Dave Bischoff asked me "What do you blog about?" the other day. I told him that at first, it was definitely "whatever." Being the timid soul that I am, I asked people who have been doing this very well for a while for some input and feedback - notably Toby Buckell and John Scalzi. I just saw now that Toby is back in the hospital with a pulmonary embolism - thoughts and prayers to him. He has a picture of the hospital window! May they heal him quickly - he is too good a person to be suffering through this, and he is young, with so much ahead of him.
After all this time, now, "whatever" is really focused on a) my writing; b) things related to writing; c) art; d) being female; and e) abuses in our culture - either crimes or artifacts of culture that hurt others, whether intentionally or not.
Which brings me to the subject of the greatly-respected author Joanna Russ. I've been reading a Hugo Award Winner volume from the early 1980's. This book is literally the Hugo winners from 1983 to 1985 or so.
Here it is, and the first story in it is "Souls" by Joanna Russ, which she later turned into a novel, which appears to have been published as part of a "Tor Double" (I guess this was similar to the famous "Ace Doubles" of memory) along with work by James Tiptree, Jr.
I've been reading through this book of classics in a desultory fashion. I was literally opening the book at random and reading whatever I found. Nearly everything I'd read over the past few weeks was a classic -- from Herb Varley "Press Enter" to the original "Blood Music" by Greg Bear. I remembered each of these stories, I remembered the characters, and unique moments from each. Each was sort of a horrifying dystopian vision, from the terrorizing computer ubermind of "Press Enter" to the nanobeasts of "Blood Music," turning the poor hero and his wife into a part of their house - or the house a part of them.
I kept thumbing past this story by Timothy Zahn, which wasn't catching my interest (probably because this older book wasn't opening very easily at that point) and I read the book's clunker - the best Hugo story of 1982, proof that sometimes, the 300-400 Hugo voters should not be voting: "Melancholy Elephants" by Spider Robinson. This one did inspire me to hurl the small volume across the room, because - well, I can't summarize any better than did the "Best SF" website:
An unlikely plot-line for an SF story: copyright legislation going through Congress. A young woman attempts to get a key Congressman on her side, arguing that to extent the copyright legislation would be a death to creativy, for there is only a finite number of musical notes, and of words. The development of computer systems has enabled new works of art to be checked against preceding works, resulting in less creativity.
So, Joanna Russ' "Souls" is the first story in the book. I hadn't read it because - well, it was first, and when you are thumbing desultorily through some book, that's just a part of it that you're not going to get to right away. The ones in the middle are going to get more attention.
This story immediately hooked me the other day. Such strong narration, and such a vivid and fascinating background. Briefly put, the Abbess Radegunde is in charge of one of these made-for-Viking-plunder abbeys or monasteries. Described in loving detail, the Abbess is a compelling character, and quite brilliant. She uses psychology and observation to deal with the inevitable Viking plundering and pillaging, and she miraculously "heals" one of the young Vikings who is a real Viking asshole. I loved this story. It was so suspenseful that I could not stop reading. The amount of psychological and cultural detail about the Vikings, the Abbey people, and the early Medieval setting was stunning.
Right up to the very end. Radegunde is actually brilliant and psychic and world-traveled and wise, and religion-spanning and philosophical because she is an alien, and at the end, she turns into Keanu Reeves in "The Day the Earth Stood Still." If you've seen the trailers, you know how he has this preturnatural calm, and a little kid asks him, "Have you come to help us?" and in this wooden Keanu way, he says, "no." Radegunde isn't a human woman. Nor is she even touched by
angels aliens. She IS an alien.
Kafoom! Threw across the room. Again. Waaaahhhhhhh. To say there was no foreshadowing of this is to say that, it seemed as though it may have been that Radegunde had "special insight" due to some otherworldly intervention, but not that she was some alien in an abbess suit.
This is a fair criticism to lay at this story. He's really wise because he's an alien. What if JFK was an alien and the enemy aliens took over Oswald's body and assassinated him? What if Lance Armstrong is an alien (he could be)? WTF??? "We" (i.e. my generation) have noticed that women of Russ' generation - give or take 5 years on either side (she was born in 1937, so McCain generation) are not terribly receptive to criticism. I have noticed over the years, the mouth-foaming aggression against Joanna and other female writers of her generation on the part of some males in the SF/F field. They can still get worked up today that these female writers came to the fore and stole part of their thunder - had book-signings, had readers, did well, had something to say.
But - Radegunde is an alien? And there's a whole BOOK of it? Ai, chihuahua. There is definitely more to this sci fi stuff than that. But who am I to talk? I'm the inventor of M. Touchey ("Touche") and Crumb - the intergalactic eBay traders. How random is that?