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Women in SF and Fantasy

Writing requires a certain amount of self-examination. The reasons why have to do with the fact that good writing--or dare I say it--great writing requires the author to put something of themselves into the story. If you're unclear on what I mean, have a look at Writing What's Real by Christie Yant over on the Inkpunks site. Speaking from personal experience, she's right. Writing does require intimacy and vulnerability. That's what makes it so brutal--this being open. Self-protection isn't really an option. Criticism is part of the gig. In this age when anyone can call themselves a literary critic without any qualifications to do so, nor any sort of required standard for their criticism... it's even tougher.[1] It's not easy being a real, flawed human being in public.

When I signed on with my agent he asked me a question. "Why do you write from a male perspective?" It was a good question. At the time, I thought it had wholly to do with my desire to be taken seriously as a SF writer. For the record, I still have to fight Romance genre prejudice just because I'm a female. For example: the first question I'm asked when people discover I'm a writer is a variant on the "which type of Romance or YA do you write?" Male writers aren't asked that question and even if they are, they aren't asked it in the first three seconds.

That said, because of my agent's question I pay attention to the gender of my point of view characters, and I've noticed a pattern. If I'm writing Fantasy, I tend to favor male point of view characters. If I'm writing SF, I tend to write female point of view characters. The reasons for this are many, and I'm sure I haven't discovered all of them. I don't necessarily feel this is a good trend to have, but it's there. Part of it is that I associate Fantasy--even Urban Fantasy--with the past. Let's just say being a female in the past wasn't a hell of a lot of fun, at least that's been my impression. When I write about female characters in historical settings I feel I have to ignore everyday issues that I don't need to avoid in the present and future because they have solutions. Things like birth control, menstruation, and well... basic human rights. Right or wrong, part of me feels I have to re-write history when I take on a female POV character in Fantasy--not because of the fallacy that women didn't exist in the past, but because most of our (women's) history has been obliterated. I have so many more freedoms than my Great Great Grandma had, or even my Grandma--this in spite of the fact that so much more work needs to be done. To be honest, I find it difficult to identify with women in the past. What was it like then? Really.On one hand, to focus directly on issues like birth control and menstruation is incorrect. They are everyday problems. They'd be in the background, no matter how life-threatening.[2] Women are people, and people have a tendency to accept things they don't have the power to change, after all. On the other hand, I don't feel right just plunking down a modern point of view into a historic setting. It feels like a lie, and I hate that kind of lie.[3] It does modern women a disservice. It pretends that things were different than they were. It pretends that women don't have anything to worry about regarding human rights because it pretends that there never have been any problems. I hate that every bit as much as I hate it when women aren't portrayed at all--even in the background.

So, I find it easier to write from a female point of view in future and present stories. For now. Obviously, I need to work on this. It's another hold out of the internal misogynist that was installed at birth--and yes, I have one of those even if I'm a woman. Do I hate that? Hell yes, I do. 

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[1] I've been criticised for things like "How dare you write a book where a mother doesn't tell her son everything about his father! Especially when his life is in danger!" In real life, families are like this. I still don't know my real grandfather's full name, and I don't know a damned thing about him either. Is this life-threatening? When you consider I have no information regarding that part of my family's genetics/medical history, it could be.

[2] And having babies is life-threatening and becoming more of a problem in the US.

[3] See Quest for Camelot. While I was one of those little girls who wanted to be a knight when she grew up, I can't bring myself to watch this. It just seems offensive. I feel much the same about Milla Jovovich in the recent Three Musketeers remake.

310 Comments

1:

n the other hand, I don't feel right just plunking down a modern point of view into a historic setting. It feels like a lie, and I hate that kind of lie.

What about when it is done in Secondary world fantasy, Stina? Is it more palatable?

2:

As long as the issues I listed are addressed, yes. Otherwise, it feels... odd.

3:

This is probably a dumb question: I was curious to see what SF you'd written, and went looking, but your blog nor Amazon mention any such things. Did you write them under a pseudonym?

4:

I wonder if that's why most of the stuff I've written is set between the two World Wars, because that is when so many elements of the world changed.

You plausibly can have independent, adventurous, women as characters because they really existed. Complete with fast cars, short skirts, and modern condoms for birth control.

Dorothy L. Sayers never quite mentions that last item in her novels, but would Harriet Vane have been able to get away with having a lover without such?

5:

"To be honest, I find it difficult to identify with women in the past."

I find it difficult to identify with men in the past, even a past that was only just gone with respect to my lifetime eg pre-WW2. I am old enough to remember the stifling conventions of even the 1960s expectations of maleness. Everything from how your hair was cut to dress to subtle behaviour. 40 years old was OLD, and the idea of someone that old just (say) running along the street for fun was considered massively eccentric. Then there was the casual cruelty. One of my neighbours decided to impress us kids (we were about 7 yrs old) by showing us how he could pluck a live chicken to death. Nobody batted an eyelid at such a thing.

6:

Then you are writing about the top 1% of society, not ordinary people

7:

I've two short stories. One (a flash piece) is offered for free on my blog--it was published in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's "Last Drink Bird Head" collection. The other is a short story coming out in "Rayguns Over Texas" the fall. The title is "Texas Died for Somebody's Sins but Not Mine."

8:

Exactly. It's something to think about, isn't it?

9:

I have more and more trouble watching movies set more than 50 or 100 years ago as they tend to pack in full 16 hours days of "stuff" while ignoring that they don't have indoor plumbing, microwave ovens, fridges and freezers, phones, etc...

Meals were a LOT of work. And you didn't go chat with your neighbor (rural) or anyone more than a block or so away (urban) unless it was a really big deal. Really big. Otherwise you didn't have time to walk 2 to 10 miles to work or spend the needed 2 to 4 hours getting dinner ready.

And really, was the average Joe really that clean shaven back in 1800?

As you said, writing about women's issues non stop in the narrative isn't very appealing. To the writer or reader. But writing story lines which don't allow for the actual time they took up drives me nuts.

10:

I am old enough to remember the stifling conventions of even the 1960s expectations of maleness. Everything from how your hair was cut to dress to subtle behaviour.

Women's liberation doesn't *only* help women. It helps men too. Men were constrained by restrictive gender norms too--not in the same way, mind you, but they were.

11:

When people go on about how great the 60s were I find it annoying. I was there, it was shit for most people and that's why there were riots and revolutions everywhere. The young (which included me) just wanted to break away from the whole insane *illogical* ways of doing and behaving. Of course, it never really occurred to me until much later that what I considered restrictive convention was probably paradise for the two previous generations that had gone through 50 years dominated by global war.

12:

As you said, writing about women's issues non stop in the narrative isn't very appealing. To the writer or reader.

*Appealing* isn't the issue. Please don't mis-quote me. Your statement borders on sexism. So, do please be careful.

It's simply not realistic to place such issues in the forefront--because they are restrictions that would exist. However, they wouldn't be given much thought. They'd just be there in the background, affecting everything. One of the reasons why a lot of the details in women's history were lost was due to it not being spoken of. There are a lot of aspects of culture which aren't recorded because it's assumed that everyone knows. They're like iceburgs--everyone knows they're there. They steer around them. They crash against them. But they don't talk about them much.

13:

Yes. Most of the middle class of the 50s and 60s was very glad to "fit in" rather than go back to out houses, one pair of shoes, unheated houses, etc... of the 30s.

14:

"Appealing"

If I'm reading a novel things that get in the way of the plot in general are not appealing to me. Talking about shaving, bathing, drawing water, hygiene, etc.. every other page gets in the way of most plot lines. Which is what I thought you were saying.

And at the same time, the history buff in me wants to know about these things. I have some stories about things from how my parents lived in the 30s but there are a lot of details missing. (semi rural and very rural) And asking my mom about them now is a non starter. And the details of the 50 or 100 years prior to that intrigue me even more. A friend who grew up in Montana in the 50s has stories that are likely like most from the US in the 10s and 20s. They still today don't have much cell service where she grew up.

Just the though of corn cobs gives me the willies.

15:

If I'm reading a novel things that get in the way of the plot in general are not appealing to me. Talking about shaving, bathing, drawing water, hygiene, etc.. every other page gets in the way of most plot lines. Which is what I thought you were saying.

In part, but it isn't the substance of what I was saying. I see what you mean, however. I feel the same about those sorts of details. Because they do effect the story--in tone at the very least. For example, reading about travel pre-automobile. If the novel was written pre-automobile, chances are they make it known in small ways that travel is difficult. The characters are exhausted. The coach was uncomfortable. And so on. Most modern writers when writing about pre-automobile travel mention it as though it were nothing.

I once rode in a real stage coach here in Texas. We went for a mile. It was fun for the first couple hundred feet. And then I got it. Coaches are LOUD. They shudder constantly. They'll rattle your teeth around in your head--even with springs and padded seats. (This, and the coach driver took us on a smooth road.) Going up hill was slow. (According to Dickens, everyone got out and walked until they got to the top.) In the movies, characters quietly have all sorts of chats for hours. Yeah. Quiet. No way. Just thinking about doing that for hours on end makes my head hurt. Imagine if the weather was bad. Sheesh.

16:

Sheesh

Of course I guess if the alternative was walking or riding horse/mule back for hours maybe it was a big step up.

A relative born in 1927 or so used to say the best thing about the "good ole days" is they are gone. I remember putting a bathroom INSIDE her house in the early 60s. I was 7 or so at the time.

But I've diverted this enough from your point.

17:

The " Lord Peter Wimsey " series was set in Britain contemporaneously with when they were written, from the early 1920s to the late 1930s and The Chief protagonist was a British Aristocrat ..whose Butler was his Watson like side kick. Very far away from Sherlock Holmes who was professional detective and not an amateur modern equivalent of a romantic Knight of The Round Table of the myth of chivalry as reinterpreted by the Victorian aristocracy which is what Wimsey was. Lord Peters love interest Harriet Vane? Well from a quick web search .." Harriet Vane is the daughter of a country doctor. She takes a First in English at the fictional Shrewsbury College, Oxford (the location of which is given as the Balliol College Sports Grounds, now partly occupied by a residential annexe, on Holywell Street). Her parents both die while she is quite young and she is left to make her own fortune at the age of twenty-three. She has some success as a writer of detective stories, living and socialising with other artists in Bloomsbury. " She is one of the Bloomsbury set!Dorothy L. Sayers lived and worked in Bloomsbury from the 1920’s to the mid-1950’s, first at 44 Mecklenburgh Square and then at 24 Great James Street.Both Sayers and her alter ego Vane were Very Very unusual as an Independent Woman in their social class even as recently as the between the First and Second World Wars. Which is not to denigrate the stories which are good tales well told but the thing is that the principle protagonists are extremely unusual in so far as they had copious free time at a time in which most people had to work Six and a half days week just in order to earn a living and thus simply wouldn't have had the time to engage in esoteric hobbies like criminal detection.

Up until shortly before I started work in 1965 it was still quite usual for the bulk of working class people to be expected to work on Saturday morning as part of their contract of employment and women were even worse off as housewives who were often married and pregnant when little more than children. The gulf that lay between Vane and the bulk of the women in even her own social class was vast.

If you want to have a woman as principle protagonist in a fantasy - and historical fiction is fantasy just as a great deal of detective fiction is fantasy too - then you have to explain how she belongs where she is in the context of the story and do it in a way that convinces the reader that the story is at least remotely plausible. This can be done, of course it can, but it's quite extra ordinarily difficult to do it well. Of course the writer could step totally into science fantasy .. woman as bio-engineered superhero or possessor of magical POWER type thing. Theres a lot of it about just lately.

You can get away with an awful lot of historically anachronistic female Derring-do if your female protagonist isn't actually human .. Vampires don't have to do the housework if they don't want to. Hmm ..that would make a good t shirt slogan.

18:

I'd say the long work hours weren't just for women, but men AND CHILDREN too. Remember the forty hour work week only came about around 1916 in the US and (it looks like it may have been 1884 in the UK http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight-hour_day#United_Kingdom) as a result of Unions.{1]

It was a very different world--not just for women.
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[1]And here we are less than 100 years later staring down near-constant manditory overtime in the US. Yeah. Don't get me started on that one.

19:

One of the problems is the extent to which male history denies or obscures female freedom and agency. Browsing in my local library I recently idly picked up and flicked through a biography of the Victorian actress Ellen Terry. I was shocked. Leaves her husband, shacks up with useless guy, has string of illegitimate children, dumps useless guy, establishes independent professional career. And socially? she's accepted and admired. That's not supposed to happen.

The trouble is that you go deeper and dig out the detail your readers just won't believe you. Because the past is a simple story of male dominance and female passivity.

20:

Speaking of carriages: I can cop to an unfair advantage -- a former GF whose parents were farming folks with a sideline/self-funding hobby in horse-drawn carriages. (They used to do weddings to cover the bills.) I can testify from rubbernecking that preparing a carriage and four for a trip is distinctly time-consuming, to the tune of a couple of hours' work getting the horses harnessed to it, not to mention the regular overheads of feeding/watering/grooming/mucking out that goes with keeping three or four horses ... and then it is, shall we say, a well-ventilated experience to sit atop said carriage!

Oh, and if the team spooks and bolts, you are in for a world of hurt.

Ahem.

21:

The past is the same as now in one respect - the rich can get away with a lot more than the poor.

22:

By a fortunate set of circumstances that had to do with the establishment of the first Comprehensive School in my home town in the North East of England - it was mixed sex ...they had Girls to talk to in school hours ! - I was able to leave school at age 16 in 1965 rather than at age 15 in 1964 and I was able to talk my way into a Junior Technicians job in the local technical college which was an order of magnitude better than my fate would have been had I gone into heavy industry age 15 even as an apprentice in a craft trade or, much, much worse, followed my father down the "Pits " as the coal mines were called.

My parents generation in working class Britain usually left school at age 14 - though it was not unusual for children to actually leave school unofficially much earlier than that - and they went straight into manual labor in industry or the pits or ship building ..my grandfather started work as a rivet catcher at age 14 became a fully fledged riveter and actually Volunteered for the army at the outbreak of the First World War thinking that nothing could be tougher than the Shipyards! Wrong! And he actually "Joined Up " at one of those legendary Music Hall ..'Join Up For King and Country Lads They Both need you So ...etc, etc 'type events. Hard to imagine it with today's youth save that joining the professional military is still a way out of the dull tedium of working class poverty just as it ever was. You can join the British army age 16 - though you aren't supposed to be sent on active service until you are of the ripe old age of 18 so that's all right then.

Back in the 1950s you could join the army age 15 so that was an option as an alternative to going down the pits. You'd think that after hearing my Grandfathers war stories - amongst other joys he was gassed in the trenches and had a small pension as a consequence of his injuries - his sons would be less than eager to join up but one of his sons became a professional soldier and was killed in Operation Market Garden aged 19.

What I gather is a long established US of A ian pattern of multiple jobs just to get by has become increasingly commonplace in the UK over the past decade or so as our politicians declare that the era of " Jobs for Life " is over for ever. The consequence of this is that British Employment Stats are ..well let's just avoid the explicative deleted stuff and say that they are of dubious authenticity. Sadly the UK has become much more like the U.S.A. in its treatment of the working classes since the 1980s and this is becoming worse almost day by day as the British middle classes are 'downsized.'

Before I took early retirement just after the turn of the century my Tech Support team in a major department of a a major University consisted of 6 people - usually about evenly male/female. I am told that that team now consists of two men and that they are at a pay grade scale much lower than that which my colleagues and I were on in those ancient days of yore back before the turn of the century ..oh, and pay has been frozen for more than two years.

23:

The future is minimum wage or unemployment for 90% of the population

24:

True enough. But just for the record, Ellen Terry came from a barely respectable theatrical family, worked from childhood, had no formal education and for most of her life supported herself (and provided for her illegitimate children) from her own earnings.

25:

Dirk, you are getting very close to earning a yellow card.

Reason: this is Stina's essay, not yours, and I'll thank you to ride your hobby-horse out of here; it's derailing and off-topic.

26:

And socially? she's accepted and admired. That's not supposed to happen.

I love that story.

27:

Oh, and if the team spooks and bolts, you are in for a world of hurt.

Exactly. All things I don't think I've ever seen in a modern era fantasy setting. And that's just *travel.*

28:

All things I wish the US didn't influence other countries to do, I have to say.

29:

Right or wrong, part of me feels I have to re-write history when I take on a female POV character in Fantasy--not because of the fallacy that women didn't exist in the past, but because most of our (women's) history has been obliterated.

Out of curiosity how much of men's history do you consider accurate? Or representative?

Eugen Weber, a noted UCLA historian, stated in his documentary "The Western Tradition" that history tends to be written by the rich winners. There's a lot of inference to be done to learn about the lives of the rest.

30:

As far as urban life 50-100 years ago goes, my mother grew up in Kansas City in the 1930s, and if you wanted to go more than a couple of blocks, you took the streetcar. (Where would a 9-year-old go on her own back then? The library, of course :-) If you wanted to go out of town, you'd take the streetcar to the train station, just like you would in Europe.

They didn't have refrigerators at home, but they did have iceboxes, and the iceman came around with blocks of ice. (It wasn't cold enough to keep ice cream, so that was a rare treat from the store, or something you made from snow in the winter.) They didn't have washing machines (just a wringer) or dishwashers. I'm not sure when they acquired a car, probably only after the war. (Grandpa was a professor, and they lived near the university; Grandma was usually a schoolteacher, except during the war she worked in a factory.)

My father sometimes lived on a farm and sometimes in town during those years; at least one farm didn't have indoor plumbing, and bathing there was a weekly event with water heated on the stove. I think they had a car. His father was an accountant (and farmer); his mother was a schoolteacher (and farmer.)

By the time my wife got to high school, they had school buses and cars, but when the school was built in the 1920s, the plantation kids walked and the kids from farther away took the train.

31:

Then you are writing about the top 1% of society, not ordinary people

Not in the US. At least not in the 20s. There was a lot of money floating around in the hands of ordinary people. Until the 30s. Then it mostly all went poof.

32:

My comments really applied to the 1910s and earlier. 1900 to 1920 was when the US really changed. Especially in urban areas.

33:

Dirk @6: I think you're ignoring the basic truth that all fantasy is effectively about the top 1% of society, not the ordinary people. Heroes are luxury goods at the best of times - having heroes means the society is able to spare enough resources to feed, clothe and house someone whose sole task is to destroy things (in the name of "protection" of course) and whose main role is purely temporary.

This applies to all versions of the fantasy "hero", by the way - the comic book heroes and star fleet generals are as much of a luxury good as the crusading knights of mediaeval fantasy worlds. As soon as your story's protagonist picks up their weapons and stops being a base level agricultural or menial worker, they're going into the role of "luxury good".

DavidL @ 16: the alternative was generally walking. This was the advantage of stage coaches overall - they provided horse-drawn transportation for persons who weren't able to afford the expense of owning a horse themselves. Horses are expensive animals to own (which is why one of the more popular expressions of wealth has always been owning a large stable of horses - it's a way of showing off because you're showing you can afford the daily expenses of feed, bedding, grooming, et cetera)

ARNOLD @ 17: Actually, if you read the original stories, Sherlock Holmes gives some fairly obvious signs of being a member of the aristocracy (my guess is he's a younger son, and there's another brother that he and Mycroft don't talk about who owns and administers the family estate, possibly as the Earl of $WHEREVER) who does detective work as an exalted form of a hobby. For a start, he's university educated, which was a VERY clear marker of class prior to the end of World War 2 - being university educated marked one as a member of the upper middle classes at the very least. For seconds, he isn't being employed by the police service (and he treats the police as being very much "below him" - which to him they would have been, since the police were largely recruited out of the ranks of the middle and working classes) and certain members of the police give clear signs of resenting his interference in their domain. His attitudes toward other people (and their attitudes toward him in return) come across as being very aristocratic - he tends to look down on everyone, and yet in return he doesn't receive a punch in the snout; indeed a lot of the working-class people he encounters even in the first book (A Study in Scarlet) tend to treat him with a certain amount of deferential indulgence.

In response to the original post: one of the things which has to be considered in terms of strict historical accuracy when it comes to any character is really where we're wanting our character to go. After all, in strict historical terms, the vast majority of people lived lives which weren't precisely fascinating reading - they got up at dawn, they worked all day either in agricultural or labouring jobs until the light started going, they went home, ate, slept, and then got up at dawn to do it all again the next day. There was a break on Sundays for church (in European settings) but then the whole routine started over the next day, and not much altered from day to day or from year to year, or even from generation to generation. Children generally did the same jobs their parents did (if they survived).

The minute we create a character in a historical setting, however, we're pretty much guaranteeing something out of the ordinary is going to happen to them. One day, they aren't going to be caught up in their day-to-day routine. One day, everything for them is going to change, and they're going to have to step outside their normal day-to-day role because of that change. My own opinion is maybe the best way to deal with the problems inherent in writing a female character in a historical (or even pseudo-historical) setting might be to use that change as a way of looking at the normal situation, and pointing out elements which were problematic. So, for example, a female character who was thrown out of her domestic service position as a result of having been revealed to have had pre-marital sex might look at the difference between her own experience, and that of her swain, seducer, or rapist (depending on the level of consent involved).

34:

"This applies to all versions of the fantasy "hero", by the way - the comic book heroes and star fleet generals are as much of a luxury good as the crusading knights of mediaeval fantasy worlds. As soon as your story's protagonist picks up their weapons and stops being a base level agricultural or menial worker, they're going into the role of "luxury good"."

That will certainly be true in any fantasy that is set in a lotech or historical society for two reasons. First, they have enough wealth so they don't need to dig turnips 24 hours a day just to stay alive, and second because the thing that enables travel is money. Unless you drag a wagon of food around with you or rely on either the charity of others, or robbing them. However, how far does coin of (your own local) realm take you in such a world?

OTOH, fantasy set in the contemporary world or future the hero can be unemployed and still have time and money to do hero things.

35:

"After all, in strict historical terms, the vast majority of people lived lives which weren't precisely fascinating reading"

Well, that may be true of individuals but not of those societies as a whole. There are vast amount of stuff that was too obvious to be written down back then that we have completely lost. The details of pre-Xian religions for several. Songs, music, even jokes.

36:

Your response to Dirk's comment is wrong on so many levels I don't know where to begin.

EVERY society has its heroes, people that embody the values of the society. This goes everywhere from the !Kung to the Inuit to the Ojibway. Superman used to be about "Truth, Justice, and the American Way," being an immigrant who held down an ordinary job, while making the world safe for democracy and helping the helpless. Or we can take the Ojibway's favorite, Nanabozho. Unlike his older brothers (the greatest warrior, first dancer, and first shaman), Nanabozho's the perpetual screw-up who learns the hard way and, if he manages to fix things, does so only after much suffering. The only super power he has is that he can generally outrun the monsters pursuing him (I'm simplifying massively here, sorry, but he is often symbolized by a rabbit). He also named everything, and perhaps made (or at least remade) the world. I'm only picking on the Ojibway because they were egalitarian hunters and gatherers not too long ago, and while they have a superman (Nanabozho's eldest brother), that's not necessarily their most famous (or infamous) hero.

That's the point. Heroes can be anyone. In medieval times they were more often long-suffering saints than knights in shining armor. After all, knights never got feast days. In modern times heroes are people like Rosa Parks or Mother Theresa, more than people like Mike Tyson or Donald Trump.

Whatever society they appear in, heroes embody the best values of the society, not its richest excesses.

As for weapons being a luxury good, that's only true in societies that also believed in limiting weapons to elites. To pick a very nice counter-example, check out this article about Khevsurian battle rings (http://www.academia.edu/2396149/Gadjia_-_weapon_of_man). The Khevsur are a people who live in the mountains of Russian Georgia (now an independent country). They were so poor and backward that they could not afford a standing army, so every man was armed and expected to fight. They were also so backward and isolated that, when they heard about WW1, they volunteered en masse to fight for the Russian Tsar, coming down from the mountains with their swords, shields, chainmail, and on horseback, using weapons and armor they had inherited for generations.

37:

Speaking of songs and fantasy, did people in ancient time actually sit round the fire singing Tolkein style songs?

38:

OTOH, fantasy set in the contemporary world or future the hero can be unemployed and still have time and money to do hero things.

What sort of "hero things"?

On the unemployment benefit from most countries, if the "hero things" cost money, then the hero can't afford to do them (and I definitely include Australia in the list). Just about every single "hero thing" available costs money, trust me on this.

Your hero can be unemployed only if they have an independent income which doesn't rely on them being employed - but in that case, we're back to their being members of the upper levels of society again. Ordinary working-class stiffs? They're going to need a job to pay the bills (in which case they don't have the time to do "hero things", or they're fitting in heroing around the edges of stuff) or else they're going to be on unemployment benefits, and they're not going to have the disposable income to do "hero things".

39:

"What sort of "hero things"?"

Travelling and not starving to death. At least in Europe we get unemployment money. Just enough to live on, which may well be sufficient if doing hero stuff does not involve expensive hotels and fast cars.

40:

Travelling costs money (fares, if you're using public transport; fuel and maintenance costs if you're using private transport; ticket prices if you're flying). Travelling may also breach the conditions of your unemployment benefit (it certainly does here in Australia - you can lose access to your benefit for up to six months if you move to an "area of low employment opportunity" - aka anything outside the capital cities). In addition, when it comes to unemployment benefits, "not starving to death" is pretty marginal as well (you'll learn a lot about what can be done with whichever staples are cheapest in your region, and you'll probably not have a highly nutritious diet as a result).

Either way, your hero on unemployment benefits is looking at being able to do one or the other of those, but probably not both simultaneously.

41:

"...breach the conditions of your unemployment benefit..."

Surely no hero would do that!

42:

Rely on hitchhiking and handouts, then. What little money you do make fills in gaps between handouts. You'll spend a considerable time scrounging around, but--depending on what you do for heroing, it might actually be less than you think.

Living with little income isn't easy, far from respectable, and it's certainly not safe, but none of those things matter much to a "hero."

43:

Sleeping rough is not as much fun as its made out to be! I don't think I have ever read a work of fantasy where the actual feeling of sleeping under a hedge with inadequate clothing is properly described. Least of all finally getting up and out and feeling like you're covered in some kind of greasy sweat (even if its cold).

44:

Out of curiosity how much of men's history do you consider accurate? Or representative?

You're seriously asking me this question? :) History is far messier than we're willing to admit. It's not 'clear' until it's been edited by the winners and all the people that remember it are gone.

However, there is more documentation for male history than female. We've more information. We can carefully retrofit things by reading multiple accounts. Men weren't *erased.*

45:

My own opinion is maybe the best way to deal with the problems inherent in writing a female character in a historical (or even pseudo-historical) setting might be to use that change as a way of looking at the normal situation, and pointing out elements which were problematic.

Mine is, thinking on it now, to read the accounts that women did leave behind--because a few did. There just isn't as much information, and therefore, it takes more work. I've come to the conclusion that this is what I've got to do. Relying on Fantasy written by modern people isn't going to help me, I think, because I suspect vast chunks of information is missing.

Heh. I get hung up on details like that. It probably looks silly from the outside. But (for example) there's a scene in Of Blood and Honey where Mary Kate is taking her temperature in order to determine whether or not she was going to have sex with her husband. Do you know that I grew up hearing "Not now, honey. I have a headache." and never once understood what that really meant? That is, until I looked up the rhythm method. I didn't need to know that a very slight body temperature can indicate ovulation times.[1] Hey, we have the pill and have had it for most of my existance. I don't need to know, but women in the past did.

Mind you, Mary Kate doesn't do it *right.* (She's shown taking her temperature at night.) But she's obsessively taking her temperature for other reasons. ;)

There's your example of something that no one explains and yet, is very much a part of culture. Hopefully, that makes sense.
---------------
[1] And hey, I really was only aware of that because of friends who were having trouble conceiving. Where it not for that, I wouldn't have been aware of it at all.

46:

I recall that on reading "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" as a youngling, I had something of a "so what?" feeling.

Nowadays I'd say: Ivan's wife would probably have swapped with him. His grandmother, almost certainly. Before WWII, most women had lives just as hard as Shukhov's in the gulag,* but had to put up with childbearing as well. And Shukhov only had a ten-year sentence.

If someone wrote a novel "full of all those things that get in the way of the plot" about Shukhov, cannot someone write them about Mrs. Shukhova?

Of course this is the wrong audience for that novel.

-----
* From Wikipedia: "[Theme] ... authoritarian oppression ... the prisoners always have work to do and never any free time to discuss important issues ... " That sounds like feminists of the 60s and 70s.

47:

@OP
Sounds to me like those problems of the past are great fodder for plot complications and very great
character stress, even if they are background realities. I mean, if someone from a future utopia were to write about our own time, our background problems would still be great grist for the mill, even if we take them for granted, even if the characters can't beat those problems within the space of the story. And if you want to be authentic but don't have historical evidence, all you have to do is not be inconsistent with what is known, I'd think.

As far as the Liam's story, it was partly about a specific setting in which a male might have had a more typical experience. Reasonably, every work doesn't have to advance the cause, as it were, and it did no harm.

So, are you doing anything with your current project that is different? I'm thinking that given the era you have said it is set in you have the choices of
(1) a woman succeeding the way many women actually got ahead in those days (marrying well and such) (2) a woman not succeeding in the standard sense, but perhaps in other ways (3) a woman succeeding in a non standard way, ie by fantasy elements or being born well and smart enough to get the most out of it

@15
Stagecoach travel is noisy and characters can't have conversations? Somebody needs to tell the author of The Family Trade. As I recall there was some conversation in that first journey taken by Miriam in the Greunmarkt.

@the Hero Things conversation
Very few stories in any setting are about people who have jobs. Protagonists tend to be wealthy, or between jobs, or on vacation. In longer stories, maybe all of the above, with the work parts in between skipped over. There are exceptions, such as characters whose jobs are rife with chances for "adventure" such as police officers, soldiers, explorers, or troubleshooters. Or archeologists. Or sales clerks. Or farmers. I guess its just that sometimes stories are about reacting to a disturbance in the status quo, which often means creating a new kind of job.

If you wanted medieval type travel, there were plenty of opportunities: merchants, pilgrims, vikings, missionaries, and crusaders. The early modern is even better.

48:

You're talking about the very strong tendency of publishers/printers (essentially all male) to publish male authors instead of female over all of the centuries since printing was born, right?

You're not talking about manuscripts such as diaries, letters, etc.

Or are you?

49:

You're not talking about manuscripts such as diaries, letters, etc.

Thinking about this from a US perspective.

When you hit the weight limit on your wagon headed west I suspect that the fellow's writing had a better chance of not getting tossed than the lady's. Ditto when moving from state to state as we have done over here for well over 100 years.

Or just when cleaning out the attic after grandma died. A lot of what we'd like to read NOW was just old junk to many relatives in the past.

50:

Men weren't *erased.*

I'd say fewer men were erased than women. :)

51:

I think there is some difference.

Mrs Shukhova has an opportunity to negotiate. It may be narrow, but the gulag prisoners are not cooking the meals for their guards, they are not doing anything that might be seen as a trade.

There might be considerable things wrong with how marriage is seen in a particular case, but there are plenty of examples of women having more options than prisoners do. Society may limit the ways in which they can contribute to the relationship, but women were not helpless.

With the man spending his day working, outside the home, the woman had a good deal of de facto authority. And there is enough evidence in medieval English documents to show that women did have status and agency, although less than the men.

We know less about the lowest levels, because they didn't appear legal documents so much, but any English village would have had families between the Lord of the Manor and the serfs. They would still have paid rent though labour, but they were not tied to the place.

And people travelled more than we might expect from a list of the difficulties. Walking isn't so bad. The local chartered market is a couple of hours walk away from where I now live. Some feudal rents were services such as providing a man to accompany the Lord's Steward on part of his journey around the estate, and that sort of documented travel can be linked to the spread of stories.

There were also pedlars, bringing goods and stories to villages.

The Brother Cadfael stories are mostly about an elite, yes, but they are better-researched in these things than a lot of generic fantasy. And, yes, it somewhat glosses over the problems of being a woman. Making the protagonist a monk, even one who took his vows after a lively adult life, hides much.

A lot of history is rather like a movie. We get shown enough to tell the story, we don't see every campsite between Bree and Weathertop. We don't dwell on the practical details of collecting wood for an army's worth of campfires.

52:

Comments coming in thick & fast, but I just did a quick check (Ctrl+F)
NOT ONE PERSON has mentioned Ursula K le Guin yet!
Why not?

Oh heteromeles @ 36
"Mother Teresa" [Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu ] was a cruel, manipulative & thoroughly unpleasant person.
Suffering is not "good for you" - especially when it is deliberately applied from outside, as she did, in the best christian & RC tradition.
Euw.

53:

A couple of real episodes of relatively recent past to be added to the "old times sucks" list.

My father, coming from a relatively well-off farmer family, told me that when he was a kid, when he woke up during winter he used to break the ice in the water basin in his bedroom to be able to wash his face.
Oh, and dinner and "social activities" were usually done in the stable because thanks to the cows it was confortably warm.
And we're talking about the '50.

Going to earlier times, my grandmother, his mother, told me that when she was a kid, she remember that a newborn sister was left to die because she was unable to start sucking milk on her own, and calling a doctor was "too expensive"... she remembered the small baby going on for days crying...

54:

Cromage @ 42
Like Cohen the Barbarian do you mean?

dirk @ 37
Given that people do that sort of thing now, why should they not have done so, then, then?

megpie @ 33
I think you're ignoring the basic truth that all fantasy is effectively about the top 1% of society, not the ordinary people...
Really?
Bilbo Baggins? Samwise Gamgee?
Don't believe you!

David L @ 31
Also wrong - what was the Gilded Age then in the USA? And why did "Teddy" Roosevelt campaign so vigorously against it?

Various re. Ellen Terry..
There was, even more relevantly to this discussion a well-known female author Edith Nesbit ... NOT what one might call a "respectable" Victorian background ....
Oh & how people get "forgotten" & sometimes re-remembered later.
The classic example must be Mary Seacole which also shows that the "all-Victorian-were-evil-racists" trope to be utterly false [see also, Kipling, who is still being badmouthed by ignorant twats who have, obviously never read him]
I think the very real racism came later, mostly between the two World Wars....


ARONLD @ 22
Sounds familiar ....
& depressing.
LOVE your earlier comment [@ 17] on the Wimsey stories - great favourites of mine, especially as I know the fen country well ... "The Nine Tailors" is so evocative of that time & place.
Yes & re. other comments, a FLUSHING bog was finally put intot my late Grandmother's house (in the fens) in 1966. Before that it was the honey-bucket, emptied once a week by the collectors.

Stina @ 10
Men still are.
Look at the fixation on Spurts sports & "fitness" & bullying the children out onto cold, muddy footie-pitches to be bullied - & it's got worse since the ghastly XXXth Olympiad & its fascist directors.
[Google for connections between the unspeakable Coe & J A Samaranch]

Antonia @ 4
Look up Marie Stopes ..
And the troubles she had with the christian male establishment.

55:

Referring your answer to Megpie comment: Bilbo Baggins may have not been the top 1% of Middle Earth, but was nonetheless some kind of aristocracy.
He was rich by hobbit standard, living without doing any work, with at least a servant... the fact that we talk about Sam too does not count, as if he was not Bilbo servant he would not have been involved.

Said that, idea for a fantasy book: tales of a poor traditional-fantasy-world farmer family, with its tribulations and struggles, without anybody in it having in any way any real influence on the destiny of the world, with maybe only on the background some kind of traditional fantasy events like wars, invasions, evil demon-lords etc. etc.

Anybody knows if it have been done already?

56:

Para 1 - strongly seconded.

57:

@55
Sounds boring and mainstreamy. Family drama and sick cows. Why make it fantasy at all? Maybe one answer is for characters to start as ordinary people and show how they are thrust by circumstances, into adventures. (Though not necessarily as major players). The story of a ground down peasant who joins a Robin Hood like band, perhaps.
Or something like the movie Jabberwocky.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jabberwocky_(film)


58:

"Comments coming in thick & fast, but I just did a quick check (Ctrl+F)
NOT ONE PERSON has mentioned Ursula K le Guin yet!
Why not?"

Is she really the elephant in the room? There are other women who are sci-fi and fantasy writers, and other writers who feature women in their sci-fi and fantasy. She's not exactly the first or even the most influential. So is there something about her you want to discuss? Because by pretending we can't have this discussion without her I think you're belittling the conversation.

59:

@57
Can be boring and mainstreamy if done badly and mainstreamy.
And boring is bad, but mainstream is MAINstream for a reason... mixing its strenghts with fantasy strenghts would benefit both if done well.

My point is, must fantasy be defined as an evasion-adventure genre, or can fantasy aspects improve other genres like SF is able to do?

60:

@55: A good chunk of the population of the Middle Earth has to be made of those Orcs, whose life is shortly described when Frodo passes off as one of them.

Rohan is seen as having a population of farmers; the fortifications and standing army of Gondor entail a sizeable population of farmers to produce the surplus that permits them (the level of technology suggests a population of hunchbacks using sickles).

And the largest players is supposedly Mordor, whose population of Orc underlings live a miserable live, described in passing when Frodo attempts to pass off as one of them (there whatever these guys eat comes from is quite beyond me).

So to sum up, Bilbo is probably definitly in the top 1% of Middle Earth. I'd wager that merely being a Hobbit gives you a good chance of being in the top 1%, or let's say 5%. Peace dividend anyone?

61:

Sort of on topic, but a little broader than just female characters:

I think that in creating any character in any setting there is a tension, or balance, between three aspects: authenticity, believability, relatability. A character should be authentic within their setting and also act in a believable way, but they also have to have some element of relatability for a reader to love or hate them (even the most heinous of villains has to have a motive that can be understood, however dimly, otherwise they are a cardboard character at best). I think it's often hardest with any character in an historical setting to balance that final element of relatability without swamping the former two (the nadir being when you see an historical character with a 21st century mindset); we find it easy to relate to a character in the present, or a future extrapolated from our present, but we find the past to be a very strange country indeed (even where there are relatively few gaps or distortions).

62:

It's strongly implied (during the chapter that describes the battalions from the outlying regions marching to Minas Tirith) that Gondor's standing army is actually quite small, and the bulk of the troops are called up from the working population in times of need -- only Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth(?) seem to have standing forces. It's also made clear that the Gondorian defences are left over from the glory days of Gondor's power, and they are in a sad state of repair by the time the War of the Ring begins.

As well as the description of the miserable life of the orc, the same chapter, or one close to it, includes a brief description of geography of Mordor -- the North and West of the country (where Mount Doom and Barad Dur are located) is the garrisoning and staging area for Sauron's armies, the South and East is described (I'm parpahrasing here) as having vast fields of grain and livestock tended by (implied human) slaves. There is also the implication in the books that the orcs are the shock troops, while the bulk of the Sauron's forces are made up from conscripts from the South and East of Middle Earth -- again, there is a chapter in Book IV where Faramir's troops ambush a column of troops from the South, and Sam sees a dark-skinned soldier fall at his feet and wonders whether he came willingly, or what threat or force was used to bring him so far from his home.

I won;t argue with the "top 1%" assessment of Bilbo and Frodo's lifestyle, though.

63:

@61: Clearly one of the strongest points of the "Merchant Princes" series; not only Brill, but especially the relations between Miriam, her mother and her grand-mother.

64:

"must fantasy be defined as an evasion-adventure genre"

All fiction is about something exceptional happening. A peasant becomes a warrior. A woman rises to power in a male dominated society. These are hero's journeys with the otherworldly realm being the limelight of the one percent who don't drudge.

Part of the attraction of good fantasy is interest in how the fantastical elements work. The peasant family who never enter the upper crust, could neverthless live in a world where minor magics are commonplace, and that could be fascinating in and of itself. As opposed to just a tale of peasant life with rumors of the great wizard war many miles away. Also, it could be a Micheneresque saga of generations starting with being conquered and made serfs, then steadily rising to become prosperous Yeomen and Yeowomen as great events wash over the village. Perhaps this family gradually succeeds because they can cure sick cows with spells better than the neighbors can, or cast spells on buyers to make them not see the sickness of cows.

I guess it could be done. Haven't heard of it quite like that though.

65:

Actually, there's a nice historical model: The Icelandic Sagas. Unlike the mainland sagas, they were mostly about farmers and quarrels. Fair amount of bloodshed and a bit of magic in there too.

Let's back up one little step though--it's a fantasy, there's magic, but the peasants don't use any.

Yeah. Right.

Which part of reality does this resemble, again? Every social class has its magic, whether it's Nancy Reagan's astrologer or the curandero in East LA. Any fantasy that privileges magic to the ruling classes is highly artificial.

Anyway, the idea has been done, in A Wizard of Earthsea and various Terry Pratchett witch stories. Yeah, they're about wizards and witches, but these are working stiffs, not royals.

66:

You just reminded me of Jo Walton's Lifelode. (A review here). Fantasy, as observed from a village kitchen rather than the palace throne room.

(And like pretty much everything Jo writes, beautifully done. Disclaimer: I was at her wedding, her husband was at mine, and I'm a villain in one of her other books. On the other hand, she got a Hugo, a Nebula and a British Fantasy Award for Among Others, a book that is so deceptively low key that everyone voting for it thought they were the only ones supporting it. So I don't think I'm biased.)

67:

Njal's Saga? There's a tremendous woman in there too, forget the name, hold on, wikipedia, yep, Hallgerðr. Not a nice person, from an online article:

'When his bow string was cut by one of the attackers, he asked Hallgerðr for two locks of her hair in order to make a new one.

"Does anything depend on it?" she asked.
"My life," replied Gunnarr.
"Then I remind you of the slap you once gave me," and she refused to give him the hair.
"Each has his own way of earning fame," said Gunnarr.

Gunnarr was eventually overcome by the attackers and killed.'

And I remember a Magnus Magnusson lecture where he told the story of how Hallgerðr was visited in old age at the nunnery she had retired to by a young woman. The young woman finally asked which of her various lovers/husbands she had loved most. She thinks it over for a bit and then says:

"The one I loved most I treated worst."

68:

fuzzy logic @ 55
Errr ... Samwise Gamgee was FRODO'S gardener (not Bilbo's - that was the "Gaffer" - & other peoples - one gets the impression that although Frodo was his principal paymaster, he did do work for others.
Sam is so obviously the average Tommy that Tolkien fought with in WWI that is quite painful to read at times....
Particularly, if one notes that he was actually almost conscripted - by Gandalf(!)

justin boden @ 58
She was the first one to come into my head, as she always is when female SF writers are mentioned.
[ BEGIN QUOTE:
Light is the left hand of Darkness
and Darkness the right hand of Light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
Like the end and the way.

END QUOTE]
I was privileged to meet her, very briefly, once, many years ago....
Of course there are others, the late MZB, Vonda McIntyre, Joan Vinge, Judith M There, now, do you feel better for that?
And did you actually have a point to make?

cahth3iK @ 60
YES, a definite peace dividend.
Also, as seen elsewhere ("Unfinished Tales" etc) Gondor has/had quite a high technology - that of the drowned land of Numenor being somewhere in the 1950-1990 range, as described by fragments.

69:

She was the first one to come into my head, as she always is when female SF writers are mentioned.

And there some of us were, confused because we thought this thread was about female characters rather than writers. When you came up with what appeared to be a total non-sequitur, with no explanation, well, there was some puzzlement.

70:

Note that the icelandic sagas were oral tales from somewhere around the pagan era in the ninth or tenth centuries. The really important thing to remember is that they were written down at the start of the Christian era in the 14th century. You have an overlay of the values of a Christian society (and its attitude towards women) twisting the original tales.

71:

"Someday's Dreamers" is a manga, adapted into an anime, set in a world where magic is commonplace but licenced by the government. The story involves a trainee mage working the summer as an intern with a senior mage, taking on odd jobs with no earth-shattering importance or drama.

Typing this I am reminded of the Lord D'Arcy mystery stories by Randall Garrett which revolve around magic but D'Arcy, the key figure is himself not a magic user (although his Talented assistant Master Sean believes otherwise in that D'Arcy's ability to go from an unfounded assumption to a foregone conclusion seem miraculous to the observer). In that alt-hist world magic is widely used for purposes such as Healing, security and even "refrigeration" via stasis spells.

72:

@55, @57 et al.: Elizabeth Moon's Deed of Paksenarrion series, and especially the first Gird prequel, have quite a bit of "nasty, brutish and short"-type action.

Paksenarrion is a sheepfarmer's daughter who runs away from an arranged marriage to join a mercenary company. After a few successful seasons, she is injured and spends some time as a PTSD-ridden beggar before being rescued by a reclusive animist wizard. However, to return to Stina's original theme, the society she lives in is uncharacteristically egalitarian. This can probably be ascribed to the cult of Gird, which is explored in the prequels.

Gird starts out as a farmer's son, little more than a serf, in a traditional feudal society with a traditional view on women as childbearers and -rearers. As a child (ten or so), he joins the local magelord's militia. A few years later, he is brutally punished and thrown out for (if memory serves, it's been a while and I couldn't find a synopsis online) refusing to flog a childhood friend caught stealing apples from the lord's orchard. As the magelord's rule becomes progressively harsher and more brutal, Gird shapes up and leads a successful revolt. The society he builds on the ruins of the one he grew up in seems to value women much more.

In Gird's world, a woman's dowry is not money or material possessions, but a skill, a recipe, a weaving pattern etc. There seems to be a supernatural element in that, if I understand correctly, what is passed on is not knowledge but actual ability, so even if you followed the exact same recipe as your neighbor, your bread just wouldn't turn out right. The effect this has on the dynamics of marriage among the lower classes is quite interesting.

In re LoTR, Bilbo was clearly already a man of leisure before the events described in The Hobbit, and Frodo obviously could have lived his entire life off of his inheritance. However, there is no mention (that I recall) of Merry or Pippin or Fredegar (the fifth Beatle, so to speak) doing anything except hang out with their buddies, drink ale and steal mushrooms, even though (I think) they are adults by the time they leave the Shire.

73:

maybe it is a little off topic and a personnal horse but when you say "I associate Fantasy--even Urban Fantasy--with the past." my first eaction is "well, that's the problem"...
let me explain (then you say if it is really off topic).
An awful lot of fantasy writers think exactly the same : "I'm educated, I had history courses, I can write about the past. " So why don't they just write history books ? Mainstream novels in an history setting ? Because they can't. History is about that kind of small things you describe : the noise in a carriage, the time needed by the horses, the campfire, the meals ... history is about details and details need work. A lot of work!
You allready told us about the time and research you needed to write "of blood and honey". honestly, do you think most of the medieval fantasy writers do the same work? I doubt, seriously. For most of them medieval times are just a setting they don't know anything about except from reading other medieval fantasy writers... and so on until Tolkien who actually DID the work!
I don't think everybody should be a Tolkien : that would be nonsense, but when I read (insert whatever name you want here) I just think : why didn't (s)he work a little BEFORE writing?
Urban fantasy is the other side of the same coin : Ok, I won't do the research but I admit it and the fantasy will occur in our world. It is much much more honnest and generally much better too!
But just one thing : Fantasy is not about the past : It's about magic. Why can't magic occur nowadays or tomorrow ? What about a future story with space ships and magic ? that could be good you could have a feminine character just as interesting as the male one, let's call her Leia and ... Oups ! I think someone did it...

74:

Adventuresome women are the black swans of history, like Julie D'Aubigny, a 17th-century opera singer/fencing master who once took holy orders just so she could sneak into a convent and seduce a nun. She was openly bisexual and liked to cross dress as a man when she dueled.

75:

Hobbits may have been far down on the pecking order by human standards but Bilbo is clearly hobbit gentry. Tolkien doesn't get into the particulars, but the only way Bilbo's larder would be that well stocked was if he had several tenant farmers paying rent in the form of crops, especially since Bilbo spends most of his time smoking his pipe and writing correspondence. He doesn't have servants, until later in life and then just a gardener but he was clearly one of the more wealthy hobbits in the Shire even before he went adventuring. (If I recall from the appendices, he serves a few terms as Mayor of Hobbiton in the interim between the Hobbit and LotR).

76:

Also wrong - what was the Gilded Age then in the USA? And why did "Teddy" Roosevelt campaign so vigorously against it?

Just to make sure I had my dates right here is the Wikipedia entry for Gilded Age.

In United States history, the Gilded Age was the period following the Civil War, running from 1877 to 1893 when the next era began, the Progressive Era.

I was talking about money flowing to more ordinary folks starting after the turn of the century. Not how the top 1% of the top 1% (or less) lived in the previous 50 years.

77:

@ 74
Fascinating
Not nearly so outre, but another different woman was Celia Feinnes - and yes the actor & the late famous railwaman are & were her distant relatives.

David L @ 76
Point taken - however the trend in the Gilded Age was as now, and it took considerable political effort to wrest control of the purse-strings away from the ultra-greedy of the 0.1%.
Something similar is needed now, without beggaring what is usually called the "middle classes"

78:

"What about a future story with space ships and magic?"

Something that surprised me recently was the existence of Buffy/Star Trek crossover fanfiction. What surprised me even more is that some of it is really good.

79:

Is there a rule that says anyone who is exceptionally good at killing people can be a hero?

80:

@79
Fighting, stealing, black magic, heathen sacrilege. These are the crimes and sins by experience won skill at which liesure is gained. And only those at liesure have the freedom to be heroes of a certain type.

Though heroes of a subtler type are rumoured.

81:

Just to be obnoxiously contrary, I really should reference Jack Vance's Dying Earth, which is so far in the future it feels like it's in the past. Not that his treatment of women was anything to write home about, but still. Future fantasy is possible (cough *Shannara* cough).

82:

There's a whole traditional social class in Albania of women - still vestigal traces of it today - of "sworn virgins" - who act as men and are considered to be men by society - allowed to dress as men, carry firearms, own property (smoke tobacco!) and so on.

My limited understanding of it is that it was the only way for a family with no sons to keep their property after the death of the male head of the house - a daughter took on the role.

83:

Read the family trees its obvious what social status the various hobbits are Bilbo is upper middle class trust-fund hobbit Merry and Pipin are Upper class Sam is the yeoman working class.

84:

Look at who Merry and Pipins dads are the real word equivalent in the UK are probably the minor aristocracy / old money upper class family.

85:

Arguably Gondor is Byzantium cica 1400 (without the 4th crusade and the Latin Kingdom) (and Peter Jackson had them explicitly use byzantine styles in Gondor.

The one thing I like about the first LOTR film was Theoden as a full on cataphract with the scale armour for both man and horse.

86:

Kager Baker had a nice story in that book which was a tribute to Jack Vance's Dying Earth. Very good, witty, had parrots in.

88:
I find it difficult to identify with men in the past, even a past that was only just gone with respect to my lifetime eg pre-WW2.

Hell yes. I never really got my parents what with their voluntarily sticking to their assigned gender rolls and traits. But my daughter? She thinks her grandparents are aliens. Seriously. They're too different to be disgusting or out of date or uncool.

A half-century these days is something on the order of a thousand years of cultural evolution, old style.

89:

It's not just harder for an author to really inhabit the past and its different social rules without going anachronistic or didactic. It's harder for the reader to appreciate too. I can't really enjoy Gone With the Wind because it's impossible for me to sympathize with aristocratic slave holders, no matter what else they were. If someone wrote a novel today from an antebellum slave holder's point of view, and didn't insert a bunch of anachronistic denunciation of slavery in the character's head or as authorial commentary, I'd probably suspect the author of being a horrible racist too. Even though it's obviously artificial and grating in a different way to use that setting and have the characters hold modern attitudes.

I recently read Slammerkin, a historical novel based on the short, harsh life of a woman who became a child prostitute, domestic servant, and later murderer in the mid 18th century. The social constraints, injustice, violence, and poverty may be perfectly real, and none of the characters unrealistically expected her to transcend her situation, but it's hard work to read about a character born in dire circumstances coming to an ugly end as logic requires. Such bleak stories are required, even if only by implication, to appreciate more extraordinary lives: the rare woman who could transcend sex and class in the 18th century is remarkable precisely because of the millions who couldn't.

90:

Just want to note that Greg Egan's treatment of this topic in his Orthogonal series impresses me. Using fantasy to distort/turn up the dial on the commonplace until it becomes visible, horrific. I think it works because the viewpoint characters are also pretty horrified with the whole situation, and struggle with their own conservatism.

Is it enough for, say, a historical novel, that the characters be aware that something is wrong, hate themselves a bit for going along with it, just mostly lack the knowledge or courage to fix it? I mean, this is the basic human condition in a nutshell.

"The true morning will not come, until the Yalda Night is gone."

91:

"Is it enough for, say, a historical novel, that the characters be aware that something is wrong, hate themselves a bit for going along with it, just mostly lack the knowledge or courage to fix it? "

Something like eating meat from murdered animals? I suspect that in a hundred years or so the notion of eating animals will be as revolting as slavery is now.

92:

On the carriages front...

I don't know how many people drive on dirt roads these days. Particularly middle or poor grade third world dirt roads.

Even in modern vehicles, those can be pretty seriously abusive rides. And even in modern vehicle, if you have an overload (say, someone sitting in the back of the Suburban, sitting on the wheel well ...) the experience can be pretty rough.

Carriages with their pre-modern suspensions make it like that for *everyone*...

Early cars, the same way.

93:

A half-century these days is something on the order of a thousand years of cultural evolution, old style.

Yet i can read a novel published 50, 100, 200 years ago and find it comprehensible and engaging. Apart from a bit of struggle with the Middle English I can say the same of Chaucer. I could say same of Tacitus and he's a slave owing Roman aristocrat.
But sexist attitudes expressed in works published over the past 50 years I'm uncomfortable with. To the extent that I find certain works unreadable. I'm like, "Fuck off with your sexism!"
Odd.

94:

If someone wrote a novel "full of all those things that get in the way of the plot" about Shukhov, cannot someone write them about Mrs. Shukhova?

True.

95:

Reasonably, every work doesn't have to advance the cause, as it were, and it did no harm.

Thanks.

So, are you doing anything with your current project that is different?

Yes and no. Mostly, I think I'm just twitching about things I probably shouldn't. I get caught up in details so much that my husband likes to poke me and say, "It's *fiction*! Stop that!"

Stagecoach travel is noisy and characters can't have conversations?

I didn't say couldn't talk at all. I said they couldn't have QUIET conversations. :) They'd have to shout at one another to be heard. I suspect that's another of those things that was assumed and not written down.

96:

You're talking about the very strong tendency of publishers/printers (essentially all male) to publish male authors instead of female over all of the centuries since printing was born, right?

Right.

You're not talking about manuscripts such as diaries, letters, etc.

No. I wasn't. But when I said I'd have to look deeper I *was* referring to diaries and letters and such.

97:

My father, coming from a relatively well-off farmer family, told me that when he was a kid, when he woke up during winter he used to break the ice in the water basin in his bedroom to be able to wash his face.

That reminds me. I had a "duh" moment when the heat went out in our house for a few weeks a couple of winters ago. (Our house was built in 1930. And we rent. So, we had to wait for the landlady to get it fixed.) I discovered that wearing a stocking cap to bed had a practical purpose. You do lose most of your body heat through your head, after all.

Going to earlier times, my grandmother, his mother, told me that when she was a kid, she remember that a newborn sister was left to die because she was unable to start sucking milk on her own, and calling a doctor was "too expensive"... she remembered the small baby going on for days crying...

[shudder]

98:

I think it's often hardest with any character in an historical setting to balance that final element of relatability without swamping the former two (the nadir being when you see an historical character with a 21st century mindset); we find it easy to relate to a character in the present, or a future extrapolated from our present, but we find the past to be a very strange country indeed (even where there are relatively few gaps or distortions).

Yes. This. I think a lot of my anxiety is coming from having written about the recent past and then moving to a more distant one.

100:

The peasant family who never enter the upper crust, could neverthless live in a world where minor magics are commonplace, and that could be fascinating in and of itself.

i meant to say that I liked the idea of the peasant family and everyday magic. I'm not sure why the quote vanished in 99. Oh, well.

101:

Any fantasy that privileges magic to the ruling classes is highly artificial.

Then I very much suggest you read "The Amulet of Samarkand" by Jonathan Stroud. It's a mid-grade YA book, but it's wonderful. It had all kinds of great things to say about classism, power, and slavery. One of my favorite things about it is that the "demon" Bartimaeus acts as the young magician's conscience. I highly recommend it.

That said, be careful with sweeping generalizations. We writers are tricksy.

102:

You just reminded me of Jo Walton's Lifelode.

Her work is so on my ToBeRead pile. :) It's funny when RDSouth mentioned the peasant family and every day magic I instantly thought of Jo's work.

103:

"The one I loved most I treated worst."

That's a conflicted character. Nice. :)

104:

@72

Paks! I love Paks!

105:

"I don't know how many people drive on dirt roads these days. Particularly middle or poor grade third world dirt roads."

Millions of Canadians.

But these days we're not shouting at each other to get heard over the road noise, we're shouting at each other to cover the noise of the car's heating fan. We are now in the coldest part of winter.

(Except in South B.C. which has its usual wet, and "warm" Scottish-style weather)

106:

You allready told us about the time and research you needed to write "of blood and honey". honestly, do you think most of the medieval fantasy writers do the same work? I doubt, seriously. For most of them medieval times are just a setting they don't know anything about except from reading other medieval fantasy writers...

Not every writer works in the same way. Not every story requires research. I know of one very successful writer who claims never to do any. (A. Lee Martinez) He and I argue about that a lot, but frankly, everyone writes for different reasons just as everyone reads for different reasons. Me, I like to see some research because I like learning while being entertained. I'm glad there are all sorts of writers and readers. There's not just *one* way to be. If that were the case, I'm sure my way wouldn't be it.

107:

Adventuresome women are the black swans of history, like Julie D'Aubigny, a 17th-century opera singer/fencing master who once took holy orders just so she could sneak into a convent and seduce a nun. She was openly bisexual and liked to cross dress as a man when she dueled.

What an amazing story! Thanks for that. By the way, did you ever see "Dangerous Beauty"? You should. I suspect you might like it.

108:

There's a whole traditional social class in Albania of women - still vestigal traces of it today - of "sworn virgins" - who act as men and are considered to be men by society - allowed to dress as men, carry firearms, own property (smoke tobacco!) and so on.

I'd never heard of that before. Interesting!

109:

All very good points. However, it is important to remember that writers do write sympathetically about characters with whom they do not agree. [shrug] I hold quite a few beliefs that my characters don't. That's part of the job.

110:

I don't know how many people drive on dirt roads these days. Particularly middle or poor grade third world dirt roads.

My parents live in a small town outside of Centerville. They live off of a dirt road--miles of dirt roads. Let's just say I don't visit after a long rain, nor do I visit much in my Miata.

112:

I wrote:
"I don't know how many people drive on dirt roads these days. Particularly middle or poor grade third world dirt roads."
ndgmtlcd writes:
Millions of Canadians.
But these days we're not shouting at each other to get heard over the road noise, we're shouting at each other to cover the noise of the car's heating fan. We are now in the coldest part of winter.
(Except in South B.C. which has its usual wet, and "warm" Scottish-style weather)

I've been on a lot of Canadian dirt roads, in BC and a some elsewhere. They're not as bad as the Mexican or South American roads or African roads, in my opinion.

113:

Stina:
My parents live in a small town outside of Centerville. They live off of a dirt road--miles of dirt roads. Let's just say I don't visit after a long rain, nor do I visit much in my Miata.

But... driving roadsters on dirt roads is traditional!

I have ... very carefully, after scouting on foot - taken my RX-8 on a dirt road which included significant vertical changes and ruts. I don't recommend that, though.

My point really was that these experiences used to be what everyone experienced. Now, nearly everyone (and the dominant cultural paradigm) are cityfolk and don't do it anymore. In my part of California, the only serious driving people normally do is driving SUVs up to Tahoe in the snow for skiing. There are dirt roads around... the offroading one I mentioned above, which is at the side of the Central Valley... the road out to where my maternal grandparents lived in West Marin (about 5 miles of dirt road; after 1982 storms there was a literally 8 foot deep erosion trench down the middle of the former road...). Little things in the hills around; when I was in High School we got a Jeep stuck 200 plus meters up a 35-40 degree slope in the mud and had to roll it back down backwards, slowly, holding it out of the ditch and off the cliff by pushing by hand as we rolled down. But most of the people I know aren't driving on any of those at all anymore.

It's falling out of the normal set of experiences.

114:

Nope, in this case I stand by what I just said.

In the real world, there is a thing called magic. It's a mish-mash of empirical neurobiology (I'm reading a book called Sleight of Mind that goes into this in some depth), DIY religion and spirituality, and (often) discredited or minority religion. Typically, the dominant religion is the one true faith, and everything else is sorcery, no? Magical thinking shows up in every class and place, although not everyone does it. I've seen altars to gel gods in biology labs, read how the CIA evaluated using psychics, and heard about Nancy Reagan's astrologer, just to pick a few examples.

That's the reality.

The convention in much of fantasy literature is that magic must be a) new, b) different, and c) rule-bound, to avoid deus ex machina issues where someone waves a magic wand and solves the plot. While this can be fun, it's just another form of "what-if" literature. Citing the example of someone doing it well doesn't make it any less artificial.

The truly bizarre thing is that, if you write about magic as it actually exists in the real world, you aren't writing fantasy. Instead, you are writing either literary fiction, anthropology, or (as with Carlos Castaneda) some blend of the two, and it often goes on the New Age shelf.

115:

Kinda related to the main topic.
from William Gibson @GreatDismal:
The battle against 'sexist' sci-fi and fantasy book covers

116:

I don't recall suggesting Julie D'Aubigny was a heroine of any sort, just an interesting historical figure who challenged social norms, sometimes violently.

There does tend to be an overlap between heroism and excessive violence in western culture, but that may just be a historical artifact: for most of history, heroics were tied directly to martial exercises. Up until the 20th century, war was seen as the pinnacle of noble, heroic adventure. It's only been since the pacifist movement of the 20th century and a reconfiguring of social norms (which is still on-going) that we've started to recognize saving lives and non-violent resistance to oppression as a preferable heroic acts. But this is still by no means a universal view (See: the Tea Party and their day dreams of violent revolt).

Julie D'Aubigny was an exceptional woman, but she still lived in a rather violent milieu. If you were a woman in the 17th century and you wanted to hang out in bawdy taverns as anything other than a barmaid or prostitute, you better bring a sword (and know how to use it) unless you wanted to be raped by a cavalier.

117:

I did see Dangerous Beauty, and quite enjoyed it!

118:

I think part of what the illustrators are trying to say is that these women are equipped with many sources of power, including...allure. Even if so, it advertises that the work is a simplistic power fantasy.

On the other hand, I loved the cover of Rule 34, even though the author disowns and dislikes it. It illustrated the Liz attitude and, symbolically, her situation. Every time I set the book down I looked at it for a moment. It was like you could commune with the character, see the honor, self respect and concern, see that she was focused on the hunt, and cheer her on. The real power being depicted was internal, and the externals were really just encumbrances. It enhanced the book for me, regardless of any value for selling it. (I ordered it sight unseen based on reviews).

But yeah, those covers are silly.

119:

Oops, that should have been "@117." I'm not Stina so I can't reply to something that was a reply to her.

120:

Nope.

So far as institutionalizing heroes goes, the catholic church has done a much better job of keeping the memories of non-violent heroes alive than has any violent organization. The Buddhists have done a pretty good job too, as have the Jews and the Sufis.

As a test, I'll bet that even if you are a rabid, church-hating non-Christian, you can name more saints than ancient knights of any sort. I'll also bet that the same is true if you're Christian, even if you're not a catholic.

There's a problem here with conflating the standards of modern heroic fiction with real history. Violence sells fantasy books, and I don't blame fantasy writers for writing violent plots. This doesn't mean that books with non-violent plots can't succeed very well (cf: the original Earthsea trilogy), but the majority is violent.

121:

That's partly because religious organizations, once they become successful, tend to live for centuries or millennia. Far longer than almost all companies or even nations.

122:

Even in modern vehicles, those can be pretty seriously abusive rides. And even in modern vehicle, if you have an overload (say, someone sitting in the back of the Suburban, sitting on the wheel well ...) the experience can be pretty rough.

Relative to riding in the seats. It it is rough.

Riding in a stage coach with steel rims on wooden wheels with a leaf spring is way more "fun" than anything in a modern car ever if you're sitting on the floor. And many wagons used around the farm and to town didn't have the leaf springs or leather padded seat. I guess you could take a blanket and sit on it but that might also be considered a wasteful wear and tear of a needed blanket in the winter.

I grew up earning my spending money driving a small 1954 tractor mowing fields. The absence of a suspension system (shocks make a really big difference) and such keep me driving in a semi squat/upright position over anything not smooth. And that was with 5' tires on the rear to ride over smaller rough stuff.

Rent wheeled Bobcat or similar and work on it for a day. My heel is still bruised from a month ago.

Modern (last 50 years) cars are really nice to ride in compared to anything prior or not designed to be a car.

123:

'Even if you are a rabid, church-hating non-Christian, you can name more saints than ancient knights of any sort'
I'm named after a saint. Who he was or what he did I have no idea. Doubt if my parents knew. Naming after saints is a European naming convention. By contrast I can give you the names, deeds and accomplishments of any number of knights, warriors, heroes and notable men of war from Achilles onwards.
Good points though.

124:

"Naming after saints is a European naming convention" - almost as popular as naming them after soap opera characters and pop stars.

125:

Zorro @ 89
Ever heard of Fanny Kemble?
Most famously wrote an eulogy for the joy of untrammelled speed in the air (on the footplate of “Rocket” no less!) … she wrote a diary/letters, which can be found on-line.
She married a Southern “gentleman” … but by the time 1861 came around she was living in the “North” campaigning against slavery.
A most remarkable & intelligent woman.
Look her up.

Dirk @ 91
You are trolling.
STOP IT.
“Murder” is specific to your own species.
We are ominvores - look at your teeth in a mirror!
If you, personally, choose not to eat meat – fine.
DO NOT even think about forcing it on others, or proselytising…
Shame on you, on this blog.

George Herbert @ 92
“Paved roads, another form of guvmint waste” …
Which is a saying on one of the Land-Rover usegroups ……
Some are a lot bumpier than others, though.
& David L @ 122 … why do you think real L-R’s have such a big ground-clearnce & long-travels suspension, then?

Go-captain @ 93
I am not familiar with Jane Austen (the Brontes are more my style) but the 15/16 year-old daughter of a family I know is doing “P&P” for GCSE, & I heard them discussing “Darcy getting his lap-top out at the dinner-table” – a modern translation of Darcy’s apparent unconcern for social mores & common practice.
Made me laugh - & so apposite.

Stina @ 103
Each man kills the thing he loves - Oscar Wilde.

JPR @ 115
The problem here is that the book-publisher will very often NOT ALLOW the novel writer any input to the cover art.
Charlie has opined on this in the past

Heteromeles @ 120
Don’t believe you!
Most catholic “saints” seem to have been egotistical cruel bastards of the first water.
My favourite nominees in this category are Dominic & Cyril of Alexandria.
Also @ 123/4
Well, I’m named after two “Russian” saints … weird.
As for naming after ancient knights, maybe you might be wrong, especially if you are a steam locomotive enthusiast - plus of course, le Chanson de Roland is good for that, too!

Generally, I’ll have to get hold of a copy of “Lifelode” if I can … (yeah, I know – Amazon / fleabay )

126:

Actually I'm with Dirk on the meat-eating thing.

Animals aren't optimized for turning photoautotrophs into human-food; they're extremely lossy protein-conversion devices, putting most of what they eat into stuff that's not much use to us -- brains, animal gonads, that sort of thing.

If growing meat cells in a culture medium is feasible it looks likely to be energetically vastly more efficient than growing the animals themselves. To such an extent that the needs of a 10-billion population world will drive commercial meat production towards vat produce really fast once the technology is there.

At which point, the psychological pressure to ignore the pain and suffering involved in commercial animal husbandy and slaughter will disappear. We know that mammals feel pain and have some limited consciousness; we are mammals and we exist on a continuum with others. And while I think fish and commercial breeds of birds are rather less cognitively endowed, I'd still rather eat chicken that came out of a tank with no nerve cells than something that came off a corpse.

Finally, there's the bacterial issue. Eating dead animals means eating potentially disease-ridden tissues that have been part of the same structure as the contents of the animal's colon. I can easily see a vat-meat-fed society collectively going "eeew!" at the mere thought of it.

127:

I've seen SF stories where the characters express disgust at eating vegetables grown in dirt rather than in clean civilised hydroponics.

As for "disease-ridden tissues" you regularly ingest the excreta of assorted microorganisms poisoned to death for your momentary pleasure, indeed you pay a pretty penny for the privilege of doing so and suffer the personal consequences thereafter (vomiting, nausea, headache etc. aka "hangover").

128:

Nice try Charlie ... I suspect you of irony here ....
I admit that I am careful, about what I eat, and so should everyone else be.
It should not have been "cruelly kept" & it must have been killed quickly (& as cleanly) as possible & preferably have a known supply-chain.
The thing that bothers me about the recent "Horsemeat" scare is that it was there in the first place ... untraced, & even worse, in the majority of cases, with approx 1-2% of "horse".
Which means that meat-processors were not cleaning & sterilising their equipment properly (or at all) euwwww .....
I repeat .. we are ominviores, let us enjoy our omnivorusness(?), properly.

129:

Oops ..
I really meant it, btw - do look up Fanny Kendall, she'd probably make a very good basis for a fictional character.

130:

"Darcy getting his lap-top out at the dinner-table”
He would too, the arrogant sod.:) I'm more of an Austen fan myself, by the by. Brontes are a bit too heavy metal for me.

And, yes, Roland, Oliver, Charles - from Charlemagne. Morte d'Arthur. Arthur, of course. Percival used to be popular. Gavin - from Gawain. Stina, sure I've seen that name in there somewhere. Gareth, Lionel. Tristam, of course, though a bit high register these days.

131:

There is a fascinating TV documentary by historian Michael Wood called "Christina: A Medieval Life" (2008) which, in addition to showing how much information can be extracted from pretty dry sources (e.g. tax records) tells the story of a woman born into a 14th Century peasant family who had a successful life and "endowed" her daughter with property which would have been literally unimaginable to her mother. Women could, and did, live full and engaged lives in earlier times, but they had to be many times luckier than men born to the same station in life, also tough and independent of mind. Christina pretty much hit the jackpot for her time, maybe not Euromillions, but certainly a decent-sized win.

To match Mary Seacole, look up the story of Victoria Drummond, goddaughter of Queen Victoria (thus probably in the top 0.001%, which is only of peripheral relevance to her story) who qualified as a merchant navy engineer in the 1920s (when women did NOT serve in ships, other than as cleaners/servants on cruise ships) and served with distinction and no little heroism in the British Merchant fleet during WWII. As many front-runners do, she faced (and faced down) discrimination, harassment and obstruction from the then-establishment.

There is a new generation of female historians and archaeologists who are starting to reclaim something of "herstory" that has been largely erased. Bettany Hughes is one of the better-known names, especially her earlier stuff.

132:

Clearly, the fantasy heroes are wealthy enough to afford to travel, but it's also clear that they're operating in remarkably well-governed, well-traveled lands: they have roads and inns, and remarkably few brigands (many of whom would be unemployed soldiers looking for some easy cash).

In other areas, consider that horses and swords and armor were very expensive. In today's terms, a decent sword and suit of armor was probably be the equivalent of a middle-range car, and a horse would be in the price category of a Porsche. Heck, a decent competition jumper is going to cost at least $40,000 (I know somebody who bought one) without tack.

133:
stuff that's not much use to us -- brains, animal gonads, that sort of thing.

Some of us are more thorough carnivores than others, as the spanish saying goes "Del cerdo se aprovechan hasta los andares": From the pig, even the swagger gets used.

I'm getting de ja vu all over again so I suspect we've already talked about the food issue so I'll (probably) restate that the whole quality of life for food animals issue strikes me as a peculiar marriage of theist and humanist values. While I think it's cute when the hunter asks for forgiveness of his prey's soul, I don't believe in souls as anything other than the embodiment of the function of a moderately advanced nervous system.

So to be consistent, just as I don't consider abortion the murder of a child, I think breeding a food animal for decreased neural expression and raising it in an almost zero mental stimulation environment is far better than attempting to give it a beautiful life before we murder it out of some muddled notion of fairness.

I am cool with it if it's done out of practical reasons such as health or tastyness but let's admit these are luxury goods.

I've read about harvesting worm meat, this sounds like a good compromise between higher animals and bacteria, I'd like the meat I eat to have had some sort of immune system at some point. Test tubes can get contaminated too.

134:

Me, I figure that if the problem is that people are disconnected from the rather messy process of growing their own food, then further disconnecting them from that process will not solve the problems caused by disconnection.

For example, what's now called "tip-to-tail" eating (basically, all parts of the animal get used) was the norm. Slabs of muscle were the purview of the wealthy, and that only occasionally. The ickiness of things like organ meats is, in part, because those were the foods of the poor and foreigners who ain't like us.

Gotta watch out for that attitude.

The amusing thing here is that you're proposing solving the problems of killing many animals on a factory scale with culturing meat the way we culture fungi.

Notice how many people have a problem with that, too?

Since I've done a bit of fungal culturing, I will say that it's not nearly as easy as it sounds. As with algal biofuels, contamination of cultures is a huge problem. It's trivial to predict that, when cultured meat starts popping up, there will be scandals involving both bacterial contamination and the use of dangerous chemicals. There will probably be pollution problems downstream from the plants, too. These are the same problems we have with meat now.

If you want people to eat less meat, have them either kill the animals they've raised, or buy each animal they wish to eat and watch to make sure it is slaughtered humanely and butchered cleanly and thoroughly. As with so many other problems (prisons, military-industrial complex, energy generation), keeping the messiness out of sight leads to a lot of abuses. People do need to take a bit more responsibility for the mess we generate.

135:

Then there are your servants, squires, men at arms, riding horses - you aren't going to ride your destrier, your warhorse - ponies and pack mules. Oh, and a couple of crossbowmen.
That's your Lance. Not a long pole with a pointy end. A self contained military unit.

136:

To begin with, Fantasy isn't really meant to be real.

That said, those who aspire to make it somewhat historically accurate (meaning the society culture and behaviour match the tech levels, say modelling it all on known human societies in the past) should do a bit of research.
GoCaptain and Ed are quite right, the rich person should really be travelling with retainers, servants, a friend or two etc.
However in Europe in the medieval period you could travel easily enough as a pilgrim. A network of hostels, begging and luck would see you through; pilgrims were specifically cautioned not to take too many things with them and if you have to wear or carry all your clothing and stuff then yes, you won't take much.

The dangers of pilgrimage were recognised, but people still got all the way to the Holy Land and back without being murdered. Even Margery Kempe managed to travel around Europe and apparently to Jerusalem, despite being on her own most of the time. Of course she, in modern parlance, copped a lot of flak for it, which probably adds to the impression of how unusual what she did was.


137:

In the medieval period, amongst others, it also depended where and when you travelled. I suspect nobody got far during the 30 years war with a quarter of Europe being wiped out.

138:

This Christina lived in the 14th century? Was she by any chance born circa 1330-40?

Because if so, the timing would explain everything.

(Hint: the Black Death killed about 30-40% of the population ... and as a consequence there was massive wage inflation in the following decades. It basically rang the curtain down on the middle ages in England -- they just took a whole century to descend.)

139:

Nestor @ 133 (& Charlie)
...Oh I don't know, "offal" is often the best bits, if properly processed (I LURVE "Black pudding").
The other point about well-kept & quickly killed food-animals is the self-interest that the meat actually tastes nicer! As well as being much less likely to be contaminated in any way.
heteromeles @ 134 - agree completely!

dirk @ 134
Erm historical total fail!
Dreizigjahrenkrieg was: 1618-48 - hardly "medieval" now, was it?
And that was 25-30% of the "German" population killed ....

Charlie @ 138
Another puff for Barbara Tuchman: A Distant Mirror Tells you about s much as you really want to know about the end of medievalism ....
Messy

140:

Took a bit of digging to find any mention of Christina Cok's birth date, but she was born around 1285 in Codicote, Hertfordshire.

The Black Death hit England in 1348, when she would be about 63, and that was the year she died, but whether that killed her, we don't know. Her children did survive.

She lost one husband in the Great Famine (1315-17), and she had remarried by 1322.

That was more than bad enough, there were even times when there wasn't enough food in a place to feed the King when he passed through, and the population dropped by around 10%. It can be linked to the transition between the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age.

That was plenty to give her opportunities.

141:

A list of places for time travellers not to visit, unless they want to be a hero:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_and_anthropogenic_disasters_by_death_toll

142:

It was a time of massive social change yes. But the point is she was a woman of basically peasant origin, hence (to paraphrase Scalzi) her difficulty level was set to "Sid". And she was lucky (in some senses, I don`t suppose she considered the death of her first husband lucky but she survived and prospered). She survived the great famine and childbirth and lived to a good age for her time and class.

143:

guthrie @136 "To begin with, Fantasy isn't really meant to be real."

Neither is science fiction. Which is why these imaginative media can easily depict women who aren't in traditional roles without seeming "unrealistic,"
which seems to be the dilemma Stina is facing.
Though, in her case, it sounds like urban fantasy set in history...historical fantasy?
But even in out and out imaginary worlds, real history (as you allude) is an excellent guide to what kinds of things really happen and how worlds really work. For my taste, settings need not be historically correct, but they should be historically informed. And there are plenty of real examples of societies in which women can play a wide variety of roles, to one degree or another. Though the fight against oppression thing has story value in itself, especially if it's done with some kind of a special new twist.


Gregtingey @ 125 "Shame on you, on this blog"
Sarcasm? Anyway, I thought it an interesting topic, but more appropriate on the ageing vampire thread.


Nestor@133 "worm meat, this sounds like a good compromise between higher animals and bacteria"

As are aquacultured invertebrates such as bay scallops, bay oysters, bay shrimp etc...
Aquaculture is simpler than tube steak (sic) and in the process of solving the problems of heavy metal accumulation. Just a matter of anchoring the nets far enough out to sea. However, due to the tradition of expensiveness of things like oysters and shrimp, the aquaculture industry is still getting away with charging more for the product than factory farms charge for beef or chicken. Less so than with aquacultured fish such as Tilapia.

144:

Mostly we have been discussing women in de facto European medieval history and fantasy. What about India, China and S America?

145:

I'd stay out of fantasy territory too, what with all the Dark Lords and Orcs.
Although the world of Ariosto's 'Orlando Furioso' seems a rather pleasant place to be.

146:

However, there is more documentation for male history than female. We've more information. We can carefully retrofit things by reading multiple accounts. Men weren't *erased.*

A discussion on a tech blog made me think about this.

In the future erasure will not be the issue. Digital rot will impact both men and women and their old computer emails. Will anyone want to sift through grandma's or grandpa's laptop when they die? If you can get it to power up?

Will Facebook become a "trusted" archive?

What will happen to this blog contents 10 years from now? 20? When Charlie dies?

Quick. Here's a 9 track tape. How long will it take you to get the data off? If you're spending your personal money to see if grandma left any emails worth keeping on it.

147:

Okay, I've waited a few hours to see if anyone would link to a particular retweet @cstross, which is related to my comment @115*. No one has, but I still can't bring myself to do it.

I'll just say that that is an interesting collection of half-naked authors.

*where I was tempted to say "Oh! My eyes! My eyes!" But more so now.

148:

As with algal biofuels, contamination of cultures is a huge problem. It's trivial to predict that, when cultured meat starts popping up, there will be scandals involving both bacterial contamination and the use of dangerous chemicals.

As much as we decry the industrial sized slaughter of cattle and such today and the problems that come up with an operation is contaminated, just thing about how bad things could get if the EU or US is down to less than 10 culture lines of protein. A problem with one means everyone else has to bump production by 10%. Or more. If only 2 or 3 lines then 50% to 100%. Fast. Or people starve.

And don't dream it will not happen. Production in mature industries always consolidates. Innovation fragments this consolidation but when the innovation becomes the norm consolidation always happens.

149:

I don't see the difference between digital forms and previous paper formats here.

In the domain of edited works current social attitudes towards women will prevail. The big change will come when women gain positions of great importance the publishing world.

In the domain of unpublished works digital diaries will be tossed because of perceptions that they are useless, just a in the past.

150:

"If you, personally, choose not to eat meat – fine.
DO NOT even think about forcing it on others, or proselytising…
Shame on you, on this blog."

All the outrage of a slave owner being told that what he does is unethical and will be viewed as a despicable practice by future generation, even though it is "natural".

151:

In the domain of unpublished works digital diaries will be tossed because of perceptions that they are useless, just a in the past.

My point is that much of what is "kept" will vanish. The sex of the author will not matter if you can't turn on the laptop or read the Zip drive or whatever media that contains the data.

NASA has something of a museum quality collection of tape drives to deal with this and they still have a lot of tape that can't be read until they pay someone to rebuild a tape drive that only had 100 or so (and maybe less) models ever built in the 1950s or 1960s. Assuming the tape doesn't degrade too much before that happens.

In theory the "cloud" will mitigate some of this but when grandma dies will her 3rd generation heirs be able to access her accounts? Heck, what about the executors of her estate? Grandma vs. grandpa isn't the issue going forward in the "first world". It's "Does anyone know the password or recovery email address?"

152:

If you, personally, choose not to eat meat – fine.
DO NOT even think about forcing it on others, or proselytising…
Shame on you, on this blog.

In a functioning democracy in general if a large majority of people want to outlaw something, it gets outlawed. Think of the US during the 20s. And it's a lot harder to grow a cow in your kitchen than to brew up a few bottles of gin.

Of course now I can see a thriving underground rabbit business in basements. Next to the now unused pot growing setups.

153:

Tacking this on to my previous post:

One of the leading characters in Orlando Furioso is Brandamante.

From wikipedia:

Bradamante is depicted as one of the greatest female knights in literature. She is an expert fighter, and wields a magical lance that unhorses anyone it touches.

154:
Yet i can read a novel published 50, 100, 200 years ago and find it comprehensible and engaging. Apart from a bit of struggle with the Middle English I can say the same of Chaucer. I could say same of Tacitus and he's a slave owing Roman aristocrat.

With all due respect, how do you know that? How do you know that what you have isn't - at best - an illusion of the same?[1] For my part, I've read stuff from the early 50's (general literature) and thought I had a pretty good understanding of the milieu and what was going on, only to have my own mother correct me and say that Just Ain't So.

Btw, Stina, just finished ABSFP last week. I found myself growing rather fond of Liam even when I was most vexed with his butt-headedness. Even when I knew why he was that way. And Mickey? I think you nailed the pure evil thing there. Good job.

[1]I finally quit the usenet sf lists when I had a bunch of these hard-sf types dumping on me for pointing out that there's no evidence for people be able to read 1200 wpm and comprehend it, much less the multiple online claims of twice that or more. And no, flatly stating (the sort of Heinleinian debate style that tells you the kind of people I was dealing with) that you understood what you were reading just fine don't make it so. Apparently high reading speed is where the last bastion of slandom is making their last stand, sigh.

155:

Please pay attention to the claim I actually make. I'm not making a knowledge claim. I'm stating a subjective response: I find these works intelligible and engaging. This is not a claim that could possibly be false or that I could be deluded about.

156:

Tacking this on to my previous post:

You might profitably read the Borges short story "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote".

Or do some reading in, I think, Reception Theory.

157:

Very true. Given the real problems in the pharmaceutical industry with limited production lines of critical drugs, I think this is a major concern.

Given how much the technology of counterfeit drugs is advancing, I think we'd be in trouble with counterfeit meat, more than we are already. Vat-grown meat won't be much of a convenience if you have to keep a mass spec and a gene sequencer in the kitchen to make sure that your slab of vat-grown protein is what you ordered (not, say soylent green), and not laced with massive amounts of cheap antibiotics to deal with production-line problems.

Actually, come to think of it, we've got some of those problems with our food supply now, whether it's horse meat in the hamburgers, fish fillets misidentified, and GMO plant products sneaking in where you don't expect them. Almost makes you wish for better inspectors, doesn't it?

158:

@ basically the topic as it has been addressed

There are plenty of historically recorded women.
Queens are especially reflected in the record.
My favorite:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empress_Dowager_Cixi

But women from the lower classes could get in there if there was something particularly noteworthy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_of_Arc

But often had to go to great lengths as Jeanne Bare did
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanne_Bar%C3%A9
First woman to circumnavigate, disguised herself as male servant and used the private lavatory in the Captain's cabin the whole time.

A good example of how to take scant evidence and weave a believable tale is the film Agora.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agora_(film)

(stories of strong women making it in a man's world are short on Bechdel test passes though)

And here are some good examples in F&SF:

MZB shows how you can show the side of a tale
that may not have been recorded

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mists_of_avalon

Asimov's signature work had a female protagonist, a troubleshooter http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Calvin

Quite a few of Chaucer's tales had female characters, and you can't get any more authentic to the times than that

http://machias.edu/faculty/necastro/chaucer/translation/

Even Gordon Dickson:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanda_Morgan
(his The Dragon and the George had a discussable cover, incidently http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dragon_and_the_george.jpg )

All classics, not the latest socially aware stuff.

DavidL@146 and the rest on digital archives

Pioneer era stuff is always non-standard. Once standards are established there is more stability and backward compatibility. PDF, TXT, JPG, BMP, and MP3 will be readable in a hundred years. Also, copies of reading software are common.

Also, everything isn't recorded magnetically. A lot of stuff gets backed up as laser pits.
It might be a cool business idea for archive CDs and DVDs designed to last for a long time. Made of something more durable than the standard plastic.

159:

For my part, I've read stuff from the early 50's (general literature) and thought I had a pretty good understanding of the milieu and what was going on, only to have my own mother correct me and say that Just Ain't So.

I was a voracious reader in my youth in the 60s and 70s. Our family had a lot of Readers Digest condensed books stuck away in boxes. I think I read all of them. They were definitely a decent read. But they ignored vast swaths of life in the US. It just didn't exist in these books.

As to the GoCaptain comments, he didn't say he was reading history. And the RDCB were definitely not history.

160:

Er, you used the word 'comprehensible'. If that's not the word that you meant to use . . . don't use it.

And yes, as a teacher, I'm all too aware of the distinction between comprehension and the illusion of the same, so this one's all on you.

161:
And while I think fish and commercial breeds of birds are rather less cognitively endowed, I'd still rather eat chicken that came out of a tank with no nerve cells than something that came off a corpse.

Finally, there's the bacterial issue. Eating dead animals means eating potentially disease-ridden tissues that have been part of the same structure as the contents of the animal's colon. I can easily see a vat-meat-fed society collectively going "eeew!" at the mere thought of it.

Totally with you on the last bit. I don't know when the last time was I ate cow; reasonably or not, I'm scared to death of mad cow disease - Bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE to the more nomenclature-minded.

I do loves me some fish, though, and I got no problems with eating them. Or catching them, for that matter. My daughter, otoh . . . where I quailed at seeing livestock being butchered, she almost threw up the first (and only) time she's seen me decapitate a fish. Generation by generation we make progress :-)

162:
Since I've done a bit of fungal culturing, I will say that it's not nearly as easy as it sounds. As with algal biofuels, contamination of cultures is a huge problem. It's trivial to predict that, when cultured meat starts popping up, there will be scandals involving both bacterial contamination and the use of dangerous chemicals. There will probably be pollution problems downstream from the plants, too. These are the same problems we have with meat now.

An early example of getting it right - Blish's Okie cities. by the time of Amalfie vat culture is a centuries-old technique. And yet it's still finicky enough to be a major problem for space flight and, reading between the lines, probably the main reason they're dependent on planet-based cultures.

163:

Scentofviolets - on top of your vague and unevidenced statement re. a thousand years of cultural change, I find your comments about GoCaptains opinion of books they've read and comprehended or not, to be unpleasant.

(I'm not a mod, I just thought I'd say it in the interested of keeping everyone nice)

164:

Totally with you on the last bit. I don't know when the last time was I ate cow; reasonably or not, I'm scared to death of mad cow disease - Bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE to the more nomenclature-minded.

Aren't you a math wizard? And specifically I thought you were good at stats.

Do you ride in cars? Or airplanes. Or cross the street.

Of course if you examine my or most any others' life you'll likely find a few odd non valid fears we carry around.

165:

Just saw this little comment. GoCaptain, you have no idea who I am. But based upon your posting style and what you think other people haven't read, I'm guessing you're maybe half my age (thirty-something at best, and probably a lot younger than that). So stick a sock in it.

166:
Quick. Here's a 9 track tape. How long will it take you to get the data off? If you're spending your personal money to see if grandma left any emails worth keeping on it.

Perhaps on of the (very few) benefits of the basic properties of the universe forcing definite technological limits on us: Once you're down to the level of single atoms to store bits, there's not a lot further you can go in that direction. And so diaries from 2400 C.E. turn out to be just as physically readable as those from 24,000 C.E.

167:

Go-Captain @ 145
“Orlando Furioso” etc – L. Sprague de Camp’s “Incompleat Enchanter” went there - & quite good it was too!

dirk @ 150
BOLLOCKS
Other animals are other species.
For all that I live with & greatly love the cats in this household, your comparison of myself to a slaveowner is not only disgusting, it is untrue & personally abusive.
I demand an apology & a retraction.
If only because you are either lying or deluded – most & much more likely the latter, given the quasi-religious tone your posts have been acquiring of late.

Dave L @ 152
Ah, but did a real actual majority really want “prohibition” in the USSA?
Or were they conned? Given the amazing hypocrisy, prevalent even now there about booze, I really do wonder…

SoV @ 161
Just eaten (Traceable, “organic”) Veal … with lime, olives, shallot, oil, anchovy.
Plus spuds. Leeks & B-sprouts [ all veg home-grown of course! ]

168:

The fact that you think that commenting on understanding something written in another era vs. merely thinking you do is 'unpleasant' says a lot more about you than it does about me, and about what sort of education you may have had or not had at college.

You don't know, for example, how just this issue pops up all the fricken' time for English majors. Quick, in 'Huck Finn', when Huckleberry is taken in by Buck's family he specifically mentions a few books he sees in the parlor by title. Without googling, can you tell me the significance of finding those particular books in that home?

If you can't, then I suggest - respectfully (as I did in my initial post) - that you shut your yap, or at least maybe admit you're wrong on this one. Geeze, when did we get to the point where noting that someone doesn't know what they think they do is taken to be a mortal insult?

169:

Ah, but did a real actual majority really want “prohibition” in the USSA?
Or were they conned?

Does it matter? How about a minority was against it. To the extend they cared. Passing a constitutional amendment in the US is very very hard. Let's just say a lot of folks went along with it. Till the train wreak. Then opinion changed.

170:

Nope, not a math 'wizard'. And yes, I most certainly do cop to having unreasonable fears. Fear of BSE is probably one of them. But I'm not going to change my ways for all of that.

171:

Please play nice together.

Reading advice is fairly common by the commentators here; it is offered with arrogance and usually snark, but not much more than that.

172:

Oh, my apologies.

My essential point was that I can enjoy works written in the even far past without being alienated or deterred by massive cultural difference. That is, when I ought to be. How this is possible I don't know. But I understand there has been a lot of academic work on the response of the reader. The Borges work illustrates the conumdrum.
I remarked on how odd it was that I found more recent work more alienating. I didn't claim to have an explanation for that either.

173:
I was a voracious reader in my youth in the 60s and 70s. Our family had a lot of Readers Digest condensed books stuck away in boxes. I think I read all of them. They were definitely a decent read. But they ignored vast swaths of life in the US. It just didn't exist in these books.

Yep. Same here. Mom read her Readers Digest condensed books right next to Dad, who remained firmly in control of all television programming.

One of the things I didn't get as an early on was that people had to be careful of what they said on the phones. A much younger me supposed that people were bugging and recording phone conversations right and left. Until my mother explained to me what a 'party line' was - something the author took for granted everyone knew about.

The same thing for being shunned when hanging laundry outside to dry. Nine-year-old me never knew or appreciated how much gossip was being distributed along that back channel. Or what it meant to be cut off.

In retrospect, it's obvious, of course. But only after having had someone explain it to me.

174:

"Once you're down to the level of single atoms to store bits, there's not a lot further you can go in that direction."

There is quite a lot further to go. Single atoms can store hundreds of bits quite easily.

175:

Until my mother explained to me what a 'party line' was - something the author took for granted everyone knew about.

You must have grown up in a more urban area than me. We still had a party line for our house into the early 60s.

Which as I think about it had to be by design. My neighbor hood was converted from farmland to suburbia around the early mid 50s. The phone company HAD to know how many lots were going down these new streets. Maybe it was an upstream capacity limit or maybe my folks were just saving money.

Dad, who remained firmly in control of all television programming.

That wasn't all that big of a deal for us. We only got our 3rd channel when I was 6 or 7. No more (well that very very fuzzy PBS station) until I was out of college. Then there was debate but I and my brothers were gone by then. :)

176:
My essential point was that I can enjoy works written in the even far past without being alienated or deterred by massive cultural difference. That is, when I ought to be. How this is possible I don't know. But I understand there has been a lot of academic work on the response of the reader.

Uh, yes? :-) I was once upon a time an English major and I think I can safely say that what you're describing is a major preoccupation of LitCrit theory.

Sure. Enjoying them is one thing. And as for reading fiction of the future or far future written by middle-aged white guys with a technical background, I'm reasonably certain I'm getting most of what they have to say. But someone like, oh, say, Joanna Russ or Margaret Atwood?

I'm not at all sure I'm getting even fifty percent right - and these are contemporaries! White, educated contemporaries at that. Now go back a hundred years and more. Reading for enjoyment is one thing. Reading for understanding is quite another, and in a many cases takes more work. A lot more work. Even if you go back just fifty years.

I suspect that white, college-educated males who read a lot of science fiction written by white, college educated males (which is mostly what you're going to get, with the trend only getting stronger the further back you go) don't realize how easy they've got it.

177:

Back to the point of this post.

Anyone (likely only in the US) remember when it was a really big deal that ESPN got their first woman sports center host? And how it was debated waaaaaay toooooo much as to could a woman actually do this incredibly man only job?

178:

Reading for understanding is quite another

OK I'll toss one out. How many here understand the term

"rougher than a cob?"

or

"rhet up my house"

179:
You must have grown up in a more urban area than me. We still had a party line for our house into the early 60s.

Actually, that was us too. But your family was probably also like mine in that children under the age of thirteen or so mostly weren't allowed to use the phone[1] except to talk to Grandma, or maybe if you were at school and had to be picked up early. So I had no idea that we were, in fact, on a party line.


[1]This was also the generation - maybe the last generation - where children were expected to be seen and not heard. Adults seldom felt the need to explain themselves, and if you interrupted one of them while they were talking, you'd better have a pretty darn good reason or else you'd get a strapping for 'disrespect'.

Hmmm . . . Something else modern (young) readers may not get when reading authors publishing in the first half of the 20th century.

180:

If I understand you aright, I think the idiom is fairly obvious (and not for polite society).

No idea about the other one though. Per your post @177, remember the ruckus that the Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs match up generated? And the short-lived 'battle of the sexes' network fare it generated (discontinued, I suspect, because of the routine humiliations the men suffered at the hands of the women when upper body strength was not a factor)?

181:

I think the idiom is fairly obvious (and not for polite society).

Obvious. Now you're contradicting your comments above. Only obvious if you grew up around certain things. Or with people who were around such things. Outhouses, farms, corn crops, etc... I've asked people about this particular idiom at times and most people my age or younger don't have a clue as to where it comes from.

As to polite society, I guess it would not fit into a formal diner party but aside from that I can see it. Neil Armstrong certainly put it out for everyone to hear when his Gemini thruster got stuck and put them into a wild ride.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemini_8#Emergency

182:

PDF, TXT, JPG, BMP, and MP3 will be readable in a hundred years.

I beg to differ. I have a few PDF books, purchased years ago, that I can't read now. The book needs to be updated to work with the latest version of Acrobat Reader, and the publishing company is out-of-business so that won't happen. And as I no longer have a PowerPC Mac (or an OS that will emulate one) I can't run the older version of Reader that will open my books.

183:

There is quite a lot further to go. Single atoms can store hundreds of bits quite easily.

Don't know if I agree with this but it doesn't mater if you don't know the name of grandma's first pet.

184:

SoV: Quick, in 'Huck Finn', when Huckleberry is taken in by Buck's family he specifically mentions a few books he sees in the parlor by title. Without googling, can you tell me the significance of finding those particular books in that home?

Guthrie probably can't tell you that. Neither can I. Because we're both Scottish, and very few people over here read the works of Samuel Clemens -- he's not part of our national cultural background, and his novels aren't taught in school. (Here's a hint: I haven't read "Huckleberry Finn". Or any of Clemens' other works. I suspect you haven't read Thomas Hardy or Virginia Woolf either, for much the same reason.)

Now, to reiterate what Sean said: please play nice together. If you think someone's probably speaking from a position of ignorance, it might be a better idea to double-check who you're dealing with first, before you dive in and start making wild accusations.

185:
(Here's a hint: I haven't read "Huckleberry Finn". Or any of Clemens' other works. I suspect you haven't read Thomas Hardy or Virginia Woolf either, for much the same reason.)

Actually, I have read a lot of both of those authors (admittedly many years ago), everything from "Kew Gardens" to "Orlando" to "Jacob's Room" in the latter case. Previous English major, remember?

Now, to reiterate what Sean said: please play nice together. If you think someone's probably speaking from a position of ignorance, it might be a better idea to double-check who you're dealing with first, before you dive in and start making wild accusations.

I'm glad you said this, because actually, if you look back, you'll see that I was playing nice. The actual quote is:

"With all due respect, how do you know that? How do you know that what you have isn't - at best - an illusion of the same?"

That doesn't look like an accusation to me. More like a question (and one prefaced by 'with all due respect'). A question, moreover, that was in the spirit of Stina's initial post and one who's intent was to elicit a genuine response. The actual response I got back was something a lot less nice than it should have been. It looks to me like that was the someone who needed to heed the advice "If you think someone's probably speaking from a position of ignorance, it might be a better idea to double-check who you're dealing with first, before you dive in and start making wild accusations." Rather than snottily tell me that I need to read what they've written[1] and then direct me to something I must've read, well, I've not read it in this century, I'll say that much.

[1]And which they later admited was wrong when the exact bit was pointed out to them.

186:
Because we're both Scottish, and very few people over here read the works of Samuel Clemens -- he's not part of our national cultural background, and his novels aren't taught in school. (Here's a hint: I haven't read "Huckleberry Finn". Or any of Clemens' other works. I suspect you haven't read Thomas Hardy or Virginia Woolf either, for much the same reason.)

This bit about the books (part of Huck's description of the house of the people who took them in) is a case in point. If all you knew was that Huck has just barely gotten the alphabet down and thinks that '4 times five is twenty', what you'd get from this innocent is that his benefactors are pretty swank people. That would be the natural supposition to make . . . and you'd be wrong. In fact (according to the footnotes of my edition), "Every detail of the furniture, furnishings, and decoration as well as the dress, speech, manners, and mores of the Grangerford household is carefully selected to epitomize satirically pre-Civil War culture of the lower Mississippi valley."

Those books aren't there to show what quality folk his benefactors are; they're the nineteenth-century equivalents of those horrid Suze Orman self-help books.

And yet, it would be all too easy to think you understood what was written, yes? And that is what I was getting at with my question about how do you really know - as opposed to just thinking you know - what's going on?

I really don't see how that can be taken the wrong way.

187:

Your critique is true of almost any author's work.

188:
Your critique is true of almost any author's work.

Modulo the frequency with which this happens, do you actually mean to say that yes, it's quite possible to walk away thinking the author meant one thing when actually they were trying get at something else entirely? And that this happens frequently? And through no implied fault of the reader?

HALLELUJAH!

So can we get back to my original question then, and not try to take it as insulting (ironically, the very thing I was getting at when I originally posted it), namely, when it comes to understanding what someone is writing, someone whose cultural background is a long way from yours: " . . . how do you know that? How do you know that what you have isn't - at best - an illusion of the same?"

189:

It's even worse than that. The author might be deliberately misleading. I know that in some of my writings I have been so. Of course, all this generalises further to the point where all we have is an illusion of understanding anything. And even the author is not the final authority on what they have written.

190:

@SOV

Taking your comments to the end point no one can comprehend/enjoy/understand any work of fiction without spending hours of research on each tidbit of detail mentioned on each page. And likely doing it with the author's "reader hints" open next to it.

What would be the point outside of an upper level Lit Crit class?

From what I hear you say basically no one in the US school system comprehends Huck Finn when read in middle or high school.

And not to pile on but your comments upstream came off as rude when I read them.

191:

Uh, not to pile on here, but I think that in the light of what you now know, your comments and the comments of others came across as extremely rude and condescending - as they were intended to be. Further, you and these other folks made no attempt to find out what I really meant, preferring to shoot first and ask questions later.

Don't you think you and these other fine folks owe me an apology? Particularly since the dichotomy between what you thought you knew and what you actually knew was, shall we say, rather large? Ironically, exactly what I was asking about in the first place?

And finally - please. Don't make this into a how can anyone know anything really. You didn't make one peep about this until now, even though this is a good part of what Stina's post is about. I can even give a partial answer - you can tell to a pretty good first approximation what's really going on if the people writing the story are like you and what they are writing about is not to far displaced in space, time, or culture. Another clue is to listen to what the author has to say about his book. I read Ms. Leicht's ABSKP rather more carefully than I usually do because of comments she made here about researching the Time of Troubles.

None of this is exactly tweedy litcrit or pomo stuff.

Now, since you and yours have been trying to place the blame on me for your failings and I'm properly irritated by that lack of class . . . where's that apology you owe me?

192:

Well I guess this simple idiot needs to stop talking now. Or I'd say something everyone would consider rude.

Bye.

193:

I think it would be best if everyone involved followed David's example.

"Playing nice" means not reading someone's comments as an attack; it also means not getting into an argument. So stop, please.

194:

@Authors:
Since we've stumbled on to the topic, how much of Literary Criticism (or other research aspect of the English Department) is useful in constructing your own material? I've read that most of what's published isn't helpful to authors, but I'd like the feedback of those authors I know who are most likely to actually read academic English research as a part of their craft.

195:

Oh boy...

And every time I read Jo Walton telling us about "incluing" I find myself thinking that my writing is a bit heavy-handed. Though I reckon I am better than the Tom Clancys of this world, whose books sometimes read like a catalogue handed out by Basil Zaharoff (and are probably about as reliable).

Thing is, I'm writing about a past setting, and while I expect my characters to know about Wilfred Owen, I reckon if one of my loyal readers sees the reference, I have to do a bit of explaining. They likely don't know enough Latin to translate the "Dulce et decorum" tag that caps Owen's description of how people died, and they're not going to get the sarcasm aimed at a generation of leaders and educators.

(And referencing that poem is a Literary Device. I wonder whether Charlie would ever even own that collection? He was there. He doesn't need a reminder.)

We'll Never Tell Them

Cultural changes? Some bloody things never change.

196:

There are a lot of creative writing courses around, and that might lead one to infer that there are useful things coming out of English Departments. I am not so sure: would-be authors pay fees for those courses, which is reason enough for their existence. But there are other sorts of writer education, such as the Clarion and Viable Paradise workshops, which are taught by successful writers, and which seem to turn out new authors well enough.

At this point I could quote Wittgenstein about how we need the right language to be able to talk about things, and I suppose that does come out of the Lit Crit world. In the end, they're another bunch of readers, from a distinctive context, and bringing out what they recognise, and I am not entirely sure how much of what they see was ever in any part of the author's mind, conscious or unconscious.

Against that, I am not sure that schoolteachers, even those who head English Departments in large schools, are the most representative instances of the Eng. Lit. breed. They are tested on how well they teach the curriculum, how well their students regurgitate the model answers to the questions on the year's set texts. Stina, writing around 10,000 words a week, is beyond their tightly-focused experience.

I hope the higher levels of the sub-profession are better, but they are still human, and still primed for the usual flaws, and still in the academic world which sometimes seems to be led astray by reliance on the argument from authority. And that is before the politicians stick their oar in.

I'd venture that you get a better quality of criticism from the editors employed by a publisher, who are wise in the ways of writing, and who are cunning in the conflict between art and profit.

197:

SoV @ 168
Do you know that a lot of us don’t know & don’t care what the social conditions were in the antebellum “South” apart from shit? And, what’s more… don’t care!
Mr Clemens is not read that much here …. See also Charlie @ 184
[ exception: “A Connecticut Yankee at the court of King Arthur” – possibly ]

David L @ 175
Got a TV in 1953 (if you are Brit, you will guess why) gave it up, permanently about 1975 (ish)
& @ 177
Try reading “Spitfire Pilots” about the female delivery pilots in WWII … & then the fuss in the mid-50’s about how women could not possibly be airliner pilots (!)
Also the way-back comment @ 131 about Victoria Drummond … IIRC the Brit establishment in the Merchant Navy NEVER allowed her any official position, she had to take service in other, foreign companies & lines, the entrenched prejudice being what it was. [ correct me if I’m recollecting wrongly, there? ]

198:

128 Para 4 and 5 - Likewise; I could not understand why the "we can't eat Shergar" caretrolls that were crawling out of the woodwork got to waste bandwidth on the national media. It was a sourcing/food hygene issue pure and simple.

199:

5 minutes, including time to carry the tape next door, log onto the relevant network, load the tape and remember how to use the dd command.

Reading the file(s) may take rather longer, since I don't know the format used to record them, or any compression used.

200:

The title eludes me (possibly Speakeasy?), but I did once read a short set in a USA where all naturally grown food (meat, fish, oultry, game and fruit and veg) was banned.

201:

Ok Antonia, from memory.
"That old lie 'Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori'." From Wilfred Owen "Dulce et Decorum Est", I think the closing line(s).

Tr "It is a noble and an honourable thing to die for one's country".

Confession - I studied Owen, and Sassoon, as part of O and Higher English. I'm actually enough of a fan to own a volume of WW1 war poetry.

202:

Yeah, well this isn't your local newspaper comment section full of braindead people; now you're reply to me has me fucking annoyed, casting aspersions far and wide as if you're the arbiter of taste, decency and English comprehension.
I seem to recall we did Huckleberry Finn at school. And Shakespeare, which was spoilt by the fact we had to be told what all the jokes were and the snide allusions etc, because we simply didn't know enough of the politics of the time.
Oddly enough a decade later I found "Gawain and the Green Knight" and some of Chaucer to be far more comprehendible than Shakespeare.

(Oh, and British people don't tend to do college, especially not English at post-school level; our system mostly manages to cram that into the time before people are 18 and doesn't leave it until after that)

203:

Right, so imagining a fantastical future in which vat-grown mycoprotein can be bought at your local supermarket (and using this fantasy as an arms-length proxy for the real question of how to write female characters in a historical context). Say we've fully bought into Peter Singer's views on animal rights. And say improvements in technologies like DNA sequencing have followed an exponential curve that is actually steeper than the curve for the data-storage needed to store their results, BLASTing your not-burger against nt is a casual precaution, and the technical issues here aren't an issue:

How do authors in this future write about the past? Are they honest about their carnivorous characters, or do they need to throw in some dishonest unease to render them palatable? Some sort of apology or explanation? Are medieval-style fantasies now populated by vegans? Perhaps we get elaborate explanations of how things were kind-of ok before the dark excesses of factory farming.

204:

@154:
no evidence for people be able to read 1200 wpm and comprehend it,
---
During the standardized-testing craze in the American school system, I clocked 950 wpm in officially-administered tests, reading and passing the exams. More than once.

*However*, when I was 15 years old, I had few preconceptions or data structures; I could vacuum down huge amounts of information as it was presented.

As I've gotten older, my reading speed has dropped considerably. I'd estimate to less than 200 wpm. And the more interesting the text, the slower I get. The more I already know about the subject, the slower I get. Because now I'm no longer accepting the presentation as-is; everything has to go through multiple critical filters. Is this true? How does it square with what I've read before? If it's different, how does that affect other things that are based on it? Even reading fiction, I'm liable to be doing something similar. There are times when my reading speed drops to zero for lengthy periods as I go off thinking about what I've read so far.

Some years ago I came across this quote from [self-redacted in recognition of Godwin's Law]. The James Murphy translation, btw, if you decide to look it up for yourself. It is a bit windy, but apt:

"I know people who read interminably, book after book, from page to page,
and yet I should not call them 'well-read people'. Of course they 'know'
an immense amount; but their brain seems incapable of assorting and
classifying the material which they have gathered from books. They have
not the faculty of distinguishing between what is useful and useless in
a book; so that they may retain the former in their minds and if possible skip over the latter while reading it, if that be not possible, then--when once read--throw it overboard as useless ballast. Reading is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Its chief purpose is to help towards filling in the framework which is made up of the talents and capabilities that each individual possesses. Thus each one procures for himself the implements and materials necessary for the fulfilment of his calling in life, no matter whether this be the elementary task of earning one's daily bread or a calling that responds to higher human
aspirations. Such is the first purpose of reading. And the second purpose is to give a general knowledge of the world in which we live. In both cases, however, the material which one has acquired through reading must not be stored up in the memory on a plan that corresponds to the successive chapters of the book; but each little piece of knowledge thus gained must be treated as if it were a little stone to be inserted into a mosaic, so that it finds its proper place among all the other pieces and particles that help to form a general world-picture in the brain of the reader. Otherwise only a confused jumble of chaotic notions will
result from all this reading. That jumble is not merely useless, but it
also tends to make the unfortunate possessor of it conceited. For he
seriously considers himself a well-educated person and thinks that he
understands something of life. He believes that he has acquired knowledge, whereas the truth is that every increase in such 'knowledge'
draws him more and more away from real life, until he finally ends up in
some sanatorium or takes to politics and becomes a parliamentary deputy."


Pretty much an inditement of the whole memorize-test-forget system of "education" in much of the Western world, too...

205:

@158:
But often had to go to great lengths as Jeanne Bare did
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanne_Bar%C3%A9
---
Hm. Interesting to compare that to the local legend of "Petit Jean", presented as fact in the school I went to:

http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=3474

206:

@203
Most hypothetical future vegan writers of historical fiction will probably treat carnivores much as we now treat practicers of abandoned ways in our own past: as the villains. All the heros will be the good vegetarians, just as the heros in Western's are almost always former Union soldiers, never former Confederate soldiers. The exceptions will be those purposely attempting to set themselves a challenge.
I can't quote authorities on this, just making it up.

207:

@158:
Also, everything isn't recorded magnetically. A lot of stuff gets backed up as laser pits.
---
When Philips introduced the "Compact Disc" medium in the 1970s, they waved their magic wand and estimated the lifetime of a CD at ten years. People were already running into deterioration problems from the old wire recorders and new magnetic tapes then, so ten years was probably picked for marketing purposes or compliance with some obscure government requirement, like the expiration date printed on bottled water.

Commercially produced music discs may still be done by burning pits with a laser, but most computer software or data discs are burned by using the laser to burn a dye embedded in the plastic. These dyes degrade over time; in my personal experience, ten years seems to be about right. Last summer I went through my backups and found a number of previously-verified discs were no longer readable. No big deal, since the newer snapshots were just fine, but for archival purposes discs over five years old aren't considered reliable.

208:

And referencing that poem is a Literary Device. I wonder whether Charlie would ever even own that collection?

I was subjected to bits abstracted from the war poets in school. That, and other tutelage, pretty much gave me an allergy to poetry -- right across the board. So no, I do not own that collection.

209:

The still increasing number of people I know who dislike or even hate at least parts of English Literature after being dragged through it in EngLit at school is surely the ultimate indictment of the teaching methods used.

210:

Sorry, "Charlie" is the war-veteran character in the scene I was writing, and referring to.

Yes, there was a while when I avoided poetry and such. And now our glorious leaders want schoolchildren to learn poetry by heart. That's sure to turn out well.

211:

Good enough.

There are one or two variations in how "dulce et decorum" are translated. "Sweet and fitting" is the one I first encountered.

And mentioning "honourable" evokes the line, "And Brutus is an honourable man".

212:

Ok, with additional context to #195 (beyond my showing off that some of us might understand the reference without further explanation) here are my thoughts and reasoning on the question.

Your character would probably not own an anthology of Owen's work. My main reason is that my Mum's secondary school English teacher (Scottish syllabus so Lit and Language are combined) lost her fiance in WW1 (The Great War or whatever) and considered both Owen and Sassoon to be borderline on beign cowards or even traitors.

Oh and I agree that rote learning is pointless!

213:

Well, given the context that Owen was calling "Dulce et...est" a lie I suspect that my translation may be the one he intended? That said, I dropped Latin ASAP (more interesting subjects, like geography, chemistry, physics and engineering drawing beckoned) and the translation was supplied by an anti-wa English teacher. If I'd been left to my own devices I'd have guessed at "it is gentle and decourous to die for one's country".

214:
just as the heros in Western's are almost always former Union soldiers, never former Confederate soldiers.

Actually, while I haven't done any sort of systematic study, the typical hero civil war veteran in a classic western tends to be a confederate. My dad watches a lot more westerns than I do and has remarked on this trend, claiming it was some kind of deliberate policy to mollify the south. I myself think it's probably because California is itself southern.

Watched "Winchester 73" last week and sure enough, Jimmy Steward and his friend are former confederate soldiers helping the cavalry against some injuns whose human wave tactics would make a soviet penal batallion proud.

215:

Pressed CDs are just that, made from reverse masters pressed into softened polycarbonate plastic. The pits (160nm deep, a quarter-wavelength of 640nm infra-red light) are "lands" on the master. The laser read head works interferometrically, bouncing laser light off the aluminium reflective layer at the bottom of the pit and mixing the return in the beam splitter with the reference beam. This gives a really strong on/off signal in the detector due to interference.

The problems with reading older pressed discs are due to the effects of corrosion of the aluminium reflective layer, delamination of the plastic sandwich, discolouration of the top polycarbonate layer due to ageing, cracks etc. The pits themselves don't go away, as such. Writeable and rewriteable discs are another matter.

As for reading old media, it could be done if someone was willing to cough up the cash for it. 9-track tapes could be read by modern hardware by reading the magnetic domains on the tape surface using modern sensors and processing the results rather than rebuilding the exact original read-head geometry in a screw-for-screw remanufactured tape drive complete with vacuum transport and spinning reels. It's possible, for example, to play old vinyl and shellac records and even wax cylinders by scanning or otherwise imaging the surface and using trivial computer power (by today's standards) to simulate the clattering steel needle bouncing along the grooves to produce sound.

The NASA 9-track tapes in store almost certainly don't hold any sort of data that would turn out to be really important. Digital scans of, for example, the Moon's surface recorded in the 1970s at low-band TV scan resolution have been superceded by more modern spacecraft with vastly superior resolution and mutlispectral capabilities.

216:

The NASA 9-track tapes in store almost certainly don't hold any sort of data that would turn out to be really important. Digital scans of, for example, the Moon's surface recorded in the 1970s at low-band TV scan resolution have been superceded by more modern spacecraft with vastly superior resolution and mutlispectral capabilities.

Ahem: what they might be useful for is detecting changes -- for example, new small craters that weren't observed at the time of formation and that have been created since the 1960s or 1970s missions. This is, in turn, potentially quite useful new information.

217:

>The NASA 9-track tapes in store almost certainly don't >hold any sort of data that would turn out to be really >important.

The interest in that old data actually increased over the last decade or so again - lots of the old data hasn't been used much or only in the 70s with vastly inferior computing power. And lots of retiring NASA engineers really enjoy using their old know-how again. A former colleague of mine at the OU is quite happy reprocessing the archaic data of physical properties of the lunar surface (heat flow etc.), still unique data that deserves a second look.

218:

Since the percentage of horse in some of those value burgers apparently reached 29% (with a total meat content requirement of 50%), I think it's not a failure to clean and sterilise. It's much more likely to be chunks of horse in the supply chain - or mechanically recovered meat.

219:

Space probe imaging from the 1970s is of such low quality that changes in surface detail on the Moon from anything less than a dinosaur-killer-sized strike would be unnoticeable. Remember that until the late 70s Earth observation satellites tasked with espionage used film return capsules or film scanning systems rather than electronic sensors or TV cameras because of the inferior quality.

Long time back I was peripherally involved in a project to build a robot handling system to scan in large glass plate astrophotographs, some of them dating back to the early 1900s. The actual image quality of most of these plates was abysmal and the poor storage conditions over several decades had caused degradation in the emulsions used, separation from the plates, fungus, fading etc.

Speaking to the folks who were proposing the project they didn't expect to get much utility out of the oldest plates, not even in astrometrical terms as the emulsions had distorted in many cases and the positional accuracy of star and galaxy images on the glass was questionable. Compared to the data flooding in from modern sensors and compensated optics in astronomy recently the old information on those plates, even for use as a historical baseline, is near-as-damn worthless.

220:

Poetryt
Yes, well, if they WILL PICK THE WRONG POEMS, what do you expect........
The politicians should be made to memorise "Ozymanandias" to teach the bastards humility!
(P.S. I can remember most of it, incidentally, & one or two others...)
And, no "Eskimo Nell" does NOT count!
paws @ 212 - unless you WANT to, that is, of course.

Nestor @ 214
because California is itself southern
Actually, I don't believe you at all!

bellinghame @ 218
Two separate problems - a scam with horsemeat + a lot of bad cleaning & contamination.

221:

Victoria Drummond only finally ran out of steam with the merchant naval establishment when she tried to qualify as a CHIEF engineer. They would not let her pass the exam or serve on a vessel as the senior engineering officer. She therefore obtained a Panamanian Chief Engineer's certificate and served on flag-of-convenience ships for a large part of her career.

222:

California is southern? Where the hell did you get that idea?

ARIZONA went for the Confederacy.

CALIFORNIA went for the Union, and the gold from California helped finance the Union win. There was a massive debate in California about whether to secede or not, but the secessionists failed to gain enough popular support to do it (see Brewer's Up and Down California for a first-person look at the debate). This was a critical part of the Civil War, for if California had joined the rebels, the south would have had a much better chance of winning.

In any case, most westerns were set in the Arizona territory or Texas. Populating these regions with a bunch of confederate losers is historically appropriate, not propaganda from Hollywood.

223:

Personally I always preferred Keith Douglas from WW2 as a poet.

224:

I'd point out that we don't really understand Medieval food well in any case.

I mean: no sugar, caffeine, maize, tomatoes, potatoes, chili or black pepper, etc? Yes, sugar and black pepper were available, and worth their weight in gold (cf: the spice trade), but the rest weren't available in Europe.

Similarly, the rich ate all sorts of birds that are illegal to eat now, and game that most of us rarely taste, unless we hunt. That's at feasts. The rest of the population probably ate meat rarely, and when they had meat, it was often things we would consider inedible now (organs, blood, feet, etc.) as the better cuts went to the manor house or the market.

Fortunately for all of us, most fantasy writers are so profoundly clueless about this that the food is literally fantastic. I'm not sure what would be gained by being too realistic about what our ancestors ate. The lack of realism is really only annoying to those of us who know a bit about the history of food, and then only because it shows how little the authors cared about doing their homework in that area.

The nice thing about humans is that our digestive tracts adapt profoundly to the food we eat. Even if the food they ate would literally make us sick (and likely vice versa), they did well enough on it to pass their genes along.

As for the vegan future, I'm not buying it. Less meat I agree with, but the proposals for vat-grown protein look as unsustainable as feed-lots are today. If anything, we're more likely to be eating insects instead of vat-steak, and stewing goat meat instead of eating filet mignon.

225:

It's quite interesting to eat a meal that does restrict itself to pre-Columbian ingredients. There's a restaurant in Tallinn in Estonia that provides exactly that, at which I've had a couple of meals. (Though at the prosperous merchant level, not the peasant)

The result is quite tasty. Banishing certain ingredients doesn't have to totally impoverish a cuisine (Look at Vegan cookery. Or Jewish), but it does change the balance. Without sugar, you use honey. No potatoes? Well, you eat your bread, or you have grains. (No maize? Not usually something in my kitchen anyway.)

226:

heteromeles @ 224
Some of us will eat goat right now, thank you very much!

Sugar was grown in "Europe" before Columbus - most notably on Cyprus.
See Dorothy Dunnett's series, The House of Niccolo set in the mid-15thC.
Very well-researched, with a lot of social background including trade & food.

227:

Space probe imaging from the 1970s is of such low quality that changes in surface detail on the Moon from anything less than a dinosaur-killer-sized strike would be unnoticeable. Remember that until the late 70s Earth observation satellites tasked with espionage used film return capsules or film scanning systems rather than electronic sensors or TV cameras because of the inferior quality.


You might want to look into the Lunar Orbiter program from the late 60s. Wikipedia says that the cameras had a resolution down to 1 meter, the more recent Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter had a resolution of 0.5 meters.

There is are projects to restore the data, and produce better images than could be made at the time.
http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/Projects/LunarOrbiterDigitization/
&
http://www.moonviews.com/

228:

I've also eaten goat, and I happen to like it. And yes, I've eaten some insects too. Being lactose intolerant, I'm actually less willing to drink a big glass of milk than to eat a properly-cooked grasshopper.

While I wasn't aware of Dorothy Dunnett's series, I did know that sugar got to Europe prior to Columbus. It didn't get cheap until the New World was discovered, and raising cane on plantations (with slaves) became possible. So much of what we think of as essential (things like caffeine, sugar, chocolate, even tobacco) are relatively recent on the world food stage.

Backing up to Bellingham's comment, I'm glad at least one restaurant serves truly old-style food, and it would be cool if there were more around. Roman plebeian food looks pretty good, to point to one possibility. My point isn't that a limited cuisine is impoverished, but that most of us don't realize how foreign food was over 500 years ago, regardless of our ethnic origin or where we live.

How many old-world ethnic cuisines now depend on tomatoes, potatoes, and/or peppers? How many people are alive because farmers started growing maize or potatoes instead of rice, wheat, or barley, and expanded their yields? How many Africans now eat manioc or maize instead of yams or millet? That list is enormous, and I recommend reading Mann's 1493 if you want to get some sense of how profound the changes have been.

I have no doubt our future food (and future ag) will be quite foreign to what we see now. It will have to be, simply because what we have now is unsustainable and will change, one way or another. Thing is, this is nothing new. Food and agriculture have changed radically in the last 500 years, and the rate of change doesn't appear to be slowing down.

In terms of fantasy literature, I suspect we'll manage. Fantasy authors have ignored the changes for decades, and there's no reason to think they'll stop doing so.

Personally, I'm looking forward to the first vegan Arthur, with his carnivorous son Mordred...

229:

The Death of the Ball Turret Dunner by Randall Jarell:

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

230:

Mention WWII and poetry and that pops into my head.

231:

In Japan I've eaten stuff that was still trying to get off the plate.

232:

In China I've eaten snake, raw sea slugs and boiled frogs. Lived there two years. I'm currently in Albania. I once went to a cafe for lunch here and there was a just slaughtered cow's head on the counter.

233:

Interesting. My father was trained as a ball turret gunner on B24s. By the time he got to England the German fighter threat was low enough that they were removing the ball turrets and replacing them with another bomb rack. So he got to be a waist gunner. And since the supply chain was so long and driven by paper with huge time delays, crews with ball turret gunners kept showing up in England. So they just had them rotate with the waist gunners and fly 2 out of 3 missions.

Anyway, I figure I might not be here now if he had remained a ball turret gunner.

Even if you survived the mission they tended to have issues which kept you locked in the ball and almost any kind of hard landing would do a real number on the ball.

234:

NASA tapes and 9 tracks.

My point was that we keep archiving data onto media where the mechanics of accessing the media vanish after a decade or two or less in many cases.

20 years ago an issue came up where I might have needed to unwind the data from some 9 tracks. There were lots of little service guys around town who would do it for a nominal fee. 10 years prior to that it was not uncommon for an office of 20 with a computer to have a 9 track drive.

Now I suspect it would take a bit more effort to extract the data from a 9 track sitting on the shelf from some computer system gone these last 15 or so years. Assuming it doesn't generate too many read errors. And you might only get one try if the oxide starts flaking off during the read.

235:

Yep. One reason the data sat on tapes is that other media cost so much more. Vastly more.

Not because it was not of good quality.

Now days the contents of those tapes would likely fit on a few disk drives.

236:

Oh, GOOD GRIEF!!! ... just to inject that very necessary, at this point, Charlie Brownish US of American note of levity and reference to PEANUTS before inserting this link to Sanity ...all right Relative Sanity as gauged in standard BBC units of sanity ...


" When you buy some beef at the butcher's, you know it comes from cattle that once mooed and chewed.

But imagine if this cut of meat, just perfect for your Sunday dinner, had been made from scratch - without slaughtering any animal.

US start-up Modern Meadow believes it can do just that - by making artificial raw meat using a 3D bioprinter.

Peter Thiel, one of Silicon Valley's most prominent venture capitalists, Paypal co-founder and early Facebook investor, has just backed the company with $350,000 (£218,000). "

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20972018

I "... when young did frequent doctor and saint and heard ..er herd ..much argument .. "

Actually I, when young, was sent on LOTS of photo assignments ..they paid my employers much more than my employers paid me ..and as a consequence of altogether too many training films made on far too many food production lines I was once convinced that if it went on I'd have to give up eating entirely. Happily I was never sent to an abattoir or anything producing Cheese or Beer ...Ahhhhh Cheesessssss ... but I haven't eaten a potato crisp since about 1979 and that dreadful job at the Tudor Potato Crisp Factory in the North East of England. I swear that I smelled of a dreadful mixture of Cheese and Onion and Curry for about a month after that job; which was far worse than the previous record holder for awfulness which was down on a farm.

Actually it was Down on Far too many farms but they sort of merge into memory as One Horror after the first one. You know the sort of thing ...Animal Waste Products from Creatures with Four legs that were mostly bigger than me?

Mind you Tudor Crisps did give me the most extra ordinary number of Boxes of Crisps of every conceivable flavor ...might have been Long Pig in there somewhere ... which were at once passed on to my colleagues at the University , especially the Cleaning Staff and Security personnel.

Arnolds first Rule of Intelligence Gathering .. !) Always conciliate the Cleaning Staff and the Security People. And people in the Executive always used to wonder why I was so well informed ..sheeesh!Bloody Amateurs.

237:

Would it be fresh though, this 3D meat? Here in Albania they still deliver cattle straight to the butcher, still on the hoof. Lot of food is direct from the farm or home grown. Braces of birds hung upset down and still squawking. It's picturesque.

238:

I'm confident enough that california is southern in the literal sense, given it shares a large land border with Mexico. I am aware it did not play a significant role in the civil war, which is not surprising considering it was a yet to be colonized wilderness that belonged to the Spanish empire a fortnight previously.

Westerns filmed 80 to a hundred years later might be reliably expected to reflect a considerably different ideological reality. Consider how the republican party used to be the part of emancipation and civil rights.

most westerns were set in the Arizona territory or Texas. Populating these regions with a bunch of confederate losers is historically appropriate, not propaganda from Hollywood.

Now that is a fair point, mind you those westerns aren't particularly known for their historical accuracy (See my previous point about Native American movie tactics)

239:

Considering how I'm writing this from California, and I've spent decades in this state, I really don't know what you're talking about, and I'd suggest you don't either.

To pick one example, go read up in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_in_the_American_Civil_War.

If you don't like Wikipedia, another article (http://www.militarymuseum.org/Gold.html) says that in the first 3.5 years of the Civil War, the Union received $173,083,098 in gold and silver from the California gold fields and Comstock Lode. In contrast, the Confederacy had $27,000,000 in gold at the start of the war and had trouble raising money thereafter.

So yes, California played a critical role in the Civil War, even if no significant battles were fought in the state. If California had seceded, all that gold and silver would have gone into Confederacy coffers, and there's a pretty good chance they would have won. Throughout the war there were attempts to take California's gold for the Confederacy. None of the plots succeeded, but this wasn't for the lack of trying. There was a substantial US military presence in California, precisely to protect the gold.

240:
I'm confident enough that california is southern in the literal sense, given it shares a large land border with Mexico.

You may want to look at a map again. California is a very large state, and is much longer than it is wide.

The border with Mexico is only about as long as from Mexico to Los Angeles... and the state continues for a long distance past that.

Literally, and socially, California is not "the south."

241:
I really don't know what you're talking about, and here are my thoughts on why, along with some citations to back up what I'm saying; does this clarify it for you?

Fixed that for you. Okay?

243:

I should also point out that the southernmost point in Canada (Middle Island, Ontario, at 41°41′N) is actually south of the northernmost edge of California (42° N). Geography does matter.

244:

I'm confident enough that california is southern in the literal sense...

Ah, no, but I can see how someone just looking at a map would make that mistake. The region of the US called "The South" is roughly the southeastern part of the continental states, from the Atlantic to Texas. (Florida is a quirky part of the South.) There's also the Southwest, from Texas to California; that's culturally and geographically very different from the South. Most Western movies are set in the Southwest.

Confusion isn't surprising. Regions in the United States can be confusing; it's a young nation but a big one.

245:

Florida is a quirky part of the South.

Yeah, I'm originally from Jacksonvlle. We used to joke that it is actually part of south Georgia. My mother grew up in Miami, she was five when her famiy moved down there from Boston, and tells about how when she first saw a 'Colored' water fountain she wondered what color the water was.

Northern Florida is still pretty Southern, particularly the rural areas, but the lower part has progressed.

246:

California, and a big chunk of the West, was part of Mexico until 1848. The Oregon Territory was acquired in 1846. Texas rebelled against Mexico in 1836, and became part of the USA in 1845.

There's a map here, showing the complexity.

As for Confederate soldiers in Westerns, see "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" for an example of former Confederate soldiers as characters. Realistic? I don't know.

Would the California gold have made enough difference? That's a tricky question. The USA had the industrial infrastructure to use the money, and the CSA didn't. So the CSA would have had to send gold to Europe to buy munitions, and the question then becomes whether or not the USN blockade could have been sustained without the gold from California.

Since so much of the effort in the Land War was expended in the short distance between Washington and Richmond, the USA might have had to put a much higher proportion of their effort into the Army, leaving the Navy with a smaller slice of a smaller pie.

And The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783 would have been a very different book, if it had ever been written.

247:

zhochaka @ 246
Don't believe everything you find in Wikipedia!
These maps shown here give a very different picture ...
don't they?

248:

Ref #212 - If you choose to rote-learn something, then fair enough. Making doing so part of the "National Curriculum" does rather imply that you are removing the element of choice though.

Oh and "My name is Ozymandais, King of Kings,
Look on my works ye mighty, and despair."

Ok, it loses something without context, but that was from memory, and I didn't cover it in English class.

249:

Yes, those are different. But then, expecting a map of the 13 original colonies to cover Texas is a doomed expectation, and I'm not sure what relevance you think it has in this discussion.

250:

@ 249
Look at the area supposedly covered by the original 13 ex-colonies ...
VERY different between the various maps.

251:

Ah. That's not terribly obvious when looking at a page full of thumbnails.

And of course, one thing about maps is that they're not eternal. A map of Lithuania circa 1420 shows a country stretching as far as the Black Sea, compared to the small Baltic republic of today.

252:

Whatever California was during the war against the treasonous slave owners, I think we can all agree it was something very different by the time these movies were being made in the 1940s and 50s.

Since no one has disputed these movies were confederate-friendly, which is counterintuitive since "winners are supposed to write history", we need to explain why.

"Historical accuracy" is one suggestion. Since these movies featured gaelic speaking native americans, I don't favour it so much.

Federal mandate imposed on the Hollywood establishment intended to pacify southern sentiment (This is my dad's theory, I'm not so big on governments, especially democratic ones, having such long term abstract policies, but who knows)

And finally my opinion is that as per Chomsky's manufacturing consent, the Hollywood mileu naturally produced these movies because they emerged from their shared cultural consensus.

Entertainment industries are often dominated by a fairly close knit community with similar origins (See British writers in the US comic book industry) so I think it's possible to talk about Hollywood having southern sympathies without meaning California at large is full of Confederate flag waving rednecks :) Apologies if I offended anyone by not being precise enough.

253:

One instance I know of: the colony of Virginia included all of West Virginia and most of Kentucky. Which shows the risk of assuming modern boundaries.

The Treaty of Paris is the base for the Wikipedia map I referenced. This gave the USA significant territories which had not been controlled by the 13 Colonies. There were disputed borders between Georgia and Spanish Florida.

254:
Since no one has disputed these movies were confederate-friendly, which is counterintuitive since "winners are supposed to write history", we need to explain why.

I'd always assumed that it was because the idea of "the honorable man on the losing side" leads to more interesting places when it comes to character development.

Winners are boring...

255:
So, I find it easier to write from a female point of view in future and present stories. For now. Obviously, I need to work on this. It's another hold out of the internal misogynist that was installed at birth--and yes, I have one of those even if I'm a woman. Do I hate that? Hell yes, I do.

On a related point - that has occurred to me more often as I creep further into my forties - how do writers deal with characters a different age from themselves.

I don't see many protagonists in their 50's or 60's. Is it as hard as a female writer getting inside a male head (and vice versa) - or for other reasons.

Curious.

256:

Regarding possible state boundaries that differ from what currently exist, this article makes a facinating read.

(And if you have time to spare, Strange Maps is dangerously addictive. It also has an alternate US.)

257:
If growing meat cells in a culture medium is feasible it looks likely to be energetically vastly more efficient than growing the animals themselves. To such an extent that the needs of a 10-billion population world will drive commercial meat production towards vat produce really fast once the technology is there.

I wonder if we'll even wait have to wait for vat grown meat.

Many of the hard problems aren't really related to the "meat" bit - they're how the meat is structured, mouth feel, etc.

Folk are already getting better and better at solving those problems with non-meat sources.

I've cooked for (non-gourmet I admit ;-) meat eaters and have them not realise they weren't eating meat.

I'm a veggy, and my partner is a vegan. We've both already had the situation of being embarrassed by sending food back because we thought we had been given meat when it was some kind of textured protean.

We have folk like Beyond Meat http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2012/07/beyond_meat_fake_chicken_that_tastes_so_real_it_will_freak_you_out_.html fooling a New York Times food critic with their fake chicken.

I find Beyond Meat fascinating - since their target market isn't the premium veggy/vegan/health market. They want to beat the price point of real chicken for sandwiches, pre-packed food, etc. They're going after everybody.

Once you have capitalists going after a mass market I can imagine public opinion being shaped rather quickly.

259:

a h @ 254
Ah, the fairly recent exa,ple of that being Erwin Rommel I presume?
B @ 256
Oh! So someone else who likes "Strange Maps" !! Good.

260:

The only reason I'm not interested in "strange maps" is that I can have hours of fun looking at real ones.

261:

Hollywood is amoral -- it produces exactly what it thinks will sell, at that precise point in history -- and that is it's only consideration. Other than staying within the bounds of law and aiming to avoid the extreme strata of the rating system, I seriously doubt that the money-men particularly care what the *message* of a movie is, just "can we sell it".

I suspect that in this way, a certain degree of historical accuracy creeps in -- where it matters to the box office. The audience for then typical western was (I'm sure) unlikely to contain a lot of Native Americans complaining about racial stereo-typing and driving the box-office down by staying away in droves. On the other hand, there were likely to be plenty in the (US) audience who would find a huge population of ex-Union soldiers living in Texas and Arizona as unrealistic, and subsequently vote with their feet.

Know (the biggest part of) your audience and give them what they want. The first and only rule in Hollywood (and sadly, seemingly more often the first rule of publishing, too).

262:

One day people will look back on eating animals with the same moral disgust (an attitude made possible by the advanced technology of vat grown meat) as we now look on slavery (an attitude made possible by the advanced technology of the steam engine).

263:

People stoppped owning slaves only when technology allowed work to be down by machines.

"Slavery will only be abolished when machines were built that could operate themselves." - Aristotle

People will stop eating animals only when technology allows meat to be grown in a vat.


264:

Minas Tirith is Vienna. The War of the Ring was based on the Turkish Siege of Vienna in 1683. During this siege, Polish cavalry under Jan Sobieski attacked the rear of the besieging Turks and destroyed their army in concert with a sally from Vienna by Hapsburg forces.

So we have the following comparisons:

Vienna = Minis Tirith
Hapsburg Empire = Gondor
Poland = Rohan
Turks = Orcs
Anatolia = Mordor
Other Muslims = Harad
Luther and the Protestants = Saruman and Isengard

Tolkien said that LOTR was a "very Catholic" book, so Protestant theologians would be equivalent to fallen wizards. So we also have:

Catholic priests = good wizards like Gandalf
Italians of the Renaissance (also earlier) = Elves
Rural Britain or Ireland = The Shire

265:

Hollywood has southern sympathies? Where did you get the idea that a company town founded originally by show-biz types from New York, populated by a large proportion of Jewish ex-pats from Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, would be innately sympathetic to the South? As they do say in parts of the South, "That dog don't hunt."

If you don't believe me, look at the rise of the right wing Fox Newscorp. It's based in Atlanta, not Hollywood.

Adrian Howard (255) and Dave The Proc (257) have it right. It's about show business and story-telling, period. The noble loser makes a much better dramatic character. Even Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was originally from Illinois, figured this out, which is why John Carter's an ex-confederate cavalryman from Virginia, not an Illinois volunteer.

266:

How is it that we have so far avoided discussing the meme of the "female warrior" in SF/F?

Despite stories of amazons and shield maidens like Éowyn, Brienne from GOT, or even the real life Jean D'Arc, gender strength differences make it virtually impossible for women to fight on a pre-industrial battlefield. Even today almost every nation bars women from combat roles.

But like everything else, this attitude will be changed by technology. In this case, the advanced technology of the exoskeleton which will eliminate any inherent strength differences between individuals and genders. Future generations may understand that the strength differential kept women off the battlefield but they won't understand why we thought women were emotionally unsuitable for combat when it will be obvious that women make the better (and crueler) fighters:

WHEN the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride,
He shouts to scare the monster, who will often turn aside.
But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail.
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

When Nag the basking cobra hears the careless foot of man,
He will sometimes wriggle sideways and avoid it if he can.
But his mate makes no such motion where she camps beside the trail.
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

When the early Jesuit fathers preached to Hurons and Choctaws,
They prayed to be delivered from the vengeance of the squaws.
'Twas the women, not the warriors, turned those stark enthusiasts pale.
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

267:

>>>One day people will look back on eating animals with the same moral disgust (an attitude made possible by the advanced technology of vat grown meat) as we now look on slavery (an attitude made possible by the advanced technology of the steam engine).

Or perhaps we will one day look at people who propose this idea in the same way we look at people who lump pedophiles and homosexuals in the same moral category. Who knows?

268:

As well as saying that LOTR was very Catholic (although I'd like to see where exactly he said that) Tolkien also explicitly stated that LOTR was not allegory (though I think he was being a little disingenuous on that occasion); he did specifically reject the notion that the chapter The Scouring of the Shire was a retelling of events in post-war Britain -- so I would be cautious about stating categorically that any part of LOTR was a representation of a specific historic event. Tolkien used many events as inspiration, as do all writers, and I'm certain that you could find a number of sieges throughout history that fit the pattern of Minas Tirith. You could also plug a number of different values into your variable list, and make equally strong cases for each interpretation.

269:


People stoppped owning slaves only when technology allowed work to be down by machines.

"Slavery will only be abolished when machines were built that could operate themselves." - Aristotle

The abolitionist movement predates the industrial revolution so this, and your previous comment about steam engines, is flat out wrong.

Though it occurs to me that a modern twist on this would add the word "wage" in front of slave and slavery. Not that I agree with that statement either.

270:

I completely agree with Vanzetti @267. This "meat is murder" and "meat eaters are the equivalent of slave owners" is complete rubbish.

Some day we may look at the process of raising and slaughtering animals with the same kind of feelings as most Westerners now have for the sport of big game hunting, and that at some point -- either due to price, safety, or simple supply and demand -- we will all be eating vat-grown meat. But the idea that eating meat will ever equate to slave ownership, except in the minds of some total wing-nuts, is idiotic.

271:

One day we ascended transhuman mind will look back at mere humans and see no difference between them and roaches.

Except in taste (humans are tastier).

272:

"As for Confederate soldiers in Westerns, see "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" for an example of former Confederate soldiers as characters. Realistic? I don't know."

Very realistic, a great many ex-confederates who lost everything in the war hightailed out West to try and recoup their fortunes.

Its also the basis for one of TV's best SF series, Firefly (aka "defeated Confederates in space").

273:

"I completely agree with Vanzetti @267. This "meat is murder" and "meat eaters are the equivalent of slave owners" is complete rubbish."

I agree, I never equated the two.

However, I did show that neither insitution or attitude could be replaced until technology allowed us to dispense with slavery or killing animals for food.

274:

I happen to disagree, but that's because the point of many animals in an agricultural ecosystem is to take things that humans can't eat (grass and trash, mostly) and turn them into human foods (meat, milk, and eggs). The reason for eating so little meat was because the animals were worth more as egg or milk producers than as steak producers.

That part hasn't changed. What has changed is that we've gotten into this crazy pattern of feeding meat either human food (corn) and/or meat from other animals, and then eating them. That doesn't work.

Incidentally, it's worth reading Goatwalking if you want to see a highly ethical take on the issues of "killing your friends," and otherwise properly taking care of livestock, and occasionally eating them.

The problem I have with vat-grown meat is similarly ecological. The feedstocks are fussy, including a lot of things we can use directly, they require large inputs of energy (electricity, heat), they probably require large amounts of antibiotics to work (rather than an animal's immune system), and if current lab practice is any guide, they produce a huge amount of plastic trash. Given the follow-on damage from each of these issues, it may in fact be more ethical to grow and eat domestic animals. After all, if they have a great life and one really bad day right at the end, how is that a bad life? We all die, and at least their deaths help us to live. This doesn't in any way excuse the current cruelties of factory farming. Instead I'm saying that the ethics are more complex than "killing animals is wrong, and we should do without." At best, you may be choosing whether the animals that die are due to your personal needs, or some random wild animal that encountered the garbage from your vat-meat operation and perished slowly as a result. Is it more ethical if you choose not to know about it?

275:

"The abolitionist movement predates the industrial revolution"

Agreed, anti-slavery beliefs go back at least as far as the ancient Stoics. But that is besides the point.

Until "machines could run themselves" as Aristotle predicted, slavery (in all its forms, including medieval serfdom, India's caste system or the religious fervor that built the pyramids in both Egypt and Mesoamerica) was the only way of organizing mass labor.

Slavery was practiced by every civilization until the steam engine made slavery obsolete.

The process keeps repeating itself: A widely accepted (if unjust and cruel) social system or belief is rendered moot by technological advances. The beneficiaries of these advances then have the luxury of indulging in an anachronistic condemnation of the now obsolete institution or belief.

276:

Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending any of the bad practices that exist in today's meat industry; I just strongly object to equating murdering or enslaving a human being with killing an animal for food. I can't imagine that any future society will do so -- they may be bewildered or disgusted by the practice, but I'm not convinced that they will find it immoral.

277:

Agreed, anti-slavery beliefs go back at least as far as the ancient Stoics. But that is besides the point.

I'm not talking about just beliefs but practice in law. There have been states that abolished slavery before the steam engine and the industrial revolution.

278:

And we should fairly point out that outlawing slavery hasn't made it go away entirely. Nor have steam engines.

279:

Agreed and it's worth adding that this conversation could easily broaden to include issues like workfare.

280:

There's a nice dovetail between the argument about slavery not going out until steam and the argument about vat food and steak.

There are people who oppose something long before there is economic impetus behind getting rid of it.
In fact, in America simply getting rid of agricultural subsidies would probably deal a serious blow to a lot of our bad food habits. But we as a culture are, like Scarlett in Gone With The Wind, very committed to the idea of never being hungry. An impressive madness that has been very good for the world.

On another note, my position on the keeping of pets is that while it may be a pretty good life for most animals, it probably isn't good for most pet owners.
There's just something I find twisted about it. There has to be a subliminal effect from leading an inferior animal around on a leash and training it to be obsequious. It has to bleed over into the way you are with people. Even with cats, people use them as a cheap fix to fill an emotional hole they should fill in other ways or gain strength from foregoing.

I prefer to have neighborly relationships with wild animals, such as Crows and Squirrels.

281:

Sometimes it's a necessary filler -- particularly with dogs, I know they can be a great comfort to the lonely and the childless (from observation at one or two removes).

282:

And it seems most breeds of dogs, if exposed to humans early in life, want to be around them. To the extend they'll suffer great hardships and punishment to achieve that goal. Even if the punishment comes from the humans around them.

283:

One reason that US western themed films set in the 1870s and later have a lot of ex southern soldiers is that in real life much of the west had a non trivial excess of males who fought for the south. When the war ended the younger unmarried survivors looked at going home to what now seemed like an alien planet or heading west to see what they might find out there. Many headed out west.

284:

France was the first nation to outlaw slavery. The French abolished slavery during the French Revolution of 1789, Britain made it illegal in 1807 because the British public turned against it. Napoleon revived slavery during the Napoleonic wars (enslaving people of Haiti). The act of 1807 didn't stop slave traders entirely, a fine of £100 per slave on any British ship was issued. Slavery was (virtually) non existent in the British empire after the act of 1833, Britain then campaigned to stop other countries using slaves. Britain was the first to completely abolish slavery.

All of which happened AFTER the invention of the steam engine.

What pre-industrial country/kingdom/civilization ever banned slavery?

285:

Which explains America's current cultural divide between conservative Red States (the West and the old Confederacy) and liberal Blue States (everyone else).

286:

Never said that the steam engine made slavery impossible, only that it made it possible to be rid of slavery.

287:

Hi, Stina ! It's been nearly 300 comments on your post about Women in Sf and fantasy and how many did really comment about women ? Don't you feel strange about the fact that we talked about history, historical accuracy, Nasa, vegetarism, the borders of the USA, Lord of the Ring, slavery, poetry (war poetry! as if something could be called war poetry ...), and a lot of unrelated things or the other and ... not so much about women in SF and Fantasy ?
It looks like a lot of urban western white males who read Sf and fantasy (and I am one of these) just are not interested in the topic. I wonder if it's a good thing or not. Are we so post-feminism that we don't care about sex and the gender of the hero(in) or is it something other ? I do not have an answer but it seem to me that you just yelled "hey look the elephant in the kitchen is naked" and everybody (including me) said "which kitchen ? "

288:

The last attempt to talk about the top resulted in some of us being told we didn't know how to read a book. Or that was how it came off.

289:

Hi, Stina ! It's been nearly 300 comments on your post about Women in Sf and fantasy and how many did really comment about women ?

Actually, I did notice that.

I wonder if it's a good thing or not. Are we so post-feminism that we don't care about sex and the gender of the hero(in) or is it something other ?

I'd love to think that, but somehow I don't think that's the case. If it were, the statistics would be different.

I do not have an answer but it seem to me that you just yelled "hey look the elephant in the kitchen is naked" and everybody (including me) said "which kitchen ? "

It did feel that way, didn't it? Thanks for noticing. It makes me feel a bit better. :)

290:

The earliest I've heard of is Iceland way back in the 12th century.

291:

Hm, on a list that's majority male, how to have a good talk about women in fantasy?

That can get...awkward, at least for me. I'm male, and therefore all my feminine experience is second hand at best. Talking about women in fantasy can be bit of a minefield. More than a bit.

Shall we consider whether the golden age of SFF is the teen years? Shall we talk about teenage males' idea of women in fantasy too? Without embarrassment? On the open internet, where every misstep is preserved in perpetuity for Google to find?

Sounds like great fun!

292:

Also it's worth mentioning that the history of slavery in Britain is more complicated than that. Way back in the 16th century the Cartwright case established under English common law that slaves brought to England wouldn't have their slavery recognised. This fed into The Lord justices proclamation that any slave reaching England would be immediately freed in 1700 and the Somersett case later that century that ended slavery in England.

Whilst the last two are technically after the invention of the modern steam engine they predate widespread use and the industrial revolution. My point is that abolition has a longer history than you have portrayed and that it was possible before the steam engine.

293:

Serfdom existed in Iceland until 1894.

Slavery takes all kinds of forms.

294:

I found your comment about your grandfather's name interesting. It wasn't until my mother died and I had to get a birth certificate for her that I discovered she was illegitimate.

Re. putting in details about feminine or other hygiene, I agree with you that people at the time may not have thought about it much because they knew no other way, but where for example an unexpected menstruation (as might happen to a teenage girl) affects the story, I think some detail is necessary. Just going for a pee behind a bush wouldn't have been all that easy in some of the gear that women wore in olden times.

So many issues have been covered here already, but just one last point about food: so many fantasy writers have people camp for weeks on end on just meat, cheese and bread - sometimes, they have the odd apple, but they don't keep all that well. I managed this for almost a whole weekend once and that was enough. At very least, you need some raw onion, dried beans and some greenery.

295:
The noble loser makes a much better dramatic character. Even Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was originally from Illinois, figured this out, which is why John Carter's an ex-confederate cavalryman from Virginia, not an Illinois volunteer.

(Cough) - Firefly! - (Cough)

And any other number of beautiful losers in the sf tradition, Farscape, etc.

296:

Paws @ 250
A lot of the “strange” maps ARE real ones … oops – makes it truly fascinating.

daniel duffy @ 262/3
Your apparent total lack of knowledge of both history & philosophy, never mind your extremely questionable approach to ethics make any of your pronouncements worthless.
Please engage brain before starting to write? I know, useless if you have no knowledge to work with …..
& @ 273
You showed nothing of the sort.
You claimed that technology made slavery superfluous, with no supporting evidence.
Larry Niven has been known to argue that some technology (specifically the cotton-gin) made slavery easier in the Confederate areas.

& @ 264
Not even wrong
As someone who, many, many years ago gave a paper at an Oxenmoot on the levels of technology shown in the various Middle-Earth chronicles, I can tell you, that again, you speak of that which you know apparently, less than nothing.
Sauron is the emissary of satan. (Morgoth bauglir) Saruman is also a sort of Nazi, & Sauron is also a sort of communist god-king (think Kim Il-Sung) – also note how Saruman perverts the guvmint (such as it is) of the Shire, whilst leaving the “forms” intact.
& D_t_P @ 268 - seconded. dd really hasn’t got a clue!

& @ 275
NOT EVEN WRONG AGAIN
Slavery was abolished in Britain, certainly by 1215 – serfdom lasted a bit longer, but was defunct by or soon after 1348 – what technological advances? See also “cotton gin” above.
Meanwhile the Indian caste system is still with us, in a highly industrialised country.

Heteromeles @ 265
The noble loser makes a much better dramatic character.
Which is why Malory’s great tale is called: “the Death of Arthur”

& @ 274
Yup.
Feedstock-lines for vat-meat? Contaminated by erm, horse, as recently, because people are not cleaning up properly? Pigs are a really bad idea as a food-source in the Middle East. Why? Not only that their meat goes off even faster, & parasites, but because they compete with humans & other food-animals for their food resources.
Whereas in N Europe – they eat things we can’t (rooting for acorns in the woods) & turn into stuff we can eat – themselves. No religious claptrap involved – simple conservation-agricultural-ecology. Pig in Europe – fine, pig in semi-desert conditions – don’t even think about it!

R D South @ 280
Disagree profoundly. But then, I have always lived with cats, & am slowly developing a wary relationship with some of the local foxes ….
And HOW DARE you define cats as “inferior”?

daniel duffy @ 284
Not quite correct – a considerable improvement on you earlier efforts!
Britain abolished the slave TRADE in 1807, slavery having already been declared “unconstitutional” (note the quotes) in England, as far back as 1771-2: The air of England is too pure to be breathed by a slave”
Just before the 13 colonies revolted, so that they could keep their slavery, in fact.
Oops, coincidence? [ Question: Was the Slaveowners’ Treasonous Rebellion of 1861 just part II, in actual fact? ]
SEE ALSO Ryan @ 292
[ NOTE: Slave-owning outside Britain itself was finally abolished in 1831-3, the W-Indes plantation owners’ bribes & threats being finally ignored & despised. It would have come much sooner, but for enormous commercial pressures & bribery being applied. ]

297:

I think it's part of an all-too-common problem. People forget their own pasts. We were children once, teenagers, young adults: we often forget how we felt in those times and subscribe to some faintly ridiculous political illusions.

And that is something we experienced. We knew what it was like to be a teenager, becoming sexually aware in the years before whatever magic birthday was specified by the law. Some of us may have sneaked looks at porn, and attempted to write lurid sexual fantasies. A particular problem: we clustered in a particular year-group at school, and suddenly some of them were old enough to be lawful sex-objects.

And maybe all we carry from that is an illusion of correctness. We were taught something flawed. We learnt things from doubtful sources. We got the posturing of politicians of poor recollection.

I'm not sure what it is like for today's teenagers as they try to figure out the answers, but there is a continuing pattern of failure.

I'm uneasy about the term "sluttish", because it is used as a weapon by men trying to enforce authority, but it does describe a tendency in clothing and social behaviour, which gets thrown at us. It's a possible label for the woman in the comic-book, hero or villain, of extravagant anatomy and accident-prone costume. It's an element of the much-mocked book-covers.

It's odd: we're shown this image, and young people are saturated with it, and then the women are told, "You were asking for it." What message do the men get from that?

Where the idea came from, and what the motive might have been, I'm not sure. It seems to survive in entertainment because it works—no need for a conspiracy there—but it seems part of a pattern of lies, which happen to make ugly sense as a way to keep women in their place.

An I just doing the usual human thing of spotting patterns that can be read as a sign of danger, when they're just coincidence? I don't know. Maybe it's just coincidence that the politicians look like abusive crooks fostering divisions to distract the people from their own crimes.

Do I have to quote Ring Lardner on this? It looks the way to bet, but what will that do to our world?

298:

Antonia@297 "You were asking for it." What message do the men get from that?

In America we get all kinds of messages. What's telling is which ones you pay attention to. But a lot of times there's a bait and switch cleverness built in that makes it either less just (when someone attracted to something innocent is instead exposed to something horrible) or more just (when someone attracted to something horrible instead gets medicine in the pill).

How men react to provocative dress depends on where men have been. In houses-of-ill-repute (and certain nightclubs that amount to the same thing) dressing provocatively IS asking for it, just as going onto the football field is asking to be involved in contact sport. But some people are idiots and they take the rules of one place and apply them somewhere else.

The proper reaction, most places, to provocative dress is to look at it. It is unreasonable to
(1) dress provocatively then act offended when you catch people looking--this is a power trip of a different kind
(2) interpret provocative dress as an invitation to do more than look

As for fashion pressure, I suspect one of the things it's used for is to create camouflage. If half the women (or men) out there are dressing like prostitutes, the real prostitutes have cover. Same with dressing like drug dealers. Organized crime has a lot of influence. And it's not a liberal democracy.

299:

#287 and #289 - Personally, I think that "Is a main character female?" is or should be a non issue. I'm much more interested in "Are they believable in this place and time?", "Are they an engaging protagonist?" type stuff.

300:

Greg, I'm more interested in real barriers and communications lines (eg mountain ranges and passes, rivers, major roads and railways, canals, seaways) than in man-made political boundaries. I'll give you that a political boundary can explain why there are, say, 2 major N-S roads and rail lines within a few miles of each other across a plain though.

301:

So a map of a railway line would be just down your street?

302:

paws
Like the different rail routes between Gleskie & Dun-eid-Deinn, then? Four-&-a-half open at the most recent count!
Or Glasgow/Edinburgh Carlisle?

303:

Greg, I though you might enjoy this anecdote. I once saw a question posted on another author's site about creating a language for a fantasy world, the poster said something like this: "Do you create your language based on a real language, or just make up a bunch of words like Tolkien?" I almost fell off my seat laughing.

304:

It is all about creating a real and interesting character, and as such the question of creating a female character in a fantastical setting (specifically one that's historically accurate) can be reduced to being nothing more than a character building exercise. But I think the point that Stina was originally making is that creating a realistic and accurate female character in such a setting raises the bar on the normal challenges, and adds a few extra ones.

But this truly is an "elephant in the room" problem: Easy to define, everyone knows it's there, no one knows what to do about it.

I suppose that there isn't an easy answer, and that's part of the issue. The only way to really get near to realism is research -- as lots of folks have pointed out, this presents high hurdles for female characters in history. So the only approach is to do as much research as you can stand; interpolate data from male-oriented sources and any other records you can get hold of. I would say that it's the same challenge as any historical research -- just harder, and there's every chance that you will never find a primary source that really confirms you're getting it right. Avoid the obvious traps.

That brings us to the other unique challenge that Stina mentioned: Everyone's pre-installed mysoginist. I think this ties back to her opening comments about self examination -- you have to be aware of your own assumptions, character flaws, and preconceptions before you can start building believable characters. Otherwise you bring that baggage subconsciously to every character you create, and few if any will ever breath on their own, whether they're male or female in whatever setting.

Maybe it's a bit like addiction: Many writers don't realise or don't care they have a problem creating this kind of character -- the first step is admitting you have a problem.

305:

#301 and #302 Oh yes; in which context take note that a small library has been written just on the development of the railways in Scotland, and I know you both know there's a large one on the development of railwsys (and I suspect another on canals) in the UK.

306:

@304
Everyone's pre-installed mysoginist.
---
That is, what, the feminist version of Original Sin?

Your paintbrush is exceedingly wide.

307:

...If you want to write a P.O.V. female character in a fantasy setting nothing stops you from doing that. I always liked the Exalted setting, especially one aside where they went

"The real past sucked for women. But you can play a liberated girl in Exalted because Creation isn't earth. There are Omnipotent Super Badass magical ninja soldiers who happen to be female. And always have been. Anti-feminism isn't a 'thing' in this setting."

I mean..isn't that what fantasy IS?

308:

I find it difficult to identify with women in the past

I'm only 55, and through much of my life, I've found it difficult to identify with women in the present.

Whoopi Goldberg's movie Jumpin' Jack Flash blew the top of my head off. There were a few reasons, but one of the big ones is that, for the first time in my life (age 30, at the time), there was a woman up on the screen with whom not only could I identify with, but with whom I wanted to identify.

309:

Well, yeah, Exalted. Just trying to learn a martial art is different there. 'High powered fantasy' doesn't do it justice, not if you're playing the game right.

310:

Anything domestic before the 1950's or so was a lot of work and its little wonder that people wanted to get some progress ASAP. Just use an outhouse one cold winter (I have) and you'l long for an indoor toilet.

That being said, people today are not happier and those more technologically deprived people had a much stronger sense of community somehting many long for. People knew what was expected from them, what they could expect in return and their place in the world was.

Most people aren't rebels or seekers like so many SF fans are and as such its easy for us to assume that they felt a certain constraint or restlessness. Most did not and as such they might find that freedom to be whoever you want stifling and they'd long for kinship, hearth and home.

Most fanatsy of course doesn't touch on this (Tolkein aside) and little SF does but who wants to read about such folks anyway.

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This page contains a single entry by Stina Leicht published on January 17, 2013 4:45 PM.

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