It’s Women in SF week over at Torque Control, and they’re posting the top ten SF books written by women over the last decade. Coming in at #10 is Bold as Love, by Gwyneth Jones, which I read a few weeks ago and have been meaning to blog about… so it seems an opportune time.
This is the book that, infamously, Tansy threw across the room when she got to the end and discovered it wasn’t a standalone novel. And I can understand that; I was halfway through it before she told me it was this one, and I too had just assumed it would stand alone. Truthfully, I think it could: there’s a huge messy pile of unresolved issues by the end of the book, but it’s done in such a way that actually I don’t feel a burning need to go find the next FOUR BOOKS. Well… that’s kind of a lie. I really really want to know what happens to my guys, but it’s a delicious sense of anticipation, not a burning MUST HAVE RESOLUTION NOW GETOUTOFMYWAY feeling.
Anyway. I was amazed to discover the book was only written in 2001; I thought it would prove to be much older. As Torque Control point out, it feels like it’s rooted in 1971 – the music, the festivals, etc. At the same time there are definite aspects that make it very modern – and those are mostly the same aspects which, when I thought about them carefully, contribute to the science fictional feel. (More on that later.) So it’s set at some time in the near future when the United Kingdom is splintering into separate countries, and a music festival has been organised to mark Dissolution. From this, essentially, come the main players in the novel – all musicians of one stripe or another – who end up being involved in politics. This seemingly-natural transition was, for me, the one aspect that didn’t sit comfortably. Perhaps it’s because I’m not very aware of the counter-culture movement in the UK (or Australia for that matter), and maybe they have, or could be imagined in the near future to have, this sort of political clout. It’s a minor quibble, though; after all, it’s sf/fantasy, and sometimes they require a bit of a leap.
Sf/fantasy? Well. Yes. When Tansy mentioned that it’s part of a series, she also mentioned that the fantastic elements become more pronounced over the series, and I can already see areas in which that can happen. But it is also definitely science fictional: there’s advanced technology in some areas, for example, and anyway it’s set in the future. I know that’s not a hard&fast guarantee of sf – just look at Michael Chadbourn – but it’s still there. In fact I think it’s one of the most fascinating meta-aspects of the book: it’s so genre, but… why does it have that feel? I don’t know, and I’m slowly coming to the realisation that actually, I don’t care about classifications so much. It’s a GOOD BOOK.
The plot, then, revolves around what happens to England (mostly) after Dissolution. There are social issues – such as the impact of a large Muslim minority; environmental issues – mostly around sustainability – which also tie into technological ideas; political issues – exactly what would happen if you put a bunch of counter-cultural musicians in a position of power? – and lots&lots of personal issues. After all, even when society is collapsing around you, in reality the thing that’s most likely to concern individuals is Does s/he like me? Who are my friends? What’s going to happen to me?
This is actually the first Gwyneth Jones book I’ve managed to get through, of two attempted: I gave up on Escape Plans pretty early on. And she is nasty to her characters! I don’t think there’s a single undamaged person in the entire ensemble. Thing is, the damage doesn’t make you want to cry for them, usually; instead, it turns them into quite hard characters, who would be utterly contemptuous of anyone even thinking of being sympathetic. Fiorinda is the sort of woman (girl, really, she’s a teenager – at least in years) who would fascinate me in real life but probably repel at the same time: she’s cynical and hard, and I’d be way too soft for her. She makes for an intriguing, and contradictory, main character. The main two male characters essentially revolve around her. I love Sage: he’s totally anarchic and narcissistic, while also being tender and considerate and generally awesome – plus his stage shows sound like they’d blow your head off. And Ax… well. He’s Mick Jagger and Jim Morrisson and David Bowie. And Bono and Bob Geldof too. I really really liked him, but I think Sage is still my favourite because he’s a bit more… human. And he’d hate me for saying it.
It’s a marvellous book. It deals with gender issues, social issues, and political issues. It wraps all of those things into the equivalent of the most awesome three-day music festival in the mud; you can’t let go, you can’t go home, you have to see it through. I have two copies (by accident) and I’m seriously thinking about keeping both of them.