“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.”
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.