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Alderman, Gill

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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Working name of UK author Gillian Alderman (1941-    ), who worked in microelectronics research until 1984, and began publishing sf with the first two volumes of her Guna sequence – The Archivist: A Black Romance (1989) and The Land Beyond: A Fable (1990) – which established her very rapidly as a figure of interest in the field. As usual in the Planetary Romance, Guna – the world in which the tales are set – is heavily foregrounded throughout both volumes. Quite similar to Earth – with which the more technologically advanced of its several civilizations have had concourse for many centuries – Guna is perhaps most remarkable for the wide range of relationships found there between the sexes, running from the complex matriarchy depicted in the first volume through Earth-like patterns of repressive patriarchy hinted at broadly in the second. Although it is clearly Alderman's intent, dexterously achieved, to make some Feminist points about male hierarchical thinking, she abstains from creating characters whose consciousnesses are reduced to reflections of these issues. The homosexual male protagonists of The Archivist, for instance, whose long love affair and estrangement provide much of the immediate action of the book, exhibit no "normal" resentment at the dominant role of women; and the political revolution fomented by the elder lover has little or nothing to do with sexual politics in any Earthly sense. The long timespan of The Archivist, the Grand Tour evocations of landscape which make up much of its bulk, and its distanced narrative voice mark its author to be a contemplative sf fantasist of the first order. The Land Beyond, a chill book set in a cold part of the planet, is less immediately engaging; but its steeliness adds fibre to the sequence as a whole, which – like Brian W Aldiss's Helliconia sequence and Paul Park's Starbridge Chronicles – stands as a high point of late twentieth-century world-building in sf, a period during which the technological optimism of early similar enterprises had evolved into a rich and sombre pessimism about the capacity of individual heroes and heroines to transcend their engendering cultures.

Alderman's next two novels – the loose, richly constructed, trope-rich Memory Palace sequence comprising The Memory Palace (1996) and Lilith's Castle (1999) – are fantasy. [JC]

Gillian Alderman

born Dorset: 1941




Memory Palace


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