Mid June Linkdump

At Slate, M.R. Carey gets into the neverending literary versus genre fiction debate, belatedly responding to the attacks on genre fiction by Arthur Krystal (see my posts here and here) and Edward Docx (see my post here).

At Bookworm Blues, Jamie Lee Moyer writes about women characters in her own work and how depressing it is that one still needs to point out strong and well realized women in novels, films, etc…, because there are still way too many that treat women only as walk-on characters. Indeed, “there are no women in this” is pretty much an instant dealbreaker for me in anything longer than a short story. It’s also troubling how many works there are, several of them acknowledged classics, that can’t even muster a single female character. And no, it’s set during a war/on a ship/on a space ship is not an excuse.

Juliet McKenna wonders whether it’s time for a women’s speculative fiction prize to raise the profile of female speculative fiction writers, since books by women are still less reviewed and less promoted, particularly in UK bookstores. The inspiration for the post for the all-male shortlist for this year’s David Gemmell Award, which is nominated and decided by popular vote. In case you wonder you won, Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence won in the best novel category and Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan in the best debut category. Pornokitsch also offers their take on all the finalists.

I must confess, I never bother with nominated or voting for the Gemmell Awards, because I don’t read a whole lot of epic fantasy and the books that tend to end up on the shortlist are so not my thing. Maybe I should, if only to provide a counterpoint to the grimdarkness and blokes in cloaks that dominate this award.

At The Daily Dot, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw points out that the protagonists of upcoming videogames all look remarkably similar, namely they’re all angry, unshaven white guys. Which is highly problematic, sincer gamers are somewhat more demographically varied than angry white men. And what’s with the lack of shaving anyway? Are unshaven videogame characters supposed to show off animation detail? Which makes the whole “women are difficult to animate” uproar surrounding the latest Assassin’s Creed game seem even more like a sad excuse.

At The Guardian, Jessica Valenti theorizes whether the relative scarcity of rape scenes might be the reason why The Walking Dead is so successful with women. Now I’m on record as not liking The Walking Dead at all. I don’t care for zombie stories in general and The Walking Dead is not even a particularly good or original example of a zombie tale or at least it wasn’t when I still watched it (up to the end of season 2, though I missed a few episodes in the middle). I also found the show extremely problematic on the race and gender front and I do recall at least one rape/high dubious consent sex scene, but maybe it has gotten better since then.

Also at The Guardian, Nicholas Barber wonders whether the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie heralds a come back for the space opera genre on the big screen. I can only hope so, since I like space opera a lot (hell, I even write it) and the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer look like a lot of fun, especially considering that my initial reaction to the announcement was “They’re filming what?” Even my Mom was impressed when she chanced to see the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer on my laptop recently. That is, she was quite enchanted by Rocket Raccoon.

Nicholas Barber also offers an interesting theory why there was so very little space opera available in the past ten to fifteen years and why what little there was often so violent and depressing. Now I’m not a fan at all of blaming every social or cultural trend of the past 13 years on the “war on terror”, especially since the “war on terror” has never been such a big deal here as it is in the US/UK. But in this case, Barber’s theory makes sense, since space opera is a generally optimistic genre that is as much about exploring and encountering the other as it is about colonising and killing them. And it is notable that post-2000, space-based filmic SF mostly turned into more or less thinly veiled analogies on the “war on terror” such as the new Battlestar Galactica or the crappy later seasons of Enterprise (Deep Space 9 was also a notable offender and largely predates the “war on terror”), while literary space opera was mostly confined to the “rah, rah, space marines” stuff that is the bread and butter of Baen Books. And if like me you don’t happen to overly care for Earth-based marines, let alone space-based ones, there was something of a dearth of good space opera. Luckily, you could still find space opera in the science fiction romance subgenre and indie publishing has also given the space opera subgenre a boon, even though a lot of indie space opera seems to be yet more of the “rah, rah, space marines” type (because apparently there isn’t enough of that stuff around already). However, last year has seen the publication of two high profile space operas that don’t fit the “rah, rah, space marines” stereotype with Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Rachel Bach’s Paradox series.

The Cover Café has released the results of their annual romance cover contest and this time around my votes even match the majority opinion in all but one category. This hit rate is unprecedented, since my tastes in cover design very rarely match those of the majority of romance readers.

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10 Responses to Mid June Linkdump

  1. “Rah-rah space marines” is military SF, not space opera. A far likelier theory is that Star Wars and its ilk made the subgenre so cheesy and brain-killing that even Hollywood trod carefully. I say that with great sorrow, as space opera is my favorite mode for both reading & writing SF — and good space opera can be mythic, epic & all points between.

    It looks like the Gemmell should be renamed the GrittyGrotty Knuckledragger award. As for women main characters (or even presences), I think even short stories with just whiteAnglomale heroes are unbearable.

    • Cora says:

      Military SF is often treated as interchangeable with/a subgenre of space opera. Even the Baen people don’t seem to be entirely sure how to classify a given book, which is why space marines are so hard to avoid.

      Star Wars initially seemed to revitalize the space opera, since pre-Star Wars 1970s SF was mostly dystopian/apocalyptic stuff. But around the turn of the millennium, the Star Wars prequels and the increasingly disappointing returns of Star Trek may well have contributed to killing off the filmic side of the genre, while on the literary side it was either space marines or singularity laced pseudo space opera that might just as well have been written by AIs posing as human, at least going by the lack of psychological insight displayed by its authors. But if cheesy brainkilling movies/TV shows killed off the space opera, I doubt that Guardians of the Galaxy will be its salvation, for while it looks fun, it certainly doesn’t look thoughtprovoking in any way.

      I agree about renaming the Gemmell Award. But then I suspect it’s a good snapshot of what the average (young male) fantasy reader actually reads and right now that’s grittygrotty knuckledregger fantasy.

      Due to its length, a short story could happen to include only men. But anything of novelette length and above had better be a bit more diverse than that.

  2. Mark says:

    The Guardian article that triggered M.R. Carey’s defense of genre fiction is really an incoherent mess. It’s not only the “keep it literary” comment. It’s a mix of technophobia, except for this weird suggestion to use good recommendation sites. There is one single piece of truth hidden in there (at least in my opinion) in that is that “incompleteness” is a quality that makes reading a certain piece of literature more worthwhile than another. The opposite of incompleteness, in my opinion, is formulaic fiction, but formula and genre are not the same thing. That the presence of a detective, for example (as mentioned in one of the other ant-genre articles), turns a work into 100% of formula is just plain silly. And also ignores the fact that really a lot of works that are considered as literary include genre elements.

    So incompleteness vs. completeness in fiction is not the same discussion as literary vs. genre.

    What really bothers me about Carey’s article, however, is that it starts right away with “it’s almost never the writers of fiction who are picking the fight”, which gives it this “poor us / somewhat whiny / let’s make it clear which group is right and who is wrong” kind of tone that is exemplary of many SF-related discussions no matter what the topic is. And which often turns into plain passive-aggressiveness, which just distract from the often very relevant points the authors are trying to make. I may be exaggerating a bit about this particular article, but other recent discussions of this sort tired me out a bit.

    I’m saying that in light of many anti-literary comments recently from the conservative right (which is helping turning SF into a ghetto from within) and many, many comments over the years (yes, this discussion is old and never-ending) about how anything outside of genre (or a particular genre) is boring, elitist etc.

    • Cora says:

      That Guardian article was indeed a mess and didn’t really seem to be sure what it wanted to say, while the Arthur Krystal and Edward Docx articles are two and three years old respectively, i.e. not exactly current.

      I agree that at least in recent years there have been as many, if not more, cases of genre writers attacking literary fiction as vice versa. I do get the frustration, but the staunch defenders of genre fiction seem to have missed the fact that those who blanket dismiss all popular fiction are in the minority by now. And a lot of the complaints about “boring political message fiction” and “elitist crap no one wants to read” from the rightwing camp make me think these people haven’t read much, if e.g. Ancillary Justice is unbearably experimental in their eyes. And if e.g. puppy overlord Larry Correia manages to insult two of the most genre friendly mainstream reviewers as fun-hating elitists, I honestly wonder what he is thinking or if he is thinking at all.

  3. Daniela says:

    And no, it’s set during a war/on a ship/on a space ship is not an excuse.

    One of my favorites books when I was a teen played among the Greek Amazons and it still managed to a) mention where the babies came from and what happened to male babies and b) have several interesting mal characters that showed up and played an important role. If one takes this as a basis then there is no reason not to have female characters around aside from really extreme settings and circumstances.

    Aside from SFF, I also read a lot of romance both m/f and m/m and I’m often floored how few female characters there are. Often the female heroine doesn’t have any female friends and he has only male friends/relatives. And in m/m it’s even worse. There was one m/m-fantasy-romance where every male character was involved with another man, even the fathers and uncles of the main characters. The only woman that was ever mentioned was the dead mother of one of the main characters.
    I mean WTF? Those are books written by women for a mainly female audience. So why?

    I haven’t watched much Walking Dead, mostly just the episodes in that weird town which I found highly problematic, as it was along the line of you womin folk stay here and be pretty (they all wore dresses) while we men-folk protect you. Wasn’t interested in watching more or trying to find earlier episodes.

    I would love more space opera in the vein of Bujold, early Trek or B5. Give me the humanitarians and explorers of the universe who stride forwards with open eyes and full of curiosity.
    That offers just so many opportunities to look at race and gender-questions. *Sigh* I really need to find a way to write more :-). So many ideas, so little time.

    • Cora says:

      Sadly, there is a lot of internalized misogyny in the romance genre, hence the lack of female friends or supportive relatives for the heroine (unless they are supposed to serve as heroines for future books). Quite often the only female characters apart from the heroine are the scheming “other woman” and an overbearing mother/aunt, which is sad. As for M/M romance, there is currently a heated debate going on about the internalized misogyny in the subgenre. See this post by Ann Somerville.

      That Greek Amazon book sounds great BTW. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with The Women, a 1936 play by Clare Boothe Luce, which has been filmed a couple of times. All the characters seen on stage/screen are female. Men (husbands, lovers, sons) are mentioned a lot but never seen.

      I never made it to the weird town, only the equally weird farm in The Walking Dead. Though your impressions of the town confirm that the show hasn’t improved genderwise. There’s apprently also a really horrible scene about a pregnant woman dying in childbirth and then being shot in the head, so she won’t come back as a zombie. So definitely not for me.

      I’d love more space opera explorers, too, though I’ve always had a soft spot for the intergalactic rebels and rogues, too, which is why Guardians of the Galaxy looks like it’s right down my alley.

      • Daniela says:

        The debate in the m/m romance really isn’t new. It crops up about once a year and very often the same arguments are rehashed again and again. I’ve read the article Ann is referencing and seen the outrage in the community, but again, it’s nothing new. It’s also often an unconscious form of mysiogny where the writers don’t even think about the fact that they are erasing women by not including them in their story (same goes for m/f btw). They don’t even notice doing it and that is something I find worrisome. Not to mention the issues when the only woman or other woman that does show up is the bad guy.

        I also find it strange when some people say that m/f romance has clearly defined expectations and seem to indicate that those expectations include a lack of other women of all ages, because I can think of a number of highly sucessful examples where that isn’t true. Also why not try and break these ‘unspoken rules’? Why follow that old ‘unspoken’ formula. It’s very preplexing and frustrating. Luckily SP allows some of us to go against those rules.

        Oh, rogues can be fun too. I loved the early Bujold books where Miles suddenly found himself as General Naismith and was gallivating around the universe. I also have some fond memories of the very early Han Solo und Lando Calrissian books (late 80s or so?).

        • Cora says:

          Yes, the misogyny in m/m romance and romance in general is a debate that comes up every couple of months. It’s still depressing to see that such a female dominated genre as romance (including m/m) is suffering from so much internalized misogyny. And no, the “Genre expecations dictate few/no female character apart from the heroine” explanation doesn’t hold true, since I have read plenty of romances, even at category length, that had several well rounded female characters apart from the heroine.

          I read some of the Han Solo/Lando Calrissian books in the 1980s, too. I’m blanking on the name of the author now. Dean something or other.

      • Daniela says:

        Completely forgot to mention. The Amazon-book is Taube unter Falken by Katherine Allfrey. I haven’t read it in decades so my memory might be faulty or make it better than it was but it’s one of the few books from my teenaged years that I still have. Counts for something, doesn’t it? Maybe I should re-read it?

        • Cora says:

          Rereading favourites from your teenaged years is always risky, because so many of them don’t hold up. Luckily, some of them are just as good as you remember.

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