A thing that bugs me

in historical fiction, is when the characters have to address some issue that is controversial in their time, but which the author sees as having a clear right side and a wrong side. And the author decides that their main character just has to be On The Right Side Of History.

There are ways to have that and still write a solid story, but unfortunately what often happens is that putting the character on the Right Side comes at the expense of nuance and detail in both the character’s thought process and background, and in the setting’s worldbuilding and/or historical accuracy.

Basically there are two awkward things for authors in this situation:

— A historically accurate character might hold approximately the belief we want them to hold, but might describe it in a way that sounds outdated or disrespectful from our point of view.

— A character with a detailed personality and history could explain how they came to hold the “right” belief, in an emotionally plausible and/or historically accurate way, but then we’d have to think about the fact that they used to not believe it and that would be uncomfortable.

(And also, to even get to the point of considering these questions, the author has to themself have thought about the issue in more complicated terms than “x is wrong,” and they have to do the research to know what people were saying about the issue historically and how that differs from how people think about it now.)

These problems are almost worse when it comes to creating villain characters, but it’s late so I’m going to stop here.

Literature

It’s late and life stuff has happened so here’s a random idea that I vaguely intended to write about ages ago but didn’t. Can we all agree that there’s no such thing as an objective, comprehensive standard for ranking the quality of books? Like, there’s no such thing as an objectively good book.

There are a few things that are, arguably, universal standards, but what makes them universal is that they’re a really damn low bar. Like, consistent spelling and grammar. Beyond that, there’s a slightly larger group of things that most people would agree are probably important, but exactly how important any one of them is, is a matter of personal preference.

Like… I tend to enjoy characters with idiosyncratic ways of speaking. “Characters should have unique, memorable voices” is a good general principle, but the line between “unique and memorable” versus “weird and distracting” is entirely subjective. I know that lots of people think characters that I personally like are too distractingly weird, and I don’t think they’re incorrect on the one hand, or that my enjoyment of those characters is indulging a guilty pleasure with objectively bad writing, on the other hand. It’s just a different preference.

Breaks

Netflix is great and all but honestly, I miss commercial breaks. I can handle broadcast-TV-style “marathons” of a TV show (or at least, I used to be able to) but I can’t handle Netflix binge-watching. It’s just too long for me to listen to something– especially, I guess, something with a complicated, emotionally intense plot– without breaks to process, stand up and walk around, think about something else.

And commercial breaks served that purpose really well, and that makes me kind of sad that they’re kind of gone from the places where I actually watch TV. (I’m obviously also not a fan of Netflix’s “automatically start the next episode in ten seconds” thing.)

Today one of Sparkly’s favorite TV shows got a bunch of new episodes added to Netflix, and we watched three of them in quick succession, and then I spent about 20 minutes playing solitaire because anything more complicated felt like Too Many Things.

And it’s a good TV show! And I really like it! I just… can’t watch too much of it all at once. I hate this, it feels ridiculous, but apparently this is the current state of affairs for my brain.

OK so here’s the thing I wrote

about the Lieutenant Leary series.

and here are some (much less coherent and professionally formatted) Brain Stuff Reasons why I like this series.

  • Adele is arguably on the autism spectrum (socially awkward, flat affect, physically uncoordinated, super. fucking. intense. about her interests.)
  • This series overall has a thing about the glory/overwhelmingness/awe-inspiring-ness of Knowing Things About The World which I find very relatable in a stimming/hyperfocus way.
  • Trauma and atypical reactions to it– well, maybe not actually atypical, but not things you often see in fiction. Feeling disconnected from your own emotions, long-term numbness, the weird physical feelings you can get from adrenaline.
  • A “sociopathic”/low-empathy character who isn’t a villain.
  • What I was talking about in the second part of this post— characters who don’t just tolerate each other’s disabilities/limitations, but really love everything about each other including those limitations.

Oh my god I need to take a break from existence

Remember this book series?

So like. The person I saw talking about this was very aware that ths is a gut reaction and not a serious claim, so don’t be mad at them, but I still need to sit down and reconsider my whole existence anyway, because there’s an emotionally abusive character in one of the Imperial Radch books and, get this,

Continue reading “Oh my god I need to take a break from existence”

Things Minty is reading

I finished a book today which was by and large really good, but it’s part of a pattern that kind of bugs me, which is this:

— A teen/young adult character

— starts to question their sexuality

— because they had an established “straight” crush or relationship but now they also have a same-gender crush

— a love triangle ensues in which they have to decide between a male love interest and a female love interest.

I’m all for having more bi characters, and I realize that the most straightforward or obvious way to show that a character is bi is to have them be attracted to two people of different genders, but like.

When you tie it to two individual people (and only two people, with no mention of them being attracted to anyone else), and make the bi character choose between them, it kind of tends to come off like they’re not really bi?

Like, if the bi character “goes back to” their original “straight” love interest, it makes it seem like they’re giving up the chance to explore not being straight.

And if… who am I kidding, the books I’ve seen do this all slant towards the “straight” relationship.* And also the bi character is a girl IDK why I attempted to make this gender-neutral.

Also some of them have the bi girl main character date/kiss/make out with both love interests within the same timeframe, in a way that isn’t quite technically cheating but does sort of skirt around it. And I don’t think straight love triangles tend to do that as much, outside of, like, soap operas? Which is also not great.

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* If the bi character doesn’t decide she was never really in love with the guy, at least. I’ve seen some books do that. And I came away thinking they were implying that the main character was actually a lesbian, so.

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Basically the subtext of this post is that I didn’t like Adaptation by Malinda Lo, and then I just finished another book that did a similar thing, so here I am. Can we just have the bi characters without the love triangles please? Let them break up with their boyfriends and then develop feelings for a girl. There would still be angst. They would still be bi. Please.

Possibly I should question why the idea of someone having equally strong feelings for two people at once bugs me this much, since I’m polyamorous, but really what bugs me is the concept that you have to try out all the people you’re attracted to, but once you’ve done that you can pick just one.

Plus the substitution of sexual attraction and/or romantic crush feelings for actually knowing anything about the person on a basic “do we get along with each other” level.

IDK. I didn’t like Adaptation.

I just finished reading

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan.

(which is free to download at that link!)

Like her other books that I’ve read, it feels a little too short and rushed to me, but it’s SO SWEET OMG. My exact favorite thing is sex scenes that are simultaneously appealing on a sexiness-level, and also make me squee and feel so happy for the characters. On both those levels, this is my favorite of her books so far.

Some spoilery content notes if you don’t want to be surprised:

Continue reading “I just finished reading”

I wish I knew…

at what age I read various books. I can “date” some of the ones I read while I was elementary-school age, because I remember reading them at school or talking to my classmates about them so I know what grade I was in at the time.

But I have zero idea when I first read A Wrinkle in Time, except that I was fairly young. Same for the first time I read The Hobbit. Except that it was early enough that I’d mostly forgotten it by the time the LOTR movies came out. Or A Wizard of Earthsea, come to think of it.