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Archive for May, 2013

The Dragonriders of Pern series has been a classic of sci-fi for pretty much my entire existence. I’ve never read any of it until now, however, and after two books I’m left wondering quite a few things.

Written in the late 60s, the first novel–Dragonflight–tells the story of a young woman who unexpectedly bonds with a dragon during the twilight years of the planet Pern’s 400 year peaceful interlude. The fungal spores that rain down from a neighbouring planet soon return, however, and she must find a way to save her homeworld.

It’s a good story that would be a great story if she weren’t so annoying. It’s a good story that would be a fantastic barn-burner of a novel if a good third of it weren’t devoted to her abusive conflicts with her mate. Nothing says “good leisure reading time” like a man shaking a woman violently when angered by her refusal to obey him.

Yes, you read that right. A man shaking a woman violently when angered by her refusal to obey him.

But here’s the problem I have as both a reader and a writer.

As distasteful as these scenes of domestic violence are, as uncomfortable as I am reading them I think they are accurate. Strong-willed men used to dominating a culture and being feted for their prowess often DO conflict with women of equally strong will and smart mouth.

At first I was horrifed, thinking “that’s just not something I need to read about”. Then I realised that as much as we speculative fiction readers carry on about worldbuilding, do we dare complain when the worldbuilding describes the characters in that world accurately? Unlike Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, Dragonflight never fetishizes the abuse or makes it seem cute and kind of sexy in a “ravish me, big fella” way. It’s an uncomfortable situation portrayed uncomfortably. As objectionably squicky as it is to read, it does have resolution and doesn’t continue past the middle third of the book.

I’ve read a lot of reviews of this novel, most of them slagging off on the book and declaiming it as anti-feminist trash.

Feminists get abused. Believe it or not, there is more than one feminist out there who has been slapped, punched, kicked, shaken and worse. The point of feminism isn’t to pretend that this doesn’t happen but to point out how wrong it is when it does. I think that Dragonflight did that successfully, actually.

I’m on the verge of thinking that perhaps we as readers in the 21st century have gotten too much political correctness that then stands in the way of our willingness to watch characters develop. I’m not sure if I’m going to commit to that theory all the way, though, because I’ve read too many novels lately where the woman is raped for no other reason that to have a shocking, prurient thing happen. We’re also the culture that lauded the Millenium Trilogy to the rafters and made that trilogy of meaningless torture porn a bestselling icon of publishing. So I don’t think I’m ready to say we need to stop being so guarded against violence and exploitation in fiction.

I do think, though, when the violence serves a purpose and is ultimately dealt with we need to admit that a purpose was, indeed, served.

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Oh, John Piper! Why do you insist upon having such a limited, perverse view of men?

I can only assume that you must, because you are objecting to women having any influence over men in a position where you and other men are aware of our femininity.

I’m married to a man; I have two brothers and a sister who were all raised alongside me by a man and a woman together. Until his death I had a treasured grandpa who let me sit with him on the tractor, who let me stand beside him while he slopped his hogs and who greeted me with such effusive hugs that he insisted he’d “squeeze [me] till [my] tongue stuck out.” I have dear uncles who practice medicine, healing the bodies of the sick–both male and female bodies. Those uncles see a lot of naked women in the course of their work.

None of the men I know are rapists or sex-mad fiends who are unable to control their sexual impulses in the presence of women. None of the men I’ve befriended over the last few years as a writer have sent me emails overflowing with their inability to continue speaking to me unless I sexed them up.

I wonder why it is that you think men are so very unable to control their sexual urges. Why is it that you think I need to stick to writing, to sitting behind a desk, to lurking in the shadows. Are my breasts that ripe and wonderful? Is the mere suggestion of my vagina, lurking down there somewhere under my panties and blue jeans and Disneyworld T-Shirt, so completely enthralling? Surely not. If you’ve met me you know I inspire more thoughts of things like pie and thick novels about dragons than I do sex.

But even so, how is a man’s inability to control himself my problem, John Piper? Let me explain.

I love cheese. When I see cheese it makes me want to bury my face in the joyousness that is fermented milk and rennet. Yet I have never once in my life called up the manager of Kroger and said “please make sure that you drape black cloth over all the cheese displays. I’m coming to market today and that cheese better not be visible or I will steal some. It’s your fault if I put cheese in my purse without paying, your fault if I have a frenzied meltdown in the deli and down and entire tub of cinnamon goat cheese in an instant.” No. You see, Mr. Piper, I have learned that if I want the cheese I pay for it. I take it home and eat it politely. The cheese I don’t choose gets to live free and unmolested. If I steal cheese, that’s MY fault. If I have a cheese-centered meltdown, that’s either my fault or a fault I share with my ineffective psychiatrist. Not that I have a psychiatrist, but if I were 43 years old and unable to shop for cheese without a frenzy I should think I would have crossed paths with a psychiatrist eventually.

Your problem is not with women, Mr. Piper. Your problem is that you have a far lower opinion of men than pretty much anybody else.

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bookworm/book-review-the-sword-and-the-dragon-by-m-r-mathias/” target=”_blank”>How one man’s meltdown ruined an otherwise okay story.

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Periodically I’ll get in myself a yearning to listen to one song over and over so that I can explore the ways it moves me and why. Writing about music is not the wisest thing, they say, because you can’t capture the essence of what music is and does in mere words. Patrick Rothfuss put a disdain for all poets in his character Kvothe; poets are half-empty. It’s the actual music that moves.

As much as I love some poets–Eliot, Donne, Hunter–they just are half moving without song. Poor Eliot got put to music finally, but the music was showtunes. Still and all, you can’t say that certain of the tunes from CATS don’t leave you humming them now and forever. Hunter is the case that proves my point. As much as I love his poetry, it’s much more moving with the music written for it. Don’t believe me? Read “Ripple” and then listen to Ripple. One makes you think “that’s awesome”. The other will make you cry, smile, remember and hope.

Today the song that I got in my head to listen to repeatedly was perhaps my all-time favourite of all songs.
Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen

This is a poet’s heart put in music. It’s also one of the most beautiful pieces of music–words and song–put together. Of course that’s probably because the religious imagery, the battle between faith and doubt, the artful combination of sexuality and worship all combine in one perfect five minutes.

I need to go on record as having loved this song to pieces before it started showing up in every movie and TV show. You know this is true because I was an English major with a stereo in the 80s. Leonard Cohen was IT. The song first showed up in 84 but I truthfully didn’t know of it until 1987. From then on I was addicted to it, even though I listen to it sparingly. It’s not a song that you can hear once and say “okay, that was nice. Where’s the pie?” It’s a song that you hear and you think “that is what the word ‘Hallelujah’ means. That mournful joy where you are humbled before God yet joyous with the warmth of love.”

A few weeks ago I found out that there is an entire book about the song and I snatched that puppy right up. If you have a Kindle you too can buy it for $2.99 this month. I’m tickled that it was on sale for my birthday month. That right there is a tangible sign of a Beyond and a More.

Since I’m drattedly superstitious about my birthday* I figured I’d start the day with a binge on Cohen. That was how I spent my devotions today, praising God through this piece of music that found it’s way to me via the public library and scratchy vinyl.

It truly doesn’t matter which you heard or which you utter. The holy or the broken–those are both versions of self–you stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on your tongue but Hallelujah. The word is Hebrew for “Praise God”. And no matter how broken you are, just deliver that praise from deep inside your own bafflement.

*I have a belief that how you spend your birthday portends the way you will spend the coming year. So I try to focus on joy and kindness and love and reading and writing.

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Pills

I am not a person who can turn my anger into art. I remember all those decades ago when Alanis Morissette came out with Jagged Little Pill. She–and that album of angry tunes–were all anyone could talk about. It was so revolutionary, I guess, that a woman would channel her anger into music. Either that or nobody had bothered to remember Loretta Lynn.

I’m angry about something, but I don’t know what. It’s been this way for six months or so; I’m not sure which of the triggers or life changes set it off, but it’s there and it’s grumpy.

Anger is not something I’m ashamed of, nor is it a sin. Channelling it, however, is not something I’m good at creatively. When I’ve got anger to burn off I usually exercise to loud and pounding music like Duran Duran’s “Wild Boys”. I can’t take anger and turn it into a story. If I try to turn it into a blog post (eg. the one about the Christys) it just pours gasoline on the fire and explodes into more white-hot rage.

I thought about painting or drawing but I really don’t want to look at endless slashes of red and orange. Instead of feeling like I’ve properly expressed my anger I just see that kind of art and get hungry for Burger King.

At dinner with friends last night one of my compatriots said “you’re hanging out with the wrong people.” This would be entirely true if I were, indeed, hanging out with any people at all. Howard Hughes and Greta Garbo saw more people in a given day than I do. Then again, they did not have the internet, and that tends to be where I find all these wrong people to hang out with.

Back in the days of Nashville is Talking and, later, Music City Bloggers I read a lot of blogs. Many of those blogs were angry and kept me in this angry sort of mood. I realised a couple of weeks ago that I’d accidentally fallen into the same habit of mind I had all those years ago and was again reading a lot of angry blogs. Back then they were angry about politics. Now they’re angry about religion. It’s ironic that so much of what I read from various professing Christians is so angry. Well, not the anger itself but the fact that the anger is so misused. Folks are angry over music choice or someone else’s sexual preference. No one is angry about hunger or human trafficking or the scarcity of clean water in so many communities around the globe.

Just like with those other NiT/MCB blogs, I’m glad that being in this realm led me to people I consider good friends. But just like back then I’m going to have to keep the friends and jettison the blogroll.

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CHECK IT OUT!!!

For my birthday I’m giving away TWO free ebooks to one lucky winner.

Surf on over to my review of an exciting new Urban Fantasy for the details on both the book AND the contest. bookworm

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I haven’t written a blog post since FRIDAY?!? What on earth? Am I dying? Am I disenchanted with life? Am I off in a secret forest have sex with faeries who sex you to death?

Kind of the last one, I guess. I’ve been trudging through a re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear. The trudging is not so much owing to the book itself as to my complete lack of interest in reading anything at all. I hit spurts like this every once in awhile. I wonder if alcoholics ever hit a patch where the have no interest in drink. Maybe a better analogy is a golfer who has no interest in golfing for a couple of weeks; I don’t think my hyperlexia is so much a disease as a lifestyle choice. But anyway, that said, I’ve been spending all my word time just eking my way through this thing. I’m interested in the story but I’m just not interested in the process of reading.

Or I wasn’t, until yesterday morning. Through a random chain of events I ended up reading a Dennis Lehane mystery and finding it unputdownable. Then I realised the problem is not a lack of interest in reading but a need for a switch in my subject matter. I’ve been reading so much epic fantasy lately I feel like I’m choking on the seemingly endless loving descriptions of swords, feats of cunning and sexy faerie sexing with underage boys.

That’s a thing that’s starting to bother me. I keep telling myself “oh, this is fantasy and their cultures are different.” But when you get right down to it there is an awfully high number of teenage people having sex with adults and that is just…

It’s not gross, but it is kind of disturbing. It’s even more disturbing that, if you read a lot of fantasy, you slowly become inured to it. At least, though, in most epic fantasy books I’ve read the sex is of the fade to black variety and the few where the sex is described are with of-age and consenting parties.

There is a lot of complaining about the sex and rape in George RR Martin’s books. The weird thing is that in those books it doesn’t bother me because it feels authentic to the culture and always ALWAYS advances the story and the characters in a direction they need to go. It honestly doesn’t read as “prurient” to me in any way. But now, having re-read LeHane’s Gone, Baby, Gone it occurs to me that the Mystery/Thriller genre is a lot more prurient than Fantasy has ever been.

Mystery/Thrillers were my preferred genre for about twenty-five years, to be honest. It started with Nancy Drew when I was six and Agatha Christie when I was eight. I will always remember finishing And Then There Were None (Which at that time, in 1978, I had a third-hand copy still titled Ten Little Indians). I was in the hammock in my backyard and read that last section where the murderer confesses to everything and explains its rationale and I thought “this? This is the stuff for me.” So from then until I was in my early thirties I was pretty far gone into mysteries. It was really nice when that was the hot genre for awhile there around the whole Silence Of The Lambs craze. A lot of high-quality stuff came out back then.

It got harder to find good mysteries and I had latched onto Harry Potter so since 2000 I’ve been more about fantasy and Epics in general. (Speaking of non-fantasy Epics if you haven’t read Morgan’s Run by Colleen McCullough you need to go ahead and do that ASAP.) Now that I’m revisiting Mystery it’s kind of nice. And I feel like being words again. Speaking of, I’ve gone way over my limit. So we’ll wind up this blog post now.*

*That phrase always makes me think of the episode of Mama’s Family where they go on Family Feud and Mama causes them to lose by insisting that her answer to “Things you wind up” is “A letter”. “I think I will wind up this letter now”. I love idiomatic humour.

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