The Time Traveler’s Almanac: This Tragic Glass by Elizabeth Bear

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This Tragic Glass by Elizabeth Bear

Section: Reactionaries and Revolutionares

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 Rating


What makes a man a man? Or a woman a woman?

About the author:

Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. When coupled with a tendency to read the dictionary for fun as a child, this led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, and the writing of speculative fiction. She is the Hugo, Sturgeon, and Campbell Award-winning author of twenty-five novels and almost a hundred short stories. Her dog lives in Massachusetts; her partner, writer Scott Lynch, lives in Wisconsin, She spends a lot of time on planes.

Talk about a great story and a great writing. At first glance, it was looking like this was going to be another story where people went back into time to rescue someone – but I should have know to except better from Bear. Half way through, the story hits a new arc, and with questions about gender identity.

Dr. Satyavati is working on her tenure, and is using developed technology that can identify the gender of writers based on their works. The programs seems to be running fine until it comes up saying that Christopher Marlowe was a girl. The programs has been 100% accurate so far, and is 100 sure that Marlowe is female. Marlow dies in a fight, before he (she?) can produce more work, so with the University technology, Satyavati decides to go back to try to save Marlow from her death – or at least examine the body postmortem to determine the sex.

It is after the time-travel trip, when things become difficult for Satyavati.

You need to read this story. It is outstanding. It didn’t seem all that special at first – a professor wanting to get tenure, and wanted to use a time-travel machine to go back in tim to prove their theory – however, that proved not to be the focus of the story.

Bear keeps mentioning this “Poet Emeritus project” which I didn’t quite understand what was it was. Until we met Professor Keats. That is, John Keats, the 18th/19th century English Romanic poet. They went back, and brought him to the future, because now, in the year 2157(?), we have the technology to cure his disease.

The story builds up this points, alternator between Satyavati at University, and Kris leading up to her moment where he (she?) is supposed to be killed. Then, when we get to the point, where Satyavati goes back in, we skip it that scene. COMPLETELY. Instead the story goes right to the post-trip. It was a little confusing at first, but when you meet Kris, and learn she was born female, but insists that she is a man, that was when the meaning of the story become clear to me.

Kris was born a female but went her whole say she was a man. Satyavati assumed this was because of the time period they were in, and try to force to Kris to understand that she can be a women now. That it is okay for women to write poetry in the world now. Satyavati quickly becomes frustrated when Kris won’t admit the he is a girl, and won’t dress the part. She can’t understand why, until it finally hits her that while Kris may have been born female, and was dressing a man – Kris wasn’t doing it for the poetry, but because male was  how Kris identified himself.

What I found interesting, what one of Satyavati’s colleagues asks her how this technology determine males or female, and she says it does it by chromosomes. So, technically, Satyavati was correct. But Kris would say she is wrong. That he was a man born into a women’s body.

This what I took the meaning of the story to be: it is not your chromosomes or sex you a born with that defines your gender – but it is you and you alone who decides which gender to identify with.


Spolierific Speculations: (Highlight to read)

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If your comments contains a spoiler, please type “SPOILER:” at the start of your comment to alert fellow readers and comments. Thanks!


Bear puts an author’s note at the end of the story apologizing because apparently there had been a gender-essentialist reading of the story? I did not read it like that at all, and as I have made clear, I took the meaning of the story to be that you decide you own gender.

One last thing I ecspceially liked, was how, even after it became clear that Kris was going to be female by birth, and when they finally meet Kris, Bear kept using the pronoun “he” to describe Kris.

Be sure to check out my fellow time-travelers’ reviews!

Alesha Escobar
H.M. Jones
Laurel’s Writing Desk
Timothy C. Ward

4/5 Rating

-DJ


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Follow along on Twitter with #TimeTravelThursday

To see a full list of The Time Traveler’s Almanac reviews and reading schedule, visit The Time Traveler’s Almanac Page

Feel free to join in any join time! Just leave a comment down below 🙂

See you next Thursday for The Gulf of the Years by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud

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6 thoughts on “The Time Traveler’s Almanac: This Tragic Glass by Elizabeth Bear

  1. Tammy says:

    I can’t believe I’ve never read Elizabeth Bear! Maybe a short story would be a good place to start:-) I do love stories about characters exploring their sexual identity, and from your review this sounds like one I need to read.

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    • From what I’ve read by Bear, I would recommend Karen Memory to start with (I think you would really like that!) But if you are into that gender indignity theme, then this is a good start too! Not my favorite short story by her (that would be In Libres, which I just nominated for a Hugo), but you will get to see how amazing her prose is.

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  2. Hmm, I’d be interested in knowing what you mean by her apology. It doesn’t sound gender-essentialism to me either. Coming from an anthropology background though, gender discussions are always fascinating to me. It definitely brings me back to what my professor used to say: sex is biological, gender is social/cultural. I think biologically few people will disagree that the sexes are inherently different, but definitely the ideas around gender roles have been more fluid throughout history and in different parts of the world. Sounds like a very thoughtful tale.

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  3. proxyfish says:

    I really must read Elizabeth Bear – this sounds quite thought provoking!

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  4. I loved this short, too, DJ, and thought that she treated the whole gender and identity topic in a very smart way. I was fascinated the entire time and loved the literary references.

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  5. Good point! I know I argued on HM Jones’s blog for the “woman wants to do what men do” argument and greater opportunities for men that existed in those times, but you make a fair point that while the latter may have been Kit’s father’s objective, there is a difference between the father’s objective and Kit’s reality, and that Kit may well have self-identified as a man. Fair play. 🙂

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