On kick-ass female fighters

Sunday, February 15th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

Let me begin by stating that I enjoyed Judith Berman’s reflections on the increasingly common trope of the woman warrior posted earlier this week.  She’s clearly a woman with extensive experience in the martial arts, and her logic led her to a reasonable and balanced conclusion.  The fact that the conclusion happens to be a false one, in my opinion, does not render her blog entry any less interesting or entertaining.  There are, after all, few discussions that interest martial artists more than hypothetical debates over “could X beat Y?” unless it is the subject of what martial art is the most effective.

I should note that I also agree with Ms Berman’s statement that Laila Ali’s physique is far more believable as a fighter than the average Hollywood actress, especially when one takes into account that Hollywood actors and actresses tend to be unusually short and therefore unusually light as well.  She’s also correct in stating that everyone, male and female, has physical limitations that can be exploited by those with the wherewithal to do so.

However, none of this changes the observable fact that there is no such thing as a non-supernatural kick-ass female fighter.  The woman warrior trope is not merely fiction, it is fantasy fiction.  It is not, however, credible fantasy fiction.

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Bad Monkeys

Saturday, February 14th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

I just finished Matt Ruff’s Bad Monkeys, which, as anyone familiar with his work might expect, is thought provokingly funny. The main character, Jane Charlotte (and,yes, as fans of Ruff also know, he’s never met a literary allusion he doesn’t like) is in a detention center, has evidently killed someone, and also seems crazy. A psychiatrist seems to be trying to determine the underlying cause of her psychosis, which forms the novel’s narrative in which Jane recounts her fantastic adventures in a secret organization dedicated to the elimination of murderers, child molesters and other purely evil people. Of course, we’ve been down this road before — is she crazy or is there really some sort of alternate universe where good does triumph over evil. All through the book you’re trying to figure out how Ruff is going to turn the tables and come up with an ending that is something more than an average Twilight Zone denouement. And he manages to pull it off.

Fun stuff, though his previous book, Set This House in Order, is his best and the one I’d recommend first if you haven’t read him before. His other two novels are Sewer, Gas & Electric and the cult-classic Fool on the Hill, which was one of the first reviews I did for Black Gate publisher John O’Neil when he was helping to start the whole on-line reviewing thing at SF Site.

Night Thoughts: Rereading Le Guin’s “The Language of the Night”

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

I recently reread Le Guin’s Language of the Night, and for a while I thought it might be a mistake. The book is a hodge-podge: printed versions of short speeches, introductions to her earlier Hainish novels, full essays with footnotes to provide that added kick, and a light frosting (in the edition I was using to reread) of Le Guin’s own second thoughts (mostly about issues of gender). Even back in my 20s I didn’t think all this stuff was equally valuable, and on my recent reread I was finding that a lot of what I had once taken as axiomatic was now useless to me.

For instance, I was struck by the way UKL made casual generalizations that were really unfounded, e.g. the idea that France “had no tradition of fantasy for the past several hundred years.” In my lost youth, I assumed she knew what she was talking about. Now I think: What about Anatole France? Jules Verne? Guy de Maupassant? Charles Perrault? The Absurdists? Of course there is a tradition of fantasy in France.

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Caspak Victorious: The Land That Time Forgot

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

First Edition Cover“You have read the opening paragraph, and if you are an imaginative idiot like myself, you will want to read the rest of it; so I shall give it to you here…”

I often refer to Edgar Rice Burroughs as an “excuse” author. It seems readers or critics can’t discuss him without qualifiers to excuse reading him. A typical statement: “Edgar Rice Burroughs wasn’t a good writer but he had a vast imagination.”

I not-so-respectfully object to the assessment of Burroughs as a poor writer. In his best works, he pulls me along and engrosses me far more than most bestselling “thriller” authors published today. I can pick apart objective deficiencies in his style, criticize his dips into awkward phrasing, but this ultimately doesn’t matter in his overall style, which reads fast, involving, and exciting. His prose style matches the types and tones of the stories he wants to tell, fits them so well that I can’t imagine another style that would work with them. That, in my reader’s eyes, makes Edgar Rice Burroughs a great writer.

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Verisimilitude and the Woman Warrior, With Some Relevance to Fantasy Tropes

Monday, February 9th, 2009 | Posted by Judith Berman

I had thought to dive today into Joseph Campbell on the hero and the so-called monomyth–another irritant that, one could wish, might aid in the production of a pearl of wisdom. I have been distracted, however, by a self-labeled polemic on the topic of fictional women as kick-ass fighters that referenced my post of two weeks ago. Which put me in mind of a long-running, intermittent sort-of argument I’ve had with the most excellent sf writer Ann Zeddies, a long-time student of tae kwon do, as to whether women really could go up against men in combat and win before the invention of that great equalizer, the gun. My position is yes, provisionally.

Tomoe Gozen
Tomoe Gozen, 12th-century female samurai.

First of all, let me say that I mostly agree with the aforementioned polemic (which is not on the subject of women fighters generally). I certainly agree that Laila Ali’s physique is much more believable for a woman fighter than the lollipop figure favored in Hollywood actresses (huge head, stick neck and body). Secondly, let me say that I have no street cred as a fighter. In my 25+ years in the martial arts, I’ve never used it outside the dojo, unless you count last summer when I tripped hard on the sidewalk and actually rolled instead of landing in a bone-breaking crash. However, one of my seniors had come to our aikido school as a street fighter–in a South Philly gang, family members in the mob, etc.–and also after many years in other martial arts, so I feel free to rely on his insights and conclusions. Moreover, though this was in dojo conditions–meaning at the minimum that you know you are about to be attacked–I have many times successfully thrown and/or pinned men who are significantly taller, heavier, and stronger. So my thoughts on women fighters are not totally pulled out of a dark and hidden orifice.

All people, male or female, have physical limitations. Read More »

The low fantasy of Simon Green

Sunday, February 8th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

Simon Green is primarily known for his urban fantasy series, Nightside, these days, but in the past he has been guilty of committing a different form of urban fantasy rather more in keeping with Black Gate’s favored genre.  His Haven series, also known as the Hawk and Fisher series, are seven books telling the tale of a pair of city guards who spend their days and many of their nights patrolling a large city that is caught somewhere between the medieval and renaissance eras.  One has the impression of a place rather like Sanctuary, only significantly less schizophrenic and god-bothered.

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Library Thing

Friday, February 6th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

It’s been almost four years since I’ve moved, and half of my library is still in boxes, mainly because the bookshelves I’ve been wanting to install haven’t been.  Instead, there are some rather rickety temporary structures that weren’t really designed to hold books (more to display things) which are sagging under the weight of the volumes I’ve so far unpacked.  As it happens, I hope this weekend to get started working on the library, not so much the bookshelves as reorganizing what I already started, and soon realized I’d planned wrong, doing some painting and generally getting ready to install real bookshelves at some point.  I’m actually looking forward to delving into my collection and dusting off some stuff I’ve forgotten about (and/or haven’t gotten around to read).  In fact, the only thing I liked about moving was the chance to start reorganizing my books/records/CD collections, though, as the date of the move got closer, there was too much last minute stuffing into boxes hat I’m not entirely certain if all my “L” authors really are in the boxes with the “L” on them.  Could mean “late additions.”  We shall see…

Which brings me to this thing, an online way for you to catalog your stuff and get recommendations from people who like the same stuff you do. At this point, the last thing I need is more suggestions on what else I should be reading in addition to what I already haven’t caught up with, and I really don’t need a database, but I have started to add titles to the list as I finish them. I really don’t know why I’m doing this, other than that I can. Eventually, I hope to have everything shelved in a real library so that if I need something, I can physically see and retreive it. That, to me, is part of the enjoyment of books as objects after you’ve read them. But, seeing as how we are all moving, like it or not, to a virtual life in which we download pdfs and mp3s, it seems like a good place as place as any to start building these other shelves. At least they don’t cost nearly as much…




On Bookmarks

Friday, February 6th, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

Lately I’ve been immersed in all things bibliophilic, reflecting on reading more, organizing my shelves, the value of keeping a list, and the costs associated with an obsession with books. And it occurred to me in the midst of all this that there was something else I could talk about that most of us take for granted, a semi-invisible and rather elementary facet of the reading life that is none-the-less worthy of our occasional attention. Bookmarks.

I don’t collect bookmarks, but I do accumulate them. Old holdovers from childhood, the gifts of well-meaning family members, and the make-do solutions to a temporary need that end up sticking around for many more reads. In thinking about my bookmarks I notice they have a peculiar life cycle very different then those of books — books, while they come and go, often don’t do so mysteriously (unless you have house guests that think of  you as a lending library). Bookmarks, on the other hand, can be here one minute and gone the next.

One of the places they could be, of course, is in the book you left them in. Big readers are no strangers to having more than one book going at a time (before I started reviewing so much, I tended to read one fiction together with several non-fiction books at once), and no strangers, too, to suddenly discovering that a book you put aside with every intention to get back to it has sat untouched on your shelf for years. Open it, and you’ll see the bookmark, a diligent reminder of where you left off.

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Avast, Me Hearties!

Friday, February 6th, 2009 | Posted by ScottOden

I’m an unrepentant role-playing gamer; an addict, if you must know.  My gateway drug was the original Dungeons & Dragons – the boxed set with the pseudo-Smaug red dragon on the cover.  My grade school chums and I played at every opportunity, from quick encounters at recess to marathon weekends of goblin-slaughtering and lair-looting.  OD&D was just the beginning.  From there, I branched out into other games: AD&D, Traveller, The Fantasy Trip, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Call of Cthulhu . . . the dragon’s share of my formative years were spent tooling around the galaxy, delving into catacombs, or losing my sanity to various squamous and rugose horrors.

The games changed over the years.  Oh, I still delve into OD&D, part of the so-called “Old School revival”, but most of my gaming time is spent playing D&D 3.5 or a homebrewed d20 version of Warhammer 40K: Dark Heresy.  I’ve explored story games like Grey Ranks and In a Wicked Age, where the tale being told is more important than the framework of rules.

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Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 | Posted by James Enge

Most sf/f criticism can be sorted into three four heaps (as far as I’m concerned): book reviews, literary history, snark, and stuff that doesn’t interest me. The first two categories are obviously useful, I expect; I wish those last two categories overlapped more. One wastes a lot of time in the snarkosphere.

Every now and then, though, I read something that goes elsewhere. I wouldn’t call it a heap–there aren’t enough things there to qualify as a heap. More like a stack. These are pieces of sf/f criticism that help me think about reading and writing–that enrich my experience.

Like I say: there’s not much there. But sf/f isn’t unique in that respect: much (not all) literary criticism strikes me as stuff by people who can’t read who are telling other people how to read. I generally find it unreadable and, what with one thing and another, I have to read a lot of it.

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