Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pre-Weekend Reading

In my final moments of academic freedom before the school semester really starts to kick my ass, I've managed to get in some last-minute reading-for-pleasure.

Up on the docket last week was Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama, a story of the exploration of a mysterious, mechanical planet that takes place in the 22nd century.

I have to say, this book gave me a few chuckles. What dated this 1973 sci-fi tome was not the science meticulously described (not that I would know anyway; it's been about about four or five years since I last took a science course and I didn't do very well--*head hangs in academic shame*), but rather the social attitudes and interactions of the characters. Here's an example:
Some women, Commander Norton had decided long ago, should not be allowed aboard ship; weightlessness did things to their breasts that were too damn distracting. It was bad enough when they were motionless; but when they started to move, and sympathetic vibrations set in, it was more than any warm-blooded male should be asked to take. He was quite sure that at least one serious space accident had been caused by accute crew distraction, after the transit of an unholstered lady officer through the control cabin. (Chapter 11, page 57)

Oh, where to begin, where to begin...Maybe with unholstered lady officer? Sounds like an extra in a space porn or something. Or a type of horse. And I guess the future is still pretty heterosexist too, since it seems that all warm-blooded males in Commander Norton's experience are instantly distracted/erect from their complicated, intricate big important science-guy jobs by the mere-est breast movements from the "lady officers". In the future, it seems, it's still the woman's fault for having breasts and distracting what are supposed to be highly competenant, intelligent men doing extremely specialized work.

Sigh, with a side of chuckle at this sillyness.

I call this dated, but then I think of the current Southwest Airlines fiasco in the States, and I have to wonder if really, Arthur C. Clarke was simply not expecting much to change in terms of sexist attitudes anytime soon. Damn. And this wasn't even apocalyptic science fiction. It was actually pretty quiet sci-fi.

And so was the sex in the book! Especially for a character like Commander Norton, who not only has two wifes on two different planets, but a some-time mistress named Laura on board. Check out this hot and heavy action:

"This visit," protested Laura rather feebly, "was purely in a professional capacity."
"After all these years," replied Norton, "we know each other better than that. Anyway, you're off duty now." This situation, he knew, was doubtless being repeated throughout the ship. Even though they were weeks from home, the end-of-mission "orbital orgy" would be in full swing.
"Now what are you thinking?" demanded Laura, much later...(Chapter 46, page 272)

And that's it! That's all Clarke gives us after bragging about all the orgies on board (which has a curious imbalance of males to females...hmm...maybe this book isn't so heterosexist after all...wink wink), that's all he bothers to describe! I want my money back! Hand me a V.C. Andrews please!

Considering the amount of scientific detail, to Clarke's credit it was a pretty accessible read to get through, and he articulated the exploratory and political intrigue quite well. It's a shame that the characters were written so flatly and with old gender stereotypes intact, despite the presence of some women in top jobs--though not too many of course. At least I could laugh at it in this text.

Up next: John Updyke's The Witches of Eastwick. I loved the movie for years, so I thought it time to read its source. I'm about a third of the way through, and it's certainly stirring up some mixed feelings on my part so far...

Until next time then, when I should be studying instead of blogging...

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