Friday, June 12, 2015

Too Easily Offended

It seems that these days some people are too easily offended. I freely admit there are a great many things in this world that we should get offended at and it is really telling if you don't, but what I am talking about are things in ficiton. Rather than being truly offensive, they can be very thought provoking and bring situations to light. Instead, people are jumping straight to offense and not stopping to consider what the fiction is doing.

In my last blog post I dealt with a particular scene in Game of Thrones that dealt with rape in marriage. This expands on that seems to be just the tip of the iceberg. To start with, the scene in question in Game of Thrones was tame. Another series, Outlander, tackled it more directly and more graphically. But here is the thing, both series are dealing with the stark realities of human history. True, George R.R. Martin reset his in a fantasy world, but rarely do the horrors and tragedies he portrays (and that the series portrays) stray far from history. While it is a fantasy world with magic, embodied in the dragons and white walkers, its appeal lies in the gritty reality of the rest of the world. For the era it portrays, gritty involves death in many guises, and many other forms of brutality. Tell me honestly if any person who endured Theon's torture, castration, and breaking did not expect the sort of wedding night for his wife that we were given.

As a writer, I strive for internal consistency. If I create a world that is brutal I am not going to skip one form of brutality because it may offend. I will use history to inform me of what sorts of things various cultures find acceptable levels of brutality and follow it in every way. Skipping rape or burning at the stake because that brutality offends more than castration and beheading is not going to happen. It should not happen as it is hypocritical.

When it comes down to it, fantasy is a retelling of history with magic. How much history makes its way in depends on the writer. It ranges from Tolkien who used history to form his world but crafted a unique story on top of it, to Martin who gives us a parallel to the War of the Roses with a little something else going on. But anyone who studies history will know that brutality existed. We don't even have to go very far back. Most people are familiar with the Holocaust that took that lives of so many Europeans during WWII, but it was not the last such event. There have been others more recently and far more going back into the past. The numbers that died under Hitler and Stalin's regimes are staggering, but the brutality is familiar. Rape, incest, torture, burning people alive, forced marriages, skinning people alive, drawing and quartering, execution, oppression, displaying heads on spikes, leaving corpses to rot in hanging cages, slavery, prostitution, assassinations, and the like fill history. Some can be blamed on insanity, but most was just the normal course of events in a brutal world.

And what fantasy writers, even Martin, portray is not even the tip of the iceberg of what I have read in history. There are chilling accounts from history that make the imaginations of fantasy or horror writers seem tame. So if you choose to take offense at something brutal in a fictional story, beware of how hypocritical you may sound. If you have sat through Game of Thrones to this point, nothing in the newest season should be shocking in the slightest. If it is, then you are picking and choosing what to be offended at and you have chosen to be offended at something you really have no right to be offended by.

I can hear some bring up their personal history and their concern for others with a similar history. Well, what about families of people who have died from knife wounds or beheading? You should have been offended from the outset and not now that the brutality being portrayed touches. All or nothing is my stance on this. Either be offended by the brutality from the start or deal with it when it goes where you don't want it too.

But it does not really end there. That is just one example. Others get offended at the depictions of prostitution or homosexual relationships. We are too touchy and easily offended these days. I really suggest everyone study a bit of history. The good stuff, not the delicate versions that are common knowledge. You need to know that they burned people publicly for being witches. You need to know that decaying severed heads were once a common sight. You need to know that many women were given no choice about what to do with their bodies in regards to sex and children. You need to read up on the brutality of the Mongol hordes that reached Europe and also how effective that tactic was for keeping the peace in what they had conquered. It is all there in history, the brutality of our species. Who can fault a writer for accurately portraying how bad we can really be? If you do you need a reality check.

And in case you go looking for this grittiness in my writing, you probably won't find it. That is not my goal in my stories. I stick to a smaller group of characters and focus on the mix of cultures and languages. That does not dim my appreciation for those who do tell the grittier stories, but I will live that sort of story telling to them a tell my stories the way I want to.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Hidden Tragedy - Rape in Fiction

It seems the most recent episode of Game of Thrones has sparked a controversy. The episode "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken", which aired on May 17, 2015, featured a small change from the book. Well, to some it may not be too small because it was a change in character in the scene, but from my understanding of how the original scene in the book played out, in general events, the episode was less disturbing. Basically, Sansa Stark got married and subsequently raped by her husband. Very shocking to sensitive modern eyes, but not all that shocking for the period being portrayed or the character perpetrating the crime.

What seems to have people riled up is that they put Sansa Stark in this position. In the book the man in question does get married and rape his wife, but he married someone else. Did people really expect them to not include this scene after last season's very violent and incestuous scene? I doubt it, but they didn't expect Sansa to be the bride.

But here is the thing that really irks me about the reaction - we have a serious rape problem in our world. It needs to be addressed. And yet the reaction to this scene is that it is offensive to show it happening. How does this make any sense. I've seen various statistics, but the one that sticks in my mind is that 1 in 4 women, at some point in their lives, are raped. That is 25%. One quarter. That is huge. That is horrible. Yet in fiction it is rarely mentioned. Sure, you have crime shows that feature victims of rape, but rarely do we see the act or experience the fear and terror. Rarely are we put into the shoes of the victim and given a lesson on just how devastating such an event is.

Of course such scenes need to be done with care, and they always are, to avoid being too titillating to arouse those disturbed individuals out there. So is it really a surprise that a series like Game of Thrones, which gave us the Red and Purple Weddings, would turn this wedding into another sort of tragedy? No, it isn't and we should not be offended. Quite the opposite, we should applaud them for such a brave move and hope that subsequent episodes show how such things would have to be handled in a society based on 15th Century England. I have no doubt the perpetrator will see justice by the end, but in the mean time, Sansa has to live with the bastard.

This really calls into question a complaint from some corners. With the statistic of 25% of women who have been victims of this crime (and in some periods in history that is likely to be much higher), why would we not want to explore this crime when we writer female characters in fiction? I hear loud complaints when a female character has a rape in her back story. Why? Are we supposed to ignore this and pretend it doesn't happen? Think of it another way, 1 in 4 female writers has been raped. That is horrible to think about, but still true. So why do we not see more very brutally honest tellings of the survivor's tale (or better yet that they have moved on and recovered). Well, our society shames victims of rape. The old way of handling it was to not talk about it, not admit it, not deal with it. So, how has that worked for us? Not at all.

So rather than complain when an iconic series like Game of Thrones dares to include such an event, we should hope they handle it realistically and responsibly. Rather than sweep in under the rug, even in fiction, we should be dealing with it head on, trying to stamp it out. It isn't enough to talk about the cases that we hear on the news. What we can do is portray characters who have survived such an event. We need to talk about this issue and deal with it openly and publicly. We need to end this shaming of the victim and make it a discussion of surviving and living.

It was that statistic that took me from reading the article on The Mary Sue's website to writing this. Rape is a big problem and rather than see it handled in a way that might help survivors or deter rapists, we just sweep it under the rug and condemn the depiction of the event. How exactly does that help? I may not feel competent to ever include such a scene or a character with that in their background in my own writing, but we can't just all ignore it. If the producers of Game of Thrones feel up to the task, we should applaud them for dealing with it instead of condemning it. I remember the disgust I felt as I watched that scene. The sympathy for Sansa. The certainty that in that world someone will kill the bastard sooner or later.

Rape is not a topic to hide or shirk from. If we are to tackle the problem, we have to talk about it. One way to talk about it is by including it in our entertainment. Done right, that can reach a lot of people. Let's hope in this case they get it right.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Moses - A Rant on Historical Placement

We each have our pet peeves. Some of us have many. One of mine is Moses and the Exodus. Oh, not the man and the event themselves, but how they are treated. I suppose the rant I'm about to go off on could apply to the art of writing fantasy, but this is really just a rant.

One part of how Moses is treated that irks me is that he is rendered into a character of fiction, created generations later when the Jews came out of Babylon. I have frequently encountered people who know beyond any doubt that the books of Moses were fabricated long after the time they are supposed to cover. They remind me of the people who doubt that Shakespeare wrote the plays that bear his name. I prefer to look at history and textual analysis much as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes look at crime. First you must gather your evidence. A lack of evidence for something does not mean it is or isn't true, it means you don't know. And that is what a lot of people base their analysis of ancient texts on - a lack of knowledge.

The question of when the five books of Moses were written cannot be answered. To answer the question, we would need to have definitive proof. There is a major flaw in the way some people look at history. They grab hold of the first instance of something and then claim it must date from that time. We know that the Jews assembled their religious texts after they left Babylon, but from what? The camp that claims they made it all up, or wrote down the garbled oral histories have no proof of their assertions. The texts as presented claim something entirely different.

But there is another camp out there that further confuses the issue. Some religious fanatics take these ancient texts as an accurate and complete history of those days. They really have no evidence for that either. In fact, their desire to take these books of religious texts and events as literal and exact history has resulted in the historical nature of these events being called into question when the archaeology does not line up.

On the other hand, if you take the historical accounts at face value, consider that they were written by many people over a great span of time and may not be complete, either due to mistakes while copying or through omission of some important document, then you can be free to place the events where the archaeology indicates. Radiocarbon dating places the destruction of Jericho between 1617 and 1530 BC. If that is the biblical destruction it means that Moses and the entirety of the events in the five books he authored must occur before that. It means that the events of the Exodus did not occur in the 18th, 19th, or 20th Dynasties of Egypt. Akhenaten did not influence Moses and Ramses II was not the Pharaoh of the Exodus.

Not only is there not proof for these ideas, there is evidence against it. These three Dynasties are some of Egypt's most prosperous times. Ramses was a great builder and conqueror. In all the tombs and documents from this time, there is not one mention of foreign slaves. There is no evidence of any great disaster or loss of work force. There is nothing. Not one shred of historical or archaelogical evidence. In truth, the only link between the Exodus and Ramses II is the mention in the Bible that the Hebrew slaves built the cities of Pithom and Ramses. There is no evidence that the city and the Pharaohs of that name are linked. The text could also have been changed when the name of the cities changed to help the text remain relevant.

Which brings us to some of the clues that demand an Egyptian origin for Moses. First, not one Pharaoh is named. The only two Egyptians named are Potiphar and Asenath. Some oral traditions also give us the names of Moses's adoptive mother, Bithia, and Potiphar's wife, Zuleikha. But not one Pharaoh. In Egypt, as long as people speak your name, your soul lives on. Omitting the names of the Pharaohs the various biblical figures interacted with is a tremendous insult to them. It is something only an Egyptian would think of. The authors of later histories did not hesitate to name the Pharaoh who sacked Jerusalem. Add to that the completely Egyptian name of Moses. It means 'son of'. Ramses means 'son of Ra'. I've surmised that Moses originally had a longer name, but he dropped the name of the god his adoptive mother gave him. Which is interesting because it then makes him the 'son of the god with no name'.

These are just a few of the textural hints that add together to place the original composition of the books of Moses at a time when the traditions of Egypt were fresh. Also, as a prince of Egypt, Moses would have been literate, possibly in multiple forms of writing. So there is much more evidence that the books of Moses were written before the fall of Jericho than after the return from Babylon.

And there is another piece of evidence that further ties it all together. In the text that our English Bibles have been translated from, one of four surviving copies of the books of Moses, there is a line missing. In the King James translation we are led to believe that the Children of Israel sojourned in Egypt for 400 years. The missing lines restates that and says that from Jacob's arrival in Egypt to Moses is 250 years and Abraham to Moses is 400 years. When you look at Egypt 250 years before Jericho, you find archaeological evidence of a Jacob in Egypt. It is the right place and the right time. There is no proof it is him and it is claimed that Jacob (or Yakub as it is more properly rendered) is a common name. Yet the timing is startling.

Looking more closely at the events of this period of Egyptian history show that not only does this fit, it fits very well. This was during the Second Intermediate Period. The Hyskos began arriving in 1800 BC, ended up in control of things, and then were kicked out. There were there about 250 years. Jericho falls right after that, just as the end of the 17th Dynasty won back and reunified Egypt under native rule again. It is not a well documented period, but how plausible is it that the events in Exodus, occurring to the ruler of the Delta region, would bring about his downfall and make it possible for the later unification. This period also shows the instability that the Exodus story indicates. The Second Intermediate Period started off with the 13th dynasty in control of all of Egypt. The Pharaohs were the Asiatic Hyskos, which would explain why the Pharaoh would put Joseph in charge. Before the end of the dynasty, they lose control of the south. What are called the 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th dynasties are competing concurrent kingdoms. The change in dynasty also fits with Exodus and a Pharaoh who didn't know them enslaving the Hebrews.

When you put all the pieces together, it becomes clear that the statements that the Hebrew Bible only dates to the return from Babylon are false. While that may be the oldest known dating, they say this without a shred of proof and ignore the evidence in the text. Those that continue to pit Moses and Ramses irk me to no end. No only is the dating wrong, and Ramses never had any setbacks during his reign, but the events don't fit the story. Ramses II had been born before his grandfather became Pharaoh. Seti I only ruled for a few short years before his son became Pharaoh. The traditional story of Ramses and Moses being raised together could not have happened. Ramses II took the throne only a little over 30 years after Tutankhamun died. Moving the Exodus late in the Second Intermediate Period solves all the issues that surround trying to link it to Ramses II. Not to mention that Ramses was 200 years after the destruction of Jericho.

I have similar comments to make about Britain's King Arthur, which rather than misplaced in time is misplaced in location which gives rise to erroneous reinterpretations. By starting at the right points things just make sense. In the case of Moses means looking at the period before the archaeological dating of the destruction of Jericho (roughly 1550 BC). In the case of Arthur it is moving him from London to one of the other major political centers of the day, probably Carlisle. But in both cases, a simple change to the story as commonly understood, a change that is not rooted in the original story, but which removes virtually all the objections science and verified history to the story, changes it from improbably to probable. While we then have the question of how the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews maintained the text for a thousand years until we know with certainty that it existed, none of the details of the story are far fetched or unlikely. On the contrary, by placing Moses in the Second Intermediate Period, the story fits with the times and makes perfect sense.

So that pretty much covers why pitting Moses with Ramses and claiming the post Babylonian Jews made it all up irks me. There are too many things that modern science has proven are accurate for this to be a complete fiction. Anyway, I think that about covers the rant.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Wheel of Time Pilot

It is rare that TV surprises. No, I don't mean the writing, I mean the scheduling. In the middle of the night, FXX aired a half-hour prologue pilot for The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. No advertising or warning. And it wasn't even the network's choice to air it. It was aired during paid advertising time and done because the rights, currently held by Universal, were set to expire tomorrow if they didn't do something with it.

As a reader of the series (still only halfway - life has been busy and I was waiting for the last book) I quite enjoyed a glimpse into the world of Lews Therin. The acting was excellent, as was the direction. The effects were terrible, what there were of them, but then this wasn't made on much of a budget and evidently in some haste. Not bad for what it was. You can find it on YouTube if you are interested in seeing it. I particularly love the dolls lying on the floor. Very creepy.

It will be interesting to see what this sparks. With the way it was made, it might have violated some terms of the contract and Universal might lose the rights anyway. But it also might generate interest in really turning this into a series. It is a worthy contender to Game of Thrones so it would be a good choice and that would certainly spur me to finish reading the series. Just as news that the Shannara series is coming to TV puts me in the mood to re-read my favorites of that series.

It is no surprise that a great number of fans of the Wheel of Time didn't like this. It was done without consulting Jordan's estate and aired without any fanfare. I do hope that if they are serious about doing this as a series that this little stunt doesn't end up killing it instead. I think this might provide the buzz to get a network interested and if this was finished properly, with the proper outcome of Lews Therin's death and a more visual destruction of the world, it would make a great prologue to a series. I would watch it. We will have to wait and see. Will this let Universal keep the rights? If they do, can this stunt turn into a series? If they don't, will it lead to someone else getting the rights and doing something with them? A lot of mysteries and a lot of lessons.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Taste of Real Archery (a debate of sorts)

It is hard to match our modern archery skills to the skills of our ancestors. We don't do things the same way. However it is possible to get a hint of it. Many still hunt game with bow and arrow and some recreations of ancient warfare also make use of safer versions to simulate their use in war. No one today is a true professional archer because archery is no longer anything more than a sport. That said, some can come darn close. Dedicated individuals can learn a lot of the ancient ways and come close to understanding and reproducing them.

I am an archer myself. I picked up the bow and arrow as a kid and did target practice against a tree in the back yard (a very sizable tree I might add). After many years away, I cam back to it in the mid 90's thanks to the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). If you aren't familiar with them, they are dedicated to recreating as accurately as possible, the arts, crafts, and warfare of the high middle ages (600-1600 AD). But the purpose is also to have fun so the typical course of going from newbie to expert is to start with modern equivalents and slow work your way up to making authentic items by authentic means. For safety reasons, their armed combat has to use alternate materials and they even have live combat archery equivalents. For archery, that meant learning about and crafting my own bow and arrows. I went as far as getting a piece of ash to make a bow out of, but by the time the wood had cured, the nature of the local group had changed and I had moved on to other things. Such is the way of life. So I did not achieve those goals myself, but I was with many who did.

This gives me the basis with which to compare the claims of Lars Andersen and a rebuttal by Anna Maltese and see who is closer to the truth. In my time in the SCA, I studied several forms of ancient archery in my pursuit of skill. I chose to aim for English archery, but I delved into Native American and Japanese forms of archery as well. All use completely different styles and materials, yet I found a commonality among them. In Japan, Kyudo, as the art of archery is called, uses ancient bows and arrows, unchanged through the years. It ranges from school archery clubs to those who learn how to shoot from horseback. A gentleman in Wyoming has learned again how to make Native American bows and arrows and has proven that they are just as deadly as the other schools of war archery around the world. Also while in the SCA, I met people who studied Mongolian archery. But nowhere did I encounter anyone who went truly ancient in their pursuit of the best the ancient world had to offer.

So in comes Lars with his five minute video where the narrator explains and Lars shows, what he has learned. His antics with the quiver full of arrows is funny because some of those have happened to me. It was a good thing I had more than the 7-8 arrows I can shoot in 30 seconds in the quiver because often some of those would end up on the ground. Not just me, but many archers had the problem. Quivers are very useful for carrying a large number of arrows, but they are not convenient if you are moving. Anyone employing archery for its two historical uses would know this. Anna tries to rebut this, but it is clear she is a quiver shooter and hasn't been in the situations where this causes problems.

Lars claims to have studied ancient images from manuscripts and inscriptions, among other things, for visual representation of the style he sought to uncover. This matches my own research. Anna tries to rebut this by claiming they are not that accurate and that those artists would have no closer association with archery than modern artists who get it wrong. As someone who has used those sources himself, I have to say Anna is plain wrong. Many of those ancient images yield details about the past that help archaeologists and historians make sense out of the written accounts. Most modern artists get their source material from books or movies. Before those things existed, you had to actually see it to know how to draw it. And in the places and times were professional archers were far more common, it was easy to find an archer practicing to see how they did it. Lars has the right idea in this case.

And that leads right into target archery. Lars rightly claims that target archery was unheard of. Most archers of antiquity did not learn to shoot at a target. They learned to shoot things in nature. Mainly food. their targets were things around them, not a board with a mark on it. Target archery is good to train a novice on how to aim and fire a weapon and gain enough accuracy and stamina for battle line warfare (such as Agincourt). That was not, however, how things were done in the ancient world. Archers were sometimes in the thick of things and had to shoot to stay alive. Closer targets are easier to hit but it requires great speed. Again I found Anna does not know what she is talking about and her rebuttal falls flat.

That leads to the main point of Lars' video. He has discovered that people have been using the slow side of the bow and slower techniques. Yes, they get very fast, but not as fast as they could be. Here Lars fails to fully explain what he is talking about and when Anna tries to respond she totally misses the mark. To achieve the greatest speed when shooting a bow in the traditional manner, the arrows must be in a quiver on your back. The motion of pulling an arrow out of the quiver places it in the ideal position to put the arrow in the correct position to shoot. But that requires the motion to reach and pull the arrow. It is out of sight and the first thing you have to do is find an arrow. There is always a bit of uncertainty with this even though good archers make it look effortless. Lars found that holding the extra arrows (and he certainly has managed to get skilled at holding quite a lot of them) in his draw hand saves that time of that entire process of pulling them out of the quiver. At the same time it is nearly impossible to place them in the other side of the bow. So in the interests of speed, he uses the other side of the bow. The many images he found agrees with this. If you notice, many of those images lack any sort of quiver.

Having tried speed shooting myself (30 seconds at 20 years and my best was 9 arrows and my most accurate cluster was 7), I know that any uncertainty and unnecessary movement that you can remove will increase speed. Lars' method does just that. His method removes the motion to reach for the arrow in the quiver. He has managed to hold ten arrows in his draw hand and shoot them all quickly, but the norm seems to be 3. Even removing that reach for the arrows in the quiver 2/3 of the time will increase shooting speed dramatically. Reaching for the arrows is the slowest and most uncertain part of the process.

The last piece of his research led Lars to learn how to shoot with both hands. As he pointed out, modern archers tend to shoot with one eye. While most archers don't close the other eye, they are very concerned with which eye is dominant and pick a left or right handed bow accordingly. Lars claims that this should not be the case because a true expert archery should be able to shoot with either hand and that aiming should use both eyes, not just the dominant one. That matches my experience.

The rebuttal for some of these points is hard to watch. First, Anna doesn't get what Lars is talking about. She has fallen for the myth that the dominant eye should dictate which arm holds the bow. This works quite well for target archery which relies on careful aiming. It does not work so well for the situation where archery was born. Target archery is just a stand-in for hunting and warfare. In those situations you must be aware of your surroundings and you might need to shoot in any direction at any moment (yes, even in hunting, because you and another predator or rival hunter may be after the same game). Anna mistakenly shows several modern bows with their deep cutout (so the arrow doesn't have to bend around the bow) and then talks about the archer's paradox. Well those are two completely different things. Modern bows, especially the compound bow, allow the arrow to shoot straight without having to bend around the bow. They also use aluminum arrows which don't bend. Isn't she supposed to be a professional archer? It doesn't show from the way she completely missed this entire section. For one thing, when Lars speaks of right or left side of the bow, he is speaking of right or left when you hold the bow in your left hand and draw with the right. What Anna is talking about is how the archer holds the bow in their primary shooting position based on which eye is dominant. Every instance she shows of an archer with the bow on the left, they are holding the bow in the right hand. So she just doesn't seem to get what he is talking about at all. Not to mention that the archers paradox only applies to traditional bows that have no cut out. A traditional bow is straight, with no rest or any bend. The arrow must go around the bow because of physics. In modern bows this is no longer the case, as Anna's video clearly shows.

Her rebuttal just falls flat in so many ways. For one thing it shows a lack of any sort of understanding of the type of archery Lars is attempting to replicate. It is not trick archery, though his skills are good for that as well, but it is combat and hunting archery. Anna draws on the Mythbusters test of archery myths and with my historical studies of archery, I have to bust their busting of some of these myths. They messed up on several points and some of the ways they goofed are clear in Lars' video. Let's start with splitting an arrow. They declared that one busted, but their test used modern wooden arrow shafts.

I'll first describe how they are made and then where traditional arrow shafts came from. Modern wooden arrow shafts are made from lumber. You take a large piece of wood and cut it into 1/4" x 1/4" x 30" pieces and then round them into a shaft. There is no consistency in the grain and few of them have grain the runs the length. It requires the luck of hitting the grain direction just right in the few arrows that have any grain that goes the length to split them. Traditional arrows were not made from lumber, they were made from branches. There are several different variety of plants, depending on the region, that provide nice long, straight pieces that are perfect for arrows and only require a small amount of work to even out the length. These, like bamboo arrows, will split because the grain goes from one end to the other. And Lars is not trying to split an arrow in a target, but split the arrow he is shooting on a stationary blade. That is much easier. Hollywood usually achieves this effect by pre-splitting an arrow and having the second arrow run down a hidden wire. They used this quite effectively in a recent episode of Doctor Who featuring Robin Hood. The only real problem trying to do this in real life, if you have the right type of arrow shaft, is that the second arrow must be 100% parallel to the first and that is hard.

The next item they tested was catching an arrow in the air. Mythbusters tried a mechanical hand to grab the arrow, but it could not close fast enough. What Lars does is not so much catching as it is knocking it out of the air and grabbing it in the process. If you can shoot an arrow out of the air, you can swat it like this and grasp it at the same time. It obviously is is possible because Lars does it. Though I would not try that at home. He has ten years of practice at these things.

Anna's next assertion to rebut Lars is just ridiculous. Lars claims that as archery advanced, that the source of arrows switched from quiver to bow hand to draw hand and Anna claims this should follow some historic progression. This right after a section where she enumerates just how many different cultures used mounted archers (something Lars mentions but which Anna seems to be saying he missed). Each culture would have its own progression, but with Archery around for thousands of years before historical records existed, it is more likely that it is an individual cultural level of expertise that is achieved by a few. It is also likely that this was the preferred method of the real experts - the typically undocumented people who used archery in their day to day lives for hunting food. Many of the English archers were such people. Yes, they could fire a 100 pound yew bow and it could shoot for a very long distance and was very useful in battle, but more than likely these archers also hunted wild game and much of their shooting was at closer ranges.

So when you take these two videos together only one comes out on top. Lars, while his video shows a lot of trick shots, is full of solid data about ancient archery. Deriding his sources and attempting, through some downright misleading images, to say that his information is inaccurate does not make Anna's case. Instead it makes her seem arrogant and only a student of modern target archery who is convinced her way is right. Lars was quite right in his assertion that he has rediscovered lost techniques because they are lost to the body of western archers. Many Asian archery traditions have maintained their closer ties to their historical roots, but the west abandoned archery in favor of the less accurate and slower black powder guns. Americans derided Native American archers and only careful research of their equipment has proven that they had the same skills as other historically skilled archery cultures. Lars does exaggerate a number of things, but only to quickly make his point. When I compare the two side by side, I see the truth of Lars skills and research and see through Anna's attempt to debunk his claims. That level of archery does not exist in the target archery world. An Olympic gold medal archer could not do the type of shots that Lars does with similar equipment.

In the end, I think of Howard Hill. He was the master archer in the United States back in the 1930's. Anyone who watches Errol Flynn's The Adventures of Robin Hood can see his work. He used an English longbow and made most of the shots in the film (except splitting the arrow) without any effects work. Even that shot of shooting the rider in the chest (it hit a block of wood under the rider's tunic). I also think of the combat archers of the SCA, who go into the fray (as happened in many battles of the Middle Ages, though not at Agincourt) and pick up arrows that are compatible with their style and shoot them back. I think of the archers I knew who could shoot faster and more accurately than I did. Twelve arrows in 30 seconds seems like so many, but I have since learned that even that is not as fast as it can be done. And I think about the people who taught me how to shoot, about trusting my instincts, about pointing at the target and not focusing on the arrow, but the entirely of my stance and who helped me get up to eight arrows in a nice group (If I got a ninth one away it usually was a bit wild as were a few of the others). I could have gotten faster if I'd practiced more. At least as a writer I can put that skill into their hands and Lars video is a great tool for going from the expert target archer, to an expert war archer, to a truly skilled genius archer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Jack of Troubles available Feb 3, 2015

Release day is fast approaching for Jack of Troubles, the first book of my Crystal Deck of Ryuu series. Still putting the final touches on the print version to upload to Createspace, but the Smashwords ebook (and consequently at Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Kobo) is done and ready to release.

Dara, one of the Simmasi Royal Rangers, is tasked with escorting Prince Shaelon across the Simmasi Kingdom. It proves more challenging than either one could guess when they are beset by assassins trying to make sure the Prince doesn’t reach his grandfather’s army. As her King knew she would, Dara goes further than her original orders, offering to both protect and fight beside the Shaelon as he leads the army his grandfather assembled to reclaim their ancestral throne. The army is up to the task if Dara can just keep Shaelon alive long enough.

So begins the Crystal Deck of Ryuu, a series of five books. Each book will tell a single story and the five will flow together to tell the complete tale. Some characters will live and some will die. Some are good and some are bad and it is not always immediately obvious where they fall.

Book Two, Queen of Darkness, is written and awaiting editing and the other three are still under development.

Jack of Troubles releases February 3, 2015 on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo. A special early edition is currently available on Amazon, as is a related book of short stories, Voyages of Lord Carvin (which includes the first 5 chapters of Jack of Troubles).

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sexism vs. Realism in Fantasy

Fantasy, in particular epic fantasy and historical fantasy, receives many complaints of sexism from some corners. While some of those are quite justified, others are not. To make writing this post easy, from here on, when I refer to fantasy, I am referring to the Tolkienesque genre that I usually refer to as epic fantasy, including all its near cousins, but excluding all modern settings such as urban fantasy.

There is one thing that separates fantasy from other genres (except maybe historical fiction) and that is its reliance on history. Particularly medieval and ancient history. I personally feel we have a somewhat stilted view of history because it is dominated by men when in reality the percentage had invariably been 50/50. However, there are a great many situations, many of them copied by fantasy authors, that were historically dominated by men, in excess of 90%. War, battles, adventure, quests, and the like dominate fantasy. When we use history as our guide, women are uncommon. And let's face it, as a society we know this so there is a perception that women in these situations, without a good reason, reduces believably. Fantasy authors could easily craft their own worlds where that is not the case, but that strays from the medieval model and skirts the edge of the genre.

So rather than judging a fantasy book on how many male characters or female characters they have, we should be judging on the quality of characters to determine if we should judge the writer and his work being guilty of sexism. If we take these historically based settings and look at how the writer has cast the roles, it will tell us a lot about how they view women. A long, hard, military campaign will be mostly men. Historically they had camp followers, something fantasy tends to avoid. But they also had the occasional female fighter and a scattering of other women who might be found, though this was more the exception. Agincourt had no women present, while some were occasionally reported in the crusades. So during a battle it would be unlikely to find any women present so we should not expect this in fantasy. It happens with some frequency, such as Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings. If we take the genre as it has come down to us, as rewritten medieval history where magic exists, then this is to be expected and is not sexist. We must examine the nature of the female characters to determine if the writer is being historically accurate or sexists. Eowyn is a good example. She is not masculine in any way. She is niece to the King and is given charge of the kingdom when he and her brother ride off to war. She is capable so she follows, disguising herself and helping out Merry. When her uncle falls in battle, she is right there, fearlessly defending him against the Witch King of Angmar. It turns out that because she is a women, she can kill the Witch King and she succeeds in doing just that. So while Tolkien doesn't offer us many female characters, both Eowyn and Galadrial are just the sort we'd wish more of.

When you move away from the battlefield, a more normal ratio of characters should dominate. A visiting prince would meet the servants and others of a castle owner's family, but would be there as a guest and the number of occupants of the castle might vary considerably from just a few people in a small family to a huge extended family. In time of war a male owner might be absent and his wife would be in charge. The more people depicted, the more women should be included. Tolkien did not do a good job in this respect. Other writers since have done better. Oddly, even women writers tend to go to the castles and cities to create more female characters.

The one writer I feel excellent at being non- sexists in both composition and characterization was Robert Jordan. He started off with a group of men and women from a small town, his world features female magic users, strong female characters - very much equals of the men, and some romantic tension, but also some solid friendships between genders. When I read his Wheel of Time books, I felt a realism that is usually lacking.

One thing to keep in mind when looking for sexism in fantasy is the gender of the writer and how intimidated they may be by writing the opposite gender. I've noticed that this particularly strikes men who don't feel they can write women. It also relates to their personal experiences. Most men who have served in the military have done so during the time when only men were soldiers. Experience has tremendous impact on how each writers tells a story. Rather than calling sexism anytime the ration falls below 1/1, we should accept that not everyone has had the same experiences, not everyone is comfortable writing both genders, and not all stories take place in settings that call for equal representation of the genders.

What matters is the nature of the characters. Has the writer given us a women who could be their sister, mother, wife, or daughter, or is she a stereotype? Does she have a real role or is she there for sex? Does she have a mind of her own, or is she a puppet? I've read some sexist trash from the fifties and found it quite offensive. What some want to label as sexism is just an unbalance, which does exist in some situations and in some people's experiences. We should strive to attain as much balance as possible, but in a genre so closely tied to the real history of our world and to war, it is inevitable that some stories will not have balance so we must look to what they writer offers us to judge the charge of sexism fairly.

It isn't sexism if it is realism. Realism is what all the good writers strive for. Solid, real, female characters are what we are after. Role models for readers. Women we'd all be proud to know in real life. I'll take well written female characters in a good story over just trying to crunch numbers. Now if you can do both, that is the best of all worlds, but not all authors can do that. I'd rather we continue to strive for more balance and have good stories by great writers who can give us good female characters. Quality over quantity. Above all I want realism. Historical realism does not always lend itself to casting a story with an equal number of male and female characters. So let's be practical in how we judge sexism in fantasy. Let's strive for realism and get as many good female characters in as we can given the setting. If we do that, sexism in the genre will continue to recede to obscurity.