Thursday, June 9, 2016

Weird & Wonderful- We Who Are About To...

Much-delayed notes, part 1! Wiscon happened and absorbed me into its beautiful hive-mind for a while; so now I'm playing some catch-up.

Way back in the end of April, City Lit's Weird & Wonderful club discussed "We Who Are About To...", the 1976 novella by Joanna Russ.

Super-brief notes and total spoilers below:

The novella follows a small group of survivors after their interstellar ship crash-lands on an uninhabited (but at least marginally habitable) planet. As most of the group swings into an ill-informed "we'll just rebuild civilization" enthusiasm, our narrator fights to retain control of her body and the right to die as she wants to.

So, spoiler: what they're "about to..." is die. Echoing a certain notorious salute, and also one of the better Dirty Projectors songs:

Some seriously split opinions on the book at group. We talked a lot about the believability of the situation, and whether the narrator is justified in her actions--she eventually winds up killing the other survivors so that she won't be forced into a life of rape and childbearing.

We definitely liked the style here, which shows Russ at her finest. And while the narrator's characterizations of the other survivors seemed a bit flat to us at first, one actually realizes that they're pretty brilliantly nuanced by the end. We also talked about the impact of this story's publication as a two-part serial, since it really seems like it should be over in the first half, when everybody but our narrator is dead. In a typical SF tale, in the second half there'd be a rescue, or aliens, or a long-lost civilization or what have you...but here, our narrator just muses to herself until she takes her own life in extremis.

Seriously who approved this.
Also can't help laughing at the SF readers who were suckered into this plot by the "bikini hoverbike" cover.

Good discussion! Other stuff we talked about/referenced:
  • "The Band's Visit" (2007), dir. Eran Kolirin
  • Sam Peckinpah's films
  • "Gilligan's Island" (1964-1967), those poor people.
  • Esterita Blumberg's "Remember the Catskills" (1996)
  • Charlie Stross's planetary survival index using meatrobots.
  • William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" (1954)
  • Harlan Ellison's "Dangerous Visions" anthology series
  • "Forbidden Planet" (1956) dir. Fred M. Wilcox, which also led us to a tiny bit of "The Tempest" discussion.
  • Andy Weir's "The Martian" (2011) and Ridley Scott's 2015 film adaption as the total polar opposites of this novel. This led me into a bit about the tension I'm seeing between "optimistic/probably unrealistic" and "realistic/perceived as pessimistic" trends in SF, with Stephenson's "Seveneves" (2015) and KSR's "Aurora" (2015) once again used as examples.
Fun discussion, sorry these notes are so late. Later this month, Weird & Wonderful discusses Ursula Le Guin's "The Word for World is Forest" (1972), and be sure to keep up with City Lit's many other events and book-clubs.

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