Thursday, 6 November 2008

Nicola Griffith: *Good* Feminism, science fiction, and self defence

Nicola Griffith is a fantastic science fiction and detective story writer. Most of her stories centre around very strong feminist characters (this is a plus - she pulls it all off without rubbing your nose in). 
This review is ancient, but was rewritten 12th January, 2010. 

I first discovered Nicola Griffith via the Bending the Landscape: Original Gay and Lesbian Writing: Science Fiction (she coedited this book with Stephen Pagel). Which I am now going to fan about a bit.

 I thought it would just be another rag-tag collection of Sci-Fi but it is REALLY REALLY good.This is one of those must-reads. It has a few let downs - especially near the beginning - where they belabour the 'gay' issue at the expense of much story. But the rest of it? Amazing. One of those multi-genre award winning masterpieces that one hopes for with every Anthology and rarely gets. It won the Lambda Literary Award, Lesbian and Gay Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror; Gaylactic Spectrum Award and Stonewall Book Award: Literature (finalist))

 I didn't expect to be 'good', just 'gay themed' so I was blown away (did I mention that?)  to find the actual stories were up with all the other amazing fantasy stories I've ever read.

I would rate this book up there with George RR Martin's Dreamsongs. It is mostly science fiction - time travel, robots, alternate realities, virtual worlds, space ships and the future - although it wavers over past the semi-illusionary edge of Fantasy, on occasion.

The Bending the Landscape: Fantasy  volume is good, but not as mindblowing; it also won two awards - Lambda Literary Award, Lesbian and Gay Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror and the World Fantasy Award, Best Anthology. I can't get the Horror anthology in New Zealand, but it did win a Gaylactic Spectrum Award .

The only downside of these anthologies is that while they all have gay themes, lesbians (or bisexual women) tend not to appear as often (one of the reasons I started compiling this list!).

I grew up with the notion that 'escapist' reading was intellectually inferior to coolly analytical text, but now I'm on the side of Tolkien: those most likely to be upset by the notion of escape are the jailers. Now I'll read anything, as long as it's good, as long as it gives me that sense of multiplication, of time travel and life extension.

What else of hers have I read? Well, there's Ammonite, Slow River and Always.

Ammonite is very, very good - and very interesting... Sci-fi - woman going to study a planet that has been cut off for centuries; a virus killed off all the men (and some women) so many non-tech different cultures have sprung up; the women can self-induce diploid conceptions; the 'Company' has a base of soldiers/security but will probably kill them off (as it's cheaper) if the vaccine they're testing doesn't protect against the virus. It reminded me a bit of 'Brother's Price' by Wen Spencer - it's all women, they *assume* it's going to be a woman, and sometimes it isn't even mentioned that it is a woman, so you don't realize until later; and the interactions are fascinating. In a way, those stories are a lot simpler, because they don't have to include or adjust for or explain gender interactions - it's one less variable, unfortunately a significant one. The other side of this - the evolutionary issues of male and female roles and dual pregnancies, and the apparent uniform biological attraction of all women to other women is not addressed. This has been written up far better by Danielle L Parker in a previous Ammonite review.

Always is quite late in a series (after The Blue Place and Stay, which I can't find in NZ), and is running a dual timeline (flashbacks every other chapter) between the past - character running a self defence class for women, leading up to some drama, which is really interesting and includes a lot of real information (the best way to... injure, think, act. Characterisation, attitudes and how people can manipulate you... as well as ways to pop someone's eyeball, the old 'everything is a weapon' drill). The other timeline is sort-of a detective story, the character is both very intelligent, paranoid, and tough. Some kind of current or ex- police/detective (is late in series, as mentioned, so I don't quite know the backstory).

Slow River is a stand alone science fiction book. About a futuristic, decaying society, it has interesting realistic characters, dysfunctional families, and jumps about a lot - a real pain to start with but fascinating by the end, with the various timelines in the girl's life unfolding in parallel, and others - think Sheri S. Tepper-style/quality/philosophical level.

I'm annoyed because she's not very commonly found here in NZ, I only own Ammonite - actually, that is partly because I lean towards the sci-fi or fantasy when buying books I haven't read, and a lot of her books aren't.

For more  (good) lesbian books and films click here

1 comment:

  1. You can read the first chapters of everything for free at You can listen to audio exerpts, too. See, for example, the first chapter of THE BLUE PLACE here:

    and listen to me read it here:



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