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19 March 2015 @ 07:56 pm
She's a wish fulfilment character  
Author Scott Lynch responds to a critic of the character Zamira Drakasha, a black woman pirate in his fantasy book Red Seas Under Red Skies, the second novel of the Gentleman Bastard series.

I'm always little uncomfortable with responses to critiques of women in fantasy which run

critique: Female warriors/whatever in a pseudo-medieval setting are unrealistic
response: So the dragons are fine, but you are worried about the female warrior?

Because even though at one level it makes sense, at another the existence of dragons in fantasy clearly requires a different kind of suspension of disbelief to the existence of emancipated women. It's a really complicated discussion which impinges on an equally complicated discussion about when one is, and isn't able to suspend disbelief which doesn't just apply to gender roles but also to abuses of science and (on one notable occasion) the precise presentation of the minarets in Jerusalem.

So it's really feel refreshing to see a response to this kind of critique which isn't "hey! look! dragons!" but is instead yes of course she's fantasy wish fulfilment. AND WHY NOT?.

I've only read the first of the Gentleman Bastards series which I thought was a truly excellent novel. I haven't read the rest because I heard somewhere that they dropped in quality and I didn't really want to spoil how much I had enjoyed the first. But the above response makes me think I should re-evaluate that decision.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/148923.html.
fredbassettfredbassett on March 19th, 2015 08:16 pm (UTC)
Nothing wrong with wish-fulfillment characters!

Was the take-down linked to here the author's actual response? that was a bit unclear, but I whole-heartedly agreed with the sentiments expressed.
louisedennislouisedennis on March 19th, 2015 08:22 pm (UTC)
I've tracked down the original and its actually on LiveJournal!.
fredbassettfredbassett on March 19th, 2015 08:32 pm (UTC)
LOL, can't fault the guy's style!
philmophlegm: Elricphilmophlegm on March 19th, 2015 08:19 pm (UTC)
There's plenty of wrong-headed political correctness and cultural marxism to complain about in fantasy and (especially) science-fiction literature at the moment, but the existence of emancipated female pirates isn't it.

Neither is it anything new. Robert E. Howard has a female pirate queen in the Conan stories. Admittedly, her skin is "ivory white", but her crew are black.

louisedennislouisedennis on March 19th, 2015 08:26 pm (UTC)
I think umm "cycles of oppression"? are really interesting. You seem to see them in a lot of areas. At one point in time oppressed minority is perfectly acceptable in role X, or at least unremarkable and then you go through a period where they vanish from sight and so it suddenly becomes a mission to show them in role X and that is presented as something new, innovative and daring when, in fact, the Victorians were quite happy with it.

It seems to come up a lot in discussion of modern re-imagingings of classic works - I'm thinking particularly of Sherlock and the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, where the attempt to "modernise" the presentation of the women in some ways actually restricts their roles further - arguably, at any rate.
philmophlegm: aimingforhishead2philmophlegm on March 19th, 2015 08:57 pm (UTC)
Sometimes that might be because the perception of 'Role X' changes. At one time, banking was so reprehensible that only dirty jews could do it. Centuries later, banking (and jews) was respectable. Still later, bankers are evil and it's acceptable in certain circles to applaud anti-jewish terrorists.

Sorry, that's a little tangential to the main discussion.
louisedennislouisedennis on March 21st, 2015 11:23 am (UTC)
I think the banking/Jews connection may be a bit more of a special case. I can think of lots of theories about why it seems to happen; when a population is very small (e.g., black people in 18th century rural England) no one has got as far as forming rigid opinions about what they should/should not do; the fact that "political correctness" applied mindlessly can be as rigid and constraining as good old fashioned stereotyping; the effect of rising population/wealth/middle class on the choices available to both employers and employees and the extent to which women, for instance, could remain at home rather than having to go out to work to feed the family; the way ideas of social justice play out (e.g., the successful campaign to curtail the "heinous" practice of women being employed by the pit); the rise of the commercial mass-market entertainment industry; and so on. Since I'm not a sociologist I have no idea which, if any, of the above actually come into play.
MysteriousAliWays: Sharon Kihara tattoos (and forearms)mysteriousaliwz on March 19th, 2015 10:00 pm (UTC)
Hell yes!
louisedennislouisedennis on March 21st, 2015 11:23 am (UTC)
a_cubeda_cubed on March 20th, 2015 03:07 am (UTC)
Refer the complainer to Hurley's "We have always fought"?

(This won a Hugo for Best Related Work, which I think was a stupid thing on behalf of those who nominated/voted for it - not because it's not a good book - I haven't read it, but it's had good reviews in the academic press. The trouble is that no matter how good the book, it shouldn't have won a Hugo because it's not related to SF or fandom, which is the point of that category. It won because Hurley is a well-known fan writer - she also won the best fan writer Hugo lasst year with which I have no problem, as by all accounts she is an excellent online fan writer.)
louisedennislouisedennis on March 21st, 2015 11:29 am (UTC)
I've read Hurley's piece (which, to be honest, I thought went on a bit) at least I think I've read it. I read an essay in A Dribble of Ink so maybe it was an excerpt of the book you are referring to.

Certainly given the essay appeared in an online SF&F fanzine and was specifically about the representation of female warriors in fiction (which applies far more strongly to SF&F writing than to other forms of fictions) and how that diverged from reality, it doesn't seem like an unreasonable Hugo nomination for fan writing. Obviously if it was excerpted from a longer work then it was possibly tailored specifically to the fan audience in the excerpt.

As I said, I found it a bit long-winded. But then I find that with a lot of fan writing and Humanities writing in general. I like things to get to the point quickly and not beat about the bush too much with examples.
a_cubeda_cubed on March 21st, 2015 11:53 am (UTC)
What you've read sounds like either a fannish piece she wrote drawing on the same sources, an early fannish element, or the fannish bit from a work of feminist scholarship. The work that won the Hugo was a full book. As I said, I've not read it, but the reviews and description of it were of it as a feminist work of history, with perhaps some pop culture analysis at the end.
There's good and bad writing in the humanities, as you know my work travels pretty much across the spectrum these days, but yes, there's a lot of waffly stuff in the humanities and the social sciences, which would be better written at about half or even one third the length, and with a focus on getting the point accross rather than drowning the reader in words.
Science isn't immune, though. One of my cohort at StA CS was a fan of Victorian literature and her heavily mathematical PhD thesis included lines like "And so it is that we have seen..." instead of "Thus,..."
louisedennislouisedennis on March 21st, 2015 04:12 pm (UTC)
OK, I've got interested in the history of "We have always fought" now. My starting point was the assumption it was a Masters' thesis printed via a small press and then excerpted in Dribble of Ink, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Though the essay definitely strongly implies (at least to me) that there was a Masters' thesis somewhere.

Anyway the essay is easy to find. Wikipedia seems to think it is the Dribble of Ink essay that won the Hugo and, given context, I'd say that was fair enough (at least eligibility wise).

It looks like there was a subsequent collection of essays (on "Craft, Fiction and Fandom") published (probably self-published as far as I can tell) under the same heading and including the Hugo winning essay plus others - in fact it describes the original essay as "the first blog post to be nominated for the Hugo", though I'm not sure about that, wasn't "I didn't dream of Dragons" nominated for a Hugo and that was a blog post or do I misremember? I'm guessing this is the book you have come across. I've no idea what the other essays in the book are about though, given the tagline, they still seem relevant to the Hugo. The above page says that the book was put together as part of publicising the Hugo nominated essay, but that would imply its not the book that was nominated but the essay.
a_cubeda_cubed on March 22nd, 2015 02:06 am (UTC)
Thanks for this. Clearly I should stop complaining and check out exactly what was nominated and won the Hugo.
inamac: Highwaymaninamac on March 20th, 2015 01:47 pm (UTC)
I was particularly please that Scott didn't take the equally 'easy' line out that states there *were* real women pirates, So There!

Like you, I was impressed by the first book (one of only a handfull of new books that I've read in the last three years) but have yet to explore the sequels.
louisedennislouisedennis on March 21st, 2015 11:30 am (UTC)
I think I may put the first sequel on my Amazon Wish List - which is my default way of coping with things that I think sound interesting but not so interesting that they are an instant "go to the top of the to read pile"
fififolle: Facepalm Rodneyfififolle on March 20th, 2015 07:13 pm (UTC)
Honestly! You're so right. Reminds me about a fandom secret where they made fun of people complaining about the horns on the helmets of the characters in the how to train your dragon films. No problem with the dragons, there, either :D
louisedennislouisedennis on March 21st, 2015 11:31 am (UTC)
What's believable and what isn't is fascinating, I think. I'm surprised there isn't more discussion of it really but I don't think I've ever come across anything that tries to really analyse what works and what doesn't.
a_cubeda_cubed on March 21st, 2015 11:56 am (UTC)
There's a lot of discussion of this in writers' group and workshops like Clarion and less well-known ones. It's one of the things that distinguishes SFF writers groups from other genres or literary writers groups. Detective fiction writers groups have their own genre-specific things they talk about of course, but one of them in SFF groups is the "suspension of disbelief" line and how to try to avoid crossing it with your readers. One problem of course is that trying to be too authentic with things can break down because the majority of readers aren't expert in the field and some true things are counter-intuitive or go against popular stereotypes.
louisedennislouisedennis on March 21st, 2015 02:54 pm (UTC)
And, of course, I imagine, that a lot depends upon the degree of familiarity your audience has with a subject. Specialists tend to be a lot less tolerant than the man in the street, and judging the expertise level of your average audience member may be non-trivial.
a_cubeda_cubed on March 21st, 2015 03:06 pm (UTC)
For fiction, one usually aims at a broad market. The trick, I've been told, in written fiction at least is to try and avoid describing things that might cause either group to drop their willing suspension of disbelief. It can be harder in visual arts since things you can fail to describe in written work, e.g. whether helmets have bull's horns, are a decision that has to be made for the visual designs. Of course the cover artist can then screw you - see Charlie Stross' "The Family Trade" for an example of that.
louisedennislouisedennis on March 21st, 2015 04:36 pm (UTC)
I'm sort of interested in the fact that this is all happening on, apparently, the advice to writers side of things rather than on the critical and fandom commentary side of things.
a_cubeda_cubed on March 22nd, 2015 02:11 am (UTC)
Well, it's part of the broader discussions of writing craft, from basics like "says is invisible - only use other words for occasional emphasis" to discussions of points of view (universal omniscient third persona narrator, over-the-shoulder narration versus eye-in-the-sky narration) and how to present truly alien points of view without losing the sympathy/understanding of the reader. Some of these are identical/very similar to other genres and others are particular to SFF. I've heard these discussed by critics, fans and writers at "preocess" oriented panels at conventions, too, though most of the fan audience for those kinds of panels are aspiring writers, too. Hell, large parts of (lit SF) fandom have some vague dream of writing at some point, though most never do the serious work required - I have both the vague desire and the lack of time (or committment, perhaps) to follow through, for example.