October 15, 2016 | In: Uncategorized

Why “Don’t Bite the Sun” should be read by any feminist sci-fi enthusiast

 

Growing up, I hardly knew of any female sci-fi writers. Undoubtedly the majority of all sci-fi writers tend to identify as male, which clearly has shaped the genre- sci-fi can be both macho and sexist with a clear tendency towards writing for a homogenous audience (a male one) . There are, however, some exceptions to the rule, one being the writer Tanith Lee, whose writing style has been described as perverse, erotic, lush and vibrant. Not exactly your every-day sci-fi style in other words. Her book “Don’t bite the Sun”, published in 1976, portrays the life of a young woman in a utopian world. This is a world wherein you are reborn if you commit suicide, you can completely change your appearance on a whim and do whatever you please with no consequences. Engaging in promiscuous sex is the norm and seeking thrills wherever they can be found seems to be every person’s goal in life. This is an environment everyone but two characters seem to thrive- the narrator and the person who falls in love with her. Her personal quest is to find happiness in a world where on the surface it seems readily available, but in reality it is merely base and unfulfilling.

The novel deftly explores complex philosophical themes such as the merits of a utopian state and mankind’s existential need for fulfillment and purpose. But more than that, it explores the theme of motherhood, and takes an approach to the sci-fi genre that before this novel was virtually unheard of: putting an emphasis on feminine values and perceptions. And that is where the true heart of this novel lies. Far too often are sci-fi authors inclined to avoid anything more than a basic human perspective on their carefully crafted dystopian and utopian societies, preferring sterile and

omniscient viewpoints where all facets of their world can be carefully deconstructed from a position of rationality. What Tanith Lee understands better than any of these authors is that humans aren’t always rational, that you desperately need emotions for your writing to resonate with the human soul. The utopia of Don’t Bite the Sun conforms to utilitarian ideas of a perfect world, yet through the lense of the narrator we see it for the hedonistic and empty place it truly is. The more the narrator grows as a character, and the more she grows as a woman, the more her existence becomes a living nightmare. When she grows attached to a desert animal she has adopted she wakes up to how shallow her relationships with others truly are. When she leaves the immortal structures of her city and ventures into the wild she falls in love with its frailty and beauty. As she experiences loss for the first time she is made painfully aware of how little comfort her world’s luxuries can bring her.

Don’t Bite the Sun is the rare kind of dystopian novel that isn’t interested in exploring the world it has created so much as the characters that inhabit it. It is a deeply human story that is aided by its sci-fi setting without ever being upstaged by it. Books like these are the proof that certain stories are best told together with a fantastical element.