Saturday, October 25, 2008

Conscientious Inconsistencies by Nancy Jane Moore

This review originally appeared at The Fix, Oct 24, 2008.
by Nancy Jane Moore.

Conscientious Inconsistencies by Nancy Jane Moore is the second volume in PS Publishing’s series of “mini-collections of brand new short stories by some of the best and brightest new writers on the genre fiction scene.” And I have to say I was impressed. Although touted in the introduction as a sampling of stories influenced by Moore’s feminism, I found, rather, the four pieces of fiction (and a list of “Thirty-One Rules for Fulfilling Your Destiny”) as examples of great writing featuring fully characterized protagonists who just happen to be women. Moore’s style rises above a particular perspective and stands on its own as quality short fiction. To classify this collection as feminist literature, in my opinion, might unnecessarily marginalize these stories away from the very genre fiction scene it seeks to represent.

That being said, the opening piece, “A Mere Scutcheon,” is a galloping sword-and-sorcery tale featuring a duo of the queen’s guardswomen who are smart, sassy, and bold enough to contest Alexandre Dumas’s famous trio any day you please. The characters, plot, and writing style are just as entertaining as that classic story as well. Anna d’Gart is sworn to protect the honor of her liege and must undertake a mission on behalf of her queen, whose honor the realm’s evil Cardinal (and sorcerer) is seeking to discredit. With only a week to accomplish their quest, Anna and her cohort, Asamir, must outwit the cardinal who has influence over both the king’s guardsmen and the weather! Along with requisite sword clashing, chivalry, and a bit of romance, and we have a very satisfying short story.

Leaving the world of historical fantasy (although I did note in this second story passing reference to The Three Musketeers), Moore’s next piece is a modern day speculative reflection on one’s own mortality. In “The First Condition of Immortality,” the narrator takes us to the funeral of her friend, all the while accompanied by a shadowy figure lurking just outside her periphery. Frightened by the implications this unexpected companion represents, our protagonist initially ignores the shadow, or tries to. Eventually she confronts the unknown…which is the subtle message behind the narrative. Poignant yet laced with humor, this short fiction captures both the somber reality of death and the (in this case, tentative) hopefulness of an examined life.

The interlude, “Thirty-One Rules for Fulfilling Your Destiny,” seems to serve as a thematic tie that binds these stories together, and, while admittedly aimed at the female reader, was informative and entertaining to me, a male. I especially enjoyed the humorous implication of Rule #8:
The male way of warriorship has been defined for thousands of generations. It is possible that there is a female way of warriorship. Think on these things, but not when your enemies are attacking.
And the profundity of Rule #28:
Do not be deceived by those who would make you a god. If taking on the name of God is a good strategic decision, accept the title humbly. But do not believe it yourself. Godhood is not your destiny.
These two rules seem especially appropriate in light of the themes found in the third story, “Homesteading.” Set in a postapocalyptic near future, Isabel and Lily find refuge among a ragtag clan of women and children headed by Harlan, the only grown man on the farm. Even though they carry their load and share in the chores, the inevitable tension of a shifting interpersonal dynamic gives way to outright confrontation. And the results are surprising. The new dynamic is not the byproduct of the typical male way of warriorship. But, then, as the clan discovers, Isabel is not your typical warrior.

The final story is a bit of slipstream titled “Three O’Clock in the Morning.” Told in second person present tense (a rarely used but, in this case, competently written POV), this urgent and bizarre tale communicates the hidden prejudices, perceived inadequacies, and underlying loneliness that pervades our modern culture. Put yourself in the story: Early each morning, you awake to discover that another insurmountable wall has cut you off from a portion of your world. What will you do when those walls isolate you completely? You, the protagonist, have a choice…

As a collection, these short stories fit together nicely. While some might prefer more cohesion among the genres, I thought the mix of fantasy, speculative, dystopia, and/or SF worked rather well in this showcase. Both the publisher and the author should be happy with the results, and I look forward to future installments in this series.

Reviewed by Lyn Perry
Rated 7 of 10


BTW, Book View Cafe used a bit of my review as a blurb for Moore's collection. So that's cool.

Also, at SF Signal, Moore discusses a comment from my review. She's very gracious and her insights help me understand even further her perspective on feminist literature. She writes:
In recent years, I've been exploring gender issues in a lot of my fiction, and I've never made any secret of the fact that I'm a feminist. I hadn't thought I was violating any taboos by doing that, but a comment in a positive review of my collection, Conscientious Inconsistencies, has given me some food for thought. On The Fix, Lyndon Perry wrote, "To classify this collection as feminist literature, in my opinion, might unnecessarily marginalize these stories away from the very genre fiction scene it seeks to represent."

His observation, which was based on the fact that the introduction and the jacket cover both discuss feminism, has made me wonder if some of the rejections I receive have to do with the fact that many of my stories do touch on gender issues, or if - as Perry suggests - my reputation as a feminist makes some editors (and readers) dismiss my work without paying close attention.

I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that a taboo exists against feminist material - or political material generally. Frankly, I hope Perry's wrong, much as I appreciate the nice things he said about my stories. But it does seem as if fiction that goes farther than simply writing a woman character into a role once reserved solely for male ones is not common in mass market fiction. It's nice to see the kick-ass heroines, but I am hungry for meatier material.

Thinking about this hasn't driven me to self-censorship, though. The truth is, I just find gender issues too interesting to stop writing about them. And I've been told "girls can't do that" too many times to let any criticism stop me from being a feminist.
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