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What We Hate About Science Fiction/Fantasy, Part 2!


Content warning! This episode includes frank discussion about rape in science fiction and fantasy, in both books and television/film.

What We’re Drinking:

Bernard Griffith Syrah Port, 2012. It was waaaay too sweet for both of us.

What We’re Saying:

Continuation of our Sci-fi/Fantasy gripes episode. We plug Throwing Shade right off the top, one of my favorite podcasts. You should definitely check it out.

Gripe 1: Supermen. People like Gandalf and Rand Al’Thor are really boring characters, because there’s no obstacle that they can’t overcome, and therefor no tension. That’s why Tolkein et al tend to use these characters really sparingly. It’s because they’re sort of a kind of…

Gripe 2: Deus ex Machina! Deus ex machina is a latin phrase meaning “god in the machine.” It is, in a literary sense, when some kind of sudden or unexpected or bizarrely coincidental thing happens that resolves an otherwise difficult situation for your characters. Any kind of fiction can suffer from deus ex machina, but I feel like it’s more common in fantasy and sci-fi because of the future technology and magic systems. They make it so easy to deus ex machina. And it’s lazy writing. It’s almost always better to let a character die than to deus ex machina. Both this and the first gripe (supermen) represent an idealization of the person or the world that breaks the reader’s engagement with the piece because we know the world doesn’t work that way! Stop it.

James unexpectedly went off on a kind of awesome feminist tangent at this point after a mention of G Willow Wilson, which was AMAZING. Thanks, James!

And that brings us to…

Gripe 3: Princesses! I am so tired, so tired of women in sci-fi fantasy that lack agency. I’m exhausted by the women-as-prize trope. So if you write a princess, she had better have a fucking sword or a laser blaster. Or be the admiral of a space armada. Or a high-level politician. Enough of this helpless damsel plot point garbage. And that leads us directly to…

Gripe 4: RAPE! We know rape happened, we definitely know it still happens. If you’re not going to handle it in a way that motivates your female character, don’t handle it! Don’t use the rape of a female character to motivate your male hero. Also? I feel like rape can be just as dramatic when done off-camera. I feel like all depictions of rape in fiction that I’ve read and almost all of the ones depicted in movies and television are sexualized, with the notable exception of the rape of Dr. Melfi on the Sopranos, which I thought was really well done. If you’re going to write it like it’s sex, don’t! Depicting rape as sex fails to delineate between the two and feeds rape culture.

So I was pretty drunk at this point and forgot two of my six points. But that’s okay, because we went on a few tangents that padded out the episode length. Sorry, folks, I was drinking!

The takeaway, I think, is that by avoiding lazy tropes in our fiction, we all have the power and ability to write better books.  And I don’t view that as a restriction; I think that’s really exciting! There are so many good books for us to write!



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