Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 17:13 on 14-05-2012, James D
Nah, I'm sure we'll get something else, unless he keels over first. Wasn't there a part about how in order to lift Latro's curse, he'd need to get the original god who cursed him to do it? I'd imagine that would involve some sort of explanation, cryptic though it will undoubtedly be.
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at 14:28 on 14-05-2012, Arthur B
Since it is Gene Wolfe it is very possible "battle on temple stairs" is all the clue we get. :)
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at 13:36 on 14-05-2012, James D
It's been years for me too. I remember it was during a battle on some temple stairs, so that seems reasonable, but it's Gene Wolfe so who knows?
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at 08:27 on 14-05-2012, Arthur B
As to how they're portrayed in modern fiction, Gene Wolfe's Soldier of Sidon series features both pantheons, and while the Egyptian gods are definitely more standoffish, neither really comes off as the bigger assholes. It was the Greek gods that punished Latro with the recurring memory loss, but then we don't really know what he did to deserve it yet (Gene Wolfe better not die before he finishes the series...).

It's been a while since I read the books but isn't it heavily implied it's something to do with him desecrating a temple during a battle?
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at 04:46 on 14-05-2012, James D
I don't know about assholish, but as to the being more standoffish at least, isn't that how the Egyptian gods were portrayed in the myths themselves? The Greek gods were lustful and interacted with people on a personal level all the time in the myths, whereas most of the Egyptian myths I remember were mostly about gods interacting with other gods. I'd say the Greek gods were overall bigger assholes, though, given that they had a tendency to mete out absurd punishments to people for one-upping them (or even trying to one-up them) all the time. The Egyptian gods seemed to operate on a larger scale, with less concern for individuals.

As to how they're portrayed in modern fiction, Gene Wolfe's Soldier of Sidon series features both pantheons, and while the Egyptian gods are definitely more standoffish, neither really comes off as the bigger assholes. It was the Greek gods that punished Latro with the recurring memory loss, but then we don't really know what he did to deserve it yet (Gene Wolfe better not die before he finishes the series...).

So, to answer your question, the modern fiction I've read that deals with Greek and Egyptian gods bears up some of your observations, but not all.
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at 03:55 on 14-05-2012, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Started reading some Roger Zelazny and a question arose: Is it just me, or is the Egyptian pantheon generally portrayed in modern fiction as more standoffish, indifferently cruel, and overall more assholish than the classical Greek pantheon?
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at 18:41 on 13-05-2012, Shim
Last night, after a long frustrating attempt to track down an old bit of music, I found Midomi which lets you sing into a mike and compares it to crowdsourced renditions. To my surprise it actually worked - the future is here! Where's my hoverbike?
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at 06:07 on 12-05-2012, Adrienne
Michal -- Huh. I just decided to read it (yesterday) and quite enjoyed it. It does fail to be LeGuin, but then, everyone does. It has some quite interesting stuff going on, i thought.
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at 02:47 on 12-05-2012, Michal
My initial goodwill to Embassytown has cooled considerably. 345 pages or no, I wasn't able to finish it. I'll sum up my reason for quitting thusly: "Mieville tries to be Ursula K. Le Guin and fails."
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at 19:59 on 11-05-2012, James D
Surely you can recognize that it's very problematic that male and female suffering are handled very differently?

Sure, I recognize it, and you're right, of course. I didn't mean what I wrote to come off as apologetics, I was just trying to explore her reasoning. If I had been one of Lee's readers during the writing process I would probably have told her to throw the whole "lesbian warrior queen gets raped" idea out. Besides all of the problematic stuff you mentioned, it doesn't even seem to really resolve into anything; as soon as she ends up in the land of the dead, Narasen more or less fades totally into the background, making her whole character seem to have been invented for the sole purpose of building a supernatural backstory for her daughter. Having her get raped countless times seems like a really heavy thing to just throw around as a minor detail in what essentially amounts to another character's origin story.
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at 19:31 on 11-05-2012, valse de la lune
A theme in the series seems to be that mortals have to suffer to acquire supernatural power, and more suffering = more power and vice versa (like the wizard in the first book who's trapped on that tiny island for decades and ends up going insane and getting so powerful he threatens existence itself), so in order for the queen to become as powerful as one of the lords she'd have to suffer an awful lot...so I guess being coerced into letting men rape her (if that makes sense) is the worst kind of suffering Tanith Lee could think of for this powerful lesbian warrior queen.


Surely you can recognize that it's very problematic that male and female suffering are handled very differently? Compare and contrast being isolated on an island to being a lesbian who gets raped by men repeatedly. This isn't exactly something that requires a PhD in Grand Poobah Feminism Discourse. This is entry-level stuff.

Well, you could look at it that way, but the way I saw it was that Uhlume was basically a big angsty whiny wimp, which made it really easy for her to take his rather undeserved power away from him as he moped around the Earth being emo.


This is also entry-level stuff. Try again.
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at 19:31 on 11-05-2012, Arthur B
Pretty much the only woman in this book who breaks through this soft-sweet-fickle stereotype is... er... the lesbian queen whose attempted rapist curses her into being raped by other men.

Ah, now that part I remember reading and thinking "Wow, that was jarringly and needlessly grim."
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at 19:10 on 11-05-2012, James D
Fair enough, as I said it's been years since I read it and I'd actually forgotten about the whole gender fluidity part. Even aside from the gender stuff, I think the second book is the definite low point of the first three, and it took the most effort for me to get through. Mopey, angsty Uhlume is definitely the least interesting of the first three lords, with Azhrarn and Chuz being much more compelling.

Pretty much the only woman in this book who breaks through this soft-sweet-fickle stereotype is... er... the lesbian queen whose attempted rapist curses her into being raped by other men. Awesome.

Isn't that the whole point of curses, though? This wizard tries to rape her, she handily dispatches him, so as he's dying he thinks of some sort of fucked-up ironic revenge to take on her via a curse. I mean yeah, you could certainly question why that whole bit was necessary in the first place. A theme in the series seems to be that mortals have to suffer to acquire supernatural power, and more suffering = more power and vice versa (like the wizard in the first book who's trapped on that tiny island for decades and ends up going insane and getting so powerful he threatens existence itself), so in order for the queen to become as powerful as one of the lords she'd have to suffer an awful lot...so I guess being coerced into letting men rape her (if that makes sense) is the worst kind of suffering Tanith Lee could think of for this powerful lesbian warrior queen.

I'm not saying it's good or right, mind you, I just think that's what Lee's reasoning was for writing it.

That she takes over Uhlume's place doesn't matter; he doesn't enjoy the office and he essentially allows her to do it, so we have a situation where a woman seizes power but only because a man lets her.

Well, you could look at it that way, but the way I saw it was that Uhlume was basically a big angsty whiny wimp, which made it really easy for her to take his rather undeserved power away from him as he moped around the Earth being emo.
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at 18:50 on 11-05-2012, valse de la lune
here's the main character who can shift from one gender to the other freely. It's telling that when Simmu goes around deflowering virgins and conquering a city zie does it as a man (hard! muscled! decisive!); when Simmu makes love to zir true love Zhirem it is as a woman (meek, sweet, yielding). Kassafeh and Lylas are fickle, treacherous girls; the latter quickly shifts her loyalty to Narasen (despite having helped in poisoning the same). Simmu's gender fluidity isn't so much about being genderqueer or trans as--

Triggered by the stimulus of the eight virgins and their dance, Simmu's masculinity almost instantly attempted to assert itself in vehement spasms.

And then zir body turns male, of course, with a raging hard-on. Pretty much the only woman in this book who breaks through this soft-sweet-fickle stereotype is... er... the lesbian queen whose attempted rapist curses her into being raped by other men. Awesome. That she takes over Uhlume's place doesn't matter; he doesn't enjoy the office and he essentially allows her to do it, so we have a situation where a woman seizes power but only because a man lets her.

It's right out of Jack fucking Vance, inheriting all the shittiness of sword and sorcery and reproducing it verbatim. No thank you. Lee isn't Vance obviously, and she went on to write things that weren't so fucked up, but the Flat Earth and Birthgrave books were a low point as far as gender politics go. And I say this having enjoyed all three Flat Earth books that I read. The female protagonist of Delirium's Mistress ends up reincarnating as the anthromorphic personification of love, by the way, because you know: girly stuff that's for girls.
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at 18:04 on 11-05-2012, James D
About Flat Earth, I liked the first one well enough, but the whole series is pretty deeply misogynistic; Death's Master is especially awful about this

How's that? I read it years ago so my memory's a little fuzzy, but I certainly don't remember any *deep* misogyny. I guess the whole bit with the lesbian warrior queen getting cursed by the attempted rapist she kills is problematic, but doesn't she end up essentially usurping the Lord of Death's position?
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at 17:32 on 11-05-2012, Arthur B
Oh, that's a shame. I started reading Death's Master ages ago but something felt really off about it which I wasn't able to enunciate so I ended up putting it aside with a vague intention of revisiting it. Then years passed and I eventually admitted to myself that I was probably never going to make the time to come back to it.
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at 17:10 on 11-05-2012, valse de la lune
I liked bits of The Secret Books of Paradys, but a lot of it was meh. About Flat Earth, I liked the first one well enough, but the whole series is pretty deeply misogynistic; Death's Master is especially awful about this, but Delirium's Mistress isn't much better either despite having--or because it has--a female protagonist. It's stuffed from end to end with gender essentialism and... actually, yes, in that regard it's very like Vance's Dying Earth.

It's better than The Birthgrave, but not by much.
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at 16:51 on 11-05-2012, James D
Now now, the gods of the Flat Earth are vastly remote and utterly uncaring; it's the laughing, thirsting demons you have to watch out for. ;)

Yeah, it's a good series. I really liked the myth/fable feel of it, and to go minority warrior for a moment, the representation of gender and sexual minorities was quite good (probably racial minorities too, but Lee doesn't seem to be too explicit in describing race, like Ursula K Le Guin). I've read the first three and already have the next two.
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at 16:38 on 11-05-2012, Arthur B
I loved Night's Master. Vance/CAS-influenced interconnected vignettes with a cosmology that manages to be fanciful without being gimmicky, stuffed with the laughter of thirsting gods: what's not to like?
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at 16:16 on 11-05-2012, Wardog
Did you like those? The Secret Books of Paradys, I mean. Maybe I wasn't patient enough but I remember thinking: "wow, this is total guff." And I'm usually pretty into Tanith Lee.
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at 08:47 on 11-05-2012, valse de la lune
Hm, maybe. I've only read the first few "Tales from the Flat Earth" books, and I don't see too many resemblances there, but she's written quite a lot. Any books in particular you'd compare it to?


The Secret Books of Paradys.
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at 23:53 on 10-05-2012, Arthur B
My random quip has somehow inspired people drawing parallels between horse-themed sex games and My Little Pony.

I now feel 50 Shades of Shame.
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at 23:30 on 10-05-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi

I'm way ahead of you, there, Arthur. I'm already 400
pages into my new pony play trilogy, 50 Shades of Neigh.

I hope you're at least considering makin it an epistolary novel.

"Dear Princess Celestia, today I learned that friendship can take any form, some of them more confusing and harder to understand. But if you give your friends love and understanding, everypony is happier and more appreciative of each other in the end."
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at 23:22 on 10-05-2012, Sunnyskywalker
Artistic bad faith makes more sense, I guess. (So the books are the literary equivalent of Nice Guys, who go on and on about how nice they are, but they're insecure, and no one will sleep with them because they're too nice and insecure, those bitches, never realizing that in fact they aren't nice at all?) I was with Robinson in thinking the article was trying to talk about jerkishness, and not seeing why one kind would be especially preferable to the other. Some kind of artistic integrity at least sounds better than half-assedly disguising what you're really trying to write. I'd definitely be interested in reading more of what you have to say about Houellebecq, too.

Also, Arthur, now I am never going to be able to hear that song without thinking about jerkish French novelists.

Jumping back a bit... Bitterblue! Finally! *is excited*
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