Tag Archives: #Gender

Kushner, Ellen: The Privilege of the Sword (2006)

The Privilege of the Sword by Thomas Canty

The Privilege of the Sword” is part of Ellen Kushner’s Riverside stories and is a fun read. Kushner makes this whole world believable. It’s a fantasy book without magic or supernatural creatures. Instead we get a novel set in a time where women were commodities to be bought and sold for money and land.

Katherine, our main character, is sold to her uncle to pay her family’s debts. Her uncle is the decadent Mad Duke Tremontaine, and his plans for his niece do not follow conventional rules. Independence and the ability to defend herself are qualities that he aims to knock into her through sword lessons. Maybe not what Katherine had in mind, but she buckles up and does her best to uphold the agreement that was made between her mother and her uncle.

So, why is this book so good. One reason is that the characters of Katherine and Mad Duke are three-dimensional. Another is the humor and action that fills the novel. The Privilege of the Sword flows somewhere between peaceful and tempestuous.

The Privilege of the Sword is available as audiobook in an unabridged version and narrated by Ellen Kushner,  Barbara Rosenblat, Felicia Day, Joe Hurley,  Katherine Kellgren, Nick Sullivan,  Neil Gaiman

UN: Women A World Report Part II

UN Women logo
UN Women’s logo

Sometimes a gem just drops into your lap. Our library had a book sale and I bought a bag of books for 50NOK. Inside I found this collection of essays from 1986. In connection with the end of UN’s 1975-1985 this status report was created. In it we find women who meet other cultures and report on what they see. This book was sponsored and compiled by New Internationalist, a cooperative specializing in social justice and world development issues. In addition to publishing its own magazine, it collaborates with the UN and other organizations to produce a wide range of press, television, and educational materials.

The essayists are:

Toril Brekke of Norway meets Kenyan women whose husbands have travelled to the cities to find work.

Angela Davis of the US travels to Egypt where virginity is of prime importance.

Anita Desai travels from India to Norway to investigate gender roles.

Buchi Emecheta of Nigeria travels to the United States to investigate the impact of the education boom on sex roles

Marilyn French of the US investigates the difference between middle-class and poor Indian women.

Germaine Greer of Australia meets the women of Cuba, women who are considered both active comrades and sex-objects.

Elena Poniatowska of Mexico investigates the effects of the sexual revolution on the women of Adelaide, Australia.

Nawal El Saadawi of Egypt meets women involved in political activities seeking to change the definition of family and society.

Manny Shirazi of Iran investigates the impact Soviet socialism has had on the female relatives she meets.

Jill Tweedy of England meets the first generation of literate women in Indonesia

dePierres, Marianne: Dark Space (The Sentients of Orion I) (2007)

Dark Space - Marianne de Pierres

Dark Space is the first novel in the four book serial called Sentients of Orion. Orion refers to the stars and sentients are all intelligent humans and non-humans residing there. Among those non-humans we find dePierres’ favorite little creatures, the tardigrades/water bears (called Sacqr by dePierres). Except dePierres’ Sacqr are a bit overgrown and fond of invading mineral-rich Araldis for food in the form of humanesques. We quickly learn that the Sacqr have been brought to Araldis for nefarious reasons.

Baronessa Mira Fedor is our man character. In Dark Space we follow her from the time she is about to graduate and become Pilot First (intuitive able to bond with the biozoon Insignia). Except Mira learns at her graduation ceremony that her ability is to be removed from her because she happens to be a woman. Women on Araldis are only appreciated for their child-bearing ability. Upper class women are not allowed to learn to defend themselves and are socialised into a sex-slave thought pattern from the time of birth. Mira Fedor is not quite at that point when we first meet her, but she is about to learn some pretty harsh lessons about survival and the dangers of such misogyny.

Don Trin Pelligrini is the spoiled, self-absorbed son of the Principe of Araldis. Trin happens to be the one who was supposed to receive Mira’s innate ability. His life until we meet him has consisted of getting what he wants, when he wants it and at whatever cost it may be to others. He, too, is going to learn quite a bit about his real worth to the world he lives in and possibly about his ability to survive. If survive he does.

Jo-Jo Rasterovich, is the first humanesque to meet the “god” Sole. His meeting has become famous and Jo-Jo has assembled quite a fortune due to it. Except something about that first meeting keeps on nagging at Jo-Jo’s consciousness. Why would this “god” wish to be discovered at the time that it was? What really happened that Jo-Jo seems unable to remember?

Tekton, the God-head, from Lostol gets exactly what he asks for in his meeting with Sole. What I have learned from reading extensively about fictional and real lives is that what we think we wish we had, might not actually be what we really want. Greed, ambition and paranoia guide Tekton’s wish. Let’s face it. Giving in to the three of them all too often brings out the worst in ourselves and often in others as well. No reason why dePierres’ Dark Space should be any different in that respect.

There is one thing I found really strange about dePierres’ creation. Humanesques of various origins are able to interbreed, making for interesting variations. I can see how they would be able to have sex in some cases, but breeding seems a bit far-fetched.

My view of the nature of people is pretty bleak, yet for most people alive life is bleak. If you have a roof over your head, a bed to sleep in, enough food and clothing and semi-safety you are better off than 70% of the world’s population. All of this makes it understandable that some of the choices made by the privileged 30% are considered cruel – not to mention the choices of the top 20 or top five % of the world’s population. Trin and Mira drop abruptly from the life of the privileged 1% of their world and join the rest of the people who fight to stay alive. Dark Space is bleak, filled with action and full of people learning to adapt or die. I liked Dark Space and struggled to put it down.


Reviews:


Dark Space on Amazon US

Oliveira, Robin: My Name is Mary Sutter (2010)

My name is Mary Sutter - Robin Oliveira

Even though the story is placed at the time of the Civil War in the US, I imagine Robin Oliveira’s own background as a nurse helped in describing some of the work and attitudes we read about in her novel My Name is Mary Sutter. At this time being a physician and a woman was practically unheard of. Physicians were trained through apprenticeships, and for a man to take in a woman as a student would mean overcoming prejudices. Professionally schooled nurses were also a thing unheard of. Apprenticeships were the way to go if a woman wanted to become a mid-wife or assistant to a physician.

All of this haphazard training of either physicians and nurses left both professions with vast differences in the abilities of the people who had finished their training. Some nurses and doctors made matters worse for their patients while others were miraculous healers.

Mary Sutter’s mother was a mid-wife and Mary had gone along with her on her many trips into the child-bearing population. What Mary learned about herself during those trips was that she would love to become a surgeon and thereby save people who otherwise did not get visited by a physician in time. Due to the above apprentice-shipping she was refused this opportunity and also refused admittance into medical school.

Mary Sutter was nothing if not determined in eventually reaching her goal. The US Civil War presented her with one such path. Washington was desperate for help on the battlefield and many women felt called to duty. Mary Sutter happened to be one of them. Her experience seems representative of the others I have read of. As such Sutter’s experience seems to correspond with the experiences my nurse friends tell me of today. Arrogant doctors, incompetent doctors, miracle doctors and patients who span the gamut from assholes to angels. As a someone who has been a patient I have met nurses of all kinds but mainly wonderful ones. Most of my nurse friends feel a “call” to serve and this is their way of serving others. Amazing people!

War is a gory and horrifyingly brutal affair. Not one gram of glory is present anywhere on the battlefield. But what a school for aspiring doctors and nurses. One doctor Mary Sutter had to work with had to care for more than 100 men. She helped with operations and learned how to treat stitch wounds. Eventually she managed to be sent to the front and learned how to amputate and live with the gore of poor medical hygiene.

I liked her character. Mary was a goal-oriented woman who worked extremely hard to achieve her dreams and she was certainly a woman that I could have looked up to. Inserting extraneous yet historical characters did not work well for me. It was Mary I wanted more of. But my wishes are irrelevant to an author’s work and it isn’t even a complaint just an observation.


Reviews:


Winner of the 2011 Michael Shaara Prize for Excellence in Civil War Fiction


Civil War-Era Women Physicians

Invisible Women Now In Clear Focus

Mary Edwards Walker

Nursing During the US Civil War: A Movement Toward the Professionalization of Nursing

Springing to the Cause

Kay, Guy Gavriel: Under Heaven (2010)

Under Heaven

Under Heaven affected me profoundly. I believe it was the depth of Shen Tai’s mourning for his father and his offering to his father’s spirit that moved me most. Imagine setting yourself the task of burying all the bones from a battle twenty years past in order that those spirits might find peace. A more appropriate place for restless spirits than a battleground I cannot imagine.

Kay went on to say that he’s interested in how the course of a person’s life can change in a moment, and how “small moments and events can ripple outwards.” Whether it’s an individual or the life of a people, he pointed out, “significant consequences can begin very inconsequentially. That’s one thing that fascinates me. The other thing that fascinates me is how accident can undermine something that’s unfolding, something that might have played out differently otherwise.”

To Kay, “the human condition is redolent with this aspect of randomness, and I try to work that into all of my books.” (CBC Books)

The choices Shen Tai, his older brother and their younger sister, Shen Li-Mei, make end up having both intended and to a great extent unintended consequences. All three discover that assistance and opposition comes in many forms and sometimes from unexpected quarters.

In this story there aren’t any really bad people. There are mainly just people with the regular gamut of human emotions and with varying degrees of ability to do something about their desires. While the Tang Dynasty was a better place for women than the ones before it, women held less room in society than men. As with most places in the world today, women had to be a lot more creative in their maneuvering than men did. Their accepted roles were also very different from the one men were able to hold. To become a warrior like Wei Song, one who even guarded a man, was not something that was open to most women (much like today).

Reading about the role of women was both a painful process but also a delight. Delightful because of the intelligent and brave women I got to meet and painful due to the few changes that have happened in the world when it comes to the roles of women and how true their power is.

Under Heaven is a fairly dark story. Considering the times and the rebellion it portrays that is no wonder. I am trying to decide if I would call it dark fantasy, but I don’t know if that would be appropriate. I love its complexity and many threads that all come together one way or another in the end. What an awful race we humans are. It really is rather sad to see us revealed in all our terrible glory. Under Heaven was an intensely touching book that left me thankful for having found it. According to the author, his goal in writing is to keep the reader turning pages. It worked.


Reviews:


Women of the Tang Dynasty

Song Dynasty (the Kitai Empire in Under Heaven)

An Shi Rebellion (simplified Chinese: 安史之乱)

Hua Mulan (Chinese: 花木蘭): female warrior

Uyghur Khaganate


  • Winner of the 2011 Sunburst Award for Adult Litterature
  • Nominated for the 2011 World Fantasy Best Novel
  • Nominated for the 2011 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature