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[personal profile] white_hart
The Turl Street Oxfam bookshop has had a lot of SF and fantasy by women lately, including several novels by Suzy McKee Charnas published in the Women's Press SF imprint; given that SF and fantasy by women, especially feminist SF and fantasy, is what I'm reading most at the moment, I obviously bought them (they all originally belonged to the same woman, as she wrote her name in them. I do wonder why so much of her collection has been donated).


Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines, published in one volume by the Women's Press, are two separate novels, though they're set in the same post-apocalyptic world and share a central character. (The Internet tells me there are two more in the series, The Furies, which I also bought, and The Conqueror's Child, which wasn't there. Walk to the End of the World is a classic of feminist dystopian fiction, set in a society made up of the descendants of powerful white men who retreated into underground bunkers as civilisation collapsed. Emerging from the bunkers to scratch out an existence in a world stripped of other animals and natural resources (with the exception of edible seaweeds that flourish in the polluted ocean), they blame those who were different from them for the collapse of the world of the Ancients - women, hippies, other races - and have created the Holdfast, a rigidly hierarchical society where age brings power and where women are retained as a slave class for breeding and heavy labour, considered to be bestial and subhuman. The social setup, where the only acceptable romantic relationships are between men and heterosexual intercouse is limited to breeding, seemed to me to be partly inspired by Ancient Greek society, although the experience of women as slaves probably owes a lot more to the experience of black slaves in the US. The novel focuses sequentially on three men who are, for various reasons, outsiders in their society to some extent, and then finally on Alldera, the woman who is sent to travel with them to the city of 'Troi, at the farthest western extent of the Holdfast. It's an interesting if rather grim read; fortunately, it's short enough to push through the grimness, and some of the characters are surprisingly sympathetic.

Motherlines picks up Alldera's story after she has escaped from the Holdfast and travelled to the Grassland, which are occupied by two different all-female societies: the Riding Women, who have been genetically engineered to breed without men and who live a semi-nomadic existence alongside their horses; they have a complex structure of kinship and a strong adherence to their traditions. Set against them are the free fems, women who have escaped from the Holdfast, who have no children of their own but who cannot be integrated in the women's society. Alldera finds herself both participating in and excluded from both societies, and the changes her arrival brings drive the plot of the novel, such as it is; mostly, it's an exploration of cultural differences and how people react to change. While much less grim than Walk to the End of the World, I wouldn't describe Motherlines as utopian: the Riding Women's society might see utopian at first glance, but it has its own tensions and darkness; the women's solution to the problem of breeding without men is fairly unsettling and their attitude to the free fems is far from admirable, while the fems are escaped slaves struggling to break free of their slave mindset. I liked this a lot; it's thoughtful and complex with interesting characters.
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