For so states Cheryl Morgan.
It feels smooth and heavy and warm when I stroke it because I’ve been sleeping with it between my legs. I like to inhale its grey infinite smell for a while before I pass my lips down its length, courting it with the tip of my tongue, until my mouth has come to the wider part near the tip. This I suck, and blow gently into the hole. It becomes wet in my mouth but doesn’t soften. It remains achingly solid and I put it between my legs. Its tip snuggles around my clit. On the day I bought it, I had to test out several models before I found one that fitted, and Suk Hee’s gangster cousin Woo kept trying to look around the side of the van to see what I was doing. Woo was afraid someone would come and he’d get caught with the van and everything. I came. It was the only way to be sure I had the right one.
And so begins Maul. The passage, I think, deliberately sets out to shock. It becomes more shocking still when, after our narrator Sun Katz has achieved orgasm (in what, by the way, is one of the best come scenes I’ve read in literature), it turns out that she is describing not a penis, as one might have thought at first, or a dildo, as one might conclude by the end of the paragraph. No.
Even a hypothetical boyfriend wouldn’t understand.
How I feel.
About my gun.
Yes, that’s right. It’s a gun. Guns are very important to Sun and her Korean girl gang pals. (Another point to note in passing is how understated Maul is about Sun’s ethnic identity. It’s there, but Sullivan feels no need to have Sun explicitly state at the beginning “Oh, by the way, I’m Korean.”) Sun wears her gun strapped under her skirt, not coincidentally close to her genitalia. The link between femininity and weaponry is underlined by the UK cover, as noted by Martin Lewis; a lipstick in a bullet cartridge.
If written by a man, this could be seen as misogynist claptrap, or at the very least wet-dream wish-fulfilment. But Sullivan’s point is that women can be as interested as men in the fetishization of guns and violence – they just have to be given a chance.
This is emphasized even more in the future Meniscus strand. There, the Y-plagues have eliminated most males. The few that remain fertile are locked away in “castellations”. The majority of the population are women, and they are running the planet. Does this mean that there is a feminist Utopia? No. In Sullivan’s vision, women have moved into the niches vacated by men, to the point of some becoming burly butch truckers.
Most women have children through cloning. But the sperm of the men in the castellations, the “pigs”, is there for those who can afford it. And what are the qualities that are valued in those men? Not sensitivity, but athletic ability, fighting prowess, heroism, the same old macho bullshit. As prominent pig Arnie Henshaw says, “Nowadays, no matter how skinny, a really good hacker is worth ten guys who can impale a mammoth with a spear, but you chicks would rather have a hacker with muscles, wouldn’t you?” The main female protagonist of this strand, Madeleine Baldino, knows this, and hates herself, and Henshaw, for it.
Some women in this world think that the exploitation of men is wrong. Their underground terrorist activities drive the plot. In a neat reversion of the feminist slogan “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, their movement is called Bicyclefish.
But there is a cost, and that cost is the validation of the actions of a man like Snake Carrera, a violent and arguably psychopathic male who carries out Henshaw’s stunts for him, and who ends up in Meniscus’ cell as part of a plot to murder him. He is, also, the most imposing male character in the book, far more so than any man in the Maul strand, where males are either authority figures like policemen or security guards, or feeble and less than they appear on the surface, such as Sun’s lust object Alex, who takes her virginity but soon proves to be not the person she needs or wants. The interesting characters in that strand, Sun, her friend Suk Hee, her antagonists 10Esha and KrayZglu, are all women.
Maul rightly made the 2003 Tiptree Award Short List, though it didn’t win. It certainly explores gender and feminism in a way that challenges long-held certainties on all sides. Indeed, I feel it explores the relationship between men and violence, and the attraction of both to women, in a similar, but I felt more successful, manner to the 2002 Tiptree winner, M. John Harrison’s Light.
The message, in the end, is that violence is not endemic to men – it’s endemic to humanity.
You can find my first post on Maul here.