Recently I heard a pernicious argument, namely that privacy does not exist and the notion of it should be abolished. The person who said this argued that hundreds of thousands of people are dying every year because of a false notion of privacy. To him, this conclusion is based on privacy concerns related to medical information, and that if there were no privacy, then everyone’s medical records would be open to scientists, thereby somehow leading to medical discoveries that would save lives. This is notion, that somehow anyone who expects privacy is indirectly responsible for people dying, is meant to make us feel guilty enough to agree that we should have no privacy at all. But I take issue with this! I proposed that “privacy itself is a good thing, which we all benefit from,” but this fellow refused to hear it, saying that privacy is just a form of belief, the same as Mormonism. “If privacy does not exist, would you want people to just walk into your back yard garden and set up tents for camping?” I asked.
In recent weeks, I’ve been on a biography reading jag, first tearing through The Hidden Library of Tanith Lee, then James Tiptree, Jr., the Double Life of Alice Sheldon, and This is Me, Jack Vance! The Hidden Library of Tanith Lee by Mavis Haut begins with a heavy academic tone, delving into the mythopoeic layers of meaning in Lee’s writing. Although this is perhaps a necessary piece of work, since Lee’s writing is so dense with mythology, metaphor, and explorations of the subconscious, it doesn’t exactly flow off the pages. Fortunately, for all those pages which made me feel like I was treading in molasses, there were an equal number of more conversational sections, in which Lee’s many books in many genres are summarized. There is also a long and valuable interview with the author which I have not seen elsewhere. Not a book for everyone, but a must read for all of you Tanith Lee addicts out there, and I know you are legion! It has taken me years to get up the nerve to read Julie Phillips book on James Tiptree, Jr., one of the unique voices in sf literature. Perhaps other readers of sf in the 1970s had the same introduction to Tiptree that I did: reading through 800 pages of Again Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison, only to be shocked with 50 amp jolt of electricity in the concluding story, Milk of Paradise, which opens: “She was flowing hot and naked as she straddled his belly in the cuddle-cube and fed him her hard little tits. And he convulsed up under her and then was headlong on the waster, vomiting.“ This was clearly a writer who could grab anyone by the scruff of the neck and rattle them around like a rag doll.
Having just finished a riveting gothic fantasy novel about werewolves by Tanith Lee, it occurs to me that moral ambiguity is the core theme of the books I have been reading lately. In _Lycanthia_, Lee portrays the vagueries of a consumptive city-dweller, a self-involved pianist, who comes into a large country manor in the “old country” by way of an inheritance. His reluctant arrival to take possession of the family manor house, and his petulant mood swings in dealing with the superstitious locals, provide the perfect backdrop for his eventual crisis. The appearance of large wolf-like dogs, and warnings about a nefarious family, the de Lagenay’s, hiding in the forest, draw the unwitting anti-hero, perhaps fittingly named Christian, into a web of conflicts that quickly begins to resonate with emotional depth. The ambiguity of all the surface facts - are the de Lagenays really werewolves? are the superstitious villagers good or evil? is the doctor saving his life or condemning him to fate worse than death? is the upright piano an instrument of beauty or torture? — serve to heighten the tension as Christian becomes ever-more-tightly entwined with the de Lagenays, whom he variously insults, assaults, loves, worships, honors and betrays.