Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Nicola Griffith talks about writing Ammonite"

The below essay followed the text of Nicola Griffith's novel Ammonite. I wanted to include a passage from the essay in my review of the novel, but the more I thought about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to convey it, the more I realized that I really wanted to quote the entire essay. Her words were far more eloquent and powerful than anything I could have said. Below is the complete text of the essay "Nicola Griffith talks about writing Ammonite". I think it's important.

It is reprinted here with the permission of Nicola Griffith.


“Are women human?” That question forms the subtext of more speculative fiction novels – fantasy, SF, horror, utopia and dystopia – than I can count. I intended Ammonite as a body blow to those who feel the question has any relevance in today’s world.

I am tired of token women being strong in a man’s world by taking on male attributes: strutting around in black leather, spike heels and wraparound shades, killing people; or riding a horse, swearing a lot, carrying a big sword, and killing people; or piloting a ship through hyperspace, drinking whatever pours, slapping boys on the back, and killing people. I am equally tired of women-only worlds where all the characters are wise, kind, beautiful, stern, seven-feet-tall vegetarian amazons who would never dream of killing anyone. I am tired of reading about aliens who are really women, or women who are really aliens.

Women are not aliens. Take away men and we do not automatically lose our fire and intelligence and sex drive; we do not form hierarchical, static, insectlike societies that are dreadfully inefficient. We do not turn into a homogeneous Thought Police culture where meat-eating is banned and men are burned in effigy every full moon. Women are not inherently passive or dominant, maternal or vicious. We are all different. We are people.

A woman-only world, it seems to me, would shine with the entire spectrum of human behavior: there would be capitalists and collectivists, hermits and clan members, sailors and cooks, idealists and tyrants; they would be generous and mean, smart and stupid, strong and weak; they would approach life bravely, fearfully and thoughtlessly. Some might still engage in fights, wars and territorial squabbles; individuals and cultures would still display insanity and greed and indifference. And they would change and grow, just like anyone else. Because women are anyone else. We are more than half of humanity. We are not imitation people, or chameleons taking on protective male coloration, longing for the day when men go away and we can return to being our true, insectlike, static, vacuous selves. We are here, now. We are just like you.

But Ammonite is much more than an attempt to redress the balance. It’s a novel. One about people – how they look at the world and how the world makes them change; one that attempts to look at biology, and wonder What If . . . ; one that shows readers different ways to be; one that takes them to other places, where the air and the temperature and the myths are not the same. If, a week after reading Ammonite, you pause over lunch, fork halfway to your mouth, and remember the scent of Jeep’s night air, or on your way to work daydream about the endless snow of Tehuantepec, or wonder for a moment as you climb into bed whether or not a virus could enhance our senses – then I’ve down my job.

--Atlanta, 1992.

copyright belongs to Nicola Griffith


Harvey said...

You're right - what a powerful and eloquent essay! I haven't read the novel, but I certainly will be.

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Jam Lebrilla said...

I've read Ammonite. It's nice to know what motivated Griffith to write it. I didn't focus on the women in the story though, as there are women everywhere. I was more interested in how the planet affected their bodies. In fact, I thought the biologics of it was what Griffith was going on. I guess I see the novel from a slant. Reading this has cleared up a few things for me. Thanks for that.

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