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Still from Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, interview of R. Scott Bakker, about the Prince of Nothing epic fantasy series which I reviewed here.

- The genre exhibits a strong (albeit recent) tradition for subverting gender stereotypes by presenting worlds in which strong, independent female characters are plausible or even expected. Yet your world is as patriarchal as the reality that inspired it. I expect that this theme makes up for a good part of the discussions you have about your creation, possibly detracting from what you actually want to talk about. Is it difficult to resist the temptation to put something like a bad-ass tomboy warrior-princess with snappy dialogue and a heart of gold into the books?

First, let me say that I think I should be called out on the carpet on this issue, simply because I cover some pretty troubling ground. I certainly don’t believe in "quota characterization," either to be politically correct or to broaden the "gender appeal" of my books. Leave this for the after-school specials. I also don’t think that depiction automatically equals endorsement. The question that people should be asking, it seems to me, is one of whether I reinforce negative gender stereotypes or problematize them. If the books provide enough grist to argue this question, then the answer, it seems to me, automatically becomes the latter.

But the fact remains that a lot of people get hung up on my female characters: On the one hand, I self-consciously chose the harlot, the waif, and the harridan for my female characters, yet some seem to think a kind of unconscious moral defect chose them for me. If so, it would be a truly colossal coincidence that I would happen to pick the three misogynic types - I mean, isn’t it obvious that I’m up to something critical? On the other hand, I wanted my fantasy world to be realistic, to temper our yearning for premodern times with a good look at how ugly things got, particularly in times of war. When bad things happen to my female characters, it’s the circumstances that are being criticized, not the characters themselves!

But people get hunches while they read, and once they do, confirmation bias goes to work (and this is simply one among many reasons why we always buy our own bullshit), and the text, I think, possesses more than enough ambiguities for people spin any number of self-validating interpretations. It’s when they insist their interpretation is the only interpretation, or even worse, that it captures what’s really going on in my bean, that I become baffled.

Now, I'd argue with the form of the question (it's arguable whether it's a genre convention "to subvert gender stereotypes by presenting worlds in which strong, independent female characters are plausible"...), but the subject of females characters in that series is certainly interesting.

For those who haven't read it, the world presented is indeed inescapably gritty and brutally violent, especially against women and there's a strong sense of realism to it.

Of the three characters that Bakker mentions, though, I'd say that only Esmenet, the "harlot", is a real success, she's the only one that can be seen as sympathetic and strong, and her story is compelling. The two others serve more as plot device than anything IMHO. The "harridan" doesn't even have a PoV and is intensely creepy (not that creepiness is exceptionnal in those books ^^), and the "waif", Serwë, is victimised, shallow and stupid enough that despite the sympathy I felt for what she lived through, I would never say I found her interesting as a character.
I do agree about Bakker's point about "problematizing", which is worthy enough, although in this case one should also take into consideration the context of the genre, because if every story is one of gritty realism, then the problematization may be more of a reinforcement than he would think.
Then there's the issue which he fails to mention, which is the treatment of sex and sexuality, and of the bad guys of the setting utilisation of sex in extremely creepy way, and how it relates to his treatment of gender.

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Pat from Pat's Fantasy Hotlist (yes, the same who called Priviledge of the Sword chick lit ^^), re-posted a bit of an interview he did of Hal Duncan (who wrote Vellum and Ink - I reviewed Vellum over there - ETA: Hal Duncan also has a blog which you can check out) which really cracked me up :

Previous depictions of homosexual characters in fantasy/scifi books have always been somewhat clumsy and didn't ring true. And yet, instead of trying to get readers to "accept" it, you just went ahead and put Jack and Puck's relationship as a central storyline throughout both volumes. Was that intentional from the beginning? INK contains graphic sex scenes between the two, and I was wondering what sort of responses those sequences generated among readers and critics?

One of my pet hates is the fetishisation you get in certain types of fantasy, particularly vampire fiction, I have to say, where gay equals frilly shirts, sensitive pouts and lingering looks with doe-eyes. Man, at least slash is subversive in applying that aesthetic to straight characters, and at least slash has the guts to get down and dirty. That stuff is just softcore boy-on-boy goth porn. Even when it's not so deeply fetishised, there still seems to be a tendency to stereotype gays as refined rather than rough, fey rather than fiery, cats rather than dogs.

The second problem with gay characters in genre fiction is that they're generally marginalised as subsidiary characters, which smacks of PC tokenism. Yeah, so your heroine has a Gay Best Friend; big deal. So your team of heroes has a tagalong queer; I'm not impressed.

The last problem is that even when you get a fully-fledged protagonist they're generally just not genre enough. By which I mean, the writer feels the need to show that it's "normal" to be gay, so the characters are rendered in a Realist mode rather than as Romantic heroes. They're intelligent, sensitive portraits of gays as "just like everyone else". Bollocks to that. The fetishised gays are annoying. The marginalised gays are frustrating. But the normalised gays are just plain dull. I want a gay character who blows shit up. I want a gay James Bond, a gay Jerry Cornelius, a gay Superman, a gay Indiana Jones, a gay Clint Eastwood in Where Eagles Dare. Achilles wasn't normal. He was an uberfag, dragging Hector's body ten times round the gates of Troy for killing his boyfriend. Now that's what I call a hissy fit!

I see what he means about the first criticism (which one also finds in slash when people speak about "feminization" (sic) of characters), and I think the second exists in a few novels but not that many. I'm not sure I remember any instances of the third in genre fiction, but that may be because of the inherent blandness of such a character type. I actually think that there's a lot of interesting stories dealing with queer themes generally speaking in SFF but that's just IMHO.

It really amuses me when he says slash at least had the guts to get down and dirty ^_^ (I compared his work to specific kind of slash when I did my own review).

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At my work, the Human Ressource person mail us a little saying every morning. It's usually a pretty stupid one, but today it was :

"A quoi bon soulever des montagnes quand il est si simple de passer par-dessus ?" - Boris Vian

(Why lift up mountains when it's so easy to go over them)

Isn't it pretty?

"Soulever des montagne"/lift up mountains is a typical expression to mean going through an extenuating deed for some reason ("decrocher la lune"/bring back the moon is a similar expression)

Just felt like sharing...
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First exam done today. That was english so I wasn't overly stressed about it.

Went on a reading spree after I finished the Harry Dresden books ^_^
I called Bujold to the rescue and devoured Shards of Honour and Barrayar. It must be the books of the serie I read the least because I used to prefer the ones with Miles (for humour sake mostly), but I really liked re-reading it and got into Cordelia as I didn't use to be. Sign of maturity or senility, I wonder ? But they are good, rough sometimes, and with a bad pacing, but nice characters, nice story and nice themes.
I actually was underlining some lines I liked because there's some very good quote material there.

Like )

After that I read Patricia McKillip's Riddle master's game trillogy. That was very fine, good high fantasy with nice magical ideas and a beautiful prose. Made me want to reread books like the Earthsea cycle or Fionnavar. It's the kind of books i love for the colours they invoque,I imagine them like aquacolours, gems really. Something sweet that reminds me while I love the world, wonder and magic.

Le ciel est, par dessus les toits
Si bleu, si calme !
Un arbre, par dessus le toit,
Berce sa palme

La cloche, dans le ciel qu'on voit
Doucement tinte.
Un oiseau sur l'arbre qu'on voit
Chante sa plainte

Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, la vie est là
Simple et tranquille.
Cette paisible rumeur-là
Vient de la ville.

Especially while listening to Under the Pink by Tori Amos. In a strange way, it's the music I want to listen to remind me of myself, of what i want, of what I dream of - i don't even pay that much attention to the lyrics which is rather sad :p
Going now, I have an Evening of Science Fiction to join.


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