A Genre Trope (that very few people seem to want to talk about)

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We are, as SFF writers, warned incessantly about tropes.

It’s true that tropes are an easy out, a crutch, a kind of laziness, but they persist for a number of reasons beyond the obvious, and I want to point out that SFF is not alone in having these running rampant through the genre, because it seems as if the genre gets unnecessarily singled out on this stuff.

The trope I am most annoyed with this weekend is in the detective mystery genre. More specifically, British police detective mystery novels.

I don’t write mystery novels, but I do read them, a lot.

And the thing that the majority of detective mystery novels set in the UK have in common is the characterization of the police detective who not only is unconventional in his detecting approach, but is completely unlike any other policeman in the universe, being sensitive and bookish, and perennially at odds with his superiors and pretty much everyone else.

Think of Morse.

Think of Ruth Rendell’s Wexford, of P.D. James’ Dalgliesh, of Peter Robinson’s D.C.I. Banks.

They are well-read. They are musically sophisticated. They have taste and grace and wide experience of worlds outside the normal working class life. Dalgliesh, for example, is not just a copper, but a successful, published poet. Wexford, despite being sort of working/middle class in birth and education, can murmur quotes in English, Latin, and French, and apparently remembers every line of every Shakespeare play he has ever read.

None of this is accidental – these are the things that show how their unorthodox approach to thinking about crimes enables them to solve those puzzles that no other detective on their respective forces possibly could have, because no other officer on that force has the breadth of knowledge or the depth of spirit required.

(The fact that it is classist and snobbish as hell is understandable: one of the cultural fictions of the UK is that it managed to become a classless society – an enormous piece of collective self-deception that boggled the mind of this Canadian when she lived there. The extra-intelligent detective as outcast is just a cuter way to frame it. )

There is almost always the inevitable scene where the detective hero’s commanding officer calls him onto the carpet to complain of the approach or the cost of the approach taken – only to be subtly chagrined later on when the detective is proved to have been righteously correct in whatever they did.

And the other thing I notice is that they are all men.

It doesn’t stop me from reading these books (I do love especially D.C.I. Banks and I want Robinson to get his skates on and write more!) but it does give me some pause.

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Flash Fiction Friday!

When the east wind blows, and it shakes the rooftops, Marisol gets out her cloak and walks.

No one else does: they hunker down in their houses, barely managing to get out and see to the livestock and drag some water from the well.

But Marisol walks.

She goes into the forbidden places: the groves and the high rocks. It’s the only time she does this.

It’s the only time she can do this, because otherwise, the rest of the village would see her, and know what she has become.

Apocalypse now…

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The trouble with the impending collapse of the current way in which we live, regardless of political creeds, and the almost-certain descent into environmental oblivion, most of us westerners think we’ll survive.

We think it will be like the movies: a plucky little band of everyday heroes, winning out and remaking civilization.

And it might well turn out that way. It might well be that a few thousand widely scattered groups of humans will live on and slowly repopulate the species.

It isn’t terribly likely, but it is possible.

But the problem is, it is 99.9% probable that you won’t be one of those few thousand.

Every white western male is the hero of their own mind, but the bare fact is that you’re going to die, and very likely, in the first wave of collapse.

People in other, less well-developed countries might be more likely to squeak through, simply because they are accustomed to living on the edge and will recognize the need to move themselves, even perpetually, in order to find safety.

Our mindset, on the other hand, will be first to try bullying and battling our way through – we will almost certainly drop some bombs and contribute even further to the problem.

By the time it occurs to most of us that where we live is no longer livable, well, where will we go?

What countries will have us, after all the screaming about “illegal immigrants” and so on?

They’ll have their own people to see to, after all.

You, personally, will not be defending the homestead with nothing more than a 12-gauge shotgun and your iron nerves, not for long. There will always be someone else more sociopathic and violent out there, who will kill you, and then someone else will kill them, ad infinitum – always assuming you don’t just expire from septicemia from a paper cut because you refused to vaccinate, and all the doctors are dead.

You, personally, won’t be feeding your family with the backyard garden, regardless of how great you are at rearing hybrid tea roses, because the very definition of human- induced climate changes are first and foremost that the weather will be different and extreme, the soil will be contaminated, and the air will be foul. (Also, even if it worked for the first few seasons, you do know that soil, when intensively farmed, becomes exhausted, and won’t grow stuff, right?)

You will not be out there re-opening shut-in oil wells and selling fuel to bands of bondage-fetishists roaming the desolation on ornate dune-buggies. You will not emerge from your underground bunker after a year or three, to establish a Brave New World based on what your sensei taught you in karate class when you were twelve.

You. Will. Be. Dead.

Your. Children. Will. Be. Dead.

These are the facts.

It’s time to stop treating all of this as some kind of autobiographical cinematic caper, and actually do something about it.

Flash Fiction Friday!

See no evil.

That’s what her mother always said, and Karen tried very hard to do this, because it sounded like very good advice, as well as keeping the peace in her parents’ home.

Of course, her mother had not cautioned her on the other two parts of the rules.

“Hear no evil? I can hardly help hearing it, can I?” she had said once, when her father had remonstrated mildly and reminded her of the rest of the quotation.

Karen’s mother heard everything, and apparently, it was beyond her power to stay silent on any of it, seeing as how, as she constantly remarked, she had little else to talk about.

But one mustn’t see evil – blind yourself the bruises underneath the make-up applied so thickly to Mrs. Cameron’s face, avert your eyes from the inadequacies of the Mabrosky children’s winter clothing, shut out the sight of the homeless man living under the College Street Bridge.

And so, when Karen came home that night and realized that there was something large and bulky rolled up in the living room carpet, and that one of the carving knives was missing from the wooden block on the kitchen counter, she looked away. She looked instead into the refrigerator and found the ingredients for grilled cheese sandwiches, and made them for her father and herself, before retreating upstairs to do her homework.

Why We Don’t Read Updike Anymore

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The Kinsey Reports started coming out in the late 1940s (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953).)

Rabbit Run by John Updike came out in 1960.

These things are not unconnected.

The Kinsey Reports told us a lot, and one of the things it told us was that women could have orgasms, but that most women weren’t having them.

Less than a decade later, books written by serious male authors started doing three things.

One was that they started talking a lot more about sex. Serious characters started having serious sex in serious books.

(And boy, was that sex serious. Rife with allusion and metaphor, layered with Significance, and chockfull of signposting to tell us just how seriously we needed to take these books.)

The second thing that they started doing was to make sure that everyone was aware of what a terrific guy that male main character was, by pointing out, countless times, what a considerate and skillful lover this man was, because he invariably made sure to distribute his manly weight on his knees and elbows during The Act, so as to be sure that he did not crush the fragile flower lying beneath him.

Seriously – that was all it took, apparently. Who knew?

And the third thing that happened was that the women in the books were instantly categorized by this one thing: how generous or un-generous they were as lovers.

Either by physical characteristics (a mouth or smile, usually) or in a kind of memory about a female character conveniently offstage, she was noted/remembered/assumed to be a “generous lover” (if she was a “good woman character”) or an “ungenerous lover” (if she was The Whiny Bitch or required alimony paid to her).

I have revisited some of these novels recently, and tried to figure out what the authors meant by all of this, and I’m afraid that my conclusions are not happy ones.

A man (according to these men) is a good lover if he is even peripherally aware that the woman he is in bed with is a living being of some kind and might need to breathe occasionally.

A woman is a good lover if her only goal is to make sure the man is pleased, and she never by word, deed, or glance, so much as hints that his pleasure is not the only thing she needs from a sexual encounter.

And you know what’s depressing as hell about all this?

Not a fuck of a lot seems to have changed.

Flash Fiction Friday!

The old women had no part in village life.

Huddled up in shawls, stirring pots and quieting babies, spinning a little thread, nagging the older children to do their chores  – you wouldn’t have thought those were important things to do, would you?

Ordinary things. Necessary things, some of them, too, but not skillful things. Nothing that seemed to need any intelligence. Nothing that any other person couldn’t do for themselves.

And when all of them met, on that cool autumn afternoon, in the centre of the market green, and announced that they were done – they were leaving, leaving forever – most people laughed.

“Go on, then,” said the smith to his mother-in-law. “I’ll rent your room out when the merchants come through next spring.”

“Don’t come back,” said the innkeeper’s old Da to his wife’s hunched-over back. “One less mouth to feed.”

All over town, it was mostly like that. A few of the wives looked tearful, and said they’d miss their mams, but like the innkeeper’s father, it occurred to them that there’d be a bit more food and a bit more money, if they didn’t have the old bat there to look after.

And it wasn’t, in the first few days, much different.

The cobbler began to complain, five days on, that he was terribly behindhand, because his youngest had to be watched every minute, which meant that his wife couldn’t help out in the shop at all, and his dinners were late or burnt, nearly every day.

Farmer Marik’s hired hand got sick a few days later. It didn’t seem to be serious, and there was the hay to get scythed and baled, so they left him in the house to sleep.

They found him lying out in the yard, dead, in the evening. The fever had made him thirsty, they guessed, and he’d been trying to crawl out to the well.

The third week, two customers looked at the smith’s filthy, unmended smock and rusty tools, and took their horses to be shod in the next village over.

The innkeeper saw his custom dropping off by the end of the month. No one had time, these days, to stop in for a mug of ale of an evening, and anyway, the tavern room was looking very dusty and unkempt, because no one had the time or energy to sweep up or wash the tankards out.

They sent out a hunting party after that, but it did no good. There wasn’t even a trace of the old women. Not then, and not ever.

And that’s why no one lives at Six Roads’ Crossing anymore.

Text and Subtext

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I started thinking about TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) the other day and it suddenly hit me why they are the way they are.

WARNING:

You/They aren’t going to like it.

Of course, the chances of even a single TERF reading this blog is in the negative numbers, but just in case, I’m going to preface this with another important warning:

Methinks thou dost protest too much.

So sit down and get on your listening ears.

If you are identifying yourself as a feminist while ferociously fighting to keep trans women out, you are a fraud.

A HUUUUUGE, card-carrying fraud – you are not a feminist at all.

Because you have, in your heart of hearts and very bones, digested and taken on what the patriarchy wanted you to all along.

The doctrine of “separate but equal” is the rallying cry of every movement designed to keep some segment of the population down and in chains – one of the most efficient ways to make you not only turn the key on the lock of those chains yourself, but to police your fellow-slaves on behalf of your jailers.

And – here’s the real kicker – if you want to keep transwomen out, if you claim they aren’t “real” women, it’s the evidence of your own fear. It’s the evidence that you still toe the line and sing the lyrics you claim you oppose.

The underlying reason you cannot allow the idea that transwomen are women is because you are scared that some other woman will perform “woman” better than you.

You are terrified that you won’t measure up to the patriarchy’s definition of “woman”.

You have bought into the bottom line of your own oppression, the distraction that prevents you from doing more than talking about equality instead of achieving it.

You are in competition with other women.

And that’s exactly where the system wants you to be.