Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Where Are the Women?

Unless a top 10 list is derived from actual statistics, it's not worth worrying about, especially when it comes to books.

The latest top 10 is 10 science fiction novels you pretend to have read.... The compilers of this list go on to list their reasons why you should have read these books. The basic premise is that if you pretend to have read these books and haven't it's because you are trying to be something you're not. The last time I saw an illustration of this elitist philosophy was in the remake of Born Yesterday in which Melanie Griffith (before all the cosmetic surgery that left her needing a mask that covered her from head to toe) actually read a huge tome that was all the rage in Washington D.C. At a party, she began discussing the book with people who hadn't read the book but pretended they did because it was the in thing to do. And here she comes to the party to discuss this most essential book on politics or economics or something very Washington D.C. and she was alone without anyone to discuss what she read. Isn't that always the way?

The link above lists books I've not heard of, although there are books I have read, like Dune by Frank Herbert (and I read the entire series), 1984 by George Orwell, which I recently read and am willing to discuss -- and often do), and Jonathan Strange & Dr. Norrell, which I began and just could not get into. What was the point of the book? I couldn't figure out whether or not there was a story or how far into the massive doorstop I'd have to tunnel before I got to it and gave up. Good thing it was a library book and all I had to do was return it and pay the fines. The other books I don't think I've ever heard about.

The list is arbitrary. How about my own list of 10 books you should read? How about any of Andre Norton's books, especially her Witch World series where the war between the sexes really was fought and a society that was essentially equal, until all the men went and ruined it, split apart and women took over rule after fleeing their native country over the mountains and sealing the mountains behind them and setting spells to make sure no one could even think about that direction? Now that is a great trick. People know north, south, and west, but there was no east and no one thought about it or considered it strange until Simon Tregarth came through the Siege Perilous and found himself in the midst of their world. Oh, Karsten and Alizon were still mostly male ruled, but the Witches of Estcarp kept them at bay. Then there were the Falconers who resemble a more militant and misogynistic society where the the females ran their villages and male children were taken away when they came of age to join the men in their mountain eyries and bond with a falcon that would be their mate, except for time to go to the villages to breed, for the rest of their lives. Now that is a separatist society. Add magic and the evils of technology that brings a loss of self and soul and which the Witches constantly battled and you have a complex and intricate world where the coming of triplets from a Witch forsworn who lost her virginity but did not lose her power mated with Simon Tregarth and you have interesting times coming.

Then there is the Pliocine Exile books by Julian May who weaves a world of telepaths and telekinetics that jumps time back and forth and creates a future that sees a time where you can be Unified or not and how that affects the worlds that bind their minds together in harmony. This is a universe filled with anomalies and possibilities that bred Bodiless Jack and Diamond Mask and it all began with a group of telepaths that fled to the Pliocine era of Earth to escape Unity. Lots of complexities and adventures there, not to mention a great deal about politics, science, technology, and minds capable of massacre and beauty.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series is another good choice. The world of Darkover was a world in chaos and at the mercy of minds and telepathic/telekinetic abilities that nearly destroyed them until they signed the pact and chose to fight each other eye to eye and hand to hand with swords. Seeing a world where power was used for good until some bright group of powerful individuals decided to see how far they could go and how it nearly destroyed them, and then their climb back from the brink until discovered by humans is a masterful work. The people of Darkover living side by side with humans and their advanced technology is a lesson in human and humanoid nature.

That's just the start of my list. Yes, there are three women there, something that was missing from the 10 science fiction novels you pretend to read to fit into some elitist group of society. Let's not forget Ursula K. Le Guin and the many worlds and civilizations and worlds she created and continues to create. My first thought is The Left Hand of Darkness and Madeleine L'Engle and A Wrinkle in Time for starters. There's also C. J. Cherryh. The first of her books I read was Down Below Station and it was very good. How about the Petaybee series by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough? Anne McCaffrey created the world where dragons and human riders were paired and fought Thread and then added smaller dragons that everyone could join with and later on included dolphins. Now that was a world to be explored and enjoyed and the intricacies of their society as it devolved from a technological world to a world more like medieval times where dragons and humans protected all is a study in politics and economics that cannot be easily forgotten.

Elizabeth Ann Scarborough also wrote some wonderful fantasies based on Scandinavian myths and folklore very much like Terry Brooks and his Shannara series and just as good, and sometimes better, although I enjoyed Brooks's books as well, cutting my teeth on Sword of Shannara.

I'd have to say that my top 10 list would be mostly composed of female writers, not because they're better or more inventive, but because they have been slighted by the people who think they matter. There is a world full of wonderful science fiction, hard and soft, written by women, many of whom chose to go by their initials or take on male names to be recognized and accepted, as if having a penis is the only real criteria for who and what are best in science fiction.

Here are a few names for you: Octavia Butler, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood (although she prefers not to be called a science fiction author), Nancy Kress, Lois Bujold, and Catherine Asaro to name a few.

Take another look and try some of these books. You won't be sorry. The real test is in stretching the limits of one's mind -- or prejudices -- and realizing there is no need to go back to a more myopic and less rich view of science fiction and the world.

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