Fantasy, Romance and The Effects of the Female Demographic

Considering that my calling Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword fantasy chick lit on Westeros spawned a heated debate, I'm wondering what many will make out of this latest post by the controversial Jonathan McCalmont.

Here's a brief sample:

Reasons for Optimism

Firstly, I am not certain that there is such a thing as "female tastes". I've never been comfortable with the feminist thought attacking science because it always struck me as sexist to suggest that women can't do abstract thought and science or that they're better off thinking about relationships and fashion. Surely these are arbitrary tastes foisted upon us by society? Most young female fantasy fans will never have read romance literature, so where could they have acquired a disinterest in the more logocentric aspects of genre? what attracted them to the genre in the first place?

Secondly, it's not clear in which way the bad stuff in fantasy and fantasy's dominance are reducible to stereotypically female characteristics. The lack of interest in abstract and scientific ideas fits the old stereotypes but what of worldbuilding? isn't worldbuilding systematic scientific thought about a fantasy world? it's supposed to be the clomping foot of nerdism, not the march of Manolo Blahniks.

Thirdly, if modern female fantasy fans are in fact looking for the kind of writing that previous generations found in romance novels, then why are they not all out reading romance novels instead?

Fourthly, fantasy is still overwhelmingly a genre dominated by male authors.

Check it out here.

7 commentaires:

Sarah said...

Hmmm... I'll have to mull that one over and dissect it. But re: Ellen Kushner and chick lit, I would take offense not as a female reader but as an English major who sees Kushner's work as leaning toward "literary" rather than "Chick lit." Her prose is much denser than the usual chick lit.

Patrick said...

Sarah: I agree 100% that her prose is very nice. But I feel (I'm not done yet -- about 100 pages to go) that the story is comprised of many "chick lit" elements, which, to me, makes this one a tough read.

But as far as the "mechanical aspects" of the novel are concerned -- the prose, the narrative, the rhythm -- Kushner writes extremely well.

Personally, I never could get into the book, and it's getting worst as I read on... As I stated on Westeros, I don't hold a monopoly on good taste, and I'm certainly not an authority on the fantasy genre. I just don't like the book, period. I'm not going to apologize for that!:p

Don't know if my expectations were too high (though they weren't, really), but nothing about this story has hooked me. Only the prose and the nice pace Kushner sets early on kept me going this far. . .

If we going to compare stories based on gender-reversal where roles are concerned, I believe that Robin Hobb did a much better job with Althea in The Liveship Traders. Yet that's just a question of taste.:-)

Anonymous said...

If you think that "The Privilege of the Sword" is hard to finish, you shouldn't even pick up the second book she wrote in the Riverside world called The Fall of the Kings. However, you should read Swordspoint which I believe is the best of the three Riverside novels.

Sarah said...

Patrick: And of course, Hobb being my favorite fantasy writer, I am in agreement on that point. :-)

Honestly, though, it may just be a matter of taste. It is very much a novel of manners, patterned more after Jane Austen than epic fantasy. I love epic fantasy, and I loved Privilege of the Sword, but I loved them in very different ways. I appreciated the subtle cleverness in Privilege of the Sword. (And, re: what anon said, I have also read Swordspoint, and enjoyed it. But again, very subtle, very much a certain style.) It's a different sort of story, really more of an alternate-historical novel than traditional fantasy. I appreciated it because, having taken MANY classes in creative writing, it's not often you see a writer in the fantasy genre who you can read slowly, absorbing each turn of phrase. It's no wonder Kushner hasn't produced more stuff-- it's almost like you can feel the labor of hard work and thoughtfulness, just in the way the prose moves. I wouldn't think she's dashing it off, and I guess that's why I wouldn't say "chick lit," because that's more how chick lit seems to me.

Aaaand now I'm just talking, so I'll go. But I can see how it could be a matter of taste. I like SF but I don't like urban fantasy... doesn't do it for me. I think we all have stuff we can't get into for whatever reason.

Anonymous said...

While I enjoyed Rhapsody and its sequels, it was painfully (as a male reader) obvious to me that the author was female, given the emphasis on certain plot points that a male writer would have skimmed over or ignored completely.

SQT said...

The point of the discussion that bothers me the most are the assumptions made about female readers from a male perspective. The fact is he doesn't know what he talking about and it shows up loud and clear.

I read a few romances as a teenager (as do most women) and they have very little in common with fantasy. True, romances are a fantasy in and of themselves, but the characterizations can't really be compared.

Whether or not woman can, or are interested in science or mathematics doesn't have a lot to do with literature either. The characters created in literature are fictional and can be whatever we want them to be. And I can't think of many Manolo Blahniks that show up in fantasy fiction.

As for the field being dominated by men, is he kidding? Anne McCaffrey? Mercedes Lackey? Ursula K. LeGuin? J. K. Rowling? I could go on for days. I do think sci-fi is more male dominated but there are tons of female fantasy writers who do an excellent job at both male and female characterizations. Much better than romance authors IMO.

Anonymous said...

I think there's a point being miss that McCalmomt is trying to make: people are spending too much time trying to pigeon-hole genre fiction into "male-oriented" and "female-oriented" brands in order to try and make more money by catering to those two demographics. He's not saying that there aren't women who can appreciate fantasy - or that they shouldn't; he's saying that there seem to be vague notions that women don't "get" fantasy because of their "tastes for romance".

There are a large number of fantastic female authors in the speculative fiction world, and I think that that a great number of them write good stories about both men and women, and they seldom stray from what one would consider stereotypes or cliche of the fantasy genre.