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Sunday, April 28, 2013

From SF/F to R(SF/F)

A female SF/F writer explains the mediocrity of the modern female SF/F writers:
New York Publishing by definition has got the rat of Marxism in their heads.  They always treated writers as widgets anyway.  Round the mid seventies, early eighties they realized that they had more widgets with outies than innies, and they decided to correct it the usual way.  “Buy more women” the cry went out.  And in came not only a barrage of women who had an easier time breaking in than men, but of women who were told what kept them out had been discrimination.  And who, therefore, hated the field they were getting into, because those meanies had kept them out.  Out came an outpouring of “poor me female” writing.  Which in the early nineties caused me to snarl at a Barnes & Noble, “I wish someone would pass a law forbidding women from writing.” After I’d walked up and down a fantasy shelf and found NOT ONE novel that wasn’t about some abused high-magic chick whose father was a monster.

Here we digress from writing in general to genre writing.  It will shock you to realize that different genres appeal to different people, right?  In general romance – by and far the blockbuster of genres – appeals to women.  I know this shocks you, since women are not at all by evolution designed for being fascinated with relationships.  This doesn’t mean men don’t read it.  I know several men who read Romance (and no, it has nothing to do with their orientation) but the proportions are so grossly skewed that if you see someone in public with a romance novel and can’t see what gender they are, you can take a safe bet it’s a woman.  At the other end of this, military fiction is read mostly by men.
Fiction is no different than anything else. If one artificially lowers the barriers to entry, one is going automatically to reduce the quality of entrants one accepts. When it was decided, presumably by female editors and executives, that an insufficient number of female authors were being published in the SF/F genre, many women were given publishing contracts primarily on the sole basis of their being better writers than other female wannabes.

Now, I disagree with Sarah in that I don't believe the female writers who entered the genre hated the field or even necessarily wanted to change it much.  I think, to the contrary, that they loved fantasy and science fiction, they merely wanted to "improve" it and make it just a little bit more to their liking.  Hence the shifting focus from ideas, plots, and worldbuilding towards characters and relationships... and romance!

This shifting focus didn't have to be a bad thing. It wasn't an intrinsic negative. There was certainly some room for considerable improvement with regards to characters, relationships, and style; one cannot read Asimov, Heinlein, Vance, or any of the lesser SF/F authors from the 1950s through the 1970s without being conscious of a certain clunkiness to the prose and a shallowness to the characters.

The problem was that in far too many cases, the ideas, plot, and worldbuilding aspects were simply thrown out, to such an extent that now, the average "fantasy" novel is little more than a thinly disguised romance novel. In many cases, the "SF/F" publishers aren't even bothering to disguise it any longer. What is broadly described as "paranormal" fiction actually belongs to the romance genre, not the SF/F genre, as any reasonable examination of its tropes will swiftly reveal.  And the romantic transformation isn't limited to the necro-bestial sub-genre of fantasy either. Consider the cover of Mary Robinette Kowal's new novel, Without A Summer. Kowal is the current VP of SFWA. She's nice, she's talented, and she's an award-winning writer. She was even nominated for the Best Novel Nebula in 2010.

What she isn't is an SF/F writer.  She's a romance writer. The marketing department at Tor Books clearly knows that. Both the Handsome Prince and the Pretty Princess with her bluebirds on the cover are straight out of Disney.  Giving a Nebula award to a book like this would be akin to giving Joe Abercrombie the Golden Tea Cosy or whatever award it is the RWA gives out because one of his mentally unstable killers happens to tenderly rape a female captive during a momentary interlude between bloody battles.

As for me, the last female writer I read was Dr. Helen Smith and her forthcoming book Men on Strike.  The last female novelist I read was Naomi Novik, whose fantasy novels, as should surprise absolutely no one, manage to reduce the broad human tragedy of the Napoleonic Wars to a pretty good tale about a relationship between a man and his accidentally acquired dragon.

It is due to this transformation from SF/F to R(SF/F) that despite there being more female "SF/F" authors than ever before, none of them compare favorably with the likes of Madeleine L'Engle, Susan Cooper, Ann McCaffrey, Tanith Lee and Lois McMaster Bujold, women who were always more than capable of competing with the men on pure merit alone.

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69 Comments:

Anonymous jack April 28, 2013 10:25 AM  

Ah, Ann McCaffrey, I always had hope she would extend the Dragonrider series to include the federation discovering Pern again with the Federation in a deadly stellar war they were losing. Then, the special abilities of the Dragons and their riders saved the day.

Or, some such...

Hard to do with her all in the grave.

Anonymous reader April 28, 2013 10:33 AM  

who is vance? i don't know the name...?

Anonymous VD April 28, 2013 10:41 AM  

Jack Vance, Tales of the Dying Earth.

Anonymous Mudz April 28, 2013 10:42 AM  

Anne McCaffrey irritated me with the Catteni sequence. It was at that point that I had begun to notice and have opinions of female writers. It was years and a few rereads of Pern novels later before I got back on the pegasus.

M.K Wren is still my favourite lady along with Janny Wurts.

Susan Cooper is the last one I read, kudos to Vox for the excellent recommend. I probably shouldn't have started reading 'The Dark is Rising' so late at night.

That said, I don't tend to pay attention to authors, unless it's a book I really hated. Like Hamilton's series. So I know to stay away from it, or perhaps throw some holy water at it and run from the flames.

Anonymous reader April 28, 2013 10:51 AM  

is vance any good? i always thought he wrote D&D fantasy, like Gord the Theif stuff. really low brow compared to GRRM.

Anonymous Orville April 28, 2013 11:22 AM  

I appreciate Vox's highlighting the new wave who are "self-publishing" via e-books. I can no longer walk the SF/F ail at B&N without a certain withering of the testicles.

Blogger The Wasp April 28, 2013 11:23 AM  

Reader, I hope I'm missing out on the sarcasm.

Anonymous JP April 28, 2013 11:48 AM  

Vance is the best fantasy author, period. His prose is anything but clunky.

I own all his work, in several different editions, including the "Integral Edition". I reread his books on a regular basis.

Anonymous scoobius dubious April 28, 2013 11:55 AM  

I notice that when people around here discuss women SF/F authors, they tend not to include Ursula LeGuin. Is there a reason for that? I was given to believe she was one of the doyennes of the genre, it seems odd to not see her name come up so much. Is it that her moralizing drowns out her stories and worlds? What's the take on her around here?

Also, what's the opinion on female writers of literary fiction who employ strong SF/F elements, like Jeanette Winterson or Kathy Acker? (or the unreadable Margaret Atwood?)

While I'm on that... do people here consider Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-five to be legitimate SF, or just literary fiction dressed in SF drag? What about metaphorical stories like "Rhinoceros" or "The Metamorphosis"? Do they count?

Anonymous VD April 28, 2013 12:06 PM  

Vance is the best fantasy author, period. His prose is anything but clunky.

I'm reading Tales of the Dying Earth right now. He's very good, but I don't find his style to be especially superlative. The nature of his narrative, and its division into distinct tales, tends to leave me a little cold. But I'm not all that far into it, so it's really too soon to say. I'll probably review it when I finish it.

I suspect that his work may actually suffer from being so influential. It is very, very easy to see his influence on Dungeons and Dragons, especially the magic system. And, of course, one naturally tends to associate that sort of system with RPG-derived fiction. On the other hand, I can also see his influence on Tanith Lee's Secret Books of Paradys, which I love.

Anonymous VD April 28, 2013 12:09 PM  

I notice that when people around here discuss women SF/F authors, they tend not to include Ursula LeGuin. Is there a reason for that?

I find most of her stuff tedious. I tried reading Earthsea several times when I was younger and never could get into it. Other than The Left Hand of Darkness, which was quite good, I just don't find her of much interest.

While I'm on that... do people here consider Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-five to be legitimate SF, or just literary fiction dressed in SF drag? What about metaphorical stories like "Rhinoceros" or "The Metamorphosis"? Do they count?

Definitely modern lit in SF drag. No, Kafka was not an SF writer. Neither, for that matter, were Orwell or Aesop.

Blogger wrf3 April 28, 2013 1:15 PM  

Bujold, not "Bujod". Depending on how you count the Hugo awards, she either has as many as Heinlein for best novel (four each), or Heinlein has one more (one retro best novel for "Farmer in the Sky").

Anonymous CMC April 28, 2013 1:16 PM  

Hover-hand on the cover. Interesting.

Anonymous Anonagain April 28, 2013 1:44 PM  

I don't recall ever having read a single book written by a female. And that book cover is absurd for any genre, except maybe a children's fairy tale - one which even little boys wouldn't select for themselves. It is grossly incongruent for the SF/F genre. Without a Clue is more like it.


Anonymous Anonagain April 28, 2013 1:48 PM  

Correction. I have read some Jane Austen.

Anonymous Jill April 28, 2013 1:49 PM  

If I manage to write a pure sci fi book, which I hope to accomplish over the summer, the focus will be on technology of some sort. However, at some level, there must be male-female relationships in my books, even if those relationships aren't romantic. It has to do with the anima-animus archetypes. Even Tolkien realized he needed to fill these archetypes when he provided Galadriel as a kind of anima projection to aid Frodo along in his journey. And, in similar fashion, Arwen fulfils that role for Aragorn.

As a female author, I focus heavily on the psychology of my characters. I couldn't care less about action. I'm not attempting to stereotype, nor do I hold myself as an example of all females everywhere--but, I do get the idea from reading female novelists that women focus on psychology more than men do (P.D. James would be a prime example of what I mean).

Anonymous rycamor April 28, 2013 1:53 PM  

VD April 28, 2013 12:06 PM

Vance is the best fantasy author, period. His prose is anything but clunky.

I'm reading Tales of the Dying Earth right now. He's very good, but I don't find his style to be especially superlative. The nature of his narrative, and its division into distinct tales, tends to leave me a little cold. But I'm not all that far into it, so it's really too soon to say. I'll probably review it when I finish it.


Tales of the Dying Earth disappointed me a little. My introduction to Vance were the two novellas The Dragon Masters and The Last Castle. I consider the latter of these to be one of the best stories ever in science fiction, a perfect combination of science fiction and satire, with deliciously biting language. However, both of these were not fantasy. I don't know quite why, but his fantasy just seems a little too haphazard, and I find his characters not as engaging.

Anonymous JI April 28, 2013 2:01 PM  

I'm an SF/F fan and I no longer read novel by female authors, or books by male authors with lead female characters. This approach has served me well since I adopted the policy a good ten years ago.

Gotta' add my skepticism regarding Sarah's male acquaintances who read Romance and yet she is certain it has "...nothing to do with their orientation". I guess she means they enjoy Romance in spite of being fags?

Anonymous JP April 28, 2013 2:24 PM  

I'm reading Tales of the Dying Earth right now. He's very good, but I don't find his style to be especially superlative. The nature of his narrative, and its division into distinct tales, tends to leave me a little cold.

It is divided into distinct tales because the book is a collection of stories that were written at different times (from the 1940s through the 1980s IIRC).

Opinions vary. Mine is that he is superlative.

Anonymous women and minorities hardest hit April 28, 2013 2:28 PM  

warren farell wrote on the nytimes publishing policy:

"Is it possible The New York Times just ignores books on gender issues? No. They reviewed, I would estimate, between nine hundred and a thousand pro-feminist books between the mid-seventies and 1999.

Is it possible they just ignore books on men's issues? Not quite. When Michael Kimmel, an ardent pro-feminist, wrote his pro-feminist attack on men's issues, The New York Times reviewed it. That is, they reviewed a book attacking what they had themselves refused to cover: books positive about adult men's issues that were critical of any portion of feminism. And of course they reviewed those particular books by Herb Goldberg and me on men's issues when we were not critical of feminism. "

http://www.ifeminists.net/introduction/editorials/2003/0610farrell.html

Blogger Dukemandarin April 28, 2013 2:46 PM  

Opinions vary. Mine is that he is superlative.

With you on that.

Vance is the biz IMO. I didn't like the Dying Earth so much but I liked the Tschai series a lot - space adventure basically on a massive decadent planet. The Demon Princes series was pretty good, too.

Anonymous JartStar April 28, 2013 2:51 PM  

Strictly from an economic standpoint doesn't it make sense for a publisher to focus on R(SF/F) as women read almost the double number of books per year?

It's possible they are robbing their romance division whenever a woman chooses to buy a "fantasy" novel, but it's just as possible that by selling relationship centric SF/F they found some blue ocean and picked up more readers in totality.

Anonymous Gen. Kong April 28, 2013 2:56 PM  

As with official science, why must such determinations ("buy more wymyn") be decided by gatekeepers, squids, trolls, politboros, etc. - the folks Moldbug refers to as "the Cathedral"? As with banks and other institutions, there appear to be publishing concerns which are also TBTF. The power of the gatekeepers has eroded some in the last two decades with the emergence of Lightning Source, Amazon/CreateSpace (who function reasonably well with respect to manufacturing and distribution), but they still largely command the marketing and promotion of books, which I expect is at least 50% of the job of publishing.

Anonymous Daniel April 28, 2013 3:10 PM  

No, Jartstar, it doesn't, anymore than it makes sense for game designers to develop games exclusively for X-Box, since that's a big seller.

Readers aren't loyal to publishers. They have no idea which house or imprint has published what. They look at the cover, they look at the author, they look at the genre.

From a "purely" economic standpoint, it makes the most sense to crank out 40 books of pure hardcore erotica per month. They are fast to produce and make massive margins.

This is not done, of course (ignoring any moral or social reputation questions) because, in part, what makes sense in publication is diversification of portfolio. If you only publish in the highest-volume genre, you are limited, and are leaving money on the table.

The degeneration of SF is almost entirely a political move, as SF, now romanticized, sells worse than it did before vanginal fantasy spread its virus.

A cold look at the figures from 2012 vs. raw numbers of 1982 make it clear: the motive of the murder was not economic.

Anonymous Mudz April 28, 2013 3:12 PM  

In a way, that's quite a hopeful story.

Anonymous VD April 28, 2013 3:17 PM  

A cold look at the figures from 2012 vs. raw numbers of 1982 make it clear: the motive of the murder was not economic.

Do you have any data on that you could send me? I'd like to see it.

Anonymous Stephen J. April 28, 2013 3:27 PM  

"The last female novelist I read was Naomi Novik, whose fantasy novels, as should surprise absolutely no one, manage to reduce the broad human tragedy of the Napoleonic Wars to a pretty good tale about a relationship between a man and his accidentally acquired dragon."

To be fair, WAR AND PEACE does the same thing. Yes, it's a much longer book with a much bigger cast of characters, but it's still a "reduction" compared to the original phenomenon. Tim Powers' DECLARE "reduces" the Cold War to a struggle between two men, the djinn who back them and the woman caught between them, but I doubt I would ever see the story described that way.

I think it was Hardy who described even the most fully realized character as "a bag of bones" compared to any given real person. Likewise, the historical stage has to be zoomed in on if you want your protagonist to be visible at its center, unless your protagonist actually is Alexander or Napoleon or Genghis Khan.

Anonymous Stickwick April 28, 2013 3:50 PM  

Hey, Vox, are you still willing to write a piece about the mechanics of SF/F novel-writing? I'm, of course, asking mostly out of self-interest, but undoubtedly there are many regular readers who would find it fascinating for its own sake.

Anonymous VD April 28, 2013 3:51 PM  

Sure, I'll try to do one this week.

Anonymous Stickwick April 28, 2013 3:53 PM  

As a female author, I focus heavily on the psychology of my characters. I couldn't care less about action.

As a female aspiring-author, I'm already having a difficult time with the psychology of my characters. It's just not all that interesting to me; my focus is mostly on the science and philosophy aspect. But the story's going to be rather dull unless I flesh out the characters and make them seem real. This is going to be tough unless I can get a handle on how to develop characters.

Anonymous Baen Reader April 28, 2013 4:04 PM  

RE: Vance and Dying Earth ...read these a while back. Good stuff.

What are your thoughts about Michael Shea? Nifft the Lean?

What about Clark Ashton Smight ...any good?

Anonymous rubberducky April 28, 2013 4:12 PM  

Attempts to explain the comparative dearth of female literary achievement against that of males always tends towards a few basic assumptions. The first is that the literary world was a boys' club and opportunities were simply not present. But this hasn't been true since the 19th century. By the Victorian Era female readership had already emerged as dominant in the publishing business. Female authorship proliferated.

A second assumption is that women authors could only get published if they confined themselves to small, limited range of subject and style. They were doomed by expectation to trivia. This is also unfounded. For example, Harriet Beecher Stowe's _Uncle Tom's Cabin_ was the 19th century equivalent of political dynamite, a trailblazer for the genre of politically charged novels, and also one the top bestsellers of the century. Additionally, writers like Mary Shelley and Ann Radcliffe were instrumental in developing one of the Victorian era's most significant genres, the Gothic Novel. The other significant Victorian novelistic genre, the Sensation or Bigamy Novel, was also pioneered by bestselling women (Ellen Wood, Mary Elizabeth Braddon).

Left to themselves, the ladies have proven quite capable of making literary waves of their own. Only two reasons exist leading one to conclude that "we need more female SF/F writers". First, political bean counting for the sake of political equity. Second, taking a chance that a female author wading into the genre might attract more profits. Both are iffy motivations (and at least the latter one has the sense to recognize this).

OpenID luckymarty April 28, 2013 4:14 PM  

Somebody probably ought to mention that editors and agents trend very heavily female these days, which probably explains a good bit of the current publishing focus on things women like.

I've usually heard the genre as "paranormal romance," which rather gives the game away, and it certainly has taken over great huge slabs of the genre bookshelf space. Girl with Weapon and Animal on cover after cover after cover.

That said, the pedant in me insists on noting that -- while her novels do seem to be romances -- Mary Robinette Kowal's Hugo-nominated novella from last year, "Kiss Me Twice" is (1) science fiction, (2) not a romance, despite the title, and (3) actually good.

Anonymous Daniel April 28, 2013 4:15 PM  

Well, for '12 I just took a general estimate of PW's top-sellers in sci-fi. I'll see if I can find that again. But for '82, I saw a Sci-fi Research Association journal article from decades ago. It was at a university library. I'll go see if I can get my hands on it again. The numbers were just (comparatively) massive, even excluding the ET novelization or Michener's Space (which was a little sciencey, but not sci-fi genre) and stuff like that. It was clear that sci-fi was doing just fine in '82, without the artificial supplementation from the ladies' auxiliary.

I think Sci-fi's market share was estimated to be 6% in 2005, by the Romance Writer's Association research. I've been looking for a market share figure from '85 or so, but haven't come across that yet. My suspicion is that it was higher back then, just based on the amount of Sci-Fi that landed on the general bestseller lists.

Anonymous liljoe April 28, 2013 4:46 PM  

Read a lot of sf/f as a teenager. Loved the usuals Tolkien Asimov Donaldson the Gor books, but when I began to read Heinlein, that was it, no one in his league. Truly transcends the genre, more like classic literature thats sci-fi and sexually charged with just outstanding female characters.

Anonymous Anonymous April 28, 2013 4:58 PM  


If one could only read one Jack Vance work, although I am sure it would annoy him, the novella "The Last Castle" is that work. Hugo award in the mid 60's.

Actually, that novella is more relevant now, in the age of immigration / migration / colonization issues, than it was when he wrote it. It's a mix of F and SF IMO.

Le Grognarde

Anonymous JP April 28, 2013 5:07 PM  

What are your thoughts about Michael Shea? Nifft the Lean?

Eh, he is a weak version of Vance.

The author who best captures Vance's style is Matt Hughes -- the Henghis Hapthorn books are a lot of fun!

Songs of The Dying Earth is a tribute volume written in Vance's honor that includes a lot of big name authors. It is a testimony to Vance's superlative quality that when a bunch of highly successful and experienced authors tried to "be Vance"... most of them weren't even close.

Anonymous tiredofitall April 28, 2013 6:55 PM  

"Many women were given publishing contracts primarily on the sole basis of their being better writers than other female wannabes."

I think it's less separating the wheat from the chaff, and more a case of finding which shit sandwich was more palatable to the public.

Anonymous scoobius dubious April 28, 2013 7:06 PM  

"Only two reasons exist leading one to conclude that "we need more female SF/F writers"."

No, there are three reasons. They are:

1. JK Rowling,
2. Stephanie Meyer,
3. CL James (or is it EL James, I forget).

People see huge profits, they say "Get me one of THOSE!"

Blogger Justthisguy April 28, 2013 7:57 PM  

Oh God I miss Colonel Stubbs. I wish I still had my copies of "Needle" and "Iceworld." The litcrit artcunt who reviewed them at Wikipedia complained about poor characterization, which doesn't matter much in real SF, and besides, I found the human characters to be very believable, and much like myself. Don't forget, a lot of SF used to be written by technical people, who were describing themselves, pretty much, when writing their characters. I hate "literary" people, and have done so pretty much since I learned to read, well over half a century ago.

Anonymous Hyperphrenius April 28, 2013 8:13 PM  

@VD

The dying Earth stories are hit and miss. But I agree with the other commenters, in that I don't find Vance's prose to be at all clunky. He has a very evocative style of writing, at least in my experience. But I think some of his stories take time to appreciate. Something like Lianne the Wayfarer I loved from the start, but it wasn't until I was about 1/3rd of the way through Eyes of the Overworld that I started to "get" the humor in it. Really ingenious satire; while Vance shows signs of being a blank slater, he has enough grasp of humanity to accurately mock the various absurdities that are prone to arising in human society. Though his cynicism sometimes take him too far into nihilism, which you might find off-putting, given your criticism of nihilism in SFF in the past.

In all I find the world of the Dying Earth, with its alieness, absurdity, and sudden moments of poignancy, to be far removed from the rather tepid fantasies of today. It had a unique effect on me, though I was less enthused with it than some. It's sad that reading a book from 1966 can feel like such a breath of fresh air, compared to what's currently available on the market.

But you are right about Vance's characters: they are all one-note, though I find many of them to be quite memorable in the way caricatures often are.

But about Tanith Lee: Your prior praise led me to pick up the Secret Books of Paradys, and I've been meaning to ask you, when does it get good? I've made it most of the way through the first novella in the Book of the Damned, and the more I read the less and less interesting it seems. While her prose is phenomenal - I can't state this enough, it is among some of the most evocative and inventive I have ever read - the story seems to go nowhere unpredictable, with the sense of mystery that was built up in the first pages undone by a lot of unimpressive reveals, and a surprise sex-change, which I have to admit I did not see coming. Does the ending justify the story? And are the other stories in the Books of Paradys any better? I would really like to read more by Lee, as her prose is mesmerizing, lush, but I don't think I can take much more of whatever is going on in this tale.

On a final note: Have you read any Gene Wolfe? His Book of the New Sun has been hailed as being one of the greater literary works of science fiction. It is also quite a Christian story. Wolfe himself is a Roman Catholic of a traditional sort, and his Christianity influences the story greatly. The ideas and imagery of Christianity permeate the work. There is none of the moral nihilism here you have so rightly deplored; in fact the main character undergoes a profound moral growth throughout the tale. And there is real meaning and purpose in the story. The prose is beautiful, there is subtext and foreshadowing, mystery and misdirection and revelation, and all sorts of literary techniques well utilized. It is also a really awesome SFF story, leaning more to the SF end of the spectrum (unsurprising, as Wolfe is an engineer), though it is perhaps not the most accessible story, and is really something that must be reread to be fully appreciated. It is a work that I think you, as a Christian who has lamented both the low quality of most Christian fantasy, and the nihilism of most literary SFF, would greatly appreciate.

Anonymous Loki of Asgard April 28, 2013 8:22 PM  

But the story's going to be rather dull unless I flesh out the characters and make them seem real. This is going to be tough unless I can get a handle on how to develop characters.

((/ninja/))

((TVTropes.org will ruin your life and vastly expand your understanding of how to work stereotypes into something less cliche, especially through their attention to existing examples.

((/vanish/))

Blogger Justthisguy April 28, 2013 8:30 PM  

"Player Piano" was real SF. The rest of Vonnegut's stuff, not so much. I can't believe that there are literate people who have never heard of Jack Vance. Somebody get that boy a copy of "The Last Castle." As far as the chicks go, I loves me some Andre Norton and C. L. Moore.

Anonymous Stickwick April 28, 2013 8:34 PM  

There goes Loki, again, defying expectations by being all helpful 'n' stuff. No doubt part of his nefarious plan to rule mankind. In any case, thank you, Loki.

Checking out Characters to see if they have "strong, independent woman." Hmm, no, they don't; but they do have quite a few other amusing tropes: Action Dad, Badbutt, Southern Fried Genius, The Trickster ...

Blogger Justthisguy April 28, 2013 8:39 PM  

Concur on the Demon Princes. I read those in Galaxy when I was a kid. I was amazed.

Anonymous Luke April 28, 2013 9:00 PM  

Re Heinlein: his stuff was first-rate IMO only before his wife, Ginny, began influencing/writing it. That is, a 1st-rate male writer in effect became a fourth-rate female one. This is coming not just from me, but a close friend who got Harlan Ellison virtually alone at a sci-fi con once (and Ellison was worked up enough to talk of what he might not have at 10:00 AM and sober).

Agreed Le Guin stunk outside of "Left Hand", and that was only second-rate.

For some good writing, try Dunsany's "The Charwoman's Shadow". There is a page or so in which a charwoman (floor scrubber, I believe), a humble sort, describes how she misses her shadow (stolen years before by a wizard). The best of Brian Lumley isn't all that bad, either. Latter is best vampire writer I've read, and contender for title of H.P. Lovecraft's literary heir. One of H.P.'s bits:

http://www.hplovecraft.com/creation/necron/stories.aspx

"The nethermost caverns...are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl." (“The Festival,” 216)

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Anonymous JartStar April 28, 2013 9:22 PM  

A cold look at the figures from 2012 vs. raw numbers of 1982 make it clear: the motive of the murder was not economic.

I'd like to see those numbers too. Interesting figures about romances. Not surprising that paranormal and erotica romances have shot up in popularity thanks to ebooks.

Blogger tz April 28, 2013 9:24 PM  

"Do not cast your pearls before swine"...

Instead we have morphed the genre into Sty-Phi(-beta-kappa).

Anonymous David of One April 28, 2013 9:46 PM  

OT -

What does all this mean??? Is "dis-" synonymous with "de-"? Does more easy money translate into more bad loans? Is this the coup de grâce of the entire industrialized world just before it sinks into a despotic "New World Order"? Saying, "... might have more room to press on with asset purchases ...", what assets might those be? Is "price stability" indicative of currency instability in the current world economic situation?

I'm just curious. I realize a new thread might be warranted.

Dave

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TVTropes.org will ruin your life and vastly expand your understanding of how to work stereotypes into something less cliche, especially through their attention to existing examples

Not to mention, if you go there right now and start reading, you'll look up from your computer next Thursday, vaguely aware that you were supposed to e somewhere (work, perhaps?) a few days ago. Clicking on links at TVTropes is like drinking a really well-made drink - you thoroughly enjoy it and don't realize how many additional ones you've consumed until it's far, far too late.

Anonymous Tosser April 28, 2013 11:22 PM  

"Eyes of the Overworld" is an outstanding novel. Hyperphrenius is correct, current fantasies, compared to it, are rather wan and forgettable. (Jack Vance is still alive at age 96. One imagines that doesn't write much anymore.)

Clark Ashton Smith was a chilly, somewhat discomforting genius.

I like Andre Norton's early work, which usually featured male protagonists. Her later books were more feminized, and less enjoyable.

Anonymous Daniel April 28, 2013 11:52 PM  

Haven't actually got my hands on the monograph, but I found the name of it:

Science Fiction and Fantasy Statistics, by Robert Reginald

I believe they were published as occasional monographs back in the 70s and 80s, and a collection (of some sort) was made in the 90s, from what I've found online. What I referred to regarding sales in '82 was in one of the monographs.

Blogger Jack Hanson April 29, 2013 12:20 AM  

luckymarty hit the nail on the head with the predominance of female editors & agents, especially in sci-fi/fantasy & YA. When they do deign to look at your novel, they'll demand you turn it into a "girl" story with love triangles no matter how badly it wrecks the storyline.

Looking at twitter, its amazing how many agents and editors are social justice warriors, swooning over badly written stories about intersex, transgender, and homosexual characters. These are the same people also demanding 'unique' characters/storylines/etc, but its really all status posturing to other insiders. The reality is they only want Independent Girl doing her own thang trying to pick between Broody Alpha and Gentle Beta.

Vox Day, you have the right of the state of publishing. Your blog here is like a life preserver when I felt like I was the only person who felt this way. Thank you for it.

Blogger kudzu bob April 29, 2013 12:30 AM  

and Ellison was worked up enough to talk of what he might not have at 10:00 AM and sober

What on earth are you talking about? Harlan Ellison rather famously does not drink, nor does he get high. Anyone who says or implies otherwise reveals himself to be an obvious fraud.

Blogger Crude April 29, 2013 12:46 AM  

Mostly commenting to admit that if it weren't for seeing it here, I would have honest-to-God thought those birds were some sarcastic photoshop.

Anonymous rubberducky April 29, 2013 2:26 AM  

In retort to me scoobius doobius said:

**********

'"Only two reasons exist leading one to conclude that "we need more female SF/F writers"."

No, there are three reasons. They are:

1. JK Rowling,
2. Stephanie Meyer,
3. CL James (or is it EL James, I forget).

People see huge profits, they say "Get me one of THOSE!"'

*************

But I incorporated all those points. Jus' sayin'

Anonymous sprach von Teufelhunden April 29, 2013 2:28 AM  

Ya, I think a new economic thread is due as well...

I have been trying to watch Caprica, via Netflix. I can take the group marriage bit. But, when they get too blatant on two faggots living together, talking about having children, I have to turn it off for a bit. Not sure if I can come back to it, even though I'm curious just how Zoe became the very first Cylon.

Interesting, after everything blows up, the remnant left, is that one of the monotheist. And, I had no idea, that the Cylons actually had their own god and religion to boot. I need to catch up here, but the Follywood egalitarian mythos on steroids, is a bit thick for me to stomach at times.

When we finally get back to econ, take note of this. Forget trillions. We are talking quads now:

Wall Street casino: The derivatives crisis (Ah, yeah! That is Iranian TV. You aren't seeing things.)

Anonymous rubberducky April 29, 2013 2:38 AM  

It's not possible to write a story today and get it published or filmed if it does not contain what are thought of as hooks for women. That's the vibe I'm getting.

It means a writer has to know what's deemed a valid hook for women and cater to it. This consensus view of what women want may, and most probably does not, reflect what real women actually want.

Which, of course, comes as no surprise. Alas.

Writers gotta kiss the ring, tho.

Anonymous Prague Stepchild April 29, 2013 3:17 AM  

I suspect that his work may actually suffer from being so influential

I'm surprised no one has mentioned his influence on Gene Wolfe and his Severian books. Wolfe lists Dying Earth as a direct inspiration for The Book of the New Sun.

Anonymous Theophilus April 29, 2013 5:03 AM  

Heinlein had no problems writing characters with depth, as he did in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Asimov, on the other hand...

Blogger Dukemandarin April 29, 2013 8:24 AM  

This whole thread reminds me that I've been meaning to re-read some Fritz Leiber - Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Great sword and sorcery - the only woman I remember is a rat princess, though!

Blogger Joshua Dyal April 29, 2013 9:03 AM  

I prefer fantasy to science fiction, and I never have trouble finding good old fashioned male adventure stories in fantasy. There's never been more of them in print at once.

This notion that fantasy has been completely co-opted by the romance genre is simply not true. Sure, there's a lot of romance with fantasy trappings. There's a lot of women writers who write fantasy, especially urban fantasy. Not all of it is romance. And not all fantasy is urban fantasy. I can only imagine that such a fallacious conclusion is based more on a superficial glance at the shelves of a bookstore rather than a more in-depth plumbing of the titles that are released every year.

Anonymous VD April 29, 2013 11:24 AM  

I can only imagine that such a fallacious conclusion is based more on a superficial glance at the shelves of a bookstore rather than a more in-depth plumbing of the titles that are released every year.

No, you're simply imagining the conclusion. Do you really think that someone who published a fantasy novel just five months ago is under the mistaken impression that he published an urban fantasy novel?

Moreover, I haven't been in an English language bookstore for years.

Anonymous rycamor April 29, 2013 12:17 PM  

Speaking to those traditionalists and Christians among us, while this sort of news is disheartening, it also represents a serious opportunity to authors who understand what the Bible really teaches about masculinity, femininity, intrigue, violent struggles, wars between kingdoms, and the like. There are stories of women playing critical roles all through the Bible, both good and bad: Zipporah, Deborah, Jael, Rahab, Bathsheba, Delilah... you get the idea. One common theme in the Old Testament is when the men fail to step up to the plate, the women do so in a sneaky, sarcastic, derisive fashion (Jael killing the enemy general with a hammer and tent peg, Zipporah flinging her son's foreskin at her husband's feet), as if to say "here's what I was driven to because you weren't man enough." There are some powerful stories waiting to be told there, and I think quite applicable to our time. It would be easy--and deliciously subversive--to use feminine Bible archetypes in modern fantasy. Set up the reader's expectation for standard dreary modern PC fare, and then pull the rug out from under the feet with some delightful surprise of the above nature.

Blogger Joshua Dyal April 29, 2013 12:29 PM  

No, you're simply imagining the conclusion. Do you really think that someone who published a fantasy novel just five months ago is under the mistaken impression that he published an urban fantasy novel?

Huh?!

I said that a specific conclusion is untrue. The "average" fantasy novel isn't a thinly disguised romance novel, despite the fact that yes, such novels do exist and in relatively large numbers. But fantasy novels that are *not* romance novels also exist in larger numbers than ever before too. I rather think that we're still working through the growing pains of a Golden Age for SF/F with more of it in print, in a greater variety, than ever before.

Anonymous VD April 29, 2013 3:00 PM  

I rather think that we're still working through the growing pains of a Golden Age for SF/F with more of it in print, in a greater variety, than ever before.

I both agree and disagree. There will be more of it, in a greater variety, but the current SF/F publishers are going to be publishing a lot less of it, assuming they even stay in business.

Blogger Christina April 29, 2013 4:07 PM  

I consider myself a Fantasy-girl. I genuinely like the stories proffered in fantasized worlds where religions, political structures, and people are fabricated in an epic adventure that creates some philosophical point relevant to our current, real-world affairs.

That said, I don't read much current SF/F books (and have only recently really begun) because I don't trust the modern landscape of literature in general =p I seem to limit myself to genres for young adult and children because I don't feel like being inundated with irrelevant, superfluous sex scenes, crude language in nearly every sentence, and horrificly POOR writing! Its like the sex scene on the next page gives the author permission to be careless with the human language.

AVI, Stephen Lawhead, Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, Tolkein - any day. And (cliche, yes, but true) J.K. Rowling was pretty exceptional for modern literature with a chohesive and complex story that spanned multiple books (she puts George R.R. Martin to shame in organization and story vision).

I've read a lot of female authors over the years, and while they DO focus on relationships, there is little to no DEPTH about the characters. Men actually are a thousand times better at the nuances of human relationships without spelling everything out than women authors have been (in my experience) - with the exception of the classics (L.M. Montgomery and Lousia M. Alcott). Kinda like how a woman nags her husband to talk about his "feelings," she apparently needs to spell them out for the audience, as well.

A man is more appreciative and honest about the subtelties of communication. I've also heard it said (from women) that men actually make better romance authors, as well, because they are better with tension, delayed gratification, and are more tasteful with the sex.

Blogger Joshua Dyal April 29, 2013 6:17 PM  

I both agree and disagree. There will be more of it, in a greater variety, but the current SF/F publishers are going to be publishing a lot less of it, assuming they even stay in business.

Yeah, the changing landscape of the publishing world is the interesting story here, which will almost certainly be good for the consumer, good for the artists (or at least most of them) and bad for the publishing companies. That is a bigger story than just genre publishers, though--it impacts all forms of entertainment distributors.

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