The Female Man

When I discovered this Classic

I found this Classic on Forbidden Planet’s list of 50 must-read SF books.

Why I chose to read it

I’d never heard of Joanna Russ (the highest-ranked female author on the list after Ursula Le Guin), and it seemed like a good opportunity to discover a new (to me) author.

What makes it a Classic

May’s Classic has the distinction of being both Classic Sci-Fi (an innovative take on time travel and parallel worlds), and a Feminist Classic (the novel looks at four different scenarios of possible interactions between men and women).

What I thought of this Classic

The novel is about four different women, who are potential past-present-futures of the same person (genetically speaking). The author avoids the common paradoxes of time travel by situating the past, and futures, in parallel worlds, with Joanna (a self-insert persona of the author) representing the present of ‘our’ world at the time of writing. The narration skips between the different women, often in the form of a stream of consciousness, and their interactions with each other allow us to imagine different cultural perspectives on women. I don’t feel the shifting stream of consciousness worked very well, as I was often unsure who was speaking – this may have been deliberate (to emphasize the genetic connection between them) but I just found it frustrating. Similarly, while the ideas in the novel are interesting, the lack of an actual story made it feel like polemic. I think a good novel in any genre can tell a gripping story, while also questioning the status quo, and in a choice between that and an experiment like The Female Man, I will always opt for the former. 

Will it stay a Classic

Hard to say. It doesn’t strike me as being particularly well-known even now.

Who would you recommend this to

People who enjoy experimental fiction.