For the Love of God, Tim Powers, I Thought I Could Expect Better of You

by Arthur B

Despite enjoying 90% of On Stranger Tides, one particular element stuck in Arthur's craw.
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Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean theme park ride has a lot to answer for. Aside from the initially exciting but eventually disappointing film series, which has sparked a massive revival of the pirate motif (hell, even Gene Wolfe seems to have jumped on the bandwagon), it's also inspired such wonders as the Secret of Monkey Island series, and appears to have been an influence on Tim Powers' On Stranger Tides (which, itself, may have influenced Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl).

By and large, On Stranger Tides is an excellent read. It follows bookkeeper and puppeteer John Chandagnac, who's travelling to Jamaica in order to sue his uncle for stealing his father's inheritance. Naturally, he's waylaid by pirates on the way there, who appear to be collaborating with Professor Hurwood, a renowned philosopher and scientist - and a fellow-passenger of John's. Having made friends with Hurwood's daughter Beth prior to the attack, John is somewhat dismayed at this turn of events, and in a display of foolhardy bravery manages to convince the pirates that they'd better get him onside. Forced to join their crew, and given the new name of "Jack Shandy", John/Jack initially resists his fate, but a series of decisions places him decidedly outside the law; realising that he can never go back to his old life, Jack embraces his destiny as a pirate, since this is the only way he can hope to save Beth from the clutches of her evil father and his sycophantic henchman Mr Friend - and their piratical ally, Blackbeard himself!

So far, so swashbuckley. Here's where the Tim Powers bit comes in: pretty much all the pirates know at least a little magic, which they've picked up mainly through extensive contact with the voodoo practitioners of Haiti and other Caribbean islands - Blackbeard himself is a terrifyingly powerful voodoo priest who is served by zombies and who has a pact with Baron Samedi. Professor Hurwood and Mr Friend, meanwhile, are experts in the European occult tradition, which appears to cross over a certain extent with voodoo practices. (Powers presents an explanation for this which at first struck me as being somewhat too mechanistic and reductionist, until I realised that such an explanation makes perfect sense for the era of Newton and the Enlightenment, and the mechanistic understanding of the universe that was coming to light at the time - and it doesn't entirely discount the influence of such otherworldly, primal, irreducible powers such as the loa).

Hurwood, Friend and Blackbeard plan to mount an expedition to reach a legendary source of occult power in the Florida swamps - the fountain of life itself - to use its power for their own ends. Friend simply wants godlike power, Hurwood intends to resurrect his dead wife in the body of Beth, while Blackbeard is playing the long game, planning to reincarnate himself in order to escape the Royal Navy's justice - and to have another stab at carving out his own private empire in the Caribbean, perhaps kicking out the various colonial powers entirely. Jack Shandy, naturally, finds himself forced to come along for the ride in order to protect Beth, and thus gains a crash course in magic which puts him in good stead for the rest of the novel. Once the slightly-overlong Florida sequence is over, the novel culminates in a series of sea-battles, daring escapes, sorcerous duels (which are a little Dragonball Z-ish, what with the levitating and the gurning), and good old-fashioned swashbuckling, with heavy elements of the sort of bootleg occultism that Powers uses to good effect in Last Call, The Anubis Gates and the rest of his work. Interestingly, unlike Pirates of the Caribbean or Pirate Freedom (but like Monkey Island) the colonial powers of the Caribbean have next-to-no role to play in On Stranger Tides, perhaps because Powers wishes to play up the Caribbean's status as a wild frontier beyond the reach of established European authorities; beyond this, though, the novel shows an impressive depth of historical research, on a par with Pirate Freedom's, although I think at the end of the day Powers feels less need to wave his research-wang about; he uses it to better effect than Wolfe, and if it weren't for one small issue I'd say that On Stranger Tides kicks Pirate Freedom's ass and calls it a landlubbing yellow-bellied scurvy dog.

There's just a little problem: the misogyny.

There are two named female characters in this book. One of them appears a couple of times in order to act like a slut and get Jack in trouble with her man. The other one is Beth, who is useless; not only is she consistently incapable of recognising that crazy magical shit is going down until it's too late, but she lacks any redeeming quality: no personality, no hidden capacity to kick ass, nothing. She exists, in fact, solely for men to fight over her. Friend simply wants to plough her and dress her up like his mother (and in fact almost rapes her, but doesn't get very far because he's a little too fucked up to do it right). Hurwood wants to cram his dead wife's soul into Beth's body, and then plough her. The Ghost Pirate LeChuck Blackbeard wants to enter into a symbolic marriage with her in order to secure his occult power, which is destabilised after his resurrection. Jack is in love with her, and granted she loves him, but the most she's actually able to do for him in the course of the novel is get married to him so that he can beat Blackbeard. You read it right: the most important, valuable, and helpful way in which Beth can affect the course of the action is to marry some dude; she essentially has no capacity to exert any form of control over her destiny, or for that matter what she has for breakfast, independently of the men in her life.

Elaine Marley, who appears all of twice during the course of the first Monkey Island game, still manages to justify her presence in the story in those brief sequences a thousand times more effectively than Beth ever does. She is not a human being. She is simply a McGuffin in a dress, and for a book in which basically every other character is well-characterised and believably human that's unforgivable, especially considering her pivotal role in the plot. In fact, of the two named female characters in the book, both are present solely to advance the story. They are essentially woman-shaped springboards for Jack Shandy to bounce off of, catapaulting him into the next stage of the plot. This, frankly, is baffling. Granted, I can recall no female characters whatsoever in The Drawing of the Dark or The Anubis Gates, but I'm pretty sure that the ladies of Last Call (still the peak of Powers' work) were more than just motivational tits on legs.

50 milliGoodkinds for you, Mr Powers. On Stranger Tides' misogyny is only 5% as bad as that in the Sword of Truth books, but it still leaves a horrible taste in my mouth. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone if the rest of it weren't absolutely top-notch swashbuckling fun; as it is, do go out of your way to read it (a horribly flawed Tim Powers novel is still a Tim Powers novel, after all), but proceed with caution. Maybe you won't throw a horrible tizzy like I have; perhaps I'm simply being a prissy, politically correct, emasculated New Man about this whole thing, and there's nothing remotely offensive about the way that Beth is passed around like a bowl of nuts throughout the novel. I doubt it though.
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Comments (go to latest)
Dan H at 18:54 on 2008-02-29
I've not read any Powers in ages, but come to think of it I don't remember women ever being his strong point. I can't actually think of a single memorable female character in any of his books.

As such, I think it's a little unfair to call him misogynist when chances are he's just one of the many, many writers who just Can't Do Girls.
Arthur B at 00:32 on 2008-03-01
It's a hard call. On one hand, you may be right that he simply isn't good at writing women, and that he just happened to write Beth as basically a quest object to be snatched by whichever character the plot requires her to be possessed by purely by accident. On the other hand, it's entirely possible to be personally innocent of misogyny and write something that is misogynistic simply by being thoughtless, just as it's possible for good-intentioned people who don't actually have any kind of beef with folk of other ethnicities to end up writing something racist through sheer naive ignorance.

I would argue that the depiction of a woman's value as depending entirely on what various men want to get out of her is misogynistic, even if it's accidentally so. It's not just that the story is about men, pursuing what men want, and that women are sidelined: it's that the story revolves around a bunch of men all trying to possess a woman, and the woman herself a) has little-to-no say in what happens to her and b) is essentially called on to pick which one of the four men she truly wants to be with and marry him, and that's it in the terms of important or useful acts on her part.
empink at 13:18 on 2008-03-08
As such, I think it's a little unfair to call him misogynist when chances are he's just one of the many, many writers who just Can't Do Girls.
I think the misogynist label fits just right in this case, actually. A writer that Can't Do Girls is suffering from more than a sad inability to do research even when about half the population is female, and they've had mothers and sisters and female friends, and have surely noticed that the women in their lives do more than be passed around (as Arthur says) like a bowl of nuts. They are also suffering (in my opinion) from a bunch of subconscious ideas that include tripe such as "women don't really matter anyway", "women aren't very interesting" and "women are way too mysterious to get right". Why else would a writer that has shown him or herself (and I'm not just talking about Powers here) to be decently competent at doing research about locales and customs and time periods in general, fall down so completely and horribly in their treatment of women?

The failure is otherwise inexplicable and unsupportable if you don't take unconscious misogyny into account. Why else, in this era, where there are real life women everywhere being interesting and living normal lives and excercising (or not) their agency in much the same ways as men do, should someone fail to write them in a way that reflects that? Unthinking or unconscious misogyny is just as harmful as the conscious and deliberate kind, imho, and the Can't Do Girls thing is a prime example. And I'm tired of taking on works influenced by that kind of thinking where I wouldn't take on works influenced by, I dunno, Can't Do Asians, or Can't Do Blacks, or Can't Do Nonwhites, or Can't Do Lower Class. If a writer Can't Do Girls, why the heck should I believe them when they say they Can Do Fantasy or Can Do Such-and-such Era? People like that are that much more likely to be committing unthinking atrocities in the depiction of cultures, places and people they are unfamiliar with, because they're not used to confronting their blind spots in other directions.
Arthur B at 17:06 on 2008-03-08
I have to disagree here - I don't think we can simply discard everything written by people who might have held opinions we don't like, consciously or subconsciously, as being worthless on those grounds. (I especially disagree with the idea that just because a person may be prejudiced in one field, they must be prejudiced in everything else they write about too.) Rudyard Kipling was undoubtedly a racist (although I would argue he was inconsistent in his racism), but even so his output is still valuable because it's one of the few literary depictions we have from the inside of the colonial British establishment in India.

I also disagree with the idea that the fact that someone Can't Do Girls necessarily means that they are a misogynist, subconscious or otherwise. Plenty of men (especially in the geek corner) are nervous around women, not because they have any special dislike or mistrust of women but because they have issues with their own adequacy. It is entirely possible for someone to understand on an intellectual level what sort of hardships that, say, a black person in 1960s America or a woman in the 18th century would face, but to fail to grasp on an emotional level what it would be like to be on the receiving end of that experience. It is entirely possible that many male writers Can't Do Girls because they aren't girls, and lack a first-hand insight into what it's actually like to be a woman - and I don't think we've managed to come up with any society where the experience of being female is no different from the experience of being male. Writing from a perspective you have never held first-hand is a difficult trick, and you can't necessarily get a grip on writing well-rounded female/black/gay/whatever characters by saying to your female/black/gay/whatever friends "So, what's it like being female/black/gay/whatever?" It requires a certain amount of insight and observation, and sometimes people just fail at that.
empink at 17:50 on 2008-03-08
If it came across like I'm all for discarding stuff that's written by people whose opinions we don't like, I'm sorry. I was trying to say that I think stuff that's written by prejudiced people needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and that I'm more likely to pass over or ignore work produced by such people if there's similar quality work available by people not as prejudiced as them. If there's nothing else available that's up to par, well then, it's roll-my-eyes-and-read-on time.

And I'd ignore that sort of work not necessarily because I think the person making it is therefore prejudiced in other areas, but because I'm not interested in looking past or looking through the apparent prejudice that's there from the beginning. No work is perfect, but nowadays there's generally a wider selection of not-as-prejudiced or not-prejudiced-at-all work, enough that there's less and less point in grinding through the prejudiced ones in order to get to the good stuff.

I especially disagree with the idea that just because a person may be prejudiced in one field, they must be prejudiced in everything else they write about too.
As for this, I'm kind of in the middle road. I know that there are and have been awesome people that have lingering prejudices in only one area. But I still tend to think that having a prejudice in one area is a sign of possible prejudice in another area. Like, if I see someone being racist, my next thought might be that they like to think they are better than another set of different people because it makes them feel better than themselves, and the next thought after that would be, "how far does that spread?" Like, if they grudgingly admit to themselves that some sorts are "all right", but they "draw the line" at another sort. Racism and other isms don't just spontaneously form in someone's brain, imho-- there's a larger problem that supports that kind of irrational thought, and that larger problem is likely to influence other things, or support other kinds of ism-y thought as well.

I also disagree with the idea that the fact that someone Can't Do Girls necessarily means that they are a misogynist, subconscious or otherwise...Writing from a perspective you have never held first-hand is a difficult trick...It requires a certain amount of insight and observation, and sometimes people just fail at that.
I understand that part of it just fine. I guess this is where my baggage and personal experience comes in-- it *is* true that writing from an alien perspective is hard. What is also true that most of the time, when the question that might be answered by "Can't Do X" comes up, I usually have no idea what the author can or cannot do, or whether they even thought about X at all, or whether they even care. I'm not a forgiving person when I don't know the author or their work very well, so I'm more likely to assume that there may be something sad and sinister behind their deficiency, especially when it comes to female/black characters. It's a sucky attitude to have-- I don't like feeling like someone that looks like me doesn't exist in many sci-fi/fantasy worlds, and when they do exist, they exist as a caricature or mcguffin or toolbox or Vaguely Magical Person or sideline or whatever. Then again, it isn't my responsibility to police authors about the way they write their characters, or handle representation of minority anything in their work. If they have issues with their own adequacy, it is their responsibility to sort those out, just like it is mine to sort my own issues out. If the author in question is moved to try and explain the motivation behind their work, well and good. If not, that's their choice.
Arthur B at 18:49 on 2008-03-08
I was trying to say that I think stuff that's written by prejudiced people needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and that I'm more likely to pass over or ignore work produced by such people if there's similar quality work available by people not as prejudiced as them.

I think I am with you on this one, broadly speaking. Racism and sexism in stories always leave a bad taste in my mouth; then again, for me there tends to be grades. I tend to be more forgiving of authors who lived in historical periods where the views they express were commonplace - not because I think that exonerates the authors in question (it doesn't) but because the literature produced in a particular time period necessarily reflects the attitudes of the time, and I think we can learn valuable things about the past through its popular fiction. (I also have self-serving reasons for gritting my teeth and moving past old-timey racism: I'm both genuinely interested in the history of the fantasy genre and mad keen on the campy old pulps, and being unable to read Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith would suck.) On the other hand, if modern-day author writing like a cranky old racist from the 1920s that doesn't tell us anything except that the individual in question is a crank.

Similarly, I find that I'm more forgiving of unconscious quirks than of consciously manifested hatred. When Robert E. Howard treats black people as if they are a horrible, savage menace to peace and civilisation, I get angry and stop reading the story in question. When Tim Powers forgets to let the main female character in On Stranger Tides do anything useful, I get sad and disappointed and keep reading in the hope that he'll redeem himself, and then get disappointed again when he fails.

Of course, I'm white, male, and middle class, so I can afford to be more forgiving about this sort of thing.

If they have issues with their own adequacy, it is their responsibility to sort those out, just like it is mine to sort my own issues out. If the author in question is moved to try and explain the motivation behind their work, well and good. If not, that's their choice.

This whole discussion reminds me, in fact, of Philip K. Dick (who happened to be a mentor of Tim Powers', back in the day) and his Can't Do Girls problem. In most of Dick's novels he falls back on a set of stock female characters: the shrewish wife, the femme fatale, and the glowy glowy mystery unattainable girl. He's criticised for it now, he was criticised for it then; I'm inclined to suspect that it was a reflection of his own troubles in his personal life (he went through wives at a startling pace), which some of his biographers have traced back to the death of his twin sister back when he was tiny. This whole set of neuroses seemed to come to a head in the last decade of his life, when he had recurring bouts of what look a lot like schizophrenia but his more charitable fans call "religious experiences" - some of the theories he developed about what happened to him concerned dead female counterparts to god, for example.

But then he has this epiphany and, in the last year of his life, writes The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Not only is it one of the few books of his with a female protagonist, it's one of the few books of his where a) the characterisation of women is excellent and prejudiced and b) the characterisation as a whole is top-notch. I think observing people working through these issues can be fascinating; to my mind, of all Dick's books Timothy Archer is the one that most deserves to be treated as literature.

Not sure where I'm going with this, beyond agreeing with you that it's more interesting when authors confront and challenge their issues than when they indulge and reinforce them.
empink at 14:43 on 2008-03-12
Of course, I'm white, male, and middle class, so I can afford to be more forgiving about this sort of thing.
Oh no, here it comes. I'd love to think that my mulish way of doling out the benefit of the doubt to authors would be the same if I wasn't black and female. But the most recent part of my mistrust is tied to the fact that I'm firmly in the minority, which is either invisible as far as sf and sci-fi go, or visible in a way that makes my head heart.

I'll damn well read what I please, and while that means I won't exclude some deluded work because it, I dunno, isn't enlightened enough in its portrayal of women or black people or (gasp) black women, it also means that I'm not going to go out of my way to read wince-worthy works even if they are by people who are lauded in the SF&F community. Because the type of classic (or potential classic) I would very much like to keep discovering is the kind that James Alan Gardner writes. The kind I'd be proud to point out to my young female cousins as a wise and all-powerful book-finding auntie.

Not sure where I'm going with this, beyond agreeing with you that it's more interesting when authors confront and challenge their issues than when they indulge and reinforce them.
Isn't it though? And their writing at such points is usually better, because once you start rethinking one thing, it unravels the others whether you like it or not. And that makes for a better result overall, I think. Imagine what would happen if all SF&F writers everywhere suddenly found themselves unable to write female characters into one of the usual damsel-in-distress roles. No more saving young Lady such-and-such from the ravagings of Terrible Forces! No more wresting her from the grasp of such that would harm her! It's shocking, they might actually have to treat the character as more of a, well, *character* than a living, breathing, pleasantly smelling McGuffin.
Dan H at 17:45 on 2008-03-12
They are also suffering (in my opinion) from a bunch of subconscious ideas that include tripe such as "women don't really matter anyway", "women aren't very interesting" and "women are way too mysterious to get right". Why else would a writer that has shown him or herself (and I'm not just talking about Powers here) to be decently competent at doing research about locales and customs and time periods in general, fall down so completely and horribly in their treatment of women?

Ultimately, portraying a different time period, or a nonhuman species, or magic or anything like that is very, very different to portraying women. If a modern writer writes a book set in the 13th century, he isn't expecting a real thirteenth-century person to come along and say "wow, that's exactly what my life is like". It's easy for a writer to know as much about the a historical period as their audience. It's much harder for them to know about actually being a woman.

I'd also point out that while all the subconscious assumptions you cite ("women aren't interesting", "women don't matter" and the like) are of course abominable, the alternative can be even more pernicious (and I may wind up writing an article on this once I'm less busy). Specifically, I think there's a nasty tendency in modern fiction to make assumptions like "women are interesting insofar as they are capable of acting like men" or "women are important if they stop doing women's things."

Joss Whedon is particularly guilty of this one, he makes a big show of his feminist credentials, but basically his idea of a "strong woman" is one who goes around beating people up while still defining herself entirely in terms of her current boyfriend and conforming to an ideal of beauty which expects women to be unable to carry their own bodyweight.

Andrew Rilstone wrote a rather interesting article on this years back (albeit with a roleplaying slant), making roughly the same point. He argued that the way to make female characters in RPGs viable wasn't to artificially increase the number of female warriors, but to reduce the number of plots that required warriors to solve them. We'll never get over the assumption that "women aren't interesting" if we can't get over the idea that the only interesting stories are ones about traditionally masculine activities.
Arthur B at 18:20 on 2008-03-12
As an example of what Dan's talking about: a while back I gave Karl Edward Wagner's Kane series the Reading Canary treatment. In the earlier books, Wagner is pretty terrible at portraying female characters, populating Kane's world with damsels in distress and vengeful hags all over the place. Clearly, at some point someone took him to task on this, so in Bloodstone he introduces the character of Teres. Sometimes, granted, he manages to portray her convincingly, but distressingly often she crosses into Reverse Stereotype territory: by carefully inverting every single one of the qualities of two-dimensional damsels in distress, she at best ends up resembling a male character with tits, at worst ends up becoming a caricature just as inaccurate and messed up as his earlier efforts. It's only in Dark Crusade that he manages to come up with a decent female character, Erill, and she's interesting not because she can match super-macho Kane at his own game (she can't), or because of the men she attaches herself to (she does fall in love with some dude midway through the book, but he's dumb and oblivious and she has to make do without his help), but because - SHOCK! - she's a reasonably well-observed character who does interesting things in her own right which aren't either a) stereotypical activities for a woman in a fantasy novel or b) self-consciously atypical activities for a woman in a fantasy novel.
Dan H at 19:32 on 2008-03-12
My point was less that it's important to avoid Reverse Stereotypes, but more that it's important to avoid assuming that a woman is only living up to her potential if she's doing things which are traditionally the province of men.

One of the things I really liked about the Black Magician Trilogy was that Sonea - the protagonist - was a healer rather than a warrior. Now you could argue that it was sexist for Canavan to make her female protagonist pursue a traditionally female career path, but it was a deliberate decision which she made precisely because she felt that fantasy placed too much emphasis on the importance of fighting and killing. Of course Sonea still does her fair share of killing as well, but that's a side issue.

The point is, while it's obviously sexist to assume that women can't do things which have been traditionally done by men it is equally sexist to assume women have to do things traditionally done by men in order to be worthwhile or interesting. If we go from reading books about macho men who go off and solve problems by hitting things while the women sit at home to reading books about macho women who go off and solve problems by hitting things while the other women sit at home, we aren't really making any progress.
Arthur B at 20:00 on 2008-03-12
I think Reverse Stereotypes become relevant because they're a symptom of precisely that sort of lack of imagination. "Hmmm, I suppose I do neglect my female characters," thinks Mr Fantasy Author to himself as he strokes his luxurious beard. "What can I have a woman do that's interesting and important?" He thinks a while and, as you point out, he can't think of anything beyond fighting and killing. "OK, what sort of woman would get stuck into the fighting and killing?" he asks himself. And so the Reverse Stereotype is born, out of two different flawed ideas:

- That for women to be relevant, they must do the things that men do.
- That for women to do the things that men do, they must act in an unfeminine manner.
Dan H at 21:01 on 2008-03-12
I'd be careful using the term "unfeminine" as well. The problem with the "women who do traditionally masculine things and are therefore worthy" is that they frequently also do it while retaining all traditionally "feminine" virtues (most importantly, the feminine virtue of Being Really Hot).

Again we come back to Buffy, that paragon of Strong Womanhood who gets all the benefits of superhuman strength with none of that unsightly muscle.
empink at 00:42 on 2008-03-13
- That for women to be relevant, they must do the things that men do.
- That for women to do the things that men do, they must act in an unfeminine manner.

I'll just quote this and kiss you both over the interwebs. This shit gets stuck in my craw, guys. The lack of imagination that plagues many fantasy authors doesn't just strike at minorities, it also shoehorns other professions that are interesting in their own light into the background. Commoners are either well-read anarchists, or rebellious _____s fighting against _____, or are common, boring people. Merchants and businesspeople are spies or greedy or generally Awful, and so on and so forth. "Interesting and important" seems to be a pretty narrow field for most fantasy authors, from what I've read.

The problem...is that they frequently also do it while retaining all traditionally "feminine" virtues (most importantly, the feminine virtue of Being Really Hot).
And this wouldn't stick in my craw so much if most female main characters or side characters weren't always Really Hot. Hot guys and gals are fun to read about, sure-- I like them as much anyone. But it gets to be really annoying when over and over, female warriors (or other reverse stereotype practitioners) have the "they were also really hot" addendum stamped over them. It's like they can't escape it, like they can't escape being forced into a dress (that they really look awesome in, if they would just stop scowling *rolls eyes*) at the end of things, or marrying some Really Sensitive Guy at the end of things. Even Festina Ramos (birthmarked and flawed heroine of James Alan Gardner's League of Peoples series) doesn't escape that apologetic "but she would have been really hot!" thing.
Arthur B at 10:53 on 2008-03-13
I think "really hot" is a default assumption for almost every character we are meant to cheer for in fantasy, female or otherwise. Certainly, I can't recall many books where the major characters on the protagonist's side - male or female - aren't all meant to be at least somewhat pretty, unless their lack of good looks is actually a plot point or important to their characterisation.
Arthur B at 14:00 on 2008-03-13
I'd be careful using the term "unfeminine" as well. The problem with the "women who do traditionally masculine things and are therefore worthy" is that they frequently also do it while retaining all traditionally "feminine" virtues (most importantly, the feminine virtue of Being Really Hot).

It's kind of a horrible tightrope that fantasy authors make themselves walk when they say to themselves "I know, I'll throw in a heroine who can fight and stuff just like the men do." Either they painstakingly try to avoid ascribing any characteristics which are culturally associated with femininity to the character, in which case you end up with Conan With Tits, or they try to keep the character traditionally feminine, in which you end up with superhuman strength, no muscle, and in extreme cases a chainmail bikini.
Shim at 07:45 on 2013-10-29
I can't actually think of a single memorable female character in any of his books.


The Anubis Gates, which I just finished, does feature one female character who isn't just in passing. She spends most of the novel disguised as a man infiltrating a beggars' guild* while she tries to hunt down a body-swapping werewolf who made her kill her brother. She saves the day a couple of times, but isn't especially effectual and narrowly avoids rape through sheer chance. And she marries the protagonist, apparently because history says so rather than any sign of actual attraction. And he gets to escape history by deception whereas she nobly accepts her fate of a horrible early death.

I'm not saying she is a bad character, but she's not a glowing inspiration and it's noticeable that she's dressing up as a man to do all this, and whenever she's thought to be a woman out come the rape threats. But then I have an impression that authors who write complicated multiverse timetravel body-hopping paradox books don't really have much energy spare for characters.

*why knows why?
Ashimbabbar at 15:50 on 2015-12-02
re Anubis Gates, I recall reading it with mounting distaste and incredulity, as
- It's about sinister evil brown people bent on harming jolly good England; and they do so because their leader is senile and bent on world domination.
- From the Byron arc, you'd never guess he spoke in defense of the Luddites in Parliament ( as in, if Tim Powers had retained that episode, he would have ascribed it to his evil double ).
As to the plot, you could smell the twists from a mile away.

I have kept away from that author since then.
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