East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Firm-breasted lawyers


593x800_7883_Red_Sonja_2d_fantasy_oil_painting_warrior_female_red_hair_picture_image_digital_artOnce again about female characters in fantasy.

The painting here on the right is by the great Donato Giancola.
It’s my idea of a fantasy sword-woman done right.
She has character, she projects strength and toughness but she has class.
OK, so maybe there’s no reason in the ‘verse to handle a sword like that (or so they told me) but who cares – I can believe she’s a real woman.
No brass bikini, no empty, inflatable-doll-like curves to please an adolescent audience.

And the adolescent audience is what’s making me nervous.
And a quick survey of the fantasy and sword & sorcery field in my country* has been dis-heartening.

1-6And I’m not talking about stories failing the Bechdel Test**.
I’m thinking about the growing tide of the sort of adolescent, low-grade trash that would have been rejected by the lowest of the Spicy Pulps.
Poorly written?
Non-existent plot?
And then a “strong female lead” with a name straight out of a Bond novel, that’s strong because the author tells us so, and who is characterized as “firm breasted”.

And I know I’m weird, but…
Imagine asking around about a professional – say, a lawyer.
You’ve got these papers to check, a contract you’d like to be reviewed by a pro, to be on the safe side, so you ask a friend if he knows a good lawyer.
And sure, he tells you there’s one he knows that specialized in contractual law.
“Is he any good good?” you ask.
“He’s a she,” he answers.
“OK, whatever, is she any good?”
“She’s firm breasted,” he replies.

Now that does sound stupid, right?

The only things that gets me madder than this sort of horrid writing is the fact that apparently the public is eager for more.
And it gets me mad because I do write sword & sorcery.
That public is my public too.
I can’t select them – or, I can, but only through my writing.
But will they put down my story, when they fail to find the firm-breasted action they are looking for?
Or will they just consider the story poorly written and lacking where it really matters?
So yes, I wonder what they make of my female characters.
And my plots.
And my dialogue.
Does witty repartee read to them like lewd innuendo?
Does it not,  and they hate it?
Maybe that’s why the sales are so low.

And of course the existence and the acceptance of this sort of drivel disqualifies the whole field.
It fuels the arguments of those that say all genre fiction is rubbish, that any form of entertainment is lower-grade grub for the masses, scrawled by mercenary hacks.
And I know there’s a lot of people out there working to prove them wrong – I know and read and appreciate many of them, and I have the cheek of counting myself in their number.
Alas, those that are not part of the solution are increasingly part of the problem.

* Maybe there where you sit things are different; I hope it’s so.
** One of these days we’ll have to talk about the Test

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “Firm-breasted lawyers

  1. The problem, I guess, is in the audience.

    I never heard of the Bechdel test before but I’m glad that both my fantasy novella She Flew on Borrowed Wings (being rewritten) and my children’s book La Furia dell’Orsa pass it.


    • The audience is certainly part of the problem – but as writers, we should have the power of influencing the audience.
      And while I do not believe in writing as education, I am convinced that by writing better stories we can build better readers.


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  3. Pingback: Sheathed in a purple bodysuit | Karavansara

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