Sunday, October 21, 2007

Women who run the Universe

kw: book reviews, science fiction, anthologies, women

I read somewhere that as they age, men become more similar to women. Perhaps, and just perhaps, many more overly-macho men die younger, leaving the mild (meek or not) to inherit...along with a few crusty old SOBs who're too savage for the old Reaper to take easily.

Regardless, I find that I enjoy women's writing the most, the older I get. In many anthologies, I'll recognize one or two stories, seldom more. In A Woman's Liberation: A Choice of Futures By and About Women, I found I'd read more than half of them! Co-editors Connie Willis and Sheila Williams must have had an excruciating time choosing only ten longish short stories and novellas for this volume.

As always, the ideas are most important to me. In many cases, how the idea is presented is of equal importance. In my comments, the * prefix indicates a story I'd read before.

  • Inertia by Nancy Kress – On the surface, a simple conflict between fear of change and embracing change. Underneath, can a disfiguring disease leading to the permanent interning of millions also make them able to cohere socially, while world "outside" crumbles into anarchy? My counter-idea: The fact of being different and outcast, as those in shtetls, gulags, internment camps (1940s Japanese in America), concentration camps, and POW prisons, powerfully affects the attitudes and tendencies of many toward altruism.
  • *Even the Queen by Connie Willis – One of my all-time favorite stories. Menstruation is voluntary, a neo-nostalgic cult being the main volunteers. A table-full of strong women don't bother to debate the issue with a young idealist, but ignore her to swap stories. This wise yenta's technique takes the day.
  • Fool's Errand by Sarah Zettel – A story of camoflage, love (the agapĂ© kind), and transformation. It won't do to reveal what really happens to out-of-control AIs.
  • *Rachel in Love by Pat Murphy – It takes an effort for me to suspend disbelief about a girl's mind being imprinted on a chimp brain. When I do, the basic premise is simple: who we are is what we think, not how we look. (There is a similar story by a male author, of a human-chimp hybrid, but I don't recall the title or author).
  • *Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand by Vonda N. McIntyre – I love this story, but couldn't bear to read it again. The healer's snakes are medicinal, their 'venom' only heals, and human ignorance is seen to be more dangerous than any illness.
  • The July Ward by S.N. Dyer – The side story of a physician avoiding gangland retribution aside, a doctor's undying memory of the first patient who dies of his or her a medical mistake is incarnated powerfully here. Trust only a doctor who is old enough to have outgrown youthful overconfidence—and that's a different age for each doctor!
  • The Kidnapping of Baroness 5 by Katherine MacLean – Prion diseases are presently rare. But the prion protein's ability to "corrupt" its properly-working fellows warns us that it can only increase, possibly without limit. Project the trend into the future: the propagation of specially-resistant traits is critical if humans are to have a future.
  • *Speech Sounds by Octavia E. Butler – I don't know what could cause nearly all adults to lose the power of speech. But a result would be persecution of those who retain it.
  • *The Ship Who Mourned by Anne McCaffrey – I think I've read all of the "Ship Who" books and stories. This is my favorite. When we mourn, we may need others' tears to release our own.
  • *A Woman's Liberation by Ursula K. Le Guin – In less than seventy pages, the author manages to expose nearly every bigotry to which we're subject, in a clear, actinic light no thoughtful reader can touch and stay unchanged.

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