2017 Reading List Requests

Hey gang.

So, I put together a loose reading list every year.  If I had to break it down, it is usually 50% fantasy, 25% horror, 15% sci-fi, and 10% non-fiction or other.  Some years are better than others, in terms of following up.  There never is enough time to read everything I want, for sure.  I have tried to concentrate on well-known publications and some of my favorite authors.

This year, I wanna do something a little different.

I want to stock my list with small-publisher or self-published books.  Looking for people who aren’t widely read, big sellers, or just put out their first book.  I’d also like to review as many as possible.

So, here’s how you can help.  Give me some recommendations.  Give me your own books, for all I care, if you want a review here or on Amazon and/or Goodreads.  But give me a reason why I should pick it.  Be creative.  Spec fiction gets priority.

I have a few books already picked out–mostly friends/acquaintances from writing sites and peer review groups–but not enough for the year.  So have at it.

Old Story, Old Posting

I don’t know how I missed this.

A while back–like four months ago–I had a story posted up at the wargaming site Grogheads.com.  Titled, “Just When I Thought I Was Out,” the story involves an aged magician’s gambit against some dark forces working against him.  I knew about this but for some reason, never got around to posting about it.

Anyway, link is here.

(Muse:  What does this story have to do with wargaming?)

Well, Sun Tzu wrote, “The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought.”  The main character exhibits the same strategic planning.  Planning for the long game = win.

Anyway, go check it out for a free read.  And if you like, maybe check out my book Pilgrimage to Skara for Kindle.

The Tyranny of Slutty Clothing

So….

I often video game in my off time.  Mostly RPGs (role-playing games), just because I love the storytelling –at least, if they are any good.  But I do enjoy an MMO now and again.

MMO.  Massive Multiplayer Online game.  The type of game that has lots of people from all over the world logging in to play together.  The best known is called World of Warcraft, if that gives you some idea of the type of game.

(Muse:  You realize you are totally advertising your geek resume, right?  Everyone read the previous paragraph and now assumes you are a pimply-faced virgin.)

I no longer have pimples.

Anyway, I enjoy it mostly for the social aspect and the character progression.  The one I like the most is called Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO), which is obviously based on that nominal work.  And it adheres to the lore pretty well.  But I have branched out in to some other MMOs and I started noticing something about those others.

Every single female character is dressed like a streetwalker.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that many, or even most, of those female characters are being played by male humans.  Even so, I am at a loss to understand why every character has to dress like she’s getting ready to seduce her boyfriend who has been away for two weeks.

(Muse:  Example?)

Okay.  I took a whirl in a game called Tera.  It originated in South Korea.  The guys’ costumes and armor?  Bulky.  Heavy.  Emphasis on power and destruction.  The girls?  Well, see below:

TERA_ScreenShot_20160824_071243

This was one of the least trampy things I could find this character to wear, and that was a result of grinding (i.e., repetitive killing) for a long while to get tokens to trade for it.

Sure, there are other ways to get a less lingerie-like set of armor or costumes but involve a) spending real-life money at the game’s costume shop or b) spending a ridiculous amount of in-game currency and buying it from someone who went with option (a) above.

You contrast this with LOTRO, where this form-fitting outfit was about the most immodest thing I could find for a character:

LOTRO

Granted, some people would make the argument that Tolkein scarcely acknowledged women as contributors to his stories so they never had a chance to dress down.  Fair point.  Still, nothing like the first picture exists in this game.

(Muse:  Why are all your characters women?)

Long story.  I’ll toss in a brief explanation at the end.

Anyway,  I stopped in another couple of MMOs and by and large, I found there were varying degrees of this (skimpy-costume-ism) present.  And then I started thinking:  why is that?

Well, the gut answer is that the games were designed by men and for men, and men want scantily clad women, so that’s it.  Okay, perhaps.  But that’s hardly comprehensive.  First off, there is some research that suggests that images of female sexuality is arousing to both men and women.  Sex sells and in the western world, that means using women to send the message.  So at a visceral level, it is as much an appeal to female players as male players.  Second, while I know plenty of dudes who will play a female character and dress her like a dominatrix, I haven’t met a single one who would admit to buying a game for that sole purpose.  So I would hardly call it a selling point–especially since a game like Age of Conan, which featured a lot of barely-dressed women, tanked on release because the gameplay was abominable.

I did a little non-scientific empirical surveying, asking women I know who play video games if the idea of scantily-clad women in the games bothered them.  The results were basically a bell a curve, with a few women being greatly bothered, a few pleased with it, and the majority not caring much either way as long as it didn’t affect the game itself.  Most did indicate that they liked options.  Given options, I think some women will dress their characters conservatively.  Some won’t.  Some will just play.  But they all like to have the choice.

I really got to thinking about this whole notion of sexification of-

(Muse:  Is that a word?)

On my blog it is.  I got to thinking about this whole notion of sexification of women in spec-fiction, across media, when I recently heard a female author express satisfaction on seeing the proposed book cover from her publisher, that the female main character was neither depicted as a sex object nor as a damsel in distress.  That’s cool.

On the same panel was a woman whose most recent book featured a woman holding a gigantic sword, wearing a cleavage-bearing bodice, and a come-hither look.  And the author was happy with her cover also.  That’s cool too.

I believe it comes down to choices – and really, to agency.

(Muse:  What?  Women want to proactive in their own lives?  That’s crazy talk!)

I’ve read a lot about characterization of women in the spec-fiction world.  (Just for a moment, I’ll stay away from the issue of real-life sexism in the industry and stay on characters.)  I’ve read a lot on the male gaze, the latent sexism in the way we are trained (by society) to write, and various iterations of the Bechdel test.

To me, most of it is a lot of arm-flailing over nothing, as long as women have agency.

(Muse:  And here is where you get yourself in trouble.)

Let me finish.  I’ll admit that I am not someone that thinks that men and women are interchangeable save for plumbing.  I don’t think our brains are wired the same.

At the same time, who says women can’t be strong?  Brave?  Vile?  Deceptive?  Evil?  Lusty?  Ambitious?  Honorable?  These aren’t gendered-traits.  I don’t even know what the hell a gendered trait would be.  Feel free to make arguments on that.

If you want a woman to be the central protagonist of your book, you have to make her an agent.  She has to be a proactive do-er.  That doesn’t mean she has to act like a man.  It does mean she has to be a driver for the plot.  And frankly, how hard is that?   If you write about a strong, decisive character, who takes steps to effect change in their universe…well, that is much more important than whether you give them tits or not.

At the same time, weak protagonists–especially those who don’t grow out of it–will irritate even the most stalwart readers.  That remains my single greatest criticism of Fifty Shades of Gray.  The protagonist was a whiner who let everyone around her guide her fate.  She wasn’t an actor.  She was acted upon.  Those types of main characters are just not interesting to me.

You can argue that not enough women are portrayed in a non-sexualized main character roles.  I’d be open to that argument.  I would counter by saying that this, like many social mores, is slowly changing and you are seeing more and more main female characters not defined by their sexuality.  I think that’s a good thing, since there are strong women in our own world and if we want to make our works relatable to the readers, those women should be represented.  At the same time, there are always going to be the Anita Blakes of the writing world that are nothing but writhing balls of hormones, and are not above vamping to get what they want.  There are women that do trade on their sexuality and again, they should represented.  There will be an audience for both.

And why not?  It is about choices, right?  If some women want to read about strong, positive role-models, more power to them.  If other women want to read about undead-werewolf sexual orgies, more power to them, too.  And neither side should be shaming the other for what they like.

Agency.  Choices.  More of both is better for everyone.

And to close….

My wife used to play LOTRO with me and she stopped after a while.  When I asked why she stopped playing, she listed a few reasons, the last of which was…

.

.

.

wait for it…

.

.

.

“There weren’t enough sexy costumes.”

I started to do a facepalm.  But after a second, I just nodded.

She had made her choice.

 

(Addendum:   Back in 2010, I was playing a game called Fallout 3.  For the characters, there was a perk (skill) called “Lady Killer” or “Black Widow”, depending on the gender of the player.  Both gave the same effects in opposite directions.  For example, “Lady Killer” allowed a male player to do more damage to female enemies and gave unique dialogue options when talking to female characters, with “Black Widow” working the same way for female players with male enemies and characters.  Well, it did not take me long to realize that about 3/4 of the enemies in the game were male.  So, it became an enormous gameplay advantage to be a female character and take the perk right away.  The character from the first screenshot above?  Only females can be that class of character, which fits my playstyle perfectly.  So there you have it.  Mostly, I play females for gameplay reasons.  The rest of the time is inertia.  It has nothing to do with staring at digital ass.  I am not that hard up.)

Excerpt from Pilgrimage to Skara

Shameless plug for the book, along with a quick excerpt:

* * * * * * *

Keilie shivered.  “I’m frightened.”

“Me too.”

“I should have stayed in Hightown.”

“Maybe.  But what’s done is done.  If we escape these woods, do you want me to take you home?”  She did not answer.  Wendt said, “There is no shame, you know.  Many of those who receive a favorable aura reading never leave Collum to pursue it.”

“When I asked my mother if I should refuse to go, she told me, “Who dares, wins.’   She wouldn’t explain that.”

Wendt nodded.  “That sounds like something she’d say.”

“Do you know what it means?

“It’s an ancient saying, from the old empires.  It means that those who take the greatest risks win the greatest rewards.  Or die trying.”  Wendt shifted a little.  “Your mother is nothing if not a risk-taker.”

* * * * * * *

Link to the Kindle version right here!

(This might have double-posted on my Facebook account, which has been aggravating the daylights out of me lately.)

A new “Splash.”

So…

I read over on Tor.com that Disney is proceeding with remaking yet another 80s movie remake, this time the victim being “Splash.”  The original featured two veteran actors – Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah – when they were extremely young and fresh-faced.  It was a cute love story with moments of humor, especially as provided by John Candy, as Hanks’s lecherous older brother, and Eugene Levy, as a kooky scientist determined to prove the existence of mermaids.

I read this and kind of thought, “Meh.  Okay.”

There was a lot of controversy this summer over the remake of the classic, “Ghostbusters.”  I was annoyed – more so at the idea of a remake than the gender swap-out of the cast.  I am in the camp that there are some movies you just don’t mess with, because the originals are classics and you don’t muck with classics.  If I was leery before, director Paul Feig’s various comments, labeling anyone who criticized the decision to remake the film as basement-dwelling trolls – and worse – turned me against it completely.

And I wasn’t the only one, apparently.  As the site The Numbers reports here, the film has cleared about $158M at the end of July, just a bit more than it’s production budget of $144M.  Advertising and promotion still have to be recouped.  I put most of this on Feig, for striking out and alienating potential audience members.  But anyway….

So, a remake of “Splash.”  In this case, it will be the male as the merman, and the girl as the cynical, world-worn human who gets their life uplifted by a little interspecies romance.  Part of me wanted to say, “They are just using any excuse to make a gender statement, with the swap.”  After all, this is Disney, the overseer of Marvel Comics, which has pretty much fucked up their entire comic line in the interest of some diversity quest.

But after that reaction, I went.  “Meh.  It’s Splash.  Who cares?”  And I think that is the crux of the argument.

We only care about the things that are important to us.  In this case, I am a fan of 80s movies.  I’m sure it is mostly nostalgia, as seeing those again catapults me back to the days of being a teenager.  But even then, there are only certain ones that matter.  For example:

  • They remade Footloose.  As a stand-alone movie, I thought it was awful.  I mean, how can you have Footloose without Kevin Bacon?  But I was never really upset about…more of a head shake at the foolishness.
  • They are trying to remake Dirty Dancing.  Per above, without Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, it seems a waste of time.  But I was never a big fan of the movie, so whatever.
  • They remade Poltergeist.  Blarg.  Again, just a bad movie, without half the terror of the original.  But again, whatever.

Then there are these:

  • Red Dawn.  Seriously, what the fuck, Hollywood?  If you didn’t grow up in the Cold War, if you didn’t remember the original airing of The Day After, then yeah the original Red Dawn wouldn’t mean much to you.  But North Korea?  Are you serious?  Fail.  And by the way, nice job pussing out and not making the bad guys Chinese, so you could distribute the movie there.
  • Total Recall.  The remake was a half-baked abortion that never should have seen the light of day.  While neither were particularly faithful to Phillip K Dick’s original story, I thought the original was more faithful.  It not only captured the feel better (by invoking Mars and  interplanetary conspiracy) but had better chemistry between the cast members.  The remake was stilted and – surprise – relied too much on special effects.
  • Nightmare on Elm Street.  No, just … no.  Not scary, not interesting, not original.

As I compare the two lists, I see that the second set were movies I genuinely loved and appreciated when I was a kid.  The others, not nearly as much.  As I said, I think we care a lot more about the near and dear to our heart.  And I think Ghostbusters has a lot more “Near-and-dear” fans than Splash does.

Did someone come with the gender swap because they wanted to make a point?  Maybe.  Are they looking to objectify men in exchange for all the objectification women endure – you know, give ’em a taste of their own medicine?  Maybe.  Do they have a fresh and original spin on the old material?  Maybe.  Don’t care, to all three.  It’s just not important to me.

If anything, I am offended that Hollywood seems to be so intellectually-bankrupt that they can’t make anything original any more.  What comes out, these days?  Remakes, adaptations (comics and otherwise), Pixar/Dreamworks kid stuff … and that’s about it.  There are a few writers and directors, like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarentino still doing original work but they are exceptions.  Hollywood need to find its creative mojo again.

I hear they remaking The Magnificent Seven and I am nervous.

(Muse:  You know the original Magnificent Seven was itself a remake, right?)

Yes, and even though Seven Samurai was a great movie in its own right, the two are separate enough to not draw direct comparison.  You know, I actually liked the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair better than the original.  How will Magnificent Seven go?

We’ll see.

Game Writers for SFWA

So….

I stumbled on this interesting article.  Essentially, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America are working to accept, as members, scribes for video games.  Based on this article and a few links, there seems to be some confusion over the criteria, which Cat Rambo (SWFA’s Prez) is working to smooth out.

This seemed inevitable to me.  A lot of the older crowd may still look down on gaming as “kid’s play,” but that only ignores the omnipresence of gaming in American life.  (Has anyone not heard of Pokemon Go, recently?)  There a lot of gamers out there and there a lot of games written with some really killer plots-n-scripts.  Bioshock.  Dragon Age.  Mass Effect.  I could go on.  Is there any reason why this medium shouldn’t considered writing?

Sounds like they will even (eventually) be eligible for their own awards.

Anyway, I  thought this was something worth sharing.