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Monday, 3 December 2007

Angry Feminist Writes!!

Actually, that's unfair. Hoho. I met Donna Scott, editor of Visionary Tongue at Novacon37, and discovering she was a radical feminist, and being the sort of guy who courts controversy, I asked her to review my male-orientated kickass action fest, QUAKE. I didn't think she would, but Donna has very kindly reviewed it, and given me permission to post her comments here.

I'd just like to point out that Donna's right in everything she says, and I take full responsibility for all quibbles with regards female characterisation. Hopefully, I've adressed this issue in my latest works. However, there were NO typos in the final delivered manuscript of QUAKE. The MS had been checked 8 times by me, then by Tim Holman (editor-in-chief), and then by Nick Austin, the copy-editor, who's also worked on lots of Tom Clancy novels. The MS was then passed to God only knows who- and when I received the proofs there were no less than 2 errors per page, so, over a thousand errors in the MS as a whole. It even had a section from the Yellow Pages in it, and a small section of a shopping list. Honestly, I ain't joking. I think some YTS braindead monkey at the printers was having a laugh. Anyway, despite myself and Bella Pagan (desk-editor at Orbit) working like idjits for the next two weeks, a few errors still slipped through. Frustrating!!

QUAKE- A Feminist Perspective, by Donna Scott.

First of all, I think I should tell you that once I got into the meat of the story, I found it a real page turner. The technology aspects were more than sufficiently convincing – especially the vehicular kind, which I think you must have had real fun with. The pace of the action got slicker and more exciting as the novel progressed, as is only right, and the characterisation… well, you have an excellent character in Carter, whose inner demon, Kade, provides a brilliant device for revealing his internal conflict and conveying the empathies of an outwardly deeds-over-words kind of guy. As you have been saying in your blog (yup – found it!), characterisation is key, and all a reader of any gender really wants at the end of the day are convincing characters that act in ways that seem real… at least as real as the context of the story allows ( I think we are removed from the very real in your world, which brings some very graphic-novel type images to my mind, what with the visual switches between colour and black and white, and the close-ups of people in close combat with saliva drools and droplets of blood in high definition - but you probably follow what I mean).

All good stuff.

Now, using my pink-tinted magnifying glass, I will look at the women in the text. You know I’m knee-deep in my English MA at the mo, researching feminist sf, and I’ve been reading more Russ than anyone who likes reading coherent stories can take, so my feminist critical faculties are particularly sharpened of late - though I’m probably more of a deconstructionist myself, so I tend to hear Bakhtinian voices… a bit like Carter, probably.

I wasn’t very convinced by Natasha, I’ll admit. For a pregnant lady, her legs are gorgeous instead of puffy and her bump has only just become noticeable. Nothing really inconsistent for 24 weeks and under, I suppose, but it’s almost as if Carter can’t see the baby either: there he is, passing her whisky, asking her to go snowboarding, expecting her to help when they have the intruder, wanting sex (with her pregnant body concealed either in a kimono or a peep-hole thingie)… can you hear the tutting? Can you though?

It’s great though that women’s physical strength is never in question and a Spiral operative is a Spiral operative. However, the one thing I did notice is that there isn’t a woman mentioned who isn’t gorgeous or very sexual, with perhaps the exception of the mother that gets killed by Jam - who isn’t really described, and Karla Red - who is sexual, but also some kind of grotesque by the sounds of it.

Beauty, in the case of TT, Mila and Roxi, distracts the squaddies with potential sex, or sexual nostalgia, exposing them to threatening situations, and Freddy’s finances are ruined by Charlotte, who manipulates him with her sexuality. Then you have another female Spiral operative who is pretty and gets shot in the face. Carter shoots lots of Nex in the face too, but they’re Nex… I’d guess that you are adding to the grossness of the situation and shock value by making some of the people who get destroyed beautiful, and are subverting the traditional innate ‘goodness’ of women in stories to emphasise the corruption of society in your world (particularly emphasised by the bully girls who encourage the attack on Carter and his brother with their ‘child-whore perfume’ – products they have bought into which remove their innocence, a bit like Charlotte and her LVA fuel obsession). However, I’m just saying that there might be some who read into that you think women’s sexuality is a threatening thing, that’s all…

…and then, having a character called ‘TT’, and women whose clothes fall off when they are rescued, well, that’s the cherry on the big, angry feminist cake, that is! [REM would like it to be known he called TT, um, TT after the Isle of Man motorbike races, and only later realised it could be seen as "titty". Sorree!]

Pretty much most of the examples I’ve made occur in the first third of the book. I think that some of the women who have made it past the gun-ho cover will stop reading before they get into the story because they are put off by these things, and that’s a shame because it’s a good, entertaining story and at least you have women characters. However, I’m also certain you have a fan base out there that appreciates the pretty girls in the squad for their aesthetic appeal and would want to read about that kind of thing before the story got too involving.

Also, with my editorial eye, I saw a few things that I took issue with in the first third of the book, but hey, they happen, and you’ve already had two books published since. I can let you know more details if you’re really curious - that is, if you’re not already aware – but it might not be useful now. What I will say is that the typo on p. 55 is quite funny.

By the way, I laughed out loud on the bus when you made an appearance at the end of the book (that’s where I was reading it, in case you hadn’t realised)! See, I was paying attention!

I enjoyed the book very much.

Thanks to Donna Scott! And, whilst I'll not go as far as Michael Moorcock and claim to be a feminist, I'd certainly like to point out I do believe in equality :-)

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