Book Review: Daughters of Earth

daughtersofearthRead for: FemSciFiFans July Group Read

Rating: 4/5

This is a fabulous collection of feminist science fiction stories collected by Justine Larbalestier. There are 11 stories total, and each is followed by an essay written about its connections to feminism. I sort of ‘live blogged’ my reading of this collection in the FemSciFiFans group discussion thread, and here are my comments:

Jul 29, 2014 10:12PM
I’ve finally started this, and yes other than the fact that Poseidonia was the first sci-fi story by a woman to be printed in a pulp mag, there wasn’t much else about it that could be considered feminist. Though it seems a good starting point for a collection about the evolution of feminist science fiction on the whole.

I thought the story was neat, definitely “pulpy” and sensationalized. But I liked that. I thought the essay following was also interesting, though trying to make Margaret into a feminist hero because she didn’t cry about being abducted was pretty weak indeed. The points about racism and immigration fears also kind of made me think “ughhhh?” But the more I think about it the more it does seem to make sense. Which is a shame, but hey, it was 1927 after all.

Jul 31, 2014 10:33PM
Ok I’m gradually getting caught up here, I’m so bogged down with reading right now! Kate Wilhelm is next…

The conquest of Gola felt very similar to Poseidonia in it’s pulpy-ness. I thought the unfolding of the story was neat, the human males first being described physically in a way that implies the narrator is of a different species, then finding out about that species later. I find it kind of funny that matriarchal societies are often portrayed as Utopias in the femscifi world – yeah ladies are great and it could be argued that women could possibly run a civilized society better without men around, but I would love to see some matriarchal distopias for contrast! (Could the shore of women by Pamela Sargent be argued as a dystopian society??)

The thing I liked about this story, and was mentioned also in the essay following, was that the all male society attempting to conquer Gola stood out like a sore thumb when paired with the matriarchal society, where if this was a story not under the femscifi umbrella featuring a cast of all males it’s likely the casual reader wouldn’t notice and/or care that there were no female characters. Thank you femscifi for drawing attention to this gender imbalance in “typical” science fiction. (I found it interesting that in the essay by Brian Attebery it is mentioned that in the early days of sci fi the “presence or absence of female characters also tended to slip over into the question of whether women were or should be readers of sf.” Pg 59)

Jul 31, 2014 10:41PM
Created He Them: housewife heroine sf! Ha, I didn’t know that was a thing. After reading this story I thought back to Only a Mother from the first Women of Wonder anthology, then shortly thereafter it was actually mentioned in the accompanying essay. The idea of writing a sci fi/dystopian from the viewpoint of a housewife is neat, especially during the 1950’s when that was all that women were apparently supposed to aspire to. It’s an interesting commentary on mid century motherhood.

Alexa I had the same reaction, the message of the whole story would be changed if she actually attacked her husband, despite how badly the reader may want her to. The ending the way it was was perfect, the darkness of this story was more powerful I think than a story with a “happy ending.”

Aug 04, 2014 04:22PM
I really liked Heat Death. I loved the experimental style and the way it wasn’t so much narrative as a point form exercise in communicating the deeper frustrations of motherhood/being a house wife. While the content wasn’t explicitly science fiction per se, I felt that the experience of reading it made it seem science fiction because Zoline left it up to the reader to piece together what it was that she was trying to say and interpret it how they felt best connected with them. You know when you are just so fed up and isolated and hating everything and someone asks you how you are feeling and you just can’t articulate your thoughts? And you end up blubbering out some random words and stringing together choppy ideas that only express a piecemeal version your sadness for your friends/family to sort out? That’s what I felt while reading this story and it made the frustrations of Sarah seem all the more authentic. The quotes from the author in the essay that followed were also neat, she seems like a very interesting woman.

Aug 04, 2014 04:25PM
I have read And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hillside before, but enjoyed reading it again. I felt the essay helped me to look at Tiptree/Sheldon’s writing in a new way, which I also enjoyed. Sheldon really did a number on the sci-fi community when she was “outed” as a woman… so many assumptions about masculine and feminine writing were smashed. Love it.

Aug 04, 2014 07:04PM
Wives: nothing subtle about this one. Tuttle basically beats the reader over the head with the message that the patriarchy has imprisoned women in the home for their personal and sexual enjoyment. The story was easy to follow and utilized a lot of feminist theory emerging during that era; ultrafemininity being a social construct implemented by the patriarchy, women being considered the property of men, control of women’s bodies being restricted by men and reproductive function limited. Etc. Still good though, despite it’s blatantly radical feminist message (it was a bit heavy handed for me)

The essay following this one I thought was quite good. Lots of references and additional reading materials.

That’s where my live blogging stopped. The rest of the stories (including Rachel in Love and a story by Karen Joy Fowler as a response to a work by Tiptree that was arguably not science fiction at all) were strong. Overall I thought this collection was well curated, and I liked the format of one story per decade from the 20’s up to the current day. It’s a very effective way to show how feminist science fiction has evolved through the years. Notably absent from this collection, however, were works by Ursula K. Le Guin and Joanna Russ. A pretty huge oversight that is sort of explained away in the introduction, but I was disappointed none-the-less. I was happy for the inclusion of Octavia E. Butler and James Tiptree Jr, though, as they are two of my favourite authors ever.

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