SFF bestselling author Richard Morgan wrote an interesting piece on gratuitous sex and violence in fantasy and science fiction novels. Here's a teaser:
Because the real issue, in the end, is simply this – Who Desires This Content? Is it the author? The readership? The gate-keeper criterati? Who? Because recriminations of gratuity are only going to arise when there’s a mismatch between those different constituencies. The author likes something, the readership don’t. The readership desire something, the gatekeepers demur. The gatekeepers love something, no-one else can work out what the fuck the big deal is. And so on. Look at most accusations of gratuitous content, and you’ll find them being made by people who don’t especially like the type of content they’re commenting on at all. The people who didn’t like the gratuitous sex in my books, when you scratched the surface, turned out by and large not to like sex in their science fiction full stop. Comments like if I want porn, I’ll go on the internet were commonplace. By definition, the appearance of any explicit sex was going to be too much/gratuitous for these people, because this was not the content they wanted. On a broader canvas, most complaints about gratuitous sex (and its darker, uglier twin gratuitous violence) come from defined constituencies – pressure groups, concerned parents, politicians in search of an easy soapbox, broadsheet critics of a genteel arthouse persuasion. People who would really rather prefer there not to be any of that sort of thing in their entertainment at all. Or at least, people who would prefer some other content instead. The implications of this for the literary community are explosive, and they touch pretty much everything. Once I started to get it straight in my head, corollary burst everywhere around me like fireworks. I remembered Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s short story Jumping Monkey Hill, in which young African writers on a prestigious residential writing course are made to understand (by a white middle class teacher) that African stories need to contain certain elements to be authentic – grim and war-torn is in; middle class workplace sexual harassment not so much. Because western middle class readers want their fix of developing world misery. I recalled Raymond Chandler’s rejoinder on noir storytelling – if in doubt, send a man with a gun through the door. It’s a quote much agonised over by critics, written off as facetious or ironic, when to me it rings anything but. Because the noir form thrives above all on kinetic incident and menace – that’s what people go to it to enjoy. Margaret Atwood’s inexplicable contention, way back when, that she didn’t write science fiction, because in SF you had rockets and chemicals; a statement previously mocked and decried and agonised over, now obviously just a wobble over content and the perception that genre is where the colourful exploding shit is, while ring-fenced-in-panic speculative literature is about far graver, weightier business. I look at the big critical kerfuffle last year over Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, and I see the same thing; the stumbling of reviewers as they attempted to deal with a content anomaly – a pure fantasy novel almost entirely devoid of the kinetic elements the fantasy genre habitually contains. And finally, coming home, I find myself staring into the abyss of the awful, endless, graceless milking of genre franchises ’til they’re bled dry and screaming for mercy – and I see it for what it is. The repeat content addiction of fixating nerd hordes who will keep on stumping up cash for yet more of what they’ve already seen a dozen times, however dilute and weak-ass the carrier wave for the next helping inevitably turns out to be. It doesn’t matter how poor the movie (or series novel) is – it’s got my desired content in, and lots of it! Content. Gratuitous fucking content. Time and again, that’s what it comes back to. That’s all it comes down to.