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The Feminists

by Parley J Cooper

(Pinnacle, 188 pages, paperback, $0.95; 1971.)

I should stress right at the outset that this paperback original was published in 1971. Why a review in 2003 of a relic from sf's hoary past? Well, I think the reason is to be found in the front-cover blurbage:

The Feminists
...They rule the world, and top dog is a bitch! A small band of men and their women go underground to fight the final battle of the sexes!

Yes: The Feminists is clearly what sf publishers are constantly telling us is "a cover scanforgotten classic" -- a cutting-edge dystopian work to rank alongside Nineteen Eighty-four, a dire-warning if-this-goes-on tale about a horrific future in which the weaker sex have usurped the laws of Nature and taken over the reins of political power.

Tremble in your locker-rooms, oh heedless males.

The future is distant 1992, and everything's gone to hell in a handbasket since the female coup (often for reasons that are not immediately apparent: for example, I cannot understand why a drop in industrial production to virtually zero should have caused devastating global pollution). Men are a subjugate species; they have their uses, but not many of them, and are expected to be self-effacing and subservient at all times. Jackbooted butch dyke security troops are everywhere. Heterosexual sex is prohibited except by special permit.

Husky hetero Keith Montalvo has sex with a like-minded colleague, and their crime is discovered. She's in hot water, but he's in serious trouble. He goes on the run, hides in the New York subway, encounters and joins the underground (literally) resistance -- which is composed of both men and women seeking not a return to male dominance but the establishment of equality of the sexes -- is recruited, engages in guerrilla warfare, is captured, tortured and sentenced to execution, and is unofficially reprieved at the last moment when the Mayor of New York realizes he is her long-abandoned son and goes to the guillotine in his place.

Oops, I forgot the obligatory bit: he falls in love with a sultry rebel temptress.

One can imagine how this book came into existence. The scene is a smoke-filled editorial office at Pinnacle. Shirtsleeved males of varying degrees of obesity and baldness sweat amid the white-hot heat of creativity. They've had the USA conquered by bugs, commies, aliens, prehistoric monsters, werewolves ... you name it. What the hell is there left? And then it slowly dawns: even more terrifying than Godzilla is ... women!

I did wonder for a while if Cooper's purpose was satirical -- if he might be using his female-dominated USA to make caustic comment about our own male-dominated USA (and of course it was far, far more so in 1971). But I don't think, on reflection, his aspirations went that high: there are too many stupid jibes about the supposed tropes of womanhood, such as:

...he doubted that any woman, even a Feminist soldier, would brave following them into the sewage system. Their [women's] inherited fear of rats was evident even in Angela, who was, he thought, braver than most.

Of course, with the more recent mapping of the human genome we can identify exactly the chromosome responsible.

A thought that kept hammering at me as I read was this: whatever we might say, and indeed whatever we might think, we have in our culture elevated the terrorist to the status of folk hero -- for terrorists is what the heroes of The Feminists are, merrily planting bombs that blow up the innocent alongside the guilty. Although the official stance of Western civilization is in staunch opposition to terrorism, in fact popular culture has glorified the terrorist, who in consequence has always had firm public support -- so long as s/he is our terrorist, the underdog fighting back pluckily against oppression using whatever means are to hand, most notably their own courage and ingenuity. We admire their quickwittedness. In other words, terrorists are evil murderous bastards unless they're on our side, in which case they're heroic freedom fighters, and the civilians they kill with their bombs and their bullets are just collateral damage.

This is an enormous example of double standards, and of course it's not confined to Western cultures. The dichotomy is perfectly understandable, of course; what is destructive is the pretence that it doesn't exist.

Hardly an original thought -- I've even had it myself several times before -- but it was reinforced by my reading of this book.

But what of The Feminists as a novel? I must confess that when I handed over my 5 for it at a yard sale I hoped it'd be so astonishingly bad that I'd be rocking with mirth as I read it -- that there'd be a flood of juicy morsels for Thog's Masterclass. Alas, the novel is not a "classic" for that reason; the writing is somewhat drab and uninspiring, and the adventures lack any verve or originality. Yet it's an intriguing curio nonetheless, and will remain on my shelves: there may well be writers somewhere in the West today who're self-publishing equally doom-laden futuristic novels about the dreaded ascendancy of women, but one cannot imagine any front-line commercial publisher being willing to take such a thing on. So The Feminists is a "classic" of sorts in that it is a literary item whose like we shall not see again, at least in the immediately envisageable future.


Review by John Grant.

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