I confess I have a problem with … well, life in general.  I bore easily.  This is why I have about ten different projects started (I do usually finish them one bit at a time.) and write and read in many different genres.  I also do things like walk away from boring conversations before I realize I’m doing it.

And some years ago I started doing that with books.  Not just “worthy” books, though that was a great part of it, but also (even) my popcorn books.  The last big batch of mysteries I bought used before I went fully electronic for fiction were mostly unread.  Not unopened, but I realized halfway through reading (I thought) one of them that I’d actually been reading two of them and they were so similar I didn’t notice until  it hit me the names were wrong.  (I had one in the bedroom and one in the bathroom, and since folding down a corner gives husband cold sweats, and I can never find bookmarks, I was finding the page by memory.)This was particularly distressing since I actually read to escape the boredom that is every day life.  In fact until I was about 20 and developed some internal resources I was either immersed in a vivid daydream (what we call “telling myself stories) or reading at all times.  Heck, I don’t think even now I’d ever clean the house without reading via audible. I’d be up to my knees in cat hair and dust.  Or probably have died of allergies.

And I don’t demand greatly original stories every time.  In fact, if you saw the reference above to “popcorn books” these are the vast majority of what I read.  I eschew the idea of choosing the third ending, or trying to be startlingly original because I don’t think that’s what the readers want.  Not every time. As Pratchett said about sex, (paraphrased because I don’t remember which book) sure people read all sorts of fancy cookbooks, but when all is said and done, they’re happy if they get a tomato and egg sandwich and it’s tasty.

So… Most books are tomato and egg sandwiches and that’s fine.

So what changed round about… oh, the early 2000s that made me despair of “popcorn books.”

Well, there is a difference between not surprising me wildly and being functionally the same book.  I no longer remember the titles or authors of the mysteries I confused, but they were both police procedurals with a male-female type of association, and they were of course vaguely romantic.  Well, they were supposed to be vaguely romantic.  Usually these partner/friendships are.  But they didn’t use to cross the line. This one was a full blow affair. Fine, whatever.  We live in the age of divorce and remarriage, so that didn’t even bother me much.

It’s more that these characters and the case were functionally the same: the male was a manipulator, and the woman is divided because she feels some loyalty to the man’s wife (!) while he doesn’t really care about either of them, etc.

She is moral and has no flaws (except for sleeping with this manipulator.)  The case is the death of a woman with no flaws.  Etc.  Rinse, repeat.

For treatment of a flawed marriage, Agatha Christie did it better in the Hollow (whose victim is in fact a manipulator, single minded, is having an affair, and is yet also profoundly true to life and sympathetic even.)

At my last Cosine in Colorado Springs, Connie Willis talked of teaching a writing class and being told by the students that female characters can’t have flaws because that’s sexist. My own fledgelings have reported the same thing of their writing groups.  M. Todd Henderson’s interview on my blog today reflects this too.

There are prohibitions on who can be villainous, in what matter they can be villainous and how characters are handled. There are also enforced precepts. So in the end, you know, these are like those formal plays of the French renaissance, where you can show this, you can’t show that, and all the plays sound alike.

This is not art.  It is even less entertaining.  Sure, it’s moralizing — it reminds me of nothing so much as my grandmother’s favorite books from childhood which were permeated with Victorian morality and you knew how they’d end from page ten — but more than that it is boring.  Incredibly boring.

Books in the early 21st are not the first artistic/entertainment medium to fall down the rabbit hole (and movies preceeded us there.)  I dabble in art, and I know about the French Academic style.  I also have an MA in literature, I know of the schools that became stultifyingly mannered and constricting.

The only thing I can say about that is that it doesn’t last.  Art and entertainment that are all the same are neither.  And people are more like me but not.  We are clever monkeys who eschew boooring.

Which is why indie came about. Trad pub wasn’t killed by indie.  It is committing suicide book by boooooooring book.

And it will never admit it.


  1. Read the Kathleen Mallory Series by Carol O’Connell where the heroine isn’t perfect. 🙂

  2. Feminism then: “Women are humans beings too!”

    Feminism now: “Depicting women as human beings is problematic!”

    1. And then they lecture about how the (purported) ideal of purity among women [and men] is unrealistic and causes hangups and psychoses and neuroses and Chauvanist Pig!

      But women in fiction cannot have flaws, because reasons.

    2. If you look up the history of women’s suffrage movements, the tendency was there then. Some well-known suffragettes were in favor of women voting because They Would Be Pure. (Some other suffragettes objected on the grounds that women were people too, and expecting them to be flawless was infantilizing.)

      1. I recall reading a decade or so back a proposal that government be entirely run by women, because it would then be super peaceful. At the time, I had been reading about the Wolfpack Empire community, specifically reports that there were a number of female players, some quite good. Wolfpack Empire is not a game that rewards inherent pacifistic tendencies.

        In truth, I think searching for peaceful outcomes by putting feminists in charge of military decisions might be akin to searching for compassionate outcomes by putting me in complete charge of a substance abuse treatment program.

        1. Female rulers would automatically be peaceful? Olga of Russia would be amused to hear that. As would Aethelflaed of Mercia. And those are just the first two names that came to mind. Heck, Christine de Pisan wrote a whole book about how woman could handle military matters in case of their husband’s absence or death.

          1. I’ve been reading a book of old Irish ghost stories, and at least a quarter of them are based on fierce bloodthirsty female war lords, who wind up being far scarier than their male equivalents.

        2. I have the compassion of a mother. In my case, that’s often “Look, you need to learn this lesson, so are you going to learn it through me smacking you upside the head, or through the world smacking you upside the head?”

  3. Can’t have heroines with flaws … hooo-kay. Good thing I burned out on writing critique groups in college creative writing classes then. Depend these days on the Alpha Readers, and comments on posted stories…

    Speaking of fun popcorn mystery reads, I’m working through Jill Marie Landis’ Tiki Goddess mystery series – set in a small community on one of the Hawaiian islands, and centered around a long-established bar and restaurant. Lots of local color, eccentricity, and a drinking parrot named David Letterman who taste-tests new drink creations. (Also lots of drinks recipes.) Recommended. The titles in the series are clever, too.

  4. I’m going to go as far as to say that *no one* can have flaws, either in fiction or in life. We’re not forgiving of anyone who is both good and bad. Good intentions can’t lead to bad results so we assume bad intentions and never examine the consequences of our good intentions. Criticisms are received as blanket condemnations or even unpersoning. There’s no room for “so and so is an old school chauvinist pig but he’s *this* close to curing cancer, loves his children and is relentlessly kind (if somewhat condescending) to every one without exception.” No, he’s a monster and who cares about cancer anyway?

    We talk about Georgette Heyer a lot and one of the best things about her heroes and heroines are that they’re completely human and *different* from each other. Arabella is dutiful but proud and she spends the whole of the book trying to stay one step ahead of a lie. Another heroine is courageous and sacrifices herself for her sister but other than that has not the sense God gave a rabbit. Another is self-confident and brash and entirely “modern” but can’t stop herself from trying to run the life of every single person around her. Another is sweet but foolish and genuinely needs a keeper. Another is profoundly sensible and while she ends up with a fellow who won’t even promise to love her, the action centers around the antics of a young run-away. Her heroes are bland and dutiful to staid and wise to war veterans to self-centered dandies to young men who don’t want to grow up, to men dedicated to vengeance.

    1. Like The Black Witch? You aren’t allowed to have any racist characters in a work that’s ABOUT racism?

  5. I know I’m not perfect and I am highly suspicious of characters who are. It cuts the suspenders of disbelief. And I am so very very tired of feminism.

    1. The suspenders of disbelief is going to me my most favorite thing for a long while, now, I think. It’s such a fun visual.

        1. My vision includes the elastic snapping back and curling away. And the suspenders are rainbows… no notion why.

    1. I’ve read this thing, it is AWESOME what they did here. They wrote deliberately garbage papers and got them published in “respected” academic journals. They paraphrased a chapter of Mein Kamph and got published! The reviewers were saying they didn’t go far enough.

      I’d be interested in a deep dive on the funding those journals get.

      1. I expected you to like it and wait for Bob TRF to chime in. I liked it too. Too bad they are affecting so many innocents.

        1. They’re actually exposing a very deep and wide fraud that’s costing -billions- of dollars. There are no innocents, just varying guilt.

          I compare this extensive Grievance Studies fraud to the still-continuing Gun Control Studies fraud. The Usual Suspects are still getting paid for publishing incompetent-to-deliberately-fraudulent papers in supposedly “reputable” journals.

          Whenever anyone undertakes a meta-analysis of these papers, such as one I did in the 1990s or the famous National Academy of Science one, what they find is that 95% of the papers are indefensible garbage. They’re not science. Then after they say “what the hell is this?!” and start digging harder, they discover non-reproducible results, authors who refuse to forward their raw data, and also guys who flatly made shit up.

          Is anyone “innocent” in that situation? Not the authors, not the reviewers, not the publishers. Certainly not the people funding the studies, to the tune of millions of dollars a year.

          1. By innocents I meant everyone hurt by the diversity inclusivity con. Which today is just about everyone who is not independently wealthy and childless.

    2. I question whether the investigators accomplished any legitimate scientific goal in getting those papers published. Why? Because my level of confidence in the humanities as currently taught, and in scientific publishing was low to begin with.

      Humanities: I love history, like talking about it and reading it. So my disdain for history as currently taught is not mere bigotry against the subject, driven by my interest in some of the hard sciences. Large portions of the humanities as currently studied in the US are heavily garbage. (I particularly like disrespecting English majors, even if there are a few legitimate tools in that toolbox, and even if I’ve known some decent English majors. Education is a fairly solid candidate for the dregs of academia.) Some of it is pretty clearly damage from a Gramscian march through the institutions. Some of it is a field trusting to expertise from another academic field that is flawed. For example, Marx’s flaws as a historian and as an economist are most obvious when you are both a historian and an economist.

      The soft sciences also have some huge issues. For example, psychology and sociology have to deal with serious confounding issues involved in making measurements of human beings. It is very hard to make such measurements in a way that is worth taking seriously. So, one there is pressure to keep the academic hamster wheel of that subject spinning by accepting work that has no real meaning. Second, the other fields may not realize they need to be suspicious of work done in that field. Some professors of engineering need to know how organizations work. Measuring the properties of a material like a steel or a composite can be hugely challenging, but it is doable, and is not anywhere near as difficult as people are. Those professors of engineering need to be warned that the literature on the sociology of organizations deserves a great deal of skepticism.

      Scientific publishing: science earned a reputation from work done during and prior to the nineteenth century. This work was heavily done by people writing letters to each other. Modern scientific publishing is basically the result of growing this into more formal institutions. The people who did the earliest work were basically nerds arguing minutia. That is not the basic dynamic of modern scientific publication. There are still huge nerds publishing, who love their minutia. Everyone young involved in publication knows that it is a path to a certain amount of wealth and or power. So there is temptation to cut corners, and there have long been rumors and evidence of quite severe issues with modern scientific publishing.

      Ignoring textbooks, and quite beyond the fact that the publishers are not wonderful human beings, probably not wonderful businessmen, often charge quite a bit for reading stuff, and in all cases make it fairly difficult to get ahold of papers that may be relevant. (A poor young scholar does not have a huge budget, and may not have a good university library that can give them ready access to journals that the university has subscribed to. If you have to bias your literature search to what you can easily get access to for free, you will overlook relevant work. This makes it difficult to know if one is actually asking new questions.)

      There are legitimate concerns about replication, about outright fraud, and about incestuous circles of referees promoting outright garbage everywhere in scientific publication. There is a certain rate of garbage papers that even a good journal might be expected to accept. Add to grievance studies being a particularly suspect part of the humanities, and I would expect a high rate of garbage paper acceptance. I think that the expected numbers of this study should probably be very high. I think the number of hoaxes necessary to be statistically significant would be extremely high, much higher than have been provided. I think any organization capable of pulling off the extremely high number of hoaxes is too dishonest to be trusted to do the work.

      Talking on the internet has taught me that communicating via forums whose administrators I don’t trust is mostly not worth my time and energy. For many years of my life, I had no interest in scientific publication due to significant distrust for the administrators of the institutions involved. I am an undisciplined loudmouth, controversial stuff interests me, and I would sooner or later offend someone.

      Yes, my sense of humor does run to the sort of thing these people have done. I think it is the wrong audience and venue for a joke, and I’m not impressed with it as a scientific argument.

  6. I’ll probably catch some flak for admitting this, but in general I like John Scalzi’s novels. Having said that, one of the most cringtastic books of all time I’ve ever read was the fourth book in his Old Man’s War series, the one where the teenage girl was the main character. Every issue raised by Sarah was on display in that one. Brave, powerful, fault free boring wamen who not only don’t need no man they ain’t got no faults. They’re admired by all the adults and sought after by all the boys. Especially the hawt ones. It was like some sort of Wattpad level self-insert fanfic, if one with slightly better editing. And a bit odd thematically coming from a middle-aged man, I suppose.

    1. In truth, I liked Old Man’s War, the series. I even liked that last one you’re talking about. Fun read, no Heavy Undertones to speak of, Good Guys win, Bad Guys made them work for it a bit. Not Grey Goo. The teen girl has no flaws, meh. I can work with that. Its Heinlein Lite.

      Now, Redshirts was so blah I can’t remember the plot. I remember books I read 30 years ago, but not that one. Little Fuzzy, that one angered me. He took H. Beam Piper’s classics and added a heavy dose of SJW, it was despicable.

      Still, if he wasn’t an utter ass on his blog, I might still be reading his books. The Prolapsing Empire was declared distasteful by all the right people, so it might be worth reading. Maybe. But, because he is an utter ass, I will never know, because I will never read anything of his again.

  7. Sarah said: “Books in the early 21st are not the first artistic/entertainment medium to fall down the rabbit hole (and movies preceeded us there.)”

    I chanced to see that “A Wrinkle In Time” was up on Netflix yesterday, so I had a look at it. Some of the actors tried very hard to wring a performance out of that script, but they couldn’t. The art was bad. The costumes were bad. The fricking MAKEUP was bad (Oprah Winfrey in sparkle lipstick, I kid you not) and the screenplay was nauseatingly bad.

    I read the book as a kid, and haven’t seen it since. I remember it seemed a little weird, and I thought the grownups in it behaved very strangely. They made stupid choices according to 7-or-8 year old me. But the screenplay? Wow dude, what the hell were you thinking?

    Then there was the direction. Holy crap, those poor actors must have been pulling their hair out. The direction managed to make Reece fricking Witherspoon look like a demented harpy, instead of Mrs. Whatsit. (Plus who casts Reece Witherspoon as weird old bumbling Mrs. Whatsit? Are you kidding me?)

    But worst of all, with a $200 megabuck budget, it was BORING. Seriously, I was bored stiff. I fast forwarded all the “dramatic” bits. I’ve seen better dialog in cheap magical-girl anime.

    All things considered, I believe the “harsh criticism” of this film and its failure at the box office did not do it justice. It was actually worse than what the critics said. A lot worse. The management at Disney who greenlit this turkey should be selling pencils on Hollywood Boulevard.

    I’m pretty happy I did not pay money to rent it.

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