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Oct 19 2013

The descent of Xanth

I have never cared for Piers Anthony — I’ve always considered him a cheesy hack with some repulsive ideas — so I’ve never been tempted to go back and read his old juveniles. They were tremendously popular, though. I used to get annoyed when I’d go to the second-hand book store and discover that all they had in genre fiction was a mountain of Piers Anthony crap.

But someone who had fond memories of reading the books as an adolescent did go back and read some of the Xanth series. It turns out they’re also twisted misogynistic pieces of shit.

This is the sad crux of Chameleon’s cheerful hatred of women. Bink leers at women, and it’s presented as not only okay, but as the way things should be. In a different part of the Slashdot Q&A above—where another reader asks Anthony about the poor treatment of women characters in Xanth—the author tries to prove how much he appreciates and understands women by extolling their virtues as “thinking, feeling creatures.” Not people. Creatures. You know, like basilisks. And not only that, but creatures whose thoughts and feelings apparently require the validation of someone with Anthony’s authority—that is, someone with a dick. Ultimately, Anthony is the worst kind of misogynist: one who defends his offensive views by saying, in essence, how could he possibly hate women if he’s drooling over them all the time?

A lot of us grew up reading science fiction and fantasy that glorified a particular attitude — the ultra-competent nerd engineer who conquers all of his problems with a high-tech gadget in one hand and the adoring, pretty girl in his other arm. Is it any wonder so many of us are screwed up?

Of course, maybe the reason those second-hand book stores were flooded with Xanth was that they were marketed heavily, lots of people read one, and then immediately dumped it so they could buy some LeGuin, instead.

146 comments

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  1. 1
    blf

    Interesting. I did read the first book of the series — and didn’t like it, albeit I don’t specifically now recall misogynistic shite or hints of pedophilia. My dislike at the time was based on the fact Mr Anthony threw everything from assorted fantasy worlds into the pot, resulting a novel which on the one hand was set of small possibly-Ok-ish stories, but which, on the other hand, didn’t fit with each other at all, lurching around drunkenly, and seemingly-always pulling a new magical surprise out-of-the-hat. It was most unfair to the reader. It was crap.

  2. 2
    cswella

    The most I took away from the Xanth series is the pun-filled world and the concept of everyone having one ‘talent’. I actually adopted the world format for a short D&D module.

    It may be rose tinted glasses, but I do still like his Incarnations of Immortality series. Also, I preferred Redwall series over all other authors when I was in middle/high school. Other than the heavy religious influences, I think Redwall was a good series. (Please don’t let Brian Jacques be a piece of shit…)

  3. 3
    AndersH

    Seems like a good idea to link this:
    http://hradzka.livejournal.com/392471.html

    Anthony is often egregious, but it’s not like David Eddings (my stepping stone to reading fantasy) was much better. It was more of a PG-version of a world where people are perfect exemplars of their race, women are strange, mysterious beings, and the teenage boy conquers all.

    The books from my youth that have kept their luster, in my mind, were the Deverry series by Katharine Kerr. Started reading when I was 13, and still one of my favourite ones!
    Did anyone read Spiritwalker by Kate Elliott recently? I like the alternate world building and the fact that the assholes aren’t supereeeeeeevil as in some grimdark series I could mention.

  4. 4
    ledasmom

    I still have my copy of “A Spell for Chameleon”. Used to like his books, briefly, when I was in middle school/high school, until I realized just how much he hadn’t bothered to show up when he was writing them. Afraid I didn’t notice the truly unfortunate implications, no, outright statements until later.
    A quote from “A Spell for Chameleon”, the very first book in the Xanth series, mind you. Warning: extreme misogyny.

    “How could she avoid being seductive? She was a creature constructed for no other visible purpose than ra- than love.”
    The context for this quote: The woman had just been raped and had just been through the trial – actually a sort of pre-trial – of her rapist, at which he was, of course, acquitted. Now the “hero” of the story is assessing her.
    Piers Fucking Anthony, people. I could have picked out ten more quotes from the next few pages that make the implications of the above quote even worse.
    That particular quote has stuck in my mind for thirty years. I guess I did realize at the time just how bad it was, I just didn’t want to believe it.

  5. 5
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Me? Read a bunch of Xanth, Apprentice Adept, and Incarnations of Immortality at around age 13-15. Had no idea they were so misogynist. I mean, that quotation, ledasmom? How could I have read that and *not* remembered (or presumably even noticed at the time?). I did drop Thomas Covenant somewhere in book #1 though at about the same time.

  6. 6
    gijoel

    The first Piers Anthony book I read was the death one, of the incarnations of immortality. I liked, read the others, and thought, ‘meh’. Then I tried reading Xanth, that’s two pages of my life I’ll never get back.

    His little notes from the author at the back of his books always impressed me. I always got the impression that if he hadn’t of gotten into writing, he would have spent his days lovingly lathing home made screws for his bombs.

  7. 7
    Al Dente

    Piers Anthony serves a useful function in literary comprehension. When one arrives at the point where one can re-read a once-liked book of his and figure out that it’s a) crap, b) creepy as hell, or c) all of the above, one is finally a discerning reader.

  8. 8
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    I’ve never heard of the author or read any of his books. He seems like an asshole. A misogynist asshole with some worrying opinions about underage girls.

    The article criticizing him could have really done without this:

    It’s a cliché in cases like this to say that such-and-such writer (or artist or filmmaker) “raped my childhood.” Looking back, I wouldn’t go so far as to say Anthony raped my childhood—maybe just lightly fondled it.

    Ugh. I hope someone tells Jason Heller this joke sucks, so he doesn’t use it again.

  9. 9
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Piers Anthony always did leave a bad aftertaste. It has been so long and perhaps I was less aware of his underlying assumptions that I don’t remember why. But it makes sense, given the description.

  10. 10
    tccc

    Could anyone suggest a young adult book that would be good for a young woman of 12 that loves biology? Fiction or non fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, German or English language.

    My internet searching has not turned up anything that I can really evaluate very well. I so want to encourage her to keep her interest and love of science, but it is difficult as we do not speak the same language so I thought a book or two might be a good way to help do that.

  11. 11
    sabazinus

    I read A Spell for Chameleon, and other Xanth novels, back when I was in about 6th grade. The puns were great and I remember enjoying the stories. For some reason, thinking back on it, I’d thought Bink was about 14 or 15. He certainly acted that way, and it might explain why I was able to relate to him back then. Totally missed how horrible the books were–probably because I was focused on the puns. Pretty horrified now when people recommend the books as if they’re some kind of high fantasy epic series.

  12. 12
    bibliophile20

    So… long time lurker, first time poster. Hi!

    Regarding good genre fiction with strong female characters and such, I have some recommendations to get that Xanth-taste out of one’s brain.

    First off, the biggie on the block, anything by Lois McMaster Bujold, especially her Vorkosigan and Sharing Knife series. The Vorkosigan saga, in particular, is a good example, because it details, sometimes as a major part of the plot, sometimes in the background, a society going from a patriarchal and backwards attitude to a more accepting and equal perspective over the course of a generation. The Sharing Knife is actually some kind of magic romance, but with actual romance in it! (I think I was about two thirds of the way through the first book by the time I realized that I was technically reading a paranormal romance novel–but one with actual plot, decent characters and some emotional depth!). The relationship between the two main characters, Dag and Fawn, is believable and solid, and it’s entertaining to explain to newcomers that, yes, the tiny woman saves the tall man’s life just as often as he saves hers.

    Next up, I’d recommend Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Codex Alera series. Yes, strong women aren’t the primary perspective characters, but try telling Karrin Murphy, Kitai or Amara that they’re weak. I’ll be back over here, out of the blast radius. Dresden Files is urban fantasy, awesomely written, about a wizard in modern day Chicago, who keeps getting in over his head, in various awesome (and escalating) ways. The Codex Alera actually started because of a bet that Butcher couldn’t take a pair of tired, worn out cliches and write them as a good story. So, we’ve got the descendants of the Lost Roman Legion on a world with elemental spirits, and half a dozen other sapient species. The humans are able to compete due to bonds with said elementals, and the lords at the top are like physical gods with the sort of power they have, but all of the humans have at least one elemental. Well, all but one. His name is Tavi, and he doesn’t have any. So he compensates by using something else. His brain.

    Thirdly, anything by Jim C. Hines is going to have strong feminist themes; I got introduced to his Princesses series, which I can best describe as the Disney Princesses as interpreted by Charlies’ Angels. Tagline “Does it look like we need rescuing?” Now he’s working on another series, first book is called Libriomancer. If you are at all a fan of reading and fiction, this book is an ode to the love of the written word.

    Next up, Seanan McGuire’s stuff is awesome. She has a couple of series that I’d recommend, starting with her October Daye series; October is a changeling knight in modern day San Francisco, and she is strong, snarky, and so very entertaining to read. Also, October has a coffee addiction which is proverbial. In the superhero genre, she’s also written a rather funny piece called Velveteen Vs., which has recently been collected and published in full trade volumes. Velveteen is the code name of a rather weary and tired former child superhero, who walked away from the business when she turned 18. She doesn’t have issues, she has subscriptions, and she deals with them in an awesome way. Also, there’s Seanan’s Newsflesh series (published under the name Mira Grant); I’m not normally a fan of the zombie genre, and I, ahem, chewed through all three books in less than two days.

    Also in the genre fiction area, I’d have to recommend Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares series. The main character is a snarky, strong-willed elf woman with a sarcastic streak a mile wide, and an equally wonderful tendency to act like a spanner in the works for the plans of various evil parties, even when, or perhaps especially when, in deeply over her head.

    Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series (book 3 just came out after a five year wait!) is awesome, and has strong women as part of the supporting cast. This latest book, we finally get to meet Sabetha, the main character’s love interest, and she’s good at being a thief, con artiste, and general all around awesome. Hehehe. As for the setting, imagine taking the Song Of Ice And Fire, adding a bit more magic, less mini-ice ages, but keeping the level of corruption and nastiness at the level where the Lannisters would feel at home. Now add a group of highly trained thieves who see it as their duty to humble the rich and powerful in awesome heist and con jobs.

    Patricia Briggs has written a solid bunch of series, but the main one that comes to mind is her Mercy Thompson series. Mercy is a realistic and solid female character, and things that get her annoyed or in her way have an entertaining tendency to be turned to varying forms of rubble. Not bad for a woman whose sole power is turning into a coyote in a world with fey, vampires and werewolves (and other things…).

    [reengages lurking field]

  13. 13
    NelC

    Anthony wrote some good F&SF early in his career that, as I recall, weren’t any more problematic than other books of that era (though that’s damning with faint praise). Prostho Plus, the first novel of his I read, was a bit silly — a dentist is UFO-napped, and solves all sorts of alien problems with his dentistry skills — but read like a parody of the hyper-competent protagonist trope, as I recall, with maybe a friendly knock on James White’s Sector General stories. Macroscope was a big doorstop of a novel that embraced some big sci-fi concepts, though I recall that when I tried to re-read it the plotting didn’t carry the ideas so well.

    The Tarot books were interesting, but I don’t recall much of them now — it was about 30 years ago. Ditto for Omnivore. The Incarnations of Immortality series started well, but I stopped reading after the fifth, Being A Green Mother. I never got into the Bio of a Space Tyrant series; although it had attractive covers, dipping into it in the bookshops it just never grabbed me. Ditto for Xanth, but more so. I think I picked up A Colour for Chameleon once but the first page actively turned me off. It just looked peurile.

    But the book that stopped me reading Anthony was the third book of the Battle Circle series, Neq the Sword, in which the protagonist encounters in the post-apocalyptic world an enclave where men suffer the male equivalent of FGM (no, not circumcision, the removal of the glans). It remains one of the few books that I’ve been unable to finish after having got a fair way into. I think the revulsion I felt on reading that bled into the other Anthony books I tried to re-read, and I haven’t read any new Anthony since then, and little old stuff.

  14. 14
    NelC

    Me @13: A Spell For Chameleon, of course.

  15. 15
    jd142

    Like a lot of people here, I read Anthony and Xanth starting in junior high or so. And not to sound hipster, it was when he was still only cranking out one book a year. At his height it was what, one every three months? I kept reading them mainly out of habit and the collector mentality. Gotta catch ‘em all, you know. Xanth just deteriorated into convoluted in-jokes and soap opera. I actually think the first 6 are the best. And as someone who was (and still is) fat and ugly, Ogre Ogre appealed to me. Luckily I found a beautiful woman to marry me. :)

    After hearing how great the Thomas Covenant books were, I went out and bought all three. And promptly stopped reading as soon as the hero raped someone in the first few pages.

    Like AndersH above, I had the same problem with Eddings. Everyone was a stereotype and not really able to break out of the mold. Sure, in universe it is explained that the people in a region have the personality of the god of that region, but I still didn’t like it.

    I was thinking about this topic in a different context lately. I was listening to Depeche Mode out of nostalgia and realized that some of the pop songs I liked as a kid sound different to adult ears, like “All I wanna do is.” And I think that is partially it: I have adult ears now. If a 45 year old begs an ex-girl/boyfriend to get back together, it is creepy. But if it is a 14 year old who is talking about their first or second big crush, it isn’t the same. And pop music is written for 14 year olds, not 45 year olds. In my defense, I also loved Howard Jones. :)

  16. 16
    unbound

    @3 – It’s been a very long time since I read David Eddings, but I seem to remember several very strong, independent key female characters (Polgara and XeNedra(?)) with several more secondary female characters that had similar characteristics. I feel like I missed something big in those novels as I don’t recall anything near the level of Xanth misogyny (even from a PG perspective).

    I would be curious to hear what I missed (not sure I can find the time to reread the series again).

  17. 17
    Eamon Knight

    I read the first few Xanth novels during undergrad years. The rape-minimization scene in ASFC bothered me, though not enough to stop me enjoying the rest of the book. By about the third book the schtick was wearing thin though. That, and even back then my consciousness was raised enough to recognize the noxious stereotype in Chameleon’s alternation between sexy-nice-stupid and ugly-nasty-smart, synchronized with her menstrual cycle.

    A couple of years later I read Chthon and Unicorn Point and realized: This guy has a creepy fascination with rape, doesn’t he?

  18. 18
    ledasmom

    It’s not even the content of that quote from “A Spell for Chameleon” that horrifies me the most; it’s the light, jokey, hee-hee tone of the thing. Piers Anthony thought rape could reasonably be written about this way.
    As for sf/fantasy writers with strong female characters: a lot of LeGuin, though you might want to consider the content and the reader before recommending specific books; Diane Duane, with the caveat that I haven’t re-read much of her YA fiction recently; Diana Wynne Jones, though I’d be cautious with her Chrestomanci series. To me, there’s a sort of heavy moralizing undertone to some of it that I don’t quite like, but the stories are very engaging.

  19. 19
    Endorkened

    I was already a little uncomfortable with his stuff in middle school… I did like Isle of View, though. Maybe touching base with Wendy and Richard Pini softened his edges a bit, because that was the one book of his that dealt with sex in a way that didn’t make me feel alternately too old for this kiddy stuff and too young for this creepy grown-up stuff.

    Suggested replacement: Well, ElfQuest. Duh. The Pinis have always been good about sexuality and gender–and rereading them as an adult just makes me appreciate that more. It’s like looking back at how your Mom bugged you about always respecting when a girl says no, and realizing she was trying to teach you about consent–perspective just improves your opinion of them. They might be a little lookist in the very first issues, where elves are always beautiful Caucasian paragons and humans and trolls are hideous and evil–but they get over that by the time they meet the Sun Folk.

    Also, Dragonlance. My gracious. Dragonlance, Dragonlance, Dragonlance. They started practically every cliche Tolkien can’t claim credit for–the sickly mage, the big dumb warrior brother, the tortured half-elf, the fiery skillet-bashing barmaid–but rereading them it almost feels like a deconstruction, because even in the first, fumbling, awkward high-fantasy book, they’re all more nuanced and fleshed out than any of their imitators. You feel like they’re real people, even when they’re fighting a guy named Lord Verminaard. Again, the usual fantasy bugaboo, everybody of note is white–if you feel alienated by that, I’d suggest the first Dragonlance books I actually read, the Fifth Age trilogy by Jean Rabe. Those are the books that got me into D&D in the first place–and by roundabout way of Jack T. Chick and an evangelical TA I argued with constantly in high school, are thus responsible for my being here today.

    Oh! And to stretch this post out even further, anything at all by Patricia C. Wrede.

  20. 20
    Duncan Black

    Interesting. I enjoyed Piers Anthony books as a youngish teen, though even then I knew the Xanth novels were lazy if somewhat enjoyable crap. I didn’t much notice the horrible gender stuff but, frankly, that horrible gender stuff was ‘normal’ for the time. Not a defense, just that it didn’t stand out relative to other horrible gender stuff in much scifi/fantasy of the time. Women were usually, at best, invisible, but more commonly sex objects and little else to varying degrees.

  21. 21
    Jackie, all dressed in black

    I read Eddings and Anthony in my teens. I was smitten with David Eddings novels especially. It wasn’t until I picked them up again when I was older that I realized just how …not very good they were. If you thought Xanth was misogynist, then do not look into Anthony’s Bio of a Space Tyrant series. It is appalling. I picked one of them up on a train once out of boredom and regretted that I hadn’t decided to take a nap instead.
    ..and his thing for underage sex? Just, ew.

  22. 22
    Samuel Vimes

    @ tccc

    I would recommend Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men. The protagonist, one Tiffany Aching, is a highly intelligent, intensely sensible young girl who has decided to become a witch. She also swings a mean skillet.

    If this book is well-received, there are more Tiffany Aching books.

  23. 23
    aziraphale

    JD142, if you had continued with Thomas Covenant you would have found that the protagonist (not sure “hero” is the right word) is a conflicted character who does a number of things he deeply regrets.

    I wonder, have you ever stopped reading because the protagonist commits an unnecessary murder in the first few pages?

  24. 24
    mikehuben

    I, too enjoyed the Xanth novels when I was young: in some ways they were the adolescent and more modern successors to the Oz books. (For example, they both obviously were humorous compendiums of fan suggestions.) As a young male who didn’t understand the implications of feminism, the leering attitudes didn’t disturb me.

    But now I find that there are many offenses (not just against feminism, but against good storytelling) in my earlier readings, and I just can’t bear to re-read them or their ilk. That goes for a great deal of “Golden Age” SF too. Fortunately, the Oz books still hold up pretty well.

  25. 25
    Amphiox

    I will credit Anthony’s Xanth series with one thing: it introduced me, as a child, to the subsection of the genre (series consisting of mostly stand-alone works all set in the same fantasy world with an emphasis on humor) that eventually led me to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

  26. 26
    ledasmom

    It’s my recollection (I’m pretty sure we don’t have the first Thomas Covenant book) that the rationale for the rape was, basically, that suddenly he could feel his penis again and since there was a woman there, he couldn’t help raping her. That may be an exaggeration.
    It’s kind of hard to get past that.

  27. 27
    carlie

    Amphiox – as I was about to say, when I finally discovered Pratchett, I thought “Oh, this guy is what Piers Anthony would have been if he had eve grown up and stopped being juvenile and sexist”.

  28. 28
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    carlie #27

    I remember making that same comparison between Mort and Anthony’s On A Pale Horse. (And thinking on it, I have to wonder if Pratchett might not have been been indulging in a small ‘this is how to do it properly.’)

  29. 29
    jd142

    @aziraphale – In all honestly, I can’t think of something I’ve read where the protagonist killed an innocent person without provocation. I’m sure I probably have, but I honestly can’t think of one. Nothing in Pratchett, Martinez(who except for maybe Company of Ogres tends to have decent female protagonists), Lovecraft, or Hines(where the nymph in Libromancer plays with a lot of these tropes and whose typical Anthony-esque nature really troubles the hero) really come to mind. I’m trying to think of something I’ve read where the main character was intended to be sympathetic and also murdered. In Wanted, you were supposed to think the main character was a complete asshole and not identify with him. I’m sure I’ve read other things where the main character was a villain, but in Covenant he was supposed to be a, as you said, a conflicted hero in need of redemption, which I assume he did find. I just couldn’t take that journey with him.

    Not to say the protagonists didn’t kill anyone. And for a light fantasy, there were an awful lot of deaths in the Goblin series. But the expendability of goblins in high fantasy is part of the joke, and they did die in battle trying to kill each other.

    Maybe I’ve interpreted this so narrowly that I’ve bypassed your point. Can you think of some examples?

    In my mind – and I am willing to be convinced I’m wrong in this – rape is not an equivalent to murder. Rape would be more akin to torturing someone, because it doesn’t just violate them physically, it strips away their identity. I would be more able to identify with an assassin who makes a clean kill than with some who tortures or takes joy in the killing.

    And I had no problem with the Stainless Steel Rat, who was a mere thief. :)

    I think one reason many of us weren’t as squicked out by the underage sex is that we started the series when we were 12-14 years old. So wanting to have sex with a 12-14 year old girl didn’t seem odd. It seemed perfectly understandable. I know when I 13 I wanted to have sex with the girls in my class who were also 13. And life was over when you hit 25 and got oooolllld.

  30. 30
    inflection

    Anthony co-wrote a little-known project called The Caterpillar’s Question with Philip José Farmer. They alternated chapters and supposedly you’re not supposed to know who wrote which. But the quality of the two authors was so plain that it seemed obvious to me who was the better writer — and the chapter in which the alien makes the underage blind girl into an oracle by sticking his penis on her chest and depositing a symbiote was, I’m pretty sure, Anthony’s.

  31. 31
    Michael Brew

    I used to get these from the library all the time (too poor to afford buying most of them). I definitely recall several times having to stop and go “wait, wtf?” upon coming across a particularly problematic passage, but I found the rest of it amusing enough given my love of puns that I was generally able to shake it off and keep going while attempting to ignore the creepy parts. As a preteen, I definitely missed some of the most creepy stuff, though, since I wasn’t really familiar with a lot of the misogynistic tropes at the time, but I do remember that when I tried to read some of his other books, it became a lot more apparent that he was kind of a perv. And not in the good way.

  32. 32
    ledasmom

    and the chapter in which the alien makes the underage blind girl into an oracle by sticking his penis on her chest and depositing a symbiote was, I’m pretty sure, Anthony’s.

    That was seriously in the book?
    Huh. Have they considered selling just the Farmer chapters of the book? It couldn’t possibly be worse.

  33. 33
    Gregory in Seattle

    Anthony can come up with decent ideas — the basis for the Incarnations of Immortality series remains one of my favorite fantasy tropes — but he was never a good writer. It was his active misogyny and the frequency with which he wrote about sex with young girls (in Bio of a Space Tyrant, the protagonist was openly a pedophile) that turned me off of him for good. I have tried going back from time to time, but always put the book down after the first chapter.

  34. 34
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    blf #1

    Interesting. I did read the first book of the series — and didn’t like it, albeit I don’t specifically now recall misogynistic shite or hints of pedophilia.

    Oh boy, I sure do. And it got a lot worse as the series progressed.
    ledasmom #4

    That particular quote has stuck in my mind for thirty years. I guess I did realize at the time just how bad it was, I just didn’t want to believe it.

    tcccCould anyone suggest a young adult book that would be good for a young woman of 12 that loves biology? Fiction or non fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, German or English language.
    You might take a look at the Stephanie Harrington books by David Weber. The protagonist is in her early-mid teens (I forget exactly), and is living on a largely unexplored world where she can explore her interest in alien life forms. Also has telepathic cats. Not particularly biology related, but Patricia C Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles are some absolutely classic YA literature; I give them a reread every few years still. I second Sam Vimes’ recommendation for the Tiffany Aching books as well. L recommends Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan.
    jd142 15

    Like AndersH above, I had the same problem with Eddings. Everyone was a stereotype and not really able to break out of the mold. Sure, in universe it is explained that the people in a region have the personality of the god of that region, but I still didn’t like it.

    In Edding’s defense, that was done deliberately; the whole thing was the product of a bet between him and his literature professor over whether he could write something filled with every fantasy cliche he could find and still be an enjoyable read.

  35. 35
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    a conflicted character who does a number of things he deeply regrets

    Hmm. But then it’s still all about him.Whiny, conflicted, assholish, self-absorbed jerk.*

    *If I’m recalling correctly. I was probably about 13 when I read it.

  36. 36
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    and the chapter in which the alien makes the underage blind girl into an oracle by sticking his penis on her chest and depositing a symbiote was, I’m pretty sure, Anthony’s.

    *blinks*

    I just…. words I don’t have them.

  37. 37
    dannysichel

    tccc@10, if you want some SF that will appeal to a 12-year-old who loves biology, try “MIRABILE” by the late Janet Kagan. It’s been generations since the planet Mirabile was colonized by humans, and they’re still finding new and exciting ways for the interactions between Mirabilan fauna and genetically-engineered Earth livestock to go catastrophically wrong.

  38. 38
    mnb0

    @26 Ledasmom: “It’s kind of hard to get past that.”
    Yes – if you demand morally flawless main characters. Thomas Covenant is far from one and deliberately developed that way. At the other hand many beings he meets are morally flawless indeed. They have a hard time dealing with him.

    @35 Ibis: you remember correctly. That’s the whole point – making a character like him the saviour of a world with absolute, objective morals. Covenant – even his name indicates morally compromising – as a result gets to survive two or three fully understandable murder attempts.
    Quite unique in fantasy.

  39. 39
    Al Dente

    I stopped reading the first Thomas Covenant book at the same place where jd142 (@15) did. A character who’s a rapist in the first five pages of a book is not a character I have any sympathy for.

    David Eddings wrote formulaic sword & sorcery books. The Belgariad has all the usual suspects, a boy with a “secret”, the wizard who mentors the boy, the amoral thief who really has a heart of gold, the collection of warriors who all respect each other, the spunky love-interest girl who starts off despising the boy and later learns to love him. and the villainous villains (including an archetypical Dark Lord) who get their comeuppance at various points. After finishing the Belgariad, Eddings wrote the same series again in the Mallorean (I particularly noticed how Mallorea has had almost no contact with the western continent yet everyone in Mallorea speaks the same language as Belgarion’s party).

    Eddings later wrote the Elenium series and then wrote the story again in the Tamuli. He liked to recycle his series. In the Young Gods books he wrote the same book four times, ending it with “and then he woke up and it was all a dream.” Eddings was not the most original or creative writer in fantasy.

  40. 40
    aziraphale

    @jd142 – Now that you ask, I can’t think of an example either. And I don’t remember the details of the Thomas Covenant rape – it’s been a while. Maybe I should do some checking up before I write something I might regret.

  41. 41
    mnb0

    In addition: murder attempts committed by people who are supposed to be Coventants’ allies.

  42. 42
    mnb0

    “I don’t remember the details of the Thomas Covenant rape”
    Covenant is an impotent leper, gets cured and rapes the 16 years old girl who has cured him. Her parents and her fiancee feel forced to help (for a greater good), the girl suffers her entire life from an incurable trauma. As a result a happy family is completely ruined. The girl also gives birth to a daughter who becomes a beloved leader of the good side.
    The rape itself is more suggested than described. There is absolutely no doubt that the girl is innocent and that Covenant is completely guilty.

  43. 43
    left0ver1under

    I really can’t recall a “swords and sorcery” writer whom I read in my teens that didn’t have only two wardrobes for women: chainmail bikinis and cloth bikinis. By comparison, many of Michael Moorcock’s female characters were properly dressed and in progressive roles (i.e. many carried and used their own swords), though not really that much.

  44. 44
    mnb0

    “I don’t remember the details of the Thomas Covenant rape”
    Covenant is an impotent leper, gets cured and rapes the 16 years old girl who has cured him. Her parents and her fiancee feel forced to help him (for a greater good), the girl suffers her entire life from an incurable trauma. As a result a happy family is completely ruined. The girl also gives birth to a daughter who becomes a beloved leader of the good side.
    The rape itself is more suggested than described. There is absolutely no doubt that the girl is innocent and that Covenant is completely guilty.

  45. 45
    carlie

    I use the slim thread of applicability in talking about bad writers to link to OH JOHN RINGO NO, an epic takedown of a terrible author that became a catchphrase for authorial misogyny.

  46. 46
    ledasmom

    mnb0 @ 38:

    Yes – if you demand morally flawless main characters. Thomas Covenant is far from one and deliberately developed that way. At the other hand many beings he meets are morally flawless indeed. They have a hard time dealing with him.

    I don’t think the choice is between “morally flawless” and “rapist”. I think there’s quite a bit of middle ground available.
    It really wasn’t that he did it. It’s how Donaldson wrote it. It’s how Donaldson set up his character to do that. It’s as if Donaldson thought “How can I have a relatively decent man commit a horrible act without the readers completely losing sympathy with him? Oh, I know! Semi-purposeful rape!”
    I mean, Donaldson is the author. Nobody made him write that.He wrote that, and, frankly, he’s written enough other squicky rapey stuff that I don’t have much interest in cutting him any slack for it.

  47. 47
    kerrymaxwell

    Piers Anthony and misogyny? But wait, there’s more!

    http://litreactor.com/columns/themes-of-pedophilia-in-the-works-of-piers-anthony

  48. 48
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    carlie (in #45)

    That was fascinating. Fascinatingly horrifying.

  49. 49
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    Because people really need to read this to believe it, here’s an excerpt from kerrymaxwell’s link:

    The Judge refocused his eyes and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. “Is—is the Defense ready to proceed?”

    “We are, Your Honor. We believe that this poignant tape establishes that though the Defendant may be technically guilty of the charge against him, he is not morally guilty. He did not seek the girl, he did not force his attention on her. He demurred at every stage, by her own testimony. It was entirely voluntary on her part. In fact, they were lovers, in the truest sense, age no barrier. The law may say he is guilty, but the law is sometimes an ass.”

    Several members of the Jury nodded their agreement.

    Then he turned to the Jury. “If there is guilt here, then surely it is that of the father, who set her up by incestuously toying with her. And of her brother, who practiced sodomy on her with a candle. Remember, it was to escape that abuse that she first fled and found the Defendant. The Defendant never hurt her. He did only what she asked. He gave her what no other man did. He loved her. We may take issue with the manner of the expression of that love, but we cannot deny its reality. She came to him of her own accord, again and again, because what he offered her was so much better than what she received at home. Her family should be on trial!”

    He wrote this about the trial of a character who had sex with a five-year-old.

  50. 50
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    I’ll just sit in the corner and cry now, Mellow Monkey

  51. 51
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Oh god, I went and read the whole article.

  52. 52
    Space Monster

    @10 tccc: Not specifically marketed as YA, but I think A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan would be good. It features a determined woman with a deep scientific curiosity who lives in a Victorian-type society, which of course, is not all that friendly to a determined woman. It is a series and this one details her life as a curious child interested in tiny insect-like dragons up through her first expedition to study larger and more dangerous varieties. I quite enjoyed the book and think a 12-yo interested in biology would enjoy it as long as they aren’t bothered by the style, which is very much of a Victorian-style memoir.

    As for the Anthony stuff, oh, I’m throwing up too much to say anything coherent. I read a couple of his books way back and was really disgusted by them. It’s horrifying that there are worse examples (like Firefly) that I was unaware of.

  53. 53
    Brianne Bilyeu

    Le Sigh.

    Piers Anthony is one of the big disappointments of my adult life. He was my introduction to Fantasy (Bradbury was my intro to SF). I started reading Xanth when I was ten (I know because I scrawled “This book belongs to Brianne – 1989″ in the front cover of Spell For Chameleon. I collected Xanth for about 30 books or so. A couple of years ago I went back and re-read a few of the Xanth books after I attended a S&SF convention and people where groaning about that misogynist Piers Anthony jerk. I almost threw the last one I read across the room in disgust. I really liked the Incarnations of Immortality and the Apprentice Adept series, but now I’m afraid to go back and read them again. :(

  54. 54
    jd142

    @aziraphale and others regarding morally problematic characters and redemption.

    It is a very fine line to walk as a writer. If you want to show somebody changing their character, becoming a better person, and actually being redeemed, then they have to be shown to be in need of redemption.

    I watched Klondike Annie with Mae West a couple of weeks ago. She starts the movie as, well, the typical Mae West character who likes men and the presents they bring her. She murders the man who is “keeping” her and runs off to Alaska. During the voyage, she rooms with a woman who is on her way to start a “community house” in Alaska. It’s a pretty generic religious order that feeds the poor, gives them a place to rest, all while doing a little light preaching. Everyone is Brother This or Sister That and there’s almost no mention of God, just a higher power. Sort of a proto-Unitarian.

    As the two women talk and Sister Annie starts to tell Mae about feeding and clothing the poor, Mae starts out cynical and slowly begins to like Sister Annie. Sister Annie is the first person, man or woman to actually care about her and want nothing in return except for Mae to start caring about others as well. Annie dies and in order to ditch a pursuing sheriff who wants to arrest her for murder, Mae takes Annie’s identity. At first she’s just trying to escape the law and death penalty, but the more she acts altruistic to fool the sheriff, the more she really starts to care about the destitute people they are helping. Some people today forget what it was like in 1929, when there were no jobs and no government assistance at all.

    Mae doesn’t start this picture playing her usual hooker with a heart of gold type character. She is really a greedy, manipulative, self-centered character. The sexual confidence is there, but without any of the enjoyment or joy that is present in I’m No Angel or My Little Chickadee. Watch how she interacts with her maids in I’m No Angel. She treats them as equals and sexual confidants despite the difference in race and class, and does it in a way that was decades ahead of its time. Hell, some movies today are still using those hoary old stereotypes. But none of that is present in Klondike Annie. Here she starts out interested only in herself and what she can get.

    And that’s a case of someone the audience dislikes who is redeemed by the end of the movie. Ok, maybe there’s still a little tarnish on that halo. :) But we can’t see the redemption without the ugly beginning.

    With Covenant, he just starts out at too dark a place and with no real justification other than the protagonists belief that it is a hallucination and that’s why he is no longer impotent. Seems like he spent most of the parts I read thinking he was hallucinating. I just couldn’t get the motivation and bring any understanding as to why his character would be so evil. Mae? She was being used as much as she was using her keeper and he had threatened to kill her. There’s probably some feel good movie out there about child soldiers in Africa who go from raping and killing to being decent people. But there’s at least an understanding of how horrible it must be to be 8 years old in a war torn country where your only choice is join up or be raped and killed yourself. That’s different, because we can find a motivation for the bad behavior.

  55. 55
    Orac

    If you thought Xanth was misogynist, then do not look into Anthony’s Bio of a Space Tyrant series.

    Oh, geez, yes. I only made it through the first book, but holy crap. I had forgotten just how bad it was, both from a story telling standpoint and a misogyny standpoint.

  56. 56
    Paul Durrant

    My experience pretty much matches Brianne Bilyeu’s, although I was a bit older when I started reading his Xanth stories (13-14 or so, although I think I read Prostho Plus earlier).

    I hadn’t re-read any for a while and my paper copies were long gone, but I was delighted when I found ebook editions and bought loads. And then I started reading….

    I now have 30-something books I won’t be reading. I’m astonished at how I missed or didn’t really take in the positive depictions of paedophillia and the misogyny when I was younger.

    I suspect it’s rather like missing the obvious analogies in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

    Sigh indeed.

  57. 57
    Eamon Knight

    I’ve read the first two Thomas Covenant trilogies a couple of times, but somehow never felt I really understood them. The one thing that is, I think, clear, is that Donaldson set out to deliberately subvert the standard fantasy hero tropes. Heroes like Frodo may be fearful and hesitant, but are always pure of heart (Frodo’s seduction by the Ring is depicted as a gradual psychic invasion by a superior force). Covenant OTOH is always deeply compromised — his leprosy in our world seems to be a metaphor for his moral corruption in the Land-universe; he’s always wanting to do the right thing (ie: be morally healthy) but unable to. Now the *way* he chose to establish that theme….

    But where I really parted company with Donaldson was the first book of the Gap series. I’m sorry, but having the villain brain-hack the girl to be his sex-slave? Not reading any further. Not even if there’s some Grand Moral Message at the end to give it Redeeming Social Value (I don’t know if there is or not, because I didn’t read the rest of the series).

  58. 58
    A Masked Avenger

    I don’t want to defend Donaldson, for a few reasons. It’s possible Covenant does reflect misogyny, or acceptance of rape culture by Donaldson. My learning to appreciate these things is too recent for me to trust my own judgment.

    But even if Donaldson were above reproach, there’s no reason for anyone with sensitivity to rape scenes or a rapist protagonist to have to read the book: there’s nothing wrong with putting it down and deciding you don’t like Covenant and/or Donaldson.

    My own take is that there’s a difference between portraying a misogynist piece of shit, and being one, and I think Covenant is one, but Donaldson isn’t. I don’t read Covenant as compelled to rape by his sudden potency, nor as “otherwise decent.” I read his as someone who has internalized hatred of lepers, hence himself, and whose self loathing takes the form of harming everyone around him. With the above caveat about not trusting my own judgment on this.

    I’m torn here because I think I believe a rapist can, in principle at least, be redeemed in the sense of ceasing to be a rapist or misogynist. But I believe that his victims are under no obligation to forgive him, regardless how praiseworthy his life AFTER the rape, so in that sense I don’t believe in redemption. And on point as regards Thomas Covenant, I don’t see why feeling sorry afterward earns him any credit, except in the sense that I guess it’s better than feeling not sorry. Donaldson does seem to use Covenant’s elaborate regret as evidence of something. His underlying decency? His redeemability?

  59. 59
    A Masked Avenger

    Eamon Knight, #57:

    Yeah, I forgot about the gap series. Why the ever-loving hell did he effectively base an entire series on rape? That does raise serious questions I can’t see any good answers to.

  60. 60
    wondering

    I gave the Thomas Covenant series a pass (in that I continued reading past the rape scene) because he still believed that he was dreaming. He didn’t believe that his leprosy had really been healed or that he was in some strange other universe; dude thought he was asleep. I won’t claim that deciding to rape someone is a dream is morally good, I’m just saying that he thought the girl (Lena? It’s been a long time since I read it) was a figment of his imagination.

  61. 61
    JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness

    38
    mnb0

    Yes – if you demand morally flawless main characters. Thomas Covenant is far from one and deliberately developed that way. At the other hand many beings he meets are morally flawless indeed. They have a hard time dealing with him.

    Fuck Donaldson. He wrote it because he thinks “victims become victimizers”.

  62. 62
    MadHatter

    @61 Jal

    Worse than that, he doesn’t seem to understand what rape is, it’s just a metaphor apparently. From your link…

    Another way to look at this whole question is to think of “rape” as a metaphor for all forms of violation and betrayal, emotional, psychological, and spiritual as well as physical. And in those terms, I don’t know anyone who isn’t guilty of “rape.” Speaking purely for myself, I’ve been on the receiving end of metaphorical “rapes” many times.

    I never read the Covenant books, I read the Mirror series and I was always bothered by the heroine’s portrayal and that he had to have two attempted rape scenes for no reason. ug.

    I did read several Xanth books as a preteen, and I also read Firefly probably when I was 11. I’ve thought for years that I must’ve made that up as no one I know ever heard of it. I know I caught a lot, but not all, of the problematic references especially in Chamelon. It wasn’t the first one I read though or I probably would never have gone back.

    I do recall getting rapidly bored with sf/f series that didn’t have any strong women as major characters in my teens too. I gave up on sf for many years because of it.

  63. 63
    khms

    Way back when, I learned that everything (OK, almost everything) I could find to read had parts I didn’t like, and I read a lot (still do), and so I learned to ignore those parts.

    Piers Anthony had his share of stuff-to-ignore. Also, he wasn’t the best writer. But there was enough enjoyable stuff to be found in stuff like Xanth or the Incarnations that it seemed worth putting up with the crap. True, after a while the punny stuff got rather old; and of course, I didn’t get more than maybe half of them, not being a native speaker.

    Eddings’ repetitions and clichés mostly didn’t bother me, except for the “men don’t understand women, women conspire against men (and that’s just fine)” one, which, as I recall, Anthony also regularly featured – I seem to recall dimly seeing it from a number of US authors, so presumably that was or is a cultural cliché over there?

    Dragonlance … had a certain Robert Jordan feel: it goes on and on, and not only doesn’t stuff get resolved, there’s more and more of it. After a while I gave up on it (just as on Jordan). Ugh.

    LeGuin can be good, but quite a bit I seem to recall as “meh” – stuff doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. Yes, critiquing society is all well and good, but there should be more to a story than that. Of course, that’s still quite a bit better than just about every libertarian preacherauthor I’ve ever read. (L. Neil Smith, The Probability Broach series, for example.)

    The Covenant stuff … I’ve never tried it, what I heard about it was more than enough for me. There are very few ways of dealing with rape I can tolerate – Modesty Blaise (when it hits her) works, Anthony’s Mutant stories don’t, and it sounds to me as if Covenant also doesn’t. I don’t need the extra mental anguish. There’s enough bad stuff on the news. Some stuff I just can’t read over.

    As for recommendations, let me just endorse Pat Wrede (incidentally, she has a number of great pieces on writing in rec.arts.sf.composition), Diana Wynne Jones, other female authors mentioned … I think statistically I prefer F&SF written by women, though certainly not exclusively. And I usually prefer female protagonists, at least there’s often a cliché or two turned on its head. (Unfortunately, that tends to break down in non-F&SF stuff, especially romance, where indulging in the worst clichés seems to be encouraged. Except for Georgette Heyer and a very few copying her.)

    In other genres, how about Dorothy Sayers?

    I’m sure a search of my books could come up with some more names …

    Anyway, one anecdote I’d like to add (which is unrelated to feminism):

    I remember some conversations with my mother about the early Perry Rhodan stuff. She saw Nazi-style ideology, I saw progressive values. Re-reading that later, I could see both – the progressive values were clearly intentional (even a bit preachy), and the other stuff seems to me to simply be a result of growing up in that environment (just like my mother, which is why she noticed) and not being able to completely throw the stuff off (they did get better in that regard later). Different people can read the same stuff differently – where I read “we humans should stop fighting over meaningless differences” she read “bad aliens are subhuman”. And, of course, both were there. (Incidentally, PR is still going strong, I think still one new installment every week (not counting offshoots), every week since 1961 – from the first moon landing (which they placed in 1971) to currently the year 5101. Hmm. 2722 installments. They’ve got official encyclopedias. Quantity has a quality all its own.)

  64. 64
    Nathaniel Frein

    What is the Horde’s take on Mervyn Peake (The Ghormengast Trilogy)?

    I started reading Xanth in sixth grade with “Vale of the Vole”. I kept reading them through middle school before moving back to Japan left me unable to keep up with the series…I found them titillating but vaguely guilty for enjoying them. I also recognized that they weren’t exactly high literary works, despite making fun of my brother for reading Eddings.

    Other authors I’ve gone back and read and realised they just weren’t as good as they seemed at the time were C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. Surprisingly, I’m enjoying Pullman as much as, if not more, than I did when I first read His Dark Materials.

  65. 65
    Nathaniel Frein

    Gonna plug C.J. Cherryh for SF.

  66. 66
    JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness

    Jim C. Hines – Writing about Rape.

    Because he’s awesome and there’s this comment he made:

    JM – April 8, 2012

    I just wanted to say that Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books used rape as a major motivator for the main character — both as Yet Another Thing he could use to self-flagellate and as something to come out of the woodwork to beat him up again, and in that way, the whole thing was pretty much “but look! he is sympathetic and his rush got the better of him and don’t you feel sorry for him!” It was a dreadful handling of rape, made worse by the fact that the survivor goes crazy and becomes simple — a ridiculously oversimplified and misogynistic portrayal.

    I got curious and actually pulled the book up to look at it. It starts off with Thomas as the typical MRA sob story. Seriously, this book just pings all kinds of wrong to me.

    Page 13

    On that day, Joan decided that the time had come to have a child.

    After he was born, Joan announced that the boy was to be named Roger, after her father and her father’s father.

    page 14, about Lena:

    The unconscious offer in her eyes burned more disturbingly than ever.

    TW
    The actual scene is this:
    He asked if Lena is trying to drive him crazy, smacks her, ripped off her clothes and raped her. All described in this “bloodlust” like craze. It’s 178 pages in of him lamenting about his impotence and how his wife left to protect their child, then bam! Goes insane, reclaims his “manhood”. Ugh.

    Him the next day:

    He had violated her trust, violated the trust of the Stonedown; that was as close to his last night’s rage as he could go.

    Lena’s mom later”

    “They will know what to think of a stranger who attacks the innocent.”

    It’s all she was attacked and such a pure virgin and the rest of that. Where is the word rape? Where is any grief or acknowledgement?

    Oh, look in the second book the What Came Before Part it’s described as “he lost control and raped her” because she cured him. He sends her one horse a year for compensation. It isn’t actually until the second book where the word rape is used and he starts reflecting “How could I do that to you?”.

    Keep in mind the first book is 900 fucking pages.

  67. 67
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    jd142 29

    I’m trying to think of something I’ve read where the main character was intended to be sympathetic and also murdered.

    The only one I can think of offhand is Jhereg, in which the protagonist is a hitman for a fantasy mafia. Granted, the people he kills can’t really be considered ‘innocent’ in that they’re part of the same criminal organization that he is, and have almost certainly killed people themselves, but he’s just killing them because someone paid him to.
    Brianne Bilyeu #53

    I almost threw the last one I read across the room in disgust. I really liked the Incarnations of Immortality and the Apprentice Adept series, but now I’m afraid to go back and read them again. :(

    Incarnations starts ok, but by around book 3 things get iffy IIRC, and the last 2 are chock full of the kind of crap people are talking about. I don’t recall about the Adept books.

  68. 68
    ekwhite

    AndersH @3:

    I read the Piers Anthony quotes you linked to, and they seriously made me want to vomit. I am so glad I didn’t read him as a youth.

    I spent my youth reading Tolkein and Bradbury and Ursula K Leguin instead. The Martian Chronicles was probably my favorite book at the time.

  69. 69
    sueinnm

    Bibliophile 20:

    I’m sorry, I absolutely cannot figure out how to blockquote from the codes below. I am that computer illiterate, except with word processing programs.

    You wrote:

    “I think I was about two thirds of the way through the first book by the time I realized that I was technically reading a paranormal romance novel–but one with actual plot, decent characters and some emotional depth!”

    Oh, please don’t lump us all together! I’m now writing urban fantasy, but since I grew up reading SF/fantasy, I’ve always approached my romance as if I were writing SF. I spent about as much time worldbuilding in my most recent romances novels (yes, gasp, those little thingies on racks called Harlequin Romances), from the paranormal Nocturne line as I did in my urban fantasy with Tor.

    They always have rather silly titles that I have no control over, but you might like my Nightsider series, Harlequin Nocturne,–first, Daysider, came out in August, second, Nightmaster (originally Bloodmaster, they though it was too bloody) out in December. Also wrote an almost straight SF with romance, Kinsman’s Oath, which is now out of print but can probably be found used.

    I lost a very lucrative career as a romance novelist my books had too much plot and characterization and not as much sex … a small but loyal following that just wasn’t large enough. Now I’m writing to get a little income coming in, but hope I can continue my straight fantasy career. (Did put more sex in the Nocturnes, as I was expected to, but at least I got away with the unusual worldbuilding.)

    I am happy to say that my long-time idol, C.J. Cherryh (read her Atevi series, but from the beginning!) gave me a quote for my first urban fantasy, Mist.

    Sue Krinard

  70. 70
    ledasmom

    I rather like Steven Brust’s Dragaera books myself, but the killings always made me uncomfortable. Of course, in that setting, a lot of the deaths are technically survivable.
    Dalillama, I know what you meant by “fantasy mafia”, but for a minute I was thinking of something along the lines of fantasy baseball, which was rather disturbing.

  71. 71
    Inaji

    sueinnm:

    I’m sorry, I absolutely cannot figure out how to blockquote from the codes below.

    Like this:

    <blockquote>Place Text Here</blockquote> – gives you this:

    Place Text Here

  72. 72
    sueinnm

    Bibliophile 20:

    I’m sorry, I absolutely cannot figure out how to blockquote from the codes below. I am that computer illiterate, except with word processing programs. I wish I could also figure out how to emphasize words, but I tried the codes before and I am obviously doing something wrong.

    You wrote:

    “I think I was about two thirds of the way through the first book by the time I realized that I was technically reading a paranormal romance novel–but one with actual plot, decent characters and some emotional depth!”

    Oh, please don’t lump us all together! I’m now writing urban fantasy, but since I grew up reading SF/fantasy, I’ve always approached my romance as if I were writing SF. I spent about as much time worldbuilding in my most recent romances novels (yes, gasp, those little thingies on racks called Harlequin Romances), from the paranormal Nocturne line as I did in my urban fantasy with Tor.

    They always have rather silly titles that I have no control over, but you might like my Nightsider series, Harlequin Nocturne,–first, Daysider, came out in August, second, Nightmaster (originally Bloodmaster, they though it was too bloody) out in December. Post apocalyptic biological vampires vs. humans and dhampires. Also wrote an almost straight SF with romance, Kinsman’s Oath, which is now out of print but can probably be found used.

    I lost a very lucrative, 19-year career as a romance novelist because my books had too much plot and characterization and not as much sex … I had a small but loyal following that just wasn’t large enough. Now I’m writing to get a little income coming in, but hope I can continue my straight fantasy career. (Did put more sex in the Nocturnes, as I was expected to, but at least I got away with the unusual worldbuilding.) One does have to follow rules in romance, including an “alpha” hero, but I try to balance that out with an equally “strong” woman and give both of them sets of problems that create vulnerability in their relationship. I’d like writing ‘em a lot more if I didn’t have to put the sex in. Though I did have some fun with a little dominance/submission in one of the Nocturnes (keeping in mind that this is my definition, not a comment on the lifestyle, of which I know little.)

    Another reason I think some of my books failed is because I did occasionally deviate from the alpha hero, with a gentler but confident hero who had nothing to prove, and that probably didn’t fly well. I can do that in fantasy!_

    I am happy to say that my long-time idol, C.J. Cherryh (read her Atevi series, but from the beginning!) gave me a quote for my first urban fantasy, Mist.

    Anyway, I don’t like generalizations, so I had to put this plug in.

    Sue Krinard

  73. 73
    sueinnm

    Oh, I’m sorry about the double post! (cringe)

  74. 74
    dannysichel

    oh, “Prostho Plus” ! That one’s mildly interesting, and I don’t recall any misogyny therein (although only one character is human, and it’s been quite a while since I read it).

  75. 75
    sueinnm
    Place Text Here

    – gives you this:

    Oh, I did it! But I’m confused since the codes below have cite=”"> and I have no idea how that translates to the above.

  76. 76
    Inaji

    sueinnm:

    Oh, I did it! But I’m confused since the codes below have cite=””> and I have no idea how that translates to the above.

    Yes, you did! Eh, the codes below the text box are needlessly confusing. Using blockquote works just fine, and it’s easy. For italics, use <i>text</i>, for bold, use <b>text</b>

    If you use Firefox, you can get a nifty text formatting toolbar: http://codefisher.org/format_toolbar/

  77. 77
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    sueinnm #69

    I lost a very lucrative career as a romance novelist my books had too much plot and characterization and not as much sex … a small but loyal following that just wasn’t large enough. Now I’m writing to get a little income coming in, but hope I can continue my straight fantasy career.

    IME, fantasy readers don’t tend to mind a fair amount of romance and/or sex in the books. Mercedes Lackey hasn’t gotten any less popular recently that I know of, frex. :)

    Oh, I did it! But I’m confused since the codes below have cite=””> and I have no idea how that translates to the above.

    For practical purposes, ignore it. I don’t know why that’s in the sample code.
    ledasmom #70

    I rather like Steven Brust’s Dragaera books myself, but the killings always made me uncomfortable. Of course, in that setting, a lot of the deaths are technically survivable.

    The setting does tend to take a pretty casual attitude towards human/Dragaeran life; note how many of Vlad’s friends use Morganti weapons as a matter of course and no one even blinks. Brust toned down the Mafia elements a lot and had the character move on after losing a friend to an actual mafia killing.

  78. 78
    lsamaknight

    Regarding recommendations for a younger reader… try anything by Tamora Pierce. I personally favour her ‘Circle of Magic’ books over her Tortall books, except for the ‘Protector of the Small’ quartet but they are worth reading in their own right (Though the early ones do suffer a bit because she had rather strict page counts to work with. Its why the later books are noticeably longer since those restrictions were lifted).

    On David and Leigh Eddings and being formulaic… duh. They admit as much in the Rivan Codex. It was always the strength of the character interactions that carried those books, something that I did find lacking in Redemption of Althalus (which reads like a larger series condensed down into a single book) and the Elder Gods series which I never read all the way through.

  79. 79
    sueinnm

    Caine,

    Yes, you did! Eh, the codes below the text box are needlessly confusing. Using blockquote works just fine, and it’s easy. For italics, use text, for bold, use text

    If you use Firefox, you can get a nifty text formatting toolbar: http://codefisher.org/format_toolbar

    I did it again! Hurrah! I have printed out your instructions, though now that I’ve given my real name, I don’t dare post some things I might otherwise. While it’s fine to be an atheist among SF/fantasy writer and readers, it isn’t among romance readers, many of whom (in spite of all the sex) are from the Bible Belt. I believe Texas is the biggest consumer. I can’t afford to come out as an atheist anywhere else I post until I have completely stopped writing romance (which, I hope, will happen if/when my urban fantasies sell well enough to allow me to have some sort of ongoing fantasy writing career.)

    I never read Xanth because, even back then, I didn’t find it well written. I think I might have read one of his other books but didn’t like them well enough to read another. Ditto David Eddings. All my friends liked him, but I found the books to be full of cliches. I was thrilled when I first discovered C.J. Cherryh and realized that yes, you can have a woman in charge, with the man the subordinate. I also love Bujold though, frankly, I don’t think her female characters are nearly as well done as the males (though the male protagonist in the latest Vorkosigan book, with Ivan … ugh. No character growth at all, a woman character I found boring and flimsy, etc.)

  80. 80
    David Marjanović

    *blinks*

    I just…. words I don’t have them.

    Seconded.

    including an archetypical Dark Lord

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  81. 81
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Cherryh rocks.

    Paladin is a story where more than half the book is just 2 characters, and it works. Whenever I have to write a mentor/mentee relationship, I pull open Paladin again & use it as a guide/inspiration.

  82. 82
    Doogster

    Could anyone suggest a young adult book that would be good for a young woman of 12 that loves biology? Fiction or non fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, German or English language.

    Raptor Red. By Robert T. Bakker.

  83. 83
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Recommendations:
    Tolkien is good if you want a grounding in the ur-myth that everyone else is building on. But don’t internalize it too much.

    LeGuin builds amazing worlds. Very much a O HAI I’M AN ANTHROPOLOGIST I’VE THOUGHT ABOUT THIS STUFF

  84. 84
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    What. Comment posted accidentally.

    ?!

    Anyway. To continue where I left off. LeGuin’s flaw is that some of her plots are meh. That said, when she knocks a plot out of the park (“The Matter of Seggri,” The Left Hand of Darkness, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” The Disposessed), she knocks that shit out of the fucking park.

    James Tiptree, Jr. Amazing. Dystopian in the best way. OMFG So Good.

    Pratchett. All of Pratchett.

  85. 85
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Oh! Margaret Atwood’s MadAddam (Oryx and Crake, In The Year of the Flood, MadAddam) trilogy is awesome.

    As is, of course, The Handmaid’s Tale, assuming you don’t mind not sleeping.

    Octavia Butler. Creepy as shit. Amazing. Especially her Xenogensis series and her novella “Bloodchild.”

  86. 86
    Eamon Knight

    @Esteleth: Ditto on LeGuin. The Hainish novels, of course (The Dispossessed being IIRC the first LeGuin I read. Been sort of an anarchist-wannabe ever since). But also: Always Coming Home. And of course, the earlier Earthsea books — they’re *far* from being YA-only. My only complaint is that sometimes she gets a little toooo po-mo (and the later Earthsea were….well, I didn’t “get” them, anyway).

  87. 87
    Pteryxx

    Seconding Octavia Butler. I’m just now reading her stuff (trying to make up for the whitemaleness of my early SFF training and, er, life) and she is freaking hardcore. Diverse and less privileged viewpoints and the effects of human fear of the Other aren’t just well represented, they’re so deeply woven through that reading them all but leaves marks. I just finished Parable of the Sower in one day and when I put it down I walked differently. See also Kindred which is barely SF and gave me nightmares, also Wild Seed and Dawn (first of Xenogenesis/Lilith’s Brood) which also have leavenings of biology. (Oh heck, Wild Seed has sequels. I’m doomed…)

    No love for Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre? It won a Hugo while being overtly feminist and everything.

    (massive spoilers at link but also discussion with the author)

    http://io9.com/5670359/dreamsnake-the-quietly-controversial-hugo-winner-thats-no-longer-in-print

  88. 88
    Pteryxx

    whoops, the interview’s in a separate link, pardon me.

    http://io9.com/5670273/feminism-astronauts-and-riding-sidesaddle-talking-to-dreamsnake-author-vonda-mcintyre

  89. 89
    burgundy

    I have a close friend who’s a fantasy author. He read tons of Anthony and Eddings growing up. And several of his books feature anti-heroes (well, one is an anti-hero, another book the protagonists are just straight-up bad guys, it just happens to be told from their point of view. His agent called it Lord of the Rings meets Inglourious Basterds, which I think is fair.) There’s a lot of violence, and some of it is really, really gross. But not rape. There are effective ways to show how morally compromised someone is without putting rape into the mix. I think maybe some of it is a question of motivations. Like, if you are Evil Conquering Warlord or whatever, there are reasons to kill a bunch of people, because it helps you achieve an objective. Rape is just sadistic. It is used in war in real life, but it’s still based on cruelty and dehumanization in a way that “kill the rebels and their families” is not. At least that’s how it works in my head; I can’t speak for other readers.

    This same guy has a YA fantasy series with a young woman as the protagonist (and she has female friends! Bechdel-test-passing all over the place). There’s nothing in it that has anything to do with an interest in biology though.

  90. 90
    Eamon Knight

    @87: General love here for McIntyre, though I can’t recall what Dreamsnake was about (IIRC it’s a post-apocalyptic story about a medicine-woman whose primary mode of treatment is her snakes, the venom of which has been engineered to be medicinal. Is that close?). Most recently read (and it isn’t that recent): The Moon and the Sun. Also: the Starfarers tetralogy.

  91. 91
    Pteryxx

    Eamon Knight: that’s all correct, but what struck me about Dreamsnake as a pre-teen was 1) women throughout are respected – gender just isn’t that big a deal anywhere, and 2) sex is non-heteronormative and consensual by default. Having that book close probably saved my life. (No doubt the fundies would have burned it if they only knew.)

  92. 92
    Pteryxx

    oy, and in reading the (rest of the) interview I just linked. That was intentional on McIntyre’s part.

    (minor meta-spoiler)

    I don’t usually do sort of “experimental,” tricky writing things, but I had been in this workshop where I was told that I absolutely had to identify the sex of my character in the first mention of the character — preferably, in the first word. And what that means is that you don’t say the sex of the character if it’s a man, because that’s the default sex. And that comment made me so — it just outraged me, to the point where I decided that you would never find out, by anything that I said, what sex Merideth was. It just made me so mad to be told that people would not put up with a character if they didn’t find out immediately whether it was a man or a woman, that I had contravened some unbreakable law of the universe. It just made me mad! I’m usually a pretty laid-back person, but it just outraged me and I decided to be sneaky and never tell you. And if you didn’t notice what I was doing, then I’m really flattered, because that was the idea.

  93. 93
    ledasmom

    Eamon Knight @ 86:

    The Hainish novels, of course (The Dispossessed being IIRC the first LeGuin I read. Been sort of an anarchist-wannabe ever since). But also: Always Coming Home. And of course, the earlier Earthsea books — they’re *far* from being YA-only. My only complaint is that sometimes she gets a little toooo po-mo (and the later Earthsea were….well, I didn’t “get” them, anyway).

    I love “Always Coming Home”. It’s about time for me to read “The Dispossessed” again – I’ve read it every few years since we got it, always find something different. She has the most amazing ability to write about an entire society, even if she’s writing a short story. “The Matter of Seggri” is one of my favorites – don’t want to get too specific, since those who haven’t read it really deserve a chance to read it as she wrote it, but you can feel the characters’ love for the society in question even while accepting that the society must change – Le Guin doesn’t demonize. Her story “Dancing to Ganam” (from “A Fisherman of the Inland Sea”) is amazing. Le Guin is one of those writers who doesn’t feel a need to tell you what she’s doing.
    I haven’t read “Tehanu” in a while, but I love “The Other Wind”, the last (maybe?) Earthsea story. It is so beautifully bittersweet.
    I don’t think anyone’s mentioned James H. Schmitz yet. He wrote better women in the 1940s than Piers Anthony will ever be able to write. His stories don’t necessarily get labeled as young-adult, and I don’t know how generally available they are, but they’re well worth reading and would, I think, be excellent for many young readers.

  94. 94
    ekwhite

    Esteleth @ 83 – 85:

    I love your recommendations. Thanks.

  95. 95
    WithinThisMind

    Isn’t Piers Anthony the guy who more or less believes that the simple act of not committing rape makes a guy all heroic and wonderful?

    I seem to recall a scene in which a man and woman got body-switched, and when they got switched back, the woman was all demure and grateful and thinking the guy was all wonderful and perfect because he had the willpower to not rape her.

  96. 96
    cubist

    ledasmom@92: You’ll be pleased to know that the Baen Books catalog has pretty much everything James H. Schmitz ever wrote. Point your browser at [ http://www.baen.com/author_catalog.asp?author=jhschmitz ] for further details.

  97. 97
    eric1rom

    You posters are ROOKIES: you wanna be squicked out by Piers Fucking Anthony? Go back to Ellison’s “Dangerous Visions” and read PA’s charming tale of a world without cows, wherein human women, suitably conditioned from birth, take their place.

    Forgetting that, I mucked thru “Bio of a…etc” which is a piece of dreck from top to bottom. I may have been trying to win a bet.

    And nobody has even mentioned his vegetarian evangelism.

  98. 98
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    Oh. Crap. I had blocked that story out, eric1rom.

    Yes, human women as cows. IIRC, they’re nutritionally deprived to stunt brain development in infancy, raised in isolation, have their tongues clipped and thumbs taped down to hinder speech and motor skills, and end up far more placid and mindless than any actual cow has ever been. The protagonist attempts* to breed with a virginal “heifer” and then runs off to his own dimension with a baby girl he rescued from the nursery.

    *She’s too docile for him to get into it, though. Barf.

  99. 99
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    eric1rom
    I wasn’t sure if I actually remembered that one, because I only ever saw it the once.

  100. 100
    Al Dente

    Nathaniel Frein @64

    What is the Horde’s take on Mervyn Peake (The Ghormengast Trilogy)?

    I enjoyed the first two books, Titus Groan and Gormenghast, with the bizarre life of the castle’s inhabitants and how the scullery boy, Steerpike, makes himself the Master of Ritual, controlling everyone. The characters were interesting, the setting grotesque, and writing excellent. However I could never get into the last book, Titus Alone. I got as far as page 20 or so but, after the grandeur and extravagance of Gormenghast Castle, I found the unnamed city to be flat and boring.

  101. 101
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    In The Barn, should anyone be masochistic enough to want to read the cow story.

  102. 102
    Nathaniel Frein

    I got as far as page 20 or so but, after the grandeur and extravagance of Gormenghast Castle, I found the unnamed city to be flat and boring.

    Hrm.

    I rather liked the third book. I like how it sets up a more modern outside world against the backwards and crumbling Ghormenghast. It also shows Titus trying to make his own way despite being raised in the dysfunctional castle.

  103. 103
    Nathaniel Frein

    There was actually supposed to be a fourth book, but Peake died before he could finish it. There are two versions of the manuscript that his widow wrote after his death, but they’re hard to find. I haven’t had the chance to read them.

  104. 104
    kittehserf

    Am I the only person really, really side-eyeing aziraphale’s comment at 23?

    JD142, if you had continued with Thomas Covenant you would have found that the protagonist (not sure “hero” is the right word) is a conflicted character who does a number of things he deeply regrets.

    I wonder, have you ever stopped reading because the protagonist commits an unnecessary murder in the first few pages?

    I don’t know if this was intended, but it reads like a whole lot of condescension mixed with bemusement that anyone could be so revolted by a rapist-protagonist as to give the book away.

    For your information, I don’t recall having read any books where the protagonist commits murder at the start, and I am one of those who abandoned the Covenant book in disgust at the rape. I doubt I’d have pursued it anyway: the “hero” was a whining, self-pitying douchebag, his constant “Oh this isn’t real! But I hate the place anyway!” BS was extremely tiresome, and the blatant lifting of Tolkien’s elements and names was extremely annoying. Covenant committing rape was simply the final straw.

  105. 105
    kaleberg

    When you’re a kid, the misogyny and other ick just go over your head like half the jokes in Rocky and Bullwinkle. Unlike R&B who funnier each time, a lot of stuff teaches one not to look back too often.

    There are a lot of great suggestions in this list. I’ve been poking around Bookfinder and Amazon to see what’s available. Hmm, and the holidays are coming quite soon.

    I notice that no one mentioned the fantasy writer Ann Scarborough who wrote Bronwyn’s Bane, The Unicorn Creed and the rather imaginative Harem of Aman Akbar. I’m not giving away too much if I say that Aman Akbar spends most of the book as a donkey which leaves most the story to his three wives.

    I’ll also put in a word for Lloyd Alexander who wrote for a slightly younger audience, but I’ve reread a lot of his stuff and it holds up well. I’ll especially recommend the Prydain series, based on the Mabinogian. The only time I ever saw my nieces indulge in mock sword play was after reading one of Eilonwy’s adventure scenes. His Vesper Holly books are set in the 19th century, but nowadays there seems to be a genre for them, so you can read them as steampunk.

  106. 106
    NotThe Boss

    Wow – I logged in intending to comment and commiserate on the Piers Anthony issue (which I will still do) but I just want to thank the Horde for reminding me of all the amazing sci-fi/fantasy authors I read as a kid that I had forgotten about, especially Scarborough and McIntyre. I loved Dreamsnake; I read it not long after I read A Spell For Chameleon, as luck would have it. I remember as an eleven year old girl going back and forth over the sex scenes and my mind sort of uncurling as I realised how different it was from the other scifi/fantasy sex I had read (my Dad was not much of a censor and would just randomly hand me books he thought were cool. Some were excellent. Some were dreadful. I read a great deal of very rapey Conan…). There was something very soothing and calming to me about the way Dreamsnake was put together – I’d already spotted at that age that women and girls were not well-represented in my favourite genres and it was bothering me.

    As regards Piers Anthony, I read bucketloads of his stuff when I was in early high school (about 12-15). I was constantly getting a bit weirded out and upset about the sexism (if a 12 year old in the 90s can spot your sexism, it is not hiding), and there were so many hints of paedophilia that made me uncomfortable, and I never knew quite how to take it. I knew it wasn’t quite right but I hadn’t built up my critical muscles yet. The problem was that I was a voracious reader and a massive series like Xanth was at least something that would keep me reassuringly busy for a while, even if I sometimes made faces while reading it (also, it was intensely formulaic, and for reasons I won’t go into here, I found formulaic stories very comforting at the time).

    I haven’t really thought about it in years, but it’s good to see that it’s getting some appropriate smackdowns… although I am entirely flabbergasted that he’s still writing them.

  107. 107
    HazyJay

    I read Xanth up to book 17 or so and missed most of the ick, but I was in my teens. I do remember being creeped/freaked out by Bio of a Space Tyrant and swearing off his sci-fi. But the one that got me to put him down forever was his ‘horror’ book Firefly where he describes, in detail, the rape of a child and how she wanted it. Never again.

    And as to many of the other authors mentioned, I whole-heartedly second the recommendation of Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles. They were my introduction to fantasy and they hold up well for older readers, as well.

    And Eddings. Yeah, his stories are formulaic. His characters are nothing more than stereotypes. You can probably guess the entire story after reading the first few chapters. But he was my first real fantasy love. I can still remember wandering around B. Dalton’s and seeing The Guardians of the West in the New Releases shelf. I got chills and immediately checked my wallet to see if I had the cash to buy it. I didn’t, so I mowed a couple of lawns a bit earlier in the week than I usually did to scare up the dough. It was also the first time I stayed awake all night devouring a book.

  108. 108
    aziraphale

    I see a lot of people don’t like my comment at 23. In retrospect I should have been more sensitive. In my defence:

    I read the book when quite young. I was hooked by the prospect of a brand-new epic fantasy – and I still think there are some very good things in the first trilogy, along with a lot of tedium.

    I accepted that Covenant really didn’t believe in the reality of his new world. He had spent so long coming to terms with his leprosy that it would have seemed to him like self-delusion that he could just be rid of it. In a sense, he thought he was dreaming, and we all do things in dreams that we would bitterly regret if we had done them in reality.

    I still think it is possible for an interesting book to have a protagonist who has done very bad things. Look at Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow Of The Torturer. Early on, Severian tortures a woman so severely that she kills herself. Did anyone stop reading at that point?

  109. 109
    NelC

    Aziraphale @107, it’s very rare that the description of something unpleasant alone will make me abandon a book (I’ve never actually thrown a book). The book has to be not worth it in other ways, with bad writing, or no sympathetic characters, or stupid plotting, or, or, or. I finished the first Thomas Covenant trilogy, for example, though the experience was so awful I never picked up another Donaldson. The awfulness of that scene I described above in Neq the Sword was enough to turn me away from that book, and, alas, Anthony’s writing wasn’t good enough to bring me back to anything else he wrote.

    With Wolfe, there were rewards to be had from his world-building, his prose and Severian’s character arc in The Book of the New Sun. So, yes, I’ve finished books where the protagonists have done reprehensible things, and I’ve also abandoned books where ditto, as I expect the well-read Horde have also done. What’s your point?

  110. 110
    Cosmic Teapot, not the Antichrist.

    Years ago I started to read the Thomas Covenant trilogy but found it immediately tiresome and I was going to stop reading, until I came upon the rape scene. Intrigued, I forced myself to carry on to see what the reason was for this plot point. I wish I had gone with my first instinct.

    As to Gormenghast, I also prefer the first two, although I have to skip certain parts because I find them dull. But I also have the BBC series on DVD, which I found better than the books, something rare for me.

    Unfortunately I don’t have time to read fantasy, although I am currently reading the Hobbit in German.

  111. 111
    blf

    When you’re a kid, the misogyny and other ick just go over your head like half the jokes in Rocky and Bullwinkle. Unlike R&B who [get] funnier each time, a lot of stuff teaches one not to look back too often.

    Yes, Thanks! I think you have more-or-less nailed it here, or at least my missing of all the “misogyny and other ick” in the only book of the series I ever read.

    I know it’s been mentioned before, but I’ll also suggest pTerry’s Tiffany Aching series of books. I suspect that (unlike the fuller Discworld series) they are perhaps best read in order, or at least that the first book (The Wee Free Men) is read first.

  112. 112
    bryanfeir

    Dalillama, Schmott Guy #77:

    IME, fantasy readers don’t tend to mind a fair amount of romance and/or sex in the books. Mercedes Lackey hasn’t gotten any less popular recently that I know of, frex. :)

    Or Anne McCaffrey, for that matter, who wrote a lot of books that were basically romances in SF/fantasy settings. Not all of her books were, of course; she also wrote straight-up romances like Year of the Lucy.

    And to sueinnm above, I’ve got a friend who does write in the straight romance category (not for Harlequin, admittedly) and some of the stories she’s told about the railroading of writers by the editors are somewhat disturbing. From what I’ve been told, the people running most of the big romance book mills expect that the people picking up the books should be able to know exactly what they’re getting by the line name on the cover, and so actually doing things in any way differently from the standard plot outline (or at least, one of the half a dozen plot outlines for the lines they sell) is strongly discouraged.

  113. 113
    Russell Glasser

    Brianne Bilyeu #53: I ordered Split Infinity, the first book in the Apprentice Adept series, on audiobook recently. I’ve heard a lot about Piers Anthony and this was my first book by him. I was entirely underwhelmed — and yes, did notice the sexism running through it.

    The book opens by immediately explaining why all lower class people are forbidden to wear clothes. The first woman shows up, and he spends a fair bit of descriptive text describing how Stile, the hero, appreciates her breasts.

    As the book goes on, Stile spends most of his time whining about how he can’t have a good relationship because he’s short, so human women don’t take him seriously. He bangs a robot who looks like a beautiful woman. Then he moves on to the magic realm, and bangs a unicorn who can take on the form of a beautiful woman. Then he tells them about each other. They both seem jealous, but he doesn’t care, because neither is “human” so their feelings don’t really matter. And they don’t seem to care that HE doesn’t care, because while they complain a bit, neither can’t keep their hands off him.

    Stile’s relationships in the book are almost completely defined by him being in a relationship of mastery over the woman. Finally he meets a human woman in the magic realm who is attractive to him, so he vows to “win” her affection. The book ends on a minor cliffhanger so I don’t really know if he does conquer her eventually. I assume he does eventually but I don’t much care.

    I don’t believe the book passes the Bechdel test. There is no woman in the book who is not primarily defined by her relationship to Stile. And despite his whining to inform the reader that women don’t care about him, the women who are present all fall all over him immediately and unconditionally. It struck me as major adolescent wish fulfillment.

  114. 114
    blf

    Russell Glasser, Thanks for mentioning the Bechdel test. I have no recollections of ever hearing of it before. It does seem like an illuminating metric.

  115. 115
    Eamon Knight

    @111: I don’t at all mind that Anne McCaffrey writes F&SF romances. I do mind that her characters are so cardboard, and the situations so melodramatic.

  116. 116
    ledasmom

    I rather liked the Apprentice Adept series – the first few – but mainly because of the Game. The rest was sort of background, but I liked the idea of the Game.

  117. 117
    kittehserf

    Eamon Knight @114 – exactly. I loved McCaffrey’s first few Dragon books as a teenager, but reading them again … oy, she writes the worst, most pointless, boring, one-dimensional villains ever. And there is SO much to side-eye in the whole dragon set up, whether it’s sapient beings created to be, effectively, slaves, or the business of mating being essentially rape for at least one of the humans involved. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

    Not to mention the line that grossed me out in “A Meeting of Minds,” where she has Damia “realising” at the end that a woman’s most important role in life begins with her being physically dominated by a man. Sickening.

  118. 118
    kittehserf

    aziraphale @107 – ‘oh but I’m dreaming’ doesn’t cut it, for me. We don’t have conscious control or awareness of dreams for the most part, but Covenant was, iirc, well aware of what he was doing. Besides that, there’s the little point that he WASN’T dreaming.

    Also, Shadow of the Torturer? Bored me to tears, I don’t think I finished it. I remember it as amost as waffly and pointless as The Last Unicorn, which was a force-myself-to-finish book in my teens or twenties, whenever it was.

  119. 119
    burgundy

    For whatever reason, my brain has totally different metrics for what makes a good person and what makes a good character. One of my favorite novels is Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner, and just about everyone in that book is a terrible person. But the book is wonderfully written, and the characters interest me, and they’re charming and fun to read about even if I would never want to get within half a mile of them. (And they’re not bad like “generic fantasy book villain” bad, where it’s all dumb violence and mustache twirling. They’re bad like people are bad – because they’re selfish, or vain, or calculating and manipulative.)

    I have a close friend who’s a fantasy author, and several of his books have unsympathetic protagonists. One of the books doesn’t even bother with the anti-hero concept; they are unequivocally villians, but the book is told from their point of view. (His agent described it as “Lord of the Rings meets Inglourious Basterds,” which I think is fair.) And someone previously mentioned the Vlad Taltos books, which I also like.

    And yet, I would really struggle, and probably fail, to enjoy a rapist protagonist. I’m not sure why mass murder is okay and rape is not. Some of it might be motivation-related. If someone is trying to conquer a country, then killing members of the resistance makes sense to achieve a larger goal. But rape is inherently cruel and dehumanizing in a way that murder need not necessarily be. I don’t know; I’m trying to find a reason for a visceral reaction, and that’s not always possible.

  120. 120
    konradzielinski

    Could anyone suggest a young adult book that would be good for a young woman of 12 that loves biology? Fiction or non fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, German or English language.

    The Pern Series by Ann Mcaffrey. It starts out looking like fantasy and then shifts into science fiction territory (or at least space Opera).

    Heck almost anything by Ann Mcaffrey would probably be good. About the only thing to watch out for, or at least vet before giving to your daughter, is the occasional occurrence of child trafficking villains. Nothing graphic occurs on stage but it is certainly alluded to. From memory this comes up in: Acorna Unicorn Girl, Pegasus in Flight, Sassinak and The City who Fought. Sassinak is probably the most confronting.

  121. 121
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    The Pern series? Really?

    Every prominent heterosexual relationship that I remember from those books is gross – F’lar slaps Lessa around (and there’s that casual aside early in Dragonflight about how “if the dragons weren’t involved, you might as well call it rape”), F’nor rapes Brekke after she “inexplicably” resists his advances. The book says that while he wasn’t gentle, he was “thorough.” And then there’s Jaxom, who in addition to being the most glorious example of a Marty Stu I’ve ever seen, is shown reacting with disgust when his mistress shows a liking for sex – she’s just supposed to lie there, after all.

    And then there’s the gay couples, which all feature a giggling effeminate bottom coupled with a more “manly” top. Curiously, there are no lesbians anywhere. This is coupled, of course, with McCaffery’s personal views, which apparently include the belief that being penetrated by anything, in any context, makes a man gay, and gay men who are penetrated are inherently effeminate and giggly.

  122. 122
    Amphiox

    It should be noted that, by Anthony’s own admission, all his Xanth books after the 5th or so were mailed in for the money, and were more or less just vehicles for showing off reader-submitted puns.

    Xanth is insipid even by the author’s own standards.

  123. 123
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    I have to second everything Esteleth said in #120.

    Almost all books are going to have some potentially problematic content, but the Pern series is actively horrifying when it comes to sex and relationships. I’d exercise caution about recommending books to kids that normalize rape and abuse as part of romance, plus all the fucked up stuff with gay men. I’ve heard the last book Anne wrote before she died had a main character who was a lesbian and it was pretty good and avoided a lot of the problems in her earlier books, but I haven’t read it. I don’t know that one book out of a huge series can make up for anything.

  124. 124
    Eamon Knight

    @120: I wanted to dig up the stories I’m thinking of, but finding a couple of random anthologies (the titles of which I don’t even recall) in our library would be a formidable task, so herewith some half-remembered further observations on McCaffrey:

    1) An alien-invasion story in which the aliens are humanoid, and they kidnap the sexiest earth women, apparently because they have bigger boobs than their own species does. One of them escapes and is getting chased around on some planet until she is rescued by a handsome hunk, who proceeds to “seduce” her in a way that looks a hell of a lot like rape. And this counts as a Happy Ending.

    2) Re Pern, 30 years ago I liked the concept even if the execution was frequently lacking. Ran across another Pern short more recently in which F’lar(?) rescues a serving girl (a potential Dragonrider) from a tyrannical overlord (another cardboard villain — BTW was reviving the feudal system really the best these colonizers could come up with? Yeesh.) and makes sure she’s all prettied up for the ceremony where the dragon eggs hatch, and Impress on the rider candidates. No, he doesn’t use her sexually, but there’s a creepiness about the way he controls her.

    Anyways, it reminded me why I loathe McCaffrey.

    Collaborations We Really Don’t Want To See, Ever: Piers Anthony and Anne McCaffrey. [shudder]

  125. 125
    aziraphale

    Here’s someone who agrees with you all, and is pretty funny (NSFW)

    http://mightygodking.com/index.php/2008/10/20/mgk-versus-his-adolescent-reading-habits/

  126. 126
    ledasmom

    Eamon Knight @ 123:

    2) Re Pern, 30 years ago I liked the concept even if the execution was frequently lacking. Ran across another Pern short more recently in which F’lar(?) rescues a serving girl (a potential Dragonrider) from a tyrannical overlord (another cardboard villain — BTW was reviving the feudal system really the best these colonizers could come up with? Yeesh.) and makes sure she’s all prettied up for the ceremony where the dragon eggs hatch, and Impress on the rider candidates. No, he doesn’t use her sexually, but there’s a creepiness about the way he controls her.

    “Weyr Search”, unless McCaffery wrote a near-duplicate story. The serving girl in question is Lessa, and she and F’lar later become involved, because their dragons do. Ew.
    I used to like McCaffrey, which now disturbs me.

  127. 127
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @aziraphile:

    The Pullman book cover made me snort-laugh

  128. 128
    myeck waters

    I will always be mad at Piers Anthony for the way the huge swath of his books at the bookstore prevented the occasional Patricia Anthony book from even being seen.

    Also the repellent personality that come through in his books.

    I was not-at-all tuned into pervasive misogyny when I first found his book in my early 20s. If I tried to read one of them now I suspect I die of terminal eye-goggling. Back then I happily read well over a dozen of them before slowly realizing he was a hack.

    Part of it was when he switched from a typewriter to a word-processor and clearly realized he could crank ‘em out twice as fast. Part was my realization that his plots were ridiculously formulaic. But I think a large part was the picture of the man I slowly built from reading his author’s notes. Jeez what as asshole!

    A few years later a friend sarcastically gave me a copy of Anthony’s autobiography and I read, in horrified fascination, chapter after chapter of him explaining that yes, he is as asshole, and also every bad thing or disappointment that ever happened in his life was because someone else denied him the chance. His failures to make the high school sports teams? Someone else’s fault. His academic shortcomings? Someone else’s fault. Etc.

  129. 129
    geekgirlsrule

    TCCC – The Department of Cautionary Tales by Katy Stauber. I just reviewed it on my blog after getting an advance copy. The protagonist is a teenaged mad scientist, in a world where science prodigies just show up from time to time. The publisher Metasagas Press is about producing YA novels aimed at interesting girls in the STEM fields.

  130. 130
    NitricAcid

    I blush to admit that I enjoyed the first batch of Xanth books in high school. I noticed his preoccupation with sex more than the sexism (apart from the bit where the woman explains that her strategy for dealing with monsters involves screaming and showing off her legs to attract a hero to rescue her). Then I read “The Shade of the Tree”, in which the single father gets “involved” with the 16-year-old babysitter (but that’s okay, since it’s “twoo love!”). The Incarnations of Immortality started out interesting, but the fifty pages in the back of each one keeping all of his fans informed about his life were rather insulting. I”m not sure why I even read it, but I’ll never forget the bit where he complains that his daughter went to college and she and all her friends had *gasp* boyfriends! Of their own age! Not 40-year-olds!! But he “is not one to complain about the mores of this generation…” (meaning he is going to whine, simply because they’re sleeping with each other instead of him!). In the last one, two female characters are suddenly affected by magic- one of them is turned male, and promptly rapes the other. “But that’s okay,” the victim cries, “you couldn’t help it- all those male hormones coursing through your veins made you unable to resist.” Blech.

    Then there were the Planet of Tarot novels- I bought the first one, read half of it, thought, “This is really cool!”, bought the rest of the series, then finished the first book. And found out that (to use his own words) it was a great big human turd. If I had just read two more chapters before returning to the bookstore, I could have saved myself a lot of misery.

  131. 131
    chigau (違う)

    Conan the Libertarian
    har

  132. 132
    NitricAcid

    Anne McAffrey? I barely remember her Pern novels, but I do remember a short story in “Get Off the Unicorn” in which an escaped human slave is raped by an alien master as a reward for saving him. When she complains, he replies, “But I’m really good in bed!” And. She. Agrees….

  133. 133
    David Marjanović

    I’m not sure why mass murder is okay and rape is not.

    Well, mass murder can be sanitized: compare this to this.

  134. 134
    katybe

    @ ledasmom (#115) – Interested to hear you say that. To be honest, it was the Game that really turned me off PA – I’d read a few of the Xanth books, but not that many, and then I started on the Adept series. The only thing I can now remember from it was where the main male character was playing against a female, who for some reason was replicated multiple times (and naked, of course) and he had to work out which was the real character and which were the computer-generated robots. So he went round grabbing them all until one reacted, and this was portrayed as being such a clever idea. That was basically the point where the books were tossed aside in complete disgust and returned to the charity shop I’d bought them from!

  135. 135
    NitricAcid

    I can’t comment on the Adept series…barely remember them.

  136. 136
    Eamon Knight

    @131: That is undoubtedly the first story I am thinking of @123.

  137. 137
    NitricAcid

    Could very well be. The details that I remember were that she was hiding in a cave protected by a species of thornbush that shoots its thorns at people. She’s learned to throw a rock at the bush, and run to her cave while it’s recharging. She rescues an alien fugitive using this trick (they run to her cave, but the thorns have reloaded by the time the pursuers arrive, so they are driven off by thorns). After he rapes her and she regains her composure, she wants another go, but he explains, “Like the thornbush, I need a few minutes to recharge.”

  138. 138
    frog

    I think most PA series followed a pattern to my reading: The first book or two would be so interesting with the introduction of a new world, very creative and full of shiny bits that distracted from the bad prose and deep sexism. By the second or third book in any PA series, the shiny was no longer distracting, and the bad prose and sexism became more obvious and I would stop reading.

    Re characters doing bad things: I don’t have a problem with characters doing bad things, even protagonists doing bad things, depending on context. There’s a difference between being shown why a character does something bad, and having that event condoned by the narrative. In the case of Thomas Covenant, I don’t think the narrative ever condoned the rape; the problem was the character himself did, and we spent waaaaay too much time listening to his incessant whining. I think I lasted about two chapters after the rape, because I just wanted to kick him in the head and make him STFU.

    Yes, Thomas Covenant, you have leprosy. Yes, it is a terrible disease, and you’re dealing with it by being fanatically committed to facing reality, or at least you think so. Your psyche is so fucked up you cling to what you think reality should be so hard that you try to destroy (via rape) what you think is a dream so you don’t get sucked out of your horrible reality. I get it.

    But at the same time, he’s in a magical world many of the folks reading about him would want to be in, and all he does is kvetch kvetch kvetch. I didn’t want to spend any more time in the presence of that annoying, self-centered, whiny jerk.

  139. 139
    Eamon Knight

    This thread has made me think it’s time to re-read the first Thomas Covenant series, to see if I understand it any better. It’s probably been 20+ years since the last time, and a lot has changed in that time. For one: I was still thinking of morality in essentially Christian terms back then. Also, I think I had this unconscious naive assumption that I’m supposed to sympathize with the protagonist, which has taken a long time to shake.

    I may, of course, wind up unambiguously hating it. Which would be OK.

  140. 140
    kittehserf

    Re: the McCaffrey story where the runaway slave is raped – it’s The Thorns of Barevi, which she later turned into the Catteni series. She admits in the intro that she wrote it trying to cash in on the porn market in the 60s or 70s, whenever it was.

    The bit about “rearming” at the end is even worse: “Like the thorns of Barevi, the Catteni need very little time to rearm.” Ugh.

    One of the later Pern books has Lessa and F’lar’s son F’lessan falling for a green rider (I forget her name) and being all horrified when he realises she’s never had any say in her dragon’s mating: her preferences have never come into it. Which is a huge fucking joke and a bad case of too little, too late, because the entire premise of dragon/rider mating is that the humans don’t get much say in it. McCaffrey makes the odd nod to a rider indicating a preference, but it gets lost in the dragons’ preferences/mating urges, and we’re never told, iirc, whether a dragon’s preference would give way to a human’s. It’s usually “Oh, the dragon likes the dragon zir rider likes!” but that is just as bad – you’re still left with a sapient being having sex (and pretty damn violent sex) with someone they didn’t choose.

    I loved the first five Pern books and the two about Menolly when I was a teenager. No way would I recommend them to teenagers now.

    As to Xanth – much the same as most here, read ‘em as a teen, had no clue about how misogynistic, let alone rape-pedophilia promoting they were (never read Spell for Chameleon, I’m glad to say). I started with Night Mare, and fuck, even when Puke Anthony is talking about horses mating he turns it into rapist bullshit. Though at least Imbri does polish off the Horseman before anything happens.

  141. 141
    konradzielinski

    This thread has made me look back and see how prevalent unhealthy relationships are in Science Fiction and Fantasy. And that’s even deliberately ignoring the more obvious extremes. Its also surprising how often the bad bit is not even integral to the plot of the book but just some kind of background that could have been left out without damaging the story.

    @ tccc

    in terms of fantasy books I can probably do better:

    Skullduggery Pleasant
    The Frontier Magic
    The Young Wizards
    Obernewtyn Chronicles
    Tortall universe

  142. 142
    jaystocker

    Aargh. Why must I be so late to the thread?

    Robin Hobb! Currently my favourite fantasy author. So many wonderful characters. Her Ship of Magic series, with Althea Vestrit, her mother and niece as the major protagonists. Not to mention that one of her characters seems to be truly genderless.

    And Steven Erikson! Messy, dark, crowded epic fantasy written by an anthropologist. Unlike most fantasy authors, he made most of his societies egalitarian. Why do so many fantasy authors choose to wallow in patriarchal, medieval structures when they have the chance to make a new world?? (Looking at YOU, George Martin!)

  143. 143
    Linda Boden

    @130 – I read the novel you’re referring to, I think it was one of the later Incarnations of Immortality books. As I recall, what happens is two girls who are friends are climbing a mountain to find Nox to get help with something. As they are climbing, one friend is turned into a man and promptly tries to rape “his” friend. Just before he’s about to actually rape her, he gets turned back into a she.

    The whole point of the exercise was Nox teaching the girls to realize how difficult it is for men to control their animal impulses, and how the girls should have sympathy for these men who have to fight against raping everyone all the time. And the girl who was turned into a guy is like, oh wow, I never realized how overwhelming men’s sexual needs are! I’ll have to be kinder in the future!

    I have to say, it felt like a Chick Tract, trying to convert me to the world view that women should be thankful for every interaction with a male that isn’t rape.

  144. 144
    Rey Fox

    The only thing I know about Piers Anthony is that I saw a book of his in the local second-hand paperback shop (which also happened to be probably the best comic book shop in town) many years ago called “The Color Of Her Panties”. I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned that on this thread yet.

  145. 145
    NitricAcid

    Rey- I knew of the book, but it came out after I stopped reading the series. The title by itself seemed mild compared to the crap in the ones that I did read.

    This thrice-damned thread now has me remembering more and more of his crap. Like the bit where some creep is “dating” an underage prostitute, and one of a set of three women (the fates?) is feeling sorry for the man, because he loves young girls, but is forced to go to prostitutes because he can’t legally seduce a young girl. Then one of the other women in the set points out that what the man really wants is a *boy*, but can’t get one…then pity turns to revulsion. Because homosexuality is so much worse than pedophilia.

  146. 146
    vaiyt

    I have to say, it felt like a Chick Tract, trying to convert me to the world view that women should be thankful for every interaction with a male that isn’t rape.

    At most, I would have come out of that reading with the idea that men should be preventatively castrated. Holy shit.

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