Star Trek III: The Search for Berton

Next up on the Bunch of Authors list is one Pierre Berton, a new name to me - and more's the pity. It turns out the late Berton was a journalist, columnist, historian and novelist - pretty much a Canadian national treasure. I'm keen to read several of his works, including Welcome to the 21st Century and The Invasion of Canada, his book about the War of 1812 - about which I know nothing except what is covered in the (hilarious) Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie song, "The War of 1812". (Check that out at the Dead Trolls site - look under audio.)

The trouble is no book shop I've been in has any of Berton's works. Readings didn't even have him in their database! The few that did have him in their systems didn't have any copies on hand, and didn't list either the books on the top of my Berton list. I'll look up the bibliographic details and put in an order, but considering how far behind I currently am, let's hope I can turn up something in a library or second hand bookshop soon...

Going backwards in the list, thanks to the geeky opinion blog Hoyden About Town, I've had some of my hopes for Feminism is for Everybody answered in the form of Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog. For readers more familiar with my science stuff, it's probably best thought of as the feminist equivalent of - a comprehensive FAQ and list of resources to help avoid having to repeat yourself in online arguments again and again and again. It's also a great resource for someone like me looking to expand my vocabulary and thought. Check it out!

Something that's not on the list: Isaac Asimov. I'm aware the "books read" list at right makes it look like I've read virtually nothing at all, but then it only lists those books that contribute to the Bunch of Authors project. I've read plenty of other things this year, the latest of which was the first Elijah Baley novel, The Caves of Steel. It's a whodunit set in the future with robots and politics and it's great, though newly imbued with a feminist perspective I couldn't help but notice that it fails the "Bechdel test". I only recently discovered this test, popularised by web comic Dykes to Watch Out For, but basically a film or whatever passes the test if there are two female characters (preferably named) who have a conversation with each other about something other than a man. The Caves of Steel only has one named female character (though to be fair, I should mention there are probably only about six or seven significant characters in total), and she's the wife of the protagonist, plaincothesman (policeman) Baley. She turns out to be quite pivotal in the plot, but isn't exactly a great leap forward in characterisation of women and male-female relations... But putting that aside, it is a cracking read - dated in many respects, perhaps, but still visionary and thrilling. I've already lined up the two sequels, The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn (the latter of which I read in my youth), for alternate books while I continue with the project.

Finally, while it's not a book, I did see the Star Trek film. My beloved loved it, as did I - hence the title of this post, as I felt compelled to show her previous entries in the franchise (don't worry, I left out Star Trek: the Motionless Picture). There's been plenty of criticism of the film from a feminist perspective (see, as probably the best example, this piece in The Guardian), and the group I first saw it with had some too. I can see the point, though it's fair to say the film has been imagined by JJ Abrams as a story about two iconic characters in which everyone - even the antagonist - takes a seat way in the back. (I'm left hoping to see more of Urban's Bones McCoy in the inevitable sequel, though we shouldn't hold our breath expecting new characters to be introduced.)

Something it made me recognise, though, is that stories of the future no longer present a people or society much different from our own. They're like what my best history lecturer used to call the "Disney versions" of stories about history - stories about people just like us, though with funny hats (or in this case, attractive jumpsuits). The world of Star Trek's 23rd century reflected a slightly idealised America of the 60s in its original television incarnation, and in the new film, despite the faster than light travel, alien contact, even alien sex, it's recognisably...well, not even 21st century America, just the 60s again, but with a 21st century idea of future technology. There's no evidence of the major social changes that surely - or at least hopefully - we are moving toward.

While I enjoyed Star Trek, I've no illusions that it represents the great things I love about science (or speculative) fiction - a bold imagining of the what could be. (If you want a vision like that from the past, try Asimov or the extraordinary Paris in the Twentieth Century by Jules Verne.) I'm hoping for something more exciting and visionary from Doris Lessing, who's later on in the list, but if you have any suggestions for good, visionary fiction depicting real social change, I'd love to hear them.

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