Walk to the End of the World
Suzy McKee Charnas, Ballantine 1974
This work and Motherlines are currently available in one volume entitled The Slave And The Free (Tor 1999).
Suzy McKee Charnas, Berkley-Putnam 1978
Walk to the End of the World is a fine book, memorable from the first reading and deeper and more complex every time you come back to it. But what it’s about, in the final analysis, is what we already know-and that is how bad things really are, and how bad things can get. Motherlines, on the other hand, is a book that breaks new ground from start to finish, without a breather for author or reader. “New stories must be told in new ways,” indeed, and Suzy McKee Charnas knew that from the core of her being when she wrote that book. Perhaps there is no task harder for the writer steeped in the old story than telling the new one-letting us imagine that the new story can even begin to exist. (Debbie Notkin)
This unflinching look at an unbearable future requires of its readers a strong stomach and a clear head. In the Holdfast, men rule and women-“fems”-are worse than chattel. But the word “patriarchy” doesn’t really apply, for these men have abolished fatherhood, believing that it caused the collapse of earlier male-dominated cultures. Generational conflict is institutionalized, with Juniors expected to support Seniors until age entitles them to Senior privileges. Charnas’s courageous exploration of gender roles is nowhere more apparent than in her depiction of the fem leaders, for whom the survival of the fems-and hence of humanity itself-is the only imperative. Readers willing to follow her example will find themselves sympathizing with some unlikely characters and acknowledging that, yes, in certain circumstances, some appalling choices may be justified. (Susanna J. Sturgis)
In Motherlines, her sequel to Walk to the End of the World, Charnas faces head-on the question ducked by most revolutionaries and social visionaries: what about the baggage that all of us raised in imperfect times will almost certainly carry into the halcyon future? The Riding Women of the Motherlines tribes are unscarred by oppression; the Free Fems are shaped by their horrific experiences as slaves. Alldera the runner is claimed by both groups and at home with neither. Those who criticized Motherlines for having no men in it were wrong: not only are men firmly embedded in the memories of the Free Fems, they enter the Riding Women’s councils as the enemy beyond the horizon. Charnas broke new ground with this one. Sixteen years later, only a few have dared follow in her footsteps. (Susanna J. Sturgis)
This work and Walk to the End of the World are currently available in one volume entitled The Slave And The Free (Tor 1999).
The Left Hand of Darkness
Ursula K. Le Guin, Walker & Co. 1969
The Left Hand of Darkness was for me, as I think it was for so many readers my age, my first time. In all the science fiction I had read before that, I had only found hints, tantalizing glimpses, of what I knew could be there. The Left Hand of Darkness threw open wide the doors that had been left alluringly ajar and said, “Come in. There’s more room here than you ever imagined. Let me show you what some of it is like.” (Debbie Notkin)
By itself, this classic’s premise guarantees it a high place in gender-expanding literature. What if a people were all the same gender, and what if sex dominated them wholly for a few days each month and were a non-issue the rest of the time? Le Guin offers two distinct, complex societies based on this premise and hints at several more. But it’s a mistake to forget that played out against this backdrop is a moving, unconventional love story in which sex plays almost no part. Mile by hard-won mile, two humans separated by language, customs, and physiology create a partnership as profound as any marriage. But neither love nor change comes cheap: there is indeed blood in the mortar that holds the keystone. (Susanna Sturgis)
“When It Changed”
Joanna Russ, Again, Dangerous Visions, 1972
Also collected in We Who Are About To, The Zanzibar Cat and The Best of the Nebulas (ed. Ben Bova, Tor, 1989). Currently out of print in the U.S.
The Female Man
Joanna Russ, Bantam 1975
A male friend of mine described The Female Man, around the time of its publication as “articulate rage.” The phrase has always stayed with me. We were all enraged, and few of us knew enough about it to give voice, let alone words, to our fury. Joanna Russ did that for us all. “When It Changed,” on the other hand, will always be a joyful story for me. Though much of the meat of the story is not joyful at all, that first sentence, sending Katy driving like a maniac over the roads of Whileaway, transported me to a place I knew I was glad to be, even as a visitor. (Debbie Notkin)
“Anyone who lives in two worlds,” says Vittoria, Janet’s wife, “is bound to have a complicated life.” Joanna Russ’s quartet of Js live in four: Jeannine in a United States where World War II never happened, Joanna in a 1975 recognizable to any woman who lived through it, Jael in a near future where Manland and Womanland fight a desultory war, and Janet on Whileaway. Whileaway! A future world of self-sufficient women, where men are long forgotten. The Female Man is a dead-on hilarious tour de force; it doesn’t just explore gender roles-it explodes them. And is it dated? Not on your life! (Susanna J. Sturgis)
Every time I reread “When It Changed,” the story amazes me all over again. It’s so short-just a few pages-and in those pages it takes a science fiction cliché and changes it forever. Since the days of the pulps, men have been rushing in (often with blasters) to rescue women. The assumption was, of course, that the women needed and wanted to be rescued. “When It Changed” shook that assumption-and many other assumptions-and left the science fiction field a more interesting place to live and write. (Pat Murphy)