Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

March 8, 2010

Feminist indoctrination via SF

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Sam @ 1:09 pm

First, have a link: Juliet E. McKenna guestwriting for Joshua Palmatier, on the subject of women in SF. (Incidentally, her new novel Blood in the Water, is out—it’s book 2 of the sequence starting with Irons in the Fire. Since I don’t have a copy yet, you can read more about it here, and admire the cover art again.)

I’ve been re-reading some of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series recently (entirely coincidentally, Jo Walton started posting about Darkover re-reads recently too) and I hadn’t realised it had been so long. I first started on these at the age of 14 or so, and a lot of the very progressive social content (for its time – this is 70s and 80s SF here) slipped right past me.

That sort of thing doesn’t slip past without leaving traces, though—the stories we read shape our lives, and we bring all of it to every story after that, whether it’s fiction, the evening news, or family.

So all Bradley’s portrayals of bisexual men, strong women, and young people struggling to make a life for themselves free of the dead hand of history and convention really did stick, and she did a lot to dramatize the struggle that both women and non-alpha men face against patriarchy. There are some problems with her portrayal, of course—there always are—but nobody with any sense will ever have taken it as gospel. Why is it always the absurdly inferior, risibly bad, and philosophically evil books that do get taken that way…

June 6, 2009

Juliet McKenna – Irons in the Fire

Filed under: review — Tags: , , , , — Sam @ 4:31 pm

Book 1 of the Lescari Revolution. This is very much series fantasy, but this first book does a very good job of setting things up and finding, if not a resolution, a good degree of achievement and interest by the end.

Lescar, amusingly, is structured perfectly for this sort of tale, though that happened right at the beginning of the Einarinn books. Six dukedoms, not at all alike in dignity, but set up almost ideally for the Sorting Algorithm of Evil. There’s no attempt to paint any of the dukes as less than greedy warmongering megalomaniacs, which at least is thoroughly consistent with all the past portrayals of the Lescari government. A few of the lesser nobles are shown a bit more sympathetically, and some even take part in the revolution, but they’re never shown even attempting to take it over or get away with their Superior Breeding. We see smart, educated tradesmen and guildsmen as well as peasants – in fact, we mostly see the former, partly because a lot of the action happens in the university town of Vanam. (The continent has two universities, Vanam and Col, and there’s a terrible rivalry between them. Sometimes you can tell McKenna went to Oxbridge.)

Sympathetic people do unpleasant things; unpleasant people do good things; there’s a lot of moral ambiguity and are-we-doing-the-right-thing questioning, and she doesn’t shy away from messy, nasty deaths.

The only criticism I’d make is that this book covers a great deal of ground, and sometimes stretches itself to do so. Unlike the earlier books, there are quite a few POV characters, and whilst she handles them well it does create rather a disjointed feeling when we skip to someone else and months of activity have gone past.

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