Friday, 23 December 2011

Genderswitching Classic SF

Inspired by this lighthearted Guardian article on Genderswitching classic novels, my holiday challenge is to take a passage from classic speculative fiction (define as you like), and reverse the gender of the pronouns (or otherwise subvert, if you want to make your hero genderqueer, say). What's the most fun you can have? What SF story would be the most changed by the subversion of its genders? Which would be improved?

A couple of ideas to get us started. First (from Honor Philippa Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu):
The first half of the principal manuscript told a very peculiar tale. It appears that on 1 March 1925, a thin, dark young woman of neurotic and excited aspect had called upon Professor Angell bearing the singular clay bas-relief, which was then exceedingly damp and fresh. Her card bore the name of Henrietta Antonia Wilcox, and my aunt had recognized her as the youngest daughter of an excellent family slightly known to her, who had latterly been studying sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design and living alone at the Fleur-de-Lys Building near that institution. Wilcox was a precocious maiden of known genius but great eccentricity, and had from childhood excited attention through the strange stories and odd dreams she was in the habit of relating. She called herself ‘psychically hypersensitive,’ but the staid folk of the ancient commercial city dismissed her as merely ‘queer’. Never mingling much with her kind, she had dropped gradually from social visibility, and was now known only to a small group of aesthetes from other towns. Even the Providence Art Club, anxious to preserve its conservatism, had found her quite hopeless.
And second (from Wilma Gibson's Countess Zero):
She’d come home and gotten right down to it, slotted the icebreaker she’d rented from Two-a-Day and jacked in, punching for the base she’d chosen as her first live target. Figured that was the way to do it; you wanna do it, then do it. She'd only had the little Ono-Sendai deck for a month, but she already knew she wanted to be more than just some Barrytown hotdogger, Bobbi Newmark, aka Countess Zero, but it was already over. Shows never ended this way, not right at the beginning. In a show, the cowgirl heroine's boy or maybe her partner would run in, slap the trodes off, hit that little red OFF stud. So you’d make it, make it through.
Do either of those change the reading of the story significantly? Please add more examples in the comments.

6 comments:

  1. « Mardi. Pluie. Lac des pluies. PAPA faisait des courses en ville et Lo, je le savais, était dans les parages. Après quelques raids subreptices de reconnaissance, je LE découvris dans la chambre PATERNELLE, écarquillant l'oeil gauche pour tenter d'en déloger une poussière. SHORT à carreaux. Si sensible que je sois à cette enivrante et brune fragrance, je crois vraiment qu'IL devrait se laver les cheveux de temps à autre. Pendant un moment, nous baignâmes tous deux dans la lumière tiède et verte du miroir où se reflétaient le sommet d'un peuplier et nos deux visages sur fond de ciel. Je LE saisis aux épaules avec brusquerie puis, serrant doucement ses tempes entre mes mains, LE tournai face à moi. «C'est juste ici, je la sens, dit-IL. - En Suisse, les paysannes guériraient ça avec le bout de la langue. - En léchant l'?il? - Voui.

    J'échaye? - Allez-y», dit-IL. Tendrement, je frôlai de la langue sa prunelle à la saveur saline, qui roula sous le dard palpitant. «Y a bon, dit-IL, les paupières nictitantes. C'est parti. - Et l'autre ?il? - Quelle couenne! s'écria-t-IL. Il n'y a rien du t...» IL se reprit en voyant la ventouse avide de mes lèvres proches: «D'accord», dit-IL généreusement, et LA TÉNÉBREUSE Humbert, se penchant sur le petit visage fauve levé vers ELLE, pressa ses lèvres sur la paupière chaude et papillotante. Lo éclata de rire et s'enfuit de la pièce en m'effleurant au passage. Mon coeur semblait être partout à la fois. Jamais de toute ma vie - même sous les caresses enfantines de mon amour de la Riviera - jamais... »

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  2. extrait de « Lolita » de Nabokov. Wondering if the scandal around this book would have been the same if written with genders interverted. Le malaise suscité à la sortie de l'ouvrage eût-il été le même si Humbert eût été une femme adulte et « Lo » un jeune garçon ?

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  3. @Mitra, merci de l'exemple. C'est vrai que ça marche encore mieux en français, où chaque adjectif et participe marque le sexe d'une personne. Je n'ai pas ce livre en anglais chez moi, mais ce serait interessant de comparer le même passage dans la version originelle, voir si l'inversement des sexes est aussi fort là.

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  4. I don't have my books with me, so I had to play with what's available on the internet. I read a lot of Jules Verne when I was a kid and I'm sure I would have enjoyed his stories much more if he had included a few more women in the cast!

    From Julie Verne, "Journey to the interior of the Earth" (translation of F.A. Malleson, published on wikisource).

    On the 24th of May, 1863, my aunt, Professor Liedenbrock, rushed into her little house, No. 19 Königstrasse, one of the oldest streets in the oldest portion of the city of Hamburg.
    Martha must have concluded to be very much behindhand, for the dinner had only just been put into the oven.
    "Well, now," said I to myself, "if that most impatient of women is hungry, what a disturbance she will make!"
    "Ms. Liedenbrock so soon!" cried poor Martha in great alarm, half opening the dining-room door.
    "Yes, Martha; but very likely the dinner is not half cooked, for it is not two yet. Saint Michael's clock has only just struck half-past one."
    "Then why has the mistress come home so soon?"
    "Perhaps she will tell us that himself."
    "Here she is, Monsieur Axel; I will run and hide myself while you argue with her."
    And Martha retreated in safety into her own dominions.
    I was left alone. But how was it possible for a man of my undecided turn of mind to argue successfully with so irascible a person as the Professor? With this persuasion I was hurrying away to my own little retreat upstairs, when the street door creaked upon its hinges; heavy feet made the whole flight of stairs to shake; and the mistress of the house, passing rapidly through the dining-room, threw herself in haste into her own sanctum.
    But on her rapid way she had found time to fling her hazel stick into a corner, her rough broadbrim upon the table, and these few emphatic words at her nephew:
    "Axel, follow me!"
    I had scarcely had time to move when the Professor was again shouting after me:
    "What! not come yet?"
    And I rushed into my redoubtable mistress' study.
    Ottavia Liedenbrock had no mischief in her, I willingly allow that; but unless she very considerably changes as she grows older, at the end she will be a most original character.

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  5. Another I just came up with:

    <quote>
    One of the luckiest accidents in my husband’s life is that he happened to marry a woman who was born on the 26th of September. But for that, we should both of us undoubtedly have been at home in Midwich on the night of the 26th–27th, with consequences which, I have never ceased to be thankful, he was spared.
    </quote>

    If you recognise the title (there's a clue in the text) you may just get a chill down your spine…

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  6. A THOUGHT FOR TODAY

    Take 'em an inch and they'll give you a hell.

    DATA-RETRIVIAL MODE

    The woman in the bare steel chair was as naked as the room's white walls. They had shaved her head and body completely; only her eyelashes remained. Tiny adhesive pads held sensors in position at a dozen places on her scalp, on her temples close to the corners of her eyes, at each side of her mouth, on her throat, over her heart and over her solar plexus and at every major ganglion down to her ankles.

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