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Boy Fiction?

I usually make it a policy not to comment on reviews, especially negative reviewers. When you put your art out there in the marketplace on public view, some are going to like and some are going to hate it. Comes with the territory. And like Superchicken always said, I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

Normally, I would not even comment on something as spectacularly wrong-headed and condescending as the review of the HBO series GAME OF THRONES recenltly published in the NEW YORK TIMES. There have been dozens and dozens of reviews of the show coming out all over the place, in newspaper and magazines, on television and radio, and of course on the web. Most, I am pleased to say, have been very good, but of course there are some bad ones as well. C'est la vie.

((Okay, I will confess, it does cheese me when I come across a reviewer who simply hates all fantasy. I had hoped that kind of literary snobbism was extinct, or nearly so. Maybe not.))

But the startling assertion in the TIMES review that women could not possibly like fantasy unless a lot of graphic sex was added to it (??) has prompted me to break my "no comment" rule. At least to extent of this post.

I see this morning that legions of female fantasy readers and self-proclaimed "geek girls" and "scifi chicks" have risen up all over the internet to say all the things that I'm too polite and too busy to say. And a lot more besides. I'd link to their blogs and posts here, but it would take hours. Google will lead you to them, if you're interested. It would seem that so many outraged emails and posts poured into the TIMES that they had to shut down the comments section for the review.

I am not going to get into it myself, except to say
(1) if I am writing "boy fiction," who are all those boys with breasts who keep turning up by the hundreds at my signings and readings?
(2) thank you, geek girls! I love you all.


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Apr. 16th, 2011 10:48 pm (UTC)
I am female, a bonafide "literary" book aficionado, and a shrieky Martin fangirl. YES, IT'S TRUE -- ALL THREE AT ONCE. The NYT review, as well as the one run by Slate, disgusts me. Just adding my voice to the deafening chorus of female indignation.

(I've actually been thinking quite a bit about the representation of female characters in ASoIaF lately. Most of the female fans I know don't take issue with the presentation of female characters in the series, but one reader I know does make the point that some of the earlier characters seem very type-cast: you have the mama grizzly; the evil, beautiful queen, literally named after a sorceress in a Homer epic who seduces men and turns them to swine; the runtish tomboy; the spoiled, bratty princess; and so on. The question is, are these harmful, stereotypical portrayals, adhering as they do to certain feminine archetypes? Harmful, in the sense that it flattens out the possibility of a range of women personalities, reducing womankind to a handful of rote roles? And my answer, after thinking about it for all of 1.2 nanoseconds, has got to be a resounding no. Unlike books by certain other scifi/fantasy authors who I will, cough, politely refrain from naming, George's portrayal of these women characters invites us to sympathize with them on an unusually deep level. They are too readily humanized by the narrative to be "only" the protective mother, the rebellious tomboy, the conniving b*tch. Even Cersei, who is arguably one of the most straightforwardedly evil characters in the series, becomes more dimensional when her motivations re: her children are taken into account. Put simply, we are too deep into these characters; how can they then be objectified, or made to prance around in metal bikinis to satisfy the fanboys, in a light-hearted, haha-dancing-girls-bursting-from-a-cake, manner? It ain't gonna happen, if George has the respect for these characters that he seems to have.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the NYT reviewer is dead wrong. Dead, dead wrong.)

You are my hero, George. You keep on writing your awesome girl characters, I'll keep on reading.
Apr. 16th, 2011 10:50 pm (UTC)
What a steaming pile of BS! I love your books, and there is a lot of sexy in them, but the later is not the cause of the former. You write awesome characters and plots. Even if you "faded to black" every time, they would still be fantastic reads. My other favourite fantasy authors are J.K. Rowling and Tamora Pierce, neither of whom, so far as I am aware, are known for graphic sex (outside of fanfic, that is!). What a weird assertion to make.
Apr. 16th, 2011 10:51 pm (UTC)
We love you too, Mr. Martin. :-)
Apr. 16th, 2011 11:04 pm (UTC)
Having read Ms. Bellafante's rant I can't help wondering what criteria the New York Times has for hiring reviewers. I imagine the good ones are probably allowed some leeway in terms of content, but judging from some of Ms. Bellafante's other "reviews" I don't think that adjective applies to her so why, then, is she allowed to go on her little personal slagfest and ignore the subject she's supposed to be discussing? The only bits relevant to Game of Thrones would lead you to believe that it's an epic tale of illicit sex and global warming. That would be... inaccurate, to say the least.

I'd also like to know how the New York Times goes about assigning materials. Again, I'm sure there's a hierarchy involved, but wouldn't it behoove them to make at least a token effort to match stuff to a reviewer's taste? If for no other reason than to avoid what has happened here: a reviewer who so loathes the genre she's reviewing that she doesn't even pretend to understand or care about its actual content? This isn't the first time Ms. Bellafante has been forced to review SF&F; her rant about Supernatural, for instance, is another sight to behold. Why, then, is she being forced to do it?

Slag the lady all you want, but she's clearly repulsed by the very idea of fantasy so she's hardly likely to offer up a fair and comprehensive review of anything that is outside her "comfort zone." I know that as a geek girl if someone forced me to write reviews of Jersey Shore and Real Housewives I'd find it virtually impossible not to express my complete abhorrence of the shows and of the reality TV genre itself.

What Bellafante did was wrong and unfair, but she only did it because it was assigned to her by the New York Times... and they let her get away with it.
Apr. 16th, 2011 11:12 pm (UTC)
The best response I've seen so far to Belafante's clueless review (which wasn't really a review at all; just a rant against a genre she knows nothing about and seems to despise for no justifiable reason) has been by Ilana Teitlebaum at the Huffington Post. Here's the link:


I truly resented Belafonte's uneducated rant, not only her slam against GoT, but her slam against Tolkien and women readers of fantasy in general. It's great to see so many women readers speaking out against such a flippant dismissal of the genre that has produced some of the greatest classics of our times.
Apr. 16th, 2011 11:14 pm (UTC)
If only Arya or Brienne could trundle up and 'stick her with the pointy end'. That would make her more inclined to keep her stereotypical, misogynistic and ignorant views on women to herself.

Love a boy with breasts.
Victor M. Yeste
Apr. 16th, 2011 11:16 pm (UTC)
The world is full of people that don't think before they write about something. But it's incredible that a review of a very famous newspaper falled to that kind of nonsense.

Thanks for writing books so good and, well, fantasious! You're the best, and I am sure that almost everybody thinks so, boys and girls :)
Elena Amici
Apr. 16th, 2011 11:19 pm (UTC)
I like "Boys with boobs". LOL
Am i the only one who reading the review thought Ms. Bellafante hasn't watch the show at all? It was funny, the global warming part made me laugh out loud :D
Apr. 17th, 2011 03:21 am (UTC)
My jaw certainly dropped when Tyrion's stature was cited as one of the signifiers of it being a fantasy novel set in a world with which nobody could possibly identify.

Yep. Writing about grown adults of diminutive stature - that's just CRAZY! That George RR Martin, writing ridiculous fantasy nonsense with dwarves! How could anybody (especially a woman) be remotely interested in such an impossible protagonist?

...Yeah. I bet Peter Drinklage totally agrees with you about how whacky that is, Ms Bellafante. Or, you know. Not.

(Pretty painfully clear that she'd given the show only a very cursory viewing, to come away with the understanding that this is Tolkien-style worldbuilding. And yet she gets a pay cheque for this stuff.)
Apr. 16th, 2011 11:22 pm (UTC)
I hardly notice sex in your books. Or any books. Is that reviewer nuts?? If I want sex I will watch porn, thank you very much. I read books to escape all that- ESPECIALLY fantasy, which happens to be the genre I see the least sex in. Count me among the outraged boys with boobs... Ridiculous.
Apr. 16th, 2011 11:28 pm (UTC)
I find reviewers who just hate fantasy more puzzling than annoying (though of course I'm not an author/producer.) What service do they think they are providing? It's not like fantasy is difficult to recognize, so they have to warn off other fantasy-haters. And it leads readers who don't agree on that point to write off any other observations they have.

It just seems like a pointless exercise -- why would you review something you're automatically not going to like, regardless of its actual content?

(My pet peeve is actors who declare proudly "I didn't know anything about science fiction/fantasy before I took this role..." It's the genre condescension all over again. They don't have to be a fan, but it's impossible any more to grow up in this culture and know nothing about it.)
Apr. 16th, 2011 11:33 pm (UTC)
Well, I certainly wasn't planning to watch Game Of Thrones. (Oh, that line of hardbacks on the bookshelf? I bought them by mistake, obviously. Silly me, my head's full of sparkles and ponies and chicklit!) Then I heard they were putting lots of sex scenes in, and I signed right up! And it all made sense that that's how they're trying to appeal to girls! Because we all know boys don't like watching sex! Oh, wait...

Apr. 16th, 2011 11:33 pm (UTC)
Okay George, I have to say, things like this make me truly love you. Its this sort of knowledge of one's audience and distaste for the reviewers that makes the best of authors keep their fan base.

Well played, sir.
Apr. 16th, 2011 11:37 pm (UTC)
Not just for geeks
My wife isn't a geek girl. I finally got her to read your books (she'd never read a fantasy book before and was put off by the cover art) and she loved them. The fantasy element is irrevelent when the story is so well written. In many ways the books are more realistic than the usual run of the mill earth based books - the world is unreal but the description of human nature and behaviour is much more real.
Apr. 16th, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC)
The directors of Syfy feel the same way. Apparently it's why they changed their stationery.

I think this is an inter-generational misunderstanding and read it as evidence of slow turnover and hidebound thinking in the traditional media.
Apr. 16th, 2011 11:44 pm (UTC)
I am nearly apoplectic with rage. Even disregarding the fact that her review is ridiculously off-base, she reveals herself to be misogynistic! What moron ever let her near a word processor?
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George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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