Linkspam, 4/26/13 Edition

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.
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April 26, 2013

Floral Porcelain Skulls by NooN

Floral Porcelain Skulls by NooN

Well. This has been an interesting few days here at the Radish. Hello, everyone! At least it feels like everyone.

First off–I’ve said this elsewhere but I need to say it here as well: I am extremely grateful to Strange Horizons for listening to my concerns and responding in such a positive and constructive manner. They’re one of my favorite speculative fiction magazines and I’m very glad they stepped up to the plate. It really means a lot to me and, I think, to the hard-working people at RT.

Onwards to the weekly linkspam! There’s a lot of good stuff this week. (Incidentally, I’ve started using Mammoth and their Chrome extension for collecting links and it is aces.)

Then, well, this happened:

Low tolerance for this sort of comment today? Check. Person who has written some books I really, truly love pushing one of my buttons? Check. Sadness and upset on my part? Check. There was some back and forth and I then made the decision to not engage any further because my heart was breaking into tiny little pieces–at which point this happened:

 

I was, not exactly happy, more like relieved that Kay was willing to step back and look at what he said and how it was interpreted by a number of other people and engage on the subject and then apologize. And I can’t help but respect that because getting called out really is not fun and so often brings out the worst in people.

Kay’s initial comment is very similar to many other comments I’ve heard about romance from the speculative fiction community and, as E ! pointed out, it really is punching down.  And it definitely hit a nerve on my part and I am glad I spoke up. The more I speak up the easier it seems to get.

Romance is the easy target for a two main reasons: it is the single largest segment of the fiction market and it is dominated by women. And since 90% of everything is crap and there’s so much romance in the market, it can be challenging finding the really good stories amongst the crap. And, of course, what makes a good story is so subjective–each person has their own set of reasons for preferring some kinds of stories over others.

Sometimes the type of story being told is significantly more important than the way in which it is told–I suspect that this is why Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey have been so successful: they feed into the id vortex in ways other works don’t. They touch something deep within some readers in a way that allows to reader to disregard terrible plotting, problematic gender dynamics, slipshod grammar, et cetera.  Most of the readers recognize that these–and other hugely popular novels–are of dubious literary merit and yet: they find value in them anyhow. I’m not arguing for the abolition of editing and proof-reading–I’m just saying that sometimes, for readers, the story trumps all those things.

Judging other people for the kinds of books they read or where they go to get recommendations is something that I think needs to be unlearned. I know I used to be a bit of a book snob (via) myself–I never openly talked about reading romance, I totally did it on the sly and only read science fiction, fantasy, or mysteries in public (with occasional forays into literary fiction). Do you know what cured me of that? Writing for RT and getting to know so many people who read, write, and love romance.  Every book really does have its reader–it’s just a matter of bringing the two together (and that, ultimately, is what reviewing is: matchmaking).

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7 Comments

  1. Wendell McKay

    Good stuff here; I”m guessing you read Sady Doyle’s post on George R.R. Martin? While I disagreed with much of it (and her style is, as ever, an acquired taste), her concern over Sansa’s portrayal was spot on, and in my initial enthusiasm for Martin’s work (before I got to the later volumes), I noticed a lot of the same attitudes (i.e. a deep loathing for “girly stuff”) emanating from female fandom. Interesting (and depressing) to read of similar issues going on in other fandoms. Impressed, too, to see Kay’s apology (not a fan of his books, though I think that’s more from “Celtic fatigue” than anything else). It’s weird because I’ve never actually considered Dunnett’s books (at least the Lymond and Niccolo ones, which are admittedly the only ones I’ve read) romance, more like the best historical fiction I’ve probably read since Gore Vidal (haven’t read Hilary Mantel yet, but that will likely be remedied in the next couple of weeks).

    • Natalie

      That was the other weird thing about Kay’s hyperbolic tweet: no one I know considers Dunnett a romance writer. She’s a writer of historical fiction. I have been idly thinking about rereading the Fionavar books after I’m done with the Julian May series–it’s been a while and if I reread that maybe I can wait until his new book comes out in paperback.

      And yes, I have read Sady Doyle’s post on Martin. I’m not a fan of his books and I don’t watch the television show, so I didn’t retain a lot of it–I’ll have to look it up and reread. The deep loathing for women characters in fandom spaces that are dominated by women is deeply upsetting to me–there is nothing like seeing an actor called a slut and a whore because she dared to accept a job working on a police procedural–I don’t even think her role was as a potential love interest, instead she was a colleague of the fandom’s favored slash pairing. And fans who push back against these attitudes in some of the large fandoms can quickly become pariahs; I know someone who speaks up about how characters of color and women are treated on Supernatural and the treatment she gets as a consequence is appalling.

  2. rosary

    Good lord, I didn’t really think an author would fall prey to the intentional fallacy! I can sort of understand why he might not have thought it offensive in the “I’m comparing Dunnett to Plato as being the foundation of something” sense, but the second half of his analogy–yeah, that was stupid and offensive on his part. Also a bit ironic, since his work certainly has tropes of romance (from both its old historical meaning and its current one).

  3. Nicole

    Sassy mag! God, how I loved it!

  4. Anna Cowan

    Great links as always! Tilda Swinton makes me swoon. Also completely agree that as Dunnett doesn’t write romance it’s a silly comparison to make.

    • Natalie

      I adore Tilda Swinton. She is unabashedly and weirdly and quite thoroughly HERSELF. She gives no fucks.

    • donna

      Tilda is my idol. ADORE her.

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