On Elves And Smartphones

I have read a fantasy novel by Sarah J. Maas, an author who, according to the shop, had previously achieved great success in the Young Adult market without my having heard of her. This marketing distinction often eludes me; for example the Discworld series is for grown-ups while the Tiffany Aching sequence set in the same place is supposedly for Young Adults, but I enjoyed the latter equally with the former.

The Maas book in question is a strange hybrid of High Fantasy with policier and chicklit, and I am not sure that the investigative aspect sits well with the absolute power of the dominant non-humans. In the same way, I am uneasy about the blend of ancient magicks, shapeshifters, the Fae and so forth with a ruthlessly 2020 technology and social sensibility: movie streaming, e-mail, smartphones and selfies. Here the gods do not stage theophanies, they phone you. This could be a design choice, intended as a break with the clichéd joinder of sorcery and demons with cod-medieval technology and cod-medieval manners, an originality that I would applaud. At the same time I have a worrisome feeling that the largely supernatural denizens of her world preen in front of their smartphones solely because Maas, being of her generation, is honestly unable to imagine a universe in which people (broadly defined) do not preen in front of their smartphones.

In support of this suspicion is the heavy emphasis on clubbing. Whether this lifestyle is regarded as a good thing or not is a little ambiguous, but on the whole I think she counts getting wasted and having quickie sex in the club toilet as heroic, at least when indulged in by females. And this brings us to another point. While by no means following the “two legs good, three legs bad” mantra of much of a previous generation, and wholly ignoring the issues of transsexuality, Maas seems unusually prone to referring to a character as “the male”, and, slightly less intrusively, as “the female”. She is almost the opposite of Patricia Briggs in that she loathes dominant males, whom she calls “alphaholes”. This is a fine coinage, which I intend to steal, but is never applied to power-crazed females. Of which she portrays several, but never under that name.

Being “sassy” has long been regarded as a virtue in women, but Maas’ “party girl” characters seem to take it a bit further and into what I would call fratboy territory. Moreover, her emphasis on male beauty sits oddly with how women used to describe themselves as motivated solely by the inner person, whatever that is, while her “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” attitude is definitely a violation of one of the earlier waves of feminism. These beings, both human and other, positively welcome ocular harassment! Again, this may be a generational difference.

An even sharper contrast would be between on the one hand Maas and other chicklit authors, and on the other hand the worlds of my childhood and maturity. In the first, no middle-class provincial girl would ever come close to admitting that she had genitalia, and indeed had probably never seen her own. I have dealt with my consequent culture shock before in these essays, but what I wonder about now is how such sexy authors fit together with the puritanical feminism I remember from the Eighties. Is this a deliberate polemic against the misandrists of her mother’s generation, when the response to any criticism of a specific individual’s actions was “You hate all women!”; or are they completely different people; or are we talking about quite different rules for the novels someone writes and the conversations the same individual might have in mixed company?

I have the impression that such authors are letting cats out of bags as if they are writing solely for their own gender, forgetting that there is as yet no mechanism for preventing (boo hiss) males from reading them too. Perhaps this will soon become a technological possibility; one could lock books (which by then will only exist electronically) to a retinal scan and a database, thus allowing only females to read a woman’s description of her character’s zipless fucks. Folks, you saw it here first.

Posted on February 20, 2021 at 19:01 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: WHAT WOMEN WANT, The Invention Of The Modest Female

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