“Men are among the loneliest creatures. They lose their mothers and cannot carry children, and have nothing to comfort themselves with but their vestigial cockular appendages. This is perhaps the reason they move ever warward when they are not moving fuckward.”
THE BOOK OF JOAN by Lidia Yuknavitch is a science fiction story about women. Women who love, women who hate, women who kill, women who destroy. It’s a story about what happens after the end of the world, where (another) other-humanly elite has gone to orbit to live out sexless, loveless lives of bizarre art and ritual.
Christine Pizan, a denizen of the orbiting station that may be all that’s left of the human race, is an artist of skin. Through a braille-like process of branding and skin grafts, she wears stories on her skin. She is the Book of Joan — Joan being Joan of Dirt, the superhuman child soldier who fought the good fight down below and was burned at the stake for it. The term used for Joan’s superhuman condition is engenderine – from engender, whose more archaic definition is “to cause to be born.”
Any book that starts with a quote from Doris Lessing’s mighty SHIKASTA has me on its side.
The medieval writer Christine de Pizan’s last work was an eulogy of Joan of Arc.
The station is run by a mad misogynist called Jean de Men. De Pizan’s intellectual status in her time was partly made by her dissection of the misogynist writer Jean de Meun. Not being a student of the period, these are things I learned after reading the book. Joan of Dirt is an obvious avatar of Joan of Arc, but I didn’t know the rest. It didn’t make the book any less fascinating to me.
The hunger for love replaced the hunger for god or science. The hunger for love became an opiate. In a world that had lost its ability to procreate, the story of love became paramount. “It was a wish like the moth’s wish for flame. It was a wish to fuck the sun. To be burned alive inside a story where our bodies could still want and do what bodies want to do.”
It’s not a happy book, I warn you. There are moments of joy that blaze through it, but, contra to the first quote above, it’s a book about war and women, and birth and the earth. It’s a huge fable about the end of the world, told with pieces of history. It is ambitious, frequently beautiful, and weirdly haunting.
THE BOOK OF JOAN, Lidia Yuknavitch (link)