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Bookstores Taunt Me

November 6, 2009

I carefully stepped into the dingy confines of a used bookstore the other day, and quickly ascertained the location of the sci-fi/fantasy section. The books were facing exclusively spine-out, so I was skimming for any title that caught my eye, rather than cover (you can judge some books by their cover. Cover artists sometimes have niche markets on certain subgenres, and you can guess a lot of how a book will go based on recognizing the style of the artist. Then again, I would never have read Song of Ice and Fire by being inspired by the covers, so it’s double-edged).

I saw something by Dave Duncan, who I was introduced to in early teenage-dom through the King’s Blades trilogies. In which dudes get stabbed through the heart with their own swords to magically bind them with unbreakable loyalty to the wards they protect. Do we notice any familiar themes? Anyway, I saw “A Rose-Red City,” plucked it out of the pile, and was confronted with this cover:


What the hell?

The whims of chance are a fucking tease.

Seriously. Naked dude being subdued by minotaur, being defended by a woman(?) wielding a sparkly energy baton trailing a stream of light like a whip, with an apparent chemical dependency on make-up and hairspray. I read a couple of pages and nothing hooked me, so I put it away.

Skim, skim, skim–

Lady Pain.


Read back cover. Oh. The Pain is bad. Of course. It wants to destroy the world. Of course. Eye roll.

I didn’t stay long to really dig for the jewels I’m sure were there, but I did put a lot of stuff back after reading, “[Name], [title] of [place] has lost [his/her] [symbol of divine right], and must now embark on a perilous journey to regain [his/her] [hereditary tyrannic rulership] from the [bad guys/pirates/communists/even WORSE hereditary tyranic rulership].” With a few exceptions, these days I am little interested in reading about someone’s fucking monarchy.

Hint to the sci-fi/fantasy community: There are other forms of socio-economic organization than democracy or monarchy. There are even, shockingly, societies where no one rules anyone else!!!

There are a lot of superb writers out there, and among them there are even some superb authors, and among them there are people who use cliches as a springboard for some kick-ass storytelling. No denying that. But where does this obsession with monarchies and empires come from? The sword-and-sorcery thing? Believing that those are the only “ancient” forms of socio-economic organization before the advent of Freedom (TM) and Democracy (TM)?

But that is completely random and not what this post was going to be about. I am still debating reading “A Rose-Red City” just because, seriously, that cover. Priceless.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. ficklefey permalink
    November 7, 2009 10:01 am

    As a dominant person, you wouldn’t want to live in a society where people don’t rule other people, would you?

  2. ranat permalink*
    November 8, 2009 4:04 pm

    Yes, I really would. Dominance and submission have nothing intrinsically to do with hierarchy, they just get expressed that way in this society because hierarchy is one of the only ways dominance and submission are acknowledged.

  3. ficklefey permalink
    November 9, 2009 5:48 am

    So, you make a distinction between controlling someone and ruling them? Hmm, kind of confusing. I’ll have to think about that some more.

  4. ranat permalink*
    November 9, 2009 10:11 pm

    I think there is a very real distinction between the two. I just looked up “ruler” in the Oxford American dictionary, and the first definition is: “Someone exercising government or dominion.” I don’t do that when I play with someone. All the synonyms are along the lines of, “Leader, sovereign, monarch, king, queen, emperor, empress, head of state, president, premier.” It seems to have an unavoidable socio-political connotation. None of my roles with anyone involve the hierarchies above, and they don’t appeal to me.

    Control, on the other hand, is situational. Control has to be given, even in the most coercive situations where the only choice might be between giving control or death or serious bodily harm (ie colonialism). Since I have no desire to be coercive in my relationships, the control given to me by a submissive person is going to be dependent on the situations we are in, the situations that fulfill and work for both of us. In my opinion, a ruler rarely takes into account what works for those on the next rung of the hierarchy, rulers of democracies included.

    One can have control and not rule, and one can rule and not have much control (the queen of England rules, for instance, but in my understanding doesn’t have very much control).

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