Monday, October 5, 2009

Klingons with Tusks

What is subtlety and nuance within a story?

I greatly enjoyed Queen of the Orcs by Morgan Howell. As I read the reviews, however, I'm seeing mentioned several times that the book was preachy or that the theme of 'all men are evil' was too much, or too stereotypical. And I'm finding myself thinking of bright lights and fine print.

There are distinctions in the book made between top soldiers and dreg soldiers; distinctions made between the corruption of the King's personal court, and his general servants and even distinctions between members of his personal guard. The line of corruption is weaved from the lowest mercenary all the way to the King and his highest/closest advisor - showing how said darkness affects the world around it.

It's all right there. And alongside it is all the information needed to comprehend that our viewpoint character has been so affected/victimized by this corruption, despite her strong will to survive that she can't believe anyone, any man who would interact with her could be uncorrupted or even a little less tainted.

That is by no means a theme of 'all men are evil' or 'man bashing'.

Then there are some in the reviews who noticed or acknowledge the specter of the 'noble savage' trope, but they ignore so damn much; the lack of empathy the Orcs have to non-Orcs, the twisted turns of their thinking when it comes to inclusivity and exclusivity and also several underhanded developments by an Orc. Compared to corrupted human men, yes, the Orcs are noble; But only in comparison. And the Orc culture, though matralinieal is by no means perfect - the very fact of an Orc regiment belies that.

And then there is the term savage itself - just how are these reviewers using it? Is savage standing in for original peoples of the land/indigenous peoples? Is it standing for warrior / warrior culture? Or does it simply mean not white human or not human? What stereotypes are they attaching to the term savage when they claim to see 'the noble savage' trope? Because I think there are several aspects of Orc culture and civilization they're ignoring when they invoke that trope. Maybe those aspects will not be fleshed out and further fulfilled in the subsequent books, but what's revealed in book one does lay a basis for more than meets the eye - more than traditional, cliche, assumptions.

These reviews leave me thinking that people are recognizing patterns in their reading and thinking that the ability to recognize a pattern is actual analysis and not merely the first step in comprehension. Like some blogger I read said about the recent batch of spoof movies; they have no substance and don't actually parody anything, the audience is just laughing because they recognize the pop-culture reference; a Pavlovian reaction?

Meanwhile I have recognized the pattern of 'What These People Need Is A Honkey' but smile at the twist that the needed gifts the white person will bring are the understanding of and capability for; lies, guile, treachery, betrayal and deceit.

In fact the only thing that really makes me uneasy to continue to read the series, is how the author will handle the tricky line between; potential human love interest (because of course love/relationship can't happen with an Orc) and the pitfall on the other side of that which is - woman falls for noble savage and becomes honourary member of savage tribe with its purer ways.

I don't hold out hope these days of finding fantasy that won't hurt and offend me. Right now I am just pleasantly surprised that I want to read more of this universe which echoes the broken treaties between early American colonialists and First Nations tribes and English colonialists and Scottish & Irish tribes while having as the stars; Klingons with Tusks.

[Comments On]


  1. "[...] because of course love/relationship can't happen with an Orc [...]"

    Betraying my complete unfamiliarity with this specific series, but I would pay good money to read a story in which a human male and an Orc female do have a romantic (and fully physical) relationship, based on mutual respect, curiosity and genuine sexual attraction. As a veteran D&D player, I've seen some very sexy Orc women (who are beautiful while still possessing physical traits that fall well outside the realm of "conventionally pretty" or "ladylike").

    Yeah, hi, sorry for derailing, but you KNOW me, so you HAD to know I was gonna key in on this. :)

    Your larger point is not lost on me, and it makes me want to give you a hug.

  2. Kirk:

    A touch of derailing that makes me smile isn't all that bad. :)

    And in fact, on my personal journal review I mentioned the whole - outsider, not like us, alien, therefore lesser than, therefore any suspected sexual relationship leads to shaming of the non alien partner. It is always degradation for a woman to sleep with the male of the party being considered lesser.

    I didn't actually think too much about the reversed gender scenario and now I'm wondering if it wouldn't be the Orc female having to put up with shaming while the human male was just considered kinky or adventurous.

    If you make me write this story I will have to think of something to do to you!

  3. "These reviews leave me thinking that people are recognizing patterns in their reading and thinking that the ability to recognize a pattern is actual analysis"

    I think that sounds pretty likely. Especially given that for a lot of Lit classes all we're taught is, "point out these patterns or themes OK you're done NEXT BOOK!"

    Plus for a lot of folks, it's possibly difficult or distracting to engage a work on any level beyond the basic plot. Particularly so when it's anything beyond one's own immediate experience. :/

    Which is not to say that folks shouldn't do the work and learn how to engage deeper.

  4. Furikku:

    I would describe myself as still digesting the first novel and turning it over in my mind. Some things were obvious when I was reading and I nodded to them and made a mental note. But other things took thinking about the whole plot from start to finish again.

    I can understand that some folk don't believe in re-reading a book. And I rarely feel the need to re-read immediately. But I'm beginning to think it must be frustrating as a writer to know you've put certain things into a work and have those things go completely over people's heads - or even just for them to be ignored.

    Then again, has shown me, with examples from detractors, that people see what they want to see; as well as what they've been conditioned to see.

    I'm curious though - couldn't you describe all fiction as being about exposure to someone else's experience? And isn't the plot a mixture of direct actions and the experience of another's viewpoint?

  5. "people see what they want to see; as well as what they've been conditioned to see."

    I'd use "expect," rather than "want," since I assume most folks don't WANT to see their, uh, category or whatever maligned. (Although I guess if one doesn't want to engage a message that requires rethinking one's life, one might want to see it as a strawman.)

    "couldn't you describe all fiction as being about exposure to someone else's experience? "

    To an extent, though there will always be some areas of crossover. I figure it gets easier the more similarities to the individual reader there are.