The Warrior Who Carried Life

BOOK: The Warrior Who Carried Life
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ChiZine Publications

COPYRIGHT

The Warrior Who Carried Life
© 1985, 2013 by Geoff Ryman
Introduction © 2013 by Wendy Gay Pearson
Cover artwork © 2013 by Erik Mohr
Cover design and interior design © 2013 by Samantha Beiko

All rights reserved.

Published by ChiZine Publications

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

First published in Great Britain in Unwin Paperbacks 1985.

EPub Edition APRIL 2013 ISBN: 978-1-92746-940-8

All rights reserved under all applicable International Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen.

No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.

CHIZINE PUBLICATIONS
Toronto, Canada
www.chizinepub.com
[email protected]

Proofread by Sandra Kasturi, Michael Matheson and Zara Ramaniah

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $20.1 million in writing and publishing throughout Canada.

Published with the generous assistance of the Ontario Arts Council.

Dedicated to
My Grandmother
Edna Florence Burn Pascoe
1889–1928

INTRODUCTION

It is always hard to know how to start an introduction—and then, how to continue it without giving too much of the story away. But I figure you can never go wrong in the world of science fiction and fantasy by imitating that great and witty master of the genre, Ursula K. Le Guin. Asked to write an introduction to James Tiptree Jr.’s
Star Songs of an Old Primate
, she first quotes Tiptree as an epigraph: “Abominations, that’s what they are: afterwords, introductions, all the dribble around a story.” How then to write an introduction that’s not dribble?

Like Le Guin, “I was honoured, delighted, and appalled” when Geoff Ryman approached me to write an introduction to this important re-issue of
The Warrior Who Carried Life.
Unfortunately, perhaps, for you, dear reader, I am unable to match the brevity of Le Guin’s introduction to Tiptree, where she tested a number of variations, such as

1) Here

Are some stories.

2) Here are

Some stories.

I suppose I could reduce this introduction to: “Here is a novel.”

But, like Le Guin herself, I find myself unable and unwilling to leave the novel’s reader with something she already knows, if she’s picking this book up in a bookstore or even ordering it online. Le Guin’s eventual two-liner is, “Here are some superbly strong sad funny and very beautiful stories,” a description which, amended to the novel form, seems very apt for
The Warrior Who Carried Life
—it is, indeed, “superbly strong sad funny and very beautiful.”
1

The first work of Geoff’s I ever read was a short story in
Interzone.
I think it may have been “O Happy Day,” a profoundly hard and challenging work that has occupied my mind ever since—although, at this distance, I cannot be sure. What I am sure of is that the first novel of Geoff’s I read was
Was
(1992). I read it because my partner, Susan Knabe, came home from university one day and said to me, “You have to read this. It’s fabulous.” In fact, we both thought it was fabulous and we have both, since that day, written and published on it. As one does, however, when one comes across a fabulous new author, I immediately hunted down and read as much of Geoff’s work as I could find, including his first three novels,
The Unconquered Country
,
The Warrior Who Carried Life
, and
The Child Garden
.

Over the two decades since my first encounter with Geoff’s work, I have written a number of academic articles about it, primarily on
Was
,
The Child Garden
, and
Lust.
With Susan, I co-edited a special issue of
Extrapolation
on Geoff’s work, that included articles on all of his novels except for
253 or Tube Theatre
, a work first published as hypertext before being re-structured as a print book. I tell you this, dear reader, not so much in the hope that you will develop a yearning to read what scholars have to say about Geoff—although some of what we say is itself “superbly strong sad funny” in its own academic way, but to start to indicate to you the importance of Geoff’s work in the fields of science fiction and fantasy and magic realism and hypertext and . . .

But you can judge for yourselves the genres in which Geoff writes.
The Warrior Who Carried Life
is, like all of Geoff’s work, difficult to contain within the boundaries of a given genre. Superficially, I suppose, one might label it Fantasy—there are swords, and magic, and shapeshifting, and . . . But it has its own little touches of science fiction and it most certainly demonstrates Geoff’s interest in the problem of how we might heal the harms that we, as humans, do to the world and each other, an interest that crosses genres as easily as Geoff himself does.
Warrior
could also be labelled “magic realism,” a genre that began in Latin America with Borges and Garcia-Marquez and others, but was very quickly adopted by writers from places as far-flung as Canada and India.

Indeed, one could even say that
The Warrior Who Carried Life
, with its gender-bending hero, Cara, is an early precursor of the boom in queer Canadian magic realist writing that began in the late 1980s. In this sense,
Warrior
has commonalities with quite different works, most notably, for me, the late Timothy Findley’s only science fictional novel,
Headhunter
, which has its own touches of magic realism (strikingly the emergence of Kurtz from Conrad’s
Heart of Darkness
into modern day Toronto).

While
Headhunter
is an allegory about AIDS and social attitudes toward homosexuality built, magically, out of
Heart of Darkness
,
Warrior
, Geoff’s second novel, is more mythic than allegorical.
Warrior
draws on two myths or creation stories, if you will. The more obvious is the story of Adam and Eve (here Haddam and Hawwah) and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden; the less obvious, although it plays perhaps the larger part in the novel, is the Gilgamesh story—except that, in Geoff’s bountiful imagination, Gilgamesh here is a young woman who uses her coming-of-age year-long transformation into a beast to turn herself into that most beastly of things, a male warrior, in order to avenge her mother’s death at the hands of the monstrous Galu.

Poetic in its language and extraordinary in its feats of imagination,
Warrior
’s mythic qualities carry us from life in a vaguely Asian-inspired village to the Garden itself and back again. Peopled with monsters—the Galu themselves are a remarkable invention, a species birthed by and fed on hatred—but full of beauty,
Warrior
lures the reader into a mythic landscape that, once seen, will never be forgotten. Cara herself (and despite Cara’s bulging muscles, her penis, and her magical armour, Geoff never lets you forget that Cara is female) is both a hero and an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Her heroism is never quite enough; she is constantly reminded that heroes make mistakes—and some of Cara’s feed the monstrous Galu in devastating ways. But she also never abandons the goal of bringing what healing she can to the people and villages that the Galu have ravaged.

In a sense, gender might be understood, as Jo Walton has pointed out, as one of the book’s main themes.
2
More precisely, I think gender functions as an allegory in this novel for the unnecessary and damaging ways in which humanity has been divided. The novel is full of clefts and rifts that open and are (sometimes) healed. Haddam’s patriarchal desires produce the Galu and bring death, division, and destruction to the world. It is up to Cara and her lover, Stefile, to try and mend the damage.

A related theme and one that is common, albeit in very different ways, to all of Geoff’s work, is the question of whether stories and storytelling can help to heal the harms we experience in—and do to—the world. Here I can do no better than to quote from the introduction to the
Extrapolation
issue:

. . . our facility for healing is something which is, at least in Ryman’s terms, bound up with the role that literature plays in enabling that healing: both in terms of identifying that point in which harm enters the world through stories (both narratives and meta-narratives) and in how (other) stories might be the sites through which that harm can be undone.
3

The Warrior Who Carried Life
identifies one moment in which harm enters the world, a moment in which a particular story, the story of Adam and Eve, both identifies its own harm and yet can also be said to have done and to continue to do grievous harm in the world. Without this story, would patriarchy have been born? Would women have been blamed for the entry of evil and death? Would heroism have been attached to men, along with the tendency to violence, and not to women? These are some of the quite difficult questions that, at least in my reading of it,
Warrior
asks us to consider. But does
Warrior
—can
Warrior
—propose any way of healing harms of such huge dimension?

This is, of course, one reason why
Warrior
is told as a myth: to counter a myth, one needs another myth. And if that myth is profoundly damaging, the counter-myth needs to be profoundly healing. That original myth, the Garden of Eden myth, was countered in Christian mythology by the story of a birth.
Warrior
, too, has its birth story, the story of the child conceived by Stefile and fathered by Cara.

Of course, the child of a slave girl and a warrior who is also a woman is necessarily going to be magical—but there, dear reader, I will leave you, for I do not wish to spoil the journey for you. You will take it with Cara and Stefile and, like them, you will go to strange and magical places. And, like them, you will find wonders and, perhaps, healing through this “superbly strong sad funny and very beautiful” novel.

Wendy Gay Pearson, PhD

London, Ontario, 2013

1
Ursula K. Le Guin. “Introduction to
Star Songs of an Old Primate.

The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction
. Ed. Susan Wood. New York: Perigee, 1979. 179; 180.

2
Jo Walton, “Primal and Mythic: Geoff Ryman’s
The Warrior Who Carried Life”
(
http://www.tor.com/blogs/2011/11/primal-and-mythic-geoff-rymans-the-warrior-who-carried-life
)

3
Susan Knabe and Wendy Gay Pearson, “Introduction: Mundane Science Fiction, Harm and Healing the World” (
Extrapolation
49.2 [2008]), 188.

BOOK: The Warrior Who Carried Life
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