Tag Archives: fantasy

Wednesday Geek Woman: Ursula K. Le Guin

Wednesday Geek Woman submissions are currently open.

A version of this post appeared a few weeks ago at Hoyden About Town.

A little capsule summary for people who haven’t read her work: Ursula K. Le Guin is a novelist, poet and essayist. She is best known for science fiction and fantasy, particularly the six Earthsea books (five novels and a collection of stories) set in an archepeligo world with advanced magic and pre-industrial tech; and various books set in her Hainish universe, which is a future series in which Earth, among other planets among relatively nearby stars, turn out to have all have hominid species on them, established some millions of years ago by a still existing ancestral species the Hainish, in a series of biological/sociological experiments. This has allowed her to write, for example, The Left Hand of Darkness, Winter’s King and Coming of Age in Karhide, set in a world of primates with a sort of oestrous cycle in which their bodies can become either male or female, and who have otherwise no gender or sexuality; and The Matter of Seggri, about a world on which there are about sixteen women born for every man, and men are kept apart with their role in society being purely exhibition of strength, sex, and providing sperm.

Le Guin is something of a goto name for someone who wants to make sure their list of Great Science Fiction includes something, anything, by a woman: she’s white, she has by now become a big name and is award-winning and Taken Seriously (see Guest Post by Alisa Krasnostein: The Invisibility of Women in Science Fiction at Hoyden). I… do think she’s worth reading anyway! But don’t stop there, I doubt she’d want you to.

I’ve enjoyed Le Guin’s writing for years, but here is her crowning Hoyden moment for me, in a 2001 interview by Nick Gevers, a science fiction editor and critic:

[Gevers asks] Who, for you, are the finest SF authors now writing — both your fellow feminist writers and more generally?

[Le Guin answers] First I am to list fellow feminists and then… non-fellow anti-feminists? Come on, Nick, let’s get out of the pigeonholes. If feminism is the idea that differences between the genders, beyond the strictly physiological, are an interesting subject of study, but have not been determined, and so are not a sound basis for society to use in prescribing or proscribing any proclivity or activity — which is what I think it is — then I probably don’t read any non-feminist SF writers, these days. Do you?

Here’s a few selected pieces of Le Guin’s writing:

Le Guin has a fairly large website with links to most of her recent online writing.

If I had to recommend a single piece of writing of hers, I would say that its the short story The Day Before the Revolution (probably easiest to find in the collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters), which probably benefits a lot if you read The Dispossessed for context first (The Dispossessed is a fine novel, so not just for context). The Day Before the Revolution was published when Le Guin was 45 years old. She wasn’t old at the time, and I am not old yet, but it is the closest I come to understanding how it might be.

Wikipedia: Ursula K. Le Guin

Linkspamming into a brick wall (9th November, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism” to bring them to our attention (twitter uses can use #geekfeminism). Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

Heroism vs multiplayer game mechanics and Rape as a fantasy trope

[Trigger warning: as you probably realized from the title, this post discusses the (overuse) of rape in fantasy settings]

I’m going to start with saying that I thought the Penny Arcade comic was actually pretty well done. But explaining why it resonated with me takes some work. Thankfully, our excellent commenters have already got the ball rolling:

Kaonashi says,

I don’t understand why this PA strip is so wrong. To me, it’s not funny because the guy gets raped. It’s funny because the action is so obviously wrong in real life, but so absurdly motivated by limited game logic. I didn’t get an endorphin-strengthened appreciation of rape from that strip, quite the opposite.

And that’s where the comic hits me: the rape isn’t supposed to be funny, it’s supposed to be horrible (if perhaps abstracted to ridiculousness) and make you suddenly more aware of how supposedly heroic actions in games sort of fall apart when they run into game mechanics.

ptp says,

This is a parody of the way that MMO questing works because the people still need saving even though you’re only told to save a limited number of them, and with any understanding of the quest dynamic involved I think it’s fairly clear what they’re trying to poke fun at.

If you don’t play massively multiplayer online games, you may never have encountered this problem: in a single player game, you always can try to save all the hostages. But in a massively multiplayer game, you want all players to have a chance at the quest, so you have the hostages reappear (often before the hero has left the area), or you limit it so that each hero can only save 5. That way, there’s always plenty of people crying for help from the next hero. In many cases actually impossible to continue saving people in an area due to the developers’ attempt to balance game mechanics. And frankly, that’s pretty unpleasant. There’s usually no explanation given as to why as a hero you would deem this acceptable. If this were a movie, the hero would be making a hard choice of who to save and there’d be a reason only 2 people could fit on the boat/spaceship/whatever. But in the average MMOG, the entire world continues along as if it’s perfectly normal for you to leave people to unspeakable horrors.

I’ve been squicked out by this on numerous occasions while playing games. The comic doesn’t exactly make me laugh so much as think, but it’s pointing out a real absurdity using some dark and twisted sense of humour and it’s more effective for me due to the contrast of humour and horror here.

But the question remains, “why did it have to be rape?” Surely, there are plenty of other horrible things that could have been happening to these prisoners that would have gotten the point across just as well? And maybe if you tried hard enough, you’d think of something. But we don’t live in a vacuum, and sometimes you have to use the tropes the genre and culture hands you to make your point most effectively.

Carla Schroder says,

Guess I’m part of the minority here, because I think the PA strip makes it point brilliantly. It mocks this absurd morality of games, homophobia, demonstrates that rape culture is deeply ingrained and the root of many evils, and they do it in three panels. Aren’t dickwolves the absolutely perfect symbols of much of the BS we struggle with everyday? Isn’t the “hero” a perfect representation of the narcissism, lack of empathy, and apathy we beat our heads against?

Not only do we deal with rape culture in the real world, but also in our fantasy ones. Rape is a disturbingly over-used trope, especially in fantasy, as a placeholder for “something horrible happened.” Even in modern urban fantasy reading I’ve gotten hit with a storyline like, “a prophecy says so-and-so’s son will overthrow the king (or whatever), so everyone in fairyland tries to rape her to be father to that son.” How many heros have back stories where their mom was a raped tavern wench? How many would-be queens are subject to assault? Heroines? The hero’s tragic back story might be that his family was killed in a raid, but in the heroine version there’s a good chance she or maybe her sisters were raped in said raid. Can’t we come up with better reasons for adventuring? Maybe not — virginity is often highly prized in these worlds where sometimes it has magical properties. Can’t we come up with worlds that don’t turn rape into a plot device?

There was one month where I compared notes with my sister, and we realized that every fantasy book we’d read in the past few months had included rape. It’s disturbing, it’s pervasive, and fantasy novels don’t come with trigger warnings.

I imagine there’s a much lengthier discussion to be had about rape as a fantasy trope. But the point I want to make here is that part of what made the comic effective for me was the absurdity and the evocation of that trope in an overdone way really made it resonate as “yeah, this sounds like a quest I might encounter” rather than “that’s horrible; it’d never be written that way.”

And that’s why the comic worked for me. It was effective because it hurt and reflected a reality that I don’t like to see but get shoved in my face regularly as a genre fan and a game player. That doesn’t mean it will work for you, or even that it should. There’s plenty of people for whom this is simply triggering and horrible and cannot be effective because of that, and that needs to be recognized. But a comic that’s horrible for some may still be effective for others. There are often many legitimate feminist readings of a subject, and dark humour and satire are hard to handle because it feels a lot like the same old stuff getting thrown in your faces again.

But I think shielding us from the overuse of rape as “some horrid thing” would only lessen the effectiveness of the comic within the context of the genre and culture. Darker humour sometimes is most effective when it embraces the dark.

How Very Unlike the Linkspam of Our Own Dear Queen (23rd March, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

2009 Tiptree Award Winners: Gilman and Yoshinaga

The James Tiptree, Jr. award is a yearly “prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.” The award council has just announced that the winners, for work published in 2009, are:

Greer Gilman, Cloud and Ashes: Three Winter’s Tales (Small Beer Press)

Fumi Yoshinaga, Ooku: The Inner Chambers, volumes 1 & 2 (VIZ Media)

Also check out the Honor List and Long List for other recent speculative fiction exploring gender. Stuff you can read online right now:

The Tiptree Award presentation is a highlight of WisCon, the feminist science fiction convention in May.  Just in case I won’t see you there to hear you enthuse about scifi in person, leave recommendations in the comments!

Fantasy Armour, Tao of Geek Style

Tao of Geek: Feb 23, 2010

You’re probably all familiar with the inverse law of fantasy armour for women: the less the armour covers, the more it somehow miraculously protects. Liz Walsh writes and draws the entertaining web comic Tao of Geek and I quite enjoyed her story about Naomi campaigning not for sensible armour for women, but in equal cheesecake for her male barbarian character.

The story starts here and if you don’t have a whole lot of time, you should at least check out the final punchline here. I laughed myself silly… and I admit I might have done something similar in games where the early armour, especially for spellcasters, provides no benefit whatsoever. (Let me tell you, it made the early cut scenes in Dragon Age really hilarious…) Anyone else want to fess up to silly fun with the game rules?

With a name like linkspam, it has to be good (8th March, 2010)

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Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on del.icio.us (yes, I know they don’t care about the old-school URL anymore but I miss it).

A vindication of the rights of linkspam (13th January, 2010)

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Maths is hard, let’s go linkspamming (7th January, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.