Grimdark and male rape and other strawmen

I really like Liz Bourke’s reviews, so I’m kind of surprised that she’s pushing for more male rape in “grimdark” fantasy: Realism, (Male) Rape, and Epic Fantasy

The argument appears to be that having violent male rape will make “grimdark” less violent and rapey.

I joined in and made a comment and I’ll agree I could have been clearer.

However, the response resulted in my being dismissed as “delusional” and “mentally ill”, which shows what sort of idiocy is driving this argument.

Even more disturbing is that Liz doesn’t seem particularly keen to approve the response I gave to those who condemn me, so I’ve copied my reply below:

Oh dear, it seems I have stirred up the haters. The fact the the main foils to my statement are that I am “delusional” or “mentally ill” show an intellectual shallowness that undermines what should be an interesting and important discussion.

Joe Abercrombie is held accountable for a mere whisper of sexual assault towards the end of the third book in the First Law trilogy – yet, apparently, the fact that a protagonist is a torturer goes unnoticed for over half a million words by these critics. Does this therefore imply those accusing Abercrombie of being “rapey” are therefore supportive of torture? Because no one appears offended about *that*. Yet apparently no male torturer would ever suggest anything unpleasant to a woman, and when a fictional character eventually does, it is used to condemn the author. That’s the argument being used.

George R R Martin – well, accusations of misogyny are understandable, but the argument is not one of misogyny but of A Song of Fire and Ice explicitly using rape as being part of “grimdark”.

But even Fade’s grand denouement of my reply has difficulty in identifying actual examples of rape and instead veers off into applying modern Western social standards of sensibility to the topic of consent in arranged marriage and slavery. This simply feeds into the “historical realism” argument because those exact same issues apply through the same European mediaeval history GRRM is sourcing. Yes, he uses exaggerated violence, but in the 1.7 million words in the A Song of Fire and Ice series to date, there appear to be 2-3 actual offscreen rapes – yet these are used to condemn both the author, the series, and any modern fantasy story that includes anything of the subject on sexual assault.

I think the main problem isn’t “grimdark”, as much as people dislike having their comfort zone challenged. So criticisms fall into exaggeration and misdirection.

That is what I was trying to point out here – if fantasy novels contained a lot of male rape they would not be lauded for “realism” but instead condemned as “grimdark”. My perception was that the premise of the discussion here presumes otherwise and I disagreed.

The fact is that some people do not want to see mature content, or made to question the violence their heroes inflict.

I’m not saying every incidence is done well, but I do cheer the fact that the fantasy genre has grown up enough that we are forced to even have these grown up discussions about grown up subject matters. I can only hope future books handles the subjects better.

PS: Other people have thrown Scott Lynch into the “grimdark” camp. Because he swears. A lot. And no good fantasy novel should have swearing, right? Oh, and graphic torture.

Re-enactment and historical training groups

A few more I have my eye on for research purposes:

A list of living history/re-enactment groups in Britain: http://www.bajr.org/whosewho/Reenactment.asp

Living History forums: http://www.livinghistory.co.uk/forums/

Local Inverness group (well, one man show): http://www.battlescarweb.co.uk/about

Plenty going on at Edinburgh Uni: http://www.lothene.net/feudalist/calendar.html

Useful information: http://www.medievalwarfare.info/

Another local group: http://www.historicsaltire.com/

Aberdeen sword training: http://www.swordsmanship.org.uk/

Academy of European Mediaeval Martial Arts: http://www.aemma.org/index2.php?pg=h3

Swordfighting training videos on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy78IaIo0mE

And more training videos: http://www.aemma.org/onlineResources/media_body.php#trainingVideos

And more sword fighting training videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzTsGYFzMLY

Buying arms and armour

I’m minded to get carried away with realism and detail. To the point where I want to buy quite a bit of arms and armour. Just to ensure I can describe wearing and using it properly. :)

For example:

I like the English dagger here: http://www.blades-uk.com/view_items.php?cat_id=96

And a breastplate – must have a breastplate! http://www.southernswords.co.uk/18-gauge-european-breast-and-back-plates-373-p.asp

Okay, let’s try brigandine armour, too: http://www.southernswords.co.uk/leather-brigandine—black-or-brown-299-p.asp

Wool jerkin? If I can’t get one knitted then perhaps this: http://www.southernswords.co.uk/black–grey-wool-jerkin-2627-p.asp

Two handed sword! http://www.southernswords.co.uk/elegant-two-handed-stage-combat-sword–sheath-4589-p.asp

And a trainer sword, of course: http://www.southernswords.co.uk/medieval—trainer-1453-p.asp

Oh, but, then need a real sword, too! http://www.southernswords.co.uk/medieval-knights-re-enactment-sword–sheath-607-p.asp

And dress the part in a mediaeval two-part set: http://www.southernswords.co.uk/medieval-2-piece-costume-set-2741-p.asp

Chainmail. Absolutely should have a mail shirt: http://www.theknightshop.co.uk/catalog/butted-steel-half-sleeve-shirt-chest-p-3098.html

And just for the hell of it, Conan’s sword! http://www.medievalcollectibles.com/p-12229-the-atlantean-sword-from-conan-the-barbarian.aspx

 

 

The Distress of the Privileged

A really great post via Facebook analysing the process of change regarding “privilege”:

The Distress of the Privileged

[quote]
All his life, George has tried to be a good guy by the lights of his society. But society has changed and he hasn’t, so he isn’t seen as a good guy any more. He feels terrible about that, but what can he do?

One possibility: Maybe he could learn to be a good guy by the lights of this new society. It would be hard. He’d have to give up some of his privileges. He’d have to examine his habits to see which ones embody assumptions of supremacy. He’d have to learn how to see the world through the eyes of others, rather than just assume that they will play their designated social roles. Early on, he would probably make a lot of mistakes and his former inferiors would correct him. It would be embarrassing.

But there is an alternative: counter-revolution. George could decide that his habits, his expectations, and the society they fit are RIGHT, and this new society is WRONG.
[/quote]

And in that, not only an intelligent discussion of the issue, but the writer in me also see a basis for creating intelligent and sympathetic antagonists.

After all, one of the key differences between “protagonist” and “antagonist” is supposed to be that the protagonist goes through some degree of emotional change and/or development through a story, while an antagonist stays in the exactly the same social/psychological mindset as they began with.

1st rewrite finished

I’ve finally finished my first rewriting draft – only took a year.

But trying to rewrite 700,000 badly over-written words into something more palatable has – without losing too much – has been an incredible challenge.

Now the tally stands at 269,000 words, which means I’ve managed to chop down the original draft down to nearly a third – and yet retain the story, but more importantly, the characters.

It’s still far too long, though – I want to cut it down further to nearer 200,000 words if possible. Even though I have a couple of scenes to add, I still think it’s possible.

Tonight, started with the 2nd editing draft, and made touches to the Prologue which have added a total of 14 words, despite adding more content. Cutting down descriptions to be more concise has been a must.

On the the next scene. :)

Anyway, a bit more garrulous detail here on my forum blog at chronicles.

Race, gender, and sexuality

I’ve been reading up a lot on issues relating to race, gender, and sexuality these past few weeks.

The main catalyst was a link on chronicles to the Requires Hate blog.

While presented as a kind of theatre of trolling, by someone claiming to be a “lesbian racist misandrist”, the underlying criticism is clear: there are too many white male heterosexual writers who cannot write adequately about anything relating to race, gender, or sexuality.

Which is more than a fair criticism.

The Requires Hate blogger provides various examples – usually through a combination of touching on easy targets, and sometimes pedant comments.

They’ve also linked to various other blogs for further enlightened reading.

The result has been some awesome reading, with some particular posts of note being:

There have also been a number of current events highlighting these issues, not least Weird Tales trying to publish self-published racist fiction, and sexual harrassment at recent conventions.

I’ve raised discussions on the chronicles forums:

  1. Sex and Sexuality
  2. The Magical Negro

A key potential problem with my own work is that in the first book, the major characters are almost entirely male. While I did have a number of supporting female characters, many of these have been lost as sections of work are edited out (such as the scene where two women talk about the social conditions of the city – but at 20,000 words I can’t justify keeping that scene).

I’ve been aware of this problem for some time, and have previously considered the idea of making one or two of the protagonists female.

However, not only would that significantly change the character dynamics (not least to the existing relationships and inevitable sexual potential), it would also make some of the character actions unrealistic (such as Erin, the acolyte, traveling alone across the empire – dangerous for any male, impossibly unreal for a woman to attempt).

It would also mean that as I’m trying to write with a degree of mediaeval realism, that “sexual threat” would be necessarily invited – and entirely unwelcome – and would unbalance the character dynamics further from what I’ve already established them to be.

On racial issues, because I’m continuing on from the Roman and Byzantine period, where race was not such much an issue as social class, I’ve not written racism as a subject of focus (though, again, I have one character providing a commentary on it in a scene which I may have to cut out, which relates to racism as based to some degree in perceived sexual threat).

However, I have made a point of using different ethnicities and skin colours, as a necessary part of the realism of the world. This is not least because the empire in my stories tries to replicate Europe, not least where most of the civilisation is in the southern part. So three of the seven protoganists are described from the off as having darker skin – and because of recent reading, one of these will describe one of the other characters as “white” as part of a drive to avoid “white” being seen as normative.

On that issue, one of the protagonists is gay – always was going to be. Reading various posts, such as on Ars Marginal, have helped explore the issue sensitively, so I sincerely hope that comes out in the writing. However, as I prepare for a new rewriting draft, I’m not sure how successfully I can tackle the idea of a “heternormative” reality.

I had a supporting character who was transvestite, and a point here was made that there is a difference between homosexuality and transvestism. Not a profound subject for anyone interested in social issues, but perhaps not your normal fantasy fare. However, again, it’s been lost through editing.

As my original first draft was a badly written 700,000 words (I kid you not) I’ve necessarily had to cut a lot of material I really liked. The challenge now is to be able to retain something of what I originally aimed to achieve in terms of social commentary, while being aware this will be a long slow-paced book and that a reader will only take so much preaching.

A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour

Only just come across this post promoting the A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour.

A couple of pointers come up in the post that raised eyebrows, specifically:

If epic fantasy has diversity, it is often present in a fashion that mirrors the stereotypes of Medieval Europe, with Viking-like invaders from the North and Infidels from the East and uneasy peaces and petty wars with those that look most like the heroes of the stories. This is unfair for many reasons that I hope I don’t need to enumerate here.

Certainly there are some poor stereotypes in fantasy, but IMO there is so much history fantasy can be inspired by.

Tolkien may have used ancient Anglo-Saxon myth as a base, but the ancient Mediterranean world was an incredibly rich and diverse place. It’s a genuine shame more people in the mainstream aren’t touching on this.

I’m trying to with chronicles, simply because I use Ancient Rome and Byzantium as major period influences. Even then, I’m not pushing on the POC issue for its own sake, because in these periods skin colour was nowhere near so important as social class.

However, I am trying hard to ensure I reflect as much diversity of people and culture as possible, because it would be creative ignorance otherwise IMO. Whether I succeed or not when the MS is finally completed and published remains to be seen.

Either way, I can only hope the blog tour is a success, because we need more diversity in fantasy fiction – only by addressing this can fantasy because more real and believable.

Epic fantasy itself seems to be undergoing a reinvention of late, with authors such as George R R Martin, Joe Abercrombie, and Scott Lynch, moving it away from Tolkien’s Anglo-Saxon base in recent years.

There’s plenty of scope for this evolution to continue, and long may it do so.

ADDED: This is such a great piece: White privilege: unpacking the invisible backpack