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review 2017-12-30 11:00
Matriarchs: Eliza's Revenge- Susan McDonough-Wachtman

   A light-hearted, entertaining post-feminist twist from a committed feminist writer?

I’m not sure that McDonough-Wachtman would accept that as an even partly accurate statement, but that was the sense of her writer that reading Eliza’s Revenge gave me. It is nice to read books from her generation of feminist writers that manage to be affirmative for women, while accepting that female governance doesn’t naturally take the thorns off pink-tinted roses, or indeed those blooms of any other hue. Men in this story are still agonists but, refreshingly, at least not protagonists.

   We are some way in the future, with a story that is set on a female controlled planet. This world’s environment is well governed by its women, though from the human perspective in a rather worryingly narrow ‘religiously’ organised way. The whole planet has the feel of being moulded by a tree-hugging, socialist, governance of pagan feminist priestesses. This is certainly no utopia, though we begin with that expectation. There are sinister undertones of unnatural practices and manipulation of male genetic characteristics. The men of this planet are now as female as Barbie Dolls, while some of the women certainly aren’t all ‘sugar and spice’ humanists.

   The writing is rather head-hoppy which doesn’t help the flow of the story, but the overall read is entertaining. Whether philosophical thought really stretches from entertainment into a substantive speculation I can’t really decide. Certainly, there are some important pointers about the directions humanity might move in, and the subsequent effects. The science fiction is a story enabler, rather than a serious framework; a fantasy setting in which to play with social perspective. Where one is obliged to give stars then I would give five, for the overall readability and quality, even if these stars twinkle rather than shine a consistent and penetrating bright light.

   I got the sense that McDonough-Wachtman is capable of writing with a great deal more ambition than she showed here. Far too many corners were cut with a convenient fantastical twist, and the tone was far too tongue-in-cheek to give any hard bite to the plot. This is a general readers book, not a genre scifi, and though it may well be appealing to rather more female than male readers that really isn’t a defining quality. The point that a matriarchy is no more capable of maintaining utopia from subversion than a patriarchy is well made.

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