Bending gender (till it breaks): Left Hand of Darkness vs. Ancillary Justice

lefthand ancillary

There are a lot of books, I think, that are classics in their field, required reading, not because they did their ideas best, but simply because they did them first. Lord of the Flies is my go-to example for this — it didn’t thrill me when I read it, because by that point I’d already read Galax-Arena and Battle Royale (among others) and seen those same ideas explored better elsewhere.

The critical buzz that greeted the release of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice suggested that it was doing just that to Left Hand of Darkness: that this was the gender-bending sci-fi of the new millennium, the long-awaited upgrade to LeGuin’s seminal work on the subject (by now nearly fifty years old). But after reading it, I couldn’t disagree more — Ancillary Justice doesn’t replace Left Hand of Darkness or retread that ground; rather, it complements LeGuin’s story in a way that I have never before seen two novels do, especially not novels written by different authors and separated by decades. In tandem, they explore how gendered pronouns influence the way we perceive and interpret human behavior. They come at the issue from different angles, and in so doing, call into question some of our most basic assumptions about masculine and feminine.

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A History of Celibacy, by Elizabeth Abbott (29/107)

There was a meme I came across a few years back: grab the book closest to you, and then append “…in my pants” to the title. What was mine?

A History of Celibacy

…haaaaaah. So apt, except when it’s not.

I hadn’t gotten around to reading it until now though, when I started doing the research for a Judge Dredd fic and suddenly it became highly relevant to my interests.

Exciting Adventures in Celibacy: male virgins, why Megacity's Justice Department is like the Catholic church, psychic & sexless, and IT IS WRONG TO PLAY WITH THE ROBOT.

Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West, by Anne Seagraves (11/107)

After finishing A Book of Tongues, I looked at Soiled Doves and went, "You know, I bet Gemma Files read that in her research."


That said, it's one of the worst pieces of nonfiction I've ever goddamn read. Not particularly nuanced or well-written to start with, it is staggeringly judgmental (perhaps the title should have tipped me off) and in desperate need of a proofreader. Rather than presenting the information and letting the facts speak for themselves, Seagraves feels the need to sprinkle her prose with language that would sound amateur even in fiction — despicable! sordid! degrading! — and enough references to "iniquity," "sin," and "the ugliness of raw, naked vice" to make it clear that she's not just offering sympathy for the prostitutes' bad working conditions, but also judging the hell out of them for it.

In conclusion: lousy writing, and so badly biased that it makes the content suspect.

Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano (3/107)

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity is a collection of essays by writer (and activist and biologist) Julia Serano, confronting and dismantling a number of societal preconceptions about not only transgenderism, but gender relations and gender identity in general. Serano is sharp, funny, insightful, and justifiably angry, and Whipping Girl is A+ reading.

More quoting than reviewing going on here