Some friends as unimpressed with Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds as I was got to discussing things a bit, I tweeted about this shit a bit, so why the hell not, have a blog post too.
So, Karen Lord’s novel is retooled Star Trek fanfiction with added eugenics, pedophilia, and so on plus a NO HOMO, HOMOS ARE DISGUSTING agenda going. The writing is… well:
I had been walking toward them as I spoke, but when she said that, I stopped short and looked down in a panic at my shoes. There was nothing underneath them but air, leaves, branches, and more air.
You know it’s bad when you’re falling to certain death and all you can think for your blessed last thought is Damn, have I got a girly scream.
Nevertheless, this book’s been well-received by fairly intelligent people. Even if they think the quality of the writing is great it’s weird that they missed the shitty gender politics (or at least fail to comment on it in any way), the eugenics, the rousing endorsement of pedophilia from Our Heroine, and so on. Then I thought of another universally loved, but problematic, title. I haven’t read Among Others and don’t ever intend to, because apparently it’s both racist and a public circlejerk session for SFF fans, but from the sound of it it has a lot in common with Lord’s novel in very specific ways.
Either Lord wrote her eugenics novel without any awareness whatsoever or she knew exactly what she was doing and that exploiting SFF fans is good business, which I can totally respect.
Yes, yes I know I’m picking on an article from fucking 2009, and I will give that Daniel Hemmens may or may not still hold these views strongly, whatever. But let’s pick on a white dude anyway! Nothing personal, Dan. You were just the springboard.
Around the time Kristin Cashore’s book was still new and shit (didn’t get less shit since, though) Daniel Hemmens of Ferretbrain wrote about it in glowing terms.
On the other hand part of the reason for this is that Cashore spends no time whatsoever trying to make Katsa attractive to straight men. There’s little or no description of her naked body glistening in the moonlight, or of her bending over to present her buttocks for chastisement.
Katsa is a sublimely realised female character. So sublimely realised that I can’t really relate to her. The experiences that shape her are not my experiences. The issues that concern her are not my concerns. The qualities I look for in a female fantasy figure are not qualities the text shows any interest in. My fantasies are not what the book cares about fulfilling. Katsa is not for me and the fact that I even expected that she should be is evidence of how profoundly important this book actually is.
The thrust of Hemmens’ argument is that the book is Awesome Feminist Literature because it doesn’t concern him, a man, or the male gaze, or care about him as the reader, therefore it is alien and new and stupefying to him.
To which I can only ask, Dan: in 2009 had you never read a single book by a feminist, ever? Hell, let’s be charitable: maybe he meant this was the first ever fantasy or SF book he read that didn’t pander to him as a man?
So not Butler? Not Hopkinson? Hell, I’ll make this easier on him: not even big-name white women? Not le Guin, Russ, Valente, Vinge?
Not a single one?
Really? Those aren’t obscure authors, you know.
A while back Nick Mamatas talked about the superior sort of reader and the inferior sort of reader, which got me to thinking a bit (and no, not just because he sorted me into the “superior” category, but thanks, mister).
At Astrogator’s Logs Athena Andreadis writes about The Dark Knight Rises and The Bourne Legacy: Fresh Breezes From Unexpected Quarters.
I detest Christopher Nolan’s ponderous dourness. The only film of his I found remotely intriguing was The Prestige. Auteur pretensions aside, the closest relatives of Nolan’s Batman opus are the abysmal Star Wars prequels. The two trilogies share pretty much everything: the wooden dialogue, the cardboard characters, the manipulative sentimentality, the leaden exposition, the cultural parochialism, the nonsensical plot, the worshipping of messiahs and unaccountable privileged elites, the contempt for “mundanes” and democratic structures, the dislike of women and non-hierarchical relationships. To be sure, Nolan’s second Batman film boasted the unforgettable performance of Heath Ledger’s Joker. But TDKR should have been called Bat Guano or Darth Vader Meets the Transformers.
Abigail Nussbaum also has a thing or two to say about The Dark Knight Rises:
The Dark Knight Rises extends Batman’s authority past crime, into technological progress, and even into social welfare–when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Officer Blake, a Batman believer who is one of the first to uncover signs of the film’s villain, starts his investigation by following up the murder of a homeless teen, he learns that the boy was kicked out of his group home because the cash-strapped Wayne Foundation has stopped funding it. In other words, it’s not just the police that needs to be augmented by a caped crusader, but every level of government that must be replaced by private enterprise and private philanthropy. And when that private benefactor is mocked, derided, hobbled in his efforts to keep his community safe and even hunted down for those efforts–why, then he will retreat from his obligations, and the result will be disaster.
Fine pieces of criticism. Now I would like to take a look at some reviews for a bunch of assorted things.
There’s an obsession over world-building among a certain kind of SFF nerds. There’s a whole subreddit devoted to it. Much of what makes Tolkien so appealing to a certain kind of nerds is “world-building,” which is to say a bunch of useless made-up trivia. Because this, we should keep in perspective, is all it is. It is not culture, because it doesn’t contribute anything to any culture at large and generally relevant not even to all of SFF nerds, but to a select group: the specific fandom of a specific author or franchise. It is not useful, because it’s–well, a bunch of useless made-up trivia. It is not inherently valuable, because it is useless made-up trivia.
Let’s address this breed of nerds: geeks who identify as geeks with a capital G. They are people who make being a geek an essential part of their identities. It’s all they talk about upon meeting strangers. They make it their personalities. They integrate their fandom into themselves, rather than leaving it what it is: a hobby.
There are things that can be said for secondary worlds being useful for speculative experiments (socio-political, alt-historical, and many others), for imagination, for metaphor and allegory, but the obsession these geeks have with world-building is not so much for the imaginative, the speculative, or even the interesting: it is to do with sheer volume. It’s not that this world or that is unusual or exceptional in its imaginative qualities. It’s not even that all the little details cohere and make for a believable secondary world. No, it’s that there is a fucking lot of it. Ask a diehard Tolkien fan about “world-building.” Prepare to drown in a deluge of mindless praise for Tolkien’s Finnish copypasta, the maps, the letters, the unpublishable writing that gets published anyway because the Tolkien Estate is hungry for cash, the minutiae in the appendices and basically, the verbal vomit of his “legendarium” (and this word will crop up a lot: when you see it, run). There’s nothing much of quality in there, but there sure is a lot of quantity. This love of word vomit is the driving force behind nerds’ love of D&D and its many marketing campaigns–sorry, settings–and similar other franchises designed to sell merchandise. A similar admiration exists for one Ed Greenwood, a gross creepy old man and the creator of Forgotten Realms, not because he is a writer of great craft–he is a producer of the worst sort of verbal diarrhea, not that his fans will admit it–but because he’s churned out a vast amount of material related to his intellectual property, a fair portion of them having to do with fap-fodder (ctrl + f for “breasts”; as a bonus, take a minute out of your day to read this review of one of his self-insert books starring fantasy writer Rod Everlar who sells his fantasy out to a company named Hasbr–uhm, Holdencorp).