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"like a panicked 14-year-old who has yet to sprout pubic hair"
October 18, 2013 10:42 AM   Subscribe

"When I read Spell as a kid, I related to Bink. It never struck me as weird that he was a dozen years older than me, but wasn’t any more mature. Now the prospect of relating to Bink, at any age, seems insane. It doesn’t have anything to do with his whining. It has to do with the way he views Spells’ female characters: as obstacles, props, and objects of lust and condescension."

Revisiting the sad, misogynistic fantasy of Xanth
posted by Atom Eyes (325 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Colors of her Panties. 'Nuff said.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:47 AM on October 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


I fucking loved the first half-dozen or so of these books. Then I started high school and realized I was too grown-up for them.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:48 AM on October 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


I got the first one from a thrift store, never knew it had sequels. Lucky, lucky me.
posted by Artw at 10:49 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ugh, Piers Anthony is such an utterly disgusting, vile creature. No series has ever horrified me more upon adult reread as Xanth, and no book has ever revolted me more than whichever one where he has a 5 year old "consent" to a sexual relationship with an adult male.
posted by elizardbits at 10:50 AM on October 18, 2013 [20 favorites]


I was way into the Xanth books, too, until the weird moment when I realized that Piers Anthony was way more into 14-year-old girls than I was. And I was a 14-year-old boy at the time.
posted by COBRA! at 10:50 AM on October 18, 2013 [40 favorites]


I'm really glad I missed out on Piers Anthony as a kid, because his particular brand of tongue-in-cheek, witty fantasy would have really appealed to me as a kid. I picked up one of his books -- Demons Don't Dream -- as an adult because I enjoyed the conceit (I like novels that explicitly take place within video games) and I mean it was alright. I definitely would've liked it better as a kid.

...and then all the really prurient talk about panties and so on started. In reference to a teenage protagonist. And, I mean, sure there's absolutely room in literature for the sex lives of teenagers, but it was all in the tone of an grown man at a party telling you about the high school girl he's dating and winking the whole time. It was the first time since McCaffrey's Crystal Singer novels that I put down a book because no other aspect of the book outweighed the creepiness.
posted by griphus at 10:52 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I used to defend Anthony's books as relatively necessary in the development of better taste in SFF literature, but... yeah, then I realized that his gender politics are seriously disgusting.
posted by Etrigan at 10:53 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I never read the Xanth books, but I did enjoy a couple of the Incarnations of Immortality books back in the day.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:53 AM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Even as a thirteen year old boy I thought those books were sort of creepy. I think if I tried to read one now I would probably collapse into an oily pit of self-loathing and despair.

They're not even particularly interesting or well-written. How did they manage to become such a popular and well-recognized element of SF/Fantasy canon?
posted by Scientist at 10:54 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I see the article also mentions Firefly, which, has, well, the "hero" having sex with a five year old girl but it's alright as he's saving her from her father and brother.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:54 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wasn't anything like a feminist when I was a 15-year-old boy, which is when I think I read Spell. Nevertheless the treatment of the Chameleon character in that book struck me as so gross that I've never read anything else Anthony's written, despite having been a prodigious reader of fantasy in those days.
posted by gauche at 10:54 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also when I say I picked up that book as an adult, I mean it was about nine months ago and I had no idea about Piers Anthony's reputation. So picture my surprise...
posted by griphus at 10:54 AM on October 18, 2013


I remember people recommending Xanth as something similar to Discworld when I first started reading Pratchett. So so so glad I never actually went down that road.
posted by kmz at 10:57 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I remember reading the first Incarnations of Immortality in high school and kind of liking it. I read up to the Goddess one in that series, which I read while I was coincidentally reading up on feminist spirituality, and then I was done and never looked back.

I was strongly advised not to read Xanth by my guy friends, who were not collectively what I would call enlightened, while I was reading the Incarnations books. Wow, am I glad I passed on Xanth.
posted by immlass at 10:57 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember people recommending Xanth as something similar to Discworld

Those people are bad people.
posted by elizardbits at 10:57 AM on October 18, 2013 [65 favorites]


I wonder how much of Piers Anthony is success is because his name comes at the beginning of the alphabet.

"Sure, I've heard of that guy -- his books are at the beginning of the sci-fi section of every Waldenbooks." -- something I can imagine my brain thinking 25 years ago

(I mean, after Douglas Adams, of course.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:57 AM on October 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


I read these in early elementary school. They seemed fun at the time, but all the sex was weird.
posted by Jpfed at 10:59 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's an important rite of passage to suddenly realize how profoundly creepily fucked up Piers Anthony's work was. In a larger bean-platey sense, the common pattern of people having vaguely fond memories of enjoying them innocently as preteens through early adolescence, then moving beyond them to more advanced reading fare, and then revisiting later and OH GOD WHAT is sort of a lesson in how terrifyingly worryingly easy it must be for broken creeps to victimize even bright children of that target age, and have them not even realize it.
posted by Drastic at 11:00 AM on October 18, 2013 [55 favorites]


Parents, if you are looking for humorous SF/Fantasy that appeals to kids, do your child a favor and skip straight to Terry Pratchett. Seriously. Anthony's humor is just a mash-up of lame puns that sound like they were fished out of Pratchett's garbage bin, blended with a greasy dollop of rancid misogyny and pedophilia. Pratchett on the other hand is genuinely hilarious, full of cutting satirical insights, often explicitly feminist, and only gets better as one grows up.
posted by Scientist at 11:00 AM on October 18, 2013 [36 favorites]


I have the first four Xanth novels sitting on my bookshelf right now, fond relics of my pre-teen fantasy nerd awakening.

Having read through the article and these comments, I can only wonder: shred them or just set them on fire in a ritual sacrifice of OH GOD WHAT NO WHAT.
posted by fight or flight at 11:02 AM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


I only vaguely remember the Xanth books. I was pretty into the Apprentice Adept books, but at some point I realized how badly they were written and moved on.

I don't remember having issues with the sexual politics, I'm not sure if that's because I was clueless, or it wasn't quite as bad in that series.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:03 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


And yet, people still buy them, apparently. The second most unpleasant revelation (behind learning just how gross they really were; I remember being more annoyed by the endless corny puns than all the pervy, hateful shit, much of which flew over my head at the time) this article held for me is that he's still writing them.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:03 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I loved these books as a kid - I think the first 6 or so were out and I ripped through them in a few weeks - but even as a sheltered pre-pubescent, I knew there was something a little off about the gender roles. I re-read a couple in high school and never got past the first few chapters again.
posted by sauril at 11:03 AM on October 18, 2013


I first encountered Anthony through the first three Apprentice Adept books (on which more later), and really enjoyed them. Encountering Ogre, Ogre in a book store I found myself enjoying the tale of cross species love inside because I apparently had very little taste at said age, and went about acquiring most of his Xanth books, partially through ordering internationally, as said books were difficult to obtain in the UK.

A few years later, I had sold every last one. Once you see the level of misogyny present in most of the Xanth books, its quite hard to avoid it. I seem to remember Nightmare not being so bad, but I'm probably wrong.

I went back and read the Apprentice adept books a few years ago, and uh... they're quite rapey. The main character, Stile, is sent a robot guardian. Who he metaphorically rapes. He then goes to a fantasy land where he proceeds to metaphorically rape a unicorn, who, defeated, consents to have sex with him. He doesn't love the robot or unicorn though, because the're not human. In book 2 the villain is an amazonian women who hates men, so he defeats her in a contest by... basically threatening to rape her.

The non rapey parts of the books are quite fun though....

I got rid of Harry Turtledoves books for similar reasons, their treatment of women was too gross to ignore. I'm not sure what it is with pulpy sci-fi authors and their attitudes towards women, but its not great, and is super depressing.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:04 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


This article does give me kind of a post hoc case of the heebie jeebies over the character Chameleon. I mean, what the fuckety fuck? How did any editor sign off on that?
posted by COBRA! at 11:04 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


They're not even particularly interesting or well-written. How did they manage to become such a popular and well-recognized element of SF/Fantasy canon?

Well, the books always had the best cover art.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:04 AM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


It seem like all young fantasy nerds go through a phase where they really really like the Xanth books, and then come to the realization that the only rational choices are to haul them to a used book store, or hold a cleansing bonfire.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:04 AM on October 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


I can only hope I didn't write my name in any of my old paperback copies, because that would be pretty good blackmail material.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:05 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


When I was a middle schooler I picked up the Xanth series from a girl I was interested in who was obsessed with them. They seemed obsessed with the sexuality of children my age, and so was I at the time, so it didn't seem that weird at first. They weren't really as interesting to me as the pretty equivalently trashy sci-fi I was into, the puns weren't even vaguely clever puns, but my (Jesus) eleven year old brain was thinking that, hey, here is this old dude who has clearly spent three times as much time than I've been alive thinking about the interests of the other eleven year olds I was interested in - maybe I could learn something useful? It wasn't until I read an essay he pasted into the back of one of the especially creepy books defending himself from his 'prudish' detractors that I realized how PROFOUNDLY not ok any of this was. Even as young as I was I could tell exactly what perspective he was writing these books from, why he was writing these books, and suddenly once that next layer of object permanence sunk in, I could tell exactly why it was horrifying.

These books are apology for child rape and useful materiel for grooming children into pliable objects.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:06 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Okay, I think I still have Xanth books somewhere on my shelves. After seeing the Firefly shit, I'm about ready to have a cleansing bonfire.

.../NYC meetup?
posted by corb at 11:06 AM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


I also tried rereading the Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever books (which I devoured as a twelve-year-old) a couple of years ago and found them completely unreadable.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:07 AM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


Granted I didn't get far into Xanth, and it's been more than 20 years, but Xanth seemed rather tame compared to the oedipal Chthon, or the Cluster series which had entire acts dedicated to body-swapping alien sex.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:07 AM on October 18, 2013


For whatever it's worth, at least Thomas was intentionally written as horrible.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:07 AM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


See also, the really-quite-skeevy-now-that-I-look-back-on-it mating flight ritual dub-con sex in McCaffrey's Pern novels. Agh.
posted by fight or flight at 11:08 AM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think rather than selling, burning or otherwise destroying them, everyone who still has his books hanging around should ship them to Piers Anthony's house with a note that says "here YOU keep these."
posted by griphus at 11:09 AM on October 18, 2013 [30 favorites]


Most of Xanth would be tame-ish as the genre goes, if only Anthony weren't very clearly fixated on little girls. As it is, it's only somewhat less disgusting for not being explicit, and that mainly because we have Firefly as the worst-case scenario to compare it to.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:09 AM on October 18, 2013


I just found this piece, which has some more awful.
Another one of the stories in Firefly was actually written by convicted child molester, Santiago Hernandez, who is possibly one of Piers' pedophile pen-pals. Ironically, this is one of the few non-sexual stories in the book, but that doesn't stop Anthony from questioning the reason behind the man's incarceration.

But this is another bit of evidence of the problem in our society: as far as I know, Santiago Hernandez did not hurt anyone. He just happens to be sexually attracted to small boys.
posted by corb at 11:09 AM on October 18, 2013


I never read the Xanth books, although I think we had a copy of one around my house at some point, so I had no idea what I was in for. MartinWisse's link, though, holy hell, "gross gender politics" is dramatically underselling it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:10 AM on October 18, 2013


Yep, Incarnations series (first five, the last two were ... yeah) but I couldn't get through Xanths. The only one I remember working through, vaguely, is one where the kid is thrown through it like a video game and when he "dies' he starts over ....

Been re-reading a lot of old science fiction I liked to start introducing my kids to it but there's so much* to preface it with based on when it was written and how effed up and misogynistic in some of them it's hard to want to bother. :|

On the upside, I can find new fiction to enjoy and pass on.



*Okay, kids, this one was written in 1971, and it stereotypes pretty hard on how weak but brainy and busty the female supporting character is and yeah, she's pretty smarmy when muscles needs her rescue and he explains things to her a lot but ...
posted by tilde at 11:10 AM on October 18, 2013


McCaffrey's Pern novels

Wait so is McCaffrey creepy about sex generally? I also never read the Dragons books but I started reading Crystal Singer and had to stop right around the point when the protagonist starts pining for the guy that raped her in a previous chapter.
posted by griphus at 11:10 AM on October 18, 2013


Oh god dammit, you had to go and remind me of how Incarnations ended. The first few were actually pretty neat!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:11 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh man, Piers Anthony. Who has the honor of writing the only books that my otherwise extremely-liberal, bibliophile, reading-is-always-good, parents banned from our house. In third grade, after I asked my stepmom what a term from one of his books meant, she narrowed her eyes and said, where did you hear that? I proudly showed her the passage in the book- something about a writhing mass of bodies? And her eyes widened, she flipped through the rest of the book in disgust, and that was the end of that.
posted by Aubergine at 11:14 AM on October 18, 2013


(For reference: In the final volume of that series, a 30-something pedophile literally becomes the Christian God. This is presented as a just and fair outcome for everyone.)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:14 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


McCaffrey winks at rape a few times in the dragon books. The dragonriders are bonded to their mounts metally and sexually. There are a couple of instances where dragon sex leads to human rape.
posted by bonehead at 11:15 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is the larger problem I have with fantasy as I've gotten older. Well, part of it. Between the creepy treatment of sex in most of them--either weirdly fetishized or weirdly fixated on rape because in the grimdark fantasy world everyone gets raped all the time let me give you 20 graphic pages of it--and a lot of the teenage wish fulfillment stuff--I just read one not too long ago where the protagonist was the smartest and got laid all the time and totally burned his mean teacher and they all stood up and clapped when he did--I just don't really have the patience for it. And of course, let's not forget the weird insertion of politics, yes I'm talking about Terry Goodkind of fucking course I am but there are a ton of others I'm also talking about.

Add to that the sequelitis and the tendency for authors to expand what could be well-told in a book or two into some sprawling 10 book saga that doesn't benefit from the extended length and could really use an editor and I just don't really have the time or patience for it anymore.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:15 AM on October 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


I also tried rereading the Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever books

I read all six of them over a long weekend as background for an RPG someone was running, not long after I'd had a diagnosis of what turned out to be a chronic heath problem. That was more traumatic for me than the rape scenes, probably because I'd read so much crap fantasy and old school SF where women were objects and/or present for sex and/or rape threats were constant that that level of rapeyness wasn't as shocking as it was probably meant to be.

Too much of that as a teenager is part of why I can't get into the new grimdark fantasies. (See: GoT and the legion of grimdark that follows it.) I know rape culture is out there, but that's not how I want to spend my pretendy reading funtimes.
posted by immlass at 11:15 AM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think that's the great thing about Terry Pratchett. He has a really, really good grasp on what non-creepy people do not want to see in their fantasy novels.
posted by griphus at 11:16 AM on October 18, 2013 [33 favorites]


So this 15-year-old kid who ran away from home in the 80s and went looking for Anthony hoping to move in with him might have been spared a fate far more horrific than disappointment when he ultimately failed to track him down?

I had no idea Piers Anthony was so creepy before today. I think I half-assumed he wasn't even a real person so much as a made up author brand supported by teams of ghostwriters.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:16 AM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Hobbit still kicks ass though. What a ripping yarn.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:17 AM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Covenant Series seemed like a sort of subpar trial run for the genuine painful tragedy and redemption throughout the far superior but still hard to read Gap Series.
posted by elizardbits at 11:17 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Haven't ever read any Xanth, or indeed any Piers Anthony at all (believe or disbelieve as you will.) In checking the obvious first source, as of right now neither the Piers Anthony article nor the Xanth article has any reference to controversy over the writer or the books. Have the articles been sanitized by fans among the wikipedia editors or what?
posted by jfuller at 11:18 AM on October 18, 2013


I remember being much more creeped out by the rapey stuff in the first Pern novel than by the Xanth books, which doesn't make much sense. I think Piers Anthony's books are objectively much creepier. Maybe I was misled by the jokey tone.
posted by Area Man at 11:18 AM on October 18, 2013


where dragon sex leads to human rape --- I should add that this is normalized as just one of those things that happens. Sucks for the raped, but what can you do?
posted by bonehead at 11:18 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The 15 year old would have been perfectly safe since 15 is probably too old for that gross creeper.
posted by elizardbits at 11:18 AM on October 18, 2013


So this 15-year-old kid who ran away from home in the 80s and went looking for Anthony hoping to move in with him might have been spared a fate far more horrific than disappointment when he ultimately failed to track him down?

Actually, the kid did track him down. Anthony treated him kindly, gave him dinner and a place to sleep in a spare bedroom and the next day, drove him to the airport so he could go back to his mom's house. It's a story on this American Life, I think.

I read Piers Anthony in middle school, and totally oblivious to any of the gender aspects of the books. I have fond memories of enjoying them...very, very vague memories. Now I'm afraid to even read the article. (but I will).
posted by Atreides at 11:21 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


jfuller just asked a version of the question I was wondering about. I've never actually read any Piers Anthony either and am super surprised by this article/thread... though I guess not completely as my sci fi/fantasy loving father steered me away from him and now maybe I know why.

(And he read all 10 volumes of Mission Earth, so he's not exactly picky. To be fair, he ended up hating them. Not a quitter, my dad, bless him.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:22 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I read all six of them

There are actually 10 of them. Which is relevant because the final one was published two days ago!

Say what you will about Donaldson and Covenant, it is one of the two most important and influential set of books in the early history of the genre (leaving aside Tolkien, who is sui generis).
posted by Justinian at 11:22 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Hobbit still kicks ass though. What a ripping yarn.

If you don't mind drowning in passive voice and having every potentially suspenseful moment spoiled by clumsy authorial intrusion. It's a minor miracle how much bad technique Tolkien gets a pass on. That said, I always feel obliged to give him a pass on it as well when I'm reading him.

But wait a minute--what's Tolkien got to do with Piers Anthony anyway?

Actually, the kid did track him down.

Oops. You're right. I misread "does" as "doesn't."
posted by saulgoodman at 11:22 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know that I read one or two of his novels somewhere around age 15 or so, and I'm pretty sure one of them was On a Pale Horse, but I can't say I specifically remember explicit underage sex or creepitude, but frankly, I don't know that I would have picked up on it at the time anyhow.

It's probably for the best that my library's collection was sort of spotty and I couldn't actually read entire series.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:23 AM on October 18, 2013


I think cultural norms change, and that those who have changed with them often look back and cringe. I'm not trying to equate parachute pants with misogyny, but I call 'em dinosaurs for a reason, ya know?
posted by Mooski at 11:24 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Call me sheltered, but Anthony was my first introduction to pedophilia.

As a tween, I recall first being puzzled as why the colour of young girls' underpants were so utterly facinating to Anthony. I mean, the teenage girls my age were pretty interesting, but little kids? It took me months to figure out what he meant, and why I was so creeped-out by him.
posted by bonehead at 11:24 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, I'm sitting here, and thinking back through my dim childhood memories of A Spell for Chameleon, which I read as a preadolescent.

And I'm thinking ... wait a minute, in that rape trial, didn't the rapist go free because the judge decided that since the victim knew the guy and didn't run away immediately, she was probably asking for it?

Wait a minute, isn't there a sequence where Bink grabs a centaur's boobs but she says it's OK because it was an accident?

Hey, yeah, the entire character concept of Chameleon was completely effed up, wasn't it?

... I am NEVER re-reading those books ...
posted by kyrademon at 11:25 AM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'd like to just throw my hat in for Robin Hobb's Farseer series, which is excellent med/fantasy goodness with awesome female agency and no skeevy sex.

Anyone else got any recommendations to fill the Xanth-sized hole in my bookshelf (once I've salted and cleansed the the wood)?
posted by fight or flight at 11:26 AM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Man, you know this is why I've avoiding speculative fiction like every cover was painted with flesh-eating bacteria, for years and years. Every time I try to find an entrance back into it, something like this comes up. I didn't read much of Xanth, but I read the Immortality books, and several of his non-series books, and yeah, I think the morality behind them is reflected in the bad writing. How can you tell a Piers Anthony book? Because every one has the phrase Her onus unabated somewhere therein. What the hell does that even mean, is it a bad pun too?

I was at the library the other day, hoping to find something suitably science-fictiony to ease me back into the genre (ended up not doing that but going with Arthur and George by Julian Barnes which is sooooo good I can't even believe I'm bringing it up in this thread, like it might be sullied by association), and there on the shelves was a steamin' pile of Piers Anthony, including new books, and I didn't even know he was still writing, I figured he'd died twenty years ago. And they looked just as awful as the old ones. Maybe not "Hey look, it's a woman in a cow pen!" awful (good job picking stories there, Harlan), but he didn't appear to have evolved any.

It just makes me a little nauseated to think that of all the books in the world, those were the ones I read as a kid, the trashy fantasy, the buxom-heaving-science. Where was the good stuff back then, and why didn't anyone point it out to me? Was it all like that? (Is it still? I imagine not, but have no idea where one would look.)
posted by mittens at 11:26 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Hobbit still kicks ass though.

I suppose not having any female characters is one way of avoiding explicit misogyny.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:26 AM on October 18, 2013 [51 favorites]


In checking the obvious first source, as of right now neither the Piers Anthony article nor the Xanth article has any reference to controversy over the writer or the books. Have the articles been sanitized by fans among the wikipedia editors or what?

You just gotta know where to look.
posted by absalom at 11:27 AM on October 18, 2013


Am I the only one whose "Oh god this is so horrible" came not from Xanth or Apprentice, but from the Bio of a Space Tyrant books?

In addition to general awfulness (the Earth is projected out into the entire solar system to the point that the Jews settle the Moons of Mars while the Arabs settle Mars itself, and it's a source of fuel, and...), the protagonist is explicitly portrayed as having few actual skills or talents - except some kind of incredible charisma where women are concerned. So he takes over the solar system primarily through the alliance/exploitation of a harem of highly-competent women who all basically think he's awesome for unclear reasons.

One of them is a sleeper agent of his enemies, with an implanted second identity that is a deadly assassin, which emerges when she's having sex with him. When the assassin-identity goes away, she has no memory of it. So when she learns about this, she asks him to tie her down and, basically, rape her evil assassin counterpart-identity, so he can have sex with her that she won't ever remember.

...And that's when everything snapped in me and I suddenly saw everything of his I'd ever read through new eyes, was horrified, and threw out all my Anthony books instead of even donating them to the library for used-book sales like I normally did with discarded books.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:28 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Piers Anthony explains why he is not a pedophile even though he writes stories about people sexually attracted to very young people:

"I went into an extended discussion of the nature of human sexual interest, which is essentially that if she's 36-24-36 and fair of feature, men are attracted, and so am I, regardless whether she's 15 or 50, and I don't think those extremes make me either a pedophile or a necrophile."

Yes, that makes sense becauseOH GOD WHAT THE HELL MAN.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:28 AM on October 18, 2013 [28 favorites]


I read quite a bit of Piers Anthony's stuff as a teenager. That phase ended immediately when I read Firefly. Disturbing stuff.
posted by zakur at 11:29 AM on October 18, 2013


I think that's the great thing about Terry Pratchett. He has a really, really good grasp on what non-creepy people do not want to see in their fantasy novels.

One of the things that's great about being a Pratchett fan is that he seems to actually be a really decent person, and in an age where we are exposed more than ever to the smallest details of each others' lives, it's refreshing that there's an author you don't have to feel mildly embarrassed about loving.


Haven't ever read any Xanth, or indeed any Piers Anthony at all (believe or disbelieve as you will.) In checking the obvious first source, as of right now neither the Piers Anthony article nor the Xanth article has any reference to controversy over the writer or the books. Have the articles been sanitized by fans among the wikipedia editors or what?

Well, I think there's two forces at work. First, Anthony's books are mostly regarded as being for children, and kids mostly lack the perspective and frame of reference to spot creepy and awful shit. That's not an absolute, but it's broadly true. So I think for the most part people who are capable of going "woah, this is horrible horrible garbage" are not reading them or like the garbage and aren't about to say anything.

Second, Xanth books have sold so well that they've apparently not been meaningfully edited in a long time, which means Anthony's been free to work without social pressure to not be a shithead. This is usually not a good influence on creepy fuckers.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:29 AM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


In checking the obvious first source, as of right now neither the Piers Anthony article nor the Xanth article has any reference to controversy over the writer or the books. Have the articles been sanitized by fans among the wikipedia editors or what?

You just gotta know where to look.


From what I understand, Wikipedia has an ongoing problem with editors actively minimizing accusations of pedophilia and accusations of child grooming and so on.
posted by griphus at 11:29 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure Robin Hobb has skeevy sex. It's probably easy to miss under all the drug abuse, child abuse, and murder.

Also I enjoyed them.
posted by squinty at 11:29 AM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


The lack of women in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings make a lot more sense if you consider them to be a reworking and romanticization of Tolkein's WWI experiences.
posted by bonehead at 11:30 AM on October 18, 2013 [20 favorites]


Like, across the board, not just Piers Anthony fans.
posted by griphus at 11:30 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was a Xanth book or a different series of Anthony's where one character is a unicorn who transforms back and forth between unicorn and woman and goes into heat and then begs the male main character for sex over and over and over and over?
posted by COBRA! at 11:30 AM on October 18, 2013


Wait so is McCaffrey creepy about sex generally?

The one I remember is that in her Talents series, one guy helps to raise his mentor's child and then falls in love with her when she's 16 and he's like 38. Even as a kid I thought that was a little weird and abrupt.

As for Piers Anthony, I've always thought he was a creep, but I've never read any of his books, so I have to assume that someone told me he was a creep when I was very young and I uncritically accepted that observation. It's nice to know that I didn't miss out on anything, although once I realized how stupid I thought his pun titles were, I was pretty sure I wasn't.
posted by Errant at 11:31 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


And...having read the article, one part of my childhood is ruined...but rightfully and happily so. Now I feel like I need to take a shower, though.
posted by Atreides at 11:32 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Between these books and L Ron Hubbard's, it's a miracle my prepubescent reading habits didn't damage me for life. And yet somehow they didn't.

What did sort of damage me, however, was a series of short stories written by Piers Anthony that my father loaned to prepubescent me. When I got to one story, he'd written in pen "DO NOT READ THIS!" and underlined it. I skipped it, but once I reached the end of the book, I went back and read it anyway. It was a story about a trader who wanted to conquer a planet that nobody else had been able to establish trade with. In order to do so, he had to undergo torture that was described in the story with painful detail.

I sort of understood that maybe my father wouldn't want me to read about torture, but that it wasn't so bad...until I got to the part that I still remember with a shudder even as a man in his 40s, because Piers Anthony was very good at describing torture in detail:

and what he described was the trader's testicle being crushed slowly in a vice, until it popped

I never finished the story, and I never read any more of his stories. The image still sticks in my head, though.
posted by davejay at 11:32 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh jesus, from Piers Anthony's actual words, victim blaming on raped children:
Something else relating to my birthday: I learned that Jon-Benet Ramsey, the little showgirl who was abducted, raped, and killed at age 6 a decade ago, had the same birthday: August 6. 1990 for her, 1934 for me. I don't like this business of tarting up children to look and act sexy; it's contrary to nature and can lead to exactly what happened to her.
This...barrel has no bottom.
posted by corb at 11:32 AM on October 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


"I went into an extended discussion of the nature of human sexual interest, which is essentially that if she's 36-24-36 and fair of feature, men are attracted, and so am I, regardless whether she's 15 or 50, and I don't think those extremes make me either a pedophile or a necrophile."

You know, I could actually sort of buy that argument if, for example, it were defending something like George RR Martin's adolescent Daenarys being sold as a bride to Khal Drogo. Or if there were a 16 year old that a virile fantasy-setting warrior expressed interest in, that one time, in that one book. But when the physical and sexual qualities of pubescent girls are a constant theme that shows up over and over and over in a long-running series, then we are having a very different conversation and ew.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:33 AM on October 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


From what I understand, Wikipedia has an ongoing problem with editors actively minimizing accusations of pedophilia and accusations of child grooming and so on.

Given that those are criminal offences, Wikipedia is going to need cast-iron evidence to avoid accusations of libel aren't they?
posted by pharm at 11:35 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember reading the first Thomas Covenant book and having to basically force myself to finish the book after that scene. Once I found out from others that the trilogy didn't end with Covenant disemboweled and slowly roasted over an open fire or something, I threw away the remaining books of the trilogy too. Probably unfair, but oh well.
posted by kmz at 11:37 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Xanth: Making Gor Seem Enlightened
posted by Mister_A at 11:37 AM on October 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


Between these books and L Ron Hubbard's, it's a miracle my prepubescent reading habits didn't damage me for life. And yet somehow they didn't.

Haha, oh man, my library had all ten of the Mission: Earth books. Whew. I'm not sure I wasn't damaged for life by them. They are so, so fucked up, but they were so horrible, I couldn't stop reading them. They helped inoculate me against Scientology, though, so that's something.
posted by Errant at 11:39 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one whose "Oh god this is so horrible" came not from Xanth or Apprentice, but from the Bio of a Space Tyrant books?

Nope. I got started on the Apprentice series as a pre-teen, and I mostly dug the first several, despite pretty much already being decided on atheism. Looking back, I probably thought there was something ever-so-slightly off about them, but not enough to dissuade me from searching out his other stuff. And the other stuff that I found, initially, was the BOAST series. It started off pretty interesting, but rapidly entered into NOPE territory. By the time I got to the part where the "hero" has sex with his sister after she's been raped and most of their family murdered by space pirates my brain shut off. I seem to remember at some point browsing through a Xanth book or two for a couple minutes, but I can't honestly think of a reason other than being stuck with nothing else to read at an airport or something.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:39 AM on October 18, 2013


Wait a minute, isn't there a sequence where Bink grabs a centaur's boobs but she says it's OK because it was an accident?

If it's the same book I'm remembering it's worse than that: the characters wakes up to discover that the busty centaur has been letting him use her boob as a pillow. Which even as a kid struck me as at the least logistically awkward.
posted by ook at 11:40 AM on October 18, 2013


Something that still grosses me out is the reptile-human sex of Harry Harrison's West of Eden.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:41 AM on October 18, 2013


I used to read a lot of Anthony back in the day. What finally turned me off Xanth was the puns. I mean, I was 13? 14? So creepy views towards women was part and parcel of my invisible backpack.

After reading that people would mail him puns for use like it was some sort if radio call in show, I gave up. Book about underage panty color? No prob. Soliciting help from the audience? No fucking way. But I gave up Xanth, not Anthony and that lead me to reading the books that really showed what a creep he was - Firefly (The lake fucking flashback) and If I Pay Thee Not In Gold (Straight up porn - think Orlando done by some sleezy production company but not in a good way) and that one that had the guy phased out on a bicycle on the bottom of the ocean with a hot Chinese mermaid whose big breasts gave her needed buoyancy or something? Also Kilobyte, where the main character gets willfully stupid so he can accidentally take a big boobed avatar for a prison rape scene.

Shit, I wasted my youth, didn't I?

After ditching Anthony from my reading list, I was surprised when years later I found an old paperback of his called Mute in the attic box of my dad's old SciFi books that was actually pretty good. I hesitate to go back to it now, though, because who knows what I missed at 18 that would squick me at 35.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:42 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I read the Incarnations of Immortality and Virtual Mode series well before I read any Xanth (at the time I thought I was too cool for puns). I loved Incarnations because I was fascinated with myth and religion, but even then (preteen me also thought I was too cool for feminism) I was super-annoyed by the gender essentialism in the books and how all the women were pretty much interchangeable beautiful magical complicated tempestuous hypersexual beings.

But, oh, Virtual Mode! It was such a naked celebration of preteen sexuality, and since I was a very sexual preteen, I found it so gratifying! It was only on a much later re-read that I realized I'd somehow let myself miss that the 14-year-old protagonist's sexuality was defined by childhood abuse and constant self-harm, and that the only people "celebrating" it were the adult males writing and starring in the books.

Ugh. I don't think it's fair to accuse Anthony of pedophilia himself, I more think that he and other adult men who write this stuff are just stuck in adolescence, but it's still creepy and gross and it makes me sad to think of all the other people whose views of sexuality may have been influenced by books like these.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:42 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


> Between these books and L Ron Hubbard's...

Between the ages of 9 and 15 or so I would read - and finish - pretty much any book with a dragon or a spaceship on the cover. Battlefield Earth was one of the very few where I was like "This? Is a piece of shit."
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:42 AM on October 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


Oh jesus, from Piers Anthony's actual words, victim blaming on raped children:

Well, shit, nevermind. I take back any defending of him I did in my previous comment.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:43 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Seriously. Anthony's humor is just a mash-up of lame puns that sound like they were fished out of Pratchett's garbage bin, blended with a greasy dollop of rancid misogyny and pedophilia.

I'd kind of like to step on this trope. De gustibus, etc., but Piers Anthony was a darn enjoyable read back in the day. Learning about all of this has been quite interesting and -as with many other folks here- has made me want to wash my shelves off with lysol, have a small bonfire of my childhood, etc.. However, pretending that the books weren't fun seems like a risky simplification. If they hadn't been fun then I & other folks in this thread & the author the piece wouldn't have torn through them. Just because something is awful doesn't mean it also can't be a good time, and I think that that's an important lesson to learn.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:44 AM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


No mention of Anthony's short story "In the Barn" where a parallel earth uses women explicitly as dairy cows? Amazingly gross.

I read Anthony's memoir, Bio of an Ogre. And that was the last thing of his I ever read, believe me.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:46 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


As far as the puns go there was a very brief time when they were genuinely amusing, but it didn't take long for him to start soliciting jokes from the readership and shoehorning the "best" ones into the story, which is nobody's idea of a good way to write.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:46 AM on October 18, 2013


Anybody want to add anything about Robert Heinlein?
posted by domo at 11:46 AM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


This article does give me kind of a post hoc case of the heebie jeebies over the character Chameleon. I mean, what the fuckety fuck? How did any editor sign off on that?

It was 1977. Lots of that kind of crap was around.

What's so funny to me is that I was juuuust young enough to have read/loved Anthony when I did that I didn't get creeped out; I just skipped over all the sex jokes "oh yeah, those sex jokes adults like to make," kind of like as if there was a sudden discussion of rocket physics or whatever. I was often reading above my age level, so I was used to there being pockets of a given book that I just didn't understand. I had no frame of reference for "creepy" yet, and loved loved loved the puns. I thought the crossbreeding idea was kind of clever; if two creatures met at a Love Spring, they would have sex and a baby would be born with both their characteristics, which is how you not only got centaurs (human + horse), but flying centaurs (centaur + giant eagle, I think). Which young me, who was obsessed with fantastic monsters, thought was cool. Again, the idea of it being anything like real rape or bestiality was not in my head. It wasn't any worse than getting Pegasus from the blood of murdered Medusa or the way the Minotaur was created.

I also thought the Monster Under the Bed character (which was mostly two grabbing hands, to get your ankles) was funny, and the idea of sex being called Summoning the Stork. Nothing was super-explicitly described, at least not in the ones I read.

I am not defending Anthony at all, certainly not if there really is a creepy pedophile strain in his books that I just didn't get at the time. I haven't read his books in forever, not because they creeped me out but because they were so formulaic and I got bored with them.
posted by emjaybee at 11:47 AM on October 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


I've never read Piers Anthony, and so am better than you, but I have read almost everything Heinlein ever wrote (and enjoyed a lot of it!), although some of the incest-y stuff started to be a bit much. I mean, I know, consenting adults and all but it's still weird to fuck your dad or your daughter.

But you know what I REALLY can't go back to? Asimov. His stuff is terrible (for adult readers). There are no characters, just ideas. Why the hell was foundation trilogy 37,000 pages?

I guess we all mature in our tastes, and it's inevitable that we'll look back in horror on our old hair-dos, wardrobes, and bookshelves (mine once sheltered O.S. Card!).
posted by Mister_A at 11:48 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I sort of assumed that he wrote the first couple of books in any of his series and then just turned it over to interns or perhaps a Markov chain generator.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:48 AM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think that that's an important lesson to learn.

I doubt there's a single person out there who a) read a lot of fantasy and SF from a young age and b) has a progressive view of social issues (or however you want to phrase that,) and hasn't had to do a whole lot of disavowing of previously-enjoyed things.

I just hope to hell that road has less highwaymen on it now.
posted by griphus at 11:49 AM on October 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


One of the happy memories this thread has brought to the surface are the hours and hours I spent as a teen in Snowden's Books in Victoria, on Johnson Street.

Snowden's was a hole-in-the-wall used bookstore with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. They had an awesome, incredible selection of sci-fi and fantasy books, as well as a cool section devoted to... cool books, like William S. Burroughs, the RE/Search series.

It was like entering a wormhole or something, since there does not seem to be any possible way that a shop of that size could carry such a vast and thorough selection of sci-fi and fantasy books.

Snowden's closed a year or so ago. I don't think any other place has imprinted itself as much in my brain.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:50 AM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


> I remember reading the first Thomas Covenant book and having to basically force myself to
> finish the book after that scene. Once I found out from others that the trilogy didn't end with
> Covenant disemboweled and slowly roasted over an open fire or something, I threw away
> the remaining books of the trilogy too. Probably unfair, but oh well.

My reaction too. Guy shows up in fantasy world, one of his very first acts is to rape somebody, guy goes on to have useful and productive career in fantasy world.

Faugh. My notion of e good narrative following a rape is perp is caught and hanged, or else experiences the kind of regret and self-hatred that leads to a psycho ward or spending the rest of his life in a monastery or alone in a cave. That kind of thing.
posted by jfuller at 11:51 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anybody want to add anything about Robert Heinlein?

Job: A Comedy of Justice was cool because it had airships.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:51 AM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Mister_A: "But you know what I REALLY can't go back to? Asimov. His stuff is terrible (for adult readers). There are no characters, just ideas. Why the hell was foundation trilogy 37,000 pages? "

Pedantry: Foundation/Foundation & Empire/Second Foundation runs to a total of about 1,000 pages at mass market paperback size.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:51 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I liked the stories with the flying snake back then, but... OH GOD NOW I GET IT. *grimace*
posted by wenestvedt at 11:52 AM on October 18, 2013


I doubt there's a single person out there who a) read a lot of fantasy and SF from a young age and b) has a progressive view of social issues (or however you want to phrase that,) and hasn't had to do a whole lot of disavowing of previously-enjoyed things.

Assuming that those folks are like me and the author, most of those folks probably don't remember that those were things that they needed to disavow.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:52 AM on October 18, 2013


KokuRyu: "Job: A Comedy of Justice was cool because it had airships."

And President William Jennings Bryan!
posted by Chrysostom at 11:53 AM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I recently realized that Xanth was my introduction, at the tender age of 12, to internalized misogyny. I, a teen who had only begun menstruating, recognized the idea of the "beautiful but stupid/ugly but smart" cycle of Chameleon as a (poor) analogy for both the "two types of women" and for a woman's monthly cycle, and I bought into it. In 1981, there wasn't a whole lot of feminism available to pre-teens, and I thought the books were super-smart about women.

Jesus, we are taught to hate ourselves early.
posted by tzikeh at 11:56 AM on October 18, 2013 [47 favorites]


McCaffrey wrote herself into a corner on dragons and consent, and a part of that comes from bringing elements of 1960s and 1970s romance fiction into sci-fi. Not all of her work is like that however, and I think she's still important as an early pioneer for women in sci-fi. I still find her a bit less creepy than many of her contemporaries. Anthony more creepy than many of his peers.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:59 AM on October 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think I was around seven when I first read Dragon on a Pedestal, which meant that the main character, Ivy, was only a couple of years younger than me, so I really ended up liking the book.

And I kept reading them, but I remember getting more and more weirded out by them as I got older. But not really by the misogyny, because I had already internalised so much from everything else. It just seemed normal, y'know?

And then I read Firefly. When I was 13.

I had already known I would stop reading Piers Anthony when his Virtual Mode series had a several-page long conversation where one female character goes on and on and on to another about how wonderful bras are and how she should totally be wearing one, but, yeah...

There are just things 13-year-old girls who are already pretty screwed up shouldn't be reading.

(And what irritates me is that reading all this Piers Anthony at an early age just pretty much knocked out all my potential enjoyment of light fantasy. I can't read anything that involves magic and wizards because Jesus Christ, those fucking puns.)
posted by Katemonkey at 11:59 AM on October 18, 2013


The TAL episode was the first that I'd heard of PA. Since I read a lot as a kid, I wondered why I'd never encountered it. Now I know. Why do people confuse "this book is terrible" with "this is a book for teens / children?"
posted by Ms Vegetable at 12:00 PM on October 18, 2013


So hey, this thread has me thinking. It seems like a given that pulpy fantasy novels with a generous helping of sexuality are going to have intrinsic appeal to a lot of young readers. I also think that it's not too controversial around here to say that it can be a very good thing for teens and preteens to read about sex and relationships that are based on mutual respect, consent, and pleasure (and also about how screwed-up it is when those principles are violated).

So does anybody have recommendations for YA-appropriate (doesn't have to be specifically YA-targeted necessarily) fantasy or sci-fi books or authors that include sex and relationships and actually do it well? I'm racking my brains here but not coming up with much. YA fiction isn't my thing though, so I'm hoping that some of y'all reading this can do better than me.
posted by Scientist at 12:01 PM on October 18, 2013


Oh, Xanth. Thank you, Piers Anthony, for being an infallible indicator of which older dudes in the RPG scene were creepy as shit.
posted by benzenedream at 12:01 PM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


kmz: I remember reading the first Thomas Covenant book and having to basically force myself to finish the book after that scene.

Don't get me started on Thomas Covenant.
posted by tzikeh at 12:01 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Jesus, we are taught to hate ourselves early.

YES EXACTLY. I was having this precise argument with someone who was nostalgically defending Xanth to me a few years back and their continued perseverance in spite of all my examples on why it was awful and sexist and terrible for kids in general brought me the closest I have ever been to shouting WAKE UP SHEEPLE irl.
posted by elizardbits at 12:04 PM on October 18, 2013 [17 favorites]


So does anybody have recommendations for YA-appropriate (doesn't have to be specifically YA-targeted necessarily) fantasy or sci-fi books or authors that include sex and relationships and actually do it well? I'm racking my brains here but not coming up with much. YA fiction isn't my thing though, so I'm hoping that some of y'all reading this can do better than me.

Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials books include a coming-of-age romance with strongly implied sexual contact between two similarly-aged young people that is portrayed as a good, consensual, positive, healthy thing.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:07 PM on October 18, 2013 [17 favorites]


> There are no characters, just ideas.

Whatever you may think of Asimov, the Novel of Ideas is a known thing. Some have vividly drawn characters, some don't.
posted by jfuller at 12:10 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


...nostalgically defending Xanth...

Well, if there's one positive thing to come out of all this, it's that someone's informed, adult opinion on the books makes for a fantastic litmus test.
posted by griphus at 12:11 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials books include a coming-of-age romance with strongly
> implied sexual contact between two similarly-aged young people that is portrayed as a
> good, consensual, positive, healthy thing.

Just FYI, that age is 12.
posted by jfuller at 12:12 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would sooner shag/befriend a Randian.
posted by elizardbits at 12:12 PM on October 18, 2013


Loved him as a preteen, purged him as a teen, rediscovered him, and started collecting his work, as an adult. It's bad and offensive in a way I find fascinating and compelling. In the best of them, he's got little bit of Kilgore Trout going on, in that his ideas are interesting but the writing is terrible. But even in the best of them, the ideas aren't that interesting, and he'll do his best to ruin whatever merit they do possess with smirking misogyny and a dirty-minded schoolboy's obsession with sex and elimination.

The stuff he's been self-publishing, sometimes as e-book only, sometimes as actual books with Poser art on the cover, has gotten increasingly bizarre and obsessive. I've often thought of doing some kind of Let's Read blog, like the one for Left Behind, but y'know, effort.
posted by longtime_lurker at 12:15 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wait so is McCaffrey creepy about sex generally? I also never read the Dragons books but I started reading Crystal Singer and had to stop right around the point when the protagonist starts pining for the guy that raped her in a previous chapter.

Google result for "McCaffrey tent peg".

McCaffrey wrote herself into a corner on dragons and consent, and a part of that comes from bringing elements of 1960s and 1970s romance fiction into sci-fi. Not all of her work is like that however, and I think she's still important as an early pioneer for women in sci-fi. I still find her a bit less creepy than many of her contemporaries. Anthony more creepy than many of his peers.

That's true, and it's clear she was trying to be progressive by even including teh gays and letting women have jobs (where they fetched coffee) and letting them like sex (after getting raped into it) but it was really nothing more than "fair for its time."

FWIW, in the height of my participation in McCaffrey fandom, I remember that a lot of the teenage girls were really into Xanth, too. I always figured it was because they were sort of porny. They were sort of cornball to me.

So does anybody have recommendations for YA-appropriate (doesn't have to be specifically YA-targeted necessarily) fantasy or sci-fi books or authors that include sex and relationships and actually do it well? I'm racking my brains here but not coming up with much. YA fiction isn't my thing though, so I'm hoping that some of y'all reading this can do better than me.

Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver. Garth Nix's A Confederacy of Princes. Kristin Cashore. For older books, Mercedes Lackey was always pretty good. There are probably loads more. I'd have to do some brainstorming.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:15 PM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


Metafilter: but y'know, effort.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:16 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


> "So this 15-year-old kid who ran away from home in the 80s and went looking for Anthony hoping to move in with him might have been spared a fate far more horrific than disappointment when he ultimately failed to track him down?"

OK whoa wait hold on.

Anthony writes creepy books and has said some creepy things. But I know of no evidence, report, or even rumor that he has ever actually had sex with anyone underage, or anyone unconsenting.

That is a really important distinction.
posted by kyrademon at 12:17 PM on October 18, 2013 [15 favorites]


So does anybody have recommendations for YA-appropriate (doesn't have to be specifically YA-targeted necessarily) fantasy or sci-fi books or authors that include sex and relationships and actually do it well? I'm racking my brains here but not coming up with much. YA fiction isn't my thing though, so I'm hoping that some of y'all reading this can do better than me.

At the risk of sounding flip, it may be worth checking out lists of banned books (like the ones at ALA's Banned & Challenged Books site) and looking for SFF that got there because it dealt with teenage sexuality. There's going to be a fair amount of ones dealing with the horrible side of sex (usually rape or abuse as traumatic experiences) but the resurgence in American Puritanism has led to a lot of stuff getting pulled because some Maude Flanders wannabe doesn't want kids starting to notice their thingies and hoo-has to realize what's happening to them.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:20 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, Tamora Pierce is always brilliant for realistic YA relationships. I'm pretty sure Veronica Rossi's Under the Never Sky have some sexy in them. Beth Revis' Across the Universe books, though I'd put a star next to the first one for problematic rape tropes/triggers (but the central relationship is painted in a solid and realistic way).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:20 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wait so is McCaffrey creepy about sex generally?

Yeah, two words, "tent peg" (on preview, hi PhoB)
posted by en forme de poire at 12:21 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


My only exposure to Xanth was the point-n-click adventure game when I was in middle school. The puns made for some fun puzzles. I didn't know until much later that it was based on a book series. I am glad now that I never actually read any of them.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 12:22 PM on October 18, 2013


That game actually came packaged with a copy of the related book.
posted by asperity at 12:24 PM on October 18, 2013


Man, I guess I was just the stupidest goddamn 12–14-year-old in the world, because I read the books, liked the puns, and didn't really get the misogyny or sexytimes stuff. It was just kind of a few paragraphs of noise that I ploughed through to get to more dragons and jokes.

And then I read more grown-up books and just kind of forgot about all the Xanth books. Hell, I think I was reading Incarnations of Immortality into university, and never had any red flags get raised about anything in them.

The creepy stuff kind of rolled over me – more accurately, I think it probably had an insidious additive effect with all of the other misogynistic crap in our culture, because I had some deep-seated complexes of ignorant and Nice Guy attitudes as an adolescent/young adult that I'd like to think I'm 100% over but probably need to keep working on. At the time, though, I was just a misogynistic young man in a misogynistic culture that was constantly getting his attitudes reinforced by light reading. Never caught on. I was a big dumb dummy.

Anyway, if anyone else is reading this thread and feeling bad because you didn't see through Anthony, or because you never threw his books across the room in a raging blaze of blinding insight, you're not alone. I Was Also A Teenage Schmuck.
posted by Shepherd at 12:24 PM on October 18, 2013 [14 favorites]


" I had no frame of reference for "creepy" yet, and loved loved loved the puns."

Yeah, I loved loved loved puns too, and that was why I read, like, the first 20 or so Xanth books. Which were kinda getting weak for my admittedly undiscriminating taste at the time (I think maybe ninth grade was the last time I read any).

I do remember that after I'd gotten through all of the Xanth stuff that had been published until then, I picked up some post-apocalyptic thing he'd written that had been apparently rewritten without his consent, so he was restoring it and including all these crazy footnotes. That's where, like, even for my not-particularly-conscious teen mind he got really far into the women-hating shit, with all sorts of weird sub-digressions about how of course one of the women was doing pectoral exercises because she had small breasts and wanted them to grow so she could seduce the Mary Sue main dude… Ugh.

I still wince a little when I've taken the Myth Adventures out of the library, though at least those gave me a conduit to Zelazny through the "Bring me the Head of Prince Charming" series, which are pretty funny.
posted by klangklangston at 12:25 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Well, if there's one positive thing to come out of all this, it's that someone's informed, adult
> opinion on the books makes for a fantastic litmus test.

This may sound paradoxical, but for me having a litmus test (or not) is a great litmus test.
posted by jfuller at 12:25 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I read a lot of Xanth around age 8 to 12, and I guess I was too young or clueless to get the creepiness, because most of the things that people here are remembering being creeped out by didn't register with me. I do remember picking up one of his non-Xanth books and reading a really graphic rape scene within the first few chapters, feeling disturbed, and not finishing the book or ever touching any non-Xanth Anthony again.

Then in high school, I noticed a new Xanth at the library and picked it up nostagically. I was disgusted by how weak and stereotypical the female characters were. And as a kid I'd read the Xanth books for years, right down to the Author's Notes (always full of references to reader correspondence, and reader-contributed puns).

So it made sense to me to email Piers Anthony and ask him why he didn't write stronger female characters? He responded within the next couple of days: a brief, bald note saying that he writes what sells.

I wish I still had the email. It was such an asshole response to a message from a young girl and a fan, I'd love to share it now.
posted by snorkmaiden at 12:29 PM on October 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


klangklangston: " I picked up some post-apocalyptic thing he'd written that had been apparently rewritten without his consent, so he was restoring it and including all these crazy footnotes. "

It's But What of Earth? Actually fairly interesting for insight into the editorial process gone wrong - Anthony included all of his original text - and Anthony's high dudgeon throughout. I'm sure there was SOME misogyny, as I remember a female character, but don't remember specifics.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:29 PM on October 18, 2013


Gods dammit. I read a whole bunch of Xanth novels when I was a kid, and now I wish I hadn't. Come to think of it, I was exposed to a lot of things that I probably wasn't psychologically ready for, and while I credit some of them with warping me in good ways (Firesign Theater, I tip my hat to you), others, like Xanth, probably did some bad stuff that I'm still working out 20+ years later.

I remember thinking that Jack L. Chalker's Changewinds trilogy was fun and kinky, but in hindsight, it was probably pretty awful. Did anyone else read that?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:29 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've never read Piers Anthony, but reading this thread makes me glad Terry Pratchett wrote my formative fantasy reading. On the other hand, the obvious sexism in Roberto Bolaño, whom I read in my freshman year of college, didn't hit me for a few years, so ...
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:30 PM on October 18, 2013


Also, in retrospect, my mom should really have let me keep the Sweet Valley High novels and screened the fantasy, instead of the other way around.
posted by snorkmaiden at 12:30 PM on October 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


Chalker's sexual fetish for transformations is pretty front and center in all of his work. See, for example, the Four Lords of the Diamond series.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:31 PM on October 18, 2013


...do your child a favor and skip straight to Terry Pratchett
I just read through "The Color of Magic" with the intention of giving it to my niece if it lived up to recommendations. Quality-wise it did, however somewhere in between "his camera ran out of pink..." and "she's going to type 'priapic' into Google..." I had to say I could no longer comfortably pass along all the content. Are the rest of the Discworld books given roughly the same level of filtering, or are there some aimed at younger or older readers too?

(I was also unreasonably disappointed to find out that the Discworld wasn't an Alderson Disc)
posted by roystgnr at 12:32 PM on October 18, 2013


Ironically, klang, I guess I was old enough when I started reading the Aspirin books that the sexism did annoy me. I think I got through two of them and gave up.

Really what sealed the deal for all the Anthony/Aspirin/McCaffery/generally sexist fantasy I read was discovering Robin McKinley. Her books were centered around powerful and interesting women, who were straight-up heroic, and contained no weird digressions on breast size or the illogical natures of females. Nobody once twisted an ankle or needed a big strong man to rescue her. But the men were also interesting! And there was still magic and dragons and fateful prophecies.

Once I had read her stuff, I was inoculated. Kind of like how I felt about Twinkies after I had learned to bake delicious homemade cakes. I couldn't go back to the crap.
posted by emjaybee at 12:33 PM on October 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


are there some aimed at younger or older readers too?

You want Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series for that. Start with The Wee Free Men.
posted by asperity at 12:34 PM on October 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


longtime_lurker: "In the best of them, he's got little bit of Kilgore Trout going on, in that his ideas are interesting but the writing is terrible. But even in the best of them, the ideas aren't that interesting, and he'll do his best to ruin whatever merit they do possess with smirking misogyny and a dirty-minded schoolboy's obsession with sex and elimination."

Macroscope, which was Anthony's attempt at the Great American Science Fiction novel, is actually pretty interesting, though of course, also laced with weird sexual/gender attitudes.

My understanding is he explicitly said he was writing some bigger themed stuff, like Macroscope and Omnivore, but Xanth sold way better, so he put it on autopilot.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:34 PM on October 18, 2013


I read them when I was pretty young and remember enjoying them (Hey, one minor character had my fairly unusual name, cool!). I put him down in disgust when I read his biography, Bio of an Ogre, where he devotes an entire glowing chapter to one of his daughters, then sums her sister up with something like, "I also have another daughter." The creepy sex thing flew over my head, but my sense of fairness was really offended by that. How was I to know then that it is probably much better to be Anthony's "other daughter" than the one he dotes on? Yuck.
posted by thebrokedown at 12:34 PM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


So does anybody have recommendations for YA-appropriate (doesn't have to be specifically YA-targeted necessarily) fantasy or sci-fi books or authors that include sex and relationships and actually do it well?

Well, in 2010: Odyssey 2, Dr. Walter Curnow (played by John Lithgow in the movie) has a romantic encounter with a young Russian crewmate during a a dangerous aerocapture through Jupiter's upper atmosphere.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:37 PM on October 18, 2013


Starting a kid with the Tiffany Aching books works really well for tweens and even pretweens, in my experience. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents was also well-received. CoM is not the best place to start Pratchett, in my opinion. He doesn't really hit his stride with Discwold until Equal Rites or even Guards! Guards!, really.
posted by bonehead at 12:37 PM on October 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


Well, in 2010: Odyssey 2, Dr. Walter Curnow (played by John Lithgow in the movie) has a romantic encounter with a young Russian crewmate during a a dangerous aerocapture through Jupiter's upper atmosphere.
posted by KokuRyu


I remember reading that at the same time I was reading Xanth books (so, early teens) and just totally not understanding what was happening there. Like, I literally remember going back over and over the passage trying to parse it out.
posted by COBRA! at 12:39 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's an important rite of passage to suddenly realize how profoundly creepily fucked up Piers Anthony's work was.
I picked up the first 7 or 8 Xanth books at a church tag sale for a couple of bucks when I was... 13, maybe? Young enough that when I started reading them that my initial reaction was more or less like emjaybee's and Shepherd's; "Oh, some of these puns are clever and funny in a groany pun way. Everyone has a unique magical talent, that's a cool idea. Not quite sure what to make of all the sex stuff, but whatever."

I don't remember how many months it took me to read them, but I think my maturity curve was rising steadily the whole time; by the time I read Night Mare the puns had gotten quite stale and I had begun to pick up on the pervasively skeevy vibe, but I made myself keep going because that's what you do with a series! Have to read the whole thing! Halfway through Crewel Lye I gave myself permission to quit, because what the hell, dude?

I need to re-read Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain again with an eye on misogyny. My memory is that Princess Eilonwy was written as a really smart character that always bucked the story world's expectation of how princesses should behave. On the other hand, the only other female characters I remember are the fairly stereotypical wicked queen, and equally stereotypical witches who live in the swamp. The last time I read The Book of Three, I was surprised to find that I thought Taran was much more of an insufferable twit than I remembered.
posted by usonian at 12:40 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tolkien's other workaround:

"That's what I like about these high school girls elves. I get older, they stay the same age."
posted by bibliowench at 12:40 PM on October 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think happy sex scenes in YA are just really rare. Either they are traumatic or addressed as vaguely as possible.

This is why we all checked Forever out of the library!

Sadly, I can't think of any SF off the top of my head that has good ones, either. How sad is that?
posted by emjaybee at 12:41 PM on October 18, 2013


I missed Xanth, but I did read the first seven Incarnations of Immortality books with a growing sense of horror and dread (this was before I understood that it was okay to not finish a series). Book seven provided the first time a book ever made me feel literally sick to my stomach; there are several pages devoted to explaining why it's totally awesome for the middle aged Judge to have a sexual relationship with a teenage girl and society is totally unfair stigmatising the idea, it just goes on and on.

Less creepy, but no less memorable were his ludicrously self congratulatory author's notes talking about how he's totally just like Asimov you guys! Anyone else remember them?
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 12:41 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I put Covenant in the same boat as Bujold's Bothari, a moral tragedy that drives the rest of the character's development, and in Covenant's case, arguably the entire world in a search for what little grace one can get after committing that crime.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:42 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh man, The Amazing Maurice is just so fucking good. One of my favorite Discworld books, YA or no.

(One thing to note with Discworld, one of the early books has a sorta icky gay panic scene in it, and the LGBT positive characters in Unseen Academicals were a little rote, IMO, but hey not everybody's perfect.)
posted by kmz at 12:44 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


"This is why we all checked Forever out of the library!"

Or found Tropic of Cancer in the basement. "A cunt like a valise? Boy howdy!"
posted by klangklangston at 12:44 PM on October 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


Anthony more creepy than many of his peers.

Admit it, CBrachyrhynchos: you did that on purpose.
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:45 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, klang, my parents were too uptight to have that in the house. Some of their John Jakes books, though..boy howdy indeed.
posted by emjaybee at 12:46 PM on October 18, 2013


No mention of Anthony's short story "In the Barn" where a parallel earth uses women explicitly as dairy cows? Amazingly gross.

Oh lord, that was him? I remember someone here on Mefi linked to it (don't ask me who/when/what thread) to make a point about nutrition's role in childhood development (or something), which WAS a factor in it, but the whole rest of it was this obscenely bad boob-fetish erotica that I felt embarrassed having read.

I never read any of his other work, but y'all can have him. Yuck.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:46 PM on October 18, 2013


There were (far) fewer fantasy options to Anthony in the 80s than there are today, but one that does stand out for me was Andre Norton. She wasn't the best writer ever, but her Witch World juveniles offered a hugely more complicated and nuanced understanding of what teen-age sexuality was really about, more so than Heinlein's (enforced) asexuality, Anthony's strange obsessions, the repulsiveness of Covenant, or the carboard cutouts in Eddings' and Jordon's books.
posted by bonehead at 12:46 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thankfully my strategy of reading books with plots that sound like Terry Pratchett's led me not just to the execrable Incarnations of Immortality, but also Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, a much better series all around.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 12:46 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Book seven provided the first time a book ever made me feel literally sick to my stomach; there are several pages devoted to explaining why it's totally awesome for the middle aged Judge to have a sexual relationship with a teenage girl and society is totally unfair stigmatising the idea, it just goes on and on.

I had bailed on Anthony by the time that one came out, and your description here raised my curiosity so I just looked it up and Jesus fucking Christ on a pogo stick.
posted by COBRA! at 12:46 PM on October 18, 2013


Less creepy, but no less memorable were his ludicrously self congratulatory author's notes talking about how he's totally just like Asimov you guys! Anyone else remember them?

All I remember from the author's notes was a long list of readers who sent in pun suggestions.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:46 PM on October 18, 2013


Well, at least the cover of On A Pale Horse is as rad as I remembered it being.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:47 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


usonian: "I need to re-read Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain again with an eye on misogyny. "

Tor.com is in the middle of doing a re-read.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:47 PM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Doing or writing things that are clueless, hurtful, or even seriously damaging is a reason to avoid someone, but that doesn't mean we should judge them as irredeemably evil.

It may mean that it's smart to avoid that person or his products. It may mean that you feel true revulsion - but it's important not to confuse our feelings (which we must respect), or logical best practices (like "don't read this or give it to kids"), with a judgment of another person's inherent value or lack of value.

It's possible that people being born today will condemn us -- *hate* us -- for something we don't even think about now (using up all that fossil fuel, maybe, or allowing personal privacy to be eradicated bit by bit). Hating on each other for being stupid isn't the way forward. Figuring out how to explain issues clearly, without condemning or offending other people, might be.



Also, I think this semantic point is important: A writer condescending to someone (or an entire class of people) is offensive, and should be called out, but it isn't the same as the writer hating that person or class.
posted by amtho at 12:48 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


bonehead: " the carboard cutouts in Eddings' and Jordon's books."

"By God, every person in each country is a given stereotype! How else are you going to write it if EVERY single Drasnian isn't a thief?" -- David Eddings
posted by Chrysostom at 12:49 PM on October 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


> "The last time I read The Book of Three, I was surprised to find that I thought Taran was much more of an insufferable twit than I remembered."

Well, he was *supposed* to be an insufferable twit in the Book of Three. The entire series is about him growing up. He starts showing more signs of maturity in The Castle of Llyr, and genuinely grows into a better person in Taran Wanderer.

However, I did have an argument about sexism in the books with an ex. She saw Eilonwy as a character who, in the end, gave up everything to be with a guy. I had a different read, since I thought Eilonwy was only giving up things she hadn't asked for and never thought were important, and that she was quite a strong character.
posted by kyrademon at 12:53 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh God, David Eddings. The Seeress of Kell made me as angry as any book I'd ever read to that point had. I stuck it out through all ten books in that series and *SPOILERS* it ended with pages and pages of the Seeress character going "Now you HAVE to go HERE and do THIS! And now THIS! And THIS! BECAUSE! And now that you've DONE ALL THAT I have to arbitrarily CHOOSE how the book is going to end! And wouldn't you know it, I CHOOSE the ending that benefits the heroes I've been traveling with! Yay!"

In terms of the narrative, it might be the worst book I've ever read. And I've read Atlas Shrugged.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:55 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's a Something Awful thread on this topic that's been going for a bit. The title, adopted after the first few pages of responses were mostly the same sentiment over and over, is "Let's Read Xanth (You Were Stupid As A Teen, Too)".
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:57 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh man, that reminds me of the Sharon Shinn Samaria books, where one race is a thieving, woman-hating, thinly disguised Arabic stereotype, another is a nomadic race of (nearly) magical brown people (sort of a cross between Jews, African-Americans, and Gandhi), and of course actual gene-spliced angels who can sing like the very best opera singers because that's how they communicate with their "god" satellite.

All of which is mostly used to tell standard romance stories (generally of "The god satellite wants us to be together! But we are so different! But oh no, now we have Feelings! Curse you, beautiful enemy!" type.)

Definitely a guilty pleasure, because it was always cool to think about flying around with actual wings, and also, Shinn likes to describe all the fabulous jewels, clothes and food her protagonists have access to. Complete fluff.
posted by emjaybee at 12:58 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


To clarify, I managed never to read Piers Anthony. I managed to read and enjoy David Eddings even though he is clearly ridiculous and wrote the same story over and over again, the aforementioned Mission: Earth pile of utter garbage, and many, many other books that I'm sure I would now return to with something approaching horrified disillusionment. I certainly don't judge anyone for having enjoyed Piers Anthony, or even enjoying him still now. Tastes are different and grow differently, and even books one admits are bad now can still have a nostalgic comfort value if absolutely nothing else to recommend them.

But, yeah, the end of the Malloreon is pointless. I would not say it is the worst book I've ever read, though. That honor goes to Faith of the Fallen, aka Atlas Shrugged but with magic and swords and stuff except none of that's really in there but it's kind of around or whatever.
posted by Errant at 12:59 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh man, I forgot to mention the other part that made me livid about And Eternity (Incarnations Book 7):
SPOILER
At the end a woman takes over as God, and the whole book and author's not just drip with self congratulatory smugness over how *FEMINIST* he's being. It's infuriating.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 12:59 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thankfully my strategy of reading books with plots that sound like Terry Pratchett's led me not just to the execrable Incarnations of Immortality, but also Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, a much better series all around.

One redeeming feature to New Sun is the unreliable narrator, who is charming but ultimately repellant once you start reading into the places where his supposedly perfect memory goes vague and/or contradictory.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:01 PM on October 18, 2013


Shadow of the Torturer is a bit of a difficult book to give to a young teen though.
posted by bonehead at 1:02 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, my wife and I once found a mix CD at a thrift shop which had been handed out to guests at a wedding. The cover included a brief write-up about each song's significance to the couple and one was apparently on the album they were listening to the night they stayed up all night "discussing the works of David Eddings." We couldn't figure out if it was supposed to be taking the piss or what.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:04 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Errant: "But, yeah, the end of the Malloreon is pointless."

I felt like the Belgeriad certainly had aspects of the cardboard characters and paint by the numbers plotting, but occasionally managed to be somewhat affecting. The Mallorean was basically the same story all over again, but THIS time you get to see the other continent. What exactly was the point of this universe-shattering conflict if we just have to do it again?
posted by Chrysostom at 1:05 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I too read some Xanth books back when I was 13, which would have been shortly after they started coming out, and there were always an assload of Anthony books at the local B. Daltons. But I also don't remember even noticing the ick- maybe because I was also reading Howard's Conan, and Heinlein's contemporary "adult" stuff, and Lovecraft ffs. I mean I even had a friend at the time who was way too into the Gor books, which for some reason you could also always find everywhere, and even at 13 I was like COME THE FUCK ON.

But really I don't know how many golden/silver age SF writers weren't grotesquely sexist by modern standards. Theodore Sturgeon seemed to make a point of writing female characters as actual people... maybe Fritz Leiber too? I'm sure that Heinlein would have bristled at being called a misogynist, just because he constantly consescended to his female characters doesn't mean he didn't like 'em, kinda thing- but It's been too long since I read most of it to be able to remember. Just saying, I don't remember Anthony standing out that much at the time.

Don't get me wrong though- I'm glad to live in a world where it's glaringly obvious how fuckheaded his stuff was, and I'm surprised/appalled to find that he's still at it, and apparently has gotten more unrepentant about it as he goes on.
posted by hap_hazard at 1:09 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I managed to read and enjoy David Eddings even though he is clearly ridiculous and wrote the same story over and over again...

And had the stones to admit he was doing it in the text.
posted by Etrigan at 1:10 PM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I happily missed the creepy aspects of his Xanth works - I was pretty much too young to get it when I was reading it. But Bio of a Space Tyrant... That was, very explicate, in a pretty disturbing way (if I recall, not only lots of rape, but also incest, cannibalism, and of course plenty of gratuitous violence). As a teen I remember being very disturbed by that series (it was the last of PA I ever read), but thinking "I'm too young for this"... No, I wasn't too young, no one should ever read that.

And the Thomas Covenant series was genuinely disturbing, but at least every person he encountered in the series hated the protagonist (even though he was going to save their universe) because of the awful shit he had done.

In reading this thread it's interesting to hear the stuff that I totally missed (as a pre-teen mostly) - the Pern stuff, for example.
posted by el io at 1:11 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh God, David Eddings.

Never read him (I was more into hard sci fi back in the 80's) but I always thought that his Schlong of Shannara must be a good read.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:12 PM on October 18, 2013


(you know Shannara is Terry Brooks, right?)
posted by Chrysostom at 1:14 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


At the end a woman takes over as God, and the whole book and author's not just drip with self congratulatory smugness over how *FEMINIST* he's being. It's infuriating.

LOOK I PUT HER ON THE ~HIGHEST~ PEDESTAL

FEMINISM COMPLETE
posted by griphus at 1:15 PM on October 18, 2013 [44 favorites]


My personal "when I realized Anthony was skeezy" moment was when I was reading his bio and described how when he was a (?substitute) teacher and looking at the underwear of the young ladies in his classes.

I think I looked at Pornotopia after that, but only because some friends in my D&D group were talking about how awful it was. Spoiler: it was really bad.
posted by caphector at 1:16 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I chewed through stacks of the Xanth books when I was ten or eleven, as well as several other of his sci-fi and modern fantasy series. I was a huge fan, even wrote him a fan letter and got a letter back with a signed photo, which really wowed me as a kid.

Altho, even then I could tell there were some... oddities... about how some of the later Xanth books were constructed. There seemed to be a distinct authorial desire to include vaguely-alluded-to-through-puns sexual content where there was really no need to. I shrugged it off.. until I checked out a copy of Firefly at the library when I was twelve or thirteen.

I threw away the letter and photo immediately after that, and haven't touched an Anthony book since. The feeling of utter repellent betrayal I had, that someone I had looked up to in a fannish way would produce something so foul, sticks with me to this day. It's like if I had found out Bradbury had ghostwritten The Turner Diaries or something.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:17 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


asperity: "That game actually came packaged with a copy of the related book"

Like all the other games I and my other broke-ass friends played at the time, it was a pirated copy.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 1:19 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


My personal "when I realized Anthony was skeezy" moment was when I was reading his bio and described how when he was a (?substitute) teacher and looking at the underwear of the young ladies in his classes.

Oh god, this combined with how every single book about underage girls ever managed to talk about what color their panties are, becomes extra plus creepy.
posted by corb at 1:19 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


from the Bio of a Space Tyrant books?

Oh God, yes. I don't know why I read them all - they were creepy as hell from the get go - but it was like some kind of train wreck. For all of you who were squicked out by the Xanth books, don't even open these...I think they should all be burned on sight. The bit with the pirates in the asteroids and their "marriage traditions" alone just makes me cringe to remember. Along with the semi-incestuous stuff, the pedo stuff, it was all just a big series of skeeve.

I remember reading the first Thomas Covenant book and having to basically force myself to finish the book after that scene.


I have an odd relationship with the Covenant books and find it necessary to go back and pick at them from time to time, like an old wound that I won't let fully close. The last time I did it I came to the conclusion that the series should have been written from the viewpoints of the characters of the Land, all coming to terms with the fact that their saviour is also a world-class asshole and how to deal with that fact. That might have been more interesting, and it also might have ended with a great scene in which our characters are standing over Covenant's dismembered body saying that they'd decided to face the corruption and destruction of their world rather than deal with that self-involved shitbag any longer.
posted by nubs at 1:21 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]



Wait so is McCaffrey creepy about sex generally? I also never read the Dragons books


The sex between dragon riders is rather iffy because of the mental bonding with the dragons; they have sex, and thus so do the riders, leading to an orgy amongst the riders, though in effect they're more being mentally forced into sex by their dragons, thus making their bonded dragons the agents of rape in effect. Though the rider/dragon's preference has a big impact on who actually succeeds. The whole aspect is much toned down after the first couple of books though, and riders end up sleeping with their desired partner pretty universally I think.

Nothing as skeevy as the tent peg stuff, though.

but I started reading Crystal Singer and had to stop right around the point when the protagonist starts pining for the guy that raped her in a previous chapter.

Wait, what? I don't remember anything like that! Just checked with my wife, and she doesn't remember that either. I always thought of Killashandra as rather empowered, in fact. Do you remember more detail?
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:26 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anybody want to add anything about Robert Heinlein?

Sure he wrote some...unorthodox relationships. Door Into Summer, Number of the Beast, Stranger in a Stranger Land, I Will Fear No Evil, pretty much everything with Lazarus Long in it. But he had a brain tumor that hypersexualized him. Wasn't his fault, man.
posted by scalefree at 1:37 PM on October 18, 2013


But you know what I REALLY can't go back to? Asimov. His stuff is terrible (for adult readers). There are no characters, just ideas.

Which is odd, because I found his final few novels very emotionally affecting. Like, at some point, he'd actually sat down and learned how to write about emotions.

But, given this thread, I have this sudden fear that if I went back to read them again they'd be nothing but robot porn.
posted by mittens at 1:38 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Do you remember more detail?

Not much, unfortunately; I read them when I was 12 or 13. I think at some point in either the first or second book, she was captured and sexually assaulted by a dude and then became infatuated with him. I remember it really vividly because it's the first time I had encountered rape in a novel (or at all, really.) I remember being pretty pissed off about it specifically because, otherwise, she was empowered and I couldn't square the two things.

Of course, thinking back to how carelessly I read books at that age, I may have just grievously misinterpreted a consensual sex scene.
posted by griphus at 1:39 PM on October 18, 2013


And the Thomas Covenant series was genuinely disturbing, but at least every person he encountered in the series hated the protagonist (even though he was going to save their universe) because of the awful shit he had done.

Yeah, it's not fair to compare Thomas Covenant to Xanth on so many levels. TC's act of rape, one of the first things he does upon arriving in the Land, is a horrible crime that hangs over the main character for the rest of the books (all six!). There's no sense of authorial approval, here. TC is basically a piece of shit with serious mental and emotional issues, and throughout all the books characters he meets tend to go through stages of gradual disappointment.

Also, the TC books are well-written. Piers Anthony, by contrast, is a terrible writer and a genuine misogynist. Actually, as others have alluded, I think he's just trapped in the mindset of an early teen boy. Creepy as hell.
posted by Edgewise at 1:40 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not much, unfortunately; I read them when I was 12 or 13. I think at some point in either the first or second book, she was captured and sexually assaulted by a dude and then became infatuated with him. I remember it really vividly because it's the first time I had encountered rape in a novel (or at all, really.) I remember being pretty pissed off about it specifically because, otherwise, she was empowered and I couldn't square the two things.

Of course, thinking back to how carelessly I read books at that age, I may have just grievously misinterpreted a consensual sex scene.


Book was the second in the series (actually titled Killashandra). I kinda skipped that scene when reading it, but the next scene Killashandra was assuring the guy that everything happened just the way she wanted it. I certainly got the feeling that the author viewed it as consensual. I've probably still got a copy buried around somewhere if you want me to dig it up and check.
posted by YAMWAK at 1:43 PM on October 18, 2013


Oh god dammit, you had to go and remind me of how Incarnations ended. The first few were actually pretty neat!

I have purged my mind of pretty much anything related to Anthony, but I still remember giving up on the Incarnation series when in the Time one he spent three pages repeatedly dwelling on the idea that, if you were aware of time running backwards while you were defecating, it might be a... peculiar... experience. The first time? Eh, funny, I guess. The second time? Um, OK. The third time in three pages? Dude, you are overselling this. So I stopped and never went back.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:44 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I too was inappropriately touched by Xanth. As others said I was really into it until I became older than the young female characters, when it occurred to me that an adult wrote these scenes, and I pictured a teacher writing about his students doing it, and I got mildly ill. I have vague recollections of someone sticking their genitals through prison bars, and closing whatever shitty book it was firmly and finally and doing my best to forget about PA, and the subject of pre-teens having sex, forever.

In a way it was a lesson in sexual ethics that stuck pretty hard. Maybe PA was doing it on purpose? Nah.

As to Thomas Covenant I think they are on a different level. Yes the main character is a bad guy, but he's certainly depicted that way, and his whole delusion and power comes from the fact that he thinks the alternative world is in fact an illusion (which it possibly is, even in the fictional context). So his awful actions bring up a lot of pretty intense contradictions about ethical behavior, and the underpinnings of morality. For instance--does acting unjust in a video game (say, murdering GTA prostitutes) count as immoral? Does what we do in our fantasy lives hurt our souls? Stuff like that. Doesn't mean the books are good of course--I found them grim and boring and didn't read much of them--but it's not insidious, seductive misogynist garbage like Xanth.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:44 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think happy sex scenes in YA are just really rare.

This is (just) one of the reasons that Phillip Pullman gets so much hate from certain circles---Lyra and Wil suffer no damage and have no regrets. It's not a cautionary ending with Horrible Examples.
posted by bonehead at 1:48 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Edgewise: "Also, the TC books are well-written."

In fairness, that is not a universally held opinion.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:51 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm a little surprised I never twigged to the Xanth books. I might've liked Spell if I'd encountered it around the time it was published. By the time I discovered them, though, they seemed corny and uncool and I remember always being put off whenever I saw them in the bookstore. I did read a couple of Anthony's Tarot books around the 9th or 10th grade—on the grounds of a shared name with the protagonist and a Tarot phase—but I can't remember anything about them besides that.

I read shitloads of f & sf at that age but Moorcock, LeGuin, Lee, McKillip, Tolkien, tended to be the authors I returned to over and over. Then, a bit later, I was gaga over Julian May's Pliocene books.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:51 PM on October 18, 2013


Book was the second in the series (actually titled Killashandra). I kinda skipped that scene when reading it, but the next scene Killashandra was assuring the guy that everything happened just the way she wanted it. I certainly got the feeling that the author viewed it as consensual.

This is pretty much how sex scenes always work out for McCaffrey's heroines. Her female villains (Kylara) are usually pretty slutty/promiscuous. Meanwhile, good girl Brekke has to be coerced into sex via dragons with F'nor, and F'lar even notes that when dragons aren't involved, he "might as well call it rape" with Lessa.

Keep in mind that McCaffrey came from an era when good girls didn't like sex. But that doesn't make the undertones (or overtones) any less rapey.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:55 PM on October 18, 2013


Eh, you got me curious, so I dug up the Killashandra book. My filing system was better than I thought, or else I just got lucky.

Either way, Lars was physically hurrying Killashandra to someplace, and was quick to remove her clothes, but the physical attraction is stated as mutual, Lars even takes the time to admire Killashandra for her femininity and Killashandra offers verbal encouragement when Lars hesitates, just before the chapter ends. Next chapter starts with both parties telling each other how wonderful they are.

I don't think it was supposed to be interpreted as rape.


Now I just need to work out what to do with the Xanth books that I know will be buried in my shelves, untouched for literally decades, and try and work out what to do with them. I don't throw away / give away books. Ever. This may be a problem.
posted by YAMWAK at 1:55 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


In fairness, that is not a universally held opinion.

I'm so glad that link described "clench-racing." I wonder if it's still a playable party game with his newer books.
posted by asperity at 1:55 PM on October 18, 2013


I certainly got the feeling that the author viewed it as consensual.

It could very well have been a Complicated Human Sexuality thing that my tender brain wasn't mature enough to process past "apparently non-consensual."
posted by griphus at 1:56 PM on October 18, 2013


Of course, thinking back to how carelessly I read books at that age, I may have just grievously misinterpreted a consensual sex scene.

I know the bit you mean - it's from the 2nd book. Lars kidnaps her and sticks her on an island. She escapes, goes to a beach party, spots Lars, and basically seduces him - he doesn't recognise her. It's definitely consensual, though under false pretenses from her. I do recall him making a comment the morning after, about the bruises on her (from vigorous sex) meaning he could be hauled up on rape charges though - you may have read that too literally! Ah, here we are.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:56 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yep, sounds like my memories of the book are the perfect storm of a 12-year-old's attention span and a 12-year-old's concept of human sexuality. Maybe I'll try reading it again; I stopped at that part and until then I was actually enjoying the books.
posted by griphus at 1:58 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am incapable of being objective about the Thomas Covenant books because one particular passage (the introduction of Saltheart Foamfollower for the curious) hit me like a beam of sunshine in the middle of a nasty bout of clinical depression. That pretty much gives all of its flaws a pass for life as far as I'm concerned, it's not a book/series I'd recommend to others though, especially as the prose style is, to put it gently, an acquired taste*. It did give rise to the delightful "Fantasy Bedtime Hour" which is an episodic comedy readthrough/reenactment/discussion of the first book(and still available here for the curious).

*Clench has ceded ground to Puissance in the latest books.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 2:03 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think happy sex scenes in YA are just really rare.

The Weetzie Bat books stick out in my mind as an exception.

Yep, sounds like my memories of the book are the perfect storm of a 12-year-old's attention span and a 12-year-old's concept of human sexuality.

As I said up-thread, the science fiction sticks out more than Xanth for me: the oedipal siren who needs abuse of Chthon and the suicide-survival sex of one of the Cluster books.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:06 PM on October 18, 2013


Clench Puissance would make a really fantastic porn star name.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:07 PM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


In fairness, that is not a universally held opinion.

...but "The TC books are substantially better written than the Xanth books" should be pretty close to universally held. By all sane people true Scotsmen, anyway.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:08 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The tent peg stuff was echoed in the men bonded to the (female) green dragons as well, not to mention the "heterosexual" (male) blue riders who were their tops/partners. Were all the young boys chosen by the greens gay? Were the blue riders who were their partners? I recall the impression that there was at least some coersion both by the dragons and the other humans for the male riders of the greens to "accept" their roles.

McAffery later said that greens "smelled out" gay boys as their riders, but a) greens were among the most numerous of the dragons, and b) what about the "heterosexual" blue tops?

Pretty odd sexual politics, anyway.
posted by bonehead at 2:09 PM on October 18, 2013


There's also this thread (heh) in McCaffrey's books where an underaged/barely legal girl is selected for specialness by an older man who also becomes her lover. You find this both in Pern & The Crystal Singer.

Could be worse, I guess. Could be John C. Wright.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:10 PM on October 18, 2013


Could be John C. Wright.

Oh god. I still remember one weekend when John C Wright wrote some beyond the pale homophobic shit on his blog, and pretty much simultaneously his wife was involved in some super racefail. They're like a power couple of cluelessness.
posted by kmz at 2:27 PM on October 18, 2013


McCaffrey has a recurring thing with women who will not fall in True Love Forever with their chosen men until the man is aggressive enough with her, generally. Like--pretty much every single romantic subplot in any one of the books.

Bonehead: She explicitly said that the greenriders were "bottoms" and the blueriders were "tops". All of which conflicted completely once she started letting girls have green dragons; so far as I know, she never clarified this. It was a lot about trying to shoehorn things in with pseudo-science to justify how things worked when she wasn't going to admit that bisexuals existed or something.

But Piers Anthony is just... something else. McCaffrey is Problematic. Anthony is gross. I cannot figure out what editor agreed to PUBLISH Firefly. I cannot figure out why there weren't a dozen people throughout the process who said NO NO NO and made that not happen. Others of his books? I was not a huge Xanth reader, but I loved the Apprentice Adept books, and passed off things like the kids' nudity as just being necessary for a world that involved the level of adult nudity that Anthony wanted (clearly this was a little skeezy but I was young and found such things Edgy still) without coming up for excuses as to why nobody ever procreated. Until I heard about Firefly. Then all the justifications just go out the window forever.

But Avon Books published it. This goes from one messed up person to WTF FOREVER in my head.
posted by Sequence at 2:31 PM on October 18, 2013


Well, the first book of Anthony's that I picked up was Firefly, so it was the last one I picked up as well; he went square into the NOPE column with that. I'm also not surprised that the story "In the Barn" was his as well, even though it's been so long since I read the Dangerous Visions collections that I didn't associate his name with them. (It does make me wonder if one of the reasons that Ellison has never released The Last Dangerous Visions is that, aside from the fact that the collection could never meet the expectations put on it, it would also lead to people picking up the previous collections, and that those probably haven't aged too well, either.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:41 PM on October 18, 2013


The conversation has moved on at this point, but for my money The Color of Magic is pretty much the worst Discworld book. Pratchett didn't really find his groove until Guards! Guards! in my opinion. Maybe Wyrd Sisters.
posted by Scientist at 2:46 PM on October 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


I actually thought the first Thomas Covenant series had its merits, but dear gods, Donaldson is an awful prose writer, and it only got worse as time went on. And as to clench-racing ...

"The rules are simple. Each player takes a different volume of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and at the word 'go' all open their books at random and start leafing through, scanning the pages. The winner is the first player to find the word 'clench'. It's a fast, exciting game – sixty seconds is unusually drawn-out – and can be varied, if players get too good, with other favourite Donaldson words like wince, flinch, gag, rasp, exigency, mendacity, articulate, macerate, mien, limn, vertigo, cynosure ..."

... I can't believe they left off "vitriol".
posted by kyrademon at 2:49 PM on October 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


Oh. Oh, my. Also from that link:

"Probably the most distinguished practitioner of collect-the-coupons plotting is Susan Cooper in those awful The Dark Is Rising books, in the course of which the hapless goodies have to run down no fewer than nine different plot tokens before they can send off to the author for the ending."

I AM NOT ALONE! ALL THIS TIME I THOUGHT I WAS ALONE!
posted by kyrademon at 2:54 PM on October 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm going to throw something out there, as someone who as a prepubescent who did read those Xanth books* and whose parents "accidentally" left a copy of Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask)** laying around in the cabinet where I kept my tools...I've actually got a pretty good perspective on the things that these books completely fail at, and I assume that's because I was exposed to the terrible and some really good books/information too, which basically taught me to ask questions and not believe the first thing I heard or read.

Which is not to say this is the expected outcome of such an arrangement. Still, it's nice to know that kids don't always just blindly accept what they read; presumably the bad stuff needs to either be delivered in isolation, or needs to be reinforced through modeling et al.

Not trying that experiment with my kids, though.

*the only thing I actually remember from the books: centaurs thing sex is healthy and magic is offensive -- which ended up mirroring my own adolescent thoughts on sex and religion -- and that the protagonist (I forget his name) always struck me as being a clueless kid surrounded by smart and powerful women...which happens to mirror the household I was raised in.

**oh god the chapters about homosexuality and frigidity were so very very very wrong even to my little preadolescent brain that I rejected them outright.

posted by davejay at 3:01 PM on October 18, 2013


Now I just need to work out what to do with the Xanth books that I know will be buried in my shelves, untouched for literally decades, and try and work out what to do with them. I don't throw away / give away books. Ever. This may be a problem.

I feel the same way about the folks wanting to burn them. Any book burning is squicky for me. Instead, throw 'em in the recycler. Maybe some good will come out of them. Or they'll wind up as post-consumer fibers in somebody's two-ply Charmin.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:10 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Anybody want to add anything about Robert Heinlein?

Just that my youthful enthusiasm for him (as well as reading anything of his) ended the day I was reading Stranger in a Strange Land and a female character says that 90% of rapes are at least partly the woman's fault.

Later, Bob.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:12 PM on October 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


The connecting thread here seems to be: Never trust any author whose covers were illustrated by Michael Whelan.
posted by mittens at 3:35 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've never heard of this author or series. Did he ever have any semi-mainstream popularity? Am I just of the wrong age or region to have encountered this?

I only ask because so many MeFites clearly have some relationship with it, and it's strange that I don't ever recall this being mentioned before.

Also, it sounds awful. Not in the quality of literature sense, but in the actual harm to society sense.
posted by graphnerd at 3:38 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The connecting thread here seems to be: Never trust any author whose covers were illustrated by Michael Whelan.

But his covers are so pretty! The White Dragon is pretty much the perfectest book cover EVER.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:47 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've never heard of this author or series. Did he ever have any semi-mainstream popularity? Am I just of the wrong age or region to have encountered this?

He was pretty ubiquitous on the fantasy and science fiction shelves in the mid-to-late 1980s in North America.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:49 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I honestly can't remember how I started reading his books. It might have just been because they were do omnipresent in the SF sections of used bookstores - in retrospect, there's a reason for that.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:51 PM on October 18, 2013


The connecting thread here seems to be: Never trust any author whose covers were illustrated by Michael Whelan.

I think you mean Darrell K. Sweet, but he illustrated the covers of a lot books, some of them worth reading. Later printings of many of the Heinlein juveniles, for example, and some of Alan Dean Foster's Flinx-and-Pip novels that are (I know, I know) close to my heart.
posted by The Tensor at 3:52 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've never heard of this author or series. Did he ever have any semi-mainstream popularity? Am I just of the wrong age or region to have encountered this?

He reports having twenty-one New York Times best sellers. Not sure which ones, though.

But his covers are so pretty! The White Dragon is pretty much the perfectest book cover EVER.

Definitely a draw when I started reading. The Xanth franchise had an excellent cover artist. (Artists?) Some recent ones, though...
posted by Going To Maine at 3:53 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


graphnerd: "Also, it sounds awful. Not in the quality of literature sense, but in the actual harm to society sense."

I'm not kidding when I say that a frequent thought reading this thread is being impressed that some of you read some of this shit at a young age and seemed to have turned out not only okay but pretty spectacular. Because jeez.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:56 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh god, I just remembered *another* horrifying aspect of And Eternity. There's a scene where a female character gets magically transformed into a man and, as a natural consequence, is immediately overpowered by the urge to rape her nearby friend and is barely prevented from doing so. After she's turned back she and her friend agree that men have desires completely unlike women and until now they didn't understand just how much self control it takes for men not to rape every time they get horny. This is an actual thing that actually happens in this awful, awful book.

I think I was happier not remembering that bit.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 3:59 PM on October 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


I remember nothing about Piers Anthony's Xanth books other than the puns, but perhaps that is because I think I read Anne Bishop's Black Jewels series shortly after, and whatever skeeviness was present in the Anthony was swiftly overpowered by my reaction of horrified interest in the bizarro sexual politics of the Black Jewels trilogy. So much rape and abuse and cock rings and I don't even know what all. Grade A, id vortex crazy that series is. I think I read both series at age 14 or so.

Having gone back and read Tamora Pierce's books, I was dismayed to see the pattern of older mentor dude/younger female student had turned creepy as I got older. The romances in her Circle of Magic series, such as they are, are still great though!
posted by yasaman at 4:01 PM on October 18, 2013


The Tensor: I think you mean Darrell K. Sweet

I think Sweet did the Xanth books, but I was talking about this guy, who did covers for Heinlein, Anthony (maybe just the Incarnations of Immortality series?), and McCaffrey.

Oh, and Stephen King. And HP Lovecraft (the good ones Del Rey put out). And and and.

(And, PhoB, I agree! I actually bought a wall calendar of his stuff when I was a wee teen, because it was the only way I knew to get big versions of his work! I swoooooned at his people and his worlds, they were so much prettier and less sweaty than most of the covers you'd see.)
posted by mittens at 4:12 PM on October 18, 2013


To be fair, Piers Anthony did write Prostho Plus, so he can't be all bad. Right? Right??
posted by Literaryhero at 4:13 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not kidding when I say that a frequent thought reading this thread is being impressed that some of you read some of this shit at a young age and seemed to have turned out not only okay but pretty spectacular. Because jeez.

Well, that's the thing. When you give lit with questionable characteristics like that to impressionable kids, they don't notice that it's abhorrent in its messaging. They internalize it as normal. It's like, I thought I was a feminist at 16 but I loved Bender from The Breakfast Club. Rewatched it this month and was like, "Holy crap, he acts like a verbally abusive rapist." Of course, a lot of it exists on a spectrum. I knew something was wonky with Anthony's panty fetish as a young teenager, and thought McCaffrey's feelings on sexuality were kind of gross but also remember finding one of the sex scenes (in one of the Menolly books, I think?) kind of titillating and not recognizing it as problematic. Some teenagers recognize that Bella and Edward's relationship is icky; some think it's hot. It depends on how much feminism they're exposed to. And that they think it's hot at 12 doesn't mean they'll hold that to be true forever.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:16 PM on October 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


To be fair, Piers Anthony did write Prostho Plus, so he can't be all bad. Right? Right??

Piers Anthony is not all bad. If you are looking for convincing, the This American Life episode about the boy who ran off to live with him is a good place to start. Anthony is someone who seems to have some decidedly retrograde sensibilities about women (& has, it seemed, become so open-minded about child sex that his brain has fallen out), but he is also someone who would seem to love his family and his fans, and also went through his own period of feeling like a misfit and eventually finding a thing that he has done well. His email to Snorkmaiden sounds flip, but is also honest. He corresponds with his readers, and cares about their thoughts, and you can regard his use of reader suggestions as either very tacky or an understood part of that relationship - as part of the created fun of the series.

In other words, he's certainly a person who is a mix of good and bad and strange sentiments, and they have all used out in his writing. Many folks concerned about how women are represented in fiction -including his former readers- have grown to think about those sentiments quite differently and now find them quite unpalatable.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:28 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Something that still grosses me out is the reptile-human sex of Harry Harrison's West of Eden.

I thought you were going to say Majipoor Chronicles, though I don't remember that as conceptually gross. (I'm afraid to find out how Silverberg's Lord Valentine stands up. I want to keep remembering it well.) But yes, also, West of Eden, and the way the sexual relationship between the reptile scientist and the feral human somehow managed to evoke both bestiality and pedophilia. I didn't keep reading to find out where it went from there.

Pratchett on the other hand is genuinely hilarious, full of cutting satirical insights, often explicitly feminist, and only gets better as one grows up.

I feel like the only one in the world who doesn't like Pratchett. When I've tried to read his books, I've barely been able to finish them because they are so dull. His books have left no mark on my imagination. I don't know what it is, maybe there is too much telling per ounce of showing, maybe I've been the wrong age when I've tried them. Speaking just for myself, his stuff doesn't work as fantasy because it doesn't seem to evoke a sense of wonder, but it's not clever/funny enough to be satire, and it's definitely not absurd/wild/brilliant enough to do both like Douglas Adams. Discworld seems unsatisfying to me from any angle.

Am I the only one whose "Oh god this is so horrible" came not from Xanth or Apprentice, but from the Bio of a Space Tyrant books?

Me too, though a friend and I kept reading those just to talk about how awful they were. We called them "Blo(w) of a Space Tyrant". When I was reading the Xanth books I think all I cared about was how the magic talents would get used, and how some obstacles might be overcome. I don't even remember the parts some people are describing and I'm horrified: omg I read that?!

I was trying to piece together the timeline of when I read them, feeling bad about liking Xanth at one time and just ~3 years later disgusted by Piers Anthony, but then I remembered those three years were going from being 12 to being 15 and I don't feel so dumb about it now.
posted by bleep-blop at 4:33 PM on October 18, 2013


This conversation did remind me that I enjoyed this book as a teenager, which Anthony finished after a deceased fan's family contacted him with the boy's incomplete manuscript. Wonder if there was any Weird in it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:35 PM on October 18, 2013


I too wrote to Piers Anthony and he not only wrote back, he sent me a photo of himself sitting at his new word processor, and a dot matrix printout of a list of other authors I might enjoy (complete with trackfeed holes on the side). I'm thinking David Eddings was on the list.

The Bio of a Space Tyrant, meh, I didn't like those. I also remember the Tarot series. But eventually, I couldn't follow his books anymore and moved on. Same with Anne McCaffrey. As I recall, MZB had some weird sex scenes in a lot of her books as well. Couched in myth, of course. Same as the movie Excalibur. It was a weird time.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:47 PM on October 18, 2013


I must make note that I was using OneSwellFoop as a blog title for two years before he published "Swell Foop". (The original site is mostly lost to the Internet Memory Hole except for some mostly 'gag pages' saved by Archive.Org) It didn't help that I read it while recovering from a near-fatal infection. I seriously considered suing for a combination of copyright infringement and emotional distress, but my lawyer Saul advised against it. But having been a proud punster for most of my adult life (and less proud but still punning as a child), I had long before tried one of his Xanth books and found it wanting. Puns are wonderful as a kind of literary seasoning, but using them for the foundation of a mythical universe did not work for me.

Decades earlier, I did enjoy "Prostho Plus", actually finding its orthodontic technical detail helpful when I suffered a later dental crisis, especially when dealing with a dental professional who resembled a Vorlon.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:29 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's the only Piers Anthony book I've read PhoBWan and I too wonder. I read it as a kid. I don't remember anything creepy.
posted by Danila at 5:29 PM on October 18, 2013


It's about time someone looked into this....
posted by eggtooth at 5:37 PM on October 18, 2013


I was a reading kid. I read and loved lots of classics and excellent literature, even as a pre-teen. But these books - Xanth, "Crystal Singer," the Pern series, even "Lord Valentine's Castle" - were read to shreds by my youthful self. Spines broken, pages falling out, edges soft. Those were the books I spent my babysitting money on - I'd ride my bike down to the B. Dalton after swim practice. I read "Night Mare" first, and loved the puns (but I too stopped at "Crewel Lye," even then I was aware that the whole concept jumped the shark after "Ogre, Ogre").

I was NOT AT ALL AWARE OF ANY OF THIS. And I was also reading "Thorn Birds" and "Princess Daisy" and "Shogun" and all the other stuff with all this sex in it, and some/most of it was violent and awful, but those were books about like, actual people-type characters. I remember that. I processed it appropriately (I think) with fascination, disgust, excitement, whatever. But I have ZERO memory of sex or sexual context in the Xanth books or the other sci fi of my youth. I actually remember Xanth being quite silly and innocent. In fact, I have been carting around "Night Mare" and "Chameleon" and a few others for 25+ years, to give to my (no longer hypothetical) child, along with my Nancy Drews and Louisa May Alcotts.

Tomorrow, Xanth goes into the bin. If she finds it on her own, fine, but she won't get it from me.
posted by nkknkk at 5:40 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was a reader. I read and loved lots of classics and excellent literature, even as a pre-teen.

This describes me as well. There were shelves outside my bedroom in the hallway. Tennyson, Greek plays, a lot of it was books my Dad had leftover from college. So I picked those up and read them too. I can still quote poems from that period. Or Lysistrata, the Frogs. It was all the same to me, read, read, read.

Then when I got to college, all the reading helped me a lot in English composition. I got accused of plagiarism a couple of times, once in high school and once in college. I was interviewed by teachers and they delved into where I had come up with my characters and how I had written such paper.

I probably wouldn't recommend Xanth to anyone nowadays, but when my daughter started reading Stephen King and then got into Shakespeare after that, hey. I think any kind of reading is good for kids as long as you talk to them about it. My Dad was an English teacher so maybe I am coming from it wrong ways, but I was never told what not to read as a kid. Just "get your head out of that book and do your chores!"

I remember getting up at 11:00 at night and saying, "Dad, I can't sleep! The Exorcist is creeping me out!"

He said, "well, stop reading it then." That was it.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:56 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The thing that bothers me about the Incarnations of Immortality series is that I remember being so amazed at the concept of the gods being jobs that people held, and Piers Anthony handling it all so clunkily.
posted by xingcat at 5:57 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I too missed many of the terrors of Xanth books, but having read way too many of them (6? 8? more?) it didn't take long to come the conclusion that they were all basically the same book. Even if you loved puns and were OK with misogyny, the hack repetition was pretty sad.
posted by GuyZero at 5:58 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


(It does make me wonder if one of the reasons that Ellison has never released The Last Dangerous Visions is that, aside from the fact that the collection could never meet the expectations put on it, it would also lead to people picking up the previous collections, and that those probably haven't aged too well, either.)

Meanwhile, a nation waits breathlessly for the cinematic adaptation of Ching Witch!
posted by mittens at 5:59 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I have ZERO memory of sex or sexual context in the Xanth books or the other sci fi of my youth. I actually remember Xanth being quite silly and innocent.

I think by the standards of 80's scifi, they were. Thankfully times have changed.
posted by GuyZero at 5:59 PM on October 18, 2013


i did read the first tarot book - i can't really say much about it, as i was kind of bored with it and didn't think piers knew all that much about tarot - was never tempted to read more of him and i'm now real glad i didn't

i admire tolkien, but having read lotr i don't know how many times, i guess i can't anymore - what was amazing at age 14 often gets stale

oddly enough, my reaction to this thread has been the thought that i need to revisit one of my teenaged favorite fantasists - phillip k dick
posted by pyramid termite at 6:19 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't even remember any specific Piers Anthony books. Any exposure was apparently brief and unremarkable. How did I manage to blissfully sail right over so much bad writing? I could rant about over-hyped sci-fi/fantasy authors who also write badly and repetitively and who overuse puns and forced humour, but nothing about Piers Anthony comes to mind. Now I hate him on principle. When I was growing up, I always sneered at anything that struck me as stereotypical "fantasy".

I am now questioning the taste of an adult who recommended Piers Anthony to me a few years ago. (This was an older sci-fi geek almost in his fifties, and he was, in fact, genuinely creepy. His excuse for liking YA books seemed to be that he was busy writing his own YA book.) He already struck out with Spider Robinson before I had a chance to move down his list of recommended authors, so that's that.
posted by quiet earth at 6:20 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just did a command-F search for the word "Mode" to see what y'all were saying about that series because when I visit my old bedroom at my parents' house I see those books and have fond memories. I know I stopped reading the Xanth books because I felt like I outgrew them but I have absolutely no idea why I gave up on the Mode series. An interest in punk rock and gonzo journalism and real-life antiheroes? An increased workload with high school? No idea, but probably for the best.

I remember as a hypersexual, very-virginal tween struggling with depression, I'm sure I was drawn to the female protagonist, who was if I recall correctly, a secret-cutter and academic-overachiever who escaped the horrible and routine parts of her regular existence and went on fantastic adventures that also allowed her to explore her budding (ick.) sexuality. Through like math-magic or something. Lots of fractals. I've thought about revisiting the books but ugh, maybe not so much.

At the time it made sense that a middle aged writer would be exploring young sexuality because, hey, I had sexual agency, but it wasn't teenagers who wrote books, it was old people. But the more a middle aged dude goes to that well of teen sexuality, the more suspect that looks. Especially with another decade and then some of experience and hindsight under my belt.

Maybe as bad as the weak gender roles he presented for women was the way he contributed to that male bitterness against women, the "nice guy" syndrome and "friendzone" bullshit where these dudes think that everyone should be throwing themselves at them by the virtue of them being not-cruel, without any sort of honesty or risk on the guy's part. Young, immature wee
-ELR definitely had to have a lot of those poisonous mentalities beaten out of him by the universe.
posted by elr at 6:22 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


one of my teenaged favorite fantasists - phillip k dick

The beauty thing about PKD is you don't have to worry that he didn't write realistic, well-rounded women, because he didn't write realistic, well-rounded characters at all. That's OK, that's not what we read him for, I figure.
posted by hap_hazard at 6:26 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I read about three-quarter's way through the comments, and I believe all the testimony that Anthony's Xanth series are full of inexcusable ideas.

Even so, what I find even more disturbing are all the impassioned calls to burn these books and books like them.
posted by mistersquid at 6:44 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you want a really creepy book, get a hold of The Harrad Experiment.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:51 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I missed all the subtext of the Xanth novels as a young kid as well. Luckily, I don't have them any more so I wasn't tempted to give them to my daughter. We started with Tiffany Aching instead.

I need to re-read Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain again with an eye on misogyny. My memory is that Princess Eilonwy was written as a really smart character that always bucked the story world's expectation of how princesses should behave. On the other hand, the only other female characters I remember are the fairly stereotypical wicked queen, and equally stereotypical witches who live in the swamp. The last time I read The Book of Three, I was surprised to find that I thought Taran was much more of an insufferable twit than I remembered.

I reread them recently (after I'd given them to my daughter...timing!), and really, Eilonwy isn't particularly great as a strong female character, and it's *very* noticeable that she's basically the only main female character. My daughter, who is pretty focused on girls in the books she reads, got a combination of bored and scared. They didn't live up to my memories of them.

(Tamora Pierce, on the other hand, is a big favorite at our house with the 8 year old.)
posted by leahwrenn at 6:53 PM on October 18, 2013


I'm late to this party/pile on, but I recently had a hankering to re-read these books that I had read and enjoyed as a child.

Even without the stuff mentioned above, they are awful. I feel bad that I once liked them, but at the same time, I am heartened that reading such things doesn't necessarily change your world-view, even as an impressionable youngster.
posted by grajohnt at 6:53 PM on October 18, 2013


Jesus, we are taught to hate ourselves early.

Seriously. I can remember, as a thirteen-year-old, examining my inner thighs to make sure they were "succulent," the way Piers Anthony said they should be.

Gross, gross, GAHHHKKK, gross. Gonna go have a shower now.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 6:53 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was dubious of Pratchett for years because I kept being told that Discworld was like Xanth. And I'd figured out by that point that Anthony was kinda creepy and that I didn't want to read things that would remind me of him.

The other thing I remember (possibly not entirely correctly) that nobody's mentioned yet is the bit in one of the Incarnation books (War maybe?) where a performer who ends her act by being swallowed by a giant snake says that she has sex with the main character because having a penis inside you is way less of a big deal than being inside a snake, so she'd feel bad if she turned him down. I'm not sure why that one stood out to me more than all the other wtf moments, but I finished that book, put it down, and never read Anthony again.
posted by Akhu at 6:53 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even so, what I find even more disturbing are all the impassioned calls to burn these books and books like them.

Yes, but we're not burning your books, we're burning our books, which we paid good money for, or would have if we hadn't blown our allowances on Space Ace and Mr. Pibb.
posted by mittens at 6:54 PM on October 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


(Also, since this thread apparently is giving me flashbacks, I'll also say that one fond Anthony memory--that I believe is from Shade of the Tree--which, holy cow, I just got the pun in that title as I typed it out now, and it only took me TWENTY-SIX YEARS--anyway, there's a line where he conjugates a verb in a way that has always stayed with me. It's a sentence like, "What experience he had had had had to have been bad." It remains the only time I have seen that many hads in a row like that.)
posted by mittens at 7:02 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, yes, let me be clear. I believe that all children - including my own - should be able to find Xanth and any/every other book in libraries, bookstores, and e-Reader download sites without censorship or embarrassment (well, maybe a little embarrassment - that was part of the fun of reading outside your age-range).

But to pass a book to your own child and say "Here, I loved this" is a weighty thing.

The list of books that I am eager for her to read is a long one. It is not the weaker for lacking Xanth.
posted by nkknkk at 7:17 PM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


I don't get it

I never read any Piers Anthony, but I certainly read a lot of Heinlein when I was in my late teens. Of course, at the same time I was busily reading everything by Ursula Le Guin (and actually, she was the first fantasy or sci fi author I read) which I like to think of as being like literary oatmeal - good for you, so whatever else you have is mitigated.

I have destroyed only one book, that nasty Not Wanted on the Voyage, because I hated it so much I didn't want anyone else to read it either, and if I owned any of these Anthony books, I'd destroy them too (recycling is fine, as long as you de-compose the books first, for me).
posted by Kaleidoscope at 7:19 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not particularly interested in burning his books but I would be pretty okay if angry weasels savaged his taint every day for 1,000 years.
posted by elizardbits at 7:19 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


for example
posted by elizardbits at 7:19 PM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


My kids were just not interested in Xanth or any similar books, tho'. Maybe it was what I read to them as children or not popular. I would not have told them they can't read it, but it wasn't an issue. I also read the Oz books, Little House on the Prairie (which collection I gave to my niece), and LOTR of course.

I guess that's what I meant when I said it was a weird time, because it really was a weird time. Things like, I was considering joining the Armed Forces and the recruiter said, "well, a lady like you, you'd be sittin' at a desk answering phones!" and sneaking around to get birth control. Being called "brave" for being a single mother. So these books to me were just a sign of the times, and hey, I wrote better SF stories in my high school English class. It wasn't like I lived or died over what Piers Anthony wrote in a book, he was just one of many authors and it was light reading, nothing else. After a while I was like, dude, I don't like what this guy has to say. So I stopped reading him. Pretty simple.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:28 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I should also add that, even though I didn't go through a Piers Anthony phase, I did read several of the Gor books, passed on by a friend who thought they were the absolute shit, and only gradually came to realize that a) this guy John Norman was really stuck on the whole all-women-want-to-be-slaves thing, and b) women didn't actually work that way. (I was 13-14 at the time.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:36 PM on October 18, 2013


I've never even heard of the Gor books before. A quick Google search makes me glad about that.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:41 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess I get nervous when I see people get excited about destroying books.

To my mind, burning books is not so much about opposing a particular set of ideas or values, but more a stance against intellectualism. It's a powerful form of speech and one that historically (in the US) has been used by people who really don't quite believe in the value of freedom of expression.

It would be a sad day for me to see genuine intellectuals actually burning books because the gesture seems, to me, to be about inciting violence first against physical object and, then, against actual persons, though I know (I hope) this is not the case here.

In my opinion, the way to fight ideas is with ideas, as has been done by everyone so far in this thread, and I'm all about that. I LOVE IT.

I just get nervous when I hear "realistic" calls to burn books, regardless of their contents.

I'm an old-school Freedom of Expression guy, which doesn't necessarily mean I won't express nervousness about some forms of expression!

All that said, and to bring it around back to Anthony, I read (I think) the first four of his Incarnations of Immortality series. I stopped with Being a Green Mother because its main message was run-of-the-mill anti-Christian blasphemy which just seemed so uninteresting and unnecessary. I was not and am not particularly Christian, but I remember being turned off by that book.

I am similarly uninterested in extending the reach of writers who revisit issues of pedophilia and rape in a way that fetishizes them, but opposing the themes of such writers with plain-old-fashioned exposition is more to my tastes.

I love me my fellow MeFites, don't get me wrong. I just am not thrilled about (metaphorical or otherwise) calls to destroy physical objects.
posted by mistersquid at 7:45 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


but are you pro or anti weasel
posted by elizardbits at 8:02 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Squick aside, I thought the sdrawkcab sequence in Bearing an Hourglass was pretty cool.
posted by Jpfed at 8:05 PM on October 18, 2013


I think people fetish-ise physical books (and actually now I think of it, I think people fetish-ise physical objects in general. Hordes of people worshipping their stupid furniture or whatever). I'm not talking about beautifully produced books, made from lovely paper, hard bound, hand sewn examples of the bookbinders art, or very old books steeped in history and dust etc; but ordinary books. Rubbishy paperbacks, which new are almost disintegrating. Among my dad's many flaws was this kind of hysteria: no-one could casually dog ear a page without him flipping out and carrying on like some kind of crime had been committed.

The book is just the physical means of transporting the story, with some exceptions. I used to feel very uptight about dog earing pages, but now I just don't care. I even put cups of tea down on books to protect tables! I don't bend books back, because they fall apart if you do that, and I don't really like a lot of notes scribbled into books, but if you want to write your name in the front, or pencil an asterisk next to a favourite passage, WHY NOT.

Destroying a book you find objectionable doesn't stop anyone from expressing themselves, whether you burn it, recycle it or put it in the compost. It is your lump of printed paper, and I think you should do what you want with it. My own personal bookshelves are not a shrine for anyone else's bad writing or shit point of view.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 8:13 PM on October 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


It was Golem in the Gears that introduced me to game theory and the tit for tat strategy (which, oddly enough, Anthony called Nasty or Nice, somehow avoiding any gratuitous boob reference), but otherwise -- yeah.

I remember reading In the Barn from Again, Dangerous Visions, although it took me a while to make the connection to the Xanth guy (I considered throwing the entire book against the wall after I was done, but it was my brother's copy) but I'd forgotten how much praise Ellison bestowed on on Anthony. Ick.

You can read all of In the Barn here, if you like.
posted by maudlin at 8:37 PM on October 18, 2013


My first Xanth was Night Mare, because I was a horse-crazy kid (still am, really) and I enjoyed it enough so I went looking for others. I was definitely in that stage of reading just about everything I could get my hands on, particularly fantasy. The Xanth books were so lightweight that they didn't make much impression at all on me - Night Mare, Golem in the Gears, and Crewel Lye were the only ones I have much of a memory of, although I do think I felt very clever that I tied in Chameleon's changing nature to the moon cycles/menstruation without really thinking any more about what the author might have meant by it.

I loved the first Incarnations of Immortality book and read all the others but remember thinking the series got progressively worse as it went along and I was just reading it because I was enough of a completist to do so. And then I just sort of outgrew Anthony and had no really strong thoughts about him until I picked up the first Mode book just because it was lying around somewhere or was given to me or something...and I was just horrified. I got rid of it and never read him again. It wasn't until the dominos fell later that I was like, "The Color of Her Pan...waitaminute. Ew."

I was pleasantly recalled to my love of the Eddings books, which I found tremendously readable and fun, when I taught a class one semester a couple of years ago and a student was named Cenedra. I asked and indeed, she was named after the books. My best friend and I spent many hours fantasy casting for them, in between writing proto-fanfic for MacGyver and ardently discussing The Phantom of the Opera. Unfortunately they don't seem to be available in Kindle, or I'd already be rereading them in a haze of nostalgia due to this thread. That is not the case with Xanth.
posted by PussKillian at 8:48 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Things I remember about Piers Anthony, having read his Xanth, Adept and Immortality series from about 9 - 13:

I remember that several of his male protagonists would end up with multiple women who were all fine with it, even if they were sharing a body or on some kind of timeshare arrangement. There was a lot of body-sharing in general, actually. Bink marrying a woman who has phases is just the start.

I remember that as an author he got involved with a young girl called Jenny, who was hit by a drunk driver and left in a terrible way, by putting her into his Xanth books as an Elfquest elf, because she loved both of those series. His author's notes around her and her family were quite moving.

I read that wiki entry for the seventh Immortality book and remembered very little of it, but what did stick with me was the idea that God was so absorbed in self-reflection that he wasn't paying attention to earth, which kind of blew my mind in Catholic high school.

Also in Xanth, women's underwear was so important because the sight of it would send men literally reeling. Even as a kid I picked up that his sexual politics were pretty heavily retrograde, even if I definitely glossed over how unpleasant some of his ramifications were. But then, I also remember how many female names would be in the list of pun recommendations he started putting in his Xanth books and that seeming a little odd.

I remember he did something I loved a few times, which was write a book which spent a lot of time showing events from previous books from a different character's perspective. I've always enjoyed that technique, and I remember him as being quite good with it. But then, I remember him as being quite fun as well, and I know he doesn't hold up to adult scrutiny.

I know he's creepy as hell, but I actually managed to pick up a few useful things from his books - even if it's just the meaning of the word 'juxtaposition'. I wouldn't recommend him, but I do appreciate that I read him at an age where most of the grossest stuff went over my head and I could enjoy the story. And I do still have fond memories of the Xanth book where it's alternating chapters of a three year old girl who accidentally goes missing, and her mother who sets out to find her, and during the course of it she figures out just how powerful a magician her daughter is, even at such a young age.
posted by gadge emeritus at 8:57 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've never read any books by Piers Anthony, but it took me about halfway through the thread to realize that I was thinking that everyone was talking about Piers Morgan. This was a cause of great confusion for me.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 9:12 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Am I the only one whose "Oh god this is so horrible" came not from Xanth or Apprentice, but from the Bio of a Space Tyrant books?

No. My response was pretty much the same as Elizardbits' to Xanth. It is one of two books I have thrown across the room in disgust. And someday I will take great delight in burning it.
posted by Mezentian at 9:48 PM on October 18, 2013


Speaking of Heinlein and throwing books across the room... the first time I ever threw a book was after I finished I Will Fear No Evil. That was also the last Heinlein book I ever read.

Pervy old fart.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:10 PM on October 18, 2013


I'm kind of confused. A massive thread about squick in fantasy and sf novels we read as kids, horrified to find out how awful they were later on and nothing about Mercedes Lackey, her Heralds series, and the horrific rape and torture scene in nearly every book? They appear with the regularity that Mel Gibson gets tortured on film. Horrific, graphically detailed descriptions of pretty much any form of violence through sex it's possible to imagine.

That was some fucked up shit.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:14 PM on October 18, 2013


but are you pro or anti weasel

maybe just a little weasel?
posted by zeptoweasel at 11:32 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only book I've ever actually physically thrown across the room in rage was David Lavender's Bent's Fort, but sadly that was far from fantasy, being a history of (surprisingly enough) the Bent brothers, Charles and William, and their eponymous fort. And I didn't throw it so much because I hated the book; it is very well written. I threw it because nobody anywhere should ever have to read an account of the Sand Creek Massacre, because it should never have happened, and it makes me sick and angry to think of it and of the entire legacy it represents. But I guess that's a bit off-topic.
posted by koeselitz at 11:36 PM on October 18, 2013


I'm kind of confused. A massive thread about squick in fantasy and sf novels we read as kids, horrified to find out how awful they were later on and nothing about Mercedes Lackey, her Heralds series, and the horrific rape and torture scene in nearly every book? They appear with the regularity that Mel Gibson gets tortured on film. Horrific, graphically detailed descriptions of pretty much any form of violence through sex it's possible to imagine.

The difference is that rape and torture in Mercedes Lackey novels was seen as bad and even non-con mind rape was a squicky and dangerous thing. I mean, you might argue that the way she fixated on it was oddly titillating or exploitative (I'd say the same thing about Joss Whedon's use of violence against women, say), but it fulfills a really different role than, say, Jaxom "taking" a holder woman in a field and still being a Gary Stu hero.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:51 PM on October 18, 2013


Macroscope seemed to promise so much. But I never read anything by Anthony besides that. Seemingly overnight he became a money making machine of the ugly, dropping down the straight chute to the factory farm of Gor, pun intended. And now I come to find that I never realized how truly awful he became. It's like some sick work of performance art.
posted by y2karl at 11:53 PM on October 18, 2013


To my mind, burning books is not so much about opposing a particular set of ideas or values, but more a stance against intellectualism.

I had similar sentiments, but as costs of reproduction and worldwide distribution have gotten very low (close to zero for e-texts) my book-destruction taboo is weakening. We don't feel guilty about deleting a file from a hard drive, do we?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:10 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Too much historical symbolism to a burning book that a file deletion just doesn't have.

Again: the recycle bin seems the logical place.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:15 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh Xanth. I devoured them between the ages of 10-14. I didn't get any of the really skeevy references (though I thought the panties thing was... weird. Why would glimpsing someone's underwear DO anything?). I'd been a huge fan of the Oz books, and picked up Anthony (right near Baum on the fantasy bookshelves at the library!) when I started feeling a little too old for Oz.

I read the first few Incarnations books, and the Bio of a Space Tyrant series after I'd read all the Xanth the library had. I knew Space Tyrant was messed up, but I'd also discovered Flowers in the Attic (it was passed around amongst the girls in my neighborhood. Probably while discussing which member of Duran Duran would be like, totally the best boyfriend) at the time, so I guess i was in a trashy messed up 80s books phase.

This actually kind of makes me want to pick up a few Xanth books, just to see how much of this crap I missed. I probably shouldn't.

I was also BIG into Pern, and distinctly remember thinking the 'love scene' between F'nor and Brekke was SOOOOOOO romantic.

It's soooooo not. It's really pretty rapey. It bummed me out when I reread it with grown-up eyes.
posted by lovecrafty at 12:34 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


it fulfills a really different role than, say, Jaxom "taking" a holder woman in a field and still being a Gary Stu hero.

Didn't a dragon read that woman's mind and reassure us that she had consented? That's how she tried to make us think it was okay, right? (Obviously, that's a sick scenario. Consent should be explicit and unambiguous.)
posted by Area Man at 12:53 AM on October 19, 2013


Could be worse, I guess. Could be John C. Wright.

Oh, ugh ugh. His "Orphans of Chaos" with all the Hot_Teen_Spanking_&_Bondage!! stuff was one I vigorously threw against the wall, but not really because it was an ebook. Blech. And that was before his anti-gay, etc., blogging stuff.

On the bright side, this reminds of the "88 Lines About 44 Fantasists" mefi crowdsourced riff that happened a couple of years ago in an Orson Scott Card thread, starting here, inspired by this, mostly summed up here, and preserved (with alt lyrics) over here.
posted by taz at 1:51 AM on October 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


I doubt there's a single person out there who a) read a lot of fantasy and SF from a young age and b) has a progressive view of social issues (or however you want to phrase that,) and hasn't had to do a whole lot of disavowing of previously-enjoyed things.

Jo Walton has a phrase for that: the suck fairy and its siblings, the racism and sexism fairies, who visit books you liked as a child or teenager and inserted all sorts of awful stuff in them.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:03 AM on October 19, 2013 [19 favorites]


The conversation has veered on, but I must say Pratchett has plenty of gender stereotypes in his books, presented with nary a hint of awareness or irony in sight. It's nowhere near Piers Anthony levels, of course. But take Snuff for example. It contains an endless number of "jokes" about how the natural state of a married man is to be a henpecked husband, and that married women get everything they want by passive-aggressive manipulation. And most men blush and bluster the moment there is a curve in sight. Or stuff like "When a woman has huge boobs, they don't need to find a husband, the husband finds them. It's natural."
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:11 AM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


discussing which member of Duran Duran would be like, totally the best boyfriend

It was Nick, right? Yeah, it was Nick.

(throws seven and the ragged tiger into the increasingly large bonfire in the living room)
posted by mittens at 6:20 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's also this thread (heh) in McCaffrey's books where an underaged/barely legal girl is selected for specialness by an older man who also becomes her lover. You find this both in Pern & The Crystal Singer.

I always read the Killashandra character as being in her early twenties? When the first book starts, she is about to graduate what seems to be the equivalent of University. Hardly underaged.
posted by Catch at 6:41 AM on October 19, 2013


PhoBWan, it was very, very explicitly non consensual. The problem was, for me, that it was in every single book, each time worse than the time before. I still recall the graphic descriptions of that shit. It was nigh-on fetishistic, and really, really didn't need to be as creatively described as it was.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:44 AM on October 19, 2013


Macroscope seemed to promise so much.

I was surprised when years later I found an old paperback of his called Mute in the attic box of my dad's old SciFi books that was actually pretty good.

Yeah so I read tons of Xanth when I was 12 and because I read that I read other Anthony too, including the books from the '70s I found at used book stores, and here's the thing. If Piers Anthony had stopped writing in, say, 1982, I think he would now being rediscovered as a super-weird forgotten 70s SF writer, with zero prose style but a truly strange and interesting sensibility. Macroscope (1970) was a Hugo nominee. It's been 25 years since I read any of this stuff but my memory is that there's not much perviness or punning in books like Thousandstar, just weird spherical aliens communicating with puffs of gas and dialogue demarcated with exotic typographical symbols and a lot of stuff about auras and battles with the Space Amoeba.
posted by escabeche at 7:31 AM on October 19, 2013


PhoBWan, it was very, very explicitly non consensual. The problem was, for me, that it was in every single book, each time worse than the time before. I still recall the graphic descriptions of that shit. It was nigh-on fetishistic, and really, really didn't need to be as creatively described as it was.

No, you're missing my point. Yes, there is a lot of rape in Lackey. Lackey uses violence against women (and gay men) in pretty much the same way that Joss Whedon does--first, to show that the evil people are really evil; second, to establish trauma in the characters' lives. Rape is a bad thing in her universe. You can contrast this to the use of coerced sex, rape, and sexual violence in the works of people like Anne McCaffrey or John C. Wright, where heroes will rape heroines because all women are just asking for it and really want it even if they say that they don't.

Both uses of literary rape might have aspects that are fetishistic. Generally, I feel that Lackey relies too much on trauma and angst in both character backstory and her plots. But if you ask me, as a feminist and a woman, a depiction of rape which suggests that it's awesome and heroic and the proper way to approach sex (and yet is divorced from consent in the way it would be in the BSDM community) is far more problematic. At least one usage acknowledges that, hey!, maybe rape is wrong.

Lackey even addresses this in her website FAQ:
Q: I was just writing to FAQ why rape plays such a big part of the Valdemar novels. Tarma and Kethry both are raped as is Vanyel and one ofthe characters out of Winds of Fury. Plus all the women who are mindcontrolled in the Gryphon's series.
Do you find that it helps character growth or does it just add to thestory line. I only ask because it was difficult for me to read thoseparts of the novels simply because it was the act of rape.

Hope to hear a reply

A: I've written over 50 books with roughly 200 significant characters in them.Given that, the occurrance of rape in them is considerably below the statistical average for a modern, civilized country. In the usual feudal/medieval culture the occurrance of rape is much higher than that;especially during war or the subjegation of a country or people.
My feeling on Lackey is pretty close to this. Both McCaffrey and Lackey were "fair for their time," but Lackey's approach has aged far better--she was always making great strides toward progressivism and, for the 80s and 90s, her books were not just inclusive but exceedingly liberal. Does she fail in some ways? Sure, but she's still better in terms of inclusive character depictions, diversity, consent (contrast Talia's relationships with those of the average fantasy heroine) than many authors including some which are currently celebrated, like GRRM.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:52 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lackey's approach has aged far better

This is true, and I'd rather give a Lackey book to my tweenaged niece than Piers Anthony by a long shot. But I read one of her new books (a trio of novellas, one of which was set in the Diana Tregarde series, which I loved as a college student), and wow her writing doesn't hold up. I don't think of myself as that picky, but apparently I am. I was wincing and fighting the urge to get out the red pencil the whole way through.
posted by immlass at 8:27 AM on October 19, 2013


I appreciate that Lackey is probably generally morally on the right side (to be clear, I have never read her work) but I have to say that I get (what I understand to be) Ghidorah's gut-felt sense of the difficulty of reading stuff like that. I mean - personally, for me, I remember encountering the idea of child rape depicted vividly and viscerally for the first time in my early teens when I was reading YA novels. And I remember it bothering me and squicking me out for a long time.

I think one of the things that comes with age is an appreciation that these kinds of reactions are often just unique to the individual. I was maybe not ready for that stuff then. But plenty of other kids my age and even younger were ready - and for them, it is much, much better that they have someone more progressive and thoughtful like Lackey to read (going by PhoBWanKenobi's description, anyway) than someone awful and somewhat off like Piers Anthony or Anne McCaffrey.

But in the mean time, I totally appreciate that to a kid who's not ready there's not a huge difference between these things. They're all just tough to read and full of gross, scary stuff.
posted by koeselitz at 8:28 AM on October 19, 2013


But I read one of her new books (a trio of novellas, one of which was set in the Diana Tregarde series, which I loved as a college student), and wow her writing doesn't hold up. I don't think of myself as that picky, but apparently I am. I was wincing and fighting the urge to get out the red pencil the whole way through.

Heh, yeah, I've read the first of her newest Valdemar trilogy and it was so ridiculous and formulaic. Comforting, in a way, though. I do think there's this oddly Randian thread to both her books and McCaffrey's, where they're all about reassuring teenagers of their exceptionalism and watching them triumph over the plebes and anyone who stands in their way deserves to get squashed. But nerdy kids sometimes need that in a way that grown-ups don't.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:30 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read a lot of Anthony as a kid: Xanth, Apprentice Adept, Incarnations of Immorality, Mode, Macroscope and maybe Kilobyte. I stopped reading Xanth because it became boring and repetitive not, alas, because I realized how skeevy it was. I didn't twig on the skeeviness of his work was until the third book of Mode. With being gang raped, having major depression and really neglectful parents, Coleen needed a crapload of therapy, and not getting married to and running off with a old thirty year old man.

The one good thing I remember about his books is from the Apprentice Adept series. In one those books, he had a lesbian werewolf character, which is pretty rare now, let alone in the nineties.
posted by nooneyouknow at 8:41 AM on October 19, 2013


Oh god the Mode series. Why did I ever.
posted by elizardbits at 8:59 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, this far without discussion of the horribly racist Race Against Time which is essentially a screed against miscegenation by the end. Where people go by "stan", short for standard because their races have been entirely mixed and they are keeping a breeding pair of white kids, black kids, asian kids, etc. to help recreate races. Where the white kids are brought up in a fake suburbia, but the black kids are brought up in a fake African bush and the black girl initially walks around naked because that's her culture.

To my eternal shame, I gave this to my dad to read when I was 10. I still feel slightly dirty when I think about it. He read crap, sure, but he did not read racist crap as far as I knew. And this is a book where the white boy (the protagonist, of course) in the end realizes that even though he's into the black girl, he will end up with the white girl to ensure that the races are recreated.

Excuse me, going to go throw up now.
posted by Hactar at 9:24 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was a little bit embarrassed when I realized I read 9 books of this stuff before I chucked it (and did so only because devoting a big chunk of book to setting up some dumb pun a reader sent in was grating on me, also because the plots were all the same.)

I was a lot more embarrassed when I realized I would have been 18 at the time.
posted by Legomancer at 9:31 AM on October 19, 2013


I forgot to add: later my dad sent Firefly to Anthony with a note about how disgusted he was by the book. He received a letter back saying this was the first time someone had returned a book to him with a note.
posted by Hactar at 9:43 AM on October 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I guess usually people didn't think to include a note.
posted by koeselitz at 10:35 AM on October 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I must say Pratchett has plenty of gender stereotypes in his books, presented with nary a hint of awareness or irony in sight.

I find this strange because absolutely everything in Pratchett has at least a hint of irony in sight.

Pratchett's female characters are always represented as human beings with their own goals and desires, and for the most part they actively, adventurously pursue what they want. They have an extremely wide range of body types and careers. Sexual relationships are always grounded in enthusiastic mutual consent. Quite a few of his books have female protagonists and some are explicitly built around feminist themes. (Monstrous Regiment is my favorite in that category)

I don't mean to make Pratchett out to be a saint, but he's one of the good ones. Seeing him compared to Anthony makes me want to go spare.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:06 AM on October 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Errant: "That honor goes to Faith of the Fallen, aka Atlas Shrugged but with magic and swords and stuff except none of that's really in there but it's kind of around or whatever."

And a statue. How can you forget the statue in a book where the hero goes off and carves a statue at his enemy.
posted by Auz at 11:19 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books are great, as is the rest of his work, but they have plenty of sexual references, as well as a horrible sub-plot about an underage girl who loses the baby she was carrying after being beaten by her father. Oh, and a brief discussion of Witches' Passionate Parts. What I'm trying to say is, expect your readers to have plenty of questions or to be walking around with thoughtful looks on their faces.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:02 PM on October 19, 2013


Usonian wrote: I need to re-read Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain again with an eye on misogyny. My memory is that Princess Eilonwy was written as a really smart character that always bucked the story world's expectation of how princesses should behave.

Ye-es. She's a bit of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but the fact that she refuses to conform is a big part of her character: as a princess she "ought" to be passive, not riding around and fighting. I think it would be unfair to judge these stories solely by the quality of the female characters, but it's worth noting that there are only a few significant women, and every single one of them is magical. Oh, and hover over this for a problematic spoiler.

They're good books, though.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:26 PM on October 19, 2013


Firefly is literally the worst book on the planet. Worse than a copy of Mein Kampf with a booger on each page.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:47 PM on October 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Even Firefly might still be better than the Rama books coauthored with Gentry Lee. *shudder*
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:25 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've never even heard of the Gor books before. A quick Google search makes me glad about that.

You've missed out on Gorean subculture? I'm sorry. You may enjoy this.

I tend to be pretty anti-book burning, but I have some books that I paid for (like Bio of a Space Tyrant) that I can't sell, can't give away, and I would derive some pleasure from burning it.

And thanks to this thread I have discovered I have In The Barn to look forward too.

(I read Chronicles of Prydain a few years ago - basically for the first time - and I think they hold up to a critical, cynical adult eye, certainly more than a lot of things.)

Even Firefly might still be better than the Rama books coauthored with Gentry Lee. *shudder*

Oh, come on. That's a bit far. The last two Rama books aren't that bad.

Now, has anyone put out The Illustrated Firefly yet? Could be publishing gold!
posted by Mezentian at 7:39 PM on October 19, 2013


I tend to be pretty anti-book burning, but I have some books that I paid for (like Bio of a Space Tyrant) that I can't sell, can't give away, and I would derive some pleasure from burning it.

Rip along spine in groups of 10-30 pages, deposit in papers recyclable bin. Or so I've heard.
posted by tilde at 7:52 PM on October 19, 2013


See, if you recycle them, then the wood pulp does some good, like maybe becoming a toilet roll or paper towel. So, recycling can make horrible books useful again. For wiping your ass with.
posted by emjaybee at 8:08 PM on October 19, 2013


Paperbacks can just go straight in the recycling bin. Or so my city's website tells me. Hardcovers should be donated or turned into booksafes or other crafty stuff.
posted by lovecrafty at 8:09 PM on October 19, 2013


There's a Something Awful thread on this topic that's been going for a bit.
Piers Anthony is horrible because people who read his books grow up to be goons.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:04 PM on October 19, 2013


Hardcovers should be donated or turned into booksafes

Donated? Someeone might read the sister-rape-comfort stuff.

See, I would do that booksafe thing, but then it would be on my shelf.
And I am reminded of the John Waters quote: "If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't fuck 'em".

And, it could happen. I could bring someone home, and they might be impressed by my library, but at some point there would be downtime, and they would cast an eye over my books - a critical eye - and they would see a lone copy of Bio Of A Space Tyrant nestled next to that LRH book I have (one of his westerns), and that would be a mood killer. And quite rightly.

And, it's worse. In looking for said offending item I discovered I own a copy (ex-Library) of Being A Green Mother. I like to think I saved multiple children from reading that, whatever horrors are contained within.
posted by Mezentian at 4:57 AM on October 20, 2013


> Piers Anthony is horrible because people who read his books grow up to be goons.

Except for the sizeable number of commenters in this very thread who self-admittedly smoked up some Xanth back in the day but didn't inhale.
posted by jfuller at 11:14 AM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Read 7 or 8 non-consecutive Xanth books as an older kid/tween just getting into fantasy and SF. My friend actually put me onto them because of the perviness (we could not easily get hold of Playboy as 4th graders), and for the longest time I felt as though I was getting away with something bringing them into the house. I actually dropped them for the dumb puns long before I might've sensed anything else amiss, but that was largely because I'd graduated to real SF like... Anne McCaffrey and Robert Heinlein.
Suffice to say, I quickly came to believe that the entire genre was, at best, thinly disguised porn.
posted by Rustmouth Snakedrill at 11:29 AM on October 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


Hmm. For some reason, I'd thought I'd read a lot of Xanth books before giving up on them as a waste of time. Turns out I'd only read up to #6 or maybe #7 (Night Mare, which I remember reading, or possibly Dragon on a Pedestal, which I'm less sure about but the plot sounds vaguely familiar.) I know I stopped before Crewel Lye, which is #8. Given that there are are now apparently THIRTY-SEVEN of the things (with two more on the way shortly), I guess I didn't last that long at all.

Since I was reading them when they were coming out, it looks like I lost interest in 1983, when I was 11 years old. I gave up on Apprentice Adept at the same time -- I read the first three, then none after that.

I did, however, read the first three Incarnations of Immortality books before giving up on Anthony altogether, which means I read my last Piers Anthony book in 1985, when I was 13.

Yeah, that sounds about right for when I started developing, I don't know, taste. Remembering this kind of thing about myself is why I'm no longer fussed about tweens liking Twilight. Kids read all kinds of crap. I certainly did.
posted by kyrademon at 12:11 PM on October 20, 2013 [3 favorites]



Wow, this far without discussion of the horribly racist Race Against Time which is essentially a screed against miscegenation by the end. Where people go by "stan", short for standard because their races have been entirely mixed and they are keeping a breeding pair of white kids, black kids, asian kids, etc. to help recreate races.


Ok, I had a moment of panic that one of my favorite book series' as a kid was somehow something terrible that I completely missed, but phew. The Race Against Time books I remember (written by J.J. Fortune!!!) were ersatz James Bond stuff where a secret agent uncle was always coming over to babysit his nephew and whoops, an adventure broke out and the two would have to go jauntering around the globe being secret agents with their high tech watches and get back before the parents got home. I am deeply relieved.
posted by PussKillian at 4:18 PM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I started reading Piers Anthony as a pre-teen, and I just remember the creeping horror I felt, as I gradually got the sense that there was something really wrong with how Piers Anthony was depicting sex with underage girls.

Like, he would depict a girl who had been sexually abused &, and how it was bad, and how she was trying to get over the trauma she had experienced (and was all hopeful about). And at first it seemed ok - depicting a real life thing. But then he'd do it again. And again.
And it happens in a different universe where they make it clear that it's ok, because the statutory laws are younger in this universe. Or they'd change states and get parental permission. Or the girl would have fallen into a magical sleep, so they were still only like, 14 or something, but *legally* they were now 30 or something.
And this continual representation of... like, legal loopholes, to make it 'legally' ok, as if that was what mattered, and the 'ok' type of jailbait relationships frequently contrasted with the 'abuse victims' of really sickening extended torture and sexual abuse, which was meant to implying the former was not like *those* cases, done by really Bad Men (TM).
He's old enough to be her Dad, but she really wants it! (and actually, even then, it often creepily seemed like she just wanted the attention? And I mean, he's the author, and yet he *wrote* it that way?!).
And I'm young, and confused, and wondering if I'm seeing things that aren't there, and if I shouldn't be creeped out, just like you start to worry about some of the adults you are around, and wonder if you are seeing things, but starting to avoid that guy who always wants to act like the 'fun Uncle'.
And the worst bit, the worst bit was that he always had these personal notes at the end of his books, and after one of the portrayals like the very first case, he printed a letter from a sexual abuse survivor, saying it helped them to see themselves. And then as I read more and more, I realised - it's not about her. It's about the underage sex, and fantasising about it anyway you can get it, the ok and not ok ways, or rather, no ok, but the ways you can fake-justify it in a fantasy world he created.
You're a pedophile and you printed a letter from a sexual abuse victim, to legitimise yourself. Not cool.

So yeah. It was this really long journey, but it kind of served me well, in a, spot the predator kind of way. I overlooked it one, twice, but when it's a pattern, over and over and over until you see the things that were there all along, but you didn't notice until it has smacked you in the face (if you're lucky).
posted by Elysum at 6:03 PM on October 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


Paperbacks can just go straight in the recycling bin.

Still fishable and readable. Rip along the spine. Deposit different sections different weeks.
posted by tilde at 6:40 PM on October 20, 2013


Oh, and:
For pre-teens, the book that I think totally rocked my pre-teen jollies in a, omg they're talking about sex kind of way, but doesn't skeeve me out afterwards, was Diane Duane's 'Door into x' trilogy.
I mean, it's kind of ridiculous, and the universe is a bit odd, but she's deliberately set out to be really sex positive and consensual (the oddness is that possibly everybody is bi, or poly etc etc).

The two main characters in the first book are the first-boy-with-magic in ages sorcerer, and the rightful-heir prince, and they're gay, and boyfriends, and have been since they got together as young teenagers (which again, adorably depicted nervousness of really really liking your friend, and yes, teenagers have sex), and nothing bad or tragic happens to them because they are gay (sorry, but screw you Mercedes Lackey), but neither are they super romantic, actually, one of them is actually a bit fail as a boyfriend (partly because he thinks he should be a romantic-style robin hood type character, and actually he needs to grow up, and that's explicit), and the realism was a much, much better thing

There are so many examples of awesome breaking of gendernorms. My favorite was the intro to each chapter which would be excerpts from historical, religious, and fairy tale texts, from that universe.

There *is* the depiction of the aftermath of a rape, and it was really, definitely super-creepy and tough (but exactly the kind of thing that WAS fascinating as an early teen), but it's about the aftermath, and how they get their feelings of sexuality and masturbation mixed up with this deep shame, and it is legitimately their heroes journey of reclaiming that, and incidentally becoming a badass, so suck on that.

Is it flawed? Of course. But heaps of it was a good counterpoint to... the rest of everything. Ever. And had some really good messages about love and consent and responsibility.
But, it's basically got to get you as a pre-teen/teen, because the adults I know who read it just shrugged, and then nostalgically remembered much more crap things, and figured they'd mostly missed the window of opportunity.
posted by Elysum at 7:03 PM on October 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Piers Anthony is horrible because people who read his books grow up to be goons.

I'm getting this vague impression that you don't like SA very much
posted by en forme de poire at 11:59 PM on October 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


to be fair
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:41 AM on October 21, 2013


I think a big part of Piers Anthony's continued popularity is the fact that his views on sexuality are on roughly the same plane as that of many 12-year-olds. However, even as immature as those 12-year-olds are, those 12-year-olds know that they are reading a fantasy book, whereas Piers Anthony really does more or less think that way about things.

For example, when I read A Spell for Chameleon as a kid, I didn't for a second think that Chameleon's talent was anything like a real-life menstrual cycle, even though it was obviously meant to be a fantastical extrapolation of that. I had actually met girls and women before, so I knew that bore no relation to reality. It didn't really occur to me at the time how it was weird that Chameleon's talent basically existed only to be appreciated by men who observe her, and who presumably want to hump her.

It wouldn't be until later that I'd realize how messed up that was. It's easy to say "because maturity" and leave it at that. To be more detailed about it, the big thing is that 12-year-old boys don't really have a good sense of how they're developing as sexual beings, let alone everybody else. I think many young boys struggle with the idea that there are some people whom they find innately "hot", but that those people aren't necessarily the same as the people who actually share their interests and are also their friends. This is going to seem especially true to many young geeky boys.

So, the immature conclusion, especially as guided by sexism when one is attracted to girls, is going to be that you are always going to have to compromise on physical attractiveness versus "smarts", with the latter quality almost always really being "how much I actually relate to this person".

People (usually) grow out of this, but at age 12? Pretty normal state of affairs. So, it makes sense that the Xanth books are attractive and not yet offensive to boys that young.

I'm not saying that A Spell for Chameleon is good, because it's not, both as a crummy book and as a sexist book, but it is worth pointing out that even the offensive stuff really does serve a purpose for its young readers, and not in a pornographic way.

I can't speak to how girl fans of Xanth related to those books, so I won't!

...

There's nothing wrong with 12-year-olds being attracted to other people around their own age. So, a kid isn't going to find it all that weird that there are coy sexytime references in that vein, at that maturity level, whether the characters are literally 12, or whether they're nominally adult characters who really have the maturity of 12-year-olds.

Nor is there anything inherently wrong with an adult author playing with these concepts! There is nothing inherently wrong with writing a book for kids, where sex and attraction come up at an age-appropriate level.

Where it gets creepy is the fact that Piers Anthony's work, taken as a whole, paints a picture of an author who seems about as into 12-year-olds as the average 12-year-old, with the added sophistication and good taste of the kid on the playground who reads Barely Legal like it was the Whole Earth Catalog.

This is the kind of stuff you're not going to pick up on until you're older, and probably not until after you've taken his work as a whole, unless you're that special kind of 12-year-old who reads Firefly or Tatham Mound early on.

...

I read Tatham Mound in sixth grade. I remember the honey thing, but I had completely not noticed the girl being 10. So, I didn't give myself the chance to be creeped out by that. Even then, reading it during homeroom, I still thought to myself, "honey could not possibly feel good down there."

...

On the bright side, still in sixth grade, Piers Anthony got me to read Patricia Anthony's Brother Termite, because library, because alphabet. Underrated book - eerie and thoughtful. Apparently, James Cameron and John Sayles had tried to get a movie of it off the ground.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:16 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the bright side, still in sixth grade, Piers Anthony got me to read Patricia Anthony's Brother Termite, because library, because alphabet.

You are not the only one, except for me, it was the similarly eerie and thoughtful Cold Allies. Sadly, she stopped after seven novels, and died in August.

.
posted by Etrigan at 7:26 AM on October 21, 2013


A related-to-this-thread bunch of photoshopped book covers (from 2008).
posted by fings at 11:27 AM on October 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


fings, that had me laughing hard enough to summon co-workers to my office to see what was going on.
posted by nubs at 12:40 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


"maybe just a little weasel?"

No, it's too weaselous.
posted by Eideteker at 1:06 PM on October 21, 2013


By Metafilter's own mightygodking!
posted by Chrysostom at 7:13 PM on October 21, 2013


People with at least an awareness of what Gor is may want to Google "Houseplants of Gor" if the phrase isn't familiar.
posted by uberchet at 5:15 PM on October 23, 2013


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