by N.K. Jemison, 2016
narrated by Robin Miles
I wish I understood what everyone sees in these books. I promise I’m trying, but I’m simply unmoved by this and most of fantasy. Consequently, I had a hard time following what was happening. Here’s my best attempt to piece it together. (Spoilers for The Fifth Season below, as they are unavoidable in discussing the sequel.)
by Joanna Russ, 1975
While my original plan for the “read a classic of genre fiction” task in the Read Harder Challenge was to count my forthcoming reread of Parable of the Sower, I decided to branch out instead and pick up a book I’d been meaning to read for years. The Female Man is a classic of feminist science-fiction. Though she may not be as well-known as the likes of Octavia Butler or Ursula K. Le Guin, Russ’s work has always appeared in discussions of this particular genre. The novel involves four women – really, four iterations of the same woman in various points in time and space. Jeannine lives during the 1930s, Joanna is a 1970s feminist, Janet is from another version of earth called Whileaway that is populated only by women, and Jael, with her metal claws and teeth, hails from a future torn by war between the two genders. This is the story of what happens when they come together.
by Helen Macdonald, 2015
When Helen Macdonald suddenly lost her father, she turned to her lifelong love of falconry for comfort. She found herself dreaming of hawks, and she recalled the moment when, during her work at a bird-of-prey center, she witnessed a female goshawk being set free: “She disappeared over a hedge slant-wise into nothing. It was as if she’d found rent in the damp Gloucestershire air and slipped right through it.” It is an appropriate metaphor for Macdonald’s grief, and it is one she will turn to over and over again as she as attempts to understand this wild beast that seems untamable. H Is for Hawk is Macdonald’s account of her days with Mabel, the goshawk, and the myriad of ways in which this wild beast set her free.
by Alisha Rai, 2017
Goddamn you, Read Harder Challenge and your read “a romance by or about a person of color.” I resent you and Alisha Rai for making me have feelings. Now, I’m certainly not a convert to the romance genre, and I don’t see myself continuing this series, but there were aspects of the book that I greatly appreciated, nay, respected and I just did not expect that from a genre that I typically brush aside. I still hate love, but I don’t hate someone who has written realistically about love and all the messiness it entails.
by Attica Locke, 2012
narrated by Quincy Tyler Bernstine*
The Cutting Season is a mystery that mixes a classic whodunit with pressing social issues. Caren Gray is a manager for Belle Vie, a Louisiana plantation that serves as an event space and tourist attraction, complete with antebellum reenactments. When a woman’s body ends up on the plantation grounds with her throat slit, and a suspicious stain is found on her daughter’s clothes, Caren finds herself on a search to find out the truth about Belle Vie and the past that continues to mar its present.
by Octavia E. Butler, 1977
Mind of My Mind is second book in the Patternist series, in both chronological and publication order. It serves as a prequel to Patternmaster (as they all do), and here we get to find out how the Pattern began. We meet Mary, child of the powerful and undying Doro who is set upon building a society of “actives.” While Doro can only inhabit another’s thoughts by killing them, the actives can truly read others’ minds. The problem is that their powers are too strong for them to stand being around one another, so, for the race of actives to live on, Doro must continue to father them. It’s not until the even more powerful Mary arrives that Doro can start to imagine his plan coming to fruition. Yes, this means there’s a bit of incest going on here. Butler does not really address the moral ramifications of this, but since we’re talking about a man bent on building his own society of telepaths, I suppose we’ve already signed on for a bit of crazy, haven’t we?
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1915
Herland left me conflicted. Part of me wanted to stand up with my fist raised and yell, “PREACH!” Part of me, though, bemoaned the central idea behind this feminist utopia. For, if a woman does not want to be a mother, is she still a woman? Is her life still valid? Does it still have meaning? Gilman’s answer to this appears to be “no.” While so much of this journey of three men into a strange land populated only by women continues to ring true even a century later, I couldn’t help but be disappointed in the idea the womanhood equals motherhood. This is one belief that I am all too eager to have die away.