Here is a post by Jo Walton at tor.com, which caught my eye because BLACK DOG is my first contemporary-ish fantasy, and so the first book I’ve written where it’s reasonable for characters to use cusswords or swear. The observation Walton makes about the difference between DOWNBELOW STATION and HELLBURNER is really interesting, though the language that impressed me in HELLBURNER was the integration of French-ish phrases, a lot like the Chinese integrated into “Firefly.”
There is just one character in BLACK DOG who uses profanity — I mean in English, I think sometimes there may be one or two off-color words in Spanish. Anyway, this character is a blue-color kind of guy, and under a lot of stress at the time.
Wow, did my mother have an opinion about cusswords in YA fantasy. Having someone say “Hell!” or “Damn!” doesn’t bother her nearly as much as a character dropping the f-bomb. She is semi-reconciled now, I think, but she never voluntarily reads anything at all where characters swear, which gives you some idea just how fiercely she hates the modern, shall we say direct use of language.
It makes me wonder: what do you all think about using actual modern cusswords? Here’s what I think:
In secondary world high fantasy, never.
In light, humorous fantasy, probably not.
In epic fantasy, no.
In grimdark, well, naturally. It’s part of the there-are-no-heroes trope.
In contemporary world urban fantasy or paranormal, sure, but swearing will (as in real life) have more impact if reserved for situations that are actually more stressful than usual.
In military SF, sure, even casual profanity seems okay. What do you think of military SF like Tanya Huff’s VALOR series, where the characters swear all the time, but with made-up futuristic cusswords?
In other SF, I was SO impressed by the way Jos Whedon used Chinese in “Firefly.” I would enjoy working that kind of thing into an SF novel sometime.
English profanity in SF — for me, it simply depends on the book. Remember how Lois McMaster Bujold had Miles switch from “Damnation!” as Miles Vorkosigan to “Shit!” as Admiral Naismith, during the burning-liquer-store incident? That right there is a clever, appropriate, and to my mind inoffensive use of profanity.
Thoughts? I’d like input, because at the moment I have someone say “Fuck!” one time in the BLACK DOG sequel. Thumbs up or thumbs down on that?