Sunday, May 1, 2016

Think Galactic- Souls

For the last meeting of Think Galactic, we discussed Joanna Russ's 1982 novella "Souls". Fairly brief notes and minor spoilers below:

"Souls" keeps its SFF-ishness covered up until nearly the end. It's a tale told, many years later, by a survivor of a Viking attack on an abbey. The encounter is complicated by the abbess Radegunde, a remarkably persuasive woman who turns out to be rather more than human.

We were supremely impressed by the style of this piece, perhaps the more so because of our complaints about "Elysium". A few of us voiced admiration for the novella length generally--an unfortunately difficulty genre, commercially--and, aside from that, Russ's skill is really on display here, with perfect pacing and a mix of tension, humor, and insight.

We talked primarily about Radegunde and the way she (mostly) controlled the situation, switching tactics adroitly. We really liked the "statue story" (and the revelation that she made parts of it up) to help some of the Norsemen's victims cope--excellent painting of the depth of the character. We also really liked the initial "defusing" scene, when Radegunde uses a variety of tactics, including masturbation jokes, to limit the potential for violence.

Quick comparison to the film "The Secret of Kells" (2009) for some setting & supernatural similarity. I was reminded of (and brought for show & tell) T.C. Boyle's short story "We Are Norsemen" (1974),  a sort of bitterly funny take on the "Vikings sack an abbey" tale. (Found a place to read that online.)

We were disappointed, given the abbess's skill at peace-making, that things did degenerate into raping & pillaging.

Also, I think it's fair to say that in a weird way we were disappointed by the revelation that Radegunde is something more than human--although what she is, we're not quite sure--because it downplays her ability to make peace with merely mortal charisma.

However, we were quite taken with the description of metaphorical "doors" to her powers, loved the moment when she "looks up" for the first time, and also really dug the way the character described herself as playing human roles. Compared Radegunde to a bodhisattva--one who has achieved enlightenment, but sticks around to help others.

Terrible, yet really worth watching.
Our narrator, "Boy News", kept switching to "Newsboy", and then you're just a choreographed skip away from "Newsies" (1992). I am purposefully skipping some prime gif territory here, let it be known. I found his "gift" of happiness a tad ambiguous, since being happy even when one should be sad is perhaps no gift. Was reminded of, and proselytized for, the Sliders episode "Just Say Yes", where everyone is mandated to be happy with a government-issued drug regimen.

Besides being published on its own, "Souls" is also included in "Extra(ordinary) People" (1984), a Russ collection with some connecting internal themes; it was was also published as a double with Tiptree's "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?", which I had fresh in my mind and which is beloved by many Think Galactagons, so we talked about that for a bit as well.

We also talked a little bit about the post-70s feminist SF scene. With a little head-scratching, we brought up writers like Sheri Tepper, Lois Bujold,  Suzy McKee Charnas, C.J. Cherryh, Pat Cadigan, and Joan Slonczewski.

A good discussion! And fortunate that it was a short work, as we also had lots of pre- and post-discussion planning to do.

Pre: Wiscon plans! Think Galactic will be hosting a party Friday night. The theme is "Sci-Fi Saved My Life", and we're encouraging people to bring quotes and passages from genre works they've found moving or important. Also encouraged: savior & rescue-related costumery.

Post: reading list! We've got a great list for the rest of the year:
  • "The Fifth Season" by N.K. Jemisin
  • "Blindsight" by Peter Watts
  • "Kabu Kabu" by Nnedi Okorafor
  • "Buffy Season 8" by Whedon & Jeanty et. al
  • "My Soul to Keep" by Tanarive Due
  • "The Ballad of Black Tom" by Victor La Valle
  • "Sisters of the Revolution" ed. by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer
  • "Lizard Radio" by Pat Schmatz
But, for May, we're reading stories from Kelly Links' "Get in Trouble". Definitely: "The Summer People", "Secret Identity", "Two Houses", and "Light". But probably more/all, with "The Valley of Girts", "The New Boyfriend", and "The Lesson" encouraged as bonus picks.

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