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Ammonite by Nicola Griffith

Ammonite (1992)

by Nicola Griffith

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Marghe has an opportunity to travel to the newly rediscovered planet nicknamed "Jeep," where a virus killed all the male colonists and some of the women, resulting in an all-female society that has developed in primitive conditions over generations. When she arrives, though, she finds herself connecting with the planet and the women who live there in unexpected ways.

Marghe's character, as our guide to the world of Jeep, was particularly well-developed. I was intrigued early on by learning of her long practice of meditation and extensive work with biofeedback. These qualities make her very receptive to the unique aspects of Jeep's ecosystem, which helps believability, particularly when it comes to the issue of reproduction. I related well to the searching qualities of Marghe's character and how she grows into herself after coming to Jeep. The environment there is uniquely suited to self-discovery, if the individual is open to it.

Jeep is an interesting world that seems very real. The alien life and weather patterns are truly alien, and Griffith describes the planet's environment in almost sensual terms. While in many ways Jeep seems a paradise, it is not a utopia by any means. Life can be very difficult there, particularly in the frozen northern region. Jeep seems more like a real place than an ideal escape from Earth's gender-based social problems.

With the non-gendered names and large cast, it is easy to forget when reading Ammonite that every character is a woman. That's not to say that some characters are actually men in disguise. I never felt this was true. Instead, Griffith explores the entire range of human behavior in her characters. Some characters are wise mentors. Some are stern leaders who hide their self-doubts. Some are selfish, stubborn, impulsive, or even corrupt. Marghe is particularly traumatized when she is kidnapped by a northern tribe who then treat her more as an animal than a person. Even though these characters all come across as fully human, their social structure has evolved in a radically different way, with what I think may be seen as a more feminine (or more humane) outcome. The characters are more forthright and open with one another, particularly on issues of love and family. Kinship and other relationships are extremely important and are also fluid, not wholly dependent on having a genetic connection. Disputes are arbitrated and resolved mostly without violence. Storytelling and art are valued as true professions worthy of communal support. There is violence, but violence is seen as an aberration and not inevitable. This is a compelling vision of what a world can be. ( )
  sturlington | Apr 26, 2016 |
The colony of The Company have been ravaged by a virus that has a 100% mortality rate for men and 20 % for the women. All the local inhabitants, survivors of the original expedition over 300 years ago are women.

Into this comes anthropologist Marguerite Tasihen, known as Marghe. She will be testing the new anti-viral drug that hopefully will enable others to come to the planet and for the colonist to get off. If it doesn’t work then they are all trapped on Jeep.

Questions remain as to how a planet of women can continue to reproduce? What is their immunity secret?

Marghe attempts to find answers to these questions by heading out alone into the interior where several of her fellow colonists have disappeared. This is the equivalent of the horror film where you yell at the vulnerable young lady not to go outside, alone, in the dark without a torch, while the serial killer is prowling around.

This is well written. The characters are fully developed and the story is told from more than one viewpoint.

There are a few holes in the plot, nothing to ruin the story, just an annoying niggle where you want someone to explain about the … ( )
  Robert3167 | Mar 23, 2016 |
Didn't finish. I've liked Griffith's work before, but I just couldn't care about the main characters. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
I really liked this book. I chose it because it won the James Tiptree Jr. award, which is "an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender." The world building was interesting and I liked the transformation of the protagonist - I could idenify with her struggles to figure out what she *really* wanted to do with her life. This has sort of anthropological elements to it, which was cool for me as a social science glutton. It didn't change my life, but it was very thought-provoking and took me to another place. ( )
  chessakat | Feb 5, 2016 |
I enjoyed this from first page to last, and it’s different enough for a five. I like its attitudes: for one, how it takes a spanner to our sacred biology. Here a virus enhances our senses and by accident grants us more control over the body. Bring it on.

The story is of an anthropologist who learns the wisdom to go native. Its theme, I’m told, is change, and I can see that: change to escape extinction, on a personal level (the main, among others), or a cultural (a group of horse nomads on the planet becomes destructive/self-destructive because their way of life has ceased to fit their environment), or biological. The main already has taught herself exercises to school her body functions, and she is still traumatised from the time she had her face rearranged – even though she looks unlikely at first, closed-up and scientific, she’s just the one to make the leap of identity, lead the military remnants out of the compound, into the risks and gains of the new. I cared about secondary cast (Aoife) and thought bit parts deftly portrayed (Twissel). For much of the novel I forgot about its messages and had a romp with the adventure. The writing, besides, has a lovely way with descriptions.

Although my copy doesn’t have the author’s note (bummer) I see around the traps that she wrote this, or began to write this as an experiment, in that it only has women in the cast. As Ursula Le Guin said, “But a lot of books, like Moby Dick, eliminate one gender, and yet nobody thinks anything about it.” Women readers grow up used to this – I’m a major fan of Moby Dick – and identify with ease with male characters. But I guess you need science fiction to get aboard a whale ship of women. I choose to see as half-humour, half-homage, the plot whereby she kills off the men with a virus, as Joanna Russ had to do on Whileaway to study women on their own. Men once eliminated, she just goes on as usual, she doesn’t note their absence, they’re not discussed, the book’s not about them for better or for worse. If it was an experiment, then it did its job on me. Four or five times I forgot that we only have women on the planet: a bunch of sailors, a draggle of kids; I pictured males for a moment, and then went, oops. I’m ashamed to say it may have been the rowdy sailors or the bratty kids that popped up a male image in my head. Which means the book wasn’t wasted on me, I needed the exercise. I see that Griffith was moved or provoked to write this by the state of the portrayal of women in speculative fiction in the early 90s. I wasn’t paying attention at the time. What I did notice, though, was that the feminism we had perfect faith in when I was at university – namely, that there are no innate differences between the sexes, there is only socialisation – vanished without much of a trace that I saw in my society; even on campus people embraced their gender distinctions, and the world was never so pink and blue. It’s been a sore puzzle in my life – that change – so if she felt the need to pull out Joanna Russ at them again, I can understand. ( )
1 vote Jakujin | May 10, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nicola Griffithprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sleight, GrahamForewordmain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Herrmann, IngridTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jensen, BruceCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevenson, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Kelley, who fills my life with grace
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Marghe's suit was still open at neck and wrist, and the helmet rested in the crook of her left arm.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Change or die. These are the only options available on the planet Jeep. Centuries earlier, a deadly virus shattered the original colony, killing the men and forever altering the few surviving women. Now, generations after the colony has lost touch with the rest of humanity, a company arrives to exploit Jeep–and its forces find themselves fighting for their lives. Terrified of spreading the virus, the company abandons its employees, leaving them afraid and isolated from the natives. In the face of this crisis, anthropologist Marghe Taishan arrives to test a new vaccine. As she risks death to uncover the women’s biological secret, she finds that she, too, is changing–and realizes that not only has she found a home on Jeep, but that she alone carries the seeds of its destruction. . . .
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345452380, Paperback)

In Ammonite, the 1994 James Tiptree Jr. Award winner, the attempts to colonize the planet Jeep have uncovered a selective virus that kills all men and all but a few women. The remaining women undergo changes that enable them to communicate with one another and the planet itself, and give to birth to healthy, genetically diverse children. Marguerite Angelica Taishan is an anthropologist who realizes this phenomena and makes the decision to give herself up to the planet to uncover its mysteries.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:12 -0400)

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