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The Gate to Women's Country

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Tepper's finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military Tepper's finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning. The resulting manifold responsibilities are seen through the life of Stavia, from a dreaming 10-year-old to maturity as doctor, mother and member of the Marthatown Women's Council. As in Tepper's Awakeners series books, the rigid social systems are tempered by the voices of individual experience and, here, by an imaginative reworking of The Trojan Woman that runs through the text. A rewarding and challenging novel that is to be valued for its provocative ideas.


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Tepper's finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military Tepper's finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning. The resulting manifold responsibilities are seen through the life of Stavia, from a dreaming 10-year-old to maturity as doctor, mother and member of the Marthatown Women's Council. As in Tepper's Awakeners series books, the rigid social systems are tempered by the voices of individual experience and, here, by an imaginative reworking of The Trojan Woman that runs through the text. A rewarding and challenging novel that is to be valued for its provocative ideas.

30 review for The Gate to Women's Country

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bridget Mckinney

    One reviewer on Goodreads calls The Gate to Women's Country "gender essentialist, heterosexist, cissexist garbage," and it is, I suppose. First published in 1988, The Gate to Women's Country is very second-wave feminist and exhibits many of the problems one would expect from that description. It's also beautiful and sad and, while exclusionary, an otherwise excellent and enjoyable treatment of the issues that it did deal with. The Gate to Women's Country examines an (honestly not-so-unlikely) One reviewer on Goodreads calls The Gate to Women's Country "gender essentialist, heterosexist, cissexist garbage," and it is, I suppose. First published in 1988, The Gate to Women's Country is very second-wave feminist and exhibits many of the problems one would expect from that description. It's also beautiful and sad and, while exclusionary, an otherwise excellent and enjoyable treatment of the issues that it did deal with. The Gate to Women's Country examines an (honestly not-so-unlikely) hypothetical future in which a world ruled by men ended in an apocalypse that wrecked the planet and almost killed everyone. In the aftermath of disaster, women and women-supporting men took over, with a plan of breeding the violence out of humanity. The central question of the novel is dependent on the premise that this goal can possibly attained and it is, simply, "Is it worth it?" Tepper explores the ways in which the Women's Country plan makes life harder for the people who live there as well as the ways in which a plan that is intended to create a better humanity can be itself dehumanizing for nearly everyone involved. Even though, by the end of the novel, we can see evidence of the success of the plan, we're still left wondering if being able to do something makes it right to actually do it. Does the end justify the means, or do we lose our humanity on the road to trying to save it?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Gender essentialist, heterosexist, cissexist garbage. Avoid at all costs.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Spider the Doof Warrior

    I hate this book. Maybe I should read it again, but there's so many other books I want to read, so many other books I'd rather read again than this one. Maybe there was some sort of thing I missed the first time I read it in college, but mostly it made me mad. They got rid of homosexuality, most of the men are brutes and fascist and violent, except for the servitors. Yet the women still have sex with the brutish men even as they are trying to breed them out of existence. Then you get some random I hate this book. Maybe I should read it again, but there's so many other books I want to read, so many other books I'd rather read again than this one. Maybe there was some sort of thing I missed the first time I read it in college, but mostly it made me mad. They got rid of homosexuality, most of the men are brutes and fascist and violent, except for the servitors. Yet the women still have sex with the brutish men even as they are trying to breed them out of existence. Then you get some random scary people who shave women's heads and don't allow them to have freedom, and you get this dippy irritating book which for some reason so many feminists like, but I don't know why! Read it again in 2014 AND I STILL HATE IT! It still makes NO DAMN SENSE! I wonder if the Servitors even get to get any. It's just not believe enough to me. I think other books do After the End better and I don't think you'll get rid of war just by breeding it out of men. Come on! Be logical, woman! This premise just doesn't work. You don't have wars because of men. Animals fight too! Folks fight over territory and over religion. They fight over all kinds of things. Even if you had everyone with enough food, enough clothes, enough money they would STILL find a reason to fight because some people are assholes and just like fighting. You can't breed this out of people. To be fair, we can cooperate and work together. If you want less warlike men, wouldn't, I don't know, NOT LETTING A BUNCH OF ASSHOLE WARRIORS CARE FOR THEM FROM FIVE UP WORK BETTER?!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Hoodwinking Readers: “The Gate to Women's Country” by Sheri S. Tepper (original review, 1987) “The Gate to Women's Country”, remains the best written and most provocative of the lot when it comes to Feminist SF. It's one of the few books where I turned the last page and flipped back to the first and read it straight through again when I realized how deceptive the text, itself, was. I love when Septimus Bird tips Tepper's hand by noting If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Hoodwinking Readers: “The Gate to Women's Country” by Sheri S. Tepper (original review, 1987) “The Gate to Women's Country”, remains the best written and most provocative of the lot when it comes to Feminist SF. It's one of the few books where I turned the last page and flipped back to the first and read it straight through again when I realized how deceptive the text, itself, was. I love when Septimus Bird tips Tepper's hand by noting that all good magicians keep us riveted on the left hand when the real trick happens in the right. That ends up being an ingenious clue about the ways we, as readers, are about to be hoodwinked. It's the very rare book that surprises me (my wife swears I have a seventh sense for foreshadowing; and I thought I was just a regular guy...) but this one did;

  5. 5 out of 5

    F.R.

    Well, here’s some fantastic feminist science fiction. ‘The Gate to Women’s Country’ takes gender roles, pushes them to the limit and sees a way to both destroy and rebuild them. It presents a compulsively drawn world, which looks forward and back as far as the ancient Greeks, to examine how defined the differences between society’s views of men and women are. On the surface, it’s about how these roles are fixed – with woman’s place as the mother and man’s as the warrior and the protector. But in Well, here’s some fantastic feminist science fiction. ‘The Gate to Women’s Country’ takes gender roles, pushes them to the limit and sees a way to both destroy and rebuild them. It presents a compulsively drawn world, which looks forward and back as far as the ancient Greeks, to examine how defined the differences between society’s views of men and women are. On the surface, it’s about how these roles are fixed – with woman’s place as the mother and man’s as the warrior and the protector. But in reality it’s nothing so straightforward as that. Clearly it’s a book born from the twentieth century (and works as an anti-nuclear tract – although, really, are there many novels which are pro-nuclear tracts?), yet its focus is wider than that. Its subject is the way gender roles have been fixed and cemented for millennia, and where the power should really lie in the battle of the sexes. In the future, after the conflations of nuclear war, it‘s the women who have control. They have their own cities where they run and administer everything. Outside the city walls are the men, who form the garrisons which offer protection. Despite the garrisons being military, the power lies in the knowledge, the skill and the organisation of the women. Although separated, the two sexes are not wholly apart, with various carnivals taken place which are (highly) organised to allow men and women to congregate. As a consequence children are born and at the age of five the boys are sent off to be with their fathers in the garrisons. And this is where the real divide between the sexes is apparent, as women hope their sons and brothers return when they are allowed to at fifteen, while the men of the garrison see it as a dishonour not to continue in the military until the day they meet a marvellous death. The narrative follows Stavia, daughter of one of the senior councilwomen and her relationship with Chernon – the son of a neighbour, who unbeknownst to her has been instructed by his superiors to woo her to try and find out the real secrets of what goes on through the gates to women’s country. It’s a book which seems to be leading in one direction, to a conflict between men and women – and yet it doesn’t quite do that. Instead (like one of its characters, a magician) it uses misdirection and sleight of hand – raising Chekov’s pistol but palming it and revealing it to be something else. Cleverly it shows what could lie in the future of these characters is the return of man’s domination, but it knows that we already understand what that looks like and so actually steers us in a different direction. The book is more interested in showing how men’s roles and defined by women and vice versa. It takes a truly extreme view of the masculinity which exists outside of women’s country and not only examines it, drawing comparison with the world we have now, but then twists it around – giving another more extreme example – hitting readers again and again with the horror of what men can do. Those of us in the comfortable liberal west may pat ourselves on the back as to how far women’s rights and feminism have come, but of course more can be done. Furthermore there are places in the world – and we all know that such places exist, even if most of us do not keep it in the forefront of our minds – where terrible things are done to women because of the strictures of the society in to which they’re born. In that regard this is an angry book, angry about these things it pictures in the distant future but which we all know versions of are happening today, and it wants us to share its anger. Without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year, a fascinating achievement which aims for and succeeds in real depth of character, heart breaking scenes, and hammers home a strident message without ever becoming pious or preachy.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Amy Sturgis

    Tepper offers a fascinating meditation on how a post-apocalyptic people might seek to limit the potential for future violence and thus avoid another devastating (presumably nuclear) holocaust. The division of genders into Women's Country and the Warrior society is a deeply unsettling one. The men live a Hobbesian life that is nasty, brutish, and short, while the women preserve a disconcertingly passive-aggressive tyranny based on secrets and half-truths and closeted eugenics programs. The book Tepper offers a fascinating meditation on how a post-apocalyptic people might seek to limit the potential for future violence and thus avoid another devastating (presumably nuclear) holocaust. The division of genders into Women's Country and the Warrior society is a deeply unsettling one. The men live a Hobbesian life that is nasty, brutish, and short, while the women preserve a disconcertingly passive-aggressive tyranny based on secrets and half-truths and closeted eugenics programs. The book suggests an easy answer to the question of where violence comes from -- men -- and then refuses to accept its own answer, because what else can the men become, if distrusted, denied education, and fed lies and propaganda? In the effort not to repeat the mistakes of the distant past, both the women and men of Women's Country have locked themselves into a cycle of more recent and still costly errors. The novel would have been more compelling if not for its temporary detour into the caricaturish Holyland (with its cardboard stereotypes) and if only the reader came to know Servitors such as Joshua and Corrig better, these "real men" who choose to turn their back on the warriors and provide (in more ways than most realize) for the women. Tepper doesn't seem to know exactly what this alternative portrait of masculinity looks like up close, and her piece would be the stronger for some kind of three-dimensional image. Also, a few times, it seemed as though Tepper felt more sorry and apologetic for the Damned Few, the female decision-makers behind the curtain, than appropriately suspicious of the great authority they have granted themselves -- an authority capable of and sometimes amenable to wiping out entire populations. This is a worthy classic for all of the difficult questions that it raises, even if its answers are incomplete and uncomfortable (and perhaps less unambiguous than Tepper herself wished), and I look forward to the discussions it yields in the classroom.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Christy

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. On my second reading: I don't think I gave Tepper enough credit the first time I read this book. The treatment of homosexuality still bothers me. Although, as one commenter has said, it could be argued that this is simply an authorial choice to make it easier for Tepper to explore the specific issues she wishes to focus on, it strikes me as too simplistic to simply say, "Oh, teh gay, we fixed that a while back," especially since the book is so much about questions of biology and essential On my second reading: I don't think I gave Tepper enough credit the first time I read this book. The treatment of homosexuality still bothers me. Although, as one commenter has said, it could be argued that this is simply an authorial choice to make it easier for Tepper to explore the specific issues she wishes to focus on, it strikes me as too simplistic to simply say, "Oh, teh gay, we fixed that a while back," especially since the book is so much about questions of biology and essential natures and this particular issue (as opposed to the issues of violence and masculinity) seems to be rather taken for granted where it could be explored in very interesting ways. Where I think I sold Tepper short on first reading is in her treatment of gender differences and biology. Upon re-reading, her approach to the issue of masculine versus feminine natures is quite complex. Tepper reinforces biological essentialism through the plot mechanic of breeding for nonviolence among the men (and through discussions of women's inherent nurturing natures) but also simultaneously critiques it by painting the actions of the Council as, at the very least, morally ambiguous. In the end, the women seem to be making some progress toward a world with no violence and no war, but, Tepper leads the reader to ask, is that acceptable if, to reach that world, they must engage in violence themselves? As is said in the play-within-the-novel, Iphigenia at Ilium,Dead or damned, that's the choice we make. Either you men kill us and are honored for it, or we women kill you and are damned for it. Dead or damned. Women don't have to make choices like that in Hades. There's no love there, nothing to betray. . . . Hades is Women's Country.The women who are in the know, therefore, are damned by their choices to kill men to save themselves and their sisters; the women who live in Women's Country all unknowing (most of the women there) are in Hades, which is "like dream without waking. Like carrying water in a sieve. Like coming into harbor after storm. Barren harbor where the empty river runs through an endless desert into the sea. Where all the burdens have been taken away." They live in a hell of ignorance, lost choices, and emptiness. This is quite a condemnation. ------------------------ This is a fascinating exploration of the relationship and differences between men and women. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, The Gate to Women's Country presents a society in which men and women have two very different cultures. The women live inside walled cities, growing food for both the men and the women, doing medicine and art and science and family; the men live in the garrison, outside the city walls, fighting and preparing for war. The women support the men and the men protect the women. Except for some men, who, after spending their childhood (from age 5) living in the garrison and being raised by the men to be warriors, choose to return to the city through the Women's Gate, to becomes servitors who live among the women and to learn to be productive members of that society instead of becoming warriors. The book sets up several key dichotomies--men/women, warrior/servitor, strong/weak--and then calls them, or at least our assumptions about them, into question. In doing so, Tepper makes an argument for the women's cities as the beginning of a true feminist utopia, a utopia that is not without men but that is without a certain kind of men. Morgot, a powerful leader of the women's community, explains: "Three hundred years ago almost everyone in the world had died in a great devastation brought about by men. It was men who made the weapons and men who were the diplomats and men who made the speeches about national pride and defense. And in the end it was men who did whatever they had to do, pushed the buttons or pulled the string to set the terrible things off. And we died. . . . Almost all of us. Women. Children. . . . Martha [a founder of women's country:] taught that the destruction had come about because of men's willingness--even eagerness--to fight, and she determined that this eagerness to fight must be bred out of our race, even though it might take a thousand years" (301-2). Tepper, in this argument combines an argument against war as we know it with an argument for gender equality--for the violence and destruction unleashed by this war is mirrored in the violence and destruction that had existed within human society (e.g., domestic violence, rape, genital mutilation). She is very careful, however, to again make the distinction between types of men and types of society, as Morgot says that it wasn't "that bad as a general rule, I don't think. Love existed, after all. Some men and women have always loved one another. Not all cultures oppressed women" (292). There are problems with this book, however. One is the essentialism of the argument. Although Tepper does allow for those men who are not warriors, who return to the cities as servitors, she still bases her argument on the assumption that men and women are fundamentally different. Men are, mostly, violent, aggressive, dominating; women are, mostly, cooperative, pacifist, nurturing. The fact that these things are changing as the women attempt to create a new kind of man, replacing the old kind through the process of genetic selection, could either be the saving grace or the final evidence that, in Tepper's world, men and women are fundamentally what biology says they are. The relationship between biology and culture definitely needs to be furthered explored. Another major problem is the treatment of homosexuality. Basically, it doesn't exist any more. It's explained that "even in pre-convulsion times it was known that the so-called 'gay syndrome' was caused by aberrant hormone levels during pregnancy. The women doctors now identified the condition as 'hormonal reproductive maladaption' and corrected it before birth. There were very few actual HNRMS--called HenRams--either male or female, born in Women's Country" (76). This is troubling for the queer movement because it turns homosexuality into nothing more than a disease to be cured and reasserts the hegemony of heterosexuality. In a world where men and women are segregated, it seems that outlawing homosexual behavior or "curing" homosexuality as an orientation only serves to limit the kinds of love and desire available. Frankly, it seems unreasonable. It's an interesting counterpoint to other feminist utopias (for instance, Joanna Russ's The Female Man) and their treatment of female sexuality. The other problem I have with the book is less theoretical and more aesthetic. Although I enjoyed the book greatly and found the ideas worth exploring (even if I didn't always agree with the assumptions made by Tepper), sometimes the prose itself grated on me. Mostly, it did this when it felt like Tepper was trying too hard to be artsy or complex. For example, here's the opening paragraph of the novel: "Stavia saw herself as in a picture, from the outside, a darkly cloaked figure moving along a cobbled street, the stones sheened with a soft, early spring rain. On either side the gutters ran with an infant chuckle and gurgle, baby streams being amused with themselves. The corniced buildings smiled candlelit windows across at one another, their shoulders huddled protectively inward--though not enough to keep the rain from streaking the windows and making the candlelight seem the least bit weepy, a luxurious weepiness, as after a two-hanky drama of love lost or unrequited" (1). Now while this does get the reader thinking immediately of love, loss, and children (important in the upcoming scene) and also introduces the concept of self-division that Stavia describes occurring to her repeatedly throughout the book, it also creates a rather garbled set of metaphors. There's joy in the gutters, protection in the windows, and sadness in the light--that's a lot of emotion to lay on one street. One more example to make my point: "Septemius and his people were in the street when they saw Stavia next, she coming along the walk with her marketing bag on her shoulder, brow furrowed with concentration over something or other, so she almost bumped them before hearing Kostia and Tonia's greeting, a vibrating 'Hello, Medic," which hung on the air like the reverberation of a gong" (170). The contrived word order and the sheer length of this sentence serve only to complicate what should be a very simple encounter on the street. Not to mention the oddness of the description of Kostia and Tonia's greeting. I mention the style because it is a recurring issue while reading the book, but it is only an infrequently occurring issue. Most of the time, Tepper's prose is perfectly clear and serves to advance the plot nicely. Some of the time, the style is even good (I particularly like the play-within-the-novel and some of the descriptions of the landscape outside the walls of the city). In the end, because this is a book that I enjoyed, that raises interesting questions, and that isn't without ideological problems to be discussed and worked out, this would make a great book to teach, especially in conjunction with other feminist SF.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    This is the book that introduced me to Sheri Tepper. It addresses questions of why humanity is so violent and possible solutions, of gender politics, of what a future might be like if men and women did not live together as a rule. In this post-apocalyptic future, matriarchal women live in walled towns, carrying on agriculture, arts, crafts and politics. Men live outside the towns in warrior garrisons, to protect the women. The story is about our heroine and how she learns some of the secrets of This is the book that introduced me to Sheri Tepper. It addresses questions of why humanity is so violent and possible solutions, of gender politics, of what a future might be like if men and women did not live together as a rule. In this post-apocalyptic future, matriarchal women live in walled towns, carrying on agriculture, arts, crafts and politics. Men live outside the towns in warrior garrisons, to protect the women. The story is about our heroine and how she learns some of the secrets of her society, secrets that are hidden by putting them right out there in the open so anyone with the wit to notice can see. Her personal story is framed beautifully by the device of a performance of Iphegenia at Ilium, a reworking of The Trojan Women, that examines the place of women, and their usual fates, in the patriarchal 'old times.' I love this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    Of all the books by Sheri S. Tepper I have read, this is perhaps the most overtly feminist in that the post-apocalyptic society she describes is clearly matriarchal. Yet it is not an angry, man-bashing diatribe. Instead The Gate To Women's Country presents a fledgling eco-utopian society where the ultimate aim is balance and equality between the sexes within a pacifist, non-violent culture. The means by which the Women's Council set out to achieve this balance, however, are both morally and Of all the books by Sheri S. Tepper I have read, this is perhaps the most overtly feminist in that the post-apocalyptic society she describes is clearly matriarchal. Yet it is not an angry, man-bashing diatribe. Instead The Gate To Women's Country presents a fledgling eco-utopian society where the ultimate aim is balance and equality between the sexes within a pacifist, non-violent culture. The means by which the Women's Council set out to achieve this balance, however, are both morally and ethically questionable. As well as being a very well written story, with excellent characterisation and a strong plot, this book raises issues that stay with you long after the final page has been turned. The book opens with Stavia, the central character, meeting with her fifteen-year old son who has made the decision to reject her and Women's Country for the life of a warrior in the garrison outside the town. From this poignant opening the story shifts between Stavia as an adult and member of the Women's Council and her earlier life from the age of eleven onwards. She grows up with her mother Morgot and older sister Myra in Marthatown; a place where sons are given to their fathers at the age of five to be trained as warriors for ten years after which they have the choice to remain in the Spartan-like garrison or return through the Women's Gate for a peaceful life of learning and servitude. Women's Country is a low-tech culture, still recovering from the destruction that occurred in the time of the 'convulsions' when North America was devastated by nuclear war. Farming, manufacturing, metallurgy, trade, education, medicine; these are all undertaken by women within walled towns, protected by their warrior brothers, sons and lovers in the garrisons outside the gates. Stavia is the daughter of a doctor and Council member and looks set to follow in her mother's path until she breaks the rules or 'ordinances' by giving books to an older boy with whom she forms a close friendship. However, we know that his motives are not as benign as Stavia thinks. There are secrets in Women's Country and while the men in the garrisons do not know what these secrets are, they are very keen to find out, wanting more power and influence in a society that pretty much excludes them. Without wishing to spoil the plot, the men are right to believe that the women are holding back significant information from them. By segregating the sexes and restricting mens' access to education and pre-destruction knowledge, the women are able to manipulate the technology they have to make advances towards a non-violent society. How this is achieved is the secret that could destroy everything should the men uncover the truth. It also raises a very real moral dilemma... do the means justify the hoped for end result? Certainly it gave me plenty to think about after I had finished reading the book. Sheri S. Tepper's writing is gentle and allows the plot to develop gradually over time. I found Stavia to be a compelling narrator, particularly when she used her 'actor' persona to hide her conflicting emotions. I also really liked Joshua, the family servitor, who, although very much in the background, was wise and insightful and provided balance to an otherwise divided culture. To some degree he was presented as an idealised male archetype, something the society strived for, yet because he had rejected the warrior life, he was also somehow lacking in honour and not always given the respect he deserved. The men in the garrison, on the other hand, were largely stereotyped as aggressive, resentful and hungry for power and control. Another group, the 'Holylanders', misogynistic polygamous descendents of fundamentalist-type Christians were interesting in that they provided a stark contrast to the culture of the Women's Country. Throughout The Gate to Women's Country are scenes from Iphigenia of Ilium, the traditional play that the Council put on every year before the summer carnival. This is a reworking of the Greek tragedy The Trojan Women and used as a guiding theme or leitmotif, as the adult Stavia prepares to play her part in the performance. I found this particularly interesting as it was treated almost as a religious text, and indeed, highlighted certain aspects of this post-apocalyptic society. It is fair to say that I really enjoyed reading The Gate to Women's Country and found it gave me plenty to think about. Would I enjoy living in such a matriarchal society, where, apart from the servitors, contact with men was limited to two carnivals every year? While I appreciated the desire for a completely pacifist society, I am not sure I would be prepared to go along with the measures the Women’s Council practiced in their attempt to achieve this. To me this felt oppressive and lacking in basic respect for the men, and the secrecy surrounding this was deceitful to say the least. However, this is a society still trying to rebuild itself some three hundred years after a nuclear war; a war that was indiscriminate in selecting its millions of innocent victims and blighted large parts of the land; a war that was started and fought predominantly by men… our own current society. http://speculativebookreview.blogspot...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    I remember reading this book for a Science Fiction class I took in college. Unlike probably everyone else in the class, except for my friend Chris, I hadn't ever gone through a scifi phase, or ever liked reading scifi books. The closest I ever came was really liking Star Wars and other movies as a kid. I'd even tried once reading a Star Wars novel as a kid and thought it was stupid and gave up on it. So I took this class in a genre I had no interest in, and the teacher was all gung-ho about sf I remember reading this book for a Science Fiction class I took in college. Unlike probably everyone else in the class, except for my friend Chris, I hadn't ever gone through a scifi phase, or ever liked reading scifi books. The closest I ever came was really liking Star Wars and other movies as a kid. I'd even tried once reading a Star Wars novel as a kid and thought it was stupid and gave up on it. So I took this class in a genre I had no interest in, and the teacher was all gung-ho about sf being all about being able to engage in interesting ideas and complex politics and stuff like that. This book was one of those complex ideas. What I remember is that women all live in this big gated community, with some eunuch like men who do their bidding, and I think they have some studs around to get them babies, oh wait no, now I remember they let the men in at one time each year to make babies with. The men live out in the wilderness and are kept out of the civilization of the gated community. Then there is someone who falls in love with a guy out in the wilderness or something like that and the women question their treatment of men or something. I don't really remember. I do remember thinking that the book was on the trite side, and it's grappling with serious issues was kind of weak and one dimensional. I do remember that the book read really fast though and that while I withered in a chair in the school library about the simple-minded political discourse going on, I also found myself pretty engaged in the story and wanting to keep on reading. So three stars.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Petra

    I had some issues with this novel that prevented me from giving it a higher rating: 1. not-so-subtle ramming of author's opinions down the reader's throat, and poor characterization as a result: from evil inbred religious extremists, to equally cliched women-are-the-sufferers Iphigenia play (not to mention those evil hyper-masculine men that make sufferers out of women)... 2. depiction of homosexuality as an illness that gets successfully eliminated by some good ol' genetic manipulation 3. gender I had some issues with this novel that prevented me from giving it a higher rating: 1. not-so-subtle ramming of author's opinions down the reader's throat, and poor characterization as a result: from evil inbred religious extremists, to equally cliched women-are-the-sufferers Iphigenia play (not to mention those evil hyper-masculine men that make sufferers out of women)... 2. depiction of homosexuality as an illness that gets successfully eliminated by some good ol' genetic manipulation 3. gender essentialism

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    I have found Tepper to be frustratingly uneven as a writer. When her stories take on what might be called a "feminist" theme, they don't work as well for me as those who explore other themes. This novel has a frame that I found especially irritating because the emotions described in the frame were never earned, and I did not find myself believing in or caring about them. The inner story was, by contrast, quite engaging, and I found myself wishing that she had left out the frame entirely.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    My review just disappeared and I really don't feel like regurgitating the specifics of my dislike for this book again, so this will be shorter than my original. How annoying. Basically, the book left a sour taste in my mouth... The only options for civilization (or anything resembling it) are a primitive, polygamous society that abuses its women and leaves infant girls out to die; roving bands of Gypsies that act as traveling whorehouses; and Women's Country where the "Damned Few" keep the truth My review just disappeared and I really don't feel like regurgitating the specifics of my dislike for this book again, so this will be shorter than my original. How annoying. Basically, the book left a sour taste in my mouth... The only options for civilization (or anything resembling it) are a primitive, polygamous society that abuses its women and leaves infant girls out to die; roving bands of Gypsies that act as traveling whorehouses; and Women's Country where the "Damned Few" keep the truth from everyone else. The book raised issues such as nature vs. nurture, the nature of men and women, what freedoms we can/should give up in exchange for safety, and who should make those decisions, but it never really dealt with the issues in anything resembling a positive direction. Sex is used as a tool to satiate the warriors twice a year, not as a demonstration of love or even for procreation. Marriage is spoken of only a couple of times as a brutal shudder-worthy pre-convulsion custom. There is little affection between characters except for a mother and her children, especially her sons, who are sent to live with the warriors at the ripe old age of 5. Seems to me that if you are trying to create a society that values peace, thoughtful intelligence, and compassion, sending half of your population into an environment that intentionally devalues those very qualities in favor of brute strength, cruelty, "honor," and selfishness is just a bit counterproductive. And though the Councilwomen's goal of a peaceful society is laudable, their methods, which included subterfuge, deception, selective forced sterilization, and assassination, were not. I didn't care for the play rehearsals that formed the "present day" part from which the flashbacks occurred. The play was supposed to be a comedy? Children being thrown from city walls? Women raped and murdered? Ok... All in all, I could have lived quite happily my entire life without ever reading this book... For more book reviews, visit my blog, Build Enough Bookshelves.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one too much, honestly. I hadn’t heard 100% good things about Tepper’s work before, and some of the great feminist works of SF have been lost on me. (The Female Man, for example — The Gate to Women’s Country is from the same decade, so I wasn’t very hopeful.) And there were some cringe-worthy moments, to be honest; the whole bit about “gay syndrome” being cured now, for example. Still, for the most part I really enjoyed this. It reminded me a little bit of Jo I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one too much, honestly. I hadn’t heard 100% good things about Tepper’s work before, and some of the great feminist works of SF have been lost on me. (The Female Man, for example — The Gate to Women’s Country is from the same decade, so I wasn’t very hopeful.) And there were some cringe-worthy moments, to be honest; the whole bit about “gay syndrome” being cured now, for example. Still, for the most part I really enjoyed this. It reminded me a little bit of Jo Walton’s The Just City, because it’s another attempt at building a perfect city and there’s a similar focus on the importance of art and learning. There’s a certain amount of Greco-Roman influence based on the play included in the text, Iphigenia at Ilium, too, and a rather Spartan set-up for the boys. The relationships between the characters are interestingly done; the awkwardness of the relationship between Stavia and Chernon, particularly — his desire for real connection alongside his manipulative behaviour — but also family relationships, like those between Morgot and Myra, Myra and Stavia. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here: the ethical dilemmas about what the women do in the cause of ending violence, the unique empathy-related abilities which come out of it. In fact, the whole way the city is organised and ruled, the way violence is channelled and rebellion bled off. There’s some really brutal, horrible stuff here in the name of creating a better world. Tepper doesn’t shy away from showing us that, although sometimes I think she’s lacking in sympathy for the characters, judging them rather harshly and ascribing to a darker view of human nature than I’d like to accept. Originally posted here.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Wanda

    Very much a product of its time! Post-nuclear war, societies are sorting themselves out and we get to witness two ways of dealing with things. One is very, very matriarchal, the other over-the-top patriarchal. As I began reading, I started with the impression that I was exploring a very patriarchal set-up. Fooled me! Yes, the women and men live (mostly) separately and the women must present sons to the warriors to be raised in warrior culture. But women control almost everything else (medicine, Very much a product of its time! Post-nuclear war, societies are sorting themselves out and we get to witness two ways of dealing with things. One is very, very matriarchal, the other over-the-top patriarchal. As I began reading, I started with the impression that I was exploring a very patriarchal set-up. Fooled me! Yes, the women and men live (mostly) separately and the women must present sons to the warriors to be raised in warrior culture. But women control almost everything else (medicine, agriculture, trading, education, etc.). Not very religious, but any references present are based on Greek mythology. Sex is viewed as healthy & desirable as long as disease is prevented. On the other extreme is a community apparently organized much like the polygamist culture in Bountiful, B.C. and in Utah. Older men appropriate all the women & girls for their own “harems,” leaving the young men frustrated and angry. Sex is viewed as an evil necessity, but still avidly desired and “religiously” pursued. Very religious society, based on the Judaeo-Christian model. Although the author does seem to favour the matriarchal culture, my impression from the book is that she wanted to show that NEITHER extreme is desirable and that both fail in crucial aspects. Perhaps influenced by Margaret Atwood’s excellent The Handmaid’s Tale as well as other post-apocalyptic novels of the 70s and 80s. A bit dated today, but worth reminding ourselves that we can co-operate together to run society fairly. Book 247 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Steelwhisper

    Firstly, how can anyone rate such an atrociously written book as high as I see it done in hundreds of ratings? Dear me, I was wincing all the time while reading. The excruciatingly bad prose, including some horrific abuse of grammar, was having an effect like a severe toothache on me. Where was the fecking editor of this book? Because this sort of prose was in no way typical of writers of the 1980s (book is from 1987), when you get such female SciFi, Fantasy and spec authors as C.J. Cherryh, Firstly, how can anyone rate such an atrociously written book as high as I see it done in hundreds of ratings? Dear me, I was wincing all the time while reading. The excruciatingly bad prose, including some horrific abuse of grammar, was having an effect like a severe toothache on me. Where was the fecking editor of this book? Because this sort of prose was in no way typical of writers of the 1980s (book is from 1987), when you get such female SciFi, Fantasy and spec authors as C.J. Cherryh, Ursula K. Le Guin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Katherine Kurtz , Margaret Atwood, Anne McCaffrey or Tanith Lee. The sheer reading experience was awful enough already. Then... why do I have the impression that a large amount of American feminist women hate men from the ground up? While I have read a couple of enlightening feminist books, even books which shoehorn feminism sideways into genre fiction (abovementioned female spec authors certainly did that now and then), there seems to be a large pool of female writers who have to hate men, who seem to hate their own gender as much in a way, who really carry boulder-like chips on their shoulders and somehow don't notice they entirely lost their grip on reality. Is it so easy to hate men in America? Does it come so naturally? Whatever the cause or reason: it disgusts me. It pushes me away from US feminism in a major way. This book is misandrist, misogynic, gender essentialist, heterosexist, cissexist, homophobic, biphobic, trans*phobic and maniacally egotistic dross. It shocked me to learn that the author obviously supports the eugenics she writes about here! Good grief.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Zach

    The Gloria Steinem of second-wave-inspired post-apocalyptic novels of gender separation? (making Walk to the End of the World Shulamith Firestone, perhaps, and The Shore of Women... Simone de Beauvoir? I don't know, I haven't actually read those two yet) Anyway my point is that this is the sort-of-essentialist (but maybe not?) liberal feminist version of the story, wherein men and women are fundamentally different and need to be mostly kept separate for their own good, except for those The Gloria Steinem of second-wave-inspired post-apocalyptic novels of gender separation? (making Walk to the End of the World Shulamith Firestone, perhaps, and The Shore of Women... Simone de Beauvoir? I don't know, I haven't actually read those two yet) Anyway my point is that this is the sort-of-essentialist (but maybe not?) liberal feminist version of the story, wherein men and women are fundamentally different and need to be mostly kept separate for their own good, except for those "womanish" men who have opted out of the warrior lifestyle and live among the women (no, not gay men-homosexuality has been medically eliminated... I know, I know), and where women are just better suited to lead because of their biological drive to nurture. Anyway 300 years after the "Convulsion" women live in towns while the male warriors are garrisoned outside of them, kept uneducated and without access to most tools or technology in order to prevent another war.* We explore this world through a Councilwoman's daughter, Stavia, whose main purpose appears to be making terrible choices in order to drive the narrative along. Not that there's that much narrative, anyway-this book is an exercise in social worldbuilding and little else. There's an "enemy" culture introduced like 2/3s of the way through to provide some conflict and a short adventure, but their whole episode feels rather tacked on, which is too bad, because if they had been developed from the beginning it would have strengthened the novel considerably. I remain, I must confess, a little mystified as to whether Tepper was trying to reinforce or deconstruct this essentialist society-although much of that might be my own disdain for such ideas rendering it a little difficult for me to take this stuff seriously. I guess it didn't help that the society didn't really make any sense at all anyway. * It must be noted too that a lot of negative reviews of this book on here center on Tepper's "unfair' characterization of men, which is great because A) turnabout is fair play, chumps, and B) these male characters are carbon copies of the heroes of most speculative novels.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ed Mestre

    Sheri Tepper has yet to let me down. I don't read a lot of science fiction, but when I do it is most often Philip K. Dick or Tepper. Dick for his street philosopher questioning the nature of reality, psychedelic prankster approach. And Tepper's imaginative & unique, often non-linear writing with a definite, but never strident, female perspective. In the 3 books of hers I've read, "Fresco", "Family Tree", & here "The Gate to Women's Country" the protagonists are women. In this one she Sheri Tepper has yet to let me down. I don't read a lot of science fiction, but when I do it is most often Philip K. Dick or Tepper. Dick for his street philosopher questioning the nature of reality, psychedelic prankster approach. And Tepper's imaginative & unique, often non-linear writing with a definite, but never strident, female perspective. In the 3 books of hers I've read, "Fresco", "Family Tree", & here "The Gate to Women's Country" the protagonists are women. In this one she takes on nature of relations between & within the sexes head on with an allegory within an allegory approach. We are in some future world several centuries after some disaster that they allude to as the Convulsion. Is it a nuclear war? An ecological disaster? We are never told. We leap around the main character's, Stavia, life. Sometimes as a woman & others as a girl growing up in the Women's Country, a series of walled cities guarded by garrisons of male warriors. Inside are only women & non-warrior males known as Servitors. The two societies only come together for procreation at their so called carnivals. Tepper creates an entire post-Convulsion world in fine detail. And not only one world, but several. In the woods beyond Marthaville & other towns are Gypsies, prostitutes, outcasts, & marauders. There are distant, isolated sheep stations. And far beyond that is Holyland. Which can only be described as a nightmarish patriarchal, Judeo-Christian Taliban. But all this is not just an exercise in the imaginative. It presents us the many facets of what male-female relations can be. The good, the bad, & the ugly. This is far from male bashing. Both sexes can be flawed. But we are also given the hope that both can come together in a beautiful way and not just as lovers, but as fathers & daughters & sisters & brothers. Throw in a twist or two at the end that not all is as it appears to be & this thought provoker is one hell of a read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen

    A friend sent me this knowing full well that I didn't like futuristic novels-he said I am sending this to one of the strongest women I know! I have probably read it 100 plus times (it is like comfort food-I found myself reading it along with the New Testament the week my sweet husband died ). I like the empowerment given to some women even though the men can't or don't want to understand. The empowered women see themselves as the damned as they manipulate the DNA and the numbers of their A friend sent me this knowing full well that I didn't like futuristic novels-he said I am sending this to one of the strongest women I know! I have probably read it 100 plus times (it is like comfort food-I found myself reading it along with the New Testament the week my sweet husband died ). I like the empowerment given to some women even though the men can't or don't want to understand. The empowered women see themselves as the damned as they manipulate the DNA and the numbers of their civilization remaining after the last big atomic war. As more men choose to return to women's country more of an Eden can be established. My daughter knew how much I love this story and went on-line and found me a first edition! I have given many copies of this book away and will continue to read and encourage others to read it. Couldn't get my church group to read it as it has the "F" word in it a few times! Get past it--A GREAT READ

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nakashi

    I'm not sure what to say about this book. The first Tepper I read was Beauty when I was 14 and it left me unsettled and fascinated, but this book just left me nonplussed. Unlike Beauty, I kept waiting to be drawn into the story although I'm not sure how much of it I should attribute to Tepper's storytelling and how much to the fact that I am immediately put off by gender essentialism. I found the inclusion of the Holyland in the story to present an alternative society where the power equation I'm not sure what to say about this book. The first Tepper I read was Beauty when I was 14 and it left me unsettled and fascinated, but this book just left me nonplussed. Unlike Beauty, I kept waiting to be drawn into the story although I'm not sure how much of it I should attribute to Tepper's storytelling and how much to the fact that I am immediately put off by gender essentialism. I found the inclusion of the Holyland in the story to present an alternative society where the power equation was reversed slightly...shoddy. Apart from the obvious contrast, I really hope she was going for a comparison to show the similarity of the (ab)use of power in hands of one sex in both societies, which is where the 'damned few' idea comes in. I do wish she had explored it further, because in this novel of black-and-white, any sort of grey seemed forced and weak. She really had something there, and if it had been handled in a different way, this could have been a fantastic book. The same goes for the ramming-it-down-your-throat-didactic Iphigenia play. To be honest, I didn't find any of the characters engaging - not even Stavia, the protagonist, and when that happens, you know there is a serious problem. Even the love story was far from convincing or evoking any kind of emotion. Having said that, I should also say that the world-building was very interesting and it wasn't a bad read per se, just that maybe I was expecting a Handmaid's Tale or after having read such great reviews, something more from Tepper. I wanted to give this book a three, I really did, but after thinking about it, I decided it was just...OK. So two it is.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. My last update stated that I wasn't sure how I feel about this story. I am now finished and the best I can come up with is that I am conflicted. While I think I can understand how a society chooses to rebuild after a terrible event, and that society makes certain decisions so that terrible event doesn't happen again, I am not sure if they are the right decisions. I was bothered by the lies. I am not sure if a society built on lies would last. The whole selective breeding, like reindeer and other My last update stated that I wasn't sure how I feel about this story. I am now finished and the best I can come up with is that I am conflicted. While I think I can understand how a society chooses to rebuild after a terrible event, and that society makes certain decisions so that terrible event doesn't happen again, I am not sure if they are the right decisions. I was bothered by the lies. I am not sure if a society built on lies would last. The whole selective breeding, like reindeer and other animals, is not right. That I feel in my gut. It speaks to potential larger evils, even if the reasoning behind it is benign. That being said, I think I can understand the why, I simply don't agree with it. As I write this, I realize I am bothered by many "little" things. Why would you not provide medical care to your sons. It just seems inherently against what I feel as a mother. I could make a list of the things that bothered me in this book. Let me say what I did like. I liked that society was able to rebuild, that we didn't loose everything, that people worked and traded together. That an attempt to do something good and different was done, ( I just don't agree with it). In the end would I choose life with Women's Country or life outside? I am not sure. There it is, conflicted.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    What a let down. Sure, the plot kept me going, but I resent anyone, male or female, who confuses feminism with man-hating. As a woman, I found this book profoundly insulting to the men I love, and even many of the men I don't. The only men who aren't lying, raping, manipulative butchers are some sort of mutant freaks that the women are trying to breed for? What kind of equality is that? What kind of dialogue of mutual understanding will come out of reading this? Ursula Le Guin can not only write What a let down. Sure, the plot kept me going, but I resent anyone, male or female, who confuses feminism with man-hating. As a woman, I found this book profoundly insulting to the men I love, and even many of the men I don't. The only men who aren't lying, raping, manipulative butchers are some sort of mutant freaks that the women are trying to breed for? What kind of equality is that? What kind of dialogue of mutual understanding will come out of reading this? Ursula Le Guin can not only write circles around Tepper, she can address issues of gender, war, and oppression in various forms without ever sliding into this simplistic female=good, male=bad thinking, with the few exceptions just proving the rule, Sheesh. Rush Limbaugh would adore this book, because it proves all the nasty things he's been saying about feminists for years. I loved the first few things I read by Tepper but the last three I've tried have gone from bad to worse. I haven't been this ticked off at a book in a long time. I did finish it, because as I said, some of the characters and their story were interesting enough, but the background was entirely offensive.

  23. 4 out of 5

    carmie

    This is my favorite Sheri S. Tepper book. Many people consider her work to be "lite," and that characterisation is accurate. But easily understood, broadly stated truths are truths nonetheless. I enjoy this book first and foremost for its detailed and fascinating depiction of a post-apocalyptic matriarchal society (much less depressing than A Canticle for Leibowitz). The characters are well-fleshed out and compassionately portrayed, even the villains. And despite the futuristic setting, this is This is my favorite Sheri S. Tepper book. Many people consider her work to be "lite," and that characterisation is accurate. But easily understood, broadly stated truths are truths nonetheless. I enjoy this book first and foremost for its detailed and fascinating depiction of a post-apocalyptic matriarchal society (much less depressing than A Canticle for Leibowitz). The characters are well-fleshed out and compassionately portrayed, even the villains. And despite the futuristic setting, this is clearly a coming-of-age story, as we watch Stavia grow from innocent child to wounded woman. I read this book once a year or so and find something new to relish each time.

  24. 5 out of 5

    l.

    A few comments: 1. I understand that we are now calling anything we find regressive "second wave feminism" but children, second wave feminists wrote extensively on male and female socialization, specifically wrt male socialization and violence. The idea that this book fails to address the connection between male socialization and violence because the writer was a backwards ~second wave feminist~ is absurd. Which is not to say that the author's line of thinking wasn't and isn't common either, but A few comments: 1. I understand that we are now calling anything we find regressive "second wave feminism" but children, second wave feminists wrote extensively on male and female socialization, specifically wrt male socialization and violence. The idea that this book fails to address the connection between male socialization and violence because the writer was a backwards ~second wave feminist~ is absurd. Which is not to say that the author's line of thinking wasn't and isn't common either, but it's not a failing of "second wave feminism" per se. Read a book instead of relying on everydayfeminism. 2. It doesn't strike me as strange that a society composed almost entirely of women and formed in a post apocalyptic world would believe men inherently violent. The issue here is that the women fail to see the connection between the quasi spartan type training that the male children undergo and them becoming assholes. And this despite the narrative acknowledging it. The idea that the Right male children (those male children who have special genes and empath skills) will survive the training without succumbing to warrior culture... instead of thinking that warrior culture itself is toxic and should be stopped is strange. If the belief was that men are inherently untrustworthy that would make more sense than a kind of reliance on the idea that right and wrong types of men exist and you can easily sort them out. The fact that none of the servitors have gone rogue seems unbelievable tbh. It seems as though the women are not trying to find/produce good men but rather that they're attempting to replace men with a more highly evolved form of male beings complete with special powers and devoid of the instincts that would ever allow them to behave in Patriarchal ways. Which is an odd, non solution to the problem of male violence. And that's acknowledged in the narrative as well with a servitor still feeling that he has to avenge "his" women etc. Because socialization will always be at issue... 3. I think it's funny that when female writers depict men as being inherently violent (which I don't believe they are but you can see how that belief forms given the enormity of male violence in our society and the seeming impossibility of addressing it), you get a huge outcry. Meanwhile having female characters who exist just to serve men and are inherently weak servile stupid etc... sure a few will call it sexist but do they call it gender essentialist? Cissexist? Lol. It's identified as a failing but never deemed "cissexist gender essentialist trash." Those are words reserved for women who write books with imperfect politics, apparently. And yes, it is imperfect. The throwaway mention of curing homosexuality for example. Amazing that she just stuck that in there with nothing to indicate how she wants us to feel about it - an example of how this society has lost so much in trying to fix itself, or a necessary evil? Who can say. I suspect it was just a throwaway idea and she never gave LG people any serious thought tbh. Which doesn't make it better but it's not something my gay ass cares too much about tbh. 4. Babes, I can't believe that I have to say this but there's nothing racist about the book drawing on a play by Euripides. (Sincerely, a woc who studied classics.)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    One thing I hate about many books is that they often starts off with flying colors with amazing prose and plotting, making me think it's going to be my new favorite book. And then they usually glided, or stumbled, down into disappointments by the end of the story, when the author clearly ran out of ideas or got simply lazy. Not with this author. In fact, I hated the first 25 pages. The writing was too forced, too 'overwrought,' as Tepper attempted to set up the background and history of her story. One thing I hate about many books is that they often starts off with flying colors with amazing prose and plotting, making me think it's going to be my new favorite book. And then they usually glided, or stumbled, down into disappointments by the end of the story, when the author clearly ran out of ideas or got simply lazy. Not with this author. In fact, I hated the first 25 pages. The writing was too forced, too 'overwrought,' as Tepper attempted to set up the background and history of her story. But the story gradually grabbed a hold of me with its relevant feminist interpretation of the Iliad/Odysseus (and maybe Aeneid), juxtaposing it with a eco-feminism dystopian reality. She kept her best cards until near the end, and I enjoyed the overlapping of her ideas with the characters' struggles, and how it blended together quite seamlessly. The writing seemed to improve by the conclusion as the plot became more driven and the ideas much clearer. For thousands of years (and they still are), women have been raped, pillaged, murdered, objectified, and used as currency for men. Tapper imagines a walled city, a feminist utopia, where they are treated as equals and nothing of the aforementioned by the patriarchal hegemony will happen to them. However, outside the walls, the patriarchal flag still wave with all its ugliness. Basically, Women's Country is about a heroine, who remembers a terrible bildungsrowoman journey she had as a young woman that transformed her purview from a innocent girl's into a grown woman's. Along her journey, Tepper poses many problematic questions and themes arising from the two sexes - the ownership of women, the identity (or the lack thereof) behind the names, the nature of man, evolutionary biology, and the male gaze in literature. **SPOILER** It has been said the writer is guilty of essentialism, which means she reduces men into stereotypical evil beings. I think this is partially true, as she exhibits this somewhat with Chernon when he takes sides with the boys who kidnapped the heroine Stavia. But I am going to give Tepper some license on this, because of the simple enormity that men has done to women throughout history, and, besides, Tepper did write some male characters that does not reveal any ill-will or possessiveness towards women. What I didn't like out of her ideas was about eugenics - she posited the idea of trying to eliminate the combative and possessive nature of man through artificial selection by the women. Fascinating stuff, to be sure, and I enjoyed her radical ideas, but eugenics opens a can of worms that leads to a very slippery slope to more exclusion towards minorities (e.g.., Deaf people, people of color). **SPOILER** I read this book for a book club, and I groaned when this book was picked - I didn't want a sci-fi book about an apocalyptic future, but I am happy to say Tepper exceeded my expectations.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    This is probably the worst science fiction book that I have ever actually finished reading. Tepper's agenda gets in the way of any developed narrative as she instead uses hundreds of pages to voice her disgust for the male gender in a fashion reminiscent of a jaded high school girls blog. As a man who strongly opposes the alpha male, meathead style of masculinity, I found this book particularly ignorant.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Elliot

    If I had read this when it was first published, in the 80s, I think I would have really liked this book. Alas, I read it now and it mostly made me angry. This book channels second wave feminism pretty heartily, and unfortunately it also falls into some of the movement's pitfalls. Powerfully negative attitudes towards men lie the foundation for this story - an idea that men are innately violent and aggressive, and women are not, is the true dividing line. This book pretends that personality is If I had read this when it was first published, in the 80s, I think I would have really liked this book. Alas, I read it now and it mostly made me angry. This book channels second wave feminism pretty heartily, and unfortunately it also falls into some of the movement's pitfalls. Powerfully negative attitudes towards men lie the foundation for this story - an idea that men are innately violent and aggressive, and women are not, is the true dividing line. This book pretends that personality is based purely on nature with nurture making little difference. Bodily autonomy and emotional connectivity fall to the wayside in favor of eugenics and manipulation. And to make it even worse the lack of gender non-conforming or non-heterosexual individuals in this world is not an oversight - the book flat out states that queer characters were bred out (see page 76 in my edition). To say that the story is misandrist, gender essentialist, and aggressively heteronormative would not be inaccurate nor unfair. As much as I wanted to throw this book across my room at times, or to give it one star, I will give it some credit where credit is due. This book is of its time, and it came from an angry place. And I get that. I've felt that. A lot of people have. It is interesting to use science fiction to play around with thought experiments, and our book club had an excellent discussion about this one. Tepper quite obviously put a lot of thought into her world, and the world-building was fairly intricate. The characters were drawn well enough that I truly hated many of them, and some mirrored individuals I've known in my past. There are some really excellent insights in here, and even passages that I reread because they struck a chord with me. However, I just couldn't get past the politics. It's a great book to talk about and critique, but it is not a book I feel I can recommend outside of that capacity. Book club: 3/18

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jamie Collins

    After an awkward beginning (I nearly put the book down before page 50) I enjoyed this. The Holylanders were a little over-the-top, but if I had read this when I was younger I probably would have been as fascinated by them as I was by the chained women of Darkover's Dry Towns. The story contains an ugly sort of feminism, but I've read so many books where women are supressed that it didn't feel too bad to go the other way for once. The author gave a point of view from every faction except the After an awkward beginning (I nearly put the book down before page 50) I enjoyed this. The Holylanders were a little over-the-top, but if I had read this when I was younger I probably would have been as fascinated by them as I was by the chained women of Darkover's Dry Towns. The story contains an ugly sort of feminism, but I've read so many books where women are supressed that it didn't feel too bad to go the other way for once. The author gave a point of view from every faction except the servitors, and I wish she had included that. This is one of those books that could have used another 100 pages. The Iphigenia play interludes were annoying and I started skipping them after a while. And I think the story would have been better without the clairvoyancy angle.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Julie S

    This book was really good! It’s a very engaging story and I found myself reading it solidly to see how it would end.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Glen Engel-Cox

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I read this book for our book club, and that's pretty much the only reason I would have picked it up. This is not because of its feminist slant, but because I generally despise books about post-apocalyptic societies. I'd much rather read about some horrible technological dystopia than a utopian vision of people running around in furs and gardening. The first third of this book did nothing to dispel that fear that this was one of those books either, from its beginning of feudal ceremony of the I read this book for our book club, and that's pretty much the only reason I would have picked it up. This is not because of its feminist slant, but because I generally despise books about post-apocalyptic societies. I'd much rather read about some horrible technological dystopia than a utopian vision of people running around in furs and gardening. The first third of this book did nothing to dispel that fear that this was one of those books either, from its beginning of feudal ceremony of the lead character Stavia having to part from her fifteen-year-old son to the backflash of Stavia as a young girl learning her craft as well as dealing with her smitten sister. Yes, the mystery starts early and gives you something to hope for: what prompted this division of the sexes and how is it maintained, what is the secret that the Women's Council possess, and why exactly is Stavia such a basket-case if she's one of the leaders of this community? Thankfully, this is a science fiction novel, and all these questions are eventually answered, and in such a way to prompt some thought. Like most science fiction novels of ideas (as opposed to those of adventure or style), even at its short 300 pages, this would likely have worked better at half that length. Most of the bulk is built around the time construction of the book where you go from 40-year-old Councilwoman Stavia preparing than performing a mash-up of the aftermath of the Trojan war back to the real action of Stavia learning about her society and alternating between rebelling and fulfilling its destiny. The play conceit is interesting, but destroys some of the tension of the other story (i.e., you know Stavia survives her ordeals) without being clear enough in its underlying thematic elements. That said, I enjoyed the book much more than I expected to, mainly due to Tepper's skill in plotting and her clear writing style. It's nice to read a science fiction book that doesn't try to be hipper-than-thou or more-erudite-without-a-fault. If anything, by having such an unadorned method of delivery, Tepper allows more access to the idea she is presenting, a worthy goal if her intention was to spark debate and discussion (and, ultimately, a perfect choice for a book club book). I disagree with her basic concept for a number of reasons, but I thought it interesting to consider. The Gate to Women's Country didn't change my mind about post-apocalypse stories (nor did A Canticle for Leibowitz or any of the other classic post-nuke-em books), but I don't regret having read it and may well read another by Tepper in the future. Below are questions (and spoilers) for book club discussion. Does Tepper's concept that violence can be bred out of human males (following the Laplander method of acquiring more docile bull reindeer) favor genetics over culture? If so, is this a flawed concept or do you agree that violence is a genetic trait in males? Is the selection for males with heightened perception (i.e., ESP) supposed to indicate that only males with more empathy can cohabit with women, as there seem to be only two types of servitors: the ones with ESP and the girly-men? Why is a cadre of warriors with nothing better to do (i.e., no real work to speak of) so easily foxed? Wouldn't a good warrior have better information (maps, spies, exploration teams of their own, preparations)? Or is Tepper saying that violent men are just dumb? It is revealed that it is only the servitors who are siring children, but what Tepper doesn't write about is whether the servitors also engage in sex with the women (the insemination process is artificial following carnival, but what about the other ten months of the year). Are we to assume that all the servitors are so unsexual and docile that jealousy and possession are no longer a part of them? (The ending with Joshua killing Michael indicates that this may not be so, but seems entirely too facile for the central concept.)

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