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George R.R. Martin and Homoerotic Inclusion

At the Edinburgh International Book Festival, George R.R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire, was asked the question: Why doesn’t he include gay male sex scenes? His answer is problematic in several ways.

The third person limited point of view style that Martin favors does limit the available scenes he can write. Especially when all of those main point of view characters are straight. Or largely straight in the cases of Dany and Cersie. 

But why are there no male point of view characters that engage in same sex activity? 

Martin claims that, “If the plot lends itself to that, if one of my viewpoint characters is in a situation,  then I’m not going to shy away from it, but you can’t just insert things because everyone wants to see them.” This is where I have a problem with Martin’s answer. The inclusion of gay and bisexual characters, of characters of color, of women, or of what have you should not be determined by the needs of the plot. So often, this argument is made by readers, intentionally homophobic or not, to prevent gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered characters from appearing. 

Is Jon Snow’s heterosexuality intrinsic to his character? To his story? What about Dany? Are her lesbian sex scenes essential to the narrative?

Do I think George R.R. Martin will include a gay male sex scene? Maybe if he creates a gay or bisexual male point of view character. But will he create such a character? I don’t know. He’s got two books left. I seriously doubt it. 

Martin is right that, “it isn’t a democracy.” A Song of Ice and Fire is Martin’s baby. He is the absolute dictator. He is the god of that creation. Whether he wants to write a gay or bisexual male character’s point of view is up to him. 

Honestly, I find Martin’s answer disingenuous. It gives, I think, false hope that Martin may create a gay or bisexual male character. He hasn’t yet. What makes anyone think that such a character/ scene will become “relevant” to the plot?

 

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31 Days of Post Day 15: On Fanfiction

I’m surprised it has taken me this long to finally write a post about fanfiction. My own personal attitude towards the form is, honestly, torn. In a way I agree with George R.R. Martin’s negative appraisal. But at the same time, I really see no problem with it as long as certain conditions are met.

Now, I agree 100% with Martin that it is far preferable for young writers to work on their own creations rather than riffing and reimagining existing intellectual properties and franchises. Especially if one is good enough to publish on one’s own original work.

I want to see what you can come up with as opposed to how you can take Harry PotterGlee, Buffy, Narutoetc. and transform those preexisting stories.

But, I can understand the desire to want to write one’s favorite characters. That’s the allure of working on superhero comics. And I can get that while hundreds or thousands of fanfiction readers will read an awesome pastiche, who would want to write an equally awesome (if not more so) story by the same author under her own name? And that’s what sucks.

To be frank, I’m a bit murky on the financial aspects of fanfiction. If the fan writer is not making any money off of their work (save for the gratification of being read), I don’t see how that hurts the owners of property (whether those owners be authors or corporate entities).

That is not to say that there is not a danger. Especially if one happens to read fanfiction based on one’s own work. I think it was Martin (or maybe another writer) who related the story of a nasty incident involving Anne McCaffery and a fanfiction writer that occurred years ago.

So if there is fanfiction based on your work, don’t read it. Ever.

What if a work of fanfiction, almost completely divorced from the inspiration text, becomes published? This has happened several times before. In this case, I think it is up to the creator of the inspiration text (and their lawyers) to determine whether or not the former piece of fanfiction warrants a copyright infringement suit.

I see both sides in this argument. Fanfiction provides a means for fans of a work to come together and create their own versions. But it can also stifle their own creativity (if they are interested in pursuing a writing career professionally). In the end, how one looks at fanfiction is a personal choice informed by their own experiences and beliefs.

Oh, and by the way: Life is miserable and full of pain.

Curse you Longhorns. And Cowboys. And Texans.

Now I know why I hated sports growing up.

A Rant of Hot and Cold

I don’t like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. I remember fully reading A Game of Thrones and being impressed that it wasn’t the usual dreck that I read. Which consisted mostly of the old Tor Conan pastiches. This was ten years ago. Then, about 2o03, I picked up A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords. I skimmed those two novels. And I was not impressed. Now, almost a decade later, I have no desire to go back and give them another look. Why?

My problem with ASoIaF is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. At first, the historic-political elements of the novels are balanced by the high/ epic fantasy elements. But as the series gains in popularity and the series has to be approaching its conclusion (if there are still to be seven novels), the stronger fantasy elements seem to be thrust into the back seat. And the game for that damned Iron Throne takes center stage. (As an aside, I also think the series is too bloated).

The series, when advertised for the HBO adaptation, is described as The Sopranos meets The Lord of the Rings. Am I the only one who goes ugh? Am I the only one who really does not want this kind of fantasy?

I think I shall start calling the school of fantasy that has developed around Martin the historicist school of fantasy. Or just historicist fantasy. Now what is this new genre? Well, it is a constructed world fantasy that utilizes history as inspiration and the basis for world building. It is separate from historical fantasy in that it does not take place on Earth.

And I really don’t like this type of fantasy. If I wanted to read fantastical visions of history, I’d read historical fantasy. Or I would actually read a history book. Which would be more entertaining.

What I want is fantasy not history. I want myth not realism. Often, verisimilitude and the suspension of disbelief is brought up in critical discussions of fantasy. Maybe I just have an easier time of accepting the world building, but I could give a crap if a writer inserts bales of hay or gets the weaponry wrong or neglects religion. I don’t care. Is the story good? Can I see it in my mind’s eye?

This brings me to the grimdark fantasy. I’m honestly not very interested in them, either. I did enjoy reading Morgan’s The Steel Remains and liked Polansky’s Low Town far more than I thought I would. But Bakker, Abercrombie, etc.? No, thank you.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of darkness in what I read. But, I like that darkness mixed with almost an equal measure of light. I want joy with sadness; I want hope with despair. I don’t want a continual parade of despair and horror.

I guess what I’m yearning for is a rediscovery of the fantastic, of pushing the boundaries of the imagination out from what we have.

Will I ever write a historicist fantasy? Maybe. But if I do, I want to do it right. I want to write the type of story that I would enjoy.

 

No Answers. Just Questions.

This post has no argument. No answers. Just questions. What I want to do with this post is lay out a number of questions that have plagued me in recent weeks and months that I haven’t gotten around to answering to my own satisfaction. Before we begin, for those of you interested in further exploring traditional publishing versus self publishing, check out Rachelle Gardner’s blog posts exploring reasons why authors may choose one or the other. And now, on to the questions without answers, yet.

How do writers and artists decide what form to express their ideas? Is there something identifiable or is it individual to the creator?

Can there be a shonen hero (or major character) who is glbtq? Is it possible to explore gay and lesbian themes without the manga being bl or yuri?

Are there any good shonen and seinen global manga (or OELs)?Is it possible to have a serialized format before the gn/ tankoban collections?

Is the internet a force of social good or social ill? Are good manners in decline?

Keeping with that, why is there an apparent resurgence in racist and sexist screeds in sf/f? How do we overcome the hate?

Does sf/f really need its own Skip Bayless?

How consciously “modern” or “contemporary” should a fantasy be? How consciously in tune with the historical inspiration?

Is the Martin school of epic fantasy troubled by issues of race and sexism as many recent criticisms assert? If so, why?

Can a major debate on the role of women, race, gender, ect. in sf/ f be had without degenerating into trolling flame wars?

Where is the criticism of sf/ f at at this moment? How “laid back” or “academic” is it?

Does there need to be a more consciously “academic” approach with better research and reliance on critical theory?

What about manga and comic books?

Is there manga criticism available in America that is not fan driven?

What is it about Hollywood that they have to butcher Greek mythology?

Why is returning the Amazons to their mythical roots such a controversial thing?

Is it time for the traditional notion of the super hero to be done away with? Especially when a “no kill” rule does not make sense?

In reference to DCUO, how difficult would it be for user generated content (like missions)?

What is the relationship between anime viewership and manga sells in the U.S.? Is the reason why One Piece is not as popular in American compared to Japan because of their initial anime dubbing on Cartoon Network? Or is there something else at work?

Well, that’s it for my questions without answers today. Some of these I may tackle at some point. And some I may never come back to. Time and what I want to blog about will tell.

Comic Book Screw Over

Over at George R.R. Martin’s “Not a Blog,” he relates the story of the hardships currently being endured by Gary Friedrich, the creator of Ghost Rider. Like a lot of comic book creators, he has been screwed over by the comic book industry. Now, if you write for the big two (or non creator owned companies), it stands to be expected that the company owns the copyright to the character.

As I’ve said in previous posts, this situation sucks. It sucks that comic book writers and artists have been screwed out of royalties and other residual payments. Yes, the work is for hire, but the companies should be far kinder than they have been. And the attitudes those companies reveal when creators seek to assert some form of rights over their work is simply atrocious.

This incident, as well as many other events that have been reported over the last few months really make me question whether or not comic books is really worth creating for no matter the format.

Even the creator owned companies have their own problems. So, is being a comic book creator really worth it? Yes, there is the possibility of being able to write or draw one’s favorite character, and the joy and pride that comes with that is a powerful incentive. But, it also comes with the knowledge that control over that work does not belong to you.

Now, what can be done about this? I don’t know. Would a boycott of Marvel or DC be effective? I don’t know. Given the decline of the industry, it may be effective. Clearly, legal remedies in this industry friendly legal environment are unlikely to succeed.  The problem is getting a large enough portion of the fanbase to agree to a boycott. There are other options, as well, but what I’m wondering is how a more permanent and equitable solution can be reached.

No Time but Today

Sometimes, if I brood on something for a while, I get a better handle on things. I’ve been thinking a lot about fantasy, history, and reading lately. Obviously, it has been a somewhat regular feature of my blog (that and Bas Lag). So, I’ve been brooding, and I’ve come to an interesting and obvious conclusion. No matter what time a fantasy is set, it is always reflective about the concerns of the present.

We can all accept that most fantasy set on secondary worlds take place in historic periods relative to our own day. Typically, these worlds are highly inspired by the medieval period of Europe. My argument is that while interest in the roles of English queens may provide an intellectual inspiration, more often than not, the work is not really about an alternate version of Queen Isabella or Queen Margaret.

Take King Arthur. He performs different meanings for different times. For the early myths, he represents a national hero, a defender from invasion. For the Pearl Poet, he represents an idealized court. For Malory, he represents another form of the idealized court. For Bradley, his myth represents a religious conflict between nascent Christianity and the Old Faith. The story of Arthur is a reflection of the concerns of the writer’s present colored through the lens of a mythic past.

Howard’s Hyborian Age is another excellent example of writing with the present in mind. There is a strong concern about the decline of civilization, of degeneration, of a loss of vitality. These concerns play into an early twentieth century dealing with the effects of modernism and the Depression.

Even Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire can be seen in this light. I would like to know exactly how much of the series was planed from the start and how much of it developed in the writing. I’ve heard that Martin is a gardener when it comes to his writing, so it would be really interesting to see how the series developed. Part of my curiosity lies in whether or not Martin originally intended to focus most of the attention on the war for the Iron Throne or if it gradually supplanted the epic conflict with the Others as the main focus.

I suspect the fascination with A Song of Ice and Fire has something to do with concerns about our own political issues. That the political problem, instead of being shunted to an impediment, has become the main focus is one I think needs to be addressed.

China Mieville’s Bas Lag novels obviously belong in this discussion due to the highly political nature of the narratives. Each one, in one form or another, are highly suspicious of authority. The novels are also highly challenging to the notions of neoliberalism and globalization. And, I think, in Iron Council, Mieville questions the efficacy of protest, of fighting for change. Is it worth fighting for freedom, for political change if the protesters are getting their heads smashed in?

History, myth, etc. are inspiration in fantasy. But authors are writing with the concerns of the present in mind. Now, some of these concerns may be optimistic or pessimistic. Some writers may be playing intellectual games with their inspiration, but they still write with the present in the background.

The fantasy genre has been changing for some time now. New voices are entering the field bringing in new readers or supplying readers with protagonists little depicted in the past. Ambivalence and ambiguity have places of pride, and the former certainties of the past, of concrete good and absolute evil, are being challenged. In the end, some readers will find that the protagonists seem to resemble them a little more while others will feel at a loss without their sure hero.

The War for the Future of Fantasy: A Rant

My mood has not been a very good one over the past few days. For one thing, I’ve been battling a series of colds for over a month now. For another thing, I’ve been pretty annoyed by some recent fantasy criticism. This rant is mainly an extended response to Brian Murphy’s recent blog question over at Black Gate. So, on with the rant.

How big is fantasy’s tent? Just because the latest thing in fantasy is gritty, mature, etc. heroic fantasy does not mean that gentler, more whimsical fantasy  is no longer being published. If you look hard enough, scour the internet for more fantasy sites, read a lot of recent literary fantasy short fiction, etc. You are bound to find the type of fantasy you want.

But of course, Murphy’s post is really more about navigating the future of fantasy. Is fantasy going to succumb to this new, brasher, school? Or will the paragons of tradition save the day? The issue, the attempted binary, is very obviously muddied. The focus is in the politics, both as influence and expression, and its conflict with whimsy, with imagination, with transcendence. Now, are China Mieville and Ursula K. LeGuin the best speakers for each camp?

China Mieville is, obviously, known as a very political writer. But are his sentiments of 2000 the same as 2012? As someone who follows Mieville, he seems to have softened his views while still maintaining his keen interest in politics. And LeGuin  herself is a very political writer, especially in the realm of feminism. So while their quotes set up a nice binary, neither writer is really bound to either “pole.”

Here’s how I look at this whole issue. As a writer, I write for today. What interests me, forces me to think, ignites my imagination? After I’m dead, let the critics and readers of tomorrow parcel out whether or not my work is dated or for the ages. Shakespeare, Dickens, Wells, Howard, Tolkien, etc. wrote for the moment. That we, as readers, still read them is because their works speak to us today no matter what they intended.

Now, lets move on to some of the comments.

Personally, I think that George R.R. Martin is overrated. When Winter-is-coming.net argued that A Song of Ice and Fire is the greatest fantasy series in the world (barring The Lord of the Rings), I could not help but be amused. I liked the first three books, and haven’t read the recent two. Liked not loved. I get that Martin intended to write a sweeping epic saga that includes a cast of hundreds. But there is too much going on with very little plot development. How, in two books, is the series going to be resolved?

And I don’t know if I really buy that Martin is as bloodthirsty as he is sometimes depicted. Yes, killing Ned is shocking because the reader is fooled into believing that he is the protagonist. He isn’t. He is a false protagonist. I would argue that Jon or Dany is the true protagonist. Also, besides the Red Wedding, has any major POV character been killed off yet?

Keeping with Westeros, we can all accept that it is heavily based on 14th century Europe, especially England. Now, a constant argument that I’ve heard from some Black Gate commenters is that it (and other similar worlds) do not reflect the religious culture of the period they are inspired by. I argued that religious faith in ASOIAF is subtle, but I do not believe that absolute fidelity is a necessity.

But I think my question was not quite answered. Why? Why is it so important to have that religious fidelity (or even focus)? And, after thinking about it, I should have followed up with what. What would this religious take look like?

I remember from my own readings of medieval literature, especially the romances, that religion is not overly important save as a matter of course. That Gawain attends church several times a day and a prayer concludes Sir Gawain and the Green Knight does not seem overly important to me. Now, I know that religious faith plays an important role (or is supposed to) in being a knight, doubly so for an idealized knight like Gawain. But there are other readings that are just as valid, and to me, more interesting.

And there is one thing to remember. Every scene, save for a few possible tangents, should be devoted to advancing the plot. Everything should be geared towards the inexorable, twisting path to a conclusion.

So, that’s my rant for today.

George R.R. Martin and Black Gate

I know, I know. I should have a post up on fantasy besides the medieval. But, I’m still not sure how I should approach it. Should I rattle off a list and give ideas or should I give one or two specific examples of non feudal fantasy? I should have it figured out by tomorrow or Saturday.

Anyway, on to a quick defense of George R.R. Martin. Over at Black Gate, Scott Taylor has a post up arguing that the perceived decline in quality of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons is attributable to Martin’s age. He is, according to Taylor, past his prime. He points to sports where most players start to decline after their early thirties as an analogy. To prove his point he lists eleven writers, their “best” work, and their periods of best writing.

As has been pointed out by Matthew David Surridge and Sarah Avery in the comments, there are a lot of problems with Taylor’s argument. Surridge is right to point out that most famous does not equal best and provides a longer list of writers who do not seem to have an “expiration date.” Avery points out a brilliant reason why Martin’s output on A Song of Ice and Fire is so long.

The reason, and I happen to agree with her, is that Martin has a huge amount of information to keep track of. While most readers may not catch mistakes, some readers will (and make a stink about it). Yes, Martin can hire assistants and utilize fan made reference works, but the onus is on him to get it right. There is also the issue of the Merrenese Knot. That and the abandoned time skip has likely caused much of the problems that Martin has faced in the past ten years.

Now, I won’t deny that A Song of Ice and Fire is out of control as a narrative and needs some serious pruning. The series has likely expanded far beyond what Martin had originally intended it to be, and it will be an interesting test of his skills as a writer to get everything back under control for the final two books. And maybe he’ll actually start killing more pov characters. I mean a wholesale slaughter.

Now, this post has brought to mind other recent posts by Black Gate bloggers that have bugged me (and not all of them by Theo). Sometimes, I wish the magazine would focus more on fiction on their website rather than review and criticism. If there is a huge back log of fiction submissions and the print magazine only comes out maybe twice a year, then maybe it would be wise to include more fiction online (rather than just excerpts and the single complete story from each issue).  Many readers have pointed out a desire for more adventure fantasy, and Black Gate could reassert its position as the paramount magazine of this form of fantasy by publishing more stories and less criticism.

Okay, that’s it for today. Any way, look to tomorrow for a post on fantasy beyond the medieval.

What Am I Doing Super Bowl Sunday?

If you watch Mike & Mike in the Morning, you know that Mike Greenberg occasionally questions what the people who don’t watch the Super Bowl are watching. Well, as someone who is not watching the Super Bowl this year, I will tell him.

I fully plan on playing DC Universe Online for a part of the time. I haven’t played in a while, so I want to get back into the game (and create more characters). And I plan on writing and reading.

So, that’s my not Super Bowl Sunday plans, what are yours?

Although I must wish George R.R. Martin luck for his Giants. I could care less about the game, but I know he is in heaven right now.

 

The Death of Fantasy? What?

Earlier today, on the Gollancz Blog, A.J. Dalton wrote a post pondering the “death of fantasy.” The posit is that because there seems to be a lack of magic in some recently published fantasy that fantasy itself is in danger of either “dying” or undergoing radical change. My own comment on the blog post argued that fantasy is not going anywhere, nor is it becoming less magical.

The question boils down to what one reads. I would argue that a lot of the seeming absence of magic is probably a result of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Magic plays a very small and limited role, and magic’s limited role has become a point for those inspired by him. The success of the series can be pointed to the human conflict over the Iron Throne and what that conflict does to the people involved. This means that the actual epic conflict gets pushed to the back burner.

It is not beyond reason to assume that more recent fantasy writers, inspired by Martin, would have similar attitudes towards magic. In a way, magic may be a victim to the general rebellion against Tolkiensian fantasy that has been going on for the past few years.

Does that mean that magic itself is becoming less prominent in the genre? No. Read Mieville’s Bas-Lag books, Patrick Rothfuss, R. Scott Bakker, Harry Potter, etc. Hell, read manga- Fairy Tail is all about the wizards. And it is awesome.

This whole thing annoys me to no end. It is the same kind of bunk spewed about science fiction every year. How long has science fiction been at death’s door? Twenty years? Still not dead yet.

Fantasy is not dead yet, and neither is magic.