Book Received–March 25

Jeff VanderMeer • March 25th, 2008 @ 9:31 am • Book Reviews

One book received, ELOM, and that appears to be enough, as it’s described as Clan of the Cave Bear meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I would describe it, no matter how well written it might be, as probably Not For Me. Press release reads in part “What if alien abductions really do exist. What if they’ve been happening throughout mankind’s entire history? Why did they happen so long ago, and who was responsible?” In describing ELOM, the author, a former politician, says, “My book’s saying, wait a minute, we really don’t know where we came from, why we’re here. I’m not saying that [all the religions] aren’t right, I’m just saying, ‘well, maybe it’s this way. What if?’”

This is why I love press releases. They get writers to say silly things in the service of the book. Raise your hand if you’ve suddenly said to yourself, “Hey, man, wait a minute, what if there were lots of alien abductions during pre-historical times! That would change everything.” Well, you might’ve, but you were probably high at the time.

One reason I say the book isn’t for me, although don’t be surprised if I offer it up in Amazon coverage to those to whom it might be more palatable, has to do with the opening paragraphs:

At first the appearance of the blood had startled Geerna; now she smiled to herself as she thought about it. It had been the number of days spanning the time between the risings of two full moons since the criimson liquid first trickled down the inside of her leg–a signal of the onset of her womanhood. The Earth Mother had Touched her a second time with the Flowing of the Blood a moon cycle later; now, as she huddled in the Quary Hut, she felt the uncomfortable wetness of her third Flowing of the Blood.

Her mother, Zera, had assured her the great Earth Mother, Shetow, would soon give her the blessed sign. Even with her mother’s promise, it still frightened Geerna when she first felt the warm, sticky liquid and lifted her deer-pelt skirt to see the bright red symbol of the Earth Mother’s Touch. To her surprise, her first thought was of pride in being Touched by Shetow before Kara, her closest friend. Geerna smiled and then yelled her good news to Kara before dartinng off to find Zera, who was digging up fresh kasa roots with the other women of the tribe.

I think you can see why I might recommend it to Amazon readers, in that the writing itself is pretty good–descriptive, etc.–even though I personally hate prehistoric novels for the most part.

But my immediate negative reaction–my personal taste indicator flashing orange–is not really that there’s a whole couple of pages about Geerna’s period…Okay, yes it is, but let me assure you, if there was a male equivalent to a woman’s period, and some author spent the first couple of pages talking about it, I would not be happy about that, either. However, it really does go beyond that. First of all, it seems like a lot of these prehistoric novels have to focus on this subject in a way that doesn’t really serve much purpose. I.e., I don’t see it as that important to the plot–or, at least, by this time, it’s a cliche. I also don’t think the paragraphs above reflect a prehistoric point of view. I think that this event would actually be a non-event in a community that would be much more physical and earthy to begin with.

Me, as a male writer, I’d never write a passage like the above one, and I can’t tell you exactly why. It’s kind of a gut feeling. But I’m curious to get some reactions to this and whether I’m either reflecting some male bias in my comments or what. Feel free to pile it on. Today, I’m made of teflon!

17 Responses to “Book Received–March 25”

  1. Luí­s Rodrigues says:

    “My book’s saying, wait a minute, we really don’t know where we came from, why we’re here. I’m not saying that [all the religions] aren’t right, I’m just saying, ‘well, maybe it’s this way. What if?’”

    Unfortunately, I already read Erich von Däniken.

  2. matt says:

    HA HA HA HAAA! Luis, that’s awesome!

  3. Megan says:

    That’s a lot of capitalized words in a short space.

  4. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Yes, yes it is…But this is nothing like a formal review. I’ve read the press release and the first few pages. It’s difficult when something just seems to hit all of your blind spots at once.

    jeff

  5. Alex D M says:

    Speaking as a woman, I’m not interested in reading paragraphs about a woman’s/girl’s first period either. Which isn’t to say that all authors are incapable of making this event be a meaningful one for the character, or of managing to write it in a way that doesn’t make me simultaneously laugh and wince; and there probably are (or could be) societies where it’s very significant. But it’s not working for me in this scene. I think you’re right to say that it would probably be a non-event in this community.

    Nor am I keen on the Meaningful Capitalisations of Some words.

  6. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Yeah–on that first point, I didn’t think so. It strikes me that you should have a darn good reason for having scenes like that. It’s almost like it throws the balance of the story off–the stuff that would be in the background usually shoved up to the front.

    JV

  7. Lane says:

    I had a similar reaction upon seeing Drinkard on numerous panels a weekend or so back. Being my first convention (it was within 10 minutes of my place), and Drinkard being a local writer, I really wanted to like his book, but mother goddesses? Opening with menstruation? I guess I suffer from that male bias too.
    Drinkard seemed like a nice guy, this is his first book and he was really excited to meet other authors, but he seemed unaware of how cliched his ideas were (or at least seemed to me). When he talked about the menstrual cycle as rite of passage or envisioning how different a female-deistic society would be from our male-deistic one, I felt really bad about rolling my eyes.

  8. Felix Gilman says:

    opening with two pages about prehistoric menstruation is weak, yes

    but what if the author committed fully to the theme, and produced an entire 550-page novel about nothing but prehistoric menstruation, all with the minute obsessive physical attention of Nicholson Baker or John Updike?

    I think you would have to agree it would become awesome through sheer force of repetition around page 200, if not sooner

    you can steal this idea, I don’t mind

  9. Blue Tyson says:

    Clan of the Cave Bear meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Urk.

    Super smart horny prehistoric girl’s kid stolen to compete in intergalactic Simon Says tournament?

  10. Alex D M says:

    > It’s almost like it throws the balance of the story off–the stuff that would be in the background usually shoved up to the front.

    And especially when it’s the opening scene. More than anything, I find it dull. It’s like writing an opening scene that dwells on going to the bathroom; okay, so periods aren’t as frequent, but they’re about as exciting. I don’t have a problem with reading about societies where periods are more significant, but surely there are more interesting first scenes that could inform the reader of the society’s nature.

  11. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Yeah–I agree, re writing an opening scene about going to the bathroom. It’s also kind of repetitious, even in those first paragraphs.

    And I go back to trying to convey a truly alien viewpoint, which is what a novel set in certain time periods should be doing. Peter S. Beagle’s Folk of the Air is great in that regard, when Medieval knights come through a hole in time and into an anachronistic fair…and they’re so different in their outlook that they might as well be from outer space.

    Jeff

  12. Andrew says:

    Who is the publisher? Just curious.

  13. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    It’s Tor.
    Jeff

  14. Bob Lock says:

    Ack!
    So you reckon my next sf/sff story which begins with a young boy’s strange phenomena of male menstruation entitled ‘The Blooded Weapon or A Ritual Alternative to the Oedipal Transition’ is a no no then?
    *sigh* back to the drawing board…*

  15. Kathy S says:

    While I have no particular objections to menstruation scenes, this one suffers from transposition of a distinctly modern US/Western attitude, ie the character’s pride in getting her period before her friend. I mean, it could be accurate, but it rings false to me for some reason — much like the notion of romantic love in the same context would.

  16. Blue Tyson says:

    If that is a Martiniere cover, the Emerald Empress should totally hire him if she redecorates.

  17. Zak says:

    The first thing that I notice is that Geerna is all clockwork regular which strikes me as odd both for it being her (awwww, how cute!) first periods and from a nutritional standpoint in a hunter-gatherer society. Then having everything go Exactly Like Mom Said kind of undercuts the later notion of aliens popping by for a quick probing. Ideally, she’d have a period and then months would go by while she goes ‘huh, was that it?’. Even with modern nutrition these things are not a uniform shade of menses.

    Personally, if I were going to do this it would A) need to be plot significant and B) I would get away from the Magical Goddess Red Juice version and go for a more personal “ooh, it changes over the days and sometimes it’s stringy and clotty, and ow, freakin’ hurts!”. I’d have the women in the bleedin’ hut paint the walls.

    And then, of course, I would be the proud owner of a manuscript no one wants.

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