Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Genre Fiction and Sexual Violence

One of the interesting contrasts between literary and genre fiction is what we expect from them: literary fiction we expect to give us good writing and interesting narrative devices, genre fiction we expect to give us a particular emotional experience.

With the recent kerfuffle about Game of Thrones and having gone to see Mad Max yesterday, I was thinking more today about the things I want from an experience.

This tweet summarizes a lot of it. I mean, at this point, we all kind of expect a pervasive threat of sexual violence from every shadow in Westeros. And, because I've seen other action movies, I was kind of expecting some threat of sexual violence in Mad Max. I was braced for the hit. And then it never came, and it was a gift, and I really love that fucking movie.

I read non-fiction and literary fiction both for school and for my own edification, and I brace in the same way when reading a lot of those. Sexual violence is pervasive in the real world, and so it pervades fiction set in the real world.

Which takes me to the genre fiction I read. I have a friend who, because she's perfect, heads an email filled with book recommendations as 'Trash Books!'

They are supernatural romance novels. They're amazing. It's great. In every single one, people fall in love in a long-term-monogamy sort of way, kick butt, have magic powers, and maintain healthy friendships. It is the best kind of wish fulfillment.

Also of note is the way it treats sexual violence. Rape still exists, in these worlds, because I tend to read the kind of paranormal romance with high body counts and so other kinds of violence come with that. Of note, though, is that rape attempts are far less frequent than in the real world. In the series I'm reading now, I'm on book 19 and there have been two characters who were raped, of which only one was a perspective character (the other character started a centuries-long war and she was considered justified except when she nearly murdered her kids). There were also three threats that ended in violence. This is significantly lower than anywhere in the real world. Also, anyone who tries to rape a woman ends up dead or severely beaten. It's very emotionally satisfying.

And it also makes these books kind of reassuring to read: one doesn't have to be quite so braced against the possibility of an onslaught.

That's what genre fiction offers. There are other genres, like cozies, where the only thing one has to be braced against are dessert cravings, but these tight genres offer a kind of consistent experience that's as relaxing as a glass of wine.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Body horror and blenders

Becoming a monster plays into an aspect of horror that I'm very fond of: body horror. Becoming a monster sometimes involves physical changes - shifting, or things under the skin. One of my favorite incarnations is in Homestuck and Homestuck fandom, where there exist Helmsmen: high-powered psychics capable of directing a spaceship with their minds. Mostly they are chained to the ships, stripped of free will, and wired directly into biotechnological interfaces. Fanworks are frequently somewhat horrifying.

Body horror taken to this kind of extreme is its own kind of externalization - of different things for different people. Puberty is generally horrifying, with all of the growing and hormones. For trans* people, who sometimes experience their changing bodies as deeply and irreconcilably wrong, it can be deeply horrifying and an utmost betrayal. Disability, severe injury, and assault can all be traumatic. They can all be body horror, and expressing body horror as a plot device, as a way a character becomes stronger can be ways to explore the more mundane sort of body horror at enough remove that it's just fascinating. Body horror can also be a way to explore the ways we take - and deal with - damage.

I haven't generally been fond of the product of writing as therapy, but that has somewhat changed - body horror in particular has let me read stuff that I can relate to - and I've also come to a slightly different appreciation of the ways we use our experiences to create art, which is well-articulated in Amanda Palmer's review of The Ocean At The End Of The Lane. I've found that I really like when things are fine-ground and spit out as art that's appreciable in its own right and not just as a reflection of the creator.