Jenny's Library

Archive for March 2013

After my visitor stats jumped up the other day (thank you to The Book Smugglers – and Kate Elliott and Liz Bourke – for retweeting the link to my Sisters Red post!) I realized I ought to point readers in the direction of some of the posts that got me thinking about this.  And then I fell down the rabbit hole of collecting links.

So, this is not the “you should read these posts” post! – that’s still coming.  Instead, this is a nice long list of links about “grimdark,” realism, fantasy, and other related topics.  Not all of these links are ones I find intellectually stimulating, but many of them are, and I’m hoping that this list will provide a good reference.

For me, if no one else.

Two last notes: First, a huge thanks to Liz Bourke and Cora Buhlert for their recent link posts, which is where I got most of these links.  And secondly, several of these links deal with sexual assault, so proceed with caution.

2/2/11 The Bankrupt Nihilism of Our Fallen Fantasists – Leo Grin (one of the critics of grimdark that Abercrombie links to as decrying grit in a general sense)

5/13/11 Lament for a Lady – George R. R. Martin “It has come to my attention that a number of television viewers…were shocked and upset by what befell Sansa’s direwolf Lady…Good. I mean, that was kind of the point.”

8/2/11 “People who like this sort of thing.” Being a review of Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns – Liz Bourke “In my experience, you have to be either especially clueless, or trying very hard, to achieve that level of misogynist creepy.”

2/27/12 A Game of Thorns: Or This Partially Being an Epic Review of the Epic Fantasy Novel, Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, And Partially Something Else – Eric M. Forester “Because while the author claims it only has rape in “0.06%” of the book, it is certainly front heavy with it. And a general dismissiveness towards women stalks its pages.”

5/12  Dear Speculative Fiction, I’m Glad We’ve Had This Talk – Elizabeth Bear “The thing is, that kind of cynical pose is really just a juvenile reaction to the world not being what we hoped. We can’t have everything—so we reject anything. But it’s adolescent, darling, and most of us outgrow it.”

10/18/12 “But Alas, She Is A Woman”: How Dishonored Uses Gender Roles To Tell A Story – Becky Chambers “There are many other examples, but those were the two that made me realize that Dishonored is fully aware of how the women within it are treated. It knows how unfair that treatment is.”

10/21/12 The Treatment of Women in Dishonored – Cuppycake “I just wish that at least once, either the women are given the chance to fight back and improve their situation, or I am given the option as a player to help them and show that I care.”

1/20/13 onwards Gratuitous Rape in Fantasy novels – SFF Chronicles forum

1/28/13 A Song of Gore and Slaughter – Tom Simon (one of the critics of grimdark that Abercrombie links to as being concerned with morality)

2/8/13 Grimmy Grimmy Dark Dark – The G “Darkness has its place in fantasy fiction, and can infuse a book or series with immediacy and power, but it only works if horror is presented as horrible, and if it serves some greater purpose.”

2/25/13 The Value of Grit – Joe Abercrombie “So, yeah, shitty gritty books are no better than shitty shiny books.  But I proudly and unapologetically assert that there’s a great deal more to grit than a capacity to shock and titillate.”

2/25 onwards Joe Abercrombie Defends Gritty Fantasy – SFF Chronicle discussion thread

2/26/13 Sleeps With Monsters: Epic Fantasy is Crushingly Conservative? – Liz Bourke “We come back again to a lack of a broad consensus in definitions: I like epic, you like grimdark, they like crap.”

3/1/13 Grimdark Fantay’s Last Hurrah? The Grim Comany by Luke Scull – Niall Alexander

3/1/13 Stopping the Pendulum by C. P. D. Harris

3/1/13 Truest Grit – Joel Johnson “But don’t try to turn on all the lights and wash over everything with a fire hose. We’ve grown fond of this dark, dirty place we live in.”

3/3/13 It’s That Time of the Year Again: Grimdark Fantasy – Cora Buhlert “First of all, I find it telling that he equates people who don’t want to read grimdark fiction with those who don’t want sex or swearing in their fiction.”

3/3/13 On Grittiness & Grimdark – Foz Meadows “when you contend that realistic worldbuilding requires the inclusion of certain specific inequalities in order to count as realistic, you’re simultaneously asserting that such inequalities are inherent to reality – that a story cannot be honest, or your characters believably human, if there aren’t mechanisms in place to keep women oppressed, POC othered and LGBTQ persons invisible.”

3/3/13 Yes, This! – Cheryl Morgan “The point about happy endings is that they give hope. They let people know that they don’t have to accept that darkness and oppression are the natural state of the world.”

3/4/13 What is Your Consensual Sex & Love Doing in My Epic Fantasy – Kate Elliot “To my mind, we lessen the story we are telling about human experience if we do not include and see as worthy all of human experience, especially including positive depictions of sex and love. What kind of world do we vision if we only tell the ugly stories about such intimate matters?”

3/5/13 Sleeps With Monsters: Urban Fantasy is Licentiously Liberal? – Liz Bourke “Within the greater umbrella of “urban fantasy” as I choose to conceive of it, then, it’s clear that there are a wide range of possible moods, themes, and approaches.”

3/5/13 More on Grimdark Fantasy – Cora Buhlert “This is remarkable, because – as I’ve noted before – women and writers of colour are usually assumed not to write gritty fantasy, even if they do.”

3/10/13  Coverage of Women on SF/F Blogs (2012) – Renay

3/10/13 A question about male gaze – Michelle Sagara “Male gaze irritates the crap out of me. Most of the women I know who notice their bodies are likely to say “I need to lose weight around my thighs” or “my stomach is so flabby”, so if you really want to write from a female viewpoint, you don’t have your character notice her fabulous perky breasts or creamy skin or etc. Because. Well.”

3/13/13 The Rape of James Bond – Sophia MacDougall “I found I couldn’t cope with rape as wallpaper.”


3/14/13 Why Winterbirth Was Gritty, Grimdark, or Whatever You Want to Call It – Brian Ruckley Part 1 (Winterbirth being a novel by Brian Ruckley)

3/15/13 Realism, (Male) Rape, and Epic Fantasy – Liz Bourke “Why do men flinch from the reality of their victimisation? Does it not fit their fantasies of power? Of gritty, grim, realistic life and violence?”

3/15/13 Grim, Dark, and Straw – Richard Morgan “So it seems I’m writing GRIMDARK!!! Who knew? Well, certainly not me.”

3/16/13 Welcome to the Desert of the Real – Marie Brennan “I don’t have a problem with stories where everything is grim and dark and horrible. I may not want to read them, but I’m not going to run around saying they shouldn’t exist in the first place. What I do have a problem with is the imputation of moral virtue to those stories…”

3/17/13 Transcript of a Twitter Conversation – fidelioscabinet (+ various)  “I’m beginning to think that writers of epic fantasy and SF should be required to learn about the anthropology of material culture… (Liz Bourke)”

3/18/13 I Love A Good Tragedy As Much As the Next Guy – Elizabeth Bear “If every woman’s going to be raped, if every hero is going to turn out to be a pedophile or a coward, if every halfway honorable man is going to be impaled, if every picturesque little town is going to be burned to the ashes… Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies is just as lazy a narrative as the one where all challenges are resolved by a handy Deus ex machina. And possibly a little more juvenile.”

3/19/13 Sleeps With Monsters: Thinking About Dishonored – Liz Bourke “I don’t need the social disabilities of my gender slapped in my face in a gaslamp fantasy stealth-assassination game.”

3/19/13 Gritty People, Gritty Problems – Sam Sykes “It’s very easy to sign off accusations of grimdarkness as overreaction, because sometimes it is. …But there is a real danger in dismissing the word because there are some questions that should be asked.”

3/19/13  Gritty Washback – Joe Abercrombie “My main problem remains with the definitions, and their apparently endless mutability to suit whatever argument is being made.”

3/19/13 onwards What’s all the hubbub about grimdark? – reddit

3/20/13 Why Winterbirth Was Gritty, Grimdark, or Whatever You Want to Call It Part 2 – Brian Ruckley (Winterbirth being a novel by Brian Ruckley)

3/20/13 My considered contribution to the “grit” debate – Mark Lawrence


3/20/13 I pity the fool – Elizabeth Bear “Because the viewpoint character being an able Western white cis het male totally doesn’t inform the narrative, and has no influence in the way the world is presented, because that’s the only viewpoint that really exists, and the rest of us are all flavor text. We’re spices. We’re here to be observed and consumed”

3/21/13 Batman had it easy – Marie Brennan “Can you imagine how audiences would have reacted if Bruce had to fight off a rapist? Even if the rape weren’t completed. A lot of people were put off just by Silva unbuttoning Bond’s shirt and putting a hand on his thigh, by a few lines of suggestive dialogue. They would have blown a gasket permanently to see Batman treated like, oh, name just about any superheroine you care to.”

3/22/13 Gritty, Grimdark, and Gratuitous – C. P. D Harris (talks a bit about the origins of the term)

3/25/13 It’s Still Very Grimdark Out There – Cora Buhlert “IMO that’s also why many in the SFF community feel so threatened by the popularity of urban fantasy. Because though urban fantasy is far from free of problematic gender dynamics, it is far more likely to feature consensual and mutually respectful sex.”

3/25/13 gritty vs. grimdark – Marie Brennan “You can have grit without being grimdark, and you can be grimdark without grit, but doing either while being female is rare? Not very tidy, but something to keep in mind.”

3/25/13 Game of Thrones – Oyceter (nudity in book vs. show, and by gender)

3/26/13 three conversations at once – Marie Brennan (pretty much just as it says: about grimdark and realism the current conversation about them and how they are really a whole bunch of overlapping conversations)

3/27/13 Where Goeth Epic Fantasy – Kate Elliot (normally, people say don’t read the comments – in this case: definitely read the comments)

cover image for Real Live BoyfriendsReal Live Boyfriends by E. Lockhart

Boyfriends – real boyfriends, not narcissistic cheaters like Jackson – “do not contribute to your angst.”  They want to talk to you and spend time with you and kiss you!  They do not fail to call you on your birthday or act like pod-robots.  Ruby had a Real Live Boyfriend, emphasis on the had.   But lately Noel has been acting much like Jackson used to, and she’s not sure what to do or how to deal with it.  So of course Ruby decides it’s time to make lists.

I’ve always thought Ruby Oliver was rather adorable and fun, but this is the book that convinced me that she is really, truly, completely and totally awesome as well.  Possibly because this, her senior year, is when she learns how to stand up for herself without being so self-absorbed she refuses to listen, and also how to be helpful and supportive without letting people walk all over her.  Ruby still makes major mistakes, but for some reason her incremental improvements seem so much more monumental in this installment – possibly because by the end of it she has finally arrived at a fairly healthy and mature state of mind.

Lockhart comes out looking none too shabby either.  Not only is Real Live Boyfriends entertaining and insightful, but there’s a lot of deftly done foreshadowing, misdirection, and repetition going on.  The ending provides a wonderful bookend for  the start of the series and the tensions between Ruby’s parents are a wonderful echo of her own romantic troubles.

Even if the whole series hadn’t been a delightful read (which it has) this book alone would have made it worth my time.

cover image for The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Hazel Grace is slowly dying.  Very slowly, it turns out, as she was expected to have kicked it a couple years ago, but instead is still stuck being homeschooled and going to support group.  Her life is not without joy – books, especially one in particular, are welcome companions – but her life is certainly a lot more circumspect that of the typical sixteen year old living in Indianapolis.  Hazel may have a driver’s license like everyone else her age, but road trips aren’t in her future any more than a boyfriend is.  Until she meets Gus, who reminds Hazel that everyone is in the process of dying – and that dying is not a good excuse for refusing to live while you still can.

The problem with John Green’s books isn’t that they aren’t enjoyable or well-written, it’s that the hype doesn’t match the extent to which they fit my personal taste.  So I am left understanding why other people like them, in an abstract sort of way, but not really feeling the connection to them that so many others clearly have.  In short, The Fault in Our Stars didn’t make me cry, it just left me feeling slightly guilty about my dry eyes.

What I did love very much about this book was the awareness running through it that teens read more than just the literature designated for them, and that reading both above and below their sentence level comprehension abilities is both normal and useful – especially with regards to learning to read books more deeply.  The Fault in Our Stars is not just a book about loss and a rejection of sentimentality, it’s also about our relationships to books, authors, and other readers – and those parts made me very glad I read it

cover image for Also Known AsAlso Known As by Robin Benway

There are few places in the world that Maggie Silver hasn’t lived.  As the daughter of two spies and an expert safe cracker herself, Maggie’s life hasn’t ever been normal.  That may be about to change though – at least for a while – as a new assignment calls for her family to move back to New York City and for Maggie to go undercover as the typical high school student she might have been in another life.

I adored Benway’s first two books and I desperately wanted to love this one too, but I just didn’t.  I missed the down to earth sensibility that permeated her previous novels despite their unlikely plots, and it’s absence didn’t just make me sad, it made the whole premise come across as more incredulous than quirky.  It pains me to say this, but I would only recommend this to the most die-hard Gallagher Girl fans who have read every other teen girl spy books in print.

cover image for Pet Show!Pet Show! by Ezra Jack Keats

Archie is all set to enter his cat into the neighborhood pet show – if only he could find him!

Keats illustrations are beautiful as always and the ending is both sweet and imaginative. Unfortunately, the lack of contrast on some of the pages makes it less than ideal for story time.

cover image for Big Frog Can't Fit InBig Frog Can’t Fit In by Mo Willems, paper engineering by Bruce Foster

Both Willems the Big Frog break the mold in this “pop-out” book about a frog devastated by the fact that she is too large to fit inside the book.  Luckily her friends are there to help her – and their solution doesn’t involve changing a single thing about her.interior pages from Big Frog Can't Fit In

Like much of Willems work, this is a deceptively simple book that only grows richer with frequent rereads.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing what my preschoolers think of it.

“Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf.”

– from Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault

Little Red Riding Hood by Gustave Dore

I picked up Sisters Red, by Jackson Pearce, with the expectation that a story about two Little Red Riding Hoods as wolf hunters would turn the traditional tail on its head.  Alas, I was greatly disappointed.

While it’s true that the plot veers wildly from the classic tale, and neither Scarlett nor Rosie are the helpless little girl that normally dons the red cape, the underlying assumptions and arguments of the Little Red Riding Hood we grew up with are never questioned.  Sisters Red is a retelling and not at all a deconstruction, and therein lies its problem and many of its flaws.

“I’m not worried,” I answer, unable to suppress a sly grin. “I’m not that kind of girl.”

The story begins with younger versions of the sisters pointing a wolf the way to their grandmother’s house. Deviating from the classic tale, the girls escape – and manage this without the help of a woodsman.  Partly through being observant and quick thinking, and with much help from their grandmother’s self-sacrifice, but also through the unlikely probability of Scarlett defeating a grown werewolf in combat.  Thus setting Scarlett and Rosie on the path of becoming wolf hunters.  Yet, this twist isn’t entirely an improvement; where previous versions of the story present us with children that are meant to represent any little girl, Pearce’s Sisters Red are Exceptional Women who know things and have skills that normal girls do not.  Unlike the paths previous Little Red Riding Hoods have gone down, this isn’t a direction that other girls can easily follow.

There’s nothing like a lost teenage girl on the bad side of town to get their blood pumping.

Time and again, from the sisters first encounter with a wolf all the way up to the last victims shown in the book, the basic idea that wolves hunt pretty young girls, and that these girls’ innocence, foolishness, and femininity is what makes them both vulnerable and desirable to the wolves, is repeated and reinforced. At no point are the wolves ever female, at no point are their victims ever male or – aside from granny – not young and pretty.  And at no point is the wolves prey not described in a way that mimics how we talk about sexual assault.

They toss their hair, stretch their legs, sway their hips, bat their eyelashes at the club’s bouncer, everything about them luring the Fenris. Inviting danger like some baby animal bleating its fool head off.

The combination of these two aspects of the novel – the exceptional nature of the girls chosen path plus the sexualized nature of the wolves choice in prey – is where the lack of any sort of adult figure becomes a major flaw rather than just a typical trope in young adult literature.  Scarlett’s defeat of the wolf at the start of the story, and her subsequent choice to spend her life hunting wolves, is framed as a rejection of the gendered morality in the traditional tale.  Yet there is no actual person or institution for her to revolt against in order to generate this tension within the actual plot, leaving a narrative gap that must be filled.  In its place, the difference between herself and normal girls is highlighted.

“It’s like they’re trying to be eaten, isn’t it? [Silas] asks pointedly. “Can I tell you how glad I am that you and Rosie aren’t like them?”

Little Red Riding Hood on the pathThe insidiousness of the most talked about passage from Sisters Red is not even so much that Scarlett and Silas blame the girls* for being so tempting to the wolves, but rather the way that it reinforces our perception of Scarlett as an Exceptional Woman.  The limited range of ways to be female that are presented in the text means that Scarlett defies the restrictions of her gender rather than demonstrating the fullness of its possibilities.  Her dedication is not something that most other women could hope to achieve and her method of dealing with the wolves is the only option presented.  There is no Willow here, wielding magic at Buffy’s side – nor other potentials waiting in the wings; there’s just Scarlett and Rosie and their axes.

At various points during the story it looks as though the younger sister may be poised to break out of this mold.  A huge part of Rosie finding her own path involves interacting with people other than Scarlett or Silas via taking various classes at a community center, an experience that leads to her finding herself in a very classic coming of age way.  There was a possibility here for her to not just reject following in Scarlett’s footsteps, but of finding an entirely different method of honoring their grandmother’s sacrifice.  One that is truly revolutionary and very different from the individualistic compromise between black and white that she ends up deciding on.  Instead, these moments are fleeting and much of her angst centers on the tension between being accepting Silas’ romantic love and making her sister proud.  Again reinforcing the idea that the girls may only choose between being Scarlett or being normal, not from a multitude of colors and possibilities.

“The Fenris stare at her lustfully. Jealousy stirs in my stomach again, but I force it back down.”

There have been a lot of protests on the interwebs against people asserting that this construction reinforces rape culture. Some claim that was never the intent and that any reading that talks about rape is bringing something extra to the book that isn’t there to begin with.  Which would be all well and good if this wasn’t a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood – a story that has been about reinforcing rape culture ever since Perrault got his hands on it. Any retelling that borrows heavily from his version, directly or not, must address and reject the rape myths he presents if it wants to not perpetuate them.  The question is not if Sisters Red says anything about rape culture, but rather what it says about it.

screencap from Hard Candy

Pearce’s novel does make a rather interesting failure though.  We have every reason to believe the author about her intent but that doesn’t change the actual result.  How does this happen then? More importantly, how does one avoid it?  I think the trick lies in not buying into the default male point of view that we have inherited from Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, among others.  We are so steeped in the male gaze that it’s often hard to impossible to think outside of it or even recognize when we are using its assumptions as our framework. Like the many anthropologists who have assumed that any Ice Age depictions of women were meant for men, the idea that the wolves might target girls for reasons other than sexual allure never seems to occur to Pearce or her characters.

Little Red Riding Hood

To break out of this mindset there need to be options other than hunter or prey, and these two roles need to not follow so starkly along gender lines – especially with regards to who is prey and why.  While women’s physical strength deserves more attention and honor than it often gets, one can’t fight rape culture by arguing that women are capable of fighting back, however true that may be.  That still places the responsibility on women, makes them the enforcers of men’s morality, and creates a framework that encourages victims to second guess their own actions rather than seek help.  Somewhere there needs to be the argument that men are capable of stopping themselves, that they should do so, and that violence is merely one method of fighting back.

*Let’s get one thing straight: any narrative that argues that rape happens because of the lust women inspire in men is blaming the victim.  (And yes, this mindset is argued by the text overall, not just that one conversation.)  This concept perpetuates the myth that rape is about lust and not control/power/punishment/entitlement, obscures the reality of how most rapists choose their victims, and implies that rape can be prevented by women being less alluring.

(for those of you keeping track at home, these are the books I read between Feb. 1st and Feb. 7th – yes, I am very behind.)

cover image for Raven BoysRaven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue comes from a family of clairvoyants, all women, but she isn’t one herself.  Gansey is on a quest.  Mostly because he’s rich and therefore bored, but that doesn’t stop him from being obsessive about it. He’s also going to die before the year is over.  He doesn’t know this, but Blue does.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, Blue and Gansey (and Gansey’s gang of misfits) cross paths.  Hijinks ensue.

Intellectually, I have all kinds of issues and questions, mostly pertaining to my annoyance with Blue’s Smurfette status.  Did she have no friends her own age until she met the boys?  Does she ever manage to get some female friends? What did she do before the boys came along, besides hang out with her family? etc.

Emotionally though, I was totally and utterly sucked into this book.  The plot was likely full of holes and misuses of history and myth, but I honestly didn’t notice, I was too busy being distracted by the twists and surprises.  Also, the dialogue.  Blue (and Adam) skewering Gansey’s privilege, blindness, and self-absorption was an absolute delight. Centering Blue in a family of unique and talented adult women – and taking the time to show her relationships with them – was a huge plus.

Raven Boys was not a particularly deep book, but it was fun.

cover image for The Way We FallThe Way We Fall by Megan Crewe*

Kaelyn never really fit in at her school in Toronto, so when her family moves back to the island she grew up on, she’s relieved to say the least.  But just as things are getting to back to normal, a new and deadly sickness spreads through the island, disrupting life as it was and leaving death and devastation in it’s wake.

While Crewe’s slow moving crisis doesn’t sink to the levels of boredom found in Pfeiffer’s Life as We Knew It,** it’s not terribly gripping either. The plot is fairly decent and the idea (a new deadly disease, a race to find a cure, and an isolated community increasingly devolving into chaos) is interesting.  Unfortunately, the prose lacks any sort of punch or personality – especially considering the topic and that the story is narrated in first person.  And then there was the inexplicable conceit of having Kae address her diary/journal to an estranged crush/friend; that was annoying and confusing and odd.

cover image for What We Saw At NightWhat We Saw at Night by Jaquelyn Mitchard*

Murder! Misfits! Mystery! and parkour! All at midnight! This should be an awesome book! I don’t understand how this is not an awesome book.  No, really, I don’t understand how it was possible to make this book as boring as it was.  Plus! bonus slut shaming directed towards a victim of child sexual abuse.



cover image for Hello, Animals!Hello, Animals! by Simriti Prasadam and Emily Bolam

Simplicity and a little something extra is the key to a great board book.  All too often the latter detracts from the former, but that’s not the case here.  Each page features a tiny splash of shimmer and color added to the black and white graphics.  Rather than merely being eye-catching, the addition is expertly done; the subdued jewel colors manage to accent rather than compete with the minimalist elegance of the illustrations.  The text is basic but lyrical, just as prose for babies should be.

cover image for You Are My CupcakeYou Are My Cupcake by Joyce Wan

Wan is definitely a talent to watch.  Her retro/kawaii style art works well for little ones; the bold lines makes the art easy to “read” and the cuteness is both appropriate and appealing.  The patterned sentences complement the artwork well and work in adjectives and nouns that aren’t often found in board books, but yet – being about food – are ones that babies might hear in other contexts.

*I’m so sad that these books were little and no fun, respectively – they both have main CoC and I was really hoping to find more good genre titles with CoC to add to my list of what to get for the library.

**Kae is often quite concerned with what is going on outside the island, as any normal person her age would be.  It is, in fact, a topic of conversation more than once.  This alone makes it ever so much better than Life As We Knew It.