The ‘Women Destroy Science Fiction’ issue of Lightspeed Magazine opened with editors setting a professional tone, discussing the need for this ground-breaking issue and other, similar, contemporary projects.
The opening salvo promptly shot equity out the torpedo tubes in Seanan McGuire’s submarine.
Each to Each by Seanan McGuire
Award-winning author Seanan McGuire has feminist views, including a concern with equity in diversity, yet I found some statements in her short story profoundly disturbing.
The narrator mentions a ‘right way’ to deal with conflict and stress as if there is only one way. Shortly afterwards my stomach lurched as I read:
There is something strange and profoundly unprofessional about seeing the Captain speak with the heads and shoulders of wet-suited women sticking up around her feet like mushrooms growing from the omnipresent damp.
I doubt Seanan would say
There is something strange and profoundly unprofessional about seeing the Captain speak surrounded by waist-high heads of women in wheelchairs over whom the Captain looms.
but that’s pretty much how I read it.
The narrator continues:
Only drysiders can be shown in public; only drysiders can testify to the efficacy of the program. The rest of us have been compromised.
It’s such a polite, sterile little word. “Compromised.” Like we were swayed by the enemy, or blown off course by the gale-force winds of our delicate emotions. Nothing could be further from the truth. We’re a necessary part of public safety, an unavoidable face of war . . . and we’re an embarrassment that must be kept out at sea, where we can be safely forgotten.
As this story progresses, the Captain’s horror at her ‘monstrous’ crew impairs her professionalism, her functionality, while the genetically modified crew reign in their element – the water – but not on dry land.
This is overt discrimination: the manipulation of women to create classes of human considered ‘lesser’, segregated from mainstream society. Although intended as comment on women’s place in society, ‘Each to Each’ reeks of disability discrimination. in ‘Each to Each’ society’s mores have overtly reverted to 20th century norms where people with disabilities are kept out of sight, catering to mainstream sensibilities.
In terms of a feminist – a female-oriented – fairytale science fiction story, ‘Each to Each’ works very well although the exposition is a bit repetitive.
In terms of disability, I feel ambivalent. Although the message of ‘each to each’, segregating the disabled from normal society, is strong social comment, we the disabled don’t choose segregation. It’s forced upon us. In fact, many people with disabilities declare that we are only as disabled as society makes us; we are only as segregated as the non-disabled mainstream makes us.
Reading ‘Each to Each’ the day after ABC’s Ramp Up program (that gave voice to those with disabilities) was axed, reading this the day after attending a demonstration protesting against axing ABC’s Ramp Up program, ‘Each to Each’ is a double-sided, somewhat bitter, pill.
Although troubled by ‘Each to Each’, I recommend reading it as valuable discussion material. Sadly, I’m reminded of a convention panel in which a panelist informed me my reading of Windup Girl was wrong because she did not like my interpretation of the protagonist as disabled and no-one else in the (non-disabled) audience read Emiko as disabled when the panelist took a straw poll. I hope discussion of ‘Each to Each’ can be more open-minded, engaging in more diverse readings so ‘Each to Each’ can have a significant positive effect in the science fiction community.
Rating: ★★★★☆ 4 out of 5 stars.
I applaud Lightspeed Magazine‘s ‘Women Destroy Science Fiction’ issue; I’d like this to be an annual event. Dark Matter hosted a special panel podcast discussing the ‘Women Destroy Science Fiction’ issue.
I was planning to write one review to rule the issue but, where inspired, I’ll write individual reviews. Thus I have no idea how many reviews this special edition will warrant. Watch this space.