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What can you say about a paranormal romance that seamlessly blends the Tuatha de Danaan and other sidhe-folk from Irish legend, the long and bloody history of the struggle of the Irish people for independence from English imperialism, and moderns concepts of sexual politics and identity?
Tate Hallaway's [1] short novel, released on the new Tapas online reading platform [2], is all this, and it is a fast-paced, action-filled read.

One minute, part-time student and self-identified dyke Kerry O'Neill Nystrom is dashing along a wooded short cut, trying to get to an exam on time, and the next, she's in a forest in Eire and a gorgeous lady centaur is kissing her passionately. Thus begins Kerry's involvement with both the politics of Irish unification and the politics of the faerie court. Before long she discovers that she is thought to be the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy concerning a son of the O'Neills and the rising of a free Ireland - and that the sidhe who have brought her to Ireland have no idea that she's a woman. Along the way she is drawn into a bitter personal struggle between the strangely attractive Hugh O'Donnell, child of a mortal man and a faerie woman, and Puca, a shape-changing bogie, or dark fey.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about Sidhe Promised, aside from the story itself, was Hallaway's handling of Kerry's sexuality. The journey to an understanding of sexual identity as something that is inherent in the person, and not the relationships they choose, is one I have travelled myself, and I thought was very well-done here.

[1] Tate Hallaway is, of course, the alter ego of Lyda Morehouse, author of the marvellous cyberpunk series AngeLink.

[2] Tapas - download the free app to read available content online, one or two sample chapters of each work are free, purchase keys to unlock more chapters if you like what you're reading:
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As gentle reader surely knows by now, there are certain things that generally delight me when I encounter them in books. Among these things are takes which draw on the Arthurian mythos, tales of female heroes, stories of women who love women, and novels that challenge or subvert traditional female roles. So one would expect that a novel set in a more-or-less historical Camelot, where the eternal triangle is between King Arthur, his competent and intelligent Queen Guinevere, and his best knight Lancelot - a passing woman - would be perfect for me. And indeed, I expected it to be so.


I really wanted to love this book. For the wonderful idea of a female Lancelot, the best knight in the world as a passing woman, and the doomed love between Lancelot and Guinevere as a passion between two women. And I pushed through it, waiting patiently for it to 'click' for me. But it never quite did - though it came close at times.

I enjoyed Lancelot's voice, her innocence about the ways of the world turning to confusion, sorrow and pain as she sees at every turn the treatment of women and the brutality of war in Arthur's Britain. The telling of her descent into what can only be described as post-traumatic stress during the long sequence of battles against the Saxons.

Douglas clearly intends this book to be a critique that covers a range of feminist issues - from sexual abuse and domestic violence to paternalistic attitudes that limit women's opportunities and options. These issues are, in fact, present in the experience of virtually every female character who is even mentioned in the book. Unfortunately, the author falls into the trap of dismissing women's work, both physical and emotional, and women's concerns about relationships with men, family and children, as being something to be escaped, rather than accepted as a part of life that needs to be valued and embraced by society and all its members.

Instead of a story that validates all the possible choices women can make about their lives, what we get is a story in which women like Lancelot and Guinevere are able to transcend cultural limitations because they are different, and don't like "girl's things." Douglas also falls into the habit of giving most of the other women in the novel traditional roles - spurned lover, manipulative bitch, subservient wife, wise old crone, victim of violence or the dead woman in the fridge.

There are other problems. I found it overly slow and meandering, especially at the beginning. The author has incorporated elements of all the Arthurian stories she can possibly fit in, all together into one text, and it often seems that they are there just to add yet another instance of male indifference or brutality to women and their concerns, as many do not add significantly to the story of Guinevere and Lancelot. Even Malory, whose classic work is more a compendium of tales than a unified story, was selective about his choices, and kept one thread, that of the king whose greatness carries the seeds of his downfall, at the core of his narrative.

Moreover, there is something overly simplistic about the way key decisions that will literally change the course of lives are made. The choices that lead to Lancelot being raised as a boy in the first place, Gawaine's choice to follow Arthur, Morgan's decision to betray him, Guinevere's sudden acceptance of her lesbianism.... These things all happen almost without thought, like the flipping of a switch. The motivations are hollow, we barely see inside the characters enough to understand how or why such drastic choices are made and justified. We are told, but we do not see.

As well, the style of writing is rather pedestrian. At times it reads like a YA novel - and one for the younger end of that audience - but the themes of sexuality and violence rather run counter to that.

The story also relies upon one of my own pet peeves - failure to communicate. I was rather annoyed with the long keeping of secrets that prevented Guinevere and Lancelot from realising that their love was mutual. Particularly when there were so many times that Guinevere could have made it clear that she had seen through Lancelot's masculine facade. And it didn't stop with that. Certainly, a passing woman in such a time would need to keep her sex a secret, but there were so many other secrets kept by so many people.

On the other hand, it was quite satisfying to see some of the less-frequently adapted Arthurian tales brought into play, and to have so much of the story told from female perspectives, so I can't say there was no pleasure here for me. It's just that there could have been so much more. For those who want to explore the idea of a female Lancelot, in my opinion the gold standard remains Jo Walton's duology, The King's Name and The King's Peace.

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This is what you need to know about Letters to Tiptree, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce:

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Alice Sheldon’s birth, and in recognition of the enormous influence of both Tiptree and Sheldon on the field, Twelfth Planet Press is publishing a selection of thoughtful letters written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans to celebrate her, to recognise her work, and maybe in some cases to finish conversations set aside nearly thirty years ago. [1]

Either you know who James Tiptree Jr. - the primary pseudonym used by Alice Sheldon in her writing - was, what she did, what she wrote, how she was viewed, or you don't. If you do, you will understand and celebrate this book. If you don't.... Well, I am sorry that you have not yet encountered some of the greatest and most provocative short stories in the canon of science fiction, and that you have missed out on a long, thoughtful and vital conversation on the meaning of gender. I heartily recommend that you join the conversation by reading Tiptree immediately.

The book is divided into four parts:

Section one, “Alice, Alice, Do You Read?”, is composed of letters written to Alice Sheldon, James Tiptree Jr., or Raccoona Sheldon (or all of them). The second section, “I Never Wrote You Anything But The Exact Truth”, presents selected letters exchanged between Sheldon and Ursula K. Le Guin, and Sheldon and Joanna Russ. Sheldon had had a long paper relationship with both women as Tiptree, and this continued well after the revelation of Tiptree’s identity. ... In “Everything But The Signature Is Me”, we have reprinted academic material on Tiptree’s work and identity.

Finally, the editors include their own letters, and their thoughts on the process of editing this volume, in the fourth section, “Oh Joanna, Will I Have Any Friends Left?”

The contributors to the first part of this volume speak to the person, the work and the conversation. They speak to each contributor's personal thoughts on gender, identity and writing, and on how Tiptree's life and work relates to that. They raise questions about the things we cannot know about Tiptree, and speculate on possible answers. They show us where others, touched by the fire in Tiptree's words, are taking us. Each of these letters to Tiptree - or Alice, or Raccoona, or some combination of all the personas - is unique and fascinating, but I must mention Rachel Swirsky's contribution, a marvellous tribute of a poem that draws on the images in Tiptree's story titles to make her own contribution to the conversation.

In the next section, Tiptree's correspondence with Le Guin and Russ opens windows into all three women's hearts, a generous and intimate sidebar to the conversation.

The third section contains introductions to Tiptree's works by Ursula K. Le Guin and Micheal Swanwick, an excerpt from Justine Larbalestier's The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction which discusses one of Tiptree's iconic stories, "The Women Men Don't See," an excerpt from Helen Merrick's The Secret Feminist Cabal discussing the evolution of the James Tiptree Jr. Award, an essay by Wendy Gay Pearson on "The Text of this Body: “Reading” James Tiptree Jr. as a Transgender Writer" and finally, an article on being Tiptree by Tiptree/Sheldon herself.

The final letters to Tiptree from the editors wrap up and revisit the themes expressed in earlier letters in the volume.

When she was outed as being Tiptree, Sheldon wrote to friends, wondering if she would have any friends remaining after the science fiction world learned of her "deception." I, like others, wish she had lived long enough to see this book and know how many friends her work has made, and continues to make.


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Carin Gussoff's novella Three Songs for Roxy is a delicately executed exploration of family, gender, love, identity and being an outsider, told in three parts. This is also the first piece of fiction I can remember reading that featured Rom culture, by an author of Rom heritage.

The first section, Free Bird, is the story of sisters - foster sisters but raised together from infancy - Roxane (Roxy) and Kizzy. Roxy's parents, both Rom, found/were given the infant Kizzy shortly before Roxy's birth, in circumstances that strongly suggesting that Kizzy is not human. Sensing that Kizzy's people would return for her some day, they and their extended family have stayed in the place where Kizzy was left. This section is remarkable in its portrayal of a culture which so values its children that Kizzy comes to wholly identify with her human Rom family and culture, despite any number of obvious and not-so-obvious signs that she is different. But at the same time, this traditional and family-oriented culture leaves the free-spirited Roxy feeling like an outsider as she comes to realise she is a lesbian. The climax of this section comes when the aliens do in fact return for Kizzy, only to find that she does not want to go - but Roxy does, despite her realisation that her lover Natalie, like Kizzy, is not human.

The other sections focus on the two other people present at the moment of return - Katrina survivor Scott Miller, who knows Kizzy through her job at the local mall, and Natalie.

The second section, Across the Universe, features Scott. Divorced with one child, he has fallen in love with Kizzy - only to be shocked and profoundly disturbed by the revelation that aliens have visited earth, and that the woman he was attracted to was one of them. Fearing what the aliens might do now that he knows, his response is to flee - taking with him his son Danny, who he fears may be abducted. This section contained several ambiguities, among them Scott's mental state, what happens to Danny at the end, and whether Danny is a transgender child whose sense of self is being disregarded by one of their parents, or is being misgendered by Scott. The core image for the last of these ambiguities is Scott's early job experience as a chicken sexer - young chickens being very difficult to identify by sex, with even experts getting it wrong from time to time. I've read this section twice, and I am still not certain what happened from an objective point of view - though I know what Scott thinks has happened.

The final section, Seven Wonders, features Natalie's story, from her design and training to search for and retrieve Kizzy, up to the point where she arrives at Roxy and Kizzy's home, her initial contact and courtship of Roxy, and her brief but with Steve, a drag queen and Stevie Nicks impersonator who cannot stop mourning his dead sister and move on. In helping Steve to come to terms with his loss, Natalie herself learns what love and relationship mean in human terms.

All three sections tell stories about families, about identity, about gender and sexuality. They feature characters who are outsiders because of these things. The stories are layered, sometimes ambiguous, often sad. And they are beautiful.

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Sarah Erdreich's book, The Roe Generation, looks at the current state of reproductive choice access and politics from the perspective of those she calls "the Roe generation - those for whom abortion has always been legal, but has also always been a topic of public discussion and controversy.

Erdreich covers a great deal of territory in this book. She begins with an overview of the history of abortion in the US, including the role that credentialisation played in the elimination of lay-midwives experienced in abortion from the health care scene and the pro-nativist concern over falling birthrate of white women that lay behind much of the early anti-abortion rhetoric.

Adding context to her research through extensive interviews with interviews with abortion providers, pro-choice activists, non-medical personnel who work in abortion clinics, students considering becoming abortion providers, and others involved in the reproductive rights movement, Erdreich examines such important topics as:

- the current state of training around abortion care and contraception in medical schools and the efforts of anti-choice organisations to further erode access to training

- strategies used by anti-choice activists to restrict access to abortion through legislation and court challenges that have the long-range goal of overturning Roe v. Wade

- the strong focus on family in anti-choice rhetoric, and how its emphasis on the fetus and on the damage to women from "post abortion syndrome" infantilises women and perpetuates the idea that what everyone really wants is a tradition family focused on child-rearing

- media representations of women seeking abortions and the very few instances in popular media where women choose abortion as a valid and positive option.

Erdreich concludes her examination of abortion with a critique of established pro-choice organisations as bureaucratic, inflexible, and not prepared to make effective use of modern communications and social media in organising. She stresses the need for more aggressive planning and action by pro-choice organisations and supporters to turn the tide of increasing barriers and restrictions on abortions, and advocates greater grassroots involvement. Finally, she talks about something every pro-choice supporter can do - help to normalise the idea of abortion rights by discussing it in the same way as any other public policy issue. Ending the atmosphere of shame and secrecy about reproductive choices is, Erdreich argues, a major step toward being able to see contraception and abortion as normal life issues.

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Several years ago, Alison Bechdel wrote an amazing personal narrative in graphic format called Fun Home, which addresses her own early life, her father's struggle with his repressed creativity and sexuality, his suicide, and her own coming out. The novel has received accolades and been adapted as a musical.

Now Bechdel returns to memoir, focusing this time on her relationship with her mother, in Are You My Mother? A more complex, and much less linear work, it is rich, multi-layered, and uses the graphic format to present intuitive connections between its many strands of narrative in a particularly effective manner.

The themes that Bechdel struggles with throughout the memoir - creativity, self-love, self-hate, sexuality, self realisation and awareness - are illustrated and embedded in a web of relationships, familial, romantic, analytic. Bechdel remembers her past experiences with her mother, dreams about her mother, talks about her mother in analysis, writes about her father and then her mother, relives aspects of her relationship with her mother in her relationships with lovers and therapists, and all the while, as an adult at various points in her life, talks to her mother, her lovers, her analysts, about all of these things. And woven into this is a discussion of Virginia Woolf and her experiences in resolving her family issues through writing (notably with To the Lighthouse), the theories of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, and the evolution of Adrienne Rich as a poet.

As Kate Roiphe says in her review of Are You My Mother, "There’s a lucidity to Bechdel’s work that in certain ways (economy, concision, metaphor) bears more resemblance to poetry than to the dense, wordy introspection of most prose memoirs. The book delivers lightning bolts of revelation, maps of insight and visual snapshots of family entangle­ments in a singularly beautiful style." [1]

It is a more demanding work than Fun Home, but it is a wise, insightful and rewarding work.


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When Kate Bornstein wrote Gender Outlaws: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us, back in 1994, trans* issues were still a thing not many people talked about, unless they were, or knew, people who were trans. Bornstein's writing and advocacy was part of the reason this has changed.

Now she has co-edited, with S. Bear Bergman, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, a collection of essays and personal narratives by people in and around the trans* community today. The editors have made selections representative of the diversity to be found in the global trans* community - those sharing their thoughts and experiences express a range of gender identities - and some decline gender identification all together. While many of the voices come from North America, there are contributors from all around the world - Spain, Singapore, Mexico, Argentina, Kenya among others - and from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds.

The contributions range from the deeply personal to the highly theoretical, from formal essay to autobiographical narrative to poetry to visual art.

Taken together, these works form a kaleidoscope of proudly oppositional images, of all the ways to genderfuck, to trans/scend the rigid boundaries of immutability and binary thinking about sex and gender. They remind us of where we have been, what we still face, and where we are going in the journey to deconstruct the old labels used to control sexual identity and expression, and to create a new world where people can truly become who they know themselves to be.

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Thendara House (pub. 1983) is a direct sequel to The Shattered Chain - it details the events immediately following on Jaelle n'ha Melora's freemate marriage to Terran (but Darkovan born and raised) Peter Haldane, and the entrance into the Thendara Guild House of Terran Intelligence Agent Magda Lorne (known among her guild-sisters as Margali n'ha Ysabet) for six months of training and seclusion.

For both women, it is a time of self-discovery. Jaelle, who has repressed her early life in the Dry-Towns, and who has lived since then among Renunciates, finds that her relationship with Peter raises those early memories. She is faced with an internal struggle between the deep, repressed conditioning that drew her to Peter - who is slowly revealed as a domineering and potentially abusive mate - and her identity as a Renunciate - a struggle that is only exacerbated when she realises that she is pregnant. Meanwhile, Magda is challenged to question her Terran values and sense of privilege, and is brought face to face with the reality that she is more deeply attracted to women than she is to men.

In addition to struggles with conditioning and culture shock, both women are dealing with the adult onset of powerful laran - Jaelle because of the resurgence of her childhood memories, which were shut down along with her laran when she experienced her mother's death while in rapport with her, and Magda as a result of her increased contact with other telepaths, including Jaelle.

Thendara House is not only a sequel to The Shattered Chain, however. It is also part of the story of the Forbidden Tower, in which both Magda and Jaelle will play a part. For both women, the connection that leads them to Armida is Andrew Carr, now known as Ann'dra Lanart.

Jaelle, in her role as cultural consultant in Terran Intelligence, is tasked with helping a visiting Terran official, Alessandro Li. Li is a Special Representative of the Senate, sent to investigate whether Cottman Four should retain its Closed World status or be reclassified, and to make recommendations about a Legation. Li is at first very interested in finding out all that he can about the Comyn and the rumours of telepathic abilities among the Darkovan ruling class. When the wreckage of Andrew Carr's downed plane is discovered and it is learned that Carr survived the crash, Li becomes fixated on finding out what happened to him.

Meanwhile, Magda meets Andrew when, along with a number of other Renunciates, she travels to the Kilghard Hills near Armida to help in fighting a fire. While they do not know each other, she recognises him as Terran - and vice versa. She believes him to be an Intelligence agent in deep cover, and later on, when she meets Alessandro Li, she innocently mentions seeing an agent at Armida. Li makes the connection between this unknown Terran and the missing Andrew Carr, and when all other attempts to contact Carr are thwarted, he sets out alone, unaware of a severe storm coming, to travel to Armida and confront him.

When Jaelle discovers what he has done, she determines to go after him, knowing the danger he is in. Peter attempts to stop her, threatening to have her declared temporarily insane due to her pregnancy, and placed in restraints. Jaelle lashes out and Peter is rendered unconscious (though Jaelle believes she has killed him). Jaelle, in emotional turmoil and psychic distress, heads out after Li, stopping briefly at the Guild House where she tries to see Magda. Magda, unfortunately, is in a meeting with the House Guild-Mother, and doesn't learn that Jaelle was asking for her until much later. Reaching out with her untried laran, she is able to discern where Jaelle is headed and why. Coming suddenly to understand that she is in love with Jaelle, she rides out after her. Magda finds Jaelle just in time for them both to find shelter from a sudden flood, but they are trapped by the rising waters. Jaelle miscarries and once more, Magda's laran enables her to reach out for help. A rescue party led by Andrew arrives, having also found and rescued Alessandro Li. During Jaelle's recuperation at Armida, both women realise that they have grown beyond both the limitations of their respective cultures, and the oppositional renunciations that form the essence of the Guild. Possessed of powerful laran, the next step for them is to join the Forbidden Tower - thus bringing together in Jaelle and Damon Ridenow the parents of Cleindori Aillard.

In Jaelle's experiences, we see through her encounters with other Terrans and with the cultural assumptions inherent in the way life and work are structured in the Terran Zone, the sexism of the Terran culture.

From the Terrans, Jaelle must deal with having her identity elided in a way that goes against her Renunciate's oath - among the Terrans, she is no longer Jaelle n'ha Melora, but Mrs. Peter Haldane. She is Haldane's wife, Haldane's girl, even Haldane's squaw. On the other hand, she encounters men in the Terran Service who accept her competence without question and work beside her without concern that she is a woman.

However, because Peter is Darkovan-raised and (as we are reminded several times) psychosexual development is fixed before adolescence, Peter's responses in intimate relationships are more typical of a Darkovan man who has acclimatised to Terran surroundings, than of a citizen of the Terran Empire. As Peter and Jaelle embark on their marriage, we see how the patriarchalism of Darkovan society affect relationships between men and women. Jaelle herself comes to think that it is the Darkovan in Peter, not the Terran, that creates problems between them: "Maybe it is not the Terran in Peter I find objectionable; maybe it is his Darkovan side which insists I must be no more than his wife and mother of his children… other Terran men are not like that."

Jaelle faces endless criticism from Peter over her inability to behave like a good wife, in either the Terran or Darkovan sense. When she acts "inappropriately" due to culture shock or the need to preserve her sense of autonomy, he lectures her on how this reflects poorly on him:
"I'm working under Montray now, and I'm in enough trouble with him without having him think—" he stopped, but to Jaelle, surprisingly, it was as if he had spoken aloud what was in his mind; think I can’t manage my wife.

As their relationship worsens, Jaelle comes to see that for Peter, love is equivalent to possession, and that he expects her as a matter of course to see to all his needs: "...and suddenly she knew him as Magda had known him, he really believed that he could treat her as valet, comrade-in arms, personal servant, breeding-anima, and somehow repay it all just with the ardor of his lovemaking..."

Nor is Peter's sexism limited his attitudes toward Jaelle. Because her heightened laran enables her to sometimes read his thoughts, Jaelle gains awareness of how he thinks about the new head of Intelligence Cholayna Ares, and his former wife and colleague Magda.
Not fair, dammit, I spent five years setting things up so that when Darkover got an Intelligence service I'd be at its head, and now some damned woman walks in and takes over. Bad enough playing second fiddle to Magda..."
When she finally tells Peter that she no longer wants to remain married to him, he responds that he will not allow her to leave - asserting his belief that she belongs to him and cannot break their connection without his permission, despite the fact that in Terran marriages, a married woman is not property, as she is under Darkovan law.
She detected a glimmer in his mind of logical resentment; women were damned unreasonable creatures, yet a man was at their mercy if he wanted children, and how else could they have any immortality? It almost made her pity him. “Don‟t be silly, Jaelle. I‟m not going to let you divorce me, not with a baby coming. I owe it to my child at least, to protect and look after his mother, even if we‟re not getting along too well.”
Thus in the short space of a few months, the intimate portrayal of the deterioration of their relationship brings into sharp relief the glimpses we have had previously of the traditional Darkovan marriage and the attitudes that shape it.

Magda's experiences in the Thendara Guild House mirror in some ways the early years (late '60s and early '70s) of the feminist movement - in particular the use of consciousness-raising groups to become aware of - and change - internalised sexist conditioning and to examine gender roles, institutionalised sexism, and nature of the differences between male and female. The other significant themes explored through Magda's life as a new Renunciate are lesbianism and transgender issues (through the emmasca character Camilla).

As a newly sworn Renunciate, Madga is expected to go through a period of training and seclusion, during which she may only leave the Guild House with permission of on the Elders of the House. At one of the first group meetings, the Guild Mother tells her and the other trainees "... you will learn to change the way you think about yourselves, and about other women.”

During her time in the Guild House, Magda comes to realise how pervasive same-sex attraction is on Darkover - and not just among Renunciates, although same-sex relationships between women are taken more seriously in the Guild than outside it, where such relationships between women are seen as adolescent fancies or secondary relationships, insufficient to keep a woman from her primary function, to marry a man and bear children.
Men may swear such oaths. And yet for women, such an oath is always taken, it seems, as a thing for untried girls, and means only, I shall be bound to you only so long as it does not interfere with duty to husband and children…”
In this perspective, it would appear that the frequent accusations against Renunciates, that they are all lovers of women and seduce honorable wives away from their husbands, refers not to the fact that many of them are in fact lesbian or bisexual, but that they value such relationships - and indeed, all relationships between women, sexual or not - as highly, or even more highly, than they do relationships between women and men. It is not that they love women, but that in doing so they choose not to be available to men.

Through the struggles of both women to find their true selves and desires, MZB explores much of the feminist analysis and praxis of second wave feminism of the 60s and early 70s. The nature of the patriarchy, the role of cultural conditioning, attitudes toward child bearing and rearing, alternative family structures, instititionalised sexism, the effects of sexism on men, the question of living separate from men as much as possible, even the debates over the role of lesbians in the movement, all have their expression in the inner journeys of Magda and Jaelle. It would be a rare woman of that era who did not see something of her own experiences and struggles somewhere in the pages of this novel.

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The Forbidden Tower (pub. 1977) is the story of the creation of the "heretical" circle of telepaths who, choosing to work outside of the Towers of Darkover, challenge the two most strongly held beliefs that underlie the Tower system - that a Keeper must be essentially asexual, and that only the members of the ruling Comyn caste have enough laran to work in the Towers.

The novel begins where The Spell Sword left off - with the clearing of the catmen and the planned union of Damon Ridenow to Ellemir Alton, and of Terran Andrew Carr to Callista Alton, formerly a Keeper of Arilinn under Leonie Hastur. Much of the main plot of the novel deals with the fusion of these two couples into a fourway bond, linked telepathically, emotionally and sexually. There are two main obstacles to this, and MZB deals with both in great detail. First, the realisation that not only has Callista been conditioned to have no sexual awareness or response, but that early in the training, Leonie performed a kind of psychic neutering on her, so that it would be impossible for her conditioning to ever be undone. Second, the painful misunderstandings and problems of culture shock brought about by the differences between Terran sexual mores and those found in a society of telepaths. In order to overcome the first, Damon must engage in the dangerous discipline of timesearch to find clues to a centuries-old tradition that could restore Callista's frozen sexuality. And only endless love and patience can overcome the second.

At the end of the novel, the four of them, fully bonded, are faced with a telepathic duel to prove Damon's right to namr himself Keeper and to direct the way his Tower will operate according to his own conscience and not the laws of Arilinn.

While largely focused on deconstructing the rigid role of Keeper and the assumption that only the Comyn can be effective telepaths, many of the Darkovan attitudes toward sexuality are clarified through the exploration of the differences between Terran and Darkovan sexual culture.

Darkovan society is to some degree polyamorous, and despite the strongly patriarchal nature of family relationship, women appear to have some sexual autonomy, but on strict class lines. As well, women must be discreet, and if unmarried, must be careful about pregnancy. The greatest shame seems to lie in bearing a child who has no acknowledged father. Some of the contradictions are shown in this account Ellemir gives to Callista about her sexual experience:
“It was that winter,” said Ellemir. “Dorian begged me to come and spend the winter with her; she was lonely, and already pregnant, and had made few friends of the mountain women. Father gave me leave to go. And later in the spring, when Dorian grew heavy, so it was no pleasure to her to share his bed, Mikhail and I had grown to be such friends that I took her place there.” She giggled a little, reminiscently. Callista said, startled, “You were no more than fifteen!” Ellemir answered, laughing, “That is old enough to marry; Dorian had been no more. I would have been married, had Father not wanted me to stay home and keep his house!” Again Callista felt the cruel envy, the sense of desperate alienation. How simple it had been for Ellemir, and how right! And how different for her! “Were there others?” Ellemir smiled in the darkness. “Not many. I learned there that I liked lying with men, but I did not want to be gossiped about as they whisper scandal about Sybil-Mhari—you have heard that she takes lovers from Guardsmen or even grooms—and I did not want to bear a child I would not be allowed to rear, though Dorian pledged that if I gave Mikhail a child she would foster it. And I did not want to be married off in a hurry to someone I did not like, which I knew Father would do if there was scandal."
There is some indication, however, that the circumstances in which women may engage in pre- or extra-marital sex are partly for the convenience of men. There is a reluctance among Darkovan women to engage in sex during pregnancy. As Callista explains, “Biologically, no pregnant animal desires sex; most will not endure it. If your women have been culturally conditioned to accept it as the price of retaining a husband's sexual interest, I can only say I am sorry for them! Would you demand it of me after I had ceased to take pleasure in it?”

While a man may take a concubine or mistress at his pleasure, and it is expected that he will do so if his wife is unavailable or unable to provide sex, it is considered not quite proper if he brings into the household a woman who is not acceptable to his wife. The kinswoman of one's wife is traditionally one of the more acceptable choices in such circumstances.
"This is our custom. If you were one of us, it would be taken for granted that my sister and I should… should share in this way. Even if things were — as they should be between us, if there was a time when I was ill, or pregnant, or simply not… not wanting you… It is very old, this custom. You have heard me sing the Ballad of Hastur and Cassilda? Even there, even in the ballad, it speaks of how Camilla took the place of her breda in the arms of the God, and so died when he was set upon. It was so that the Blessed Cassilda survived the treachery of Alar, to bear the child of the God…”
There is also a sense that men's desire should not be allowed to go unfulfilled, and that women are responsible for seeing to this when they arouse a man's sexual interest.
In both The Spell Sword and The Forbidden Tower, Callista tells Andrew that she is responsible for the fulfilment of desire he feels toward her. “I have been taught that it is… shameful to arouse a desire I will not satisfy."

Despite the suggestion of some choice in sexual expression, it is also clear that women, like children must always be under wardship - except, of course, for the Keepers. Women in the Towers are under the wardship of their Keepers - at one point, Leonie states that it is her responsibility to find suitable marriages for women who have given oath to her as Keeper and have worked in the Tower (this does not include young women who are sent to the Towers for a few years training in the use of laran) if they later choose to leave. Women outside the Towers are seen always as under the authority of father, husband, brother, or other kinsman.

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In The Shattered Chain (pub. 1976), Marion Zimmer Bradley explores both the quality and nature of relationships between women and the dimensions of power, control and equality (or lack of equality) in relationships between women and men in a manner that recalls the consciousness-raising of the early years of feminism. Set after the events of Rediscovery, in which a Terran survey ship finds the lost colony on Darkover 2,000 years after it is founded, The Shattered Chain covers a period of 12 years, and is the first novel to deal in depth with the Guild of Renunciates, or Free Amazons. The novel, divided into three parts, focuses largely on on the relationships of women - Rohana Ardais, Magda Lorne, and Jaelle n'ha Melora - with each other and with the men in their lives, but also provides glimpses into the lives and relationships of other women.

The Shattered Chain opens with a daring rescue of a Comyn woman, Melora, and her daughter, Jaelle. Kidnapped twelve years ago by a Dry-Town chieftain, Melora, pregnant with her kidnapper's only son, is desperate to escape or die before her daughter is chained, as all Dry-Town women are, at 13. She manages to telepathically contact her childhood friend Rohana Ardais, who defies the Comyn and her husband and hires a band of Renunciates, lead by Kindra, to free Melora. The rescue is successful, but Melora dies in childbirth on the way back to the domains, leaving her children in Rohana's care. Jaelle asks Rohana to foster her with Kindra, and Rohana agrees.

The second part of the narrative begins 12 years later, and tells the story of Magda Lorne, a Darkovan-born Terran Intelligence operative who spend most of her field time observing and reporting on the nuances of Darkovan culture from a woman's prospective. When her ex-husband Peter Haldane is held for ransom by bandits who mistakenly believe him to be the son of Rohana and her husband Lord Gabriel Ardais, and her superiors refuse to mount a winter expedition to save him, she turns to Rohana for help. Rohana advises her to pretend to be a Renunciate and deliver the ransom herself. While travelling, Magda's disguise is exposed by group of real Renunciates, led by Jaelle, and she is required to swear the Oath and become one of them in fact. Jaelle and Magda, now oath-mother and oath-daugther, complete Magda's mission but Jaelle is wounded. The three seek assistance from Rohana at the Ardais family seat.

The third part of the novel details the developing love affair between Jaelle and Peter, as they remain at Ardais over midwinter, and the consequences of this relationship for Jaelle, Magda and the others around them. This section of the novel is the most intimately focused, as both Jaelle and Magda examine their feelings for Peter, the relationship they have with each other, and their own needs for autonomy. Meanwhile, Rohana is assessing the costs and rewards of her own sometimes troubled relationship with Gabriel. As winter breaks, Magda, Jaelle and Peter return to Thendara, where Magda enters the Thendara Guildhouse to begin training as a Renunciate while Jaelle and Peter marry as freemates and Jaelle goes to work for the Terrans, in much the same capacity as Magda before her.

In many of the Darkover novels, MZB sets up contrasts between the status of women in different cultures and situations - Terran and Comyn, Comyn and Tower, Comyn and Renunciate, Tower worker and Keeper. This is perhaps the most fiercely feminist of the Darkover books, and takes a close and critical look at the roles, lives and status of women in mainstream Darkovan society.

In the first section of The Shattered Chain, we see the most marked of these contrasts - between the women of the Dry Towns and the Renunciates. The Renunciates dress practically, carry and are trained to use weapons, and unlike other women on Darkover (outside of the Towers), work and mingle freely with men, although not without having to endure sexist comments and jokes, and sexual invitations, polite and otherwise. Dry-Town women, on the other hand, live in chains.
The square was deserted for a while, then some of the Dry-Town women, wrapped in their cumbersome skirts and veils, began to drift into the marketplace to buy water from the common well, moving, each of them, with the small metallic clash of chains. By Dry-Town custom, each woman's hands were fettered with a metal bracelet on each wrist; the bracelets were connected with a long chain, passed through a metal loop on her belt, so that if the woman moved either hand, the other was drawn up tight against the loop at her waist.
Marriage for women in the Dry-Towns - at least as Melora experiences it - is a life of submission in which the man may grant his wives, concubines and other more temporary partners as much or as little freedom as possible. There is no hint of the (limited) possibilities for sexual expression available to women of the Domains, and no alternatives to marital submission, such as exist for other women on Darkover in the Towers or in the Guild of Renunciates.

In the Domains, there are three recognised forms of marriage. The most formal is marriage di catenas, which is the common form of marriage for Comyn women given as primary wives to Comyn men. There is also a legally recognised form of concubinage, in which a woman enters the household of a man as a barragana - her children will be legitimate, but she holds lower status in the household than a wife married di catenas. Finally, there is freemate marriage, which is a form of marriage declared between two people (not just a man and a woman, but also two women, and perhaps two men, though I don't recall any mentions of such in the novels, may enter freemate marriages) and considered legal upon consummation. Freemate marriage can be easily dissolved, unlike marriage di catenas, but as in the other forms, while it endures, the woman is seen as being under the guardianship and protection of the man, and at least to some degree as his property.

In Dry-Town or Domain, marriage of any form is seen primarily as a means of producing children who can be clearly identified as the legitimate offspring of some man. To have no acknowledged father is the most shameful thing possible for a man, to bear a child no man will name as his the most shameful for a woman. For some men, children - and particularly sons - are the only reason for children, and a barren women can expect to be set aside, or to have her husband bring a barragana or mistress into the home, and to be required to bring up his children by other women.

We see this focus on having children as the main reason for marriage, and as the most important function of women, in Kindra's story of how she came to be a Renunciate:
"I bore four children before I had turned twenty. I was given in marriage very young, and my first child died before I could bring him forth; the midwives said I should not try to bear another, but my husband was eager for an heir. My second and third children were daughters both, and he cursed me. I came very near to death with my fourth child-he was three days in the bearing-and this time, instead of curses, when he saw our son, he showered me with gifts and jewels. And then I knew a woman's lot in our world was wholly accursed. I was of no value; the daughters I bore him at risk of my life were of no value; I was nothing but an instrument to give him sons. And so when I could walk again, I left my children sleeping, one night, and cut my hair, and made my way alone to the Guild of Free Amazons, and there my life began."
Even Rohana, who as regent for the Aillard Domain has a seat on the Comyn Council, and who essentially runs the Ardais Domain for her husband, is constrained by the demands of Darkovan marriage, even though she has come to accept it, and to care for him.
"I did not want children, Jaelle. Every time I knew myself pregnant, I wept and raged. You weep because you are not to bear a child, but I cried more when I knew I was. Once I flung a silver bowl at Gabriel's head, and I hit him, too, and I shrieked at him that I wished I had killed him and he could never do this to me again. I hated being pregnant, I hated having little children around to trouble me, I feared childbirth worse, I think, than you feared the sword that gave you this." With light fingers she traced the still-crimson scar across Jaelle's smooth cheek. "Had I been free to choose, I would never have borne a child. And yet now that the children are grown, and I see that they are a part of Gabriel and myself which will survive when we are gone-now, when it would have been too late to change my mind, I find I am glad that the laws of my caste forced me to bear them, and after all these years, I have forgotten-or forgiven-all the unhappiness."
This is the context in which the Guild of Renunciates must be understood. Darkover is a feudal society - everyone has his or her place in the web of allegiances and wardships, loyalties and obligations. In this society, women and children gain their place from relationship to a man, and men from their relationship to a man of higher status, with the exception of men and women in the Towers, who gain their place from their oaths to their female Keeper, who in turn owes allegiance to the Keeper of Arilinn. Ultimately, all people owe their place in society, through this chain of allegiances, to the King (or Regent). This is why a child without an acknowledged father is in such a difficult situation - until they are old enough to marry or to swear allegiance to an employer or overlord, they have no legitimate place in this web.

In this kind of society, any woman who attempted to live outside of the restrictions of the patriarchal family would be without place or status of any kind, and unless she could pass as a man, would be unlikely to survive. Indeed, we hear that many women who do attempt to do so, seek out the normally illegal procedure that turns them into emmasca, enabling them to pass more easily.

The Guild of Renunciates is the only way for non-conforming women to leave the stifling environment of the family and still hold a recognised place in society as a woman. The Guild is a formally organised institution, holding a charter from King and Council. Its members must formally renounce their position as women with rights and obligations within the family structure. While readers of the Darkover novels often interpret the Oath of the Reunciates as a woman's decoration of independence, it is in fact seen within Darkovan society as a disavowal of the protections, rights and obligations that are otherwise legally binding on a woman. It is the price of freedom, not a definition of it.
Oath of the Guild of Renunciates

From this day forth, I renounce the right to marry save as a freemate. No man shall bind me di catenas and I will dwell in no man's household as a barragana.
I swear that I am prepared to defend myself by force if I am attacked by force, and that I shall turn to no man for protection.
From this day forth I swear I shall never again be known by the name of any man, be he father, guardian, lover or husband, but simply and solely as the daughter of my mother.
From this day forth I swear I will bear no child to any man save for my own pleasure and at my own time and choice; I will bear no child to any man for house or heritage, clan or inheritance, pride or prosperity; I swear that I alone will determine the rearing and fosterage of any child I bear, without regard to any man's place, position or pride.
From this day forth I renounce allegiance to any family, clan, household, warden or liege lord, and take oath that I owe allegiance only to the laws of the land as a free citizen must; to the kingdom, the crown and the Gods.
I shall appeal to no man as of right, for protection, support or succor: but shall owe allegiance only to my oath-mother, to my sisters in the Guild and to my employer for the season of my employment.
The Renunciate gives up her right to a secure marriage, and to the protection and support of a (male-governed) family or clan. She acknowledges that if attacked by force, she can expect no aid from men but must defend herself. She has no family, no regular place in society - by taking her mother's name, she announces herself to be fatherless. She is freed of her obligation to bear children into a family, but she also acknowledges that her children will have no automatic right to a position within a family - that they will be fatherless, as she is. The only family she has a place in, the only family she can turn to for anything, the only thing that connects her to society, is the Guild.

For Darkovan women who chafe under the restrictive codes of behaviour they are expected to observe, there is no middle ground other than that which they may be able to negotiate with the man who had wardship over them. Freedom is an all or nothing proposition.

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The Heritage of Hastur (pub. 1975) and its immediate sequel, Sharra's Exile (pub. 1981) are in some ways the heart of the Darkovan cycle - they mark the end of the Comyn and the sociopolitical structure of Darkover as it was and, as Regis Hastur comes into his own, the beginnings of a new Darkover (which would be penned, not by Bradley, but by her successors Adrienne Martine-Barnes and Deborah J. Ross from outlines and notes).

The Heritage of Hastur details the events surrounding Regis' coming of age, amid the unleashing of Sharra, the powerful matrix we saw before in The Winds of Darkover. It is also a key part of the ongoing conversation about the position of Darkover within the Terran Empire. In all these strands of the narrative, the one common theme is responsibility for and abuse of power. In a sense, the true heritage of Hastur - and all Comyn are called the children of Hastur - is a heritage of extreme privilege and power, and its potential for abuse, as much as it is a heritage of responsibility. As Danvan Hastur acknowledges, "In the far-back days, we were given power and privilege because we served our people, not because we ruled them. Then we began to believe we had these powers and privileges because of some innate superiority in ourselves, as if having laran made us so much better than other people that we could do exactly as we pleased."

As the novel opens, relations between Terrans and Darkovans have once more grown tense, and the key issue is the Compact - an agreement banning all long-distance weapons that holds sway throughout the six lowland Domains. The Empire has technically agreed not to allow such weapons to be taken out of the Terran Zone in Thendara, but Terran officials do not really take the agreement seriously, or enforce it rigorously, and they have allowed the sale of range weapons in Alderan territory - realising that the compact exists to protect all Darkovans from the devastating matrix weapons - like Sharra. Again, this conflict adds to the themes of responsibility, power and abuse that inform all the narrative strands of the novel.

This narrative focuses on two young men - Regis Hastur and Lewis Alton - whose circumstances and experiences are in some ways counterpointed, but in other ways parallel. Regis is the grandson of Danvan Hastur (and great-grandson of Lorill Hastur), heir to the most powerful family on Darkover, the hereditary Regents of the Crown - a vital role, as many of the Elhalyn, hereditary Kings of Darkover, have been incompetent or even mad in recent generations. But Regis doesn't want to be the de-facto ruler of Darkover, he longs for the stars. Unlike the Comyn he is destined to lead, he appears to be almost completely lacking in laran - testing indicates he has the potential, but that it has been blocked from normal development.

Lew Alton is also the heir to a powerful Domain, but unlike Regis, he has had to fight to be recognised. He is the son of Kennard Alton (last seen as a boy in Star of Danger) and Elaine Montray, who is half Terran, half Darkovan, but of the outcast Aldaran Domain, who Kennard met and fell in love with on Earth. Although Kennard married Elaine di catenas - the most formal style of marriage - the Comyn refused to acknowledge his marriage and Lew has always been treated by most as a bastard, carrying both the barbarian blood of the Terrans and the traitor's blood of the Aldarans. In order to have his son declared as his heir, Kennard was forced to prove before witnesses that Lew carried the Alton Gift of forced rapport by forcing rapport on him - an act that might have killed Lew if he did not in fact have the gift. Only in the Towers, where Lew proved to be a powerful and skilled matrix technician, has he felt truly welcome, although he has won some degree of acceptance among the Guards, where he serves as an officer and his father's second - the Altons being the hereditary commanders of the Guard.

The events of the novel do in fact begin in the Guard, where Regis is beginning his duties as a cadet, where Kennard is Commander and both Lew and Kennard's cousin and childhood friend Dyan Ardais - the Lord of that Domain - are officers, as is Regis' brother-in-law (and Lew's cousin) Gabriel Lanart-Hastur. Also in his first year as a cadet is Danilo Syrtis, son of a minor Comyn house whose older brother was paxman and sword brother to Regis' father - both of whom were killed by bandits carrying Terran weapons.

As new cadets, Regis and Danilo initially become friends, but are driven apart by the actions of Dyan. As cadet master, he has the power to make any cadet's life a living hell, and when Danilo refuses his sexual advances, Dyan uses not only his official power but also his laran to torment the young man. At the same time, Dyan attempts a gentle seduction of Regis - the difference in his approach to the two being that he sees Regis as a social equal and Danilo as a social inferior. Before too long, Danilo has rejected Regis' friendship and, driven to desperation by Dyan's action, draws a knife on Dyan and is sent home in disgrace.

Meanwhile, Kennard has asked Lew to travel to Aldaran to investigate the situation with respect to Terran weapons there, under the pretext of visiting his Lord Kermiac and his other Alderan kinfolk. When Lew, who has seen Dyan in action before, witnesses the public disgrace of Danilo and senses what was behind Danilo's reaction, goes to Kennard in protest, his father will not listen to him. Lew leaves for Aldaran, but with a heart filled with anger and disgust at the abuses of power he has witnessed. Arriving at Castle Alderan he is welcomed into the family as the grandson of Kermiac's sister Meriel. Here he meets his cousin, Kermiac's son Beltran, Kermiac's wards, Thyra, Marjorie and Rafe Scott, and the mysterious Raymon Kadarin, and is drawn into their plan to recreate the old pre-Compact matrix sciences, using the Sharra matrix. As he works with Kadarin and the others, training them to be a working circle, he and Marjorie begin to fall in love, despite the fact that Lew has determined that Marjorie is the one best suited to serve as the circle's Keeper.

Regis, having completed his first year of training, travels to visit his sister; en route, he stops at Danilo's home, where the two renew their friendship, and Regis, learning what really happened to him, swears to make it right. On his return to Thendara, despite being ill with threshold sickness, a malady that often strikes telepaths whose laran has awakened, he confronts first his grandfather and then Kennard with the knowledge of Dyan's abuse. Kennard, reading his mind and the images he carries from Danilo's mind, is shocked, but accepts Dyan's guilt. He also realises that Danilo is a catalyst telepath, a rare gift thought to be extinct, and contact with him can stimulate latent laran - and that contact with Danilo is what has woken Regis' powers.

With the promise that justice will be done, Regis returns to Syrtis with Gabriel who is to take Regis to Neskaya for laran training and then bring Danilo back to Thendara, but they discover that Danilo has been kidnapped by the Aldarans. Gabriel returns to Thendara to report the crime. Regis promises to wait for Gabriel at his seat in Edelweiss, but instead, he pauses long enough to name Gabriel and Javanne's youngest son his heir, and sets out to find Danilo.

In Alderan, Lew is horrified when he learns that Beltran has kidnapped Danilo, particularly since he himself, having guessed Danilo's gift, had speculated about asking Danilo to join their circle and use his gift to help more latent telepaths find their powers. Kermiac chastises Beltran, and when Regis arrives, assures him that both he and Danilo are guests under his roof and will come to no harm, and will be allowed to leave when the weather is better.

Lew comes to the realisation that working with Sharra is corrupting all of them, awakening lust for power and dulling their consciences, he decides that they must return Sharra to the forge folk and find another way to bring about their goals. But when Kermiac dies suddenly, Beltran imprisons Regis and Danilo, and tries to force Lew to continue working with the Sharra circle. Marjorie rescues the three captives, and they flee Aldaran Castle. Lew and Marjorie set out to bring word of the Sharra circle to Arilinn, while Regis and Danilo head toward Thendara. Lew and Marjorie are recaptured, and Lew is drugged and, now controlled by Kadarin, returns to the Sharra circle. As Sharra rages, destroying the city of Caer Donn and the Terran Spaceport there, telepaths across Darkover feel the impact, and a force is sent from Thendara to stop the fires, no matter what. Regis and Danilo meet the party, led by Kennard and Dyan, on the road, and head back with them toward Alderan.

Marjorie convinces Kadarin to let Lew recover from the drugs, and together they decide that Sharra must be stopped, even if it takes their deaths - and the deaths of everyone in the Sharra circle - to close the dimensional gateway that fuels it. As they enter the circle and prepare to attempt it, Kennard finally reaches Lew and adds his power to theirs. The gateway is sealed, but Lew is gravely wounded and Marjorie close to death; with the strength of desperation, Lew manages to teleport himself and Marjorie to Arilinn, but it is too late for Marjorie.

Despite the closing of the gateway, the Sharra matrix remains too powerful to be left on Darkover where its power could be raised again; Kennard decides to leave Darkover, taking the matrix and Lew with him, hoping that Terran medicine can heal wounds that Darkovan psi power cannot. The Terrans, now aware of just what kind of long-range weapons the Compact was made to control, promise to do their part in keeping it. Dyan accepts responsibility for his abuse of Danilo, and names him heir to Ardais as recompense. And Regis relinquishes his dream of the stars and takes his place as the Hastur heir on the Council. Hard lessons have been learned - at least for a time.

The Heritage of Hastur is the first of the Darkover novels to deal extensively with male homosexuality. It is also the novel that many readers point to as one that embodies Bradley's personal philosophy as an enabler of the sexual abuse committed by her husband, and an abuser herself. I am going to first discuss attitudes toward male homosexuality in general as presented in the novel, and then look at the instances of sexual abuse and how they are dealt with. But first, I want to summarise certain aspects of what has been revealed so far about Darkovan attitudes toward sex in general.

Sexuality on Darkover has two aspects, social, and reproductive. Social sex is by necessity non-reproductive, as it is a great disgrace to produce a child without a father to claim it. It occurs between men, between women, and between men and women. It is common in the Towers, but is also found outside of them. It is a personal matter, and is expected to take second place to the duty of proper procreation.

Reproductive sex is heavily controlled, because a child without an acknowledged father has no place in the community. Paternity is also important, especially among the nobility, because of the role that inheritance rights play in a feudal society. In Heritage of Hastur, we learn that having at least one heir, if not more, is a legal necessity for an adult male in direct line to the overlordship of a domain.

Thus men are expected to concern themselves with having heirs, and for this they need recognised relationships with women whose fidelity can not be questioned. These relationships span a wide range of options, including a highly formal style of marriage, legal concubinage, a form of common-law marriage, and the taking of mistresses. As long as the man is sure enough of the paternity of his child to acknowledge it, the mothers are not stigmatised and the children have a place in the family and in society. The higher the social status of the woman, the more likely it is that she will be married formally to a man of equal or higher status.

Women are often married young, well before the age of 20, unless they are marked for some training in a Tower, in which case their marriages may be put off for two or three years. Man may also be betrothed, or even married, at an early age. When discussing sexuality, it is important to remember that on Darkover, adulthood arrives early - around the age of 15. At this age, Darkovans take on adult responsibilities - they start work, get married, have children, begin training in Towers or in the Guards, whether they want to or not. As Regis says in speaking of the expected actions of a Comyn son: "It's all planned out for us, isn't it, Lew? Ten years old, fire-watch duty. Thirteen or fourteen, the cadet corps. Take my turn as an officer. Take a seat in Council at the proper time. Marry the right woman, if they can find one from a family that's old enough and important enough and, above all, with laran. Father a lot of sons, and a lot of daughters to marry other Comyn sons."

Nor are matters any different for women, as Lew thinks while watching Regis' sister Javanne at a party: "Javanne was dancing again. Well, let her enjoy herself. She had been married off at fifteen and had spent the last nine years doing her duty to her family."

Among the Comyn, sexuality and telepathy are strongly linked. Laran generally develops in early adolescence, and as Bradley constructs the physiology of psi, sexual and laran "energies" travel along the same "channels" in the body. As well, it is often mentioned that for telepaths, living in close contact is like "living with your skin off" - in a state of intimacy unimaginable among non-telepaths. It's also mentioned that telepathic men are often uninterested, or even impotent, with "head-blind" women. Telepathy both mimics and intensifies sexual bonding. As Lew says, in explaining why he refuses to marry at the command of the Comyn:
How could I tell Hastur, who was old enough to be my grandfather, and not even a telepath, that when I took a woman, all her thoughts and feelings were open to me and mine to her, that unless rapport was complete and sympathy almost total, it could quickly unman me? Few women could endure it. And how could I tell him about the paralyzing failures which a lack of sympathy could bring? Did he actually think I could manage to live with a woman whose only interest in me was that I might give her a laran son? I know some men in the Comyn manage it. I suppose that almost any two people with healthy bodies can give each other something in bed. But not tower-trained telepaths, accustomed to that full sharing.
With the exception of the cristoforos, whose attitudes toward sexuality, and particularly sexual expression between persons of the same sex are based on a remnant of Christian religious belief, Darkovans appear to have a relaxed attitude toward male homosexual expression - at least as long as the persons involved are either young, or if older, have done their duty to society by marrying and fathering children.
It was not considered anything so shameful to be an ombredin, a lover of men. Among boys too young for marriage, rigidly kept apart by custom from any women except their own sisters or cousins, it was considered rather more suitable to seek companionship and even love from their friends than to consort with such women as were common to all.
The Heritage of Hastur explores two instances of homosexual contact that may be characterised as abusive. The first, which occurs within the timeline of the novel, involves Danilo Syrtis, who comes to the attention of the sadistic hebephile Dyan Ardais while a cadet. While Danilo is not physically forced into sex, when he rejects Dyan's attentions, the older man responds with what essentially constitutes mental rape, by using his laran to infiltrate Danilo's mind - something telepaths are sworn not to do. There is a clear suggestion that Dyan has done this before, and that he has also had relationships with other young men, who may have been willing but were also under his authority as an officer of the Guard. Among his Comyn peers, his relations with consenting young men are not seen as problematic, but they clearly see his telepathic assault as wrong. In this context, it is important to remember that Darkovans are considered adult at 15, and capable of consent. By Darkovan standards, Dyan is guilty of abuse of power, but not of child abuse.

The second instance involves a single incident from the past, between 12-year-old Regis and Lew Alton, who is, as Bradley states in the text, "five or six years older than Regis." (It's interesting to note that reviewers have tended to cast Lew as ten or more years older than Regis.) Lew and Regis are foster-brothers, and Regis loves and worships Lew like the older brother he has never had. Lew is a telepath, Regis at twelve is just beginning to develop his laran. The two are out on the firelines together, in a situation of great stress.
And Regis had known Lew was afraid. He'd touched Lew's mind, and felt it: his fear, the pain of his burns, everything. He could feel it as if it had been in his own mind. And Lew's fear hurt so much that Regis couldn't stand it. He would have done anything to comfort Lew, to take his mind off the pain and the fear. It had been too much. Regis couldn't shut it out, couldn't stand it. But he had forgotten. Had made himself forget, till now.
Struggling with the simultaneous onset of puberty and telepathy, feeling Lew's distress and wanting to comfort him, Regis makes an effort to offer comfort that is both psychic and sexual in nature; Lew, not yet trained to control his telepathy, hurt and afraid and in need of comfort, responds in kind. Is this child abuse? Is Lew a homosexual pedophile? There is certainly no indication in the text that Lew has more than a minor interest in males as sexual partners; in fact, when he thinks of expressing his sexual desires, it is women he considers. Regis is the one who is drawn more to males than to females, who falls in love with Danilo. Regis is 12, Lew is no older than 18. The situation is, to my mind, ambiguous. Nor is it pictured as without consequence, for it is the intensity of the connection that causes Regis to block out the memory, and with it, his developing laran - until it is awakened three years later by the young man who will be his next lover.

It has become almost an article of faith in our society today that persons under some magic age - 16, 18, even 21 - are children, lacking in judgement and agency, incapable of freely consenting to sex. The problem is, that there is no sharp divide between childhood and adulthood and that not all people are alike or develop at the same rate. Even very young children are sexual beings, and it is not unnatural for age peers to engage in sex play. As children enter puberty, sexual interest increases, and many adolescents engage in sexual exploration. Consent is a situational thing. Can two 5-year-olds consent to "playing doctor"? Can a 12-year old consent to sexual exploration with a 13-year-old? A 15-year-old? A 17-year-old? A 25-year-old? The boundaries of free consent are fluid - at some point on this spectrum, the age range becomes too great, and issues of power and influence come into play, but at what point?

I think of my own personal experience. My first consensual sexual relationship occurred when I was 12, with a girl who was four years my senior. It was one of those boarding school romances - and anyone who tries to suggest that same-sex boarding schools are not full of same-sex sexual exploration doesn't know what they are talking about. Was my relationship fully consensual? As I look back, some 50 years later, my memories are of love, desire, longing, wanting to be with my lover as much as possible - to the best of my recollection, I was quite active in trying to seduce her, gain her affection. I was willing, and the only harm I took from the relationship came later, when my lover's parents pulled her out of school and put her into an institution because they discovered her same-sex desires.

This question of consent is particularly important for young people who are queer, because we may not always have age peers able to experiment in the ways we need to. Often we don't exactly know what we are or what we want, only that it is something different - and it may well be that the only people we can find who know what we want are older than we are, having gone through the stages of coming out to themselves that we are only just beginning. Regis' early experience with Lew may well read quite differently to such people, who have had to take different paths to owning their sexuality than most straight people do.

For my part, I read the narrative thread that deals with Regis' sexuality as a coming out story, with Regis and Danilo as a young gay men reaching an understanding and an acceptance of who they are and who they love. That's what made me love this book when I first read it, some 40 years ago, and that's still how it affects me.

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The Spell Sword (pub. 1974), tells the story of the beginning of the Forbidden Tower, introducing Ellemir and Callista Alton, Damon Ridenow, and Terran Andrew Carr. It begins when Carr, on a four-day layover at Thendara spaceport, goes out into the Trade City for some fun and patronises a "fortuneteller." In her "crystal ball" - probably a matrix - he sees a vision of a young woman which so captivates him that he immediately applies for a permanent posting on Darkover. Following a crash in the Hellers, while on a Mapping and Exploration Survey flight, he is contacted telepathically by Callista, the woman whose image he saw. She is being held captive - where and by whom she does not know, but she is able to help him to survive the storms of the Hellers reach safety at Armida, the house seat of the Altons. Meanwhile, Callista's twin sister Ellemir has called for help from their Tower-trained kinsman Damon after Callista's abduction while on a visit home from Arilinn Tower, where she is UnderKeeper to Leonie Hastur. Damon, having survived an attack by the catmen, sentient non-humans native to Darkover, deduces from the details of the raid on Armida that the catmen have not only abducted Callista and somehow blocked her from contacting them, but are also responsible for a strange blight in the nearby region of Corresanti. When Andrew arrives, his story, once told and accepted as true, fills in the remaining blanks.

Immediate rescue is out of the question, as there are few men-at-arms at Armida and Damon is not a warrior. While they wait for the arrival of Ellemir and Callista's father, the powerful Dom Esteban Alton, the telepathic rapport brought on by their searching for Callista and their attempts to train Andrew's latent laran to the point where he can help them find Callista has led to a deep emotional contact between all three of them, but particularly Damon and Ellemir. Meanwhile, Callista's total reliance on Andrew for any shred of human contact seems to be wearing down the barriers she built as Keeper, and Andrew is falling in love with her.

All seems lost when Dom Esteban is ambushed on his way home by the catmen and severely injured, leaving him paralysed from the waist down. However, Dom Esteban has the Alton gift of forced rapport, and he is able to use this gift to control Damon's reflexes, giving the younger man all the skill and experience of an expert swordsman. With Damon now able to lead Esteban's guardsmen, and Andrew's connection to guide them, Callista is rescued and the leader of the catmen, who has been using a huge unmonitored matrix left over from pre-Compact days, is defeated and the immediate menace ended.

The Spell Sword is a relatively short and plot-focused novel, but like most of MZB's novels, it explores aspects of relationships, sexuality, and gender roles. One theme that runs through much of MZB's Darkover writing is the intense nature of communication between telepaths, and how closely linked it can be to love and sexual desire. Both Andrew and Damon have been reluctant to enter into serious relationships, Andrew because every contact her has had, has seemed somehow lacking in something important, and Damon because he has been fixated on Leonie for years, at least in part because of the close rapport they had when he was a matrix worker at Arillan. Telepathic contact between Callista and Andrew, and between Ellemir and Damon, is enough to create an intense emotional and sexual bond in a matter of days, if not hours.

Interestingly, we see indications that while young Darkovan women are generally treated as though they were untouchable - Damon has to caution Andrew that on Darkover, men do not look directly at young women who are not their kin - this may be more appearance than fact. We have seen that women in the Towers, with the exception of Keepers, enjoy sexual autonomy. It must be assumed that if a woman who has worked in a Tower decides to retire and marry, the possibility of her bearing children with laran outweighs and issues of a possible lack of virginity. But when Damon begins to think of Ellemir as a lover, it is clear that he does not expect her to be virgin.
So young, Ellemir was not. She was old enough to care for this vast Domain when her kinsmen were away at Comyn Council. She must be nearly twenty years old. Old enough to have a lover; old enough, if she chose, to marry. She was Comynara in her own right, and her own mistress.
It may be that Damon's Tower experience has made him less insistent on sexual purity in a potential bride; certainly there are other passages and incidents in the Darkover novels that indicate that a woman who has been raped or who has been sexually involved with a man of a lower social status is often seen as defiled and disgraced. On the other hand, it also appears that a woman who becomes mistress or concubine to a man of higher rank is not, as long as he openly acknowledges her and any children she may have with him.

We also see confirmation of the tradition of group marriage and polyamory that dates from the very beginnings of Darkovan history - at one point Ellemir says "when she [Callista] went to the Tower, and was pledged, I knew we could never, as so many sisters do, share a lover, or husband."

The necessity for the absolute virginity of a Keeper is mentioned several times - an interesting irony since it is these four people, and later the child of one of them, who will prove that such virginity is not necessary at all. Damon tries to explain the tradition of total chastity among Keepers to Andrew:
... it's a matter of nerve energies. People have only so much. You learn to protect your energy currents, how to use them most effectively, how to relax, to safeguard your strength. Well, what uses most human energy? Sex, of course. You can use it, sometimes, to channel energy, but there are limits to that sort of thing. And when you're keyed into the matrix jewels—well, the energy they will carry is limitless, but human flesh and blood and brainwaves can stand only so much. For a man it's fairly simple. You can't overload with sex because if you're too heavily overloaded, you simply can't function sexually at all. Matrix telepaths find that out fairly early in the game. You have to go on short rations of sex if you want to keep enough energy to do your work. For a woman, though, it's easy to, well, to overload. So most of the women have to make up their minds to stay chaste, or else be very, very careful not to key into the more complex matrix patterns. Because it can kill them, very quickly, and it's not a nice death.”
However, the combination of powerful laran and the sensitivity to mesh completely with others that makes a woman so valuable and revered as a Keeper seems to be a liability for a man. Damon suffers from insecurity and concerns about his masculinity so severe that it actually keeps him from being able to allow himself competence in masculine areas such as weapons training because he has been told by Leonie that he could have been a Keeper had he been a woman.
... you are too sensitive, you cannot barricade yourself. Had you been born a woman, in a woman's body,” she added, laying a light hand on his shoulder, “you would have been a Keeper, perhaps one of the greatest. But as a man," faintly, she shrugged—“you would destroy yourself, tear yourself apart. Perhaps, free of the Tower, you may be able to surround yourself with other things, grow less sensitive, less”—she hesitated, groping for the exact word—“less vulnerable. It is for your own good that I send you away, Damon; for your health, for your happiness, perhaps for your very sanity."
This underscores the occasional glimpses seen in this and other of the Darkover novels of a certain degree of contempt shown by Comyn men who have devoted themselves to the Guard or have gained some recognition for weapons skill toward men working in the Towers or lacking inclination or skill to be trained fighters. It is clear that the strict imposition of gender roles impacts men as well as eomen in Darkovan society.

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Darkover Landfall (pub. 1972) is the series' origin story. In this novel, set 2,000 years before contact, a space ship carrying colonists to an established Terran colony is thrown light-years off course by some gravitational anomaly and crash-lands on an uncharted world. The survivors make attempts to repair the ship, but without the ability to recreate the technologies required, even the crew - most of whom are highly resistant to the idea of being planetbound - accept that their only hope is to build a viable colony.

The portrayal of gender roles in this novel is wildly contradictory. There are professional women among both the crew and the colonists, who perform their tasks with competence and autonomy. The society they come from has, at least technically, adopted gender equality - "Do I have to read you the Terran Bill of Rights? No law shall be made or formulated abridging the rights of any human being to equal work regardless of racial origin, religion or sex--" - although we also learn that female colonists are normally required to give up some of this equality for the good of the colony.

Women - at least women on settled planets and in space - appear to have a fair degree of reproductive freedom. Contraception is readily available - indeed, compulsory on shipboard, as FTL flight is apparently harmful to children. While abortion is at one point described as "unthinkable" due to the universal availability of contraception, when it is discovered early on that the standard contraceptives are not working, due to the effects of being on an alien planet, one of the doctors worries "... we've been relying on hormones so long that no one knows much about the prehistoric kind any more. We don't have pregnancy-testing equipment, either, since nobody needs it on a spaceship. Which means if we do get any pregnancies they may be too far advanced for safe abortions before they're even diagnosed!" Later, one of the women who finds herself pregnant feels comfortable in approaching one of the medical staff to request its termination,

However, the attitudes of the men whose viewpoints we are treated to are overwhelmingly chauvinist, to use a phrase that was in common usage when the book was written.

Rafe MacAran, one of several POV characters, on being informed that one of the necessary personnel to accompany him on an exploratory expedition into the nearby mountains is astrogator Camilla Del Ray, protests "May I ask what for?" MacAran said, slightly startled. "Not that she isn't welcome, though it might be a rough trek for a lady. This isn't Earth and those mountains haven't any chairlifts!" Later, after learning two more women will be on the expedition, he thinks "Hell of a way to start a trip! And here he'd been, despite the serious purpose of this mission, excited about actually having a chance to climb an unexplored mountain--only to discover that he had to drag along, not only a female crew member--who at least looked hardy and in good training-but Dr. Lovat, who might not be old but certainly wasn't as young and vigorous as he could have wished, and the delicate-looking Heather." Ironically, MacAran also thinks to himself that he's "no male chauvinist."

As tenuous a concept as gender equality seems to be in this version of the early Terran Empire, it disappears completely under the supposed necessities of establishing a viable colony. Once it is obvious that there will be no way to repair the ship, restrictions on reproductive freedom are imposed based on regulations regarding government-sponsored colonies. When Camilla Del Ray requests an abortion, she is told "Surely you know that in the Colonies abortions are performed only to save a life, or prevent the birth of a grossly defective child, and I'm not even sure we have facilities for that here. A high birth rate is absolutely imperative for at least the first three generations—you surely know that women volunteers aren't even accepted for Earth Expeditionary unless they're childbearing age and sign an agreement to have children?"

Camilla's horrified reaction to being told that she must bear an unwanted child is answered by a patronising set piece that enshrines as "scientific truth" the notion that all women really want babies more than anything else.

"Camilla," Ewen said very gently, "this is biological. Even back in the 20th century, they did experiments on rats and ghetto populations and things, and found that one of the first results of crucial social overcrowding was the failure of maternal behavior. It's a pathology. Man is a rationalizing animal, so sociologists called it "Women's Liberation" and things like that, but what it amounted to was a pathological reaction to overpopulation and overcrowding. Women who couldn't be allowed to have children, had to be given some other work, for the sake of their mental health. But it wears off. Women sign an agreement, when they go to the colonies, to have a minimum of two children; but most of them, once they're out of the crowding of Earth, recover their mental and emotional health, and the average Colony family is four children--which is about right, psychologically speaking. By the time the baby comes, you'll probably have normal hormones too, and make a good mother. If not, well, it will at least have your genes, and we'll give it to some sterile woman to bring up for you. Trust me, Camilla."

Bye, bye, any pretense at gender equality and reproductive autonomy. Of course, it does make sense that a high birth rate and as much genetic diversity as possible would be vital to an isolated community's viability - but can't it be framed in some other fashion than medical authorities and legislators making pronouncements specific to women about forced repeated pregnancies? Why not a general meeting where the issues are discussed and men and women voluntarily agree to contribute as fully as possible to the production of a genetically diverse base population?

Another aspect of sexuality that is a common theme in the Darkover novels is that of polyamory, whether it be the open sexuality of the Towers or the custom of legal concubinage that develops among the Comyn families. In Darkover Landfall, it is the influence of the hallucinogenic pollen from the kirseeth flower that causes several instances of sexual play between multiple partners. However, by the end of the novel, the need for a diverse gene pool means that people are beginning to form polyamorous families and women are bearing children by several men.

Over the course of the series, we see that there are several different views of homosexuality on Darkover. The largest source of homophobic sentiment appears to be found in the teachings of the Cristoforo religious sect. In Darkover Landing, we meet the originator of the Cristoforos, Father Valentine Neville, a Catholic priest of the Order of St. Christoper of Centaurus. In the novel, Father Valentine participates in group sex with six other men while under the influence of kirseeth, and in the fog of recovery, murders the other men because he can't face the enormity of his sin.

The events of Darkover Landfall set the stage for the kind of society that will develop over the next two thousand years on Darkover. The importance of children, the tendency toward polyamorous relationships, the sacrifice of female autonomy to the needs of community survival, the use of matrix jewels to enhance psi ability, relationships between human and non-human inhabitants of the planet - all these will be seen again throughout the series.

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The World Wreckers (pub. 1971) is, in terms of internal chronology, the last book set in post-Contact Darkover written by Bradley alone, without a collaborator. It is a story of catastrophic endings and unlooked-for new beginnings, and is the book that gives us the most information about the original non-human inhabitants of Darkover, the chieri.

Andrea Closson is a world wrecker. For a fee, her company will destroy the economy of a planet, making it easier for her clients to step in and take it over. And she has been hired to damage Darkover so badly that the planet will have to give up its protected status and beg for Terran assistance. Her methods are ruthless. She targets three key resources - forests, soil, and the Darkovan telepaths - with arson, poison and assassination. The irony is that Andrea Closson is a chieri, and the world she is destroying is her home, the telepaths, her distant cousins.

Regis Hastur knows that something is wrong. The Comyn are dying, through illness and assassination, and the people are starving as forest fires and other disasters wreak havoc on Darkover's fragile ecology. Desperate to keep the knowledge of Darkovan matrix sciences alive, Regis offers to teach these sciences to Terran telepaths. The pilot project brings together Darkovans - Regis, his paxman and lover Danilo Syrtis, the elderly Desideria (from Winds of Darkover) and her granddaughter Linnea - and Terrans - David Hamilton, David Connor, and Rondo - and most unexpectedly, two chieri - Keral, one of the last fertile members of a dying race, and Missy, a foundling with no knowledge of her background who has wandered the Terran Empire for centuries, living by her ability to project a powerful femininity but so psychically damaged that she is barren. Supervising the project, which seeks to understand what makes a telepath, is Jason Allison (whom we met in the very first Darkover novel, The Planet Savers).

As matters grow worse, Regis puts out a call to bring together all the telepaths of Darkover - not just those of known Comyn heritage, but anyone with a trace of laran - to form a new Telepath's Council to replace the Comyn Council. Closson sees this as her chance to put an end to all the telepaths of Darkover, and plants a bomb to explode during the Festival of the Four Moons, when her spy within the project, Rondo, has reported that all the telepaths will be celebrating at Comyn Castle.

When the Festival begins, Closson conceals herself nearby, to see the end of the those she thinks of as the usurpers of the place her own people once held. When the remaining chieri teleport into the festival, called by the newly pregnant Keral's joy, Closson's shock allows Rondo, to read her mind and discover her plan. A powerful telekinetic, he calls the bomb to himself and in a desperate attempt to save the others, hurls himself upward, still holding it; the bomb detonates high above the city, and Closson comes out of hiding to face her long-lost kin.

Now knowing that the Darkovans carry the heritage of her own people, Closson puts her knowledge and fortune to work saving Darkover; finally at peace, she dies holding the child of Keral and David Hamilton in her arms.

There is relatively little action in the novel; much of it is focused on a topic Bradley would return to again and again, the link between telepathy and sexuality. This is explored primarily in the relationships between David Connor and Missy, and David Hamilton and Keral. In both cases, there is the added dimension of the androgyny of the chieri, and the complex processes that result in a change from a neutral state - in which the chieri may appear somewhat male, somewhat female, both or neither - to a fertile state in which a male or female state becomes dominant, allowing the chieri either to inseminate or to conceive.

We learn that the chieri are almost extinct because their telepathic sensitivity and its relationship to the biological transformation necessary for reproduction makes it almost impossible for them to reproduce except in an environment of close telepathic bonding. (Many of the Darkovan telepaths also display such a sensitivity, though not to the same degree.) Most historical cases of interbreeding between chieri and human have been the result of a kind of madness and desperation to have a child. Add to this their relatively infrequent cycles of fertility and the fact that there is no guarantee that when a bonded couple both come into a fertile phase, the change will end with one in male phase and the other in female phase.

Many thousands of years ago, the chieri, already seeing the inevitable end of their species, took to space to try and find another species they could be compatible with. Failing to do this, most withdrew to Darkover, let the signs of their civilisation disappear, and prepared to die,leaving the planet to other developing species. Some, like Closson, remained on other worlds. There is a strong indication in the novel that Missy is Closson's child, the product of an episode of madness.

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Continuing with the great MZB re-read project, the next available novel is The Bloody Sun (pub. 1964, rewritten and repub. 1979). MZB did write a Darkover novel between The Planet Savers and The Bloody Sun - Sword of Aldones - but she later withdrew it from publication, including an extensive revision of the material in the later book, Sharra's exile. Sword of Aldones has been out of print for a very long time, and while I'd love to re-read it (having little memory of the original, which I read almost 50 years ago), it's been impossible to find. So... on to The Bloody Sun, which was itself revised from the original 1964 edition, but I've read both versions and the revision retains most of the character of the original.

In The Bloody Sun, Jeff Kerwin Jr, born on Darkover, returns to the planet of his birth to uncover the mystery of his parentage. He learns that he is the son of a former Keeper of Arilinn, Dorilys Aillard, who challenged ancient traditions about the use of laran (psi abilities) and was murdered for it. One of the traditions she challenged was the belief that a Keeper must be an asexual being, virgin in body and untouched by sexual feeling in order to keep her psychic "channels" free of energies that might make her unable to focus the power of a circle of working telepaths through her own mind and body, which is required of a Keeper. Her own background as a child of the "forbidden tower" - a community of polyamorous telepaths, including both high-born Comyn and commoners with laran - had taught her that anyone with sufficient ability, man or woman, could be a Keeper and keep their channels clear with various mental disciplines - rendering the ritual virginity of a Keeper unnecessary. When Kerwin is found to have inherited his mother's laran, he is invited to join one of the few remaining Keeper's circles, at Arilinn, where he falls afoul of all the sexual mores of the Tower community.

Keepers in Darkovan society at the time of Contact are heightened examples of the Madonna/whore split. A Keeper is a totally de-sexed being, presented as pure in mind and body, trained to have no sexual awareness or response. While a Keeper can "give back her oath" and retire from the Towers into an "honourable marriage" with one of her peers, any Keeper who becomes sexually involved outside of such a formal retreat, and especially one who continues to use her laran after asserting her sexuality is seen as a whore, a focal point of lust and depravity, a threat to society. It is interesting that it is only the Keeper - the most powerful of laran-gifted women - must live so completely constrained, either as virgin or as wife, under patriarchal control. Aside from the Keeper, other telepaths in the Towers, men and women, share sexual contact as freely as they do any other gesture of affection.

Taniquel, a powerful empath, offers comfort and healing freely to any of the other telepaths at Arilinn (we only see her interacting sexually with the men, however). When Kerwin joins the Tower circle, he is insecure, in culture shock, and finds that some of the other telepaths, Auster in particular, are hostile to him, Taniquel initiates emotional and sexual connection in an attempt to help integrate him into the community and make him feel better. He interprets this as a love affair and responds with jealousy and anger when she later offers comfort to Auster. From her reaction, and that of the other telepaths, to his slutshaming, it is clear that Tower women who are not Keepers are seen to have full sexual autonomy. Unlike the Keepers, they are free to have sex when and with whoever they choose, and Nyrissa confirms that Tower women are free to bear children by whoever they choose within the Tower community - attitudes at odds with the role of women outside of the Towers, where marriage or concubinage are the cultural norm for women, and where men control the lives, finances, fertilty and sexuality of their wives (with one strange exception, the Comyn-caste Ailliard family, where women hold political power).

We also see something of gender politics among the Terrans in The Bloody Sun, in the regulations regarding marriage between Imperial citizens and "native" women. This passage seems to sum things up:
The Empire Civil Service consists largely of single men; few Terran women care to accompany their men halfway across the Galaxy. This means that on every planet liaisons with native women, both formal and informal, are taken for granted. To avoid endless complications with various planetary governments, the Empire makes a very clear distinction. An Empire citizen may marry any woman, on any planet, by the laws of her own world and her own customs; it is a matter between the individual Terran, the woman, her family, and the laws under which she lives. The Empire has no part in it. Whether the marriage is formal or informal, temporary or permanent, or no marriage at all, is a matter for the private ethical and moral standards of the parties involved. And that man is carried as single on the Records of the Empire, making such provision for his wife as he privately chooses; although he may, if he wishes, file for citizenship for any child of the marriage, and obtain certain privileges for him.... But if he chooses to register the marriage through Terran records, or signs any Empire document speaking of any native woman on any world, legally, as his wife, she is so in fact.
It appears MZB's conceptualisation of the gender roles in the Terran Empire at this point is of a society where men do things and "their women" follow them - consistent with real life in Western society in the early 60s. While she has been able to imagine a particular subculture in which women (at least, women from the Comyn families with laran who choose the life of the Towers) are viewed as autonomous individuals with useful skills who own their bodies and their sexuality (as long as the virgin Keeper gives up hers completely), she cannot at this stage in her writing create a human society in which women are free and equal.
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It felt like time for another re-read of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels - or at least some of them. This desire to re-read the Darkover novels Is a craving that grabs onto me every once in a while. I grew up reading this series. I wrote endless fanfic that no one else has ever seen based on these books. They inspired me.

I don't remember which was the first Darkover book that I read. It was probably either The Bloody Sun, or Star of Danger, or maybe The Planet Savers. Of course, some are more close to me than others - the Free Amazon trilogy and The Forbidden Tower are probably the ones that are my favourites.

This time I decided to skip the pre-Contact novels (except for Darkover Landfall, of course) and just do the ones that deal with Darkover in its various stages of relationship with the Terran Empire. After reading the first couple of books, I began to notice that even in some of the earliest books, gender roles, assumptions and politics were major issues, and thus was formed my specific focus for this re-reading - gender and sexuality. The order in which I re-read the novels was based on internal chronology, but I'll be making my comments based on publication order.

The Planet Savers (pub. 1958, repub. 1962) was the very first of the Darkover novels written, but it is set relatively late in the post-recontact sequence. It introduces many of the standard elements of Darkovan life - from the presence of non-human sentient life (in this case, the trailmen) to the legendary status of the Hasturs (in the person of the young Regis Hastur). There's a "free Amazon," Kyra, Jason Allison, a Terran raised on Darkover among the trailmen (especially in the books written early on, MZB often includes one or more of these transcultural people - Darkovan-born Terrans, Darkovans raised partly on Earth), Rafe Scott (a name we will hear again) and assorted other characters, both Terran and Darkovan.

What brings them together is a threatened outbreak of the 48-year fever (something MZB seems to have dropped later on) - a disease common and relatively minor among trailmen, which breaks out into the human population every 48 years, decimating them. As we are told in the largely expository first chapter, “We Terrans have a Trade compact on Darkover for a hundred and fifty-two years. The first outbreak of this 48-year fever killed all but a dozen men out of three hundred. The Darkovans were worse off than we were. The last outbreak wasn't as bad, but it was bad enough, I've heard. It had an eighty-seven percent mortality— for humans, that is. I understand the Trailmen don't die of it.”

In an attempt to stave off the next outbreak, due in five months, the Hasturs have asked the Terrans for help in finding a cure for the fever, on return for training Terran telepaths in their matrix sciences. Together, the Terrans and Darkovans have decided to mount an expedition into the territory of the trailmen, hoping to persuade them to provide blood samples that will help the Terrans synthesise a vaccine.

Unfortunately, the best person on paper to lead the expedition - Dr. Jason (Jay) Allison, displays all the signs of being a latent multiple personality. As a child, Jason was lost in the Hellers when the plane he and his father were in crashed. His father died but he was taken in by trailmen and raised among them until he was 15, when they brought him out of the Hellers to return to his own kind. Jason worked as a mountain guide for some years, then began to study medicine. At some point, the open, gregarious, risk-taking Jason began to metamorphise into Jay, a rigid, logical, scientist who no longer remembered his life among the trailmen. Persuaded that, as the only human known to have lived among the trailmen, and the only human to have survived the fever, his repressed memories are vital to the mission, Jay agrees to undergo treatment to bring out his younger self so Jason can lead the expedition.

There are difficulties of course - the Hellers are hard to traverse, they are attacked by a band of female trailmen living outside of the Nests, and there is reluctance on the part of the leader of the Nest Jason was raised in to allow volunteers among his people to risk their lives in the lowlands for the sake of humans. But Jason and Regis together persuade him, and everything ends well - for Regis, as a telepath, has figured out Jason's secret, that he is a repressed fragment of Jay Allison's personality, and he has the skill to integrate the two fragments into one person in balance.

In this, the earliest of the Darkovan novels, we see little of the exploration of gender roles and sexuality that will become so significant a focus in later novels. Indeed, there is only one woman in the main cast of characters, and while she's independent and competent and plucky and assures Jason that she's trained as a free Amazon not to stir up trouble in a team that's all-male except for her, there is sone element of competition for her between Jason and Rafe. And of course she ends up as the hero's ladyprize, despite her feistyness.

We also learn that among the trailmen, unattached women are not permitted in Nests. When a woman of the trailfolk becomes adult, she is exiled from her home and must not enter a Nest until some male tracks her down and claims her. Because there are more female trailfolk than male, some trailmen have multiple mates, and some trailwomen live their entire lives in the forests, unclaimed by males. Some of these aspects of Trailfolk sexual culture will be seen later to have analogues among the humans of Darkover.

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Samuel Delany's memoir, The Motion of Light in Water: East Village Sex and Science Fiction Writing 1960-1965, is as much an exploration of memory and the processes of representation of both memory and thought as it is traditional (or rather, non-traditional) memoir. As Jo Walton says in her review,
The first time I read The Motion of Light in Water, Delany had been one of my favourite writers for at least ten years, but in that time I had known almost nothing about him. I remember going “Wow” a lot the first time through. I was expecting an autobiography that covered 1960-1965 to talk about how he wrote the spectacular early novels, and it does, and wow. But also wow, he’s black, wow, he’s gay, wow, he’s dyslexic and most of all, wow, in writing an autobiography he’s examining the entire concept of what it’s possible to remember and retell. This isn’t a memoir like Pohl’s The Way the Future Was which is essentially a charming retelling of fascinating anecdotes. This is a memoir that questions the very possibility of memoir, a memoir that makes you feel as if you’ve been turned upside-down and the contents of your brain and your pockets have all fallen out and been rearranged in different places. It questions the concept of memory and the way we remember and rearrange and reassess, and the way we make our own lives into stories. [1]
Delany begins by talking about his father's death - an event which falls near the beginning of the chronological period covered by the memoir. It's clearly significant moment for him - but as soon as he has penned the story, he speaks of the unreliability of his memory of it, of how in a later set of biographical notes prepared for researchers writing about his work, the factual details he includes about this event are incorrect, even to the age he remembers he was and the year in which his father died.

Having made this initial point about the unreliable narrator - a theme he refers back to and riffs upon throughout the work - Delany proceeds with his story, which is that of selected incidents in the life of a young gay (although not yet identifying as such despite an awareness of homosexual desire since early adolescence) black (but just light enough to pass sometimes as white) middle-class man growing up in New York who wanted to be a scientist but became a writer, who married young because of a pregnancy from his first heterosexual experience with a gifted young poet, Marilyn Hacker (who miscarried shortly after their marriage).

Delany is frank in discussing all aspects of his life - emotional, intellectual, creative, sexual. He and Marilyn had an open marriage, in which both had other relationships with men and women, sometimes sharing lovers, and for a period of time living in a triad with a young working class man. Their friendship and shared intellectual delight in literature was ultimately not sufficient to make their marriage work for them, and the memoir ends with Delany, having turned in the manuscript of his classic novel Babel-17, leaving Marilyn in New York as he heads off to spend seven months in Europe.

There is so much packed into this narrative - not just the key elements of Delany's life and his development as one of the great writers of his time, but also social history, sociological observation, meditations on race, gender, intimacy, commitment and representation... It's a rich and valuable work.

True to his argument that memory is fluid and personal, Delany intersperses his recollections with selections from Marilyn's poems written at the time, thus declining to privilege either his memories or his chosen mode of expressing them. As he notes at one point, after a section of the memoir in which he attempts to record every detail he remembers,
But no simple, sensory narrative can master what it purports—whether it be a hitchhiking trip to Texas or the memories that remain from such a trip twenty-five years later. That age-old philosophical chestnut, the Problem of Representation (in its twin forms, the Problem of Verification and the Problem of Exhaustiveness) makes mastery as such a non-problem, with no need of haute théorie. Theodore Sturgeon’s fine insight is perhaps germane here: the best writing does not reproduce—or represent—the writer’s experience at all. Rather it creates an experience that is entirely the reader’s, forged and fashioned wholly from her or his knowledge, of her or his memories, by her or his ideology and sensibility, and demonstrably different for each—but which (according to the writer’s skill) is merely as meaningful (though not necessarily meaningful in the same way) as the writer’s, merely as vivid.
As Constant Reader is surely aware, Samuel Delany is one of the writers I have the highest regard for, and whose works I consider to have had a significant influence on my own development. Reading his thoughts about his life at the time he was writing the early works that influenced me the most was a fascinating experience. I'm thinking that once I finish my Hugo reading, I need to revisit those books.


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The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure, is a collection of essays about the making, enjoying and understanding of feminist porn edited by Tristan Taormino, Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Constance Penley, and Mireille Miller-Young.

Anyone familiar with the history of the "sex wars" knows that pornography is one of several divisive issues in the area of sexuality that has been, and continues to be, hotly debated among feminists. (Personal disclosure: my own positions during the wars were, and continue to be, primarily what has been labeled as "sex-positive.)

In their introduction, the editors state that
The Feminist Porn Book offers arguments, facts, and histories that cannot be summarily rejected, by providing on-the-ground and well-researched accounts of the politics of producing pleasure. Our agenda is twofold: to explore the emergence and significance of a thriving feminist porn movement, and to gather some of the best new feminist scholarship on pornography. By putting our voices into conversation, this book sparks new thinking about the richness and complexity of porn as a genre and an industry in a way that helps us to appreciate the work that feminists in the porn industry are doing, both in the mainstream and on its countercultural edges.
The introduction goes on to discuss the concept of feminist porn and the editors' framework for examining it.
Feminist porn is a genre and a political vision. And like other genres of film and media, feminist porn shares common themes, aesthetics, and goals even though its parameters are not clearly demarcated. Because it is born out of a feminism that is not one thing but a living, breathing, moving creation, it is necessarily contested—an argument, a polemic, and a debate. Because it is both genre and practice, we must engage it as both: by reading and analyzing its cultural texts and examining the ideals, intentions, and experiences of its producers. In doing so, we offer an alternative to unsubstantiated oversimplifications and patronizing rhetoric. We acknowledge the complexities of watching, creating, and analyzing pornographies. And we believe in the radical potential of feminist porn to transform sexual representation and the way we live our sexualities.
Contributors to the collection include such stalwart defenders of women's right to experience sexual pleasure as Betty Dodson and Suzie Bright, and pioneering creators of women-identified pornography such as Nina Hartley and Candida Royalle, as well as a range of other pornographers, academics and feminist thinkers. The politics of porn as it exists in the mainstream porn industry and the ways in which feminist porn aims at creating new power dynamics in the production and distribution of porn, and a new feminist aesthetic in the product itself, are examined from various standpoints. The authors of these essays and personal narratives look at such issues as gender expectations, race, means of production and distribution, body image politics, authenticity in representation of sexuality, queer, genderqueer and trangender images and representations, and more.

While problematic aspects of porn, even feminist porn, are acknowledged and discussed, the focus here is on porn as a medium and a message of positive sexual pleasure in which sexuality of all kinds, not just the male and heteronormative, is celebrated. As Nina Hartley points out in her essay, "Unlike Hollywood tropes, in which the “transgressive” woman must meet a horrible fate for crossing some invisible line, at the end of a porn movie the woman has had orgasms and lives to tell the tale. There are no Anna Kareninas or Emma Bovarys in porn."

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Lisa Diamond is an Associate Professor at the University of Utah and a self-identified feminist scientist. Her primary field of research lies in the realm of the psychological and biobehavioral processes underlying intimate relationships and their influence on emotional experience and functioning over the life course. Her book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire discusses her results of some of her research in this area.

Diamond begins with an overview of current prevailing assumptions about love and desire - "that an individual’s sexual predisposition for the same sex or the other sex is an early-developing and stable trait that has a consistent effect on that person’s attractions, fantasies, and romantic feelings over the lifespan." She goes on to note that these assumptions are largely based on male experience because most research into sexuality has been conducted on men and adds that new research (including her own) conducted with women suggests that there is another dimension to sexuality in addition to such elements as identity and orientation, and that this dimension - sexual fluidity - is considerably more marked among women.
Sexual fluidity, quite simply, means situation-dependent flexibility in women’s sexual responsiveness. This flexibility makes it possible for some women to experience desires for either men or women un- der certain circumstances, regardless of their overall sexual orienta- tion. In other words, though women—like men—appear to be born with distinct sexual orientations, these orientations do not provide the last word on their sexual attractions and experiences. Instead, women of all orientations may experience variation in their erotic and affectional feelings as they encounter different situations, relationships, and life stages.
Looking at differences in men and women, she posits that the process by which sexual orientation is formed is different in men and women. In discussing the formation of sexual orientation in general, she argues that it arises from a combination of biological and cultural factors - that biology (genetics and other biological factors) create the predisposition for one or another orientation, but that culture plays a significant part in determining whether and how that predisposition is expressed. Introducing the role of sexual fluidity in this process, she argues that
... sexual fluidity should strengthen situationally influenced pathways to female same-sex sexuality, it should correspondingly dilute—but not completely cancel out—the overall evidence for biological contributions to female sexuality. The evidence for biological contributions to male same-sex sexuality, in contrast, should be stronger and more consistent.
It is currently accepted that the various pathways to the development of a same-sex orientation differ in their effects on males and females, and there is often lower correlation between existence of a biological marker and development of a same-sex orientation in women; further, expression of a same-sex orientation also differs in males and females.
For example, whereas many gay men recall childhoods characterized by gender-atypicality, feelings of “differentness,” and early same-sex attractions, fewer les- bian/bisexual women recall such experiences. Women also show greater variability than men in the age at which they first become aware of same-sex attractions, first experience same-sex fantasies, first consciously question their sexuality, first pursue same-sex sexual contact, and first identify as lesbian or bisexual.
Diamond is careful to distinguish sexual orientation, sexual identity and sexual fluidity.
Fluidity can be thought of as an additional component of a woman’s sexuality that operates in concert with sexual orientation to influence how her attractions, fantasies, behaviors, and af- fections are experienced and expressed over the life course. Fluidity implies not that women’s desires are endlessly variable but that some women are capable of a wider variety of erotic feelings and experiences than would be predicted on the basis of their self-described sexual orientation alone.
In particular, she distinguishes between the influence of sexual fluidity on sexual behaviour and the experiences associated with a bisexual identity:
By now, it should be clear that though the concept of fluidity overlaps with the phenomenon of bisexuality (since fluidity, by definition, makes nonexclusive attractions possible), they are not the same things. Whereas bisexual- ity can be conceived as a consistent pattern of erotic responses to both sexes, manifested in clear-cut sexual attractions to men and women (albeit not necessarily to the same degrees), possessing a potential for nonexclusive attractions (or, as we have seen, finding the “idea” of same-sex contact appealing even if you currently have no same-sex desires) is clearly different.
Diamond's own research is, of course, the centerpiece of the book. She discusses in considerable detail her 10 year longitudinal study with women who identified as one of the following: lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, or "unlabled."

In general, the conclusions Diamond draws from her research suggest several distinct differences from the generally assumed theories (i.e., theories based primarily on research among male subjects) of the construction of sexual identity and the patterns of sexual behaviour. Diamond's findings suggest that sexual fluidity in women:

1. results in a greater tendency toward changes in sexual identity
2. leads to increased willingness to acknowledge the potential for future change in their attractions and relationships as they age.
3. leads to a greater prevalence of nonexclusivity - the possibility that they might experience attractions to or relationships with both sexes.
4. implies that early sexual experiences do not predict later ones.

It is important to note that Diamond is not equating the potential for change in identity with voluntary or external influences; she points out that change does not imply choice or control. She is careful to show that the findings of her research into sexual fluidity do not suggest or support any of the following interpretations:

1. that all women/people are bisexual
2. that there is no such thing as sexual orientation
3. that sexual orientation is a conscious choice
4. that sexual orientation can be changed either by personal intention or external influence such as reparative therapy

Following several initial chapters devoted to summarising her research and how her theory of sexual fluidity explains the differences between what women experience in terms of sexual identity formation and sexual behavior, and what current theories predict, Diamond goes on to explore her findings and their implications for the study of sexuality, particularly the sexuality of women, in greater depth.

I must say that as a woman who has identified as bisexual for most of her adult life, after an adolescent period of identifying as a lesbian, much of what Diamond theorises feels "right" in examining my own identity changes, attractions and sexual experiences. Whether this will be true for other women is a question to be answered by time and further research into women's sexuality.
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Jennifer Pelland, Machine

Celia is dying from a disease that current medical science cannot cure. But in Celia's time, she has a choice, albeit a controversial one, with many strictures and controls. While she waits for a cure to be discovered, her failing body of flesh is frozen, while her consciousness is transferred into that of a bioform artificial body. What follows is a thoughtful investigation of identity, the connection between body and mind, gender, otherness, and power-over. Is Celia still Celia, or is there more to us than our thoughts, feelings and memories? And if she is, then who is Celia now that she is in a body of artificial construction that can be modified in appearance, colour, in gender (male, female, both, neither). Is she human, or less, or more - or simply other? And how do others see and understand her existence in this new form? Pelland tells a dark story here, with no easy answers - but I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Johanna Sinisalo, Birdbrain

One might call Birdbrain an ecological horror story. The main narrative follows two people, one an experienced and possibly over-confident cross-country hiker, the other a novice, as they tackle one of the most difficult trails in Australia. The two are lovers, recently met and not fully bonded. The account of their journey is interspersed with brief passages from the thoughts of an increasingly disturbed and violent urban youth and excerpts from Conrad's Heart of Darkness. As the book - and the hikers' journey - progresses, so does the sense of a subtle and increasingly intelligent volition running through the natural world the hikers traverse, one that is not kindly disposed toward the humans who have invaded its deepest recesses, leaving behind destruction and debris.

Karen Lord, Redemption in Indigo

A first novel from a writer to watch out for. As much about storytelling as it is about telling a story, the narrative line of the novel is based on a Senegalese folk tale of a woman chosen by the trickster spirit to carry the magical Chaos Stick, recently taken away from a powerful indigo-skinned spirit who misused its power, but wants it back and will try anything necessary to get it. Both learn important lessons from their interaction. Beautifully written.

Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death

It's hard to know exactly what to say about Okorafor's first novel for adults. It's powerful. It's unsettling. It's amazing. It's not easy to understand. It's a magical mystery quest with a strong female protagonist who has a great task to perform, and a terrible destiny to fulfill. It adresses uncomfortable, unconscionable things like genocide, rape as a systematic weapon of war, female genital mutilation. It's about revenge, and renewal. It examines ways of finding strength in female friendships and ways of finding balance between heterosexual lovers. It's about overcoming prejudice and following your path, reconstructing your past and accepting your future.

It's something you really have to read to understand, and something you really ought to read because understanding what it has to say is important.


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