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Friday, December 14, 2012

The modern Wormtongues of SF/F

As one of the readers at Alpha Game suggested, the discussion of retrophobia in the SF/F genre and its observable consequences is better suited for Vox Popoli even though it began at AG due to the intersexual-relations aspect of the matter.  So, I'm going to move it over here, where the majority of the audience interested in the topic is normally found.

As one Amazon reviewer of A Throne of Bones noted, "modern fantasy is a rather ugly place".  That's is true, but it's not the real problem, being merely a logical consequence of the underlying problem of modern fantasy being an incoherent place.  In the first post on the subject, "Sexism" is a literary necessity, I observed how the structural acceptance of sexual inequality and other aspects of historical societies deemed "evil", (technically inaccurate, but used in the absence of a better word), by the sensibilities presently infesting the literary genre are not only required for historical verisimilitude, but for literary drama as well.

I used the example of a single change to a single character in A Song of Ice and Fire would have totally eviscerate the entire series and eliminated the greater part of its plot.  Consider the consequences of changing Cersei Lannister from an oppressed woman used as a dynastic piece by her father to a strong and independent warrior woman of the sort that is presently ubiquitous in third generation fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal fiction.
  1. Cersei doesn't marry Robert Baratheon.  She's strong and independent like her twin, not a royal brood mare!
  2. House Lannister's ambitions are reduced from establishing a royal line to finding a wife for Tyrion.
  3. Her children are not bastards.  Robert's heirs have black hair.
  4. Jon Arryn isn't murdered to keep a nonexistent secret.  Ned Stark isn't named to replace him.
  5. Robert doesn't have an accident coordinated by the Lannisters, who don't dominate the court and will not benefit from his fall.
  6. Robert's heirs being legitimate, Stannis and Renly Baratheon remain loyal.
  7. The Starks never come south and never revolt against King's Landing.  Theon Greyjoy goes home to the Ironborn and never returns to Winterfell.  Jon Snow still goes to the Wall, but Arya remains home and learns to become a lady, not an assassin, whether she wants to or not.
So, what was a war of five kings that spans five continents abruptly becomes a minor debate over whether Robert Baratheon's black-haired son and heir marries Sansa Stark, a princess of Dorne, or Danerys Targaryen.  This doesn't remove all of the drama from the book; King Robert could spurn Danerys and thus preserve the Baratheon-Targaryen rivalry and the threat of the Others still lurks north of the Wall.  It's even possible that the novel which now focuses on the warrior woman Cersei, her lesbian lover, Brienne of Tarth, and their brave journey north of the Wall to discover the secret of the Others might not be entirely dreadful.  One could even argue that it would have a shot at being more interesting than A Dance with Dragons.

But would it be better or more interesting than the complex intrigue and drama filling the first three books?  I very much doubt it.

Now let's turn it around and throw it out to the readers.  Can you think of a modern fantasy novel in which a single change to a single character would have had the potential to improve the story to a similar degree that the change to Cersei Lannister would alter A Song of Fire and Ice?  Alternatively, what popular SF/F works have been hamstrung by the author's servile adherence to revisionist modern sensibilities?

What we have seen over the last thirty or forty years in the SF/F genre is metaphorically quite similar to what Tolkien portrayed at the end of The Lord of the Rings in the scouring of the Shire.  The modern Wormtongues have done their best to ruin the once beautiful land of fantasy they invaded, by rejecting the past which they hate and failing to grasp the purpose and significance of societal traditions they do not understand.  These Wormtongues are reduced to cobbling together incoherent and derivative works because their very values work against them, cutting them off from the larger part of the sources of historical conflict and drama, reducing them to coloring with crayons where their predecessors were painting with a full palette that ranged the full width and depth of the human experience.

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55 Comments:

Anonymous DrTorch December 14, 2012 6:59 AM  

Agree with what you wrote. But isn't the bottom line that these revisionists essentially want every story to be the same*?

Isn't that effectively censorship, just a manifestation of the lust for control that drives all "progressives"?

*Ok, there may be three acceptable plots:

Girl saves world from outside evil

Girl saves world from encroaching evil of sexism from internal sources.

Girl wrestles with feelings.

Anonymous Outlaw X December 14, 2012 7:07 AM  

Seen the Movie "Brave"? DON'T!

http://www.amazon.com/Brave/dp/B00A6PD9I4/ref=sr_1_6?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1355486663&sr=1-6

Anonymous DrTorch December 14, 2012 7:10 AM  

Sorry to be off topic. But folks are going to be shocked:
"the Republican party does not respect the values and concerns of the Hispanic community"

http://www.politico.com/story/2012/12/poll-the-gops-hispanic-nightmare-84974.html#ixzz2F1lYm025

Anonymous VryeDenker December 14, 2012 7:20 AM  

I'm struggling to put down in words what I'm trying to get at, but I'll summarise:

If Twilight's Edward and Bella were written more like Beren and Luthien from the Silmarillion, it would make for a much more appealing story. There would be more scope for actual epic adventure and character development. Even if the very modern idea of role-reversal were introduced with Bella having to perform an almost humanly impossible task to prove that she is worthy of becoming a Cullen.

Blogger Kyle In Japan December 14, 2012 7:56 AM  

Every would-be fantasy author should read Poul Anderson's "Thud And Blunder" essay. The sad thing is, fantasy is undoubtedly in a much worse state than when that essay was written.

Anonymous Krul December 14, 2012 8:01 AM  

Even if the very modern idea of role-reversal were introduced with Bella having to perform an almost humanly impossible task to prove that she is worthy of becoming a Cullen.

I don't think I've ever read or seen a story in which a female character had to prove herself "worthy" of entering a relationship with a male character.

Blogger Nate December 14, 2012 8:02 AM  

See... one of the problems I have with Martin's writing is exactly what you've described here. The world does not go to hell in a hand-basket over the actions of 1 person.

Those ships wanted to be launched awfully bad before the pretty face ran off to troy.

Anonymous RedJack December 14, 2012 8:15 AM  

Those ships wanted to be launched awfully bad before the pretty face ran off to troy.

And the Kaiser really wanted to go take a whack at France long before some Archduke got killed.

We as people look for trigging events, without stopping to think that implies the gun was cocked with the saftey off before hand.

Anonymous Peter Garstig December 14, 2012 8:29 AM  

Everything has to be equal!

There is fear of difference, which inherently means fear of creations because creation means separation. Chesterton described this awfully good more than a century ago.

And to be honest: this resulting in the decline of Fantasy/SF literature is the least we should be concerned about.

Blogger Nate December 14, 2012 8:36 AM  

Also VD... I want to say the nod to Nathaniel Bedford Forrest was welcome indeed in ToB. I hold out hope to see more of his tactics employed in the future novels. Though I suppose it would be difficult to write military fiction without them...

Blogger Nate December 14, 2012 8:37 AM  

"And the Kaiser really wanted to go take a whack at France long before some Archduke got killed. "

I would suggest that France really wanted the Kaiser to take a whack at them. Stupidly it turns out.

Anonymous Krul December 14, 2012 8:55 AM  

See... one of the problems I have with Martin's writing is exactly what you've described here. The world does not go to hell in a hand-basket over the actions of 1 person.

I don't think that applies to ASoIaF. Cersei's actions wouldn't have had such an impact if it weren't for the prior war that culminated in the destruction of the Targaryens and the ascension of Robert Baratheon. That openened the gate for the ambitions of the Lannisters and the Baratheons who now had a shot a the throne. It also put the Lannisters and the Starks on a collision course, because of the loyalty of the latter and the power lust of the former.

Anonymous JartStar December 14, 2012 8:59 AM  

Injecting modern sensibilities into a world in which they would be nearly impossible to exist is the problem. They would be tolerable if they were made believable by the story, but that would take world crafting of epic proportions to pull it off.

Anonymous VD December 14, 2012 9:03 AM  

I want to say the nod to Nathaniel Bedford Forrest was welcome indeed in ToB.

Somewhere, an anklebiter is furiously scribbling away: "Racist redneck themes in Vox's book - check!"

Anonymous AmyJ December 14, 2012 9:07 AM  

I have been reading a lot of China Mieville lately. While his sci-fi is more PC, his steampunk/fantasy New Crobozun series has some really uncomfortable (for equalitarians) elements, like xenophobia (racism), female inferiority, and abject cruelty to humans, xenians, and animals alike. I was actually surprised that an author listed in the ranks of Bakker, Abercrombie, and Gaiman went as far as he did with those elements.

The series would not have been as engaging or as interesting if it had been a perfect, equalitarian utopia where everyone was on equal footing with each other and respect was thrown all around.

Anonymous VD December 14, 2012 9:15 AM  

The world does not go to hell in a hand-basket over the actions of 1 person.

I touched lightly upon that, although perhaps not as clearly enough for most readers to pick it up I just thought it was interesting to have this massive, primordial conflict arising and then the normal human conflicts blow up and completely get in the way.

Blogger Nate December 14, 2012 9:16 AM  

come on... you didn't expect "first with the most" go by without a few knowing nods.

Blogger Nate December 14, 2012 9:19 AM  

"I touched lightly upon that, although perhaps not as clearly enough for most readers to pick it up I just thought it was interesting to have this massive, primordial conflict arising and then the normal human conflicts blow up and completely get in the way."

ToB appears to me more like a series of unfortunate events... several choices by several individuals... manipulated and unmanipulated... Sure... if Corvus handles his discipline differently then things change... but the world is still going to hell in a hand basket.

Anonymous VryeDenker December 14, 2012 9:22 AM  

"I don't think I've ever read or seen a story in which a female character had to prove herself "worthy" of entering a relationship with a male character. "

That would be entering a family or organization, rather than simply being deemed worthy of a relationship. Think Romeo and Juliet with vampires and werewolves and actual physical confrontation.

Blogger Nate December 14, 2012 9:24 AM  

Also...

The mounted infantry... riding to a place... dismounting and fighting on foot... that was also Forrest. I dare say one could reasonably suggest that you went out of your way to sprinkle Forrestisms hither and yon.

Anonymous Luscinia Hâfez December 14, 2012 9:24 AM  

Because Mieville doesn't portray New Crobuzon as a nice place to live or racism and sexism and cruelty as normal.

Anonymous Daniel December 14, 2012 9:35 AM  

I'll start with the second one first: what popular SF/F works have been hamstrung by the author's servile adherence to revisionist modern sensibilities?

Riverworld, P.J. Farmer. What starts out in To Your Scattered Bodies Go as a deeply mysterious gathering of billions of formerly dead historical and regular figures, ends up as a p.c. morass: the world they dwell on is a blank slate, the culture clashes are artificial, personality is drained, history is best forgotten, and by the end, you really don't care if they figure out the "deep mystery" at the end. It is obvious from book 3 (if not sooner) that it is the dictatorial zookeeping alien race of puppetmasters that is the hero. Humanity progresses once it realizes that property is a lie, history is bunk, sex is a function, and all heroes are liars.

Maybe that one's too old for this question.

A more recent example is American Gods: in a book about the pantheons of gods being real, living figures in today's world, its refusal to honestly address Jesus of Nazareth (Gaiman cheated - the gods recognized him as something quietly "different" in about a sentence or two) put a massive, temporal ceiling over a book that purported to reach the very heavens. An interesting (if overlong) adventure, but definitely of the 2nd generation, bridging the 3rd gen (esp. because of its stance on Ragnarok) of retrophobia.

Anonymous stg58/Animal Mother December 14, 2012 9:49 AM  

The Iluvatar create a special Ainu named Steinemenor to free Eowyn from her gilded cage. Steinemenor casts a spell on Eowyn that makes the corners of her jaw pop out. Thus manjawed, she takes matters into her own hands because all the men in the capital are under the thrall of some creeper named Grum or Grimo who cares. She kills Grima herself. Theoden is freed from the spell and rides at the head of the Rohirrim to Minas Tirith long before the orc hordes arrive.

That is all I have at the moment.

Anonymous Josh December 14, 2012 9:51 AM  

Are we sure ToB couldn't have been improved by making Lodi a lesbian dwarf warrior woman in a trans species relationship with a female dragon who doesn't want to burn and pillage but would rather use her flames to craft fertility idols?

Anonymous The other skeptic December 14, 2012 9:56 AM  

Don't be afraid to say "Merry Christmas"

Screw this Happy Holidays shit!

Anonymous Tallen December 14, 2012 10:01 AM  

Think Romeo and Juliet with vampires and werewolves and actual physical confrontation.

So... Underworld?

Anonymous Daniel December 14, 2012 10:02 AM  

Can you think of a modern fantasy novel in which a single change to a single character would have had the potential to improve the story to a similar degree that the change to Cersei Lannister would alter A Song of Fire and Ice?

Oh, about a zillion. I'll go with Kvothe, from The Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear. I do this because of the tragedy that is Patrick Rothfuss. He's a very talented wordmaker - a stop and read it slowly again it is that pretty sort of writer - and his books...well, what was that about using crayons in favor of the entire palette?

Although there are a number of single changes I could identify in Kvothe that would improve the book immensely (he skips University and hits the real world, he has a physical disability instead of athletic dominance, he sucks at magic, all for examples), but the one single trait that would make the book entirely better would be:

if he didn't allow his identity to be linked intrinsically and permanently to the poverty of his birth.

This simple change would have meant that - Kvothe would not be as cloying and able to manipulate everyone around him into becoming his friends. It would have meant that he would have used his supreme talents to go out and seek his fortune, instead of placing him in the idiotic holding pattern of permanent quasimedieval grad student. It would mean that Book 2 would have had to be something completely different, because the point of it couldn't be to devise a way so that Kvothe could use his lifelong poverty as another man's motivation to pay for Kvothe's student loan!

A poor Kvothe who does something about being poor instead of using as an excuse to take advantage of wealthy benefactors would be a far, far, far better book.

Its almost as if the talented Rothfuss has never known anything outside of a university existence, pacifism and feminism...and it ends up making him an extremely talented retrophobe of the highest order.

Blogger JaimeInTexas December 14, 2012 10:13 AM  

In A Song of Ice and Fire, no mad king Aerys II Targaryen, no kingslayer (Jaime Lannister), no story at all.

Anonymous stg58/Animal Mother December 14, 2012 10:18 AM  

The Iluvatar create a special Ainu named Steinemenor to free Eowyn from her gilded cage. Steinemenor casts a spell on Eowyn that makes the corners of her jaw pop out. Thus manjawed, she takes matters into her own hands because all the men in the capital are under the thrall of some creeper named Grum or Grimo who cares. She kills Grima herself. Theoden is freed from the spell and rides at the head of the Rohirrim to Minas Tirith long before the orc hordes arrive.

That is all I have at the moment.

Anonymous MendoScot December 14, 2012 10:27 AM  

The mounted infantry... riding to a place... dismounting and fighting on foot... that was also Forrest.

Ach. Now I'm having visions of Bloody Bill on a Shetland pony. Cheers, Nate.

Anonymous Susan December 14, 2012 10:33 AM  

Retrophobia. I love that term. Explains why I have gotten so irritated by some of my formerly favorite authors lately. Thanks. Sad that they are so afraid of behaviours from the past. But you know what? Thats why its called FICTION!!

Talking about yourself again anonymous?

Anonymous Susan December 14, 2012 10:35 AM  

Posted the reference too late. It was deleted. Sorry VD?

Anonymous Daniel December 14, 2012 10:53 AM  

Is that supposed to be an improvement, stg58?

Yikes.

Anonymous jack December 14, 2012 10:57 AM  

I guess this is OT, though it definitely is fantasy....
From Drudge, NASA has released early a video meant to go on 12.22.12 that explains why the world did not end on the 21st. See link below. When I first saw this my immediate reaction was, 'Oh my God. its really going to happen and NASA got this thing out before the end' Then common sense returned. Anyway, there it is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QY_Gc1bF8ds

Anonymous stg58/Animal Mother December 14, 2012 10:59 AM  

Daniel,

Only If your name is Amanda Marcotte.

Anonymous John VI December 14, 2012 11:13 AM  

Just about all of Laurell K Hamiltons ( or really any "wereseal porn" authors book) books survive on the gender role reversals. Her Executioner novels take a male lead with male relationship problems, and then just reverses the genders. Female lead, but still with male relationship problems. "Her" Boyfriends all suffer from Female relationship problems. It makes most of her work an incoherant mess because she spends such an inordinant amount of time on these relationships that make no sense to anyone but the authors.

Its actually so blatant I wonder if an editor re-writes it afterwards to change the pronouns, or shes just copying some 1940s novels, updating them a tad and swapping the gender pronouns :(

John VI

Blogger JartStar December 14, 2012 11:45 AM  

ToB appears to me more like a series of unfortunate events... several choices by several individuals... manipulated and unmanipulated... Sure... if Corvus handles his discipline differently then things change... but the world is still going to hell in a hand basket.

A lot like the events leading up to WWI. No specific cause and various people might have been able to stop it from happening or at least contained it, but in hindsight it practically looks like Fate in the ancient Greek sense.

Blogger Alexander December 14, 2012 11:50 AM  

The second half of the Harry Potter series would have been much more readable had Harry actually reacted to the idea that an insane and immortal being personally wanted to kill him. Around book four it becomes obvious that Harry is neither capable of defeating such a villain or particularly bothered to become capable and so the whole series descended into a race to who could be more incompetent. Voldemort 'won', but it was close run thing.

Anonymous RedJack December 14, 2012 11:56 AM  

Nate,

You could make a decent arguement that France was as eager to go to war against Imperial Gemany as much as the other way around.

Part of me wonders if it wasn't the long period of peace that led to a big blow up. Much like the American Civil War, all sides assumed it would be a quick, almost bloodless, war. Instead it destroyed Christendom.

Blogger JaimeInTexas December 14, 2012 12:47 PM  

Redjack: Had the South moved onto DC after Manassas, had Ft. Sumter not been fired upon, had Texas not joined the union, had Queen Liliʻuokalani not abdicated, had the former colonies not seceded from the Articles .......

Blogger JaimeInTexas December 14, 2012 12:53 PM  

had Santa Ana not executed Fannin and his men, had William Walker not been successful in invading and taking over Nicaragua, ...

Anonymous Miserman December 14, 2012 12:57 PM  

In the Wheel of Time series, to have Rand and his Black Tower of male channelers of the One Power overthrow and subjegate the all-female Aes Sedai would have made the series worth a fourth or fifth book.

I never finished the series and have no interest to.

Anonymous Jack Amok December 14, 2012 2:02 PM  

But isn't this what progressivism does to everything? Isn't Twilight to Bram Stoker what today's Detroit is to the motor city of 1950?

In their effort to escape responsibility, Progs reject all the hard-won historical truths civilization has accumulated, and so make seemingly every mistake all at once. Such children, they mistake the relationship between consequences and rules. They think the rules are the source of the consequences, rather than a recipe for avoiding them.

The driver was applying the brakes when he crashed into the tree. Therefore, the brakes must be the cause of the crash. Or maybe it was the steering wheel. Get rid of them both, just to be safe. And who needs guardrails if you think gravity is some oppressive construct dreamed up by a dead white guy a hundred years ago*

Their fiction, like their lives, lacks guidance because they don't want to be constrained by it.

Too bad their influence can't be limited to fictional worlds. I'd gladly suffer to read a dozen Wheel of Time monstrosities for a government of Calvin Coolidges.

* like, y'know, back when the Constitution was written or something.

Anonymous Daniel December 14, 2012 2:56 PM  

Miserman
I never finished the series and have no interest to.

That's something you have in common with Robert Jordan.

Anonymous Boogeyman December 14, 2012 3:05 PM  

How about the Honor Harrington series? It's sci fi instead of fantasy, a space opera rip off of Horatio Hornblower and written from a sort of conservative perspective. The main character runs into and eventually 'enlightens' what are essentially the decendants of polygamist rednecks, though these people end up being hero's.

Despite of that I really liked the series, at least until the end of book 10. I was able to hang with the main character (a female captain then admiral) despite her leading men and navies into battle and danger. For the most part I'm with VD on this. Perhaps such is only possible in a sci-fi setting, not fantasy, or maybe the 'warrior woman' thing is something that can only be done in the rarest of circumstances.

Anonymous Daniel December 14, 2012 3:22 PM  

Haven't read those, Boogeyman: does she fight hand-to-hand? If not, then there are plenty of historical corollaries to female military leaders.

Anonymous Krul December 14, 2012 3:28 PM  

VryeDenker,

Neither Romeo nor Juliet has either the ability or the inclination to prove him/herself worthy of the other's family. I don't see how that's relevant.

Blogger Duke of Earl December 14, 2012 3:41 PM  

At the moment Rand seems to have a few Aes Sedai at his beck and call, as well as three women as his "friends with benefits". He even seems to have overcome the insecurity that Jordan saddled him with. All it took was a change of author to improve the series.

Anonymous Boogeyman December 14, 2012 5:42 PM  

Daniel December 14, 2012 3:22 PM Haven't read those, Boogeyman: does she fight hand-to-hand? If not, then there are plenty of historical corollaries to female military leaders.



In a couple of instances - a few gun fights and the killing of her former would be rapist and cowardly fellow captain in a dual comes to mind - but no, it's mostly the courageous commander on the deck kind of thing. She is shown as brave and a tactical genius, but Conan she isn't. The series is good, despite the annoying pet cat. It's from the 80's, but it should still be out there.

Anonymous cheddarman December 14, 2012 7:34 PM  

I devoured classical sci-fi as a youngster...this post pretty much sums up why i abandoned it as an adult.

sincerely

cheddarman

Blogger Lovekraft December 14, 2012 8:24 PM  

Paul Atreidis of Dune decides not to take the spice because ... drugs are bad, m'kay?

Anonymous Anonymous December 15, 2012 6:26 AM  

How about changing "A boy and his dog" to Cersei and her dog...Kinky

Blogger John Wright December 19, 2012 10:36 AM  

Paul Atreidis of Dune decides not to take the spice because .... the Lensman of the Galactic Patrol will burn him instantly to death with their DeLamiter Rayguns for being a Zwilnik while he is still fumbling with his crysknife. And if he summons up Sandworms to assault their position, they smash his planet to flinders between two negaspheres.

How is that?

Blogger SNOWPAPA December 20, 2012 12:22 PM  

http://www.kgw.com/news/Clackamas-man-armed-confronts-mall-shooter-183593571.html

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/08/25/nypd-shooting-bystander-victims-hit-by-police-gunfire/

Notice the difference in reasoning between the New York Police Commissioner's "well trained" (second article) finest and the private citizen in the first article.

Blogger SNOWPAPA December 20, 2012 12:22 PM  

http://www.kgw.com/news/Clackamas-man-armed-confronts-mall-shooter-183593571.html

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/08/25/nypd-shooting-bystander-victims-hit-by-police-gunfire/

Notice the difference in reasoning between the New York Police Commissioner's "well trained" (second article) finest and the private citizen in the first article.

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