The Problem With Classic Sci-Fi

Okay, maybe it’s not a problem for everyone, but it is for ME! It’s so sexist! I can’t stand it! All the women are either accessories or idiots or sex toys.  Or D)all of the above.  I know, I know, it’s “of its time.”  After repeating that to myself for the seventy-ninth time all I can hear is blah blah blah.

So, what has gotten me into such a fury at this moment, you may ask? Reading Larry Niven’s classic Ringworld for my sci-fi book group.

ringworld cover

I really wanted to like this book! I’ve wanted to read it for a long time and thought it would be great to read it in a group.  I should probably wait until the group discussion to pass judgement on it.  But I’m just not feeling generous at the moment.  First of all, Louis Wu, the main character, is indulging himself on his two-hundred-somethingth birthday with a big party, where he meets a twenty-something young woman, Teela, who reminds him of a past love.  He finds out after talking to her and telling her she reminds him of this past heartbreaker (note: 1. the ex wanted a career instead of a husband–the cheek! 2. the whole set-up reminds me of Marnie, the creepy Hitchcock movie with the famously abused Tippi Hedren) that said ex is this woman’s great grandmother. Or was it her great-great grandmother?  Either way, Louis and Teela hook up.  Ew.  Just ew.  Do I need to elaborate?  Why on Earth (or any other planet) would she be interested in a geezer like Louis?  Oy.  Male fantasy, male fantasy.

Louis is part of an expedition, and the alien in charge of choosing the crew chooses Teela, not because she has some skill they need, but because of something to do with her family tree, she is considered lucky.  Woman=good luck charm, rabbit’s foot, token.  Nice.  Then when Louis objects to her being on the crew, she tries to convince him she should go by telling him “you could wind up sleeping alone. You’d hate that, I know you would.”  Why can’t she just say she wants to go and doesn’t need his protection or opinion so he can stuff it?  Because, of course, she is using her wiles to get what she wants.  She’s working the system.  And Louis even admits to himself that “he would hate sleeping alone.”

Later, Teela tells Louis she actually loves him and that’s why she’s going.  Really?  She’s known him for like, five minutes.  I’m not buying the love thing.  Then Louis is thinking how he’s glad she has stayed with him: “It had been like the story of Louis Wu and Paula Cherenkov [the great-great grandmother ex], rewritten for a happy ending.” Again, ew.  He’s not even seeing Teela for who she is, but instead doing the Marnie thing, pasting another face on her and pretending she’s someone else he wanted to possess but couldn’t.   He also calls her “a twenty-year-old girl,” [italics mine] so he’s not even thinking of her as an adult.  I know what you’re saying, you’re saying it’s “of its time,” calling women girls in the 1970’s when this book was published.  Still, it gets very tiresome.  And confusing! I mean, he’s ok with that, shagging her and thinking of her as a girl, not an adult woman? What does that even mean?

Okay, so that’s enough to give you an idea of my experience reading this book.  I want to finish it for the book group, and I still have a few days, but I don’t know if I can take the emotional exhaustion I have every time I read it.  I’m only about a third of the way through it. Plus, I am finding the story boring. Every time I start reading it I fall asleep. I guess I’m just not that into hard sci-fi.  I love stuff like Robopocalypse and Ready Player One, pretty much anything by Phillip K. Dick (you know, Blade Runner), but the more I read hard sci-fi , the more I find it teeeeeeeeeeeeeedious.  Anyone with me?