On Thieves’ World and, in Particular, This Quote

“She just looked up at him, her eyes full of a surety and power that her little, female body shouldn’t have been able to contain, let alone radiate.”

Thieves' World

That quote is from Janet Morris’ story “Wake of the Riddler” from the tenth book in the Thieves’ World series of anthologies.  Think of the difference in the sentence if you remove “female” from it.  Then it becomes an observation regarding a particular person rather than a sexist statement concerning all women, and the possible “power” they may “contain.”

The Riddler named in the story’s title is a man named Tempus, a man cursed with immortality and possessed by a god.  It happens that this god is both the god of war and rape and he’s made it so that Tempus can only “take a woman by force”.  That’s what Tempus’ love turns into.

It’s not just Tempus either, as a lot of the characters in the Thieves’ World anthologies have relationships that revolve around force (and often lust is equated with rape) rather than tenderness, a form of hate rather than love.  The fact that many of these stories are proto-urban fantasy – i.e. as much or more concerned with relationships between main characters than they are with plot – means that these rape-based relationships are front and center for the reader.  And they often present rape as the only relationship, and, because it is a tragic situation for Tempus, somewhat sympathetically.

Now, that quote above presents a different sort of misogyny which I suppose was common in the eighties: the belief that women are inherently less than men (while, at the same time, treating the female body as an art object).  Except, well, except that I’ve read lots of fiction from before that decade and in that decade that don’t share this… um, viewpoint.

A little history: I started reading the Thieves’ World series when I was in high school.  It is an anthology concocted by Robert Lynn Asprin that started the whole shared-world anthology craze (I’ll call it a craze even though the only other such anthology I’ve experience with is the Wild Cards series that does for superheroes what Thieves’ World did for fantasy).  I love the concept of authors working together on a shared universe, co-creating a coherent world for readers to experience as a whole even though it is assembled from independently-designed parts.

I like this concept so much that I’ve been trying to reproduce it myself in different ways.  I’m co-writing a novel with Jason Myers called THE ALTERNATES (though it’s a different story than THE ALTERNATES that I talked about a few days ago).  I’m co-writing another novel with Jason and Brendan Riley called THE PARTY.  I’m collecting stories for an anthology where each story takes the idea of “a high school in another world” and interprets it in whatever way the author wants.  I’ve another idea that is the picaresque journey of one kid on a quest where each writer would take on a successive chapters.

And I guess what I’m saying is that I have a deep love for Thieves’ World and the original concept that Asprin brought to life.  But after reading through eleven of the twelve books, I’ve found myself more and more annoyed by the representations of the sexes in many of the stories, and how a number of the stories aren’t much more than litanies of character interactions that are more soap opera than prime-time drama.

Authors that I’ll miss as expert and original storytellers, the series having run its course both in reality and for me: Robert Lynn Asprin, Lynn Abbey, Andrew Offut, and Diana L. Paxson.

Authors I can stand never reading a word of again: I hope, by now, that’s obvious.

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5 Responses to On Thieves’ World and, in Particular, This Quote

  1. Brendan says:

    Those novels you’re co-writing sound excellent! any progress on them? 😀

  2. Jason Myers says:

    Sadly, no.

  3. Andrew says:

    Excuse me, Jason, but I believe that Brendan was directing his question at me.

    Sadly, the answer is still no.

  4. goldenboy62 says:

    Seems that somewhere in the middle of the series, it lost direction, or rather certain writers seemed to have more pull in which direction it was heading. Odd that a lot of the sexism and misogyny seemed to come from many of the female authors of the book, or rather sex become a very dominant element in many of their stories. The later books in the series bare only a vague resemblance to the stories you saw in the first three books of the series. I still remember it fondly, and I’d even be in favor of a resurgence of Thieve’s World stories, but only if it finds it’s center again.

  5. Andrew says:

    I agree with that in general, although I found the spin-off novels to be the most egregious in this regard of veering from the original (and continuing the misogyny).

    Thieves’ World was my first experience with shared-world novels, so it has a nostalgic hold on me, even if that nostalgia doesn’t line up with the reality of the books seen in today’s light.

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