Last week, the New York Times ran an opinion piece (can hardly call it a review) on George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones that was dismissive, scornful, insulting and sexist. The claim was that girls don’t read fantasy, and that sex scenes had been thrown in as a feeble attempt to lure in the female readership. Say what?
Needless to say, we geek-girls were insulted. That Ms. Bellafante was given this venerable platform on which to air her derisive screed against a genre about which she is apparently completely ignorant is more than disappointing. There have been some very fine rebuttals from Aidan Moher, Daniel Abraham, and many others to the review. Even Martin himself took issue with the slighting of his female fans on his blog, and thanked the geek girls for rallying to support him.
So what drove this raging piece of hate towards all things geeky? Apart from the obvious explanation that it was tabloid journalism shamelessly using hyperbole and controversy to increase readership, I’d say Ms. Bellafante is judging the entire genre by the covers.
In the early days of fantasy, and indeed sci-fi (since they are typically lumped together), people often think of the pulps, and works from the pen of Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter of Mars, Tarzan), and publications like Amazing Stories, in which women were frequently marginalized, used as props, or left out altogether. The lurid covers of these early works often depicted half-naked women being abducted by monsters or aliens, clearly designed to appeal to adolescent boys (and less sophisticated adult males) as soft-core pornography.
Starting in the 1960s and on through the 1970s and 1980s the work of Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta depicted mostly naked warrior women, with unearthly body proportions. (Vallejo at least is now concentrating on erotic art, pretty much exclusively.) For years the covers of fantasy books were embarrassingly cheeseball, and this hasn’t quite gone away. Even Philip K. Dick’s books have had some of these titillating covers. For those unfamiliar, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was the basis for the movie Blade Runner.
I’m afraid this is what has remained the public perception of fantasy and science fiction.
But fantasy and sci-fi writers are not responsible for these covers. And those who have not read anything in the genre should withhold criticism until they do. There is some damn fine writing (and some good covers) in the fantasy and science fiction genres, not to mention any other ‘genre’ you could name, which any reviewer shouldn’t have to be told. The fact that Ms. Bellafante seemingly had not even read the book (and I can’t quite tell from her piece if she even previewed the show) should have precluded her from writing about it.
Cast member Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who plays Jaime Lannister in the show was interviewed about his experience in the show and had this to say, that sums it up nicely:
But I read the Game Of Thrones books, and they’re great. A great world to enter. So, I guess I had some silly ideas. I didn’t really know much about the genre before.
But genre doesn’t really matter, does it? If the story’s good, it’s good. If it’s good writing, it’s good writing.
Sadly there are still many out there who have not discovered this little fact, and the perception continues that it’s all unworthy of ‘serious’ attention.
For those who didn’t get to see the premier last night, HBO has released the opening credits sequence on YouTube. I’d post it here, but HBO doesn’t typically like people to do that, even though it’s out on the internet, so here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7L2PVdrb_8
Go watch, it’s incredible.