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Strange Ladies by Lisa Mason

Strange Ladies by Lisa Mason

Strange Ladies by Lisa Mason (Bast Books, 2013) is my second rather belated look at this author. I read Arachne when it first appeared more than twenty years ago and was not very impressed. Reading this collection suggests I should have persisted. There are some very fine stories on display here. We start off with “The Oniomancer” who was born Suki as the fifth of five children. She was an unwanted accident who can’t help but find things. Now all grown up, calling herself Chinadoll and making a living as a bike messenger, she still finds things. This time it’s a cube and she, well, adopts it. Anyone would do the same. The fact it’s an alien device. That just makes it way more cool to possess it. Of course, life’s bitter experiences have taught her that other people place great value in the ownership of things. And probably aliens are no different. So perhaps she should return it. Or not. Who knows what a girl like Chinadoll will decide. “Guardian” is a delightful tease as we watch the janitor refine his break-in skills, increasingly contemptuous of the security measures installed by the condo ownership, while our heroine in her first home worries herself sick about the risk of a home invasion without realising she has the remedy immediately to hand. And, of course, when she finally makes the connection. . . well that’s what buying protection is all about.

“Felicitas” offers an insight to a prowler’s coming-of-age. You may think of this creature as something prefaced with a were but that’s to lose sight of the growing girl inside the body as it changes when the night comes. She was abandoned as a baby and survived the convent orphanage experience as she grew into a young woman. When she was old enough, she crossed the border into America and found work. Everything was under control as a human. Her periods came and went. There were no consequences. But when she came into heat as a prowler. Ah, now all the males of her nocturnal species were instinctively drawn to her, and the largest and most powerful of them insisted. Well what’s a self-respecting female prowler to do about that? Is she expected to put up with this macho shit?

“Stripper” rehearses the debate about whether stripping or pole dancing objectifies and exploits women, or gives them the freedom to do what they want and get paid for it. According to the patriarchal world view, the women are there to entertain the largely male audience. The feminists characterise the dancers as betraying their gender, pandering to the base instincts of the voyeurs. No matter who’s right, this story sees a woman fighting for her independence while still fulfilling the biological imperative to produce a child. As in all things, this requires a little give and take, a compromise or two, and an outcome that satisfies all interested parties. Now all we need is the time to make it work.Lisa Mason

“Triad” pursues this idea of balance between opposites. If debates can never be resolved until semantics can be set aside, what about the underlying genders themselves. It’s convenient to oversimplify the world into male and female, but this ignores the more complex possibilities as different physical and social roles are constructed for each individual by surrounding circumstances. When everything fits and is resolved into a culture, there’s the possibility of truth and harmony — a third way. Unfortunately, the truth about divergences from the gender norms is that the majority are uncomfortable with some devolving into fear and hatred. Elevate the debate into the nature of marriage — is a single-sex union permissible — and when a child comes and there’s a triad, what happens to the emotional balance if there’s a separation? As the afterword to this story says, this is a variation on The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin, and a quite remarkable reworking of the theme it proves to be.

“Destination” is a cross-country drive as a woman picks up three random men for company, sharing the driving and paying for the gas. Once you accept the premise, the rest follows the news there’s a serial killer on the loose. I think the ending is tacked on from a different story and rather spoils the effect, but it’s worth reading for the detail of the journey. Finally, “Transformation and the Postmodern Identity Crisis” is all about Alice, she of Wonderland fame, and it details, somewhat gorily, what happened to all and sundry after they emerged from their underground haven and sought to merge back into the human race. It shows a pleasing wit and some malice as the primary characters pass through the looking glass and discover the mirror is a sideshow amusement. Put all this together and you find Strange Ladies a very entertaining collection of diverse stories plundering the genres and showing a nice sense of humour on the way.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

  1. November 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Thanks for your critique, David! Yes, I’ve grown as a writer. Thank goodness!

    • November 22, 2013 at 4:01 pm

      I read Arachne and Summer of Love when they were published so it was interesting to come back to your writing again. These are impressive stories!

      • November 22, 2013 at 4:29 pm

        Thanks again, David! This is what is so great about ebooks. I can–and have–re-edited all my previous works. I did my best at the time but, let’s face it, writing is difficult and writing when you hold down a full-time professional job, are supporting a family, are young….makes writing all the more difficult. That’s life.
        To prepare the ebook, I keyed in Summer of Love from scratch (my scanner creates so many errors, it’s just not worthwhile to scan) and boy oh boy did I find things I wasn’t all that happy with. Wound up cutting something like 20,000 words of youthful excess, refocusing the story and the relationships. To distinguish the new from the old, I retitled the book Summer of Love, A Time Travel.
        Next on my slate is a major reworking of Arachne and Cyberweb as The Quester Trilogy. It will still be cyberpunk–readers either buy that premise or they don’t–but I’m recasting it as YA since the story is about the heroine searching for her identity. I read your review of The Rithmatists with interest. The Quester Trilogy is not going to be dumbed down!
        I love to talk books (as you can tell) as much as I love reading the writing them. Glad to connect with you!
        If you ever have time, please visit me at http:///www.lisamason.com

      • November 22, 2013 at 5:21 pm

        It’s impossible to say without some degree of embarrassment that I gave up on you after the first two books. For many years, I had a policy of trying everyone new, abandoning those whose sensibilities did not match mine, and collecting the rest. Such are the strategies and obsessions of a completist collector. Now I’m reviewing for SFBRs, I have the chance to reconnect with many authors whom I tried all those years ago. I’m glad to find you much improved.

        It’s refreshing to find an author prepared to rework old texts. Too often, emotional barriers prevent the rescue of work that’s thematically strong but not quite delivered in the right way.

        I’ve read all Brandon Sanderson’s work including the YA titles which I tend to find hard work. Elantris, Warbreaker, and The Emperor’s Soul are in my top twenty fantasy books of the last decade.

        I’ll monitor your website for future news.

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