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.

However …

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.


Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, I'll be brutally honest here because it's been a *big thorn* in my side for decades now. You have brilliantly summarized WHY NO MATTER HOW GOOD THE WRITING IS, or how entertaining, I CANNOT READ THESE KIND OF STORIES. THE WOMEN/YOUNG WOMEN AREN'T WOMEN, or heroines, imo!!! They're little idiot victims. It's the abused going back to the abuser, even when she does have a 'choice'. Why? Unless, you have a grander scheme to bring him and his empire down.

Yeah, that's why I love Buffy and Xena. I couldn't get enough of watching them, and some similar shows made in New Zealand during that time period. I love any woman who is truly powerful and empowered, whether sweet-natured or kick-ass.

This is one reason, my assessment only, that some readers don't identify with my heroines or my heroes -- it's not a victim story. Another reason is I can write in an alien mind set... but that seems to confuse and turn off some readers, too.

For example, Zol and Zin, my Kandy Apple's hellhound heroes. They aren't human males. They don't think like humans, but do think like males.

Whatever, I AM GRATEFUL for all those readers who do purchase my books!!! Thank you!

You'll have to tell me, at some point, if Sherilyn, my heroine in HMSC is too wimpy. She's down and out, and been abused by life and the Templetons... but she fights back, does anything she can to survive until she's on death's doorstep. And even though Dontoya and Zance are now protecting her... well, she doesn't cower in the shadows... okay, if I say anymore that would be a spoiler.

Pat C. said...

It's even worse when the women have superpowers and still end up disrespected by every man in creation. These angel women have wings. If they didn't like it, you'd think they'd fly away.

And half-animal women? C'mon. Even a sheep has hooves.

It's the subliminal messages, the casual assumptions, that really tick me off, especially when you remember these books are aimed at teenage girls. Maybe that's why I write M/M. At least I'm not warping female minds.

Pat C. said...

I haven't gotten too far in HMSC because it's on my laptop. I'm still not used to writing on a computer screen. Plus I had stuff from the library that was on a deadline. I WILL get back to it, I swear.

Pat C. said...

Oops. Meant to say "READING on a computer screen."

Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, absolutely agree, and I couldn't say it better. Yeah, my hopes are dashed at this point, when it comes to this kind of sexism. Not that I'll ever go along. I won't.

No probs about HMSC. I only want you to read it if you want to.

Serena Shay said...

Interesting... Your review sent me to my library site to request Daughter of Smoke and Bone for checkout. Such an emotional reaction to a book makes for one I need to read. ;)

I, too, hate sexism in books, but most stories will have/need some degree of them... wait, before you say wtf, let me explain...

a good character is a broken one, one who finds their way to a better them. A story is sometimes watching a heroine, rooting for her to grow out of the destructive washrag path she's on, even if it means watching her make the mistake over and over again(hopefully the author can find the fine line between not enough and too much.)

The same can be said for a tough as balls heroine who diminishes the hero of the story just because she is too tough. Her story would be about finding the softness she lacks without losing her strength. Letting her feminine self supplement her leader qualities. Heck, I suspect it's harder to soften a heroine rather than toughen one up.

I think Buffy was ultimately successful because we got to watch her navigate this slippery slope. She grew and regressed all the way through the show. It made her likable, kick ass and still soft on occasion and the softness didn't come off as faked.

One last thought on the sexism in books...isn't there sexism on the heroes of books as well? Tough, less emotional, alpha, sexy and in awesome shape? Heck, I read stories with these types of heroes, because yes that is my fantasy man. I even admit that I'm guilty of writing more of this type of hero because it's what I like, but, very few men out there fit this kind of bill in total. Just a thought.

I'm looking forward to reading the books and I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on the final book, Pat. Will/does the author successfully grow the heroine to meet your expectations. Will/does the heroine find her "better" her? :)

Savanna Kougar said...

Serena, I hear you, and those are good points about growing the heroine. However, ***for me personally***, I don't give a dang about those kind of stories because I read way too many of them, at one point, where too often the sexism is far beyond the pale, and is disturbing, unacceptable to my soul. Not to mention ultimately boring. I mean really, who wants to be a woman like that? And what real man would want a woman like that? Where's the attraction? Again, just my opinion.

Buffy had her ups and downs, true. So did Xena... but there's a difference between that and allowing yourself to be abused over and over again. Both Buffy and Xena ultimately stood up for themselves within a reasonable period of growth, and got out of bad situations without endlessly returning to abusive situations.

I believe there's a line between growing and learning, or rising to a challenge... than this wholesale 'beat up the heroine' until she gets it scenario, which is horrible for young girls. Again, just my opinion.

Personally, I don't put up with that kind sexism in my life. Why would I want my heroines to put up with it?

As far as the heroes, of course a lot of it is fantasy. My heroes aren't abused by the heroine, however... unless she believes he's done something rotten he hasn't -- one of those plot-device miscommunications.

Me and many women of my generation fought to free ourselves from this nightmare horror. We're still fighting... then to see this as a standard heroine archetype. I can't tell you how my stomach roils.

What happened to 'role model' heroines?

This is another reason I would never make it as a biggie author in the romance novel writing biz... because I won't write this type of heroine.

Truth to tell, after a certain point, as a reader I don't give a damn what happens to that kind of heroine. If that's callous, I'm sorry. But there's only so much I can take. It's like people who attempt to help abused women. If they don't want help, it doesn't matter what you do. In fact, the abused woman will often do everything they can to drag you under with them. They have to come to the table first.

Back to heroes... given 'real men' have been destroyed by design in our society ~~ men are raised to be wimps -- they're denigrated in sitcoms, etc. -- the assault of pesticide estrogens and plastic estrogens is ruining men's physiology, including lessening the size of their erections -- women naturally hunger for real men, an alpha man, or whatever their idea of a hero is. Who can blame women for wanting some kind of experience of a real man? The alpha hero. Since those kind of men are rarer than hen's teeth right now. And I'm not talking about some over-macho steroid head bozo head, either.

No, you can't use today's man as a hero, in most cases. I only wish I could. And I bet a lot of women do, too.

Pat C. said...

Wanna really kick the hornet's nest? Check out "Hush, Hush," where the male lead stalks the teenage female lead, harasses her in public and tells her to her face he's going to kill her. Her response is to fall in love with him because he's super-hot. It was a YA bestseller. Go figure.

Of course men in books also fall victim to sexism. However, it's harder to denigrate them and their accomplishments with a smirk and a pat on the head and calling them a bitch if they don't stand there and take it. Or "rewarding" a loyal soldier who's put her life on the line in the service of her country by wanting to make her your bed partner. (This happens to the hero's sister. The aggressor is her blood uncle.) It's bad enough this stuff, and worse, happens to women all the time in real life. But to glorify it in a book aimed at teenage girls? And then to perpetuate it in a fantasy setting with inhuman characters in an alien society? It's like saying, "See, kids, this is how women are treated everywhere in the universe. Don't worry, some hot guy will rescue you, as long as you're hot too. Otherwise, tough titty, kitty." It's seeing the same tropes perpetuated regardless of setting or culture that really boils my beans. At least Buffy and Xena and Red Sonja (even in the ridiculous chainmail bikini) offered an alternative.

All that said, I'm still going to read the last book because, dammit, Taylor can write, even if I don't agree with all of her worldbuilding. Even Star Trek, for all its forward thinking, still put its women in miniskirts and go-go boots. Sometimes you have to take what you can get.

Pat C. said...

I'm working on a story right now about dragons, where the females rule because they're bigger, and the males just have to grin and bear it. Or bare it, if she tells him to strip. I started it before I read these books, and now it makes me feel all sorts of better.

Savanna Kougar said...

Heck, I don't even care if the women are wearing next to nothing sex outfits of some kind... what I care about is how they are truly regarded, how they're respected in the culture. After all, men can respect and care about women regardless of how much clothing they're wearing, or not wearing.

Good on you about your dragons. I have several WIPs where women rule in the society... be nice to finish one... would it sell? Even if it's written well? Who knows?

Pat C. said...

I can get through Star Trek, and a lot of books and movies (early James Bond, for instance) by telling myself they're a product of their time. Finding 1950s and 1960s sexual stereotypes in modern YA books, though, is disturbing.

Savanna Kougar said...

They are a product of the time. To be honest, as bad as the sex stereotypes were, I think they're even worse now. In part, because like you say it's in YA books.

I'm not a big wholesome freak, but this is sexualizing young women in a destructive way that unbelievably demeans them.