of sleepy, bleating goats.

I think Jason's right on the money with the presentation of marriage as a business contract. However, I'd like to point out that, when you get right down to it, that's exactly what a marriage is. North American culture possesses a bunch of neo-romantic notions about marriage that often (cynics might even say very often) turn out to be untrue. In fact, the idea that love necessarily precedes (and is a requisite for) marriage is a decidedly Western (and largely, though not entirely, post-Romantic) idea. For a mature, non-Western view of the marriage that's in an easily accessible format, I highly recommend renting Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding. Regardless, I found Alexi and Martine to be extremely sympathetic characters, and helpful in providing another view of McHugh's universe.

Rape

I feel like I need to say a few words on the rape that occurs in the book. I almost feel like McHugh is trying to link San-xiang's new beauty with the rape. Certainly, that could be what McHugh had in mind, but I'd really like to think that's not what she's saying, since I'd like to give her more credit than that...

I remember many, many moons ago, in one of my high school English classes, the subject of homosexuality came up in relation to one of the stories we were reading. Of course, the room was full of narrow-minded, self-conscious teenage males, so a lot of very prejudicial commentary was bandied about. At one point, however, the teacher mentioned that she didn't have any fear of homosexuals, unlike heterosexuals -- she wouldn't ever be afraid of being raped in a dark alley by a gay man. "Makes sense," I thought to myself at the time.

More recently, I was studying about pirates of the 15th-18th centuries (why would take a while to explain; just suffice to say it was tangentially related to a project I was working on at the time). There's a stereotype that we hold today about pirates being carousing, bloodthirsty rapists. To a large degree, this is true. What many people don't know, however, is that pirates were also overwhelmingly gay. In fact, the books I'd read reached the conclusion that it was not simply the situational homosexuality that has been discussed in class before, but an actual sexual orientation (which kind of puts the lie to pirates all carousing and wenching in seedy port cities during their off time since, in fact, it was mostly just the heterosexual minority which partook in such activities). This underscores what I've learned in my Psych classes about rape, in that it's not an act of passion.

Now, admittedly, I don't know much about the facts surrounding date rape, save what I see on an occasional pamphlet (and I never believe pamphlets of any sort since I never have any idea how the information was gathered -- having taken and done very well in a Stats for Psych course, I'm quite aware how numbers can be manipulated, even by accident, into saying something they're not meant to say). Thus, I hesitate to state anything definitive about date rape, since that's obviously what happens to San-xiang. However, when it comes to assault rape, it is not an act of predatory passion; it's about terror and power. It's not a matter of horniness -- it's a matter of anger, hatred, and maladjustment. I can't honestly imagine that the motives behind date rape could very different than the motives behind assault rape -- again, I hesitate to say anything definitive, but I have to assume that, unless I find any evidence to the contrary, the motivations are the same. Thus, being ugly isn't a shield against rape, though the novel might lead a reader to think that's what McHugh is suggesting. As for myself, I'm honestly not sure what McHugh's really trying to say with San-xiang's chapter.

Well, that's all for now. Sorry for the rambliness (I always feel like I do way too much rambling and way too little thought-organizing), and see y'all in class tomorrow.


Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 8:46 PM
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Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Did I ever mention that I'm a periodic insomniac? No? Well, I am... I did shift work at a call centre for a few years in the late nineties. Ever since then, once in a while my body just seems to decide that it doesn't want to get any sleep for a few days or, in the worst cases, even a week. And even if I do get to sleep during this time, it's only after hours and hours of tossing and turning (no matter how tired I happen to be). Ever seen (or read) Fight Club? I've been there (well, the insomnia thing, not the ritually beating people up thing... or the support group thing... or the multiple personality thing... so, I guess in a way I haven't been there, but, well, you know what I mean...)

Stay with me, I'm going somewhere with this. I swear.

I also likely haven't mentioned my pets. I've got three rats -- one was given to me as a birthday gift (whom I call Socrates, after the smart rat from Willard / Ratman's Notebooks), the other two I adopted when their former owner couldn't take care of them properly any longer (who were named Simon and Garfunkel, respectively, names for which I should not be blamed). They're all terribly sweet, but they're also incredibly... um... male. They've got lots of testosterone that makes them love to wrestle and play with each other. Sometimes when it's least convenient for me.

Like, say, at 4 AM. Last night. Just after I'd finally gotten to sleep after several consecutive nights of near-sleeplessness.

So, please, don't hold it against me if my thoughts on these stories are more rambly and less coherent than usual (told ya I was going somewhere with this). Normally, I'd just wait until after I'd gotten some decent rest, but my schedule this week is packed very tight, so I want to ensure I blog while I still have the chance.

Anyway, enough of that. On to stories.

Samuel Delany - Among the Blobs

While it's sometimes hard for me to follow, I've had a soft spot for surrealist stories ever since I cracked open the spine of Alice in Wonderland. Or maybe it was ever since I first looked at a Salvador Dali painting... Well, the point is that these sorts of stories (and storytelling) tend to appeal to me.

Plus, the comparison between computer use and masturbation was simply hilarious.

I think I understand the title of this week's story selection a bit better now -- if "cruising" is meant to refer to the homosexual stereotype of seeking purely physical, impersonal sexual encounters, this certainly seems to fit the bill. The masturbation sessions that Joe partake in seem completely impersonal. He doesn't know anyone, no one knows him. That's the way things are supposed to be; he is rebuffed when he merely jokingly makes a gesture of comraderie or fellowship by smiling and nodding at the police officer.

Still, must delve deeper into the story. Of course, we're presented with the age-old metaphor of orgasm = death, since Joe climaxes just as his science-fiction counterpart reaches the brink of asphyxiation, but that's such a tired old metaphor that it doesn't deserve any mention other than pointing out that it's there. However, the juxtaposition (I think I'm using that word correctly) between Joe and his "Classic Science Fiction" counterpart is quite interesting.

While the events of real-world Joe are certainly pleasurable to him, the reader gets the feeling that this is a fairly routine activity for him -- laid back, certainly, but still quite routine. Yet his CSF counterpart, Bat D---, manages to find adventure and excitement even in the middle of a meeting of the Galactic Council of Betelgeuse. Not just any sort of excitement, but a life-and-death struggle (there's that metaphor again) between himself and an unfathomable being...

Which brings me to my next observation. The blob is obviously meant to represent mainstream society in the real world, since Joe pretty much says as much: "Joe thought of these crowds as a Blob, to which he was by and large indifferent." Joe is alone within a crowd (or a blob). Does he mind, particularly? Well, he certainly pretends not to mind, at least...

Bat D---'s Blob is unfathomable, totally alien. Its actions, its flutchulations cannot be understood (a form of communication? reproduction? art?). The only noises it makes is the incomprehensible "Burble, burble, burble" (shades of the Jabberwock). In this way, Delany seems to be saying that the "straight" world can be just as unfathomable and different to Joe as the gay world would be to a heterosexual.

The Blob is also dangerous. Bat D--- provokes it, and it nearly kills him, enveloping him within its gooey body. Yet, death is likened to sexual pleasure... Perhaps provoking the blob, or at least existing and seeking pleasure invisibly within it (certainly Joe doesn't seem any different from anyone else in the crowd, no matter how different he feels) actually enhances his pleasure? Makes it more exciting, perhaps.

Still, I feel like I'm missing something. Maybe even something important. I rather wish that I could look at the story in its anthology, preferably with some sort of editorial comment so that I could better put the story into context.

Samuel Delany (again) - aye, and gomorrah...

I should have been able to predict that, in a course about gender and sexuality in Contemporary Science Fiction, eventually we'll be reading a story involving a genderless, asexual being. Yet, this still took me by surprise...

The language Delany uses in this story is, in my opinion, vastly superior to the language he uses in the previous story. Throughout most of the story the narrative tone was quite jarring to me, and usually gave me a powerful sense of movement. Confusing, to be sure, and deftly evasive of the actual subject matter. And unlike the rather impersonal tone of Among the Blobs, this story practically drips with passion.

Really, passion is what the story amounts to. If I had to, I would guess that Delany approached writing this story with an initial idea: if a creature is stripped of both its gender and its sexuality, what does it have left? For such a being, is passion even still possible?

Delany's answer seems to be that yes, it is. Certainly, sexual desire is no longer necessary; Spacers possess no sexual urges of any kind. They lack both the requisite parts and the drive. Yet, they still want to be wanted... They want others to desire them. Frelks.

It's doubtful that the protagonist needs the prostitution money, of course. Spacers do work far away from earth and require drastic alterations to their bodies -- chances are, they're paid quite well. The protagonist even comes out and tells the woman he meets that he doesn't want her money. He just needs her to give him something that's important. He wants to be wanted badly enough to warrant a sacrifice. He wants to know desire, since release will ever be outside his grasp.

(I just realized I'm referring to the Spacer protagonist as a he. Natural inclination, I guess, since "it" seems to be dehumanizing and "she" doesn't seem quite right, either... "He" seems most appropriate considering that was his former gender, prior to becoming a Spacer).

Once, such desire was common and easy for Spacers to find. Yet I, at least, was left with the conclusion that the popularity of the Spacers' jobs and existences is on the wane, and that these Frelks are much harder to find nowadays. This feeling was especially reinforced by the fact that, at the end, all the Spacers return to the Spacer hang-out where they are forced to be alone together.

The title strikes me as important; Gomorrah, the Biblical city destroyed by God for the depravity and sins of its inhabitants (the other city destroyed is Sodom -- rarely is one mentioned without the other). Certainly, the world of the Spacers seems quite decadent... The likening of sexual relations (if not outright intercourse, if such is even possible) with Spacers to necrophilia (as well as the more subtle comparison to pedophilia) makes it even seem perverse. Somehow, I sensed a touch of the jaded in the characters, as well -- the brutally candid speech of the Turkish art student gave me that idea, as well as the fact that she wasn't willing to give up anything to have sexual relations with this Spacer whom she (presumably, to use her own words) "loved" and desired.

Joanna Russ - When It Changed

And now we're into the herbal tea... Except this story presents anything but a stereotype. A society of women found on a faraway planet, long ago stranded there and forced to artificial procreation simply to avoid extinction. Inevitably, since the human desire for companionship (and usually sexual companionship) will make itself known in any situation, they are drawn to homosexuality as the only standard for relationships available to them.

These are very hard, violent women. The story rejects the notion of the feminine being linked to passivity and nurturing; these are women shaped by their harsh environment and they do what they must to survive. Their society is certainly not utopian -- it seems a throwback to times considered barbaric even today, when state politicians would duel to the death over a slight or a significant disagreement (just as the protagonist has). Of course, they realize they would seem, to the newly-arrived Earth men, a bit backwards... But "give us time" the protagonist seems to plead. Unfortunately, time has run out, and the world will inevitably change.

I found the depiction of the earth men interesting -- they were described as almost alien... their proportions were all wrong, and they were described as being too hard. Repulsive, even, to the point that the protagonist recoils when she is first asked to take part in the ancient (and now alien) custom of shaking hands. They were hard to relate to, and insulting even when they (at least seemed) did not intend to be. It could be argued that these two gendered-cultures have departed so much that they have become irreconcileable.

(As an aside, shaking hands is a custom which has survived in our own world for a very, very, very long time. I can't help but wonder why Russ decided to have had this custom die out?)

Women's rights is touched upon in the tale with the spurious claim of the earth man leader that gender equality has been achieved on earth. That this claim is false is made quite apparent by the fact that, when they ask after the people of Whileaway, they are quite pointedly referring to the men. Can any culture, Russ seems to be asking, in which both genders are included truly be equal?

Change seems frightening to any culture... At least to any human one.

Eleanor Arnason - The Potter of Bones

A very long story which, while engaging, still tried my patience at points. But then, I was trying to get through reading it so that I could get started on an essay which was due this morning so perhaps it would have been easier to read had I been able to do so more leisurely.

I found the culture in this story fascinating... An entire race of homosexuals who only pair up with their opposite gender in order to breed (an activity displeasing to both parties). This struck me as quite unlikely, but still it was very interesting to see how Arnason handled the idea.

The gender stereotypes in the story didn't seem to be too far from the norm -- women tended to take roles as caregivers and concerned themselves with familial matters. Men were aggressive and ruled over military matters. The main difference here is that matters of family (and, by extension, genaeology) were considered far more important and thus women had the ultimate say in this matriarchal society. More gender role swapping occurs in that the males are seen as more loyal and sensitive, while women have to be hard and tend to switch sexual companions quickly in comparison.

I find myself hard-pressed to decide whether gender themes or the discovery of empirical methods takes a more central role in the story... Regardless, while I found the story fascinating, somehow it left me with something of an empty feeling at the end. Other than some minimal gender-swapping which Arnason does, the only difference that appears to me between this fictional race and our own human race is that Arnason's people have different coloured fur. Not exactly pushing the envelope.

Props go to Arnason, however, on the method of narration -- I enjoy the fable-like style of language and the fact that the entire story is told retrospectively by an (almost-but-not-entirely) impartial narrator from the far future. If not for this, I'm not sure if I could have gotten all the way through the story, since it starts very slow, continues at the same pace, and lacks much in the way of dramatic tension.

Apparently, Eleanor Arnason has done some work in the Steampunk genre. I may have to look into that.

Anyway, I'm finished. Off to, hopefully, get some sleep (that's where I'm a viking!)


Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 9:44 PM
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Saturday, October 11, 2003

Oh, how I wish I could somehow get an extra 3 hours out of each day...

Well, this is kinda late, but here you go.

Sheri S. Tepper - The Gate to Women's Country

Unfortunately, many of the observations that I would have made about this book have already been made (and probably phrased better than I would have) by others, either in class or in their blogs. Still, I guess there's no harm in throwing in my two cents.

Before I do, though, I should mention something. I'm probably going to say a lot about the flaws I saw in the book, which may lead one to thinking that I disliked the book. In fact, I very much enjoyed it. However, there were a few points in which the book rather underwhelmed me, and I can't really talk about the book without bringing them up.

Where Herland was a vision of a lack of gender relations, Women's Country is a vision of an extremely divided world of gender. Tepper wasn't exactly subtle about the gender themes of the book -- we have a huge, nigh impenetrable wall dividing men from women in the world... Protecting women from the destructive impulses of men. In this post-Freudian age I find it difficult not to bring up the symbolic parallel between returning to the womb and a warrior returning to the gate at the age of 15 (especially since the symbolism is brought up rather bluntly by one of the characters in the book, IIRC). Likewise, the idea that the warriors represent aggressive, predatory male sexuality isn't too subtle, either -- I mean, they take their oaths for the Brotherhood of the Ram standing beneath a giant, erect penis.

I agree with Andrea in that it seems to me that Tepper comes down firmly on the Nature side of the Nature vs. Nurture debate. Having taken more than a few psych courses (not sure if I've ever mentioned this, but before I decided to do an English major I was going to be a Psych major), it seems to me that she's rather ignorant of the whole Nurture side of things. However, I'm not really ready to condemn Tepper for this, since I'm not sure how far along the debate was in 1988 (when she wrote the book)... I suspect it was further along that Tepper seems to have been aware, but I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

I also find Andrea's observation that Dystopias are all about placing blame quite interesting. It seems quite obvious to me that Tepper is placing the blame for the worst of the world's woes (or at least the worst of this fictional world's woes) on the shoulders of men; they were the ones that always fought the wars, after all (which is true to a point, in that most of the world's leaders have been men and therefore women haven't had much of an opportunity to declare wars, however it also requires the ignoring of contrary examples, such as the many dirty little wars of Queen Victoria or Catherine the Great). Certainly, she isn't making things as one-sided as Perkins-Gilman did in Herland, what with all the underhanded doings of Women's Country, but the message is still there.

I'm not too sure exactly what kind of light in which Tepper meant to present Women's Country; obviously, she's not trying to make it out to be perfect, merely vastly superior to the outright evils of the warrior-driven society of men's country. However, I think some of the realities of the oligarchic rule of Women's Country struck me as a bit more brutal and even evil than I think she would have been happy with. Certainly, the theme that everything that the rulers of Women's Country did was necessary and justifiable resounded throughout the text. However, at its best, the genetic weeding that Women's Country was doing smacked of Latin-American Positivism of the 19th Century (read scientific racism) at its best, while at its worst struck me as a less brutal version of getting rid of the "inferior" (note the quote marks) genetic material of the jewish population in Nazi Germany. I found the entire concept quite disturbing, especially since the author was obviously trying to justify genetic weeding over, say, education. I found the angsty lamentations of the women of the ruling council to be trying and perhaps a little overwrought; shades of "white man's burden" (a term which, unlike today, was not always said with sarcasm).

Frankly, I wouldn't want to be a man in this world. My only choice would be between a life of ignorance and violence, or a life of slavery (and make no mistake, the servitors were slaves, whether or not they were treated well. Roman slaves were often well-educated and given quite a bit of respect, too, but they were still slaves.) Which leads me to my next point, not exactly directly related to the themes of gender or sexuality...

I'm going to go against the grain here and say that I found the servitors to be trite and laughable; I didn't enjoy them at all. But then, I tend to laugh at any sort of entertainment (literature or movie) which has "waykewl sooper ninja powerz!" I went through a ninja obsession phase (as did most of my generation) for a while in the eighties, but I got over it; now such things just make me roll my eyes and laugh. The fact that they're telepathic/empathic doesn't help matters much. Frankly, I would have been happier had the Servitors been left entirely out of the equation, and the women of Women's Country simply defended themselves with their own martial prowess -- in fact, put into a feminist perspective, the servitors seem somewhat counter-productive, as if the women of Women's Country still needed big, strong men (albeit sensitive and servile) to keep them safe.

(As an aside, what kind of martial art did Martha Evesdaughter know, anyway? I know a little martial arts -- enough to know the theory behind most of them, although not enough to be of much actual use were I to get in a fight -- and I really don't know of any martial art whose creedo is "strike only to kill." Jujitsu comes somewhat close, with its "whatever works" ideal, but even then it's not really about killing necessary. My own karate taught me "I will flee rather than hurt, I will hurt rather than maim, and I will maim rather than kill"... but perhaps I've just shown a little bit too much of my old martial art geek side of me than I should have.)

The Greek influence on the culture that Tepper built was very interesting -- I think Nathan was right on the money in his comparison to Athens and Sparta. I also had a lot of fun trying to figure out exactly where Women's Country was... Having now finished the book, I'm still not sure, but I suspect somewhere in North America, probably in the States (mainly because Holyland struck me as a really twisted version of a post-apocalyptic Bible Belt of the southern US). Somewhere along one of the coasts, of course... But I can't really pin anything else down, given that we weren't provided with much of a description of the local flora or fauna.

(Another aside: where were the rats? I mean, everyone knows that rats are prolific in post-apocalyptic worlds. It's one of the rules, dammit!)

I was also fascinated with the idea of everyone in Women's Country having to learn one science, one craft, and one art; a very idealistic education. Add a sport to that and you'll have a culture of Rennaissance (wo)Men. (Actually, come to think of it, didn't all the women of Women's Country have to learn how to fight, too? I suppose that would qualify). Obviously, the women of WC thought this was necessary to prevent the loss of past knowledge, but beyond its cultural necessity I think it's a cool idea overall; I often think that North America's education system promotes overspecialization as it is.

The writing style reminded me of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, with the frequent switch of narrators, setting, and timeline. Le Guin was actually criticized for her use of that narrative style, because when she did it the idea was still relatively new (IIRC), however I think that sort of narrative style had been better established by 1988; plus, we had the play to help tie things together. Some might find that sort of writing a little jarring, but I'm rather used to it -- after all, I've happily read and enjoyed Gunter Grass's The Rat, which often switches between timelines and narrators and from plot to sub-plot multiple times in a single chapter, so I'm not about to complain.

I think that's just about all I wanted to say... On to the next set of stories.


Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 3:50 PM
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English 3621: Makin, Astell, and Wollstonecraft ...
09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003
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