It’s That Time Again

So….

It is that time again.  The Tucson Festival of Books is this weekend (11-12 Mar) and I will again be live-tweeting it.  There are some interesting panels set up and as always, it will be a chance to hobnob with fellow writers and make some contacts.

(Muse:  How well did that work out for you last year?)

Well, I did meet some people.

Anyway, there will be some observations forthcoming.

 

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Bloodlust in Our Hearts

Happy New Year, dear friends.

So….

In the course of my daily perusing (i.e., wasting time), I came across this article discussing a Russian reality show called, “Game2: Winter.”  Essentially, the concept is to dump thirty contestants in Siberia for months and whoever emerges alive at the end of the show being awarded a cash prize.  It is being touted by its producer as a show where anything goes.  From the advert for contestants:

“Each contestant gives consent that they could be maimed, even killed,” reads an advert. “2000 cameras, 900 hectares and 30 lives. Everything is allowed. Fighting, alcohol, murder, rape, smoking, anything.”

I did chuckle that they placed smoking on the same moral plane as rape and murder.

The show offers the disclaimer that it still takes place on the territory of the Russian Federation and all crimes are prosecutable as such under Russian law.  The show simply says all contestants will sign a waiver not to hold the show responsible for any harm that may befall them, up to and including death.

It may turn out to be nothing.  Still, the idea that it is even being advertised is a pretty far down the road to honest-to-God gladitorial games.  Trust the Russians.

(Muse:  Westerners must be crazy to keep fucking around with these people.  They’re nuts.)

You don’t have to convince me.  I think it must have something to do with the cold.  The Vikings and Mongols came from cold climates and they seemed perpetually pissed off too.

Anyway, this got me thinking about sex and violence (and sexy violence and violent sex) as forms of entertainment.  What is it about this that appeals to people?

At the baseline, I think is has something to do with the most visceral elements of our collective sub-conscious.  I think I’ve said before on this blog that humans are less fallen angels and more risen apes.  At our core, we’re animals and try as society might, some of those based animal instincts are very hard to overcome.

(I believe those instincts also are at the root of racist tendencies but that’s beyond the scope of this entry.  Maybe later.)

Sex and violence are very powerful forces in nature–fundamental, in fact.  In the animal kingdom, most issues are solved with one or the other.  I don’t think we just left it behind when we, *ahem*, evolved.

(Muse:  You give yourself a lot of credit, knuckle-dragger.)

Society puts limits on humanities sex and violence, since unrestrained, either could end society as a whole.  Because there are limits, I think we seek surrogates, whether directly or subconsciously.  I know more than one person who, while stating they are angry enough to kill someone, wouldn’t really do it.  Those violent tendencies are part of all our nature and they can’t be completely suppressed.

Enter public violence.

Public displays of violence have been mainstreamed for centuries.  Call it gladiator games, knightly tournaments, human sacrifice on Mesoamerican altars, or the Chinese torture of lingchi (Death of a Thousand Cuts)…the end result is that people historically found ways to participate, in a spectator sense, in violence.  I believe that in some ways, being able to cheer on those acts in some way satisfies our own bloodthirsty hearts.

(There also those who say they are angry enough to kill someone who I believe would actually do it, if they could.  That is a darker aspect of society, that I will have to tackle in another entry.)

We like these bloodsports because they call back to our primitive nature, to the parts we’ve suppressed as part of being part of “civilization.”  In a way. they are societies safety valves, much the way an engine has an exhaust, to bleed off excess thirsts for violence before it becomes a societal problem.

As for sex…well, they don’t call it the world’s oldest profession for nothing.  Most societies have tolerated prostitution to some extent since the dawn time, because the alternative is trying to cap a force that just isn’t cap-able.  And before you think that I am slamming just the men for being driven by their hormones, I will say that if there were a sudden shortage in men, women would be as bad or worse in finding male hookers…they simply generally enjoy being on the right side of the supply-demand situation right now.

(There is a widespread belief that after the adult male population in Paraguay was all but wiped out in the War of the Triple Alliance (1870-ish), that polygamy became the de facto rule for a few years, if not the legal one, because of the shortage of men.  This PDF references it (on page 15) but I was too lazy to track it to the source material.)

(Muse:  Is that your way of saying you’d welcome a war so you could get more wives?)

Hell no.  The ideal number of wives is zero or one.

These bleeds over into writing in spec fiction.  Even though I have heard that the market for grimdark is saturated, I see no shortage in people gobbling it up, along with all the gore and semi-porn contained within.  (Of course, the success of things like A Song of Fire and Ice have encouraged even more of it.)

(Muse:  So what about you?)

Well, I try to subscribe to the Anton Chehkov theory of “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story.”  In other words, if a scene with gratuitous sex or violence doesn’t need to be in there, I don’t include it.  Or try not to.

(Muse:  Chekhov’s gun?)

Not quite, though I like the technique and am a loose adherent.  Just more that if you want to have sex and violence in your story, they should be relative and contextual for the setting and characters.  Tossing them in for gratuitous action is boring.  At the same time, I would be equally critical for someone cutting it out for the sake of squeamishness over story integrity.

Those are my rambling thoughts on the matter.  I don’t think I’ll bother with the Russian reality show.  I suspect the hype will be more than the reality.

But it wouldn’t surprise me to see something akin to Battle Royale / Hunger Games in my lifetime.  Just because we’re apes.  And sometimes, we want to see a little blood spilled.

Until next time, friends.

2017 Reading List

So, I–

Muse:  Where the hell have you been?

Briefly, I’ve been busy.

Muse:  Yeah, well, you should have called.

You know, I did write three short stories since I was last here and knock out several chapters in my novel-in-progress.  It’s not like I have been sitting on my ass, popping grapes in my mouth while native girls fan me with palm fronds.

Muse:  You’d like that waaaaay too much.

No question.

Anyway, I put together my reading list for this next year.  I have some some big names, some stuff released this last year, and some old stuff (and yeah, I cheated, there are a pair of re-reads on here, from books I read a long time ago, but have wanted to read again).  Some of the older ones are things I have wanted to read for a while and keep procrastinating.  This should force my hand.

I also picked out a handful of lesser-known authors, most of whom I personally interact with, have interacted with, or who have given me some good advice.

Anyway, I have everything already purchased, downloaded on my Kindle, and ready to go come Jan 1.  The plan is to knock one out every three weeks at a minimum (which gives me some leeway should life crop up, like it always does).  I’ll also try to leave some reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.  If I like a book and it is part of a series, I will probably toss the next ones on my next list.  Anyway, in no particular order, here is who I got:

Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu

Beasts of Tabat, by Cat Rambo

Lonen’s War:  Sorcerous Moons, by Jeffe Kennefy

The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie (re-read #1)

Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson

Thousand Names, by Django Wexler

Dawn, by Octavia Butler

Blood Song, by Anthony Ryan

Darker Shade of Magic, by V. E. Schwab

Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst

Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb (re-read #2)

Flashback:  Siren Song, by J.A. Hunter

Forced Labor (Arekan’s War), by B.R. Turnage

Cog and the Steel Tower, by W.E. Larson

Magic of Thieves, by Carol Greenwood

At An Uncertain Hour, by Nyki Blatchley

Aerisia:  Land Beyond the Sunset, Sarah Ashwood

Not sure what I will start with.  Maybe I will pull names from a hat.

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.)