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on 8 April 2013
I greatly enjoyed Grass recently and was keen to learn more about this author, who was new to me. I was a bit surprised to find that she is considered (and occasionally disparaged as) a feminist author; "Grass" has a likeable heroine and - I *suppose* - the villains are all paternalistic men, but for me that book took many more swipes at organised religion and social conservatism, even at women, than it did at men per se.

So "The Gate..." must surely be the incendiary work of feminist ideology that earned Tepper this reputation?

No, not really. In contrast to, say, The Female Man (a book that I found too complicated and whimsical to finish) this is not a thinly-veiled, 400-page dissertation on feminism. The format here is to contrast two wildly different and theoretical social systems - one an oppressive patriarchy, the other a contrived, but benign matriarchy - using the post-apocalypse genre in the same way that Ursula K Le Guin uses space colonies in The Dispossessed to compare unlikely political regimes. There isn't an overt agenda or moral here, just a good story that plays with lots of aspects of gender politics. Also, Women's Country is not a Utopia: it is first portrayed as pragmatic and dogmatic, and then slowly revealed to serve a purpose that is rather sinister.

We can suspend our disbelief in Tepper's gender-segregated society because we are drawn into a kitchen-sink drama about the growing pains of a level-headed tomboy, living with her tough single mother and petulant teenage sister. The inquisitive lass becomes a woman over a series of adventures, and we discover the mysteries of her world by watching over her shoulder. I won't reveal too much more of the plot here, because it's all about slowly unfolding revelations to maintain a sense of intrigue and tension.

Now, there will be some, drawn by the promise of an "SF Masterwork", to whom this book will not appeal. Despite the post-apocalypse setting, this is an occasionally implausible story that owes more to medieval fantasy than science-fiction; there are some recovered technologies and clairvoyant powers and the denouement has a scientific element, but it's not hard SF. Also, one of the central devices of the story is a play that is rehearsed by the citizens of women's country, based on classical myth. ...That may seem charming and clever to some, but will be distracting literary grandstanding to others. These caveats in place, I would recommend "...Women's Country" as an exciting and thought-provoking vacation from robots, space travel and little green men.
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on 17 July 2003
having read the two previous reviews of The Gate to the
Womens Country, I have to wonder if I read the same book? The one I
read was exciting, thoughtful, inventive and offered interesting
insights into the traditional sociological roles of men and
women. Her characters are believably fallible, no stereo types
here! Sheri Tepper has a neat, quirky sense of humour, an eye
for absurities. This is a good read, hell it's a damm good read!
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on 2 December 1998
In the big picture, this is the story of the struggles that a society headed by women face in a post-nuclear holocaust Earth. Inside the cities that have been established the women live; governing and working at their chosen trade. Seperated by the city walls are the garrisons, where Spartan type male warriors are taken from their mothers at the age of five to train in the ways of war. The contrasts between the two societies are great. The women continue to make scientific advances to try and recover what they lost before civilisation was destroyed while the men do war crave the power of past times and scheme to take over the cities from the women. There are also similarities between the two: they both feel the unfairness about the barriers surrounding them. In closer detail the book covers the life in particular of a a girl, Stavia. She suffers the removal of her brother at five, falls in love with a warrior and is eventually betrayed. There is much subterfuge throughout the book and many surprises. Sheri S Tepper Writes it well and creates a very melancholy atmosphere and although it does have the obligatory boy v girl element she shows both sides to the story.
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on 16 April 2015
I love Sheri Tepper and have read and re-read virtually everything she's ever written (though I couldn't get along with the Marianne, Mavin Manyshaped and King's Blood series which are all a bit too heavy on the total fantasy aspects for my taste).

I couldn't decide when I read the blurb whether I'd read Gate to Women's Country before. It turned out I had, but it must have been a long time ago and I think I got a lot more out of it this time. Tepper doesn't pull her punches. It's very clever the way she interweaves the Greek Play alongside the main story as it sheds so much light on the way Women's Country works. The things these women had to do to bring their society up to a decent level of civilisation. Wow - these are some strong women.
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on 21 February 2014
This is an excellent piece of political science fiction, the book itself has an introduction, which provides some interpretation of the text itself, and which should be skipped by anyone who is reading book for the first time as it could be considered to contain some spoilers.

I found the ending/ultimate conclusion of this book a lot more predictable than many of the reviews, and the introduction, seemed to suggest and wondered about or waited on supposed twists which I did not feel arrived. However, that said I did really enjoy the book, I felt that pace and style of writing were perfect, it is plot driven more than character driven, as a lot of political science fiction as it engages in "world building" or examinations of specific social structural change, or satirises the present somehow. Although this said, there do emerge protagonists and antagonists within the story who are well developed and display enough depth to be interesting, they are not simply "cut outs" or one-dimensional distractions from descriptions of a particular social-political order.

The story features the life of Stavia, a resident of woman's country, a matriarchal society which co-exists with the patriarchal garrison, children are given up at the age of five to their fathers, and can elect either to live the life of a warrior or return to the matriarchal society as servitors, a deceptively servile social position which predictably turns out to be more than it seems. The introduction displays some good insights into how the story unfolds, just what the key differences between the matriarchal and patriarchal societies are, one being long term in its perspective and strategy, the other more short term. I really did not share the introduction's concerns about the way in which homosexuality is featured within the text as a eugenically eliminated trait, although the point that it is to be considered in a context in which it is identified with something much different from what homosexuality is considered to be in popular or politically correct culture today is a point well made. That is not simply that the book was written before the advent of a lot of militant challenges (albeit somewhat unaware of itself) to prevailing heteronormative social attitudes but that homosexuality is identified with (supposed) Spartan traits, which the matriarchs are conspiring to excise from mankind altogether (the point that the warriors are not very good warriors at all is well made too).

I liked the manner in which the events of the unfolding storyline permitted movement beyond the immediate realm of womans country, the intrigue and conspiracy centred there, to broader relationships (there is some insightful and heart breaking writing on sexual politics, communication between the sexes, myth-reality and the rememberance of things lost) and then to the interaction between the community, outsiders and strangers (not the same thing since outsiders are not anathema to the community, at least not in the form of travellers and visitors, while strangers can be). The violence that is featured in the book is not gratuitous at any point but it is horrible, whether it is the orchestration of wars between the garrisons which are unmistakeably fruitless and wasteful or the abusive treatment of women.

It is perhaps possible to be critical of this book in the way it is possible to be critical of other examples of feminist sci fi, such as Herland (although a very different book to this one), in that it may be stereotypical, it is serving an ideological agenda, however, the book is honest in this respect and hasnt in any way sought to cover up its agenda or insist upon an "objective" or "non-partisan partisanship" position. That is to say that while it may be accused of portraying or contrasting "men at their worst, with women at their best", which is the zero sum criticism of feminism per se really, I dont believe anyone but the most hard core and entrenched male chauvinist would be turned off by this story. Not since I read Orwell's 1984 have a read such good political imaginings and in order to appreciate fully Orwell's points I needed to be acquainted with his wider writings, journals and letters first, this is much more of a good to great story in and of itself and the reader needs no prior knowledge of the perspectives woven into the story.

The only criticism I could make, which is minor, is the use of a switching between the "present" and the "past" in the story telling, it isnt a good idea I thought and only disturbs the flow or pace of the story, I skipped the chapters with lengthier pieces of the plays about the Trojan Women or Greeks, and it did not disturb the story, There are true sci fi aspects to it, such as eugenics, selection for psychosocial traits, telepathy, I had thought possibly telekinesis but I suspect this is a little more ambivalent, all of which is a little like the sisterhood from Dune and their plans for Paul Atrades. On the other hand the opportunity to have presented some sci fi weaponary as having survived from pre-apocalypse days was avoided. I am also grateful to the author of the introduction for their invention of a term to describe the sort of utopia-dystopia in which disillusionment or disenchantment plays a part as "rue-topia", very clever. Recommended read.
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on 8 August 2007
I found this book spellbinding. the plot is great, the premise is great, but the real draw is the working through of highly political feminist ideas in a very matter of fact way. shall give this book to my daughter as soon as she hits the strop years.
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on 21 November 2013
Sheri Tepper is like the X-Files - some episodes are amazing and some are pants. This book is very firmly in the non-pants half of her output. It is, quite simply, brilliant. Great story, great narrative, beautifully rendered: it is a 'can't put it down until its finished and then have to read it again every few years but you can't because you lent it out and never got it back' book.

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on 23 February 2003
this is the first Tepper novel I've read and I love the tragedy implied in the story. It's not only the references to the war of Troy, but also that when the victims of that war (women, according to the author)finally get their revenge (after many centuries and an implied nuclear holocaust), they are left with a feeling of bitterness. Is it possible to govern a world, to make tough life-or-death decissions, and not be unfair? Is it possible to play the role that men have traditionally played and not make the same mistakes? Tragedy and food for thought.
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on 19 September 2012
I am a big fan of feminist sci-fi, and I loved the interweaving with the Greek play and mythology, but certain aspects of this novel left me cold. The core theme centres around how to manage a population, and explores this in an interesting way, comparing the views of different groups (though not exactly balanced, different voices are expressed).

Some aspects were just too flippant; for example, the casual reference to how one of the first things the group did (hundreds of years ago, when they first established their society) was to breed out homosexuality. As if it's that abhorrent and that easy to do.

The religious, polygamous southerners reminded me of the society in Esther Freisner's Psalms of Herod, a really bleak novel but one I preferred to Gate to Women's Country.
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on 26 December 2009
I read this book many years ago and enjoyed it then, have just recently purchased a copy and am so glad i did, couldnt put it down once i had picked it up.

The story is about survival of the human race, thanks to the women and their selective(ish) breeding, organisational skills and ability to keep it all together, keep the cogs turning, providing all with food and clothes etc. Its not an anti men book, but the women are in reality in control and their select few men that come back to women's country......
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