Sherwood Smith: turn offs and turn ons

April 8th, 2014

I like this pair of posts by Sherwood Smith: Top Ten things she is tired of reading about in fantasy novels, and now a new companion post: Top Ten things she likes to see in fantasy novels.

Post The First: I wouldn’t personally pick exactly the same Top Ten Tropes I Hate list. For example, #2. I really liked I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER. Come to think of it, I really liked the first season of CRIMINAL MINDS, too. And right now in between working on This Huge Revision, I am re-reading tiny bits of the Shadow Unit shared world thing by Emma Bull and Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear and everyone else I am temporarily forgetting, which btw if you just bought a Kindle, you should really try the Shadow Unit series (I’m talking to you, Craig).

I agree that it takes a special writer to pull off Magical Animal Companions (#10). Not exactly for the same reason that Smith mentions, though partly that. For me, the biggest problem is that the Magical Animal Companion is like a robot. Perfectly trained. Perfectly reliable. It has no personality because it is a robot, not an animal — and certainly not a companion. But when an author DOES pull off a great animal secondary character, then I LOVE that. (I bet Sherwood Smith does, too.) (Speaking of Book View Cafe, I like Duranna Durgin’s corgi).

Okay, but. HERE are the items in the list I would like to get behind and push. I would be happier if I never again saw:

7. Evial Red Priests. I get it that a lot of writers hate organized religion. But I’ve gotten it for forty years. It’s not news, nor is it shocking or edgy. There are far too many books in which the entire purpose of the church is oppression and nothing else–no liturgy, poetry, music, art, plays, debate, no social services, however rudimentary. No sense that there are good or indifferent priests, creative ones, visionary ones, savvy ones, conflicted ones–they all seem to be child-molesting, racist, sexist, narrow-minded nasties. And our heroes are heroes because they are postmodern determinists. I particularly dislike that trope in historical novels: the heroes are all enlightened postmoderns, and the villains believe in that particular era’s paradigm.

8. Primitive Utopias. ….Primitive life isn’t comfortable, it’s maybe a step above basic survival. Primitive life means it’s hard to keep clean, hard to keep warm, hard to stay fed without something really nasty getting in your innards, and then you really wish the facilities weren’t primitive. A realistic primitive life story might gain more of my respect–but not my interest. I have to admit my interests lie with art and with evolving civilization.

Yeah, what she said. Absolutely.

Okay, now, stuff Sherwood Smith picks out that she likes: disguises, amnesia, intrigues, capers.

For me personally, amnesia is not a Thing. Disguises, though. I like the girl-dressing-as-boy trope. No reason really, I just do. Luckily a lot of other authors like that one, too.

Plus, Sherwood mentions amazing plot twists as a Thing. Yeah, not actually necessary, but if the author really pulls it off, it can be amazing.

And this:

I like my protagonists to have a moral code, maybe even a sense of honor, though it isn’t easy or convenient, and the numinous is going to catch my heart every time.

Yes. This.

I have two more books by Sherwood Smith on my Kindle, btw. Or, I don’t know, maybe three? I know one is A POSSE OF PRINCESSES, but I can’t remember the others. When I eventually read them, I’m sure I’ll be asking all of you where I should go next. Big backlist from Smith, I know.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 8th, 2014

7 Comments already, do join in...

  1. Pete+Mack Says:

    April 8th, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    Speaking of animal companions, _Steles of the Sky_ is out. Squeee!
    And yes, I love shadow unit, and have most of them on Kindle, too. I so hope more episodes come out!

  2. Pete+Mack Says:

    April 8th, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    And, I like a mix of grit, too. for female authors, that would include Teresa Frohock _Miserere_ ,KJ Parker, just about anything, Kameron Hurley _God War_. Also like many, but not all, Joe Abercrombie books. And I can’t wait for next installment of Dagger and Coin by Daniel Abraham.

  3. Maureen E Says:

    April 8th, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    #7–OH DEAR HEAVENS YES. I would be incredibly happy to never see another Oppressive Religious Group again, especially when that’s the only view we have of religion. It’s not interesting or cool, and I am past being slightly annoyed into being actively angry and offended.

    Add to the list, for me, dystopias where it’s obvious on page 2 that the government is evil and corrupt and it takes the heroine 250 pages to realize this.

    I would probably side-eye amnesia a bit, unless it was really well done, just because it seems like such a convenient plot point. On the other hand, I thought Sylvia Kelso’s Amberlight did use it to good effect, so clearly it does sometimes work.

  4. Craig Says:

    April 8th, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    And I see the first one’s free.

    …fine!

  5. Rachel Says:

    April 9th, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Hi, Pete, yes, I expect my copy of STELES will be arriving any day. I swear I want to make a list of Top Ten Books to Read in May, but it would be too tempting plus too changeable — but that would be on it.

    I can see the appeal of the DAGGER AND COIN series. I really loved a lot of things about it. I don’t know, though, watching various people and whole nations stride confidently and stupidly into disaster does make for painful reading. Parker’s THE HAMMER was impressive, but for me not one I would ever want to re-read. I should try another by her.

    Maureen, I don’t know. A young protagonist who is inside a society can justifiably take a lot longer to realize The Truth than the reader. If the protagonist isn’t being actually stupid about it, that wouldn’t bother me — much — I’m pretty sure.

    Craig, good! They’re kind of addictive, I warn you.

  6. Maureen E Says:

    April 9th, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    You’re perfectly right, in one sense. It’s mostly a reading preference; I don’t tend to like dystopias where the big twist is that the government is evil. I’m much interested in the ones where everyone knows the government is evil and the protagonists have to function within that society even as they resist it. The Hunger Games works for me in that way, as opposed to, say, Birthmarked (which I tend to pick on because it was such a striking example, but which is by no means unique). Younger readers or readers with different preferences probably don’t have that issue. (I was also raised to distrust all governments everywhere, which has possibly given me a, erm, particular pov on what normal skepticism looks like.)

  7. Rachel Says:

    April 9th, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    I think there are other reasons why this kind of twist might be a problem, actually. Because it’s also going to inevitably be the case that the characters can’t resist the right things from the beginning of the story unless they actually know who the bad guys are right from the beginning. So knowing the government is evil at the start gives you a smoother plot with less reader-frustration at the beginning. Plus I personally like competent characters, so watching the protagonist mistake who the bad guy is for 120 pages would not really appeal to me, even if it makes sense in context.

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