Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Twinja Book Reviews!

Fighting to bring Multiculturalism to YA, Fantasy and Science Fiction novels
Ever notice how novels often leave out the multicultural side of life (particularly those in the fantasy and sf genre)? The gals at Twinja Book Reviews have noticed as well. The twin sisters have a site dedicated to featuring books with multicultural characters. I'm proud to say Cursed was reviewed by Twinja earlier this year.

Check out the book giveaway for Cursed featured on the Twinja Review website. There are 18 days left to enter and win either a paperback or e-copy. 

On 12/12/13, I'll be featured on the Twinja site with a Q&A!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

What's in a Name? A Summary of LeGuin's short, "She Unnames Them"

In this powerful short story by LeGuin, the lead character is never named, but it is inferred that it is Eve, as in Adam and Eve of the Garden. Eve narrates the story, telling of how she convinced the animals that names are unimportant. One by one, the animals agree to let go of their names, though the Yaks have trouble with this concept. The female Yaks hold a council, deciding to let their names go, and after awhile, the male Yaks agree.
Pets, specifically dogs and parrots, take great issue in letting go of their names. As pets are closer to man than wild animals, it is understandable that they would have a harder time in letting go of their identifiers. Yet, Eve makes the pets understand that they can hold onto their capitalized names, like Froo Froo, if only they let go of their generic monikers, like dog or parrot, and so the pets too shed their names.
Among each other, nameless and free, Eve feels a closeness with the animals of the garden that she has never felt before: “They seemed far closer than when their names had stood between myself and them like a clear barrier: so close that my fear of them and their fear of me became one same fear.” The giving back of names (“loss of names” would hold the wrong connotation) by the animals makes them equal to Eve, but she realizes that she is the last being in the garden with a name, and it is not fair of her to hold on to her name when she asked all the animals to give theirs back.
Eve goes to Adam to tell him that she is giving back the name bestowed by “you and your father […] It's been really useful, but it doesn't exactly seem to fit very well lately. But thanks very much! It's really been very useful." Though Eve’s actions are revelatory, Adam does not care. He is described as working on something, putting parts together, and overall he is only half-listening to what Eve is telling him. The reader (and Eve) know that Adam does not understand the import of what she has done by forgoing her name when he asks the stereotypical patriarchal question: “When’s dinner?”
Names can have power, and that power can be a divisive one, or at least that is what LeGuin insinuates with her short story. The binary names humans give to gender (man, woman), the names humans give to animals, or to objects, those are ways that humans seek to control what is around them, not to give meaning, but to separate themselves from nature, to say “I am better than you. I have control over you, and with that control, I will name you and distance you from me”. Eve, like other women in sf stories, does the opposite by placing herself in nature and making herself an equal part of nature. Again, the motif of a loss of identity is explored in this story, and again the author clearly states that one can be an individual while at the same time surrendering themselves to the communal way of living. It is an idea that humans struggle with, because humans only know individuality in the form that it has been handed to us for generations: it comes with separation from others, in the form of gender, class, or racial individual names and personalities.

With Adam’s response, and his lack of interest, LeGuin is stating that men may not be ready to be a part of nature. To be equal with women, and then to be equal with nature, is something men may not conceive of just yet.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

This Time Next Year...

I'm happy to announce the publisher Champagne Book Group has finalized the contract for Daughter of Zeus, and it will be out in July of 2014. 

Until then, I will shower you with more academic book reviews and articles. I know, the truly fun stuff in life!

Possible back blurb:

The future can be a terrifying prospect, especially when Ada Freyr discovers she can manipulate electricity. Her newly acquired abilities result in the death of her husband. Ada is numb with shock, and terrified of being discovered by the Prominent-run State. Anyone deemed different is deemed an Undiligent, never to be seen again. She is desperate to find the source of her power, believing her estranged father to be the cause.
After her mother is killed by Prominents, she leaves her hometown in Colorado to begin a trip to Atlanta, Georgia. Ada learns new things about her powers along the way, like that she can manipulate anything with electrical impulses, including humans. Her mother's boyfriend, Kressick Lyman, insists on going with her, keeping his own agenda well hidden.

Once in Atlanta, Ada finds her father, Brontes Corentin, is very different from the alcoholic she met as a child: he’s a House Representative with a new family and a new name, ready to ascend to a Senator’s seat. His family has no knowledge of his dark history.

Ada pretends to like Corentin in order to get close to him, because her ultimate plan, the real reason she came to Atlanta, is to kill her father.

            Ada’s revenge scheme lands her on the Undiligent list, leads a stranger to stalk her every move, and stunts her relationship as a sister to her new siblings. Soon, she has to decide which is more important, an old vendetta or forgiving the man she blames for ruining her life.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Noah Bertlatsky: The (Short) History of Feminist Utopian Literature

"Nancy Porter"
Source: Wikimedia Commons
“Imagine there’s no gender: the long history of feminist utopian literature” is an article in The Atlantic highlighting the history of feminine utopian literature. However, writer Noah Bertlatsky does not delve far enough into said history. Based on Bertlatsky’s subtitle: "From Wonder Woman to Shulamith Firestone to Joanna Russ, visions of societies run by women or absent of gender altogether have existed for almost a century”, it’s obvious he either has decided to ignore earlier examples of feminine utopian literature, or he is unaware it exists.
The beginning of the article focuses on feminist writer Shulamith Firestone, and her views expressed in her text The Dialectic of Sex. Bertlatsky quotes Firestone as having said in 1970, “There is no feminine utopian literature in existence”. He believes the claim to be exaggerated, especially given the fact of several publications he cites, like The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), Herland (1915), and graphic novels like Wonder Woman (1941- ).
In Bertlatsky’s view, the most distinct part of Firestone’s philosophy is her description of feminism, which has roots in utopian theory: “[as radical feminists, we] are talking about changing a fundamental biological condition." Inequality, according to Firestone, is begot foremost by gender differences, and can be overcome when gender differences are gone (a notion shared by many a feminist, whether they be man or woman). Without gender to get in the way, Firestone imagined utopias in which technology would eliminate the need for work and even the need for live childbirth (an idea found in several utopian/dystopian novels, like Woman on the Edge of Time, The Shore of Women, and Brave New World).
Overall, it was refreshing to see an article on feminist utopian theory in the popular media, because it is not seen often. However, I feel like Bertlatsky deprived his readers by limiting his scope of feminist utopian history to a mere hundred years. He also displayed his male outlook on feminist utopian literature by including the Wonder Woman graphic novels. The world of graphic novels is notorious (much like science fiction) for being a good ol’ boys club, so to include any graphic novel (especially Wonder Woman, a graphic novel objectifying women on a grand scale) speaks volumes.
It saddens me that this article was written this past year, illustrating just how much further the world needs to progress to attain gender equality, which, consequentially, in the words of Marlene Barr, would bring an end to feminism.

Bertlatsky, Noah. “Imagine there’s no gender: the long history of feminist utopian literature”. The Atlantic. The Atlantic Mag., 15 April 2013. Web. 20 May 2013.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What a Strange World We Live In- "Woman on the Edge of Time" by Marge Piercy

Source: Wikipedia
Marge Piercy creates a detailed portrait of a poor minority female who is constantly trying and hoping for a better life that never comes. For most of her life, Connie has been oppressed in every way imaginable. She has suffered at the hands of male and  government institutions. She has never known real power, not even over her own body.
During her second incarceration in a mental institution, visits from a time traveler become more insistent. At first, Connie is convinced the traveler is in her imagination, but as the visits transport her to an androgynous utopia in the future, the legitimacy of the traveler is indisputable, and it is the present which seems more like a surreal nightmare.
Luciente is the traveler that shows Connie another world, a better world. Luciente is described as a male, at least in Connie’s eyes. From Luciente’s movements, confidence, and attitude, Connie is sure she is dealing with a man. She even forms the beginnings of romantic feelings for Luciente, but they fade after she discovers Luciente is actually a woman.
While visiting the future with her time-traveling friend, Connie is confronted with other non-traditional forms of society. For example, men can petition to be mothers. Children in the future are no longer born, they are grown. As such, babies are assigned to those that request them, and men commonly request to be mothers alongside women. Each child has three mothers (male or female), and is separated from their mothers at age twelve to foster independence.
Towns are kept small, so as to remain self-sustainable. A town models itself after past cultures of a certain time. The town Luciente is a part of follows the traditions of the Wampanoag Native Americans, and different races are purposefully bred, with racism having been bred out of human beings.
Sexually, Luciente and her friends are quite liberal. Homosexual relationships are normal, as are polyamorous or monogamous relationships. When Luciente is recalling her most passionate relationship, she tells Connie it was with a woman, a concept Connie cannot grasp.
The separation of gender, especially through the eyes of the lead female character Connie, are analyzed throughout the novel. The validity of power structures in society (like police, social workers, and doctors) are also questioned, as all the structures Connie encounters only take advantage of her position in society as a female, low-income, minority citizen.

The capitalist life style Connie is on the fringes of seems barbaric in comparison with the rich and happy life Luciente exposes her to. Piercy brings a disconnect to the modern world, and certainly evokes Suvin’s infamous theory of “cognitive estrangement” in science fiction writing with Woman on the Edge of Time.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Six weeks...

The Mutant Star Tragedy
In six weeks, The Mutant Star Tragedy will debut on Amazon as a second edition copy. One week prior to the book's release, there will be a giveaway on Goodreads for a free hard-copy, and on my blog, I will give away five e-copies!!!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Brilliance of James Tiptree, Jr. (or as she was born, Alice Sheldon)

Found on

This is a collection of stories by Tiptree, collected before Tiptree was discovered to be a woman. The introduction by Robert Silverberg is almost comical, especially when he defends the questioned masculinity of Tiptree: "There is something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree's writing. I don't think the novels of Jane Austen could have been written by a man, nor the stories of Ernest Hemingway by a woman, and the same way I believe the author of James Tiptree stories is male" (xii). Silverberg's supposition calls into question the definition of male and female writing. If in his mind Austen is the quintessential female writer and Hemingway the male, then his radar concerning the gender of authors is seriously misguided, more notably when he compares Tiptree to Hemingway. Silverberg manages to unknowingly pen several sexist claims, like Tiptree must be male because he talks about things like fishing, hunting, travelling, and the government with such authority. Reading the introduction reminded me of LeGuin's article "The Carrier Bag of Fiction", where she talks about the origins of what is intrinsically human, and it turns out not to be violent (and supposed) male tendencies, but the ability to gather, (a supposed) female tendency. It seems as if Silverberg is trying to legitimize Tiptree's place in science fiction by insisting on Tiptree's maleness, as if the possibility of Tiptree's womanhood would do the opposite.
There are two short stories I read in the collection, starting with “The Girl Who Was Plugged In”. If anything, the story takes place in both a utopia and dystopia. The world as laid out by Tiptree has outlawed advertising. It was deemed immoral, and word of mouth is the only way companies have of getting their products sold. That’s where J. Burke comes in. She’s described as ugly, but company execs have their own ideas on how to make her pretty. After she attempts suicide, they know she is desperate enough to accept their offer: to plug her brainwaves into a beautiful humanoid. Through the new J. Burke (re-named Delphi when in humanoid form), the execs are able to wield an alluring and subtle spokesperson for their products. A man falls in love with Delphi, and discovers in part her secret. When he finally meets the real Delphi (J. Burke), he is disgusted at her appearance and accidentally kills her.
The story is a reminder of how humans will do their best to undermine the law, even when the law is put in place to enhance their rights. Another theme of Tiptree’s short is the lie women must keep up with their looks. J. Burke/Delphi could be an analogy for said lie, with J. Burke being how men view women without “cute” clothes/make-up on, and Delphi being how they view women in their costumed perfection. In the story, Delphi’s admirer was naïve in believing she was a paragon all the time, and he is disillusioned, even horrified, to discover his real love shares her likeness with a monster.
In “The Women Men Don’t See”, a group of people have to survive a plane crash on a sandbar in the Yucatan. Two women make up part of the group, and two men make up the other. The story is told from a male perspective, with the man constantly being surprised in the unflappable nature of the two women. When he expects them to complain, they remark on the scenery. When he expects them to make demands, they make kind concessions. This second story I read really had little to do with utopia/dystopias, and everything to do with how men expect women to act, versus how women can act.
Overall, the book is a great example of how women are seen not just in science fiction, but through the eyes of men. What’s ironic about it is that Tiptree managed to write from the male perspective so convincingly she had everyone believing she was a male, and they thought it patronizing and progressive of “him” to take small feminist stands in his writing. How must they have viewed Tiptree’s writing after discovering he was a she? I have an idea as to what they were thinking, because Silverberg puts a postscript at the end of his intro, describing the letter he received from Tiptree. She confessed to him her true sexuality, and of it, Silverberg wrote, “What I have learned is that there are some women who can write about traditionally male topics more knowledgeably than most men, and that the truly superior artist can adopt whatever tone is appropriate to the material and bring it off” (xviii).

Tiptree Jr., James. “The Girl Who Was Plugged In”.  Warm Worlds and Otherwise. New York: Doubleday, 1973. Print.

            -. “The Women Men Don’t See.” Warm Worlds and Otherwise. New York: Doubleday, 1973. Print.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

When Women Rule the World: Sherri S. Tepper's "The Gate to Women's Country"

Image found on 

From the onset, it's hard to tell The Gate to Women's Country apart from The Shore of Women. Both are stories featuring post-apocalyptic settings in which women preside over great, peaceful cities, whereas men are left out to be warriors amongst each other. The differences between the stories are minor: instead of women not caring about giving up their sons (like in Shore), Tepper brings the reader through an emotional process that is very real. Instead of procreating with the aids of science (like in Shore), women and men meet twice a year at carnivals. In Tepper's world, men may return to the female cities at age fifteen if they choose.
Tepper creates a dual-natured gender society, one in which the balance of power appears to be equal between men and women, with perhaps a bit more power going to the men. By the end of the book, the big reveal shows the true balance of power to be entirely in favor of the women. After a nuclear war three-hundred years before, women decided to take over and establish new cities. Like Shore, they wanted to keep men out, but they also wanted to create an illusion to keep them happy. Part of the illusion is letting the men in the garrisons believe that they father children from women inside of Women’s Country. Really, all babies are born from artificial insemination. Sperm is carefully selected from those men who live within Women’s Country, as they have no desire for violence. Violence is a trait the women are set on breeding out of the men, even if it takes centuries to do so. Every fifteen-year-old male who chooses to return to Women’s Country then becomes part of the breeding pool.
The entire set-up of Women’s Country is a large breeding program, which the men are completely unaware of. The women allow the garrisons from different towns to go to war with one another, and they allow it to control the male population, or to get rid of undesirables quickly. The reader comes to understand how the men are puppets, much like the men in Shore. However, unlike Shore, the women in Women’s Country hope to reconcile with men eventually, by breeding out their violent natures.
The entire novel is themed around power. In the beginning, women appear weak, deferring to the men, loving men, giving into them. The men seem strong, protecting the women. One might argue Tepper set up a conventional dual-natured society, with proper male/female gender roles. Later, the women are seen to hold all of the power, and the men (the ones in the garrisons at least) are seen as pathetic, almost like children playing their little war games, unaware of the secrets and power the women hold over them.
For a good part of the novel, the men in the garrisons are convinced the women have secrets, but they don’t know what they are. Some of the men plot to get at the secrets, to control the women. The novel got me thinking about life, how men may believe women have secrets, or believe childbirth to be a sort of secret (or power). Considering all the anti-abortion measures state legislatures have taken, it’s possible the men of these states are uncomfortable at the thought of women controlling their own secrets, their own power. Even if their ideas about abortion are steeped in their religion, their religion is steeped in male-powered rhetoric.
At times during the novel, the comparisons between Shore and The Handmaid’s Tale would prompt the reader to believe Tepper wrote it as a further exploration of the elements in both of those feminist utopian/dystopic novels. Unlike Shore or The Handmaid’s Tale, Women’s Country is trying to change, trying to become better than the status quo, and as H.G. Wells tells it, the mark of a modern utopia is one that is ever-changing (9).
Tepper implies that a male-dominated world revolves around violence and competition, and the only end-game to such a cycle is destruction through war. According to Tepper, in history, those who suffer most in war (without any real say) are women and children.
In Women’s Country, women and children are spared from senseless death. Tepper describes Women’s Country as a world in which women have complete control, and the results are for better, or as good as they can be in a post-nuclear age.
Even as Tepper creates a sort of utopia, there are several dystopic elements to her story, such as the war games the women allow the men to play out. It is viewed as an activity the men need to do, to channel their aggression and keep their illusion of power intact, but when the men are dying on the fields, they are not allowed help for their wounds. The smallest wound can fester, turn to blood poisoning, and kill the man weeks later, a horrific death Tepper describes of one of the men. Also, the men in the garrisons are not allowed to have or create any technological advances, not just in weaponry, but everyday items that might create a better life for them are also barred. Because of the way the men are bred, most of them don’t care about advancing anyway (only a few do), but the females in the city, the perceptive ones, feel it’s wrong to intentionally hold the men back. It’s comparable to holding a dog in a cage.
The major dystopic element of Tepper’s world is the fact that from five years of age on, little boys get sent out of the cities and into the garrisons. They are separated from their families, and it can sometimes be a traumatic separation. Just like in Shore, the position of the women are elevated (and if it were the other way around, it would be just as wrong), and men (no, little children) are made to suffer for the power-swap.
A side-note: The Gate to Women's Country is a good book, nearly as good or even better than A Handmaid's Tale in my view. It's written with the same weird displaced timeline as The Dispossessed, and the writing in it feels more like poetry (at times). While The Shore of Women is great, too, I found the writing style to be a bit too romanticized. With The Gate to Women's Country, Tepper tackles the male/female romantic dynamic, but with a more objective eye than Sargent. Then again, I've also considered Sargent's over-use of romantic language and phrasing may have been on purpose, as a parody of the way women and men view one another.

Tepper, Stewart, Sheri. The Gate to Women’s Country. New York: Bantam Spectra, 1989. Print.

Wells, George, Herbert. A Modern Utopia. London: Chapman & Hall, 1905. Print.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Giveaway for "Cursed" Ending Soon

Curious about Cursed but not sure about purchasing it? Enter the giveaway on Goodreads to receive your free copy! The contest ends on April 13th. Click here to enter. 
For you Tumblr users out there, enter here for a second chance to win.

World Castle Publishing announced the immediate release of Cursed by Red Harvey. This is Red Harvey’s debut novel. Cursed is a paranormal romance about an anthropology student with the power of prescience. Imogen Ameore has learned the hard way knowing the future doesn’t mean she can change it. Another curse of her gift is her vulnerability to spirits that desire reincarnation. After her sister’s death, Imogen returns to her hometown of Graydon, Florida. Despite the fact that she always “sees” when a relationship will end and why, she re-kindles a romance with the secretive but charming Rafe Ahote. Rafe isn’t enough to distract Imogen from ancient spirits haunting her, seeking re-entry into the human world. Imogen’s pregnancy and marriage to Rafe force her to find answers. With the help of Rafe’s methods and a quirky shaman, Imogen discovers a Native American Uzita legend coinciding with Hernando de Soto, and the evil doppelgangers of Adam and Eve, Lamashtu and Samael. The hauntings culminate in Imogen’s death, Rafe’s possession, and the re-birth of Samael and Lamashtu. Once she’s dead, the spirit of Imogen’s sister helps her retain a new body, new abilities, and a new mission to stop the demonic offspring from destroying mankind. Red Harvey brings this horror story together with surprises, humor, and old clichés turned on their head. Readers hunting for a paranormal read with a Buffy-esque twist are sure to enjoy Cursed.
Red Harvey lives in Georgia with her husband and young son. She is currently working on her fourth novel, a speculative science fiction project exploring gender roles. She enjoys writing, reading, studying (yes, studying), and generally nerding it up with family and friends.
Cursed by Red Harvey is now available at your favorite bookstore.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

New Teen Sci-Fi Novel "Empire State" by C.E. Smith

Empire State
Decades ago, a volcanic eruption covered the Earth in dust and ash. Tim Ackerman, who sometimes goes by Grim, is responsible for a group of young boys in the crumbling ruins of New York City. A young teen himself, Tim not only has to survive the harsh world, but he has to deal with his mutated abilities. Rival gang-leader, Sykes, is also a mutant of sorts, and when Tim is forced to trust Sykes, his entire world changes. 

Indie author C.E. Smith brings a new post-apocalyptic world full of danger, discovery, and heroes with the novel Empire State.

Read Empire State in its entirety free here.

The Underrated and Overlooked Utopian Classic: "A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder"

File:Strange manuscript.jpg
"A Strange Manuscript Found
in a Copper Cylinder" by
James De Mille
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Adam More tells of his discovery of a utopia (or in his eyes, a dystopia) via a manuscript he seals in a copper cylinder. His journey begins when More gets separated from his merchant’s ship with his friend, Agnew. Using their rowboat, the two men drift until they find a desolate island with devilish people as inhabitants. Upon first glance, More cannot stomach the Natives and only goes ashore at Agnew's insistence. The Natives are described by More as being less civilized and uglier than Aborigines, which he believes to be the most uncivilized human beings. More's prejudicial fears are well-founded, as Agnew is killed by the Natives.
However, More escapes the island and uses the boat to take an adventure through a cave that is reminiscent of Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. Eventually, More finds another strange land of foreigners, but he is convinced that these people aren't dangerous from the landmarks he sees as civilized, like roads, buildings and ships. When he meets these strangers, his biased perspective of aliens is fully actualized: the first Natives have black skin and are unkempt (thus, their appearance drove More's distrust), but the second set of Natives have white skin and are what More describes as 'regular'. More's encounter with the first set of Natives he meets illustrates Ursula K. LeGuin's point in her article "American SF and the Other" when she speaks of aliens in sf becoming the Other, be it Galactic aliens, “sexual aliens, class aliens, or cultural aliens.” (LeGuin). Because More does not identify with the first Natives, he thinks them murderous Others from the onset. Upon meeting the second Natives, he is assured of their innate kindness as they more closely resembled what he associates with “regular” and civilized human beings.

His view of the Natives, whom he later calls Kosekins, changes when he learns of their value system that is basically an invert of what he is used to back home in England. To start, Kosekins revere death and hate the burden of living, thus they go on numerous hunts (in which women are included) and basically throw themselves at the feet of the large animals they pursue so as to die an honorable and public death. Secondly, Kosekins detest wealth and aspire to poverty, viewing possessions as burdens. The poorest man in the nation of Kosek has the most influence and respect, while the richest man has the least respect (capitalism is seen as evil). In accordance with their scorn of wealth, Kosekins are very self-sacrificing; they are always to bestow gifts on one another (to get rid of their possessions/wealth), and when one nation surrenders to another, it is considered a great honor and the greatest possible instance of self-sacrifice. That is not to say that Kosekins do not know of violence or war, but their reasons for war or violence differ from the traditional reasons, as Kosekins fight when they receive too many gifts from one person. When one is sick, all is done to nurse them back to health, so that they may die in a more honorable way, yet when someone is sick, every Kosekin trips over themselves to nurse the patient (as that is self-sacrificing to care for someone else). Requited love among two human beings is not a good thing in the Kosekin culture, because “love is self-surrender, and utter self-abnegation. Love gives all away, and cannot possibly receive anything in return. A requital of love would mean selfishness.” Thus, the most self-sacrificing thing a Kosekin can do for the person they love is to arrange their marriage to another. The most deterring fact about Kosekins that More cannot get past is their sacrificial rituals. When their comrades are wounded in battle, even from non-mortal wounds, they kill their fallen brethren with a knife to the heart, and it is their duty to do so. Not only do they kill their own, but they eat them as well, and it is for that purpose that More and another foreigner of Kosek, Almah are in Kosek, to be guests of honor at the next festival of cannibalism. While More might see killing a fellow man and eating them as villainous acts, the Kosek see it as bringing great honor to their fellow man. Almah tells More that he would not deny a man that seeks life, the idea of it would go against all that he believed in. Such is the Kosekins thoughts on denying a man death.

File:Ball's Pyramid North.jpg
"Balls Pyramid" 13 Miles South of
Lord Howe Island
Picture by Fanny Schertzer
Source: Wikimedia Commons
More’s friend in Kosek, the Kohen, explains to him why death is such a large part of their culture: “[To love death] is human nature. We cannot help it; and it is what distinguishes us from animals.” The Kohen goes further with his comparison of civilized Kosekins and animals, “Animals fear death; animals love to accumulate such things as they prize; animals, when they love, go in pairs, and remain with one another” (169). All of the things that the Kosekins believe to be against human nature are things that only lowly animals practice, like pairing, keeping possessions, and fearing death.
That is part of why the Kohen cannot understand More’s point of view when More tells him that his culture fears death and loves life. The Kohen tries his best to dissect More’s perspective by asking “If you really fear death, what possible thing is there left to love or hope for?” To which More replies, “Long life, and riches, and requited love”. After the Kohen’s thoughts on those three unmoral life pursuits, More’s reasoning sounds selfish, naïve, and unattainable.
Author James De Mille uses the inverted civilization of the Kosekins to satire the foundations of the world’s “civilized” populations, much in the fashion of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. At first, reading about the Kosek love of death and their desire for poverty seems absurd, but their reasoning behind it makes sense against the backdrop of humanity’s selfish pursuits for money, love, and a long life. Kosekins live in both a utopian society and a dystopian one, because while their 180 degree way of life is admirable in a backwards way, their love of death (and cannibalism) creates too wide of a gulf to reconcile their beliefs with More’s, or with mine. 

De Mille, James. A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1888. Print.

LeGuin, Kroeber, Ursula. “America SF & The Other”. Science Fiction Studies 2.3 (1975). Print. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

"The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction", a thought-provoking essay by Ursula K. LeGuin

LeGuin’s essay begins by explaining the gender dynamics of the early humans from the Paleolithic and Neolithic time periods. She describes the average life of an early human as one that began as gatherer, not hunter as many have assumed. As part of that description, she brings with her the theory that the first cultural device used by humans was a container (LeGuin 150). Again, it has been an assumption, an assumption perpetuated by the media (as LeGuin notes), that the first device used by humans had to be a weapon.
To LeGuin, the invention of the weapon was most likely a man-made invention, and one that men used to hold over women in a way, as to say, “Ha, look, men made the first invention that just happened to be violent, and women hate violence, therefore, women aren’t really human.” As Russ says of the men in her short story “When It Changed”, they didn’t consider the women they found on planet Whileaway to be human. They kept asking the women, “Where are all the people?” People, to them, meaning men.
Using the idea of the container as the first human invention, LeGuin goes on to say that finally, she can be counted as human now too: “If it is a human thing to do to put something you want […] into a bag […] and then take it home with you, home being another, larger kind of pouch or bag, a container for people, and then later on you take it out and eat it or share it […] and then next day you probably do much the same again, if to do that is human, if that’s what it takes, then I am a human being after all.” (LeGuin 152). What LeGuin is saying is that women invented the first relevant piece of culture, but I think it could have been both the container and the weapon, all at once. Human beings could have started out as both the hunter and the gatherer, as we also began as women and men. Still, the point that LeGuin makes is fascinating: the invention of the container is one of the most important inventions to man, and being an assumed female invention, it brings women into the arena of humanity in a way she wasn’t before.
The rest of the essay changes directions. LeGuin begins to equate the idea of grafting a good novel by using a container of words, instead of a spear of words. LeGuin mentions how some authors have described writing a book to be a mock-battle, when she believes it to be the lugging of a container full of words, thoughts, and story elements waiting to be used up.

LeGuin, Kroeber, Ursula. “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction.” The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literacy Ecology. Ed. Cheryll Glotfelty, Harold Fromm. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1996. 149-154. Print.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Idea of Gender Divides in LeGuin's "The Dispossesed"

The Dispossesed (1st Ed. Hardcover)
1974, Harper & Row Cover
Source: Wikimedia

Somewhere in a similar galaxy is a planet much like Earth, called Urras. On Urras, a group of settlers were sent to colonize the moon, Anaress. Cut-off from their home planet, the Anarresti built a different society than the one they came from, one in which there is no central government, no real form of currency, and gender equality isn’t even a thought, it just is.
Shevek, a theoretician from the colonized moon, is invited by a university on the home planet to come and study. When he does, his entire worldview is shaken, as he is exposed to alien concepts, like class divides, crime, money, and ego. Once Shevek understands that the home planet society is driven by profits (i.e. capitalism), he chews on his assumption “that if you removed a human being’s natural incentive to work--his initiative, his spontaneous creative energy--and replaced it with external motivation and coercion, he would become a lazy and careless worker […] The lure and compulsion of profit was evidently a much more effective replacement of the natural initiative than he had been led to believe.” (82). LeGuin is answering  a central question here about the details of a utopian society quite simply: if a citizen is given all they need by the State, they will not become lazy, because their own creativity will be their drive. She also answers the question about innovation in an utopian society, a concept assumed to stagnate in any imagined utopia, because only suffering can foster innovation (the need to make something bad into something better), but if creativity is its own reward, then even in a utopian society citizens will know of and promote innovation.
There are many gender divides Shevek encounters on the home planet. He argues with many of the Urrasti about how they treat their women and why they feel the need to treat women differently at all. Several times, he asks the Urrasti men “Where are the women?” They are amused at the question, and they tell him that women make great wives, but terrible scientists: “[Women] can’t do the math; no head for abstract thought; don’t belong. You know how it is, what women call thinking is done with the uterus! Of course, they’re always a few exceptions, God-awful brainy women with vaginal atrophy.” (73).
When Shevek reveals that 50% of the scientists (and workers in all fields) on his world are women, the Urrasti men become very uncomfortable. They cannot imagine a world in which a man is not made to feel “manly” and a woman is not kept as a feminine object and an object alone.
At the end of one of these gender arguments, Shevek concludes “that he had touched in these men an impersonal animosity that went very deep. Apparently they, like the tables on the ship, contained a woman, a suppressed, silenced, bestialized woman, a fury in a cage. He had no right to tease them. They knew no relation but possession. They were possessed.” (74).
Soon, Shevek comes to realize that the very design of the planet Urras, and the syntax of the Urrasti speech, all help to maintain the binary gender divide, however unintentional (or intentional) the design might be. Aboard his first starship, Shevek notes that the curves and lines on the ship are soft, supple. Even his bunk bed on the star ship is soft and inviting, and he cannot help but have erotic thoughts of yielding women. The language of the Urrasti is as possessive as their nature, as they refer to things as “my hankerchief” or “my wife”, when an Anarresti would say “the hankerchief that I use” or “the woman I share life with”. Shevek does not know of a translation in his language for the possessive pro-nouns Urrasti people are so fond of using.
Overall, LeGuin uses the analogy of a visitor to an Earth-like world to illustrate the cognitive estrangement of Earth-like customs. Through Shevek’s eyes, the reader sees everything backwards, gender included. Everything that is “normal” is odd to Shevek, and the simple nature in which he explains his world makes it seem as real as the Earth-like planet of Urras.

LeGuin, Kroeber, Ursula. The Dispossessed. New York: Harper & Row, 1974. Print.

Monday, February 4, 2013

"Brave New World"- So Close Yet So Far from Utopia

File:Brave GNU world.png
A picture of Richard Stallman, in the style of Che Guevara
The title is a play on
"O brave new world / that has such people in it"
The Tempest and Brave New World.
Date: October 2006
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Huxley’s speculative tale of London in the year A.F. 632 is a Utopian world except for a few distinctive differences. There is the matter of a class system determined even before birth. Fertilized human eggs are chemically treated to be Epsilons, Betas, Alphas, or other derivatives. Once the egg becomes a full-fledged human being, the mental and physical conditioning begins. Children are raised in wards by the State, taught that their god is Ford (as in the Ford that invented the automobile assembly line), and also taught repetitive reasoning in their sleep, such as “Never put off till tomorrow the fun you can have today” (Huxley 93).
In place of love, there is the pursuit of fun in the form of “the feelies” and drugs like soma. Like in The Giver, the public is unaware of the implications of death or what it really entails, another way to shield citizens from feeling anything real. Similar to both Anthem and The Giver, this dystopia is ruled by a handful of individuals known as Directors. Directors are always male, therefore the gender equality implied by Huxley is severely lacking. The reader need only analyze the sexual dynamic between the genders to come to the conclusion that in Brave New World, women are still beneath men in the social ladder.
Women are required to be sexually available at every turn, and part of that is maintaining a fit and “pneumatic” body. Another burden the women must abide is the responsibility of safe sex. All women carry a belt around, a belt full of different contraceptives. In the book, it is never mentioned that a man must upkeep his body for women, or remember to use contraceptives. Huxley leaves that up to the women.
If a woman (or man) chooses not to be promiscuous, they are seen as socially inept. Given that, there is no marriage in Huxley’s world. If two people are considered a couple, it is prudent for them to begin coupling with anyone and everyone else they can, the sooner the better.
The main female characters in the novel, Lenina and Lydia, are both insipid and promiscuous, a product of their society. Two main male characters in the novel, Bernard and Helmholtz, are likewise products of their society, however, Huxley allows them to question their surroundings and long for a better world. Helmholtz confides in his friend Bernard that he is unhappy, even though he is at the top of the class system as an Alpha and women literally line up to sleep with him: “I’m thinking of a queer feeling I sometimes get, a feeling that I’ve got something important to say and the power to say it---only I don’t know what it is, and I can’t make any use of the power” (Huxley 69). Bernard tries to explain to Lenina what is lacking in their society after she repeats the mantra learned in their childhood, Everybody’s happy nowadays. “Yes," Bernard tells her, "‘Everybody’s happy nowadays.’ We begin giving the children that at five. But wouldn't you like to be free to be happy in some other way, Lenina? In your own way, for example; not in everybody else’s way.” (Huxley 91).
File:Aldous Huxley.gif
Aldous Huxley
Date: (original upload) May 2007
Transferred from Wikipedia
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Happiness is the main objective of Huxley’s alternative London, but as Bernard and Helmholtz illustrate, their world is far from perfect. Even though there is no war, disease, or poverty, not everyone feels happy because they are too controlled. Everyone’s absolute place in the world is chosen from birth, down to what they’re going to look like, their place in the class system, and where they’re going to work. There are no creative freedoms, and that is what is most stifling about Huxley’s dystopia. Everything else, such as gender and class disparities, follows in the wake of that.

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. London: Chatto and Windus, 1932. Print.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


It's a bit ironic that in fifteen days, my first novel will become available on February 15th! My editor approved the final proof a few weeks ago, and while that was exciting enough, I cannot wait until actual copies of Cursed reach the hands of readers.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Further Realization of Utopia: Edward Bellamy's "Equality"

Given ten years to reflect on his work, Bellamy was able to expand upon the thoughts and issues of the utopian society in Looking Backward. Equality is not so much a sequel to that novel than it is a continuation. There were questions in Looking Backward that went unanswered and that is where Equality comes up with the answers. For example, the gender gap is one that Bellamy took into account and remedied.
File:Edward Bellamy - photograph c.1889.jpg
A photo of Edward Bellamy,
as seen in the Libary of Congress,
(1889). Source: Wikimedia Commons
In the first novel, a woman’s role in the 20th century is not all that different from their role in the 19th century. The women West meets still dress relatively the same, and they seem to defer to their male counterparts, content in the role of daughter and mother. Bellamy explains this away by describing Letee’s need to make West comfortable in his first few weeks in the year 2000. He had his wife and daughter dress in a similar fashion to that of women in 1887 so that West would not be shocked to discover that women are allowed a more independent lifestyle, one that involves wearing pants and working any job they please.
A further explanation of the banking and work placement system are other issues tackled in Equality. West is allowed to open his own account, and he questions the teller about how the system works without capitalism. In summation, the teller recounts the old capitalist system and how it was designed to trick the consumer into thinking that capitalism and individual freedoms were synonymous, when in fact, the opposite was true. With the new system of the year 2000, many commodities are paid for by the government, like utilities, music, news, theater, postal and electronic communications, and transportation. Because of that, small stipends are awarded each citizen, totaling to around 7,000 dollars a year, enough so that they can still purchase the things that they would wish, like food, clothing, and rent. The new economic system was created under the mindset that “nobody owes anybody, or is owed by anybody, or has any contract with anybody, or any account of any sort with anybody, but is simply beholden to everybody for such kindly regard as his virtues may attract” (34).
The idea of the loss of individual liberty in a Marxist society is addressed and debunked by Bellamy in Equality. For decades, it has been assumed that if a government nationalized the banking and job systems, then that security is the trade people would have made in exchange for their independence.
However, West enters the nationalized workforce and learns that he can choose whichever profession he would like to study, and if that position is not available to him later on, he can transfer to another city where it is available, or make do with a second or third choice in his profession. The government does not assign professions to citizens, rather it assigns what hours each job receives for a day’s work (shorter work hours for more physically demanding jobs, like coal mining), and what pay each worker receives (each worker receives equal pay, be it a doctor or bookkeeper). When people receive different pay for different work, they begin to assume that they are better than others, and that is where class warfare really begins. Human beings that are working, regardless of the job, should be regarded with the same respect that everyone else receives. There are many that would find Bellamy’s Marxist society as distasteful or unnatural, but in retrospect, our Capitalist (not ‘free-market’ society as suggested by the media, but Capitalist) society is the unnatural one, as it fosters poverty, a feudal class system, and creates gods out of the top money-makers.

Bellamy, Edward. Equality. Boston: D. Appleton & Company, 1897. Print. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Edward Bellamy's "Looking Backward: 2000-1887" is a surprising reflection of modern society

File:Looking Backward.jpg
Dust Jacket of "Looking Backward"
by Edward Bellamy (1888).
Source: Scan from the original
book as shown on
WikiMedia Commons

The setting for the beginning of the novel is the year 1887, but at times, I felt as if I were reading about the year 2012 in relation to economic unrest. Many workers of that time were protesting, demanding higher wages, less exploitation, and safer work environments, much like many of the union workers in Illinois, New York, Wisconsin and more. The narrator, Julian West, is a plutocrat that is disgusted by the protests, viewing them as a nuisance to his plans to refurbish his mansion.
His views about the class system begin to change, but only after he enters a Van-Winkle state of sleep to wake up in the year 2000.
A difference between this novel and other feminist utopian sci-fi novels would be the driving theme. In Mizora and Herland, social issues like children and education were of the greatest import. However, in Bellamy's story, the class and economic system take center theme. Women and their roles do not vary much from 1887 to 2000. West meets two 20th century women, and while he finds one of them attractive (based on her girlish beauty), he ultimately dismisses their import, and instead the male friend Doctor Letee, who discovered West, is given more attention.
In the year 2000, all men are equal and receive equal amounts of work and pay. The class system has been completely abolished, even though there are still jobs that would be considered ‘dead-end’. Menial jobs, as told by Letee, are no longer thought of as menial, only necessary. When Letee and West eat at a restaurant, they are served by a waiter. Letee treats the waiter respectfully, never speaking down to him. Similarly, the waiter does not seem ashamed of the job he is performing, and West notes that the young man appears to be very poised and educated. Letee and his daughter set forth the idea that it is immoral to abhor a person for doing a service that you would not be willing to, in turn, do for them.
There are several societal ideas presented in the novel, a great many of them rooted in Marxism. There is no more capitalism in the year 2000, as the government itself is the sole capitalist, handing out stipends of cash to each citizen every year. Possessions are no longer revered, and nor is wealth. Instead, during their lifetimes, people strive to possess as little as possible, because to have less is better (as the upkeep for large estates is seen as frivolous). If a relative dies and leaves their assets behind to a relative, that is not seen as a boon, but rather as an inconvenience that must be rid of quickly. The same negative thoughts about accumulation of wealth are echoed in the novel A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder.
After reading about many utopian (and often Marxist) societies in sf literature, I could not find myself sympathetic to the society laid out by Bellamy. It seemed too much like a Stalinist-Russia, one in which individual freedoms where stripped away, leaving a compliant citizen with no rights or dreams for themselves. However, as I kept reading, I discovered that my resistance to Bellamy’s imagined society was mere prejudice, perpetuated by my fear of what a truly Marxist society would mean. The citizens in Bellamy’s novel are not stripped of their individual freedoms, only of their oppression. It was after reading  Equality, the follow-up to Looking Backward, that I fully understood that.

Bellamy, Edward. Looking Backward. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1888. Print.