Some Thoughts on Advance Reading (Part 1)




Some Thoughts on Advance Reading (Part 1)


As more authors self-publish, and as editors in publishing firms have less time to focus on ‘editing’ given their increased time on all the other aspects of book production, a significant number of authors are turning to professional Advance Readers and freelance editors to help them polish their latest work.


One of the things that I have been very privileged to do is be an Advance Reader for some very talented authors.  So I thought I would discuss part of what that entails for me as a professional, and what I and other Advance Readers, hopefully, offer authors.

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My 2015 in Film (Part 2)


Cinema Screen


My 2015 in Film (Part 2)

A continuation of my ramblings about the 2015 released films I saw.



Self/less (2015, dir. Tarsem Singh)

I was surprised by this film.  Admittedly it had Ryan Reynolds in it, and I can watch him in almost anything, but I actually enjoyed this film, even if it was fairly obvious where it was going and what was going to happen.  Anyone familiar with SF literature will recognise the story arc, old rich man downloads consciousness into new body… hijinks ensue, but it was well presented and acted, and pretty enjoyable.  And who doesn’t love Ben Kinglsey?


Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015, dir. Christopher McQuarrie)

The M:I franchise demonstrates what the Bond movies are severely lacking, an ensemble cast and a sense of humour.  This is an absurd, fun, exaggerated action movie that provides chewing gum for the eyes and popcorn for the brain.  It doesn’t matter that the plot is ridiculous.  It doesn’t matter that both the hero and the villain are both over-qualified super spies.  The stunts are amazing, the action is glorious, and you get what was advertised.


Pixels (2015, dir. Chris Columbus)

What could have been a fun, nostalgia filled trip down computer memory lane turned out to be a fairly tedious and unfunny Adam Sandler film.  Who would have guessed?  The visuals were great, the references to the old arcade games were fun, but unfortunately it had Adam Sandler as a hero and contained all the annoying dialogue and unfunny jokes we have come to expect from him these days.


Fantastic Four (2015, dir. Josh Trank) aka Fant4stic

This one surprised me.  It got a lot of hate online before I had a chance to see it, and I was therefore pleasantly surprised.  As far as superhero reboots go, and they are all the rage apparently, this was actually pretty interesting.  Trank’s earlier effort Chronicle (2012) clearly had a strong influence on what he was trying to do here, and I found it a lot more engaging than most of the superhero destruction fests on offer.  Admittedly the last ¼ of the film was a bit of a let-down and felt rushed and skated over, the character of Doom was under-utilised, and the finale felt ‘meh’.  It could have been really engaging, as the acting was pretty good, the origin story was an intriguing update marrying the New 52 with older continuity, and the effects were pretty damn interesting.  I enjoyed this one.  So much so, that I would actually look forward to a sequel by the same director with the same actors.


The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015, dir. Guy Ritchie)

I loved the trailer for this film.  Seriously, the trailer is great.  Watch the trailer.  What can I say?  This is a polished, stylish, smooth, hollow film.  I don’t have any nostalgia for the TV show, so there was nothing there for this film to build on.  It looked great, it seemed to have all the story elements that it should, it just felt soulless and cold to me.  It was like a pretty, empty, shell of a spy film.  The costuming was great though.  I really liked the suits that Henry Cavill got to wear…


Hitman: Agent 47 (2015, dir. Aleksander Bach)

Computer game adaptation sequels are never likely to be amazing works of cinematic genius, but this has some excellent fight choreography and some impressive action sequences.  The story trips along predictably, but entertainingly, the acting wasn’t offensive, and the dialogue wasn’t particularly cringe worthy.  It is a step up from the Uwe Boll films at least.  What more do you want from a computer game franchise film?


The Martian (2015, dir. Ridley Scott)

A film in which Matt Damon needs to be rescued … again… as an internet meme is currently pointing out.  This was actually a good film.  It was enjoyable, smart, interesting, and only slightly strained incredulity.  It was also surprisingly fun and some excellent moments of tension.  I had a great time watching it, and, unlike Interstellar (2014, dir. Christopher Nolan), didn’t come out of it regretting having listened to the hype.  Damon is brilliant in this, and it convinces me further that Elysium (2013, dir. Neill Blomkamp) being awful had very little to do with him and much more to do with the fact that Blomkamp is over-rated and not actually that talented.


The Last Witch Hunter (2015, dir. Breck Eisner)

Hey, Vin Diesel is great.  I will watch anything he is in (see Furious 7 above for proof… hell, I even watched The Pacifier (2005, dir. Adam Shankman)).  This film is part fairytale, part Urban Fantasy, and part Fantasy Epic, but seemed to be desperately trying to be a modern Sf action movie.  It felt a lot like Van Helsing (2004, dir. Stephen Sommers) and I, Frankenstein (2014, dir. Stuart Beattie), but was better than Seventh Son (2014, dir. Sergey Bodrov).  I don’t know why it is that so few Fantasy films actually work well.  Especially when there are so many great Fantasy works out there that prove that it can be smart, engaging, grown up, and riveting.  But this, unfortunately, is another one to watch when there is nothing else on.


Spectre (2015, dir. Sam Mendes)

Despite Mendes’  protestations to the contrary the opening shot of this was remarkably similar to Soy Cuba (1964, dir. Mikhail Kalatozov), and that was probably the best thing about this bloated, cold, sterile, humourless, dour, tedious instalment in the Bond franchise.  It was almost bad enough to make me want to watch the Pierce Brosnan Bond films again.  When did Bond get so boring?  Even Christoph Waltz (playing exactly the same character he always seems to play) couldn’t save this film for me because there was no intimacy between him and Bond, the threat and antagonism seemed so impersonal and distant.  The stunts were good but lacked the style and sense of ridiculous fun that the M:I seem to have cornered the market on.  It felt like this was a film going through the motions of being a Bond movie… Opening cinematic stunt sequence?  Check.  Under-used female co-stars?  Check.  Unbelievable romance sub-plot that won’t go anywhere?  Check.  Car chase?  Check.  Ridiculous villain with nonsensical plan?  Check.   Casino Royale (2006, dir. Martin Campbell) seemed to breathe fresh air into the franchise… but now that air seems to have gone stale at best, and as rancid as a fart in a space suit at worst.  But they managed to make Quantum of Solace (2008, dir. Marc Foster ) look better by comparison.


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015, dir. Francis Lawrence)

I am not a Hunger Games fan.  I am just saying that up-front so you know.  I am also not a huge fan of films that split a book into two in a desperate grab for more money.  Despite that, I thought that this was the least tedious and awful of the films.  It was certainly a lot darker and grimmer than I expected (I only managed to make it through the first book and couldn’t face the rest of them).  Jennifer Lawrence is a great actor and I love watching her films (hence forcing myself to watch this one), and Philip Seymour Hoffman will be missed… but I was left fairly nonplussed by this.  It hit me squarely in the ‘meh’ zone.  Just not for me I guess.  Everyone else seemed to really enjoy it.


Creed (2015, dir. Ryan Coogler)

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this Rocky/Not Rocky film.  Sure the story was predictably by the numbers but Michael B Jordan was pretty good in this and Sylvester Stallone plays the aged champ turned reluctant trainer with ease.  The boxing matches seemed a lot more convincingly choreographed this time around, and there was a decent human and humane element running through the film that only occasionally lurched into full bombast.   Not a bad film in my not so humble opinion.


Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015, dir. J.J. Abrams)

I have already reviewed this… twice, so don’t have much to add, except that, upon further reflection (and by this I mean that I have shamelessly stolen the thought from a friend), Kylo Ren is actually a pretty interesting and scary villain as soon as you start to think of him as one of the mass-shooter teenager types who rages through schools killing innocent children and teachers.  His lack of empathy, his dialogue, and his desire to re-enact the murderous acts of a previous monster matches disturbingly well with the profiles of those individuals who have shot up schools and universities.  But if you want a review you can easily click on the links to the right to find the two more detailed discussions of TFA.


The Hateful Eight (2015, dir. Quentin Tarantino)

I didn’t like it.  Cinematically it had some wonderful shots and some clever framing, but ultimately I didn’t care how or why any of the characters would die.  I am not a huge Western fan, so the homages to previous Westerns were lost on me.  The story was contrived and slightly tedious, and even though the dialogue was very sharp in places and some of the acting was great, this one just wasn’t for me.

My 2015 in Film (part 1)

Cinema Screen



My 2015 in Film (Part 1)


This is a brief rundown of some of the films I watched that were released in 2015 and what I thought of them… and when I say brief, I mean as brief as I can get.


Ex Machina (2015, dir. Alex Garland)

I really liked Ex Machina.  It was a great SF film that posed the question ‘If I were a genius multi-billionaire what sort of sex robots would I build?’  But more importantly it was a film that:
a) Proved the necessity of Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics.[1]
b) Neatly illustrated the creepiness of the ‘male gaze’.
c) Was a fascinating look at what AIs mean for concepts of humanity and life.
d) Never enact a plan without thinking through what could possibly go wrong.
e) Engineers and Scientists might be able to make anything, but a Humanities specialist might be able to tell you whether or not it is a good idea.

With such a small cast it was really well done and was both entertaining and thought provoking.  The SFX weren’t flashy but integrated neatly into the frame and thereby added to the story rather than distract from it.


Jupiter Ascending (2015, dir. The Wachowskis)

This one got hammered by the critics and general audiences alike.  Personally, I thought it was a great SF version of Cinderella.  OK, so it wasn’t an SF blockbuster action movie as the trailer may have led us to believe, but it was a pretty good adaptation of the fairytale and had Jupiter not needed rescuing quite so much, would have been a strong contender for a decent feminist SF film with mass appeal.  It just felt a little disjointed and pitched awkwardly to different audiences.  Visually, as we have come to expect from the Wachowskis, it was stunning and the alien technology, the ships and all the SFX were first rate.  But I think that in a few years people might re-evaluate it as a fairytale and it will get a lot better traction.


Chappie (2015, dir. Neill Blomkamp)

This was a film I was really disappointed in.  I loved District 9, but this one (like Elysium) left me cold.  It felt like a slightly tedious and overly serious remake of Short Circuit (1986, dir. John Badham) without Steve Gutenberg.  The story made almost no sense, the themes were disjointed rather than marrying up into a cohesive whole, and the comic beats fell in all the wrong places for me.  It also seemed to be unable to settle on whether it was a social commentary, an action movie, or a film about AIs.  Even the impressive cast couldn’t save this one for me.


Furious 7 (2015, dir. James Wan)

What can I say?  This was just like all the others.  It was a slow Sunday.  There was nothing else on.  If you enjoyed the first raft of these films then you will enjoy this one.  Fast cars, over the top action, scenery chewing acting, and cornball dialogue.  And it has Vin Diesel.  That is the major reason to see it.


Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015, dir. Joss Whedon)

I might actually do a full review of this sometime, but in short form… it was a superhero blockbuster that almost equally divided its time between three things:
1) promoting the next instalments in the franchise;
2) Pure action scenes depicting orgies of narratively irrelevant wanton destruction;
3) Actual story.
It looked pretty though, and I am sucker for Superhero stories.


Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, dir. George Miller)

This was one of the highlights of the cinematic year for me.  I am not really a gear head in anyway, and didn’t grow up on the Mad Max films so I was a bit wary going into this one, but I loved it.  Tom Hardy did an amazing job channelling a young Mel Gibson.  Charlize Theron was unsurprisingly brilliant in this.  The story was action packed and had a deep thematic resonance.  The visuals were amazing. Even though it is essentially one long chase, Miller did a fantastic job carving up the scenes to alter the pace and mood along the way.  I just loved this film.  An action movie is fun, interesting, thought provoking, has great acting and characters, stunning visuals and that challenges concepts of patriarchy without being preachy… who’da thunk it.  A really excellent film.


Tomorrowland (2015, dir. Brad Bird)

This was another Sunday afternoon that I had little better to do.  It was surprisingly alright.   OK so the villainous Hugh Laurie was ridiculous and nonsensical, but there was some interesting stuff in there about predestination and self-fulfilling prophecies, the misuse of technology versus its potential to save us… and there were some cool visuals and some slapstick comedy.  And its central message of optimism was actually rather endearing and refreshing given the cynicism and world-weariness that seems the prevalent mode at present.  I won’t be rushing out to buy the DVD and re-watching it any-time soon.  But there were worse ways that I could have spent that afternoon.


Inside Out (2015, dir. Pete Docter)

It might not have done as well as Finding Nemo (2003, dir. Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich) but this was a fun family animated film that had some great voice acting and some heart wrenching scenes about growing up.  I may have teared up a little at the fate of the imaginary friend, Bing Bong, and, barbarian that I am, I actually preferred it to Nemo.


San Andreas (2015, dir. Brad Peyton)

This has to have been one of the most unintentionally hilarious films I have ever seen.  I spent most of the time watching it struggling not to laugh uproariously at the ridiculous dialogue, the massive plot holes, the complete lack of intelligence and the wonderfully unsubtle characterisations.  This is a great film to watch if you need cheering up.  I really, really enjoyed it… just not in the way I think the director intended.


Jurassic World (2015, dir. Colin Trevorrow)

So apparently 2015 was the year of the re-quel.  Part re-make and part sequel, this was pretty much a more sparkly and visually up-to-date re-make of the 1993 original.  So if you liked it, you will probably like this.  The dinosaurs looked cool though.  Yeah.  Not much to say on this apart from it was an updated version of the original.  Huh.


Terminator Genisys (2015, dir. Alan Taylor)

Re-quel number 2 of the year for me.  I might be in a minority, but I honestly think that Arnold Schwarzenegger should never be in another Terminator film ever again.  Hey, if we can re-cast Spiderman, Batman, and Superman every couple of years, why the hell can’t we re-cast the Terminator?  It was a fun blockbuster explodey-fest that made little sense and had gaping plot holes that are undoubtedly going to be either poorly explained or made worse by subsequent films in this franchise.   Did anyone else think that both Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke were remarkably well fed looking for people meant to be living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of evil killer robots?  It lacked the grim punch of the original, but that was probably because it seemed aimed at a much younger audience.  Well, we shall have to see what the sequels will be like.


Ted 2 (2015, dir. Seth MacFarlane)

I need to find better things to do on my Sunday afternoons.  I thought this was terrible.  The crude humour of the first one was occasionally funny, but this time around it just felt stale, flat, fetid, tired, obnoxious and boring.  Ah well.


Ant-Man (2015, dir. Peyton Reed)

I love superhero films, and this one could have been great, especially if it had fully embraced its ridiculous premise.  As it is, it has the feeling of a director wanting to do the fun, silly thing and fully commit to the absurdity, and a studio intent on making it a serious action blockbuster.  So, it ended up feeling like an uneven, fairly unoriginal, origin story film.  Plus, it suffered from that same problem of working hard to advertise and set up future films in the franchise instead of focusing on the story it was meant to be telling.  But it had a fight between tiny people on a toy train.  So I don’t regret seeing it.



[1] A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

David Geddes Hartwell (10th July 1941 – 20th January 2016)

Joseph Prinz, AP Canavan & David G Hartwell ICFA 2013

(Photo by Ellen Datlow at ICFA 2013.  Joseph Printz, AP Canavan and David G Hartwell)

David Geddes Hartwell  (10th July 1941 – 20th January 2016)


I can’t quite wrap my head around the idea that David is gone.  Part of the reason is I was secretly convinced he would go on forever.  He seemed invincible, indefatigable, and impervious to the passage of time.  When I think of the genre, David is just part of that concept.  He is just there.  The genre is the wrong shape now because there is a hole where he stood.  The landscape has shifted and I can’t seem to reorient myself at the moment to comprehend the genre without him in it.

I first met David nearly 10 years ago at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA).  At the time I had just started my Ph.D. in Fantasy literature and had no idea just how important and influential David was.  Even now I find it hard to grasp David’s impact on the field and the legacy he created.  To me, then and there, he was the man that ran the conference book room, bummed cigarettes from me, and managed to make what he wore into a martial art.  Over the course of the next few years he became a friend, although I don’t think he ever forgave me for starting to alphabetise (but never quite finishing) the books in the book room.  We talked about, discussed, and heatedly debated fantasy and science fiction.  He good-naturedly bemoaned my lack of knowledge about the history of the field, always encouraged me to read more, and was never short of a recommendation, or fifteen, of books I HAD to read.

David was an editor at Tor in New York.  He was, along with Kevin Maroney, the New York Review of Science Fiction.  He was a critic, a reviewer, an editor, a collector, and a passionate consumer of great stories.  His knowledge and understanding of SF fandom, literature and history was unparalleled in my experience.  He also had a doctorate in Medieval Literature, even if he was sometimes shy about admitting to it.  He was passionate about poetry.  He used to sing ‘Teen Angel’ late at night after a few drinks.

A few years ago I spent the summer at his house in Pleasantville, NY.  For nearly three months I lived in Hartwell’s basement.  The whole house was crammed to the rafters with boxes of books, manuscripts, and correspondence with authors like Philip K. Dick, James Tiptree Jr. and Joanna Russ.  He had boxes of fanzines and newsletters stretching back to the 1950s.  There were boxes of classic SF magazines and pulps like Galaxy and Astounding. He even had a letter from Kurt Vonnegut thanking him for a review he had written of Slaughter House Five for Crawdaddy fanzine.  None of it was in any order whatsoever.

I was there that summer to help him sift through and sort those mountains of boxes and endless reams of paper into something slightly more manageable and organised.  It was like an Aladdin’s cave of treasures for someone like me.  I discovered first editions of books that he had forgotten that he had.  Letters that he thought he had lost.  Hand-annotated, typewritten manuscripts from famous and influential authors.  Pictures, notes, and memories.  All of them randomly stuffed into the hundreds of boxes that were stacked up in every room of the house.  It was the history of the genre in a tangible form.

In the evenings, he would come in from work, grab a beer, steal a cigarette from me, and then sit out on the back deck and tell me about his day at Tor.  Or he would talk to me about some aspect of fantasy writing or SF.  Or he would tell me a story about Philip K. Dick.  Or George R.R. Martin.  Or Ursula K. LeGuin.  Or Frederick Pohl.  Or any one of the great SF and Fantasy writers he had worked with, or knew, or had been to conventions with.  And he seemed to know them all.

He took me to Readercon that year and I worked his table in the book room there.  We sold books, and back issues of magazines and fanzines.  He wheeled and dealed and then headed off to sit on a panel, lead a discussion, or schmooze across the foyer.  He introduced me to the other booksellers, and introduced me to ‘Chip’ or as I had previously been aware of him, Samuel R. Delaney.  Everyone knew David, and he knew everyone.

That summer wasn’t all roses though.  David didn’t believe in air-conditioning and I ended up with heat-stroke and recurring heat-exhaustion.  We were also dependent on my cooking skills for most of the summer.  And, at times, he wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with.  But now, in light of what has happened, I am glad I was there.  I am glad I got to spend that time with him.  To listen to him.  To have him as a friend.

I can’t imagine going to ICFA and not seeing him there.  Not seeing him in the book room.  Not seeing him sauntering down the hall with his camera around his neck.  Not seeing him outside the banquet taking photos of everyone so that he could help us capture those memories.  Not having those quiet moments out by the pool when we would talk about our troubles, our worries, and happier things.

The loss of David G. Hartwell to the fields of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, is staggering.  The loss of David G. Hartwell to fandom is overwhelming.  But it is the loss of David as a friend that I feel most keenly.

David, I will miss our talks.  I will miss you stealing smokes.  I will miss your jokes and stories.  I will miss your truly terrible outfits that came close to physically making my eyes bleed.  I will miss you my friend.

I am so sorry for his family who are grieving him.  My thoughts and best wishes go out to them.

Rest in Peace David.

Blog: Some Thoughts on the latest Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice Trailer



Blog: Some Thoughts on the Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice Trailers

To say that Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) is hotly anticipated is an understatement.  Even the trailers for the film are being anticipated like a kid at Christmas barely able to contain the urge to unwrap presents in a flurry of destructive shredding and flailing limbs.  And, unfortunately for me, that is what the film promises according to this latest trailer. (see the trailer here although imdb has helpfully gathered all the trailers together as well)

Sure there is some very cool stuff in there.  The first real glimpse of Jesse Eisenberg as a twitchy, glib Lex Luthor.  It is great to see a new interpretation of the iconic character, and it will be interesting to see what Eisenberg does with it.  Admittedly I was a huge fan of Michael Rosenbaum’s interpretation of Luthor on CW’s Smallville, as an unscrupulous but brilliant businessman obsessed with power and aliens, but clearly the film franchise wanted to go in a more over-the-top, villainy for villainy’s sake kind of direction.  But it is still early days and would be unfair to judge Eisenberg on such short clips.

Ben Afflek’s Bruce Wayne being formally introduced to Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent, a moment that will no doubt have fans grinning ear to ear, is a great moment highlighted in the trailer, as is their short exchange in regard to vigilantes.  On the one hand, the unadulterated hero worship of the god-like Superman, literally and figuratively above the law bathed in sunlight, versus the fearful and potentially sinister representation of Batman, a brutal vigilante operating in the shadows and darkness.  There is a lot here to like.  Potentially a really interesting film about how some heroes are worshipped and others feared, how some extra-legal activities are not only permissible but lauded, while others are criticised and deemed dangerous.

We even get a brief look at Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who, as far as I could tell from the briefest of glances, is not wearing entirely impractical armour for a change, although one would think that thigh guards protecting the femoral artery would be kind of necessary.  Maybe leather swimwear is in fashion in Themyscira this season, who knows?   It will be great to have Wonder Woman on the big screen, and I hope Gadot is given the opportunity to show how interesting Diana’s character really is and that she is not left as a supporting bit of female muscle backing up the big boys.  In the first trailer we also catch glimpses of her ‘undercover’, so hopefully she won’t just be a bit part in this film.

As with all of Snyder’s films, we know that this is going to be sumptuously shot, saturated with various colour filters to distinguish point of view sections, presumably cold, blue filters for Batman and Gotham, sepia and golden tones for Metropolis and Superman, and some hyper-saturation for the over the top action scenes to allow deep blacks and the vivid reds and yellows of the inevitable multiple explosions, fires and devastation of multiple buildings.   There is bound to be some fantastic coverage of exaggerated violence and destruction, some slow motion shots of powerful punches, maybe even a couple of explosions rolling slowly outward so that we can experience the time dilation of Superman moving quickly to rescue Batman.  Who knows?

But… and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming…

The trailers do reveal an awful lot of the story.  And by a lot I mean a huge amount.  From the latest trailer we have:
1.) Bruce is pissed off that Superman is worshipped and is an alien and potentially could turn on the world and destroy it, so he sets out to beat him a la Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986).  Hey, nothing says great original storytelling like re-using a well-trodden and exceptionally well known story that all the fans already know and has only been previously adapted into a two part animated film once.

2.) Superman doesn’t like Batman’s methods, presumably because he disapproves of vigilantes that aren’t him, so he is out to stop Batman for Batman’s own good. And hey, if the people of Gotham wanted to be safe from criminals they should move to Metropolis, because although Superman can move faster than a speeding bullet, he never actually gathers any evidence to put criminals away so he is busy re-capturing them every day and can’t be bothered to help the most crime ridden city in DC’s universe.

3.) Superman is not universally loved, presumably because he destroyed three-quarters of Metropolis, causing untold damage and loss of life to innocent civilians in a useless battle against pretty indestructible opponents who he could have easily lured to the countryside to battle in relative peace and quiet.  So rather than acknowledge his hubris, lack of judgement, and his view of humanity as secondary to his own needs, he will prove them wrong by fighting Batman and other villains in huge destructive battles that wreak more havoc in Metropolis and/or Gotham.  The court scene/hearing from the first 3 minute trailer shows a potential for Superman to be held accountable, but let’s face it, something will happen and he will save them, and therefore be completely exculpated and exonerated.

4.) Lex takes Zod’s body to create Doomsday, who will presumably be the big set piece final villain that brings the founding members of the Justice League together in a an epic, all-out battle in which hundreds of buildings will be demolished in hugely populated areas yet with seemingly inconsequential loss of life despite the massive scale of the devastation.  I mean if one hero battling a villain and demolishing a city is good, then three heroes battling an even bigger villain must be three times as good, right? Right?

So essentially, the rest of the trailer emphasises all those aspects of Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) that I didn’t like.  Mass, wanton destruction as spectacle.  Because why try to tell a powerful story when you can just have characters blow stuff up repeatedly for 40 minutes while they relentless pound on enemies that don’t really show any sign of damage.

Seeing Batman fight Superman will be cool, I am looking forward to it.  But it unfortunately won’t exactly be suspenseful as we already know the outcome as it is in the trailer, the comic book, and the animated adaptation, as well as the fact that this film serves as a set-up for The Justice League Part One (2017) film.  Showing Doomsday in the trailer all but guarantees that the fight between Batman and Superman will have to finish at least 20 minutes before the end of the film to give them time to team up against Doomsday and have a short coda in which they talk to Wonder Woman and wrap things up.  If the fight with Doomsday is less than 20 minutes then fans will feel short changed, so it will probably move around quite a bit as the three heroes fight him individually and together.  Maybe have a few saves and protecting each other.  Throw in a couple of barbed comments from Wonder Woman and call it a day.

Which means that we will have about 15 minutes of Batman fighting thugs in Gotham as backstory to introduce Afflek’s Batman to the franchise.  Plus a couple of minutes with Alfred as we need to see Jeremy Irons version of Bruce’s ultra-capable attaché , so we will call this 20 minutes all in.  Hopefully we won’t see any flashback of Bruce’s parents because no one needs to see that origin story again… ever.  Oh not wait, we will definitely get that flashback … again, because there might be one person on the planet who in going to see this movie does not know about Batman’s origin story… maybe… two.

5 minutes of flashbacks to the Man of Steel to re-use the expensive footage, but from Batman’s perspective so that we understand Bruce’s anguish over losing people to the destruction caused by Superman and Zod et al.  Plus it gives motivation and brooding time to Afflek’s character.

10 to 15 minutes of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent meeting each other and Lex.  Testosterone and glowering looks all round methinks.   Maybe some witty repartee and growled banter.  Perhaps a short meeting of Bruce and Lois so that Clark can look a bit jealous.

15 minutes of miscellaneous Superman saves to show how awesome and heroic he is.  Possibly a montage, but we will have at least one extended scene of an awesome save (probably the rocket shown in the trailer which will possibly be blowing up during the hearing and thus require him to leave and save the day).

5 minutes of Superman worship and anti-worship depicted to add some depth (the scene at the courtroom with the protesters where Superman will probably be called to account for his part in the destruction of Metropolis but ultimately will be praised for brawling in the city with his dad’s best friend).

20 minutes of scenes at the Daily Planet and in Metropolis in which we catch up with Perry and Lois, and have some awkward scenes with Lois and Clark as they negotiate the rushed relationship storyline from the last film and try to establish some chemistry this time around, and Lois uncovers deep dark secrets about Mark Zuckerberg Lex Luthor.

10 minutes of Luthor coming up with a ridiculous, over the top plan to destroy Superman for some flimsy reason, some mad science stuff with kryptonite from the bottom of the sea (which may explain Aquaman showing up) that will look cool and yet make no sense whatsoever.

5 Minutes of Luthor capturing and monologuing to Lois about his evil, nefarious plan.

10 minutes of Batman prepping to fight Superman and getting the scene set up.  Some Batcave action, some making equipment and training montages, you know the drill.

20 minutes of Batman and Superman fighting through the storyboard from Miller’s comic.  It will look cool, there will be plenty of explosions, but no tension or suspense as we will all be waiting for Wonder Woman and Doomsday to show up.  They will come to a halt eventually, probably because word has come in of something more pressing, like Doomsday rampaging around a suspiciously well maintained yet abandoned industrial park devoid of civilian workers.

25 Minutes of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman fighting Doomsday, destroying three quarters of the city and miraculously not killing thousands of civilians.

5 minutes of wrapping things up and desperately plugging the Justice League film.  I mean we have to add in some scene with Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash, even if they are brief cameos, or help in the fight against Doomsday.  I am assuming that Aquaman will be peeved about the destruction the world engine did to the ocean in Man of Steel.

5 minutes of Batman and Superman grudgingly respecting each other and mooching back to their respective abodes.

So if the film comes in around 2hrs and 30 minutes we have a good idea of what the film will contain.

So the film will look great, have lots of things blowing up, plenty of destruction, and will be a fantastic 2 hr 30 minute trailer for the Justice League film.  Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it will be a cool film focusing on the alienation of superheroes, their actions outside the law, their disconnect from everyday reality and the cost of their battles on everyday folk.

I will still be going to see it opening weekend.



‘Awards or Bust’ Guest Blog by Steven Erikson

erikson_fiAwards Or Bust

by Steven Erikson

A commentary on the World Fantasy Awards Committee’s decision to replace the Gahan Wilson H. P. Lovecraft bust.

This past weekend I sat at a table during the banquet and awards ceremony at the Saratoga Hilton, as Guest of Honour for the 2015 World Fantasy Awards.  This was where the announcement was made official: the WFA was bringing to an end the H.P. Lovecraft bust given annually in recognition of a host of exemplary accomplishments within the field of Fantasy literature and related media.  The bust’s replacement is yet to be determined, and without doubt will be selected with the WFA’s philosophy of inclusiveness and diversity foremost in mind.  The applause in response to this announcement was loud and effusive.

In a fit of contrariness I had elected to attend the convention without my laptop, and with my phone on the fritz I found myself essentially incommunicado with everyone but those whom I met and hung out with at the convention.  Returning home, however, I found on my Facebook page a commentary on the WFA’s decision, written by the multiple WFA winner Steve Jones.  Accompanying the commentary was a photo of three Lovecraft busts.

I quote his comment here:

“I am inordinately proud of my three World Fantasy Awards. I am proud of the work and the body of work that I won them for. I am proud that they are a stylised representation of H.P. Lovecraft – one of the most influential and creative writers of imaginative fiction the genre has ever known. I am proud that they are nicknamed the “Howie” award after that other influential giant of fantasy literature, Robert E. Howard. And I am proud that they were designed and sculpted by Gahan Wilson, a founding member of the World Fantasy Convention and one of our most talented artists and authors in the field of the macabre. It is an honour to own and display these awards in my home. What I am not proud of is the World Fantasy Convention Board and their cowardly response to a small but vocal minority of people who have no sense of history or tradition. Censorship – in all its malicious and insidious forms – is always reprehensible. Let him (or her) who is without sin cast the first stone . . .” (Steve Jones)

This statement earned plenty of ‘likes’ and the reply stream was extensive, with a mostly unanimous rendition of ‘hear hear’ and similar affirmatives.  And among those replies I found the common list of such terms as ‘social justice warriors’ (and indeed, even ‘social justice bullies’) as well as ‘political correctness,’ both used in their modern pejorative meaning.  The contempt and disdain veritably dripped.

Over my morning coffee, I sat at the desk, laptop open before me, and simply stared, dumbfounded.  My wife took note (that in itself a miracle of sorts) and asked me what was wrong?  I stumbled to answer, and in the end could only shake my head.  It’s now a few days later, and Steve Jones has since added to the topic with a poem, further indicating his objection to the WFA’s decision, and yet more replies and ‘likes’ have piled up on that post.

Normally, it’s in my nature to let these debates slide past me, to leave people to their opinions.  Most of what I have to say, I say first and foremost through my fiction, and even in that context, not in terms of opinions or agenda, or didactic polemics disguised as fiction.  I am by nature inclined to question and hold to a deep-seated suspicion of certitude, especially when it comes to human affairs.

That said … holy crap.

Symbols are potent things.  Before I expound on the relevance of that statement, let me first make the following distinction, because not only is it important, it is also essential to the point I am about to make.  The past winners of the WFA are among a select few: their accomplishments in the field are exemplary and impressive.  Steve Jones (and all the others) earned their awards for their extraordinary talent and effort to advance Fantasy (and related) literature – as writers, editors, publishers and as fans of the genre.  This is not in question, and nothing related to the Lovecraft bust should in any way degrade or discount their exceptional merit as recipients.

But I will say it again: symbols are potent things.  As the physical, durable manifestation of a community of peers’ recognition for achievement, they should in every way reflect the inclusiveness, the diversity, and the unmitigated adherence to merit above all other considerations.

Lovecraft was a poet and storyteller of the macabre.  He was loyal to his friends and supportive of their efforts.  He was also a white supremacist.  This detail was not relegated to his private life, either, hidden away like a disreputable habit.  In his poetry and in his fiction he evoked the racist creed, labelling people of colour as inferior versions of humanity.

Some might raise the observation that Lovecraft was a man of his time, and therefore excusable for his objectionable views on race.  Of course, there were other men (and women) of that time, who were not racists.  Some of them, indeed, were neither white nor male.  Accordingly, to those apologists attempting the ‘historical context’ argument, it just doesn’t fly, folks.  The proof of that is plain enough and I’ll state it here: those who seek to apologise for the beliefs and attitudes of people in the past invariably do so in defense of the egregious and the objectionable.  Nobody apologises for those people in the past who held virtuous views, do they?  No, they laud such people and name them unusually enlightened.

Lovecraft had neighbours who were not racists.  The historical context argument is bullshit.

Among the replies to Steve Jones’ first post, a WFA winner was mentioned as being perhaps a principal advocate for change in voicing her offense at the Lovecraft bust, eventually leading to the WFA Committee’s decision to retire it.  To which the venerable and Lifetime Achievement award winner (and friend) Ramsey Campbell chimed in to point out that this particular winner was unaware at the time of the racist fug surrounding Lovecraft the man, only later making her objections after being informed by someone else.

What a curious statement!  I do adore you, Ramsey, and at the very real risk of burning a bridge I’d rather not burn, what on earth was the point of that observation?  That her objection can be dismissed based on her ignorance of the man that bust portrayed?

Let’s indulge in a scenario here: a man is pulled out from some previously isolated, utterly unknown tribe in the depths of, oh, say the Congo.  He is brought forward to receive the highest award possible for his achievements in whatever – let’s go for Genetic Purity: after all this guy’s got the oldest genetic sequence on the planet.  Humbled and delighted he graciously accepts this strange bust portraying some strange man he knows nothing about.  A short time later, he’s sitting at a café, sipping espresso, with the bust standing before him on the table.  And he’s thinking, how lovely and generous and wonderful of those people at the Gene Sequencing Association, to think of me for something like this!’  At which point a fiercely frowning man walks up to his table and in a furious voice asks: “why do you have a bust of Adolf Hitler?”  ‘Well, stammers the poor man, ‘he was big in the field of genetic purity.  Wasn’t he?’

Culpability rests not with the unknowing recipient, but with those of us who know better.

In the shoes of that fictional man, I’d be stalking the hall of the Gene Sequencing Association, statue in hand and ready to bust some heads.  Ramsay, would you blame me?

Steve, your objection seems misplaced, or at least the product of some strange misapprehension.  You have the right to be proud to have thrice won the WFA.  Nobody’s attacking your pride or sense of accomplishment: certainly not me.  You have indeed earned it.  My beef isn’t with any of that.  It’s with Lovecraft as a symbol of the WFA’s appreciation and recognition of its peers.  And this so-called ‘small but vocal minority of people who have no sense of history or tradition’ thing … really?  Minority in what sense, exactly?  Their objection to a white supremacist?  No sense of history or tradition?  Whose history?  Whose tradition?  Well, presumably, the correct one?  The nineteenth and early Twentieth Century White Racist American one?

As for your objection (and poem) decrying censorship, I’m sorry, but who exactly is being censored here?  Lovecraft’s more egregious writings are all available to be read by anyone.  If you have the stomach for it.

I would humbly suggest that conflating the meritorious award with the bust that represents it is a mistake; to fuse your rightful pride in winning those awards with some sort of pride in the literary accomplishments of a talented but odious man, is a decision of dubious merit.  Please reconsider.  Your view of history and tradition (as inherently good things) is highly selective here, and it doesn’t wear well at all.

Before I leave this, I have to comment on three statements made (by people I don’t know) in the replies to Steve Jones’ post (acknowledging here that such replies do not necessarily reflect Mr. Jones’ own opinions or beliefs).  I will quote them verbatim first:

David J. SchowIt’s another cowardly cave-in to the PC police, who would gladly censor the writing as well, so long as some sensitive little snowflake doesn’t get all butt-hurt. It disrespects the award and insults everyone who ever adjudged it. Dostoyevsky wasn’t all that swell of a human being, either — where does it stop? Answer: It DOESN’T stop until everything is ashes and pabulum. The Mystery Writers of America award a trophy in the image of Poe; is that the next target? Now sit back and enjoy the feeding frenzy in this chum bucket, as folks fight to choose between (1) a bust of somebody who is totally, utterly inoffensive, and/or (2) a stylized safe-zone choice that will undoubtably [sic] resemble a dildo. Or a butt plug. Which would be (ahem) fitting.

Adrian Cole I agree wholeheartedly with you, Steve. I’m sick to death of all the recent political correctness for one reason or another. Bollocks! This award is not about racism. We’re getting too soft. Too particular, too sensitive. We don’t need to be. Life’s too fucking short.

Lawrence PersonDamn straight Stephen! This perpetual SJW culture war is driving people out of the field.

I’ll address these in order.  Schow’s opening line establishes the nature of the perceived enemy (to freedom, one supposes), invoking ‘cowardly’ and ‘cave-in’ and of course the ubiquitous ‘PC police,’ and then, having done so (said act of reading by yours truly implying a knowing nod and tsk tsk), proceeds to expound on the nefarious plans of these PC police in censoring ‘the writing’ (Lovecraft’s?  I guess so), and things close out with the contemptuous dismissal of these ‘sensitive little snowflake(s).’  What follows is a highly contentious statement that eagerly invites the conflation of the award with the bust of Lovecraft, as if the two were one and the same.  In effect, to disrespect Lovecraft is to disrespect every WFA award winner, and to insult everyone who adjudged it.

Uhm, who says so?  Am I unique in ‘disrespecting’ Lovecraft (as a symbol of merit in Fantasy) while sincerely respecting all award winners?  As for the insult to those adjudging that award, I have been one, and I’m not insulted in the least.  Am I the only one?

We then move on to the bad habits of other writers in the past, leading to the outrageous notion that from now on every award should be symbolized by … what?  Oh, ‘somebody who is totally, utterly inoffensive.’  Good grief, what a crime that would be!  To think, an award symbol that doesn’t offend anybody!  What will they think of next?

As for the dildo and butt comments … never mind.  To each his own.

Adrian Cole chimes in to rail against political correctness and points out that the World Fantasy Award is not about racism, and he’s right.  It’s not.  So why symbolise it with the bust of a racist?  We are then chided on getting ‘too soft’ and life’s too short to be ‘particular’ and ‘sensitive.’  In other words, this life, being so short, is better spent being insensitive, hard of countenance and dismissive of the particular.

Well, in the interest of fairness, if that’s your life, Mr Cole, you are welcome to it.

And now we come to Lawrence Person.  Let me quote him again here: “Damn straight Stephen! This perpetual SJW culture war is driving people out of the field.” 

I’m curious, who exactly is being driven out of the field?  Please list names.  Or never mind, it’s only Facebook, after all.  What really interests me about this comment is the usage of this ‘perpetual SJW culture war,’ which appears as a lingering echo to the Sad/Rabid Puppy fiasco at the Hugos.

Clearly, there exists a group of people for whom Social Justice Warriors are the enemy.  The descriptive is used pejoratively, demonstrably in tones of disdain, dismissal, disgust and a whole host of other disses.  Similar to its antecedent, ‘political correctness,’ the common usage (as pejoratives) asserts the idea that such advocates have laid siege to freedom of expression.

But you see, I get hung up on the descriptive itself, because I am invariably led to ask myself: Who is against those who fight for social justice?  For the moment, only two possibilities come to mind, and both are, at their core, idiotic.

  1. The self-avowed enemies of social justice are against social justice, and therefore for social injustice.  Presumably, such people dream of some ideal fascistic state of tyranny in which they are the oppressors rather than the oppressed.  You know, like how it used to be.  Accordingly, they’re not interested in ‘freedom of expression’ at all.  I assume we’re talking a serious minority here, but to use Steve Jones’ own phrase, they are a vocal minority.
  1. The self-avowed enemies of social justice are not enemies of social justice at all. Rather, they are enemies of a particular brand of social justice, one diametrically opposed to their own brand of social justice.  In which case, their use of SJW as a descriptive of contempt is akin to unleashing a stream of sneering and invective at the (slightly altered) face in the mirror.  Which makes their continued usage of the term sound, well, stupid.

Hey, the webscape is indeed a battlefield, and warriors patrol their ideological borders with zeal, and on each side there is a kind of amorphous sense of social justice.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s fine.  Have at it and let loose the dogs, etc.  It’s all good fun, until somebody starts up with the threats and bullying and all those other defenses most eagerly employed by the losing side.

And let’s face it, one side is indeed losing.  The world is moving on.  It is discarding objectionable attitudes, prejudices and intolerance.  All good things, yes?

The time was long past due on getting rid of that bust.  And at the table at the banquet at the World Fantasy Awards, I made my applause loud and sustained.  And as for the Lovecraft pin I wear to conventions, indicating a past nomination, I’d love to see a new version.  In the meantime, however, I will continue to wear it, not in belligerent advocacy of H.P. Lovecraft, but to honour all past winners of the World Fantasy Award.

In my mind I can make that distinction.  That I have to lies at the heart of the problem with having Lovecraft as our symbol of merit.  To all future nominees and winners, you won’t have to face that awkward separation, and for that, you can thank that ‘vocal minority,’ who perhaps have not been vocal enough, and who are most certainly not a minority.  Not in this field, not in any other.

Steven Erikson

Note: Edited to correct the name to Jones from Stone.

World Fantasy Award – The Saga Continues

WF Award 1

For those outside the SF and Fantasy community the current strife within SF and Fantasy fandom might seem ludicrous.  With names like Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, terms like Social Justice Warriors, and the increasing levels of online harassment, vitriol, hatred, and threats of violence, it can seem like a bad soap opera in which stakes are raised ever higher over insignificant things.
For those outside fandom, the ink spilled on these issues seems a waste given all the other things the media could be covering, although whether or not Actor A is dating Actor B has never really struck me as an important news story anyway.
But for those of us within SF and Fantasy fandom, academia, and publishing, these incidents are not insignificant, they are not mountains made out of mole-hills, but are very real arguments.  The threats of violence are real.  The online harassment is real.  The hatred is real.  And the behaviour of some people, who I am sure are nice people once you get to know them, is about as disgusting and reprehensible as you can get.

This all seems to be happening as SF and Fantasy try to make their way into the 21st Century.  To attempt to recognise that the literary landscape of the new millennium is broader, wider, deeper and far more diverse than it was before.  That fandom crosses genders, politics, sexualities and interests.  That authors are coming from more and more diverse backgrounds and trying to articulate ever greater points of view.  And there are those who would prefer to have the genres remain static, never changing, trapped in perfect amber, and coloured by nostalgic (and at times fairly racist and misogynist) rose-tinted glasses.

The latest/current kerfuffle arises over the decision to no longer use a bust of renowned horror writer, and racist, H.P Lovecraft, as the trophy for the World Fantasy Award.

I know, I know, it is hard to believe that anyone would be upset that the bust of a long deceased horror writer is no longer going to be used for a fantasy award in the 21st Century, but apparently some people feel pretty strongly that this is a snub to H.P Lovecraft.  Unfortunately, due to the fact that he is long dead, he wasn’t available to comment.  However S.T. Joshi, a prominent advocate, editor and scholar of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, was quick to announce his displeasure at this decision to stop using the bust of an author to represent achievement in the entire field of fantasy in the modern era, and announced that he would be returning his two World Fantasy awards.  Given that he is such a fan of Lovecraft, and that now he will no longer be able to get new ones, you would think that he would want to hold on to them.  But apparently even he doesn’t really want them in his house.

Nnedi Okorafor eloquently wrote about her discomfort over the award (to put it mildly) nearly four years ago  ( and Jason Sanford ( recently outlined why a bust of Lovecraft is not really the kind of symbol any self-respecting fan of SF or Fantasy would want as an award.  So I recommend you read those blogs if you want further details.

And, to be honest, there is not really much more that can be added to their observations.  Lovecraft was racist.  Yes, he wrote a load of books that many of us have devoured and enjoyed, or at the very least interrogated and examined.  But just because he wrote a load of horror stories in the early 20th century, and was a significant pulp author, doesn’t really answer the question as to why he should continue to be the symbol for a fantasy award in the modern day when, quite frankly, he represents a deeply troubling aspect of our culture that upsets a significant number of fans and authors.

I am fairly sure we can come up with a better award statue that doesn’t piss people off.  And, if people so desire, I am sure they can set up a HP Lovecraft Award and use the bust design for that.  I am not sure what the criteria would be though… racist, homophobic horror literature that belongs in the past?

So that brings us on to what the new award should look like.  The World Fantasy award should probably reflect two major things.  Firstly ‘World’ and secondly, ‘Fantasy’.  There is a third aspect that might have some bearing and that is that most of the categories are literary, so some aspect of literature might be nice to work in there.

So here are a few ideas and comments.

Avoid using the bust of any other author, no matter how popular or influential.  It isn’t worth the hassle, and no one author can truly represent the breadth and depth of fantasy writing in the modern day.  It also has the problem that some people will think that author is awesome, while others won’t be as impressed.  You can’t please everyone.  Plus, linking the award to a physical person will run the risk of real life intruding, once again, into what should be an award for current work, not what the award is modelled on.
Suggestions like a ‘sword in the stone’, while iconic fantasy, are really only representative of a particular type of fantasy, and that myth is located firmly in the Western Anglo tradition.  If we want an award that represents the world then we might have to think a little harder about it.

The iconic nature of dragons could also be a sticking point for some given that Eastern Dragons, Western Dragons, Feathered Serpents and so on, have ties to specific cultures.  So having one might, and I say might, be seen as excluding the others.

I did see a suggestion that the award take the form of the discworld from Terry Pratchett’s work.  As much as I am a fan of his books, I don’t think that tying the award to a specific author’s work is the way forward.  By all means have a Terry Pratchett award and use it there, but for World Fantasy can we possibly have something that is not tied to any one work or author?

We could have the globe as the major aspect of the award with a crack forming in it as if it is an egg with the snout of a draconic thing emerging.  That would tie into the World aspect, as well as represent the fantastic element as the fantastic emerges from the world.  Given that only the snout would be visible it would be hard to say if the creature was from one specific culture.

A globe held in a fantastic talon.  Hard to tie talons to specific cultural stories, and if the globe spun on an axle the winner could decide what countries faced out.

A book with a wand lying across the pages.  The book could have the word fantasy written in multiple languages across its pages.

A wizard’s staff lying across a spell book.

A book with claws, tentacles and such escaping the pages.

A tree with fantastic symbols and icons hanging from its branches.  The symbols could be taken from different mythologies and cultures.  The tree could be stylised or completely unreal to avoid promoting any one specific mythology (I am looking at you Norse Mythology).

A map scroll partially rolled with an adventurer’s pack with potions and a spell book. Throw in a wand, a staff, or anything else you want for good measure.

The more I think about it the more I realise that even if Lovecraft wasn’t a racist, his bust was completely inappropriate for the award anyway.  There are so many different symbols, icons, and aspects of fantasy that can be used that it is ridiculous that we used his head for so long anyway.

A Response to George R.R. Martin’s Interview


Earlier this year, in an article on Entertainment Weekly George R.R. Martin explains why there is violence against women in his series A Song of Ice and Fire.

From the outset I want to make it very, very clear that George R.R. Martin, as with any author, is perfectly entitled to do whatever he wants in his world, to and with his characters and has no need to justify those reasons to me.  I was a fan of the first few books in the series, and I am all for greater numbers of fantasy books and TV shows being created.  This discussion is about the article and the arguments he makes justifying the depiction of rape and sexual violence against women in his novels.

George R.R. Martin offers three interlinked explanations as to why there is so much rape and sexual violence against women in his novels.  Given the amount of ink spilled on the sexual violence in his novels and in the TV Show adaptation it is understandable that his explanations are more akin to defences to charges.  So what are his points?

Defence 1: Temporal Realism – The books are a reflection of Medieval society therefore the depiction of sexual violence against women is justified on the basis it happened in the Middle Ages.
“The books reflect a patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were not a time of sexual egalitarianism. It was very classist, dividing people into three classes. And they had strong ideas about the roles of women.” – Martin

Defence 2 : Balancing Realism and Fantasy – Although it is a fantasy you can’t change everything.
“If you’re going to do [a fantasy element], it’s best to only do one of them, or a few. I wanted my books to be strongly grounded in history and to show what medieval society was like, and I was also reacting to a lot of fantasy fiction. Most stories depict what I call the ‘Disneyland Middle Ages’—there are princes and princesses and knights in shining armor, but they didn’t want to show what those societies meant and how they functioned.” – Martin

Defence 3 : Realism of the Human Condition – Rape and sexual violence is the dark underbelly of the human condition and it would be dishonest to pretend it doesn’t exist.
“I’m writing about war, which what almost all epic fantasy is about. But if you’re going to write about war, and you just want to include all the cool battles and heroes killing a lot of orcs and things like that and you don’t portray [sexual violence], then there’s something fundamentally dishonest about that. Rape, unfortunately, is still a part of war today. It’s not a strong testament to the human race, but I don’t think we should pretend it doesn’t exist.” – Martin

With all due respect to Mr Martin I don’t think these are persuasive arguments and I am going to explain why.

Before I get started, here is a great article (and this one) that breaks down the incidents of rape and sexual violence in the book series as well as the TV show so we know what we are talking about.

To summarise:

Rape acts in ASOIAF the book series (to date): 214

Rape victims in ASOIAF (to date): 117

With the exception of Maester Kerwin who was gang raped, and the victims of Septon Utt (young boys he raped and murdered), all the other rapes are performed on women. All of them.  That is over 200 acts of rape and sexual violence against women mentioned or depicted in the novels, and just over 10 are depicted or mentioned in regard to sexual violence and rape of men and boys.  Just let that sink in for a moment.  Less than 5% of the sexual violence of the world of A Song of Ice and Fire is perpetrated against men.

So how does this relate to Martin’s defences?  If Martin wants to make the argument that his world building is gritty and realistic and follows a more believable pattern of the medieval time period then he has some very skewed perceptions about rape and sexual violence.

A simple example that exposes this bias and skewed thinking can be found in the institution of the Night’s Watch.  He populates the Night’s Watch with murderers, rapists, thieves, and the cast-offs of society, sends them up to the middle of nowhere, prevents them from mixing with anyone else, denies them access to a civilian population with which to fraternise, and yet they never indulge in the rape or sexual assault of the newcomers to the Watch.

They might hate each other, want to kill each other, scheme against one another, but certainly not rape each other. Because we all know that rape never happened in the military, never happened in prisons, and certainly wouldn’t happen in a quasi-military force made up of criminals locked away from the rest of humanity.

Therefore Martin’s work suggests that it is more believable that an army of men, made up of the dregs of humanity, kept in close ranks and away from any other distractions, don’t indulge in rape, whereas the rape of noblewomen, protected female wards and commoners alike is commonplace.

So even if Martin’s aim is to have represented a brutal reality of a harsh and unforgiving medieval-esque world, there is a strong authorial bias toward sexual violence against women that far outweighs and overshadows any of the sexual violence against men.  Given that there is a substantial body of literature and scholarship on pederasty, sodomy, lechery, paedophilia and male rape in the Medieval time period and earlier, it is clear that Martin’s choice to focus on sexual violence against women is clearly that; an authorial choice.  Male rape did exist.  Male rape was common enough throughout history to have numerous mentions and strictures in religious texts, laws and customs throughout the world.  If Martin is going to use historical veracity as a defence he has chosen a strangely biased form of that veracity to depict in his novels.

By his own argument then, to depict a realistic version of Medieval society warts and all, Martin has failed in his worldbuilding.

But Martin then argues that this is only a Medieval-esque world, that one can only change so much.  So perhaps excluding male rape is one change too many for him.  This leads us to the discussion of his assertion that you can only change certain things.

I would fundamentally disagree with this premise, and also disagree with the argument that to include an element of gender equality would produce boring results.  Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen is just as epic, gritty, detailed, and hard hitting as Martin’s ASoIaF, yet it manages to be so despite the fact that there is gender and sexual equality.  Erikson has written a fantasy world with tension, drama, and tragedy without using rape as a quick plot device to provide flavour to the actions of male characters or making it a boring feminist utopia in the way that Martin assumes such writing must be.  Erikson has women serving openly in the military, leading countries, being generals, assassins, mages, heavy infantry and so on and so forth.  Yet no one has ever accused his writing of being a boring utopia without drama.

Martin is a professional and successful author, and he knows that there are innumerable ways to create drama and tension in fiction without resorting to sexual violence against women.  He is also well read enough to know of, if not to have read, several of the great Feminist Science fiction novels by authors such as Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ and Marge Piercy (to name but a few), who wrote about feminist societies and gender equal societies without creating ‘a pretty boring book’.  So it is more than a little disingenuous to claim that he needed sexual violence in order to create drama.

But his third defence is perhaps the most troubling of his reasoning here as not only does it damn him in his choice to depict so much female rape and so little male rape, but it also undercuts his argument that you can only change a few things in fantasy.  He claims that he is attempting to show the dark side of the human condition, that to deny that rape happens in war is ‘fundamentally dishonest’.  So is it fundamentally dishonest of him to not depict the horrors of male on male rape in war and in the medieval armed forces?  But even if that is not persuasive, we can also ask if you are going to depict rape to illustrate the darkness of the human condition, do you have to depict rape against women over 30 times on average per book?

By not depicting male rape should we view him as a dishonest writer refusing to acknowledge that dark side of human nature?  And let me remind you, those were his words, not mine.  If his work is about the human condition, even its darkside, then his fully realised characters are all any reader needs to engage with the story.  He could easily jettison a lot of the sexual politics and gender bias and still have written a compelling, dark and gritty fantasy world.  The world doesn’t need rape to make it realistic, his characters, their personalities and how they come alive on the page, make it realistic.  The world can be as fantastic and as strange as his imagination can stretch, and it will still be accessible to readers as long as there are characters in the novel whose experiences entertain or move us.

Don’t take this as me arguing for more male rape in the novels.  Personally I would like a lot less rape, of all kinds, in the novels.  But if Martin is going to make the argument that rape is necessary to depicting the world, then let’s be honest about this.  He has deliberately chosen to write a lot of rape into the books, but is clearly uncomfortable with writing male rape.  So there is authorial choice and authorial bias in what he has chosen to put on paper.  No claim of realism, historical fact or historical inspiration defends his choice to actively depict these violent assaults and rapes.  He is a smart man, a talented writer, and, I am sure, a very nice human being, so he knows there are other ways of working that aspect of the world into a story without it being a ‘go to’ tool for character development and drama.

Put simply, he is not writing a medieval historical novel, he is writing medieval inspired fantasy.  That means that every aspect of medievalism he chooses to bring into his world is a deliberate choice, a deliberate authorial act.  He is under no obligation to bring them all over, nor does he have any obligation to focus on those aspects explicitly in his novels.  He is not bound by the realities of the medieval world.  So his choice to portray a lot of female rape and violence is exactly that, a deliberate authorial choice.  His choice not to portray male rape is exactly that, a deliberate authorial choice.  The prevalence of either act in the Middle Ages has no bearing, whatsoever, on how often he decides to utilise them in his narrative about Westeros.  At no point does he have to include male or female rape.  If he simply acknowledged that instead of trying to defend his choice as historical realism I would have a great deal more sympathy for his position, and would be the first to defend his authorial choice.  But he is the one who is sidestepping ownership of these choices behind the flimsy excuse of historical realism.

The thing is I don’t, in any way, think that Martin is a dishonest writer.  I don’t think he is a bad writer.  I think he is genuine in his desire to explore the darkside of the human experience and to explore some of the darkness of the Middle Ages.  But my point is that he is being extremely selective about which aspects he explores, and therefore this has less to do with realism, historical accuracy, or even a comprehensive look at humanity’s inhumanity, and far more to do with authorial intent and specific narrative choices.

So perhaps a more honest answer from Martin would be, ‘Yup, you are right. I am sorry. When I started the series I began with a set of assumptions about medieval reality, sexual politics and violence, and I am now stuck with that world.  It was a mistake, and right now I don’t know how to step back from it.’  Unfortunately, Martin seems to be doubling down on his stance, and given his sales figures and the popularity of the television adaptation, maybe he thinks this is justified.

Mr Martin is perfectly entitled to write his world and characters anyway he chooses, but he can’t hide behind ‘the Middle Ages were like this’ as an excuse for what he is doing in his fantasy novels, particularly when he is the one controlling the narrative.  He is the one creating the scenes.  He is the one deciding what to focus on.  He is the one deciding how each scene will be narrated.  He is the one who creates the rules of the fictional fantasy world.   He is the one crafting each and every character and their arc.  He is the author.  He just needs to own up to that.

Here endeth the rant.