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The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women #17

25) ‘Immersion’ by Aliette de Bodard

You hear them negotiating, in the background – it’s tough going, because the Rong man sticks to his guns stubbornly, refusing to give ground to Galen’s onslaught. It’s all very distant, a subject of intellectual study; the immerser reminds you from time to time, interpreting this and that body cue, nudging you this way and that – you must sit straight and silent, and support your husband – and so you smile through a mouth that feels gummed together. 

You feel, all the while, the Rong girl’s gaze on you, burning like ice water, like the gaze of a dragon. She won’t move away from you, and her hand rests on you, gripping your arm with a strength you didn’t think she had in her body. Her avatar is but a thin layer, and you can see her beneath it: a round, moon-shaped face with skin the colour of cinnamon – no, not spices, not chocolate, but simply a colour you’ve seen all your life. 

‘You have to take it off,’ she says. You don’t move, but you wonder what she’s talking about.

‘Immersion’ is the other of the two stories in this volume that I’ve read before, when it first came out.  Reading it again now, it comes across even more powerfully. As an example of a particular kind of science fiction – the social allegory – it is pretty much perfect.

There are strong resonances here with Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s story ‘Dancing in the Shadow of the Once’. The immersers in de Bodard’s story work similarly to the augmentations in Loenen-Ruiz’s, only in the opposite direction, interpreting and normalising a culture that is foreign to the wearer, rather than acting as a conduit for suppressed memories. Both stories though speak of oppression, of the devastating impact on individuals and on a whole people when one culture imposes itself upon another, no matter how beneficently.

De Bodard evokes her world with skill and although one could not describe this story as action-packed, plenty happens nonetheless. I especially loved Tam. I think she should have a whole book to herself…

 

26) ‘Down the Wall’ by Greer Gilman

They’ve come into a wide square, set with shattered baulks of stone: a great cat with a muffled head, a riven owl, a witch in flinders. There are fires here and there, some leaping and some embers, ashes. Some long cold. And some a-building: leaves and boxes, doors and drawers and random trash. Children heap frail crazy towers: sticks stacks crows’ nests, all to burn. Some run with brands, they leap and whirl them in a swarm of sparks. They write great fading loops of spells. Three drag a gnarled branch to the fires, its dry and leafy fingers clagged with tins, as many as the rings on a witch’s hand. And still it scrabbles, rakes for more. 

This is a night-fantasia, Mervyn Peake on speed, Gustav Dore drawn in words. You could quote from anywhere in this story and it would be uniformly exquisite, universally sublime. ‘Down the Wall’ is a work of poetry, really – its connection with any usual style of prose narrative is tendentious at best. If I were to compare it with music (which I feel driven to, inevitably), which work would it remind me of most? ‘A Night on the Bald Mountain’ by Modest Mussorgsky, of course. Dance, witch, dance.

Greer Gilman is a magician. Her use and love of language is as ferociously advanced as anything in mainstream literary fiction, and then some. What a voice. I was lucky enough to hear her talking on a panel at this year’s Worldcon. The discussion was about favourite sentences. Gilman chose a line from Andrew Marvell. Way to go. I am lost in awe.

 

Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women #16

24) ‘Semiramis’ by Genevieve Valentine

A climate change story. Global warming has precipitated a catastrophic rise in sea level. Many major cities and some whole countries are already underwater, and the disaster is still in motion. Some things remain the same, however, and the greed and short-termism of business corporations is one of them. Two workers at the the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway plan a minor insurrection.

i pick some seeds that will grow in any soil (as dumb as it is, I still want to plant something, once, and watch it grow). I pick some seeds because they’re rare enough to make a decent bribe if things go south.

I pick a bird of paradise, a seed with a sharp red tuft, for no reason except that it’s been ten years since I’ve seen something red; the Aurora is yellow and green, and the rest of the world is the tight dark of seeds, and the envelopes paler than skin.

A fascinating story,  and Valentine’s writing is watertight as always. But something was lacking here, for me.  The overall tone of the narrative is rather cold, rather blank, and whilst I’m sure the writer did not take this decision lightly, for me at least the urgency of the theme seemed diminished by it. Also, this was one of those occasions where I would have greatly welcomed some more background detail – for a story where theme is key, this was all too elliptical. ‘Semiramis’ is a good story, but the diffidence of the (mysteriously annoying) protagonist left me feeling lukewarm about it.

 

The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women #15

23) ‘£nyo-Enyo’ by Kameron Hurley

I fell in love with Hurley’s writing when I read God’s War, and this nasty, brutish and regrettably short story reminds me in every which way of why. Enyo is a – well, what is she? Terrorist, murderer, mercenary, escaped prisoner, fugitive, just desperate to get away? Anyway, she’s in charge of an organic satellite-thing stuffed with illegal alien biotech, employed by a dubious outfit to map the outlying and probably dangerous areas of a neighbouring system. It’s one dodgy gig. Plus the satellite needs regular feeding. This cannot end well.

She had stopped worrying where the body had come from, or who it had been. Her interest was in pondering what it would become when they reached its destination. She lost track of time in these intimate reveries, often. After half a rotation of contemplation, Reeb would do a sweep of the satellite. He would find her alive and intact, and perhaps he would go back to playing screes or fucking one of the engineers or concocting a vile hallucinogen the gelatinous consistency of aloe. They were a pair of two, a crew of three, picking up rim trash and memories in the seams between the stars during the long night of their orbit around the galactic core. 

This story has the festering, Gigerish outlines of what might be termed Alien-punk: corrupt organisations and lethal technology,  hardened professionals of dubious reputation, outcasts and stowaways gone to the bad, or sold to the worse. It’s stunningly written. It’s sad and frightening all at once. It’s everything I enjoy. More set in this world, please!

 

The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women #14

22) ‘The Death of Sugar Daddy’ by Toiya Kristen Finley

I really loved this one, mainly because of its powerful narrative voice. Keisha lives in Nashville, out by the interstate. She tells us about her neighbours and her cousins, the kids down the street she likes to hang out with. But something odd is happening to her neighbourhood. There’s talk of a death. Strangers drive by in a silver Buick, asking for directions to a beauty parlor that doesn’t exist. Keisha is curious about that. She feels drawn to these people in ways she can’t explain:

Actually, I could sympathise. Sorta. Not that Momma’d ever let me get my hair done in a beauty salon at my age, but one of my grandfathers used to own a barber shop. I couldn’t remember which grandfather, though. Grandmommy never talked about her ex-husband, and I’d only met him once when me and Daddy ran into him at Farmer’s Market. Nobody really discussed Daddy’s family either. All I knew about his father was that he had water-wave hair, and that he didn’t have no grays when he died. One of my grandfathers was a postman, and one owned the barber shop. I got them mixed up. Actually, I’m not sure about the postman thing, neither. I think I remembered hearin it one time.

As history becomes more insistent, Keisha becomes more distressed. Pieces of the world are going missing and she is desperate to recover them before any more people or streets or buildings disappear. ‘The Death of Sugar Daddy’ is a perfect piece of slipstream: lyrical, intense and persuasive. It’s about the importance of history and finding your place in it. It’s about identity and how the forces of history can conspire to take it away from you.  I turned the last page, hoping for more, but I’d reached the end. This is a story to carry with you, a story to keep.

The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women #13

20) ‘Ej-Es’ by Nancy Kress

The story is told from the point of view of Mia, a doctor in the space corps, well past the age of retirement and worn out from long service. We join her as she and her colleagues are about to touch down on the planet named Good Fortune, where an established colony has suddenly ceased communicating. The reasons for this are soon established: the colonists have fallen prey to a new virus. They’re all dead. ‘Rec’ cubes left behind by the final victims tell their own story. Mia and her colleagues get to work isolating the pathogens and, from them, creating an antidote:

The colonists had had interment practices, they had had time to bury some of their dead in strong, water-tight coffins before everyone else died, and their customs didn’t include embalming. Much more than Mia had dared hope for. Good Fortune, indeed. 

In five days of tireless work they had the micro isolated, sequenced, and analysed. It was a virus, or a virus analogue, that had somehow gained access to the brain and lodged near the limbic system, creating destruction and death. Like rabies, Mia thought, and hoped this virus hadn’t caused the terror and madness of that stubborn disease. Not even Earth had been able to eradicate rabies. 

These brave pioneers of the space corps are clearly accustomed to measuring time in E years, travelling at speeds ‘just under c’ and solving complex bio-medical problems within five days. It all seems so, so easy. The skeletons of the dead colonists have been picked clean of muck, so there aren’t even any rotting corpses to dispose of. The reconnaissance team later run into some ‘natives’ who seem to be affected by a condition that causes delusions and hallucinations. Mia, worried by their plight, voluntarily maroons herself on Good Fortune so she can spend the time left to her saving their civilisation.

There’s a moral at the end, about not meddling in things or people you don’t properly understand, but by this stage in the story the whole thing had become too Star Trek for me to care.  I’ll happily spend an evening watching DS9 or Voyager, but as it appears on the page, I lost my taste for this post-Golden-Age kind of science fiction many years ago. The workmanlike prose, the little mystery that needs solving, the by-the-numbers characterisation? Just not for me.

 

21) ‘The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees’ by E. Lily Yu

I’m not always a fan of stories that make use of animals to tell a human story, but when they are invested with this amount of wit and invention they can be powerful and strange. Bees seem to be in vogue at the moment, science fictionally, which is no bad thing at all. Not only are they vital to our survival as a species, but with their complex and often untranslatable social systems and modes of being they provide a potent source of metaphor and imagery for any writer.

I was aware of ‘The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees’ the year it was published. I know this story was nominated for a fair few awards – I just never got around to reading it. I’m very pleased to have made good that gap, because it’s a wonderful piece of writing: amusing, cautionary, excellently crafted. In essence, it’s a war story, a story of brutal invasion and counter-revolution, the struggle for power:

Whereas the hive before the wasp infestation had been busy but content, the bees now lived in desperation. The natural terms of their lives were cut short by the need to gather enough honey for both the hive and the wasp nest. As they travelled farther and farther afield in search of nectar, they stopped singing. They danced their findings grimly, without joy. The queen herself grew gaunt and thin from breeding replacements, and certain ministers who understood such matters began feeding royal jelly to the strongest larvae.

Meanwhile, the wasps grew sleek and strong.

In spite of the elegance and beauty of its language, there is nothing even remotely soft-centred about this story. I only wish it could have gone on for longer.

 

The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women #12

18) ‘Valentines’ by Shira Lipkin

The waiter’s name is V. It’s a new restaurant, sci-fi themed, all of the waiters have names like Klaatu or Ripley. I point out that V is a series, not a character, and he laughs, ‘No one remembers the character names from V. But everyone remembers the show. Everyone remembers the lizards.’

I could love this story for this paragraph alone, because… so true, so true. But there’s more to love besides.

The narrator sits in a cafe, a diner, the themed restaurant described above, and makes careful notes about their surroundings and the waiter who serves them. The waiter is Valentine, Val, V. This information seems important and yet elusive, the identity of the waiter or anyone else is never static. The narrator seems on guard, watchful, determined to isolate the crucial details of their experience:

Information is sacred. I don’t remember why, or who told me. But I know that information is sacred, so I write it down, scraps of knowledge and observations. I used to write in leatherbound journals with elegant heavy pens, but the fetish for elegance has fallen by the wayside in my rush to commit everything to paper. Now I use cheap marbled composition books, purchased by the dozen. 

Does the narrator have traumatic amnesia, or are they living in a condition of existential anxiety? Which of the Valentines is the real Valentine, or are they all? Are we catching glimpses of a multiverse, or are we trapped in a hall of mirrors? Later on in the story, the narrator mentions having had a seizure. Could ‘Valentines’ be a metaphorical exploration of the heightened states of consciousness experienced by some epileptics?

I couldn’t decide, and I think in the end this story could best be described as being all of these things, rather than being restricted to any one of them. I love the style of ‘Valentines’, the nouveau-romanesque obsession with quotidian detail, the narrator caught in the act of describing what they are doing even as they are doing it. If the story is a metaphor for the act of writing itself, it is a good one. I envy the deceptively simple outlines, the finely sanded surfaces of this piece. I wanted to stay with the narrator. I could have carried on listening to them for many pages more.

 

19) ‘Dancing in the Shadow of the Once’ by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

Hala is an Artifact, a living exhibit. A representative of the Once-people, she is sent to the planet Silhouette in order to perform the ancient rites and dances of the Once as an educational entertainment for audiences eager for an ‘experience of the exotic’.  Born to the Blood, she has been taken from her own world too early for her innate psychic abilities to develop. In order for her to properly function as an Artifact, she has been fitted with augmentations that allow her access to her people’s communal wisdom and experiences as well as her own formative memories. But the augmentation process is not without risk, and soon Hala will have a terrible choice to make…

This is a story about colonialism. What it shows most powerfully is that the damage inflicted upon colonised peoples is by its nature so deep and so wide-ranging as to be incalculable, even when the colonisers – in this story they are named the Compassionate – believe their actions to be benevolent.

They came with their big ships, riding through the rifts in the Veil that protected the Once-country. We could not say if it was capture or salvation that came to us. They, who we called Compassionate, came for us and took us from the devastation left behind. Of the great number that were the Once-tribe, there were only a handful of us left. We watched as the world we knew and loved vanished in the chaos created by the rifts. And as we departed the Once-country, we wondered if we would ever see it again.

This story is moving enough on its own terms. It is also a powerful allegory, beautifully told.  ‘Dancing in the Shadow of the Once’ is a forthright and courageous indictment of the spiritual and emotional violence that is always bound to be present in any action where one people is encroached upon by another, even when physical violence is not. It is a story that deserves to be read, and read again.

 

The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women #11

16) ‘Invisible Planets’ by Hao Jingfang

A nameless narrator tells a nameless listener stories of distant planets and the strangeness and wonder that can be encountered thereon. Marco Polo is referenced, and indeed this magical-realist story carries an echo of the sound created by Italo Calvino’s imaginary voyage in Invisible Cities:

Can you tell which stories are real and which are not? I travel through these planets like Marco Polo wandering through the cities of the Orient, like Kubla Khan riding through his endless realm. Everything happens in the blink of an eye. You can say that I really have been to these places, or that I have never left.

‘Invisible Planets’ is a story about storytelling, about the changes that are impacted upon us by hearing another person’s tale, by walking for a while among the shadows and silences and musics of a different world. We are the aliens, and the aliens are us. I found some lovely echoes here of some of the themes Vandana Singh explored in her story, about how when two sentient beings encounter one another, they create a third, entirely different being between them:

But they don’t realise that this sense of ‘self’ is an illusion. At the moment when two of them merge, the two original selves cease to exist. They become a combined person and, when separated, two new persons. The new persons do not know all that transpired before their encounter and each believes that the self is the self, never having changed at all.

A gently provocative story, luminous in its language and landscapes.

 

17) ‘On the Leitmotif of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post Apocalypse’ by Nicole Kornher-Stace

There’s a part of me that says the current micro-fashion for story titles that spill over into a second line of text is a fashion for bigging up something not so great as the sum of that title’s parts. There’s an equal part of me that revels in the poetry and boldness of such a titular statement, throwing down the gauntlet to a reader right from the off, and that my own tendency to err on the side of understatement where titles are concerned might in fact be rather boring.

An interesting discussion to have, but in the case of OTLOTTCINHSCPA, it’s beside the point.  Nicole Kornher-Stace’s story is deliriously fine, as boldly poetic in its use of language as it is terrifying and unsparing in its vision.  I don’t think I’ve fully grasped all of it yet – what are the ghosts, for example, how are they ‘captured’? – but as I’ve said before, not fully getting a story has never been a deterrent to my enjoyment of it.

Wasp is an Archivist in a post-apocalypse world. Her task – her birthright – is to gather knowledge about the world before the apocalypse, and her main way of doing this is to entrap ‘ghosts’ of people who were alive during that period. Her day-to-day life is brutal, defined by physical combat and material hardship. The end of the story hints that she may have given her life for the sake of those ghosts she pursued.

The imagic ‘furniture’ of post-apocalypse has become rather well-worn in recent years. What a thrill then to find in Kornher-Stace’s post-apocalyptic world a place of genuine terror, genuine mystery:

The slow burn of autumn congealed into winter, the edges of the map grew sticky with apple juice and the dirt from underneath Wasp’s bitten nails, and the ghost was getting restless. ‘This is not a map to walk by, idiot,’ it told her, standing by in silence as she lay out the saltlick and the apples and the little dish of blood. As she crammed ghosts into jars and took them back to the hut where she paced the tiny room of it nightlong, four paces by four, and questioned them. Each with its story of a long drop on a short rope, or a fall down the stairs, or a half-dozen bullets sinking themselves, wet as kisses, in its erstwhile flesh. Or of a strange deep sick-smelling sleep, stalked by the dreams of dreams. 

The amalgam of myth, science-as-magic and the ruthless imagining of a depleted world is potent and strange. The dense, allusive prose rewards multiple readings. Eager to find out more, I was delighted to learn that Wasp’s full-length story is forthcoming in 2015 from Small Beer Press.

 

 

The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women #10

15) ‘Astrophilia’ by Carrie Vaughn

Stella is an accomplished weaver, living and working at the family co-operative of Greentree homestead. When repeated cycles of drought render the micro-economy of Greentree no longer viable, Stella travels two hundred miles to take up a new position at the more prosperous homestead of Barnard Croft. This homestead has proved so successful they have been allowed to ‘put in for a baby’, the lively Bette. If the homestead’s prosperity continues, they may even be green-lighted for a second. Stella quickly adjusts to life at Barnard. She likes her new co-workers, and begins to form a special attachment to Andi, with whom she shares living quarters and later a bed.

But Andi is at odds with her father Toma, who also happens to be the head of the homestead and responsible for all hands. Toma’s grandparents lived lives of regret, desperately missing the world they grew up in, the world before the fall. Toma, staunchly proud of Barnard Croft and the life they have made for themselves, is terrified of a future that threatens to repeat the mistakes of the past. Andi insists that progress is essential, that the desire for knowledge is what makes them human. It is not long before Stella finds herself caught between them.

“I know disaster can still happen. I know the droughts and storms and plagues do still come and can take away everything. Better than anyone, I know. But we have to start building again sometime, yes? People like Andi have to start bulding, and we have to let them, even if it seems useless to the rest of us. Because it isn’t useless, it – it’s beautiful.”

I’m afraid I found this story a bit of a make-weight.  There’s a lot of overlap here with both the Lucy Sussex story and the Ursula Le Guin – post-collapse world, harsh life on a remote farmstead, even the weaving – and yet ‘Astrophilia’ lacks either the caustic edge of the Sussex or the literary accomplishment of the Le Guin. The prose is perfectly adequate but it bears no distinguishing features. The story is perfectly pleasant but there is nothing remarkable about it. Indeed, it felt old-fashioned to me – swap Andi for Andrew and this could be a John Wyndham story. (It reminds me of the end of The Chrysalids.) Nothing wrong in any of that, and this is definitely a feelgood story – it’s just that for me at least ‘Astrophilia’ doesn’t seem to bring much in the way of originality to the anthology as a whole.

The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women #9

12) ‘Tan-Tan and Dry Bone’ by Nalo Hopkinson

This is a story about overcoming guilt.

Dry Bone is a kind of leech, a vampiric demon-like creature that lies in wait for unwary souls already shouldering a burden. Once Dry Bone battens on to you, you can’t get rid of him. It’s like making a deal with the devil at the crossroads, only the deal is all in the devil’s favour:

Dry Bone sit up straight. He lick he lips. A stranger in Duppy Dead Town, one who ain’t know to avoid he. One who can’t see she joy for she sorrow; the favourite meat of the one name Dry Bone. He know she good. Dry Bone know all the souls that feed he. He recognise she so well, he discern she name in the curve of she spine.

The story as it stands has no discernible science fiction element. It has the feel of folklore, of a grandmother’s tale, told to scare the children at night. I was curious about its presence in an anthology of science fiction stories, and so (cheating again!) I searched for information about its background.

I discovered that ‘Tan-Tan and Dry Bone’ is one of three tales Hopkinson wrote as an integral part of Midnight Robber, a science fiction novel in which Tan-Tan is the main character.  Sessily Watt writes with great articulacy about the relationship between science fiction and fantasy in ‘Tan-Tan and Dry Bone’ here:

In Midnight Robber, the science fiction tropes outweigh the fantasy ones, but they are both present. Characters chafe under a high technology, surveillance state and escape it for an alien planet, where legends seem to come alive.

I’m very excited by these ideas, and now find myself eager to read Midnight Robber. In the meantime, the beauty of ‘Tan-Tan and Dry Bone’ resides in the musicality and Caribbean cadences of its language, which begs to be read aloud.

 

13) ‘The Four Generations of Chang E’ by Zen Cho

This is science fiction used as metaphor, a story about being part of a diaspora.

There are four Chang Es, one for each generation. The story also takes the form of a circle,

In the final days of Earth as we knew it, Chang E won the moon lottery. 

For Earthlings who were neither rich nor well-connected, the lottery was the only way to get on the Lunar Habitation Programme. (This was the Earthlings’ name for it. The moon people said: ‘those fucking immigrants’.)

As we see the first Chang E leaving Earth for the moon, selling everything she has – ‘the car, the family heirloom enamel pin collection, her external brain’ – to facilitate her resettlement, so we watch as a fourth generation Chang E returns many decades later to her ancestral homelands on Earth. But the woman who returns is no longer in any sense the woman who left:

Past a certain point, you stop being able to go home. At this point, when you have got this far from where you were from, the thread snaps. The narrative breaks. And you are forced, pastless, motherless, selfless, to invent yourself anew. 

At a certain point, this stops being sad – but who knows if any human has ever reached that point?

Things do become easier for Chang E – she and her family are assimilated and to some extent accepted as part of the moon people’s community. She has a good life – but it is never a one-way trade, and there is a sense, always, that she cannot afford to ever relax her guard completely, something fourth-generation Chang E is reminded of most forcefully when she visits Earth:

Here, thought Chang E, was what her mother had dreamt of, Earthlings would not be like moon humans, always looking anxiously over their shoulder for the next way in which they would be found wanting. 

‘The Four Generations of Chang E’ is deceptively simple – a second reading reveals a brittle edge to the humour,  a sadness and sometimes an anger that linger a long time in the heart. There’s a whole world here, if you care to look for it. An accomplished story.

 

14) ‘Stay Thy Flight’ by Elisabeth Vonarburg

A very beautiful, mysterious story, a riddle befitting the reputation of its protagonist…

The narrator of this story is a bio-sculpture, a piece of art created by renegade artist Angkaar, just before the creation of sentient artworks was outlawed. She is a sphinx, and she stands on – or is chained to – a pedestal in a public park. People may come and ask her questions, and at certain times – on what the sphinx refers to as slow days – she may in her turn ask questions of human beings, if they are willing.

The language of this story is notable for its evocative rhythm, an effect that is almost like hyperventilation, achieved through the unusual placement of commas:

You are immobile, for me, by day, almost, less than I for you, but slow. Everything around me, becomes slow, after dawn, the sun rises, heaves itself up, slows down, crawls, an imperceptible movement, in the sky, the birds’ songs too, in the park, draw out, lowering down, deeper and deeper, to a basso continuo, some modulations, but spaced out, wind, when there is some, leaves, music, solemn, meditating, I like.

Through the course of the story we see the sphinx form particular attachments – first to an artist who comes to paint her, then to a young woman who seems to know more about her than she ought to – and through their questions and actions we learn more about the world beyond the park. The waters are rising, things are changing, a cycle of existence is coming to an end.

The sphinx refers to her thought processes as ‘programming’ but she knows there is more to her than that, even if she is powerless to name it.

Sad, absorbing, subtly unnerving.

 

 

The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women #8

11) ‘Mountain Ways’ by Ursula K. Le Guin

On the planet O, the marriage unit – known as a sedoretu – is a foursome, two men and two women. Each sedoretu contains within itself four interweaving partnerships and two forbidden partnerships. Marriage is important within Ki’O society, not just for reasons of love and companionship but for the successful maintenance of communities and livelihoods. Like any form of marriage, the sedoretu can have its problems…

‘Mountain Ways’ occupies similar ground to the Lucy Sussex story, even down to its highland/lowland dynamic. It is true that marriage on O seems an altogether more open, free and equitable arrangement than the male-dominated and often unhappy power relationships we see in Sussex’s world of the Crash, and what interested me most about ‘Mountain Ways’ was the portrayal of societal equality between genders. In her novel Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie showed how the use of a single pronoun might realign perceptions around gender; in ‘Mountain Ways’, Le Guin manages to achieve a similar effect simply by ‘writing equal’ and it’s masterfully done. More of this in  SFF, please!

I happened to enjoy ‘Mountain Ways’ more than I enjoyed ‘The Queen of Erewhon’ – the sense of place seemed more richly abundant, and I was more heavily invested in the characters. I liked the ambience generally. Le Guin’s writing is, as ever, elegant and concise and quietly poetic:

After her meditation and reading, Enno would come out and find Shahes on the great slopes where the yearlings still ran with their dams and the new-borns. Together the two women could fill a forty-pound sack a day with the airy, silky, milk-coloured clouds of combings. Often they would pick out a pair of twins, of which there had been an unusual number this mild year. If Shahes led out one twin the other would follow it, as yama twins will do all their lives; and so the women would work side by side, in a silent, absorbed companionship. They talked only to the animals. 

 

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