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The Silence of the GirlsThe Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I wasn't completely sure whether to give this one 4 or 5 stars, but finally settled on 5 for its sheer emotional power. Yes, there is rather modern British dialogue & slang (but, hey, we already know the PBS Roman Empire speaks British English, why not the ancient Greeks?). Yes, it is occasionally disconcerting when the plot shifts viewpoints between Briseis (first person) and her captor Achilles (third person). And even at the end, I was never completely sure who Briseis was telling her tale to. Other than me, of course.

However, none of this mattered while I was reading this very different, very lovely, & very brutal take on the Trojan War. This is war from the captive's view, and not just any captive. Briseis, a young royal woman from a Trojan city, was Achilles' personal prize -- and the the cause of his refusal to fight after Agamemnon took her away. Most of the novel is told from her POV, and it's every bit as harsh (& conflicted) as you'd imagine. Although Barker never gets gratuitously graphic, there's no question here about what happens to women in war.

If you've read the Iliad, you know the plot already. What matters here -- other than some breathtaking writing every so often -- is how women, mostly enslaved, figured into that plot. And how some men were decent in spite of the situation, and how many weren't.

Recommended (strongly) for Mary Renault fans, and anyone else looking for a different view of classical war. Or, probably, war as it still is.





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half the sky
is half the stars
alien sisters

-- Ann K. Schwader


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Women%27s_Day
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Women & Power: A ManifestoWomen & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a short (novella-length) volume compiled from two lectures the author presented during the London Review of Books Winter Lecture series. It has been enhanced by a number of good illustrations (if you're a Kindle reader, as I am, try it on a tablet for more enjoyment) plus an excellent set of end notes & references.

Beard spends much of the book (both lectures) examining why & how women have been told to shut up -- or expected to shut up, or made to shut up -- in the public sphere. Her argument is based primarily on classical references, and might or might not apply to non-Western cultures. However, it is depressingly effective. The second half of the book extends this argument to recent politics (pre-2016 election) and online situations.

Aside from Beard's suggestion that Athena did not have a mother (she did: the Titan Metis), I had little trouble with her logic. This is a necessarily brief overview of a timely topic -- though at full hardcover price, which is why there are libraries.




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There’s been a certain amount of discussion on LJ lately about a dearth of older characters – particularly older female characters – in SF/F. To add a more hopeful note, I’d like to recommend Episode 379 of Tony C. Smith’s venerable StarShipSofa podcast. The Main Fiction – “Neighbours,” by Megan Lindholm / Robin Hobb – is one of the best things I’ve read or heard in this category in a very long time.

Find it here, but be sure to have some Kleenex handy when you listen. Trust me on this.

Also from the Sofa, in Episode 377, is a brilliant segment of Looking Back on Genre History. Dr. Amy H. Sturgis [livejournal.com profile] eldritchhobbit offers the first of a series of articles on the considerable contributions of Mary Shelley & her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. This monthly segment is always well worth the time spent listening, but anyone interested in women’s history (hey, it’s still Women’s History Month!) , SF history, or both shouldn’t miss this one. Find it here.

As usual, these episodes are also available for free on iTunes & elsewhere.
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The Priestess and the SlaveThe Priestess and the Slave by Jenny Blackford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


(Disclaimer: I received a free audio copy of this novella, in exchange for an honest review.)

Listening to this short novel felt like time-traveling to a new and different version of Greece in the 5th century BC: a version where women actually matter. Focusing on the lives of the Delphic Pythia Thrasulla (early in the century) and the Athenian house slave Harmonia (much later), the braided narrative offers readers a remarkably accurate and entertaining glimpse into everyday life at this critical period.

The heroines’ individual stories are not earth-shattering, but they are suspenseful within the limits of women’s lives in classical Greece. They are also immediately engaging, with so much rich detail that I found myself “rewinding” the audio at numerous points. Fans of Mary Renault and similar authors will appreciate the seamless blending of research and plot. No expository lumps interfered with my enjoyment of Blackford’s clear style.

The author holds a degree in Classics, and has provided a helpful list of additional reading for those who want to delve deeper. The audio narrative by Hollie Jackson is graceful and appropriate for both characters.




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The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient CodeThe Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code by Margalit Fox

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a highly readable introduction to one of archaeology's most notable mysteries, the "Minoan" script known as Linear B.

Journalist Margalit Fox -- who is also a linguist -- organizes her narrative into three biographical sections. The first covers Victorian archaeologist Arthur Evans, who first discovered the script. The second (and possibly most fascinating) deals with Brooklyn College classicist Alice Kober, who did the lioness's share of sorting out the intricacies of Linear B before her untimely death in 1950. The last features English architect Michael Ventris, the gifted/obsessed amateur who finally deciphered the script in 1952. An epilogue to this final section explains what Linear B actually reveals about the civilization that used it.

Fox also provides a clear listing of the signs of Linear B (a few of which are still mysteries!), plus comprehensive references and notes. Her prose is clear and engaging, and she has a talent for storytelling sadly lacking in much nonfiction. I found a few of the more technical sections on sorting out the script tough going, but that may reflect my own lack of background.

Readers interested in ancient Greece, archaeology, code-breaking, or women's history might all find this book well worth their time.












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what girls learn

from a bullet

Swat autumn

 

 

             (for Malala Yousufzai)

             -- Ann K. Schwader

   

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Anyone interested in science/SF poetry, proto-SF, and/or women's history should definitely check out [livejournal.com profile] eldritchhobbit 's most recent Fact Article: Looking Back Into Genre History on the StarShipSofa podcast, Aural Delights #123. 

This month's article discusses Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne . . . who hung out with the Royal Society of London, wrote poetry about atoms, penned a whole novel about an alien world -- and did all of this back in the seventeenth century.   She even signed her name to her writings, which was Simply Not Done -- at least, not by most women.

I like to think of myself as an SF poet, and I'm not sure I'd even heard of Margaret Cavendish before.  (Blush.)




 
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In honor of International Women's Day -- and my own fascination with archaeology involving women -- here's a link to Archaeology.org's online feature article about a "Dynasty of Priestesses" in Iron Age Crete.

This feature is less a single article than a fascinating collection of articles, interviews, videos, and links related to the necropolis of Orthi Petra at Eleutherna on the island of Crete.   The possible priestesses were found in pithos (large ceramic jar) burials. 

I could add something here about a well-urned rest, but discretion is the better part of blogging . . . 

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