Thursday, March 14, 2013

Venus of Dreams

1986, 1990 Bantam edition
Pamela Sargent
Venus of Dreams
Original price $4.95, purchase price unknown
Very worn paperback

While not as bleak as Native Tongue or The Handmaid's Tale, this is another sci-fi novel that shows a female writer dealing with feminism in the 1980s, although like them it's set in the future.  The heroine Iris lives in a matriarchal commune on the Plains of what was once the U.S.  (Flooding caused by the hole in the ozone layer wiped out much of the land, I think.)  She doesn't want to be a farmer like her mother but instead dreams of living on Venus.  She becomes the bondmate of a Chinese man, Chen, although such bonds are against her more promiscuous culture.  They have a baby, Benzi, but then Iris gets a chance to study at the Cytherian Institute.  (She's been studying on her own with sort of a headband computer.)  Chen, Iris, and Benzi eventually settle on one of the "Islands" hovering over the not yet habitable Venus, but they are not a close family.

Iris is an unsympathetic character for much of the book-- selfish, unloving, and manipulative.  Chen comes across as a wimp who pines for her.  I particularly disliked the characterization of everyone during the section about the Institute.  The character of Anthony, and Iris's response to him, is troubling.  He essentially date-rapes her, but she has an orgasm, slutty Plains woman that she is.  Then later we're supposed to think he was an admirable rebel who said the unsayable.  If I remember correctly, there was also an issue with rape in the sequel, Venus of Shadows, which we'll get to in 1988.

What did I like about the book?  The terraforming of Venus and the impact of different cultures and subcultures on each other.  And I sympathized with Iris when she was a little girl who just wanted the chance to study.  Too bad she grew up so badly.

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