The Two Of Them, by Joanna Russ; Foreword by Sarah Lefanu
Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press: 2005; pbk; 150 pages

a shorter version of this review appeared in The New York Review Of Science Fiction
No. 203 Vol 17 July 2005

Postscript To The Fairytale

Science fiction writers who favour the vast laboratory of the multiple worlds hypothesis like to drop sly hints. In Joanna Russ's The Two Of Them, Irene Waskiewicz, whom we have met as a girl in a familiar-seeming USA of the fifties, makes reference to a famous, long-dead, woman poet called Laura Dickinson. Don't bother googling her, it's Emily, slightly shifted; Emily differently named in a version of modern earth just a little astray from ours. It's not very surprising that Dickinson should turn up: The Two Of Them is ostensibly a novel about women poets, and about greatness. There is an additional meaning here, however, which may be entirely lost on twenty-first century readers -even those readers, women and men both, who regard themselves as "feminist". What Russ is saying, in one of those momentary, almost subliminal flash-cards of hers, is that in her view Emily Dickinson, the US poet of genius, never existed, not in any of the worlds; she never wrote a line.

Puzzled? Try this: we cannot know what Emily Dickinson would have been like, as a person or as an artist, if she had lived as a free human being. The poetry that we have was produced by someone whose gift had to grow like something crushed under a stone, whose mind was broken and bound from her earliest childhood, like the feet of a little Chinese girl, to satisfy a perverse ideal of feminine beauty. We have an unreliable record, a found object that we admire for our own culturally bound reasons. The tightly-controlled, exquisitely confined beauties of her verse may be traits that Emily herself would have rejected, joyfully, if she'd had the freedoms we have now. I can well sympathise with the people who find that academic relativism (rife in the seventies) makes their heads spin. What can we ever know? What record can we ever trust? But as a flash-card, as a speculation; something to add to the sum of what we think about Emily Dickinson, maybe it works...

Modern feminism, the radical feminism of the seventies of the last century, was born out of anger and desire. The desire was to be treated as a model of the human, like a man, rather than as an inferior knock-off version. The anger was aroused by the myriad injustices, on every scale, public, social and domestic, that leapt into view when women, often already involved in the fight for Civil Rights, or the Anti-War Movement, experienced the awakening known as raised consciousness in the idiom of radical politics, about their own condition. Anger and desire informed the science fiction feminism, born in the radical sixties, that reached its maturity in the sf of the seventies, when James Tiptree Jnr, Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Marge Piercy, Suzy Charnas and many others were stirring up the public. Women in fandom, fan writers and professional writers, created a community and provided a primary readership for explicitly, trenchantly feminist novels that were also powerful sf; some of which have become classics.

But the desire to be free, like a man, swiftly and naturally generated an opposite need to valorise the feminine. Women in sf and fantasy began turning away from the rebarative aspects of radical feminism, retreating to more comfortable fictions about the power of women, the secret, innate superiority of the traditional female world. The rewriting of classic fairytales flourished at this time. It was a two-pronged attack, on the one hand a righteous, somewhat naïve, vandalism, aimed at saving children from the indoctrination of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, on the other a re-discovery and reclamation of the earthy, sexual and often savage hearthside tales of the deep past. But as the mission to escape from the wispy role-model of Disney's Cinderella became a mission to "rescue" the tough, resourceful heroine of the original folklore, sf feminism quietly, almost silently, morphed into womanism. The old tales are uncompromising. They have no hope in the revolution. They are not about changing the world, they are about making the best of a bad deal. Before taking issue with The Two Of Them, which is, in structure, a kind of postscript to the whole Cinderella story of twentieth century womanhood, it's worth looking at what happens in the classic, beloved tale of rags to riches, in polticial terms.

So Cinderella managed the household for her stepmother and sisters, didn't get upset at her father's defection, kept the hearth clean, did her duty without complaint, and thereby gained the patronage of a powerful older woman. She shed her working clothes and went to the ball, as glittery and as helpless-looking at the rest of the high-caste marriagable maidens, because she was in charge and she knew how to make it to the top. But what was the prize this feisty, "real" Cinderella had won, at the end of the tale? The keys to the finest gilded cage in all the land, and the happy knowledge that from now on other little servant girls (probably economic migrants, from somewhere down south), would be sleeping among the cinders, wearing the rags and doing her dirty work... What does Cinderella do, when she realises she's become the poster girl for the world that tried to crush her? Does she feel humiliated? Does she care about those other girls? What happens to the fairytale, if she does care? The message of that 'Laura Dickinson' flashcard, if we choose to accept it, is difficult, painful and disturbing. It's not pleasant to see yourself as something that grew under a stone. But women who have learned to feel successful and empowered as women, in the twenty-first century; girls who aspire to become alpha females in a world where gender is still the single most important factor controlling any human being's fate, have entirely missed the point of Joanna Russ's feminism.

Wise Girls

Irene Waskiewicz makes her first appearance in The Two Of Them as a scifi cut-out doll (Here they are. They are entirely in black, with belted tabards over something like long underwear, that makes them look like the cards in Alice…)p.1 We learn that she's an agent of TransTemp, an organisation serving some far-future government, on a mission with her male partner to a "pseudo-Islamic" nation ensconced inside a hollowed-out asteroid. The story really begins, however, when we meet Irene in flashback, in the suburbs of the fifties-USA: an angry, distinctly aggressive young woman, wistfully attracted by her father's taciturn leisure, depressed by her mother's housewifely fate; making precociously cold-hearted sexual experiments. There are hints that Rose Waskiewicz, like Joanna Russ's own mother, is a Squashed Woman, "guilty at being intelligent, guilty at having been to graduate school, guilty at being competent at anything…" (p.ix, Sarah Lefanu's Introduction to The Two Of Them). She's remarkably tolerant of her angry daughter, but she clearly assumes Irene will have to accept the same defeat. When the mysterious Ernst Neumann turns up, a visitor from Rose's past, Irene soon figures out that there's something clandestine going on. The set-up suggests the underground of US radical politics (Rose is letting her address be used as a mail-drop; the Squashed Woman may once have been a revolutionary); but as Irene discovers -when, desperate at her limited choices, the teenager throws in her lot with this attractive older man- the truth is much stranger. She is swept out of her own time and place in the universe. She learns that there are many, many versions of the future, the present and the past, and the parallel worlds are not shadows, popping in and out of existence as quantum superposition collapses. They are real places. It is possible to travel between them, tweaking history, adjusting cultures. She will become a trans-temporal agent, one of the elite, working for a super-power whose hegemony spans time, space and probability. It's implied, though never stated, that recruiting talented young women from oppressive situations may be part of Ernst's job.

Flash forward again: Ernst and the grown-up Irene on, or rather in, Ka'abah.. Their mission remains vague, but they are splendidly realised: cornery, difficult, attractive people (sexy, too), natural outsiders locked in an intense alliance, the two of them against the world. The age difference has not divided them, they're true -though not easy- soulmates. Their elliptical private dialogue is like the secret language of two lonely children, the sheer strangeness of their lives with "TransTemp" is illuminated by reflections -Polish Irene and Jewish Ernst- on the immigrant experience. Their secret agent skills, when described, are satsifyingly concrete (Irene's logic-based feats of computer deception, parsed when computer use was still in its infancy, read just fine, even now). They have been welcomed into the household of 'Alee Shems-er-Nehar, where Irene, of course, is mistaken for a man, and where they meet the irrepressible and talented twelve year old Zubeydeh, who wants to be a poet (her family are sure she'll grow out of this absurd notion). Irene and Ernst have been mentor and pupil. They are now, ostensibly, equal partners. They find the fussy, tinkling, over-decorated, miniature home of their host irksome; they are both, literally, "too big" for this little world inside a stone. Irene especially is repelled by the helpless, cosseted life of their host's wife, on permanent medication for her nerves, whose greeting cry "have you bought anything?" sums up her entire life. But she's prepared to tolerate the local customs, freely chosen by this artificial society, until Zubeydeh discovers the existence of "Aunt Dunya" -a mad woman who once wanted to be a poet. "Aunt Dunya" was supposed to be dead. Instead she is being kept in a filthy cell, a secret shame in the heart of 'Alee Shems-er-Nehar's house. Zubeydeh is distraught. The mad woman is not reclaimable, but her fate shocks Irene into action. She decides that she and Ernst must rescue Zubeydeh. He agrees without demur, and they quickly achieve this: all it takes is a little intimidation and a forged visa.

Seventies science fiction feminism was a co-operative venture. Fan writers, professional writers, critics were bouncing ideas around, reading each other's stories, sharing their discussions with like-minded men (notably, in the legendary Khatru symposium from which a certain James Tiptree Jnr was ejected as a sexist male). It illuminates the background and explains some of the wrinkles in The Two Of Them, when we know that the novel began as a response to a story called 'For The Sake Of Grace' (1969) by another feminist, Suzette Haden Elgin. In Elgin's 'Islamic-style' world, prowess in poetry is the only path left open to women who want to achieve greatness, and it is made as difficult and threatening as possible. 'For The Sake Of Grace', in its turn, pays homage to the classic proto-feminist story 'The Yellow Wallpaper' by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892), a chilling description of exactly how a talented woman goes mad, when she's locked up to 'cure' her of her talent as a writer. In Elgin's version the young girl, Zubeydeh, knows of the fate of her "Aunt Dunya", who failed the crucial exam and was condemned to life in solitary confinement, but she still persists in her ambition... But where both these stories, so far separated in time, remain in the same, relatively comfortable space, the Joanna Russ novel abandons righteous indignation. She insists that we recognise that talented, forceful women, as long as they will play the game, have never really had much of a problem. Cinderella shall go to the ball! The project of kidnapping Zubeydeh so that she can become a successful poet is treated with irony in The Two Of Them: 'Zubeydeh will marry a millionaire. She'll make his life wretched. She'll keep a salon and write. And wear her native costume. And be famous…' (p.100) Here the oppressive family isn't simply wicked, and the society isn't strictly alien. The women of Ka'abah are hopelessly complict, in many different ways, in their own oppression; and it's Irene, the successful, liberated woman, who is changed.

The story behind the fiction, the story of a generation, always starts the same way. I was a girl-child in the fifties. I was attracted to the alien culture (indubitably alien!) of a set of books with rockets on the spines. Maybe I was influenced, though I didn't really know it, by my mother's memories of the halcyon days of World War, when women's work was needed outside the home, and she had a life. Maybe I felt her unease, though she never talked about it, at being socially engineered back into the kitchen and the negligée. (Maybe I called this "not wanting to be like my mother"). The books were exciting and adventurous, and there were plenty of tomboy girl characters. I didn't know they were there for decoration, I thought it meant the genre had a place for me! So I ran away with Science Fiction, to start a new life. And here I am, still happy to be dressed in long underwear, with my raygun, but sorely disillusioned about those tomboys... And then the story divides. The unregenerate tomboys keep their rayguns, the womanists create a female, womb-friendly space within sf; but aren't they both playing by the rules of the boys' club? The Two Of Them examines this dilemma, with illustrations. The hollow-asteroid world of Ka'abah is a meticulously imagined space-technology construct, it's also packed with this freight of meaning. Russ's pseudo-Islamics live inside a black stone, which is called after the sacred black stone (Ka'aba) of Mecca. Just as the male-oriented religion of Islam circles around that ancient symbol of the Mother Goddess, every man's mind in the asteroid circles around the idea of treasured women. Like Islam, Ka'abah perceives itself as a woman-loving culture, and Russ seems to prepared to go along with that. Male Ka'abahites are portrayed with affection, especially the hapless 'Alee Shems-er-Nehar: bullied by his clever little daughter, bewildered by his wife's problems. Even the discovery of the "failed" woman in her filthy cell is not a crude unmasking of evil. It's the miserable revelation of a good-willed family's failure to cope with dysfunction. The damage done to the talented girl-child is limited. Zubeydeh makes her tearful farewells to the family where she was truly loved. The girl's mother, Zumurrud, supporting her husband in his distress, even seems about to begin a happier life. Any reader at this point may find herself, or himself, thinking, these Ka'abahites aren't so bad, they're really just folks, just ordinary people....

Then, on the voyage home, disaster strikes. Irene realises that rescuing one child is not enough. The horrible, woman-smothering culture of K'abah must be dismantled. She knows that the superpower she works for is actively supporting the regime (that's what the mission was about), but she needs to know more. She'll have to get into the secret files of the TransTemp Agency itself, to find out just what is going on. Of course she tells Ernst everything. His response is disquieting. He doesn't see a large-scale problem with Ka'abah. It seems he's only interested in rare, highly gifted females, the ones who do not deserve the natural subordination of their sex. (In the language of radical politics, he turns out to be a 'fellow-traveller', when Irene,all these years, thought he was all the way. The discussion goes rapidly downhill, and Irene behaves just like a girl. Broken-hearted rather than threatened, she goes off to cry over her loss, and she blames herself, she sees he didn't necessarily mean to deceive. Ernst, meanwhile, takes drastic measures. Next thing Irene knows, her TransTemp identities have been wiped from the ship's computers. Her partner has rendered her a non-person. Faced with this unequivocal hostility, our heroine pulls herself together, tricks the computer and is about to escape with a new identity, taking Zubeydeh along. Ernst intervenes. They fight, she ends up shooting him dead. The shooting of Ernst caused consternation in science fiction criticism, in those heady days when sf's feminists were movers and shakers. It's probably what people are most likely to recall about The Two Of Them... Oh yes, that's the feminist rant where the heroine shoots the hero, for no good reason except that he's offended her extremist views... The highly respected liberal critic, John Clute was prompted, by this incident above all others, to an incandescent denunciation of Joanna Russ as a writer bent on destroying science fiction-

'…you think I'm telling you X; well I wouldn't tell you X if my life depended on it. In fact my life depends on my not allowing you to get away with hearing X from my lips. Your willingness to suspend disbelief so as to luxuriate in the telling of X is tantamount to complicity with the invidious systemic violation of women in this world, whose roots are homologous with the engendering impulses behind traditional genre fiction, or X, baby….'
(John Clute, review in Foundation n.15, Jan 1979, pp103-5)

'The gentlemen,' as Zubeydeh would say, 'always think the ladies have gone mad…' (p122)

In a review of Sarah Lefanu's In The Chinks Of The World Machine, in the same journal some years later, I affected bemusement. (I wasn't really bemused. But give the man credit, I'm sure that final "baby" was a momentary lapse). Social and political analysis isn't a contradiction of the genre, it's one of the things the genre was invented for. Arguably, the whole purpose of US science fiction, in its original, didactic form, was to provide a forum for radical, technophile and right-wing ideas. Is it forbidden to discuss any other shade of politics? When was this decided? Isn't such wounded fury, directed against an impressive science fiction, by a writer the same critic acknowledges as working at the top of the sf field, a little disquieting, a little extreme? Readers of the present generation might be puzzled as to why an eminent critic was even reading a feminist novel. Surely those books are only meant for girls? Ah, but it was different then, for a while. (See Jeanne Gomoll, 'Open Letter To Joanna Russ' on what happened to the "lost" decade).

Returning to the novel in the twenty-first century, two things strike me about the notorious incident. Firstly, Irene is not the aggressor. Far from it. It is Ernst who turns on his partner of many years, who is also his lover, without negotiation, and betrays her. It's not as if Irene had sprung her feminist views on him out of the blue. He knows how she feels.They have conspired together to rescue Zubeydeh... Secondly, the duel with Ernst is hardly an atrocity. It's a standard issue thriller plot development. The CIA agent on a routine mission spots connections she wasn't supposed to notice, pointing to a conspiracy that may go all the way to the top. She shares her suspicions with her partner, the only colleague she can trust. Unfortunately, it turns out he's one of the bad guys. He betrays himself by trying to destroy her, this leads to a confrontation. Tragically, the good guy ends up being forced to shoot her buddy. This is pure Bourne Identity territory, pure Hollywood. In short, though the killer is a woman and the issue is women's rights, Joanna Russ could have got away with murder, even in 1978 -except for her own determination to call Irene's act a transgression. It's the narrative that directs us to see Irene's shame and distress, not Ernst's abuse of power. It's the writer herself who finds the death of Ernst so shocking that it shatters the storytelling illusion.

"It occurs to me that she only stunned him, that soon he'll get up… I've contemplated giving Ernst stomach flu and letting the other two run while he's retching, but I don't think so…" (p136)

Why was it so hard to write that Irene killed Ernst? Why was killing Ernst such a violent act that it threw our feisty alpha-female Cinderella right out of her fairytale? Look through the veil of fantasy (which should be easier for the general reader these days, our lives are so full of narratives, from "reality tv" to music videos, that scratch and jump between fantasy and realism) and the explanation becomes obvious. The story of Irene and Ernst is the story of a gifted young woman of the mid-twentieth century. She was rescued from her housewifely fate by a charismatic older man. Maybe he was her post-grad supervisor, her boss, her mentor in the artsworld; maybe he was all those things and also her loving husband. Gradually she realises that she will always be his junior. He sees her as an exceptionally gifted pet, whom he has rescued from the inherent inferiority of her sex. There comes a point (maybe circa 1975, heyday of women's escape stories in mainstream fiction; when Marilyn French wrote 'The Women's Room') when she knows that much as she loves him, much as she appreciates their intelligent conversations, he's a closet patriarch and he's keeping her in the doll's house with him. Worse, her daughter is going to be brought up in the doll's house, and never have a chance of self-realisation. She has to leave him and it feels like murder. She has to abandon him, and -as Joanna Russ makes clear, by characterising Ernst so sympathetically, by letting him tell his own version of the story alongside Irene's- this is not a triumph. This is a tragedy. The tragedy of such a divorce is not only emotional. In the real world, for the fifties girl, it usually meant a devastating loss of income and status. In the science fiction, of course, Irene is on the run. She's lost, at a stroke, her job, her home, her world, her identity. Her only recourse is to make her escape from the whole Trans-Temp universe, and drop back into the timeline where she was born; with the rescued Zubeydeh. She's a nothing, a nobody now: but she holds the secret of the true revolution. Whatever she makes of her life will be her own.

Radical Science Fiction

In telling the painful feminist awakening as sf Russ risks letting readers down with a bump when Irene steps from the inter-dimensional space ferry (on which she's sneaked a ride, before anyone knows Ernst is dead) to the side of the highway somewhere near Albuquerque: a divorced thirty year old with a young daughter and not a lot of money; Cinderella busted right back down to the scullery. A reviewer on (a thoughtful review and he could be right) complains there are thousands of words left out at this juncture, pages and pages that should have led us persuasively back to Irene's original world, and kept the doubling of the narrative intact. But that was the seventies, experiments were made: and that's Joanna Russ. She doesn't do dilution, every word's a wanted word -and the brutal disjoint is no doubt intentional.

These days, I'm better able to understand how a liberal male critic, convinced that women in sf were a well-served special interest group, with nothing to complain about, could have felt so betrayed, and indeed bewildered, by The Two Of Them. Nothing says a liberal sf critic has to be an authority on the radical politics of his era. And yet there are clear signals, not the least of them the title itself, telling us that this isn't meant as an attack on the male-dominated themes of science fiction, or on men. Far from it. There are two victims of patriarchy, of global capitalism, in The Two Of Them. They are both revolutionaries, living in a secret dimension, alongside normal life; they are both dedicated to making the world a better place. Only one of them gets out alive, because only one of them succeeds in making -or rather, in completing,- the imaginative leap that's called raised consciousness. There's a point in The Two Of Them (aside from Joanna Russ's guilty musings) where it seems as if Ernst is going to survive. Irene stops seeing him as all-important, and begins to transfer her allegiance to Zubeydeh; to the project of nurturing that young life. One could see this as a Cinderella variant in which Ernst has played the role of the fairy godmother. He provided Irene with the means to escape, now he can just step aside while she finds fulfillment with her true love. Separatism was very much a live issue in the seventies... There's another point, when Zubeydeh is pestering and bullying a hapless, dirty little boy, on the starship out of Ka'abah, where we can see an even-handed suggestion of the nasty way men and boys might be treated in a woman-dominated world. But Ernst cannot be discarded so easily, and the little boy doesn't work out, he is a pentimento. The issue that we must engage with, as feminist Cinderellas, is the problem of adult men, men of good will, our brothers in the struggle. As the alchemy of science fiction allow "Ka'abah", a cunningly exotic dystopia, full of mirrors, to be gradually unmasked as a jaded look at Joanna Russ's own US, twentieth century culture (neurotic housewives, popping pills and obsessed with shopping; the Ka'abah "psychology" of femininity, echoing US self-help texts on how to be a successful wife and mother), the thrilling TransTemp recruiting agent, Ernst, is able, by the same magic, to represent not only the whole superbly powerful, technologically advanced, world-ruling culture of patriarchy, but also, paradoxically, a hero of the revolution, a lost lover, a vital ally fallen by the wayside. The Two Of Them ends on a poetic, elegaic note. Irene has a dream, but it has none of the ringing triumph of Martin Luther King's. She sees Zubeydeh, a grown woman, looking down from a rocky promentory into a valley of dry bones.

'Irene knows that they are in the centremost vacancy of someone's mind, they have found their way at last into the most secret place of Ka'abah... here all is still, and in the grey, colourless half-light Irene can see that the floor of the valley is thickly covered with bones. Innumberable skeletons are spread from wall to wall and piled up immeasurably into the half-grey, half-lost rocky ceiling, so far from any open love or light... bones intermingled with bones, heaps of bones, choking the dry watercourse and stretching back between the valley walls, a dry silent carpeting as far as the eye can see...'

Ka'abah is our world, and the bones are the bones of crushed and silenced women, who have remained crushed, remained silent even if they have become outwardly successful, sexually aggressive, staggeringly rich. The lucky few will still be crushed, still be silent, in their inmost nature, until the whole world changes. This vision, in which hope is a bare whisper, is as true to the global statistics today as it was in 1978. Many women, over most of the world, are worse off than they were thirty years ago. Poetry competitions aren't much of an issue, where girls don't get access to basic education, or even access to food and water, until after the males have been served. Overwhelmingly, in our brutal times, women's hard won rights are being stripped from them, and even in the rich USA they are the casualties of the gallopinging divide between rich and poor, just as they are the casualties of war, famine, rape. I could go on, but I won't, I know it's boring.
But not all the bones in that valley are women's bones.

The Spirit of the Beehive

It is relatively easy today, perhaps it has always been relatively easy, for a talented middle class woman to aspire, work hard, and become an alpha female, subordinate to the alpha males but pretty close to the top of the heap. It's not inconceivable for a potential alpha female to set the tainted privileges aside, and live as "nothing and nobody", in solidarity with the millions of servant girls still sleeping in the cinders. (Though I have to say, Irene's conviction that ordinary people are "nothing and nobody" might be a poor place to start). It's much more difficult to find an answer to the problem of Ernst, that dead body of the New Man. Why did Ernst have to die? Why couldn't he make the same leap of imagination that Irene has made? He loves at least one woman, he hates injustice, why couldn't he throw in his lot with Irene, and trust her the way she trusted him, years ago? Joanna Russ, a lesbian feminist, has made it clear that she considers Ernst's death pivotal. His death is not a personal tragedy, a loss 'Irene' has to accept on the way to self-realisation. It is the collapse of the project of equality... And yet Russ doesn't seem to know the answer to that question. In all radical movements (compare the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, the Apartheid movement in South Africa, even the distant ancestral voices of the French Revolution) there comes a time when the oppressed can no longer be lead by the privileged. The white, or middle class, or aristocratic, activists must either bow out, or be engulfed in the Terror of the proletariat unleashed. This has to happen, because freedom cannot not be bestowed. It must be taken, with ugly violence; and the only way the man of goodwill can serve the revolution without betraying his ideals, is by dying on the barricades... The male fellow-traveller cannot be a leader of feminism, therefore, he has to quit. Is this Ernst's answer, is this why he took the bullet? In the mysterious postscript to the Motorcycle Diaries (Ernesto Ché Guevara's record, that is, of an early voyage around Latin America; not to be confused with the Hollywood movie of the same name), the twenty-four year old Guevara describes a meeting between himself and a veteran Latin American Communist, a meeting that inhabits the same dreamlike space as Joanna Russ's valley of the dry bones. The old soldier foretells, with eerie precision, Ché's own death, and the meaning of it-

"I also know -and this won't alter the course of history or your personal view of me- that you will die with a clenched fist and a tense jaw, the epitome of hatred and struggle, because you are not a symbol (some inanimate example) but a genuine member of the society to be destroyed; the spirit of the beehive speaks through your mouth and motivates your actions. You are as useful as I am, but you are not aware of how useful your contribution is to the society that sacrifices you..."
(Ernesto Ché Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries, Notes On A Latin American Journey, Harper Perennial, London 2003; p164)

The revolution can only be instigated by men of goodwill, who are doomed to become savages in the savage struggle, because they embody the corrupt society they are trying to destroy... This gloomy self-analyis, so cruelly accurate in the case of the gentle young doctor, so perfectly encapsulates Ernst Neumann's position in The Two Of Them it's hard to believe the reference isn't intentional.

Joanna Russ was writing at a time when the whole USA was stirred and shaken by unimaginable defeat and passionate hope, and tragically -as it seemed to her, as she tells here- men in radical politics simply could not see the feminising (or rather the de-masculinising) of global culture as a worthwhile project. They believed that the revolution MUST be masculine, a work of war, although they knew it was doomed by the path of violence. I don't know about you, dear reader, but from where we are now, it looks like a hell of a missed opportunity. In the twenty first century, in science fiction and fantasy, as in the real world, feminism is a small, contented, niche -market, as incomprehensible to the mainstream as any other special interest group, and somewhat more repellent; while women of ambition explore the baroque opportunities of feminine, emphatically NOT feminist, roads to power. And the world goes on the same: right now falling into a very brutal phase of its endless reiterations. In The Two Of Them, Joanna Russ places the blame for the failure of the equality project firmly on Ernst's shoulders. I'm not so sure about that, but it's worth discussion. I'm certainly sure that women of goodwill can't win a single battle if their lovers, colleagues, friends betray them. Will the New Man, our brother in the struggle, ever bring himself to change, to lay down his own tainted privileges? This is the real question that The Two Of Them poses, and it's as relevant today as it it ever was. What will it take to wrest the stone tablets of the law from Ernest's grip, before he caves in? What will men of goodwill have to lose, in order to become human?

The Two Of Them, Joanna Russ, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Connecticut; 2005; Foreword by Sarah Lefanu

In The Chinks Of The World Machine, Sarah Lefanu, The Women's Press, London; 1988; review published in Deconstructing The Starships, Gwyneth Jones, Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 1999

The Motorcycle Diaries, Notes On A Latin American Journey, Ernesto Ché Guevara (1993), reprinted, Harper Perennial, London; 2003

An Open Letter To Joanna Russ, Jeanne Gomoll, Fanthology 87; reprinted from Sixshooter;

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