Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Start Up Science Fiction with Historical-Theoretical Perspective

This week I have been reading about women and science fiction and the surrounding issues of representation, opening and closing off of meanings.  To that end I am making this week’s post an inquiry into science fiction writing.  And in "good" Writing Project style I learn by trying this out myself and letting things get way messy.  

So I am a pretty committed sci-fi and fantasy reader myself, but I have never tried to write any... until now :) I have some rather hefty imagined possibilities for what is right now just a small and possibly needy portion of story.  There is still a bunch of detailing work I have spinning around in my head.  For now, though, I tried to get across, some of the big ideas that seem important about the story and the deets that I could muster.  And through this story I hope to also narrate my reflections on a history of women and science fiction, which is a mixed, emerging and multiplicious bag of utopianism, separatism, images of possibility, and protagonizing of women.  So here we go…

Marni scanned her new Peoples History Card at the gate of the transport.  She let the rise and dip of her newly minted personal quick response code slide unfamiliarly through her fingers and slipped it back into the pocket of her apron as she followed the slightly muddy flashing arrows along the passageway.  She aligned to her internal sense of time and estimated that on Emig the older children would be ringing the dinner bells soon.  Her own stomach rumbled at that and she marched on wondering if they still had dinner bells on Earth IV and if they did who rang them.  Emerging out of the passageway into the night air the city overwhelmed the senses of all but the most sedate, and Marni, once inside her carefully chosen airtax, retreated into her thoughts for the ride through the city.  

It was easy enough to bring to mind Daga and the children.  She let her thoughts flow to a particular story, one that she kept close, while others slipped in and out, whether or not she had recorded them.  This was a good start and Marni breathed a little easier.  She knew that the council had asked her to come on this journey to Earth IV because of her particular imagination work and her familiarity with the inner workings of the Recorded People Stories.  Still, she couldn’t help but feel relief that her mind-stories were safely available, even if she had only been away from home less than a day.  She tuned herself to the images now fully.  Wondering if something different would emerge this time.

 She and Daga had been maybe twelve years old.  It wasn’t so long in the future that they would be transitioning away from the children’s circles or at least taking new roles there if they chose to stay.  They squatted side by side at the creek toes sinking into the rather smelly mud bank.  When Marni and Daga had arrived at the play circle an hour ago, Nila, one of the adult teachers this season, looking slightly frazzled with her own infant, Tino, nursing and three other small children playing nearby, had asked the two older children to fill the water buckets for the day.  Marni and Daga were happy enough to venture beyond the circle on this errand, especially when they saw Henry, the other teacher for this cycle, tying on his apron and joining Nila and the younger children.   As the older children walked through community toward the woods and creek, they talked about it being a good thing that this was Nila’s last week before cycling to another workfield.  The children’s circles work was generally the most respected and all out consuming works for a reason.  Marni and Daga thought Nila looked ready for a break.  Marni thought maybe Nila would spend the next weeks with the baby Tino at the Recorded People Stories House, where she might reflect and imagine ways to narrate her times this season in their circle.  Daga thought instead that Nila and Tino might go straight to a conference cycle with the current council to work on a plan the children and she had been exploring for possible changes around the treatment of farming animals.  

And now, knowing that both well routined adults were there at the circle with the younger children, and the afternoon dinner preparations still hours away, Marni and Daga hesitated, the water buckets just hauled up from the deepest water and sitting behind them.   And Daga began the familiar game,
“That tree is not a tree.”

Marni, picking up the lines, smirked, “It’s an Earth IV transport.”

“And this creek?,” Daga asked.

“It’s a marble.  Let’s go, Dag.”

“And you, Marni?”

“Me, what?”

“What are you not, Marni?” 

“I think I can hardly unravel that un-naming but named question.”

Daga stared hard at her, pressed on her palm slightly, did not let this idea go, “What are you not?”

After years, probably, Marni answered.

“Not yours?”  


In the airtax Marni smoothed her hand on the manufactured leather armrest and opened her eyes.  This surface felt firm, much more than her story.  She recalled a rant by her favorite mentor, Sarrah, “Fuzzy is good!  Do you think we want one-sided, firm, hard, completely known, stories, Marni?!  No!”  This made her smile and feel slightly less uneasy, but she couldn’t help wonder about how well fuzzy had played out so far in her life.  Oh she supposed, honing her Sarrah-voice, that that was one of many possible interpretations of events.  Sigh.  She was distracted from her musings by her stomach growling loudly.  She thought somewhat sourly that by now surely families and circles all over Emig had full bellies and she was another thirty minutes from her destination and her eventual dinner.

A day later Marni sat in a conference room at the university center carefully moving her eyes from person to person, from teacher to teacher, she thought, for that is how they called themselves.  She worked to imagine the stories that brought these people together and brought her across space to the planet her foremothers had called home.   She drew her attention to two women, Jaclyn just beside her and Ansor directly across the circle.  Jaclyn had a paper notebook out, not uncommon on Emig, but something that seemed out of place in the highly digitized surrounding here at the university. She knew that Jaclyn’s work over the past year had been the reimaging of Emig’s Recorded People Stories for the context of Earth IV.  She knew that Jaclyn’s own stories were key to the project’s beginning.   Ansor, whom Marni was casting as the group’s wise elder, had in fact several devices she seemed to be worked with at any given moment, a sleek flat screen rising only centimeters from the table surface, a small, clear, handheld data device, which her single thumb seemed to compose with and on a table behind Ansor, to which she rotated to every few minutes, a decidedly not-sleek, homemade patchwork of technologies that reminded Marni of both Jaclyn’s rustic notebook in this room and the digital wares of Emig in general.  

By the end of the day Marni was trembling with excitement of this new project and her possible role in it.  The work this group of teachers seemed so fresh to her, not that she did not feel this newness of ideas on Emig.  She did.  In fact, there, possibilities seemed endless.  To Marni, sometimes too endless.  Today though she had the idea that the Earth IV teachers’ imaginations of a Recorded People Stories felt like a new possibility in a place where roadblocks and ends were everywhere.  That is the difference, Marni thought, here the availability of the closings of meaning makes my open-imagination work more vital. 
Ansor did not seem as enthusiastic as Marni felt, or as anyone in the room particularly.  Though she was fully involved and was the person who had sent the request to Emig Council for someone, for Marni, to come.  Ansor, in so many ways both opposite and matching to Sarrah, reminded the group whenever affect seemed to happily rise, that their last project had ended in the co-opting of their fantastic idea by the National Business, Marking and Learning Association.   At this she held up each time her own People’s History Card at pointed with her red acrylic nail to the row of “badges” imprinting the plastic.  “This, friends, is the way our last imagination project turned out!   I (at my own and this university’s expense, of course) am the proud owner of forty-seven imagination badges.  I am a competitive asset to this institution!  Oh, damn.  This is important work you all, still, but we must be deliberate, so that the stories cannot be easily undone, sized up, quantified .  Marni, tell us again how people talk about The Stories, what do they say?”  

At seven o’clock there was a dinner bell as the group fell into a walk together to the dining hall.   The bell reminded Marni of her question the day before, and she wondered agin who rang the bell and who prepared the dinner?  And speaking of questions of who… looking around her, could it be possible that not one of the women in the group (There were ten people, and eight women, six under 40 she guessed) had a nursing baby to take part in this work?  She shook her head and herself and imagined for a moment the many possible arrangements people may have for work and family on Earth IV.  She breathed out, and asked Jaclyn, “Who rings the dinner bells?”

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