How To Suppress Women’s Writing

This week I saw the second instance I’ve seen of someone claiming that the Ancillary series by Ann Leckie is not science fiction. I’ve already ranted on this blog about how ridiculous it is to dismiss these novels for their choice of pronouns, but this is an even sillier tactic. It takes place in space! Where people talk to aliens and travel through gateways! The main character is a sentient ship! But nope, not sci-fi, nothing to see here.

In the most recent issue of Uncanny Magazine, Annalee Flower Horne and Natalie Luhrs make the case that these are all techniques long ago outlined in Joanna Russ’s work on How to Suppress Women’s Writing. The article is great (like all of this issue!!) and really worth a read.

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Paprika: the rapey novel, not the spice

TLDR; conceptually interesting, but those concepts are not realized until the second half. Also, major trigger warning.

Paprika, a novel by prolific Japanese sci-fi author Yasutaka Tsutsui, is about the invention of a device to access others’ dreams. The protagonists and villains are doctors who work on psychological disorders at a cutting-edge clinic. Using the new device, they can watch a patient’s dreams and help diagnose and cure the patient’s neuroses. Of course, someone quickly realizes the power that one could wield with such a tool, as well as the fun sexual uses it could be put to, and thus conflict is introduced.

The book begins when workers at the clinic who had access to the device begin to suddenly go mad. The cause of the madness seems like it is intended to be a mystery, but the writing quickly ruins any suspense. Within a few pages a certain doctor Osanai is behaving so shadily that the reader instantly knows he is responsible for the attacks. The protagonists, meanwhile, wonder about it for another 100 pages or so while the reader has ceased to care. All potential points of interest are dismissed in this fashion. Why is this other fellow acting so villainous? No use wondering for long, because soon someone remembers his entire backstory in one quick paragraph, tidily handing him a motive. When a powerful, new version of the device, the DC Mini, goes missing and the characters urgently need to find it, they muse about where it is but don’t actively search for it. No need; when the time is right one of them just finds it in a pocket where they had placed it and forgotten it.

It’s a shame that a book about the amazing ability to enter another person’s dreams spends over half of its text with mysteries that never have a chance to be mysterious and boring anxieties about who is offending whom in the Japanese workplace. The second half finally indulges in the possibilities the technology offers. Part 2 opens with the history of a strange European sex cult and then launches into a long series of chases through nightmares, with all of the fantasy and physics-defiance that the reader had long been waiting for. The writing is still shoddy, but there is enough distracting action to make it delightful nonetheless.

There is one aspect to the book that I know some would describe as being independent of its literary merits, but which has a significant impact on whether or not I am able to enjoy a book. I know that I am not the only one in this. This aspect is rape. Rape here, rape there, rape everywhere. The rape in this book is unique in that the violence is not the horrifying aspect; rather, it is written such that the main female character, Dr. Atsuko/Paprika, more often than not semi-consents to the rape, as paradoxical as that sounds. In one instance, she even insists that she needs to be raped to save her life. Discussing this with others, we could not decide if literally asking for rape even qualified as rape anymore, but that’s how it is described within the novel. The book devolves into hentai on more occasions than the narrative requires and if I wasn’t reading it for review I would have stopped at the first disgusting ecchi-fanboy moment. And that’s not even getting into the other questionable decisions the author made in regards to how he portrays Dr. Atsuko, such as the fact that despite being a Nobel-nominated scientist, all people care about is her vagina and how she looks.

Despite my reservations about this novel, I know there are several people out there who would enjoy it, like people who read Palhaunik for his edginess. The chase scenes are fun, the science is fantastic, but the book is horribly, horribly flawed.