Vonda N(eel) McIntyre Eve Ottenberg - Essay

Eve Ottenberg

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The human body has its shortcomings. For instance, it can't fly like a bird, or burrow to the center of the earth, or breathe underwater. Our genes have not been engineered into the perfect regularity envisioned in the science fiction futures of Vonda McIntyre's Fireflood and Other Stories. It may, of course, be interesting to imagine what life would be like if they were, but after reading these stories, one is left wondering, why all this fuss about biological change?

The answer comes from McIntyre's feminism, her desire to show a future in which sex roles have been radically changed by evolution. But it is one thing to vaunt a much improved society, another to show real people in it without resorting to clichés of the moronic "I'm okay, you're okay" variety. Unfortunately, McIntyre's stories succumb to this impoverished psychology so utterly that they lose their critical point of view. And without this, they reveal the unpleasantness that, I'm convinced, lurks in most science fiction: the cult of the quantitative intelligence.

To McIntyre's credit, she mulls over the notion that a perfect mind would resemble a super-computer from a different angle. Though this assumption is the usual sci-fi excuse for yielding the reins of government to an autocratic higher being, in her story "Genius Freaks," she puts the higher beings on the bottom of the social ladder. McIntyre's test-tube wizards slave their brains away...

(The entire section is 525 words.)