How Grim is Too Much?

I’ve followed Luke Scull since the early says of NWN, and chatted with him on the old Bioware Forums and NWN Vault more than once. He was a remarkable module creator, and I enjoyed the interactive stories he wrote. So I’m interested a great deal in his coming The Grim Company. Already in your hands quite possibly if you’re on the right hand side of the Atlantic.

But I was a bit troubled by his comment to this review, which does not put off my interest, but does inspire me to rebut Having tried to read Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold I can honestly say the answer to the question, “Does it matter if your characters are not truly sympathetic?” is, to myself and many readers Yes. I don’t mind grim worlds. Reality is a pretty grim place when viewed honestly, and it’s not likely to be different for most people in most settings. The United Federation of Planets sounds wonderful, but its functionality doesn’t withstand scrutiny. At the end of the day, a functioning world is going to involve lots of people doing very disgusting things to other people. And the hero who doesn’t understand this is in trope terms, Too Dumb to Live.

That said, being forced to live in such a world doesn’t mean having to enjoy it. Or at least not conceding that when one does enjoy it, it’s a perverse amusement. The characters in Best Served Cold, to my sentiments, all enjoyed being jackwagons far too much. “Interesting” will only carry you so far, once you figure out that you really don’t care if the character lives or dies, there’s not a lot of reason to keep reading. It’s a similar problem to the one I had with The Name of the Wind. I can’t bring myself to care if Kvothe lives or dies. He’s as snobbish as the nobles he feuds with. And his one flaw is he’s abrasive. Because anything he tries to do, he excels at. Now I can acknowledge both Abercrombie and Rothfuss are insanely talented writers. But skilled authors have turned out books that failed to capture the attention before. That’s not always the fault of buyers being too dumb to see their brilliance. Sometimes it’s the fault of authors being too clever for their own good. So yes, please give us a character to care about.

I read another interesting piece here. There’s a lot to be said about this article. Much I agree with. One-dimensional ‘strong’ female leads are just as dull as one-dimensional ‘damsel-in-distress’ leads. And I absolutely agree about the pass female characters are given when it comes to using lethal threats as a way to prove they’re just as tough as guys. And yes, the examples she gives in that article are two of the more overtly shocking ones. Now I do have Aishe unleash fire on Kilian once in my Aurori Saga, but she does so knowing Kilian can stop it, and holding back her strike enough to make sure it doesn’t hurt him. Honestly, I will at this point aim my finger at feminism and say, “You wanted non-feminine women leads. You got them. They’re still dull.” Better answer, write real women as leads, and don’t apologize for letting them being overpowered like any other hero every once and a while. We all get overwhelmed by the world sometimes.

But she’s dead on about Sherlock Holmes being all the things she lists, and then a woman getting to be ‘tough.’ Meh. I thought Sydney Bristow in Alias was probably the best female action lead I’ve seen drawn. Definitely capable of being tough, but still intelligent, resourceful, capable of being vulnerable emotionally, truly damaged without being broken. And determined. Interesting she wasn’t mentioned in that article.  In short, Sydney was a real person who happened to be a woman, and more interesting for being one.

Where I don’t agree with the article is this insistence on a quota system. Along with changing token characters into female ones just for the sake of being there. I don’t see how token switching character genders makes for better ‘representation.’ A token is a token. And it’s still pandering. Better to say, concentrate on making enough fascinating female characters that we don’t think about how many background females there are. Make an honest attempt to portray a real world, and I think the readers–or at least those not hung up on representation questions, which is there OWN hangup–will fill in the world appropriately.

One thought on “How Grim is Too Much?

  1. Pingback: I Am Neither GrimDark Nor PollyAnna | The Worlds of Tarien Cole

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