Saturday, May 18, 2013

Language and Gender in Utopian SF

For my Utopian Science Fiction class, we just finished reading Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy. We have also recently read The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, Triton by Samuel R. Delaney, and The Female Man by Joanna Russ. The following post looks at the use of language and gender in the utopian society (Mattapoisett) in Woman on the Edge of Time and compares to the other books.

Connie, an older Mexican-American woman in a mental hospital, is the protagonist from our time (the 1960s) and Luciente is a woman from the future who is able to mentally link with her and allow her to see her time.

In class, we discussed terms having to do with feeling such as "bottomed" (sad), "feathered" (happy), and "bumped" (frustrated/angry). We observed that these terms feel more physical in nature, rather than abstract like our current terms and what this means about the difference between our society and Mattapoisett. If we accept the premise that these terms are used because that is how these emotions feel to the "mems" of Mattapoisett, I think we have a very interesting novum-language in effect.

The language in the novel mirrors the society itself, in that it both clearly evolved from our own society and has its own contained set of references or "structure of feeling." Unlike the language of Anarres, it is not an invented language and so carries older connotations. Terms like "mem" and "crit" are abbreviations of words we use. Following our own language trends, many common terms are abbreviations of longer words, like "coms" for co-mothers. However, like the feeling-words, the language also reflects the way the society has changed.

I particularly want to look at the use of "person," "per" and "pers" as pronouns. Binary gender still exists in Mattapoisett...but it has ceased to differentiate between the sexes. Neither men nor women procreate, both men and women breastfeed, nurture, defend, engage in physical labor, live on their own, and have multiple sweetfriends and handfriends. The differences are so muted that Connie at first takes Luciente for a man. "Person" is a gender-neutral term from our own language and it becomes used as a pronoun when the difference between "his" and "hers" is irrelevant.

This leads me into how the novel addresses gender differently from others we have looked at. On Triton, anyone can become the gender of their choice which means that one can escape the set of gender stereotypes one is born with, but not escape gender stereotypes altogether, as Brom discovers. In The Female Man, we encounter societies where the genders are segregated, so that each can develop without the oppression of the other. However, of all these, I prefer Mattapoisett's solution, where everyone is given the "powers" of both genders, so that gender stereotypes can be eliminated, and through inclusion rather than exclusion.

In conclusion, "pers" is my new favorite term.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Book Review: Every Boy Should Have a Man

14. Every Boy Should Have a Man by Preston L. Allen Release Date: May 7, 2013

Every Boy Should Have a Man is a classic in the vein of Voltaire and Swift. A quick read in simple language, this account of a world where giants keep men as pets and for food has many implications on issues ranging from animal rights to racism to environmentalism. There is nothing else quite like this being written right now.

This is one of those books that will appeal on many levels to multiple people. Both children and adults could get something out of this. In the first half of the book, I couldn't help thinking my dog would get a kick out of it! What is the relationship between ownership and companionship? Can loyalty be commanded? What is consent and what is bestiality? Some of those latter questions might not have relevance to our world, but then again they might or might in the past or future.

I wouldn't strictly define Every Boy Should Have a Man as science fiction, but it definitely fits Darko Suvin's definition, of creating a world where estrangement breeds cognition for the reader. Also, though nominally less thought-provoking, the myths in the appendices should not be skipped. Strongly recommended-to everyone.

I received an ARC from the publisher via LibraryThing.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Mini Reviews

I have been doing more reading than the blog lets on, but I don't have enough time to dedicate to full reviews. Below, I've marked the books that I intend to review fully later on and provided brief reviews for the rest.

6. Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear

I received an ARC from the publisher and there will be a longer review to come. Briefly, Shattered Pillars moves further from alternate history and closer to fantasy than Range of Ghosts and is one of those rare second books in a trilogy that outshines the first.

7. The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

Gregory opens with a teaser from Katherine of Aragon's divorce trial, but this book isn't really about that-it's about Katherine's time as a Princess of England-first, as Arthur's wife and then as the princess dowager who tempted both Henry VII and Henry VIII. I don't agree with Gregory's take on the central controversy of Katherine's life, i.e. whether or not she was a virgin when she married Henry VIII, but Gregory is back in form here, making a case filled with intrigue for a flawed but incredibly sympathetic protagonist. A must-read for fans of Tudor fiction.

8. The Joys of Love by Madeleine L'Engle

An early book from the late great Madeleine L'Engle. This honestly isn't anything impressive and is totally skippable, but it does provide insight into the character of the author as a young woman.

9. Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I probably built this up too much in my head, but, frankly, I was incredibly disappointed. Without the closeness I felt for the characters, this book was choppy and jumped all over the place. There was too much going on and the character development that was clearly supposed to be there failed, at least for me. At this point, I don't even care what happens and I don't think I'm going to read the third book.

10. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

See my earlier post.

11. The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich

A surprisingly well-written historical fiction romp into sixteenth century Venice and Malta. The plot was rather melodramatic and contrived, but the characters were likable and engaging, and the settings well-rendered. I'd recommend this as a pleasure read that's a step above the usual.

12. Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

I really enjoyed Cleopatra's Daughter and I'm glad I gave Moran another chance! With Selene as the only narrator, the problem I had with her other novel was satisfactorily solved, and I could really enjoy the fruits of her clearly extensive research. Moran hit just the right note between heart-rending and light-hearted, and the novel felt true to life in the way that, even after the worst has happened, life does go on. And after the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra's defeat, life did go on for their daughter. Moran even imagines to create some sympathetic Romans, and though I fear that's more the product of her imagination than the reality, it makes for a better story.

13. Triton by Samuel R. Delaney

Longer review to come, but I will say I should probably be a little frightened by how much I related to Bron Helstrom, the protagonist. We are all a "type" and maybe there isn't one utopia for all of us, but "heterotopias" can exist side by side-or can they? Is there really a category for everyone or is there such a thing as a category of one?