Saturday assorted links


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#8 - I didn't know O. Sachs was gay...and has incurable cancer. That's too bad, though in another day and age they would have linked these two events. I mention that in passing as a historical note and the probability of Sachs reading this whimsical comment is zero, haters.

I knew all that but the weightlifting record is the most fun part of Sacks' otherwise fairly well-known story. Whoda thunkit.

Regarding #1, Final Empire passes the modified Bechdel Test the author proposes. Sanderson's other major series do as well.

As does A Song of Ice and Fire. And The Wheel of Time.

I'm sort of surprised she didn't call out The Handmaid's Tale for it's portrayal of misogynistic society.

Was she focussing on the books she hadn't read yet? Wasn't clear, but her broad generalizations leave the impression that Mary Shelley and Ursula Le Guin are patriarchal sexists.

Ursala K LeGuin is about as interesting as scifi gets and she would be hard to call out for sexism. I recall Kim Stanley Robinson having strong female characters too.

Yup, Lutgendorff apparently completely missed the part in Final Empire in which *the main protagonist* is a teenage female. But she got the ash part right, so it's all good.

My recollection of the Covenant Chronicles (which I read some 25 years ago) does not jive at all with her's. If I recall correctly, Covenant spends the entire first trilogy wallowing in self hate over the rape, which is not at all what she claims. There are also several strong female characters in the books. If the series is considered as a whole it may well pass both of the original Bechdel test, as well as the Lutgendorff version.

The book is a bit of a slog to read through, so my guess is that she did not bother to do any more than skim the rest of the book after the rape scene.

I did not read very many of the other books on this list, but if she got this one so badly wrong I don't have much faith in her opinion of the others.

Broadly agree, but the woman he raped does appear again the second or third books and its clear she is in love with him, which is weird. Also, its worth pointing out Donaldson has used rape a lot in his other books and stories, most notably The Real Story, the novella which opens his Gap space opera.

Covenant is sort of the Jesus / Aragon of their world, so it makes some sense that her reaction is more "Go mad and convince myself it was a romantic encounter out of epic fantasy" (and there is a great deal of detail about how this ultimately affects *everyone* in her world) and not "Damn that rapist".

In general though, I am surprised that she can spend a page whining about the lack of people of colour and women, and then dislike a book in which the hero is a lepur, a genuinely outcast group suffering under a horrible illness and disability, and is very mentally disturbed as a result, and in which the author (for whatever Donaldson's faults as writer) is clearly concerned about this.

On the other hand, probably totally in keeping with a publication like the New Statesman's attitude of "F*ck the homeless. F*ck the sick. It's all about "rape culture", Hollywood pay disparities and whether women and minorities are well represented as Silicon Valley CEOs".

as a 19yo male with no particular gender awareness, I found the covenant chronicles utterly unreadable for its treatment of rape by the main characters. I didn't get past the first book because while I can understand the concept of having a flawed protagonist, having such a brutal rape presented with no real consequence was beyond the pale for me.

The article generally though misses the mark imo, focusing on the bad while completely ignoring the good. Plenty of the highest profile books on the list. I haven't read all of the books, but just quickly scanning the first dozen #1 (Galadriel, Eowyn), #3 (Valentine), #6 (Julia) and #12 (too many to count, but Moraine is my favourite) pass the authors test with flying colours. And many of the ones which don't are merely reflecting very different cultural times, and demonstrating un inability to think beyond them. Eg. the gender roles in the foundation series are hilarious to read from a modern perspective, but that's just because we find it difficult to think that the sexual politics and roles of the 1950s would be reflected thousands of years into the future.

I had a glance at her blog and it looks like most of her book reviews are based FIRST on whether or not she liked the book, and only second on gender issues. With that in mind, I can totally understand why somebody would hate reading the Covenant Chronicles (I liked them, but they are slow and full of angst, so I can see where some people might not dig them).

She also didn't like Shadow of the Torturer (another of my favorites) but she didn't read far enough to realize that Severian is a huge dick to all the women he meets so she did not castigate that book on gender grounds, she just hated it because the first book doesn't have much of a plot (which is true).

Most of her reviews seem rather shallow, so while it might be possible to mount a coherent feminist critique of the top 100 list from NPR, I don't think it will be Liz Lutgendorff who does it.

"Most of her reviews seem rather shallow, so while it might be possible to mount a coherent feminist critique of the top 100 list from NPR, I don’t think it will be Liz Lutgendorff who does it."

That's the impression I got as well. When she opens her essay with a reference to The Forever War, a book largely about the dehumanizing and evil effects of conscription, and complains about a government policy in the book that is evil and dehumanizing... That's not gratuitous misogyny, that's illustrating the point of the novel: War, conscription, government controls of behavior are evil and dehumanizing.

"It has the most elegant literary trick of only having one gendered pronoun, which is female... You can sometimes tell what gender a character is when the author chooses to describe them in a way that makes it obvious but most of the time, you don’t know."

LOL wut??? Elegant??

Almost anything by Alastair Reynolds passes her modified Bechel test, and very often the original (bogus) version too.

I applaud Lutgendorff on inventing a more reasonable misogyny-meter. And she might be right: It would be interesting to see an averaged "Lutgendorff score" for books published since 1990 in different genres.

But that would still be a overly narrow measure. People enjoy Pride and Prejudice precisely because it's about women dealing with their subordinate position. And you can pass Bechel-like tests mechanically. If Reynolds had written Lord of the Rings he would have made Aragorn, Boromir, or both, female. But Eowyn is much more interesting than either of them.

"I applaud Lutgendorff on inventing a more reasonable misogyny-meter."

Really? Her test means that any stories that don't happen to be about women are anti-woman. I wouldn't call that reasonable.

"People enjoy Pride and Prejudice precisely because it’s about women dealing with their subordinate position."

Women in P&P have a subordinate position in society, but certainly not in the story. Male characters only move when they are on screen with the female leads and remain barely fleshed-out stick figures. Which doesn't make it anti-male. Austen was simply not very interested in portraying the male sphere, and that's OK.

Off-topic comment of the day: I appreciate the check Jan provides around here. That is all.

I think we have two people who use that handle. I can often, but not always, tell them apart.

Ms. Lutgendorff should consider Ray Bradbury's response to criticisms that he had few female characters. From my recollection, it could be summed up by, "Get your own typewriter."

Yeah the argument that Tyler links to is singularly weak. If there was a market for strong female leads and feminist literature, it would exist. If there isn't then show some (any?) evidence that we should promote it as a society instead of the usual feminist whining.

"If there was a market for strong female leads and feminist literature, it would exist."

Of course there is demand and such a market does exist. But that's not enough. All genres must be brought into conformance (perhaps another 'dear colleague' letter from a government agency would do the trick?)

Truly puzzling that "it's so unbelievable" that some white guys could go on an adventure. I'm sure that's never happened in real life. Has this person ever read a history book?

How terrible it must be to be unable to enjoy a book because its characters are the wrong sex.

If sexism is exhibited by characters in a book, Lutgendorff thinks the book is sexist. I also note that she has no problem with blatant racism. No, sexism is her specialty.

Indeed, one gets the feeling that Lutgendorff would think that "The Second Sex" is anti-feminist.

Yes, that was also very puzzling. I guess she thinks Robert Frost was campaigning for the building of fences (since a character in one of his poems said "good fences make good neighbors" even though the poem was about the opposite).

"Greece just got fifty-five billion euros in debt relief"


Lutgendorff's piece is hysterical, though not in the sense of "humerous." I had an image of her gnashing her teeth and tearing her hair out as she hungrily turned the next page.

For me this form of finger pointing criticism is just so much self-indulgent hot air. Of course, I say that as we see the rise of micraggressions and trigger warnings in our oversensitive academic culture. One wants to say, "just lighten up and get a life" or as Highgamma above suggests: write something yourself that exemplifies your political and social beliefs. Just stop screaming at people who don't channel your politics... especially dont scream at something like the fairly benign SF and Fantasy community. They're not out there doing any material harm to any real life women. Right?

What would be the harm in labeling these books as offensive? The potential reader would then have the choice to read the book duly warned. It would be safe for the less stout to browse the stacks not having to worry about selecting a book that doesn't upset their worldview.

"Ugh, you want to invite that Problematic author who writes Offensive books to a convention? Do you want him to win an award or something? I always knew you were a brogressive reactionary sympathizer."

Which is pretty much exactly what's happening in the sci fi community right now.

A sort of give-away is the fact she almost completely ignores the books on Top 100 list written after 1980, with the exception of two (great) 1992 books she praises. Mind you, that's half of the list! (And from the old stuff she skips Le Guin, who back in the 1960s was actually writing the sort of books I suspect Lutgendorff wants to read.)

She mostly focus on the books of white guys who died decades ago of old age. Unsurprisingly, they were writing to 1950s pulp standards rather than 2015 literary standards.

Lutgendorff reads books written decades ago by white males and finds it 'wholly unbelievable' those books are dominated by white males, even though the authors lived in a world that was (perceived to be) dominated by white males (and where LBGT'ism was thoroughly frowned upon). So she finds it 'wholly unbelievable' there are actually facts about the past upon which feminism and other movements for more equality were founded. Is she expecting an Orwellian rewriting of history to make it conform to current standards of equality? That would be weird, because that would also require removing the entire feminism movement, as there would no longer be any sensible reason for that movement to have existed.

Apart from that, she writes: "Frankly, from my vantage in 2015, it was just plain weird to read books where there were hardly any women, no people of colour, no LGBT people. It seemed wholly unbelievable."

From my vantage point in 2015, there are few LBGT people or people of colour of importance in my life, so I don't see why anyone should be obligated to write about them, or would be remiss if he didn't. I would not at all be surprised if there's currently more being written about people of color and LBGT people than should be, given their proportion of the population.

There are various LBGT people (an odd catch-all agglomeration) and people of color (even odder; even I have a color, whitish-pink) in my life, but I don't feel compelled to write about them. When politics shapes writing it usually ruins it.

Dixon is wrong in #6. Greece $86 billion in debt relief. I mean, seriously, are we still pretending they will pay any of it back?

The second the EU admits that Greece cannot pay its debt then the whole miserable house of cards comes crashing gown....

(and they can't pay it, when the IMF saying you need debt relief is like Courtney Love saying you have a drug problem.... shit is serious)

#4 - is quite interesting, thanks for linking

i'm as bleeding-heart a SJW as they come, but #1 was stupid. "people from the past were ignorant and bigoted by today's standards" isn't news, and male SFF authors are grossly over-represented in the autistic libertarian misogynist camp. let's see some praise for Banks or Mieville, though - they both do gender thoughtfully without being preachy.

"people from the past were ignorant and bigoted."

Really? You mean they used to say things like...

"the autistic libertarian misogynist camp"

#1 is just another example of what I would call the dictatorship of the political correct. She thinks science fiction books (by definition, some plot of place that does not exist) needs to follow the rules that you think are required for our society. I mean, she is not even talking about books being written now... she is criticizing people reading books written decades ago.

It might sound funny or quirky to some people but this kind of criticism makes me worried. People like her are the ones who will end up burning books and coming with up regulations for everything, from movies to textbooks. Everything in the name of "social justice". I think there are a few sci-fi books that describe how that ends up.

End up burning books? They're already at it.

So Lutgendorff finds some body of "classic" sci-fi or fantasy troubling. With good reason. But so what? Does she elsewhere complain that Gone With The Wind shouldn't be held out as important because of its treatment of slavery? Should Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer be lowered on the status ladder for their treatment of black people, native people's, and so forth?

Indeed, the Constitution doesn't require that women get the vote and allows slaves to be counted as 3/5ths of a person while not allowing them to vote. Shall we view the constitution as less important or less remarkable than it is, because of these admitted and very real short comings?

Further, while LGBT groups have gained great visibility and much improved civil rights, they are as a group a small percentage of the population. It's not at all hard to imagine plausible groups that contain none.

Given the realities of human history, it's also quite easy to imagine worlds and scenarios in which women (and most men) have very limited powers and face all sorts of pointless oppression. In fact, reading of history books suggests this has been the norm. Several of the most visible career paths in America today (the NFL, the NBA, MLB) involve no women in title roles, but a constant stream of news reports about domestic misbehavoirs by some of those in title roles. Why should sci-fi be different?

I see no reason why a list of "classic" or "best" or "important to read" novels of any type should exclude books that copy the more or less awful reality of parts of human history.

What's more, the ugly reality in the room is that the authors of novels are surely driven by readership and sales, and in sci-fi by the development of hopefully radical ideas, and typically not by a need or desire to offer good or fair descriptions of any group of people.

#1. For her criticism of the forced orgies in The Forever War there were also periods where homosexuality was the societal norm due to fears of overpopulation. Also, these books are products of their times. The Forever War was a direct critique of Vietnam, the Canticle of Liebewitz was written around the same time as the Feminist Mystique. Thomas Convent was supposed to be a terrible person, the rape he commits is kinda the point, he is the first major anti-hero where a terrible person becomes a hero. The Diamond Age is a techno-libertarian dystopia. She heaps praise of Doomsday Book (a little over-rated imo) while ignoring both the era and gender of its writer. (Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of my all time favorites as a SF Victorian Farce that always leaves me happy).

Pretty sure non-SF books of the same era were equally problematic. One problem is that many used subjugation of women as shorthand for a society that has morally regressed even as tech advanced.

I dont get pinging Diamond Age as sexist when nearly the whole book is devoted to its female protagonist's survival of the the slums to her eventual conquering of the world with her army of Chinese warrior girls.

Everyone will grouse about the book reviewer in 1 so let me propose and alternate (Straussian?) reading: this is a masterpiece of trolling. To look at classic science fiction and have nothing to say about the ideas presented and solely focus on the characters (typically a weak point of scifi and fantasy writing) is high class trolling in itself. To then focus on books written by old white men and complain that they are written by old white men is trolling excellence.

yes, although the apex of trolling is, as Plato and Aristotle both would have taught, not a "masterpiece of trolling"; the apex is "the most blatant lack of empathy for others of which I can signal myself as being capable of". There is a non-parallel apex for "comical trolling", I am not smart enough to describe that in fourteen lines or less, so here I stop.

Would a non misogynist sf book written 60 years ago describe selling parts of aborted babies? Would it be a dystopian world, or not?

Historical descriptions of WW2 battles must be really hard to take. All these men doing dangerous things.

I eagerly await her review of the top 100 history books

On number 1, she should try reading some science fiction manga instead of this Anglo Saxon misogynous stuff. In sci fi and fantasy manga strong female characters are as common as male (like in Gunnm, Nausicaa, Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, for some examples). I would think that western literature is extremely male dominated because (pretty much) all important European writers from ancient times through the middle ages were men while in medieval Japan there were significant number of important female writers.

Most of those really aren't all that feminist: Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell's protagonists are female more for fanservice than because they act as women, their behavior is no different than a male protagonist would have been. Gunm is a pretty standard hero's journey, and the main character maintains the attitude of "I'm just a girl and not very smart" for most of the series. Most of what makes her special are her mystic past life and that the man in her world gives her, and there aren't many significant female characters other than the protagonist. Though it is more feminist than a lot of western sci fi, it's not by much. Nausicaa is by Miyazaki, and Miyazaki is simply special, but it's also a "girl power" type story aimed at adolescents, and we see that a lot in western literature from probably the '80s on. All these works are also by men.

Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is truly special, and truly different than anything I can think of in western literature off the top of my head. It's calm and quiet, the main characters are women, act like women, and deal with their world in a feminine way without being weak or frivolous or combative towards the men. It's something that far, far more people should read before they try creating female characters.

That's not to say there aren't feminist manga out there that pass Lutgendorf's modified Bechdel test, your point stands but I don't think the examples you gave are the best. Look into what women are writing: Utena, Versaille no Bara (The Rose of Versailles,) a lot of the stuff by Clamp (Magic Knight Rayearth, Cardcaptor Sakura, Angelic Layer), Fushigi Yuugi... There's a ton of stuff out there.

Regarding link one, some counter examples:
Riddle Master series by Patricia McKillip from 70s would pass
Dragon Singer Anne McCaffrey
Belgariad: David Eddings
Given finale, would have thought Diamond Age would pass
Seveneves: Neil Stephenson

Not sure how much of this criticism is time period, and how much is the target audience. No question that some of the old ones are socially dated, but surely that is broadly true of literature, in terms also of race and sexual orientation.

I think she is commenting onan NPR list for NPR listeners.

Let us remember that Sci Fi article when feminists protest they do not (mostly) hate Sci-Fi and its history.

Piling on #1, the author writes "But it is relatively absurd that in the future people could discover faster-than-light travel, build massive empires and create artificial intelligences but somehow not crack gender equality or the space-faring glass ceiling."

Out of the 11 books she mentions, only 4 are set in the future, and some are intended to be distopian futures, while 7 are "fantasy" set in magical analogues to medieval periods.

I don't find it absurd that the these settings don't crack the "glass ceiling."

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