Talk Comics To Me

I’ve never been a hardcore comics fan, but I’ve admired the medium since my friend Justin very sensibly got me addicted to Sandman. (If you have any literary-snob type friends who sneer at comics but like a well-crafted SF novel, give them Sandman next time they start an anti-comics rant. That’ll shut ‘em up.)

Cover of Sandman: The Dream Hunters

Cover of Sandman: The Dream Hunters

Alas, he became a husband and father and religious man, and I moved away, and thus my entertainment executive was lost. With no one feeding me comics on the regular, I’ve lost touch. That’s true of all fiction, mind – since I became a geoblogger, I haven’t often had time for recreational reading. The things I’ve missed! And I was a DC/Vertigo girl, so I know very little of Marvel.

This, I realized whilst watching The Avengers recently, was a terrible oversight. Fucking Natasha, people. I am in love with her. I mean, down-on-one-knee-and-pop-the-question in love. I don’t want to have her babies, but if she has any, I will babysit them. I need to know her. Please tell me she is as epically badass or better in the comics. Tell me what to read.

Cover of Jenny Sparks

Cover of Jenny Sparks

Also, I hear Thor is becoming a woman. (I had a great time explaining to B how the gender-swap is completely believable because Loki became a woman – well, mare – and even gave birth in the Norse myths.) Captain America is going to be black. Apparently, these two facts have greatly upset some of the least desirable denizens of the manosphere. The wretched tears of shattered menz taste like victory. I’ll be reading those stories once they’re in graphic novel form.

What else is out there? What are some of the best story arcs I’ve missed? Which graphic novels do you think every person on earth should read?

Talk comics to me, people!

Cover of Transmetropolitan: The New Scum

Cover of Transmetropolitan: The New Scum

The Trilogy That Will Wash Fifty Shades of Grey Away

Someday, I’ll tell you the story of how Fifty Shades of Grey murdered my libido in an adult store. I hated that series from the moment I heard of it. No, I didn’t have to read it to judge. It’s Twilight fan fiction that glorifies abusive relationships, people. On top of that, it’s atrociously writ. So fuck that.

And yet, despite the fact it murdered both my libido and my faith in the reading public, I have to be somewhat grateful for its existence. After all, it was in reading critical analyses of it that I learned quite a bit about actual BDSM, which has been liberating. It also taught me more about abusive relationships and how to avoid them. And… there’s the fact that one of the best romances I’ve ever read wouldn’t exist without it.

I generally can’t stand romance. Most of the ones I’d read, back when I bothered trying, were vapid, awful things filled with phrases like “his throbbing member.” The “hot” sex was generally introduced by a virgin getting raped, then spending the rest of the book falling in love with her rapist. When I worked for a bookstore, the assistant manager and I used to pull the returns from the romance section when we were starving but it was too early for lunch. Just reading the titles was guaranteed to kill our appetites for a few hours. I’ve spent the majority of my life thoroughly loathing romance, so it’s a little odd to be thoroughly loving a trilogy based on The Worst Romance of Our Time.

It’s Jenny Trout’s fault.

She wrote a thorough takedown of the FSOG trilogy. Somewhere in there, she also decided to jump in the inspired-by-FSOG pool, and show everyone how an actual champion can write. As Abigail Barnette, she wrote The Boss trilogy, which is basically the finest fuck-you to FSOG ever. It’s everything FSOG isn’t: scorching hot BDSM between a sophisticated billionaire and a smart, confident woman. It doesn’t get into extreme stuff, but it goes far enough to show how truly awful and fake the FSOG version of BDSM was. It’s also feminist. I am in love.

SPOILER ALERT: I’ll be reviewing these books in some detail. Stop here, download The Boss, and proceed with reading that if you want to find out what happens without me blurting a lot of it at you in advance.

Cover shows the torsos of a man and a woman in evening dress, sexily pressed against each other. Image is black and white.

The Boss Cover art.

The Boss starts off with Sophie Scaife, overworked PA to an incredibly demanding fashion magazine maven, discovering her boss has been tossed out. She won’t have to take the boss’s dog in for ear candling anymore. Yay! Her new boss, Neil Elwood, the billionaire who unexpectedly bought the magazine to eventually give to his ex-girlfriend and business partner, doesn’t have a dog. He does have a history – with Sophie. Yes, the new boss being the man she had a one-night stand with in a hotel room six years ago definitely complicates the transition.

After some misunderstandings and divesting of baggage, they resume their relationship. He’s in the throes of a divorce, so there are shenanigans in a very posh hotel room rather than his house. They go beyond the spanking and anal they’d engaged in before, and start exploring the delicious depravity of a great BDSM relationship. People, this is a book you need to get for all your FSOG-loving friends, right now, and you can get it for all of them because right now, it is free. It models what a good relationship should be:

  • Consensual (and believe me when I say consent makes it extra-sexy).
  • Respectful: Sophie and Neil respect each other’s boundaries, wishes, and careers. Safe: both in the no-abuse sense and the watch-out-for-STDs sense.
  • Caring: they take good care of each other, checking in and generally assuring the relationship and the hot sex within are good for both parties.

There’s conflict, of course: things like Neil deciding to make the magazine cruelty-free (which everyone else, Sophie included, is convinced will sink it); Sophie putting her career ahead of her fuck-buddy without being completely open about it, and the difficulties inherent in having sex with your boss. They work these things out via communication. Love happens. The Sophie gets pregnant, Neil gets sick, and they (briefly) break up.

SPOILER ALERT! Stop reading here if you don’t want to know about the rest of the trilogy, but would rather read it unspoiled.

Black and white image of a sexy woman wearing a man's white shirt and nothing else.

The Girlfriend cover art.

Never fear! Because it’s a trilogy, and you know they get back together. There’s no Sophomore Slump with The Girlfriend. In fact, in my opinion, it’s the best book of the series. How many romances start with an abortion? One during which neither partner wangsts, and guilt is not felt, and after which freedom from parenthood is enjoyed? They have to savor the brief time they have, because Neil has got leukemia, and it has come roaring out of remission.

And so Sophie decides she will move to England with him while it’s treated. They have a lovely Christmas. They go to Paris. They go to a BDSM dungeon there and have a blazing-hot three-way. They have a happy New Year. And then they go through hell, because cancer is horrible. Yet the book remains romantic and wonderful and sexy as hell. Including Neil directing the action as Sophie and Paris-three-way guy go all the way, since chemo has made it more difficult for Neil to perform, but he wants Sophie’s sex life to thrive, and they both have the hots for that dude.

The end of this book had me bawling, people, and I don’t tend to feel that way in romances. I mean, I was dissolved in total sad-happy tears, the kind of crying that only happens because you love these characters intensely and you know they may lose each other and yet even death isn’t going to end the romance, because they have convinced you it’s That Kind of Love.

SPOILER ALERT: Stop here etc. You know the routine by now.

Black and white image shows a man and woman kissing in bed.

The Bride cover art.

It’s not a supernatural trilogy, so you know Neil survives. Mark of a good author, though, is having you half-convinced he won’t.

The Bride is life-after-cancer, and mostly family drama. It didn’t really pick up for me until the last third, when Sophie lost her best friend due to having to rat her best friend’s soon-to-be wife out for corporate espionage. And the ex-girlfriend business partner nearly destroys happily-ever-after. I don’t want to give too much away. Just that the end had me punching the air and shouting “Yes!!” and budding with happiness and sexual satisfaction. Oh, and did I mention this series improved my sex life by 1000% and taught me how to masturbate better? It absolutely did.

You will find passion, kink, and plots within these pages, all of which were lacking in FSOG. You won’t find abuse of any kind masquerading as love. Sophie and Neil aren’t sad little codependent freaks: they’re accomplished, independent adults who are wild for each other, and work through their problems with open communication and couples’ therapy. If people want to pattern their lives on a fictional love story, burn their copy of FSOG and give them this trilogy instead.

Best. Alternative. Ever.

And Hollywood? I want these made into movies. You owe us after putting FSOG on the silver screen. Give us a groin-grinding feminist romance with fully-realized characters facing real-life trauma and drama for once. Give use role models worth modeling ourselves on. The world – and our love lives – will be better for it.

PS. The fourth book in the no-longer-a-trilogy-but-is-now-a-proper-series will be out soon! Read a preview chapter here, and I’ll update this post when ordering info is available. Or you could just read Jenny’s blog, which is worth doing anyway.

Why Am I Torturing Myself With Twilight?

Are you going to make it worse?

The reason I ask is because I’d got rather addicted to this Twilight sporking by Das Mervin. All right, so the homophobia and gendered slurs make me wince, and I wish she wasn’t so Catholic that she refrains from giving religious fuckery a good pounding when necessary, but I still couldn’t stop reading. I couldn’t stop even though I kept kicking myself over spending time with this when I had other things to do. I couldn’t stop even when I was screaming along with her at the sheer bloody awfulness of these books. I don’t even remember exactly how I got started – something about wanting to know a bit more about Twilight because of Fifty Shades, but not wanting to go through the agony of reading the actual books. I mean, I appreciate good books. Everyone I’ve ever loved and trusted have said these books are horrible, even the people who like them. They’ve told me enough about them for me to know I should never read them. I will end up like Mervin, tearing out my hair, doing other violence to myself, and screaming myself hoarse over the lack of plot, the horrific grammar, the awful storytelling, the abusive relationships, the g-rated rapes, and other awfulness I can glimpse only dimly through the protective glass others have placed between me and these books.

But…

I’m actually tempted to read them myself, just to see how horrific they really are.

Image shows a white and gray cat, sitting on a table with its paw on an open book, looking at the camera. Caption says, "Sparkly vampires? Why you read this crap?"

Alone and unshielded, I would read every damned word, and report my findings to you, so that you may laugh at my pain. But it’s only worth it if you want my impression of these things. Otherwise, I will set temptation aside, and aside from sporkings, never touch it again.

What do you think? Do you want me to do this? Do you have certain themes you want me to look for and expound upon? Would you like these books thoroughly savaged, even if you love them? Do you want me pointing out where she got the local geology laughably wrong? If you ask me, I will do this for you. Because I love you. But not like Edward loves Bella, because that’s just dysfunctional.

Image is an extreme close-up of a cat's face. Caption says, "Edward kitteh watchez you sleepz. You smell liek bacon."

Along the way, I’d be reading some better fiction, and giving you reviews of it as an antidote to Twilight. Also, we’ll take a trip to Forks, and poke around the local geology while we tip our hats to the locals’ ability to mine shit for gold. (I’ve been through Forks, once. They’ve branded everything with Twilight crap, and the fans apparently eat it up. We’ll see if everything’s still Twilight-branded now or if they’ve decided cash isn’t as crucial as dignity.)

So, what do you think? Want this done? I’ll do it under one condition: one of you will have to send me the books. I’m not going to buy the damned things. I don’t want you buying them for me, either. Stephenie Meyer has made enough money from this drivel. But if you’ve got copies haunting your house, and you haven’t wanted to take them to the used bookstore because you’re a better citizen than to release that tripe into the community, then let me know, and I’ll pay the shipping for you to send them to me.

We’ll mine their rich veins of fail.

Then I’ll figure out something useful to do with them. Perhaps turn them into pet bedding, or use their crumpled pages as packing material as I ship you the rocky trinkets you’ve ordered from the Etsy store I swear is coming soon and will probably be called Dana Hunter’s Gneiss Schist because I can’t bloody resist a geological pun. Or perhaps you’ll come up with an even better fate for them.

So let me know at dhunterauthor at gmail whether you want me to murder brain cells like this. And if you do, we’ll get started just after I finish setting up stores and bleaching my brain with some good fiction.

Also, if you wish to donate small amounts of cash for the copious amounts of alcohol it will take to survive this, or larger amounts for the diligent medical attention it will take to recover from the alcohol poisoning, feel free to make enthusiastic use of the donate button in the sidebar.

A Rant Against the Dual Nature of Marketing Towards Men and Women

In which our own RQ riffs off my Fifty Shades of Fucking Abuse post. (say something about the gender binary) The floor is hers:

I got to thinking about your post during the day, and on what it means regarding who is reading what, and what kind of reading is marketed to whom. Especially romance and/or sex-related stuff, or, hell, just books that might have sex in them somewhere.

Because all those tired housewives? What’s marketed to them? Insipid romance where the man saves the day (or is horribly abusively ‘romantic,’ right, because what woman doesn’t love a good stalker?), magazines on housewifery and how-to-keep-your-man-interested… What else? Not much – I read a pretty decent science magazine (GEO, not to be confused with NatGeo) that explicitly states in its subscription description that it is geared towards middle-income, successful men. And what is in this magazine? Well, it’s not women in any state of undress – it’s very interesting science and geography articles, with nary a nod towards ‘typical’ male interests (except in advertising, and even that – alcohol, watches, suits…). Why can this kind of stuff not be geared towards women, too? Those bored housewives who are so uninteresting to their husbands – wouldn’t this kind of thing be perfect for them? Educate themselves while gaining a broader perspective on the world (they’ve had some neat articles on transgender children and non-traditional relationships, plus a very feminist one on the role of fathers from a scientific perspective), while acquiring information useful in ordinary, daily conversation with their far more worldly husbands. Sounds great to me, so why not market it as such?

Then there are the women’s magazines, which are… well, cooking, interior design, and, on occasion, nicely dressed and fully clothed men (there was that one comparison of Hugh Jackman on the cover of men’s and women’s magazines a while back). And that’s all fine, until it’s the only thing ‘appropriate’ for married women with children, and the thought of showing a bare-chested man in a housewife magazine (YUMM) is considered racy and borderline non-permissible… Where’s the women’s equivalent to FHM and Playboy? And I don’t mean just erotic shots, I mean the intelligent interviews with the interviewee posing in his underwear as eye-candy. I can think of a few local candidate athletes who would be perfect for this.

But no.

Women, especially women in long-term, childed relationships, don’t have sexuality. Not one worth talking about, at least, except as a ‘haha I bet you never have sex’ joke. This is something that needs to die a very, very painful and quick death (I’d say slow, but I’ve had enough of slow).

And that leaves me to wonder, from whence do women get their ideas about their own sexuality, in a fairly puritanical society that deems them worthy only of having children and being satisfied only under the wing of a man?

And that is what leaves them wide open for books like 50 Shades – because, unfortunately, with all the abusive aspects of it, and the childish language (they can’t even talk dirty enough because it will hurt the sensitivities of women? what?), it does speak plainly and openly about sexual love within the bounds of a relationship. I mean, I read a lot when I was young, and my first awakenings into sexuality came through SF/Fantasy novels (Hel-lo, Lions of Al-Rassan). And then for a while I made sure that all the books I read had at least one sex scene in them, because that shit was awesome! Masturbation material! (Sorry if it’s TMI.) And it was in all kinds of books!

Which leaves me to wonder, are people really so limited in their reading choices (and more specifically, are housewives really so limited in their reading material) that they have to resort to such ridiculous trash as 50 Shades to re-awaken those feelings? To allow them to feel like sexual beings again, to let them know that it’s perfectly normal to want sex and love your body and have someone do wonderful, touchy-feely, hot things to it? Is it just the marketing this time around? Is it a lack of resources to know that, hey, having kids doesn’t automatically turn the pleasure-centres in your vagina and environs off? Because there’s so much literature out there that can get people hot and bothered – if they bothered to look at it that way. But I think I’m slowly discovering that, indeed, there’s a very narrow lane you have to walk when you’re set in a certain role, a very narrow set of interests you’re supposed to cultivate in order to be the right kind of wife/mother/girlfriend. Because the gods forbid you start having fantasies about imaginary characters or unattainable athletes or actors on-screen… Because Hugh Jackman would set a bad precedent by taking his shirt off in a women’s magazine, while being all bare-chested and manily aggressive is perfectly fine for the men to see (because that’s how they should be, too!), but there’s no reciprocating audience to accept him as such, from a sexual point of view (I feel like there’s some underlying homophobia here, too, because sexy pictures of men might be looked at by gay men, and ew, right???).

I suppose this is a rant against the dual nature of marketing towards men and women (and never mind those who aren’t straight and cis, because… well, because, right?), how men are allowed to be sexual, women are too nurturing to understand, and women who want sex for the sake of sex and pleasure are sluts and shouldn’t be treated with respect… Yes, that’s rape culture. But is it really so ingrained that it subtly limits everyone’s reading choices? That it denies such self-examination and acceptance of all of one’s self?

I’m sad to think that the answer is yes – that the only way to awaken women’s ‘lost’ sexuality is through aggressive marketing piggy-backing on the coattails of an already-terrible romance. That there’s so much beautiful, sexy stuff written out there, that would appeal to both men and women without resorting to silly cliches and harmful stereotypes of romance that doesn’t get a single note of attention because… because it doesn’t fall neatly into a box. Because it doesn’t fall under the definition of ‘housewife’ or ‘husband’ or ‘sex after marriage’ (I’m pretty sure there isn’t even a box for that last one). And this is only in the context of plain, vanilla relationships (which can be pretty hot too).

The Lions of Al-Rassan isn’t marketed or ever described as a romance novel – even though, in essence, that’s what it is. No? And it’s not the only book that avoids the ‘romance’ label even though it is chock-full of romance.

Anyway. I’m not sure how to end this in a good way, because it’s saddening and slightly angering that this is what women have to resort to – that this is what is pushed at men as a model – because society is too afraid to acknowledge sex and sexuality as a real, living aspect of all adults, whether single, married, with or without kids, of any orientation or sexual proclivity. Sex is too awesome to be demeaned and swept under the rug like that – why does it happen?

(And yes, I have some idea… I just wish there was a better way to stand against it and make a change.)

*sigh*

Sigh indeed.

Fifty Shades of F**king Abuse

Let me tell you how I got acquainted with some of the worst books on the market:

It was an odd time. I’d just spent over a month intensively critiquing creationist earth science texts, and that triggers depression after so many chapters. One begins to lose all hope for humanity. The end of summer loomed. B and I had a rather serious falling out. So there I was, mopey and miserable and wishing the world could just stop for a while.

I don’t remember what I was reading, but there was a link to Jenny Trout’s blog in the comments. And she had done to the Fifty Shades trilogy what I’m doing to Christianist textbooks. I’d been hearing for years how bloody awful the Fifty Shades of Grey books were, how they glorified abuse, how fake the BDSM was, and how terrible the writing was. I’d heard it from enough people whose opinion I trust that I hadn’t wasted my time attempting to read the bloody things. But now there’s gonna be a movie, and about nine trillion people think this shit’s the cat’s pajamas and ever-so-good for their looove lives, so maybe it would be a good idea to find out a bit more about it. And here was a brilliant, funny, and feminist writer who’d read and reported on them so I didn’t have to. It was like Cliffs Notes, with brutal honesty and snark.

Now, I should’ve been working, but I really couldn’t. And a day off wouldn’t hurt. And I read this:

Ana flushes way too much. I’m going to throw this out there right now. At the end of one paragraph, her face flames. There is a line of dialogue, and then the beginning of the next paragraph, she goes crimson. I get the distinct impression that she’s a Humboldt Squid in a dress, flashing red like a broken neon sign.

And I decided, “Fuck it. In bed, all day, with Jenny Trout’s MST3King of FSOG. That’s me.”

That day became a week. And it didn’t end with Jenny.

I couldn’t stop. I mean, this shit was far worse than I’d expected. Dude, I’ve read The Gift of Fear. I’ve delved into forensic psychology. And every section Jenny quoted screamed, “This asshole will murder you!” Have you ever read one of those signs-of-an-abusive-relationship dealios? Like Jenny pointed out in her Chapter 14 recap, this supposedly epic romance between Ana Steele and Christian Grey waves all the red flags:

When I first finished reading it, I thought it was funny, because how could anyone not understand that this isn’t a good relationship? But stuff stops being hilarious when a social worker sends you all her red flag charts and you realize that the book you just read is being held up as a romantic ideal by women all over the nation.

Yet this is the fucked-up “romance” that had the local adult stores filling their walls with BDSM-lite crap themed around FSOG, and people were raving about how seexxxy it was, and none of the fans seemed to realize this isn’t kink, it’s bloody domestic abuse. Shit’s not romantic, people, it’s rape culture, complete with rape.

Image shows 50 Shades noose cover. Left side says, "Fifty Shades of Abuse Romantacized. No thank you." Right side has list of "Signs of an Abusive Partner: Jealousy and possessiveness; Sexual violence; Verbal abuse and disrespectful behaviour in front of others; Not listening or responding when you talk; Unpredictable temper; Damaging or destroying your possessions; Controlling where you go and who you see."

50 Shades of Abuse Flyer – Canada

And we don’t need to be telling women that this is what true love with a side of BDSM is. Jesus. It makes me wonder how many women are trapped in physically, sexually, verbally, and emotionally abusive relationships right now, pretending they’re wonderful because E.L. James says this is perfect love. It makes me wonder how many women are dead because they mistook red flags for roses, because of these books.

Someone asked recently why I “hate” on the readers who liked this series. I don’t “hate” them. I’m just pissed off at them for making excuses for this blatant anti-female, anti-sex propaganda that tells women that kink is only for fucked up people, and if their guy is physically and emotionally abusive, they’re just not loving him hard enough. And you know, I don’t feel like I need to be particularly nice to women who want to further that message in our culture, just like I wouldn’t be nice to Paul Ryan if he emailed me asking why I just can’t be more civil about his policies regarding abortion. Because I can’t, because if you’re civil and nice about this shit, people take it as tacit agreement with whatever fucked up thing they’re trying to say.

Jenny Trout

I ran Christian Grey through Gavin de Becker & Associates’ Risk Evaluation Test. Based on his actions in the first book, he got a) 8 out of 10 for risk and b) a 154 out of 200 for quality of the assessment. (It could have been higher, but he did not own a handgun or share children with Ana. Both of these things will become factors in the next two books, so Ana’s situation will only become worse.)

Now, I don’t know how bad 154 is (though a risk of 8 out of 10 sounds pretty bad)…but de Becker & Associates kept imploring me to call the police on this (unnamed) controlling, manipulative, lying, abusive stalker-rapist and get his nameless victim to safety and shelter IMMEDIATELY. They pegged him as unstable, violent, rigid, and completely unable to deal with anything that challenged his viewpoint or the way that he saw himself. Interestingly, they said that people like him rarely kept jobs for long; any crisis at work or challenge from a co-worker or rival would reduce him to a state of rage. He simply wouldn’t be able to cope with any opposition. They also said that he had many traits shared by serial rapists and serial killers. And they found his frequent drinking to be a sign that he was becoming less and less stable.

Does that give you a general idea?

Gehayi from The Sporkings of Das Mervin and Company

When your romantic hero is the kind of person Gavin de Becker’s MOSAIC program tells you to call the police over, then you should know you’ve mistaken love for murderous psychopathy somewhere, and you maybe oughtta backtrack.

“… if a situation has several of these signals, there is reason for concern.”

Several of these signals. As in “three or four.” Three or four of thirty reliable pre-incident indicators associated with spousal violence and murder indicates that there is reason to be worried. The victim is in serious danger.

Twenty-four Twenty-five popped up in the relationship of Christian Grey and Ana Steele.

TWENTY-FIVE.

This is not a relationship. It is a murder waiting to happen.

- Gehayi from The Sporkings of Das Mervin and Company

Image shows Jackie Chan with his hands up by his head and a WTF face. Caption says, "What the actual fuck did I just read?"

Woman after woman in the reviews I read said the romantic hero extraordinaire reminded them of their abusive asshole exes:

Really, though this whole thing pisses me off for more than just the slave vs. submissive thing and you just kind of pointed out why. Because James, undoubtedly, would defend that mistake with the fact that she is an ignorant cockmonkey and just didn’t know. After all, I’ve seen people defend their love of the book with, “Well, I didn’t know that BDSM wasn’t like that, so it’s okay that it’s not accurately portrayed because I don’t know the difference.” No, it’s the fact that Gaston is getting her to crave sex and orgasms and actually manipulating her into believing that only he can give them to her and that the only way he’ll keep giving them to her is if she’ll agree to all of his demands. Wanna know why that is so off-pissing for me and why it makes me want to book a flight to England so that I might personally kick this bitch’s ass?

Because that is exactly what my ex-boyfriend did to me.

I was sexually naïve and innocent, very young, and he was the one who gave me my first orgasm. He got me hooked on them, and then proceeded to convince me that only he could do it, and that I couldn’t bring myself to orgasm. He conditioned me. And after he was done with that, he convinced me that I owed all kinds of sex back to him because, after all, he was doing that great favor to me and I couldn’t do it myself! Gaston is doing exactly what my ex-boyfriend did to me. The ex-boyfriend who abused me on every conceivable level: sexually, emotionally, physically, and mentally. The ex-boyfriend who had such a bad effect on me I wound up in a mental hospital because of him because I wanted to kill myself when it was all over and I realized that I’d just been abused for seven years and thought that I’d ruined my life, because of the time he found me.

*sneering* So, James, so far you remind Ket, Gehayi, and I very strongly of our exes, to the point that it both enrages and upsets us. Christian Grey is pretty much a nice little combination of all of our exes, taking all of their worst aspects and bundling them together into one absolutely foul and loathsome abomination of a character, and then you dump a lot of money on him and make him hot because, well, that makes it all better.

I’m not gonna bother trying to find a picture, GIF, or video that would best encompass just how much I despise you, getting rich off of this. Because there isn’t one. It just makes me feel used and dirty, like you’re publishing the worst chapter of my life and calling it True Love and making millions from it.

Fuck you, and fuck your fanbase. Yes, fuck the fanbase too. Because they agree with you. Because all of them, by saying it is romantic and True Love and wonderful, are by default saying that what happened to me, Gehayi, and Ket wasn’t rape and abuse.

Fuck. You. All.

- Mervin from The Sporkings of Das Mervin and Company

When your epic romance is triggering abuse survivors to this extent, you’re doing romance wrong. But we’ve been doing it wrong for a long time, haven’t we?

Those of you who have been reading the sporkings for a while know that I’m an editor, and that many of the things I edit are romances. Now, I have MAJOR issues with rape, stalking and controlling another person against his or her will being presented as romantic. All of these things are rife in the romance genre and I HATE that, because people are idiots and will believe that if an author SAYS it is romantic, the author must be right.

I’m an oddball in that I will tell the author that X is not acceptable and that we don’t want to send the message that rape and stalking are signs of love. But all too often, both are sugar-coated, so that you read about a man being “overwhelmed with passion” and “taking” a woman as she vainly tries to fight him off, or about a boy stalking someone he has exchanged one word with: “Hello.” And if you repeat something often enough, people begin to believe that is not only the way that it is, but the way that it SHOULD be.

This kind of drivel—which, fortunately, is not the only thing written in the genre but is far too common—causes damage. It tells women that stalking is love, that rape is love, that physical and mental degradation which they loathe and want no part of are love. It’s just the man’s way, and they need to accept that.

It is a vile, contemptible, anti-woman message and the fact that this piece of shit, like most romance novels, was written by a woman just makes the message that much worse.

The fact that I have a couple of friends in the BDSM lifestyle and that their information directly contradicts, oh, THE ENTIRE BOOK, plus the fact that the Suethor couldn’t be arsed to do one scrap of research is just the rancid icing on a very ugly cake.

- Gehayi from The Sporkings of Das Mervin and Company

This is dangerous bullshit, and it needs to stop. We need far less Fifty Shades, and far more Boss trilogies, not to mention our own Greta Christina’s Bending. We need real kinky (and vanilla) love that respects and requires enthusiastic consent. We need truly strong female leads, not glorified doormats. We need series that don’t trigger domestic abuse victims into creating a blog ring to document all the ways this fucked-up shit glorifies violence.

All of the above issues in FSOG are horrible enough. More than enough to torpedo the series. But even setting that aside, there’s the fact that James got so very much about BDSM wrong. Completely, dangerously wrong. Want to know how it should have been done? Read The Curious Kinky Person’s Guide to the Fifty Shades Trilogy. Please, please read it, or download the ebook for a mere dollar, and mark up your copy with copious highlights and notes, before jumping into a BDSM relationship because this stupid series got you curious about kink.

Two strikes. Strike three: the atrociously-bad writing. Jenny Trout and sporkers Gehayi and Ket do magnificent jobs showing the endless errors. James’s grammar is awful, words don’t mean things, the prose is so purple it’s urple, the comma is abused as badly as the female lead, and the bits of plot that sneaked in are tiny and broken things. On top of all that, the research wasn’t done for pretty much anything. Most of the characters are so cardboard you could box up a Barnes and Noble with them. The female lead was a shallow twit who was so sexually repressed she used “down there” as a euphemism for her genitals. The male lead was a violent shallow twit who thought rape was an appropriate response to a woman’s defiance. The writing was so glaringly awful, it makes Twilight look like a masterpiece.

Image shows Edward and Bella from Twilight. Caption says, "Still a better love story than Fifty Shades of Grey"

And speaking of Twilighthere’s a fairly comprehensive list of what James ripped off from Stephanie Meyer. Remember, this dreck started as Twilight fanfic. She changed a few details, but she basically put a wig on a pig and called it a pony. Not. So.

It nearly finished off my will to live, knowing this crap not only got published, but found such a vast market of willing suckers. And I’m not the only one who has found themselves massively changed:

Just for reference, when I started reading these books I was a church-goer. Now I’m an atheist. I’m not saying they’ve destroyed my faith in God all on their own, I’m just suggesting they may have been a contributing factor.

*shudder* And to think these horrible books are actually responsible for something positive

Thanks to sporkings and spankings by incredibly talented people, plus the Boss trilogy, I survived. And I have plenty to shake FSOG fans with. And it brought B and I back together – there’s no bonding experience quite like commiserating over awful writing. And I learned a lot about my own sexuality, and am a lot less reluctant to discuss it. Excellent people have wrested some good from this unmitigated horror, and I’ve benefited from their wisdom.

I hope they’ve also given you some gifts. And I hope more than a few of you are now prepared to patiently explain to those who gush about the movie just what this story is actually glorifying, thus preventing some very stupid mistakes by enamored fans.

Image shows a cat that looks startled and horrified. Caption says, "This is what people like to read!?!?!"

Finally! The Perfect Book for Geology-Loving Comic Book Fans!

Have you dreamt of a richly-illustrated, geology-themed superhero comic for kids? One that not only gets the science right, but encourages great study habits, turns ordinary encounters into fantastical geologic adventures, models kindness and heart-warming family dynamics, and encourages creativity, all without talking down to kids for an instant? My darlings, your dreams just came true:

Image shows the cover of The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic.

The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic.

When I first got my hands on an advance copy of The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic, I squeed. I did. Because I am a nerd, people. I love geology, and I thoroughly enjoy superhero comics, and I adore media that put someone other than a generic white male in the spotlight for a change. And this comic book is written by Kanani K. M. Lee, an actual geophysicist whose specialty is the interior of the earth – and writing rocking great geologic comics. Illustrator Adam Wallenta brings her characters to vivid life, with blazing, bold color illustrations.

Our hero is George, a sweet and brilliant African-American boy who lives with his grandma and has a secret identity. He’s an ordinary boy worried about getting to school on time and passing his earth science test. But when cracks in the sidewalk menace, he transforms into Geo, a geologically-savvy superhero. His skateboard becomes a rocket-board, and his backpack becomes Rocky, his faithful robot dog. The sidewalk cracks morph into tectonic plates; an open manhole erupts as a raging volcano (from which he saves a visually-impaired woman). He encounters earthquakes and tsunamis, ties the geological drama to the lessons on the earth’s structure and plate tectonics taught by his science teacher, and after heroic feats of recall, aces his test.

Detail from The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic.

It’s a richly-imagined world that vividly shows the way the plates move, and how those movements are driven by titanic forces deep within our home planet. Using diagrams, analogies, and dramatic illustrations how the varied geologic phenomena Geo experienced can all be tied to those plate motions. Dr. Lee manages to pack a textbook-worth of information in, but paces it in such a way that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. And the characters she’s created are a delight.

This may not be a suitable comic for very young children (unless they’re the kind of kids who started using complex technical terms at the age of five), but you can feel quite comfortable getting a copy for anyone from grade school to senior citizen. Anyone who loves comics, science, or both will enjoy this tale. And the second half of the book is an excellent prose tutorial on plate tectonics, paleomagnetic reversals, the earth’s structure, seismology, earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis, and finishes with a primer on what geologists actually do that will help everyone realize there’s more to it than just rocks. The final section gives links to geology activities suitable for trying at home. Neat!

I can’t tell you what a relief The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic is after spending over a month buried in creationist textbooks that not only mutilate geoscience, but have severely stunted imaginations. This is the comic I’ll be slipping to kids who are stuck learning sham science. It shows the real thing, and in a gorgeous way. It’s the book I’ll be giving to kids who want to know more about geoscience, and the people who think rocks are boring, and the folks who care about diversity in STEM, and anyone who needs a gentle nudge to see how rewarding diversity can be. I can see this as the lovingly-battered book people slip off a shelf to show as the comic that got them in to science, or helped them understand the news when things like the Napa quake happen.

And I’m so thrilled we’ll be seeing Geo again – I’m told more adventures are already in the works. I can’t wait!

Go introduce yourself to Geo here, and reserve your copy here.

Image shows Misha asleep on the keyboard and my paper copy of the above review. I was supposed to be transcribing it, but she was so darned comfy...

Misha’s idea of helping me get this review online for ye.

This review was originally published at Rosetta Stones. But you guys are the only ones getting the bonus kitty pic!

Homeschool Sex Machine: The Unreliable (Horny) Narrator Par Excellence

A lot of the stuff I read by homeschool alumni is poignant, rage-inducing, eye-opening, jaw-dropping, and quite often terrifying. These kids were raised in the straitjacket of extreme Christian fundamentalism, subjected to educational malpractice, threatened with hellfire and damnation, raised with an extreme emphasis on gender roles and chastity, indoctrinated for decades. Yet they still managed to emerge with sharp minds, a willingness to question, and the ability to share their journeys. They have my undying respect. They’re amazing people.

But this is the first time one of them has had me nearly peeing myself with laughter in the wee hours of the morning.

Book cover for Homeschool Sex Machine. A young, gangly Matthew in a red turtleneck holds a clarinet and half-smiles at the camera.

I downloaded Matthew Pierce’s Homeschool Sex Machine: Babes, Bible Quiz, and the Clinton Years because I needed a bit of easy-but-related-to-current-project reading at bedtime. But mostly, I did it because of the title. I mean, we’re talking about someone raised in the purity culture, folks. You cannon even imagine how jarring the idea of someone raised to be pure and virginal, not even supposed to date or kiss until marriage, being a sex machine is. Also, I’d been seeing alumni reviews here and there, which were all positive, and the thing was $2.99, and so it seemed a safe bet.

Don’t make that bet if you’re still recovering from abdominal surgery, because you’ll bust your stitches.

Now, you may have heard this of this book being blacklisted by some Christian sites. This is because they can’t stand the idea of sex, and also, there are bosoms. (I suspect those declining to carry this book are the same sorts who flipped their shit when they got a brief sex scene at the beginning of The Wedding Party. Seriously, read the one-star reviews – they’re hysterical.)

I do have to warn you: there are bosoms. And sex appeal. And *gasp* dancing.

Matthew Pierce has a cutting sense of humor, which he most often uses to undercut himself. Take learning the clarinet, for example: He talks about being placed “in the class that wore red turtlenecks, which was probably the class for prodigies.” Now, woodwinds weren’t quite what he’d had in mind when his parents said they were putting him in a band. He’d expected more rock star than orchestra. But it went well:

The entire class would soon bear witness to my meteoric rise, as I soared to the position of fifth chair clarinet in a section of six clarinets.

Yep. Meteoric, indeed. This former member of the concert choir that often performed with the high school orchestra larfed and larfed.

But you came here for the sex machine part, didn’t you? Never fear! There’s plenty of salacious detail as Matthew makes us witnesses to his stellar career as a sex machine. He didn’t even begin as a homeschool one: his first assignation was as a public school student. Alas, he didn’t save his first kiss for marriage, but gave it away willy-nilly to the luscious cheek of a kindergarten classmate – and promptly passed out from the magnitude of it. With such a promising beginning, you know that homeschool doesn’t put the brakes on this sex machine. His mad Bible knowledge, his amazing ability with the clarinet, and his gift for crushing opposing teams at Bible Quiz take him from one torrid affair to another. The fact they were all in his head and rated GA does nothing to detract from our admiration. He is the James Bond of the homeschool circuit.

Marvel as he resists the pressure of mother, siblings, and peers, and avoids being “knighted into purposeful singlehood.” Which is good, because it would have been a shame to waste an opportunity to use all the Xian pick-up lines he’d been composing during the purity lecture.

Admire his determination and cunning as he uses his grocery store earnings to escape homeschool and attend a Christian private school, and his extraordinary height to join their basketball team – all for a girl. Hijinks, of course, ensue.

Feel your heart melt as he attends a prom. Of sorts. No dancing, because that is a heathen pleasure denied to good Christian teens.

Instead, CHS was hosting a Spring Banquet. There was to be no cleavage (thanks, Presbyterians), no touching, no dancing (thanks, Baptists), and essentially no fun of any kind. And just to make sure we left the event edified, the school had booked a Christian performance artist to act out the Book of Jonah is a one-man play.

At the after party, he asks a strict Baptist what dancing is, and the climax comes as the most eligible bachelor on campus drags him out to dance with destiny. Well, with Sporty, the love of his life, the woman of his dreams, the lady he had moved heaven and earth and spent his money on private school for. Since he had to ask a strict Baptist what dancing is, and had to be manhandled onto the dance floor by his chief romantic rival, you can imagine how odd the conclusion is.

The fact that Matthew Pierce survived those strictly-repressed and terribly sheltered years with a wicked-sharp sense of humor and a healthy outlook on love, I put down to the power of his Inner Romeo.

You’ll come out of this book with aching ribs, a different view of the cloistered homeschool world, and a huge measure of affection for a narrator you know is unreliable, but is always all heart. And sometimes flowers.

Taking Liberties: A Book We Need Right Now

So you may have noticed lately that the right-wing ratfuckers in state governments are busy trying to roll us back to the Dark Ages. Women aren’t people, they’re “hosts” to those precious babies that will be cherished so long as they’re in the womb; once they’re out, both host and infant will be despised as social parasites if they have the audacity to be unmarried and/or poor. Some jackass is trying to slip prayer into schools by forcing teachers to read congressional prayers. In my former home state of Arizona, the frothing fundies boiled over, and decided to give religious people the right to discriminate against gays, because apparently, refusing to let them patronize your business is an act of worship. Other states have jumped on that horrible bandwagon. And let’s not forget the Russia-envy they’ve got going on. They’ve got a stiffy for totalitarian shitlords who hate on the same groups they do.

Outraged? Good. Here’s a book that will help you channel that rage more productively: Robert Boston’s Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You the Right to Tell Other People What to Do.

Taking Liberties Cover

This is the sort of book you pointedly give to the fuckwads in your family who insist their religious beliefs and practices be made mandatory for everyone, because freedom. It won’t scare them away by mentioning atheists right up front, either.

Robert Boston’s thesis is simple: “Religion is not the problem. Fundamentalist religion that seeks to merge with political power and impose its dogma on the unwilling is the problem. I have a big one with anyone who considers the raw power of government an appropriate vehicle for evangelism.”

Preach it, Brother Boston!

We see that religious freedom at this country’s founding meant government out of religion, full stop. Baptists were especially keen to separate church from state, with no room left for declaring this a Christian nation. These fire-and-brimstone Baptists were all about freedom, genuine freedom, of religion – and that included Jews, Muslims, polytheists, and atheists. They were better men than the ones preaching hate in the name of religion from the Statehouse floor these days.

Robert shows how court cases placed certain restrictions on religious practice, of necessity: “You have the right to believe whatever you want, but… your ability to act on those beliefs may be subject to certain restrictions.” And he boils the balance between faith and freedom to this: “Does the private choice of another person prevent you from attending the house of worship of your choice? Does it stop you from joining your co-religionists in prayer and worship? Does it require you to bow before an alien god?” No? Then cease being an overbearing asshat.

He highlights church interference in health care, education, civil rights, and politics. “In this country where the right of conscience is precious, all religious groups have the right to be heard – but none have the right to be obeyed.” Can I get a hell yes?

Robert boils it down to a power grab. These churches want our money, and our obedience, and if we want to remain the secular nation that’s always been a beacon of religious and political freedom in the world, we need to remove the theocrats from power. We need to oppose their agenda. Our fellow Americans need to realize that religious freedom does not mean that the people with the theocratic ideals and barbaric notions about women, LGBTQ folk, sex, science, and education get to have everything their way. Just because you’re religious doesn’t mean what you’re doing is right. And those 18th century clerics would be the first to fight the merging of government and church.

This book goes a long way toward ensuring we have the awareness and ability to stop and reverse this trend toward theocracy.

How Religion Targets the Vulnerable: Beyond Belief

Give me a genie and three wishes, and I’d probably ask for the following: an end to poverty worldwide, give people the desire and ability to protect and restore the environment, and an end to religion.

Religion is at the root of much of what’s wrong with the world. When we go chasing after invisible gods, all of our worst human tendencies remain, but are given God’s stamp of approval. I’m sure you’ve noticed how what God wants so often matches the desires and prejudices of the person saying what God wants. That, or they’re parroting what the people who wish to retain power over them tell them God wants. Either way, the desires always track back to people.

Image is the cover of Beyond Belief

And in Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions, we see just how destructive and devious religion can be. This book is full of slices of fundamentalist life from a broad range of faiths. The editors, Susan Tive and Cami Ostman, wanted to explore the commonalities between women who found themselves sucked (or born) in to extremely restrictive religions. They weren’t intending “to refute or belittle religion.”

They didn’t have to. The religions do that quite well all by themselves.

One common theme I noticed, and that infuriated me, was the way all of these sects, from Judaism to fundie Christian to Jehovah’s Witnesses to Islam and more, preyed on vulnerability.

Within hours of the Twin Towers falling, members of a cult were at a vigil on a college campus only a few miles away. They weren’t praying for the victims so much as seeking people whose world had just come crashing down, and preying on them. Spreading Jesus was more important than rendering aid.

Another cult used a young woman’s intense desire to heal her mentally ill brother to suck her in, turning her into another money-collecting drone for the cult.

Women searching for clear, simple rules to navigate complicated lives. Women trying to overcome anxiety and depression. Women trying their best to be what pastors, parents, prophets and parishioners want. Women needing to feel loved and safe and whole. Religions descended on them like hyenas, tore them apart while promising to put them together, and spit out the pieces. Taught them to fear the wrath of God and hell so viscerally that they would do anything for salvation. Taught them they were worthless and damned if they strayed from that incredibly narrow path.

The stories these women tell grab you by the gray matter and demand you pay attention, no matter how awful they become. We sit in a mortuary chapel with Naomi Williams, surrounded by the stench of decayed human bodies, as the pastor conducts the congregation’s regular service and the parents lie.

Why couldn’t these people, who had not the slightest hesitation about telling their children that they would burn forever in hell when they died, be honest about the real-world manifestations of death? Here, surely, was the real “end” of man – dead, breaking down into volatile organic compounds, a mortician’s project. Talk about a powerful object lesson. But all we got by way of explanation was dead fish.”

We kneel on the carpet in a pastor’s office with Pamela Helberg, as her father and pastor pray “the demons of homosexuality” away.

If life begins with the splitting of a cell, my lesbian life began that night in Pastor Gary’s study. I was not made free from my burdens, but I split into two selves. My inner and outer being were forced to separate, setting me on a long and arduous path to rediscover what would make me whole again.”

We stand in Leila Khan’s room as she rejects an arranged marriage, and faces her mother’s wrath:

You have disappointed us so much. If you refuse to marry Amir, I will curse you so that you never succeed in life. You will fail and fail, and when you come crawling back to me, begging for forgiveness, you know what I will do to you that day?” She stared at me with unblinking eyes. “I will kick you so hard in your face, you will never be able to get up.”

These women all overcame their indoctrination and have gone on to live rich, fulfilling lives. These glimpses into their lives before freedom are infuriating, inspiring, and always riveting. They’ve given me a deeper understanding of life within the confines of a constricting religion. That little piece of them will always be with me.

The Last Days of St. Pierre: The Book That Triggered Mild PTSD In Me

There aren’t many books that have me lowering the temperature of my bathwater for fear of triggering flashbacks to severe burns I’ve never actually suffered. Actually, there’s only been one: this one.

Book cover of Last Days of St. Pierre, showing a photograph of Mont Pelee in eruption.

Ernest Zebrowski Jr.’s The Last Days of St. Pierre: The Volcanic Disaster That Claimed Thirty Thousand Lives.

Remember La Catastrophe? Yeah? Forget it. This is your book about Mont Peleé.

For one thing, the geology’s much better. Pretty amazing that it took a guy with what appears to be a mostly physics and math background to give us some of the geology of this eruption, but there you go. I would’ve liked a lot more, but I didn’t feel cheated. There were a few places where the fact he’s not a geologist by trade comes through – he uses an earlier date for the beginning of plate tectonics than seems to be current consensus, and his description of the Atlantic plate as “squeezing a huge bulge of hot magma toward the surface” made me go nah – but it’s okay. He gets it good enough, and he actually includes some geology, including the geologic setting of Martinique, which is a lot more than I could say about bloody geology Professor Scarth.

In fact, for the most part, he takes us through the geology from the point of view of the folks dealing with an alarming, nasty, and new example of it. After giving us the gist of what we know now, he goes back and shows us what no one knew then. We experience this terrifying eruptive sequence from the perspective of those trying to figure it out. We’re told – well, mostly shown, Dr. Zebrowski’s quite good at that – what they knew. Not much. They had no real idea what a volcano like Peleé can do. So they made some terrible mistakes.

Here’s the beauty of Dr. Zebrowski’s writing: they’re mistakes. He really delved the minds and histories of Governor Mouttet and members of his short-lived science commission, men like Gaston Landes. He read everything they’d produced that had survived, put himself in their shoes, at their time, and shows us they did the best they could. He writes with incredible empathy for pretty much everyone, with the exception of the bureaucrats back in France who refused all responsibility, and the new governor, who got 2,000 more people killed through inexcusable incompetence.

Remember Father Mary’s death? You won’t see people bringing a dying priest water called stupid for forgetting footwear. All of the people who suffered through this are treated with the utmost empathy, and honesty.

Now, that’s not to say Dr. Zebrowski’s gentle. He’s brutally clear about what a volcano can do to people. It never felt like he was dwelling on grotesque details for the sake of salaciousness, but he didn’t discreetly shroud the scenes of devastation in euphemism. No, you will come away with a thorough understanding of what a pyroclastic flow does to human bodies, and why. You won’t be able to read these parts without an adamantium stomach. If you faint when Trauma: Life in the ER or similar comes on, skip those pages. I can tolerate a lot of gore, but there were some seriously rough times – and, like I said, I had a hard time taking a hot bath afterward. Steam burns are awful.

There’s plenty else: the excellent sketches of the people and the city, the skillful tale-telling, and the perfectly-chosen passages written by the people of Martinique as the disaster unfolded. Mont Peleé is assigned no malice – it’s a volcano, not a villain, and is treated as such. We explore its slopes with some very brave souls. We uncover its secrets along with them. And we are given explanations, satisfying if not thoroughly detailed ones, for the various phenomena surrounding the eruptions.

The book doesn’t end with Peleé’s May 8th eruption, but goes on, following the first scientists to arrive. And lemme tell you: those dudes had some adventures. A whole new book could be dedicated to them alone, and perhaps someday, I will write it. Dr. Zebrowski’s laid a good foundation.

In the epilogue, we see St. Pierre today: a shadow of its former self, built on and of ruins, but still lovely, and we know why people would make a reasoned, rational decision to live under that threat.

I’d still like to see a popular book with a stronger focus on the geology, but this one does reasonably well in that department, and has much else to recommend it besides. It has my gold seal of approval.

A horribly crafted seal of approval, which is a gold circle that says "Seal of Approval," and has an awfully edited picture of my smiling face in the middle.

The book’s much better than the seal, never fear.