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Reading the oldies (pre-1994): would you give this book to a child? v. 6

Science Fiction Fans

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Edited: May 9, 1:27pm Top

The impetus for this thread arose in this discussion: Science Fiction for Children?

I explained what I was aiming to explore in the first post in the first instalment of the thread:

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

In brief, the focus of the thread is character representation in science fiction and fantasy published before 1994. The analyses, at least those produced by me, are NOT meant to be reviews--be prepared, for instance, to see literary, pioneering, technical etc. aspects of the work neglected, while any number of what may seem minor points could be discussed in detail.

Everyone is invited to contribute, whether you adopt the format I follow (in which case your information will be added to the summaries) or not.

Discussion of the premises or how they affect any given title, situation etc. is always welcome.

The summary of links: titles 1-20; titles 21-40; titles 41-65; titles 66-100.

A searchable collection of titles up to date: SFF-LT-Read.

Links to titles 101-120. The numbers are links to posts; the titles are touchstones. Asterisks (*) indicate authors awarded the "Grand Master" title by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

101. They shall have stars by James Blish
102. Why Call Them Back From Heaven? by Clifford D. Simak*
103. The Sword of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett
104. The Final Circle of Paradise by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
105. In the days of the comet by H. G. Wells
106. Fee, fei, fo, fum by John Aylesworth
107. The Primal Urge by Brian Aldiss*
108. Gather, Darkness! by Fritz Leiber*
109. The Return by Isidore Haiblum
110. The Pride of Chanur by C. J. Cherryh
111. Star Well by Alexei Panshin
112. The Computer Connection by Alfred Bester*
113. Servants of the Wankh by Jack Vance*
114. I am legend by Richard Matheson
115. Orbitsville by Bob Shaw
116. Communipath Worlds by Suzette Haden Elgin
117. Timescoop by John Brunner
118. The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke*
119. What Mad Universe by Fredric Brown
120. A Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick

Edited: May 9, 3:32pm Top

A basic analysis of representation in the first 120 works and their authors.

There were 120 titles by 95 unique authors (note: for the purposes of this post, brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are considered a "single author"). Author sex, race, orientation, minority status are given according to what information was available; please add or correct if possible.

A number following an author's name (e.g. Vance 2) means that there have been multiple works by that author, so that they need distinguishing by the order in which they came up (Vance 2=the second title by Jack Vance).


Women: 13/95 ; 14% (Norton; Randall; Dibell; Tepper; St. Clair; Hambly; Lee; Steele; Le Guin; Holly; Brackett; Cherryh, Elgin)

Persons of colour (PoC): 0/95 ; 0%

Relative minority, sexual orientation: 4/95 ; 3.8% (Gerrold; Clarke; Disch; Cherryh)

Other relative minority: 0/95 ; 0%


a) Main characters

Women: 7/120 ; 6% (Panshin; Pratchett; Lee 1 and 2; Steele; Varley; Cherryh)

PoC: 5/120 ; 4.2% (Norton; Heinlein; Panshin; Dickson; Pratchett)

Relative minority, sexual orientation/gender: 2/120 ; 2% (Gerrold; Varley)

Other relative minority: 0/120 ; 0%

b) Works with ANY appearance of:

Women: 114/120 ; 95% (none in Norton; Lem; Clarke; Campbell; Van Vogt 2; Lafferty)

PoC: 52/120 ; 43%

Relative minority, sexual orientation/gender: 22/120 ; 18.3% (Leiber; Brunner; Gerrold, Farmer, Moorcock; Randall; Ballard; Asimov; Robinson; Leiber 2; Pohl; Silverberg; Disch; Le Guin; Sturgeon; Kotzwinkle; Lee 2; Gernsback, Varley; Aldiss 3; Bester; Dick 3)

Other relative minority: 7/120 ; 5.8% (Moorcock; Stapledon; Tepper; C. Smith; Dick 2; Vance 2; Robinson)


What are the attitudes to non-heterosexual/transgender characters and behaviour?

--Positive/tending to positive: 11/120 ; 9% (Gerrold; Randall; Tepper; Pohl; Disch; Sturgeon; Lee 2; Gernsback; Varley)

--Negative/tending to negative: 14/120; 12% (Leiber; Farmer; Brunner; Moorcock; Farmer 2; Wilson; Leiber 2; Silverberg; Le Guin; Kotzwinkle; Strugatsky 2; Bester; Brunner 4; Dick 3)


What are the attitudes to characters in other discriminated-against categories?

--Positive/tending to positive: 3/120 ; 2.5% (Stapledon; Tepper; Robinson)

--Negative/tending to negative: 3/120 ; 2.5% (Moorcock; Dick 2; Vance 2)

For the last 100 titles I looked at whether there were Bechdel test (BT) and reverse Bechdel test (r-BT) passes and fails. Overall, there were r-BT passes (at least two male characters conversing about something other than women) in 95% of the cases, but BT passes (at least two female characters conversing about something other than men) happened only in 23% of the cases, even with the lowest standards for conversation (e.g. a mere two lines such as "Where are you from?" "I don't know.")

Edited: May 9, 3:24pm Top

Edited: May 13, 1:52pm Top

No. 121


The Green Gene by Peter Dickinson

Publication date: 1973 ; Story date: contemporary

Cover blurb: "When the Irish and the Scots turned green!"

Main character: P. P. Humayan AKA Pete, Indian, medical statistician, PoC

Secondary characters: Dick Mann, official at the Race Relations Board (RRB); Francis Leary, journalist; Dr. Gideon Glister, Humayan's host; Glenda Glister, 16 year old, the Glisters' younger daughter; Kate Glister, Glenda's older sister; Sirri Palati, male, Indian, restaurant owner, PoC; Zachariah Zass, American ambassador, Jewish.

Minor characters: Mrs. Glister; Moirag McBain, green, Glisters' maid; Tarquin ffoster, Mann's subordinate at the RRB; Anna Lewis, green, member of a political group; Selina, prostitute in a brothel; The Director, top official at the RRB.

Many other named and unnamed mostly "Celtic" (Irish, Scottish, Welsh) characters, male and female.

Representation of women: Reflecting the times. Men hold all the positions of power and prestige, in larger society as well as within the subversive groups. Women, however, aren't depicted particularly unsympathetically. Humayan does think of Glenda seriously as a witch, but in a way that's a tribute to her forcefulness and intelligence. Anna Lewis, described as "very intelligent", is chosen for a dangerous mission thanks to her courage and competence.

Representation of race and ethnicity: I'm out of my depth here, I know little about the Irish/Scottish/Welsh history and understand even less. Someone better informed would no doubt notice more than I did and be able to comment more interestingly. Clearly, the "Celtics" are pitted against the "Saxons" in an oppressive society in which the latter discriminate against the former. In the analogy with, say, the USA, the Saxons would be whites and the Celtics blacks. (The American ambassador refers to them as "pickles" and their green offspring as "pickleninnies".) The green phenotype is easy to pick out for the purposes of discrimination, but some apparent whites have a dormant green gene and are actually "Celtics". Similar to how "one drop of blood" concept in America is used to separate whites from "white-appearing" "blacks".

A slew of "Celtic" subversive factions are engaged in guerrilla/terrorist warfare against the Powers That Be but also against each other. Bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, torture are part of the daily routine.

While the Brits are satirised, both Indian characters, for all their quirks and failings (superstition, lechery) are shown as better people than most of the rest. British, or English society (most of the action happens in London) is shown as deeply racist, with Humayan getting racist abuse from both the whites and the "greens". The oppression of the latter is powerfully indicted but without sentimentality or idealisation.

Representation of any kind of minority: There's a mention of two gay men at a party, "two Christian queers" (so quips the 16-year-old Satanist, Glenda). The Director at the RRB is gay and carrying on with an employee. Humayan uses this information to suit himself but without a sense that he objects to homosexuality.

Bechdel test (BT) and reverse Bechdel test (r-BT): BT fail, r-BT passes.

Not a book for a small kid, but I liked it a lot. Funny and moving. A keeper.

May 13, 1:46pm Top

Up next: Seetee Ship by Jack Williamson

Aug 20, 7:47pm Top

No. 122


Seetee Ship by Jack Williamson

Publication date: 1951 ; Story date: 2190

Colonists in outer space attempt to exploit antimatter.

Main character: Rick Drake, spatial engineer

Secondary characters: Karen Hood, niece of Interplanet Inc.'s boss; Paul Anders, captain, Interplanet's spatial engineer; Ann O'Banion, Rick's childhood friend

Minor characters: Austin Hood, High Commissioner; Rob McGee, engineer; Mikhail Ivanovich Protopopov, ship captain; Luigi Muratori, Protopopov's crewman; Suzuki Omura, Protopopov's crewman; other all male characters.

Representation of women: Both Karen and Ann are intelligent, competent, working women. They are very much love interests and secondary to the men, but no less admirable for that. Pretty amazing when I think of the usual treatment.

Representation of race and ethnicity: Protopopov, Muratori and Omura are lazy stereotypes--the Ukrainian a stupid big bear with sly cunning eyes, the Martian-Italian small, dark, shifty-eyed, the Venusian-Japanese "toothy, bespectacled, efficient little man"--truly a cartoon characterisation.

Representation of any kind of minority: Muratori has a limp, unclear if congenital or from some injury.

Bechdel test (BT) and reverse Bechdel test (r-BT): BT fail, r-BT passes.

Would I give this book to a kid: yes. Clumsy writing, the big enigma's solution is all but signposted from the start, but still fun.

Aug 20, 7:48pm Top

Up next: Spaceling by Doris Piserchia

Aug 21, 9:18pm Top

Wow, it's been a while, Lola! Has it been a busy summer?

Aug 21, 9:31pm Top

>8 ronincats:

Urk, yes--annoyingly busy, but truth be told, the real problem is finding heart for this, when we're living in this insane homicidal clown show... 😖😵🤡😱😱😱

Aug 21, 10:28pm Top

>9 LolaWalser: I suppose that it helps to be old, at least right now. I lived through Nixon (and having the phone tapped, and mail opened in such a way that there was no doubt). We have, right now, someone who is crazy, but our advantage (and disadvantage) is that he's dumb.We just have to survive the next two years, and then it will be generational in the knowledge. I hope to be gone before our country is in this fix, again.

I feel that we owe the world an apology.

In lighter news, Doris Piserchia is a writer I'd not heard of, and after looking a bit, I went out and bought three of her works (local, independent book store). One of them happens to Spaceling, so I'd better get busy before you post about it.


Aug 22, 10:13am Top

I hadn't heard of her before either, I'm enjoying the book so far. Really like the travelling + transforming between dimensions.

Aug 22, 12:51pm Top

>9 LolaWalser: Please don't let current events interfere with my favourite LibraryThing thread! I need this stuff to cheer me up, more so now that Boris Johnson is somehow Prime Minister! No matter, I feel like he will be gone by Christmas.

Aug 22, 1:52pm Top

>7 LolaWalser:. I read Spaceling when I was a kid. I don't remember a lot of the plot details, but I remember that I liked it. I might go back and reread it to compare my thoughts with yours.

Aug 22, 2:59pm Top

Aww, it's so cool to see the interest... makes me feel guilty about the delays and how bare-bones it all is... I promise to make a better effort.

Aug 22, 3:35pm Top

Lola, what an amazingly cool project, I'm so glad I paged through my Talk module for the first time in ages today! I wish I'd known about it sooner, but now I can dig through the older posts and threads to catch up :)

Aug 22, 3:43pm Top

>15 kgriffith:

Oh myyy, thanks!--honestly, it was a totally hackneyed idea even back in the last ice age when it started (were we ever so young once?) but if you do look at the original discussion it may justify it a little... It's amazing how much has changed in the last few years...

Still, Dead Horse Flogging Dept.--yep, that's us, open until the last tree burns down or a nuke goes off, whichever happens first. :)

Aug 22, 3:43pm Top

Doris Piserchia is bonkers. Well, her fiction is. But in a good way. They haven't always aged well but they're always fun to read.

Aug 22, 10:20pm Top

>16 LolaWalser: I did, though I admit to skimming and didn't do a deep dive into the arguments -- I've heard/made them all at one point or another myself :) It was a timely thread despite its origination date because just this morning I saw a Litsy post about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which I listened to with my brother while we were packing and moving house last summer. We didn't finish it together and I bailed on it because I didn't read any straight white dudes in 2018 unless their work was assigned. The Litsy review acknowledged the problematic themes, but also the philosophical questions it raised, and I did find his world-building quite cleverly done, so I put a library hold on the audio and will probably finish it after all.

Edited: Aug 23, 7:53am Top

Hmm, I have Earth in Twilight but I haven't read it. Hmm, 40 members, but no reviews. Not a good sign :-)

Aug 23, 11:18am Top

The following contains mild spoilers.

No. 123


Spaceling by Doris Piserchia

Publication date: 1978 ; Story date: unspecified future

Mutant humans travel between different dimensions.

Main character: Daryl, "muter", 14 year old, female

Secondary characters: Gorwyn, male, director of Mutat, a school for "muters"; Kisko, male; Croff, male; Lamana, female, Native American; Padarenka and Mikala, AKA "Pat and Mike", twin sisters, Gorwyn's "runners"; Tedwar, male; Wheaty, male; Deron, male

Minor characters: Erma, female; Bass, female, Erma's henchwoman; Olger, female, Daryl's housekeeper; Deider, female, fisherwoman; Lieutenant Solvo, Lamana's father, Native American; Dr. Oregon, male, Native American; Chameleon, female, Native American; Bud Jupiter, male; Orfia Kint, female. Other male and female characters, named and unnamed.

Representation of women: There's a moderate preponderance of men in authority roles, but also a sense that women might appear in any of them too. For me this is conveyed especially in the way minor female characters pop up all the time even in "unusual" professions--farmhand, fisherwoman, gangster--or as drivers of plot. I think this is one of the instances where being a woman makes a difference for an author--men might remember to include a "leading lady" (usually, though, in tandem with the main male character), but rarely populate the bigger picture with men and women equally. IOW, I'd say men's stories much more than women's tend to the "Smurf village" view of the world--a bunch of dudes with only one or few women around.

So, here we have a world where men and women are agents and players about equally. Daryl is pursued and victimised by men and women. The worst villain, at least in terms of physical violence, is a woman, but so is Daryl's best friend.

Representation of race and ethnicity: There is a group of Native American characters, and a couple throwaway references to them that nowadays appear a tad insensitive ("redskin", "are you going to scalp me?") but there is no doubt that they are presented as admirable and basically the only good people.

Representation of any kind of minority: Nothing explicit, although there might be some hints that make "shipping" Daryl and Lamana seem like the thing to do. (Shipping (fandom))

Bechdel test (BT) and reverse Bechdel test (r-BT): A rare occurrence--there are multiple BT passes involving a variety of female characters! I'm used to seeing at most just two female characters passing this test; this could be a first of a kind, actually. Multiple r-BT passes too.

Would I give this book to a kid: yes.

Aug 23, 11:23am Top

Up next: Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

Aug 23, 4:57pm Top

>21 LolaWalser: One thing to take into consideration is that 9PinA is the first book in a series of 5 (and in turn is the first series of 2). If you can, read the series as a whole.

Aug 24, 11:28am Top

I have thought for a while that the Amber series would translate well to cinema- especially the Nine Princes first book. I like the transition from an established boring existence to a twist in reality with mutant extraterrestrial hounds bounding in through a window.

Some of last books in the series are a little less stellar IMOHO.

Aug 24, 1:29pm Top

>22 Maddz:

Hmm, I believe I have all five books but wasn't aware there was yet another series linked to it... eek.

>23 DugsBooks:

Yes, one third in, and the "visuals" are striking and very beautiful.

Edited: Aug 24, 2:15pm Top

>24 LolaWalser: The second series is the subsequent generation and as >23 DugsBooks: comments is not as good as the initial 5. I would recommend reading the first 5 as a unit and only read the second 5 if you wish.

There’s also 4 prequels by John Gregory Betancourt about which the least said the better.

Aug 27, 12:34pm Top

No. 124


Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

Publication date: 1970 ; Story date: contemporary

A battle for succession takes place on various planes of reality.

Main character: Corwin, prince of Amber

Secondary characters: Princes, Corwin's brothers: Random; Julian; Bleys; Eric

Minor characters: Princes, Corwin's brothers: Caine; Brand; Princesses, Corwin's sisters: Florimel (Flora); Deirdre; Moire, queen of Rebma; Rein, male, minstrel; Dworkin, male, grand artisan of Amber; Jopin, male, lighthousekeeper; Oberon, Corwin's father; Carmella, PoC, Florimel's maid on Shadow Earth; other mostly male characters.

Representation of women: Women are throughout in subordinate and minor roles in a way that seems to assert that their standing is not the same as that of the men. Only the princes seem to be able or allowed to compete for the throne, with the women limited to throwing their support behind one or another male. As Deirdre says, although Eric imprisoned her, she managed to escape because her "sex and lack of ambition" made him guard her less carefully.

The assymmetry is established at the very start, with Oberon's fifteen sons and only eight daughters. Moreover, while they all had the same father, they have different mothers, so presumably there is some system of polygyny and concubinage in place.

All talk of heritage mentions only fathers and males, as if men gave birth to men.

Both Corwin and Random (the latter twice) refer to their sisters as "bitches" (Corwin: "What of my sisters? Forget it. Bitches all, they.") and while presumably there accumulate many reasons for bitterness in a nest of vipers such as is Amber's royal family, these outbursts don't connect for us to anything specific, justifiable. If anything, we only see both Florimel and especially Deirdre give aid and support to Corwin and Random. Even the "off-stage" Llewella is helpful, providing information.

Moire takes Corwin to bed which he gloats about caddishly ("I gave her her ballad"). Still, he seems to be the only "nice" one among the brothers. Random had driven Moire's daughter to suicide and in punishment, Moire demands that he marry a blind woman of her court at least for one year. Corwin commiserates with the unknown blind woman in advance (one can't help wondering just what horror does Random get up to with women?) and goes so far as to promise Random regency and more if only he would treat her well.

Representation of race and ethnicity: Florimel's maid is Puerto Rican and "mole-flecked with a swarthy complexion". She doesn't "speak". Neither do the "big red guys", a red-skinned people, who form Bleys' army and who see Corwin and Bleys as, literally, gods. They also like warmth and suffer very much from the cold. I suppose it's up to the reader to decide if they can be read as a wholly alien fantasy people, or if they remind you of something. Me, they can't help reminding me of something.

And so does Dworkin. He's a five-foot tall hunchback with a long hooked nose and beady black eyes. The mystical cards and patterns that guide communication and travel between the planes and members of the royal Trumps are all his doing. He chatters and giggles and seems as buffoonish as he's brilliant.

Representation of any kind of minority: As mentioned, Dworkin is a hunchback and more or less a kind of "medievalising" cliché. I guess you could count it an improvement in that he's a brilliant creator and not just an amusing servant. But he is ALSO the amusing servant. Is he also somewhat... Jewish-y? Gypsy-like? It's gonna be subjective, but I do get some jenesaisquoi-s thataway.

Bechdel test (BT) and reverse Bechdel test (r-BT): BT fail, lots of r-BT passes.

Would I give this book to a kid: yes.

Aug 27, 12:40pm Top

Up next: Algorithm by Jean Mark Gawron

Edited: Sep 1, 12:32pm Top

The following contains spoilers... probably.

No. 125


Algorithm by Jean Mark Gawron

Publication date: 1973 ; Story date: unspecified future

A killing game is afoot... and no one knows the rules.

Main characters: Danton, Proet, male, possibly black? ; Wunderdamen AKA Wunder, "wealthiest woman on Earth"; Guillemet, female, Wunder's chief of security

Secondary characters: Savage, male, self-styled assassin; Alphy, AI, identified as female but may assume male traits; Forty-Seven AKA "Juggler", male; Commander Bohdan Potocki AKA Boz, male; Haleck, Proet, male, gay?

Minor characters: Gwalmlch, Proet, male, PoC, not-straight?; Morgana, Proet, female; Mirror, male; Ernst the Executioner; Ann Treblinski; Billie, female, AI? ; other characters of various genders etc.

Representation of women: It's a relief to be able to say something definite about a story I didn't understand at all, and that's that as far as female representation goes, it's fine. Well, some may not be delighted to hear that the "wealthiest woman on Earth" is, among other business concerns, a brothel keeper (on a site called "Whore Hill" no less), but at least it's equal-opportunity whoring in a society that seemingly sets no store by gender roles. (However, early on, page 10, there occurs a comment about linguistically prejudiced gender expectations--one of several instances, I'd say, where the author addresses a topic of his present from the vantage point of his in-future scheme.)

Most interesting is that two "off stage" but foundational characters, the architect of the city and the mathematician (architect of city's science), are both women.

Representation of race and ethnicity: Because Gawron often describes the colour of his characters--skin or hair or clothes etc.--but in unusual constructions, I may have missed some People of Colour. Gwalmlch and Danton are certainly PoC, but probably not the only ones.

Representation of any kind of minority: It might be questioned whether sexual minorities are truly minorities in a framework that is as queer (if I may use this term) as this. There is no sense that narrowly defining sexual orientation matters, or that any one "preference" is "better" than other. The young proet Haleck wears makeup and mentions accommodating a male client in Wunder's brothel. Gwalmlch, it's cryptically remarked, has a penchant for "following boys and old ladies". I'd hate to have to define a "sexual orientation" (I do think it was about sex) on that basis, so I'm filing it away as "not-straight". The Novak of the ubiquitous "Novak transformations", but not an active character in the story, is or was, a gay woman.

As to gender, it is most directly destabilised by the AI Alphy, the computer identified as "she" (and whose holographic projection is female-looking), but who likes to switch between a baritone and soprano voice. ETA: Although this ruins Gawron's gradual reveal to the end, it seems necessary to point out for the sake of discussion the likely connection between Alpha Novak the mathematician and her "avatar"? Alphy the AI. If Alphy is--in some way--Alpha, and female because Alpha was female, then perhaps Alphy is "genderfluid" because Alpha was gay. But there are also other non-gender-conforming details, such as that Guillemet, the woman to whom Danton is instantly attracted to, is a seven-foot "giantess" who towers over him.

Bechdel test (BT) and reverse Bechdel test (r-BT): There is one two-sentence BT pass between Guillemet and an unknown woman; multiple r-BT passes.

Would I give this book to a kid: yes, and ask them to explain it to me. :) If I ever manage a course in linguistics and differential topology, it would be worthwhile getting back to this.

Sep 1, 11:57am Top

Up next: The Skylark of Space by E. E. "Doc" Smith

Sep 1, 12:10pm Top

I see that there's a Gay Men>Fiction tag on Algorithm--could anyone please tell me if Gawron is gay or other etc.? I did a quick google with his name and "gay" but I'm not getting a direct answer (as a friend of Samuel Delany--one of the dedicatees on Algorithm--and the author of at least one preface to Delany, that's pulling a lot of noise).

Edited: Sep 1, 12:45pm Top

>30 LolaWalser: He has a wife; can't rule out him being bi I suppose.

The book sounds intriguing! He's an academic in the field of computational linguistics apparently. Nope, me neither.

Edited: Sep 1, 1:16pm Top

>30 LolaWalser: You have done it to me again. I had other missions today, but I am, instead, off to pick up the copy of Algorithm which is at my local used bookstore (I hope; they at least list it as being there). A book that seems to have a focus on Computational Linguistics? I'm fascinated. I'll report back here when I manage to read it...

Considering when it was written, I'm certain that I have a reasonable background in the field, and I really am very interested in it.

Sep 1, 1:47pm Top

>31 mart1n:

Hey, thanks. Haha, yes, in the absence of direct information, there's never excluding bi/poly/omnisexuals I guess!

The book is truly intriguing but a tutored read would be oh so welcome. As it stands, I'm leery of applying my mostly university-level math on a field (linguistics) I've no formal education in at all. Actually I'm surprised, seeing that Gawron is an academic, that he resisted the temptation of giving some hints to the concepts he used in references, footnotes and suchlike.

I think it's safe to say--although this is spoilery as heck too--that the broad framework suggests that both the roles of "assassin" and "victim" are probabilistic and "called forth" from a myriad possibilities not just by pre-determined algorithms but by subsequent (unknown until the moment they happen) events. The acted-upon, through their own actions, bring about the intended consequences even in the absence of a plan of action.

The game exists because everyone expects the game. The assassin(s) may or may not be pre-determined--no one knows. The victims need to be "chosen" but in the process may be assassins themselves.

However, there are other aspects to the story, and it's this I'd like explained the most: the fluidity of gender/sexual orientation, is it only a decorative feature of the story (for instance, as a way to signal the alienness/futurism/science-fictioness of the setting?), or is it an organic part of the mathematico-linguistic scheme? I'd bet the latter, and I was hoping that remark I mentioned (page 10) was an introduction to the problem, but I never saw it worked out.

I suppose I may as well quote the bit:

Returning to the digression. We are asked, for the sake of 'convenience', to refer to the assassin as 'he', to his presumed complement in this exercise, the victim, as 'she'. Topologically, of course, it is all utterly indifferent. It is only the interface we are interested in, not either area, only the interface that yields so-called--call it softly--truth. But mathematicians are not as androgyne as their subject and we have nevertheless, through one of those left-to-right agreements, after the manner of threading screws and defining vector multiplication, decided to call one system, the one into which we substitute new laws, the female. A simple orientation. We are now asked to further orient things by calling this female system a 'victim'. But are we only to take this literally? That is, will the victim realize an altered consistency, that is, be rent, distorted, torn, that is, have a hole shot through? Or are we to leap to the far more dangerous figurative conclusion and assume that the victim is a woman?

Sep 1, 1:49pm Top

>32 Lyndatrue:

Oh that's great Lynda, please do write about it! I'd definitely want to understand this better (or at all!) :)

Sep 1, 2:15pm Top

A couple of details that made me wonder about Douglas Adams perhaps reading this book--there are at least two mentions of a Guide to Interstellar Hitchhiking, for example:

... who was the author of the same adored Guide to Interstellar Hitchhiking, already, in its eighteenth smash week, a classic of a classic-hungry age...

Is this remarkable or a common coincidence?

And also, Alphy the computer gets headaches and may be grumpy, moody etc. Now I think the "funny robot" genre was already ancient by this time but after the "hitchhiking" guide I of course immediately thought of Marvin.

Incidentally, the final page is signed Paris '73 New York '76--both well before Adams, no?

Sep 1, 3:14pm Top

>35 LolaWalser: There have been various suggestions that Adams ideas weren't always quite as original as one might hope. Though in this case, Algorithm wasn't published until 1978, and the Guide radio series was broadcast in spring of that year, so a particularly unlikely example of the idea whose time had come?

Sep 1, 4:25pm Top

>36 mart1n:

Oh, I wouldn't say there's a similarity in the ideas--and certainly not themes!--between the two, it's just that title... Could Gawron have inserted a nod to Adams at the last moment if he had heard the radio show? Seems a tad farfetched--was it even broadcast in the US/or did Gawron happen to catch it in the UK...

Just wondering if anyone else noticed the similarity and what they thought about it. Maybe "Guides to Hitchhiking in Space" are some old sf trope?

Sep 1, 6:57pm Top

>28 LolaWalser: I'm with >32 Lyndatrue:, completely intrigued and may need to read it myself :)

Sep 1, 7:57pm Top

>34 LolaWalser: I will have to try for another copy, elsewhere. The book wasn't actually there, any more. They searched not just in SF, but in all sorts of places, vaguely possible, to mostly unlikely. Nope. My heart is broken.

Sep 1, 8:54pm Top

>39 Lyndatrue: Looks like they have copies at Abe Books

Or... if you prefer an independent source with no connections to Amazon: Biblio.com

Sep 2, 6:58am Top

>35 LolaWalser: and >36 mart1n:

Also Algorithm didn't get published in the UK, and although some of the specialists might have had a copy in but I wouldn't have thought that many people would have picked it up even with a prominent blurb from Samuel R. Delaney (sic) on the front. The original radio series was pitched in 1977 before Algorithm was published.

I would say that both Gawron and Adams were riffing on the name The Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe which was first published in the UK in 1971 and in the US in 1972.

Sep 2, 7:39am Top

I'm looking forward to your review of Skylark, which I regard as a seminal work of Science Fiction. It should probably be viewed through that prism. I seem to recall the gender roles are fairly traditional.

Sep 2, 10:43am Top

>36 mart1n: I'm with martin on this one. No-one knew who Douglas Adams was when HHGTTG first came out; there was even speculation that he was a Big Name Author writing satirical sf under a pseudonym, because he got it so right. Adams came out of Cambridge and the Footlights Revue lot before going to work for the BBC, but was unknown to CUSFS (Cambridge University SF Society), who were reasonably close to the mainstream of UK SF fandom at the time.

So indeed, yes, a case of ideas whose time had come.

Edited: Sep 7, 1:17pm Top

No. 126


The Skylark of Space by E. E. "Doc" Smith

Publication date: 1915 ; Story date: contemporary

Scientist discovers source for a space drive, builds starship, has adventures in space.

Main character: Richard Seaton, chemist

Secondary characters: Dorothy Vaneman, Seaton's fiancée; Martin R. Crane, Seaton's friend and financier; Marc C. DuQuesne, chemist; Margaret Spender, secretary; Dunark, Kondalian prince; Nalboon, Mardonalian prince

Minor characters: Perkins, male, thief; Brookings, male, head of Steel Corporation; Shiro, male, Japanese, Crane's servant; Sitar, Dunark's principal wife; other named and unnamed mostly male characters.

Representation of women: Overall it was considerably better than expected--but first of all, I was surprised at how much space was given to women and "girly interests". That's due mostly to the "anthropological" side of the Earthlings' exploration of a new world with interesting customs of rampant nakedness and polygyny, but still.

Dorothy is a rich society girl but also holds a doctorate in Music and is an accomplished violinist (all the good characters are described in superlatives and Seaton is the typical boy-wonder Gary Stu). She shows spirit and courage and throughout acts to help rather than hinder (the usual function of a hero's girlfriend is to get in trouble). Moreover, she serves as a model for the less resilient Margaret; together they face off the villains with aplomb.

It's a pity though that every show of strength on the women's part is accompanied by comments that underline how unusual (yet desirable) that is; e.g. Dorothy impresses DuQuesne with her coolness and presence of mind, but we're told she only manages to be that way because she has his example to follow. There's also quite a bit of "oh me, poor little woman, must keep my wits about me so I'm not a clinging vine to my darling" going on--not terribly reassuring and very different to the stalwart men. There's also a lot of comment on women's appearance and time spent on taking care for it.

The women on Osnome, though, are a far cry from Dorothy and Margaret--just the classic submissives with little individual value belonging to men with harems.

Representation of race and ethnicity: Shiro is the stereotypical Asian servant present in so much of entertainment from this era: efficient, loyal, inclined to know difficult words but not much grammar. DuQuesne has a couple of "elderly colored servants". And the villain, if you care, is a sinister dark haired man (so dark his nickname is "Blackie"), with a French name. Aren't they all!

The aliens again seem coded as noble and not so noble savages. They appear dark-coloured (thanks to the atmospheric conditions), which is--significantly I'd say--seen as ugly by the Earth people, they run around naked except for some jewellery, they have psychic powers but less evenly developed tech, they have polygyny, and, last but not least, slavery and summary executions of lawbreakers.

Still, it's notable that they are treated/understood as the Earth people's equals, to the point that the latter get married according to the alien ritual, which, it's suggested, may be even better than anything on Earth as it depends on the compatibility and prognosticated longevity of a marriage.

Representation of any kind of minority: None.

Bechdel test (BT) and reverse Bechdel test (r-BT): BT fail and many r-BT passes, but, I must acknowledge a very long conversation between Dorothy and Margaret--possibly the longest conversation between two female characters I can recall--where they talk a LOT about things other than men.

Would I give this book to a kid: yes, but maybe now's as good a time as any, as I seem to do at least once per thread, to recall these answers concern individual books, and the usual "passing" of any individual book does not mean that the attitudes on display are necessarily tolerable.

Rather, that it's rarely a problem of any single book (or what have you) disseminating obnoxious views, but the accumulation of such examples, especially in a situation of pre-existing inequalities and injustices of all sorts.

Which these threads are meant to illustrate in aggregate, although I always regret the clumsiness and the "dancing about architecture" aspect of it.

Edited: Sep 7, 12:38pm Top

>42 SFF1928-1973:

I'm sorry it's not a true review but I imagine you can't be short of those! It was very entertaining. I suppose the influence of Burroughs was great; still, Smith seems to me kinder and more charming--although not even as good a writer as Burroughs.

Sep 7, 12:41pm Top

Up next: World Without Men by Charles Eric Maine

This was acquired recently and smuggled on top of the Pile, breaking the Laws of the Pile, because that cover lured me magnetically...

Sep 7, 1:10pm Top

>44 LolaWalser: EES began writing Skylark as early as 1915. Interestingly (and according to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction) (http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/smith_e_e), he was helped by a neighbour, Lee Hawkins Garby, who provided input on matters such as dialogue. She was credited as co-author on the first book edition, but got quietly dropped in subsequent reprints.

Sep 7, 1:17pm Top

>47 RobertDay:

That's VERY interesting! Wow, if she was credited as a co-author then it must've been something more substantial than, say, mere verbal criticism... it would explain perhaps the chimerical nature of Dorothy's character and dialogue... how she's action girl one moment and then goes all faint and weak-kneed the next etc.

As for the date--thanks, for consistency's sake I'll push it back then to whenever the writing can be dated, as I did in other cases.

Sep 7, 4:53pm Top

>48 LolaWalser: The Encyclopedia is fairly clear (and I recollect from the days when I read Doc Smith in some detail) (when I was MUCH younger) that the co-author was responsible for a lot of the nature of the female characters in 'Skylark' and its sequels. Interestingly, I seem to remember that in the Lensman books, Kimball Kinnison's other half (whose name escapes me) was quite a strong character, even though she embodied contemporary female tropes and roles.

It also gives the writing span for 'Skylark' as 1915-20, which certainly makes it one of the earliest works of pure genre sf I can think of.

Edited: Sep 8, 4:27am Top

>49 RobertDay: Clarissa Macdonald or Macdougal. And while she's a major character, she's forever bewailing that women are not as clever as men.

Sep 11, 3:56pm Top

>46 LolaWalser: No spoilers here but if the entry on this site is anything to go by World Without Men should be very interesting!

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