Lavigne, Carlen. Cyberpunk Women, Feminism and Science Fiction: A Critical Study

By Allan, Kathryn | Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Spring-Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Lavigne, Carlen. Cyberpunk Women, Feminism and Science Fiction: A Critical Study


Allan, Kathryn, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts


Lavigne, Carlen. Cyberpunk Women, Feminism and Science Fiction: A Critical Study. Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishing, 2013. 212 pp. Softcover. ISBN978-1-4766-0178-6. $40.00.

Right off, it is important to note that Carlen Lavigne's Cyberpunk Women, Feminism and Science Fiction: A Critical Study is best viewed as a primer or an introductory text for the uninitiated on women's cyberpunk and the existing academic criticism that addresses the subgenre. Given that the text is a critical overview of cyberpunk written between 1981 and 2003, it is a useful as a resource for those interested in learning more about cyberpunk and its overarching tropes and themes (both masculinist and feminist). For the specialist, however, Cyberpunk Women's strength--a wide breadth of commentary and analysis on twenty years of cyberpunk, with a particular focus on the novels of women in the subgenre--is also its weakness. Lavigne states that her purpose "in writing this volume was archival--to help shine a light into a neglected vault and provide close readings that may be of value to future researchers" (181), to have "provided additional background for the analysis of ... other post-1990s science fiction works"(182), and to advocate that, for women cyberpunk writers, "visibility matters"(182). While Lavigne thoroughly offers the reader a veritable archive of both source and critical material of women's cyberpunk, those familiar with the genre are left wishing for even closer, more extended analyses of the novels to which she directs our attention.

Although the book is not divided into different parts, its ten short chapters nevertheless can be grouped into four sections. Along with the "Introduction," the first two chapters of the book set up the basic background and methodology of the critical study. Lavigne introduces cyberpunk, tracing its history in sf and outlining the subgenre's dominant tropes (such as corporations and crime, computers and corporeality) and its relation to other cultural modes (e.g., postmodernism). This history is then followed by a breakdown of the participation of women in cyberpunk and the influence of feminist critique on the original movement. In chapters three and four, which form a second section, Lavigne addresses key (first-wave) cyberpunk themes that have been well studied: globalization and community, embodiment and virtual reality, and cyborgs and artificial intelligence. She then articulates the ways in which women writers, such as Marge Piercy and Melissa Scott, put their own spins on these typically masculine themes, transforming the original subgenre. The third section, consisting of chapters six through nine, is devoted to emergent and divergent themes evident in women's cyberpunk. In particular, Lavigne notes women cyberpunk writers' engagement with mythology and religion, motherhood and reproduction, and queer communities. Lastly, in the fourth section, Lavigne conducts a brief fan studies "thought experiment"(176). Chapter ten includes original interview material from popular women sf writers Lisa Mason, Lydia Morehouse, Kathleen Ann Goonan, and Melissa Scott, which covers the academic and fan reception of their work. The book then finishes with a short conclusion chapter wherein Lavigne hopes that Cyberpunk Women, Feminism and Science Fiction highlights feminist cyberpunk in order to "ensure that we recognize authors whose work has skirted invisibility, that we broaden the cultural discussion surrounding new technologies, and that we better understand today's science fiction"(186).

Unfortunately, the original analyses that Lavigne performs are often lost in the lengthy explanations of cyberpunk as a genre and the covering of other scholars' existing work in the area. The first half of the book, for example, heavily reiterates already well-cited discussions of canonical cyberpunk novels like William Gibson's Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash before addressing the less-studied novels by women writers such as Laura Mixon, Misha, and Sage Walker. …

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