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The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction - review

By danny in Culture
Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 01:29:35 PM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)

Justine Larbalestier's The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction is a history of women and feminism in American science fiction, from the earliest magazines through to the James Tiptree Jr Award. Read on for my review.

The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction is a history of women and feminism in American science fiction. It doesn't attempt to cover that topic comprehensively, but focuses on particular themes and threads: "battle-of-the-sexes" stories in early magazines; debates up to 1975 over a place for women, love, and sex in science fiction; the connection between the late 60s and 70s boom in feminist science fiction and earlier currents; the career of James Tiptree Jr; and the James Tiptree Jr Memorial Award.

Solidly grounded in the primary sources, Battle of the Sexes takes a fundamentally historical approach rather than a philosophical or critical one: while it is clearly an academic work, providing scholarly citations and situating itself in relation to different fields, it is not really dependent on feminist or critical theory. Larbalestier occasionally deploys pieces of theory that aren't particularly enlightening (one often feels she could have explained things better herself), there's a little detailed language analysis that doesn't really fit in with the rest of the work, and anyone who will freak out on encountering terms like "hegemony" or "heterosexual economy" should stay away. Otherwise, this is a work which should appeal to a fair number of science fiction readers, not just to gender studies and literature students. As well as learning something about the history of the genre, they may find new insights into familiar works and discover some new authors - and many of the stories Larbalestier tells are entertaining in their own right.

The opening chapter starts with Hugo Gernsback and the 1926 publication of Amazing Stories. Larbalestier looks not just at texts, however, but at the communities which evolved around them and which produced, read, and discussed them. Using extracts from letters columns, with illustrative facsimiles of magazine and fanzine pages, she touches on topics such as the presence of women fans and the status of science in scientifiction (and the iconic status of A.E. Van Vogt's 1940 Slan). The focus on fan communities and broad use of primary sources continues throughout The Battle of the Sexes.

Next comes a survey of early "battle of the sexes" stories, explicitly about the relations between men and women. Among those considered in detail are Wallace G. West's "The Last Man", Nelson S. Bond's "The Priestess Who Rebelled", and Edmund Cooper's Who Needs Men?. Common themes were the presentation of ideals of "real men" and "real women" and of contrasting not-men and not-women, with men and women needing one another to affirm their status as real men or women - and a special role for kisses and/or penetration in a real man making a real woman. If these stories affirmed "dominant male" paradigms, they nevertheless had to at least conceptualise alternatives. There were also parodies of sex-battle stories, such as Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth's Search the Sky, Bruce McAllister's "Ecce Femina!", and James Tiptree Jr's "Mama Come Home".

A number of stories offer some kind of equality between the sexes: Larbalestier looks at Richard Vaughan's "The Woman from Space" (1932), Philip Wylie's The Disappearance (1951), and Mark Reynold's Amazon Planet (1966). Joanna Russ' "When It Changed" (1972) marks a crucial shift, depicting a world of women "outside the patriarchal heterosexual order, outside the discourse of romance", quite uninterested in "rescue" by a spaceship of men. Another alternative was some form of hermaphroditism, notable examples being English author Katherine Burdekin's Proud Man (1934, under the pseudonym Murray Constantine), Theodore Sturgeon's Venus Plus X (1960), and Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness (1969).

Alongside the stories, there were debates in fan communities over women, love, and sex - in which "women" were generally conflated with "sex" and "love". Larbalestier looks at early proponents of keeping science fiction "clean and unpolluted" and touches briefly on representations of women on magazine covers. Then comes a detailed account of a 1938/39 "love interest" debate in the letters column of Astounding, in which a young Isaac Asimov took centre stage, and a brief one of a controversy in 1955 when John Campbell suggested that prostitutes would need to be sent with any expedition to Mars. Debates in the mid-70s involving Poul Anderson, Joanna Russ, and Terry Carr show that some of these stereotypes persisted.

There are different stories about the presence or absence of women in early science fiction and about the timing and significance of the "Great Invasion" (or "Erosion", as some saw it). Larbalestier surveys critical writing on the subject as well as the backgrounds of women science fiction writers such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, and Connie Willis. Some of these were part of fan communities from childhood and were heavily influenced by early writers such as Judith Merril, while others discovered science fiction later or were influenced more by later writers. Larbalestier argues convincingly that feminist sf owes as much to the early "battle of the sexes" stories as it does to feminist models outside the genre.

Larbalestier then gives a brief account of the fascinating life of Alice James Raccoona Tiptree Davey Hastings Bradley Sheldon Jr. She was born Alice Hastings Bradley to parents who were explorers and travellers (her mother was also a writer) and much of her childhood was spent in Africa and India. An unsuitable first marriage (Davey) was followed by a loving second (Sheldon) and wartime work for the army by a stint with the CIA and a PhD in experimental psychology. She started publishing science fiction, and participating in the fan world, under the name James Tiptree Jr in 1967 and as Raccoona Sheldon in 1974. In 1976 came the revelation that James Tiptree and Raccoona Sheldon were Alice Sheldon, which "can be read as part of the battle of the sexes as it has been played out on the field of science fiction since the 1920s". A full biography is not yet available, so this chapter is one of the best accounts of Sheldon/Tiptree's life available.

The final chapter of Battle of the Sexes is about the James Tiptree Jr Memorial Award. Larbalestier is less interested in the works that have won the award, however, than in how it came into being, how it works, and the community that supports it. It becomes a kind of "slice", a way of coherently sampling something of the diversity of contemporary feminist science fiction and fandom.

%T The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction
%A Larbalestier, Justine
%I Wesleyan University Press
%C Middletown
%D 2002
%O paperback, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0-8195-6527-X
%P xv,295pp


If you prefer to read the science fiction itself, two books I highly recommend are Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, a collection of James Tiptree Jr's short stories, and Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. You might also want to check out my other science fiction reviews.

If you're in Sydney, the official book launch of The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction is on Wednesday September 25th at Gleebooks at 6pm. (And no, the author's not a friend of mine - I've met her once, when she gave a talk about this book.) <HR NOSHADE>


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I like my sf with women who are
o appropriately subservient (I'd like to live on Gor) 11%
o scantily clad on the front cover 16%
o included for a bit of love interest 4%
o equal with men 31%
o running the universe 10%
o just one of three or more possible sexes 15%
o able to change sex 6%
o also men (hermaphroditic) 3%

Votes: 113
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Ursula Le Guin
o Connie Willis
o Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
o science fiction reviews
o Also by danny

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The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction - review | 99 comments (88 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
Look.... (3.55 / 9) (#3)
by SanSeveroPrince on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 11:26:49 AM EST

Science Fiction checklist:

1) Exclamation marks in the title;

2) BEMs (if you don't know what that means, get off this page, kid);

3) Blonde man on cover wielding planet-blasting gun;

4) Shivering, half-naked female slave of generous proportions crouching in terror, holding the hero's leg. In really good books, she's holding her alien master's leg;

5) Women react to main character according to their hair colour coding: fiery (redheads), submissive and sweet (brunette), precious (blonde), passionate (black). Good and evil, they all want the hero's babies.

6) Should the hero be female, you're not reading porn, not science fiction.

Now, what the hell is there to discuss? WHICH BIT IS TOO HARD TO UNDERSTAND?


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

Addenda to 4) (5.00 / 2) (#5)
by wiredog on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 11:36:41 AM EST

In really really good books, she's holding the BEMs tentacle or other manipulative/locomotive digit(s)

Earth first! We can strip mine the rest later.
[ Parent ]
Amen, brother... (nt) (none / 0) (#8)
by SanSeveroPrince on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 11:47:45 AM EST


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

[ Parent ]
Re: 6 (none / 0) (#16)
by _Quinn on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 02:03:08 PM EST

David Weber will be very distressed to learn that his most popular series is porn.

- _Quinn
Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
[ Parent ]

Exceptions (none / 0) (#67)
by SanSeveroPrince on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 04:11:34 AM EST

There's always an exception to confirm the rule.. Honor is cool :)


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

[ Parent ]
BEMs? (none / 0) (#56)
by benw on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 09:25:47 PM EST

http://www.acronymfinder.com/af-query.asp?p=dict&String=exact&Acronym=BE M

what does a Bachelor of Engineering of Mines have to do with anything? for that matter, what about Bayesian Expectation-Maximization? or a Blade Element Model?

honestly, these acronym freaks! pah!

"vanilla-licking sofa-humpers". funny.
[ Parent ]
*sigh* (2.00 / 1) (#66)
by SanSeveroPrince on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 04:10:22 AM EST

Bug Eyed Monsters

And that term came along before all of them fancy acronyms you found.

I suddenly feel old :)


Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

[ Parent ]
The problems with literary criticism are many. (1.85 / 7) (#13)
by Noam Chompsky on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 12:26:29 PM EST

But I think we can form an objective opinion and pass judgment on the science fiction genre if we eschew analytical thinking in favor of market logic. There are two main reasons for this. First, market logic is driven by perfect information, while analytical propositions are tricks of language that are necessarily true independent of fact or experience. Second, if we wish to understand what science fiction authors have to say, we must commission psychological profiles of the people who consume science fiction. If these consumptive units did not exist, there would be no science fiction, and your article would be impossible to understand. If science fiction authors did not pander to the worldview of these consumptive units, they would utterly fail to transmute economic goods into calories (through the mechanism of money), and your article would be impossible to understand, because starving authors are too busy perishing to write hypothetical novels in the throes of death.

I have made a thorough review of the consumptive units in question. I have used various primary sources, lived among them to gain their trust, learnt their |_4|\|G4U4G3, and stalked their ideological enemies as if they were my own. Here are the results:

  / )
The results of my study shed new light on the genre and suggest that its audience needs to make a determined effort to involve women in their lives. Some sad souls will accuse me of ulterior motives for publishing the results of my study. Let me exercise my pre-emptive right and state that the results of my study are meant to improve and inspire others, and that they should only be used by policy makers, social scientists, and international relief agencies engaged in assisting the democratization and feminization of the basement dwelling polity.

Faster, liberalists, kill kill kill!

Get with the times. (none / 0) (#17)
by tkatchev on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 02:22:10 PM EST

Here's a newer, sleeker, shiner model that's all the rage with the kids these days:


Generation rave, yo.

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

That is certainly a handsome bird. (5.00 / 1) (#21)
by Noam Chompsky on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 02:56:43 PM EST

I would have used it if I were invulnerable to accusations of journalism.

Faster, liberalists, kill kill kill!
[ Parent ]

That just proves (3.00 / 1) (#22)
by it certainly is on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 02:59:02 PM EST

that the lads of today aren't half the men their fathers were.

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

Sleeker? (none / 0) (#44)
by Happy Monkey on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 06:30:03 PM EST

That one's not sleeker, it's fatter!
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
Sleeker can mean fatter (none / 0) (#59)
by inonurmi on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 09:56:16 PM EST

From dictionary.com:
sleek   Pronunciation Key  (slk)
adj. sleek·er, sleek·est

Smooth and lustrous as if polished; glossy: brushed her hair until it was sleek.
Well-groomed and neatly tailored.
Healthy or well-fed; thriving. <---- here
Polished or smooth in manner, especially in an unctuous way; slick.

[ Parent ]

Interesting article (4.33 / 3) (#15)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 12:49:14 PM EST

Even up to the present day, publishers encourage female authors in SF (and some Fantasy) to use male or neutral names: Julian May, C.J. Cherry, Pat Murphy, Pat Cadigan and J.K. Rowling for instance.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
Bujold (none / 0) (#18)
by drivers on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 02:28:05 PM EST

I did a double-take in the bookstore when I realized Lois McMaster Bujold was a woman. For some reason I always read it as "Luis" and when she came out with a new book and the quoted praise mentioned "she" I realized.

[ Parent ]
sf/fantasy romance (none / 0) (#31)
by danny on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 03:38:54 PM EST

There seems to be a trend towards sf and fantasy romance, where perhaps women - or female named authors - have an advantage.

[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

Heinlein and The Hand (4.20 / 5) (#19)
by freebird on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 02:45:29 PM EST

Readers interested in SciFi criticism may find this analysis of Heinlein a good read - in this context, I'd especially recommend the section on sexual relations. It's a very interesting reading of a SciFi giant, by a fellow author who's both aware of Heinlein's weaknesses and a huge fan.

I was also very glad to see so much respect for The Left Hand of Darkness. That's one of the finest books ever, in any genre. One of the many things I love about it is that it raises many issues about gender and society while remaining simply a joyful, exciting, involving read. Many books have interesting points that "don't get in the way of a good story", but the two are distinctly seprate entities. In this book, it's all one organic, cohesive whole.

Thanks for a great review!


Left Hand (none / 0) (#23)
by ucblockhead on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 03:04:56 PM EST

Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I thing The Left Hand of Darkness does not quite succeed...the androgynous characters come off as a bit male, I think because the book was written when it was and at the beginning of Le Guin's career. I've always felt that The Dispossessed was a more successful book.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Succeed at what? (5.00 / 1) (#25)
by freebird on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 03:17:38 PM EST

You may well be right about not succeeding at creating truly androgynous characters. I'm not certain that was the goal, but that's a game which goes nowhere...if that was the goal, I think I'd agree with you.

However, it's interesting to think about why that is. For example, it seems a fair statement that until recently, there were more 'roles' or 'types' available to males. So if someone created a character that was truly a balance of types, it might seem more 'male' to a reader from our perspective - simply because more aspects of the character would match a 'male' stereotype held by the reader. Then you have to wonder whether the author should try to make the balance reflect that bias on the part of the reader, knowing that to not do so would create more apparent imbalance...hoo boy.

I'm not actually saying this is or isn't the case with LHOD, I just thought of it and it seemed interesting.

My big thing with LHOD is that the story has so much. Maybe the gender thing didn't entirely work, fine. There's so much else in that book - the cultures, the plotlines, the characters, the imagery. I just think it's a beautiful, beautiful book, regardless of what it may or may not represent theoretically. I remember finding a shortstory set in that world, and being overjoyed that I could 'return'...

But then, I've not read The Dispossesed, perhaps I should. Is it one of her more 'anthropological' stories, like The Telling, say?

[ Parent ]

I liked it (none / 0) (#27)
by ucblockhead on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 03:23:43 PM EST

I don't mean to be overly critical of TLHOD...I enjoyed it a lot. As a story, yes, it works very well. I just don't think it did as well as it could have at creating an androgynous society.

The Dispossessed is a sort of comparison/contrast between an anarchist society and a liberal consumerist democracy. (In addition to other things.)
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Interesting... (none / 0) (#28)
by freebird on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 03:34:32 PM EST

...have you read The Telling? Sounds similar, but it's a comparison between what seems very much like a Vedic/Hindi culture with a totalitarian/communist/consumerist culture...the latter is surprisingly believable, and even familiar.

By the end, I felt it was getting a little one-sided, and had fallen a bit short of the mark, but I quite enjoyed it anyway. She is absolutely amazing at creating cultures, I think that's her main strength.

[ Parent ]

The telling (none / 0) (#33)
by ucblockhead on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 03:48:12 PM EST

It's quite a bit better than The Telling, I thought, mostly because it is not quite as one-sided. In The Dispossessed, her main character is someone estranged from the anarchist culture that is her centerpoint, so you get a more balanced view. I thought The Telling faltered a bit in that her consumerist culture was a bit stereotyped and there were some failed attempts at satire that should have been dropped. (The Starbucks reference, for one.) That said, the combination of a communistic society with a socialistic one was fascinating. I also think it suffered in that her naturalistic culture was in some ways too perfect. Some warts would have helped.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Yep... (none / 0) (#34)
by freebird on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 03:51:52 PM EST

...though I must admit, I don't think I caught the Starbucks.

Yeaah, I kep waiting for the twist: "Hah, you thought the mainstream culture was evil and the Old Culture was perfect, but things are more complicated! The villagers eat babies and the folks in the cities are really nice" or something. But it never came, other than in the 'redemption' of the agent who had followed her.

[ Parent ]

I forget the actual text (none / 0) (#35)
by ucblockhead on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 04:00:06 PM EST

It was the bit about the "Kaffe" or something, which is called "Starman's" or something. I don't have the book in front of me, so I can't say exactly.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Ah, I remembered... (5.00 / 1) (#39)
by ucblockhead on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 04:23:44 PM EST

The new "Kaffe" or whatever that was sold everywhere, replacing the more naturalistic chai, was called "Starbrew".
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
ah... (5.00 / 1) (#40)
by freebird on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 04:54:08 PM EST

I do remember that. I think I just didn't conenct with Starbucks, because wasn't there an going "Star____" theme, part of the "Great Leap Forward"?

Interesting. Yeah, if she meant that as a poke at Starbucks, it's pretty weak. I mean, I'm no friend to Starbucks, but it does show that she had some axes to grind which got in the way of what could have been a great story.

I've stayed away from a lot of her recent stuff for that reason. It seems to have a lot of that in it, and not as much of the old wonder. But that may not be fair - I respect her enough that I doubt it's not pretty darn good.

[ Parent ]

Random LeGuin comments (none / 0) (#57)
by rivenwanderer on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 09:26:50 PM EST

{Hope this is an appropriate place for these thoughts} I've read a fair amount of LeGuin's stuff. I'm no expert, but I've gotten a good idea of how she writes and what I like about her. I really liked The Dispossessed, especially because there were problems with *both* societies. I haven't read The Telling, but it sounds similar to her Eye of the Heron, which was a sort of set up in an evil-Victorian-opressor-city vs. Gandhi-esque village type of situation. It was also pretty one-sided, but I enjoyed it anyway. Even when her books tend toward the preachy side, there's something moving about the way she writes--the simple, human feelings the characters have (well the ones on the "good" side at least. Her "bad guys" aren't as well-developed).

The book that makes me love LeGuin is Very Far Away From Anywhere Else. Best book ever for mixed-up introverted nerds like me... it's not even sci-fi or fantasy. I wish it were longer, or she had written more books like it.
[ Parent ]

Delaney (3.80 / 5) (#20)
by Lemmy Caution on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 02:55:36 PM EST

No discussion of gender and science fiction is complete without mentioning Samuel Delaney's writing. Just to get a sense of the baroque sexual politics of his work, try "Triton" (reprinted by Wesleyan as "Trouble on Triton.")

Delaney is not only a brilliant writer, he came up with what I think is the most insightful observation about science fiction I've ever read: that science fiction is literature in which the episteme is the main character.

Delaney and Gender (5.00 / 1) (#24)
by freebird on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 03:06:47 PM EST

Heck, Delaney and anything, that guy is a champ.

But he does do very well with gender. In Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand, he does an amazing trick with gender and language. While both biological and linguistic genders exist in their familiar forms, they are completely unrelated. Liguistic gender has entirely to do with, as I recall, power relations and general social context, and is extremely fluid. This is disconcerting at first, as I suspect is the intent, and then becomes so natural that it seems strange to return to the normal conventions when finished with the book. I won't even get into sexual gender...

There's a lot more in there and I highly recommend that book, though Nova is perhaps my favorite. And of course, all the meme-theoretic kids must read Babel 17...yup, Delaney rocks my cradle. His criticism is by all accounts amazing too, and the little I have read bears that out as well.

[ Parent ]

I have not read Delaney (1.25 / 4) (#26)
by Noam Chompsky on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 03:22:17 PM EST

and he, sir, is no Louisa May Alcott.

Faster, liberalists, kill kill kill!
[ Parent ]

book has blurb from Delany (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by danny on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 03:34:45 PM EST

"Justine Larbalestier plunges into her account of the sex-wars that have emerged in the pages of science fiction magazines since at least the 1930s with intellgence, much information and a good deal of common sene. In light of today's interest in the development of the position of women, she reports on this conflict not only with fascinating documentation and a cascade of insights, but also with great intellectual richness and readability.

- Samuel R. Delany, Temple University"

Which is (understandably!) featured prominently on the back cover.

[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

pointless, we won't have gender in future (2.00 / 2) (#30)
by Fen on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 03:38:41 PM EST

It's quite evident we won't have separate sexes in the future. It's how we started and how we will end up. It's an idea that's outgrown its time by far.
Sexual Reproduction Good (none / 0) (#32)
by freebird on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 03:48:00 PM EST

I'm slowly coming to appreciate the subtle but very powerful advantages sexual reproduction imparts...no silly joke coming, I mean in a serious evolutionary biology sense.

The balance between trying new traits and maintaining a stable phenotype is very delicate, and sex plays a big part in it. There are other approaches, but few work as well.

So, I doubt your statement unless you have some arguments to back it up. If nothing else, it seems like evolution tends to increase diversity and complexity, and sexual reproduction seems inherently more complex to me than asexual.

But that may just reflect my personal experience...

[ Parent ]

Its not either/or (none / 0) (#36)
by kallisti on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 04:00:30 PM EST

You can have sexual reproduction without the distinction into male and female. You can have the ability to swap at will which is a hallmark of John Varley's fiction. Another good example is Greg Egan, who in Distress had the human race divided into 7 sexes, one of which is neuter. Then, going much farther (in many ways!) Schild's Ladder has a complex system where when two beings desire each other, their bodies change in a way specific to that union making every coupling unique.

[ Parent ]
More Genders, not less (none / 0) (#42)
by freebird on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 05:35:19 PM EST

That's fine, but all your examples have more gender difference, more types of gender, not less.

My comment was in response to the statement that such differences would go away in the future. The cases you cite seem to agree with my vague mumblings about an increase in complexity, and disagree with the notion that gender difference will go away.


[ Parent ]

Good point (none / 0) (#43)
by kallisti on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 06:25:30 PM EST

I was trying to agree with you, but I guess that didn't really show. I was pointing out ways in which diversity could expand that had nothing to do with evolutionary strategies.

[ Parent ]
exactly--simplicity is good. (none / 0) (#46)
by Fen on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 06:44:54 PM EST

For one, you don't seem to address that we clearly are going to be designing ourselves and will be able to delete sex out easily. But yes, sex is complex, and thus will be thrown out.
[ Parent ]
Nonsense (none / 0) (#48)
by freebird on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 07:27:47 PM EST

The overall direction of evolution (inasmuch as that exists) is toward increasing complexity. It seems counterproductive to go to the trouble of all this 'designing oursleves' you're so excited about, and then turn around and 'undo' all the work evolution has already done. So I don't buy your theory that we will build ourselves 'simpler' bodies.

Furthermore, you don't address the issue that sexual reproduction is an integral part of the genetic variation that makes life work. Even if we take over evolution completely (a preposterous idea), we still need this variation and randomness. Sure, if we're designing everything ourselves, we could introduce it artificially. But we all know that these designed solutions never quite cover everything. So it's extremely difficult to imagine that an introduced variation would work as well as a natural one.

And your definition of 'simple' is problematic. Sure, on the face of it, gender is more complex than no gender. But look a little deeper - there will always need to be a way to exchange genetic information for meaningful reproduction to occur. The mechanisms of sexual reproduction are incredibly elegant, and the 'simpler' approaches used by asexual organisms are arguably much more complicated. Chromosomes crossing and exchanging is incredibly elegant if you actually look into how it works.

But this might interfere with your bizzare and untenable idea that we will do a better job 'designing' ourselves than evolution has done, and I'm sure you don't want that. So don't learn any biology, read more SciFi.

[ Parent ]

Wha? (none / 0) (#61)
by Demiurge on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 12:51:26 AM EST

Sexual dimorphism has existed on earth for billions of years. I could maybe possibly sorta kinda see the two sexes converging towards a single type when humanity moves beyond(if it moves beyond) biological bodies, but that's it.

[ Parent ]
Personally... (3.00 / 1) (#37)
by DeadBaby on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 04:04:36 PM EST

I've always like the rare cases where a female character is important to the story without being a love interest. Unfortunately it seems all the great sci-fi writers had trouble seperating the two. I always found it a little insulting that the female lead always finds a way to end up in bed with the male lead. Although in general I find most love stories tacted on to a good sci-fi novel a bit childish. You know, men & women can work together for a common good and NOT fall in love. Imagine that.

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
Spinrad is the worst offender... (none / 0) (#63)
by sk00t on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 01:42:27 AM EST

...that I've encountered.

Well, maybe Moorcock's early stuff. The Void Captain's Tale was fun on the first read as Freudian exposition, but damned if it didn't get exhausting reading everything else of his that I've read so far and knowing that any given male / female pair was liable to hop into bed and have excruciatingly detailed relations at any minute.

Greenhouse Summer is sitting on top of the toilet tank with 15 pages left, and has been for two weeks -- I never do that with books (I've read two of Jonathon Carroll's since putting aside GHS), but the hypersexuality just gets exhausting. Spinrad isn't male fantasy per se; the women are relatively well-drawn. Still, I read s/f to expand my consciousness. If I want porn, I'll get porn.

"Somehow we get by without ever learning, somehow no matter what the world keeps turning"

--Ben Foster
[ Parent ]

Never forget the context (3.85 / 7) (#38)
by Lode Runner on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 04:20:27 PM EST

If you want an idea of how radical Le Guin's 'Hand and Dispossesed were in their time, look at her contemporaries. Circa 1970, Larry Niven's Ringworld received both the Hugo and the Nebula; the novel's sole major female human character, Teela Brown, was --are you ready for this?-- a good luck charm! Wait, that's not entirely fair... she was also a sex object.

Now here's the important part, and I'm going to let you figure out the implications. If Larry Niven posted here, he would be, flat-out, the most popular K5er; Le Guin would probably be called a troll...

Pay attention to the parent (1.00 / 2) (#45)
by medham on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 06:44:43 PM EST

It's the most insightful description of the K5 community I've ever read.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

You need to read more (1.00 / 1) (#53)
by srn on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 08:33:08 PM EST

Have you just found Kuro5hin?

[ Parent ]
So? (4.00 / 2) (#50)
by ElMiguel on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 07:53:11 PM EST

Now here's the important part, and I'm going to let you figure out the implications. If Larry Niven posted here, he would be, flat-out, the most popular K5er; Le Guin would probably be called a troll...

Sorry to disappoint you, but I don't know what you're trying to imply. Larry Niven does not deserve to be popular? Le Guin does? K5ers are sexist because they don't demand approved gender roles for the fiction works they consume?

[ Parent ]

just look at the poll (5.00 / 1) (#60)
by danny on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 11:12:38 PM EST

12% think John Norman's Gor (rather more extreme than Niven) would be a great place to live - and I seem to be the only person who thinks being a hermaphrodite would be cool.

[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

That's so out of context it's not funny. (5.00 / 1) (#74)
by DavidTC on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 09:26:44 PM EST

You mention the 'sole' female character...but, there was only one male character also. (Well, human one, at least.)

And calling her a good luck charm is just plain not reading the book. She brought good luck to herself. You were just unlikely to be blown to bits if you were standing next to her.

And, yes, she's not really the most intelligent character in the book, but as there are only about five characters in the book anyway, that's not very relevant.

-David T. C.
Yes, my email address is real.
[ Parent ]

Teela Brown (none / 0) (#76)
by ucblockhead on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:14:37 AM EST

Part of the whole point of her character was that because she was somehow genetically "lucky", she could survive despite being pretty much otherwise incompetent.

And yes, you are correct, the only other human character was Louis Wu (and, indeed, the only other characters that I can remember at all were The Speaker to the Animals and the Puppeteer, whatever his name was).

A bit of irony, also, in the the Kzinti are painted as a society that is deeply sexist, and that has suffered because of it.

It's also worth noting that in one of the sequels, it is Teela Brown that because a transhuman of a sort. P (Not that Niven's the greatest at female characters, but there ya go...)
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Another illiterate apologist (none / 0) (#78)
by Lode Runner on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 05:18:15 PM EST

for Leisure Suit Larry's male chauvinism, and one with a low uid to boot... what did I say about Niven and K5?

The first sentence of your second paragraph contradicts the third sentence of the same paragraph. My point stands.

Like the vast majority of Niven women, Teela's a weak airhead in need of male guidance/domination. Flip through N-Space to confirm my claims.

If I could do it all over again, I'd call Teela a "good fuck charm."

[ Parent ]

*sigh* (none / 0) (#80)
by DavidTC on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 09:04:38 PM EST

A good luck charm brings luck to others, specifially, the ones who possess them. Teela brought luck to herself. She was good luck for you as long as it was useful, to her, for you to stay alive. If she was trapped in a snow bank and there was a million to one chance your car might plow in next to it, catch on fire, melt the snow, and save her, you might just do that, which was certainly not good luck for you.

It would be much more accurate to say she possessed a built-in good luck charm. She certainly wasn't anyone else's good luck charm. Like people possessing a good luck charm, it might be useful to stand next to her, but it's possibly it's just as likely to get you killed when you 'accidently' step in front of a bullet meant for her. Calling her a good luck charm is just silly.

Now, I don't deny she was brought along as a good luck charm, but that manifestly didn't work. in fact, it turns out that her good luck might have manipulated everyone into the mission in the first place. (I haven't read the sequals, but it appears that her good luck eventually manipulated others, despite her being not that smart, into causing her to go to the one place where she would become transhuman.)

And I'm not an apologist for Niven, I've barely read any of his books. I was merely taking issue with your misleading example. 'the novel's sole major female human character, Teela Brown, was --are you ready for this?-- a good luck charm! Wait, that's not entirely fair... she was also a sex object.'.

Calling her 'the novel's sole major female human character' was misleading, considering there was basically just one of every race and gender, and calling her a good luck charm was just...bad reading comprehension. She was there as a good luck charm, but she certainly wasn't actually one. (Calling her a sex object is fair, and calling her an idiot would also be fair.)

I don't know enough Niven to tell you how sexist he may or may not be, and I'm not here to defend him, I'm saying that your sentence was very silly, and implied a lot of things that either aren't true, or might be true but that example does not prove it.

For all I know, all of Niven's books have only female characters like Teela, which, yes, would probably not reflect very well on him. But the fact that there were two humans, one picked for experience and knowledge and one for luck, and the man happened to be the one picked for experience and knowledge, doesn't really prove anything.

-David T. C.
Yes, my email address is real.
[ Parent ]

The basic problem, (none / 0) (#81)
by Lode Runner on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 03:55:16 PM EST

which you have so thoroughly conveyed but somehow failed to mention, is that Teela is essentially a passive character. Teela has no agency; she is never a direct actor and is always acted upon. Louis thinks his way through problems and then makes things happen, while Teela is spirited away from them by forces of luck.

Males act while females are acted upon, that's one of the key complaints of the feminist critique of Western social norms. Were the norms of Niven's book those of a patriarchal ideology? Was Niven's book, in turn, normative (in the sense that it perpetuated male dominance)? Heck yeah to both.

As for the good fuck charm debate, if you (Louis Wu) are going to explore a very dangerous alien environment, are your chances of survival better or worse if you've got your dick in the galaxy's luckiest person?

[ Parent ]

But passivity is the point (none / 0) (#82)
by ucblockhead on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 06:42:56 PM EST

You know, you act as if you haven't read the book, as the answer to the question in your last paragraph is given in the book as "no".

Spoilers ahead

The plot of the book involves an alien (the Hindmost) putting together a team to explore an alien environment. He brings Louis Wu for brains and Speaker to the Animals as brawn and then seeks out "the luckiest human alive", the idea being that the luck will "rub off".

The whole point of the book is that the luck not only does not rub off, but that what is lucky for Teela Brown is not always lucky for those standing next to her.

Given that you don't know the point of the book, and therefore likely have not read it, your criticisms have to be taken with a grain of salt. Is Niven sexist? We can hardly say from anything you've said...

Even then, using it as an example (and implying that Le Guin's works were abnormal for the time) shows a bit of ignorance of the history of the SF genre.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

lady luck (none / 0) (#83)
by Lode Runner on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 12:04:38 AM EST

is a fickle mistress -- I think that platitude is where Larry got started down the road to Teela Brown.

I know this discussion is drifting away from my (unassailable) claim that Teela has no agency, but I will acknowledge that sometimes Teela's luck helped Louis, sometimes it didn't. On the aggregate, however, the luck flowing through Teela's veins luck proved quite beneficial; it got Louis and that negroid tiger onto Ringworld in one piece, no?

A few anecdotes for the Niven "reader":

  • Remember when stupid Teela thinks she's circling the ring when she's really going north/south? I wonder if Larry could convey the size of the construction without degrading women...
  • The cowardly, feckless Hindmost is technically a "she." Go figure. I forgot exactly how gender/reproduction worked for that species, but they wouldn't call it a menstrual cycle 'cause they got no moon going 'round the old homeworld.
  • Anyone recall why Freeman Dyson felt so bad about designing tools to fight the Nazis?
Joan Vinge saw Le Guin for the luminary she is; and this has been an important influence on hubby's recent work.

[ Parent ]
The text (none / 0) (#84)
by ucblockhead on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 10:37:23 AM EST

You do realize that if Teela Brown is ineffectual and passive because she is female, it undermines the entire point of her character, right? I mean, Niven goes to great lengths to show that her passivity, her helplessness, her stupidity and her incompetence is due to her "luck"...all that becomes inconsequential if we are supposed to believe that she is all things because she is a woman.

It is also important to note the inversion in the book. The hindmost chose Teela Brown in attempt to use her for her luck, but in the end (In "Ringworld Engineers"), it turns out that it was actually Teela Brown's luck using the Hindmost for her interest.

Le Guin is important, yes, and assuredly a far better (and more interesting) writer than Niven, but she was hardly unique in the early seventies. What about Kate Wilhelm? What about James Tiptree Jr.? What about Samual Delany? What about Joanna Russ? What about Brunner? What about Ballard? What about Ellison?

Niven was actually a bit of a throwback to the older technofetish boy's club SF of the fifties at a time period when the "New Wave" was in its ascendency.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Larry's no mysogynist, but (none / 0) (#85)
by Lode Runner on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 09:59:17 PM EST

he doesn't much to stop the reader from drawing a connection between Teela's passivity and her gender. That a beautiful woman has been given a free ride by luck worked for the author and it clicked with his audience. Ask yourself this: why isn't the vehicle for luck male or alien?

Thoughtless sequels written in 1980 have no bearing in this conversation; same goes for masculinist children's books...

The problem here isn't that Niven's a throwback, it's his fans' recidivism when it comes to issues of gender.

[ Parent ]

That's a good question (none / 0) (#86)
by ucblockhead on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 10:08:31 PM EST

Well, he does offer an alternate explanation...though I suppose more than one reader has missed the point.

I'm note sure what you mean by "children's books", and I'm not sure what bearing the fans themselves have on this argument...as I pointed out, Le Guin had a lot of company on her end of the sociopolitical spectrum.

To answer your question: my suspicion is that "Teela Brown" is a parody of someone in particular Niven knew. (Just as Louis Wu is clearly a stand-in/wish fullfillment character for the author himself.)

In regards to the fans, though, it is interesting to note how they pounced on to the strong female archtype in "Neuromancer" like starving dogs on a ham sandwich.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

loose ends tied (none / 0) (#87)
by Lode Runner on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 03:04:57 PM EST

masculinist children's books = Earthsea Trilogy

Le Guin was not alone, but she should be recognized for more competently articulating femcrit ideas than her peers and for doing the best job of conveying those ideas to the (hostile) science fiction readership. She also deserves props for catalyzing the establishment of anthropology as a legitimate sci-fi science; now that's radical.

Yes, Louis Wu is Niven's imago. I suspect that Teela Brown represents every nubile woman the wanna-be playboy author met.

"Stepping Razor" is no strong archtype and she's arguably more objectified than Wintermute; that's why the readers ate her up. Most sci-fi fans still cringe at the thought of female protagonists who embody the will to power.

[ Parent ]

Molly, etc. (none / 0) (#88)
by ucblockhead on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 03:26:34 PM EST

Objectified, yes, but hardly unique, nor cringeworthy to the average Sci-Fi fan...just look at all the variations with slavering fourteen year old fans, from Ellen Riply to Xena to "Dark Angel". In written fiction, strong female protagonists hardly hurt sales...just ask C.J. Cherryh...

If there is mysogyny in modern SF, it is not in the avoidance of powerful females, it is in the forcefitting of female protagonists into maculine power roles.

In terms of femcrit ideas, I really think that Joanna Russ took more heat. She certainly pushed more boundries. (Le Guin herself admits that she didn't have to guts to make her protagonist in "The Left Hand of Darkness" female.) I also think you overestimate the hostile nature of the fan reception to her...after all, she's won six Hugo awards for her works and an additional "grand master" award.

I do agree about your comments re: anthropological SF.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Cyteen, (none / 0) (#89)
by Lode Runner on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 07:16:20 PM EST

Cherryh's magnum opus, was hardly feminist even though some of the major male characters were first-class wusses... just look at who ultimately has agency. Alien and Xena and Tomb Raider are thoughtless fantasies that are inimical to the likes of Le Guin et al; their high sales derive from the erotic thrill (for men, i.e.) of seeing a woman on top.

Le Guin faced/faces overt hostility from a segment of the sci-fi readership that enjoyed/enjoys Niven's work. I argue that these Niven fans and their ilk form K5's mysogynistic core membership, which: 1) fetishizes what they believe are the rational roots of technology and "hard science;" 2) disdains the human element (e.g. localroger claiming that you can make anything worse by putting "social" in front of it). Neil Stephenson, another local deity, celebrates these "dwarves" and attacks their socially-conscious critics.

Why are power roles necessarily masculine? And why is it "forcefitting" to put a female in an essentially human role?

[ Parent ]

minorities (none / 0) (#90)
by ucblockhead on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 08:35:02 PM EST

The sort of fan you are talking about is a minority of the readership. Remember, the Hugos are a fan award, and they gave her "best novel" twice. That harldly implies "core membership" for the teenage mysognist subtype.

Stephenson is another who loves strong female characters...every one of his books has one, and unlike the mass-media instances I mentioned before, they generally get by on brains. You misread Stephenson's bit about "dwarves"...it hardly had anything to do with sexism unless you are claiming that only the po-mo elitists types he was mocking have a monopoly on feminism.

Stephenson's female characters hardly get by on sex, nor do they typically need male support, nor are they the sort of fetishized sexual object Gibson's character was. ("Cryptonomicon" was a bit of an aberation for Stephenson as the one important female character was relegated to the sidelines...but given that his prior novel was essentually a tale of a young girl becoming a mature adult, well...)
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

fandumb (none / 0) (#91)
by Lode Runner on Wed Sep 25, 2002 at 05:50:58 PM EST

Le Guin helped to change the demographics of the readership that votes for Hugos, although it should be noted that strong female characters in Hugo-winners are scarce even if women are winning more prizes. Miles Volkswagen, or whatever his name was, wouldn't have gotten whatsherface so many fricking Hugos if he'd been a she.

The "minority" you're describing isn't so small; and I initially implied that these people form the "core membership" of K5. Would "teenage mysogynist" be an accurate description of a lot of K5ers? It's probably the largest single group here...

Stephenson's chicks, at least in Snow Crash and Diamond Age, are little more than objects that are pulled between the (always male) protagonist and antagonists. I submit the doping dentata scene and urge you to deconstruct it. Then I'd ask if you (an aspiring "dwarf" btw -- see both lines of your sig) have ever seen a female dwarf in either JRR's or Neil's work.

[ Parent ]

sigs (none / 0) (#92)
by ucblockhead on Wed Sep 25, 2002 at 06:37:13 PM EST

Well, you know, as far as the sig goes, part one is based on a negative image of the standard kuro5hin user...a concept you should be familiar with... A bit amusing that you should bring that up because far from being inspired by po-mo intellectual elitists, it is inspired by the very teenage idiots that you have been talking about. Lord knows, if it was you adequacy types posting political stories, I'd probably be +1ing a lot of them. At least guys can put together a coherent argument.

Part two is, well, there to troll adequacy types. YHBT. Watching Time Bandits the other day, it struck me how much that line, taken out of context, would push adequacy buttons. I threw it in the sig to see how long it would take to get a bit. 36 hours. Congrats.

As for the rest, well, I see lots of assertion and no facts. Does "teenage mysogynist" describe a subgroup of kuro5hin readers? Certainly. The "largest single group"? I see no evidence in that, unless, of course, you start from the presupposition that any arbitrary poster you encounter is such, barring evidennce to the contrary...you guys do that a lot. Certainly you guys make a lot of stupid assumptions about me, for one.

Funny you should bring up Bujold, the way her books mock the sort of patriarchical, militaristic societies the stereotypical teenage fan loves...but ignoring that, I have to point out that Hugos went to books with female protagonists in 1979, 1981, 1982, 1989, and 1993, so I don't think the idea that writers have to have male protagonists to win hugos or sell books is supported by the facts. In addition, two other winners, the second pair in Robinson's Mars trilogy certainly had as many central female characters as male.

(I know you don't consider the heroine of Cyteen a strong female character, but that's a bit of an error, IMHO, as the whole point of the book is that she is the clone of (and therefore supposed equal to) a very, very strong female character. Any weakness displayed is obviously intended by the author to reflect youth.)

The trouble with deconstruction is that it is easy to pick and choose to prove your point...but in complete context, you are just wrong. You've picked the wrong protagonist in Snow Crash, for one...Stephenson's tricked you. Remember, "Y.T." stands for "Yours Truly". Stephenson loves gimmacky crap like that...he's telling you who he identifies with.

In Diamond Age, Nell is the protagonist...John Hackworth is very clearly a side character. He is even shuffled offstage entirely for a quarter of the book. That book is certainly "about" Nell...it even says so on the cover.

And then there's his "Stephen Bury" work, Interface, where there are the female protagonist is strong and independent while the male protagonist is doddering and easily manipulated.

As I've said before in other discussions, you guys have missed the whole point of Stephenson's "Dwarf" bit...you are, for one, creating the cardinal sin of confusing the author with the character. The whole point of that bit is not to assert some sort of superiority of the hacker archtype. It is a description of a code...in this case, a code that Randy is not privy to. You might want to compare that to Randy's failure to perceive the signals America puts out, the bundle both of those together and examine them from the context of "Randy == stereotypical Lunix geek". Perhaps you missed it because the portrayal is friendlier than yours would have been.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

misconceptions (none / 0) (#93)
by Lode Runner on Wed Sep 25, 2002 at 11:19:27 PM EST

The first line of your sig lashes out at squabbling, bickering Men; the second --which I googled before commenting on it-- evokes a movie in which a major subtext is the dwarven subversion of Men.

As for adequacy, I don't waste my time there. They're a sharp bunch, and they deserve credit for recognizing my talents, but any good Ranger knows not to follow the Elves too far into the Woods when he could instead be hanging with Wizards.

Stephenson identifies with Hiro and perhaps empathizes with the Raven. If it had been any other way, we'd have a very different book. Keep your eye on which characters have the most in common with (ex-Dwarf) Randy.

As for Nell, remember that authors generally have no control over the appearance of a book's cover. Stephenson choses a female focus because he wants to emphasize the impact of her environment on its inhabitants without readers asking too many questions about free will. Things move Nell, not the vice-versa, and her ability to ride the wave keeps her intact. Hackworth had a mind of his own and was crushed like a bug for it.

[ Parent ]

sigs (none / 0) (#94)
by ucblockhead on Wed Sep 25, 2002 at 11:53:10 PM EST

I'm amused that you know the motivations behind my sig. :-) As I said, the trouble with you types is that you assume too much. I don't mind squabbling...it is stupidity and ignorance I am reacting to there. I mean, go on attributing it to my dwarfish nature if you want, I really don't care. It does amuse, though.

And, yes I know what the subtext of Time Bandits is...as I said, the quote was a troll...and a nice double hook on that line, huh? On one side is the geekish worship of technology, on the other side, the reference to a geek cult movie. So you avoided the first and snagged yourself on the second, huh? Well, good for you!

As I said, that second line is there only as a troll...any relation to what I actually believe is a product of your own imagination. (And it is your assumption about what I believe that enabled the troll to work: chew on that.)

You'll have to explain your "Wizards" reference...I'm not much of a Tolkeinist. Frankly, I did not find that particular analogy all that interesting...it seems to fascinate mostly the lit-crit crowd...not liking criticism pointed in their own direction, I suppose. Not surprising in a group on the margins of social relevence.

Again, you are making bad assumptions as to the relations of authors and characters...and Stephenson hardly emphathizes with Raven, a character made to look stupid on more than one occasion. Obviously simularities between Hiro and Randy are only relevent of you think "Randy == Stephenson". One thing to consider: It is YT that Stephenson brings forward to Diamond Age in a bit part. He's done with Hiro, but not with her. (And, of course, there's the obvious relation of YT and Nell.) In any case, he explicitly labels Hiro the protagonist precisely to set that character apart from himself, the author.

And I'm not talking about the book cover of Diamond Age. I'm talking about the subtitle, something which Stephenson obviously had full control.

Hackworth was never more than a secondary character. His job was to deliver the right object to the protagonist, Nell.

Yes, things move Nell...after all, what is the book other than an examination of the whole "Nurture vs. Nature" argument? It isn't really a matter of what Nell experiences during the book, it is a matter of what Nell becomes at the end of the book. That's the whole point of the thing, what she becomes and how she becomes it. (And your comment re:free will shows a too shallow reading of the book...Stephenson certainly does want you asking those questions...he sets you up to ask those questions. Perhaps his answers aren't yours, but he certainly does not answer the question! But there is a subtle trap in that book, because there are two contradictory messages in it, one loud and one subtle.)

I find the comment that Stephenson punishes a character that displays independence amusing given that Stephenson's villians are always those that give up independent thought.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

we the literate (none / 0) (#95)
by Lode Runner on Thu Sep 26, 2002 at 04:50:15 PM EST

aren't particularly fascinated by Tolkein, whose escapism doesn't engage the issues that motivate us to read. Tolkein analogies are like baseball analogies.

Stephenson mocks us, but doesn't realize that many of us are also the Wizards (think Turing) he worships. Also, I think he has it in him to write a strong woman, one who pushes instead of being pushed; but we haven't seen her yet and it probably won't happen in a Cryptonomicon sequel either.

I wonder if you'd be less defensive if you realized that, on the whole, I admire Stephenson's and Niven's work. I just think that for all of their compelling arguments about the future, their treatment of gender issues remains mired in the 20th century.

Anyone who claims to be trawling isn't. 99.992% of self-proclaimed "trolls" have labelled themselves as such in order to avoid acknowledging error on their part.

[ Parent ]

Tolkein (none / 0) (#96)
by ucblockhead on Thu Sep 26, 2002 at 06:28:38 PM EST

Neither am I, frankly...neither, I suspect, is Stephenson.

It isn't so much that I'm defensive as much as that you are wrong...Niven's hardly my favorite author. I doubt I've read anything of his other than a short story since the eighties. About Stephenson...well, you are wrong as I've shown previously, so that horse is dead.

I've no personal need to be defensive about Stephenson's writing, though. There are writers I like better (though indeed, I prefer Stephenson to Niven by a wide margin.)

It doesn't really matter, though, because Stephenson (and even Niven) are just side issues...I've shown pretty clearly that strong female characters do not preclude recognition in the SF community, and since that was your original argument, well, all the rest is just gabbing about writers.

I'm hard pressed how the sig could be an error on my part since I put it in deliberately as a troll...are you saying that I am lying about that?

Just checking...because if so, I'm gonna bust a gut. Better than even making the catch in the first place.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

at last (none / 0) (#97)
by Lode Runner on Fri Sep 27, 2002 at 08:20:47 PM EST

Where did I ever argue that strong female characters preclude recognition in the SF community? And why did you assume I made such an argument?

I can't answer the first question, but I believe the second question could be addressed by examining your beliefs about the enterprise of postmodernism. Postmodernists can indeed be trolled (see Sokal, Alan) but, by definition, never by those trying to lead deconstruction awry.

[ Parent ]

Umm... (none / 0) (#98)
by ucblockhead on Mon Sep 30, 2002 at 11:26:56 AM EST

You've dragged the argument in so many circles that you seem to have forgotten where it started, and some of the turns it took. Oh well, it was interesting while it lasted.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
She's a bit more than that (4.00 / 1) (#75)
by hugues on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:05:06 AM EST

And anyway it doesn't work. Luck only works for her. Who wrote `I'd take luck over talent any day' ?

[ Parent ]
Stepford Wives (4.33 / 3) (#41)
by the on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 05:34:46 PM EST

Very timely. I bought this on DVD yesterday. There's no beating about the bush in this movie - it's a simple and direct SF/horror movie about women whose husbands dreams are their worst nightmares. I won't give any spoilers but this is a must see, the Women's Lib science fiction movie par excellence and quite relevant to the subject at hand. I don't see many reruns of 70s science fiction movies so there's a good chance that plenty of K5 readers haven't yet seen this classic.

The Definite Article
The Stepford Wives cost me my first (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by johnny on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 07:01:18 PM EST

Fiancee. I really do believe that her seeing that flick was one of the reasons she called the whole thing off.

(If for any bizarre reason you would like to find out more about my relationship with my first fiancee (with whom I spent 4 days in Tucson last year after an 18-year gap) you can check out this story about K5 diaries, wherein it's discussed in excruciating detail).

By the way, it all worked out for the best, and so I am a fan of that movie for two reasons.

yr frn,
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.
[ Parent ]

My wife loves Stepford Wives (none / 0) (#49)
by the on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 07:35:11 PM EST

And tells me she wants to become one!

The Definite Article
[ Parent ]
Can I have her phone number? (5.00 / 1) (#52)
by johnny on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 08:13:50 PM EST

yr frn,
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.
[ Parent ]
Remake (none / 0) (#65)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 02:37:05 AM EST

Incidentally, there's a remake in the works. They brought in a new writer to make the script "funnier" than William Goldman's original.

"In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."
-- Winston Churchill

[ Parent ]
You know I don't take those rumors... (none / 0) (#79)
by the on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 06:54:00 PM EST

...about movies to be made too seriously. Occasionally I get the chance to check these things by asking producers who would be involved in the projects if they got the green light and the story is usually something like "yeah, there's some script, it's been sitting on my desk for a few years, nobody's working on it".

The Definite Article
[ Parent ]
Writers' blind spots (5.00 / 2) (#51)
by johnny on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 08:10:27 PM EST

At the risk of being accused of grandstanding, I would like to share my experience as a male (hetero) SF writer who has "created" characters who are women.

There are four main female characters in my novel Acts of the Apostles. One is a VLSI (chip) designer; two are molecular geneticists and one is a machiavellian corporate player. All of these women are smart and accomplished; none of these women need men, and all of them are stronger in some fundamental way than any of the male characters in the book. When I declared the book "finished," I was quite proud of myself for having avoided the stereotypes of bimbette women that pervade this genre. I thought I had written a novel that was "gender-politically correct" -- not out of a desire to appease anybody, but because that was the kind of book that I wanted to write.

And then the critiques began to appear. Several readers pointed out that in my book all the women are very good-looking and sexually appealing to the protagonist, and that three of the four female characters find the (male) protagonist attractive--or pretend to do so for their own reasons. So a few guys took me to task, some quite derisively, for having written a "nerds' fantasy" kind of book. Although distressed, I found that I had to agree with at least some of the points that these critics made.

But as Bob is my witness, I never even realized that I had described these four characters as being so physically appealing. Sure, they were all supposed to be attractive to the protagonist. But they were supposed to be attractive because they were smart, strong, unpredictable and self-reliant women. They were NOT supposed to be swimsuit models. In my mind I can see these women (all based more or less on actual human beans that I've known) and only one of them is drop-dead gorgeous by conventional criteria (that's the character "Judith," for those who've read the book). The other women are supposed to be "average" looking, but sexually appealing because of their brains. But when I re-read the actual book that I wrote, I find that many of the criticisms are valid. All the women are babes. Guilty as charged!

But here's the interesting thing: without exception, the people (who upbraided me for making all the women hot babes) were men. And yet many women--dozens--wrote to thank me for creating female characters who were smart, independent, strong, and, yes, stupid too. Human, in other words.

Similarly I have been dismayed by some criticisms of the character of the book's protagonist. Recently on Slashdot, for example, some irate guy lambasted me for making my protagonist a "typical always-in-control male archetype" or something like that. Funny, I think of my book's main character as an antisocial guy who drinks far too much, avoids adulthood and makes excuses for himself. There's only one thing in the world that matters to him, his marriage, and he manages to fuck that up by pure inertia. And yet some readers think I've cast him in the mold of James Bond. . . and actually, I have. Sorta. Kinda maybe.

I guess my point is, I never realized how deeply embedded were my perceptions of gender roles until I wrote my book and people read it. But I can tell you this much: my next book is going to be different.

yr frn,
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.

Hmm (none / 0) (#62)
by kholmes on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 12:56:34 AM EST

Have you ever read a book in which you thought "I almost guarentee this book was written by a women" and you look at the cover and it was? I don't know what it is but somehow some women write like feminists. It always disappoints me when this happens.

However, I'm not sure its possible to separate a man's fiction from his fantasy. Even if you were successful, a man is going to try to make your fiction his fantasy while he reads it to try to make it more interesting for him. That's probably why you got the critism from the men. The women may not have noticed any of it.

I'm convinced that women and men read stories very differently. Sure, everyone reads stories a little differently given their experiences and perceptions. But I think the gap is larger between men and women.

If I was a writer, I think it would be fun to play around with the fantasies of men. Such as "And the alien seductress leans against Hank, giving him a virus that turns his penis inside out." It would spook me out.

Then again, maybe you all are glad I'm not a writer :)

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.
[ Parent ]

A case for Heinlein (4.00 / 1) (#70)
by PixelPusher on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 08:58:04 AM EST

Hmm, but then there's the other side of the coin.

Sometimes the author can't help it.  I've always maintained that at first glance, one would assume the Robert Heinlein was a raging sexist.  But if you look a little deeper, you notice that all his female characters are intelligent, and capable of handling bad situations.  They don't crack when the going gets tough, waiting to be rescued by the hero.  More often than not they'd be shooting back.

It's just that they're always so darn *feminine*.

Of course, looking a little deeper into the man himself, examine the '(stereo)typical' Heinlein heroine: Extremely beautiful redhead, with a 200 IQ that collects PHD's as a hobby, and entirely insatiable in the sack.

Odd mix, no?  Apparently that was his wife.  So ya kinda can't call him sexist if he based his female characters on the love of his life can you?

[ Parent ]

Heinlein's female characters (5.00 / 1) (#71)
by hatshepsut on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 01:40:47 PM EST

were always supremely disappointing to me.

Granted, for the most part they were smart, capable, etc. etc.

However, they were all treated as sex objects (all his female characters had to actively pursue, or be actively pursued by, men), they all (deep down) had insatiable desires to be mothers (as though that is the only thing that "validated" them) and it comes up again and again that "proof" of womanhood is desirability (in one of the books, possibly "Time Enough for Love", a pair of twins decide to "trip" the main character and declare that if he isn't interested in them, then they are failures as women....give me a break!).

I have enjoyed reading Heinlein's books (and own many), but I can't hold him up as an shining example in portraying women in SF.

[ Parent ]

Headbreaking, and elaboration... (none / 0) (#72)
by PixelPusher on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 03:17:12 PM EST

Hmm, I do agree somewhat, though I've always taken it to be that in a world by Heinlein, men are men, women are women, and survival of the fittest is the whole of the law.  Though it seemed to swing both ways.  The women often weren't so much unfulfilled without male contact, as much as they somewhat objectified the male characters as well.  They had a tendency to bite back when nudged too hard.  Though, then again, he wasn't the best for strong characterization either...  =)

Yes, that was "Time enough for love", and quite possibly the most mind-breaking chapter I've ever read...  The male in question was Lazarus Long, and the twins were clones of him, rendered female.  And they wanted children by him...  I consider it thouroughly wrong for that reason, head and shoulders above any others...  Although, the impetus was that Lazarus was about to step off into the unknown and might not come back, so you can look at it either way...  I usually take the middle ground and assume he was thouroughly drunk...  (Though, incidentally, the chapter was called Narcissus...)

I wouldn't call him a shining example either, but he was most certainly better than most of his contemporaries.  I'd have to split it between him being a product of his times, and the fact that the typical Heinlein heroine may have merely been a characterization of his wife...(which, you must admit would stop any accusation of sexism dead in it's tracks.  Take it up with Virginia Heinlein, I guess... =)

[ Parent ]

heinlein (none / 0) (#99)
by babbling on Wed Nov 06, 2002 at 04:32:31 AM EST

I agree. I have enjoyed Heinlein for years. He is an admirable writer. However, his callous sexism is very hurtful. It stands out in my mind as one of the ways I learned to be wary of men's hatred of me.
If I were at full slayer strength, I'd be punning right about now.
[ Parent ]
You forgot one (none / 0) (#73)
by ucblockhead on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 04:07:21 PM EST

the stereotypical Heinlein heroine was also always either pregant or wanting to get pregnant.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
The only true battle of the sexes... (2.50 / 2) (#54)
by Silent Chris on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 08:44:29 PM EST

...involves girls like these.  And quite frankly, seeing as they're my "type", I wish I knew these gymnasts in high school.

Femminism is bad. (2.00 / 2) (#58)
by Juan Rojo on Wed Sep 18, 2002 at 09:34:56 PM EST

It goes past the line and becomes another form of segregation.

Definition (none / 0) (#64)
by Rasman on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 02:21:12 AM EST

Have you looked up that word in the dictionary lately? It might not mean what you think it means. I'm not a sociologist, but mathematically it's pretty hard to have "segregation" when you have "equality".

Personally, I think the definition is flawed, but society makes the language...

Brave. Daring. Fearless. Clippy - The Clothes Pin Stuntman
[ Parent ]
Re: Definition (1.00 / 2) (#68)
by juahonen on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 04:47:21 AM EST

Have feminists looked up the word? Equality of sexes is something modern day feminism does not understand. It has become equality of women -- not between themselves but over men. And that reminds me of Animal farm.

[ Parent ]
All the ones I know have. [n/t] (5.00 / 1) (#69)
by Rasman on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 05:49:14 AM EST

Brave. Daring. Fearless. Clippy - The Clothes Pin Stuntman
[ Parent ]
You must be hanging out with weird ones (5.00 / 1) (#77)
by livus on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 04:23:40 AM EST

because it doesn't sound as though you know much about the average normal feminist.

HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]
The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction - review | 99 comments (88 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
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