Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Evil Dead... Lesbian Edition

In keeping with my theme of being as outdated as humanly possible on this blog, I finally read the Willow and Tara as Evil Dead Lesbians article by Stephen Booth (a man of mystery who is either a cricket player, a Berkley English professor, a crime writer, or some dude with a website and an opinion). The Abigail has been trying to get me to read this article for a while, but I've been too busy. Actually, I'm still too busy, but I finally read it anyway.

Booth's basic premise is that Tara's death in Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a prime example of the evil/dead lesbian cliche. Apparently there's a long, shameful history of this in hollywood. Gay characters are generally introduced as weak, insane, and victims (or some combination of the three). In older works, the message was that homosexuality is bad and will lead to your destruction, while in some newer films, it's more a matter of token gay characters being introduced and then killed off because their sexuality (in the eyes of the authors) stops them from becoming major characters with wide appeal. Culminating their affections with physical sex tends to lead to the death of one or both partners. Booth cites a huge list of films which feature (or even center on) this plot device. I won't reproduce it here - read it for yourself - and suffice it to say that I am basically convinced. Booth goes on to say that Whedon's decision to kill off Tara was hurtful and unnecessary, bad for the show and for people who idealized it, and reveals secret and/or unconscious bigotry or a tendency to fall prey to the allure of the ratings stunt.

Booth also condemns my favorite scene in Buffy - the Yellow Crayon Speech - as just a man saving the world from the "crazy lesbian." That I can't forgive. The Yellow Crayon Speech will live on in my heart as a perfect literary moment. I don't cry at television shows often, but the Yellow Crayon Speech made me seriously moist.

In every other way, however, Booth is pretty much right.

I don't think Joss Whedon is a bigot, but as I've said before (and will say again) I do think he's kind of lazy. A lot of his world building is pretty suspect, from Buffy's schizophrenic attitude about what it means to have a soul to the inconsistent motifs of Firefly and Serenity. Sometimes this laziness manifests in ways that are racially charged, like how the supposedly chinese-dominated future of Firefly lacked asian main characters for no good reason or how nonwhite Actives in Dollhouse are vanishingly rare and never more than secondary characters. Or, for that matter, how Buffy's Sunnydale, supposedly a Southern California town, contained few blacks and no latinos. And at least once, as in Buffy, this laziness manifested in a abrupt descent into a deplorable homophobic cliche.

The Abigail is strident about this, and over the years I've come to agree: when you write for adolescents, you have a responsibility to help them grow. I'm not going to talk about how to help them grow. Someone who writes Christian young adult novels about the evils of sex and spiritual experimentation has as much a responsibility as someone who writes sex-positive pagan propaganda; the difference is only one of content and point of view. The only sin that I'm willing to condemn here is laziness. Kids are all our responsibility, and cash cows, rating stunts, and unwitting anything has no place in fiction created for their consumption. Sell your ideas and let adolescents decide who to follow, but don't abuse your audience.

I won't go to far in decrying Whedon's laziness, however, because when push comes to shove I still like his work. After this post is done, after all, I'm going to take a nap - because I'm a teacher and therefore the first to be infected with whatever terrible disease is sweeping through Oakland this flu-and-cold season - and then watch the latest episode of Dollhouse. I sometimes just wish the man would pay a little more attention.

Anyway, read the Booth article. It's long, but you won't regret it.

* * *

  • Bitch session: what laziness have you noted in Whedon's world-building, character-developing, and word-writing?
  • Bitch at session: where have you seen Whedon be absolutely brilliant? Let me know (and be sure to tell me I'm a bad person for forgetting it)!
  • The Yellow Crayon Speech really was perfect, wasn't it? How depraved do you have to be to criticize it in the slightest?
  • Remember, I'm still taking suggestions about which of my two competing ideas to pursue this NaNoWriMo. Check my last post to read (highly imperfect) synopses and comment with your opinions.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thoughts of NaNo

It's October 1st, and that means that like sane writers everywhere (yes, that's sarcasm you detect in my tone), my first thought is of National Novel Writing Month and what I'm going to create this year. I am going to do NaNo this year. I have a lot of good reasons for not - brand new and terrifying career, a wedding to plan (not to mention fights to have with the Abigail about said wedding planning), and a human body and it's pesky need for sleep, to name a few - but if I let good reasons stop me from doing great things, I'd never get anywhere.

If you'll recall from December's NaNoWriMo postmortem, I didn't win last year. I'm trying not to let this trepidate me. There are lots of reasons I didn't win: I developed this stupid idea that I wrote best by hand and wasted time writing and then transcribing, I wasn't sure I was going to do NaNo until the day before so I had only the barest idea of what I was doing right until I started doing it, and most of all I didn't write. None of those good reasons are going to get in my way this year. Especially that last one.

Anyway, as October unrolls before me, I find myself suspended between two possible NaNo ideas, and I'm curious which one you all think would be the most fun/the must likely to net me a coveted win.

* * *

The first idea is a new one, based (believe it or not) on a dream.

The premise is science fantasy (that is, a science-fiction flavored story that follows the rules of fantasy). I'm kidnapping the good old neofeudal futurism popularized by the Dune series and the Fading Suns RPG. In the grim dark future of humanity, we are nearly enslaved by cthulhu angels from beyond space and time attracting to this continuity by the development of pseudo-real psychic technology (including summonable space fighters... which is coincidentally what returns the "knight in shining" armor to the status of a viable combat tactic). After being saved by a heroic pair - a tactically brilliant soldier and a woman with an unmatched political genius - a humanity that has largely forgotten how to think for itself finds itself needing new leaders. An oppressive and puritanical church arises, and in order to prevent it from becoming the sole leading cultural force of the future, the pair announce that they will marry and take on the role of Emperor and Empress of the galaxy.

What makes this complicated is that the marriage is purely political. In fact, the emperor is gay. Although friends and partners, this isn't a love match. But, since they have to play a complicated media game with an anti-gay anti-sex anti-fun church for dominion over humanity, the crowned heads of the galaxy can't let anyone know what's really going on.

Fast forward several years. The emperor has found a boyfriend (his valet), but the empress is still frustrated, lonely, and bored. Enter the The Empress's Gendarme. One of the new generation of soldiers bonded to the pseudo-real summonable warships with which the Emperor and Empress freed humanity, he is everything the Empress wants. The Emperor makes the introduction, and they fall into bed pretty shortly thereafter. Everyone's happy, right?

If they can keep the church off their backs. If they can survive the inevitable political bullshit. If they can keep humanity free when the cthulhu angels return. In short, it's far future political drama with a romance at its heart. It's kind of sexy, in a neofeudal Sun King France sort of way. With summonable AI warships.

* * *

My second idea is something I wrote part of, once. But, it's been a long time and I'm planning on basically starting from scratch, so it isn't cheating, right? Anyway, the story lay fallow for a long time before being awakened by the brilliance that is Mur Lafferty's Heaven.

A long time ago, I had an idea for an epic. It's a postapocalyptic fantasy story dealing with what it means to be a god or a man, a mortal or an immortal. The world had lasted for millennia, before the Enemy came. In a war that took a thousand years, he slew the gods, broke the afterlife, and just as he was about to destroy the world... he vanished.

Now the world is a strange and broken place, filled with the surreal and dangerous remains of old enchantments and half-dead remnants of gods (in particular, I'm fond of a city once known for its diviners and now known for its glassworkers; it's in the middle of a field of broken glass that used to be a sandy desert... until a god fell out of the sky and smashed into it) (oh, and I also wrote an "afterlife" full of lost ghosts who can't find their way to whatever comes next because the psychic landscape is full of wreckage from heaven).

One of the more common of these bits of weirdness are the Alarkine, the remnant of the heavenly host that had once served the gods. At the command of the gods, the Alar - the angels - had mixed their blood with humans, to produce powerful warrior-children who didn't require obscure circumstances to come into being and centuries to mature, the way Alar did. After many generations, the Alar find themselves weird mixtures of human and divine, with no place in the world. Some of them are crazy, some are bitter. Some want to bring the gods back... and others would like to, but only to kick their asses.

The main characters are a priestess of an old god (because what does religion have to do with the existence of the gods, anyway?) and her bitter god-hating Alarkine bodyguard who swiftly become caught up in the return of the gods and the Enemy, and have to find within themselves the strength to rebuild the world before its destroyed altogether.

It's a surreal dark fantasy epic of self-discovery, with heavy metaphysical, philosophical, and ethical angles thrown in. And one of the main characters is a half-angel paladin who hates the gods. And also there's a line (which I will keep in a new version) that makes the Abigail's knees weak:

"Look at the stars, Kaleyin. You're not dead. The prophet said that you and I would stand on the edge of the world and watch the last star fall, so you're not dead." He kissed her cold lips, and as the world vanished in white fire, he whispered "I will love you until the last star falls, and after."

This is always an important consideration.

* * *

So which do you think I should pick? Science fantasy political romance or apocalyptic dark fantasy journey of discovery? Half angel paladins or cthulhu angel antagonists? Fire from the hands or lasers from the eyes? Wait a minute...