The second part of Sarah Hall’s Cat Women of the Moon series was broadcast on Radio 4 this morning and is available for listening here. Once again various well known people made a lot of good comments. My overall reaction, however, is a bit mixed.
The good news is that there was no obvious poking fun at SF, and no insulting trans people either. Indeed, in today’s episode Iain Banks made a point that I always make when talking about gender swapping in SF: if we are to believe in a society in which people swap genders easily and regularly, we have to assume that society has achieved gender equality. (If anyone knows which Culture novel the quote they used was taken from, please let me know. I want to quote it myself and all of my Culture books except Surface Detail are in California.)
On the downside, there wasn’t a lot of depth, and that’s entirely understandable. The programmes were clearly aimed at people who didn’t reach much, if any, science fiction, and consequently there was a 101 feeling to a lot of the discussion. Also, as anyone who has edited podcasts will know, it is really hard to patch together a bunch of separate audio clips to form a coherent narrative. You can’t just change the words as you might in print.
Given the obvious constraints, I was really quite happy with the series until the last few seconds. I’m not sure what Hall was trying to say at the end, but it didn’t come over well. The message that I got was that we could somehow avoid the potential problems that scientific progress has in store for us if we just stopped reading all that scary science fiction. Layered over that was the thought that you don’t stop thinking about good literature when you close the book, and it is stupid to suggest that you can do so. I suspect that someone at the BBC decided that they had to go out with a bang in some way, and that the ending was cobbled together in response without much thought as to what it meant.