I’d like to introduce my current novel project and ask for your opinons. Partly this is because I believe in open expression, freedom of speech and noble things like that, but mostly, I really just want to steal all your good ideas, put them in my book and then hoard the profits. You know how these things go.
The main story follows four characters trying to control “The Anomaly,” which is anthropomorphized indeterminancy. There are also major plotlines about what happens when you make people choose between being powerful and being good, how much money different human lives are worth and the subjective nature of morality. Don’t worry too much about those things, though.
For now, I’d like to introduce the two gender-based problems I’m looking to deconstruct, male sexuality and gender equality.
I’ve got four main characters with four differing views on this subject. Petrus, an ambitious commoner, starts out believing that male sexuality and objectification are defiling for women. Puberty horrifies him, along with his natural desires. He responds by attempting to completely repress his sexuality. He fails and, for reasons outside the perview of this post, becomes increasingly embittered and starts to view his sexuality as a weapon.
Aril, a prince of one of the kingdoms, starts out believing that male sexuality is wrong, as well. However, after his platonic girlfriend gets shipped away, one of his advisors points out that she’d still be around if he’d knocked her up. This person also notes that, basically, the more women he has sex with, the more women have access to stability and prosperity. Male sexuality, the advisor notes, is really only wrong when the man in question doesn’t have enough money to lift the woman up. Aril gives up his dream of finding a true love in order to spread the wealth to as many poor women as possible. This really is a sacrifice, from his point of view.
The Acolyte, a teenaged girl I modelled on Savonarola, views male sexuality as a tool of the mighty to oppress the weak. Fitting in with the rest of her ascetic values, she feels any non-reproductive sexuality is a waste of energy that might otherwise go to helping the poor and stamping out corruption. One of her first actions in the novel is to turn a rich brothel into a fiery crater.
Shu Turul, a crippled noble from a steppe tribe, wants to view male sexuality as a triumph of “active, vigorous manhood” over “sickly, pathetic femininity.” He is, in essence, a pretty typical steppe barbarian in this sense. However, this is complicated by the fact that he isn’t actually interested in women. He overcomes this conflict by feminizing his male enemies and “conquering” them. Forcing submission from “bearded maidens” becomes something of a theme in his tribe.
The “proper” roles of men and women and the consequences of egalitarianism.
A major non-POV character is called Lady Shin. She and her husband, Admiral Shin, have “overcome sexism” in that they truly do treat men and women exactly the same. This of course has good consequences, but it also sends the region into a deep crisis. Let me explain how.
Lady Shin first meets her future husband in the aftermath of enemies burning her villiage, raping her and killing her mother. She rebuffs his “sexist pity” and demands the opportunity for revenge. Admiral Shin notes that she is tiny, not at all trained in the arts of war and physically soft from a lifetime living in relative comfort. He suggests that, should he send her out she would likely be raped again. Lady Shin again rebuffs his “sexist pity” and explains that if Admiral Shin can send men sent to die (which he does all the time), he can send a woman to be raped.
Admiral Shin thinks about this and spots a weakness in the traditional way his enemy wages war. The typical practice after winning a battle is to kill all the men, rape/kidnap/marry the women and sell the children into slavery. The reasoning being that men are dangerous and must be eliminated (also, they are easy to replace so it doesn’t matter if they die), children are harmless and thus deserving of pity and women, like children, are also basically harmless.
Admiral Shin decides that Lady Shin is not harmless and can thus exploit this tradition. Lady Shin then spends several years as a plant in villages likely to fall. Three times over the four years, she is captured and raped but spared death. Since the enemy sees her as a harmless woman, she has a relatively easy time spying for Admiral Shin and, once, gets the opportunity to assassinate a kind but high ranking enemy officer on her way to exfiltration.
After the war tales of Lady Shin’s actions get out and force a change in the culture of sexism that had previously defined the region. Filled with a new respect for the bravery and abilities of women, the warring nations decide that the best policy upon taking a village is to massacre the women along with the men. Lady Shin will agree, saying that anything less is to dishonor and infantilize women.
This leads to widespread depopulation, a problem our POV characters are going to have to deal with. Whether to and how to “reinstate sexism” will be a major plot thread as the POV characters age.
So, please let me know what you think. Last time I did this, I ended up using about half the suggestions you guys made so, yeah, honest, I really do listen to you all.
If you enjoyed this article, please consider buying the author’s novel.
For customers living in East Asia.
Ben, I don’t really have any suggestions (at least not yet), but I did want to say that I find this story you’re building intriguing. Does it take place in any particular historical setting? You refer to Boudica in the image caption, which implies maybe something on the edge of the Roman empire? Are the sexual issues heightened by the interplay between imperial and barbarian cultures? Just curious.
Thanks for stopping by. To answer your questions I’m going to have to write quite a bit, so apologies in advance.
In a broad sense, this is a fantasy/sci fi project. In universe, these POV characters are actually our creators. I think we spoke before about the possibilty of us being simulated. I use that idea as a framing device in this story. Indeed, the main conflict is the four POV characters struggling for control over mathematical uncertainty (an actual person in story) so that they can have the power to simulate universes, including our own. This is important for them because they are very close to experiencing the big rip and need to quickly evolve civilizations advanced enough to help them escape said big rip.
So they aren’t set in our world but they are inspired by real historical, cultures. Petrus, the ambitious commoner, is originally a war captive from a civilization based on ancient Sumer/Akkad and living in Prince Aril’s country, a mix of Shilla Dynasty Korea and Roman dominated Greece. The Acolyte is inspired by the absolute chaos following Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into vernacular. Shu Turul is a Guk-Turk, Mongol, Xiongnu style leader. Tang China and Joseon are kind of floating around in the background and a group very like the Roman Republic is an extinct golden age people often make reference to.
Because I want to talk about gender, every culture in universe except the barbarian horsemen has laws against objectifying women, pornography and broadly defined misogyny. The horsemen, on the other hand, are mostly into raping and pillaging.
The Lady Shin character is inspired by Boudica (and Judith from the Bible), but that’s really the only way Roman Britain informs the story.
Wow, that sounds like the makings of an interesting book, with a lot of moving parts and captivating characters. I’m not sure what I could suggest for it, but I’ll definitely return to this post if I think of anything.
On Sumer, I recently picked up a book called ‘Broken Tablet’ by Micah Joel. It appears to be about someone who travels back in time to Sumer (or is marooned in time there) and an exploration of Sumerian culture. I’ve only just begun reading it (I’m actually still reading another book), but it looks interesting, and Sumer is a culture that doesn’t get a lot of exploration in fiction (at least not anglo-western fiction). You might find it interesting.
That sounds fascinating. I’m kind of a Sumer fan. Partly because they’re so weird from our POV, partly because they’re so old and mostly because I very strongly suspect Judaism gets sonething like 40 percent of its mythology from the Sumerian religion.
I’ve actually been interested in Canaanite culture for the same reason. It’s hard to ignore that one of the names of God in the Hebrew bible, El, is also the name of the chief deity in the Canaanite pantheon, and that the very name “Israel” (Isra-El) seems to refer to it. Although the name Yahweh seems to come from somewhere else (Midian or Edom).
But I find Sumer interesting because they’re widely recognized as the first civilization, although Egypt has its advocates for that designation. Both civilizations were already ancient by the time of classical civilization in Greece and Rome.
I’d never drawn a connection between El and Israel before. Very cool.
I did some research on the “conquest” for a book I wrote a couple years ago. I came to the conclusion that the Canaanite probably are the Israelites. Made me wonder if the conquest story wasn’t designed to wish some lingering polytheistic elements out of existence in the 4th century b.c.
From what I’ve read, the Israelites arising peacefully after the collapse of Canaanite city-states is the widespread conclusion of most of archaeology (with the exception of the faction that is single-minded in only looking to validate biblical history). ‘The Bible Unearthed’ by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman was pretty transformative of my views on biblical history.
My sense of the history was that second temple Judaism was a syncretization of several source traditions: from the old northern kingdom of Israel, which seemed more heavily influenced by Canaanite traditions, from Judah, which seemed influenced by the cult of Yahweh imported from Edom or Midian, and by the Persian empire’s Zoroastrianism, which had a sort of monotheism combined with a sort of duotheism, notably including a god of good in opposition to a god of evil. Admittedly, the evidence for all of this is circumstantial, but it seems hard to ignore. Of course, Hellenistic culture later left its own imprints on both Judaism and Christianity.
Wow. This is great stuff. Thanks.
I wonder why Lady Shin isn’t a POV character? From what you’ve said here, it sounds like a great deal of the drama and tension could come through her. That said, she’d be tough to write.
That’s a good question. Honestly, I think a big part of the reason is that she wouldn’t fit with the other theme I’m working on – what happens when you can’t be good and upwardly mobile at the same time.
She’s too “good” by the standards of the Shinla Roman-Greek standards and too “evil” by the standards of the steppe barbarians. She’s also far enough out there I’m not sure she’d be relatable if we had to spend 200 pages in her company.
That said, you seem to relate to her so maybe I’m wrong. 🙂
Not so much that I would relate to her, but she’d go through quite a bit of conflict and her vision of things, though lacking in nuance at the beginning (and potentially tiresome) could grow through these experiences you describe. And of course, a tragic downfall which she realizes too late.
That said, I don’t know if that fits the goal of your novel.
Far out characters tend to be interesting if you can really get inside their heads and make them feel dynamic. Easier said than done. But if they have a voice that might get tiresome, you can always keep those chapters short.
Maybe write a practice chapter from her POV just to get a sense of her voice? Pass it around to various groups to see what the reaction is. You might be surprised. Even if she doesn’t make the cut, you’ll have a better grasp on her.
I’ll have to do that. I’ve got some Lady Shin material floating around but it’s still really disorganized. Gotta get to work. 😉
Actually, the four POV characters are going to be pretty intense, I hope. Petrus tries to be good but realizes that will make him unimportant. Overcoming goodness on one hand and bitterness on the other is going to be a pretty unique storyline, I think.
Aril is about goodness and unearned power. He’s going to struggle to maintain his goodness while being just a little too smart and honest to buy his mother’s “chosen by fate” line. Think of him as a more thoughtful Stark.
Shu Turul is in the book because I wanted a “state of nature” moral outlook and to deconstruct masculinity. Lady Shin is a deconstruction of femininity and she will need a foil. I also want to see if I can make someone with totally alien morality, and a habit of raping POWs, sympathetic.
The Acolyte is a gender flipped incarnation of Machiavelli’s unarmed prophet idea. She’s also going to be a foil, and love interest, for Petrus. Where he rejects goodness in order to be meaningful, she rejects meaning to be good. Her life/death is also going to depend on whether or not Petrus considers her an equal. If he does consider her an equal, she will die. If he infantalizes her, she will survive.
A lot going on there! Good luck to you.
I hope it’s a lot going on. I fear it’s a thousand pages of impenetrable mess. 😉
Oh I know that feeling! Going through that situation right now.
If you want a beta reader, I’d be happy to help.
Thanks! I’d love that, actually. I’m still in the process of figuring out legal junk and the sagging middle, but once I get a reasonable draft, I’ll let you know. Warning: It’s looooooonnnng. Of course, you don’t have to read it all if you don’t want to!
I ain’t sceered. 😉