The Blazing World and Other Writings by Margaret Cavendish
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Here are the odd bits upfront:
Margaret Cavendish is known for being crazy, freakishly manly, a total upstart that tweaked all the noses of the men's publishing world of 1666 when she wrote this utopian SF.
In actual fact, she just insisted on having her fair share of popularity, trying new and old forms of entertainment while stressing the right of women to be able to use their heads and hearts as they see fit. It's not a hard thing to imagine, considering that she's a generation or two after Queen Elizabeth and a survivor of the backlash that was the English Civil War. Not to mention a title like this on the very year of the Great Fire in London. It's obvious she was provocative... but not a bad writer, unlike what all those stuffed shirts say.
Cavendish wrote one of the first SFs. Utopia, was, of course, one of the most well-known early SFs, but Moore wasn't a woman and didn't give a farthing to the plight of women.
Am I faint praising Cavendish, though? No, no, not at all. I found the Blazing World, itself, to be rather charming and SO FAMILIAR. Why? Because I could see ALL the most beloved aspects of Pullman's fantasy series put on full worldbuilding display in HER ORIGINAL WORK. Not to mention a full Fantasy series by Adrian Tchaikovsky, a gorgeous historical fantasy by Catherynne M. Valente about Prester John, or practically any work that put talking animals in it.
With clever turns of phrase, wonderful worldbuilding, and even if the scientific observations and extrapolations were funky, they WERE in line with the understandings of the time.
As for the other tales, one being a romance, I thought it was WRY as hell and funny. It might have been a re-telling of Cavendish's own life in romantic terms, but it was still rather skewery on the whole social system. :)
All in all, I had a pretty awesome time reading this. I expected much worse, going by all the tons and tons of professional critics of almost 400 years. But no, this is remarkable because it reads... normal by today's standards, but we also know that it's extremely ABNORMAL by theirs.
Some props ARE deserved.
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