Ancient Light, culture and memory

Last May at Wiscon, Sylvia Kelso talked about Golden Witchbreed (1984) and its sequel, Ancient Light, during the Uncomfortable Politics panel, and I knew while she was talking that I would love these books and that they’d upset me. Golden Witchbreed totally blew my mind! Why don’t people talk about it more? Sylvia warned us that it sets up a hero, Lynne Christie, and then in the 2nd book destroys her, or does something heart-rendingly disturbing with her character, which sounded like … like she became corrupt, or broken by circumstances — not like she gets victimized in some simple way, but that instead she disappoints the reader… or shows something disappointing about our own characters. I’m at the very beginning of Ancient Light, feeling upset and doomed already, and can see many complicated ways this could go. The story has an unreliable narrator & many other things I love – including the thing I’m always going on about, memory and eating-memories and being a holder of memory, the thing that Bujold tries to explore in Hallowed Hunt & that Wolfe does the opposite way with his Autarch & that Herbert does in Dune.

(I talked about this memory-eating more in the article on age and gender Q. and I wrote for the women in sf book, but at the moment I want to go to bed and anyway I can’t remember all of my examples from the article.) The memory-eater and their fate, & purpose, are a placeholder for what the author’s trying to say about culture and history and the position we should take in relation to it. One position – what i think of as the patriarchal one – suggests that by consuming history and knowledge we become God; cultural elitism; other people’s memories are consumed and internalized, eaten. The other might possibly be a sort of cultural revolution position and focuses on process rather than a cult of old culture. Bujold’s ghosts and memories must be set free. I had other examples from (mostly) women writers and should look back at my notes to see what they were. Anyway, I think Mary Gentle’s book is going to add some interesting data points to this collection of ideas on SF and memory.

In the meantime I am feeling very emotionally shaky about what’s about to happen in this book to Lynne Christie who was an excellent and complicated heroine. I feel all trembly inside, and expectant, and maybe intellectually or morally (?) scared and aware of my own complications & contradictions, like I did while reading Illicit Passage and the Tiptree bio.

I’m sure other people noticed the river Ai, obvious homage to Le Guin’s Envoy in a book about a diplomat & first contact. The book is (or both books, I think, are) a wonderful complicated weird counterpoint to Left Hand of Darkness, when you consider it that way instead of obsessing on kemmer as so many people do.

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2 Responses to “Ancient Light, culture and memory”

  1. Sylvia Kelso



    Hi Liz, Quick comment about the Wiscon Uncomfortable Politics panel and *Ancient Light*, yeah, you will love it,for the reason you are expecting, but I don’t think you quite recalled my comments right (it was *very* late at night) ie. it’s not Lynne herself who gets torn down in the second book. I won’t say any more to avoid spoilers, except that the fear and trembling doesn’t have to be held in abeyance for her.
    The memory-eater, though, is a v. interesting concept and shd. indeed apply to *Ancient Light* with a lot of relevance, not to mention data.
    BW
    SK

  2. badgerbag



    Hi Sylvia! It was awfully late – after midnight I think – and I didn’t quite remember. The fear and trembling is still in effect and so far (1/3 of way through) I’m horrified at Lynne! OMG. It’s also striking me that this book perfectly outlines stuff I’ve read about sort of innocent-seeming travel/exploration/science being the first tendril of corporate imperialism… anyway, these are great books.

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