Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Structure of the Misogynist Novel

The Misogynist style novel has some very clear elements necessary to make it misogynist.
  • Alpha-male. It's great to be an alpha-male.
  • Non-alpha males are there to be defeated/die. They don't rate.
  • Using your stereotypical male traits is the only successful strategy to progress the story.
  • It sucks to be a woman.
  • Women need to be put in their place.
  • Every woman secretly feel the need to be put in  her place.
  • The villain is an alpha male (because nobody else can stand up to an alpha)
  • [sometimes] Alpha-wanna-be who clearly isn't. He dies.
  • [sometimes] Non-alpha sidekick, who's effective only when the alpha's around.

Note that while there is some violence against some women, it's not wanton violence. The sole purpose of violence against women is to make them passive, to recognize their position in the power dynamic. Once they've accepted their inferior status, a man loses his license for violence, especially as the woman has passed into a state of happiness now that she's found her proper position. Villains, however, don't recognize that distinction, always beating their women.

I can't state this strongly enough, the goal of a man is to dominate women, not murder them.

Women are wrong when they assert any male traits, such as dominance, power, ambition, cleverness, and the like. These are wild women, and they exist for the hero to tame. Often, they've usurped the order by making men work for them, often using magic or their sexual wiles. Once tamed, they assume docile status.

Is there non-consensual sex? There may be by the villain, because that's what villains do, but as the hero is manly and utterly desirable, a woman is incapable of controlling herself, so she must naturally throw herself willingly onto the hero and fuck for dear life. The hero never needs fear non-consensual sex because, by definition, his mere presence puts women into a consenting status. (Yes, the logic really is that stupid.)

Is this ridiculous? Of course it is. It's alpha-male pornography, where the alpha-male character butchers his enemies, accumulates women, and reaps all the rewards of being the alpha.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Tower and The Hive (1999)

The Tower and The Hive (1999) by Anne McCaffrey wraps up her tower series with the same overly fluffed prose as her other four novels. The space fleets investigate Hive worlds, come to conclusions, and work out a solution to their problems so that they can live happily ever after. That's pretty much what you'd expect out of a final book.

Sharing all the flaws of the previous tower books, this book holds no surprises or revelations, softballing the pertinent moral and ethical questions, while jumping to the socially acceptable answer. As always, any antagonist or opposer is demonstrated as having bad behavior problems and issues, rather than actually issuing opinions of merit.

For example, The Rowan's family dominates the Towers. While it's true that there's more supply than demand, this doesn't dismiss the underlying concern that there's too much power in one family's hands. Even if the accuser is jealous and xenophobic, and pouty to book, to dismiss the concern so quickly is patronizing. I don't expect the finest intellectual rigor on my McCaffrey SF, but I do demand some rigor. Answer the hard questions, or at least wrestle with them in a meaningful fashion that respects the reader.

While at one time I enjoyed books where the good guys agreed with each other, and they overcame the bad guys, now I find such writing as too pat. Conflicts are not binaries. While McCaffrey sort of gets that dynamic with the hive, as she comes to understand that genocide is genocide, she fails to apply the same consideration to human beings. The good guys need to actually work through their ethics instead of yakking away with character building scenes, and the bad guys need to present their case in a compelling manner so that they know that they've been thinking and that they're willing to ask the hard questions.

I think that this series ultimately misses for me because McCaffrey fails to build the characters, the world, and the issues, which is a stunningly failure considering that this is an SF series.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Lyon's Pride (1994)

Lyon's Pride (1994) by Anne McCaffrey, disappointed me on every level.  It's like a pretty new car that's a lemon under the hood. It's like one of those post-war British films with slow pacing and no soundtrack. You see everything getting discussed and decided, whether it helps the story or not. There was literally nothing happening across most of the chapters, no real feeling of beginning, no real feeling of uncertainty, and an even vaguer feeling of the end.

I skimmed for chapters at a time, spending seconds per page, without missing any single plot point. 90% of this book was padding. This book wasted my time. The only reason that I kept reading it is because I'm conducting a project of reading McCaffrey's non-Pern material.

This book has characters. I don't really care who they are. Their personalities really don't matter, which is good because they don't seem to have any. I frequently mix them up at this point and it doesn't matter.

There's some interesting bits when the Lyons are actually learning about the Hive. Unfortunately, not only do those bits not last very long, they seemed like asides.

What I can't figure is whether this book is supposed to be a YA book or a SF-romance. McCaffrey just can't decide.

If you liked the previous books in this series, you'll get more of what you expect, so read on. If you don't like the series, then you won't like this.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Structure of the Girlfriend in a Refrigerator Trope

The Girlfriend in a Refrigerator is a trope used in the comic industry. It's a relatively rare trope because it's hard for any title to use the trope more than once. In this trope, the hero's girlfriend/wife/etc is killed while he's away in order to make the hero feel helpless, to essentially immaculate him. Without a symbolic woman, he ceases to be a symbolic man. He must then learn to be a man on his own again while travelling a darker road than he normally would, one gritter with revenge and brutality, for he's had his feminine aspect destroyed.

You can see how using this trope too often doesn't work. It must be rare. By my understanding (which may be wrong), we see about one of these stories per year come out of the industry, or about 1% of the output, if that much.

Male heroes go through this trope for many reasons, simply because most heroes are male. As you can't usually kill the hero off, because that only works in very limited circumstances, if you want edgy death to intrude onto your comic, then it must happen to a secondary character. As a hero usually doesn't have any parents, often because they're already dead, it has to be another loved one who dies. It could be a male character, but considering that comics is an industry primarily aimed at heteronormative males, that would look gay. The only real option is to pick the hero's love interest, who is usually the primary, if not only, female character in the title.

To aid in the hero's feeling of helplessness, the female character is killed while he's elsewhere. Despite all his power, he utterly failed in his ability to protect his loved one, adding a layer of angst on top of helplessness.

In theory, the female character could fight back, but the harder that she fights back, the less sorry that the hero will feel at his failure. And if she fights back and wins, then you don't have this trope, so you can't go in that direction. So if you really want the emotions to land true, especially in the melodrama that is comics, you need the girlfriend to go out like a chump.

Female characters usually don't come back from this for very good reason. First and most important, if she were to come back, that would undermine the emotional and ethical journey of the title character, the very person that the comic is about. Second, she's usually a secondary character in that title, so having a permanence to the death gives a moral imperative to the hero. The imperative of permanence means that the hero's choice will be permanent, and so they will now weigh upon him more. The hero's perceived perception of the stakes becomes heightened. More is on the line. The girlfriend's death makes the hero's choices matter more than they ever had before.

If overused, this strategy quickly loses all moral and emotional imperative. By design, it must remain rare inside any single title. Even across titles, it must remain relatively rare. If used too often, this trope quickly descends into cliche.

Outside of melodrama, the device really has limited use, which is why you generally don't see it.

Damia's Children (1993)

Damia's Children (1993) by Anne McCaffrey continues her Tower and Hive series. Rather than pseodo-biographies of the title characters, this book is a series of novellas focusing of four of Damia's children. Rather than giving us a long, dull slog, this book gives us four snappy, shorter stories, forming an actual narrative arc. While still a little simplistic, as the general text and texture of the whole series is rather a throwback to 50's SF, the simpleness generally works better in the context of a YA story. Because the galaxy doesn't depend on the actions of any one character, the story can follow more personal arcs, with each character finding a place by the end.

Because the subject matter is generally lighter and fast, the book projects a far lighter and sprightly feel than the earlier volumes. Very little feels unnecessarily padded, events all seem reasonable, and everyone gets some chance to show off their cleverness.

If you've gotten this far in the series, you'll find this title easy going.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Portal 2

Portal 2 (2011) is a first person, puzzle solving video game that attempts to catch lightning in the bottle twice. Like Portal, it features Chell (our silent protagonist), a portal gun that create teleportation portals from point A to Point B, malevolent testing computers, deathly hazards, and a story. Unlike the original, it doesn't catch lightning in a bottle, but don't take that as a criticism. Valve took what worked in the first game, added more puzzles and narrative, kept the wickedly evil sense of humor, and generally gave you more game for your buck. For me, this took the game past that sweet spot of the first game, creating an experience which pulled me to the end rather than slamming me into the end with so much energy that I wanted more.

With more game play, Valve gave us more acts and more mechanics. The first act of the game lasted about as long as the original, with enough puzzles and plot after that to total 2 to 2.5 more game than the original. If you like puzzling, getting this game for cheap is worth your money. New mechanics include flingers, light bridges, light tubes, and various goos.

Towards the end, the puzzles trended harder than anything in the original, with solutions that approached so crazy that they just might work. Rarely did I run into puzzles that made me scream, even if I did die a lot.

I must admit that the ending was madness. It didn't give me the utter satisfaction that the original ending gave me, but I found it frightfully clever and satisfying.

I had no crashes during any play session.

At no point was the world at risk in this game.

I got both game bundled, on sale, which proved an amazing value.

The Structure of the Hero and the Princess

I've been trying to make sense of the Hero and Princess style of story, and boy-oh-boy, is it a hot mess of messiness.

The basic structure goes like this:

- Villain/Monster kidnaps person. Totally socially inappropriate.
- Hero goes through socially approved conventions to get girl.
- Hero overcomes villain.
- Happily ever after (HEA)

This seems simple, but there's a few caveats.

"Socially approved" matches to HEA. "Socially approved" is a prerequisite to HEA. They're linked. "Socially approved" is, by definition, the right and proper way to do things. "Socially disapproved" is associated with monsters and villains. People who kidnap and force women are villains and monsters, and proper society will deal with them as such. The lesson is is: if you do such things, you'll be labeled as a villain and a monster. If you do things right, you'll be lauded a hero and welcomed into the family.

Note that "socially approved" is dependent on its time and place. So, if a time and place of the "socially approved" is sexist, then the story's going to be sexist. You can't avoid that. This is the true genesis of sexism in these stories. This is also the core of the story's flexibility. If you make sure that the hero does all the socially appropriate non-sexist things, then the HEA won't be sexist. In this case, if the hero has a prior relationship with the princess where they have a love, a promise, then when the hero rides off to save the heroine, he's finalizing their mutual relationship. You'll recognize this story because it's used all over the place, such as in "The Princess Bride."

So as you can see from the structure, this story is intended to teach that, 1) if you kidnap women, you will be branded a villain, and 2) if you follow proper social conventions, you'll be lauded as a hero and have an HEA.

One of the reasons that I used Hero and Villain is so that I can change genders.

- The Villain does what's socially wrong.
- The Heroine does what's socially right.
- The Heroine overcomes villain

The female version of this tale comes with the usual caveat that what's socially right is likely sexist. However, you should be able to recognize elements of Snow White, Cinderella, and Rapunzel. There's differences between the male and female versions because what's socially acceptable for each gender is different, but the structure is remarkably similar.

What of trophy women? Or men? The romantic certainty of this structure isn't a bug, it's a feature. If we remove the romantic certainty, we change the underlying message of the structure.

Revision: Villain seizes princess, hero gets social approval, then overcomes villain, but there's no HEA.

This scenario would teach any young man that if you do all the right things, then you'll come out with negative results. That is not a good lesson to teach.

Revision: Villain seizes princess, hero gets social approval, then overcomes villain, then maybe he gets the HEA if the girl wants it after courting.

This scenario teach any young man that if you do all the right things, then you'll be no better off than you were before. That is not a good lesson to teach. Risking your life for a woman counts as nothing. Once you come to a proper arrangement, it will be changed as one side can't honor it's contracts.

This revision also makes clear the hero hasn't done all the socially appropriate things to get the girl, undermining the exact premise of the structure. Adding requirements later on moves the goalpost. (People who do that in such stories are also shown as villains, or at least horrible.) Changing requirements at the last minute is not a satisfying end to a story.

So, if you change the structure to end with a less certain outcome, you make the outcome worse according to feminist standards because the listener goes on to learn the wrong lessons. The certainty of the outcome is a necessary feature of this story.

What of this structure's sexist payload? I know of no literary criticism that has successfully staked itself as the one and true form of literary criticism that bars all others from existing. They've each tried and failed. While I accept that feminist criticism has things to say about this structure, this criticism is in no more definitive than any other style of criticism. I am still free to interpret this as best as I can according to my literary skills. As a result, I disagree with feminist interpretation. This is how literary arguments are born, and God bless 'em all. Where would we be without literary arguments? We are richer for multiple, well-demonstrated points of view because our literature is not one-dimensional.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Structure of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Let's pee on the electric fence! It's time to talk Manic Pixie Dream Girls (MPDG). Rather than define this myself, check out Wikipedia's article.

The structure behind this phenomena is just fascinating.

The MPDG comes about in relatively few cases. You need a story about a main character in a rut, with another character who comes along with the energy to get him out of a rut (the manic pixie dream girl). Usually, this is a romantic comedy, but sometimes it's a life exploration film.

In order for this plot to work, you first meet and experience the doldrums of the protagonist. Since the protagonist is the point of view character, arguably the only character that is real, the plot revolves around him (or her). This means what whoever walks into the protagonist's life walks into his plot, into his gravitational well, so to speak. He's also sort of an everyman, so even though he's shallow, everyone who identified with him project their own character complexities onto him, so he seems more real to us because we sympathize. Finally, as we get to know the protagonist's trouble, we think that we get to know him, but we really don't.

Eventually a second character comes along to shake up his life. At first, this is unwelcome, because the character in a rut really is more secure in his safe run than in anything unsafe. This second character tends to be less real than the main character, so what's there has to really be very there. Because this character gets less screen time, the audience must meet and like this character immediately, identify this new this character as worthwhile, and root for a hookup to happen, all with inadequate information. If the intruding character doesn't meet that criteria, the audience wont' be happy. Because this all must happen so quickly, so much on the sly, the intruder's superficial qualities are more important than getting to know her character deeply.

If you were to give the second character as much screen time, you could lengthen the film (not always an option), take time away from the primary character (not always an option), and possibly risk the audience not liking the intruding character because they get to know her too well. There's nothing wrong with that idea for a more balanced structure, but the result is a different film, one that doesn't carry the same tempo as the structure above. In truth, the secondary character only really exists as a plot device for the primary character's growth and development.

Seen in this light, a manic pixie dream girl has nothing to do with sexism and everything to do with practical plot mechanics. Any sexism is merely an illusion, or an artifact of creating too many male led films.

At the end, the audience knows that our down and out lead character has gotten there when he accepts his manic pixie dream girl and lives happily ever after.

By this definition, the earliest manic pixie dream girl that I know of is Prince Charming from Snow White. We see the story through Snow White's eyes, her troubles, and her friends. When she's in trouble, Prince Charming shows up. He is instantly likable, gets almost no screen time, we root for him, and waltzes away with the girl, taking her out of her rut. By any objective analysis, Prince Charming has been reduced to a sexist stereotype, but really, he's just a plot device for Snow White's growth. He says, "You've gotten there!" The audience always needs something to say, "You've gotten there."

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Damia (1992)

Damia (1992) by Anne McCaffey is the sequel that nobody asked for starring characters that nobody found interesting. Then, McCaffrey expanded the story, providing us with a novel full of filler.

Inside those bound, Damia continues the family story begun in The Rowan. We meet several characters, follow the development of both their personal and professional lives, culminating in a rehashing of the original short story, "Damia." The novel is almost entirely devoid of tension, anxiety, excitement, or charm. It just is. This is sorta the SF equivalent of an Epic Fantasy where you read about what every character does on making camp, day after day. What's there is all well written, but not engaging, possessing no momentum of its own. Damia doesn't even show until past page 100, over 1/3 of the way through the book. The characters themselves feel rather dull to the touch, like dough where the yeast has died off.

I'd love to say that expanding the story added something, deepened the setting, or increased our attachment to the characters, but it didn't. The whole thing takes place in the well run future, and the problem with the well run future is that there's really very little to sort out. The problems with this setting just overwhelm McCaffey's good intentions. I found little in the world that charmed me. Combine this with no knack for writing a family drama, and you get a novel that's pretty much dead in the water. Even so, the book is a marked improvement over The Rowan.

If you liked The Rowan, this book will continue to satisfy, possibly even more so. Otherwise, you're likely to get bored before the story gets anywhere, because the story really doesn't get anywhere.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Publishing Update

I'm behind on publishing this year. I had hoped to have the first Pabi novel out in July, but that's not going to happen. The good news is that I have two drafts in editing and one that needs more extensive work. The bad news is that the first novel is the one that needs work. I hope to have it cleaned up and edited by mid June with final editing coming sometime in mid-July. I have yet to settle on a series name.

The titles will be:

Maid of Memory
Maid of Shadows
Maid of Hope

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Silver Metal Lover (1981)

This book has no reason being this good. Tanith Lee's The Silver Metal Lover (1981) should have been a train wreck of a book, a totally misconceived notion with no possibility as working. As a teenager, I passed up this book many times, the subject matter looking uninteresting to me. In a way, I was right, because at that age, this book would have been beyond me. Now, however, she riveted me from beginning to end.

The story is almost entirely interpersonal, a romance, not of the modern romance arc, where the happily part is mandatory, but more like the romance of previous decades, where an entire arc of a tragic relationship would be followed. That doesn't mean that the ending isn't satisfying, it just means that the ending gives us closure in a different way than the happily ever after.

I felt particularly riveted by the first person prose style, which drops us solidly into the character's idiosyncratic point of view and kept us there, through all her changes, both internal and external. Jane is a spoiled rich brat, but not really, still capable of growth beyond herself. Her friends are varied and almost mythic in their portrayal, some more obviously than others.

The world most resembles that of Blade Runner, which hearkens back to Metropolis, with the absurdly rich living high up, and everyone else living low down, where the rich simply can't comprehend the everyone else part. In particular, the rich's fear of violence is out of proportion to the actual dangers of the world. This resemblance is reinforced with Silver, the robot that Jane loves, and the story's examination of what a robot lover means. How human are they? Is a human's love for a robot real? Given the imminent production of real sex-bots, the question is of even more importance today.

You won't find any shooting or starships in this SF novel. The fate of the world isn't at stake. In fact, the fate of nothing is at stake, except for that of Jane and her lover.

McCaffrey and Romance

I've heard and seen this said. "I just don't see McCaffrey and Romance." Well, it's there if you look for it. The early Pern novels had it more than the later Pern, while her non-Pern series often had elements. I haven't reread everything yet, so I can only mark what I've read or remember.

In general, the romance arc looks like this: people find each other, eventually they get it on, then get pulled apart, then get back together better than before, this time for real and without caveats. If the romance isn't the A plot, it's the B plot, or maybe the C plot.

Dragonflight - Lessa is carried away by a handsome dragon rider at the end of the first section. Section two, are they together or not. By the end of section three, they're together.

Dragonquest - Much of the story concerns the romance of F'nor and Brekke. F'nor and Brekke get together, Brekke loses her dragon, F'nor stands by her and eventually wins her back from sorrow.

The White Dragon - Halfway through, Jaxom gets sick, falls in love with his nurse, their isolation gets interrupted, she gets kidapped by her brother, he rescues her, and they declare their love. The setup is just about as stock romance as you can get.

The Ship Who Sang - Liberated female ship and many live-in boyfriends. (Really, it's just that blatant.)

The Rowan - Based on her romance SF short story.
Damia - Based on her romance SF short story.

Powers That Be - Woman + seal guy romance. Love making in a natural hot tub behind a waterfall with a were-seal is a sure indicator of a romance.

Acorna - Based on her romance SF short story.

Restoree - Flat out romance.
The Coelura - Flat out romance.
No One Noticed the Cat - A kid-friendly romance.