Review: The Female Man by Joanna Russ

Published by: Gollancz
ISBN: 0575094990
ISBN 13: 9780575094994
Published: 1975
Pages: 207
Format reviewed: Paperback
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

Books like this stress me out a little. There’s so much build up, and there’s the expectation that I’ll get so much out of reading it – and that to appreciate it fully I need to be rested, ready and put in the effort to allow that to happen. Otherwise I’m doing the book a disservice. So then I put it off, and off, thinking I’ll feel smarter some other day and ready to tackle it.

Winner of the Nebula Award and James Tiptree Jr. Award for Retrospective (1995) – so important to Tiptree – her criticism – her essays on pornography and sexuality – she’s an intimidating writer to approach. What’s refreshing is to read this book, be a little taken back by some parts and do some research, and see how Russ came to realise her own errors in part. It’s a book from the seventies, and this is evident from her treatment of transexuals (and apologies if I use any incorrect or outdated terms in this review, please let me know and I’ll learn and update.)

This book is pretty awful. It’s short and powerful, and shows how terrible things were for females. It’s then something to check against today and see how little has changed, or how recent events have shown us to go backwards almost in response to our general advances, as if the privileged are scared or feeling threatened.

I would have loved to read and study this book in university with a decent lecturer. And I’m sure it’s been done, but guided (and intelligent) discussion on a con panel would be amazing.

Discussion Post: The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Mountains of Mourning is a novella that we are reading as part of the Vorkosigan Saga Project. It sequentially falls, more or less, between the novels The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game. It is about Miles Vorkosigan and was published in 1986. Miles is back home on holiday after graduating from the Imperial Military Academy and is given an official task by his father the Count.

You can read Katharine’s review of The Mountains of Mourning here, and Tsana’s review here.

Katharine: So we left Miles just as he gains entry to the Imperial Military Academy and we join him again just as he’s graduated – he’s on home leave, ten days out from his first assignment… very seamlessly done! Do we get any or many flashbacks to his time in the academy? I’m glad we didn’t have to see it all but I wouldn’t have minded seeing some!

Tsana: I think there might be a bit about it in The Vor Game? I’m not entirely sure, so we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, The Mountains of Mourning had a very different tone to The Warrior’s Apprentice, although the setting did remind me a little of what Cordelia sees in Barrayar. What were your impressions of it?

Katharine: It was good – it didn’t treat the reader like an idiot. There are quite a few changes, such as his new bodyguard, and it doesn’t take pages upon pages to labouriously introduce the reader and really hammer home how weird Miles felt or still feels about it. We’re just given the new bodyguard’s name and then we learn of him as the story goes on. Excellent!

Tsana: And there are some memories on Miles’s part to remind us that Bothari existed and that Miles still thinks of him. In terms of the actual story, I think this is the one that deals most directly with ableism and the attitudes of Joe Poor Barrayaran towards Miles and other people with “mutations”.

Katharine: Yeah, the term ‘Mutie’ is a bit confronting. I wonder how Miles got by in the Academy with this hostile and antiquated view… should we raise the spoiler shield so we can jump right into specifics?


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Information: Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off – Round 3

This year I continue to be one of ten judges of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off hosted by Mark Lawrence. Official detail can be found here, however I will collate the information that pertains to my part in it in this entry also. Starting with:

If your judge wants info from you they will ask for it. It’s best you don’t contact them unsolicited during the contest. This is a common rule of juried awards simply as a rule of professionalism – often what an entrant feels the need to say is best directed at Mark and his team.

The expectation of us (as judges) is as follows:

In phase 1 which takes 6 months:

1. Put on their agent’s hat and go through the slush pile of novels allocated to them (30 books) to find the one title they will put through to the final. This does not mean they have to read all the books, but hopefully they will read part of all of them and all of someThese guys are bloggers, they’re used to making up their mind by starting to read and seeing if they feel any compulsion to continue.

2. Review that chosen title.

3. Select their 3 favourite covers for the cover art contest in which they will later vote.

It is hoped that they will also review some of their favourite books from the selection they were given.

In phase 2 which takes 6 months:

1. Read and score all 9 finalists from the other blogs.

2. Review their favourite.

3. Review the winner.

If their own finalist turns out to remain their favourite and to win, then they have no reviews to write in phase 2!

It is hoped they will feel moved to review some of the other finalists too. 

The books assigned to me are as follows:

Lilian Oake – Nahtaia
S.J. Madill – Magic comes to Whiteport
William C Tracy – Tuning the Symphony
Clinton Harding – Our Monsters
Everly Frost – Beyond the Ever Reach
Tamara Westberry – Divine and Dateless
Meghan Ciana Doidge – Catching Echoes
K.A. Stewart – Second Olympus
Jamie Edmundson – Toric’s Dagger
Harrison Davies – Destiny of the Wulf
Kay Ling – Beyond the Forest
Christopher Bunn – The Fury Clock
Christina Ochs – The Forsaken Crown
Harmon Cooper – Fantasy Online
Cameron Smith – The Holtur Enigma
David J Normoyle – The Silver Portal
Holly Evans – Stolen Ink
Jesse Teller – Liefdom
Aidan Meyer – Arcana Zero
Harry Connolly – The Way Into Chaos
V.B. Marlowe – A Girl Called Dust
Dean F Wilson – The Call of Agon
J.L. Madore – Blaze Ignites
Daniel Olesen – The Eagle’s Flight
Skyler Grant – Dungeon Crawl
Graham Austin-King – Faithless
R.S. McCoy – The Killing Jar
Adam Steiner – The Censor’s HandThe Censor’s Hand
R.D. Henderson – Wit Fallo
(Incidentally, I highly recommend all authors to ensure their books are listed on Goodreads, with the correct information available. It makes things so much easier for readers, and for your book to be shared.)
Especially when we’re meant to be able to judge the cover contest…

Let’s take a moment to keep expectations real here. We have 300 entries and each blogger is going to select the book they feel is best from the 30 entries sent to them … that means that 97% of you will fall at the first hurdle. That’s just the unforgiving mathematics of the thing.

You may have written a great book, but there may be one in that 30 that the blogger likes better.

For my own history as a reader and judge, I have been a judge in the Australian speculative fiction Aurealis Awards (convening anthologies/collections in 2011 and 2012, fantasy novels in 2013 and 2014, and in 2015 judging the Inaugural Sara Douglass Book Series Award (best completed Australian Spec Fic Series) of 2011-2014, which resulted in about 60 series/200 novels).
Since 2015 I have also been the overall judging coordinator which means facilitating the awards, and arranging and providing guidance to the ten judging panels. The Aurealis Awards have been running for over 20 years now, and are the only juried awards for Speculative Fiction in our country.

In 2013/2014 I was also one of eight judges of the Australian Children’s Book Council of the Year awards, which was established 1946. The CBCA isn’t a genre award, but is the most honoured book award for children (including YA) within Australia and involved reading about 350 books within a few months, with a discussion conference in Canberra that took about five days along with the seven other judges – one from each state and Territory of Australia.

Other awards in Australia include the Ditmars and the Tin Ducks, genre awards that anyone attending the connecting convention can vote in – usually Continuum and Swancon. I vote in these each year. The same goes for the Hugo Awards, and I’ll be attending Helsinki Worldcon this year in August.

Each year I currently finish about 150 novels – not counting novellas, graphic novels, audio, and books that I start to read but for whatever reason just don’t hold my interest. While you can look at my favourite novels I should also note that a favourite book does not also mean that it is of literary merit. Sometimes there is person enjoyment separate from a noteworthy book, and I read, review, and judge in similar but sometimes separate frames of mind. In the case of SPFBO the book has to first and foremost be a joy to read – hard to put down, with genre elements noted and almost just as integral – this is an award for fantasy after all.

Taken from the Aurealis website: A work in the Fantasy category usually incorporates imaginative and fantastic themes. These themes may involve magic or supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element. Events in these works frequently occur outside the ordinary laws that operate within the universe, whether in the acknowledged real world or in a wholly created one. A work of Fantasy often includes the activity of imagining impossible or improbable things.

These guidelines are not intended to be proscriptive on the nature of genre in these categories. Rather, they are offered as an outline that should be considered fluid and as inclusive as possible within the nature of speculative fiction.

So there you have it – that’s me. As a final note, I’ve always held an open mind to self-publishing – many friends through NaNoWriMo since 2004 onwards found mild-success this way; I was a reader of Michael J. Sullivan and on the same writing forum as he for a few years; and I was convenor of the panel that chose the first self-published work for Best Fantasy Novel in the Aurealis Awards (which then went on to get a publishing deal), which was ‘A Crucible of Souls’ (Sorcery Ascendant Sequence) by Mitchell Hogan. And earlier last year I vaguely heard of a book that had come top of a whole bunch of self published fantasy novels so picked it up, and devoured it within a day. That title was ‘The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids’ (Amra Thetys) by Michael McClung – which I then realised that it was this same competition (which I would later become a judge reserve for). Having worked for a small publisher in the past I’m one of the first to say you don’t need to be recognised by one of the Big Five in order to be a ‘good’ book. It’s just that the book needs to be discovered.

Discussion Post: The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Warrior’s Apprentice is the third book we are reading as part of the Vorkosigan Saga Project. It sequentially follows on from Barrayar and is the first book (chronologically and in publication order) about Miles Vorkosigan, published before Barrayar was in 1986. Miles is the son of Cordelia and Aral and we join him as he tries (and fails) to gain admittance to the Imperial Military Academy and has to turn to other ideas.


You can read Tsana’s review of The Warrior’s Apprentice here, and Katharine’s review here.


Tsana: When I first read the Vorkosigan saga, this was the first book I started with. It seemed like a good place to start at the time — it introduced Miles, who everyone talked about as the main character, and it was one of the first books written and published. I didn’t read the first two Cordelia books, Shards of Honour and Barrayar, until the very end, which meant that the impact of some of the references to the past in The Warrior’s Apprentice was completely lost on me. I am very glad to be rereading the books again in this order. What were your impressions of The Warrior’s Apprentice, having picked it up for the first time?

Katharine: I honestly wonder what I would have thought of Miles for the first section of the book, without having being brought to him via his parents. From this journey I’m already protective of him because we saw the struggles his parents had… without that, I think he would have won me over when he first uses his crazy schemes to save Mayhew… but before then, I might have found him a little too… what’s the word… Fervent?

Tsana: Hah, fervent is certainly the word to describe him (and you haven’t even seen half of it yet)! But that’s understandable just from knowing about his disability and desire to prove himself in the militaristic and ableist society of Barrayar. That said, there wasn’t as much ableism in the book as there could have been. Miles spends most of it off-world where other people just think he’s a bit weird instead of making the sign of the devil against him like we see Barrayarans do. What were your impressions of this?

Katharine: I found it interesting that as soon as he drew any ire it was the first thing they went to – calling him awful things about his (lack of) height or crookedness. But overall I think the novel did a good job at introducing the reader to him – we start the novel off with him not being successful in gaining entry into the Imperial Military Academy on Barrayar because of his disability, and then for the rest of the novel we see him, more or less, in situations where it doesn’t hold him back at all.

Tsana: I remember someone somewhere (I think it might have been on Galactic Suburbia) saying that in zero-G his disabilities didn’t matter anymore. But we don’t really see that in this book. What we know about Miles’s limitations are that he has very brittle bones — he breaks both his legs in the opening scene — and that he’s short with a crooked spine. We also briefly learn that he’s allergic to some medication, but that doesn’t feature too much. While none of those things stop him doing anything other than passing the Imperial Military Academy physical exam, he’s also not put into any equalising situations, not really. Galactics (ie non-Barrayarans) might not care so much that he’s different, but he still has to prove himself in a normal fashion without any sudden advantages. The only advantage he had in his life was more time to read and study growing up due to being unable to play outside as much. The rest of his advantage is all personality and intelligence (the latter having nothing to do with his disabilities).

Katharine: And all thanks to his parents – there’s several references that show he knows what they would do or think in a situation and he seems to take their way as gospel – he uses what his mother would think in a situation to reassure Elena, for example.

Tsana: Yes, it definitely helps that his parents are good role-models. He probably wouldn’t have gotten nearly so far with his crazy schemes if not for his father’s military and political strategy rubbing off on him.

Katharine: And his mother’s ability as a warrior – he wouldn’t have got nearly as far in his schemes without being able to see women are equal from the very start – something that threw a few of his adversaries off. Should we lift the spoiler zone so we can get into the nitty gritty?


<spoilers start here>

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Review: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr.

Published by: Tachyon Publications
ISBN 13: 1892391201
Published: 9781892391209
Pages: 508
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

For some reason I kept putting off reading this. I’m blown away by Tiptree’s work, so why the delay? When I started it finally, and loved each reveal… I also realised that until then I’d known I just didn’t have the emotional space for Tiptree just then. It’s heavy work, and needs time to consider each piece. Tiptree really is absolutely amazing.

Of this collection of eighteen stories there were four award winners (of what I could see), and one that was shortlisted by she requested that it be left off the ballot, and many many others shortlisted besides. We start off with a story of a spreading sickness. Doctor Ain is travelling to a conference, and on his way his sickness is spreading. It’s at the conference he talks of an ‘improved’ (weaponised) leukaemia strain and we now know what sickness Ain is carrying. We see his movements mostly through the later recollections of others, as if Ain has later been investigated for his heinous crime.

The pattern of the idea of the disease continues – whether it’s used to control the population, or how our bodies would work compatibly with aliens – mixing with the ideas in old fables of how the fae could bewitch the unsuspecting – much as has been in our past, could be in our future.

Because it’s Tiptree we see a lot of anger, a lot of morose inevitability, ideas that investigate gender roles, enslavement, sexuality, and many ideas which don’t just cross the line into the disturbing – it surrounds you completely. Tiptree is abundantly clever with her words, going as far as the narrator telling the reader you can skip this part – when it’s the opposite of true.

I can’t recommend this book enough, and we are so lucky to have had Tiptree in our genre. And to hell with those who outed her, and rejected her work when her alias was uncovered.

(Slight warning that the collection may make you angry (as it has me) for her genius, and what she went through.)