Saturday, October 27, 2007

Feminist SF on Acacia

The Angry Black Woman posted to Feminist SF recently regarding "Gender in Acacia". You can read her thoughts here. She makes some interesting points. Fortunately for me, though, I know what's coming in the next couple of books. I'd be very surprised if she doesn't dig the finished product. Of course, I've been surprised before...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm quite interested in reading her comments, but I still have a hundred or so pages to go in Acacia, so I had probably better wait.
I did want to say, however, how pleased and impressed I am with your book. It is great to see someone taking high fantasy in such novel (pardon the pun) directions, and doing it so elegantly. I also appreciate how much this book resonates socially and politically with our own "real" world. Keep up the good work.

3:07 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Thanks for writing. Wonderful to hear you're enjoying the book. I greatly appreciate everything you said. Those are exactly the things I work pretty hard to get into the book. Thanks for noticing.

7:38 PM  
Blogger Constance Brewer said...

I have to toss my 2 cents in here, especially over this quote by David that is pointed out: “She could have been no older than twenty-five, but there was more than that length of suffering and perseverance tin her face. Thaddeus had often believed this to be true of female soldiers. They were, by and large, cast of finer steel than average men.” I don’t find that observation to be a justification at all; I find it to be spot on. Women in the military, especially in the ‘combat’ arms, tend to be a bit above average. They have to be, just to hold their own. I spent 16 years as a ‘woman in the military’, and four so far as a veterans counselor, so I think I can make that assertion. I found the women in the book true to themselves. Some women use sex and scheming to get ahead, others prefer something more straightforward. Acacia is not a matriarchal society, that is established early on and everything follows from that. I understand, I accept, I read on.

ABW says “When it comes time to fight back against the people who invaded her land and usurped the throne, she (Mena) gets to fight alongside her brothers. Corinn never gets that chance.” Corinn would be worthless on the battlefield. She fights in her own way. The value of the intelligence Corinn gathers is priceless. This is one of the reasons that Acacia has such depth, the Akaran children have been well taught, first by their family then others to take advantage of their strengths – and acknowledge their weaknesses.

I don’t think any author is under an obligation to address feminist issues in their work- unless they want to. I reread and enjoy Lord Of The Rings every year despite the fact women are practically non-existent and the ones that do appear are a definite type. It doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story at all. Acacia’s internal framework holds together through the novel and never once did I feel the urge to pause and tally up the inhabitants by race or gender to make sure some theoretical balance was present. I was too engrossed in the story.

11:57 PM  
Blogger SQT said...

I need to finish "Acacia" before I can really comment on this too. (Sorry David. I have so many books I have to read for review purposes that "Acacia" doesn't get the attention it deserves) But from what I've read so far I don't see any self-consciousness as far as the female characters are concerned. I agree with Constance that the observations about the female soldier is a good one. I've been doing martial arts for 15 years and very few women persevere in something so male oriented. I do think women have to have a stiffer backbone because it doesn't come naturally to us. Nothing wrong with noticing that.

12:35 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Sqt, How dare you have a life outside of reading Acacia! Geez, the cheek of people these days... Joking, of course. So glad you have a life and glad you have tons of books to read. I do worry a little bit that if you're visiting Acacia with gaps some of the narrative threads and character development won't work as effectively as if you're stuck into it full time. But that's a small thing. I general I'm glad you're reading it at all, and thanks for the positive comments. Oh, and congrats on 15 years as a martial artist. That's awesome.

Constance, Glad that line and the women in the book in general rings true for you. The way you read it is certainly how I meant it, and I do think many readers understand that.

I guess what I found interesting about the piece didn't have much to do with her analysis of the women in Acacia. It was a nugget out of this - "while I understand the need for deconstruction, I wonder if we’ll ever come to a time when it’s seen as a less effective tool than starting from a positive text".

That interested me because I am aware that my female characters are going against the norms of epic fantasy. I AM aware of a status quo and I AM aware that I'm ultimately working against it. By that I mean that I AM aware that there are precedents to be deconstructed and that's consciously part of what I'm doing.

When I think of Pride of Carthage I'm similarly defensive of my female characters because... Well, because I went out of my way to HAVE female characters. It's a novel about ancient warfare, and the female characters I included had to be built around nothing more than a few names, or else made up altogether. Sort of makes me want some credit for including them, but that only matters in comparison to the many writers of heroic fiction that don't deal with real female characters. So, again, my creation of them didn't come out organically. Not entirely, at least. It was partially an active act in response to something I saw missing in the genre.

So, this all just leaves me pondering. On one hand I feel I have created the "positive text" that ABW wants; on the other hand I don't know if that's possible considering the fact that we do all write within traditions that can't be entirely ignored.

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am of the firm view that fiction is about drawing you in and escaping from your normal life for as long as you choose. The better the story and writing the more you will immerse until you re-surface bleary eyed and wondering where the the night went.
And I mention this from a basic but avid readers point of view. When I went to school I studied literature like we all do and I think I can tell good writing from bad and I accept that as I have grown older I tend to read for entertainment and not a deep appreciation of quality literature.
So that's why the 'Feminist SF on Acacia' thing pissed me off. It is easy to find something if you are of a mind to look for it. What a terrible shame that she can't just appreciate a well written and engrossing story without the need to try to make a rather poor point.
Acacia is one of the more thoughtful and intelligent fantasy books I have read in a while, with a pace that allows character development to evolve rather then feel enforced. To try to make a comparison about the Narnia books because they (shock horror) have some lead female characters seems rather shallow and pointless.
Apologies for the long rant!

6:15 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey Nick, no need to apologize. I'm always happy to hear someone say kind things about my work. So rant away!

I will say this, though, in fairness to the variety of places that ABW publishes stuff - she did like Acacia. She posted a review of it that I recall being very complimentary. (I think she links to it on this Feminist SF post, by the way.) She's also done a good job so far of quoting me. That's rare. So I think her complete opinion of the book and of me is a bit larger than this one post. The blog, though, has a particularly feminist focus, and it's that lens with which she was gazing at Acacia.

Don't get me wrong - I love the support you all are giving me and I'm purposefully staying neutral here. I'd like to think the book speaks for itself pretty well...

7:05 PM  
Blogger Constance Brewer said...

Hey, ABW makes some excellent points in a lot of her posts, many of which I agree with. Not this time though.

She is always an interesting read. She makes us think, which is what it's all about. :)

10:32 PM  

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