M. John Harrison , Victor Gollancz (UK)
Light is a stunning work that’s part space opera and part Something Else. Some of us found the protagonists (a physicist and serial killer; a mass-murdering pirate; a VR addict) to be unlikable; others found them brutal, cruel, self-deluded, but completely real, people about whom we cared deeply. All the characters are shaped in ways that very specifically have to do with the structuring and exploration of gender. The male characters are in love with ostentatious masculinity as a thing that’s sometimes joyful and sometimes horrifying; the female characters are often consumed with fierce denial of their bodies and their own femaleness. Hanging over all of this is the enigmatic figure of the Shrander, whose gender identity, like so much else, is ambigous and complicated. Light is rich, horrible, sad, and absurd, and says a lot about how the body and sex inform one’s humanity. It will reward rereading.
“Stories for Men”
John Kessel , ,
“Stories for Men” is a story about masculinity, about how individuals define themselves in the context of kinship and community, and about how we construct gender roles by telling ourselves stories. The story begins with a female-centered society that mirrors some of our assumptions about social power relations between men and women, and then explicitly refers to our own society’s assumptions (in the main character’s encounter with a twentieth-century fiction anthology) in a way that makes those assumptions seem new and strange. It reexamines those tales of outcasts and lone heroes and manly individualism within the context of a story of community. It raises questions about the links between connectedness and exclusion, consensus and stifling conformity, patriarchal protectiveness and sociopathy. “Stories for Men” is a short work, one that’s more subtle than it first appears.