A Manly-Man’s Reaction to Joanna Russ’s “When It Changed”

17 06 2011

What follows is in no way a formal criticism or review. This is simply a narrative of my reactions to “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ.  While I haven’t formally taken “The Russ Pledge,” I have been reading more short fiction by women authors lately and have been intending to write about my experience – I started doing this last month on my own before “The Russ Pledge” became the buzz in genre blogs all over the Internet. Keep in mind, I’m doing this just for fun. If you have not read “When It Changed,” I encourage you to do so before reading further. Spoilers lie ahead…

I can’t claim to be a long-time fan of Joanna Russ. I came to her work fairly recently to be honest. In fact, I read her lauded short story “When It Changed” for the first time last month. Since her recent passing, I had read many articles about her and her enduring legacy within the world of genre fiction, and most of these articles and blog posts mentioned this story. So, I decided to give it a try. My initial impression: Anger. Later, after thinking about it: Understanding. Now: Appreciation. Let me explain:

Anger – A sampling of my initial thoughts: Huh? All men are evil, huh? Women would be happier in a society devoid of men? Huh? Really, we’re all that bad? Seriously? All men should be feared and hated? And why the hatred towards men? If this society has never known men before, I’d think they’d be more curious about us than they were. Sure there might be fear there, too: a fear of differences, fear of change. But really, why do all men have to be described as gorillas? Sure, as I get older I find hairs growing where they don’t belong, but I’m not an ape dagnabbit! I gathered from the text that these women had libraries and that is where they learned about the evils of men, but was this library of many historical and religious texts so edited that there was not a single text remaining which detailed a good man? Sure there are lots of bad guys in history, but many heroes, too, no matter how you look at it. If this story was written about a society exclusively made up of men instead of women would the reaction to this story have been different? Huh? To be honest, any story that seems to promote fear and hate and harsh criticism of a particular race, gender, etc. is likely to leave a bad taste in my mouth. This one just seems so bitter…

…Then, later…

Understanding – I think the problem with the story (and it’s not so much a problem with the story as it is a problem with some readers – myself humbly included), is that, taken at face value, on its own, it just seems so harsh a critique against men altogether. Makes me feel all mangry. However, when taken in the context of a larger history of science fiction, it starts to make more sense. Roland Barth, in his essay “The Death of the Author,” indicated that the author’s intent should have no bearing on interpretation. Jacques Derrida famously stated “There is nothing outside the text” when planting the seeds that became the Deconstruction school of literary theory. However, this is one of those stories in which authorial intent is everything. Context outside the text matters. This is a reactionary story, and that distinction – and an understanding of that distinction – makes “When It Changed” understandable and deserving of the respect it has garnered over the years. It must be an impressive story on some level if it manages to be talked about thirty or so years after initial publication. And this is a good story. Thought provoking.

…And finally…

Appreciation – “When It Changed” is controversial in all the right ways: It does not rely on shock content, gore, or explicitness to provoke an immediate response from the reader. In fact, it’s just about a G-rated piece of short fiction. Okay, maybe PG. Yet, it remains controversial. Anyway, one must think about all those space operas from the “Golden Age” of science fiction to truly understand what is happening here. How many stories, written by men for men (or perhaps written for thirteen-year-old boys?) have there been where a group of astronauts crash land on a planet made up entirely of women? How many fantasies involve men discovering islands of Amazonian-type women? The women are always portrayed as buxom and fair, usually scantily clad, and do one of two things when men appear: They either lust after these men greedily and let the men take over as rulers, or they lust after the men greedily and then make the men their sex slaves. One way or the other, in so many of these adventure stories, the women appeared ONLY as figures to titillate and create sexual tension. You know, if I were a woman growing up with this portrayal of women, I might be pretty angry, too. I personally don’t like anger. I think it pollutes the soul and can stifle communication, but anger can be understandable as long as it is taken in context. So, taking this story in the context of a woman writing in a field dominated by men who might be a little … uhm… insensitive when it came to fair portrayals of women, I think the anger here is justifiable. Also, the text isn’t as bitter as my first impressions led me to believe. In fact, when taken as a whole in context, the story is kind of funny in a strange way – almost a satire. My initial impression was just my mangst bubbling to the surface, a reaction on my own part, a matter of anger begetting anger. But that provocation was part of the point of this story, and “When It Changed” made its points well. Russ put the shoe on the other foot and says to all those men who write stories about astronauts crash landing on planets full of women or other similar fantasies: “See! This is how it feels! It’s not fun to be turned into a stereotype!”

 …But still, I’m not a gorilla! I’m not a beast! That kinda hurt. I’m not really all that hairy. Honestly. Though Mrs. McIntyre might disagree…





33

5 06 2011

So, here it is, I’m 33 today. I have no clue how that happened. Some days I still feel like a confused teenager. Other days, I sit down and hit the bed and feel like I’m 80. Age is relative, I guess. Perhaps even a little meaningless, too.

Anyway, it’s been a nice day. The boys have been getting along (so far, don’t want to jinx it) and it is a beautiful day outside. We’ll need to find something to do out there, preferably involving water because of the record-breaking heat wave we’ve been facing here in Bama for the last couple weeks.

I got word from Rob, editor of Stanley the Whale, that my short story “Bowerbird” went live on site today. Here’s the link if you’d like to read it: http://www.stanleythewhale.com/StW/index.php/short-stories/109-bowerbird.

Staying busy as usual. Finished the first draft of TOUCH earlier this week. Will post the last three chapters a week at a time. It came in at around 32,000 words. Doesn’t feel like a very commercial project, so it will definitely not go the traditional route of queries, etc. (too short, already published, etc.) but I’m pretty happy with how the first draft came out. It was a fun writing exercise if nothing else.  WIll most likely publish in free ebook and POD format by the end of the summer just for fun. In the meantime, I plan on starting back up my Southern Fried Shorts site soon. I also have a southern magic realist novel underway that I really, really look forward to working on again: a surreal piece loosely based on the Orpheus myth. The protagonist is a musical savant with Asperger’s. I started this one last year, and I’m taking my time with it. Want to get everything just right. 

Now, it’s time to get outside and off the computer.





The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

22 05 2011

The following letter to the editor is from Astounding Stories; Vol. VII, No. 1; July 1931: 

Dear Editor:
 


I have purchased many of the issues of your magazine, and have read everything in them, including the letter columns, with great interest. I have particularly enjoyed certain stories, such as “The Forgotten Planet,” “The Jovian Jest” and “The Planet of Dread,” in which genuine imaginative quality was combined with good writing. Many other tales, not so well written, I have enjoyed for their fantasy, their suggestive ideas.

In following “The Readers’ Corner” I have noted the objection to so-called “im[132]possible” stories, voiced by some of your Readers. Stories thus classified, one would infer, are tales dealing with the marvelous and the mysterious in which the author has not attempted to give a naturalistic or scientific explanation of his wonders and mysteries. In other words, he has not rendered them in terms of the test-tube. He has admitted the inexplicable, the “supernatural.”

Personally, I enjoy stories of this type, as well as those that are written with the purely scientific approach. I suspect that those who condemn them are suffering from a rather amusing—and also pathetic—sort of unconscious hypocrisy. I think that people who read your magazine, as well as Science Fiction magazines in general, are people with the ingrained human love for wonder and mystery; but some of them are afraid to accept and enjoy anything—even a fairy tale—that is not couched in the diction of modern materialistic science, with a show of concern for verified credibilities. Probably, in most cases, they would like and prize the very stories that they condemn if the writer had used a different terminology, and had offered explanations that were even superficially logical according to known laws.

Please do not think that I am decrying, or even criticizing, Science Fiction. I consider it a highly important and significant branch of present-day writing, and have hopes of contributing to it myself. I am merely advocating an open attitude of mind and imagination. For those who think that the “impossible” requires justification—or cannot be justified—I would suggest that the only impossible thing is to define and delimit the impossible. In an infinite, eternal universe, there is nothing imaginable—or unimaginable—which might not happen, might not be true, somewhere or sometime. Science has discovered, and will continue to discover, an enormous amount of relative data; but there will always remain an illimitable residue of the undiscovered and the unknown. And the field for imaginative fiction, both scientific and non-scientific, is, it seems to me, wholly inexhaustible.—Clark Ashton Smith, Auburn, Cal.

Seriously, hasn’t this debate gone on long enough? :) Science fiction doesn’t have to use “real” science to still be science fiction. Besides, not all science is static and unchanging. For example, once you reach the quantum level, “real” science becomes slippery and depends to some measure on the biases and beliefs of the scientist reading the results. In fact, I just read this article where scientists are still arguing if gravity or dark matter drive the universe. Who knows? Twenty years from now there may be another theory, equally plausible based on raw data and the way scientists read that data. Realism is great and all, but there’s plenty of room for the fantastic, for the unknown. Who cares if FTL travel is impossible as long as it is being used in a way that serves the story? Who cares if aliens are portrayed as too similar to humans as long as the author is saying something worth saying or maybe even simply entertaining? And this applies to other genres, too. Who cares if there’s not really such thing as a monster under your bed? Who cares if a bug’s exoskeleton could not support its own weight if it became a giant like in some drive-in flick? Who cares if there’s no such thing as a masked serial killer who can not be stopped by falling out windows, getting shot multiple times, stabbed, and taking a hatchet to the head? Who cares if fairies aren’t real? Who cares if unicorns were really narwhales and mermaids were manatees as seen through the rum-soaked eyes of a sailor? Not everything should be read as literal or factual. Especially not any branch/genre of fiction due to its very nature as … well … FICTION! That’s not saying you can’t give real world messages or meaning, that’s not saying you can’t reflect reality (good writing ultimately always reflects some measure of reality even if just as a larger parable or metaphor). Anyway, thank you Mr. Clark Ashton Smith. I approve your message. It speaks as well today as it did 80 years ago…





Now Available at Smashwords!

14 05 2011

In the wake of the destructive tornadoes which ripped through Alabama on April 27th, 2011, Southern Fried Weirdness Press is proud to present the charity anthology, Southern Fried Weirdness: Reconstruction. This collection of poetry and short fiction features 46 pieces from 40 different contributing authors. It spans multiple genres and presents an eclectic mix of voices. All profits will be donated to The American Red Cross to aid disaster relief efforts.

Now available at Smashwords in multiple formats. Here is the link to buy: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/59532. Coming soon to Amazon and Barnes and Noble (hopefully by early next week).

The Table of Contents:

Editor’s Note

1.) They Are Not Gone Forever by Stephanie Osborn

2.) God in the Sky by An Owomoyela

3.) Make Your Bed Downriver by Jens Rushing

4.) Live Bait Works Best by Brian Rosenberger

5.) The Music of Bremen Farm by Mike Allen

6.) Out of Natural by Jason Huskey

7.) In The Days When Blocks Were For Tires, And The Dusk Chose A Sideways Approach by Jason Huskey

8.) In the Ghost Hours by Jason Huskey

9.) The Old Man’s Sweet by Jason Huskey

10.) Planting by Mari Ness

11.) Talking Alligator (Blues) by Sara Amis

12.) Sisyphus Explains by Sara Amis

13.) Lady Glory and the Knave of Spades by Nicole Kornher-Stace

14.) Meditation on a Deer at Night by Berrien C. Henderson

15.) Navel Gazing by T.J. McIntyre

16.) Directions by T.J. McIntyre

17.) Why by T.J. McIntyre

18.) The Fisherman’s Tale by T.J. McIntyre

19.) Swimming in Old Spring by Eric T. Marin

20.) Giant Cicadas and Other Odd Indignities by Dr. Philip Kaldon

21.) Billy Anne’s Box by Charlotte Jones

22.) Commander Perry’s Mystic Wonders Show by Jaime Lee Moyer

23.) The New Elementals by Marshall Payne

24.) Judy and Norman by Darby Harn

25.) The Moon and the Stars by Marian Carcache

26.) Pride and Joy by Gustavo Bondoni

27.) Square Hills by H. Courreges LeBlanc

28.) The Wind by Marcia Gerhardt

29.) I Keep a Vine Woven Basket by the Front Door by Rae Bryant

30.) Up Above the Dead Line by F. Brett Cox

31.) Annabelle Tree by Carrie Cuinn

32.) Who Mourns for Washington by Fabio Fernandes

33.) Suffer the Rains by Craig Wallwork

34.) The Yearning of the Lighthouse Fairies by Brenda Blakey

35.) The Groundskeeper’s Tale by Wendy S. Delmater

36.) The White Months by Christopher Woods

37.) Your Enemies Will Devour You by Richard Thomas

38.) The Sweet Song of Canaries at Midnight by Jude-Marie Green

39.) Nature Story by Walter Giersbach

40.) Alchemy by Michael Ray

41.) The Legend of Old Man Joad by Marsheila Rockwell

42.) Hanging the Woman in Blue by Monette Chilson

43.) Till Death Do Us Part by Kenneth Mark Hoover

44.) Neopolitician by Shaylen Maxwell

45.) Utnapishtim on Friday After Dessert by Danny Adams

46.) The Evidence of Things Unseen by Chuck Russell

Author Biographies

More Ways to Help





Southern Fried Weirdness for Tornado Relief

29 04 2011

Dear Writers,

I have decided to resurrect Southern Fried Weirdness as a temporary one-time ebook anthology to raise funds for The American Red Cross to support tornado relief efforts here in my home state of Alabama. I ask you to respond quickly should you want to be involved. I would like to have this formatted and ready to go next weekend in order to raise funds as soon as possible. My plan is to upload this to Amazon for Kindle, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble hopefully within the next two weeks.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES:

  • Stories up to 5,000 words.
  • Poetry of any length.
  • Reprints preferred. Reprints of works previously featured in the various incarnations of Southern Fried Weirdness have preferential treatment.
  • Format submissions however you want. I’ll reformat the text before going to print anyway.
  • Genres: Any. I’d prefer stories with Southern settings with gothic, weird, or surreal elements, but it doesn’t really matter to me as long as the work is of good quality.
  • Please take the time to edit before submitting. Due to time constraints, I will not have the same time for the degree of copyediting I would otherwise perform.
  • No payment for works, unfortunately, as 100% of the proceeds will be going directly to charity.
  • If you would like to submit, please send your stories/poems to southernfriedweirdness_at_gmail.com no later than Friday, May 6, 2011.
  • Legal stuff in lieu of a more formal contract: By submitting, you assert that all works are your own, non-derivative, that you own all the rights necessary for me to print your work, and take full responsibility for the content of your text. I am asking for nonexclusive electronic rights to print your work.

Please spread the word.

Thank you!

T.J. McIntyre
Editor, Southern Fried Weirdness





A Call for Help!

29 04 2011

As most of you probably already know, my home state of Alabama was pounded by tornadoes on Wednesday, April 27th. The destruction around here is unbelievable. Myself and my family were relatively untouched by the storms. My parents had a tree fall against their house and damage their roof, but there were no injuries. Thank God! But others among my community, including many of my coworkers. were not so lucky. Entire neighborhoods, even towns, were destroyed. As anyone who has watched the various photos and videos of the damage can see, we will be rebuilding for a long time around here. I imagine it will be months – even years in some cases – before lives get back to anything resembling normal in many communities.

Anyway, being one of the lucky ones, the blessed ones, and the grateful ones who survived these storms with little incident, I want to give back any way I can. Had the storms tracked just a little differently, the winds blown just a little to the south, my family could have been directly affected. Parents lost children. Children lost parents. There are so many tragic stories coming out of this developing situation. Bodies are still being found. Orphans will need new homes. Many injured remain in critical condition.

Anyway, I ask all of you who may be reading this: Give. Give money. Give your time. Give your energy. Give that unused furniture littering your attic. Give those clothes your child has grown out of. Give blood. Give food. Give band aids. Give bags of ice. Give toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap. Donate lumber. Give whatever you can. Give because you never know when it might be you in need. Give because it’s simply the right thing to do.

I remember after the Haiti earthquake, Crossed Genres magazine ran a fundraising effort encouraging authors to post free stories on their blogs and include links to donate to The Red Cross. Do something like that if nothing else. Please spread the word anyway you can. People need help!  

Anyway, here’s a collection of links to various charities worth funding:

 

Please spread the word! Thank you!!!





Breadwinning, a Weeping Fig, and a Beagle

13 04 2011

Staying busy…

Here are a few recent publications:

  • Over at the Apex Books Blog, I posted an article about “Breadwinning and the Art of Writing.”
  • I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to interview Peter Beagle  for Fantasy Magazine. This was a surreal experience for me as The Last Unicorn was extremely influential for me as a little writer (and is currently inspiring my own children — my oldest watches the special edition DVD over and over again these days and absolutely loves his beautifully illustrated graphic novel version of the story). Very cool.
  • Last but not least, “The Weeping Fig” is now available in the Spring 2011 issue of Moon Milk Review. Many, many thanks to editor Rae Bryant whose feedback really helped me shape and polish this odd little story of a man, his walker, and his Ficus. Here’s the beautiful cover art of this issue by Ogun Afariogun:





“Clover’s Story” in Issue #2 of State of Imagination

1 04 2011

Here’s a brief description: Clover’s Story is a universal tale about life, marriage, infidelity, and masculinity. We’re all born in teacups, start off small, and grow. It is based on true events that happened somewhere over the rainbow inside a wardrobe where princesses kiss frogs only to find the wings of partially digested flies stuck between their teeth and receive nasty warts on their lips in return for their kindess.

Read the story here: Clover’s Story by T.J. McIntyre.





It’s Been a While…

29 03 2011

… and yes, I’m still alive. Just focusing my attention on various writing and editing projects these days. For those of you with Facebook and Twitter accounts, I do tend to be pretty active on those sites. Quick status updates don’t take as much time as blog entries, after all. If you’d like to follow/friend me and haven’t done so already, my username on Twitter is “southernweirdo.” My name is “T.j. McIntyre” on Facebook.  I am on a “staycation” to help out around the house this week while my wife recovers from a procedure she had to have done yesterday, so I may actually post a real blog post this week. If time allows. We’ll see… :)  Anyway, here’s some updates:

And now, it’s time to get back to writing/editing. Cheers! :)





Publications and Such

4 03 2011

Recent publications:

Also, staying busy writing. Managed to create a new short story and a new chapter of TOUCH this week. Also, been uploading lots of author photos/bios for the soon to be released newly revamped website for Fantasy Magazine. And I’ve been doing all this while fighting off a nasty sinus infection. 

Whew! I think that’s it this week…








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