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Zoo Gang Girls
ISBN: 5551290840

By Joan Arndt
Review by: Morgaine Swann

12/01/04

If you're looking for a thoroughly enjoyable work of feminist Science Fiction, look no further. This book was a joy to read. Welcome to the world of Sisters' Socialism:

Upon a planet slowly healing eight score and two years after the million year bondage to man had ended, womynkind lived in a world with neither possessions nor want; lived joyously that way because everybody and everything was finally free.

In other words, 162 years after men have managed to pretty much destroy themselves with a biological weapon gone awry as they all do, most of America -- at least the "blue states"-- are living in a post-modern agrarian state peopled entirely by women. The only men left are a few specimens cloned for exhibit in their zoos.

Men are reduced to mythological beasts in the new "herstory" of the era, and language has been purged of all reference to males:

So as to complete that Liberation in thought as well as in deed, they had even purged from their spelling any arrangemynt of letters that spoke of man or men, unless it was of that lowly creature itself .

The letter sequences "men" and "man" have been taken out of all words, and words such as "boy" and "father" are lost entirely. Unfortunately, the new "herstory" is no more accurate than our history tends to be, and like all good science fiction this story shows us how human beings can take even the best ideas and still mess it up.

Their teachers warned them while they waited for entry: "No feeding the man, and keep your hands out of its cage! It bites, and its fangs are poisonous!"

"They are not!" muttered Courtney as she struggled with a simple Tai She stance. "I wish they'd get it right. Yes, men bite, but their fangs are not poisonous, darn it!"

The use of language here is interesting, but some of the choices gave me pause. They still end their prayers with "Amyn" as in "Amen" but why are they still invoking a male deity? One would hope that post-Christian worshippers would invoke a Goddess rather than the Egyptian deity Amen-Ra. I don't really understand why Christians are still doing it, but in a world of wimmin, I'd prefer to hear "Isis" or "Ishtar" at the end of a prayer. It didn't take long to get used to the "man"less spellings -- "myny" for "many", demynted, amynd -- though demynded took a while.

Some of the changes are really charming: "Herstel" instead of "Hostel"; "Ms. Sissippi" is the big river to the west, "PennSylvia" one of their Midwestern territories, "Ruthsday" and "Janesday" are included in their week.

The part where they go wrong for me is having children by lottery. Why are they using cloning when they can produce females with two female cells from one woman or one from each of two different women? I'd hope we'd learn to use a process more akin to parthenogenesis rather than the extreme form of anonymous egg donation and cloning.

In the Sisters' recent past- "when wimmin still acted like men"-- after the men died off, women apparently fought brutally and stole children. Women were enslaved to give birth and only the wealthiest women could afford to have a child cloned. Following a Socialist revolution, they decided that ownership and jealousy were to dangerous to risk, so the egg and the nucleus were obtained from women of different communes and implanted in a third. The babies were then raised communally so that all of the women in a particular cooperative would have an equal stake in the children placed with them. This seems contradictory to me. They have replaced "God" with "Nature" to the point of referring to "Her" constantly and guarding against that which they consider "unNatural", but this process seems to denigrate the mother-child connection. What's wrong with a good, old-fashioned Matriarchy, anyway?

This story is not for the faint of heart, or the prudish. There's a lot of nudity -- Thank Nature! Public group sex is referred to as "praying" and is considered worship.

Melissa was strong, lean and supple from her years of Joyous Sweat, a girl whom Nature had blessed amply with Her own beauty. To share those blessings with others was simply the only right thing to do. Every girl knew that.

As a member of a Sisters' Socialist collective, hers was every girl or womyn's sacred birthright to seek gratifying companionship, to freely press her face into the lap or laps of any agreeable peer or group thereof, to give and receive Nature's sexual delights without a trace of shame or secrecy. Indeed, like Phyllis said, it was prayer.

Where do I sign up? When they wear clothing at all, practitioners of Sister's Socialism wear a uniform to liberate them from the "slavery of fashion". Bummer.

They rely a great deal on Sister Sun and spend a great deal of time enjoying her rays and "finding Joy in Sweat". Exercise is a requirement, and they consider it fun. The only mode of transportation is communal bicycles provided at various spots. The society is increasingly Luddite, and they are moving toward what they call "Simplification". The goal is to remove all of the remnants of Patriarchal preHerstory. Women 18 and 28 carry rag doll to show entry in Motherhood Lottery so others can alert them to "dangerous legacies of preHerstory" -the presence of environmental hazards:

Every school girl practiced drills for identifying the five categories of toxic hazard- chemical, biological, religious, pornographic and radioactive-so myny times that wariness of preHerstoric artifacts was second Nature.

The titular Zoo Gang Girls are a group of young women who have opted to forgo the Motherhood Lottery because, in addition to working in the Medical cooperative and at the Zoo, they expose themselves to toxins by reclaiming ancient ruins. Their most recent project is clearing out the remnants of an old Mall, where one of the girls was injured drinking a poison put there to make women sick -- the sign said "This Bud's for you". The Girls are considered even more unusual because they're know to "exploit animals" by riding some of the zoo animals at night. The Sisters' collective is strictly vegetarian, and they only keep sheep to milk and produce wool. When the sheep die, Melissa is horrified to discover that they are fed to the carnivores in the zoo -- man included. The human interaction with the animals in the zoo stretches credulity to the breaking point. Bears lumbering around free, communing with caribou, are a little much, but if you can overlook that, this is quite a trip.

When Melissa inadvertently discovers that the man can speak, she begins to suspect that he has traces of "humynity" in spite of the popular consensus. As she grows alienated to her peers, she grows more attached to the man. Fearing he may be put to death, she effects a bold escape in most unSisterly fashion, and the two embark on an odyssey that brings them into the clutches of what may be the last conclave of men left in the world. The family is organized as a hardcore patriarchal system predicated on -- I kid you not- on a preHerstorical artifact in the form of a TV, VCR and VHS cassette of Bonanza. Realizing that the existence of this clan of Cartwrights threatens the existence of the Sisters' commnunity, it's up to Melissa, the man she named Desmond, and two of the Zoo Gang Girls to keep them from bringing the ways of Man into the future. I wouldn't say the story has a happy ending, but it was oddly and unexpectedly appropriate. I hope the writer chooses to carry this into a second story. I'd love to see what happens next! Highly recommended.

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