Not sure how I missed this one when it came out a few years ago… some failure of mine or the system, I guess. Anyway, I finally read this (and the rest of the trilogy) last year, and felt a hankering need to reread this year. And apparently I didn’t review it last year, so now’s the time!
There’s no specified year that this book happens; it’s two decades after the near-global institution of micro-democracy, and it’s still a fairly recognisable world aside from that, so mid to late 21st century makes sense. Micro-democracy means that most of the world has been divided into ‘centenals’ – areas of 100,000 people (or is it voters? that’s unclear, I think) – and each centenal votes in their chosen government. The biggest are Heritage, which seems like an ordinary conservative party, and Liberty, which is theoretically all about citizen freedom… then there are some old-nation-based parties, like 1China; and most terrifyingly, there are military-based parties and corporate ones, the largest being PhilipMorris. In the long run I’m not sure which of the latter two are most scary. And then, the party that gets the most centenals over the whole world is the Supermajority and they get… some unspecified powers.
This entire book is about the lead-up to the third global election. I know, it doesn’t sound like it should be riveting. But oh my goodness, it is.
Firstly, this isn’t just a world with micro-democracy. It’s also a world with Information. Information is like Google, I guess, but made a public utility that is genuinely meant to be working for the good of everyone. There’s a touch of cyberpunk in that most everyone can access Information via a handheld device if they must, or via optical implants if they can; depending on your Information settings, you can walk around anywhere and get facts about the construction of buildings, names of plants – and the public Information of the people you’re around. Older begins to explore the consequences of Information here (and I know it’s ‘begins’ because that’s something that continues throughout the trilogy, SORRY SPOILERS). And what happens when Information isn’t available?
Secondly, of course something nefarious happens, and it needs to be rectified. The two focal characters are Mishima – absolutely my favourite – and Ken. Mishima works for Information doing a variety of things, which sometimes involve a stiletto and shuriken and climbing furniture. She also has a ‘narrative disorder’ which is never fully explained but helps (usually) to sort through a mass of data. Ken is a campaigner for one of the middle-tier parties, Policy1st, who ends up finding out some of the nefarious things and gets pulled into the action. Ken’s fine; he’s an interesting mix of altruistic and self-interested that makes sense, and his doubts and angst are portrayed sympathetically but not at annoying length. Mishima is awesome; she is splendidly capable but not all-knowing, and I basically love everything about the way she acts, reacts, and thinks.
This is seriously awesome book. I guess it’s on the ‘techno-thriller’ side of things although exactly what that means I’m a bit hazy on. I would be confident recommending this to someone who doesn’t love SF, because it could almost be tomorrow; the tech’s not that outrageous. It’s fast-paced but not ludicrously so, there are a range of characters who show a range of issues, and it’s just great.
Just the front cover is enough to make me cranky. It’s a list of the ways in which women’s writing (and art) has been suppressed; the book is a brief and eclectic examination of how those different modes have operated, and some suggestion of why, too.
I finally got my hands on this book after I heard of Russ’ death. I’d heard of it in vague terms over many years, and more specifically in the last couple – particularly thanks to Galactic Suburbia, and a growing realisation that I really wanted to understand feminist SF, and that Russ is one entry into that. Plus, she seems like one of those writers everyone talks about… but few (especially of my generation, we post-70s women) have really read.
Russ progresses logically through various modes of suppression, dismissal, and marginalisation. As her evidence, she uses reviews of women’s work over the last century and a half or so; their presence (and absence) in anthologies and university curricula; and in biographies, as well as other sources.
The comparison of the different ways Charlotte Bronte’s work was received when it was believed to be by a man compared with when it was known to be by a woman were distressingly similar in some ways – given the difference in time – to the reception of James Tiptree Jr’s work as male/female. Russ herself notes that while some things have changed – critics are less likely in the late twentieth century to openly denigrate women’s writing simply because of the author’s gender – others have not: said critics have found alternative ways to marginalise the writing.
I’ve been sitting on this review for nearly two months, thinking there must be more to say. There is. I’m going to post this as-is, though, because I’m not sure that I can write down all of my different reactions and thoughts coherently… and we’re going to be doing our Joanna Russ Spoilerific Book Club for Galactic Suburbia soon, and hopefully that will help me clarify some ideas. (It did!)
No, not about Queen Victoria; this is the night of the only debate between Ted Baillieu, leader of the Liberal Opposition, and Steve Bracks, current Premier and head of Labor. They are mostly just blaming each other for issues in Victoria. Now maybe I’ve been spoiled by Bartlett (and I have no doubt that I am), but these two are just so painful! Much of the time they are just avoiding the question and slanging at each other. It is sooo depressing. I think I will just vote Green. And, given the changes to the Senate, that might actually make a difference….
Natasha Stott Despoja announces she will not run again as a Democrat senator – in June 2008, that is, when she will have become the longest standing Democrat senator ever.
I’m a bit sad that she won’t run again, although since she has a son in a pram and has just had an ectopic pregnancy (which must be terrible), I can understand her decision too. Of course, it is almost 2 years away!
I’ve been impressed by her ever since she spoke at a UN Youth Conference I attended in 1996; she came across so well, so personably, and she was pretty inspiring too. Good luck to her, I say.