A critical situation

Two superb bits of critical writing in the RSS feeds today.

First off, Martin Lewis looks at Richard Morgan’s Black Man (or Thirteen as it is titled across the pond) for Strange Horizons:

“Violent confrontation is the engine of all Morgan’s novels. What makes them unusual is that this confrontation is almost always verbal. At least at first. Marsalis is always happy to crush a windpipe or break a kneecap, but only after trying to assert dominance through words. It is not just winning the fight that is important: you have to win the argument. It is the praxis of force and knowledge, and it brings out the key difference between Morgan and his peers. Black Man is what you might call paramilitary SF, a point on the thriller-to-war-story spectrum somewhere between cyberpunk and mil SF.”

Lewis writes about books the way I wish I could write about books. However, doing so brings its own hazards – a gentleman in the comments appears to have taken Lewis’ critique in a way that I’m sure it wasn’t meant. Then again, maybe I’m misreading both of them – text is an inherently low-bandwidth medium, after all.

Secondly, Vicky and Nic from Eve’s Alexandria do a double-team review of Adam Roberts’ Gradisil. Interestingly, neither of them seem to have been deterred by what I have heard others describe as the very unfeminine female characters in the novel:

“Now it’s true that Roberts’ prose is sometimes pedantic and that his characters are often, and above all else, cold and distant but, as I see it, these qualities serve Gradisil’s ultimate purpose.  The Gyeroffy women, Klara and Gradi both, are quite disagreeable creatures, hard-nosed and closed off.  Neither of them exhibit ‘maternal’ instincts and neither is ‘feminine’ or ‘intuitive’ or ’emotional’, and this is only right.  They are, after all, women living on the outskirts of life, at the very edge of the permissable.  Like all pioneers and colonists they are driven by physical hardship to positions untenable in the heart of society; and they’re both consumed by a vision of the Uplands as it was or as it could be.”

In the discussions of gender and sf that I have read or listened to, there has often been a prevailing condescending (and, sad to say, male) attitude that female readers don’t like science fiction because they find the female characters hard to reconcile with the roles that society has taught them are ‘correct’. Maybe the truth of the matter is that female readers don’t identify with female characters in sf because a great number of their mostly male writers can’t write a believably flawed female character …

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