Thursday, July 18, 2013
All Too Human
I miss Buffy.
What brings on my spate of nostalgia for kick-assery is the last two books I read (got ‘em from the library, so I had to go through ‘em fast), Daughter of Smoke and Bone and its sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight, by Laini Taylor. They’re Young Adult: the protag is a 17-year-old girl and there’s the requisite ultra-hot guy (literally; he’s a seraph with burning wings) and eternal love story. All Twilight comparisons end there. The books contain beautiful writing by someone who obviously loves language and knows how to wield words for greatest impact. Taylor’s world-building and characterization ain’t too shabby either. Even secondary characters are well-fleshed enough for believability, and the mysteries build to a slow reveal that actually is revealed, rather than drawn out for the sake of another bloated trilogy. The “angels” in this universe would kick the posers from Fallen, Halo and Hush, Hush right out the window and toss ‘em their pinfeathers as a parting shot. In another world—say, the 1980s—this book would have been shelved in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section and college kids would be reading it.
The only downside is that it’s a trilogy and the conclusion won’t be out until next year. I wanna read it right friggin’ now, dammit! Sadly, books of this quality take time, so I’ll just have to suck it up and wait along with everybody else—first for the release date, then for the library to get it, unless I hang out at Barnes and Noble and try to skim it for free. Yes, I liked it. If I were giving a review, both volumes would get 5 stars.
Partway through the second book a nagging thought occurred to me. Although the main character is human by default—they’re trying to sell this to human readers, after all—pretty much the rest of the cast are aliens from another dimension: the beastial chimaera and their sworn enemies, the winged seraphim. They’ve been at war for hundreds of years. Then a chimaera girl meets a seraph boy on the battlefield, and—well, you know what happens. It’s YA.
I can handle that. I just have to remind myself who the target audience is, and it ain’t some old lady who was weaned on the original Star Trek and New Age science fiction. What started to bother me was how much these alien creatures from this alien dimension, with nothing at all in common with Earth history, thought and behaved just like us.
I know, I know, it’s necessary; target audience and all that. They used to do it on Star Trek too, and all the other books and shows supposedly set on alien worlds or in other time periods. For instance, next time you watch one of these shows or movies, note the number of alien societies that independently evolved catsuits and high heels. The characters may be aliens in the far future, but the readers/viewers are modern-day humans, and they want characters they can recognize and identify with. I guess I'll have to live with that.
I just wish the aliens from the other dimension hadn’t evolved sexism.
In far too many of these books, movies, comics, etc., women get short shrift. It happens here. Again. Yes, there are female soldiers, but they’re not exempt if one of the ruling males wants them. The king of the angels has a harem and breeds bastard soldiers for the war effort. The chimera general fixates on the heroine because she’s the most beautiful woman (i.e., human looking) in all the land, and she kind of goes for him in a wishy-washy, spineless, what choice do I have sort of manner, at least until she meets Hot Angel Boy. So General Buttwipe catches her and has her beheaded. Later, when she’s reborn in human form, she ends up working with General BW because, wellll, he’s the hero of the resistance and all and she doesn’t really feel like she has a choice. She also has a skill he desperately needs for the war effort, and he sets up one of his flunkies as her assistant to learn it so he can dispose of her again. I figured that out about ten chapters before she did. He manipulates the holy hell out of her and she just can’t see it, even with two lifetimes of experience.
Jesus Christ, honey. He KILLED YOU. He CUT YOUR FRIGGIN’ HEAD OFF. You were reborn as a human and separated from your one true love, not to mention your homeworld, because THIS GUY IS A SCUZZBAG. How many lives do you have to be hit over the head in? Or have that head cut off? I expect more, or at least different, from someone non-human. The first time around, anyway.
That, to varying degrees, is what we get with the other alien females. No matter how skilled or tough or independent they are, their choices ultimately depend on the whim of some male. The only one who takes direct, decisive action against the evil rulers is Hot Angel Boy. The heroine finally fights back against General Buttwipe, but only when he attempts to rape her. C’mon, sweetie, you’ve known for two lifetimes he was a sleaze of the highest order. You had to see that one coming.
Like I said, I miss Buffy.
It would really be nice if, in one of these books, the alien society held out some hope to impressionable young girls that there’s more to life than pairing up with a scuzzball while waiting for the right hot guy to come along. A female general would have been welcome. I’ll bet if Xena or Red Sonja was commanding that army, the king would think twice before ordering them hauled off to the harem. (One did try that with Red Sonja, with the expected fatal result.) I’ll bet Xena or Sonja wouldn’t hesitate to have some comely young soldier boy brought to her tent, either. (Maybe Xena not so much since she has Gabrielle, but Sonja, definitely.) I’d love to see that in a book just once, boy I tell you what.
There’s some hope for the third volume, maybe. There’s a group of outcast angels out there, ruled by a queen. Please let her be a T’Pau. That's her in the picture up there. She ruled Vulcan on Star Trek. The whole planet decided she was the logical choice to lead them. Who’s going to argue with Vulcan logic? Just pointing out that it can be done, and young girls can be exposed to the concept without it corrupting their lives.
Some day I’ll rant about how superheroines can chase after the bad guys while wearing stiletto heels. Except Wonder Woman, who can fly. And why isn’t she wearing boots or sandals like the other Amazonian warriors? But that’s another blog.