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Reading the oldies (pre-1994): would you give this book to a child?

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Edited: Nov 28, 2014, 2:44pm Top

In the thread where we discussed which science fiction books we'd recommend to an 8-year old, I sided with the opinion that it is best to avoid classics, saddled as they frequently are with, to put it mildly, old-fashioned attitudes that could prompt boring parental intervention, or may not be easily addressed at all, thus probably getting passed over in silence--the even less desirable outcome, IMO.

But that's a lazy answer. Since, as it happens, I have the following: a niece and nephew, aged 12 and 10, whom I shower with books at every opportunity (and an indeterminate number of friends and acquaintances whose kids of various ages frequently get books from me too) and a sub-collection of classic/"golden age"/just OLD titles I've (re)acquired some years back when I thought I might want to revisit the past (I was a science fiction fan until I went to the university) I am curious about investigating particular titles, in view of their suitability for children. Clearly, these are subjective judgements in the end, but there are parts that can be more or less quantified.

In this thread, I'll describe the sf titles I read according to some standard parameters that will enable me to collect data, quantitative as well as qualitative. Every single title will be judged alone, as if it were the only book in existence. But every 25 titles I'll try to express an "overall" assessment--i.e. what are the dominating features, if any emerge, of that given batch of books?

Anyone who'd like is welcome to comment and/or participate, posting their own books and analyses. If you adopt the same parameters, we might even be able to combine the data, but don't feel you have to do so in order to post your own assessments. (In particular I'd love it if others cared to submit analyses of those looooong fantasy tomes. I am NOT going to read Tolkien again, ever.)

The format I propose is:

Part I

1. Title; Author (gender, race, other remarks)

2. Publication date / Date in the story (future, past, contemporary)

3. Main character (gender, race, other remarks)

4. Secondary characters

5. Representation of women (main, secondary, background characters, none)

6. Representation of race (main, secondary, background characters, none)

7. Representation of any kind of minority (main, secondary, background characters, none)

I think this should be fairly objective data.

Part II

General comments about the book, connected to the categories in Part I: agency and importance of the secondary and minor characters; or not--has it dated, in what ways, was it still fun for you etc.

Part III

Because picking a single age year is very limiting, I've selected to group "children" in pre-teens and teens. Clearly there is still much variation within those groups--as a whole I suppose I'm thinking of, say 8 to 16 year olds.

Would you give this book to a child a) up to 12 years old b) older than 12?

Why, why not, comment ad lib.

Edited: Nov 26, 2014, 6:00pm Top

And to kick this off...

Our Lady of Darkness, Fritz Leiber (male, white)

Pub. date: 1977; In-story date: contemporary, 1970s

Main character: Franz Westen, male, white, heterosexual

Secondary characters: four other men and three women

Representation of women: Franz's girlfriend, Cal; and two minor characters, Fa Lo Suee and Shirley Soames

Representation of race/ethnicity: one male character, a building super, is Mexican and seems to have no English. One female secondary character is Chinese-American and very much a femme fatale. Direct allusions to Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu universe (Fu Manchu's beautiful daughter is called Fah Lo Suee).

Representation of minorities: two minor female characters and one secondary male character seem to be bisexual. Bisexuality is hinted at in a scene of depraved, drugged (mis)behaviour in public.

General comments: the book seemed like a litany of Who's Who in Occult references to me, but with zero "chills and thrills" the blurbs promised.

I would not give this book to a kid under 12 (short but pungent sexual content; implication that underage hotties like nothing better than to plunge a hand into a gentleman's breeches), and can't think of a particular reason to recommend it to kids over twelve, but I would not knock it out from an older kid's hands.

Nov 27, 2014, 2:53am Top

I would be happy to recommend it to a kid over 12. mainly because I remember it as scary. but I am a sucker for old fashioned ghost stories.

Nov 27, 2014, 3:08am Top

Excellent idea! This is going to be so useful for reference. Thank you, LolaW.

Nov 27, 2014, 4:41am Top

>3 SimonW11:

Yep I remember it being pretty scary too and would agree with 12+

Nov 28, 2014, 2:07pm Top

>4 Dilara86:

Thanks, would be grand if anyone found it in any way useful, I hope you do.

>3 SimonW11:, >5 andyl:

Thanks for the reminder to try and look at things a bit more child-likely too. Yes, I suppose it might be more atmospheric and scary to a kid. There were some odd interruptions in style though, lots of reference and name-dropping making it almost po-mo self-conscious.

I should also add another question, regarding the importance and agency of the secondary/minority characters.

So, for instance, in Our Lady of Darkness, main character's girlfriend is decisive in defeating the peril and actually saves him--nice reversal of the "damsel in distress" trope.

Edited: Nov 28, 2014, 2:39pm Top

Mostly harmless (The Hitch-hiker's trilogy, Part 5), Douglas Adams (male, white)

Pub. date 1992; story date contemporary, 1990s, plus various points in the time-space continuum

Main character: I'm choosing to say it's Arthur Dent, BUT, perhaps it's debatable, especially regarding this volume, in which both Trillian/Tricia McMillan and Ford Prefect get substantial chapters to themselves. If anyone feels strongly about this, I'm agreeable to changing the status to three protagonists.

There are too many secondary and background characters to list, and lots of them are "creatures" of who-knows-what sex, sexual orientation, or colour. Pretty carnevalesque.

Women: in this book, there are Trillian and Random, plus several minor characters.

Race: that's an interesting question, in view of TV and movie adaptations. Adams doesn't specify race (IIRC) for any of his human/humanoid characters, but it looks as if white is the default--then again, I can't see any reason those human/humanoid characters couldn't have been black or Asian etc. I wonder whether Adams ever thought of this or whether anyone thought to ask him about it. I'm guessing, probably not, everyone just following the ole default.

Minorities: again, with so many truly alien creatures, it's impossible to come up with a definite, properly pedantic answer. But the three human/oid protagonists are heterosexual. As to ethnic minorities, there's a fleeting appearance of a couple of Greek-German brothers.

Agency/importance of secondary and minor characters: quite high, they all contribute significantly to move the plot forward.

And that points to the most wonderful wonder of Adams' universe: how interconnected it is in all its unimaginable vastness.

Yes, I'm a fan.

Would I give his book(s) to kids--hell yes, of any age, and if they find them too tough at eight they can save them for later.

Ah, almost forgot, a slight sourish note was struck right at the end, Random the terror teenager's terrible tantrum. I'm not overly fondly of adolescents, but this particular depiction of them as irrational destructive messes, yelling one moment and sobbing the next, gets on my wick. To be sure, she had to be very, very upset in order to kidnap Ford's ship and run to Earth etc. but I wish some other motivation/character description was used.

Nov 28, 2014, 4:10pm Top

>7 LolaWalser:

Although in Life, The Universe, And Everything did use the word fuck. The US versions changed that to Belgium. I also believe that in (at least some) US versions asshole was changed to kneebiter and shit to swut.

Nov 28, 2014, 4:29pm Top

>8 andyl:

Oh, that's amazing. Belgium! lolllll! You've jogged my memory--there's a "fuck" in Mostly harmless too. No idea why I remember--maybe because it was rare? I think it was only the one?

Still, I wouldn't withdraw these books on that basis. Occasional rude expletives are okay in my book compared to rude attitudes. It would be a different thing, though, if they were recurrent part of someone's speech or characterisation. But there's a big difference there to my eyes.


Nov 28, 2014, 5:30pm Top

Belgium made it into the second radio series, as quite an extended joke.

Nov 28, 2014, 6:16pm Top

Really good idea for a thread LolaW. Looking forward to seeing it grow.

Nov 28, 2014, 7:24pm Top

>10 RobertDay:

That's great. I've never listened to the radio show, but I know people who like it better in that form than all other versions.

>11 klarusu:

Thanks! Hey, as you have a kid--what's your stance on expletives in books?

I remember when my niece started kindergarten, she rapidly acquired a hair-raising arsenal of curses AND treacly religious verse. My brother and SIL put the kibosh on repeating either, but first explaining whatever needed explaining, just to puncture the mystique. Oh, yes--they also told her all the cool and nice people are going to think she is very uncool. I wonder whether that survived the years!

Fwiw, the kids are very nicely spoken (at least around adults...) No telling what the teens will bring...

Nov 28, 2014, 10:22pm Top

>1 LolaWalser: I disagree with avoiding classics. yes, they may be sexist or politically incorrect but you cannot protect your 12 year old or 8 year old from such stuff and it can be a great way to talk about the book in light of the times that they were written.

My contribution to your list is:

I, Robot by Issac Asimov

It is a series of 9 short stories written in language which is neither offense nor difficult for the reading ability of most 12 year olds.

In this book Asimov lays out the basic Three Laws of Robotics which describe proper robot behavior and in the stories describes scenarios where these ironclad simple laws are modified or broken and the consequences of these events. There are a couple of male engineers in some stories and a robot psychiatrist Dr. Susan Calvin all of which are great characters. The stories are happy/sad/funny/puzzling.

There are other robot stories by Asimov worth mentioning but this is a MUST starting point.

Nov 28, 2014, 11:22pm Top

>13 Lynxear:

It's absolutely not a question of "protecting" the child from racism and sexism, which is a laughable proposition at best in this shitty racist and sexist world, but of teaching about them. By all means, introduce kids to racist and sexist texts--IF you intend to discuss the problematic aspects. And, DON'T limit their reading to such fare.

I disagree that Asimov (or any number of classic sf authors) is a must for a child. He (or any number of classic sf authors) is a must for anyone interested in the history of the genre, that is all. A kid could become a science fiction enthusiast without ever touching Asimov or other classic sf authors (or, conversely, contemporary sf authors, or sf books, or sf movies--there are many paths to becoming a fan of the genre, and many ways of being one.

Regarding I, Robot, I agree that it is accessible to a kid. I wasn't going to analyse it because I'd rather avoid collections of stories, but these are connected with some recurring characters, so I might do it.

For now, I'll just repeat what I said about it before, concerning female representation in it:

2. Example of hidden problems: Asimov's I, Robot. While one recurring important character is a woman, the vast majority of the characters in the stories are men--notably, only men are executives, leaders, "important people", physical scientists, mathematicians, astronauts, researchers. The woman is Dr. Susan Calvin, robopsychologist, a dry old spinster who was too bright and not pretty enough to snare a man (although she would have liked to, of course). In context, she is some kind of freak--there are no other women scientists, colleagues, students. Race gets no mention at all.

This kind of situation--when there are any intelligent women represented at all--is very common in classic sf. The message I got as a girl sf fan? Men (white of course) are the norm/best, but a very few, super-special girls (white of course) can be as important/good as men. Oh, and don't forget to have nice big tits and be cheerful, smiling and compliant, so the boys still think you're cool.

In retrospect, not an attitude I'd want to inflict on any child regardless of gender and race.

Nov 29, 2014, 5:24am Top

As to race THHGTTHG was very much a product of its time. The characters are stereotypes being held up to be mocked. And in that time and place those stereotypes were very white.

Nov 29, 2014, 6:22am Top

>14 LolaWalser: Just curious -- if "race gets no mention at all" in I, Robot, then why are you so certain that they are all white? Aren't you assuming? Given Asimov's provenance you are probably correct, but isn't the reader free to imagine whatever race she wants? And if we desire something other than a "shitty racist and sexist world" is it better to explicitly mention race or not to mention it at all?

Edited: Nov 29, 2014, 11:53am Top

>16 Betelgeuse:

if "race gets no mention at all" in I, Robot, then why are you so certain that they are all white? Aren't you assuming?

Yes, I am assuming...

Given Asimov's provenance you are probably correct,

...for this reason exactly. :) "Provenance" in a wider sense too, not just personal traits but the cultural context of the times.

but isn't the reader free to imagine whatever race she wants?

Sure. That's exactly what I, a girl, did with my 99% male-protagonist, male-POV childhood books, comics etc. I substituted myself for the male heroes. That's how I got to enjoy the stories too. Nevertheless, I also inevitably absorbed the lesson that girls aren't meant to have those adventures, be the leader, the "decider", the explorer, the "chosen" one. Which instantly made me the world's adversary, beginning at age six or so.

But speaking of race specifically, I think it would be much more to the point to ask readers of colour how often or successfully or eagerly they imagine characters such as Asimov's, in books from that period (and/or any other) as not being white. I suppose it may be easier with some than others.

Another interesting question would be, how often , if ever, do white people "see" characters of unspecified race (not "coded" racially/ethnically in any way) as something other than white?

I'd bet rarely to never. Western cultural defaults are male, white, heterosexual. Think, for instance, of the furore Rowling caused when she said she pictured (but, notably, never wrote) Dumbledore as gay.

And if we desire something other than a "shitty racist and sexist world" is it better to explicitly mention race or not to mention it at all?

That's a great question. I can see arguments for both yes and no, or situations in which either yes or no work better. I think right now I'd always opt for explicit, spelled-out representation, just because we're far from anything like perfect balance of viewpoints. By explicit and spelled-out I don't necessarily mean pages of description or lectures, even just identifying a character as a PoC on the cover works well enough. I should take a look at some new black authors and see how they introduce/describe characters of colour.

Nov 29, 2014, 11:59am Top

>15 SimonW11:

Yeah, Arthur and Ford read definitely "blokey" to me--but nice blokes. I wouldn't call Adams' characters stereotypes as much as, grrrr, lost a word--no, not stand-ins--not place holders!--it will come to me. L'esprit de l'escalier.

Basically, I see his books as marvellous romps of ideas, "character" in itself isn't important.

But there are probably bits of Adams in Arthur, Ford and Dirk Gently, aren't there? From what little I heard about him.

Nov 29, 2014, 9:19pm Top

>14 LolaWalser: I doubt that you have read I,Robot. Dr. Susan Calvin in that book is an extremely likable character focused on her profession as a robot psychiatrist. I read this book as a young teen and again as an adult and have fond memories of all of the stories.

Frankly with the attitude you are displaying, I doubt you like Sci Fi much at all. Your grocery list of criteria for describing the books you want to see here speaks volumes to your bias.

Nov 29, 2014, 9:27pm Top

Oh I have no doubt that there is a lot of science fiction that LolaWalser likes.

Nov 30, 2014, 3:13am Top

>19 Lynxear: I don't think accepting/liking negative or imbalanced portrayals of other ethnicities, races, and women is a prerequisite for liking science fiction. Perhaps you are blind to them, but then this thread is simply not for you.

Nov 30, 2014, 4:28am Top

I remember being astounded and shocked at the sheer mundanity of the racism in The Silver Eggheads by Fritz Leiber. Read at the right age I have no doubt it could convert any reader with modern eyes into a fervent anti racist.

Nov 30, 2014, 6:07am Top

>9 LolaWalser:

Yep the odd occurrences of swear words isn't really a problem for me either. It is for some people (including the publisher in this case - the language was changed because it was deemed that HHGG appealed to children) though so that is why I mentioned it.

Nov 30, 2014, 9:55am Top

>17 LolaWalser: Another interesting question would be, how often , if ever, do white people "see" characters of unspecified race (not "coded" racially/ethnically in any way) as something other than white?

It would be an interesting exercise, to re-read your favorite classics and deliberately picture them as a different race.

Edited: Nov 30, 2014, 12:04pm Top

>22 SimonW11:

Hmmm, could any ONE book have such an effect? I'm not convinced, personally--but then there was that thread (I forget what group--Pro and Con?) about "books that changed your mind" so who knows...

I'd think that the bigger problem would be the CUMULATIVE effect of literature and culture (the whole context, environment, of one's experience: family, school, society, media, "received wisdom", "popular opinion" etc.)--a "steady diet" of negative and stereotypical representation, regressive attitudes and so on.

In connection to this--since I'm frequently invoking personal childhood experience--I want to note that I trust that things overall have changed for the better since the 1970s/1980s (at least for the relatively privileged kids in Western-type cultures) and that has to be factored in in the considerations of how "old shit" affects kids today.

To put it as simply as I can, if I, cca 1978-1988 got the message that women are worth less than men (or worth something only insofar they can serve a man's purposes), and that people of colour are basically natural helpers, sidekicks and comic relief to great white heroes, I wasn't picking it up only from old books and movies--it was everywhere, in people's attitudes, playground jokes, beliefs picked up god knows how (the magic of "Zeitgeist"!), on TV, etc.

Obviously, the environment has changed and kids today simply CAN'T live in, say, 1978, even if they pick up the same books I was reading then.

That's the good news.

>23 andyl:

Interesting to hear about expectation that it would appeal to children--I mean, I'd hope so, but I'd think the scientific concepts would be a tad too advanced for them (depending, again, on just how young children one is talking about)... Still, I could be wrong on that, I remember when my grandpa commented on my high school physics curriculum (1st year), how it covered stuff he'd got to only by the end of university.

>24 southernbooklady:

Yeah--let's do it!

Two examples: Pippi Longstocking (girl hero, basically the one and only I had), and her pals, Tommy and Annika, white kids all. They could all be (say) black, even the locale (Sweden) wouldn't have to change nowadays.

But it's pretty clear in the original (and even more in the sequel, I believe) that the whole story is organised by and through a white POV--lots of anecdotes about "exotic" peoples and references to the tropical "savages" Pippi's high seas captain father introduced her to.

Second example: a bunch of Karl May's novels with Kara ben Nemsi AKA Old Shatterhand. May is virtually unknown in the US (and if mentioned, it's usually to say he was Hitler's favourite author), but, along with Verne and Dumas, his plots and wonderfully rendered ambience dominated my adventure fantasies. Well, the thing here is that the hero is this fantastically strong, clever, competent (and pious--May was an evangelical Protestant) white guy who regularly, infallibly saves everyone and shows everyone else down--typical white saviour who's also effortlessly better at "native stuff" than any native!

NOW I'm thinking there's an obvious point here--Onward Christian soldiers!--so it's impossible to picture him as anything other than white.

Nov 30, 2014, 12:30pm Top

A few notes on general purpose of the thread and how I pick books.

--I'm NOT aiming to construct a list of recommendations at all. If anyone finds useful pointers here (be they for or against something), that's great, but sort of a unlooked-for bonus.

--my main purpose is to see What Is The Case regarding the bunch of old/classic/golden age sf (science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, science fantasy, adventure...) titles I have more or less randomly collected. I thought I'd explained it up in >1 LolaWalser:, but, as my grandpa and all the grandpas before him used to say, you can lead a hoss to the water, but you can't make him imbibe.

--the way these randomly collected titles are read: pretty much randomly. I've a bunch piled in three tallish columns next to my bed, plus a couple bookshelves, plus scatterings. Right now I'm working on the columns, from the top, left to right. If it's convenient, I read a little in bed and then make it my commute read.

The only selection involves checking that the date frame fits (pre-1994). Haven't decided about story collections, will have to see how I feel when I chance on one.

Nov 30, 2014, 12:36pm Top

>25 LolaWalser: Pippi Longstocking (girl hero, basically the one and only I had), and her pals, Tommy and Annika, white kids all. They could all be (say) black, even the locale (Sweden) wouldn't have to change nowadays.

I think you could probably do it with Ramona the Brave. Robin McKinley's Blue Sword books and Susan Cooper's books could be read that way. Some of the characters in the latter are Welsh, but there are plenty that are not distinct, or simply "American."

Nov 30, 2014, 12:42pm Top

>17 LolaWalser: But speaking of race specifically, I think it would be much more to the point to ask readers of colour how often or successfully or eagerly they imagine characters such as Asimov's, in books from that period (and/or any other) as not being white. I suppose it may be easier with some than others.

I don't think I've ever seen those characters as something other than white. But then again, the majority of people around me and most of the fictional characters I was/am familiar with, were and are white.

When I was a child in the seventies/eighties, I felt demoralised by the lack of representation of non-white people in books or on TV. I lapped up every book or cartoon that featured them. In fact, just having a dark-haired character, and one who was not a baddy, was cause for joy. That did not happen very often. They did not have to reflect my ethnicity (that would have been a tall order anyway). They could be Native American, Chinese, North-African, Senegalese, or of no explicit ethnicity but brown-skinned, and I was happy, and most of all, reassured about my place in the world. I was also baffled and worried by the fact that evil characters inevitably had a foreign accent. This is so destructive to immigrants children's self-estime.

Another interesting question would be, how often , if ever, do white people "see" characters of unspecified race (not "coded" racially/ethnically in any way) as something other than white?

And also how often PoCs see those characters as white, too. I know I do. I don't think I've ever projected my own ethnicity onto a "neutral" character. I don't think there are many of those, though.

Of course, even when characters are described as non-white, there will be some people who somehow manage to blank that out, and then be offended when they are told that those characters were in fact PoCs all along. You probably remember those nasty tweets complaining about Rue's skin colour in the Hunger Games. Or film directors who cast white actors in roles that would call for a non-white actor. Ursula Le Guin wasn't too happy about the whitewashed Earthsea series.

Nov 30, 2014, 1:34pm Top

>27 southernbooklady:

Oh, if you meant whether anyone could imagine given characters as of other race/ethnicity while reading, then I'd have to withdraw Pippi, she's described in the text (and so are others, IIRC). Pippi's red hair and freckles are a big deal. Then there's the question of illustrations, how strongly they influence what we read, it's probably hard to go against them where they exist.

>28 Dilara86:

Thanks very much for posting! I've heard the same from so many people, Indians and people from the Caribbean, Africa, in the UK, in the US, how much it meant (means) to see anyone remotely similar to themselves on TV and in the movies. It's such a basic thing I really don't understand how anyone could fail to see its importance. Well, there's one obvious answer--the sheer blindness of privilege. And that's the nice answer, assuming most people aren't heartless dumb bastards too smugly self-satisfied with their station to consider anyone different from themselves (I'll stop there lest I start ranting...)

And also how often PoCs see those characters as white, too. I know I do. I don't think I've ever projected my own ethnicity onto a "neutral" character. I don't think there are many of those, though.

I agree--I doubt many authors, or any older authors, are/were capable of NOT introducing definite clues to how they perceive the character, or wish the characters to be perceived.

Again, it is always the privileged who think that something is "neutral"--white is "neutral" but black is a "special case", "male" is neutral, but female is a "special case"... Children's literature in English is no less "ethnic" than Chinese folk tales. A black kid is no more "racialised" than a white one. A girl is no more "sexed" than a boy.

Of course, even when characters are described as non-white, there will be some people who somehow manage to blank that out, and then be offended when they are told that those characters were in fact PoCs all along.

Yeah, it's disgusting. Just the other day I saw a post about a string of popular characters who got racial/ethnic makeovers to "white"--in this day and age... I'm mostly ignorant about comics etc. and I haven't read or seen the Hunger Games but HG was so big even I heard they whitewashed the main character?! It's totally enraging.

Nov 30, 2014, 3:04pm Top

Has anyone here read Harlan Ellison's 1985 story "Paladin of the Lost Hour"? I think it comments on race (and readers' perception of race) in an interesting way. (It's online here if you haven't read it: http://harlanellison.com/iwrite/paladin.htm)

Nov 30, 2014, 3:24pm Top

>29 LolaWalser:

The race of the main character in Hunger Games was ambiguous. She was briefly described as having olive skin and dark hair, unlike her mom and sister who were blonde/blue eyed. And the way they styled the actress more or less fits the bill. Perhaps it would have been nice to see an actress of color in that role, but I'm happy with the way Jennifer Lawrence fills the role.

The character Rue was explicitly described as black, but that didn't stop a ton of people from becoming enraged by seeing a black actress playing her role.

Nov 30, 2014, 4:03pm Top

I didn't know the thing about the hunger games. That is shocking!

Nov 30, 2014, 8:12pm Top

>19 Lynxear: You might want to re-read Liar! {short story} before critiquing LolaWalser's reading of her. As a teenager I thought of her as a really cool woman, but re-reading this story this year made me realize just how much she is the spinster-intellectual-woman stereotype.

On Our Lady of Darkness:

My partner (the Smith part of aulsmith) read this around age 12 and is now re-reading it after reading Leiber's biography. It seems rather adult to me with spouse's dying and a period of alcoholism, but I think the marvelous thing as a child would be looking for all those other authors Leiber talks about.

Edited: Nov 30, 2014, 8:46pm Top

>33 aulsmith: Wait just a minute bub. Fritz Lieber biography? I briefly looked at your library, but then realized it would just be easier to *ask* you about it. He's one of my favorite authors (I'm old, leave me alone, get off my lawn, stuff like that).

I'd been following along here, and now I'm really glad I did.

Thanks in advance. :-}

Edited: Nov 30, 2014, 9:30pm Top

that is annoying a post of mine went astray there. let It be known that I typed many of the things you have spent the last half dozen posts saying first :^),

As to Rue Looking at the tweets What is apparent is that the complainers simply had not noticed that ib the book she was black. What was so important to some readers, was simply lost to others. And having missed the descriptor they had simply assumed default white. I have seen it several times over the years discussing various books with some surprising "right on" readers."Oh is he black?" they say rather than the aggrieved but "She is not right!". tweets that the younger less socially adept readership of the hunger games produced, when unexpectedly seeing the character in a way they had not imagined.

Shrug I suspect all of us have at some point skipped a description and assumed default white for no reason other than it is the default. Even if we notice the description It might not help a lot Certainly I remember l looking at my oh so pale Ikea beech desk. when I read N. K. Jemisin's description of her protagonist as the colour of wood and rejecting it as inhuman before running through a mental catalogue of woods and actually googling images of wood then finally deciding that I had no idea what colour the character was.

Nov 30, 2014, 9:19pm Top

>34 Lyndatrue: Unfortunately only on wikipedia, but enough to see that parts of Our Lady of Darkness are very autobiographical. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fritz_Leiber

Nov 30, 2014, 9:55pm Top

>36 aulsmith: I am now sad, but I suppose I'll survive. Fooey. Thanks very much just the same.

Dec 1, 2014, 8:00am Top

Just to throw into the mix Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a harsh mistress, where half-way through, Heinlein reveals that the central character is black. (Though I suspect he was just being contrarian there.)

More recently, Colin Greenland's Take Back Plenty and sequels have a black woman as protagonist, but that's a bit more recent than we are looking at and not really something I think a child could necessarily get to grips with.

Dec 1, 2014, 8:19am Top

>38 RobertDay:

Imperial Earth by Arthur C. Clarke too. That the main character was (like most people) bi is similarly just casually dropped in.

Edited: Dec 3, 2014, 4:55pm Top

1. Title: Star Guard
2. Author: Andre Norton – gender female
3. Publication date: 1956
4. Story setting – future on the planet Fronn
5. Main Character - Kana Karr – Swordman Third Class – mixed race – male,
blend due to atomic wars on Earth and their aftermath.
6. Secondary characters - Several others – all men – mixed race assumed
7. No women
8. Minority – everyone from Earth – we’re mercenaries for hire across the
galaxy and our masters are the bad guys from Central Control
9. Minorities on the planet Fronn
a. Venturi - traders who befriend our mercenary brethren on the planet Fronn
b. Cos - physically smaller individuals than the primary species on Fronn

I've always liked this book and I've recommended it to various and sundry numerous times over the years.

Dec 1, 2014, 10:12am Top

>38 RobertDay: has any protagonist ever been more thoroughly whitewashed in cover art than Tabitha Jute?

Dec 1, 2014, 12:12pm Top

I often wonder whether cover artists have actually read the book - or are just working on a brief from the marketing department...

Dec 1, 2014, 12:34pm Top

Cover artists often are not involved in the process at all. I have two books, completely unrelated, that have the same cover, only the image is reversed on one (hard to say which is the reverse, too). Fortunately, I used that term in my review:


Publishers often maintained a library of "art" to use on certain types of fiction, and if it helped to sell a book, they were often reused.

As long as I've wandered so far away from the purpose of the thread, I thought I'd mention one of my favorites from Tiptree, in which there are three sets of characters (one set human, the other two not), and a huge range of character types, including a reversal of roles in the aliens. Up the Walls of the World is an interesting work (I'm not yet finished reading it, this time out, and have not personally reviewed it). Would I give it to a child? I might, but the child would be older, and there would be a *lot* of discussion points. Heck, there's adults I wouldn't give it to.

It's an interesting thread. I adore segues, and this has had some good ones.

Dec 1, 2014, 1:39pm Top

>38 RobertDay:

Though I suspect he was just being contrarian there.

Not Heinlein! :)

>41 SimonW11:

has any protagonist ever been more thoroughly whitewashed in cover art than Tabitha Jute?

Leigh Brackett's Eric John Stark, perhaps:


Edited: Dec 1, 2014, 3:14pm Top

>38 RobertDay:

The central character may be black, but it's still a pretty terrible book, politically speaking:


>42 Maddz:

I spoke to a cover artist (briefly) at Worldcon this year. "I don't read science-fiction any more, haven't done in years" he told me (paraphrased). And yes, he's still doing covers, bloody good ones too.

Edited: Dec 1, 2014, 3:51pm Top

>31 weener:

Thanks, good to know the description is specific--not necessarily race-specific, but clearly it offered possibilities...

The character Rue was explicitly described as black, but that didn't stop a ton of people from becoming enraged by seeing a black actress playing her role.


>35 SimonW11:

Certainly I remember l looking at my oh so pale Ikea beech desk. when I read N. K. Jemisin's description of her protagonist as the colour of wood and rejecting it as inhuman before running through a mental catalogue of woods and actually googling images of wood then finally deciding that I had no idea what colour the character was.

Ahahahaha, googling images of wood! You're a darling! :)

Yes, "colour of wood" is something less than precise and probably no more useful than "his eyes were the colour of rocks". But what weird associations such descriptions produce. "The colour of wood" is more likely to make me picture skin that is rough and cracked than any particular colour.

And the tweets--insane.

>36 aulsmith:

Oh yes, the name is sort of a give away--very easy to picture Fritz picturing himself as Franz. And the character is a writer too, of similar esoteric interests. Finally, Leiber drops a reference to one of his own books (that's one of the po-moish tricks that jarred me out of the atmosphere).

Incidentally, Clark Ashton Smith, who's almost a character (in absentia) in the book, has a new Penguin edition of his stories out.

>40 alco261:

Thanks for playing!

Can you add something about how race is treated, is any special point made about it, how did this mix came about etc.?

Any particular comment about lack of women? Is it a world without women, or are they kept apart etc.? Any references to women in the dialogue?

I've heard of Norton as an author for juveniles, so I expect there's no hanky-panky in her books.

(Incidentally, I've also heard of her as another example of a woman writer who was frequently assumed to be male by her readership--thus profiting, I suppose. I might make a note of those things, if more such examples get in--women who used initials or pseudonyms etc.)

>43 Lyndatrue:

Don't worry about thread drift, it's what the internetz are for. ;)

This baby will go multi-volume as needed.

>41 SimonW11:, >44 artturnerjr:, >45 HoldenCarver: etc.

Do any of you know whose story was it that caused a famous editor (or someone who only later became a famous editor, I want to say of Mad magazine but not sure I got that right) and another person--I think the illustrator--to leave a famous sci-fi magazine because the boss would not allow the illustration--showing a black hero--to go in print? (These two then up and started another magazine or something.)

Would be ever so grateful if anyone could tell me what I'm talking about!

Dec 1, 2014, 4:08pm Top

>47 artturnerjr:

Wow, that was quick, thanks so much!

Call me slow, but I want to be clear about this--the censor's objection was simply that... the (main) character was black? That's how it parses to me. And, if so, wow, just wow. Even for 1956.

Dec 1, 2014, 4:25pm Top

>48 LolaWalser:

Glad to be of service.

Yeah, it was primarily about the character being black. EC and the Comics Code Authority had a highly antagonistic relationship anyway (to put it mildly), but it was primarily about the the protagonist of the story being black. A charming little snapshot of Civil Rights Movement-era America, isn't it?

Dec 1, 2014, 4:38pm Top

>49 artturnerjr:

You could say that again...

Actually, let's say it again: today in history, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks gets arrested... for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person.


Dec 1, 2014, 4:49pm Top

>41 SimonW11: Actually, not on the UK editions. (Still unpacking from my move, so I can't grab the copy off the shelf to cite publishers and dates).

>45 HoldenCarver: I never said it was a favourite of mine... And I think I had that same conversation with at least one well-known cover artist.

Dec 1, 2014, 4:57pm Top

>50 LolaWalser:

Wow, that was today!

Edited: Dec 24, 2014, 9:14am Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Edited: Dec 1, 2014, 5:43pm Top

>46 LolaWalser:

It was fairly common for female authors to use a male pseudonym, initials or a gender neutral name in order to get published. Of course, once they had got their foot in the door they could come out of the closet (so to speak).

Andre Norton I think first published under the name Andrew North. From the Wikipedia article on pen names:

Female authors:
Some female authors have used pen names to ensure that their works were accepted by publishers and/or the public. Such is the case of Peru's famous Clarinda, whose work was published in the early 17th century. More often, women have adopted masculine pen names. This was common in the 19th century, when women were beginning to make inroads into literature but, it was felt, would not be taken as seriously by readers as male authors. For example, Mary Ann Evans wrote under the pen name George Eliot; and Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin, Baronne Dudevant, used the pseudonym George Sand. Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë published under the names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell respectively. French-Savoyard writer and poet Amélie Gex chose to publish as Dian de Jeânna ("John, son of Jane") during the first half of her career. Karen Blixen's very successful Out of Africa (1937) was originally published under the pen name Isak Dinesen. Victoria Benedictsson, one of the most famous Swedish authors of the 19th century, wrote under the name Ernst Ahlgren.
More recently, women who write in genres normally written by men sometimes choose to use initials, such as K. A. Applegate, P. N. Elrod, ppD. C. Fontana, S. E. Hinton, G. A. Riplinger, J. D. Robb, E.B. Brown and J. K. Rowling. Alternatively, they may use a unisex pen name, such as Robin Hobb (the second pen name of novelist Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden).

Dec 1, 2014, 6:16pm Top

>2 LolaWalser:

After getting Tim to give me a blow-by-blow account of the novel, I think you missed a few minor items:

Representation of race/ethnicity There's an "octoroon" in the 1890s group. Also I think he was coding Cal as Jewish. Most members of the Ethical Cultural Society were ethnically Jewish. I get the feeling that Leiber's trying to portray San Francisco as a diverse place.

Dec 1, 2014, 7:47pm Top

>46 LolaWalser: ...Details. page 9 "That strip of flexible metal, fed into the record block, would automatically flash on the assignment rolls all the necessary information concerning one Kana Karr, Australian-Malay-Hawaiian...."

page 20 (referring to one of the Horde leaders) "Space tan on a naturally dark skin made him almost black. His coarse hair had been shaved and trimmed into the ridge scalp lock favored by most Terrans."

No female presence - Yorke's horde is an all male outfit. No talk about women either.

As for the blend of races "This country for almost a thousand years had been deserted after the atomic wars. There were tales of strange mutations which had developed here and even after the remnants of mankind came spreading back from the Pacific islands, Africa and portions of the southern continent...."

Dec 2, 2014, 2:29am Top

>45 HoldenCarver: I also felt the same: http://iansales.com/2013/09/13/summer-reading-1-the-moon-is-harsh-mistress/

>41 SimonW11: The UK editions of Take Back Plenty clearly show Tabitha Jute as black. The US paperback not only whitewashed her but also gave her a somewhat pneumatic bust, prompting Colin Greenland himself to remark, "Where did she get those boobs?" (iirc).

>54 Maddz: Not strictly true. There were quite a few women authors writing sf in the first few decades of the genre under plainly female names - not just Claire Winger Harris, Leslie F Stone, or Francis Stevens (Gertrude Burrows Bennett), but people like Pauline Ashwell, Zenna Henderson, Margaret St Clair, Alice Eleanor Jones, Doris Pitkin Buck... There were around 300 women genre authors published between 1926 and 1965, if I remember the figure correctly from Partners in Wonder. It's not only a myth that wome don't write science fiction, it's a myth that they never did. For some reason, cyberpunk decided to rewrite the history of sf and vanish all the historical women writers - bar a handful such as Le Guin - from the genre.

Dec 2, 2014, 2:54am Top

>57 iansales: I spent a lot of time staring at the masterworks cover before plonking for "buggered if I can tell".

Dec 2, 2014, 5:10am Top

>58 SimonW11: Ah. I have the original trade paperback, I hadn't checked the SF Masterwork cover.

Edited: Dec 2, 2014, 9:30am Top

In perfect tune with our discussion above, the Internet has exploded over the presence of a black stormtrooper in the new Star Wars preview because somehow ... that's ... wrong? The actor implicated had the perfect reponse: Get used to it :)

Dec 3, 2014, 1:25pm Top

>55 aulsmith:

There's an "octoroon" in the 1890s group. Also I think he was coding Cal as Jewish. Most members of the Ethical Cultural Society were ethnically Jewish.

Yes--I decided to mention only the characters in the present plot, not in the reminiscences/memoirs, as they are almost entirely talked about, but never talk directly (I think there's one or two bits with quotations). Otherwise Clark Ashton Smith and Thibaut de Castries would have been reckoned as other white male "protagonists"... But someone REALLY pedantic might want a full list of all the named characters, I'm not saying there's absolutely no reason to do it.

Hmm, I don't recall getting any Jewish pings surrounding any of the characters, and information such as that one about the Ethical Cultural Society would probably not occur to a foreigner or a child. I'll take a look later to see whether there's anything more specific in text itself. Cal's full name is "Calpurnia" (dang, can't remember the surname)--I wonder how likely it is for Jewish parents to give their children ancient Roman names? Maybe sons--Julius? I think I know of some Jewish Juliuses--but something like "Calpurnia"...

I didn't think to wonder before, but google tells me that Leiber himself was Jewish (at least, one site does, it also has him down as "Freya's Folk (Neo-Pagan)", whatever that means:


>56 alco261:

Thanks. Well, putting together no mention of women and yet no positive indication that the men are reproducing through some "unusual" fashion (meaning, women DO exist there), I guess the conclusion is that women don't play a role in whatever aspects of the world is shown in the book. At the same time, the world is imagined as non-racist.

I think this will be a fairly common situation--possibly one "model" to look for in summation.

>60 Cecrow:

the Internet has exploded over the presence of a black stormtrooper in the new Star Wars preview

I've no words... More and more I'm hearing and having discussions about "what's with all the black/Asian/NOT-ME characters in my show/movies/soup". My "favourite" is the bit where the teeth gnashers defend "tradition" or "canon", without any regard for the little fact that representation in the media etc. reflects the larger culture and society, which is blatantly--and traditionally!--discriminatory.

But to some minds it's like bloody Tatouine (...Gallifrey... anything...) ACTUALLY EXISTED, and the stories we have about them are dead cold FACT. Straight documentaries, they are! The fact that there were no black officers in the Star Wars movies or women on Gallifrey etc. couldn't possibly have anything to do with, you know, racism and sexism in the society this stuff was made in. Nooooo, you're ruining someone's beautiful dream when you say that!

But it's a freaking racist sexist thoroughly shameful dream--Noooooo! Tradition! Canon! Childhood! Invent your own stories with your black-Jewish-lesbian-paraplegiac heroes! Get yourself a separate series with a Timelady (on a rag!)

For a genre that supposedly "stretches the imagination" like no other, sf has some outstandingly narrow-minded fans.

Dec 3, 2014, 2:28pm Top

Flesh by Philip José Farmer, male, white

Pub. date: 1960 Story date: 2860

A starship that spent 800 years in space, with the crew in frozen suspension, returns to an Earth much changed after ecological disaster. Landing in what was Washington, D.C., the starship men find a neo-pagan largely illiterate society devoted to agriculture, having lost (actively suppressed) science and high tech that brought on the disaster.

The natives of the Deecee greet the starship as a sign from the Great White goddess, and its fabulously handsome captain as the avatar of the Sunhero/Horned King. As such, Captain Stagg must deflower and fertilise all the virgins of the nation, or as many as possible. And not a few non-virgins and matrons either. To aid him in this enterprise he gets a special set of antlers grafted on his head, hormonally enhancing his already considerable appetites.

Main character: Peter Stagg, male, white, about 32 years old, born in 2030

Secondary characters: Dr. Calthorp, Rudyard Churchill--white men, members of Stagg's starship crew; Mary Casey--white woman of eighteen, native of "Caseyland" and believer in the Great Father, Jehovah.

Nephi Sarvant, male, member of Stagg's crew, is described as "dark" and "brown eyed", but, going by context, I'd think he was white too. He's a fervently devout Christian missionary--I can't tell whether this might be a mark of his conversion from, say Native American religion or Judaism.

Representation of women: We are treated to a panorama of thousands of women (mostly writhing in orgiastic frenzy), dozens of priestesses, hundreds of virgins (14 to 18, strictly), a handful of matrons and old hags--if there's one thing this book's got, it's WOMEN. In the fragmented post-apocalyptic USA, some states adhere to a cult of "Great White Mother", and the women there form an important priestly caste. Some women are also skilful surgeons. However, the system is still patriarchal in the home and women don't seem to have any role outside it. Their business is child bearing and child rearing.

Now, that's less of a problem, considering the regression of that society, than the attitudes the starship crew--from the 21st century, remember!--is displaying. The starship crew explicitly didn't include women nor is there any sign that women are equal in the 21st society. On the contrary, Churchill resents the fact that his Deecee bride isn't a virgin (she, like all the other attractive and well-connected girls, has lost her virginity to Sunhero), and in general demonstrates typical conservative, 1950s attitudes to sex. Finally, 21st century men plot and execute a "rape of the Sabines" in order to colonise Mars, kidnapping women and children to their ship and forcing them in suspended animation.

They agree "it's a dirty trick", but oh well, once on Mars there's nothing these women will be able to do about it.

Representation of race: Only whites seem to exist in the post-apocalyptic USA. Whenever anyone is described (it happens fairly often), they are white.

Stagg's crew, OTOH, mentions eight surviving members, which include, names as given in the text, "Lin", "Al-Masyouni" and "Gbwe-hun" (from Dahomey, presumably black African) and "Chandra". Of these, only Lin and Chandra get to utter a few words eventually, none play more than incidental part (i.e. get mentioned in passing by other characters or the narrator, never described in action), and Gbwe-hun gets to fulfil the classic black token role of being the first to die.

Representation of any kind of minority: Mid-way in the book we get introduced to a heretical tribe of Pants-Elf (yes). While they too have the cult of the Great White Mother, they decided that veiling and segregating women apart from men, except for the thrice-weekly conjugal relations, was the better way to honour the goddess. This had the effect of causing rampant Lesbianism among the sequestered women, and turning the Pants-Elf men ragingly gay. We are not introduced to any of the Pants-Elf Lesbians (kept constantly pregnant anyway), but we meet at least three Pants-Elf homos, one of whom makes advances to Stagg and is murdered by a single blow of his fist.

The homo Elfs are not represented sympathetically, I'll tell you that.

General comments: I was having mild fun until the part with the homo Pants-Elf. Farmer shows a sense of humour regarding every aspect of his hero's exaggerated features and adventures (my favourite is the detail that his testicles are kept painted blue, penis red, and buttocks white); I wish he hadn't short-circuited when it came to homosexuality, and especially, I wish he hadn't stooped to murdering the effeminate man.

I would not give this book to a small kid or even to a big kid.

Dec 3, 2014, 2:41pm Top

>62 LolaWalser:

That sounds absolutely horrid.

Nephi Sarvant, male, member of Stagg's crew, is described as "dark" and "brown eyed", but, going by context, I'd think he was white too. He's a fervently devout Christian missionary--I can't tell whether this might be a mark of his conversion from, say Native American religion or Judaism.

"Nephi" is a prominent figure in the Book of Mormon, so I suspect that's the intended religious reference.

Dec 3, 2014, 2:51pm Top

Wasn't sure whether to bother mentioning outright rejects, but I think I ought to, even if I won't be adding them to final scores. Didn't really expect there'd be many, still don't--I can take a lot of garbage. But we ALL have limits.

Beasts of Gor by John Norman

I read about one page and a half when I chucked it. Specifically, it was the scene where the hero has sex with a chained slave girl. It happens thus: she is sleeping on the furs on the floor, chained by one leg to--the hero's bed I think... He opens the furs to gloat about how very beautiful she is, then opens her legs and lies on her to do his business--she's asleep, but who cares? not he!--is done--five seconds tops, be grateful for small mercies--while the girl wakes up (surprise!), and shudders in ecstasy, gasping: "I love you, Master!"

Naturally my first thought was "is this a joke" so I flipped through a few more pages, but nope, wherever "slave girl" words occur something similar or worse happens, so then I googled this thing (my only previous knowledge being that "Gor" is a series), and what do you know, that whole thing is a feature, not a bug.

I could say loads of things about people who go for this sort of thing, but, mainly... stay out of jail and out of my life.

Dec 3, 2014, 3:02pm Top

>62 LolaWalser: >63 lorax:

It was Farmer's second novel published in 1960. Just an excuse to string together a load of sex scenes really - although it was revised and extended in the mid-60s I believe.

Edited: Dec 3, 2014, 3:12pm Top

>63 lorax:

Thanks, that fits well, that Nephi Sarvant would be a Mormon, all things considered.

Yes, it's pretty horrid, all in all.

It also demonstrates rather starkly the usual problem with this type of literature--sure there may be bits one likes, or worthwhile ideas--here, for instance, I was struck by the prescience of the effect that carbon dioxide and other pollution, causing damage to the ozone layer, would have on earth; and I appreciate that Farmer meant to illustrate a better sexually adjusted society and not just fertility rite orgies--but whatever is good is so overshadowed by the bad that ultimately one simply can't defend it.

>65 andyl:

Hmm, would be interesting to see what a first version looked like.

Dec 4, 2014, 10:19am Top

>64 LolaWalser: I'm surprised you hadn't come across John Norman's books before. His appalling, misogynistic tripe is legendary. He is still alive and a professor of philosophy a Queens College, (CUNY). He is, as one might guess, a Nietzschean and believes women are naturally submissive and yes he is paid by the City of New York to teach our children.

There is a whole Gorean sub-culture where people live the Gorean life style, women going around the house naked except for a slave collar etc.

Dec 5, 2014, 4:40am Top

I don't really have any books to add, but is worth mentioning that just because a book doesn't feature women or specifically mention different races, it doesn't mean the book is either sexist or racist.

If I go and work on a remote mine site, a reality is that most employees will be male (often lots of physical labour in fairly horrible places, so women tend to not be as interested as men). The same, then would potentially apply to a Sci-Fi story about asteroid mining (for example) -- it might well be more realistic if there are aren't female characters. Men and women are undoubtedly different (but neither better nor worse) and fiction shouldn't pretend otherwise.

I can't say I have ever read that much fiction that is racist or sexist (although I'm sure plenty of the pulp rubbish probably fits that bill -- but it isn't my bag). And I'd avoid anything by Piers Anthony... I'd say that particularly with race, many books don't really feel the need to specify race, and it is up to the reader to fill in the blanks as they see fit. For most Sci-fi stories, I can't really see why skin colour would even be worthy of mention.

Of course, if you were to read a book written in the 1920s in England, I'm guessing that you wouldn't find many black characters as there weren't many black people in England. Fast forward to 90 years later, and I'm guessing you would find plenty of such characters as the population demographics have substantially changed. This doesn't make the (hypothetical) older work bad, it is just representative of the time it was written.

I'd say you are better just looking for good stories (that have essentially decent moral values) and not get worried about whether all the demographic boxes have been ticked.

Dec 5, 2014, 4:56am Top

>68 Studedoo:

Wanna bet that a lot of the differences in who is deemed suitable for which job (and in some cases it is women who are deemed more suitable) is more due to historical factors and cultural sexism?

Historically it was the Mines Act of 1842 which made it illegal for women to work down a mine in the UK. But they still worked at the mines, at the pit-head as coal sorters. Where women worked in mining was largely cultural. In pre-colonial African women commonly worked underground, in the pre-colonial Andes women working underground was considered bad luck.

There are quite a few women in mining (google women mining) these days - and I would expect more in a near future asteroid mining scenario (as it would be even more mechanised).

You might read Women Miners in Developing Countries: Pit Women and Others and find out a bit more.

Edited: Dec 5, 2014, 7:40am Top

>68 Studedoo: And Alastair Reynolds' Pushing Ice is a novel about asteroid miners where the boss and her No.2 are both women. I'd consider it just as likely that there'd be women involved in asteroid mining because, like the space industry in general, it will be knowledge-based as well as highly technological, and therefore the premium on male body strength will not be so important.

Dec 5, 2014, 9:01am Top

>68 Studedoo:

I have a (almost) two-year-old black son. Damn straight I'm looking for picture books that feature kids like him, and that later I'll keep looking for books with kids like him. You can go jump off a bridge if you think "I want my kids to see people like them in the books they read" can be dismissed as "ticking demographic boxes". Kids - remember, this is a thread about BOOKS FOR KIDS - aren't stupid. They also don't always want big historical lessons with their fiction - they want stories. And it hurts them if the stories are all about white boys, since they can't as easily see themselves in the story. (It hurts white boys, too.)

Dec 5, 2014, 2:09pm Top

>67 justifiedsinner:

A Nietzschean, how ironic is that? Poor old Nietzsche never got a single woman to "submit" to anything--in fact, it's highly doubtful whether he so much as touched one...

>68 Studedoo:

>69 andyl:, >70 RobertDay:, >71 lorax: all said what I'd say too. Regarding this thread, it was started in response to the idea that classic sf literature is good enough for a child in today's world, or even better than the new crop of literature more sensitive to gender, racial etc. discrimination.

lots of physical labour in fairly horrible places, so women tend to not be as interested as men)

Millions, or billions of women historically work and have worked in physically crushing jobs in "horrible places". Take a look at the agriculture in Africa and Asia even today.

I'd say that particularly with race, many books don't really feel the need to specify race, and it is up to the reader to fill in the blanks as they see fit. For most Sci-fi stories, I can't really see why skin colour would even be worthy of mention.

Are you white? If so, check your privilege. Imagine, as hard as you can, you have faced life in a skin of different colour--including all the media and literature you grew up with, but now suddenly NOT reflecting your own image. Suddenly, you don't exist anywhere. Or if there is a character similar to you, it's a slave, a servant, a cipher, a nameless victim--at best, a villain or a sidekick.

It doesn't matter in the same way the difference between cakes and bread doesn't matter to those have too much of both.

Of course, if you were to read a book written in the 1920s in England, I'm guessing that you wouldn't find many black characters as there weren't many black people in England.

And I'm "guessing" (know, actually) that the dearth of black characters doesn't preclude the expression of racism.

For instance, racism is incorporated in the very notion that a white boy is free to go have adventures and will conquer anywhere he pleases in the world.

This doesn't make the (hypothetical) older work bad, it is just representative of the time it was written.

Without entering into a wider discussion on what exactly makes for literary quality and its merits relative to moral values, it makes it bad for the purposes of this thread.

I'm not raising children myself, but insofar I have some interest in the well-being of the young generations, I'm hoping they adopt values and ideas that will make them better people than myself and those of my generation and older. This means fighting, not abetting--actively or passively--the injustice and discrimination of the past.

Edited: Dec 5, 2014, 3:03pm Top

Brother to demons, brother to gods by Jack Williamson (male, white)

Pub. date: 1976; Story date: at least 1000 years in the future

Advances in genetics have first enabled humans to perfect their own genomes, creating "trumen"; a second wave of creation brought diversely mutated beings, or "mumen", and a third created living gods. The gods, led by the most powerful of them, called Belthar, rose against their creators and all of the original human race (now called "premen"), afraid that a further planned race of "demons" might endanger the gods themselves.

Main character: Davy Donahoo, white boy, Buglet/Jondarc, white girl

Secondary characters: Zhondra Zhey, goddess (white, judging by her skin being called "pink"); Pipkin, deformed god, a mix of ape-bird-baby-dwarf characteristics; Belthar, god (white); Quelf, halfgod (black, son of Belthar and a dark-skinned mortal); Ironlaw, a muman (white male), San Six, truman agent and his wife and son (all white), Cynthara, goddess, sister and ex-lover of Belthar (white)

Representation of women: Although Buglet and Davy are equally important to the story, the reader is treated to Davy's POV, not hers. Although they both have awesome powers, she is repeatedly described as very fragile, and he rescues her a lot.

The female goddesses presumably have fantastic powers but even the pantheon presents typical sexual dimorphism, with the female being weaker. However, Zhondra is the one who kills Belthar at the end--although, with the power given to her by Davy's and Buglet's male child.

One important "off-screen" character, the last of the brilliant family of scientists/"Creators" is a woman, Eva Smithwick. Davy and Buglet, intended parents of the promised fourth race that will finally combine the power of gods with compassion and humanity, are her creations.

Representation of race: This is a colourful world, but the named characters, with the exception of Quelf, all seem to be white. Two more--presumed--exceptions are premen El Yaqui and La China; judging by their names and the setting (Arizona, New Mexico?) they are likely Native Indian. These characters appear only fleetingly and are dead before the main action starts.

I thought Davy and Buglet might be/were PoC, so it was quite disappointing when it became apparent in the second half that they are white, especially Buglet, whose glossy black hair was mentioned over and over.

Representation of any kind of minority: not counting the wildly diverse mutant forms, there's nothing. Lots of lust is expressed or hinted at, all of it strictly heterosexual and aimed at "young loveliness"--possibly too young for some tastes. For instance, both the goddess Zhondra Zhey and Buglet are repeatedly described as children, but also as objects of desire, not just to the randy male gods, but to Davy and even the deformed Pipkin.

Incidentally, just how does a god like Belthar, TWICE the height/size of a tall mortal man, conceive a child with a mortal woman? Not a pretty picture, that.

General comments: I liked the conceit of concurrently existing mutant humanoid forms very much. I liked the variety of this world, it would lend itself to some stunning visualisations. All in all a good story, with nothing especially terrible damning it.

Would I give it to an 8-year old, um, erring on the "safe" side, no. It's quite possible they'd seen similar leering at the "barely nubile" (actual description of Buglet) characters hundreds of times if they ever saw a movie, but...

Wouldn't have a problem with an older, teenage reader.

(Reminder: every single title is to be treated as "the only book in existence". But I'll come back to these individual assessments when I try to draw general conclusions.)

Dec 5, 2014, 4:18pm Top

>72 LolaWalser: Alas for poor Nietzsche he did. His father, in the time honored manner of sex education in those days, took him to a whorehouse for his first time, whereupon he contracted syphilis. This might account for his hatred of women, "When you go to woman, take the whip along" etc..

Dec 5, 2014, 4:32pm Top

>74 justifiedsinner:

As far as I know, that's pure conjecture with zero evidence in its favour. I can't remember who first floated the rumour, but typically, various factions would prefer that a "manly man" philosopher such as Nietzsche was and is misunderstood to be, had picked up something from the whores, than have him dead a virgin.

By the way, syphilis can be transmitted congenitally, no sexual contact with an affected person necessary. If there's any evidence around that Nietzsche had syphilis, I'd be interested in what his father the pastor might have had to do with it, especially if, as you say, this strange cleric took him to whorehouses.

Dec 5, 2014, 5:30pm Top

Thought I'd might start announcing the next title to be read, perhaps some of you would care to read along...?

The simulacra, by Philip K. Dick

Edited: Dec 5, 2014, 5:51pm Top

>72 LolaWalser:

I'd say that particularly with race, many books don't really feel the need to specify race, and it is up to the reader to fill in the blanks as they see fit. For most Sci-fi stories, I can't really see why skin colour would even be worthy of mention.

Are you white? If so, check your privilege. Imagine, as hard as you can, you have faced life in a skin of different colour--including all the media and literature you grew up with, but now suddenly NOT reflecting your own image. Suddenly, you don't exist anywhere. Or if there is a character similar to you, it's a slave, a servant, a cipher, a nameless victim--at best, a villain or a sidekick.

Yes, I am white. Did it not occur to you that other cultures have their own literature and artistic creations, thank-you very much. Why do you think someone in Africa or PNG or wherever should care about yours? Your thinking is far more "white" than mine, and you can't even see it. Did it not occur to you that literature in predominantly black (or asian or whatever) cultures mostly features black/asian/whatever characters? I said that race didn't really seem *important*, not that they should be represented as villains or slaves. Literature simply evolves to represent the demographic context within which it is written.

...lots of physical labour in fairly horrible places, so women tend to not be as interested as men)

Millions, or billions of women historically work and have worked in physically crushing jobs in "horrible places". Take a look at the agriculture in Africa and Asia even today

Yes, and most mainstream fiction isn't set in Africa/Asia or a future version of Africa/Asia. In most of the "westernised" world, women don't choose perform hard labour. That's just a fact. If the story is set in a future version of Africa, you might have a point. If the story is set in a future version of America or Europe, then it is likely to reflect American or European reality.

I'm not raising children myself, but insofar I have some interest in the well-being of the young generations, I'm hoping they adopt values and ideas that will make them better people than myself and those of my generation and older. This means fighting, not abetting--actively or passively--the injustice and discrimination of the past.

You do understand that if I wrote a book in the past that had no black characters, when I - as the author -lived in a place that had no black people, that that wouldn't actually be discrimination, right? Given that homosexuality wasn't legal in many places up until ridiculously recently, it wouldn't be a surprise that there weren't openly homosexual characters, either. That probably didn't mean that the authors were homophobes, either (although, of course, some may have been).

You seem like the kind of person that will try to find racism and sexism wherever you can find it, and if you cast that spin on everything you look at, I suspect you will find it everywhere you look. And I think you will insult a lot of people that created a lot of work that never had an ounce of these qualities until you tried to apply your modern context over the top of them.

I'll leave it at that.

Dec 5, 2014, 6:06pm Top

>75 LolaWalser: I must admit that I was just repeating the rumour. On digging deeper, however, I found that this was the reigning theory about his death until 2002. The medical diagnosis at the time of his death was general paralysis of the insane (GPI), nowadays known as tertiary syphilis. The brothel was supposed to be in Leipzig. (His father could not have been involved since he died when FN was 5).
In 2002, a leading Nietzsche scholar put forward the proposal that FN was a homosexual and caught syphilis in a male brothel in Genoa. This is not widely accepted.
In 2006 an examination of FN's medical files concluded that he died of frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Nietzsche suffered health problems throughout his life including migraines and failing vision. Interestingly FTD is hereditable and FN's father died of a "brain ailment'. FTD has only been a described illness for the last 20 years.

Dec 5, 2014, 7:53pm Top

>77 Studedoo:

You're derailing. If you don't agree with the reasons behind this thread, please just don't read it. Thank you.

Edited: Dec 5, 2014, 8:18pm Top

>69 andyl:

There are quite a few women in mining (google women mining) these days - and I would expect more in a near future asteroid mining scenario (as it would be even more mechanised).

Without wanting to derail things further (and my mining was just one possibly-crappy example off the top of my head). Of course women are found in the mining industry, however they tend to be engineers, safety officers, etc. Go to a South African underground Gold mine, where mining is still largely non-mechanised, and the workforce is predominantly male. Mechanised mining obviously evens things out as it becomes more knowledge-work than physical work. Just for the record, I spent roughly 10 years working in mining in Australia (mechanised), PNG (mechanised) and South Africa (largely non-mechanised) working on HR systems. One of our key goals was to increase female and local participation in all levels of the organisation. That said, if you want to have a large pneumatic drill held up above your head drilling vent rises, you probably aren't going to be a girl. You are going to be a huge meathead with arms the size of tree-trunks...

But it kind of misses my point, which was simply that lack of female characters may simply be a function of that specific plot, and not sexism. Anyway, I've been warned about derailing, so will say no more.

Edited: Dec 6, 2014, 11:51pm Top

Interesting thread - I got nothing to add except for some of the themes. I subscribed to Wired magazine again for the first time in many years and there was an article "What India Can Teach Silicon Valley About Its Gender Problem" By Vikram Chandra where the author posits that the perception of women not being disposed towards hard science/technology is a USA cultural bias not necessarily shared by other cultures.

When I read Andre Norton {Star Guard} I assumed she was male, her military exploit and aventure themed books appealed to me as a 12-13 year old. Had I know her gender I don't think it would have made a difference - but I wonder if "advertising" her gender would have helped girls who came across the book identify with "SF" ?

These days it seems a requisite to have transgendered characters populating stories {some well done others just burned}. I was thinking I could jump ahead and have gender changing creatures who go through fern like haploid and diploid stages with vastly different physiognomies who are locked in an eternal battle with teen age werewolf/vampire/alien hybrids. ;-)

::edited in an attempt at clarity::

Dec 7, 2014, 11:44am Top

The simulacra by Philip K. Dick (male, white)

Pub. date: 1964; Story date: contemporary

It's the 1960s USA, with twists. The population consists of Bes, the relatively ignorant, unimportant masses, and Ges, the elite "in the know". Psychoanalysis has been outlawed through the machinations of powerful drug cartels. People live in giant buildings as in semi-autonomous villages. The buildings have skypilots and can fly. Radiation fallout has created various monsters and brought back the Neanderthals, whose community now co-exists (and competes) with H. sapiens. Used car salesmen operate from illegal flying junkyards known as "jalopy jungles" and sell their customers one-way trips to Mars. The nation's First Lady is generally recognised as the real power, with her husband the president being periodically replaced (in democratic elections, of course).

Paranoid (OR ARE THEY?!?!) conspiracies nestle in each other like Chinese boxes. Nothing is as it seems!

Main character: there are several male characters whose POVs take up most of the story, more or less equally: Nat Flieger, employee of Electronic Musical Enterprise, Dr. Egon Superb, last practising psychoanalyst, Richard Kongrossian, psychokinetic concert pianist, Vince Strikerock, an official in his building and employee of Karp cartel, Vince's brother Chic Strikerock, employee of a small business producing simulacra (synthetic humans), Ian Duncan, failed jug musician, Al Miller, Ian's one-time musical partner, now a jalopy jungle overseer...

First Lady Nicole "Nicky" Thibodeaux (gee, who could that be alluding to?) is an important character but we don't really get her POV until the last part; she is more of a central axis around whom other characters' actions revolve.

All the characters seem to be white.

Secondary characters: Neo-Nazi Bertold Goltz, leader of the "Sons of Job"; First Lady's spokeswoman Janet Reimer; chief of security Wilder Pembroke; Karp liaison to the White House Garth MacRae. All the characters seem to be white. Goltz says he is Jewish.

Minor characters: Julie Strikerock, ex-wife of Vince, then mistress of Chic; Amanda Connors, Dr. Superb's receptionist (fantastic high-rise breasts); Beth Kongrossian, pianist's wife; Molly Dondoldo, daughter of the head of Electronic Musical Enterprise, Jack Planck, EME's pilot; Maury Frauenzimmer, Chic's boss; Loony Luke, owner of jalopy jungles and Al Miller's boss; Emil Stark, Israeli official; Hermann Goering, Nazi.

Representation of women: Jackie Kennedy must've impressed Dick strongly. While the description and treatment of other female characters doesn't depart dramatically from the 1960s norm, "Nicole", as she is known to the adoring nation, is described as an intelligent, competent, politically aware and responsible individual. Her looks and youth are frequently mentioned, but there is no sense that she is disparaged for being beautiful--she is that charismatic. Miraculously, she is shown as focussed only on politics.

An interesting and unique character (so far), although the larger framework still supposes her reign is an "evil matriarchy" of sorts. Dick doesn't seem to have believed women could be politicians--let alone Presidents--in their own right, it has to be some influence from the shadows, from behind a "great man".

To be fair, though, in Dick's world it's ALL about influences from the shadows, behind others etc.

Representation of race: Except for two general mentions of "Negroes"--"fifty Negro millionaires from Birmingham", and a building predominantly inhabited by "well-to-do Negroes", demonstrating that this USA is multiracial as is the original, no specific characters are described as anything other than white.

Representation of any kind of minority: There's a throwaway line expressing one stance on homosexuality, thusly (Vince Strikerock's POV):

Single, he would eat at the building's cafeteria; he foresaw that, based on past experience. Mary, Jean, Laura, now Julie; four marriages and the last the shortest. Maybe he was going downhill. Maybe, god forbid, he was a latent queer.

DIVERSITY OF CIGAR: by the fourth occurrence, I thought, hell, we are SUPPOSED to notice them, so, smoked by, amazingly, almost each time a different character:

--a Cuban delicado
--Bela King handmade Phlippine cigar
--an American, not a German-Dutch variety cigar
--Alta Camina cigar
--Philippine cigars made from Isabela leaf
--Upmann cigar
--Optimo admiral, extra mild, pure Florida leaf
--cigarillos (2x, by different characters)
--a Corina corona

Was he sponsored by a cigar seller or what? Is there some sikrit messidge encoded in this sequence? I swear I felt like rushing out and getting a Romeo y Julieta for after my lunch today...

General comments: Dick is always a trip. No telling where you're going or how you got there, of course. I couldn't rightly tell you what the plot was about--the White House, the Germans, and the Israelis decide the way to save the six million is to bring Hermann Goering back...? And... let the Third Reich win? Wha...?--plus there's the super-important role of the psychokinetic pianist who can turn himself, and therefore the universe, inside out--literally--and have I mentioned the Jewish neo-Nazi who is a time-traveller and pops in and out alternative histories for the fun of it?

Hard to see what a kid could make out of a book like this, so, not an obvious choice for one. A teenager might have some fun with it, especially if they are interested in history and can therefore appreciate the tweaks and allusions Dick makes.

But, in general, I bet few adults nowadays know who was Konrad Adenauer or why using his nickname (der Alte) to designate the position of a POTUS could be funny...

Dec 7, 2014, 11:45am Top

>78 justifiedsinner:

It's funny how the last thing anyone wants to consider is that maybe he never boinked anyone because he was too sick for words. Or--and this is REALLY radical--never felt like it.

>81 DugsBooks:

It's not just India; it's the same in China, Russia, Eastern Europe in general. I never heard that girls aren't supposed to do well at maths until I came to the US--something I then kept asking about for years my foreign colleagues. They all say the same. I hope it is still true for the younger generations.

As for the US, the culture has a habit of demoting and promoting professions according to whether women form a significant portion of the labour force. Where women gather, salaries go down and so does prestige. This happened to secretarial work, and the status of programming at the beginning. Then it got relabelled as "science" and fell into the fief of established, male-dominated departments and women were gone.

Dec 7, 2014, 11:45am Top

Oh--next up, Children of the thunder by John Brunner

Dec 7, 2014, 7:31pm Top

>84 LolaWalser: If I understand correctly, you're reading these classics based on them being readily available to you, is that correct? Children of the Thunder is one of my least favorite Brunner novel. I wouldn't give it to anyone, especially a child (for reasons of my own self-preservation). I can recommend some much better Brunner if you're interested in the author and not a particular book.

Dec 7, 2014, 9:39pm Top

>85 aulsmith:

I've read (and been impressed by, IIRC) Stand on Zanzibar; I've also read Bedlam planet, that one less of a success.

Yes, I'm reading the books I have and to make the choice as random as possible, I'm picking whichever one is next in the stack, only checking that the publication date fits. (And yes, having read the first chapter it's clear this isn't suitable for pre-teens--and quite possibly won't be an enthusiastic recommendation for teens either.)

Thing is, these books weren't acquired with children, or diversity, or sex equality etc. in mind at all. Mainly, I bought titles/authors that were famous, and a couple times I just bought loads of paperbacks in batches. That's why I said I'm not aiming particularly to construct a list of recommendations--one wouldn't go such a haphazard, roundabout way if one simply wanted to get books answering given specifications, say, written FOR children, with no sex or profanity, or books with a black protagonist, or a female protagonist etc.

What I'm asking is something different: simply, what does this collection of at-least-twenty-years-old sf look like in terms of representation? and, subsequently, is the emergent picture such as someone who values tolerance and diversity would think suitable for adoption by today's children/youth?

Dec 8, 2014, 11:11am Top

>86 LolaWalser: Thanks so much for the explanation. I know we've made you explain this several times.

I wasn't so much thinking that there are better Brunner books for children. I was thinking you might save yourself reading a sloppy book and read something more pleasing. The man was a genius at world-building but his ability to generate really interesting ideas far outstripped his ability to fashion them into complete novels with plots and characters.

Carry on.

Dec 8, 2014, 12:00pm Top

>87 aulsmith:

No problem, I feel I don't always take enough trouble to make myself clear, and explaining helps me too to understand better the nuances and what I mean, so I'm glad you asked. It's especially useful as, I think, many people come to these topics (discrimination of various kinds) with strong preconceived notions--they know what is racism! they know they are not racist! etc.--and it takes a lot of effort just to shake them a little out of a thinking rut.

Heh, the problem you mention with Brunner seems to have been common with some very prolific and (at least occasionally) brilliant writers--Dick and Bester come to my mind. I'm afraid I'm generally a "sinker" when it comes to abandoning books, but on the upside, at least older sf novels tend to be on the thin side. But this is one of the reasons I'm loath to tackle fantasy. That said, I've just bought over the weekend a bunch of Jack Vance's DAWs that look like fantasy (by the way--"The servants of Wankh", REALLY? :) One of those beauties lost in translation, I suppose...) and are very modestly sized.

Edited: Dec 8, 2014, 12:35pm Top

>88 LolaWalser:

Apparently Jack Vance was taken aback some when a British fan told him about what wank means over here. The title of more recent editions is The Wannek.

Oh and they are SF.

Dec 8, 2014, 2:30pm Top

Oh, that's priceless, he actually changed the title... I guess he had no choice... Hey--wonder if this edition is worth anything then?! :) Not that I'm likely to part with such a gem.

Edited: Dec 20, 2014, 11:35am Top

End-of-year chaos wreaking havoc on best-laid plans... to say nothing of mine!

No. 7

Children of the thunder by John Brunner (male, white)

In a fascistic Britain beleaguered by environmental, political and economic breakdown a group of strangely charismatic 12-14 year olds with criminal tendencies decides to sort society out.

Pub. date: 1988; Story date:: contemporary, late eighties/early nineties

Main character/Main POVs: Peter Levin, journalist (male, white, heterosexual); David Shay (male, white, omnisexual?)

Secondary characters: Claudia Morris (female, white, Jewish); several boys and girls whose POVs are given temporarily at least once. While these children are described as predominantly "olive skinned", they are white. Ellen Dass, daughter of Peter Levin and off-screen character Kamala, is half-Indian, described as having a brown skin, and subject to racist attacks, including calling her "nigger".

Minor characters: Bernie the hacker, male, white, divorced from a "bitch" wife; Jake, Levin's boss, male, white; Dr. Anna Grant, head of a fertility clinic; Harry Shay, legal father of David; other legal fathers and mothers of the children

Representation of women: Claudia Morris, sociologist with a fine reputation, becomes Levin's sidekick and lover and, ultimately, the presumably less than delighted mother-to-be of one of the little monsters. So we begin with a smart and respected expert who's the first to notice the problem, but quickly devolves to a second banana etc.

Dr. Grant is an evil childless woman and a tool of the monster children. Other adult female characters are victims or bad or both.

A few remarks indicate "feminist" is a dirty or at least scary word. A remark of Claudia's about not being hung up on maternity is weirdly interpreted by Levin to mean that she is not willing to sleep with him, which is then interpreted to mean that she's a lesbian. When it turns out that she is not a lesbian and is in fact willing to sleep with him, he expresses relief that she is not--as he had apparently thought--a "shellbacked feminist who hates men".

As to girls, it's notable that their delinquency is invariably sex-related. The boys are sexually precocious and vicious too, but they have other "projects", other interests. Even the boy who does no more than become a pimp--he organises a sex ring at school--clearly has more and a different ambition than the girl who becomes a streetwalker. The girls are subordinate to boys and may even have less "Power" than them (less than David, certainly).

There's a pervasive atmosphere of misogyny in the text that's only imperfectly conveyed with these specific examples. I'm again reminded how much the unspoken premises, the author's "mental framework", outlook, matter in constructing and colouring the final product.

Representation of race/ethnicity: Claudia's Jewishness is mentioned for no other reason that I can see than that it gives Levin a chance to explain that HE, on the other hand, is not Jewish at all, name notwithstanding. He even gives the good old Anglo-Saxon etymology of his name, which, it must be said, at the end provides a line of titular interest, so it's not wholly silly.

Only one important character, Levin's daughter Ellen, is PoC. This is used in depiction of the society's racism. The Shays' married Filipino maid, Bethsaida, is sexually assaulted by David but shown as ultimately giving in willingly to him. Mr. Lee, a Chinese shopkeeper subjected to racket by one of the boys, is shown briefly when he tries to protest to the boy's parents. Judging by a remark from the boy's mother, that the tea she is offering him probably won't be as good as the tea he had in China, he's "fresh off the boat". On a similar note, when Levin is musing about Claudia's food poisoning by (presumably) dodgy fish, he for no special reason (we don't know where she ate) imagines this happening in a sushi restaurant, and next, the awkwardness of this complaint vis-à-vis... Japan. As if the country of Japan were directly and intimately implicated in the workings of every Japanese sushi joint from California to Hong Kong--but so it is in this character's mind, which points to a specific worldview, one in which the immigrants are still very much foreigners, and every Chinese shopkeeper and Japanese restaurant in some odd way seen as "ambassadors" of countries of origin--really belonging somewhere else, not the soil on which they happen to be.

Levin's half-Indian daughter, born and bred in England, is also made to suggest moving to India as if that thought would naturally occur as a feasible plan to anyone of mixed race.

Please note I'm describing, not indicting anything, it's fairly clear Brunner was anti-racist--in the manner of his period.

Representation of any kind of minority: One off-screen character is, in the resolution, found out to have been homosexual. (A female friend of his, also an off-screen character, is therefore judged to have been a "fag hag"--gay men obviously can't just have female friends.) Several of the children, it is hinted, engage in opportunistic homosexual activity. Homosexuality is thus directly connected to vicious, criminal behaviour, to amorality, and disparaged and disapproved of by implication.

General comments: This was a very unpleasant read, more so than a lot of outright gory, pornographic stuff I've read has been, because I felt choked by the author's hatred for the young and the general sense of smelling a very dirty old man's mind.

Perhaps he meant for that hatred to aim somewhere else--civilization, politics, his own generation--but it nevertheless fell squarely on the shoulders of "juvenile delinquents", guilty because they are so "lovable", guilty because they make their dad's dick hard and he therefore will not be able to help himself fucking them. But, it's THEIR fault. THEY are the monsters.

They are also the author's device for righting the wrongs, through crime of course. They can commit crimes because they have no morality. (Interestingly, their own relative lack of racism and sexism is thus made not a sign of humanity, of greater morality, although racism and sexism ARE seen as moral failings of the society.)

Well, I can think of another crime that would instantly make society better--kill everyone over fourteen.

Of the many problems with Brunner's vision of the young (not least being that it was and is utterly false), the one I'd single out is the presumption that innocence is something existing in good, "real" children, occurring like a kidney in a normally developed body. His children are born genetically, inherently innocence-less: therefore they are monsters.

But innocence isn't inside children. Innocence is a gift bestowed only from the outside. Loving parents and well-meaning society can give children innocence, by treating them like children. But take love and protection away, and the children won't be innocent, merely ignorant and inexperienced... up to a point.

Of course, Brunner needs to posit inherently evil, depraved children because then he can make them commit and suffer any kind of evil and depravity without losing his own "virtuousness". Dirty self-serving trick, nothing more.

Wouldn't give this book to a child of any age.

Edited: Dec 20, 2014, 10:52am Top

Up next: Behold the man by Michael Moorcock

Dec 20, 2014, 12:31pm Top

>91 LolaWalser: I wasn't analyzing it from that point-of-view when I read it, but I remember it leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Thanks for the thorough review.

Dec 20, 2014, 12:40pm Top

>93 aulsmith:

Oh, you're much too kind calling it a "thorough review", I think I'd better repeat now and then that these analyses are limited to the aspects that tend to be overlooked, taken for granted--namely, gender, race, minority representation.

So, I'm afraid they are quite lopsided and insufficient to give a good idea of plot or style, for example.

Dec 20, 2014, 1:18pm Top

>94 LolaWalser: I'd be interested to see what you think of The Elementary Particles. Not that you'd give it to a child, of course, or possibly anyone under thirty. But still, I'd be interested.

Dec 20, 2014, 2:14pm Top

>92 LolaWalser:

I actually purchased a used copy of that last month, so will be especially interested to see your remarks on it.

Edited: Dec 20, 2014, 6:02pm Top

>95 justifiedsinner:

I read that a long time ago (and it's been a while since I read any Houellebecq, which is at least two or three other books of his) and don't remember much EXCEPT (I discussed this once) being greatly irritated by his sophomoric version of molecular biology--the ideas but also the attitudes and above all the jargon he gives to his scientist character. Two points: content follows form, and stupid form makes for stupid ideas, second, molecular biologists don't talk like he makes his scientist talk. Instead of a rare expert, as claimed, he created a pretentious and ridiculously ignorant (for the level claimed) wannabe, impostor.

Any special reason you ask? I think Houellebecq is important as a symptom at least, but now that you mentioned him, I realise it's been a long while since I heard any talk of him.

>96 artturnerjr:

Cool, perhaps you can join in? I started it and it should be a very fast read, I'm off work until January.

Edit: WEIRD post numbers. Geez, how can it be that I see "95" and type "52"? Un-possible. Tell me it's a bug, someone. ;)

Dec 20, 2014, 6:02pm Top

It's a bug.

Edited: Dec 20, 2014, 6:03pm Top

>98 anglemark:



Still not in her dotage! :)

Dec 21, 2014, 11:03am Top

>94 LolaWalser: You certainly clarified for me that the fault in the book lay in the characters all defaulting to stereotypes (not to mention every adult being completely ineffectual regardless of race or gender). Brunner's characters are seldom very memorable, but this book really didn't have any.

Dec 21, 2014, 11:54am Top

>100 aulsmith:

This is only the third book of his I've read (I've acquired more in a batch I still haven't entered), but on that limited sample I'd say you're right, characterisation's not his strong point.

When a story is otherwise successful, as I remember Stand on Zanzibar had been, it probably matters less. I don't remember any striking characters in SoZ (wasn't there another male journalist with a major POV? Oh yes--and the incestuous Pied-Noir brother and sister!), but I can still recall the anxiety, claustrophobia and bleak atmosphere of that world.

Hey, as you read the book--I'll spoiler a question about the end... What did you think about the "plan" for the kids to mate with their father? David is supposed to be a brilliant geneticist--he should know it's not a good idea. It's bad enough--and ought to be sufficient for their purposes--to mate with half-siblings. I can't help feeling Brunner simply wanted to shock--hence also the hurried grotesque scene of erection Levin gets at the mere thought of this. Complete with that cynical italicisation, "because of his love" of however it went. It came out of nowhere, unless you count Claudia's brooding about what will happen when Ellen gets older as foreshadowing.

Dec 21, 2014, 3:50pm Top

>97 LolaWalser: I was interested on how you viewed his attitude to women. I read him, for the first time, a few months ago. Many see his novels as pornographic, I think they are too dispassionate to be titillating. They seem more misanthropic, like Celine but with a more Marxist viewpoint.

Dec 22, 2014, 1:44pm Top

>102 justifiedsinner:

I don't recall getting any politically engaged, let alone Marxist vibe from Houellebecq. Are you American? I don't mean to be offensive, please forgive if I'm clumsily appearing so, it's just that I'm used to Americans in particular interpreting every disaffection with capitalist modernity as a mark of "politics", and that usually leftism. Disaffection Houellebecq demonstrates in spades, but that type is as common--probably more so, in France especially--in the mentality of the right.

But, mainly, he strikes me as a vigorously apolitical nihilist (and I could be echoing something he said himself, I've read and seen quite a few interviews with him back when he was splashing big time but it's all a bit muddled now.)

As for his attitudes to women, he's certainly blisteringly misogynistic in his books (I think it's safe to assume in his case that the recurring I-persona actually corresponds greatly to reality--not only that, but there are other characters playing his family members and some plots being autobiographical too) and as it transpires from some incidents he staged in public, although the latter may have been done in part for show, who knows. But misogynistic attitudes of that virulence are more common than not in French literature, so that in itself isn't special.

I think any comparison to Céline flatters him completely unreasonably. Céline was a real bastard with a real gift; Houellebecq is neither a real bastard (I find him genuinely pitiable) nor does he have a smidgen of Celine's talent. I don't expect Houellebecq's fame, such as it may be, to survive him long.

Oh, yes, pornography--no, I don't think Houellebecq's books are pornographic because they feature explicit sex. But there too may exist some cultural differences, on top of the usual constant ambiguities about what is pornography anyway, making communication difficult. For my part, I typically opt for a pragmatic approach: pornography is something marketed as pornography, pornographic is something that exists solely with the intention of causing sexual arousal.

Dec 22, 2014, 3:00pm Top

>64 LolaWalser: I realize that the thread has may posts since 64 (which I've read), and the plot has moved on, but . . .

I came across Gor while bouncing around inside a virtual world. Several of the roleplaying communities in there were Gorean based, though I never actually visited any. I had never read or had heard of Gor before that introduction to the concept/word. After 2 or 3 years of the concept bouncing off me, I finally broke down and got the first three books. Just so I'd know what the bloody hell everyone kept babbling about.

As a side point: It was around the time Al Gore was talking about that inconvenient truth (actually probably 5 years later, but he was still talking about it), so I kept thinking of Gore - Gorean, Al Gore wandering around dominating women, but that's beside the point.

The first three books really read like SF/adventure stories in the Burroughs Barsoom genre. Conan the Barbarian in space. I kept expecting some of that stupid stuff I'd seen quoted from 'slavegirls', but that apparently crops up later. I only really recall one slavegirl popping up, in the last book I read, the third in the series, and she really doesn't like the whole slavegirl thing and fights the main character at every turn.

I would not recommend the series, or the 2nd or third book to anyone in particular. 1st one in the series might be an ok adventure book for anyone around 12+. Problem is that it is the first in a series that turns into a really long running women are subservient mess of a series. So, even if the first one could work as something to be read by any age, it leads to things like "well, why can't I read the next book?" type arguments.

Edited: Dec 22, 2014, 4:22pm Top

No. 8

Behold the man by Michael Moorcock (male, white)

Obsessed with religion, a time traveller from the 20th century goes to 28 A.D. Palestine, hoping to meet Jesus from Nazareth.

Publication date: 1966; Story date: 28 A.D., with flashbacks of 1950s, 1960s and 1970, the year of departure into the past.

Main character: Karl Glogauer, male, white, Jewish

Secondary characters: John the Baptist, male, Jewish?; Monica, female, white, bisexual?; Gerard Friedmann; male, white, Jewish, heterosexual

Minor characters: Karl's mother, white, Jewish; Headington, male, white, inventor of the time machine, Eva, white, Karl's ex-girlfriend; Veronica, white, a girl Karl tried to make out with as a teenager; Mr. Younger, white, homosexual, Karl's first sexual experience; Joseph, Mary and Jesus, Jewish Biblical characters; Sandra Petersen and Rita Blen, members of Karl's after-hours circle of enthusiasts for religion and mysticism.

Representation of women: With the exception of Eva, who is described as "sweet, virginal and admiring", every single female character is shown in unflattering-to-awful light. Some part of it reflects on Karl's "neurotic" mental state, but I can't help feeling the basis of such characterisations is author's outlook, as insincerity, cruelty and even physical repulsiveness crop up repeatedly as traits in female characters, even the most minor ones.

Moorcock achieves these withering portraits with mere brushstrokes. For example, within two pages at the beginning Karl's mother gets mentioned in passing, but the few phrases that concern her--how Karl learned to feign unconsciousness from her; her hysterical voice and dramatic gestures; how she "allowed" his father to take Karl on a holiday one last time before divorce--give rise to a clear image of a lying, ball-busting bitch. Which, if you think I've rushed to conclusion, is later further confirmed and amplified.

Veronica, the thirteen year old Karl recalls in a flashback, belongs to a Christian club Karl joined looking for friends. Karl doesn't like her nor is he particularly attracted to her, but he's a teenager and presumably eager for sexual experience, so he takes her aside at a picnic.
"She was fat and blowzy even at thirteen, but she was a girl."

Twice he tries to kiss her forcibly, although he is actually "nauseated" by her "fat, coarse face and heavy, lumpen body". She fights him off and he abandons the club, although he takes with him the image of Veronica's silver cross dangling between her breasts and makes it his touchstone masturbatory fantasy.

Women are repeatedly objectified by Karl, both those who are arguably important and those he uses merely as a sexual outlet, like the group of British officers wives' at some military base, all wearing "satinette knickers", the main feature that differentiates them from the following batch of German ones when he moves to Dresden, who wear "black nylon lace panties". This variation in lingerie, we read, "made a change". The two significant girlfriends fare no better. He meets Monica, a psychiatric social worker older than himself, before Eva, but the relationship with Eva develops first. All is love and joy. Eva adores him, thinks he's great. She's the best mirror a vainglorious man could want. So he decides "to test her love" and starts acting out, whereupon she eventually leaves him. But she remains internalised as the guardian of his ideal image of himself, of the best he could be.

Monica is her opposite--critical, harsh, nagging, echoing his sardonic mother. Karl uses her for masochistic relief. He stages a suicide attempt for her as he did once for his mother. When Monica realises what he had done and goes off to sulk, ignoring him for a fortnight, Karl is sure she'll call again because
"After all, she was getting on, and she wasn't that attractive. She only had him."

As to Biblical Mary, let's just say she's not quite the Blessed Virgin of the Catholics. To put it in her husband Joseph's words, she's a "shameless sow", with a "fat tongue" and "heat of sensuality in her eyes".

I said this negativity expands to female characters no matter how minor, which is really remarkable, so I'll list the examples: a flashback takes us to an incident of antisemitic harassment Karl suffered as a teenager at the hands of a group of "Teddy boys". This happens:
"One man stopped, but his wife pulled him on. 'Just some kids larking about', she said."

There, in one simple stroke, we are given yet another coldhearted bitch.

Sandra Petersen and Rita Blen, just a smidgen less minor than the lady in the street, are nevertheless ably, economically conveyed as sharp, aggressive, limited harpies.

Another negative female character from Karl's youth is Mrs. Patrick, married to a sadistic manager of a youth camp, and apparently herself no less cruel, as she takes no notice of Karl's distress and then, in order to hide the injury he sustained from scalding tea, attempts to "cut his blisters out with scissors".

Representation of race/ethnicity: In a scene where Karl and Monica are watching a pop opera about Jesus it is mentioned that a "Negro" singer is playing Jesus.

The Essenes among which Karl alights are described as dark-skinned, very swarthy, with large dark eyes and full beards.

The Teddy boys goad Karl by calling him a "yid" and "Jewish boy". The stereotype of Jewish mother is invoked in a puzzling contradiction. Gerard Friedmann tells Karl:
"With that mother of yours, you weren't brought up Jewish! Maybe you didn't go to the Synagogue, son, but you had the lot otherwise..."

I thought the cliché had the Jewish mother as an over-protective, adoring fussbudget, whereas Karl feels distinctly unloved and neglected by his, and Moorcock makes her sound "sardonic", cynical and cold. Far from being inclined to help Karl out, she can't wait for him to get off her back and is generally critical and dismissive of him.

In a funny little passage Karl thinks about his best friend. Here it is in its entirety:
He would hold his circumcised penis in his hand and look at it with sentimental affection.
"You are the only friend I've got. The only friend I've got."
Often it would take on the character of its own in his thoughts. A boon friend, the giver of pleasure. A bit of a lad though, always leading him into trouble.

It reminded me of Philip Roth, whose own work is dominated by the love for his circumcised penis and vitriolic hatred of women. No clue whether Moorcock meant any such rapprochement to occur, would love to know.

Representation of any kind of minority: I believe this is the first instance in this thread where a disabled person makes an appearance--a minor character, but such a major role. The historical Jesus, bastard son of that shameless sow Mary and god knows who, is a mentally disabled hunchback, a "congenital imbecile". When he isn't dribbling down his chin in his corner, he steals and in general behaves as a nuisance. The only word he knows and repeats obsessively is his own name, "Jesus".

On homosexuality, perhaps it is worth noting that this books is dedicated to "Tom Disch", who I expect was the writer Thomas Disch, who was homosexual. I presume Moorcock knew this--in fact, I suppose I should find out whether Moorcock is himself gay.

Karl's first sexual experience, at fifteen, is with a man, Mr. Younger the leader of choir practice. Mr. Younger approaches him in a youth hostel and they spend all night making love, only for Karl to feel disgusted in the morning, so much so he punches him. When Mr. Younger approaches him again a few weeks later, in the church, Karl allows the older man to fondle him, but then he notices the poster above them, of a large wooden cross with GOD IS LOVE written on it, and runs away.

During Karl's stay with the time machine inventor, Headington shows up naked in Karl's room, but Karl rejects him. However, as soon as Headington leaves, Karl masturbates.

Mr. Younger and Headington aren't shown in a particularly negative light (unless you count against Younger that he slept with a--preusmably?--minor.)

Did Moorcock mean to represent Karl himself as a repressed homosexual? I can't decide, although I think that is a viable reading of the character. At the very least, a possibility of some kind of functional bisexuality is shown.

Female homosexuality is explicitly depreciated. First, we are told that Monica prefers oral sex to "normal love"--that is, I assume oral sex is meant in "performances of minor aberrations satisfy her better than anything else." Also, performing these "minor aberrations" for Monica doesn't seem to satisfy Karl.

With that preference established, it comes less as a surprise (to the reader) that further on Monica would be having an affair with a woman. But, preference or not, Monica admits she "doesn't get an awful lot out of it--but she is so sick of Karl."

Karl, on the other hand, is rather surprised that Monica, ten years older than him and judged by him to be frankly unattractive, has found ANYONE else. "He almost asked her who would have her..."

Karl rages:
Bitch! Betrayer! Bastard! Why did they always let him down?

Would I give this book to a child: no, not with any enthusiasm, to a child of any age, and I'm sorry that is so, because in general I'd welcome a story that demystifies religion.

Dec 22, 2014, 4:03pm Top

>104 Lexxi:

Thanks for the post. From what I saw, I have no interest in getting back to John Norman's series and can't judge how the earlier books to the one I chanced on may read. I think that in general, once an author establishes some strong interest, or viewpoint, or "world", it's very difficult to escape knowledge about it. I must admit I find it hard to believe I'd find anything by Norman palatable.

Dec 22, 2014, 4:16pm Top

Up next: Starship troopers by Robert Heinlein

Dec 22, 2014, 4:51pm Top

Ha! Synchronicity etc! (re Lexxi's post) From Wikipedia:

...Moorcock also engages in political activism. Specifically, in order to "marginalize stuff that works to objectify women and suggests women enjoy being beaten", Moorcock has encouraged Smith's newsstands to move John Norman's Gor series novels to the top shelf.{10}

Also according to Wikipedia, Moorcock was married at least three times, so presumably not gay.

I aim to know as little as possible about books and their authors before reading them, and only rarely look at reviews afterwards, but I think this may be a good instance to see just how my analyses differ from what people in general will bring up in a review:


I can't tell exactly, but more than one reviewer seems to have read this "as a child" between the ages 8-16--at least one says it was recommended by a teacher.

Dec 23, 2014, 10:09am Top

>105 LolaWalser: Tom Disch is Thomas Disch, and was out as gay when he was in England and hanging with the new-wave crowd.

The queer speculative fiction community does not consider Moorcock to be part of its canon. That doesn't mean Moorcock wasn't trying to imagine/portray life as gay/bisexual. It certainly would have been in keeping with new wave aesthetics to do so.

>101 LolaWalser: Re spoiler: All I took from that, except David not protesting, was that the children were BAD, and that Brunner wanted to make that as clear as possible, and that was the BADDIST thing he could think of. But you could be right. He was never adverse to pushing things to the limit for shock value. My main memory of the end was of all the adults being totally ineffectual.

By accident I was watching The Boys of Brazil last night (which is about a decade before Children of Thunder). I wondered if that's where Brunner got his idea, and since the responsible adult roles were all used in the film, he went for "what if the adults are helpless". Who knows?

I've reread Stand on Zanzibar fairly recently so some of the characters stand out more, especially the African American who he opens the book with. There's also a "wise old professor" who, if a stereotype, was at least a pleasant one. But yes, Brunner is more interested in his worlds than the characters.

>106 LolaWalser: I totally agree. I heard Norman speak at a con and that was enough to make even the first book unreadable.

Dec 23, 2014, 10:40am Top

>106 LolaWalser: et seq - I once heard (and it may be mere gossip, or it may be stereotyping, but then again...) that John Norman once went to a summer garden party for sff writers, agents and their Significant Others, and whilst most of the wives/girlfriends there had dressed for the hot summer weather, JN's wife turned up in a dress with sleeves and a high neck...

Make of that what you will.

Dec 26, 2014, 12:27am Top

>97 LolaWalser:

Cool, perhaps you can join in? I started it and it should be a very fast read, I'm off work until January.

Sorry, I'm just now reading this. Yeah, sounds good! I have a few other books going but I am not particularly engrossed in any of them (a rare but not unheard-of occurrence), so it's actually a pretty convenient time. I'll also refrain from reading any posts on it here until I'm finished so I have a fresh perspective.

>104 Lexxi:

As a side point: It was around the time Al Gore was talking about that inconvenient truth (actually probably 5 years later, but he was still talking about it), so I kept thinking of Gore - Gorean, Al Gore wandering around dominating women, but that's beside the point.

Oh no! Now every time I hear Al Gore mentioned on the news, I'm gonna picture him running around like some guy in a Boris Vallejo painting! :O

>107 LolaWalser:

Can't wait. That is perhaps my quintessential (non-porno) SF novel that I would not give to a child.

Dec 28, 2014, 6:38pm Top

>109 aulsmith:

Thanks for reminding me of that character in Stand on Zanzibar. I wasn't planning on rereading books, but I might stick them on the bottom of the pile...

>110 RobertDay:

Sounds like she stood out. :)

>111 artturnerjr:

Looking forward to hearing your take.

Dec 28, 2014, 7:26pm Top

>112 LolaWalser:

Should be done soon. You're right - it's a quick one. :)

Dec 28, 2014, 8:13pm Top

No. 9

Starship troopers by Robert Heinlein, male, white

How soldiering turns boys into real men.

Publication date: 1958; Story date: at least a century or two in the future

Main character, first-person POV: "Johnnie" Juan Rico, male, Filipino-American

Secondary characters: Sergeant Zim, male; Sergeant Jelal, male, Finno-Turk; Emmanuel Rico, Johhnie's father; Captain Frankel, male; Colonel Nielssen, male; Mr. Dubois, male.

Minor characters: Carmen Ibañez, female, pilot in training; Sergeant Ho, male; Captain Deladrier, female, pilot; many other male soldiers of various ranks.

Representation of women: Going by the book's epigraph: "To 'Sarge' Arthur George Smith--SOLDIER, CITIZEN, SCIENTIST--AND TO ALL SERGEANTS ANYWHEN WHO HAVE LABORED TO MAKE MEN OUT OF BOYS." I expected an all-male story (actually sort of hoped for one--the parallel "making women out of girls" having a distinctly sinister ring I'd rather not think about) so was doubly surprised when a few pages in, the starship's pilot not only turned out to be a woman, but that women in general were deemed better suited to the profession, and thus frequently, possibly dominantly, filled those roles. Captain Deladrier is described as a "real artist" and even gets to perform a feat of precision flying that earns her special recognition from the all-male platoon she ferries.

Another female pilot we meet is commander of a ship with fifteen officers--eight of whom are female.

Most important and intimate, Carmen Ibañez, a schoolmate of Johnnie's, is petite and pretty but also great at maths, and becomes a military pilot. The point was made that although popular with boys and dating frequently, she was never anyone's babe nor fool, hanging around waiting for some guy to call. While we learn that Johnnie really likes her early on, it is Carmen who makes the first step and invites him out (they are both out of training, he in officers' school, she on the eve of her first posting); it is Carmen who kisses him. I gotta say I really liked Carmen, for all that her mentions barely fill half a page.

These examples notwithstanding, the book is very much a paean to male company, male friendship, male mentorship and fatherhood, with the sheer profusion of male characters of importance in Johnnie's life filling the picture almost completely. So it's notable that even in such circumstances, a writer can manage not only to refrain from vulgar misogyny or complete erasure of women, but actually inflect the situation flatteringly (compared to the misogyny of the current society) and throw a positive light on women.

In short, golly gee whiz, a 1950s sf novel in which women are, yes, largely absent, but what presence they have is not only NOT hair-risingly nasty, it's that of intelligent and competent, even necessary beings.

Representation of race/ethnicity: It seems Heinlein decided colour-blindness is the way to go. Considering it's a future society, maybe he's not wrong. Many last names would seem to imply a specific ethnicity and in some cases presumably skin colour--Jelal, Migliaccio, Mahmud, Hassan, Ho, Salomon, Shujumi, Chang etc.--but while some national clichés are fleetingly employed, although much more likely cca 1950s than in 2150s (Shujumi's "honourable father" has taught him martial arts; Johnnie wonders about the discrepancy between an "ethnic" name and skin)--it is clear that Heinlein's driving home the point that all this diverse humanity is one, united in a "Terran Federation". Still, sheer language and styling makes them seem even more assimilated into United States.

In this connection, it is interesting that we only gradually learn the ethnic provenance of the hero. He is introduced and referred to until almost the very end as "Johnnie"--although we pick up in the first part, from his mother's letter, that his given name is Juan(ito). His full name, Juan Rico, is given only by the end, and it's on the last page or so that we learn that his first language is Tagalog.

It could be that this is calculated nonchalance, meant to depict the unimportance of factors such as ethnicity/race, in this future society, but I wonder whether using "Johnnie" in the beginning and for most of the book wasn't also calculatingly reassuring or lulling to the readers who may not have jumped on board if a Filipino kid--probably dark and Catholic--had been introduced as such on page one?

Incidentally, because we discussed how we picture characters described "neutrally", and how white default is probably frequent among all readers regardless of our own traits, I must say that with "Johnnie" I defaulted to the usual "all-American" cornfed Midwesty beefcake stereotype, and was pleasantly nudged out of it with "Juanito"--but cautiously though, as, being a wizened, many-times-burned cynic, I didn't quite dare believe this was gonna be it, a non-white protagonist. And indeed, there was never a confirmation of Johnnie's looks, but what with the name and Tagalog, I'm going with the "typical" Filipino picture.

Representation of any kind of minority: Sergeant Ho is a veteran short of an arm and both legs, Mr. Dubois is short an arm, Colonel Nielssen uses a wheelchair. As these are all glorious combat wounds, it's all splendid and admirable, even when, as in Sergeant Ho's case, they are used to scare the less serious young asses from signing up.

Lots of touching homoerotic echoes throughout but that's A-OK as everyone's blindingly heterosexual (one perk of having female military staff, as Johnnie sees it, is that nothing motivates a man as much as hearing a female voice bid him goodbye and return as he drops into combat).

Would I give this book to a child: nope, not me, just can't hack the glorification of militarism and war, to say nothing of the moronic semi-libertarian, semi-fascist politics.

Dec 28, 2014, 8:21pm Top

>113 artturnerjr:

No rush!

Up next: Rite of passage by Alexei Panshin

Dec 28, 2014, 9:12pm Top

>114 LolaWalser:

Thanks for that. It's actually seems slightly more progressive (in the political sense of the word) that I recall it being, put like that, although there are still some fascistic overtones in there, as you point out (see Michael Moorcock's "Starship Stormtroopers" (http://flag.blackened.net/liberty/moorcock.html) for more on that). The thing that bugged me most about it was the whole "corporal punishment is great!" harangue in the novel. That's the part that would bother me most about a child reading it.

Have you seen Paul Verhoeven's film version of the novel (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120201/)? I thought it was a pretty brilliant piss-take on the book, among other things.

Dec 28, 2014, 9:41pm Top

>116 artturnerjr:

No, haven't seen the movie. I'm remarkably ignorant of anything sci-fish more recent than 1975. Also, I've only read one other Heinlein--The puppet masters--which I recall only dimly as mildly fun and rather juvenile, but probably with all the stereotypes of the times in place.

I've a few other Heinleins in the batch but don't remember which ones.

Ah, well, now if we seriously started talking about the political aspects of the book, that would be good for a rant or dozen. ;)

Where would one begin? The idea that only ex-soldiers deserve to govern? (And vote!) The idea that the cosy smelly simplistic camaraderie in arms somehow translates into a deep noble interest in the welfare of society at large? The "rod is golden" pedagogical philosophy? The ridiculous contradictions popping up with every new lesson in "history and moral philosophy", or the notion that something called "moral philosophy" can be an exact science... etc.

Dec 28, 2014, 10:02pm Top

>114 LolaWalser: et seq. I've always read Heinlein because he makes me think, and my only take-away from this book is a question about do you owe something to the civitas in exchange for what it gives you? I don't think that military service is what you should owe, but still, I think it's something. Still roll this around in my head from time-to-time, and might give the book to a kid who could see the question as interesting without buying into Heinlein's answer.

He really liked to do zingers for readers who are making assumptions about who other people are and how they live. You might be right about the strategy of drawing readers in with feeling that everyone is like them, but I also think he saw part of the power of sf was in disrupting the ordinary and getting people to think outside the box. He didn't always himself, and he certainly didn't usually do it is a way that we would find appropriate today and he had tremendous blind spots like class differences, but he definitely didn't want the future to look like the 1950s in the US.

I don't remember Puppet Masters well. My favorites are Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land

Dec 28, 2014, 10:06pm Top

>117 LolaWalser:

Ah, well, now if we seriously started talking about the political aspects of the book, that would be good for a rant or dozen. ;)

Where would one begin? The idea that only ex-soldiers deserve to govern? (And vote!) The idea that the cosy smelly simplistic camaraderie in arms somehow translates into a deep noble interest in the welfare of society at large? The "rod is golden" pedagogical philosophy? The ridiculous contradictions popping up with every new lesson in "history and moral philosophy", or the notion that something called "moral philosophy" can be an exact science... etc.

Oh yeah, definitely. To be fair, I think a lot of this stuff is put in there out of Heinlein's delight in pushing other people's buttons (a trait of his that I've always found perversely admirable and oddly punk rock), but I think the majority of it is stuff that he actually bought in to, which strikes me as rather sad.

Dec 28, 2014, 10:37pm Top

>116 artturnerjr:

Quite a bit of that article is opaque to me, though, being entirely outside that milieu (not to mention the time displacement) but I like this, among other:

To be a rugged individualist a la Heinlein and others is to be forever a child who must obey, charm and cajole to be tolerated by some benign, omniscient father

Not that I think Moorcock will ever be a friend of mine.

>118 aulsmith:

I think anyone living in a society owes something to that society, no question. "Living", that is, not just in the sense of merely existing, but in the sense of having at least minimally tolerable life. I doubt I'd feel many obligations to the city if I had to fight rats for my crumb under some bridge.

I've too many problems with militarism, and American militarism and military specifically, to start on the topic, but feel like I must say something... if we accept the premise--the IMAGINARY premise--of Heinlein's book, which is an interplanetary war with intelligent but otherwise wholly non-humanoid disgusting spider-like creatures (it would be spiders, not lovely giant butterflies, wouldn't it), bent on total conquest and destruction--why yes, then some kind, any kind, of resistance simply becomes a matter of sheer survival. Questions of "duty" would seem to be superfluous in such circumstances.

But those extreme--and global--circumstances are make-believe. Our real wars are completely different--America's wars are completely different. I don't think I need to enumerate how.

So the "question", if based on the circumstances Heinlein invents for his book, is utterly disingenuous. No kid needs to address it--certainly no American kid.

What I'd give them would be first and foremost a good history of the US and its military career.

Dec 29, 2014, 6:15am Top

114> I recall that Johnnie mentions his ancestry after looking in a mirror,Implying that his ethnicity is apparent.

Edited: Dec 29, 2014, 6:29am Top

>118 aulsmith: I agree Heinlein wants, I think, people to question his views more than he wants them to agree with them. Starship Troopers is a thought experiment not a utopia. He wants people to pick it apart propose alternatives or condemn it. Ultimately he wants people to think about it and discuss it.

Dec 29, 2014, 9:07am Top

>120 LolaWalser: No argument with you about people living under bridges (or people just generally denied their civil rights).

Also, no arguments about US militarism or militarism in general, with the caveat that a number of recent wars have happened in the context of an attempt by one group to completely destroy another and that we (the world) still need a solution to that kind of problem.

I live in a very activist liberal community in the US where kids are generally protesting US oppression of one kind or another while still in diapers, so those were the kind of kids I was thinking of (after they learned to read critically).

Dec 30, 2014, 10:58am Top

>122 SimonW11:, >123 aulsmith:

I would hope I'd always be in the position to lay hands on thousands of better books--better written, better argued, better informed etc.--before I had to resort to this one if I wished to get the youngsters to think about these themes.

Besides, the propaganda element is far too strong to interpret it as a sincere invitation to debate. If this line of thinking persists in Heinlein's writing (there are hints it does, from what I heard about him), it's pretty obviously a world-view, not a random "thought experiment". (Unless one interprets every fiction as a thought experiment... I don't.)

>121 SimonW11:

I don't remember it, do you think you could find that bit? Just for the record.

Dec 30, 2014, 3:00pm Top

>124 LolaWalser: If this line of thinking persists in Heinlein's writing The libertarianism is persistent and something he strongly advocates, though generally doesn't think society as a whole will buy into as it demands too much personal responsibility. The jingoistic militarism not so much, especially not against "evil" aliens. Most of his aliens are pretty cool, and much of the fighting that occurs is against oppressive human governments.

I would hope I'd always be in the position to lay hands on thousands of better books That is a good point. I've never read anything else, even other Heinlein, that makes the point about giving back so starkly in a book I think a child might read, but my reading of juvenile and ya books is extremely limited and narrow. So it's probably a good thing that I'm not recommending books to children.

BTW, the reason science fiction fans recommend giving the "golden age" books to kids is because they do tend to starkly lay out the foundational questions that the genre deals with. Who is human? How do we organize ourselves into groups and societies? What do we do when we're being destroyed and/or oppressed? How do we get along with others who aren't like us and don't agree with us? How do we survive in places we're not designed to survive in? "Golden age" books are often the ones that first asked these questions in a particular way and gave a provocative answer (provocative in the sense that over 40 years later it still provokes me to think about how I want the question answered).

This is such an interesting discussion. Thanks for doing this. If you haven't done it somewhere else, it would be interesting to see you discuss the better books out there sometime.

Dec 30, 2014, 7:13pm Top

>125 aulsmith:

Well, I'm not sure what point you have in mind, that Heinlein made, and that you find so well expressed, so I'm not sure how to answer... Is it that we have a duty to society? Hm, I didn't find that well expressed at all--I must admit I didn't notice it posed as a question in the first place! For one thing, I would hope that conclusion would precede the decision to join the army, not be constructed ad hoc after. The problem is that if we're talking from within a state of war, the necessity to fight is obvious enough. But only then. Otherwise, there are a million better ways to do one's duty to society (and I'd put paying taxes rather high up... ;)).

But "duty" wasn't Johnnie's reason for joining at all. At first he didn't even feel he had a reason--past following his best buddy's lead--and then realised that going against his father's set-out plan for him would be a way to test himself. He didn't learn the joys of being "dutiful" until he was well and fully "broken-in" by army training. "Broken" is appropriate--exactly what Dubois says must happen to the spirits of dogs and the young.

The other problem I have is, has it been answered ethically? I say no. Because Heinlein lies through exaggeration and simplification, such that create, as I said, a situation nobody ever faces. The horror of our wars and the difficulty in coming to terms with them lies precisely in what people are doing to people. Not hideous spidery monsters. And not in all-out planetary threat, not with the prospect of the complete extermination of the species. No, our wars are supremely shitty affairs, in which, for instance, one side can sow death and destruction by pressing buttons while the other scrambles around in caves and weaponises their bodies. Heinlein's Johnnie waxes lyrical about the beautiful "scenery" the girls provide, but in real wars we get military brothels stuffed with women from the other side and rape camps. He dehumanizes the enemy completely, but in real wars the enemy is always disconcertingly similar in myriad ways.

This is why I'd never ask abstract question about "duty" before making it clear what that duty entails.

BTW, the reason science fiction fans recommend giving the "golden age" books to kids is because they do tend to starkly lay out the foundational questions that the genre deals with.

I think I know what you mean and I'm inclined to agree partly, but I haven't come across any big questions in science fiction that aren't present in other types of children's lit. Actually, if someone wanted nothing else but to stimulate debate, I suppose basically ANYTHING could serve as a starting point--heck, with enough imagination one could use spots on the wall.

Are there fewer "big question lessons" in Heidi than in Starship Troopers? I'd say no. Is there less about heroism, self-sacrifice, loyalty in Western sagas, or Dumas, or war stories or Tintin and Asterix, than in science fiction? It seems to me, hardly.

The way I see it, kids don't need much, and they don't need "quality", to start mulling about the big questions.

If you haven't done it somewhere else, it would be interesting to see you discuss the better books out there sometime.

Thanks, I guess as my starting point is a sort of a blanket accusation of this literature, it's not surprising if my posts sound mostly negative, but I'm sure there will be some nicer surprises.

Edited: Dec 31, 2014, 11:12am Top

>124 LolaWalser: damned if i can find the mirror reference but the google machine did give me this.

In Delany 1977’s The Jewel-Hinged Jaw, SRD says (p. 80 of TJHJ, Berkeley 1977):

“Thus Heinlein, in Starship Troopers, by a description of a mirror reflection and the mention of an ancestor’s nationality, in the midst of a strophe on male makeup, generates the data that the first-person narrator, with whom we have been traveling now through two hundred and fifty-odd pages (of a three-hundred-and-fifty-page book) is non-caucasian.”

Many of Heinlein's works imagined alternate political structures. and the ones that are presented most favourally do have similarities to this one So yes I would say that this is as good a presentation of his world view as you would get.

Heinlein saw I think Citizenship as obligation and his tales were about those who took up the duties of a citizen, Now I could write several thousand words on why this is simplistic . (citizenship is also about accountability something that gets far to little attention payed to it in heinlein's books) and I know that Heinlein wrote a lot more than that on why his world view was right.

Just because someone presents his world view does not meant they are unwilling to debate it or change it. Indeed Heinlein's views changed a lot in his life.

"I would hope I'd always be in the position to lay hands on thousands of better books--better written, better argued, better informed etc.--before I had to resort to this one if I wished to get the youngsters to think about these themes."

I thought this was about building a canon perhaps considering a a counter balancing book should be the way to go.

Dec 31, 2014, 8:54am Top

126: I'm really with you on the militarism and the cheap threat of the "spiders." The only thing about this book that impressed me was the scene where the veteran tries to talk Johnnie out of going into the army, because being a citizen is hard, and really you can just sit back and enjoy what the state has to offer without doing anything, so why bother to get into something that is difficult and dangerous. So that was my take-away. And, of course, lots of other authors discuss this in depth (Le Guin comes to mind), but I found the starkness of "Don't do this kid, you're biting off more than anyone can chew" very enlightening (as someone who still tends to get involved in helping other people and getting in way over my head.)

My take-aways from Heidi were mostly in the area of the country vs. the city questions, and "children often know what's better for them than the adults around them." Well, and a love of orphan stories. I read it several times in the "golden age of 12" but I don't return to it.

Carry on. Be as negative as you wish.

Dec 31, 2014, 2:13pm Top

>127 SimonW11:

Thanks for the effort. Johnnie mentions liking to wear earrings in a way that makes it clear they are part of normal male jewellery--even earrings with a clip--and there's the section where he and a mate get earrings of little skulls with bones beneath--bones representing the number of "skinny" aliens they've killed. I don't remember the mention of skin colour in that connection but let's take it for settled.

Just because someone presents his world view does not meant they are unwilling to debate it or change it.

Speaking in general, maybe. But I contend this is not the case of Starship troopers--the tenets it presents are given in a purely propagandistic manner. Moreover, they are supposed to derive from the "exact science" of "moral philosophy" as irrefutable results of syllogisms. It's just a matter of teaching young Johnnies to think right--no debate whatsoever about the premises of this right thinking.

I thought this was about building a canon perhaps considering a a counter balancing book should be the way to go.

Not quite sure what you mean, but as I explained somewhere above, I am NOT looking to build a canon or even a recommendation list of any kind.

However, as it happens, the very next book I'll discuss turns out to be filled with some interesting counter-examples to the Heinlein.

>128 aulsmith:

I haven't read Heidi since I was a girl either and don't remember much of it, it was just a random mention--what remained in my mind was the overcoming of loneliness, of entrapment in one's own self etc. I don't want to dilate on this now but it's always interesting to see how "messages" get distorted (I simply mean changed, not necessarily positively or negatively) from the point of origin--what we (especially as kids) pick up vs. what someone else picks up or what someone else thinks we ought to or would like us to pick up etc.

I found the starkness of "Don't do this kid, you're biting off more than anyone can chew" very enlightening

Maybe it's because you've read this first when you were much younger than I am now? Although I believe I wouldn't have liked this much better as a kid--my favourite reads always extolled rebels and the marginalised, the lonely hero, the intrepid solitary etc. I can't remember ever fantasizing about being a soldier; a general, maybe. ;)

Edited: Dec 31, 2014, 3:44pm Top

No. 10

Rite of passage by Alexei Panshin, male, white

Publication date: 1968; Story date: 2198

A girl raised on an interstellar ship comes of age during a trial on a backward planet.

Main character/ First-person POV: Mia Havero, female, PoC (Spanish/Indian/Russian? etc. descent)

Secondary characters: Miles Havero, Mia's father, chairman of the ship's council; Jimmy Dentremont; male, white, Mia's boyfriend, Joseph Mbele, male, PoC, Mia's tutor; George Fuhonin, male, pilot

Minor characters: Mia's friends: Mary Carpentier, Zena Andrus, Venus Morlock, Attila Szabody, Riggy Allen, Helen Pak; Mia's mother; Mr. Tubman, Mr. Persson, Mr. Findlay, Lemuel Carpentier, council members; Mr. Marechal and Mr. Pizarro, survival training instructors; Dr. Jerome, male; Mr. Mitchell, technician; Mr. Kutsov, colonist who helps Mia; Mrs. Keithley; Mrs. Farmer; colonists on planets Grainau and Tintera.

Representation of women: Well, it's a curious thing. We have a great female protagonist, Mia, who is twelve when the story starts; fourteen (and, having passed her trial, an adult) at the end. Mia is a smart, plucky kid, alert, inquisitive. She goes places and does things. She has a strong sense of independence, and a great deal of courage. She is self-aware, recognising fairly her own faults and strengths. She gets in scrapes and fights. She learns. Going just by the kids, there is a perfect equality in how boys and girls are regarded and treated. Also going by the interaction among kids, Mia has similar realistic friendly and hostile relationships with boys and girls equally. In my favourite bit in the book, she and a girl who started out as Mia's enemy, Zena Andrus, inadvertently have an adventure together during which they discover things about themselves and each other, becoming closer, more intelligible to each other and stop being "enemies"--but not fast friends all of a sudden.

Another girl, Venie (Venus) Morlock, is described in unflattering terms and is consistently hostile to Mia, but even so they manage to cooperate and even respect each other.

In view of the equality among children, the adult set of characters is bizarrely skewed to male. None of the adults in charge, in leadership positions of any kind, or even in professional roles of any kind, are women. Not one. There are only a few named women (one a character who is only talked about), one, Mrs. Farmer, a mother of a boy (no other description), the other, Mrs. Keithely, a terrifying old lady who sits behind a desk, with no job specification. It's as if Panshin got lost in the kiddie aspect of the story and projected some little-boy vision of his own adult world on the fantasy.

Mia's unnamed and mostly unseen mother dabbles in art, but it seems she's terrible at it. Nothing else is mentioned about her activities. Mia worships her father, but positively hates her mother, she excuses this by saying that she is sure her mother didn't want her.

Most children are raised in dormitories by "dorm mothers"--this is the only job we ever hear of in connection with women. One dorm mother, Miss B-something, is present at one hearing after one of the kids' adventures.

Otherwise, nada. All the tutors mentioned--Wickersham, Mbele, Quincy--are male; the doctor we meet is male; the technician kids befriend is male; George the pilot and the crewmen of the scoutships are male; all the colonists on two planets are male, with the exception of one little girl (no great part); and possibly worst of all, it seems the Council is all male--although I wonder a little whether this wasn't a slip of the pen or something:

...every man on the Council was bothered...

So, as I said, it's bizarre. On the one hand we are following the adventures of a great little girl character, something tied in with her growing up no less--and yet what's at the end of the road for her?

If the general blandness and sheer absence, muting, of Panshin's adult women is anything to go by, not much.

Representation of race/ethnicity: The ship's inhabitants are a motley crew and three characters are described in terms of their ethnic/racial mix. Mr. Mbele has an African name and mentions his once-enslaved ancestors. On the same occasion Mia, who is described at the beginning as having inherited her black hair and dark complexion from her Spanish-Indian side of the family, remarks that she is much darker than Mr. Mbele--meaning that in retrospect the reader probably needs to "lighten up" Mr. Mbele some.

Helen Pak is "striking" because she has blonde hair and "oriental" eyes with the epicanthic fold.

Representation of any kind of minority: None. Presumably the Ship's Eugenist keeps the human stock "pure" of any defects. Only heterosexual relations are mentioned.

On one colonised planet, Tintera, there is a native race of creatures--bipedal, furry, with golden eyes and flat greenish faces--the colonists have likely enslaved. The inhabitants of the Ship decide to destroy Tintera partly based on this information, which is... would "monumentally stupid" fit? Slavery is so bad they have to punish the colonists by utterly destroying them--never mind at the same time destroying the slaves?

Of course, this ethical nightmare is precisely the point, the watershed in Mia's development, when she breaks off from her father and his philosophy.

There are several points of similarity and contrast to Heinlein. The similarities are the main motif, the maturing of a young person, and the "trial by fire" they both undergo.

But in every point opposite solutions and ideas are found.

Heinlein's Johnnie ends up soldiering shoulder to shoulder with his old man, and a bunch of other men who are stand-in daddies, brothers and sons. It's a great country those ex-soldiers have built, and other soldiers are gonna keep it that way. Mia revolts from the old ways and embarks on a lifelong project to change the world her father has built.

Johnnie doesn't lose any sleep over execution of criminals. As with those horrendous spiders, it helps that the criminal in question committed a particularly heinous crime--he killed a "little girl". A moral syllogism must exist that proves this is just the thing to do. Mia discovers doubt when the woman who broke the ship's law by getting pregnant for the fifth time with an "illegal" baby is sentenced to exile and probably death.

Johnnie is lucky with his "skinny" and "buggy" alien enemies. No sleep to lose over killing vermin. Mia goes from thinking that "Mudeater" colonists are not really people, to, well, understanding that they ARE people. And more:

...the world does not end at the edge of a quad. There are people outside. The world does not end at the Fourth Level. There are people elsewhere. {...} If you want to accept life, you have to accept the whole bloody universe. The universe is filled with people, and there is not a single solitary spear carrier among them.

Would I give this book to a kid: Yes.

Dec 31, 2014, 3:45pm Top

Up next: Needle by Hal Clement

Jan 5, 2015, 2:49pm Top

No. 11

Needle by Hal Clement, male, white

Publication date: 1949; Story date: contemporary

Two extraterrestrial aliens belonging to a species dependent on symbiosis, a policeman and a fugitive from justice, crash on earth and take refuge in human hosts.

Main characters: Bob Kinnaird, fifteen year old boy, white; the Hunter, the alien "policeman" who enters into symbiosis with Bob

Secondary characters: Bob's friends: Hugh Colby, Kenneth Malstrom, Norman Hay, Kenny Rice, all teenage white boys; Charlie Teroa, Polynesian boy; Arthur Kinnaird, Bob's father; Dr. Seever, male

Minor characters: Bob's mother, unnamed; Teroa Senior; other unnamed characters.

Representation of women: This is an entirely male-dominated story, in plot and atmosphere. Very "trad". Bob's mother is mentioned a few times in connection with making food and provides some maternal noises. A nurse at Bob's school in the States takes care of a wound of his. Charlie Teroa's unnamed sisters appear in one sentence, giggling and mutely providing information on Charlie's whereabouts. That's all.

More on the relative unimportance of women can be construed from what is casually said about the men. All the adults in charge--school masters, doctors--are male. The settlement on the Pacific island where most of the action takes place is industrial and all the engineers and workers involved are male. Bob's father is unironically referred to as "the head of the family" and he is the only parent mentioned when the school in the States decides to send Bob home: "how do we explain it to the father" (approximate quotation). All Bob's friends are male and bear resemblances to their fathers--although this may be due to sheer unimaginativeness on Clement's part when it comes to characterization.

Finally, the aliens are described as amoeba-like creatures who multiply by fission. Therefore, they probably don't have sexes, but both are nevertheless referred to by male pronouns, as is the Hunter's previous host on his home planet.

Representation of race/ethnicity: Given the tropical island setting, I wondered for a short while whether Bob or some of his pals might not be PoC, but with appearance of Teroa Sr., Charlie's father, the two Polynesian characters were repeatedly described as "dark-skinned" and "brown-skinned"--the white characters were not described in terms of skin colour. A couple of boys were described as blond and red-haired; we also learn Bob has his father's blue eyes.

The Teroas were treated neutrally, I guess--unless one takes the hints that Charlie Teroa is too fond of sleeping as a bit of the "lazy islander" stereotype? I'd need a second opinion on that; for my part, I'd interpret it as boys' joshing.

Representation of any kind of minority: None.

General comments: I think this is the first title I find possibly more suitable to a younger than an older kid. At least, I suppose the fairly copious but elementary information about physiology and immunology would stand a better chance of being new and interesting to a younger kid.

I would have enjoyed this as a kid. Characterization is nil and the dialogue between humans comically stiff, but the Hunter and the description of his many activities in Bob's body--fighting germs, neutralising leukocytes, pressing nerve ends, casting images on Bob's retinae etc.--given with loving care. Nerd interest: high.

Jan 5, 2015, 2:53pm Top

Up next: Definitely maybe by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Jan 5, 2015, 4:43pm Top

Are you sure?

Edited: Jan 5, 2015, 4:59pm Top

Probably certainly!

Jan 5, 2015, 6:06pm Top

1. Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle (white, male, French)

2. Publication date: 1963 / Date in the story: the future around 2500

3. Main character: Ulysse Mérou (male, white, journalist)

4. Secondary characters: 1 elderly white man, 1 white human woman, 1 male ape scientist, 1 female ape scientist

5. Representation of women: Main white human female -- beautiful, healthy, strong, fertile, ignorant and simple, but teachable. Main ape female -- intelligent, inquisitive, open-minded, tolerant, not as smart as she may think she is.

6. Representation of race -- Here's the problem. The apes clearly represent people of color. and other working-class immigrants. Once they were trained to become the slaves of their human masters, they ultimately outworked and out-reproduced their increasingly enervated masters. The cautionary message is that technology and an increasingly effete lifestyle will result in white people ceding dominance to the lower orders.

7. Representation of any kind of minority -- even among the apes there's an intellectual pecking order: Chimpanzees, Orangutans, Gorillas .

I would not give this book to a kid under 12 or over 12. I would stop short of keeping them from experiencing the countless movies and other spinoffs, because that would be tilting at windmills; but I would not hesitate to bore them silly by excoriating the racist xenophobia of M. Boulle in this and his other best seller The Bridge Over the River Kwai.

Jan 5, 2015, 6:18pm Top

>136 jburlinson:

I've never read that and I've never seen any of the movie/TV adaptations, I barely recognise the title, so your take on what I thought was a huge popular success is very interesting to me. How do you explain the popularity of the--was it the TV series with Charlton Heston? Was much changed? Not at all? What's the general opinion on the story now?

Edited: Jan 5, 2015, 6:34pm Top

>137 LolaWalser: The first movie with Heston was close to the book in its general themes, but there were differences, which, if anything, made it possibly even more offensive than the book. For example, in the movie, the apes weren't able to sustain the technology of the humans, but had to resort to riding around on horses and living in cave cities; whereas in the book, the apes were able to fly airplanes etc. The book's framing device of the message in a bottle floating in space was totally lost in the movie, which was probably a good thing, since it turned out, in a twist ending, to doubly reinforce the racist paranoia.

How do you explain the popularity...

Boulle was a good storyteller, so I can't fault his skills on that score. And the movie, for its time, had good special effects (mostly makeup) and plenty of excitement along with a memorable final scene -- even I have to admit that. It could be that the racial coding was so blatant that, somehow, it was just too obvious. It's been a puzzlement to me, that's for sure.

Jan 6, 2015, 7:39am Top

>138 jburlinson: and previous - The two recent reboots of the film franchise - the Tim Burton 2001 reboot and the more recent re-reboot, which starts the story at the beginning, interestingly have different takes. The Tim Burton film is not set on a future Earth, though the apes there do still lack very advanced technology; but when the human hero returns to Earth at the end of the film, he finds that apes have taken over (presumably, some sort of alternate reality), and the apes there do drive cars and otherwise have access to the whole range of (what we identify as) human technology. (I have not watched this film all the way through, I must add.)

The more recent reboot starts from the chronological beginning of the story with how the apes rose to prominence, and that is as enhanced laboratory animals, who then have a role in the spread of a mutant virus that arose as a side-effect of the medication that was being tested on them. This changes the premise of the whole story into an anti-vivisection/human hubris failure and the apes become civilized survivors/inheritors of the human race (albeit with some of the same baggage). This franchise makes no class distinction between chimpanzees, orangutans or gorillas (though that aspect is barely covered as the captive population that the intelligent apes arose from only had a very few examples of gorillas or orangs). Interestingly, neither of the two films released so far in that franchise give any credit at all to Pierre Boulle, as the characters and situations all arise out of the film prequels rather than the original Boulle novel.

Edited: Jan 6, 2015, 9:27pm Top


Well, I'm glad jburly suffered so I don't have to (the ACME of selfishness!!! yes I am!), I have a distaste in general for stories/visuals with anthropomorphic animals (cartoons excepted) so wasn't ever planning to watch the films... the book sounds intriguing in a "car wreck" fashion, but no rush to find it.

No. 13

Definitely maybe by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, male, white

Publication date: 1976, Story date: contemporary

Strange events, possibly sinister in nature, disrupt the research of scientists in various fields one very hot summer in Leningrad.

Main character: Dmitry Malianov, astrophysicist

Secondary characters: Valentin Weingarten, biologist; Philip Vecherovsky, mathematician; Zakhar Gubar, electronics engineer; Gubar Junior, a very creepy little boy; Arnold Snegovoi, physicist; Vladlen Glukhov, linguist

Minor characters: Irina Malianova, Dmitry's wife; Lida Ponomareva, Irina's friend; Igor Zykov, criminal investigator

Representation of women: It's disappointing that none of the scientists are women, especially as there are offhand references to female colleagues (presence of women in the sciences). The two women who appear "on screen", Irina and Lida, are both described in terms of their physical and sentimental value--attractive, sexy, maternal, caring... ordinary wife and ordinary extramarital temptation.

Weingarten's wife Svetlana is talked about: she is "incredibly beautiful but subject to depression", probably unsurprisingly as her husband is a terrible womaniser. However, she, we're told, accepts that... because he "dotes on her".

Weingarten's mother in law, also only talked about, is apparently a formidable personage, a retired captain second class (presence of women in the military), but also a nag along the conventional "horrible MIL" lines.

Zakhar Gubar's only-mentioned boss is a woman. As he is something of a raw genius employed in an important institute, this woman must be interestingly accomplished in her own right, but, well, in some other story I suppose.

Vecherovsky the mathematician is fond of quoting poetry and quotes a few lines (unattributed) by the Japanese poetess Akiko Yosano.

Representation of race/ethnicity: All the characters are white. Weingarten is described as having tar-black hair and eyes like black olives and I've no idea whether this could be a hint he's Jewish--the name alone doesn't mean much, ever since the times of Peter the Great there was a sizeable German minority in Russia, mostly educated people, experts.

Representation of any kind of minority: None. Malianov, Weingarten and Gubar all have a spotlight thrown on their heterosexual appetites. If I were casting a movie, I'd make the dapper, fastidious, elegant Vecherovsky gay, but even his mathematical heart, it's hinted obliquely at the end, is susceptible to ladies.

General comments: Fascinating book. Short but deep. With so many scenes of drinking, confused puttering and recounting sexual escapades it's a wonder how it all jelled into such vivid multiple pictures and themes--Soviet daily life, the menace of a police state, nature of research, future of civilization, nuclear threat, friendship and marriage...

Would I give it to a kid: to an older kid, yes.

Jan 6, 2015, 9:30pm Top

Up next: City by Clifford Simak

Jan 8, 2015, 10:58am Top

I remember really liking City. I hope the Racism and Sexism Fairies didn't get to it.

Jan 8, 2015, 11:42am Top

I start every book fervently hoping the same. Thing is, as you well know, it needn't be anything glaring, explicit, blatant to leave a bad taste or at least disappoint a little in that regard.

Jan 8, 2015, 2:43pm Top

My money is on sins of omission.

Jan 8, 2015, 3:09pm Top

Yep. I'd be surprised and disappointed to find sexism or racism, but I'd expect it to be very male and very white.

Jan 8, 2015, 4:27pm Top

>145 anglemark:

I don't think that distinction is as important as you seem to. Do you feel that only overt statements like "A woman's place is in the home" constitute sexism, while a narrative that silently affirms that notion (by having women appear only as mothers or love interests) is immune to such criticism? How much do you think it matters to a little girl reading a book whether the book explicitly says "only boys can have adventures" or whether it just only shows boys having adventures, while their sisters remain at home? "Sexism" isn't just telling women they can't be doctors - it's also being more surprised when the doctor who walks into the room is female than you would be if he were male. It's complaining that there wasn't a reason for a particular character to be female (i.e. they weren't a love interest or a mother, though that's not usually stated) so making them female is just political correctness. (I don't see that argument as much for female characters, but I see it a lot for characters of color and especially for gay characters.)

Part of the point of the discussion that spawned this one is the cumulative effect of the literary equivalent of microaggressions - that while it may not matter so much for one individual book to feature only white men as characters, when book after book after book does the same it sends a very negative message to readers.

Jan 8, 2015, 4:47pm Top

the cumulative effect of the literary equivalent of microaggressions -

Yep, that's the problem in a nutshell--and because they ARE "micro" these things are especially tough to point out.

And "absences"--the effect of "absences"--is perhaps even tougher to explain, to convince others of it. Just the other day I chanced on a video of a panel at some sf convention (I think), a guy was talking about "Hobbit" and the realisation that that there are no women in it--how it dawned on him belatedly, how he never even noticed--and how suh things propagate themselves in culture and writing habits etc. Hmm, maybe it was on Tumblr--maybe I can find it... Anyway, point was, that was an example of an influential absence. Something a beloved author did in a beloved book that many copied etc.

Thanks lorax for reminding us of the reason for doing this. I'll take the occasion to reuse your phrase when I finally get to my first summary.

Edited: Jan 8, 2015, 4:51pm Top

>146 lorax: I do not at all find it a huge and important distinction and I quite agree with you, but considering that the man was born in 1904 (if memory serves me right), I would find it easier to forgive him for the sin of omission than for overt racism and sexism. It wouldn't mean that I'd think the book as such was OK.

Jan 9, 2015, 4:01am Top

>147 LolaWalser: Speaking of Tolkien, I once went to a talk by that author where he asserted that The Lord of the Rings was not at all a male fest, but was in fact a female-centered work, because it can be argued that the most important character in the trilogy is Galadriel. I suppose that might be true in the same way that the Holy Virgin is the most important character in the Gospels because she gives birth to the Son of God... Some people clearly have very low expectations in terms of female representation.

Edited: Jan 9, 2015, 6:54am Top

>146 lorax: I think anglemark was saying that he would be disappointed to find overt racism or sexism emanating from Clifford D. Simak because it would lessen his opinion of the author.

He was not venturing an opinion about the suitability for children of a book lacking diverse role models.

I think we are all looking for more than the unobjectionable.

More even than enjoyability
Though that must always be present.

I suspect City will have lost that enjoyability.

Jan 9, 2015, 4:43am Top

>150 SimonW11: Yes, that's a good way of expressing it.

Jan 9, 2015, 8:13am Top

I've been following this discussion with interest for a while now, though in a way it's academic for me as I neither have children nor work with them. My interest is in the whole issue around art, culture and changing expectations oif opinions (branded "political correctness", often by people who possibly object to the concept on the grounds that it brands their own opinions negatively...).

I also have an interest because I have admiration for works or artists who can be controversial - Wagnerian opera, for one - and the debate around the acceptability of these works continues to rage. It is actually possible to divorce this argument from the political; for years, I avoided the novels of John Brunner because he was personally objectionable to friends of mine (and my few direct contacts with the man were not all that propitious), but the distance of time has allowed me to start looking at his work and divorcing the novels from the man himself.

I've come to a more direct understanding of the ways in which each age re-interprets works according to the prevalent views of that age. Think, for example, of Beowulf, which we have in a form brought down to us from transcriptions by Christian monks, who naturally changed the references to Odin and the other Norse gods to the Christian God. My recent reading around the subject of Wagner and his anti-Semetism has led me towards the view that we appreciate these works despite their political incorrectness, rather than by trying to brush such (seeming to us) unpleasantness under the carpet. This is possibly more important for SF than it is for other forms or genre of literature because so many of the key works in understanding the ideas and tropes of the genre date from less enlightened times. (I know there are those in the group who dislike holding up "Golden Age" SF as genre classics because of the quality of the writing, but I think the same argument applies; we should appreciate these works because of their position in the history of the genre, rather than as unchallenged classics, and do that despite their shortcomings.)

This is something that we do as mature readers; so the value of this stream is to raise consciousness amongst those of us who are acting as mentors to young readers as to their developing the skills and discrimination that we exercise in reading, viewing or listening to works of art from times and sensibilities different to our own.

(This may not be quite the right place for these observations, but it's where the thread has led me.)

Jan 9, 2015, 3:53pm Top

>152 RobertDay: My recent reading around the subject of Wagner and his anti-Semetism has led me towards the view that we appreciate these works despite their political incorrectness, rather than by trying to brush such (seeming to us) unpleasantness under the carpet.

It's possible that one can appreciate these works because of the way the political incorrectness is used for artistic purpose. One example from Wagner: the character of Mime in Der Ring das Nibelungen has often been identified as representative of Judaism. Theodor Adorno called Mime the "ghetto Jew" in contrast to his brother Alberich, "the stock-exchange Jew". Gustav Mahler, a Jewish composer, was willing to acknowledge this and even praised Wagner for his skill: "No doubt with Mime, Wagner intended to ridicule the Jews with all their characteristic traits -- petty intelligence and greed -- the jargon is textually and musically so cleverly suggested." As an illustration, critics have pointed out how Wagner burlesqued Jewish folk music in the passages where the character lapses into wheedling and falsely sentimental crooning. These moments are usually quite effective in the opera house, whether or not the audience recognizes their significance.

The question becomes, then: which is better for young people, to introduce them to works of art and literature in which repellent content is presented in a skillful way, or to keep young people away from such works, because their very effectiveness as artworks makes them more pernicious?

Jan 9, 2015, 4:36pm Top

>152 RobertDay: the problem is not repellent content. The problem is is getting young people to question seductive content.

Jan 9, 2015, 5:21pm Top

>154 SimonW11:

I like that observation very much. I must make a note to come back to the "seductiveness" point.

>153 jburlinson:, >152 RobertDay:

Please don't hesitate to comment any time you feel like it, it's perfectly fine to have discussions at any point.

I know there are those in the group who dislike holding up "Golden Age" SF as genre classics because of the quality of the writing, but I think the same argument applies; we should appreciate these works because of their position in the history of the genre, rather than as unchallenged classics, and do that despite their shortcomings.

I agree completely. Of course, interest in the historical aspects is something dependent on experience and maybe even raw age, it's very much an adult's approach. But there's no doubt about the value of "old" from that point of view.

This is something that we do as mature readers; so the value of this stream is to raise consciousness amongst those of us who are acting as mentors to young readers as to their developing the skills and discrimination that we exercise in reading, viewing or listening to works of art from times and sensibilities different to our own.

Thanks for this. It's so hard to grasp fully, directly, the different interpretations arising from different worldviews, we're always on some single track ourselves.

Something I've been thinking more and more often is, what is the "age" of--for want of a better phrase--the "mental atmosphere" in our heads, really? Are we contemporary with our age? In every phase of our life? I doubt it. I think the first "mental atmosphere age" we acquire is the one lent to us by our parents--dating itself probably years before we were born. Someone born in 1970 would be raised with a strong influence of the 1950s, maybe even 1940s. As we grow, I think we're mainly running to catch up with the times, we don't mentally coincide with the present, never entirely. All our lives we process and exhibit not just the present but the past, all its echoes, attitudes, scraps of belief, aesthetic and moral values.

I'm probably torturing something perfectly obvious here...! :)

Jan 9, 2015, 5:30pm Top

>149 Dilara86:

I ditched The Lord of the Rings somewhere around Tom Bombadil's appearance (those songs did me in) and don't recall Galadriel or any female characters, but regarding that remark, considering that big weather is made of Tolkien's Catholicism, perhaps there's something to it? The symbolism, not the lovely idea that construes absence as evidence of importance! :) (Or of presence--which reminds me--just read a great send-up of a very similar notion in The death of the author by Gilbert Adair.)

Jan 9, 2015, 6:10pm Top

>153 jburlinson: That was almost exactly the issue I'd been looking at when I read the posts from 146 onwards, and which prompted my post. In particular, I'd been reading some background regarding Arthur Rackham's illustrations for the Ring which depicted the Nibelungen in a way I identified as an anti-Semitic caricature.

>155 LolaWalser: I really do agree with your observation about the age of our headspace, Lola. I was born in 1957, but my parents were a bit older when they had me: they were born in the mid- to late 1920s and grew up in the Depression and WW2. I think this has coloured my world-view, though I've been lucky enough to mix with much younger people in work and social environments (and I am still doing this, fortunately). I think that gives me the best of all possible worlds in terms of my cultural hinterland - I certainly enjoy it!

Jan 9, 2015, 6:26pm Top

>154 SimonW11: The problem is is getting young people to question seductive content.

Before they can question it, they have to recognize it, and before they can recognize it they have to experience it.

Jan 9, 2015, 6:35pm Top

>157 RobertDay:

It would give a new significance to "the avant-garde", no? Not really ahead of the times, but IN them more so than most.

My own headspace is completely shot through by the past--even 19th century! If it weren't for the various outsider qualities that brought me in clash with the status quo and prompted "development", I could be a character out of Verne.

You're lucky, I must struggle hard to get bearings on the world.

It amazes me to think how different it must be inside someone who is today sixteen. When I sit in transit among strangers of all ages I often feel we're all ghosts to each other. In that sense of time displacement (globalisation having done away with the most glaring local spatial differences).

Reading classics, old books, whether we think of it this way or not, is really always a search for permanent meaning. If we didn't think so we couldn't read these books at all, if we didn't believe we can understand them.

But I seriously wonder HOW much we understand them at all.

Jan 10, 2015, 10:42am Top

Worthy though the effort is perhaps it is just a thumb in the dam.

I recently saw a new Buick commercial. The neighbours have got a new Buick.
'Perhaps, he got a raise?' says the wife
'Lucky for him,' the husband responds.
'Lucky for her!', says the wife.

This sort of sexism would not be out of place in the Madmen era. If kids are being bombarded hourly with this kind of nonsense what hope is there in pointing them towards the right pulp fiction?

Jan 10, 2015, 12:16pm Top

>160 justifiedsinner: This sort of sexism would not be out of place in the Madmen era.

It's a Buick commercial, what would you expect?

Jan 10, 2015, 12:23pm Top

>160 justifiedsinner:

Good point, the problem definitely isn't this literature alone--heck, it's possible that for most people it plays no part in their lives. (It might be appropriate to mention the idea that not only children's literature but the very concept of "childhood" can be seen as a specific class- and period-related construct, in many ways a relatively rare privilege.)

But, whatever the source of stereotypes etc. in culture, surely it's worthwhile at least to point these things out, not least because such advertisements, as you say, are still being made, such attitudes still propagated.

Jan 10, 2015, 3:20pm Top

>149 Dilara86: he asserted that The Lord of the Rings was not at all a male fest, but was in fact a female-centered work, because it can be argued that the most important character in the trilogy is Galadriel.
>156 LolaWalser: perhaps there's something to it? The symbolism, not the lovely idea that construes absence as evidence of importance!

Women in LOTR (I can think of a total of 7 that are significant in the sense they actually have dialog) exist entirely as a catalog of the attributes of the feminine (crone, maid, queen, virgin, etc). They could have been dispensed with entirely in terms of the plot, but they did have some decorative use in lightening up some of the scenery.

Jan 10, 2015, 3:41pm Top

>162 LolaWalser: I remember in high-school or there abouts being given an assignment to analyse a mailing from a marketing firm. It was the standard (in those days) bundle of brochures, coupons, testimonial letters etc. We had to determine the purpose of each piece and explain the tools it was using to try and influence us. An exercise in both analytical thinking and in how media tries to influence us.

I don't know if they are doing this type of exercise anymore but I think I would rather give children the tools to analyse how they are being influenced then they could read what they liked. It might, as it has done with me, give them a jaundiced view of society but it might also protect them from the unthinking attitudes that affect many or at least from the insanity that influenced those madmen in France.

Jan 10, 2015, 7:01pm Top

>164 justifiedsinner:

Well, the question is exactly how to provide these tools, how to help kids think critically. Considering how much trouble many adults have in getting anywhere near objectivity, in realising their prejudices etc., I've no idea what exactly could serve to equip youngsters so thoroughly at an early age.

Seems to me it has to be an ongoing process, with points changing as kids mature? Is it possible to discuss racism and sexism with a five year old in the same way as with a fifteen year old?

And, here's where I find Simon's concept of "seductiveness" important to mention. This literature is seductive--obviously, or it wouldn't be so beloved, influential--a "classic" in short. If we expose children uncritically to this literature, they will be seduced by it much sooner than they'll have the "critical" skills--and probably even the will--to distance themselves.

This is fantasy literature, a motherlode of narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, wish-fulfilling dreams. It is read for escapism, daydreaming, pure creature pleasure. It is potent, and therein lies the danger, because we learn habits of thought even in dreams.

Jan 11, 2015, 11:54am Top

Ads by their very nature are seductive and more likely to be encountered by children. It's difficult enough getting children to read anything nowadays. I think the subject of prejudice is being addressed at every school stage. Diversity and settling disputes are, wisely, a prominent part of US schools at least. In the UK they are starting to teach programming at elementary level which, of course, involves much analytical thinking. I don't think critical discrimination of media is specifically addressed but all the elements are there.

Free speech is an important part of our global, liberal culture (no longer Western, I think). But this means allowing any idiot to spout whatever rubbish he believes as long as it doesn't incite violence or defame an individual. That means every individual must have the ability and has the responsibility to parse such statements and see them for what they are.

Jan 11, 2015, 3:33pm Top

> 163 They could have been dispensed with entirely in terms of the plot, but they did have some decorative use in lightening up some of the scenery.

For the most part, I guess you're right. But you might be overlooking the character of Éowyn, who kills the Witch-King, who has been promised immortality because of a prophecy that he could not fall "by the hand of man".

"But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him."

Bye bye, Witch-king.

Jan 11, 2015, 3:45pm Top

Eowyn is indeed the only female character in that entire book...possibly in Tolkien's entire ouevre, who might be said to have a real internal life and character depth. She's married off suitably in the end, but at least for most of the book she fights for the right to have her own life.

But no, her role could easily have been erased. The prophecy, like all good prophecies, was suitably vague enough to allow many interpretations. For all we know Gollum could have killed the leader of the Nazgul.

Edited: Jan 11, 2015, 4:19pm Top

164>Maybe they "exist entirely as a catalog of the attributes of the feminine (crone, maid, queen, virgin, etc). " and presumably shield maiden. but the male roles are equally limited by Tolkien's desire to create not people but mythic archetypes. the male roles may be more central, but Boromir or Aragon are no less plot devices masquerading as people than Eowyn. Male-fest yes. but all the cast bar Sam and Frodo are decorations lighting the scenery. and I am not too sure about them.

Edited: Jan 11, 2015, 4:19pm Top

>168 southernbooklady: In the first Swedish translation, the translator was sloppy and switched the pronouns 'he' and 'she' in a few places, and had Meriadoc slay the Nazgûl.

Jan 11, 2015, 4:28pm Top

>170 anglemark: That is kind of awesome.

Jan 12, 2015, 12:16pm Top

Actually, thinking back, the most important character according to the author I mentioned might have been Eowyn rather than Galadriel. Sorry about that. As you were... (Although I'm reading the discussion with great interest, I have nothing scintillating to contribute.)

Jan 12, 2015, 12:42pm Top

>105 LolaWalser:

Finally finished Behold the Man, so I can comment on this now (would have finished sooner, but the new year has been rather more eventful than I had anticipated. :/)

Representation of women: With the exception of Eva, who is described as "sweet, virginal and admiring", every single female character is shown in unflattering-to-awful light. Some part of it reflects on Karl's "neurotic" mental state, but I can't help feeling the basis of such characterisations is author's outlook, as insincerity, cruelty and even physical repulsiveness crop up repeatedly as traits in female characters, even the most minor ones.

See, with the exception of (as you noted) Eva, and perhaps John the Baptist, I don't anyone, male or female, is depicted in a particularly flattering light in this novel, and I think it primarily is a function of Karl's worldview. Karl's primary character trait seemed to me to be self-loathing, and like most self-loathing people, he projects his own self-hatred upon just about everyone he meets, regardless of their gender.* In other words, I read Karl's perspective as one of misanthropy (a hatred of humanity in general) rather than misogyny (hatred of females in particular). I also didn't take this as Moorcock's personal Weltanschauung, although I may be mistaken (or maybe Moorcock was just in a really pissy mood when he wrote this).

I believe this is the first instance in this thread where a disabled person makes an appearance--a minor character, but such a major role. The historical Jesus, bastard son of that shameless sow Mary and god knows who, is a mentally disabled hunchback, a "congenital imbecile". When he isn't dribbling down his chin in his corner, he steals and in general behaves as a nuisance. The only word he knows and repeats obsessively is his own name, "Jesus".

The image of the disabled Jesus looking on while Karl and Mary have sex was a profoundly disturbing one, and one that will probably stay with me for a very long time.

>109 aulsmith:

That doesn't mean Moorcock wasn't trying to imagine/portray life as gay/bisexual. It certainly would have been in keeping with new wave aesthetics to do so.

Isn't the protagonist of Moorcock's Cornelius Chronicles series (https://www.librarything.com/series/The+Cornelius+Chronicles) explicitly depicted as bisexual/pansexual?

*We could discuss whether or not Moorcock's depiction of Karl as a self-hating Jew is stereotypical or not, but that's a whole 'nother can of worms.

Jan 12, 2015, 9:00pm Top

>173 artturnerjr:

I read Karl's perspective as one of misanthropy (a hatred of humanity in general) rather than misogyny (hatred of females in particular). I also didn't take this as Moorcock's personal Weltanschauung, although I may be mistaken (or maybe Moorcock was just in a really pissy mood when he wrote this).

I'd urge for a less reductive view of misogyny than is "hatred of females". Misogyny is a general depreciation and contempt for women that runs a gamut of intensity of feeling and expression in diverse misogynistic acts and attitudes. Defined as "hatred", it's impossible to discuss, as very few people (male or female) are ever going to say "yes, I HATE women, all women"--and, in fact, I sincerely believe few people feel like that.

I think it's important to underline again that from the point of view of representation the first, basic question is what we see in the text, not how we explain it, i.e. not what structural explanations or psychological "justifications" we can find for this or that attitude, but simply what attitudes are present.

That said, I've enumerated above the examples of roles, phrases and attitudes connected to female characters, which to me, in their sheer consistency and classic clichés (hysterical, histrionic, lying, cruel bitch, sweet virgin, oversexed slut etc.) definitely bespeak misogyny. It's quite obvious when you compare this to how male characters are treated. The sadistic Mr. Patrick (a minor character mentioned in one flashback) is the only male character I'd call completely negative. Still, he's no worse than his wife, and solidly outnumbered, as far as unpleasantness goes, by the women.

Karl may be a misanthrope, but note that except for Jesus, his perceptions of men, even if they are not positively flattering (I definitely agree that Karl's general outlook is jaundiced) tend to be neutral. Most to the point, regarding the comparison to how he views women, they are never attacked, derided, despised for their gender. This is, imo, the first distinction between misanthropy and misogyny.

Women are despised as a gender, for their gender. Men, or "humanity as a whole", are not. (Incidentally, does anyone know, has ever heard of, or even can merely imagine a male "misandrist"? Female misogynists are plentiful, but I've never come across a male who despised the male gender. I know this is just a personal observation, but, fwiw, I do believe it's another proof of societal and cultural roots of misogyny.)

As for Moorcock, this is the first book of his I've read so I can't speak to any patterns yet (I think I have a few more of his in the pile), but I remembered later that years ago I had started and quickly abandoned The Brothel in Rosenstrasse--probably because (as I only very vaguely recall) I wasn't in the mood at the time for pseudo-turn-of-the-century jaundiced twilight-of-the-gods narrative brimming with sluttish femininity etc. I could be back-projecting, but I have a feeling that there's something more than chance to Moorcock's scathing descriptions of women. We'll see...

We could discuss whether or not Moorcock's depiction of Karl as a self-hating Jew is stereotypical or not, but that's a whole 'nother can of worms.

Well, I think the self-hating Jew IS a stereotype, and Karl's mother ("the Jewish mother", which, as I mentioned, hardly even applies to her) is another, and Gerald Friedmann isn't a very felicitous character himself--I don't have the book anymore so can't look, but isn't it hinted he likes them lusty busty blonde "Nordic" types, even as he recommends to Karl to find himself a nice Jewish girl? The sex-crazed Jew lusting after shiksas--um.

Yeah, it's probably not something non-Jewish writers ought to play with too much--they don't seem to come up with anything original.

Jan 12, 2015, 10:39pm Top

>174 LolaWalser: Just to save you precious time, at one time, I'd read any number of Moorcock's novels (which all run together after a time, and in later times, he even suggested this was deliberate), and I finally decided that I could not scrub my brain enough to tolerate reading another. I've read any number of authors, in a wide an varying range of subjects, and I'd consider it safe to say that there are better uses of your time.

He seems a fan of every single caricature that is not Aryan (and I'm not using that term lightly, or by accident), and seems to harbor special contempt for women.

BTW, I'm really enjoying this thread, and have been following along since you started it. I've even been tempted to revisit a few novels by women to see where they'd fit into this.

Thanks for making this effort.

Edited: Jan 12, 2015, 11:09pm Top

No. 14

City by Clifford D. Simak (male, white)

Pub. date: 1952; Story date: a span of about 11 000 years beginning in late 20th century

Millennia after the dispersal of the human species from Earth, biologically enhanced canines cherish the memories of the humans' past in a series of legends about the Webster family.

Note: Because the narrative consists of eight "tales" with several dozen characters, many of whom share the last name, I'm changing the format of character analysis for this instance.

Male characters: I could be off by a number or two (I hope not more), but, not counting the characters who are only spoken of, there are sixteen human male characters; one Martian, philosopher Juwain; nine dogs; and six robots.

That is, the robots are all referred to as "he"--as are the one each of wolf, bear, raccoon and squirrel. The squirrel number is debatable, actually. If anyone feels strongly about including the anonymous squirrel in tale #3 that the dog Nathaniel recommends to Grant to shoot, squeak now, or remain forever silent.

The male characters have a great variety of jobs, designations and functions, from familial to planet-running and everything in-between. They carry all the plot, make all the decisions, give all the important information and insights. Several male characters, human and robot, recur in tales; several dogs, the latter-day commentators on the legends, recur in prologues to the tales.

Female characters, those who have more than a line "on screen": Miss Stanley, conversion operator; Miss Sara, artist. No female dogs, robots or squirrels are present or mentioned. Three female characters get one or two brief asides: Betty, wife of John J. Webster, who shouts something "off screen"; Mr. Taylor's unnamed "girl" (secretary); Esther, participant in a Webster family picnic.

All the female characters appear only once.

Representation of women: Well, I suppose there's a simple explanation: it was 1952, and in 1952, it must have seemed obvious that it will remain 1952, at least in certain aspects, even 12000 years later. Is this a simple explanation? Or just tetchy? :)

I've marked a few places to quote, but I don't know whether it's worth the bother... Okay, this one sums it up nicely, from tale #2, as the Webster family has gathered for the funeral of the old pater familias, and the new head of the family (his mother, the fresh widow, tells him he is that now) is surveying the graves of the generations past and thinks: "All here together, the Websters and their wives and children."

Old convention, no, both lumping the women with children, and not admitting "the wives" fully into the family--them being just the vessels of procreation through whose wombs new "Websters", meaning male heirs, come into being.

The erasure of women is amplified in the dogs' mis/understanding of the past: "...the females are women or the wives (two terms which may at one time have had a finer shade of meaning, but which now must be regarded as synonymous)..."

With two exceptions, the few mentions of women all refer to wives, mothers (with no role outside hmemaking) or secretaries (the boss's "girls").

Of the two exceptions, Miss Stanley the technician is an older woman (graying, unflattering hairdo), a severe and icy person, whose smile strikes her boss, Kent Fowler, as being "prim and schoolteacherish", as if "she hated herself for doing it" (i.e. smiling). Fowler feels afraid of her "too competent hands". In short, the old hag scares the little boy in him. Good thing HE's the boss.

The second exception to the unnamed, utterly insignificant female characters, is Miss Sara from tale #6. We are now about 2000 years away from the 20th century and some important social changes have occurred. The traditional family has fallen apart, with men and women cohabiting as they like, for how long they like, and no more. In the one note struck for women's rights (arguably), matrilinearity seems to have taken root, with offspring "usually tak{ing} mother's names". Mentioned so casually, it doesn't seem there's a compulsion to do so (probably merely helps to trace genealogies, now that the women have turned to unwed slutdom--you know how it is, you can never be sure about the father, a mother's different...)

Representation of race/ethnicity/any kind of minority: None.

Well, there's one point perhaps, although I wouldn't belabour it... does anyone feel that Jenkins the robot was perhaps modelled on a stereotypical faithful-to-the-death black servant? There's the general style of his rhetoric, but also freshly in the beginning, in the tale in which he first appears, he talks to old Webster, his master, about the funeral and says it was "dignified like, sir". "Dignified like"? Why on earth would a robot be programmed to speak like that? Interestingly, although his style remained consistently "rustic vernacular" (as was that of a number of other characters, notably old men in earlier tales and Squatters), I didn't notice him making other such ungrammatical expressions.

I wouldn't push this very far. BUT--if you have seen a lot of old American movies, say from 1930s-1950s, with the black actors cast almost uniformly in service roles, I bet you know what I mean.

General comments, etc: It's an engaging, well written book, with some interesting themes. However, I can't believe that since 1952 there haven't been written other books just as accomplished, with similar themes, but less obnoxiously intruding old fashioned attitudes.

The structure is the problem. With other books with old-fashioned attitudes, say Clement's Needle form 1949, we are dealing with a single narrative, one time and place (and as it happens, contemporary to the period of writing). It is much easier to relativise those attitudes when we can explain how they are contained in one period, especially if that period happens to be the past. Even as a kid I had some dim notion that if all those ladies in long frilly dresses with sunshades had no jobs and no opinions worth having, and all the explorers and adventurers and important people were male, it was because "that's how it was THEN, but now it's different".

But in City we are served eight chronologically succeeding stories, in which the world is consistently seen as exclusive male domain, with men alone playing important roles, heck, practically ANY roles. It's like the experiment in this thread--if we understand each story as a new "book". And it's depressing.

However, what really makes me unwilling to "give this book to a kid"--mind you, the "younger kid"--is the bad science. I know--it's not something I would generally bring up as criticism in sci-fi. But, Lamarckism really gets my goat, and here it's invoked to explain the dogs' inheritance of the purely surgical changes Bruce Webster made to them; moreover, the ant biology was wrong, the premise about "forgetting" in hibernation being an obstacle to their evolution--and then presenting that evolution as consisting of ants turning somehow into ant "people", with carts, mining industry and chimneys... no, just no, I don't want to spread such ridiculous misconceptions about evolution.

Older kids--eh, let 'em find it on their own.

Jan 12, 2015, 10:59pm Top

>175 Lyndatrue:

Thanks, Lynda, I'm intrigued by your comments. I'll probably do at least one other Moorcock by and by (I believe I have at least a couple more), at least so I can have more than one "sample". But my gut feeling is that you're probably right.

It is interesting though, to consider his criticism of John Norman in the light of his own possible shortcomings. Perhaps Norman's misogyny is so extreme it can't be missed, or perhaps Moorcock's own views "evolved" some? I do like to think that people can learn and change their minds.

Jan 12, 2015, 11:02pm Top

Up next: Greybeard by Brian Aldiss

Jan 13, 2015, 10:49am Top

Behold the Man targets Religion, the depiction of women should not be taken as reflecting Moorcocks attitude to women but to his desire to subvert the characters traditional roles.

Jan 13, 2015, 11:04am Top

Clifford D. Simak came off pretty much as I pretty I expected. all the social development of the Jetsons. The bad science was the reason I suspected it would be unreadable... as to The loyal retainer theme. It is not something limited to America and by extension black people. but having said that the inability to move beyond that role does seem to compatable with attitudes towards black people at that time.

As to "dignified like, sir" I see this as simple authorial and editorial inattention.

Edited: Jan 13, 2015, 11:51am Top

>179 SimonW11: I'd like to present such things as Gloriana to further depict Moorcock's attitude towards women.

(Edited to remove morning crabbiness)

Edited: Jan 17, 2015, 11:33am Top

>179 SimonW11:

Pretty much all of the titles discussed "target" something other than women (and/or race etc.)--which does not prevent them from conveying misogyny (and/or racism etc.) Representation is the baggage that gets ferried in the text with or without specific intention.

the depiction of women should not be taken as reflecting Moorcocks attitude to women but to his desire to subvert the characters traditional roles.

What subversion of traditional roles? There's nothing more "traditional" than the misogynistic stereotypes he employed.

>181 Lyndatrue:

Crab away! :)

Edited: Jan 17, 2015, 1:00pm Top

No. 15

Greybeard by Brian Aldiss, (male, white)

Pub. date: 1964; Story date: 2029, and the 50-odd year span preceding it

A nuclear catastrophe having sterilized animal life on Earth, the human species seems slated for extinction as the ageing survivor population dies off.

Main character, titular character: Algernon (Algy) Timberlane, aka Greybeard

Secondary characters: Martha Timberlane, Algy's wife; Jeff Pitt, Timberlanes' hard-times companion; Charley Samuels, Algy's ex-comrade in arms; Becky and Towin Thomas, Timberlanes' acquaintances; Dr. Bunny Jingadangbelow, con man, god man.

Minor characters: Patricia and Arthur Timberlane, Algy's parents; Jack Pilbeam, Bill Dyson, Americans, operatives of DOUCH; Peter Croucher, self-styled dictator at Oxford; Norsgrey, old man of the woods; Dusty Dykes, American, male, creepy stand-up comedian; Norman Morton; Vivian; Gavin, Oxford college fellows (Christ Church); Joseph Flitch, farmer; Venice, female, Patricia Timberlane's friend; Keith Barrett, Patricia Timberlane's second husband; Gypsy Joan, female, leader of a group of survivors; many named and unnamed villagers, soldiers, cabbies etc.

Representation of women: This is another title with a strongly pronounced "traditional" characterization of women--not helped by the post-apocalyptic theme of a return to savage lawlessness, which, of course, spells nothing but gloom and doom for women.

To begin with the best, such as it is--Martha Timberlane is described sympathetically, and her tender and romantic relationship with her husband is clearly something we are meant to admire, even idealize. I did like Martha considerably, but it's glaringly obvious that all her virtues go toward creating a "perfect" woman for her husband. She is completely subservient to him. He decides what they'll do, when, how; she follows and waits around for him. Herself intelligent, she uses that intelligence mostly to come around to her husband's point of view (what a smart woman!)

And even so, he literally shuts her up several times, tells her to do as he says, not to question his decisions etc. The "shutting up" is something I have to emphasise because it happens frequently, to several female characters--in glaring contrast to the absence of such attitudes to men. It ranges from "You keep your trap shut, you old cow" within the first few pages to putting a finger on a woman's lips with a "Shhhh, sweetie..."--this last by a male character who boasts of being a playboy and finding a girl "more plastic than Silly Putty".

No female characters, in contrast to male characters, are shown in any professional capacity--except as whores. Moreover, it is clear that women in general are regarded as at least "potential whores". Morton, the Oxford fellow, tells Martha that her presence doesn't automatically make his chambers "a tavern". Charley Samuels' two sisters, with good jobs, take up prostitution after "the Accident". Sparcot, a small village with about a hundred old people, still boasts a village whore, sexagenarian though she is. Algy moans--to his wife--on the passing of youth, correction, young girls:

Nor are we ever going to see a nice fresh young twenty-year old girl pass us like a blessing in the street, with her little bum and tits like a banner.

Poetic, but also just another instance (there are many) of persistent objectification of women, even as sterility and old age renders them "useless" (yes, the notion of women being "used" appears several times).

Algy's mother Patricia is flirty, flighty, silly, weak for men and their natural victim.

Her friend Venice, as brief as her appearance (in a flashback) was, is actually the most sympathetic female character after Martha, simply for the friendly way she treats the little girl Martha.

Becky Thomas is the dominant partner in her marriage. While she doesn't do anything that would be noteworthy if a man were doing it--HER decision carries over her husband's, that's all--because she's a woman this is ridiculed and repeatedly pointed out. She's neither stupid nor mean, and her husband doesn't seem to mind being led rather than the leader. They actually seem as loving and well-adjusted a couple as the Timberlanes. But, hey. It's very funny and slightly shameful that Becky calls the shots.

Except, of course, around "Greybeard". He rules over his wife and he would rule over any chap's wife, so he "overrules" Becky when she and Thomas would rather go a different way. "Overrules", mind--not "persuades", "talks into" etc. "...Greybeard had overruled her."

In brief, women are as submissive and politically, professionally insignificant post-apocalypse as they clearly were before the apocalypse. They are cooks, mothers, wives, sex objects.

A single possible exception may be "Gypsy Joan", but her appearance is so brief and focussed it's hard to tell. She (a "tall, dark woman") and her group appear on a boat passing the village where the Timberlanes lived. Joan and her people are in big trouble, having been attacked and run off by the wild stoats. Some of her people are wounded and dying on that boat; others are trying to control a single reindeer, all their possession. The villagers attack them, there's a fight on the river, the reindeer gets away, mayhem ensues, Joan and the remains of her group get away... We hear no more about them, or Joan's role and character. I'm guessing that "Gypsy" probably meant more than a nickname, that she might have been a "gypsy" (traveller), thus explaining her spunk and independence.

Representation of race/ethnicity: No characters are positively defined as anything other than white. Algy has a thought, in the Washington chapter, about some "old Negro" he saw--I'm not sure who was meant, the cabbie I think? If so, a character with one line, somehting like "here you are, Mister".

In a flashback to Algy's military career, we see him while on the project of collecting children in India, in Assam; one "Naga boy" is mentioned as a desirable capture.

Representation of any kind of minority: Several characters exhibit disabilities of various kind, all results of radiation. While the freakishness of appearances is described in grotesque terms, it's understood these are possibly the humans of the future, as long as they can procreate.

Age may be mentioned in this context too. Since old humans are increasingly in the majority, they are of necessity more active. On the whole, you could say ageing has lost any stigma it might have had. Martha is widely recognised as a hottie even at fifty-four.

Everyone who's sexual is heterosexual.

Would I give this book to a kid: well, once again, I see no reason to fall over myself doing so if more choice were available, but, to an older kid, yes.

Jan 17, 2015, 12:53pm Top

Up next: The man who folded himself by David Gerrold

Edited: Jan 17, 2015, 7:09pm Top

>182 LolaWalser: I was not referring to gender roles but to religious roles. Specifically Marys portrayal subverts her religious portrayal.

Jan 18, 2015, 1:02pm Top

>185 SimonW11:

Sure does--and in a totally misogynistic manner.

Edited: Jan 18, 2015, 2:36pm Top

No. 16

The man who folded himself by David Gerrold (male, white, homosexual)

Publication date: 1973; Story date: 1975

Time travel has queer consequences.

Main character, POV character, first-person narrator: Daniel Eakins

Secondary characters: Daniel's time-travel variants, Danny, Don, Dean, Dino, Dion, Dana, Diane, Donna, older and younger versions of alternative timestream variants etc. Some are only mentioned or talked about, many are unnamed, but as they all can trace lineage to one "original" character, it seems appropriate to list them as "secondary" characters.

I don't have a consistent policy on spoilers (in general, I try not to reveal that the butler did it), so this may or may not be important, but Uncle Jim, another--oldest--version of Danny.

Minor characters: very minor indeed, but as there are so few non-Danny characters, might as well list both of them... Mrs. Petersen, Danny's friendly old lady neighbour; Jonathan Briggs-or-Biggs, Danny's lawyer.

Representation of women: Old Mrs. Petersen and Danny exchange a couple neighbourly-friendly lines.

Danny's female alter ego Diane is pretty much "traditionally" feminine, with some "boyishness" in her Danny senses (and likes). Alter ego Donna, who is unfortunately only mentioned, seems to be on the butch side of Danny, going by Diane's musing comparisons of what she gets from Danny vs. what she got from Donna.

Representation of race/ethnicity: None. At one point in Danny's narrative about his time-travelling existence, he mentions that there were times and places when HE was the "wrong" skin colour, eye shape, sex, but it's not clear whether in the past or future.

Representation of any kind of minority: There is a negative feeling about disability, as in one place Danny fears he might create a timestream in which he is paraplegic, or a "mongoloid idiot incapable of understanding".

Regarding sexuality, I was surprised to discover that (homo)sexuality, and androgyny in a way, is a major theme of the book. Overall, there is a positive, even affirming attitude to it. I would have been happier with the book if Danny's sexual self-discovery ended with his triumphant decision to "excise" the alter egos who expressed doubts about their homosexual inclination, or, if the succeeding heterosexual bit had been handled less "traditionally". What I mean by this, for example:

With Diane, I am limited to one role only, the physical determines it, I must be a man to her woman...

...and some not-very-convincing gushing about the marvellous "fit" a "real" man and a "real" woman make, etc.

In short, while homosexuality is liberating, allowing both partners to dominate and be dominated, to be "weak" and "strong", heterosexuality is shown in a constricting one-way dynamic, man on top, woman on the bottom, man strong, woman weak etc.

Still, Diane seems no less independent than Danny, and is not led by him in their relationship, choosing--just as he does--to spend time together only when both feel like it.

The hetero sex is explicit, homo sex is not. (Typical, no?) There are a couple mentions of pot smoking.

Would I give this to a kid: to an older kid, yes, but probably with some commentary. At a minimum something like: "Kid, this was super progressive half a century ago... not so much today."

Jan 18, 2015, 1:51pm Top

Up next: Omnivore by Piers Anthony

Jan 18, 2015, 2:21pm Top

I've been awaiting this review with interest, considering Gerrold's background. I am unsure as to whether you know that David Gerrold is homosexual, although I know that the fact is made clear in The Martian Child (easily one of my favorites, and I'm not normally much of a soft touch).

I'm expecting that you actually *did* know, and I'm just pointing out the obvious for others. Also, Time travel has queer consequences is one of the better short descriptions I've seen in a long while.

I think I'd say that When Harlie Was One was a far better work (in its day; it is very dated). Gerrold's an interesting guy.

Jan 18, 2015, 2:35pm Top

>189 Lyndatrue:

Thanks, no, actually I didn't know he was gay, although I suspected it while reading. The heterosexual dimension and relations of the story sounded a bit "pre-made", artificial.

I should perhaps mention here that the reason I haven't been noting authors' sexual orientations, although I have been noting race and gender, is that I feel we can be more certain about the latter than the former.

However, I think I shall start noting minority orientations, where there is positive knowledge of it (not just rumours), so if anyone knows I've missed other non-heterosexual authors so far (or indeed any other notable minority category regarding the authors), please let me know.

Edited: Jan 18, 2015, 2:43pm Top

Incidentally, would you say that the heterosexual timestream was something Gerrold felt forced to include in order to make the story palatable to the general public, or that he genuinely felt it was necessary for story's own sake? Maybe a bit of both?

In my view, the notion of Danny being a "circular being", giving birth to himself, necessitated the creation of female variants, but I wish one could be sure Gerrold wasn't influenced by anything other than the logic of the story, especially restrictions imposed by then-dominant values or fear.

Jan 18, 2015, 3:17pm Top

>190 LolaWalser: If I've known of other authors whose sexual orientation was well known, *and* I thought it might have bearing on your review, I'd have mentioned it (because I have no filter, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on the time of day, and who I'm around).

>191 LolaWalser: I don't think he added the heterosexual timestream for any reason other than that it was part of the story. He's been around a very long time (he's older even than I). It wasn't a work I cared for, but it was pretty daring for when it came out. It wasn't yet cool to be gay. To my knowledge, he's been out for a very long time.

I don't know that you can *not* be influenced by who you are, though. I don't believe those elements were introduced deliberately. I do think knowing this provides insight into why his female characters seem (at least to me) to be not well fleshed out.

Do you have anything by James Tiptree Jr. coming up? I'll be fascinated to see those reviews. Reading "The Women Men Don't See" staggered me (and at the time, no one knew much about Tiptree, least of all that it was actually Alice Sheldon doing the writing). I can remember staring at the author's name for perhaps 20 minutes, trying to comprehend how a man had written it.

Okay, enough rambling from me...

Edited: Jan 18, 2015, 3:50pm Top

>192 Lyndatrue:

Tiptree--I know I have one collection of stories, and I think there's at least one other in the stuff I haven't catalogued (and as it's a couple hundred titles now, not sure I will), but I don't think I have any novels of hers.

I had said I wouldn't do story collections, as I fear they'd be too unwieldy, but I might change my mind at least for the authors I have nothing by except those.

I'll keep my eye out for more stuff of hers, as well as those other titles by Gerrold you brought to my attention (thanks, btw). Now I'm curious about how/if he treats the same themes elsewhere.

Jan 18, 2015, 3:54pm Top

>190 LolaWalser:

However, I think I shall start noting minority orientations, where there is positive knowledge of it (not just rumours), so if anyone knows I've missed other non-heterosexual authors so far (or indeed any other notable minority category regarding the authors), please let me know.

Re: >105 LolaWalser: - Michael Moorcock's mom was Jewish.* I don't know whether or not he self-identifies as Jewish, however.

>192 Lyndatrue:

Have you read James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon? I've had a copy for a year or two; I keep meaning to read it, but I'm wondering if I shouldn't read some more of her fiction first (I've only read a short story or two of hers).

*source: http://corporatemofo.com/politics_and_other_bullshit/michael_moorcock_on_politic...

Jan 18, 2015, 4:36pm Top

>194 artturnerjr: I read the biography, and reviewed it. I strongly recommend it. Sometimes the author injects a bit too much of her perspective, rather than keeping it academic, but it's still very worth reading. The insight into her early childhood gave a whole new perspective on her adult life.

I remember the unfolding story when Alice Sheldon was discovered to be the true persona behind Tiptree, and I felt such pity for her to lose her privacy. Remarkable woman. They don't make very many like her.

Jan 18, 2015, 5:07pm Top

>195 Lyndatrue:

Remarkable woman. They don't make very many like her.

Agreed. Again, I haven't read a great deal by her, but what I have read is really pretty extraordinary; "Beam Us Home", in particular, had me reaching for the Kleenex box in record time.

Jan 19, 2015, 9:35am Top

Giving Gerrold to a child: I'd give them his later YA series starting with Jumping off the planet where gay relationships are pretty normalized. (However, his women are still really blah)

Tiptree: S/he is much better known for the short stories than the novels.

Jan 19, 2015, 12:13pm Top

>197 aulsmith: I concur with both of those statements. Gerrold wrote some very good YA novels. Let's not forget that he was the author behind The Trouble With Tribbles, one of my all time favorite Star Trek episodes.

Jan 19, 2015, 12:56pm Top

>198 Lyndatrue:

Speaking of the David Gerrold/Star Trek connection - one of the first "grown-up" books I ever read (or least one the first books I ever read that wasn't specifically target towards little kids) was a non-fiction book of Gerrold's called The World of Star Trek, which was a sort of "behind-the-scenes" book about the making of the show. I remember finding it quite fascinating at the time.

Jan 19, 2015, 5:02pm Top

At the risk of diverging from the topic, one of the differences between the original Trek and the franchise reboot was the fact that screenwriting in the intervening twenty+ years became much more formalised, resulting in TNG and later series having episodes written by professional screenwriters. One of the things that led me further down the route of written sf was seeing writers like Norman Spinrad, Harlan Ellison and Pierre Boulle credited with the scripts for Trek episodes.

Jan 21, 2015, 2:18pm Top

Jan 25, 2015, 2:58pm Top

No. 17

Omnivore by Piers Anthony

Pub. date: 1968; Story date: late 20th century

Intelligent alien fungi ("mantas") pose a threat to Earth's ecology.

Main characters: Subble, government agent, enhanced human; Vachel "Veg" Smith, ex-spaceman; Aquilon, female, painter; Calvin, palaeontologist; Pent and Diam, mantas with significant contact with humans, referred to as "he".

Minor characters: Hank and Job Jones, lumbermen, Veg's neighbours; other lumbermen; Joe, supervisor of the cellar farm in Aquilon's building; Star, Circe, Hex, Lin, briefly appearing named mantas, of which Circe alone is referred to as "she"; other unnamed mantas.

Representation of women: Woman, actually. She is, I quote, "young and astonishingly beautiful". Aquilon's physical attributes are much mentioned, especially in the first part of the book, and clearly form a major part of her appeal, although not all of it. Somehow all three male characters see past her "astonishing" physical beauty to appreciate the inner one even more. I can't decide who is more extraordinary here--she or the men. Aquilon is also tender, generous and brave, and gets to commit an act of great significance in the plot, so she's certainly more than ornamental. Still, being a fetching female unfortunately does mean that a lot of inane philosophising about the sexes occurs around her character.

For example, Veg the spaceman, used to using spaceman groupies, is inspired by his love of her to think thusly:

And if by some mischance he got her--would she then be no more to him than those contemptible others? Aquilon was a nice girl. What demon prompted him to dream of destroying her?

Not a pleasant view of love or sex, as "destruction". And if something else is meant as liable to destruction, like his notion that she is a "nice girl", it's even worse. Nice girls aren't supposed to want sex?

Making it worse, Aquilon herself confides to Subble that she feels "unclean", although there is not a breath of a reason or explanation for this. Subble does conclude to himself that all three--Veg, Aquilon and Calvin--have internalised some complexes, forcing certain compulsive behaviours on each of them, but it is noteworthy, I think, that only the woman expresses her problem directly in terms of lack of purity. As she tells Subble: "Veg and Cal are clean, in their ways, but I'm dirty, and I just can't choose which one to--to inflict myself upon."

Regarding sex and mantas, it's puzzling that one manta is referred to as a "she", when all the rest are referred to as a "he". They are sexless in the first place, meaning that referring to them as "he" is no less arbitrary--but then why not be consistent and stick to one pronoun? I guess it was just lazy inertia following the name--because this manta was named "Circe", it's a "she".

Representation of race/ethnicity: None.

Representation of any kind of minority: None.

General comments: In the first part of the book the style is so dreadful I almost chucked it. The worst are the bits regarding Aquilon, and as far as I'm concerned it begins with her name. I even wonder whether these were written by the same person--not that any notable literary heights were reached in the second part, only there wasn't so much awful guff, so many misused and impossible words ("incidental" instead of "accidental", "posturing" instead of "posing", "complimentary" instead of "complementary" etc. "Obtusity"? "Relentment"?) and pitiful pretension at a "literary" style.

Frankly, the reason I persevered was that it made me LOL continually.

Just a few of gems too many to count:

...Aquilon unplastered her bosom from his shoulder...()

Her blouse inflated and hair shot over her face in a rigid bonnet. She faced back still, a look of solemn excitement on her comely features...()

The truth was that he rather admired Aquilon's composure; it lent her features a classic splendor that few living women possessed. He had known many smiling females and respected none...()

It was true that he needed sex--but that was only the physical side of the coin. Sex was minutes; what about the hours remaining?

What indeed, you big lump.

Would I give this to a kid: as is true for most of these so far, I'd sooner tolerate it than enthusiastically, deliberately GIVE to someone. And in this case my reservations regarding style trump those regarding representation! But in terms of how the question is posed, I guess it must be a very grudging yes.

Jan 25, 2015, 3:04pm Top

Three more and the thread turns!

Up next: The planet explorer by Murray Leinster

Jan 30, 2015, 7:08pm Top

I suspect James H. Schmitz, might survive well.

Feb 1, 2015, 2:27pm Top

No. 18

The planet explorer by Murray Leinster (male, white)

Publication date: 1956; Story date: unspecified future

Four episodes of problem-solving on a planetary scale from the career of a Senior Colonial Survey Officer.

Main character, POV character, recurring character: Bordman (no first name given), Senior Colonial Survey Officer, male, white.

Other characters: Ken Herndon, Colonial Survey staff; Riki Herndon, female, Ken's sister and eventually Bordman's wife; Aletha Redfeather, female, "Amerind"; Ralph Redfeather, Aletha's cousin; Dr. Chuka, male, black African; Abeokuta, Sutata, T'Chka, Lewanika, other African colonial technical staff, all male; Northwind, Tallgrass, Spottedhorse, other "Amerind" colonial technical staff, all male; Huyghens, male, illegal colonist; Sitka Peter, Sourdough Charley, Faro Nell, Nugget, Huyghens' mutant super-intelligent bears (Faro Nell is only female); Semper Tyrannis, Huyghens' mutant eagle, male; Barnes, ship's officer, male; Sandringham, Sector Chief, male; Mr. Werner, Colonial Survey officer; unnamed skippers and ships' crews, colonial technicians, engineers and civilians, all male.

Representation of women: Although Leinster uses clichés to describe his two female characters, and Riki devolves into a stereotypical housewife and mother after her single "in person" appearance, both are intelligent, strong in adversity and, curiously, both provide some essential help in removing the threat in their respective stories. This may not seem like much, especially next to the corrosive influence of the clichés I mentioned, but it's far more than I've come to expect, so, on balance, I'd call this a "positive" representation. That said...

The clichés involve giving Riki drudge work (men don't have the patience for such tedious tasks, but girls who love those men do), having her be moody (inexplicable to the male sex), go from smiles to tears in a millisecond, stomp her feet in frustration etc.

Aletha is introduced as "a very lovely Amerind", praised and marvelled at for her extraordinary unfeminine qualities:

It was extraordinary that a girl could be so self-sufficient on a tedious space-voyage, and Bordman approved of her. She was making the journey to Xosa II as a representative of the Amerind Historical Society, but she'd brought her own book-reels and some elaborate fancy-work which--woman-fashion--she used to occupy her hands. She hadn't been at all a nuisance.

Note that the "girl" is a young woman--not actually a child--who is on a "business trip" same as Bordman, who is just another passenger on the ship, in no way responsible for or called on to approve or disapprove of the other passenger.

Nevertheless, Aletha herself is great, no matter how patronizingly she is treated. Once on the planet and facing the seemingly terminal threat to the colony, she remains calm, composed, even cheerful, going about her job with industry and competence, remaining collected and bright enough to connect usefully something she knows to the problem they are trying to solve.

Representation of race/ethnicity: The good--and frankly unexpected--news is that in a book of this vintage there's a story with many PoC characters, all of whom are important and shown positively, as builders, engineers, technicians and (Aletha) historians.

The bad news is that the filter through which they are seen is definitely dated. Xosa II is a hot, sandy planet and this is why it is being settled by Africans and "Amerinds", evolutionarily adapted to such places. Leinster exaggerates "racial" characteristics so much it's difficult to remember that human species is one. Bordman, the white Anglo-Saxon, collapses on landing although he is wearing a protective "heat-suit"--Aletha has no such problem, because she simply strips down to a bikini (beach wear, at any rate). Her cousin Ralph, an engineer, shows up in a "breech-cloth", sandals, with three feathers in a headband, riding a jeep side-saddle like a horse, and greets them with a "How!"

Dr. Chuka shivers in the heat that laid Bordman prostrate, he's used to something even hotter, like the "African" planet of Timbuk. Now that every "race" has a planet of their own (the Arabs got one that's nothing but sand and some oases, where they galumph around on camels and pray all day long), there is no more racial enmity. Can you say "separate but equal"?

All of this could yet be waved away as naive, 19th century picture-book stereotyping, if it were limited to description of clothes and heat resistance. Unfortunately, Leinster explicitly invokes racialist notions when he explains that these very intelligent, educated and skilled PoC colonists are incapable of solving the problem that threatens their survival because they are racially inclined to fatalism, to giving up. As soon as they understand the enormity of the problem, the Amerinds and the Africans fall to preparations for passing over, for a dignified, heroic death.

Bordman the Anglo-Saxon, physically a much less endowed specimen than they, nevertheless has the "racial" advantage of a nagging rationality and sheer fighting spirit.

This story could have been told simply from characters' points of view, as different temperaments, experiences, skills coming together to solve the problem, and it would have been a story worth telling. Bordman is interesting in that he's not at all a glamorous, posturing macho superman so common in genre fiction--just a public servant doing his job, bright enough but no genius, reliant on other people not only to save and support him, but to give him vital information. To have this character, this mode of being, reduced to "race", isn't just wrong, it's sheer pity and waste.

Other stories have no characters explicitly defined as PoC. Given Leinster's conspicuous stereotyping of these characters, and absence of such description elsewhere, I'm inclined to think that all the "understated" characters are white by default.

Would I give this book to a kid: not without a lengthy discussion. Here is exactly the typical sort of problem with old literature--stylistically, linguistically, narratively, it is really suitable only for a younger kid, but the ideas about society it incorporates or even flaunts are so dated and variously compromised it would take a seminar to explain their context, provenance and wrongness even to an adult.

For my part, I'm a sucker for any tale which hinges on colloidal chemistry, employs (correctly) terms like "adiabatic process", and urges you irresistibly to sketch a diagram of a problematic hydraulic system described as an "upside-down swamp" etc. If you know a nerdy kid like that, they might like this book. But I'm also an adult who is making a conscious effort to get rid of her blinders.

Honestly, this simply isn't children's lit any more. It's written itself out of current, daily experience into history.

Feb 1, 2015, 2:33pm Top

Up next: The invincible by Stanislaw Lem

Feb 2, 2015, 2:43pm Top

No. 19

The Invincible by Stanislaw Lem

Publication date: 1964; Story date: unspecified future

The crew from the interstellar ship Invincible investigate the disappearance of another ship on the alien planet Regis III.

Main character, POV character: Rohan, Invincible's navigator

Secondary character: Horpach, "astrogator", Invincible's commander

Other characters: Of the 83 men on the Invincible, no fewer than 44 are named and take part in action. Most of these men are scientists.

In addition to the men taking active part in the story, there are mentions of four other, "off screen" but named, one (presumably) the commander of the lost ship, and three scientists whose work is referred to.

Representation of women: None. There is a single instance of a reference to "mother", when some characters speculate that a dead man's retrieved last memory, actually a single stuttered word, may have been "mama". Without this, and disregarding any previous knowledge the reader may bring to a story involving human beings, one could reasonably conclude that the world these people come from and belong to consists of a single gender.

Representation of race/ethnicity/any kind of minority: There are no specific physical descriptions of any other than white people. The variation in names is clearly meant to indicate an "international" crew, but except for "Chen" (and some, like "Jarg" and "Eldjarn", that I can't recognise), few seem to be other than European in origin.

Would I give this book to a kid: Lem is one of my favourites, so, yes, I would. But it is exactly because of things like his routine erasure of women and its devastating implications that I'm pursuing this "study", why I would like anyone inclined to favour such books and authors to consider what it means when their vision of humanity and the future is not balanced by a progressive, egalitarian one.

Feb 2, 2015, 2:46pm Top

Up next: The kraken wakes by John Wyndham

Feb 3, 2015, 3:29am Top

>208 LolaWalser: I'll be interested to see what you make of this. It was always one of my favourites as a kid. I remember enjoying the fact that the woman Phyllis
actually did things, thought and planned ahead, rather than just being the stereotypical "love interest". It will be intriguing to see how it stands up to a modern reading.

Edited: Feb 3, 2015, 2:17pm Top

>208 LolaWalser: That might be the first book discussed here that I've read! It's not my favorite Wyndham, but he is a favorite author of mine. I don't remember about the role of women in this particular book, but I remember being interested in the somewhat old-fashioned representation of women in The day of the triffids. It shows a woman trying to hold on to a very strict division of labor (not wanting to try to repair something electrical, perhaps a generator?), and one of the men telling her that this is no longer acceptable, because life is a matter of survival now, so everyone must do whatever is necessary.

Feb 5, 2015, 1:28pm Top

>209 SChant:

I'm very fond of Wyndham myself and I'm glad to say this one stands well not only in comparison to most of this batch, but has real merits on its own.

>210 zjakkelien:

I don't recall very many details about the women in the Triffids but I think you're right--didn't she also have a classic hysterical attack etc.? I just looked at a bibliography and it may be noteworthy that The Day of the Triffids was published in 1951, before The kraken wakes. I should probably (re)read his other stuff before I try to summarise my take on his views in general, as there seems to be quite a variation in interest in female characters in his novels. What is certain is that he evinces a serious interest and perhaps regard for feminism at least in a few instances--already more than seems to be true for most male authors, especially of his generation.

Feb 5, 2015, 1:51pm Top

>211 LolaWalser: Consider reading The Chrysalids, aka "Re-Birth" (pity that LT wants to remove the hyphen in that, since it breaks the touchstone). When I was first reducing my library last year, it was one of the first SF books I set aside in the "never give this up" pile.

Feb 5, 2015, 2:13pm Top

No. 20

The kraken wakes by John Wyndham

Pub. date: 1953; Story date: contemporary, about a 5-year period

Aliens invade the Earth's seas; England sinks.

Main character, POV character, first-person narrator: Michael "Mike" Watson, journalist

Secondary characters: Phyllis Watson, Mike's wife and collaborator; Dr. Alastair Bocker, oceanographer; Captain Winters, officer of the Navy; Freddy Whittier, Michael's occasional boss.

Minor characters: Dr. Matet, oceanographer; Harold, Michael's friend; Tuny (Petunia), Harold's wife; Ted Jarvey, cameraman; Leslie Bray, recordist; Muriel Flynn, technical assistant; Johnny Tallton, pilot; Bill Weyman and Alfred Haig, Bocker's assistants; other scientific, military, technical staff (seemingly all male); other civilian and military boats' and ships' crews and command, including presumably PoC Indonesian, Caribbean, Brazilian ones.

Representation of women: Phyllis Watson's role is so important I considered categorising her too as a "main character", but in the end I think it is worthwhile to keep the distinction which the author himself had made when he chose Michael and not her as the narrator. Phyllis is not only attractive, clever and competent, she could very well be smarter than her beloved husband--AND this isn't played for laughs, nor does it diminish Michael (who congratulates himself at snagging such a prize). This sort of thing is usually the prelude to slapping the woman down, but not here. On the contrary, the relationship shown is the most ostentatiously loving and warm of any in Wyndham, reminiscent of the 1930s pairings of Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward, Nick and Nora Charles, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford--humour, arch dialogue, fond camaraderie. This is a marriage of equals.

Other two women appear in very minor roles, neither which seem to have anything to do with their gender per se. Tuny is a passionate anti-Communist who insists on blaming the Russians past all reason; Muriel Flynn is a redshirt victim, dead in the line of duty along with a couple of male colleagues. The huge predominance of male characters reflects the almost absolute dominance of men in the military, science, government, business etc. of the times.

Representation of race/ethnicity: None of the major and named characters seem to be anything other than white and British. There is an episode describing the plight of an Indonesian island and the fate of the Indonesian vessel dealing with the incident, where the action of the unnamed crew and command is given in detail.

But I was excited by Wyndham's direct comment about Western prejudice regarding the East:

Now, in common with most of my fellow-countrymen, though independently of foundation, I have the feeling that in Occident we construct, but in the Orient they contrapt. Thus the news of an oriental bridge collapsing, train leaving the rails, or, as in the present case, ship sinking, never impinges with quite the novelty its western counterpart would arouse, and the sense of concern is consequently less acute. I do not defend this phenomenon; I regard it as reprehensible.

Self-awareness! Fantastic. Moreover, just a few paragraphs later Wyndham ironises about the press' sexism, the tabloid penchant for the titillating drama of screaming women and women in night attire, women clutching at children etc. when, as it turns out, all the women "---and men---" (he adds pointedly) on board the vanished ship sank too fast to do more than barely wake up before dying.

Representation of any kind of minority: None.

Would I give this book to a kid: yes.

Feb 5, 2015, 2:22pm Top

>212 Lyndatrue:

I read it once before but I would certainly need to read it again!

I'm going to start a new thread with the summary of the 20 books discussed here, but everyone please feel free to keep commenting here.

Feb 6, 2015, 12:19pm Top

>213 LolaWalser: I do not defend this phenomenon; I regard it as reprehensible.

What "phenomenon" is being referred to here? The phenomenon of "the feeling that in Occident we construct, but in the Orient they contrapt" or the phenomenon of "the news ... never impinges with quite the novelty its western counterpart would arouse, and the sense of concern is consequently less acute."

In other words, is western prejudice reprehensible or is eastern indifference reprehensible?

Feb 6, 2015, 12:56pm Top

>215 jburlinson:

I don't know where you're getting the notion of "eastern indifference"?

To me it's clear that what Wyndham is talking about is Western prejudice that expects "the Orient" to be inferior, catastrophic, benighted.

There's another passage where he develops the theme at length, describing with great irony Europe's unpreparedness for natural disaster, because--obviously--catastrophes of the scale and nature of tsunamis etc. only happen to, er, other people, in less blessed regions.

Edited: Feb 19, 2015, 1:30pm Top

>215 jburlinson:, I had the same problem initially. I didn't see how the second sentence tied back to the first.

What Wyndham is saying requires breaking down:

- The Western belief is that Westerners carefully construct and Easterners just throw things together haphazardly
- So a Westerner is less surprised by the news of a disaster in the East than one that occurs in the West
- Rather than defending this phenomenon {i.e. the Western lack of surprise together with the Western associated beliefs}, he finds it reprehensible

(Edit: my attempt at clarity was no more clear than the original! I've tried again. I don't think he's speaking at all about what Easterners believe or feel.)

Feb 6, 2015, 6:21pm Top

>216 LolaWalser: I don't know where you're getting the notion of "eastern indifference"?

I'm getting it from the part of Wyndham's quote that says: "Thus the news of an oriental bridge collapsing, train leaving the rails, or, as in the present case, ship sinking, never impinges with quite the novelty its western counterpart would arouse, and the sense of concern is consequently less acute." (emphasis added) To me, this suggests that, in the Orient, people don't take as much care in building things and therefore are neither surprised nor much bothered when these things fall apart. If this is what Wyndham means, then he could be saying either: (1) it's reprehensible for orientals to take so little care when building things that might fall apart easily (with the implication that they don't really care all that much if or when things fall apart, ie. are indifferent to the fates of victims), or (2) it's reprehensible when occidentals make stereotyped generalizations such as "orientals don't really care all that much if or when things fall apart, ie. are indifferent to the fates of victims".

>217 Cecrow: Rather than defending this phenomenon {i.e. the lack of surprise together with the associated belief}, he finds it reprehensible

You seem to be saying that Wyndham finds the attitude displayed by orientals (ie. lack of surprise etc.) is reprehensible.

Whereas, Lola seems to be saying that the western attitude toward orientals (which assumes that the latter lack a sense of surprise with associated beliefs) is reprehensible.

It seems as if Wyndham could be saying either. But I haven't read the entire book, so I don't know how to place the passage quoted in >213 LolaWalser: in context.

Feb 7, 2015, 3:58am Top

To me it is abundantly clear that the attitude (sense of concern) is the one in the west. He is discussing news reporting in the west and our reactions to it.

Feb 7, 2015, 9:10am Top

It's pretty clear to me as well that Wyndham is critiquing Western prejudice.

He says his Western / Eastern belief is "independent of foundation" -- meaning baseless.

Then he says "Thus" accidents arouse less sense of concern.

... Anyway, Wyndham is an interesting writer. I'm glad to see this detailed discussion of his work. Consider Her Ways is another interesting Wyndham -- I'd be interested to see you take this one on too!

Feb 7, 2015, 10:30am Top

>217 Cecrow:, >219 anglemark:, >220 lquilter:


>218 jburlinson:

He really is not talking about "the orientals" lack of concern--this is a Western man consciously, auto-ironically speaking from a parochial, racist point of view--and acknowledging that such a view is reprehensible. And as I said, he adds more on the theme later on, if you really can't see the point in this passage.

Incidentally, shaking up Western complacency is not new for Wyndham--Day of the triffids already dealt with the kind of global threat that recognises no geographical and racial privilege--and in context (of the contemporary culture) that is already telling. But what's new here (to me anyway, and I haven't read everything he's written) is this direct calling out of prejudice.

>220 lquilter:

Just recently I was discussing Trouble with lichen and that one came up! I'm beginning to think Wyndham may call for a more focussed treatment--he's certainly good enough to warrant (and keep!) the attention.

Edited: Feb 7, 2015, 12:46pm Top

This passage is not about the oriental sense of concern but about the characters sense of concern when it comes to "orientals".

Edited: Feb 7, 2015, 1:31pm Top

>220 lquilter: He says his Western / Eastern belief is "independent of foundation" -- meaning baseless.

I noticed that phrase as well, and it, too, is somewhat more ambiguous than it may seem. You're right, "independent of foundation" might mean foundationless, or not rooted in experience.

But this phrase occurs in the following context: "in common with most of my fellow-countrymen, though independently of foundation,..." Wyndham could be saying, and probably is saying, that the speaker's feeling, which is the same as the the feeling of his fellow-countrymen, is baseless and predicated only on shared prejudice. However, use of the word "though" gives the reader the opportunity to consider that the speaker is in some way contrasting his feeling with that of his fellow-countrymen -- as if he were saying, "I share the same feeling as my fellow-countrymen, however I arrived at that feeling independently of the rest of them, ie. my feeling might be founded in experience, whereas theirs is merely founded in shared prejudice."

If one looks at it that way, then the door is open to further ambiguity as to what exactly is considered to be reprehensible. If the speaker is saying that his belief is founded in experience (which I'll admit has probably less than a 5% chance of being a correct reading), then it's also possible that the speaker is explaining to the reader why he feels that orientals are less concerned with "constructing" than with "contrapting", and, consequently, less worried about the consequences of shoddy work.

However, this reading is obviously a minority reading and one with a low likelihood of being "true". My only point is that there is a smidgen of uncertainty. If Wyndham had wanted to make the point absolutely clear, he would have written: "in common with most of my fellow-countrymen, and independently of foundation,..."

Feb 7, 2015, 3:31pm Top

223> This is exactly the problem God had when he wrote the Bible.

Edited: Feb 7, 2015, 6:04pm Top

>223 jburlinson:

I think what's certain is that in your opinion there's "a smidgen of uncertainty" as to Wyndham's meaning. You are clearly bent on misreading this passage; why, I've no idea. I suppose I can do no more than suggest you read the whole book although considering how you ignored the rest of my response, I'm guessing you prefer to stick to your "smidgen of uncertainty". You don't seem to like clarity and certainty in general. :)

>224 SimonW11:

Except Wyndham is about as limpid and clear a writer as they come. In fact, I've seen this mentioned as a failing.

Feb 7, 2015, 6:33pm Top

>225 LolaWalser: You don't seem to like clarity and certainty in general.

I don't dislike them; but they do make me uneasy. All too often, clarity and certainty lead a person to do bad things.

Of that, I am fairly certain. :)

Feb 7, 2015, 6:39pm Top

>225 LolaWalser: Just to put my oar in (again, and because I cannot resist)...

I believe I've red most everything Wyndham has written. Although some of the theories and technical details feel a bit dated now and then, the writing itself, and the character development, ring as true as they ever did. I read Re-Birth (aka The Chrysalids) at a fairly young age, and then went looking for other things he'd written. He gave me hope for the future. I am glad that he didn't live to see what a mess we've made of things. He saw men and women as valuable and equal, and had a prescient view of how blind we become when we don't move outside our comfort zone of the culture we've been raised in.

He's a keeper.

Edited: Feb 8, 2015, 12:14pm Top

The interesting thing is that he is absolutely of his era. His view never seems "advanced","progressive" ahead of his time" or radical, but simply decent.

Feb 7, 2015, 7:27pm Top

>228 SimonW11:

I like that, "simply decent", I think it's true. And maybe even more worthy of regard, when one remembers how many "literary" greats of his time seemed to be blind to prejudice or even revel in ostentatious, piggish snobbery and worse.

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