wDec 29, 2008

Air by Geoff Ryman

At this point, I've forgotten a lot of what was discussed when my feminist science fiction book club met to discuss Geoff Ryman's Air.

I liked most of this book. Chung Mae was a compelling and competent protagonist, but still severely limited by a patriarchal society that was technologically lagging behind everybody else on the planet.

Air is like the Internet, but unstoppable and entering into your mind. It take Chung Mae's community, which barely has any telephones, by surprise. People die from shock. They are given another year to prepare. Chung Mae is illiterate, but the only person who knows how to manipulate the TV.

It won the Tiptree Award in 2005. The Award is supposed to recognize literature that pushes the boundaries of gender, but I am not seeing how that happened in this book. I would easily agree that the book is feminist, just like Sarah Hall's Daughters of the North, I am really not seeing what is happening that is gender-bendy. At book club, someone suggested that because Chung Mae's society is so patriarchal, it might be that women taking charge of the community was gender-bendy, but that's a pretty weak argument in my opinion.

Also, our book club spent the most amount of time talking about a specific thing that is spoiler, but also does not ruin the plot of the book. I'll still put it behind a cut just in case.

But in the end, Chung Mae gets pregnant in her stomach. It's revealed that she gets pregnant in this way by giving a man a blow job and then tasting her own fluids, stuff mixes in her belly, and that's where she gets pregnant!

This was shocking to all of us, especially in a book so feminist in every other respect. Still, this seemed like an old wive's tale, meant to scare little girls away from sexual activity of any kind. And yet, here it is in this book coming true.

Most people at book club laughed it off, agreeing that the author is simply massively uninformed (when Chung Mae menstruates, Ryman says that she "shoves a rag" up inside of herself, and I'm sorry, but that is not what we do with rags, sir!). And maybe that's it!

But still, the book essentially ends with Chung Mae giving birth to this stomach-baby....by literally puking it up.
I am convinced that Ryman is trying to make a huge point here, but none of us got it.
ETA: An LJ friend has insightful thoughts here!

He is going to be one of the two guests of honor at 2009's Wiscon, and I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to ask him.

Spoiler-event aside, I highly recommend this book! I loved his writing.

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scribbled mystickeeper at 10:48 AM

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