The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin
Ace Books, 1969.
Exploring new worlds
A love story between a man from earth and a double-sexed alien? This was a genuine case of going where no man had gone before, as Star Trek described it at the time. But The Left Hand’s fine writing and intensely real portrait of another world made it a classic. Now somewhat overshadowed by LeGuin’s Earthsea series, which became a film, The Left Hand remains a powerful story on many levels.
Its hero Genly Ai is sent by a future galactic community as the first to tell the androgynous natives of Winter that they are not alone. He gathers their legends, discovers their culture, and makes his case to kings and politicians. Most on Winter believe him but are puzzled. Why they should care about strange creatures from other planets. While others are put off by his distrust and awkwardness. But when his life is threatened, he has to learn to understand that he and the natives of Winter are not so different.
Lavender Menace‘s copy of The Left Hand of Darkness comes from the infamous Ace Books, who published The Lord of the Rings in the US in violation of copyright law. Like so many queer books in those days, it was bought in a bus station.
The Iron Ladies: Why do Women Vote Tory? By Bea Campbell
Virago Press, 1987
Why do women vote Tory? How would a lesbian Communist journalist know?
Bea Campbell, who worked on City Limits and other papers in London in the 1980s, was curious about the rise of Margaret Thatcher – who did little to help her fellow women Conservatives. She persuaded Tory women to tell her why they supported the party. She didn’t realise that some of the women she interviewed – and especially two, Emma Nicholson and Janet Young – would support Section 28 and impose silence about queer lives on a generation.
Bea Campbell examines the strange and contradictory role of women in the Tory Party. She tells the story of the Primrose League, created by men in the party to channel the energy of Tory women away from equality. They became such a successful workforce that the party has needed them ever since – but kept them firmly in second place, confined to roles as guardians of morality and the family. The Iron Ladies helps explain why angry souls like Emma, now Baroness Nicholson, are still fighting against same-sex marriage and trans equality thirty years later.
This is a shortened version of a longer appreciation of Bea Campbell’s ground-breaking work, which will be published as a longer blog soon.
Murder in the Collective by Barbara Wilson
Women’s Press, 1984
‘Safe spaces’ in 1984 were thin on the ground
‘Safe spaces’ for queer people were rarely heard of in 1984. This mystery by a lesbian writer explores the idea of ‘safe’ and ‘dangerous’. In a liberal, wealthy city, challenging the system isn’t supposed to lead to murder. But when Pam’s radical print shop collective proposes to merge with a lesbian typesetter, she is horrified to find the shop’s machinery smashed and one of her co-workers shot dead.
Quiet, methodical Pam teams up with impulsive Hadley from the lesbian collective in order to solve the mystery. At first, they are less than serious, but then they become lovers as well as fellow-sleuths. As Pam tries to come to terms with a complete change in her life, the situation spins out of control – and the police, saboteurs and foreign rebel movements are involved. Pam and Hadley are no longer sure if they can trust anyone – including each other.
Mysteries are one of the most popular types of lesbian books today, but few deal with the world of queer books and presses. Lesbian writer Barbara Wilson, now known as Barbara Sjoholm, founded Seal Press in the US, lived in London in the 1980s, and came to Lavender Menace to read from Murder in the Collective.
This is a taster of a longer appreciation of Wilson’s first crime novel, which will be published as a longer blog soon.