Sunday, August 2, 2015

SFF Tropes that Still Make Me Crazy

One thing I've learned from the publication of The Twelve Kingdoms books is that I'm maybe not a true fantasy reader.

Something that had never occurred to me before.

See, I've never been much of a joiner, especially as fandom is concerned. I'm a independent soul and have always read what I liked and violently resisted the pressure that there were certain books I *should* read and particular opinions I was to have about them. I blame the advanced reading teachers who seized me in 4th grade and forced me to read The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. Before that moment, I didn't know it was possible to loathe a book. After that, I would read the assigned books, but refused to adopt the correct opinions about them.

This is particularly applicable to anything I read for pleasure, which pretty much entirely included anything genre. I have always read widely. I'm not sure there's a genre I haven't read. So my growing up was peppered with books from all walks - romance, hard science fiction, soft science fiction, horror, suspense, literary fiction, memoir, biographies, science, fairy tales. Because I bowed to the academic pressure to discuss and have opinions about assigned reading, I stayed far away from anything that smacked of that in my pleasure reading.

Thus I'd never been to a fan convention of any kind. For the most part, it wasn't until I was into my twenties that I discovered other people who'd read the same books I had. A friend gifted me with some of Robert Jordan's books, after a conversation about fantasy books. He was appalled I hadn't read them and was certain I'd love them.

No, no, no. I forced myself to read the first one (which I then pitched across the room) then quietly donated them to the library. Just not my thing.

This is all by way of introducing this week's topic, which is SFF tropes and tics to avoid and why.

My problem is that I don't seem to know what the Science Fiction and Fantasy tropes really are. I didn't know this until occasional criticism of The Twelve Kingdoms books points out that I don't really follow the accepted tropes.

Which I suppose is true. Yes, I've read Tolkien, but I don't want to write like him. I've read at least one or two books of those considered to be the SFF greats and not many of those authors make my personal favorites list.

You know why? So many of them are men writing very masculine books. For grins I just now Googled "Top Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors" and picked a link at semi-random (that wasn't Amazon) - an NPR list of the Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books. I got to Number 20 before I encountered a female author, which was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Of the 100 books, 16 were by women - and interestingly enough, I'd read all of them. I've read - and loved - a bunch of the ones by male authors, too. Others... not so much.I know this is hardly a scientific sample, but seriously - EVERY list I see of SFF authors and books is like this. It's not news, but it's aggravating as hell.

*takes deep breath*

So, I think all of this is by way of saying that I never paid attention to the SFF tropes, because they never seemed relevant to what I liked - for good or ill. Fellow Word Whore Marshal Ryan Maresca wrote an interesting post last week about being a male author writing female characters. He hits on a lot of the characteristics of those classically male SFF books that turned me off. I really appreciate that these conversations are happening.

Thus, I'd venture that the tropes I want to avoid are those that left me excluded as a female reader. I know a lot of women enjoy what I think of as the "boy books" - I like some of them, too. For the most part though, I like my books centered on female characters, ones who do brave things and also fall in love and have amazing sex - which is a no-no for many fantasy readers. (The Publishers Weekly fantasy reviewer commented snarkily on the "explicit lovemaking throughout" in THE TALON OF THE HAWK - something that actually occurs only well past mid-point and is critical to my heroine's character arc.)

I still laugh that a male reader asked me if there were ANY men in positions of power who weren't corrupt in this world. I pointed out there were two, but as for the rest... so it goes!

A bit of a rant - thank you all for your patience in reading this far. I'm sure the other Word Whores will have more substantive - and possibly less reactive - contributions to the topic. :-)


  1. Have you read G.A. Aiken's Dragon Kin series? She doesn't follow the fantasy tropes at all and those books are wicked awesome. But not because she doesn't follow the tropes, if that makes any sense. Her books are just damn enjoyable reads - like yours. Screw the tropes, have them or don't have them, just make sure you're writing something enjoyable to read and I'll read it. =o)

    LOL, like you, I'm an eclectic reader. Unlike you, I actually enjoyed JF Cooper. Once I got past his penchant for long descriptive passages and picked out the storylines, I found a kind of magic in his writing. And learned to enjoy his descriptions. Haven't read Robert Jordan yet, but he's on the list. It's a long list of 'I should probably read this someday' books, so who knows when I'll get to him.

  2. I have not read Aiken, though you're not the first to recommend her! I think I just got deeply scarred by JFC and will never be able to read him without remembering that deep frustration of hating to read. That teacher was an idiot - I'd love to go back in time and strangle her. :D

    When you get to Jordan, let me know what you think!

  3. (I love Aiken's Dragon Kin series, some great strong females)

    I had a similar experience in elementary when I had to read Are You There God, It's Me Margaret and hated it while everyone else seemed to love it. I always read what I liked...hmm, still do. And I love your female driven fantasy books, just love them and their absence of everything that doesn't make them another 'boy book'.

    1. You are awesome to say so, Lexy! I love leaving out everything that doesn't make them boy books. ;-)

  4. I stayed away from fantasy until about six years ago, thinking it was all Tolkien, Pratchett and star trek stuff, having seen son number one's reading mainstay....and learned none of that was for me. Then ordered a Maria Snyder book in error and loved it and found the other side of the genre. Now it's my reading mainstay. So we both love fantasy but rarely read the same books. There does seem to me to be a big dif in general between fantasy written by male and female authors. Write what you want, there's many of us looking for it. Everyone has different ideas and reading should be fun. I hated being told at school "don't read more til next class. You won't understand it." Horribly patronising and books are for enjoying. Who's to say what's the "right" interpretation except the author....

    1. I so agree, Jeannie! and love Maria Snyder, too! :-)