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Aug 02 2008

Tired tirade with jokey payoff

The spinster aunt is a science fiction fan with nothing to adore.

I’m all for tesseracting through the Omega Quadrant in a wisecracking talking ship (preferably one with a Holodeck), beaming down at warp speed to strange new worlds where no [one] has gone before, resisting even when it is futile, wearing silver spandex (or, if the strange new world is “primitive,” a burlap moo-moo, or if the strange new world is a dystopia, a grayish utilitarian jumpsuit ). But it chaps the Twisty hide when the only option is to do it under the auspices of militaristic, sexist, and theist paradigms.

So I languish alone in a speculative fictional desert on a horse with no name, a barren wasteland populated with insipid Luke Skywalkers, Six Million Dollar Underwear Models, throbbing Captain Kirks, pervy Jubal Harshaws, gun/man hybrid Robocops. The Twisty lip curls at the treatment of their straight chick sidekicks: second banana Scully, sexbot Seven of Nine (whose catsuit was separated at birth from the Vulcan hottie on that awful show “Enterprise”), token exotic Lt. Uhura, plucky fag hag Rose Tyler, one-dimensional brainiac Major Carter. They’re all stuck in obeisance to some Higher Celestial Power who is Good: The Force. Yoda. The US Air Force. The Commonwealth. The Federation. The Tardis. The Founders. The Asgard. And they’re all at war with absolute evil: the Dominion, the Dark Side, the Daleks, the Goa’uld, the Borg, The FBI/CIA, the Cardassians, the Cylons, the commies.

Why does speculative fiction — which could be about anything, anything, anything — revolve exclusively around battles, stereotypes, and reactionary politics?

I know I’ve asked this question before, and I really don’t expect another list of the 3 books ever written with slightly non-patriarchal themes. I mention it only to complain bitterly, and for no other reason. When I started writing this post it was only to share this mildly funny link with you. But I got to thinking about this other stuff, because the Darth Mojo guy who writes the aforelinked blog is a special effects dude on the show “Battlestar Galactica,” which show I had to quit watching because I couldn’t stand for another second that slinky dudefantasy sexbot Cylon with the red dress and pornulated phonesex voice.

ADDENDUM: I understand and sympathize with the blamer’s enthusiasm for Octavia Butler and Joanna Russ and Ursula K. If you’re interested, or if you missed it the first time, this territory was covered exhaustively in this IBTP thread from last year.

97 comments

1 ping

  1. Flores

    Ursula K. Le Guin. That’s the only response I have, though I’m sure other less-patriarchal science fiction exists somewhere.

  2. PhysioProf

    This is why I have pretty much stopped reading all fiction. It’s the same fake-ass corny repetitive status-quo-reinforcing shit over and over and over and over. I’d rather spend my time on professional academic reading and kick-ass truth-speaking blogs like IBTP.

  3. other orange

    Every year it gets harder and harder to find sci-fi worth watching (at least on tv.) If they aren’t fighting a “realistic” war (complete with cigar-chomping battle commandos and a male-dominated power structure) then it’s hyperspace catsuits and the costumers trying to prove it’s futuristic by using shinier lipstick.

    I do love Rose Tyler, though.

  4. atheist woman

    This post reminded me of the Daughters of the North, by Sarah Hall. It was about what happens after the collapse of Western civilization. All the women in Britain had to wear these freaky IUDs which involved having wire always sticking your vag so employers could do random checks. The main character got fed up with that shit (naturally) and headed to northern England to a radical feminist all woman commune. When I was reading the book the only thing I could think of was the blamers of the not-yet-defunct IBTP forum. They had the same arguments too.

  5. Laura

    Because sci-fi is only partly speculative fiction. A lot of it is a deliberate reflection of the present, or whatever point in the history, for easier critique/comparison of it.

  6. Vera

    I maintain that if you’ve got to have a TV science fiction fix, Enterprise is not that bad. It was all about time travel AND spy business intrigue. I adored the genius linguist, Hoshi Sato. There was a weird alien doctor who groomed his long tongue during the night and came from a race that practiced group marriage. (Okay, so, he was irritating. He was not as irritating as Nelix in Voyager.) Finally, the crew included a beagle dog. I rest my case.

    TV science fiction is not a complete wasteland. There was, once upon a time, a TV film version of Urusla K. LeGuin’s book The Lathe of Heaven. I continue to hope for film versions of some of her other books. Or of Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country. The latter was attacked as being anti-male, presumably by readers who hadn’t noticed that 99.9 percent of science fiction is filled with hateful portrayals of women as airheaded sexbots, with the occasional startling plot twist in which one woman is a brainy sexbot.

    I consumed science fiction when I was an adolescent. I often wonder what the constant diet of misogyny did to my tender young soul.

  7. yankeetransferred

    Twisty,
    Because protecting my three young woman daughters from, and educating them about, the patriarchy seems to have become even more time consuming as the years plod on, I have failed to keep up regularly over here. “Shame on me!” I say. I took the time this morning to catch up, and printed several recent posts for my female offspring, each of whom is victimized by the male of the species, at least verbally, quite often. I’m proud of how they are growing up and not taking any shit, but I am loathe to report that it’s no better out there than it was before I gave up on men entirely. Anyway, thank you for your brilliant and entertaining writing, as always-
    IBTP

  8. Maren

    When you’re a genre-loving feminist, just sighing and rewatching your Buffy DVDs again gets old, especially since that show has plenty of issues too and, on the feminism front, only looks good compared to the rest of the world. I hear Sarah Connor Chronicles is good? But I never liked Terminator anyways.

    The worst thing about the situation is how many genuinely good characters (Scully, Laura Roslin, Donna Noble from Doctor Who season four) are somehow created by the shows and then crushed to a pulp over the years. And the forced-pregnancy storylines! Scully, poor Claudia Black as both Aeryn on Farscape and Vala on Stagate SG:1; they even stole poor Sydney’s ova on Alias, which is when I quit watching it. Don’t forget all the mystery surrounding dying pregnant women on Lost and the baby farms on BSG! Because obviously you have to balance out having a female president and a confident female soldier lead with images of unconscious women strapped down after being inseminated.

  9. Megan

    It is pretty much entirely thanks to IBTP that the speculative fiction novel I’ve been trying to write since I was 21 and Didn’t Know Better got scrapped and has been reborn in patriarchy blaming colours. I always had a female heroine, but now she’s not an underconfident teenager, she’s a single mother and she isn’t doing stuff to ‘find herself’ she’s doing tough-minded shit in order to save her son from growing up to be a violent sociopath (oh and also saving the world) and contrary to formula, the hero proclaiming that he needs her in his life is not the happy ending moment but the moment she will dump him because being needed smells like being owned. And the villains are giving me an opportunity to vent just about everything that is making me SO angry about living in a patriarchy.

    Now I just have to get over this habit I have of ducking my head and mumbling “feminist fantasy… um… stuff” when people ask me what I’m writing about.

    Whew. I just had to get that off my chest because I’m really, really excited about what I’m writing now and I thought this crowd might understand a little better than the coworkers at whom I mumble the second explanation.

  10. Debby

    Twisty, I know your pain, and I can help! You said you didn’t want a list, but maybe just a short one?

    Octavia Butler is the answer! I never cared for science fiction until I discovered her about two months ago, now I am a full-fledged scifi geek. I started with Kindred, an absolutely gorgeous tale spanning 1970s LA, time travel, slavery, race, gender and much more. That was my gateway drug, I’ve nearly finished her whole canon now. I followed it with Butler’s amazing Xenogenesis series,(you can buy them all in one cover under the name “Lilith’s Brood”) in which an alien race comes upon a post-nuclear war ruined earth and rescues the remaining living people. It’s a complicated story spanning centuries and generations- it’s beautiful and exciting and strange and scary, perfect science fiction. The Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Talents are wonderful as well, beautiful stories of sexuality and religion and violence and gender and, well, the end times.

    Octavia Butler’s novels, and her female, African-American protagonists are not the *perfect* feminist fiction (so much focus on childbirth, for one thing!) but it is all just so much better then everything else out there, and is full of rich characters, really smart and most importantly, really enjoyable, fast reads.

  11. Debby

    Slight correction: Butler’s protagonists aren’t always African American (sometimes they are African. or Vampires.) They are, however, always women who always “read” as black.

  12. australian dave

    OK, but you have read Joanna Russ, right? Not just her fantastic bit of world class blaming How to Suppress Womens Writing, but also the classic work of radical feminist SF The Female Man, which I used to buy every second hand copy of I could find just so I could give them as gifts to friends. And I’m particularly fond of her snappy little novella We Who Are About To, which squarely takes aim at and then guts certain of the more misogynistic assumptions of ‘classic’ SF.

    SF has the Tiptree award, and Wizcon, and plenty of fine feminist authors such as Russ, Le Guin, Tiptree, Octavia Butler, and many. Pity all that is outnumbered at the more reactionary stuff, but still, at least in print there is a real feminist SF.

    Sadly, on screen it is a different matter. Once there is a big budget attached, well, battles become mandatory.

  13. Lemur

    Megan- please finish that book and get it published so I can read it as soon as it comes out and buy multiple copies to give to my friends. :)

  14. Cracy

    I was just going to recommend Joanna Russ and Octavia Butler!

  15. H.

    Donna Noble from this last season of WHO was a major improvement on Rose ‘I Wuv Teh Doctor’ Tyler. Not that New Who isn’t shot through with troublesome messianism, but still. Donna, as a middle-aged, non-sexbot, mouthy, argumentative, funny, in-it-for-the-adventure-not-the-romance type of companion, is pretty much as good as it gets with that series.

  16. phio gistic

    I have a list of women feminist-type SF authors here (thanks to the posters at the IBTB board)

    http://phiogistic.blogspot.com/2007/06/women-in-sf.html

    I’d be happy to add anyone I’ve missed!

  17. Meghan

    Feel like science fiction dudified to the extreme? All you have to do is google “feminist SF” and find these resources with all sorts of books for your blaming pleasure:

    Feminist SF Utopia
    Carnival of Feminist SF fans

    Feminist SF Blog

    Other great resources:
    The Tiptree Award. I served on the 2007 Jury, and we gave the award to Daughters of the North. So glad to see people are reading and loving it!

    Aqueduct Press a feminist SF press run by the writer L. Timmel Duchamp.

    As a writer, I’m drawn to speculative fiction because of its long and still extremely vibrant feminist tradition. It pains me to see SF described as dude city, because brilliant women have been working in the field since its inception, and some of the most vital feminist writing of the past thirty years has been done there. Besides LeGuin, Russ, Tiptree (have you read the bio?), and Butler, some other favorite writers include Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Murphy, Nicola Griffith (and her partner Kelley Eskridge), Laurie Marks, Kelly Link, Nalo Hopkinson — suffice to say there are a lot.

  18. Carolyn J.

    I agree about Donna Noble – I didn’t realize how one-dimensional Rose Tyler was until Donna came along. And hey, what about the Bene Gesserit?

    I enjoy reading speculative fiction because it provides the clearest window into the mind of the author, for better or for worse.

  19. norbizness

    “That slinky dudefantasy sexbot Cylon with the red dress and pornulated phonesex voice.”

    Dean Stockwell?

  20. another voice

    thanks to Maren for being bothered about the BSG forced pregnancy story line. it left such a bad taste in my mouth, i almost stopped watching the show. it felt like they just had to remind us what our real function is – breeding for whatever dominant group (cyclons, men, wevs).

  21. Fiona

    There is such a thing as a tesseract.

  22. Blue

    I don’t know. I feel like at least some of those shows have redeeming features. Seven looked like a sexbot, but she definitely was not one, insofar as a sexbot is someone who is dominated. That goes for a lot of hawt female sci-fi characters. Janeway was the captain and also an accomplished scientist. B’Elanna was quite a bit fiercer and more masculine than her boyfriend. Half the crew were subversives formerly led by a Native American with a tattoo. One of their biggest annoyances was Q, an arrogant middle-aged white guy who tried, and failed, to turn Janeway into a sexbot.

    And back off Carter. I love Carter. Surely you have to give the show credit for giving her command of Atlantis, which has never had a male commander.

  23. Blue

    Oh yes, and I agree about Donna Noble.

  24. The Eclectic Hedonist

    Oh Twisty…

    First of all, come to WisCon on Memorial Day weekend and enjoy the world’s oldest and largest Feminist Science Fiction convention. While you’re there, go to A Room of One’s Own, the feminist bookstore in Madison and check out the science fiction section. As for authors, here goes a rundown, and pardon me to the people who’ve commented before, as I’m summing up:

    - Suzette Haden Elgin (Native Tongue, where linguists are the most powerful people in the world, Reagan is revered as the greatest president ever by the patriarchy, and women overthrow the system by creating a new language for themselves, it’s WONDERFUL) She is also ozarque on LiveJournal

    - L. Timmel DuChamp (love’s body dancing in time)
    - Joanna Russ
    - Chip Delaney (Babel 17, Neveryon, Stars in our pockets like grains of sand, Dhalgren)
    - Ursula K. LeGuin, of course and it’s been repeated.
    - Jane Yolen
    … there are hundreds of feminist science fiction authors.

    Check on the James L. Tiptree (pen name of the first most read female science fiction author) awards on wikipedia and you’ll find more fiction than you can read in a year…

  25. keres

    Three must reads for phio gistic’s list, and everyone else in general:

    Joan Slonczewski’s novel A Door into Ocean

    Pamela Sargent’s must have anthologies:
    Women of Wonder: The Classic Years
    Women of Wonder: The Contemporary Years

  26. brainiac9

    Ditto on Donna. I love her to bits, and season four was largely as awesome as it was because of her fabulosity.

    But I do need to say that there is very, very little in the new of Doctor Who that can stack up to how absolutely, mind-blowingly awful the first season of Torchwood (particularly the first half of the first season) was for women. I’ve watched/read my fair share of sci-fi, and I honestly think that it was some of the worst, most painful drivel I’ve ever forced myself to sit through in the faint, ever dwindling hope that it would improve.

  27. denelian

    why has everyone ignored Mercedes Lackey? she has a series where the main character isn’t just a gay man (well, boy at the start, he’s like 15 or 16), but actually goes through what makes him gay and why it doesn’t make him “evil” or a pedophile, etc etc. she has lots and LOTS of strong female leads – one of her most famous characters is warrior priestess who has given up sex to be what she is, and said warrior is partnered to a woman mage who has sex when she wants…

    or maybe this is where that gulf betwee Sci-Fi and Fantasy hits? Lackey has written sci-fi, but shes lots better known for her fantasy, i guess…

  28. slythwolf

    This is why I write my own, or try to. Although I’m more of a fantasy bent than science fiction; I find it easier to make up my own rules for magic than to try to learn the real ones for science.

    Ideally, in a couple of years, I will have finished a book about a dimension-hopping teenage girl’s adventures with a ragtag traveling commune of lesbian separatist werewolves. Y’all are welcome to buy and read it if I can get a publisher.

  29. slythwolf

    denelian, the main problem I personally have with Mercedes Lackey is that the first book of hers I ever read was all about how great and awesome it was for an 18-year-old woman and a 35-year-old man to be in love. Creeeeeepy.

  30. Pinko Punko

    Battlestar Galactica’s one major failing is the pornulation/sexbottery. The seductress as the road to ruin is both a misogynist stereotype and a likely successful strategy for a supercomputer determined to muck about with walking penises. That said, I find the show compelling on a lot of other levels.

    I have been watching the ol’ Star Trek:TOS on CBS.com, trying to watch the episodes in order, but also paying attention to the production dates to kind of watch the evolution of the series. When Kirk gets duplicated in the transporter, and the conclusion is if you reduce a dude to his id he’s just a rapist. I thought that was kind of provocative. I realize it might just be a “duh” but it seemed kind of edgy for 1966. Also, I’ve said this before the final frontier is always the one between man and woman. They can have aliens (the strange), black people (the different), RUSSIANS (the Commie enemy), Japanese (the WWII enemy), but a woman could not be a captain.

  31. Rebekka

    I can’t believe you put DS9 in the same Higher Celestial Power who is Good/at war with absolute evil category as the other Star Treks/rest of crappy SF. DS9 stands out among the Star Treks as the only series where the Federation is portrayed as morally ambiguous, the Dominion is portrayed as having shades of grey, and it’s not all absolute good/absolute evil.

    Hippocratic Oath, for instance, and Indiscretion both humanise the Federation’s enemies and muddy the absolute good/absolute evil waters, and Paradise Lost conversely shows a state of emergency on earth and political restrictions being engineered by a Star Fleet Admiral, who made it look like the work of the Dominion.

    Just a couple of examples – I think you could find moral ambiguity in each episode – but it was a great show that doesn’t deserve to be lumped into the category you’ve put it in. Also, Major Kira was a great character, even if there are some other feminist issues.

  32. Twisty

    I agree that DS9 is the best of the lot (it also has the nicest theme music). But there’s still that annoying hierarchical Starfleet stuff that mimics 20th century military structure, and the Cardassians are Nazis.

    Whups. I’ve invoked Nazis. Doesn’t that mean this thread is over?

  33. Sylvanite

    No, no! I’ll rescue it!

    Oh, wait, most media sf is crap. Oh, well. Maybe Dollhouse will be good. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was sorta entertaining.

  34. H.

    there is very, very little in the new of Doctor Who that can stack up to how absolutely, mind-blowingly awful the first season of Torchwood (particularly the first half of the first season) was for women.

    Oh god, yes, Torchwood. The horror.

  35. Blue

    Mercedes Lackey is the sort of writer who puts apostrophes in all her characters’ names. If you want to read good, feminist fantasy, start with Tamora Pierce. All but two of her many main characters are strong females surrounded by non-sexist men. She actually has a Livejournal, and her icon reads “FEMINISM: Despite reports to the contrary, it seems that women are, indeed, people.” Although, granted, there may be too much military stuff in her novels for Twisty’s taste.

  36. Megan

    I love Tamora Pierce too. But I’m still mad at her for Trickster’s Queen. She does really well with having strong female characters who have sex when they’re ready to and use birth control. And then, WHAT? After the culminative sex scene, dude-who-is-still-learning-to-be-human says, “I didn’t think it was supposed to hurt you” and she explains that it’s only supposed to the first time. That exchange makes me nauseous. Do we have to perpetuate this myth that once permitted, sex cannot be stopped no matter what the circumstances? Now I have this vision in my head of him pumping away thinking, “huh. She seems to be in pain. Well, can’t stop now. I’ll file it away to ask later.”

    I suppose I’m mad because all her other books led me to expect so much better.

  37. atheist woman

    Tamora Pierce bothered me. None of the women were teh fulfilled (it says filled see, meaning a by a dewd *nudge nudge wink wink*) until they were with men.

  38. Blue

    I don’t think Kel ended up with a man. I also don’t think those romances were ever an issue of fulfillment. It didn’t come across that way to me, anyway. The characters just fell in love, that’s all – and very sweet and compelling relationships they had, too. I do agree about Aly’s relationship with crow-man or whatever he was, though. That one was kind of lame.

  39. jessant

    Deep Space Nine got dumb at the end. They included that sexbot character who was part borg, think her name was Nine, and then they had wrestlers on the show. I stopped watching it after that. I’ve had a crush on Janeway for years. She was suppose to be like a female Picard but she totally owned her role and made it something else. Then they brought in Q who wanted to have her babies…no no no no. But Q flirted with Picard too so I’m ambivalent about that.

  40. Suzie

    I’m rewatching BSG. I know there’s much to criticize, but … 6, who wears ridiculous clothes, unfortunately, is more than a sexbot. She’s superior to Gaius Baltar in almost every way. In season 2.5, there’s a female president and admiral, and the best, smartest, most heroic pilot is a woman. The show constantly critiques the military and politics. I agree that rape and pregnancy are done, once again, but the show does bring some important questions to mainstream viewers. On the other hand, maybe I’m just rationalizing. I’m open to blaming.

    One snarky comment: There’s a scene in which women are hooked up like reproductive machines because the Cylons are trying to breed hybrid kids. It was reminiscent of a similar plot in Farscape. Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to milk human men of semen so that Cylon women, who want to produce hybrids, could bear the children? Perhaps the problem is that having men strapped down while some Rube Goldberg machine was stuck on their penises wouldn’t have the same effect.

  41. FatWhiteMaleEngineerHumanist

    It sounds like there’s a novel waiting for you to write it! You already have a terrific voice, and you mix social criticism with brilliant bon mots. I would be ashamed to offer literary advice, but I would be delighted to buy a copy of T. Faster’s stunning new novel: “The Galactic Canterbury Tales”!

    Take good care,
    David

  42. Sarah

    Hey, there. First time poster, long time reader.

    You might want to consider Tanya Huff’s Valor series (starting with Valor’s Choice). It IS military sf, but the main character is a female staff sergent, and she’s amazing. The books deal very, very well with sex/gender and sexuality. Plus, Huff is a great author and person.

    I also get the impression that the trustworthiness of the federation behind the war/military will be questioned in later books. At least, that’s the way things seemed to be going as I read the third one (which just came out in paperback).

  43. Erzebeth

    Twisty, I agree with you about Six from BSG – and you just know The Dudes are all going “Six – that’s, like, Sex”.

    But I swear that the rest of BSG isn’t like that. I’m a huge Starbuck fan – and of course The Dudes don’t like her, ’cause she’s “a bitch” (got that from one of them). I’m sure they don’t like Laura Roslyn or Three/D’Anna for the same reason.

  44. Jane Tweed

    I remember the shock of reading Tamora Pierce for the first time in secondry school, female charactures in fantasy novels with a brain! Atheist Women, I agree that she does tend to have a lot of romance in her early books and it’s not all perfect but it can be interestingly subversion (Alana and George rather than Alana and Johnathon being my main example). In the later Circle books she improves a great deal on this, and I was rather interested to see that she finally went ahead and had one of her main charactures a lesbian after years of secondary charatures being queer.

  45. Ah Clem

    Get yourself down to Book People and pick up something by Maureen McHugh. Not only is she a Tiptree award winner (and was coGOH at this year’s WisCon) she’s also a local Austin writer. I highly recommend her collection of short stories, Mothers and Other Monsters.

  46. Cimarron

    After lurking for a little while, this is what draws me out! Another vote for Octavia Butler. “Parable of the Talents” was my intro to her. A pretty heavy intro.

    I also enjoyed Ursula LeGuin “The Left Hand of Darkness”

    Anyway, Octavia Butler changed my life. She passed away only a couple of years ago and was only in her late 50′s.

  47. tabatha atwood

    i agree with all the pro-bsg’s above

    my weekend reading includes you and jane espenson’s blog for aspiring writers– she is a writer/produceer on battlestar galatica and i think she is very aware of making strong female characters within a universe with a patriarchal history-

  48. Hattie

    I thought that Battlestar Galactica showed that it is OK to torture and kill women if they are really Cylons.
    Just read a pretty good if not terribly exciting SF novel by Frederik Pohl, called *The Voices of Heaven.* Although women are, of course, agents of evil, they do get to do stuff. There’s some good criticism of religion, too.

  49. Ciccina

    Ursula LeGuin, Ursula LeGuin, Ursula LeGuin.

    Also, Tricia Sullivan. As feminist as the day is long, and great fun. She is young – just on her second or third book – and smart and feisty. Her first book, Maul, centered on ultra- violent teenage girl gangs in a futuristic mall, particularly around the cosmetic counters; the second has more of a Philip K. Dick style, with an overweight, depressed teenage girl video game player as protagonist. She’s American but she may only have a UK publisher, thus amazon.co.uk.

    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is partly sci/fi speculative. Grand, beautiful, humane novel. Multiple characters, some male, some female, one robot, all real and complex and utterly engaging. Another novel, Ghostwritten, is fantastic in both senses of the word.

    Under the Skin by Michel Faber. Very feminist, very gripping. Its an allegory that touches on several themes, especially gender inequality. More I can’t say because any additional detail would be a spoiler.

  50. Suzie

    Hattie, I hope no one’s thinking BSG says it’s OK to torture and kill women if they’re Cylons. BSG shows how people demonize their enemies, making it easier to torture and kill them. But there are always characters who point out that calling the Cylons names is racist and wondering whether humanity deserves to live if they can’t do better. I don’t mean to imply that BSG is better than a book by LeGuin, for example, but it’s got some redeeming qualities for TV sci-fi.

  51. Rebekka

    “Deep Space Nine got dumb at the end. They included that sexbot character who was part borg, think her name was Nine, and then they had wrestlers on the show. I stopped watching it after that. I’ve had a crush on Janeway for years. She was suppose to be like a female Picard but she totally owned her role and made it something else. Then they brought in Q who wanted to have her babies…no no no no. But Q flirted with Picard too so I’m ambivalent about that.”

    Er, that was VOYAGER not Deep Space Nine! And the “sex bot” was called Seven of Nine, and as far as I remember from Feminism 101, wearing tight clothes doesn’t automatically mean a woman is having/is interested in having a lot of sex, so why describe her as a sex bot anyway?

  52. selmas

    Ditto on WisCon. Not only feminist speculative fiction, but great *lesbian* speculative fiction should not be discounted. Praise Russ, but also Nicola Griffith, Laurie Marks, and Sarah Hall. These writers are unsentimental visionaries and rational aesthetes, whose characters are both believable and extraordinary. I want more work in this genre, but I would argue that some of the best writing to be had period already exists in this genre.

  53. Angiportus

    I guess I won’t read “Trickster Queen” either. The idea that sex is supposed to hurt the first time is something I once thought that I would be safe from running into if I just stuck to sf, but such was not the case. WE–or they, or whoever–don’t have to perpetuate that one either.
    I BLAM!! the patriarchy.

  54. Eclectic Hedonist

    Ditto on Maureen McHugh. There’s also Elisabeth Bear for good feminist hard science fiction with a lot of action. If I could drag this machine down to my shelf, I’d have a lot of names for you.

    Being a little more liberal with the sf/fantasy continuum, I’d add:

    Nancy Kress
    Karen Joy Fowler
    Nina Kiriki Hoffman
    Kelly Link
    Judith Merril
    Pat Murphy
    Nisi Shawl
    Cecilia Tan
    Connie Willis (I’m tempted to put all-caps there, but in particular, read Doomsday Book, and To Say Nothing of the Dog)

    Oh, and James L. Tiptree is Alice Sheldon, since I forgot her name earlier.

  55. E.R

    Even if it doesn’t always conform to my feminist agenda, I love Star Trek: Voyager. Captain Janeway is my take-no-crap role model, and skin-tight biosuit or no, I’ll always love Seven of Nine. They were the tough, forceful women I grew up wanting to emulate.

  56. Erzebeth

    Hattie: if you’re talking about the Gina storyline from Season 2, it was horrifying (as it should have been) but, like Suzie said, I don’t recall anyone agreeing with Admiral Cain and her minions’ treatment of her.

    Male Cylons (like Leoben) have been tortured and thrown out of airlocks too, for what it’s worth.

  57. Mz Kat

    I read this post and immediately, Octavia Butler came to mind like so many others have mentioned. What is sad is that she appears to really be the only female writer most of us could come up with.

  58. RP

    Sherri Tepper and Ursula LeGuin are the authors that never disappoint me, and my tolerance for books with women as non-people is very friggin’ low these days. (I haven’t been able to get into Octavia Butler, since my tolerance is equally low for women-as-source-of-life.) On the fantasy/historical side of things, I’m really digging Judith Tarr.

  59. Boreoboreo

    Men write this stuff, and men buy it! Men believe that women will go along with what ever male story line is created.

    I never read male science fiction, and found all the visionary novels of lesbian feminists far more interesting and there were dozens of authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Katherine V. Forest, Sally Gearhardt and so many other authors too numerous to mention here. These were visionary novels that really gave inspiration to the lesbian feminist movement, and were huge topics of discussion in the lesbian community.

    Battle Star Galactica and the boring Starwars are just the usual men with the usual limited imaginations. That is all the imagination men have, and so they produce the same boring militaristic sexist garbage over and over and over again.

    And then there is the “gaming community” with it woman hating rape fantasy video games in sci fi settings.

    I’m convinced that a lot of women don’t really know the depth to which men sink in their vulgar worlds, or just how primitive men really are. I don’t see them as much above cave dwellers really. Can’t expect a cave man to write a great feminist story can you?

  60. Rikibeth

    What about Elizabeth Bear? Diverse casts, central women characters in some books, and the story lines don’t blindly reinforce patriarchy, although they don’t wish it into nonexistence either. Nor does the military get a free pass.

    And there’s a LOT to choose from. Hammered, Scardown, and Worldwired, about retired cybersoldier Jenny Casey; Blood and Iron, Whiskey and Water, Ink and Steel, and there’s another one due out shortly, which are modern Faerie fantasy that’s not in the LEAST sparkly-princess — they’re almost the antithesis of Laurell K. Hamilton; and that’s not all.

    disclaimer: she’s a friend and a neighbor and I’ve known her for nearly twenty years. Even so, I am recommending her on her merits.

    she’s on liivejournal as matociquala, if that interests you.

  61. Jonathan

    You’re right on, Twisty!

    It seems like most of the science fiction that gets mentioned (especially from TV) is prefaced with, “It’s not too terrible,” and is followed by, “It was at that point that I almost stopped watching.”

    But what if I don’t want to have a lingering bad taste in my mouth? If I want a patriarchy-free sci-fi space with no women-as-less-than, no fem-bots, no forced-pregnancy labs, no tight-outfits (unless also on Kevin Sorbo), no military-industrial-complex-saves-the-day, and no exceptions, what are my choices then?

    Ursula LeGuin was mentioned multiple times without caveats, so I think I will start there. But I’ve been burned too many times* to jump into some of the others just yet.

    Any other recommendations from the zero-tolerance sci-fi fans?

  62. weeza

    I’m doing a critical/creative PhD on this very subject. I’ve added to my reading list from a few comments above so thanks folks! Now if there could just be 28 hours in a day I might be finished by 2015. Meghan – what a great job. It is my ambition to have something suitable to submit for the Tiptree Award one day. Aim high, I say.

  63. Chai Latte

    Hey Twisty!

    I’d recommend the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. I don’t know if Max is as blame-tastic as the competition, but I love her to bits.

    And this isn’t sci-fi, but I absolutely ADORE the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray. “A Great and Terrible Beauty”, “Rebel Angels”, and “The Sweet Far Thing” are beautifully written. The heroine lives in Victorian England, one of the most restrictive periods in the history of Western women. SHe’s a fish out of water, but does her best to find her own way, and help her friends to do the same. There’s magic, adventure, and a whole lotta danger. I’d be interested to know what you thought of it!

  64. Tammy Doyle

    Hi,

    First time blamer here; also a sci-fi freak. Joss Whedon had a series called Fire Fly that I enjoyed. There was some blameworthy stuff but also some stereotypes that he played with. The “companion” on the space ship was a valued diplomat who had both male and female clients. The very feminine, cheerful female engineer was very comfortable with her sexuality and the uber bad guys raped both men and women to death. It wasn’t really all about sex though.

    Um, that doesn’t sound very fun but it was. Too bad it lasted only one season.

  65. Bushfire

    I was so excited to see the word “tesseract”! I absolutely love Madeleine L’Engle, and I know that her novels aren’t exactly feminst, but I think they have redeeming qualities. For something written in the fifties, it’s awesome to have a female protagonist who is smart and a mother with a Ph. D. Too bad Meg has a rather secondary role despite being the narrator. I’m exited to hear there are so many feminist science fiction writers, I had no idea.

  66. Kay

    I thought Donna Noble was the best, but Rose definitely beat out Martha, and the three of them were all more useful than any classic companions, with the possible exceptions of Tegan and Sarah.

    As for Torchwood, I’m amazed that a show that is so purposefully non-heteronormative is also so bad at having powerful females. Has anyone besides Gwen and Tosh ever been held hostage by an alien?

  67. Ron Sullivan

    I’ve been here long enough to have seen the SF List Thread before (and profited therefrom) but Twisty, if you haven’t got around to Pat Murphy yet, you might enjoy her stuff. Even when she’s being all blatant (Nadya), she’s still entertaining. She’s more patient than I am with E Clampus Vitus but Wild Angel‘s just fun to read anyway.

    No one’s mentioned Emma Bull yet. Bone Dance was pretty good.

    You know what, though? I don’t read much SF or fiction in general lately, either. Most of the time it just feels like someone trying to jerk me around emotionally. NB “trying.”

  68. Shaina

    Hahaha. I would say that link is more than “mildly” comical.

  69. Twisty

    “And back off Carter. I love Carter.”

    You know I want to love Carter, but come on. It’s the lousiest, flattest part on that show. She doesn’t get to be interesting, like Tealc, or endearing, like Daniel Jackson, or comical, like Jack. She’s in love with MacGyver, but she calls him “sir”!? What the fuck is that? I mean, yay Carter, but she’s not a real character, she’s a place-holder. Give me more. And by “more” I don’t mean put her in a dominatrix suit and make her have Thor’s superbaby.

  70. Puffin

    Another fan of Butler here. Parable of the Sower would have made a much better movie than I Am Legend.

  71. TwissB

    Sorry, but I find the emotional engagement of the impressively intelligent and witty people who appear on this blog with the cardboard world of science fiction to be utterly baffling. I am reminded of the SNL skit in which William Shatner makes a guest star appearance at a Star Trek fan convention, stares out at the rapt audience in pained disbelief, and says, “People! Get a life!!

    I enjoyed Joanna Russ’s feminist writing until she came out (like Katha Politt),cravenly trashing critics of pornography. Bravery in the real world is not the same as looking tough in science fiction.

  72. Twisty

    Yes, it is baffling that impressively intelligent women can have facets.

  73. natasha

    I think you should watch Babylon 5 if you haven’t. It’s not *great* but it is a lot better than a lot of the other stuff out there (especially the new BSG, which is, IMO vom-worthy of the highest order; worse than even the original BSG). It has the military thing going on but not to as great an extent as Star Trek I think, or maybe that’s just because spoiler spoiler spoiler (sorry major plot thing). Also two of the main characters (and sundry extras) are female, important and not dressed so as to look super hot (however they are hot, I don’t think they hire non-hot people to act on TV).

    I don’t know what to think about Inarra (of Firefly); on the one hand I think it’s good to portray prostitution as not making a woman into an animal. On the other hand I hatehatehate that apparently in the mind of Joss Wheadon the only way to be a high class woman and go on Adventures is to be a prostitute. I dunno. The show does have two other female main characters, both of whom are great which is good. And even Inarra doesn’t go around wearing stuff like seven of nine’s costume and being eye candy for the viewer.

    For books… I reckon you get better women in stories if you read stories written by women (shocking, why can’t men write good women? Women write good men all the time!). MZB, Le Guin, Tepper and Cherryh come to mind. SF seems more likely to be open to decent female characters but Clarke and Novik have both fitted strong (although not main character) women into Regency England.

    Progressive Men seem to trip over the question of “how to write women”; Mieville seems a bit stuck with the idea that prostitutes should unionise and join the revolution but doesn’t let his women have jobs other than “prostitute” for the most part. Which is a bit of a bummer, I like his work other than for that enormous flaw. (It is vaguely amusing that several people have excused him this flaw on the grounds that he is gay – he’s not gay, and I don’t think ‘being gay’ is an excuse to have this flaw in any case. His own excuse is more to do with the history of Real World Revolutions that he is writing about; which is a bit meh because this is fiction he’s writing). Anyway, I try to avoid reading too many books by Progressive Men because they annoy me when they suck, which might mean I am missing out on lots of good books.

  74. Azundris

    Oh no, not Joanna Russ? I already need to add a qualifier to “When it changed was one of those transformative reads for me when I was a kid”, that being, “but I tried to read We who are about to recently, and how she can take an excessively important 3-line premise and then run it into the ground for a hundred pages is beyond me.” I don’t want to have to distance myself from “the porn-bit” as well.

    As for that Horsies in Space show, I never “got” it.

    Not sure about Stargate. Sure, Carter’s bland, but so is Te’alc, and she is portrayed as a competent full team-member rather than a sex interest. Bit undecided on Claudia Black. I like how they acknowledge a woman outside the P-approved age range can be extremely attractive, and without having to surgically barbiefy herself to boot. Am I being naïve in hoping that it will make women feel a little better about their bodies until they reach that fine state where they no longer worry about male approval anyway?

  75. Blue

    Okay, maybe my perspective on Carter is a little skewed right now due to the fact that I am currently reading the awful and incredibly popular Twilight Saga. Stargate looks radically feminist compared to that series. If you want to give your obstreperal lobe some exercise, it’s the series for you.

    I recommend it for purely selfish reasons, since I would love to see the excellent blaming that would occur if you were to read those ridiculous books.

  76. Liz Henry

    Space opera without patriarchy — I long for more of it! Not space opera with one plucky girl sidekick – and not Stuff in Space where the point is all about opposing patriarchy – but just SF where it doesn’t exist. How nice that would be!

    Oh my dear fellow blamers! Le Guin is fabulous, but is not that.

    I agree with most of Eclectic Hedonist’s list above. Nancy Kress especially rocks.

    I’d love to know what y’all think of Iain M. Banks Culture novels. There’s something so great and compelling there and yet – really good gender stuff is lacking.

    The Marq’ssan series by L. Timmel Duchamp would blow your mind about 20 million ways and they’re the most intense patriarchy-blaming novels around but they don’t have the escapist space opera thing going on. They’re an amazing look at SF political futures and gender war.

    I think you would freak with joy at reading Alice Nunn Illicit Passage – set on a mining colony and all about a working class revolutionary hero, largely told from the point of view of her assholish younger sister. In space. It’s damn near perfect. But also not quite what I think you’re longing for here.

    Tricia Sullivan might come close in places but still not it.

    I’d be curious to hear what you think about Elizabeth Bear’s Jenny Casey series and Dust.

  77. Liz Henry

    Oh and if you can ever get your hands on a copy of the TV series “Space Island One”, it was brilliant, had half women characters out of the regular cast on the space station, all ambitious, powerful, intense, intelligent, and deep characters — who talk and work with each other — no horrible star-trekian crap in that show.

  78. Jonathan

    @Tammy Doyle:

    “and the uber bad guys raped both men and women to death. It wasn’t really all about sex though.”

    An ‘egalitarian’ dishing out of human rights atrocities does not make it good, in my opinion.

    Alas, what I wouldn’t give for advanced patriarchy-blaming sci-fi (or patriarchy-free sci-fi, same result). But I fear the producers/publishers must require at least one putting-women-in-their-place character or atrocious scene in every work, otherwise something totally free of anti-feminist qualifiers would have slipped through, right?

  79. keres

    Oops, on the fantasy-front, I almost forgot to mention the “Chicks” anthologies edited by Esther Friesner. They’re a bit hit and miss, but overall fun reads, and I need the laughs. I enjoy anthologies for their a-good-soak-in-the-tub story-lengths.

    Chicks in Chainmail
    Did You Say “Chicks”?!
    Chicks N’ Chained Males
    The Chick is in the Mail
    Turn the Other Chick

    Esther’s own work tends to be laugh-out-loud pun-y.

    Other’s have mentioned Connie Willis. I’d only add that I prefer her short stories to her novels, many of which seem to place too great an emphasis on the girl landing the guy (the Doomday Book being a rather ponderous exception), IMHO.

    I’d also recommend, if you haven’t already, reading Le Guin’s The Eye of the Heron. Being more of a SF than a Fantasy reader, it took me a bit of time to move from her Hannish series into the Earthsea, etc. books, but ultimately I’ve found all of her works well worth the read.

    Has anyone mentioned Tanya Huff? Her “Quartered” series even has a lesbian couple as main characters:

    Sing the Four Quarters
    Fifth Quarter
    No Quarter
    The Quartered Sea

  80. Lisa Harney

    I agree with Twisty on Colonel Carter – I’m glad she finally got promoted to colonel, and I was happy that she was given command of the Atlantis mission last season…but then in the first episode, they remove her to give it to Robert Picardo’s character.

    Another thing that bothered me was more behind-the-scenes – I know that Amanda Tapping and Claudia Black wanted their characters to interact more on-screen, and all we got was the two of them returning from a shopping trip. SG-1 finally had two women as regular cast members and they never really got to establish any kind of relationship and continued to primarily exist in relation to the men on the team.

    But yes, she’s never received character development at the same rate of any of the male characters, including Teal’c.

  81. Suzie

    I know that I sound like an apologist for TV shows that aren’t THAT bad. Oh, wait, I am. Anyway … here’s Joss Whedon’s take on men writing strong female characters: http://echidneofthesnakes.blogspot.com/search?q=can't stop the serenity
    Natasha says: “I hatehatehate that apparently in the mind of Joss Wheadon the only way to be a high class woman and go on Adventures is to be a prostitute.” But then you acknowledge that there are other women on the ship who go on adventures. Joss does depict other high-class women. But the adventure is all about people who are misfits, rebels, fugitives, etc. Even Inarra would not be on the ship if she didn’t have problems with the confines of her job as a companion.

  82. Twisty

    What about this Eureka show? I’ve been watching it out of the corner of my eye (while I pack) for the past 2 hours. At first I thought, hey, not a show about war and battles, just a bunch of scientists scientizing. Good. But then it turns out that the “Department of Defense” is involved, and the main protagonist? a dude law enforcer with a second banana hottie deputy. All other main characters except dude’s love interest are dudes. Stereotypical nerdy dudes. Yawn.

  83. Azundris

    I avoid Eureka like the plague now. It looked like it was going to be amusing and original, but then they had a string of scenes that really killed my interest in it. (Example: One character goes through a transformation that makes him “more sure of himself.” First thing he does? You guessed it, seize and kiss deeply the woman he never had the guts to flirt at before. No points for guessing whether she gets any say in it, or whether anybody objects, helps her, or uses the occasion for some world class blaming. That’s not just offensive, it’s also a tired cliché — how can that even be written into any show made after the ’50s, let alone into SciFi?
    I seem to remember that the next episode had some plot device that made one of the sex interests “uninhibited” and was about giving the anti-intellectual cop with the (mostly) submissive house a cookie for not being a rohypnol rapist. Er, or something along those lines, anyway.
    I also wasn’t all that happy with how Marshall Arse got to be the violent copper’s boss when she had vastly more experience with the local peculiarities and he, in contrast to her, could not even pass the necessary tests.) Needless to say, IBTP.

  84. viejachingona

    Twisty – i haven’t read the other comments but WHAT ABOUT OCTAVIA??!?! Octavia Butler is the way..

  85. gerda

    happy hols twisty (packing)
    havnt read responses yet, but yea, from an early age felt keenly the lack of excitement for female characters in star trek dr. who etc.
    there were a few rays of light; e.g first few star trek episodes had women in trousers; the doctor’s assistant leela just would not ‘stay there’ and rescued the doctor on many occasions in the late 70s.
    but it still seems the telly/moovies lag written s.f a long way; even bloke writers were getting into possible non pat. worlds from the 60s on (delaney, varley, banks). what do we have on film so far? well, obviously the magnificent Ripley in the alien series (and vasquez, i cried when she copped it, and the pilot was cool), err… that’s it…
    oh, yes and the two lass replicants in blade runnner (blubbed again when priss died), and the hard ass types in matrix, that looked coool ontil we got backstage to the base where nuclear family ruled ok……
    sci fi sistas get writing!

  86. Amananta

    I have nothing useful to say except, as a sci-fi fan myself who constantly has to put up a sort of wall of cognitive disconnect to be able to enjoy reading anything at all anymore, I feel your pain.

  87. Genevieve

    I almost feel stupid for recommending these as I’m guessing you’ve probably already read them, but have you tried Margaret Atwood’s books in the ‘speculative fiction’ genre? The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, and even parts of The Blind Assassin are all sci-fi related, and THT and TBA are both very feminist and woman-centered. (The majority of Atwood’s books are…OAC is the only one of hers I’ve read which has a male protagonist.)

  88. Genevieve

    Oh, and this is hopefully, sometime, in the future, maybe, if I’m lucky, but I’m currently working on a fantasy novel which I intend to be very, very feminist. While set in a world even more patriarchal than ours.

  89. Puffin

    Eureka took the plunge from meh to downright unwatchable for me when the smart house that saw to the main character’s every need with submissive glee (complete with sexy female voice) came into the picture. And then the house gets catty and jealous when he comes home late for the dinner “she’s” prepared and “she” locks him out until he apologizes? WTF. It was insulting but also so boring.

    The premise was cool, but the show ended up feeling like some nerdy 14-year-old boy’s dream world.

  90. Costume Goddess

    I have to Aad my Props for WisCon. I went my first one this year and had the most fabulous time. I met Elizabeth Bear who was wonderful, bought over $100 dollars of new books, and generally reveled in the almost entirely douche bag free environment. It’s entirely worth the trip.

  91. Robin

    Genevieve… a world more patriarchal than this one!!! You’re scaring me now girl! What could be worse than Saudi Arabia or Sudan?? Or Texas!

  92. Queenie

    Laura makes an excellent point. In terms of film and media studies — in which I received my B.A., and which contributed much to my enhanced awareness on the frightening state of the female image in the media — science fiction as a genre is not really about the future at all. Instead, it is about the fears and practices of the present.

    I have come to believe one has only to study the history of advertising and media — if one can stomach it, that is — in order to understand exactly how women are truly “seen” in society, whereupon one becomes greatly enabled for blaming the patriarchy all the live-long day. What a pity that it is not considered general education.

  93. Liz

    Yes! Referencing the band America and the TV show Firefly in one post has endeared you to me.

  94. Azundris

    My friend Zoe gave two seasons of Quantum Leap which I used to love as a kid, and I just made it through the first DVD. Not only did I rather enjoy it; the last episode also was the one where the hero first “leaps” into a woman’s body, which I sort of dreaded, because of how that whole genderswap meme is often handled. This one however wasn’t played for laughs, or “exotic”/”erotic”, but took a lot of talking points aboard though — drag is uncomfortable and annoying and eats into your time. (This point is helped A LOT by the fact that we see the character as a man in drag, rather than as a woman like the rest of the show’s characters do. Much harder for the male viewer to other them that way, or perceive harassment as “hot”, etc.) A lot of men out there try to mess you over, or don’t take you seriously. You may have to end up working twice as hard. Live ain’t over at thirty — or forty, for that matter. Throughout the episode, several guys get all confused and freaked out over the genderfuck, and the confusion is not portrayed in a sympathetic light.

    I was a bit afraid it might leave a bad taste in my mouth along the lines of, yeah, poor women, need a white dude with a messiah complex to help you out (though I’m not quite sure why, that’s the premise of the entire show, after all, and applies to everyone; men and women of all ages and colors need the white messiah). But not even that applies — he does help out the episode’s problem child, but after he leaps again, the woman he’d body-swapped with gets a better career, remains happily single, and starts an adoption programme for single parents, all by herself and mostly unrelated to the hero’s actions.

    True, there is a rather tacked-on feeling scene where he re-asserts his manhood and gets his revenge on the sleazeball who sexually harassed him and almost drove his friend into suicide which I’d have felt better without, but at least it’s pretty obvious throughout that that bit is wish fulfilment and not really an option for most “real women” (defined as those who won’t leap back into male privilege within the next ten seconds).

    Yes, I realise that that implies that he didn’t leap into a woman in the eight episodes of season one, but if that’s the worst I can confess, I can sort of make peace with that. (Only just.) Pretty much the only line I could have done without is the one Nice Guy’s line that “after all those years” of not dating due to being married until recently when his wife left him “he didn’t imagine it’d be so easy to talk to women again.” What, people don’t talk in a marriage? And women are, like, some space aliens, rather than, you know, people? (IBTP, obviously.) But they seemed to’ve gotten a fair bit right in this twenty-year-old episode.

    I know there is an episode in Series 4 which I also haven’t seen, “Raped,” which I am (very slowly) approaching with a mix of hope and dread (Wikipedia suggests the episode starts after the crime, but of course that doesn’t mean they can’t still mess it up with a lack of sensitivity, rape myths, etc.). But I have hope. May still well end up being triggering, of course.

  95. Linda Radfem

    Hey Azundris! I think that when divorced men worry about being able to “talk to” women again it’s really code for “accessing the vaginas of” women again. They’ve turned in their state-issued rape licences and the poor bastards have to start the process all over again. Boo hoo.

  96. Azundris

    Linda, IBTP. I understand someone may get anxious when around a person they want to make a good impression on, but I guess some reasons for wanting to do so are more benevolent than others. ;(

    Other than that I’ve finished the show; the first season was a bit awkward, like with most shows. The aforementioned “Rape” ep addressed some rape myths, didn’t end in a magical conviction, and wasn’t as offensive as it could’ve been by a very long shot, but seeing it as “problem of the week” in 45 minute show is still very unsatisfying. There are several “the 2nd wave was a good thing” episodes, yay for that, so all in all the worst I can confess is that with few exceptions, when Sam’d leap into a black person, you’d know it’d be a “race” episode, and when he’d leap into a woman, it’d be a “sexism” episode (meaning that if it was a “people” problem, he’d jump into a white bloke in the overwhelming majority of cases, but not all).

  1. The things that go through my head » Blog Archive » Star Trek Prequel: Why It Fails

    [...] just think how much science fiction has changed! Strong female characters pervade the science fiction genre. Except for Star-Gate, with their token female character, brainiac Major Carter, who is [...]

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