Saturday, September 12, 2020

#StayAtHome: Melissa Scott's "Finders"


"Finders keepers, losers weepers" may be the inspiration for the title of Melissa Scott's 2018 SF novel Finders. The book was the September discussion topic for the North Country Gaylaxians reading group, and it was a very lively, wide-ranging discussion! 

I read the book in three days, which is quite an accomplishment for me, as usually I get stuck in the first three pages of a Melissa Scott novel, and give up. I did that a few times in August with Finders, but used the Labor Day long weekend to push past that stuck point and read the entire thing. Somewhere between pages 75 and 100, this 360 page novel really took off for me.

This is fun space opera, that reminded some of the virtually assembled Gaylaxians of the novels of Andre Norton. Grand Dame with polyamory. 

It also reminded me a lot of the setting of the Stars Without Number RPG, although the particular transhuman Ancients in the story background differ in some details.

So what's it about? Finders tells the story of a starship salvage crew of three: a poly thrupple to be specific, recently reunited. Cassilde, Dai, and Ashe are "salvors": salvagers who search sites of the Ancients (humans, possibly transhumans, from two civilizations ago) for the "elements" and for "Gifts." Elements are small, jewel like colored pieces of technology that are incorporated into current-era technology as essential components  

(There isn't much discussion of this in the text, and maybe it will come up in future books in the series, but it would seem that current-era humans have lost the ability to create these high tech building blocks. So the basis of current-era technology is reliant on salvaging the space junk of the Ancients, and current-era people should eventually run out of this stuff that is the basis of their technology. Or so I'd guess. We'll have to wait for the sequels to learn if this is so.) 

Gifts are unique, extremely rare artifacts composed of numerous elements. They can do truly miraculous things, like confer the ability to heal otherwise deadly wounds and arrest terminal illnesses. Exposure to Gifts creates sensitivity to the proximity of others who possess Gifts. This is dangerous, as gifts are transferable.

Salvage activity typically happens through the purchase of licenses to particular sites, ruins, space wrecks, or portions thereof. Our protagonists engage in legal salvage - typically. There are also claim jumpers/pirates who prey on licensed salvagers (and each other), and the plot of this novel centers on one particularly vicious claim jumper who will stop at nothing to acquire the Gifts of the Ancients.

Why? You will have to read the book to see what happens. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

#StayAtHome: The Dialectic of Sex


Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution was one of the first radical feminist manifestos - if not the first. She points out in her text that at the time of publication (1970), there were no radical feminist utopias from which to draw inspiration (or a plan), so in the final chapter of her book, she writes the blueprint for a radical feminist utopia. (Although written in 1970, Joanna Russ' The Female Man won't be published until 1975.)

Firestone draws inspiration from Marxism, and specifically from Engels' method in influential works like The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State. She critiques reformist "American Feminism" (suffrage, the right to participate in social fashions like being a flapper, etc.), Freudianism as a flawed feminism, the origins of inegalitarian gender roles and ideology, the notion of childhood as an ideological construct that become a specific stage of human life (ideology as lived experience and practice, as Althusser would later hold), racism as a subspecies of sexism, male gender ideology, and romance. 

Firestone covers a lot of ground in a fresh way. She has a theory of totality.

The Dialectic of Sex puts forward a stages theory of human society that owes a great deal to Engels - and I like Engels, so no complaints there. And since there weren't any existing radical feminist utopian blueprints when she wrote Dialectic, in the last chapter of the book, Firestone proposes what a non-sexist society would look like: households, not families; collective child-rearing rather than parents; free love within a society free of gender norms.  In short, a communist future, although perhaps not the one envisioned by many male Marxist-Leninists. 

One can argue with whether certain elements for the future society would actually work, but one thing seems pretty clear: this radical feminism has very little to do with the contemporary brand of essentialism and transphobia peddled as radical feminism by the likes of J.K. Rowling and others. Rather, it points towards some of the futures proposed by Samuel R. Delany (Triton, Dhalgren, The Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand) and Cecelia Holland (Floating Worlds). 

Science fiction, not fantasy. Pointing toward the future.