Calling people on thoughtless sexist sh*t: Justin Landon on Patrick Rothfuss

So Patrick Rothfuss, on his Reddit Ask-Me-Anything, did this:

Let’s all talk about cup sizes. There’s nothing wrong with reducing a female person to her secondary sexual characteristics!

It passed unnoticed by many, unremarked-upon by most.

But Justin Landon of Staffer’s Book Review decided he would remark upon it:

By not objecting to the comment on Reddit, Rothfuss functionally condoned the behavior. By responding to it, and participating in the masturbatory exchange that followed, Rothfuss demonstrated a camaraderie with the concept that his female characters exist solely for the benefit of the male gaze. He is normalizing a culture in which men feel entitled to have access to “attractive” women, judge women’s worth on their “attractiveness”, and not consider women as anything other than objects for view/consumption. I think what bothers me most of all is that the science fiction and fantasy community has done nothing but rail against this kind of mentality for the past several years and yet one of its most successful [authors] is perfectly fine participating in it.

…If the Reddit question was the first example of Rothfuss doing something questionable as it relates to women, I would keep my mouth shut. But, for the past several years he has published a pin-up calendar for his Worldbuilders charity that depicts female characters from genre novels in alluring poses. He’s even got some high profile women authors to contribute their characters to the project. Why is the calendar problematic? Because the man is framed as the viewer, and the woman as the viewed. The calendar is celebrating science fiction and fantasy, and thus framing the woman as a passive recipient in the art excludes them from an active role in the making, creating, and consuming of the genres themselves. Of course, none of that is nearly as egregious at the comment that opened this post, but it points to a pattern of behavior. A pattern which none of the big dogs have deemed appropriate to call out.

I don’t want to talk about Rothfuss, or the shit that some Reddit-using Rothfuss fans are giving Landon for drawing attention to the fact that the SFF community’s big names don’t tend to call out their community-involved success stories for doing thoughtless shit/saying thoughtless crap in public. (It is a very human thing to not want to piss off your friends and colleagues. On the other hand, it can become a problem.)

No, I don’t want to talk about Rothfuss. I want to mention, instead, what it means to me to see a (cis) male person on the internet calling out an incident of thoughtless sexist speech, and doing so quite thoroughly.

Men get a lot of kudos for calling out sexism/misogyny. Part of the reason they do, I think, is because non-cis-male people have learned not to count on the support of men when it comes to how the (to use bell hooks’ phrase: white supremacist patriarchy) patriarchy screws them over. We expect them to dismiss us, to uphold a viewpoint that dismisses our lived experience as irrelevant, a hierarchy that devalues our participation.

When a guy comes out and proves by word and action that he’s listening – and using what he’s learned to go out and preach to the unconverted – and that he’s willing to take us seriously, that he’ll stand up and be counted in support, there’s an startling amount of relief associated with that. And that startlement – that lack of expectation – means he receives the kind of effusive thanks usually reserved for completely unexpected and really welcome costly gifts.

Because make no mistake, pushing back against damaging cultural norms is work that costs people who do it. In energy – emotional, physical, and intellectual – yes, but it can also cost them their sense of personal safety (see under: death threats, rape threats, bomb threats), sometimes their jobs, and sometimes their mental health.

The more support there is for this kind of work, the less, ultimately, it will cost us to do it. Men have the advantage that other men are more likely to listen to them and take them seriously than they are to people who aren’t cis men, which is part of those damaging cultural norms, but the more men there are walking the walk as well as talking the talk, the more men there will be who are willing to listen to the rest of us when one of us says, Actually, that’s a problem.

So to Justin: thank you. It is a lovely gift.

Now I’ll expect this kind of gift from you all the time.

Recently arrived – but still unread – review copies

Recently arrived review copies.

Recently arrived review copies.

Peter Higgins’ Truth and Fear has, by me, the most striking cover, so I made sure it faced out. Left to right, top to bottom, that’s Truth and Fear, Gini Koch’s Alien Research, Diana Rowland’s Fury of the Demon, Seanan McGuire’s Half-Off Ragnarok, Michelle Sagara’s Touch, Irene Radford’s The Broken Dragon, Jo Walton’s My Real Children, Tina Connolly’s Copperhead, and C.S. Friedman’s Dreamwalker.


Everyone should read Justin Landon’s guest post at The Book Smugglers on gender parity and cover art:

My first call was legendary Tor Art Director, Irene Gallo. From September 2013 to August 2014 in the Tor hardcover and trade list, 90 titles had commissioned illustration (or photo-illustration). 7 were done by women. Tor.com, which does a tremendous amount of original illustration for its short fiction, uses female artists 21% of the time. My next stop was Lee Harris with Angry Robot who offered 5 female artists out of 26 titles in 2013, or roughly 25%. Lou Anders with Pyr indicated they worked with two female artists this year. Other publishers were contacted, but were unable to generate the data.

While my survey is hardly comprehensive or statistically significant, it raises some very disturbing patterns that demand further exploration.

Gallo offered the right question in our email exchange, “There are at least as many young women in art schools and workshops. Usually more, in fact. Why do so few remain ten years later?”

25 “Essential” Urban Fantasies

Jared Shurin of Pornokitsch and Justin Landon of Staffer’s Musings are up to their old tricks again. A fresh listing challenge, like the epic fantasy challenge of a while back, is in the offing.

25 “Essential” Urban Fantasies

– 25 works
– No more than one book or series per author/creator
– You can only list books that you have read
– How you define urban fantasy or “essential” is 100% up to you.

Participants and their lists:

Jared Shurin
Justin Landon
Tansy Rayner Roberts

…and your humble correspondent.


Defining Urban Fantasy

Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements. However, the stories can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, as well as fictional settings. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.

“Urban Fantasy,” Wikipedia, retrieved 26 October 2013

I like this definition. It covers a great deal of ground, even while it excludes contemporary fantasies set in rural areas, such as Deborah Coates’ Wide Open, whose marketing ties them closely to the fantasies of the modern urbs. I would like to add an amendment: the urbs of “urban fantasy” should not be limited to the metropolis or large conurbation, but must include smaller cities and towns. What is most prominent in the fantasy of the urban, to me, is the combination of anonymity and the need for systems and compromises – a way of operating in the world that doesn’t rely on implicit reciprocity and mutuality – that arises when people live together in numbers exceeding the hundred-odd of the isolate village or the thousand-odd of the tiny towns of the past. Urban fantasy shares DNA with ghost stories, noir crime and the police procedural, as well as fairytale, folklore, and fable.

Do we, or should we, distinguish “paranormal romance” from a wider set of fabulae in urbibus accidentes? Although UF and PR are distinct, for the most part, as marketing categories, my definition of urban fantasy as the fantasy of the town… doesn’t really allow that distinction.


Defining “Essential”

Essential:

: extremely important and necessary

: very basic

The following list comprises works of fantasy which are only very important to me, and do not necessarily have a bearing, historic or otherwise, on how I see the subgenre in general. The order indicates nothing in particular.

I have declined to spend much time talking about why I made the choices I did.


25 “Essential” Urban Fantasies

There are fewer than 25 contenders in the area of urban fantasy as I have defined it, under the restrictions of one series per author/creator, about which I care strongly enough to number as “essential” (to me).

1. Rituals, by Roz Kaveney (2012).

This is part urban fantasy, part secret history, part I-don’t-know-how-to-describe-it.

2. The Onyx Court series, by Marie Brennan (2008-2011).

A faerie court, bound to the city of London.

3. The Promethean Age books, by Elizabeth Bear (2006-forthcoming).

Richly complex novels.

4. The Bone Palace, by Amanda Downum (2010).

This is a second-world fantasy set in a city. It is rather magnificent, to me.

5. The Chronicles of Elantra series, by Michelle Sagara (2005-forthcoming).

Second-world fantasy set mostly if not entirely in a city, involving element of both high fantasy and the police procedural.

6. James Asher series, by Barbara Hambly (1988-forthcoming).

Bleak and atmospheric novels involving vampires, set in Europe in the years preceding the Great War. Breath-taking books.

7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, television series (1997-2003).

Enormously influential. Not single-handedly responsible for the success of urban contemporary fantasy with vampires and werewolves as a subgenre, but I daresay it didn’t hurt.

8. Anita Blake series, by Laurell K. Hamilton (1993-forthcoming).

When one of my hockey coaches recommended this series to me sometime in or around 2002, Narcissus in Chains hadn’t been published out of the UK yet, and the Anita Blake novels hadn’t really moved from noir to full-on bad poly erotica yet. (What a trainwreck that was to watch… Albeit a very popular trainwreck.) For all these novels’ problems – and they are many, even before they get really into the badly written sex and ridiculous no-one-acts-like-an-adult relationship dynamics – they were probably my first introduction to the landscape of contemporary marketing-category UF. And the first four or five Anita Blake books were rather successful at marrying noir to fantasy.

9. The Vicki Nelson series, by Tanya Huff (1991-1997).

Adapted into the television series Blood Ties in 2007-2008. Set mostly in Toronto.

10. The Kitty Norville werewolf series, by Carrie Vaughn (2005-forthcoming).

Werewolves! Vampires! Talk radio!

11. Hawk and Fisher novels, by Simon R. Green (1990-2000).

Second-world city fantasies! Green really writes fantasy in shades of horror. But these are very good, if disturbing.

12. Lost Girl, television series (2011-ongoing).

It’s terrible. And hilarious. And queer-friendly.

13. The Shattering, by Karen Healey (2011).

A small seaside town hides a terrible secret.

14. Above, by Leah Bobet (2012).

Set in Toronto. Magnificent, dark, strange, affecting.

15. The Peter Grant novels, by Ben Aaronovitch (2011-ongoing).

Energetic police procedurals set in a London filled with fantastic beings and magic.

16. Agent of Hel series, by Jacqueline Carey (2012-ongoing).

These are really entertaining. I hope Carey writes many more.

17. Sister Mine, by Nalo Hopkinson (2013).

Families. Magic. Cosmology. Set in Toronto.

18. Underworld, film (2003).

Vampires fight werewolves in the streets of Budapest, with appropriately doomed romance. An excellent film-of-its-kind, and one of the first films I ever saw with a female action lead.

19. Beka Cooper series, by Tamora Pierce (2006-2011).

The first two books of which are police-procedural second-world urban fantasy. And really kind of lovely.

20. Embers, by Laura Bickle (2010).

Set in modern Detroit, starring an arson investigator.

21. Blood Oranges, by Kathleen Tierney (2013).

A dark satire of the modern vampire novel.

22. Team Human, by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan (2012).

An interesting novel involving vampires and humans and teenagers.

23. Norse Code, by Greg van Eekhout (2009).

Ragnarok is coming. Watch out, Southern California…

24. Dragon Age II, videogame, by BioWare (2011).

I’d thought about putting Dishonored on this list – it’s interested in the breakdown of cities, after all – but when I considered it, it didn’t have quite as much interest in how cities work. You could perhaps take the basic outline of DAII out of a city… but it is a very civic-centred fantasy, when you get down to it. And it interests me, both for the kind of story it is trying to tell as a videogame, and for the genre-mixing possibilities it contains. It’s ambitious, and it’s not successful in all its ambitions – but it tries to do more with story. And the story it’s telling is a city-based fantasy.


There is nothing else I have read, remember, and care about sufficiently, and which sufficiently satisfies my criteria, to number under this heading. I was tempted to include Lackey’s racecar elves… but I don’t actually give a good goddamn about them anymore. I am still tempted to include Peter Higgins’ debut in this – but I don’t think Wolfhound Century is all that interested in the urbs qua urbs.

I have deliberately excluded superhero narratives. If I allowed of superhero narratives, I might make twenty-five; but superhero narratives owe as much to the handwavy science fiction of the pulps as to the intrusive presence of liminal, numinous fantastic shit. If it smells of SF, it isn’t urban fantasy.