While you’re waiting for The Winds of Winter

Alliteration!  Fun times!  I’m distracting you with exclamation points to ignore the sadness that creeps up when you think too hard about the fact that George R R Martin may not be done with book 6 until 2017!  We laugh to keep from crying!

Okay, but seriously, there are other books out there, and while you’re not-so-patiently waiting for the next book, here are some in-genre suggestions for you.

The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
-Read if: you like really cool original magic systems, and you like to fear for your characters
-Don’t read if: you absolutely must have sex scenes in your fantasy novels; you don’t do well with dystopias

I really can’t recommend these books highly enough.  Brandon Sanderson may be most well-known for finishing The Wheel of Time after Robert Jordan’s death (confession time: I’ve only read the first two of that series and that was a while ago, I promise to go back and read them plz don’t kill me), but truly should be more famous for his own original works.  He has a standalone novel called Elantris, and has started his own epic series with The Way of Kings, and a bunch more for younger readers, but this trilogy is about as good as it comes.  In this world, a long way back, there was a hero and a great evil…and the hero lost, leaving a ruined world.  The world has been split into nobles and commoners, and the main character of the first novel is a 16 year old commoner girl named Vin.  The magic, called Allomancy, is metal-based, and characters “burn” different metals to enhance their own abilities (you swallow and “burn” pewter to enhance your physical strength, for example.)  Sanderson’s world-building is so, so good at the magical level, and once you reach the end of the series, you realize just how well he had to plot out the three books.

The relationships, both friendship and romantic, are strong enough to make you cry (I did!), but if you absolutely must have some kind of serious sexual tension; sorry, it’s just not here.  The books are plenty R-rated when it comes to sex (castration, commoners used as sex slaves for nobles, etc.), but no one ever has it. Also the world can get crazy depressing at times (the commoners are basically slaves! wars! sacrifices! parents being the worst! main characters can just die!), which fits because it’s a dystopia, but if you’re not sold on a world where you literally have to every so often shake the ash off of things, and plants are just a dull brown, and your favorite characters can just freaking die, maybe don’t pick these up.  But do it anyway because they’re great and I said so. 

The Kingkiller Chronicle books by Patrick Rothfuss (trilogy, 2 of 3 are published)
-Read if: you like amazing first-person narration and a flawed hero; you like music; you like school stories
-Don’t read if: you’re impatient (author is on Martin’s level at speed), you need a female narrator

Read these books now.  Just do it.  Your life will be enhanced.  They are the story of Kvothe, a man who is known as a hero in his world, but he’s the one telling the story.  A well-known writer finds him hiding away running an inn, and Kvothe decides to tell his story and clear up all the inaccuracies to the legend.  He’s brilliant and flawed, and you totally buy him as a Famous Hero and also as a stupid teenage boy (especially in his interactions with women).  He’s at a university for much of the books, learning languages and science and magic, and the magic is totally believable, mostly because it has so many limits and you need to work at it.  They have final exams.  It’s great.  Additionally, Kvothe is a trouper and plays the lute, and Rothfuss’ descriptions of what music can do are just made of truth and might make you cry.  Rothfuss is simply an amazing writer and storyteller, and…just pick up the first book, The Name of the Wind. Just do it.

There’s definitely quite a bit of downtime in between books, so if you don’t do well starting in on unfinished series, this one may kill you.  I’ve been dying for several years now; I named one of my online accounts “Kvothe” in a fit of sadness and couldn’t remember that I had done so when I was trying to log back in.  Additionally, there is a decent number of women in these books (varied, real women), but it is for sure about the men.  It can also be frustrating when it seems like literally every woman in these books wants a piece of Kvothe, even when he’s a 15-year-old ginger punk.  I am still trying to figure out if the author is doing this on purpose (in a “teenage boys are sometimes dumb and don’t know how to Woman” way), and it can get very eye-roll-inducing, but the ladies are still really cool.  Just…please read.  The writing is literally the best I’ve seen in this genre, and I need more people to talk to about these books.

Literally everything in the Tortall universe by Tamora Pierce (three quartets, one duology, one diary-form trilogy)
-Read if: you are or ever were a teenage girl; you love animals
-Don’t read if: you absolutely can’t stand a female narrator (AKA you’re a chump), you hate shorter books

Duuuuude.  Read her stuff.  I don’t care that it’s technically young adult fiction, just do it.  This lady is the coolest and has been writing forever, and her world-building is crazy good.  Each quartet has a different main character/narrator, and all of them are awesome in different ways.  (Kel’s my favorite, if you were wondering.)  Pierce is also a huge animal lover, and it comes across in her books.  All her heroines have super awesome animals (dogs, cats, sparrows, a baby dragon!) that are part pet, part friend, and part kickass warrior.

Her books are on the shorter side: no thousand-page epics here, as they’re written for teens.  And I really wish there were more guys reading these books: Pierce suffers from the whole “books about boys are for boys and girls, but books about girls are ONLY for girls” thing.  But seriously, if you’re going to make the argument that you “can’t relate” to a young woman’s story about becoming a knight simply because she is a girl, I will hunt you down and force-feed you these books.  There’s no excuse, bros.  Do it now.

The Sword of Truth books by Terry Goodkind (finished series of 11 books with a couple more written after with the same characters)
-Read if: you like high fantasy epic tropes with some serious bad guys
-Don’t read if: you can’t handle a healthy dose of Objectivism with your high fantasy; you want to actually fear for the main character

All the tropes are here: common hero told he’s special, wizard advisor, cool sword, learns things along the journey.  Richard Cypher is our hero here, and he’s fighting against a world that is falling apart due to the actions of a ton of really, really bad dudes.  He’s collects helpers along the way, who are actually all pretty interesting and diverse characters, including lots of women (and a dragon, of course).  The magic and history of the world is pretty cool, and for the bloodthirsty among you, there’s plenty of battles to keep you busy.  And possibly grossed out.  Goodkind does not skimp on the blood and pain, and the baddies are real bad.  Other than the hero and the baddies, the other characters serve as pretty decent companions and foils to our hero: some bad guys are redeemed, and good guys are allowed to disagree with our hero.

That being said: these are for fun.  Don’t think too hard.  The author is a big-time libertarian/Objectivist, but 9 times out of 10 the references don’t show up too obviously and you won’t notice it. The 10th time, it’s so heavy-handed that it’s funny.  However, if it’s gonna bug you, maybe don’t pick up this series (or skip Faith of the Fallen, which is the most blatant by far).  And if you’re neck-deep in GRRM-style death where NO ONE IS SAFE, this series may bug you, because your faves are special and safe because they’re the faves.  You can have a drinking game for every time someone said “you’re a special person, Richard Cypher” and its variations.  If 11 seems too daunting, read the first four and the last three, and Pillars of Creation: the first four are solid, plot-wise, the last three are one story set at breakneck, fascinating pace, and Pillars gives you a new main character (Richard’s barely in this one).      

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or probably anything else by N.K. Jemesin (trilogy, others)
-Read if: you like reading books both about and by women of color; fallen gods are fascinating
-Don’t read if: you need me to tell you how they end because I haven’t read the third one yet (I’m sorry), you thrive on descriptive detail and need a world to be mapped out completely

This first book is so, so good I can’t even…I just…yeah.  Please read it.  The world that’s created has three gods in it, but they had a war many many years ago, and one was victorious, one died…and one is imprisoned by the ruling family and used as sort of a pet.  Conflict ready, set, go! The books have different narrators (I almost don’t want to tell you that they’re all women but they are), but they all deal with the concept of gods who are no longer as powerful as they are.  The second book’s main character, Oree, is also blind, and while I can’t speak to how well the author described what it is like to be blind, the fact that she made a female POC with a disability her main character while not letting those things BE the plot speaks to just how cool this author is.  Her prose is outstanding; I don’t know how she does it, but every paragraph feels like good poetry.

I’ve only just finished book two of the three, and apparently the plotting is not as great as in the first two, which makes me sad, but even if you’re not going to finish the series, please read book one.  Additionally, while the author does build a substantial history for her characters’ current status, you’re left feeling that there’s so much more to explore in this world (it is called the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, after all).  You’ll have a vague fuzzy feeling in your head while reading because the author will sometimes leave sensory descriptions out in favor of describing feelings. This does not detract from the story and is simply a stylistic choice, but if you really like to hear about all the details (or you’re on a Martin hook and need names for literally. every. person. ever.) it may bother you.  Just support this lady.  We need another Octavia Butler; we need like a million of them.

If you have any suggestions for ME in-genre, please leave them!  I’m always looking for new fantasy to pick up.

Why?! : sexy Halloween costumes, part 2

Did this one a few years back, but of course, they still exist, and they are sillier than ever.  Also, friendly reminder to my fellow white people: don’t dress up as a person of color this Halloween or ever.  No geishas, no Gandhis, no blackface.  Got it? Sweet. Moving on.

Here’s the first one: “sexy Katniss.”

Seriously not even all that offensive, but what’s with the pose?  “Oh, I always pose seductively when trying to kill other teenagers and carry medicine to cure blood poisoning.”  Fun fact SHE’S 16.  Also note the flip flops.  Very Katniss.

Next, we have “sexy Mario,” which the company names “Heroic Maria.”

Go home, Spirit Halloween, you’re drunk.

Complete with mustache necklace and guarantee that only the shittiest of pick-up lines with be thrown at you all night.

Oh, look, Sexy Avatar!  Neytiri, or whatever, those blue people.

“Oh, what are you supposed to be?”
“Culturally insignificant as of at least 2 years ago.  How about you?”

Now, we’ve got a few that are basically like “sexually immature characters?  What? Big words hurt no unnerstan give us moniez cuz be sexxi”

That, ladies and gents, is a sexy Care Bear.  I can’t.

Next, sexy Jessie from Toy Story, who originally did not wear a skirt.

Excuse me while I paraphrase Woody, but “SHE. IS. A. TOY.”  In a trilogy of movies made for CHILDREN.  LEAVE BRITNEY ALOOOONE

Here’s “Sassy” (no, really, that’s what they called it) Pink Ranger.

I don’t remember the Pink Ranger looking like a disco ball and the cover of Fifty Shades Darker had a baby.

Sexy lawn gnome.  No, that’s cool and relevant and totally hot, keep it up.

And I’m just gonna leave this one here, mostly because I can’t stop laughing. (It’s sexy Darth Vader.)

I’d like to round up the last of the sexy Halloween costumes with the ones that make me think “what on Earth happened in the marketing meeting where costumes got picked?”

Here we have “Sexy A Clockwork Orange.”

No, I’m sure this was on Kubrick’s drawing board for the film.  A+, keep it up, droog.

And for your nightmare-having pleasure, “Sexy Silence of the Lambs.”

That’s supposed to be a straight-jacket-esque dress.  I am all kinds of offended and disgusted.

Have you seen worse?  Any self-made ones?  Please share!  Happy Halloweeeeeeeen

Sexism in Game of Thrones

Let me start: yes, I’m a huge fan of both the books and the show.  I’m not sure there’s anything that would make me stop watching (obviously killing everyone doesn’t stop me!), and consuming the story in both forms has been super awesome in general thus far.  But I wish to make this clear: you can be a fan of something and still want to criticize its problems.

I titled this post with “Game of Thrones” because I’ll be addressing the show specifically, and not really A Song of Ice and Fire.  George R. R. Martin has done a pretty awesome job at including real, diverse women in his books.  They get to narrate their own chapters.  They are not stereotypes.  They get to fight their battles different ways, both stabby and sneaky.  They get to have feelings.  Martin was once asked why he writes women so well, and replied, “you know, I’ve always considered women to be people.”  This man pretty much gets it as much as you can.  Yes, he’s writing in a sexist world, but he doesn’t act like it’s okay, at all.  The only thing I can fault him for is sometimes making his female characters SUPER aware of their own body parts, particularly breasts, but…eh.  He’s a dude.  Maybe he doesn’t know, and I really can’t be like “ahhh how dare you” over something so minor, especially when it’s kind of funny to notice those moments.  Any real injuries women suffer in his books are the result of the world they are in, and not because he’s a sexist jerk.

David Benioff and Ben Weiss, the show’s co-creators probably are.  Or if they’re not, they’re playing sexist jerks quite well with their show’s decision making.

Let’s do this.  Spoiler alert for everything that’s been in the show thus far: if you’ve watched through Season 3 you are safe.

1. Sexposition
Just…seriously.  They made up a word due to the gratuitous nudity in this show.  To summarize: much of the first season had significant plot points discussed while characters (nearly always women, frequently unnamed) were naked and/or simulating sex acts in the background.  The creators of the show have defended the practice, stating that there is plenty of sex in the books, but this is a weak defense that barely gets to the heart of the problem.  [I’ll be using the word “whores” here because it’s what’s used in the show, but I am fully aware that it’s not the preferred term for anyone who does sex work!]  The background whores are rarely given a name, and the one character who is, Ros, is killed horribly in season three simply to show the viewers, again, that Joffrey is awful.  (Also she shares some traits with two other brothel workers who happen to be women of color, but a racism analysis would need a whole post…not today).  Nearly all of these scenes are not, in fact, in the books: sex scenes in the books are between named characters.

This concept not only insults the women characters within the story, but the audience as well.  There is very little sexualized male nudity, contributing to the idea that only straight men watch this show.  It insults the female viewers, and also insults anyone who is trying to pay attention: David Benioff has said he pays less attention to plot when there’s background nudity , so why put it in?  You don’t get a pass for throwing in tons of naked whores by shouting “but there’s sex IN THE BOOKS!”  Women are not decoration in these novels, but the show has allowed them to be.

2. “Yara” Greyjoy
Tiny point, but still: someone on the executive ladder made the decision that Asha Greyjoy, the daughter of Balon Greyjoy and all-around pirate-y killer, needed to be known as “Yara” in the show, because there was already a female character named Osha.  Again, insulting the audience, and again, sexist as hell: we don’t care about the different women enough to remember they have different names.  We can have Robb Stark and Robert Baratheon, Tywin and Tyrion Lannister, Jory (Ned’s man) and Jorah Mormont, but they’re men and therefore important, so we’ll remember them.

3. Talisa Maegyr
(Seriously spoilers here, don’t read if you haven’t watched all of Season 3)
Robb’s wife in the show is different enough a character from his wife in the books that they needed to rename her.  Jeyne Westerling is her name in the books, and she’s barely seen; young girl, very minor noble family, nice enough.  The show decided since everyone LOVES Robb, he deserves a legit love story…?  Anyway, Talisa is a compilation of every terrible “I’m not like other girls!” trope there is.  She’s a nurse, and scolds Robb the first time they meet for causing pain and suffering, because she’s…sassy?  (For those of you paying attention, Robb is a king who could easily have her killed.)  She talks about coming from Volantis, a slave-holding nation, and magically managed to arrive in Westeros to treat battlefield victims, despite giving no clear way to have traveled on her own.  Traveling on your own as a woman is deadly in this world, and acting like Talisa’s so awesome she got here safely is some super bullshit.  Also if there are slaves in your home country clearly there’s some stuff you can fix there.   She becomes pregnant with Robb’s child, and then is one of the first killed in the Red Wedding by being stabbed in the stomach, right after she says the baby is gonna be “little Ned Stark.”  (Robb’s book wife gets to live through the Red Wedding because book Robb is smart enough to leave her at home when going to meet with the family with which he broke a pretty crucial alliance.  TV Robb is like #yolo.)

The show basically set up this awful stereotype as a support to a male character, got her pregnant, and then killed her terribly in a way that is really sad only because there was almost a baby Ned Stark.  You don’t get to subvert all the carefully crafted world-building and stereotype avoiding Martin did the whole time simply because you decide that a well-liked male character (who isn’t even a POV character in the books) deserves a better love story.

4. Hating on the ladies who don’t fight
This particularly applies to Sansa and Cersei, who are contrasted to their “cooler” siblings Arya and Jaime all. the. time.  Arya’s the best, clearly, and the writers decided to make that obvious by giving her the line “most girls are idiots” in the second season.  She’s clearly much cooler than her sister because she does male things like stabbing people.  Sansa is apparently SUPER LAAAAME in contrast because she tries to not get killed by people who hate her by being super polite and careful and hiding her fear.  She’s 13 years old and was sheltered and groomed to be a nobleman’s wife, but because she’s not stabbing people in the neck like her cooler little sister, she sucks.  This one’s partially on the show’s fandom, but it’s interesting that the book fans don’t show this opinion nearly as much.

Cersei and Jaime, on the other hand (heh-heh, hand, sorry Jaimes), are contrasted in that “ugh I hate Cersei she’s evil and ewww she had kids with her brother” while Jaime is **sooo cOmpLIcATeD** or something.  Remember those incest kids?  Jaime helped.  Also Jaime pushed Bran out a window, remember?  But Jaime gets his (honestly totally amazing) detailed speech to Brienne on how he killed the Mad King and arguably saved King’s Landing, while Cersei gets snarky one-liners to Margaery about strangling her and like a thousand scenes of her drinking wine. (Tyrion’s supposed to be the drunk one in this family.) They are equally difficult and complicated characters and the show has portrayed them as “oh poor Jaime” and “let’s all call Cersei a c***.” Just because a Game of Thrones lady doesn’t hold a sharp edge doesn’t mean she’s not worthwhile.

5. Catelyn
Which leads me to Catelyn, of course.  Of all the women in the books thus far, the show has done the most damage to Catelyn.  She’s a POV character, and the show takes that and gives it to Robb.  She had 40-something lines in Season 3, most of which were a ridiculous speech about “if I had only loved Jon Snow all of this would not have happened.” (Robb, a non-POV book character, gets 92 lines.)  The show gives Robb a line about putting her in a “cell” after she releases Jaime in an attempt to save her daughters.  The entirety of the third season is basically Robb being like “Mooom just let me do what I WANT JEEZ” and Catelyn either not talking or brushed to the side as meddling and irrelevant.  Throughout the whole series, she’s basically right all the time: Ned going to King’s Landing is bad, Robb betraying the Freys is bad, a Lannister tried to have Bran killed, chopping off Rickard Karstark’s head is probs a bad call, etc. etc.  She’s powerful without swinging a sword, and once again, the show steals all of that power because she’s annoying their precious and all-mighty Robb.  Her chapters leading up to the Red Wedding are legit like “ROBB GET GUEST RIGHT DO IT” because she knows he screwed up big time.  She is a smart lady who gets how the game is played (much better than her husband did, for the record), and they take that away from her by losing all her narration and motivation and making her this overbearing mother.  Instead of observing her thoughts as we get to in the book, we get to watch her make judgey faces at Talisa and weave a prayer wheel(?) 

I realize a show can’t be a book series, and I will love these books forever, I really hope next season allows women to break out of the three categories of “nameless whore,” “annoying girl,” and “cool chick with sword.”  Martin has made sure none of his women are stereotypes, but the show, at this point, seems dedicated to keeping them running.