Friday, July 21, 2017

Short Book Reviews: A Postapocalyptic Genderqueer Story

The Book of Etta, by Meg Elison (47 North, 2017). This novel is the sequel to the Philip K. Dick Award-winning The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, but can be easily read on its own. Generations ago, a plague swept the world, killing most of the women and leaving the survivors at grave risk in childbirth. The expected chaos resulted, social disintegration, and enslavement of the few remaining fertile women. 

Now various communities have evolved their own cultures with varying roles for the women, often in isolation and ignorance of one another. Etta lives in Nowhere, a fortified community in which women hold power as Mothers and Midwives. She frets against her mother’s expectations, keeps her lesbian love affair secret, and flees to the outside world under the guise of a scavenger of old technology and rescuer of enslaved women. In this role, she becomes Eddy, but the switch is not mere disguise for safety. The prose shifts to the male pronoun to emphasize the transformation in identity. As the story unfolds, it becomes more and more clear that Etta/Eddy flips back and forth from one persona to the other, and clues emerge as to the origin of the personality split. In his adventures, Eddy encounters underground havens, trading centers where transgender “horsewomen” live openly as women, and a vicious tyrant bent on conquest. 

Elison weaves together elements of dystopia and hope, tense action and inner anguish, into a compelling tale of survival and self-revelation. Highly recommended, although with a caution for younger readers.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Short Book Reviews: The Nigerian Space Program Saves the Day

After the Flare, by Deji Bryce Olukotun (Unnamed Press, 2017).  Non-Western-centered science fiction has found an eager audience in recent years, and this novel is a worthy addition. In the not-too-distant future, a gigantic solar flare paralyzes the electrical grid across the world. Among the many unfolding catastrophes are the marooning of a single astronaut on the International Space Station.  Because nations near the Equator are relatively spared, it’s up to the Nigerian space program to rescue her. From this remarkable premise, Olukotun spins a tale that is part thriller (will the astronaut be rescued in time? Will the terrorists drawing ever closer to the base take over before the rescue rocket can be launched? What ancient, possibly magical artifact have the desert women discovered?), part science fictional examination of the endless ingenuity of human beings, and part cultural drama. The richness of the African backdrop, from local customs to corrupt politics to wildlife to a vanished civilization, colors every aspect of Nigeria’s fast-paced space race. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Seichi Journals - Epilog

A short while ago, we adopted a shelter dog, a young female German Shepherd Dog, named Sage (Seichi). Although she was a wonderful dog in many respects, her intensity and high prey drive didn't work out for us. We believed our cats to be at risk, and my own mental health, in a fragile state because of the recent parole hearing of the man who'd raped and murdered my mother, showed worrisome signs. So we returned her to the (no-kill) shelter, along with a detailed report of our experience and progress with her.

Seichi is a lovely, affectionate, highly intelligent dog. She has a very high prey drive and is eager to please, but needs a home without cats or small children, and an owner who is experienced in training GSDs with positive, non-force methods.

Even so, I experienced second thoughts. Had I given up on her too soon? What if no one else adopts her -- or the wrong person does, and attempts to overpower her with force? Should we give her another try? And each time, I had to talk myself down from those doubts, reminding myself of my own limitations. My husband kept reminding me, too.

Yesterday, we got an email from Seichi's special volunteer handler at the shelter. Not only had she been adopted but she will be trained in search and rescue work, focusing on finding victims in collapsed buildings! I am relieved beyond words. Not only will she have the kind of work that will give her focus and joy (since German Shepherd Dogs are working dogs and need a job!) but she will have a better life than we could give her. And she'll be saving human lives.

Sometimes what looks like a bad situation turns out to be a blessing.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Hidden Island of Beauty in the Heavens





This image, from Astronomy Picture of the Day, reminds me of the beauty all around us, throughout the cosmos, if only we can see it. The gorgeous spiral galaxy, IC 342, is usually not visible because it lies on the plane of the Milky Way, and all those stars and dust obscure the view. The pink areas mark regions of star formation, perhaps a fairly recent burst in activity. It's thought that IC 342, which really deserves a name fitting to its glory, may have gravitationally influenced the evolution of the local group of galaxies and the Milky Way.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Having Babies New Ways

Dreams Before the Start of Time, by Anne Charnock (47 North, 2017) examines the effect of evolving reproductive technology upon individual choice, relationship, and the meaning of family. It’s told as a series of vignettes beginning in 2034 and extending those same characters, both primary and secondary, as their lives unfold into 2084-85 and 2120. Charnock begins with current medical methods: in-vitro fertilization, donor sperm, and so forth, then spins the technology forward. 

What will it mean for family bonds if an adult of either sex can become a solo biological parent? How will marriages, families, parent-child relationships change – or will they? 

The consistent focus upon the daily lives of the characters and their emotions gives the book the feel of a mainstream or literary piece. Devoted science fiction fans may become impatient with the relative lack of emphasis on the technology, but at the same time, the thoughtful exploration of how we become parents interacts with who we are may well make this novel accessible to the general reader. Either way, the prose is strong, the scenes evocative, the questions worth asking.