God. Can’t live with Him, can’t live without Him.

Ursula LeGuin published a book in 2000 called The Telling and in this book we have a main character, Sutty, who is from the planet Earth; which is called Terra and is in shambles, even though the planet that Sutty is sent to, Aka, seems to think that Terra is a model society which they should model themselves after. Sutty is an Observer, specializing in linguistics, and her mission to Aka is the first assignment since graduating. While Sutty thinks that she is doing a terrible job on Aka, her supervisor, Tong, has given her a special assignment because of her background from Terra. Terra was under the control of the Unists, a dictatorial religious movement that destroys anything that goes against their Lord. However, on Aka, society was the exact opposite and any sort of “religious” practice that we would think of was outlawed.

And it is this idea of religion that makes up a huge undertone of The Telling, in addition to being the most interesting part of the book. What LeGuin has given us are what seems to be completely different societies; Terra and the Hosts of the Lord dictatorship abolishing anything that they think might harm their position of power contrasted with Aka’s idea that “Pure Science” is the only true religion and the Corporate State jailing and “re-educating” anyone found guilty of “reactionary teachings”. What I like most about what LeGuin has written is that she doesn’t take sides as to which of these viewpoints she thinks is the correct one; she actually does just the opposite. LeGuin writes in such a way as to show the utter ridiculousness of both sides of this argument and to preach toleration in religion, regardless of which side of the argument you fall on. (Preach isn’t the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind) I think that is what the world needs; a little tolerance goes a long way in the grand scheme of things.

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Robots Have Feelings, Too.

Humans have destroyed the Earth…er…let me start over. Humans have destroyed Orbus (Earth). In Jeanette Winterson’s “The Stone Gods” humans have discovered a new planet that can be inhabitable (Read: destroyed) by humanity, Planet Blue. However, this work by Winterson isn’t just an adventure tale of deep space exploration on par with Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise. This is a book about the ever expanding idea of who (or what) deserves to have personal rights; and what, in fact, should those rights entail. (Should a woman be allowed to be regressed to twelve to sexually satisfy her pedo husband?) But, the thing that interests me most is the idea of the Robo sapiens and what kind of rights Winterson seems to be saying they deserve.

Spike is a Robo sapien and has just returned to Earth from a three year mission discovering and detailing Planet Blue.

What happens on Planet Blue stays on Planet Blue

(Did I mention Spike is female? Oh, and she was designed to be incredibly beautiful. OH! And one of big reasons she was sent was for the men of the mission to be able to have sex with her.) After Spike returns from her mission, the government declares that she is to be destroyed…after they recover all relevant information off of her hard drives, of course. However, the heroine of our story, Billie Crusoe (insert comparison to Robinson Crusoe) is allowed to give Spike one final interview before her decommission. It is here we learn the real truth about the Robo sapiens; that while humans are becoming evolutionarily stagnant, even devolving, Robo sapiens are evolving.

“Robo sapiens were programmed to evolve…”

“Within limits.”

“We have broken those limits.”

So, if our idea of humanity is that we’ve EVOLVED into what we are, shouldn’t a “robot” that can evolve, even when humanity can’t, be given the same rights as we are?(They deserve it more than we do)Should we be allowed to just tear these Robo sapiens apart and scrap them whenever we decide they’ve fulfilled their usefulness? Is Spike even really a “robot”?

Snakes. Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?

Scary-ish grey alien

Octavia Butler, who is quickly becoming my favorite female science-fiction writer, introduces us to a whole new breed of alien in her novel, “Lilith’s Brood”.  Most people are used to the idea of aliens being little gray man-like extraterrestrials, but Butler takes this idea and puts a whole new Shyamalan-ian twist on them. Butler’s aliens, like what we think of, are also humanoid in most characteristics; they’re bi-pedal, they have mouths, in most cases they have two arms and two legs. However, it’s after we get past these characteristics that we see the big difference between what we expect and what we get.

“The lights brightened as she had supposed they would, and what had seemed to be a tall, slender man was still humanoid, but it had no nose…It was gray all over-pale gray skin, darker gray hair on its head…And the hair-the whatever-it-was-moved…Medusa…Some of the “hair” writhed independently, a nest of snakes startled, driven in all directions.” This is the frightening realization that Lilith finds when she finally meets one of her captors….or do they prefer to call themselves saviors? Whatever they are and whatever they want to declare themselves, the fact of the matter is that aliens, by themselves, are w0rrisome enough, but to have aliens that writhe with snakes/tendrils/tentacles….EVERYWHERE…is capable of making people lose sleep.

Pooping his pants

I think what makes these aliens so much more intense for the reader than other aliens, besides the creepy snake/tentacles covering the entirety of their body; not that that in itself isn’t freakin’ creepy, is how much like humans they are while at the same time being entirely different. The Oankalis have societies, just like humans. They form couples and have their own type of marriage. They are like humans in so many essential ways and the only real differences are appearances. The old saying goes, “We fear what we do not understand,” and I think it goes doubly when what we don’t understand is so much like what we are.

Joanna and Kurt Sitting in a Tree…

In “The Female Man” by Joanna Russ we have a very complicated narrative following, mainly, three different women with a fourth unholy abomination spectator, occasionally throwing in her two cents; usually concerning scratching something with her/its claws. The entire time I was reading this story something about it seemed so familiar. It wasn’t until the point where Jeannine was outside, on the bed of pine needles, that I realized why; this novel is written in the same style as, oh, so many Kurt Vonnegut novels. The disconnected narrative. The point of view from multiple characters. The author character who makes an appearance to speak with one or more of the other characters…

Slaughterhouse Five Genius

At first I found this story incredibly difficult to get into. The characters, to me, didn’t seem connected at all. However, once I figured out the style and patterns were all very Vonnegut-esque this book became a lot more enjoyable and a whole lot easier to read…even a little funny. C’mon, it’s hilarious that the god-like figure with bat wings sent down to “lay low” the oppressive man is named “Joanna the Grate” and that the holy text is “The Book of Joanna”.

Vonnegut disciple?

So, having made this comparison between Russ and Vonnegut, does that diminish anything written in “The Female Man”; seeing as how one of the major themes in the book is female independence. It seems like this type of comparison could be crippling to the books message. Well, it’s not. The fact that these two authors wrote in a similar fashion is in no way discrediting to anything written in either book, especially Russ’ book and to discredit her statements because of this, would in fact, be sexist. And I have never been one to be called sexist. Besides, to be honest, I don’t even know who came out first and whose work is actually being emulated. For all I know, Vonnegut could really have like Russ’ play with narrative and completely ripped her style…

P.S. There is no connection between the size of Vonnegut’s picture and the size of Russ’. These were the pictures I randomly found and it just so happened that I arranged them to make it seem like Russ is looking up to Vonnegut.

Keeping My Eyes Wide Shut

Gorillaz

The band, not the ape

In July 2002, Karen Joy Fowler published her story, “What I Didn’t See”; a story about trekking through the darkness of Africa, searching for spiders, adventure and gorillas. What is this story really about though? Is it really about a groovy gang of scholastic athletes walking through the jungle with the noble cause of saving gorillas from being hunted with extreme prejudice by middle-aged frat boys with a penchant for exotic adventure? Or is it about something much more sinister and dark?

Clearly there is something much more sinister going on through this story. I felt, by the end, that this story was more about racism than any other thing. Eddie was so worried that the rest of the group was, eventually, going to think it ridiculous that a gang of gorillas kidnapped Beverley and eventually would turn on the natives that he, personally, spear-headed the “Great Gorilla Massacre” to keep the fury off of the natives who, in my opinion, were a much more likely suspect for Beverley’s kidnapping. It’s too much of a coincidence that no sooner does Beverley go missing from her tent than the natives who were guiding them through the labyrinth of jungle decide it’s a good idea to not be there anymore. I know, weird, right? Not only that, but when the narrator runs into a family of gorillas in the jungle, they were the most serene and innocent creatures in that entire place.

So, ultimately, the author doesn’t give us enough information to actually figure out what happened to Beverley; instead she leaves it up to the reader to decide her fate. Did the natives kidnap, rape and kill Beverley? Maybe the gorillas actually DID come in and take her like the story of the other woman who was taken. Or maybe, it was just like the narrator liked to imagine and Beverley went with the gorillas of her own accord and was sitting by the sun drenched pond, dipping her feet just like the narrator’s last memory of her. No one will ever know. My money is on the natives, though…

Science Isn’t Always Right….Is It?

Published in May of 1987, Octavia Butler wrote the story “The Evening, The Morning and The Night”. In this story we have a group of people who are afflicted with a disease, from birth; a disease that condemns them to, at first, “drift” and then to savagely rip at themselves, their skin, their eyes, anything in an attempt to free themselves from some invisible force that they perceive to be restraining them. What this story really seems to be about, however, is the limitations or even the hazards that science and medicine have placed on society.

This group of people, whom the main character is a part of as is her “boyfriend” Alan, have a disease called “Duryea-Gode Disease”. This disease was created thanks to the efforts of the scientific community creating a vaccine to cure many different diseases, including cancer. The unfortunate side effect is that any children born from someone having taken the cure are born with DGD. Near the end of the story, Alan and the main character visit one of the biggest DGD research facilities in the country to find Alan’s mother. Upon finding his mother they learn that DGD’s, against popular belief, can be controlled and can even provide a useful service to society under the right circumstances and with the right person in charge.

To me, what this story is really about is the evil and pitfalls of relying too heavily on science and medicine to cure all of societies ills. For example, it is the cancer cure in the first place that caused this whole new epidemic of disease. Another example is that, in spite of all the research being done and the medical experiments that are being performed, it is a product of Nature, the pheromones secreted by the double DGD females, that are able to control the DGDs. So, it seems to me, that Butler is telling people that they shouldn’t rely so heavily on science and medicine and that these things could actually cause more harm than good, in the long run.

He-Man Woman Haters Club or Heteropatriarchal Society and You

On the docket for this week is Lisa Tuttle’s 1979 story, “Wives”. What we have here is the story of a planet full of women; an Amazon-esque society that is one part Avatar and one part Total Recall, at least that’s how it’s seen in my head. Their planet is discovered by an armada of Earth spacecraft full of men. Upon landing on their new conquest to men proceed to decimate the natives until the deal is made that these females will act as a “wife” to the invading horde. What this means for the females of this world is that while the men are at war, killing whatever natural inhabitants dare defy them, the “[w]ives could do as they pleased, so long as they cleaned up and were back on their proper places when the men returned” (p. 190). That means that if Susie wants to go have a frollic with Doris, the “wife” next door, she was free to do so…as long as she was dolled up to look as much like a human woman as possible by the time her “husband” returned. Not surprisingly, however, this doesn’t seem to sit well with the ladies of the land.

Regardless of how the story ended *spoiler* Susie is killed and replaced by another “wife” *shock* *gasp*. This story is about a much bigger issue, that issue being “Heteropatriarchy” or society being run by heterosexual males using whatever means necessary to keep the power. This idea of heteropatriarcy and the story itself tie in well with the observation of critic Sam Moskowitz who noted that feminist science fiction “had a history of depicting the sexes locked in perpetual conflict, as if they were ‘two completely different species’ “(p. 202).

When put into the context of what Moskowitz said and the idea of heteropatriarchy this story is a perfect fit; everything from the Earth men landing and immediately taking over EVERYTHING (heteropatriarchy), to the fact that the men and women in this story are, in fact, completely seperate species (Moskowitz) through the perpetual conflict that these two species have been in since the Earthlings’ arrival (history of feminist science fiction/Moskowitz). This is the type of story that most, if not all, people think of when they think of feminist science fiction.

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