The rising explicitness of fantasy literature.

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by lukaspriest, Apr 5, 2009.

  1. lukaspriest

    lukaspriest Got something to confess?

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    I've been moderately out of the loop with Fantasy for a while now....its been a couple of years since I've been on the board, but I've recently renewed my interest. Good to be back!

    I've been a GRRM fan for a while now, and I recently picked up Brent Weeks' trilogy, Night Angel. Fabulous stuff. As I read it, I realized that fantasy books seem to have become more graphic, gritty, profane, and explicit. It seems that with the success of Martin, other fantasy authors have followed suit and have been putting forth works for mature audiences. What do you guys think about this? Personally, I couldnt be more thrilled, I rather enjoy graphic depictions of violence, language, and sex (within reason...I found Imajica by Clive Barker to be revolting...). Anyhow, on that note, what are some other books/series that have upped the maturity level? On a line with GRRM or Brent Weeks?

    On another note, maybe fantasy books have always been mature and gritty, and I've missed them?
     
  2. Starfish Prime

    Starfish Prime New Member

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    I see this too, and I don't feel strongly either way about it with one exception :/

    I don't need violence to enjoy the books as my imagination is adequate enough to fill in the blanks of battle and bloodshed, howwever I don't find it particularly revolting in any way. The reason being I enjoy the honour, triumph and moral conflicts in books more than say the action of chopping someones arm off in battle. I do enjoy the odd beheading of an evil character or two though, that is always a kick and rightly placed a bit of gore is awesome.

    The exception being sex of course. I just dont read fantasy for that sort of thing, and I tend to skim read it. Especially after seeing GRRM's picture I can't shake the creepy old man image in my head. It isn't the presence of sex I have a problem with, it is the description. Most people reading adult fantasy have been there, done that, and it slows down the story by going over sex and intimacy. I just don't care for reading someone elses sexual fantasies.

    Language can go as vulgar as the author likes and I'll have no problems. It's probably a good thing as I have a hard time imagining people killing each other and remaining polite.
     
  3. owlcroft

    owlcroft Webmaster, Great SF&F

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    Oh, but it's all so tasteful . . . .

    It is a great deal easier to write pornography than literature, and if pornography suffices to sell product, whatever does one expect to be written?

    There can be times when sexual explicitness is more or less essential to a tale--look, for a random example, at John Crowley's "Aegypt" series--because it tells us something important about the relations between certain characters (and, for that matter, about the characters themselves); but the percentage of times when such explicitness is truly required by the tale compared to the times it occurs nowadays is, I'd reckon, rather small.

    Ask any modern news medium: if it bleeds, it leads. Sex sells; violence sells. It sells, that is, to a certain fraction of the potential audience; and if that fraction is large, well, the market determines the goods traded in that market.

    The problem is not sex and violence, it is that the sex and violence are usually immaterial to the tale, and a tale is debased to the extent that it contains any substantial mass of incident that is irrelevant, whether or not that mass is salacious. Poilitical maunderings, religious maunderings, whatever: when an author strays from telling the essential of her or his tale for extrinsic purposes, bad things ensue.
     
  4. ThornofCamorr

    ThornofCamorr Registered User

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    I think excessive sex and violence does kind of detract from the story, like its just edgy of edginess' sake. The best example is the Watchmen movie. In the novel you see Dan and Laurie get set upon by that gang of topknots, and they just go through the process of disposing of them. On the page all you're getting is that Dan and Laurie definitly know how to handle thugs, and they put them down nicely. In the movie they put in gallons and blood and gore and made the heroes look sadistic and evil. I know that could be considered part of the deconstruction of their super-heroism, but I think it was just out of place. And everyone who's seen it knows that that sex scene was just too long, too explicit, and embasassing.

    Anther thing is that when you have gratuitous violence on every other page, you sort of lose the ability to shock people with it when you need to. Steven Erikson's level of violence is just mind numbing, and after a while you just take it for granted. If a bunch of main characters get slaughtered in Dust of Dreams, by now most people will just shrug and read on.

    I think it's getting out of hand, personally. It's like a lot the new authors are trying to top each other and get reactions like GRRM, and its hurting the stories.
     
  5. hippokrene

    hippokrene Peckish

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    Pornography is literature. It's just literature you don't like.
     
  6. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    This is not a new phenomenon. Tolkien had incest in his books (okay, not in any detail, but it happened). Poul Anderson's Broken Sword is fairly hardcore for 1954. A lot of the myths that modern fantasy drawns on had sex and violence all over the place. Donaldson had a rape scene in the first Thomas Covenant book in 1977. Cook and Gemmell had pretty hardcore violence in their first books back in 1984.

    It's one of the reasons why I find reports of the 'explicitness' of GRRM monstrously overrated (along with the killing characters thing, clearly a complaint of those who have never read Gemmell or watched Blake's 7), as his books aren't particulalry explicit at all compared to some of the things that came before and a lot of the things that came after (particulalry Bakker and Morgan).

    As for the 'getting out of hand' thing, then yes, I can see it cropping up all over the shop. Some people handle it quite well (like Abercrombie) but a lot don't. Seeing the upswing in sexual and actual violence in the later novels of Wheel of Time compared to the earlier ones was also a bit odd, although given the series always had unexpected moments of darkness that may have been planned all along.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2009
  7. Alex

    Alex Registered User

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    I'll second wert on that Joe Abercroombie handles sex and violence very well and I'll also mention that the reason I didn't like Richard Morgans "The steel remains" was that I got the feeling he threw in the sex and cursing to give it a sort of gritty feel and in my opinion the book became worse for it.
     
  8. Eventine

    Eventine Uh, Staff Member

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    Wert, while I don't disagree that any of those books feature the content you've described, I think the difference we're seeing is the level of description of that incest has increased. So while Tolkien may have featured incest, if you compare and contrast that to a modern example such as Martin, the difference is stark.
     
  9. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Except that it isn't a stark difference. With a few exceptions, notably Laurell K. Hamilton's work, and maybe Bakker -- though the amount of explicitness in Bakker's books doesn't really beat the explicitness in numerous thrillers -- overall novels are less explicit now than they used to be in the 1970's, and about level with what they were in the 1980's, I would say. There is, on average, a lot less sex in novels today, with sex scenes that are shorter. The romance novels that featured sex also have less sex in them today than they did in earlier decades, and other romances often have less sex than previously, including rough sex. In fact, the "chick lit" romances that currently dominate the market are positively chaste compared to the Judith Krantz, Jackie Collins generations before them. I'm also not sure that gay/lesbian erotica is doing as well as it once did, though it could be. Rape scenes were pretty much bread and butter in any suspense-oriented fiction. Nowadays, however, rape scenes are often made very stark, which seems to make them more disturbing to folk, which I don't feel is a terribly bad thing.

    In the 1950's, 1960's and the 1970's, many SFF writers also wrote porn. They did a lot of erotica, a lot of sex with aliens fiction, etc., much of it throw away paperback, magazine short fiction, or small press that's not around any more, but fans read it. Which is how SFF got the rep of being sex fiction for horny teenage boys in the first place. In horror, King was relatively sedate for the 1980's, but a lot of other horror writers were not.

    What's happening right now is that the paranormal romance sub-category invaded the fantasy market, horror (which often has high sexual content,) has been consolidated with fantasy, and the YA market exploded, which then focused intense attention on young characters in adult fiction. Contemporary fantasy, which is suspense and so has a fair amount of sex, became more popular. So "suddenly," we have a sex problem, which is really more about fantasy fans who weren't aware that there were books out there with sex in them becoming aware that there are books out there with sex in them.

    What also happened is several alternate world fantasy series have done well, which means everybody pays attention to what they are doing, and their authors have run around talking about how gritty they are being and how nasty their characters are, etc., which is genuinely what they feel and also a really good selling point for male audiences. But if you look at how much time these authors spend on explicit scenes in their books, it's quite small relative to the whole narrative. There is much more hacking and slashing going on than there is sex.

    We are also dealing with a forced exodus, at least in the U.S. market, in which fantasy stories that are not particularly explicit and feature young characters are being forced into the YA market, rather than the adult one. Since many fans won't read YA fiction, this has helped contribute to the sense that fantasy fiction is more explicit because they aren't aware of the wider range of options. The authors are being forced into the YA market because the YA market is hugely successful, and it is hugely successful in part because lots of adults now read YA fiction, not because adults are rejecting non-explicit stories. Gets a bit Catch-22.
     
  10. hippokrene

    hippokrene Peckish

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    KatG should have her own blog.
     
  11. Mock

    Mock N/A

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    I agree. I didn't mind Bakker's depictions because they were very relevant (usually? I don't really remember) to the plot. But a number of other authors—not just in fantasy but in historical fiction and other genres—seem to include sex and violence to sell the book. It drives me nuts.
     
  12. Kabada

    Kabada *** Emperor of Mumbojumbo

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    ROFL! Erotic/sexual scenes in novels are among the hardest to get right.

    Personally, I enjoy explicit descriptions of sex and violence, because the DO have the power to make the whole thing more realistic. Of course, sex and violence are often misused and unnecessary to the story. But that just follows from T. Sturgeon's theory of "95% of everything is crap".
    You could just as easily say extensive worldbuilding doesn't add to the story (and there've been more than enough discussions when that trend was discovered).
    It always depends on how well done it is.
     
  13. PeterWilliam

    PeterWilliam Omnibus Prime

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    Pornography is pornography. It's just pornography you like. ;)
     
  14. Mock

    Mock N/A

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    I disagree. Worldbuilding provides necessary context for characterization. Explicit description of sex and violence often does not.

    It's interesting that many readers judge a novel's realism by this sort of grit but choose to overlook other issues, like anachronisms. For example, readers may praise an author's explicit depictions while ignoring his incorrect frequent use of the term "broadsword" as a medieval weapon, and so on.
     
  15. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    If it is gratuitous to you, it's a problem for you but it's not gratuitous and a problem to anyone else necessarily. And you not liking a handful of books -- which are often books written anywhere from ten to twenty years ago -- doesn't mean there's any big change in fantasy fiction.

    It is again a matter of size. The amount of fantasy fiction published is now in the thousands of titles a year, published internationally by authors in multiple countries. You aren't reading 4,000 books a year. Therefore, claiming that there is a problem in fantasy fiction on the basis of your likes and dislikes over a small sub-set of fantasy publishing, both random and subjective, just doesn't really build a convincing argument. Even using statistics to extrapolate the amount of explicit material, the number of books using a high level of explicit material would not be the majority. It's a faulty claim, just like the opposite claim that most fantasy now and/or in the past was not gritty enough.
     
  16. Starfish Prime

    Starfish Prime New Member

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    Kat you always seem so angry, I want to buy you a pedicure or something to relax you.

    Just sayin.
     
  17. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    I have seemed angry lately, haven't I? It's life stuff and in large part having the exact same discussions over and over. But no one's forcing me to participate and I should probably just shut up for a bit and go get that pedicure. :) I'll try to be less testy in future threads.
     
  18. Starfish Prime

    Starfish Prime New Member

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    Empty promises on my behalf! I'm too poor to buy you mani/pedi/any cure.

    Anyways I was a few drinks in when I wrote that so take it with with your daily dose of sodium.
     
  19. Eldanuumea

    Eldanuumea Mod Lady

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    Literature is like any other form of media......sex and violence sell. Preferably together, it seems, more and more these days.

    I have given up trying to explain the difference between pornography and what I would consider literary erotica to my husband. He says the literary quality of the writing doesn't make graphic descriptions of sex and/or violence any less pornographic.

    I disagree. I have found writers who are able to handle what could be considered graphic sexual situations with a subtlety and delicacy that is far different from stuff I would classify as porn.

    I think that the writer's purpose has a lot to do with whether or not the end result is erotica or porn. In the former case, the sexuality is a carefully integrated part of characterization and plot. In the latter case, the sexual descriptions seem gratuitous and wholly unnecessary; they add nothing to our understanding of characters or events. They are there for purely salacious reasons.

    I realize this is a pretty fine line I'm drawing. I have written examples of both, and I know the difference in my purpose when I was writing them. I no longer write any stuff that I would consider porn.....I did that when I discovered a world on the internet that I was unaware of, and became obssessed. (Thank goodness it was under another username LOL!) Anything I write nowadays that contains any explicitness at all is done in a way that adds to the nature of the characters I'm describing. And believe me when I say, LESS is MORE when it comes to this matter. The imagination is a powerful thing, and writers should let readers do more filling in of the blanks.
     
  20. PeterWilliam

    PeterWilliam Omnibus Prime

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    I do hate to see the shine taken off of something that should be beautiful. Society is just what it is though. There are legions of the unsated and unglutted gorging themselves upon the salacious elements because they've allowed their imaginations to atrophy and what might pass for an identity to wither and rot. An ever increasing diminishing return on shock, thrill and titillation drives the sexually desensitized to abyssal depths of the unusual (and that's being polite) in search of the the thrill that is now gone (you tell 'em, BB [King]). It's [western culture] a 'Drive-Thru' culture that is dominated by immediate gratification of desire and petulance as a by-product of frustration should life deviate from the normally scheduled programming. Let's just set fire to the city and play the fiddle on the roof.

    Whoa! What just happened to me. Crap! Whatever JohnH has, he infected Katg. Now I've got it. HELP! HELP! I'M BEIN' REPRESSED! COME SEE THE VIOLENCE INHERENT IN THE SYSTEM!