Another insomnia special here, brought to you by coughing and retching, but not the #2:
Reading through some of the links in my Blogroll and I read where Cheryl Morgan has noted yet another in a long series of attention-grabbing inane writings from The Guardian. This time, a novelist named Bidisha takes umbrage about the unkind words some (male) critics have said about J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and has extrapolated from there in such a fashion as to make a mere tangent seem more deeply-rooted in the matter at hand.
Now for a juicy bit that will explain the title of this post (and why I'm mocking it):
Nice to see such universals being spouted here. Didn't know I was engaging in "man-worshipping," especially since I routinely praise female authors for their stories being excellent stories. Don't think that means I checked in my penis at the door. And speaking of genitalia, the "big burning vagina" bit did cause me to chuckle a bit, since that was more of a movie image and not quite the "cat-like eye" description in the book. But I suppose Bidisha wanted to capture this presumed sense of vaginophobia by using such a vivid (and recent) visual from a movie.
A subtle mechanism is operating here, clanking into gear to restore the dominant man-worshipping default mode while reserving a few token high-priestess places for the ladies. In speculative fiction that would be Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood and Ursula K Le Guin, geniuses all. These women are the real deal, rightly worshipped for their vision, philosophical trenchancy and pertinence. But apart from the hallowed three it's men-only when it comes to casual recommendations of mainstream books.
In terms of which books sell plentifully and are acclaimed among knowledgeable fans, speculative fiction is not male-dominated at all - quite the opposite. It is the critical establishment which marginalises women. Bestselling female contenders remain unacknowledged while their male counterparts are robustly namechecked, absorbed reliably into the official history of the genre.
Readers who rave about the scope of Lord of the Rings, in which a club of white men flee (a) a big burning vagina and (b) some black guys in hoods, are simply unaware of the awesome complexity of Katharine Kerr's Deverry sequence of Celtic fantasy novels. They hail William Gibson's prescience, oblivious to Marge Piercy's prophetic sci-fi masterpieces Body of Glass and Woman on the Edge of Time and Liz Williams's intelligent, knotty novels like Darkland.
However, I cannot help but to wonder if she herself might be guilty of not being all that aware of viewer praise. There is only a passing, rather odd mention of Robin Hobb, whose books are often praised to the skies on epic fantasy forums. No mention of books such as Sarah Hall's Clarke Award-nominated The Carhallan Army (Daughters of the North here in the US). Don't know if she's read Nalo Hopkinson's Aurora Prize-winning and Nebula finalist 2007 novel, The New Moon's Arms, which I consider to be one of the best 2007 novels that I've read. Nothing about the recent World Fantasy Award-nominated authors like Susanna Clarke or Catherynne M. Valente, just to name a couple from the past few years alone. None of those except for the Canadian Aurora Awards are "fan" awards; most are chosen from within the writing community or by "the establishment."
But I don't think this is what Bidisha really cared to address. Nuances and subtleties don't make for exciting discussion or controversy. They just make for an increased chance of questioning and exploring, things that run counter to what she is railing against. In a bichrome world, there is no room for such shadings and colorizations. All there is room for, it seems, are big burning vaginas from which pasty white males flee in terror and loathing.