Review – Muir, “Gideon the Ninth”

Tamsyn Muir, “Gideon the Ninth” (2019) (read aloud by Moira Quirk) – People love this book! It’s about Gideon Nave, who lives on a planet that sucks in a solar system that sucks and both are ruled by necromancers. Every planet has its own kind – martial necromancers, sexy necromancers, brainy necromancers, etc., you know how contemporary scifi likes to sort things into houses and so on based on one or two traits – and the Ninth, Gideon’s, is run by the gothiest necromancers. You might think all necromancers are pretty goth, what with the reanimating skeletons and all, but the Ninth is extra goth, all about decay, darkness, stuff being old, repentance, etc.

Gideon doesn’t fit in that well, because she’s big, bluff, lively, and rebellious. She eventually makes a path for herself as a swordswoman. She’s also the only one of two people her age on her planet due to a ghastly accident near her birth. The other is Harrow. Harrow is the heir to the noble house who runs the place. She’s petite, delicate, and a manipulator, and as into necromantic magic as Gideon is into swords. They don’t get along. But they’re forced to go to the First planet, where the necromantic empire got its start, to get into a competition with all the other houses/planets. One (1) necromancer and one (1) swordsman from each planet are to compete to become, like, extra-special vaguely-immortal necromancers, and fight by the side of the necromancer emperor himself!

Here’s the deal: this is a plot and a setup perfectly balanced to produce a neutral starting opinion in me, basically because elements that interest me (science fantasy! Swords!) get canceled out by elements that don’t (goth stuff! Oft-repeated plot elements and tropes from contemporary series-based speculative fiction!). Similarly, the ecstatic reception this book has received from many friends- on the one hand, they’re smart people whose opinions I respect, on the other, I know my own particular tastes differ. So… I come with a very open mind, and in the end, it was the quality of the writing, from structure down to syntax, that decided it. 

Aaaaand… that quality, while I could tell it would be just the thing to keep others more favorably inclined on the hook, was not the kind that I like. First, the book is surprisingly slow-moving for a popular bestseller about people with swords and magic fighting each other. After a pretty bravura opening, matters slow to a crawl when Gideon and Harrow get to the First planet. It’s a pretty funny twist, that they bring all these necromancy freaks and swordfighters to a big palace for a contest, but the Emperor’s flunkies don’t actually know what the contest is! And so, you get a long drawn out middle of everyone trying to figure shit out. You get leisurely introduced to all the weirdos from the assorted planet/houses, who of course have millennia of lore and rivalries and stereotypes about each other, not the worst worldbuilding but also the sort of stuff that will be familiar to anyone who has read contemporary SFF, living as it does under the shadow of Hogwarts. Not only do these weirdos need to banter, occasionally duel, get romantically obsessed with each other, etc., but they need to not just solve a mystery, but solve the mystery of what the mystery is! Too slow, and the stakes too abstract, for me. 

Then there’s the dialogue and humor. Here, I worry most about stepping on the toes of friends. I didn’t like it. Despite existing in a millennia-old undead empire presumably light-years from Earth, Gideon still thinks in memes and internet jokes. Honestly, the anachronism involved doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that Muir follows this into having most characters talk in a sort of early-2000s internet forum argot, a wordy idiom of exaggeration and affected cynicism. She wrings a lot of mileage from the contrast of aristocratic high diction and puns and/or a Boing Boing reader’s idea of “naughtiness.” Harrow and Gideon, for instance, repeatedly threaten each other in… not exactly “flowery” language, a “fuckwaffle” isn’t a flower, but you know, like, very wordy threats with a lot of silly words thrown in. Sometimes more than one, in a string! Think the way your freshman year dorm-mates who misquoted Monty Python would talk if they had all the time they wanted to come up with the most needlessly elaborate lines possible and deliver them with as much mustard as they could muster. It doesn’t help I listened to this as an audiobook!

Basically, this is a book for goths, or anyway, goths in the way goth-dom has taken shape in the last… well, here, I don’t know enough to say. I understand that the goth subculture was always big on irony and camp. This scans from my memories of youth. I do also vaguely get the idea that they – not just goths, either, but other youth subcultures at the time too, like metalheads, punks, to a certain extent nerds, hippies, and so on – used to take the whole subcultural thing more seriously, thought their customs, outfits, music, tropes etc. really were superior and would fight, or at least argue, the point. I’m not sure if that changed, or if I was just projecting- back when it mattered (i.e. adolescence), I was pretty violently opposed to subculture as a concept. It’s hard to project myself back there. Why did I care? 

Anyway! The points where this book rubbed against me seem to be points that either wouldn’t bother or would positively delight the contemporary, un-self-serious goth with a job and responsibilities. Moreover, the joy they could take from how dark, decadent, and skeleton-y (animated skeletons appear to do all the work, and being me, I wanted to know more about them, and think they’d probably have a better book in them, all amusing skeleton hi-jinks) would probably get them over rough patches, like the slow pace. If Muir has one strength, it’s atmospherics: even (especially?) with all the quipping, stuff does feel quite gothic. I’m glad they have something they can enjoy! This isn’t bad but it is definitively “not for me.” ***

Review – Muir, “Gideon the Ninth”

Review – Schuyler, “Black No More”

George Schuyler, “Black No More: Being An Account of the Strange and Wonderful Workings of Science in the Land of the Free, A.D. 1933-1940” (1931) – I’ve probably harped on this before in this space, but I never agreed with the nice-internet-people nostrum that satire is only satire if it “punches up,” that is, only targets people above the socioeconomic scale, vis-a-vis the author (and I guess the reader, too?). I’m not a strict prescriptivist, I don’t think we need to stick with the classical definitions of things… but I think it is a bad redefinition, the kind that trades in thousands of years of thought on something for a momentary comfort, or an edge in online arguments. This attempted redefinition only has any currency because we’ve decided that being funny is somehow sacred, in the same way that courage was once considered and still is by some, that it’s the sort of virtue you can’t apply to an enemy and see them as a real “bad guy.”Anyone is perfectly saying that they –don’t like– satire that “punches down,” against the downtrodden. I usually don’t, especially not with satire of contemporary societies! But I think it really doesn’t cut ice to say that somehow satire isn’t satire because it does something you don’t like. That’s part of the conceit of the genre, from Juvenal’s day on down – it is a mirror, it takes in society as a whole. Don’t like it? Blame light, blame glass, blame yourself for looking and being the way you are.

Well… “Black No More” is a satire in the old mold, all right. The satirical conceit is like any other conceit: it’s not literally true, like any artist the satirist makes their choices of what to depict and how. But if the satirist is smart, they can make it seem as natural as the reflection you see (and, generally, loathe, one way or another) in glass or water. George Schuyler was a Harlem Renaissance guy who grew to hate the Harlem Renaissance. Child of a black military family who knew poverty and prison before becoming a writer, Schuyler gadded about the literary scene for some time, doing journalism, travel writing, criticism, and occasional fiction. This is technically scifi- it’s about a scientist (a black scientist, if anyone’s keeping track) who invents a process for rendering black people into white people, flawlessly and cheaply. Schuyler handwaves a lot of the science (which goes along with his ideas on race more generally- more anon) away, and soon enough, new white people are taking the US by storm. 

On the one hand, Schuyler was a “race isn’t real” guy. He insists that, for instance, that differences in facial structure and accent wouldn’t give the game away for black people turned white (though I also think he has the process involve some kind of facial/bodily reconstruction? He’s vague). On the other, he has the US come close to collapse once it becomes clear that its black population is going to shrink almost to nothing. Without race, the whole culture starts to lose its grip, and massive upheavals occur in politics and society. 

We see this mostly through the person of Max Disher, a charismatic and morally flexible young black insurance agent in Harlem at the beginning of the story. When he hears of the black-no-more process, he immediately takes it, because he wants nicer things and also is obsessed with a white lady who rejected him a gin joint. Max immediately becomes a success in the white world by joining a KKK-like organization and leading it against the threat of crypto-black people. Among other things, the process is not genetic, and the offspring of ex-black people come out as black as they would otherwise (the doctor who invented the process promises that he will have special infant clinics that can “fix” that). As luck would have it, the racist group’s leader’s daughter is the mean white lady of his dreams, and he gets married to her as he grows the organization. 

As you can probably tell, the plot isn’t the point here, really. The point is Schuyler’s look, as acidic as it is panoramic, of American society and its hypocrisy around race. Schuyler depicts white racists, like Max’s new father-in-law, as stupid. But Schuyler depicts black “race leaders,” including very obvious parodies of W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Schuyler’s employer at the time, NAACP head Walter White, as utter frauds, pompous boobs living off the credulous. He shows them as willing to sell every notional value out immediately for white approval or for simple living expenses, mostly via trying to insist that black people stay black rather than de-racinating themselves. Of course, this is also what Disher’s new racist friends want. As tensions rise and white society falls on itself, trying to find a new scapegoat and mostly landing on “ex-blacks,” the movement Disher helped start finds itself in a position to take national power… only to find that racial purity, backed by anything like a “rigorous” understanding of race, doesn’t really work, either. In the end, everyone gets what’s coming to them, mostly violently. 

So Schuyler doesn’t think race matters… but it’s also at the center of the society he depicts, the identity and needs of every character, and the whole story he tells. This doesn’t make him a hypocrite, necessarily. It sort of does make him a satirist of the old school- where would Juvenal be if he lived in the supposedly clean Rome of the early Republic, what would Thackeray have to do with himself in a society less grotesquely unfair than early Victorian Britain? This does get into one of the weaknesses of satire as a genre: that its most common topic is hypocrisy, the distance between professed value and observed deeds. The more inflated the sense of virtue and the more obviously dirty the deeds beneath them, the more entertaining pricking hypocrisy with pins can be. 

Pretty much any period, given how people are, can be a good target for hypocrisy-baiting… but I’m not sure that applies to all times and places equally. Sometimes, the pretense of virtue wears thin, and it’s pretty obvious that the emperor has no clothes. Pointing it out isn’t that funny. By the time Schuyler was writing, the pretenses of white American society were pretty thin indeed. Scientific racism no longer held the stranglehold on anthropological thought it once did (though it was still a major intellectual force), the general skepticism of the Roaring 20s and the reaction to the Depression that came after was in the air… so Schuyler really has three main targets. There’s the ignorant “booboisie” (H.L. Mencken was a great publisher and booster of Schuyler, and they shared a lot of misanthropic attitudes- some called Schuyler “The Black Mencken”), mostly of the South, insisting that segregation was necessary for civilization. That’s pretty easy to lampoon. Then there’s black “race leaders.” I wouldn’t say Schuyler was “punching down” here, even if I thought such was the instant DQ some of the internet thinks it is. People like Du Bois probably had more power than a scribbler like Schuyler. I would say that, whatever their flaws, the black leadership of this class at the time was actually pretty smart, and the idea they were useless, feckless boobs really doesn’t wash- Schuyler couldn’t see the future, but he was awfully sure about the present, and the future has a tendency to knock people like that down a peg. 

Above all, though, Schuyler’s target was people in general. People are stupid, greedy, concuspient, and inevitably bring about their own doom in what can only be called parodies of tragedy. We’re back at the familiar territory, why this book belongs in “Readings on the Right,” even though Schuyler had yet to break with the NAACP and go all the way to the arms of the as-yet-unfounded National Review, as he would later do, by this point. Even though race is bullshit, it’s definitional and will collapse society if it’s taken away because people are bullshit. Race is about what we deserve- it just sucks that George Schuyler, who sucks less, has to be inconvenienced by it, and listen to other people talk about it (some of his more well-known critical essays were about how it’s wrong to classify writers by race). We know where this goes. Trying to improve things is pointless, usually perverse, almost always involves improving things for (and worse, forcing interactions with) lame, stupid people, so, most misanthropes wind up opposed, to one degree of violence or another, to attempts at liberation or amelioration. You’d figure more people would think that, if people are as lousy as all that, that you should make power arrangements as equitable as possible so no one can lord it over you (roughly my position, on bad days), but it seldom seems to work out like that, with your freestanding public cynics. 

This is one of the reasons why satire can be real iffy as a genre. As Clint Eastwood once put it, “we all got it coming, kid” – we are all, in some sense, hypocrites worthy of ridicule, or in some way or another shown up by the world around us. This applies to most of our ideas and social institutions as well. But that doesn’t mean just any “snarking” (to use a hideous newish word) does the job, or justifies a book. Among other things, it helps to either have interesting imagery (Juvenal, Ishmael Reed- the latter a big fan of Schuyler’s) or a plot (Confederacy of Dunces, Arrested Development) if you’re going to do longform satire, and Schuyler hasn’t really got either going for him. It’s funny in places and he clearly has some writing chops, but it also feels more like a phoned-in rant turned into a novel than anything else. ***

Review – Schuyler, “Black No More”

Review – Russell, “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms”

Gerard Russell, “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East” (2014) (read aloud by Michael Page) – Readers can have a little bit of orientalism… as a treat! That’s not entirely fair, in one direction or another- either something in Said’s towering labyrinth of what is and isn’t culpable essentializing doesn’t apply to this book, or else, I should be slamming it harder. Gerard Russell is a British ex-diplomat, journalist, and currently a kind of PR/lobbying guy (apparently helping the United Arab Emirates in its PR war against rival tiny Gulf oil tyranny Qatar?). He follows – somewhat self-consciously – in a long tradition of western, especially British, official and semi-official travelers in the Middle East who want to get to know the “real” culture of the area. Often, these travelers become partisans of one or another cause, most famously T.E. Lawrence and his fight for a united Arab kingdom, liberated from the Turks in WWI. The record of such figures is mixed, both geopolitically and intellectually.

Russell, working in an era where the British still have some pull in the region but are definitely not the big fish anymore, has a couple of dogs in the fight, and they’re not awful ones, as far as it goes. He thinks people should see the people of the Middle East as responding to historical circumstances, not some essential drive to conflict, sectarianism, whatever. And he’s a sympathizer with its small religions, which is what this book is about. As he points out in the introduction, despite the Middle East’s reputation as a monolithic bloc of Muslims, there is in fact greater religious diversity in the region than in most places, and much of it comes from religious groups that well pre-date not just Islam, but Christianity and in some cases even rival Judaism’s hoary agedness. Various religious scholars and enthusiasts have scrapped and squinted the harsh soil of European monoculture to find pre-monotheistic religious holdovers in isolated parts of the continent, but in the Middle East, there are full blown remnants of such religions in plain view, simple sociological fact. 

In the grand old British orientalist tradition, Russell roots for these because they’re cool and different. Well… there’s a reason people liked (like?!) orientalism so much, and not just do put down and dehumanize “the other.” The religions Russell discusses are interesting and different! He finds opportunities to spend time with and discuss the beliefs of Mandaeans, Copts, Kalasha, Druze, Samaritans, Yazidis, and Zoroastrians. From our perspective, it is hard not to see many of these religions as “throwbacks,” though at least one, the Druze, do seem to post-date the rise of Islam in the region. All of them are either defined by, or retain features of, religious traditions that aren’t seen much today. In some cases, there is a direct, if somewhat obscurely documented, line between pre-monotheistic religion and these marginal religions of the region, such as among the Kalasha (essentially, Afghan Hindus) and the Mandaeans (who probably keep old Babylonian beliefs, especially surrounding astrology, alive). Others represent “paths not taken” by the mainstream monotheistic religions: the influences of Gnosticism and Greek philosophy (especially Pythagoras and Neo-Platonism) in the Druze and Yazidi faiths, the early draft of dualistic monotheism in Zoroastrianism, the dwindling pre-Temple-destruction Judaism of the Samaritans. The Copts of Egypt are a bit of an odd man out, being devout Christians and hence part of a large religious body, and Russell makes what seem like bigger reaches than usual in ascribing some Coptic beliefs and practices to the Pharaonic past. A Christian-dominated Egypt is enough of an anachronism for me without connecting it to people who worshiped animal-headed gods, but maybe if I knew Egypt better, it’d make more sense. 

In general, you want to be careful with claims of advanced antiquity. In a lot of cases, they reflect myth-making more than anything else. But Russell isn’t completely off-base here, and the Middle East is hardly alone in having enclaves dedicated to what seem like other historical paths. Even if these religions aren’t as old as some scholars and adherents claim, there is clearly deep, involved, and obscure history here. Given the harsh politics of the region over the centuries, many of these religious communities grew clannish and secretive, and don’t just give over their histories or holy texts to anybody, even with their communities. Russell makes no claim of being a theologian or scholar of religions- he just likes cool stuff and wants a more diverse world. 

He also admires their underdog quality. These religions have held on through many ups and downs, but are under severe threat now from multiple vectors of homogenization. The most obvious and spectacular of these is the rise of militant fundamentalist Islam. The Shia clerics who rule Iran do not love their Zoroastrian minority, but their persecutions pale next to those put on by those inspired by the oil-money funded revival of Salafist, Wahabbist, and other militant Sunni movements. ISIS nearly destroyed the Yazidi, who they regard as devil-worshippers, when they rolled through their homes in the mountains of Syria and Iraq, and less spectacular but equally discouraging persecutions of minority religious trends run throughout the Sunni world, from Sufis in North Africa to Ahmadis in Pakistan. The closest there is to a rationale for Assad’s side in the Syrian Civil War is that he slaughters based on opposition to his rule, less on the basis of sectarian identity, and Syria is home to many religious minorities that would stand to be exiled or massacred en masse if the opposition (after Assad killed what there was of a non-Salafist Arab Syrian opposition, those “moderate rebels” the CIA sought for in vain) won. Russell mostly stays out of the Syria situation, to his credit. 

There’s the push factor of persecution, but there’s also the pull factor of the world outside. Many of these religious traditions emphasize education and cooperation with secular rules (insofar as said rules aren’t too badly oppressive), so many Copts, Druze, Zoroastrians and others have found economic and social success in places where they migrated to. Russell doesn’t end “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms” in Beirut or Baghdad, but in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest concentration of people of Middle Eastern descent in the US, and a place where people of many of the faiths Russell describes found refuge. You can find more Mandaeans in Worcester, Massachusetts, than you can in many of their traditional villages in the marsh country of Iraq these days, and my part of Massachusetts has seen chain-migration of Copts, many of whom open up pizza restaurants. People from most of these religions (Kalasha tend to stick to their valleys and Samaritans to a few towns in what’s now Israel/Palestine) have also found traction in Britain, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere. In those places, they face the classic immigrant dilemma: the benefits of assimilation versus losing their culture. The blessed indifference most Westerners have towards their beliefs (also a double-edged sword, often lumping them into a generic “Middle Eastern” off-white category and assuming they’re all Muslim, hence suspect- those Coptic pizza places often have BIG displays of crosses and saint icons, and I don’t think that’s down to piety alone) can also infect their children and themselves. Russell emphasizes these aren’t easy religions- the Copts have more fasting days than normal days on their characters, and many of these faiths have difficult rules to follow, expressed in obscure holy texts and oral traditions. Especially when the faith itself, its beliefs and practices, define your community, it seems hard to try to soften or “modernize” them to make them easier… 

In any event! These religions have survived quite a lot, as Russell tells us. He also tells us a lot of interesting facts about them, and tells the stories of how he came to know these people. This is more journalism or travel writing than religious studies. Truth be told, I kind of prefer it that way, at least as far as recreational readability (well, listenability in this case) goes. Russell has both a certain amount of humility before the depth of this topic, and a willingness to speculate that might be a little “iffy” but does make for interesting reading. ****

Review – Russell, “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms”

Review – Piercy, “Woman on the Edge of Time”

Marge Piercy, “Woman on the Edge of Time” (1976) – Damn… this fucking ruled. A classic of seventies feminist science fiction, “Woman on the Edge of Time” advances multiple visions of the future with daring only rivaled by its vision of its present, the hungover, pessimistic seventies. Consuela Ramos, a middle-aged Chicana woman, starts seeing visions around the second time she is committed by the state to an insane asylum. These visions, however much Connie is annoyed by them at first, are unusually consistent: a person named Luciente, unfailingly polite and positive, telling her about a future, the year 2137. Eventually, Luciente is able to pull Connie’s consciousness into something that is either that future, or a very convincing vision thereof.

Piercy, a major feminist poet of her day as well as a novelist, is unsubtle without being at all cliche- people often conflate the two, but they don’t deserve to be put together. The contrast between Luciente’s future in the village of Mattapoisett (on Buzzard’s Bay in Massachusetts, not far from Piercy makes her home) and Connie’s present in the asylum might seem like obvious contrasts, but Piercy makes it about more than “good versus bad” or even “free versus oppressive.” It really is life versus death, or human versus machine. The asylum claims to heal, but really just warehouses the poor, sick, and obstreperous until they’re finally utterly disposable, either dead or drooling, passive zombies. Mattapoisett is the product of a successful revolution. The inhabited parts of the world, after decades of ecological catastrophe, now live in confederations of small communities that practice socialist economics, small-scale democratic governance, and generally a lot of “person-centered” culture. 

Here’s the deal: the world Luciente presents to Connie is a good deal more hippie-dippy than I’d both think realistic, or even prefer, for a near-utopia. I don’t fetishize smallness, I certainly don’t fetishize nature, and it sounds like these people go to a lot — A LOT — of meetings, for everything from figuring out land use to interpersonal conflict. I’m more of a “fully automated luxury gay space communism” guy. Connie, even once she gets over the disbelief in what she’s seeing, is a little skeptical, too. Everyone has to work on farms? No flying cars? What kind of future is this?? 

Well, two things. First, Piercy is smart enough to not make it too hippie-dippy. It’s not a full utopia. There is conflict, and the people aren’t always great at dealing with it. Yes, people work on farms- but with profit and rent removed, everyone in general has more leisure time, and most people do other stuff, too, including advanced science, art, etc. Specialization is, in general, less of a thing in this future (again, not totally to my taste, but it’s not as dystopian as some back to the land fantasies). And there is technology- people have what amount to Apple watches, there’s advanced biotech, etc., and, eventually, you see something like flying scooters. That leads to the second thing- Piercy’s sheer power of description, and the wholeness of her vision, make you believe it, and if not necessarily want that future — at least not as much as I’d want Banks’ Culture future — you can see it as a thing of beauty, both reflective of its own time (and how!) and with meaning for ours, and for times to come. You come to know the inhabitants of Mattapoisett, see how they live, work, love, raise children, and die, and there’s a weight to it, a realness even in spite of the utopianism, that you don’t get with just any hippie bullshit. Among other things, I think it’s pretty important a woman wrote this- there’s sexual liberation aplenty, but the real kind, not the stylized sexual assault that countercultural men were often after. 

I said that Piercy realizes her time as fully as she does Mattapoisett in 2137. She does- its grit, its grime, its exhaustion, its hopelessness, the many, interlocking ways it can beat people down, the way people learn to accept, even love, their oppressions (and oppressors). Connie isn’t, in any meaningful sense, crazy. She has had just enough hope — hope for education, hope for love, hope for societal progress — that when those hopes were dashed, by family, money, and bad luck, she had few places to turn. If she were more beaten down, she wouldn’t be where she is (she needs to pretend to be more beaten down for plot reasons later in the book). She’s not a plaster saint. She’s cantankerous, and she did something hard to forgive: after the love of her life died, she got drunk and depressed and hurt her little daughter. She paid endlessly for that, but still feels the guilt. Part of her attachment to the ghost of Luciente is seeing her daughter in this future-person. 

Like I said- not subtle, but never cliche, and always powerful. Fuck subtle. The man comes for Connie’s head. A group of hotshot doctors (another point of divergence between me and the viewpoint of this book is I’m slightly more pro-psychiatry- but hell, it was the seventies) are cutting open the heads of “violent” patients like Connie and putting hormonal control switches in there. As her own day on the table comes closer, Luciente’s future starts to fade out. It becomes harder and harder for Connie to see. A few times she slips into another future, a cyberpunk avant-la-lettre (William Gibson honors Marge Piercy as a godmother of his genre) hellscape of destroyed nature, inscribed gender roles, and corporate control. If Mattapoisett is going to survive, not only will its inhabitants and the rest of the post-revolutionary future have to fight for it- so will Connie, in her own time. Maybe that’s what seals why I can admire this future, so far in many ways from my own aesthetic- the people earned it through organization, solidarity, courage, the will to fight and risk all… and it is never a certain accomplishment. 

This is a singularly beautiful, intriguing, and readable book. But… if I’m going to be as honest as the future Piercy wanted for us, as honest as Piercy is herself here… I did the thing I always wind up doing when I read a second wave feminist author, and upon googling, found Piercy signed off on some bullshit anti-trans public letter. All of the commentary I saw on this was profoundly disappointed. You might see it coming from JK Rowling or Mary Daly or whoever. But among other things… all the Mattapoisett people use gender neutral pronouns! All children have three mothers, some of whom can be men, and are grown in vats before being implanted in one of them! Connie witnesses a man breastfeed! At first, she’s repulsed by the whole setup, she has fairly essentialist ideas, but she rejects them by the end, sees the beauty of it! What gives, Marge?! Anyway, I’m not about to “cancel” Marge Piercy or decide I don’t like — love is the right word — this book. It’s not about “separating art from artist.” It’s about appreciating both as what they are, and aren’t. Both are profoundly human, here, for better and for worse. *****

Review – Piercy, “Woman on the Edge of Time”