The decaying corpse of crappy fantasy novel Storm Front. Original crime scene photo courtesy Coronerâ€™s Office/The Twisty Library
I have become a serial book killer.
A spinster aunt of my advanced years, for whom time is of the essence, can but react with murderous outrage when the paperback for which she has paid $7.99–on the advice of people who are supposed to know from books–turns out to be an insulting lump of crap.
Last night I committed my second book murder. About 40 pages into a highly recommended fantasy novel, I experienced an acute involuntary spasm in my feministrium. I screamed in pain and chucked the book at the wall (if this blog were a fantasy novel, I would have â€œshrieked like a captive faerie and flung the accursed volume against the battlementâ€), whereupon it splatted, fell to the floor, coughed twice, and died. Iâ€™m glad itâ€™s dead, I tell you, glad! For a glance at the patriometer confirmed it: the book was nothing but a formulaic male supremacist manifesto written by another traitorous female tool of the patriarchy.
Coincidentally, the last book to meet with this fate at the Twisty Bungalow was the only other fantasy novel Iâ€™ve attempted since adulthood, Storm Front by some chucklehead named Jim Butcher. The book had been recommended by I-forget-who as â€œHarry Potter for adults.â€ Rash young dipshit that I was, fresh from the superb Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and full of residual warmth and admiration for authors of books about magicians, I approached Storm Front with unguarded enthusiasm, ignoring my usual policy of avoiding titles that are also the names of white pride organizations.
Within two pages Storm Front revealed itself as so aggressively mediocre that I actually mutilated it before I thew it. Author Jim Butcher is apparently a virginal 7th grade boy who has been instructed by his creative writing teacher to replace all dialogical instances of he said with inept â€œactionâ€ tags like he growled, he challenged, he drawled, and yes, the classically lame he snorted. Butcher also compares his female sidekick character to a cheerleader and Shirley Temple in the same breath. But here is the line that drove me to libricide, delivered without irony by the hero, who is explaining why the murderer must have been a woman: â€œYou canâ€™t do something bad without a whole lot of hate…â€ wait, it gets better: â€œWomen are better at hating than men.â€ [The chapter is excerpted here, unfortunately]
Possibly there exist legitimate literary applications for gross sexism (although not, Iâ€™m afraid, for such a clunky expression of it), but if you are not Dashiell Hammett or Edward Albee, and you put it in your book anyway, youâ€™re a fucktard. If you are Jim Butcher, and your hero is a wizard named â€œHarry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, conjure by it at your own risk,â€ well, itâ€™s just sad.
But the Storm Front killing is behind me now (I was acquitted. Self-defense). Last nightâ€™s paperback projectile was The Curse of Chalion, authored by one Lois McMaster Bujold, acclaimed winner of Hugo and Neosporin and Dramamine awards. Her characters are all clichÃ©s, but to be fair, LMcMB has a touch of the old narrative flair, so when I killed her stupid book, I stopped short of disemboweling it.
From what I understand of the genre, works of fantasy are required by law to be written in some species of hyper-formal, faux-archaic English that no actual human has ever spoken. Such as:
â€œThe birthday present sent down this year from the capital at Sudafed by her brother Bengay was a fine dappled gray mare, an inspiration either well calculated or very lucky, for Visine flew into transports over the shimmering beast.â€œ
This is goofy, but I can live with it. What I canâ€™t live with is the dependency of the fantasy narrative on unapologetically misogynist pseudo-feudal agrarian European settings that glorify patriarchal principles of war, caste systems, omnipotent deities, primogeniture, and women-as-virgin-damsels. The Curse of Chalion is about pseudo-medieval Spaniardesque nobles with names like antifungal ointments, the males brandishing swords all over the place to protect the females, who sit around the castle embroidering. The hero, Benadryl, is a 35-year-old warrior-nobleman who lusts after Rogaine, the beautiful, strong-willed 15-year-old princess.
It really chaps my hide that a woman writing in the 21st century, who, after all, is supposedly inventing a fantasy and could theoretically think up a world in which women are portrayed as something other than willowy young receptacles and subordinate producers of male heirs, wins awards for merely regurgitating the same old superannuated patriarchal crapulence that has plagued popular fiction since Clarissa and beyond. Pah.