Tag Archives: worldbuilding

reading standards

Well. Most of my corner of the internet is making noises about Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads this week. I’m trying not to panic too soon but I’m wary and not pleased; I really like Goodreads, and if it goes the way of Stanza or Shelfari I’m going to be really disappointed.

More than that, though, I’ve been kicking around an attempt to define my frustrations with reading in m/m. I was fussing at a friend earlier this week and suggested that maybe my standard needed to be “would I still read this if the characters weren’t gay?” …That’s not quite right, though. If the main characters in Alex Beecroft’s The Blessed Isle weren’t gay, what remained of their story probably wouldn’t draw me in. But I loved that book, devoured every sentence like a mouthful of the most elegantly crafted dessert. Her command of her prose is inspiring, and an utter delight to consume.

Other things I’ve picked up have been less thrilling. I tend to skip most contemporaries, in part because the setting doesn’t interest me, but also because if I never read another “omg, I’m gay? do I have to like musicals and interior decorating now?” passage—or even another “just so you know, being gay doesn’t mean I like musicals and interior decorating” passage—I won’t feel like I’m missing anything. Those passages always feel to me like hand-holding for straight people, coaxing them toward the shocking revelation that queers are real people with a variety of personalities and interests. I figured out that I wasn’t straight when I was 13. I’ve had two decades to come to terms with the fact that I’m still an individual rather than a template. I don’t want to read books that include the Meeting Your First Gay Person primer. I’m sure they do good things for some people, but I am not their audience.

…Which is not to say that my chosen spec fic genres are free of problems either. I love fantasy settings but I’ve seen too much d&d worldbuilding, too many cases of “of course gays are persecuted,” too many cases of “women make babies and stay out of public life, duh,” far too many cases of “religion exists to punish those horrible gay people,” and definitely too many cases of “oh no what are these strange feelings for a person of my sex that Nobody Has Ever Felt Before.” It all just feels so cookie-cutter after a while. Give me variety! Give me worlds that seem like interesting places to escape to. Give me queer heroes who have other struggles in their lives than “oh no queerness???” Give me stories where gay characters face an enemy other than homophobia: yes, we deal with that shit a lot, but it is not the only struggle in our lives.

As I write this out I’m coming to the conclusion that there’s a parallel here with straight fantasy’s rape-of-female-characters epidemic. Yes, true, this is a problem that many people in this demographic deal with. But writers: please stop acting like a female character’s sex, or a gay character’s sexual orientation, are the only possible reasons for them to be hurt or struggles for them to deal with. We’re still people. We still want to prove our theories and fight our dragons and find our treasure and discover our magical talents. We are not defined solely by the prejudices against us. Let us face other challenges.

There’s another tangent here about the importance of speculative fiction in suggesting that our society’s current prejudices are not universal, but I’m already wandering. I’ll save that bit for next time.

And if you have any recs for really strong queer spec fic that does the things I’m asking for—especially if you have recs for f/f that does this—I would absolutely love to hear them.

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trawling the wasteland

It seems like there’s a direct inverse relationship between how much I’m writing and how vividly I dream — like there’s a limited pool of imagination for me to draw from, and if I don’t use it up during the day then it will have to spill over when I’m asleep. Things have been terrible on the writing front lately, which means a few hours ago I was being hijacked into some kind of vigilante gang in either a steampunk Old West or else a post-apocalyptic wasteland; it’s hard to get dream-brains to concentrate on delineating those things clearly. I definitely remember the electrified katanas that the gang used to mark up the captives they wanted to recruit instead of kill (I got a really swank scar down one cheek). I remember that the first mission I did with them involved setting a trap for someone in a corral for their mutant livestock. I remember agonizing over where I was going to find a source for more shotgun shells before we headed out on our next mission.

I’m pretty sure I can blame that last bit on the fact that I’ve been playing Fallout 3 lately (yes, five years late — it took me a while to get over my reliance on turn-based systems). It’s neat stuff, and cool worldbuilding, with a gaping “no wait” in the middle that I keep coming back to. At character creation you can set the hero’s race and gender, so I made my Lone Wanderer a black woman. So far that has had zero effect on gameplay and only cosmetic effect on the game’s flavor — my in-game father has a black character model instead of the white version screencapped in the game wiki, and sometimes character dialogue addresses me with gendered terms. On the one hand, I really appreciate the ability to not get smacked in the face with bullshit, the ability to HAVE a hero who isn’t Generic White Soldier Dude. The fact that my black lady Wanderer gets taken seriously just as much as somebody else’s white man version. On the other hand, the history set up by the Fallout series makes this feel super weird.

See, Fallout takes place in an alternate universe that split off from ours in the 1950s, and clung to those social and stylistic norms despite its differing technological advances. The cultural upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s — with everything that meant for race and gender relations — never happened. All of the relics the player can find from the pre-war era, right up to the year 2077, feature fresh-faced gender-normative white kids. One of the songs that plays on the in-game radio is a 1948 recording called “Civilization” that is a classic riff on the “common sense from savages” style of racist comedy (“bingle bangle bungle, I’m so happy in the jungle, I refuse to go”). But despite having that all over the backdrop, it’s inexplicably absent in the foreground.

I don’t blame the developers for not wanting to tackle prejudice in a foregrounded way when they’re creating a work designed to entertain. I am a huge fan of escapist entertainment where the crap people do to each other constantly in real life is no longer an issue — I think it serves a hugely valuable purpose, and probably there should be more posts about that at some point. But when you start your worldbuilding with a historical era full of problems, whether it’s 1950s America or Victorian London or early imperial Rome, then you owe it to your audience and your craft to figure out why you’re not tackling that stuff. There are multiple right answers to that question, but leaving it blank doesn’t get you any points.

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