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The Grand Conversation
L. Timmel Duchamp
Aqueduct Press, 90 words

The Grand Conversation
L. Timmel Duchamp
L. Timmel Duchamp was born in 1950. She first began writing fiction in a library carrel at the University of Illinois in 1979, for a joke. But the joke took on a life of its own and soon turned into a satirical roman à clef in the form of a murder mystery). Her first pro sale was "Motherhood, Etc." to Bantam for the Full Spectrum anthology series. After that she wrote a lot of short fiction (mostly at novelette and novella lengths), a good deal of which she sold to Asimov's SF. In 2004, Duchamp founded Aqueduct Press. She lives in Seattle.

L. Timmel Duchamp Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

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L. Timmel Duchamp opens her feminist chapbook series with The Grand Conversation, including four of her own essays. I bought and chose to review several of Duchamp's series because the issue has fascinates me and the ebooks were recently released.

The book-end essays are the primary lectures and much of what you'd expect from the title, The Grand Conversation. Picture a grand ballroom where many guests mill around, sip wine, and dip into the conversation. The first essay ("For a Genealogy of Feminist SF: Reflections on Women, Feminism, and Science Fiction, 1818-1960") is something of an introductory piece on the history, even offering other perspectives on how to see the history. The last ("Old Pictures: The Discursive Instability of Feminist SF") is better as it puts its topic within the context of the author's life, instead of propounding a dry, academic lecture. Thankfully, Duchamp's voice is not overly academic.

The second essay, however, feels like our host guides us further and further from the heart of the Grand Conversation, so that by the third we feel ushered out of the ballroom and shown the sign on the door: "feminist sf discourse" -- a mantra of the third essay so insistent that it doesn't actually delve into the thing it considers most important. That's why we bought The Grand Conversation to begin with. I'll go into where I think she meant to go with this later. But first, let's examine the TV program, Friends.

I was forced to watch Friends with my graduate school colleagues as we ate dinner. I hated it. Inevitably, in most episodes, somebody misunderstands something, which gets blown out of proportion -- all of which could have been resolved if someone had immediately asked, "What did you mean by X?" Unfortunately, much of life is based on a series of misunderstandings blown out of proportion, which could be resolved immediately. Since it does not, it grows gray and misshapen like a cancerous lesion.

Duchamp writes in her final essay: "Most readers, after all, jump to quick conclusions about the text they are reading and then screen out all details that work against their first impressions." That's true. That's why authors try to get inside all of their major characters' heads to make sure that one is not constructing straw men to be knocked down.

When Jacques Derrida gave us deconstruction, it was a powerful tool -- a tool that really has no warning labels slapped on it. The closer one approaches science, the more one encounters such labels. The experiment proves X under these parameters. I took Paul Ekman's online course on universal micro-expressions, and Ekman reminds us that while the person you are observing may be experiencing these emotions, you don't know where their mind is at the time. Too often we supply emotional states for perceived enemies in order to make our points.

This leads us back to the essays. The first of the essays describes what Gary Wolfe intended when he discussed doing away with the label "feminist SF." An evil motive of his may have been to wipe out feminism. On the other hand, what he might have been expressing was that labels sometimes make a thing easy to dismiss: "I don't feel like reading hard SF because it's hard," or "I don't feel like reading feminist SF because I'm male."

While Wolfe's reasons may not be malevolent, he may have been unaware that his proposal would put some people out of a job. Duchamp's press is based on the assumption that feminism will always be with us. She quotes a feminist who states that feminism will be a never-ending revolution. In other words, a feminist agenda will always crop up. However, considering the frequency that Wis-Con, mailing lists, and other participatory groups come up in Duchamp's chapbook, possibly her primary opposition is that a loss of income would also accompany a loss of like-minded companionship. If I have misinterpreted either party, I apologize, but my gesture is meant for peace-making and mutual understanding.

Nonetheless, many citations direct readers to other feminist readings to further develop one's knowledge, most often the work of Justine Larbalestier. The collection is worth checking out if feminism in the genre interests you.

Copyright © 2013 Trent Walters

Trent Walters teaches science; lives in Honduras; edited poetry at Abyss & Apex; blogs science, SF, education, and literature, etc. at APB; co-instigated Mundane SF (with Geoff Ryman and Julian Todd) culminating in an issue for Interzone; studied SF writing with dozens of major writers and and editors in the field; and has published works in Daily Cabal, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy, Hadley Rille anthologies, LCRW, among others.


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