Upstairs room, Antelope Tavern, from 7.
Certain topics ask for poetic treatment—love is one of them, and unrequited love in particular. Poetic writing is, through its intensity, writing that says more than it appears to say. Thus the love that dare not speak its name, in Lord Alfred Douglas’s words, lends itself to poetic treatment, in times when it focuses on an expressly forbidden topic. What we have here is, of course, essentially a literary structure: At its center is a guilty secret—and the guilt and the secrecy are both pivotal. The guilt and the secrecy creates a relationship between two persons, one who knows, and one who does not know. I suspect all writers, from time to time, can be drawn to that structure more or less strongly, whether the secret involves gay sex or not. But I suspect its hard to write a story using such a structure, possibly for its poetic potential, that is not going seem, to some readers, a coded gay tale—even to the surprise of the author; which I think may have been what happened here.Samuel R. Delany
But the fact is, none of the writing I did about that time—or during that time—gives a direct portrait of my sexual life back then. To repeat, this was three, four years before Stonewall. Back then you didn’t write about things like that, except in code. You left clues that people could—sometimes—read, between the lines. But it was actually dangerous to write about them. You could get in real trouble. You could get your friends in trouble. So you didn’t do it—not in journals, not in letters, not in fiction. A few brave souls, like Ned Rorum or Paul Goodman, were exceptions—and later on, I tried to fill in a few incidents myself. But basically, that wasn’t me.
I tell you this, because it’s important to remember, when considering fiction—like “Aye, and Gomorrah”— just how wide a gap can fall between life and literature—and how social pressures control that gap, so that, in looking at, say, the two award-winning stories of mine that deal with matters gay from the second half of the ’sixties, you have to realize they are finally fairy tales in the way my anecdote about the African medical student cruising the park and his friends is not—even though the Science Fiction Writers of America, who handed out the awards, doubtless felt that they were congratulating me for bringing a new level of “mature realism” to the genre, simply because I was dealing directly with something they thought of as sordid and probably wouldn’t have recognized it at all if I had presented it in any other way. Possibly, at that time, I wouldn’t have recognized it either.
For much the same reasons Nabokov says that Madame Bovary— famed at its time of publication for its realism, it even helped found the school of realism—is finally as much a dark fairy tale as “Jack and the Beanstock” and “Sleeping Beauty.”Samuel R. Delany
Go away for a week, and all sorts of things happen! Vector 267 arrived while I was traveling. Most people seem to have received their copies on Saturday, although a fair minority of those were partially soaked from the ongoing rains.
This quarter’s mailing includes, in addition to Vector, a booklet of Maureen Kincaid Speller’s writings, edited by Jonathan McCalmont and laid out by Martin McGrath.
This issue contains a broad assortment of intriguing and (I hope) thought-provoking content, including a few pieces, including Sam Mardon’s elegant cover, in honour of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Arthur C Clarke Award.
Matrix: A Magazine out of Time, Ian Whates
Introducing The BSFA Review, Martin Lewis
Sci-Fi London in 2011 in REview, Alys Sterling
Against Utopia: Arthur C Clarke and the Heterotopian Impulse
Homer’s Odyssey: The World’s First Fantasy Novel?, Juliet E McKenna
An Interview with Samuel R Delany, Roz Kaveney
Avatar: The New Fantastic Horizons of Oneiric Justice, Roberto Quaglia, trans. Teo Popescu
Kincaid in Short, Paul Kincaid
Now and Then, Terry Martin
Resonances, Stephen Baxter
Foundation Favourites, Andy Sawyer
The BSFA Review, edited by Martin Lewis
The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts and Sheryl Vint (Routledge, 2009) – Reviewed by Glyn Morgan
The Mervyn Stone Mysteries: Geek Tragedy, DVD Extras Include: Murder and Cursed Among Sequels by Nev Fountain (Big Finish, 2010) – Reviewed by Gary Dalkin
Sci-Fi London Film Festival: Dinoshark (2010), Sharktopus (2010), One Hundred Mornings (2009), Zenith (2010), Gantz (2011) and Super (2010) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
Ignition City, written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Gianluca Pagliarani (Avatar, 2010) – Reviewed by James Bacon
Twin Spica: Volume 1 by Kou Yaginuma (Vertical, 2010) – Reviewed by Nick Honeywell
Mardock Scramble by Tow Ubukata, translated by Edwin Hawkes (Haikasoru, 2011) – Reviewed by Alan Fraser
Gantz (2011) – Reviewed by Lalith Vipulananthan
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Harper Voyager, 2010) – Reviewed by Dan Hartland
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Orbit, 2010) – Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers (Corvus, 2011) – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
The Broken Kingdoms by NK Jemisin (Orbit, 2010) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham (Orbit, 2011) – Reviewed by Sue Thomason
The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz, 2011) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
The Scarab Path by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor, 2010) – Reviewed by Nic Clarke
The Wolf Age by James Enge (Pyr, 2010) – Reviewed by A.P. Canavan
Blood and Iron by Tony Ballantyne (Tor, 2010) – Reviewed by David Towsey
The Evolutionary Void by Peter F Hamilton (Pan MacMillan, 2010) – Reviewed by Martin Potts
Point by Thomas Blackthorne (Angry Robot, 2011) – Reviewed by Alan Fraser
Embedded by Dan Abnett (Angry Robot, 2011) – Reviewed by Stuart Carter
On Wednesday 27th July 2011 from around 7pm:
SOPHIA McDOUGALL (author of the Romanitas trilogy) will be interviewed by Roz Kaveney (popular culture critic and author).
The Antelope Tavern
22, Eaton Terrace
Nearest Tube: Sloane Square (District/Circle)
All welcome! (No entry fee or tickets. Non-members welcome.)
Interview will commence at 7.00 pm, but the room is open from 6.00 (and fans in the downstairs bar from 5).
There will be a raffle (£1 for five tickets), with a selection of sf novels as prizes.
24th August 2011* – KIM LAKIN-SMITH interviewed by Paul Skevington
28th September 2011 – JO FLETCHER interviewed by Tom Hunter
26th October 2011 – TANITH LEE interviewed by Nadia Van Der Westhuizen
* Note that this is a month with five Wednesdays. The meeting will be on the fourth, not the last, Wednesday of the month.
I knew it was halfway through the year when my thing-a-day calendar required flipping on the fourth of July. And halfway through means another quarter has passed and you have read more books.
Back in April, these were the books suggested for next year’s award nominations:
- Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City (Published 2011 in the US)
- Daniel Abraham’s The Dragon’s Path
- James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes.
- Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes.
- Jo Walton’s Among Others
- Andrea Hairston’s Redwood & Wildfire
I exaggerated a little about 2003. It is pretty astonishing that three books out of the 11 best science fiction by women from the last decade were published then, but it was part of a larger lumping in the decade. Two more of the novels on the list came out in 2004, adding to my mild suspicions about how we mentally process novels, and how long it takes to pass judgement on a book’s staying power while still remembering that one has read it. It would be interesting to do similar surveys every five years and see how they evolve.
In any event, this month on Torque Control, we will be looking at Karen Traviss‘s novel, City of Pearl. Given how prolific Traviss has been since, it’s worth remembering that City of Pearl was her very first published novel, one of two which came out in 2004. Also note that it has not been published in the UK, although used copies are certainly available here. Her Wess’har War series, which it begins, would have five more volumes by 2008.
Traviss will be at ComiCon in San Diego later this month. She was also part of a three-way interview on Women’s Hour of BBC4 in June, which Niall transcribed here.
And speaking of Niall, he’s the one who will be leading discussion of City of Pearl later in July. I hope you will be able to join us in reading and discussing it.
You can tell it’s summer. We’re busy, but not always in the ways we are the rest of the year.
In any event, June now comes to an end, having taken a bite out of July in the process. For June, we read Tricia Sullivan’s Maul, the last of the 2003 novels from chronological exploration of the best science fiction novels written by women in the previous decade which we are reading here at Torque Control over the course of this calendar year. 2003 really was astonishing, with the publication of, in addition to Maul, Natural History and The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Tony Keen, a new Torque Control contributor, examined the book over a series of posts, beginning with the vexed question of just what constitutes reality in the book; continuing with a consideration of feminism and violence in the novel; and then discussing the central role which branding played in the writing and world-building of Maul.
My thanks to Tony for leading the discussion! And thank you to all who joined in – never to late to go back and do so! – in reading or re-reading Maul.
Some other recent posts/reviews on Maul:
Martin Lewis on the first chapter of Maul.
He also notes that Maul is out of print, and Sullivan is out of contract only eight years later.
Val Guichon at Valunivers
… she kept shooting, taking out pyramids and columns of fragrance and colour. Estée Lauder, Nina Ricci, Lancôme, Gucci, Calving Klein, Clinique, Chanel, Ralph Lauren … a crystalline gazz of the highest order for Suk Hee. (Maul, 2003 Orbit edition, p. 34.)
Many commentators, most recently Sebastian Faulks, have noted the manner in which Ian Fleming validated James Bond as a character through the brands he used. It was important to Fleming to know, and to let the reader know, what cigarettes Bond smoked, what vodka he drank, what golf balls he used.
Something similar is going on in Maul. The bloody gunfight that precipitates much of the action in the maul occurs not just in an upmarket clothes boutique, but in Lord & Taylor. Sun and Alex have sex in the stockroom not just of an electrical goods store, but of Sharper Image. Other shops are mentioned – Godiva, Toys-R-Us, etc. Sun’s existence seems defined by the brands she uses – she doesn’t wear perfume, she wears CK1. When she finds a packet of cigarettes what registers is Benson & Hedges. The only significant thing that is not referred to by its brand, interestingly, is Sun’s gun.
Sullivan does this for authenticity. This may not be a mall in our world, but it is a mall in something that is a close enough approximation of our world to be recognisable. Americans, and most Brits (certainly anyone who’d ever seen The Blues Brothers or Dawn of the Dead) would have an idea of a mall in which trading names are prominent. Sullivan herself, who grew up in New Jersey in the 1970s and 1980s, no doubt spent some time herself in such places (though hopefully she never ran into a running gun battle). So Sullivan’s maul needs to have same quality of commercial branding – anonymous stores or invented ones just won’t cut it.
Something similar is going on in the future strand. Of course, there the brands are made up, but commercial interests clearly still loom large in this world. The Mall game Meniscus is a product of NoSystems. Madeleine Baldino works for Highbridge. Some of the names, however, are not invented. Dunkin’ Donuts is still going, as is Play-Doh. Clearly, Meniscus’ world is not that far into the future.
I’ve talked in the previous post about how Maul is a novel about violence and gender roles. But the use of brand names suggests to me that it is also a novel about commercialism, and the way that can wreck lives. It is not just about the fetishisation of violence, but its commodification. It truly is an SF novel for the way we live now.
For so states Cheryl Morgan.
It feels smooth and heavy and warm when I stroke it because I’ve been sleeping with it between my legs. I like to inhale its grey infinite smell for a while before I pass my lips down its length, courting it with the tip of my tongue, until my mouth has come to the wider part near the tip. This I suck, and blow gently into the hole. It becomes wet in my mouth but doesn’t soften. It remains achingly solid and I put it between my legs. Its tip snuggles around my clit. On the day I bought it, I had to test out several models before I found one that fitted, and Suk Hee’s gangster cousin Woo kept trying to look around the side of the van to see what I was doing. Woo was afraid someone would come and he’d get caught with the van and everything. I came. It was the only way to be sure I had the right one.
And so begins Maul. The passage, I think, deliberately sets out to shock. It becomes more shocking still when, after our narrator Sun Katz has achieved orgasm (in what, by the way, is one of the best come scenes I’ve read in literature), it turns out that she is describing not a penis, as one might have thought at first, or a dildo, as one might conclude by the end of the paragraph. No.
Even a hypothetical boyfriend wouldn’t understand.
How I feel.
About my gun.
Yes, that’s right. It’s a gun. Guns are very important to Sun and her Korean girl gang pals. (Another point to note in passing is how understated Maul is about Sun’s ethnic identity. It’s there, but Sullivan feels no need to have Sun explicitly state at the beginning “Oh, by the way, I’m Korean.”) Sun wears her gun strapped under her skirt, not coincidentally close to her genitalia. The link between femininity and weaponry is underlined by the UK cover, as noted by Martin Lewis; a lipstick in a bullet cartridge.
If written by a man, this could be seen as misogynist claptrap, or at the very least wet-dream wish-fulfilment. But Sullivan’s point is that women can be as interested as men in the fetishization of guns and violence – they just have to be given a chance.
This is emphasized even more in the future Meniscus strand. There, the Y-plagues have eliminated most males. The few that remain fertile are locked away in “castellations”. The majority of the population are women, and they are running the planet. Does this mean that there is a feminist Utopia? No. In Sullivan’s vision, women have moved into the niches vacated by men, to the point of some becoming burly butch truckers.
Most women have children through cloning. But the sperm of the men in the castellations, the “pigs”, is there for those who can afford it. And what are the qualities that are valued in those men? Not sensitivity, but athletic ability, fighting prowess, heroism, the same old macho bullshit. As prominent pig Arnie Henshaw says, “Nowadays, no matter how skinny, a really good hacker is worth ten guys who can impale a mammoth with a spear, but you chicks would rather have a hacker with muscles, wouldn’t you?” The main female protagonist of this strand, Madeleine Baldino, knows this, and hates herself, and Henshaw, for it.
Some women in this world think that the exploitation of men is wrong. Their underground terrorist activities drive the plot. In a neat reversion of the feminist slogan “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, their movement is called Bicyclefish.
But there is a cost, and that cost is the validation of the actions of a man like Snake Carrera, a violent and arguably psychopathic male who carries out Henshaw’s stunts for him, and who ends up in Meniscus’ cell as part of a plot to murder him. He is, also, the most imposing male character in the book, far more so than any man in the Maul strand, where males are either authority figures like policemen or security guards, or feeble and less than they appear on the surface, such as Sun’s lust object Alex, who takes her virginity but soon proves to be not the person she needs or wants. The interesting characters in that strand, Sun, her friend Suk Hee, her antagonists 10Esha and KrayZglu, are all women.
Maul rightly made the 2003 Tiptree Award Short List, though it didn’t win. It certainly explores gender and feminism in a way that challenges long-held certainties on all sides. Indeed, I feel it explores the relationship between men and violence, and the attraction of both to women, in a similar, but I felt more successful, manner to the 2002 Tiptree winner, M. John Harrison’s Light.
The message, in the end, is that violence is not endemic to men – it’s endemic to humanity.
You can find my first post on Maul here.