Feminist Sci-Fi

27 Jan

Whenever I tell my wife someone is a “feminist,” she asks, “which wave?” Like many words, “feminist” means different things to different people. “Feminist sci-fi” is no exception; in this scenario, it translates as “mad at my dad.”

I picked up a book from the library called Seven Devils by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May. From the cover, it looked pretty good. I’m always looking for new and interesting sci-fi, so I picked it up. When I actually went to read it, I was faced with a searing hatred before I hit Page 1. It was the authors’ dedication:

For the underdogs among us, those who hold the lines, and protest, and write, and speak out, empires only topple brick by brick. And for Hannah, who was always there to help us smash the patriarchy.

Dedication, Seven Devils

I had to actually go downstairs and open the book to find that nugget of defiance. Interestingly, you go to the book preview, it’s strangely missing… hmmmm. To me, this smacks of internet activism–people on both the left and the right who are so gung-ho about toppling whatever–as long as they’re online. They probably have never gone to a protest, and if they had, they were out of there after an hour, certainly before any hanky-panky goes on. These are folks who like to feel they’re part of the “resistance,” as long as all their friends agree with them, and they don’t have to actually do anything.

That put me in a real bad mood trying to get into the book, so I’ll admit, my limited review of Seven Devils is already tarred by my hatred of the dedication. The first scene throws one of our protagonists right into a fight scene. Okay–cool. She’s getting a call from her supervisor reminding her a) to get a move on her mission and b) try not to kill anyone. It’s cute, I’m enjoying it, while at the same time, I’m a bit confused. But that’s okay, because the story’s just starting, and I don’t have to know everything.

So the guys that our protagonist is (accidentally) killing turn out to be able to be controlled by the great computer that runs most of this empire, so once things get hot, the enemy loses free will, and becomes slaves of the computer. Interesting. Tell me more.

Our protagonist escapes and we meet the rest of her team. This is where it loses me. She’s bitchy with her co-workers, her boss sounds like a regular supervisor, and they’re part of the resistance. This tells me that our authors have NO CLUE what a resistance actually looks like. They treat it like a corporate job–with shiny offices, bitchy bosses (for gender equity, a male), and established missions. No, dummies! Resistance movements are rarely well organized. It’s more like a volunteer organization, and once they get successful, they’re military organizations, leaving the volunteers to either shape up or get lost.

So I put the book down. I was already pissed at the dedication, so it didn’t take much. When I looked up “feminist sci-fi” the first example was Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. I love this book. However, there’s nothing feminist or activisty about it. The planet does have gender-flipping aliens and she does a great job playing with alien civilizations. But in the end, what makes it “feminist” is that a woman wrote it… under her own name in 1969.

I’m going too long on this post, so I’ll have to cut it off. Meanwhile, I’ll ask you, what do you think makes a “sci-fi” book “feminist?” Let me know in the comments below!

One Response to “Feminist Sci-Fi”

  1. SirNolen January 27, 2021 at 8:02 pm #

    Sadly, this is something I’ve seen too often, both in fiction and in real life: people (and authors) who think all a woman has to do to become “strong, independent, and empowered” is to be an enormous jerk to everyone around her.

    I don’t think the two are necessarily related. In real life, some of the strongest women I’ve ever met are rarely bitchy to anyone.

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