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January 31, 2007

the good, the bad and undead

Posted by dogpossum on January 31, 2007 10:45 PM in the category books

I've been thinking about that Australia Day meme and how I couldn't answer the questions properly. And especially, I've been thinking about why I don't much like Tim Winton or those other difficult authors. I mean, the people who write miserable stories about nice things or heart warming stories about miserable things or uplifting stories about people triumphing in spite of adversity.

By the way, I've remembered another Australian author I used to quite like: Sue Woolfe. Especially Leaning Towards Infinity. And I like Nicki Gemmel. I know that that last one's not cool (nor correctly spelt, I suspect), but fuck. And I like Peter Carey's short stories (but not novels). And there's an Australian bloke who writes crime novels (one was called Iron Rose) which/who I liked. And I like Shane Maloney's stuff about Coburg and Melbourne)

Anyway, back on track, here.
So, about all these difficult books.
I'm sure I've said it before. But.
I read almost nothing but SF. That's either science fiction or science fantasy. Sometimes I read crime novels as well, but not too often as I tend to get upset by the implication that you're supposed to get some sort of readerly pleasure from the in-depth description of torture and serial killers going about their work. Smacks of voyeurism to me. And I don't like it. For the same reason I don't like watching SVU. Somehow I feel that I'm to enjoy (or participate in?) the systematic subjugation torturing, killing and general Bringing Low of women and other vulnerable people. No thankyou.

So I read books about space. And about dragons. But only well written ones.

But lately I think I've strayed into even darker territory. I've just finished this. I have no excuse other than the fact that my mother sent it to me in a package from Tasmania with chocolate. And it's easy to read. And it has vampires in it. And a sassy female protagonist. And now I'm reading the second one (that's it to the left, the image lifted from the site linked above). And before these I read another one by another author called ... Pat something.
This stuff reminds me of Tanya Huff, except without the... well, the good stuff. I think I might have strayed into that land of no-longer-pink books.
I'm not sure if you know, but romance novels went genre bending a few years ago (I know because my mother is a mad pink book fiend and I've had to spend far too many hours in Rendezvous Romance (don't ask me to relive that, please)). So, you know that romance novels (or pink books as they're known in our family, because they are used to be pink) are massively popular, right?
Well, you might also know that women are the big readers in Australia as well (I think that's true. If not, I made it up, and it's a myth I'm sticking with).

So anyhow, a few years ago, as I've said, the pink books went genre bending. They starting moving beyond 'real world' plots, settings and characters and introduced detectives. Then they introduced vampires. And vampire hunters. Of all sexes. And then they suddenly exploded and were going crazy with the whole sf/speculative/fantastic fiction thing. And they no longer had pink covers - they had black covers. And were about three times as long as the normal pink books. But they were still all about romance. And had female protagonists. And somewhat objectified male love interests.
Now, all this, on the one hand, is vaguely nauseating. But on the other - this is some fascinating shit. Sounds like chick flicks to me. Can anyone else smell Sistahhood? Well, ok, so I'm exaggerating on the feminist political theme thing. But still.

Anyhoo, when I was browsing in a certain SF bookshop whose name I can't remember (but it's worth knowing about - they sell novels at $15 or a bit less, have a shop in The Arcade on Elizabeth, sort of under Melbourne Central. It's a bit of a pathetic arcade, but it has a Dick Smith and this bookshop. Which sells only SF. Yay.) I realised I couldn't tell if I'd wandered out of the Normal Books and into the formerly-known-as-pink book section. But all the authors were women. And all the protagonists were female. The covers were black, we were talking serious demon hunting and vampyr slaying narrative action. But suspicions were raised by the humourous (sp?) subplots and lengthy discussions of clothing. And lame puns. Not that lame puns are anything new in SF. SF is all about dag (goddess bless).
I was kind of getting worried - I didn't want to spend perfectly good book cash on something where the hero(ine) would end up spending every second page fussing over her makeup. But I didn't want to miss the demon-slaying/arse-kicking female protagonist action. The guy who runs the shop couldn't help. Even the matriarch, who knows All Pink Books and has now begun flogging some of her (zillions and zillions - fuck, googleplexes) of pink books off on ebay couldn't help me. And now, even after two and a half of them, I'm not sure.

Here's what I do know:the authors are shocking dags - there are far too many discussions of 'ankle high, vampire-made leather boots' and "fingers flicked about the deep v-neck of her spandex shirt tucked into her leather pants" (The good, the bad and the undead, p 61). In fact, I think I need to continue with the fashion descriptions, because these books seem to spend more than a little time discussing who's wearing what. I smell pink book:

"Ready?" Ivy said brightly as she finished adjusting her jacket. She was dressed in her usual black leather pants and silk shirt, looking lanky and predatory. The only color to her face was her bright red lipstick. A chain of black gold hung about her neck in place of her usual crucifix -which was now tucked into her jewelry box at home. It matched her ankle bracelets perfectly. She had gone further to paint her nails with a clear coat, giving them a subtle shine (same book, pg 100).
It's kind of a give away when a paragraph like that is about a quarter of a page. And is preceded by a series of paragraphs explaining every character's outfit. And please - black gold ankle bracelets???

BTW: what the FUCK is a duster? It's an item of clothing. I think it's a long scarf. Apparently vampires dig them. I shudder at the thought. No capes!

So, ok, I think we can assume I'm in pink book territory. If only because we're looking at a particular female readership. Which, apparently, I am part of.

It's worth pointing out that Ivy is the protagonist's flatmate. And a vampire (I can't explain the crucifix thing here, ok). And has a massive hawt thing for the protagonist. Both of them are tall and thin. The protagonist (a witch, by genetics, with an athletic build, sparse bosom and curly/frizzy red hair) is heterosexual. And Ivy has a massive boner for her. The whole vampire-sex-violence-pain thing is kind of overworked, but ... the thing is. It's not like in Tanya Huff's books where queer characters are very much 'normal' - bi, lesbian, gay bloke, trannie, some combination thereof, whatever. Nor is it like Buffy where the characters deal with coming out and move on - monster attacks kind of taking precedence.

In this stuff the queer thing is kind of background static - I smell 'bi-curious' and 'female queer fantasy' action where the women 'are all lesbians' but don't do no deep sea diving. It's titillating, but there's no real action. The protagonist and Ivy do not get it on. We're left hanging for a shag. Rather, for them to shag. In fact, there's a lot of saucy talk and innuendo, but no real action. Kind of like a level 3 pink book. Where level 10 is out and out pron (you have to read it to believe it - those pink book shops, while they're full of gauzy curtains and New Zealand bees wax candles and posters of chocolate are also stuffed to the gills with all manner of hawt lady pron action. Actually, if you're easily shocked, you'd best not read it. This is real erotica for women. And hold the feminist Message).
...which is interesting in itself, but I digress.

Basically, think Charmed, but with a bit more grit. Though a similar obsession with shoes, female ensemble casts and male eye candy.

So this is what I'm reading right now. I'm also reading that book about Marconi and wireless telegraph and a crime novel the Supes leant me, but right now I can't put this particular book down.

I'm not sure what my point is. But I think I'm wanting to say something about 'literature' and 'reading'. And gender. And possibly hang a bit of shit on the whole idea of literature.

Ok, so we all know that it's nice to read a well-written book. I'm with you on that. But just because I also like trash (and baby, do I like trash - I have seen EVERY SINGLE CHICK FLICK EVER MADE. And I love them all), does that mean I'm somehow culturally deficient? I mean, I'm a cultural studies dood. I've read Modleski and Radway. I freakin' wrote a thesis on pop culture. So how come I'm sporting this pink book anxiety?

I think, really, for me, this stuff is only one point on a continuum of cultural consumption/practice. I likes de trash (look, ok, I'm coming out on that one: I cannot read 'real' pink books, but I'm enjoying this stuff). I love chick flicks - lady films as they're known in our house. I was a massive Spice Girls fan. I spent a lot of time in gay clubs as late teen/early twenties person, and not because I'm a fag hag. But because I like trashy music and trashy disco dancing.... mostly the dancing to trashy disco. I like silly television.

And I like to read science fiction. Why is it that I still feel like I'm not doing 'serious' reading when I'm reading SF? Even when the SF I read inolves massively fat books, complicated politico/socio/ideological themes and complex characters?

Is it unAustralian of me to not know the names of any of the 7 little Australians? Is it wrong for me to not read poetry (and to have pretty much sworn off it so as to avoid flashbacks to my teenaged poetry writing phase? Oh man, I'm totally having horrible flashbacks as I type this. No, please, no - no more! No more stream of consciousness poetry! No!)?

Fuck - look at the time. I told you!

Posted by dogpossum on January 31, 2007 10:45 PM in the category books