'Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.'- Angela Carter

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

GUEST POST: Madeline Ashby on Gender

Madeline AshbyI am really happy to hand the reigns over today to the wonderful author Madeline Ashby. Madeline is the author of the successful vN and iD, the first two novels in her science fiction series, The Machine Dynasty. Today, she is here to talk about the issue of gender within her novels, about the portrayal of the female within her books and why this is so important.

Madeline Ashby:

When I wrote vN, I was working with multiple female main characters. Or rather, I was working with one woman, who happened to have two frameworks of consciousness available at any one time. Amy, the protagonist of the story and a self-replicating humanoid robot, eats her grandmother (another robot, the one who iterated her mother and later abused her) alive at kindergarten graduation. Thereafter, she carries her "granny," (a real godless killing machine named Portia) along with her as a partition of her memory space. That means that the two of them can speak to each other constantly. When I tell other women this, that the story is about a girl who carries her abusive grandmother with her everywhere, they understand the resonance of the premise immediately.

In a lot of ways, Portia is the woman that too many women carry around with them. I carry a version of her, inside myself. So does my own mother, I'm sure. And so did her mother, before her. Just because that specific inner voice doesn't belong to the port of a killer robot's consciousness doesn't make it any less destructive or evil. In my case, it's the voice that tells me that I'll never be as good a writer as I want to be, that I've never been pretty, that I don't know how to make relationships work, that I'd make a shitty mom. I think other women hear this same voice, this same shadow self, echoing inside their minds. I think we spend our whole lives learning not to listen to it.

I'm honestly not sure if men hear this same voice. I suspect that they do. I suspect it's their dads. But I can't say for sure.

This isn't to say that giving voice to Portia was entirely bad. In both books, Portia is the character who gets things moving. She's all action, all the time. And I don't just mean that she makes great action scenes happen -- she does, but more importantly she demonstrates agency. She has goals and she sets out to accomplish them, and doesn't back down when it gets tough. She's in total control of herself, and doesn't feel the need to justify her choices to anybody. In a lot of ways, it sucks that she's a villain. But I like to think that some of her qualities are what make Amy special, too. After all, Amy is the one who stood up to her, first. Amy runs up onstage to challenge her without any assistance. Amy is just as strong as she is. She's just not as experienced in working to get what she wants.

And that's the thing about the relatives you hate. What you hate most is the parts they leave with you, the  unky legacy code they leave deep inside your programming. And the parent you hated the most? The one who scored the most eye rolls, the most heavy sighs, the one who you swore you'd be different from? That's the one you turn into. And it sucks.

It's also something I tried to address in iD. Javier is a man who feels destined to become his father -- to repeat his father's mistakes because he simply doesn't know any better. Part of that is bound up in his masculinity. In fact, one of the first readers of vN said he loved Javier because he was so masculine -- something he'd never really seen in a depiction of an android, before. That was something I wanted to explore in this book -- how can you be a real man, when you've never been a real live boy?
vN (The Machine Dynasty, #1)
Amy Peterson is a von Neumann machine, a self-replicating humanoid robot.

For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother’s past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, little Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.

Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she’s learning impossible things about her clade’s history – like the fact that the failsafe that stops all robots from harming humans has failed… Which means that everyone wants a piece of her, some to use her as a weapon, others to destroy her.
iD (The Machine Dynasty, #2)
Javier is a self-replicating humanoid on a journey of redemption.

Javier's quest takes him from Amy's island, where his actions have devastating consequences for his friend, toward Mecha where he will find either salvation... or death.

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