May. 1st, 2017

dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
Disturbed by Kelly Robson's column in the April issue of Clarkesworld, "Another World: Being James Tiptree Jr". She discusses the letter which Dr. Alice B. Sheldon left to be released in case of her death, in which she outed the science fiction writer Tiptree as being a woman writing under a male pseudonym. Robson quotes a key passage from the letter: "Everything sounded so much more interesting coming from a man. (Didn't it. Didn't it, just a little? Be honest.)" She remarks, "Writing as Tiptree, Alice Sheldon didn’t just avoid gender discrimination; she supercharged everything she wrote with gravitas and authority... Writing as a man gave her freedom that was missing when she wrote as herself... Being Tiptree certainly allowed her to avoid gender discrimination, but more importantly, it allowed her to overcome the barriers in her own mind."

My contribution to Chicks Dig Time Lords, "If I can't Squee I Don't Want to Be Part of your Revolution"*, contains a puzzled self-examination: what makes women's writing different from men's, and thus made my Doctor Who novels different from the others, which were overwhelmingly written by men? I consulted a couple of books on the subject of women's writing: one pointed out that women generally have different experiences to men; the other seemed to warn against lumping all women together. My problem was, and is, my slightly loose connection to the category "woman". Though I am a ciswoman, and share many experiences with other ciswomen, I am also sufficiently gender non-conforming to be occasionally mistaken for a man.

In the Chicks chapter, I pointed out that the style of all of the Doctor Who novel writers was somewhat constrained by the fact that we were writing science fiction adventure stories, with the main characters already provided. Although we drew on our own lives, like any writer in any genre, the books are still fairly homogenous, and that may have overwhelmed any gender differences.

Robson recounts meeting a male SF fan who proudly proclaims that he never reads books by women. I seem to recall that, as a teen, I eschewed female SF authors because they didn't seem to be writing the kind of SF I enjoyed (Asimov, Niven, a Heinlein phase). Perhaps they were drawing on interests or experiences I didn't share; perhaps there were fewer female authors available, so I was less likely to hit on one that I liked**; or perhaps it was simple prejudice. I am frustrated by not yet having found women who write the sort of SF I've recently enjoyed, by Charles Stross, Neal Stephenson, and Liu Cixin.

As well as being disturbed by my freakish gender, it troubles me that I insist on reading and writing SF, even though fantasy seems like it would be my more natural home. Perhaps the reason I write science fiction is to grab some of the "gravitas and authority" that Tiptree's assumed gender provided. Some part of me insists that SF = srs bizness, fantasy = mucking around (the same part that insists that YA is also mucking around). I worry that this prejudice is also somehow grounded in gender. I guess that's why Robson's column troubles me. (OTOH, maybe I don't want to write fantasy because I'm far less interested in reading it?)


* Neither my best title nor my greatest piece of prose ever, but I am still desperately proud of having been part of this landmark book, particularly its role in triggering the Sad Puppies. I'm also chuffed to see it being quoted in academic books, which must mean I got something right. :)

** The two most significant anthologies in my youth were Tomorrow's Children, edited by Isaac Asimov, and The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus. The former contains 18 stories, three by women, but they seem to have made no impression on me, compared to Damon Knight's "Cabin Boy", Fritz Leiber's "A Pail of Air", Mark Clifton's "Star Bright", Asimov's own "The Ugly Little Boy", and, gods help us all, Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life". The Omnibus contains just one story by a woman - "The Snowball Effect" by Katherine MacLean, which I do remember, but it's a bit of fluff, damnit, surrounded by more memorable stuff.
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
I've made it through five chapters of Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism. Now the library's gone and recalled it! I must snavel my own copy; it's a challenging read, and I'm going to need to re-read at least some of it. I've stuck loads of coloured sticky bookmarks in it, so what I want to do before returning it is quickly jot down which pages caught my attention and why.

Arendt traces the historical reasons for the position of the Jewish people in Europe, and how it changed, first with the appearance of nation-states in the Seventeeth and Eighteenth Centuries, then the French Revolution, and lastly the rise of imperialism. (14-15) One important element was a lack of interest in / involvement in politics, which contrasts with the "ficitious role of a secret world power" which antisemites still asign to the Jewish people (20-21, 24-25).

The earliest antisemitic political parties in Germany characterised themselves as "above all parties", which to me recalls the boasts of fascist politicians that they are not politicians. Previously, writes Arendt, only the state and the government had claimed to represent the whole nation, and not parties or classes; the antisemitic parties aspired "to become the representative of the whole nation, to get exclusive power, to take possession of the state machinery, to substitute themselves for the state." (38-39)

Some damn interesting and intricate stuff about "vice" - about how socialites welcomed gay men and Jewish people into their circles because they saw them as representing thrilling naughtiness. "They did not doubt that homosexuals were 'criminals' or that Jews were 'traitors'; they only revised their attitude towards crime and treason. The trouble with their new broadmindedness, of course, was not that they were no longer horrified by inverts but that they were no longer horrified by crime... The best-hidden disease of the nineteenth century, its terrible boredom and general weariness, had burst like an abscess." There may be a connection here to the lionisation of organised criminals in pop music, and perhaps to the "Social Negroes" that Tom Wolfe writes about in "Radical Chic" IIRC.

Arendt talks at length about the mob. I need to re-read what she has to say, as I'm not clear I genuinely understand who they are. (106-)

She analyses the rise of imperalism at some length - the critical change IIUC being the merging of the state with private economic interests. (eg 126-7). Was it in Inga Clendinnen's book "The Aztecs: an Interpretation" where I first encountered the idea that the Aztec civilisation depended on constant warfare and expansion, and therefore they couldn't have lasted much longer, even if the conquistadors hadn't arrived - that they would have run out of peoples to conquer? Arendt paints a similar picture of the endless expansion required by imperialism, which could only end in catastrophe: "The most radical and the only secure form of possession is destruction, for only what we have destroyed is safely and forever ours." (145)

Finally for now, this interesting remark: "The truth was that only far from home could a citizen of England, Germany, or France be nothing but an Englishman or German or Frenchman. In his own country he was so entangled in economic interests or social loyalties that he felt closer to a member of his own class in a foreign country than to a man of another class in his own." (154)

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