Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Think Galactic- Sisters of the Revolution

For December's meeting of Think Galactic, we discussed selections from Sister of the Revolution (2015), edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer.

As usual, when we discuss an anthology, we had a handful of stories that we focused on, a few bonus stories, and then of course a few of us read more/all of the collection, as well. Brief notes and possible spoilers below:

We thought Eileen Gunn's "Stable Strategies for Middle Management", in which biomodified corporate workers morph into various insect shapes, good, funny, pretty incisive about the way specialization works under capitalism. Not for the first (or likely last) time, we referenced butterfly vision and the excellent Radiolab episode on colors. I also couldn't help but think of that Heinlein...line:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
(Time Enough for Love, 1973)
Possibly the first time Heinlein has been mentioned favorably in a Think-Galactic-related conversation.

"The Men Who Live in Trees", by Kelly Barnhill, was probably the overall most-liked of our selections. Nothing super-surprising, but we liked the tone, the Leguinean interspersing of anthropological notes, and the amount of worldbuilding it conveyed in a short length.

Vandana Singh's "The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet" was also much-liked. We talked about it a bit in comparison to Tiptree, although Singh's story is much gentler than any of Tip's. Singh accomplishes a lot through careful point-of-view control: choosing the nominally controlling patriarch as her viewpoint makes the whole thing a bit funnier and more liberating.

We had mixed feelings about Hiromi Goto's "Tales from the Breast", a sort of body-horror story about breast-feeding, with some of us really digging it while others had critiques. We liked that it went after the kind of sugar-coated gender essentialist crap often fed to mothers, but we also noted that men already have breasts, and noted the idea of nursing men in Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976).

Although by far the shortest story, we spent by far the longest amount of time analyzing AngĂ©lica Gorodischer's "The Perfect Married Woman", in which an otherwise normal woman has access to random portals to other times and places, and often uses her brief visits for acts of violence. The writing style reminds me of some of the finer surrealists or magical realists, Cortazar most particularly, while the specific portal-technique led us to discuss Narnia and Kelly Link's story "Light", which we discussed earlier this year. We talked about how translation might have affected this—Spanish-speaking Galactagons going so far as to look up the original—and the difference in connotation between "married woman" and "wife".

Violence is obviously a major topic here, and we had two different (though not incompatible) readings: one revolving around a possible history of abuse in how the story carefully avoids talking about its protagonist's father or husband, and the other around the violence of the oppressed as a response to that very oppression. We compared this to last month's reading of LaValle's Ballad of Black Tom, and noted that while power corrupts, the lack of power can corrupt as well.

Also, noting Gorodischer's accomplishments, we wondered who you have to kill to get the dignity award.

Briefly, we touched on some of the other stories we had read, noting the delightfully archaic language in Tanith Lee's "Northern Chess", a sword-and-sorcery short from the '70s that seems to anticipate the "bad-ass female" trope. We also talked a bit about Angela Carter's Lizzie Borden stories, and I noted that KSR's Antarctica (1997, which I recently read at the suggestion of another Think Galactic member) has a shout-out to Le Guin's "Sur". Although we didn't get into a close reading of "The Screwfly Solution", we all had some Tiptree thoughts and reminisces, with someone remembering the praise "not one bad story, not one happy ending" for all Tiptree's work.

We also talked a bit about the anthology as a whole, noting the prevalence of marriage as a theme, as well as a strong thread of surrealism. We discussed how "speculative" as opposed to "science fiction/fantasy" in the title affects its scope, and what the Vandermeers' were looking to accomplish per their introduction.

Good discussion, last of 2016! Think Galactic has readings selected for the first half of 2017, which you can find on the upcoming events page, and in January we'll be reading Pat Schmatz's Tiptree-award-winning "Lizard Radio". You can keep up with Think Galactic on their website, Facebook, and Goodreads.

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