Dennis Livings ton Charlotte (New
161 pages, $2.95) Bert Garskof, The
Builds a Be-hive (Box 3229, Westville Station, New Haven, Connecticut 065 15, Dandelion
Press, 90 pages,
Decentralist utopias continue to pop up from unexpected sources. According to the informative introduction by Ann J. Lane, who initiated the publication of this work, Herland is a ‘lost’ feminist utopian novel: it was first published in 1915 as a serial in T/re Forerunner, a magazine wholly written and published by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Today, Gilman is best known for her story “The Yellow Wall Paper”, but she was also an important analyst and critic of contemporary society, stressing the links between socialism and feminism. If the attitudes expressed in this novel are representative, Gilman was not only ahead of her own time but, alas, ours as well. Herland can be taken as remarkably prescient of issues that have come to dominate present sociopolitical thinking; or a frustrating reminder that, over 60 years after it was written, society has only begun to turn in the direction advocated. A feminist
Lane points out that Herland is a rare example not only of a utopian novel by a women, but of a feminist utopia-no other book, prior to the 196Os, had both these features. Equally striking, Gilman depicts the utopian society in terms of changes in human Dr Livingston is a member of the Division of Social Science, Marlboro College, Marlboro, Vermont 05344, USA.
behaviour and the social institutions created to support such changes; virtually nothing is said about the technological or energy base of this society. An exclusively female civilisation is vaguely located on some mountain plateau. By sheer act of will, the women reproduce by parthenogenesis; men having been eliminated by warfare and a female uprising 2000 years in their past. Into this land wander three American men: one is a macho type, another puts women on a pedestal, and the third, a sociologist, is willing to listen and learn. The plot, in typical fashion for this genre, consists of the reactions of the visitors and the women to each other as the former are shown around the new society. As a novel the book moves slowly. It is the wit and insight that Gilman brings to bear which spark the tale. Gilman has managed to make motherhood the highest goal, yet it dominates motivation in Herland without appearing sexist. The whole society is devoted to extending the life force, nurturing its children, and caring for the land; to cultivating the highest virtues of intelligence, empathy, and reasonableness. In good anarchist fashion, and in common with most current feminist utopias, there is no identifiable government. The society is collective, one large extended family for which ‘sisterhood’ would be a pale description. Old, wise women provide guidance as needed. Service to the society is thoroughly integrated with everyone’s individual personality, so that the clash between individualism and peer-group totalitarianism disappears. What would ‘normally’ be regarded as inherent characteristics of male and
female are completely absent in Herland. Gilman’s most striking observations are here, as she develops the implications when nothing except a lack of native talent can prevent women from realising their full potential as human beings. Ironies run rampant as the men find the women continually failing to act according to their stereotyped roles, and therefore failing to be ‘female’, while the women can think of the men only as fathers. Through the changes in the sociologist as he faces the superiority of Herland, Gilman presents the most sympathetic portrait I have encountered of the benefits for men who give up, or are forced to give up, their dominating role for the cause of human liberation. Happy
days in Canbe
Gilman would have loved Garskof’s story. Written for children and parents, it tells of the building of a being-place (“be-hive”) by the Canbe collective. It is year 2 14 of the New Era and the world has been decentralised: there
are local collectives, larger production centres, and regional planning boards. Two children of Canbe decide their commune needs a dome, to bring together the scattered members in a common work project and to provide a quiet meditation space. As in Herland, there is a Sundayschool air about Canbe. Everyone is too good to be true, all decisions are settled by consensual meetings, and love and warmth fill the air. There is always a danger that such books will only be read, and indeed distributed to, the already converted. I think a kid from an average family would be bewildered by a story with no apparent, or flashy, plot. On the other hand, those families in, or heading towards, communal living will appreciate materials supportive of their lifestyles. Children and old people have valued places in Canbe, sex roles are absent (no gender pronouns are used), and decisions are thrashed out collectively. All this might strike a chord in children experiencing such values in their everyday lives.
Stephen Wood Futuropolis Robert Sheckley 60 pages, Publishers,
$7.95 (New 1978)
Fantasy or fact? Futuropolis seems to make its mind up early on : “Impossible cities of science fiction and fantasy” announces the front cover, above an illustration of a satellite town docking in the mother city after a trip round the solar system. But if the front cover plumps for fantasy, the back cover vigorously disputes the issue. “Impossible cities? Stephen Wood Times.
is a journalist on the Sunday
Nothing but science fiction and fantasy? Many of these astounding ‘visions’ already exist.” Even reading the book from cover to cover somehow fails to resolve the doubt. The lengthy treatment of Gerard K. O’Neill’s The High Frontier, the Le Corbusier drawings, Frei Otto’s structures, the references to Pavlov and B. F. Skinner-they all tell you that this is a serious, factual work. Meanwhile, rather like a television I used to have which could pick up the sound of one channel with the pictures of another, most of the illustrations tell a different story. The discussion of O’Neill’s space colonies is accompanied by frames from