Blunt Weapons Don’t Have Points

Spoilers for the latest episode of Game of Thrones, just in case you need them.

I’ve not really said much about the HBO Game of Thrones so far for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve not read the books, which I don’t think is any kind of requirement for criticism so much as I think it speaks to my being a more casual fan. Second, those elements which I do find problematic are, largely, being critiqued by people far better at it than I am.

I’m not even sure I’m about to launch into a critique of GoT even now so much as I am this article Eric Deggans posted over at NPR. The title itself probably tells you most of what you need to know: “Do Critics Of Violence And Sex In HBO’s ‘Game Of Thrones’ Miss The Point?”

Also, this is your last spoiler warning.

It’s an especially messy op-ed piece not least of all because it conflates criticism of GoT’s growing-infamous tendency to have its female protagonists raped with a scene wherein a young girl is murdered by her father. Which, really, seem like incredibly different arguments to me.

Whether it’s too far to kill a child character more-or-less on camera (and / or arguing that it’s a step Stannis Baratheon would never take) is a very different thing than pointing out how often GoT goes to the Rape Well when they need Something Horrible to motivate their female protagonists. About the only thing they have in common is that they’re both criticisms of the show, and they both seem to be sticking points for an irrate fandom.

That’s not nearly enough for me to buy in that the same argument works for both situations. It’s a rhetorical tactic somewhere akin to adding anti-marriage amendments to a federal budget. I’m not letting you graft them together in an effort to strong arm my support.

So, the Baratheon child has nothing to do with this, okay? Leave the girl and her father in whatever horrific version of peace they can manage.

Now we’re left with just the one charge. And its defense, at least in the most recent case:

From my perspective, the journey of Sansa Stark’s character has been completely about seeing her romantic and unrealistic vision of her world hardened by adversity – including her father’s beheading, her own kidnapping, the murder of her mother and other family members, and her forced marriage to two different men, including the sadist who now tortures her regularly.

Is that the point I was supposed to be missing? Because I didn’t miss it. Not after the beheading, not during the murders or the kidnappings, not even with the forced marriages. It’s very hard to miss that point. It’s fairly obvious, honestly. I think, rather, that apologists and counter-arguments are more missing the point of the critics.

As Deggans’ own list shows us, Sansa’s journey thus far has been dour and horrific and traumatizing in all the ways this grimdark fantasy most enjoys, and no one screamed and hollered and said “but Sansa should live in a world of butterflies and pretty flowers!” This isn’t about life in this world being awful and ruinous for just about anyone who enters it. It’s about the fact that, for female characters, the writers seem to consistently shortcut everything by adding in rape scenes.

As I said above, I think others are in a better position and possessed of more eloquence than I in discussing a lot of the inherent sexism and triggering that rape scenes evoke. What I feel entirely qualified to say about such repetitive narrative shorthand, though, is this:

It. Is. Lazy.

This is a world with ice zombies and dragon queens. Where shadow babies murder wannabe kings and the seasons don’t play fair and predictable. I’m not asking for a utopia where only pleasant things happen. I’m asking that, if you’re going to go for this grimdark worldview, if you’re going to drag me through despair and horror, the least you can do is be more imaginative than “Our female character needs horrific hardship to overcome. I know: rape! Because that’s the thing about women, they get raped, right?”

Pointed enough?

Sense8: Bedroom Backflip

I’m only about halfway through Sense8, the new Wachowski / Straczynski Netflix series, so I’m not going to say too terribly much about it yet. Since all the episodes are available, it seems a better idea for me to finish the binge and see how all the crazy-making does or does not hold together in the final analysis.

I am, however, thus far pleased that the show has done the thing that got me to buy in on How to Get Away with Murder. Namely, starting things off by making its LGBT characters the ones shouldering the bulk of the sexy time.

More than that, though, up until the middle of the series, the two LGBT couples are also doing the heavy romantic lifting. At series start, there’s only one heterosexual long-term pairing in the 8 leads, and that one isn’t what I’d call stable and supportive in the way the two gay pairings are.

This is changing as the show’s progressing, as well it should. I’m not interested in suddenly chastity-belting the straight characters as some kind of weird sexual payback for series past. It is, however, refreshing that the people we’re waiting to find love interests for are the straight people, when generally LGBT characters languish off to the side until after Tumblr has had a season or two to lament a lack of significant others through the time-tested use of animated GIFs.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I’ve seen it all, but that element, at least, was stand out enough that I thought it worth mentioning on its own.

Jumping at Shadows

Friend from college and writer of scary stuff Amanda Hard is celebrating National Short Story Month by reviewing / recommending a short story a day. I’m not nearly so ambitious, but her recent entry on a Ray Bradbury story, particularly her mention of the masterful way Bradbury builds tension and dread, instantly brought to mind my own favorite example of Bradbury’s atmosphere / dread-building abilities: “The Whole Town’s Sleeping.”

The story is, honestly, kind of plotless: young woman and friends find dead body, hear about a serial killer, go to the movies, then young woman walks home alone. In terms of “what actually happens,” that’s really what it boils down to. There aren’t aliens or ghosts or monsters or even an on-screen appearance of this rumored serial killer.

And it scared the living hell out of me.

Part of this is Bradbury playing with my expectations. He put the gun on the table, as it were, when he showed me a body and mentioned a killer. I was waiting for it to go off.

But beyond that, or perhaps intertwined with it, Bradbury slowly indoctrinates me with the creeping paranoia building in his POV character (Lavinia). I’m sure Lavinia is safe at first. After all, this is just the beginning. I laugh off the false threats as she encounters them, because, well, I knew those were coming, surely?

Then, of course, I’ve bought in. Because my responses echo Lavinia’s, I’ve become sympathetic even without realizing it. And so as her paranoia builds, so does mine.

As the story builds, I’m not just waiting for something to happen. I’m actively dreading it. Honestly, the last third or so of this story is me as a reader doing the equivalent of the “turn around he’s right behind you!” flailing that you do watching a thriller movie.

Except I can’t see anyone behind Lavinia any better than she can. Everything is built with atmosphere and dread and expectation, and every damn step that young woman takes on the way home is worse than the last for all that nothing goes wrong and nothing goes wrong and…

I literally flinched and sucked in a frightened breath at the end of the story. I had to put the book down (I read this one in Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales). And turn on all the lights in the apartment. And put a comedy on the television.

Evil From the Start

I have an on-again, off-again relationship with Once Upon a Time. I don’t always worry if I miss some of it, but I keep coming back because folklore re-working is one of my wonks (Obviously). I’m in a catch-up phase with the show at present, and found myself pleasantly surprised by the recent episode “Sympathy for the De Vil.” Spoilers follow, since I don’t have a way to talk about this without giving away the primary twist in the plot. You’ve been warned.

I tend to think of it as “the Wicked effect,” myself (TV Tropes prefers Cry for the Devil), as it seemed to surge on the heels of that particular Broadway adaptation’s success, but the narrative for just about any villain in Once Upon a Time generally follows the same formula: after introducing us to the latest in the line of Most Evil Person We’ve Ever Faced characters, flashbacks reveal that once, our cold-hearted villain was a loving, caring soul who was ruined by someone else’s evil. Usually, by someone else he or she (usually she) cared for.

Regina’s evil is from the horror which was her mother, Cora, enacted on the love of her life. Cora’s evil is originally from having her love exploited by a callous, lying lover. Rumpelstiltskin’s father abandoned him and his wife left him. Captain Hook lost his love to Rumpel’s magic. And so it goes.

Given that one of the show’s primary themes is redemption, it’s not a surprising trend. And the recent trio of new villains seem to be following the pattern. Maleficent, we find, has suffered the loss of a child. Ursula, too, found her villainy in the face of betrayal.

The episode focusing on Cruella De Vil started by holding to form. A stern mother and her not-remotely-lovable Dalmatians harrow a poor little Cruella, then Mommy locks her away in the attic. See? Of course she’d have hard feelings about spotted dogs. She was horribly treated by them as a child!

An older Cruella finds a means of escaping from her prison, though, and of gaining new powers (because on OUAT, every villain has magic) thanks to a brave suitor after telling him about how her mother killed all three of her previous husbands (Cruella’s previous fathers). Cruella hurries off, telling her suitor they’ll meet soon and run away together.

Bad Mommy shows up, and I may have yawned, because we’ve seen this before. Repeatedly. If redemption is a central theme of OUAT, another puzzlingly seems to be “family does really messed up stuff in the name of taking care of you.”

And then they went and surprised me. Because, you see, despite all the same trappings every other of these little flashbacks has had, despite a title telling me about the sympathy I’d feel, it turns out Cruella lived up to her name without any external influences.

Yup. Cruella killed her own father. Then did it to her mother’s next two husbands. It wasn’t even revenge, really. Cruella, it seems, was just plain old evil. She killed because she liked it. So far as I can tell, Cruella is your standard issue psychopath.

Which, given the normal direction of the show, was oddly refreshing. That, finally, UOAT for a brief moment offered up the idea that some people really are just plain evil.

And I got excited, because what would all these “you can be good if you really want to be” heroes do in the face of someone who would never, ever make that choice? Who wasn’t corrupted by a nasty history, couldn’t be restored to the love and light from which he or she originally sprang. Who was fully, unarguably, irredeemably evil? Oh, this could be really delicious.

Mind you, it seems the writers didn’t think there was quite so much potential in that particular moral quandry. I suspect the real reason for Cruella’s “born evil” origin was due to what happens in the “present” of the episode immediately afterward. Cruella’s thrown off a cliff, and while we’re shocked and all, we did just find out she’s evil to the core.

And just when I started to love her. Hopefully this heartache doesn’t send me on the path to villainy.

Tales Oft-Repeated

Bearded Scribe Press has put out another slate of mini-interviews with contributors to Twice Upon A Time: Fairytale, Folklore, & Myth. Reimagined & Remastered. (which includes my story, “Tall”). Like last time, rather than inundate with a week’s worth, I’m taking the consolidated approach. Click one name, click all, click as your little heart desires. And if your little heart decides after reading that you want yourself a copy of this not-so-little anthology, click the link I put on the title of it above, or on the sidebar. Look at all these fun options the world gives.

Bo Balder (“Bog Trade”)
I just loved [Jack Vance’s] ironic details and grotesque imagination. I wanted to be just like him…all my teenage work is one big Vance pastiche.

AJ Bauers (“The Screw-Up”)
When you get that first bad critique, don’t hide from it. Embrace it. It’s going to hurt like hell, especially if it’s the first time you ever show your work to someone, but it’s going to make you and your work stronger.

Tracy Arthur Soldan (“Sinobrody 0.9.8″)
It was unusual for a small rural library in 1969 to have a section for speculative fiction, and I think I read just about everything that had a rocket ship or atom symbol on the spine. The first book I can clearly recall is The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin; I was the first person to check it out when a copy arrived in the summer of 1970.

Can You Fanart Yourself?

I’m not always inclined to take a crack at my own characters, largely because I hate disappointing myself by coming up with a visual which doesn’t remotely match the character in my head.

That said, I’m pretty happy with how Acaja (From “At Her Fingertips,” up in the current issue of Betwixt magazine) turned out, so I figured I’d share:

I will admit that the coin she’s flipping wound up there because what I couldn’t manage to draw to my own satisfaction was the sidestep unit which is so essential to Acaja’s plans. I’m still generally under-impressed with how I render tech.

Instead, she’s got anachronistic physical currency. We’ll say she found it in the scrapyard.

Adventure Epics About Intrepid Grease Monkeys

Ten fingers, ten toes. That’s the baseline for a healthy kid, right? You’d have thought I’d be a bonus, what with eighteen fingers. Guess they all have to function before you count them.

As Deficiencies go, mine’s not so bad. The Skew was a hell of a thing, and everyone on the Rim’s still feeling it. I knew a guy once had a fully formed jaw down around his nuts. I only wish I was kidding. On the upside, the hinge didn’t work, or it would’ve been a nightmare sitting down.

Cover art: The Woods by Boudewijn Berends
Used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0) license
Image edits by Leland Spencer

“At Her Fingertips,” goes live today over at Betwixt magazine. This is another story set on the Rim — the asteroid colonies / ghettos populated by victims of the genetic plague known as the Skew — which first appeared in “Detritus.” If you haven’t read that first story, don’t worry; this is a different asteroid, a different protagonist, and a story intended to stand on its own.1

Acaja is a skilled pilot, talented mechanic, and surly piece of business. She’s also a dreamer and a romantic, but if you tell anyone, she might just beat you to a within an inch of your life. A lady has a reputation to keep.

Acaja wants off her asteroid colony, Rixzah, out of the literal garbage dump she works in, and into the arms of … oh, but that would be spoilers.

Part caper, part romance, all complicated-and-surly protagonist, and totally free to read. Though, of course, if you enjoy it, consider buying the ebook or dead tree versions via the Betwixt site. And maybe think about picking up “Detritus” (link on the right or on my bibliography page) for more weird stuff from the Rim.

1. Folks who have read “Detritus” may recognize at least one character here, and pick up one or more other easter eggs, mind.