The Gentleman Bastard novels are a series of three (so far) fantasy novels by Scott Lynch. The setting is fantasy, but magic plays only a small role until the last quarter or so of the first novel.
First, the Good: They’re generally quite good, entertaining novels. The first, The Lies of Locke Lamora, is an excellent novel about a crew of con men. The pacing is zippy, the characterization is good, the worldbuilding is comprehensive without being in-your-face about it, and the dialogue is much more amusing than average. (The language is quite earthy, so readers of a fragile turn of mind should ask a friend to cross out the swears first; this will also halve the book’s length.)
The setting is a fantasy world at around an 18th century level of technology. The first novel is set in Camorr, a typical fantasy city with both gorgeous palaces and feces-clogged gutters, etc. The central character, Locke Lamora, is the best con man in the world. The narrative structure is back-and-forth through time, so we see “the education of the supreme con man” in the flashbacks and another story in the “present day” sections. It’s a romp. The next two novels are also good, though not as good as the first one.
The Bad: The author has unfortunate male feminist notions about chicks. (His Twitter account and web site confirm that his politics swing left.) This didn’t matter in the first novel because Lamora’s love interest is on another continent and we only get like two sentences of backstory about his pathetic obsessive crush the woman. But the third novel, The Republic of Thieves, makes it apparent that the author is a horribly blue-pilled dude who has the most outrageously wussy notions about how to deal with women. This emerges in Republic because Miss Love Interest has a major role, in both current action and flashbacks. A dozen times Locke puts up with crap from this chick, one Sabetha, which would make me put a bullet through her eye. (Note: Not optimal Game either, but at least you wouldn’t have to listen to her bitching.)
As always, I’m going to edit quoted passages for length, cutting dialogue and eliminating most description of scenery. Any page numbers are from the hardcover edition.
Page 10 et seq. Their first meeting is when Locke is like six years old (no one knows his age), living in a school that turns orphans into thieves. Sabetha, an older student there, is assigned to be his minder on a training task and he thinks, basically, “I’m in luuuuuuurv!” But her first words to him are:
“You’re the Lamora boy, right?”
He nodded eagerly.
“Well, look here, you little shit. I’ve heard all about you, so just shut up and keep those reckless hands in your pockets.” (Locke has acquired a reputation for stealing too much, even though it’s a thief school.) “I swear to all the gods, if you give me one hint of trouble, I will heave you off a bridge and it will look like an accident.”
Makes you want to kick her in the pussy. We don’t know Locke’s response, because that’s the end of that scene.
Pages 133-4: At a young age – Locke’s maybe 11, Sabetha 13 – the thief school has sold them both to the same con man. They’re two of five kids this master con man is training. One day he pits Locke and Sabetha against each other in a con artist contest. The loser has to do the winner’s dishes for three days. It ends in a draw. Sabetha, being a howling cunt, is pissed about this:
“You were just sloppy. And I was sloppy to fall for it!”
“No, Sabetha, look,” said Locke. “You weren’t sloppy, you were brilliant, you deserved to win—”
“That’s right,” she said. “But you didn’t lose, so I didn’t win.”
“Look, I concede. I give it to you. I’ll do all your kitchen chores for three days, just like—”
“I don’t want your damned concession! I won’t take your pity as a coin.”
“It’s not pity, honest! I want your chores, it would be a pleasure. It would be my, my privelege.”
GAH! Get some self-respect, you fucking pussy! God, I want to punch him so badly. And don’t tell me his youth is an excuse because I’ve never known any boy who treated a girl like that at any age. WTF?
You might think, from an evo psych perspective, that if another male, a potential competitor for da wymens, is an outrageous wussy, that should make you happy, because it makes you look that much better by comparison. Yet it just fills you with anger. Probably because fighting off rival tribes in the ancestral environment required that the other men in your tribe not be a bunch of fucking pathetic wussies. There are serious negative consequences to other men from those little ratfucks being such invertebrate pussbags.
221: A couple of years later, Locke has just let Sabetha beat him up in a baton training exercise. Later his friend Jean tries to set him straight:
“You’re a real idiot from time to time.”
“What did I do, besides fail to be a master baton duelist?”
“You’d have stood there and let her slap you into paste just for the sake of being in the same room as her. I know it. You know it. She knows it.”
“It’s not endearing, Locke. You don’t court a girl by inviting her to abuse you from sunrise to sunset.”
This is good advice, of course. Unfortunately, Locke’s response to it is to make a wise-ass remark:
“Really? Because that sounds an awful lot like courtship in every story I’ve ever read—”
“It’s not charming or impressive. It just makes you look silly.”
Locke makes three mistakes here. One is having One-itis in the first place. This is the most forgivable mistake, since it’s natural for a such a young man. But it’s still a mistake. Two is being a wuss to the girl. Three is trying to learn about how to charm women from fiction. No! You learn about women from interacting with women. There is no other way. The counterintuitive nature of female sexuality is God’s way of telling us, “Be empiricist, bitches!”
If Lynch had made Locke shape up, this could have been a “red pill in fiction” post. Guy does wrong thing, gets bad result; does right thing, gets good result. But Locke continues to be a wuss with this chick but eventually gets between her legs. In isolation, the foregoing excerpt suggests that Lynch has a clue, but it’s undercut by the rest of the novel.
Pages 231-4: The gang now consists of one leader and five teenagers; Locke, Jean, Sabetha and a pair of identical twins, the Sanza brothers. Their mentor is sending all five of them out of town for a while; to improve their con artistry they’re going to be actors for a summer. This scene takes place the evening before they start their ten-day voyage to the theater. Locke is still smitten with this obnoxious twat. He is going to buy dinner for the gang. He says to Sabetha,
“You want to come with?”
“You need me to?”
“Well…I’d like you to.”
She stared at him for a few seconds, during which Locke experienced the curious sensation of his heart apparently sinking several inches deeper into his chest. [Wussy. But okay, that’s adult me talking. This kid is like 16 so we’ll cut him some slack. He hasn’t been hardened by experience with women the way older males have been.] Then she shrugged.
(They start walking.)
“I was, ah, hoping I could talk to you,” he said.
“Easily done,” said Sabetha. “Open your mouth and let words come out.”
“I– Look, can you not…can you please not be glib with me?”
“Requesting miracles now, are we?” Sabetha kicked a stone. “Look, I’m sorry. Contemplating ten days stuck together on the road. The whole thing has me feeling like a hedgehog, rolled up with my spikes out.”
“Oh, a hedgehog is the last thing I would ever compare you to,” Locke said with a laugh.
“Interesting,” said Sabetha, “that I mention my own feelings, and you seem to think that what I’m after is reassurance concerning your perceptions.”
What a cunt. The gentlest response this merits is “What the fuck are you talking about?” Or if you’re just sick of this crap, which I would be, “Look, just don’t talk to me any more except as necessary for our business.” If you want to game her (why would you? There are plenty of other vaginas in the world), then “Are you always such a drama queen?” would do it. (Or whatever is this fictional universe’s equivalent of “drama queen.”) That would prompt a shit test, of course, which you’d pass, because you’re Game enough to be expecting it, right?
“You know,” said Locke, feeling his hands shake nervously with what he was about to put into the open, “you know that when I’m around you I find it very easy to shove my foot into my mouth.”
“Mmmmm,” she said.
“More than that. You make use of the advantage.”
“I do.” She looked at him strangely. “You fancy me.”
“When you aren’t acting like a wanker,” he should say, but doesn’t. Or: “Actually, I haven’t made up my mind about you yet.” He actually says,
“That… that is… really… not how I would have…”
“Not as grand in plain speech as it is up here?” She tapped her forehead.
“Sabetha, I… I value your good opinion more than anything else in the world.” GAAAAAHH!!! NO! Never mind effective charming of women, get some fucking balls! He continues, “There’s this fog between us. I don’t know what I did to put it there, but I would throw myself under a cart to lift it.”
You damned pussy! Just throw yourself under a cart already!
Isn’t this painful to read?
Sabetha: “Why do you assume it’s something you’ve done?” This is the first non-annoying thing she’s said. Don’t worry, though; she quickly adds more obnoxiousness: “I’m not some arithmetic problem just waiting for you to show your work properly. Did you ever think that I might have warm-blooded motives of my own, being as I’m not an oil painting, or some other decorative object of desire— ”
Ugh. Standard female bullshit. “Don’t put me on a pedestal! You’re putting me on a pedestal because I’m so attractive! You desire me!” She’s trying to define herself as the prize, the person to be pursued, though I suppose that’s water over the dam, since Locke already tipped his hand on that. It’s also like those ugly fatties in “slut walks” who hold up signs saying, “Don’t treat me as a sex object,” LOL, you wish.
Plus the feminist “Don’t pedestalize me” is a way of saying, “If you say nice stuff about me you’re oppressing me!” Of course, they also say, “If you say non-nice stuff about me you’re oppressing me!” Partly this is a shit test, obviously. Partly it’s a woman’s natural reaction of panic to a desperate beta drooling over her. Women’s gut-level reaction to that is “Ick! Beta pregnancy risk! Get away! Get away!” But they feel they can’t say that explicitly, so it comes out in elliptical ways like “Don’t pedastalize me!”
Locke’s response is amusing:
“Do you like me?” Locke blurted. This is bad, of course, since it shows concern for her opinion. But it actually has a couple of redeeming features: At last he’s cutting through the bullshit and getting to the point. He’s also ignoring her frame, just crashing through it and putting the convo into his frame. If he had blurted almost anything else, it would have been half decent. He continues: “At all? Am I at least preferable to an empty room?”
“I do sometimes admire you, if it helps to hear it.”
“It means everything to hear it,” he said. Dork.
Painful though this is, I’ve cut more than half of it. Man! This is like a textbook lesson in what not to do.
Aside from the male feminist wuss notions, there’s also the other problem: The weird notion that relationships should involve a lot of talk about the relationship. Ugh. Only a woman could have thought up such a stupid notion. (Even though women don’t actually like this one tenth as much as they think they will when they’re theorizing about it.) And blue-pilled men like Scott Lynch often fall for it.
In fact, the “meta” stuff in relationships should be rare. Usually conversation in a relationship should involve topics other than the relationship. Indeed, if the conversation doesn’t involve other subjects, then the meta stuff necessarily exhausts itself quickly, because there’s nothing else to talk about. How would a relationship based on meta conversations go, anyway? Typical conversation:
“I love you!”
“Yay, I love you, too! And the fact that you love me makes me feel great!”
“I feel the same way! The fact that you love me makes me feel great!”
“I’m glad that my love for you makes you feel great!”
“And I have the same feeling, but with the roles reversed!”
Okaaaaay… And then?
“I’m really glad that the fact that your love for me makes me feel great, pleases you!”
“Oh, same here! I think. This is getting kinda complicated…”
“Yes, I too feel the challenge of trying to keep track of all the levels! So we have that in common as well!”
If your date conversation goes this self-referential, you are not getting laid, unless you’re dating Kurt Godel or Jacques Derrida.
You know how some people bite off more than they can chew? Well, conversations of this type chew more than they’ve bitten off, if you see what I mean. You have to have some actual substance to feed into the machine so it has something to work with.
Inevitably, the conversations between Locke and Sabetha are horrible, but Lynch actually does pretty well given that he’s writing dialogue subject to this constraint. This whole thing about relationships based on talking about the relationship is a weird piece of idiocy whipped up by old maids who had never had a relationship and were theorizing a priori about such. (That opinion of mine is based on the comprehensive research of vaguely recalling old Ann Landers columns from the 1980s, and suchlike.) The whole thing reeks of forming your opinions about relationships by reading “relationship books.” Gah! No! DON’T do that! If you’re empiricist about only one thing in your entire life, make it male-female interactions.
277-84, Locke puts up with Sabetha’s unprovoked cuntiness on the road to Espara, the place where the theater is. During their voyage they stop for the night at a village on the road. Everyone else has gone off to explore the town so Locke and Sabetha are alone in their camp.
“I, ah, regret not having a chance to speak to you last night,” he said. [They’d had a little mini date of sorts, which she skipped out on. Flaking: Even blue-pilled writers know about it.]
“Oh? Was it any real loss to either of us?”
“Well…damn. You’re obviously in a mood.”
“Am I?” There was danger in her tone. “Am I really? Why should that be exceptional? A boy may be as disagreeable as he pleases, but when a girl refuses to crap sunshine on command the world mutters darkly about her moods.”
BULLSHIT, you fucking cunt! Aargh, I know she’s fictional and this STILL pisses me off! The truth is, women can get away with acting like outrageous bitches, and nothing will happen to them. If a man acts like a tough guy when he’s not, or offends the wrong man, he risks being physically attacked. The crap that women get away with BECAUSE they’re women is unbelievable. And here she is asserting that she’s put upon because she’s a girl. Aargh! Fucking twat! Example: Call a girl a cunt, and it’s “ZOMG! Gendered insults!” But call a man a dick, and no one says anything. Same for bitch/bastard. In other words, people make up reasons to defend you if you’re female, solely because you’re female. That’s privilege, by feminists’ own definition of privilege.
(I don’t care much one way or the other, but let’s be consistent, assholes.)
“If I’m in a mood,” Sabetha said after a moment, “it’s because this journey is unfolding as I had foreseen. Tedium, bumpy roads, and biting insects.”
“Do I count as part of the tedium or one of the biting insects?” [WEAK; shows he cares what she thinks of him.]
“If I didn’t know any better,” she said softly, “I’d swear the sweeper was attempting to be charming.”
Why would that be charming? Whatever. Notice we’ve gone meta again. For her it’s normal, since going meta is one way that chicks have of shit-testing you, trying to disrupt your game to see how solid it is, and trying to throw themselves out of state so they don’t have sex with every guy who has memorized a couple of good lines. But for a man it’s a dangerous trap, and Locke makes the mistake of jumping right into it:
“You might as well assume,” said Locke, “that I’m always attempting to be charming where you’re concerned.” [Weak.]
“Now, that’s risky.” Sabetha rolled sideways and jumped down beside him. “That sort of directness compels a response, but what’s it to be? Do I encourage you in this sort of talk or do I stop you cold?”
More fucking meta stuff! BTW, ladies, don’t do this unless you’re really trying to throw a man’s conversation with you off track. If you’re actually interested in keeping his interest alive, don’t bore him to death like this. At least, I’d be bored. Often, in fiction, TV, and movies, when the chick and a dude are dragging out the run-up to finally hooking up, you’re like, “For fuck’s sake, just hook up already!” It’s bad when you’re like, “For fuck’s sake, just give her a wedgie and move on already!”
A few lines of dialogue later she says,
“Tell me, how do you even know for sure that I don’t fancy girls?”
“I—” Locke was lucky to spit the one syllable out before the power of coherent speech ran up a white flag and deserted him.
“You never even thought about that, did you?” she said, her voice a sly whisper.
Lame. The whole girl-on-girl thing was hot back in the 1990s, when it was new. (New to pop culture, of course; not new in porn.) Now it’s played out. I don’t know the deal in this fictional universe, but plainly we’re supposed to be hot and bothered imagining ULTRA-HOT GIRL-ON-GIRL ACTION!!! Yawn.
After she admits that she is in fact straight, he confesses that he has been in luuuuuurv with her ever since he was like five:
“Sabetha, I don’t remember my own father, and my mother is as much a mystery. But the moments I’ve spent with you, they’re still with me, smoldering like coals. I can touch them and feel the heat.”
Gah, I’m feeling the pain from this cheesiness.
She, reasonably enough, is like, whoa, slow down there, Trigger! She then points out that the situation they’re in, what with all the con artist training, etc., adds too many complications for a relationship to be convenient.
At this point two other gang members, the Sanza twins, return, there’s a little discussion, and then the Sanzas decide to go back into the village and take it for everything it has at cards.
“Hold on,” said Locke. “Since when are you two criminals?”
“Since…” Calo pretended to calculate. “Sometime between first leaving mother and hitting the ground between her legs.”
“I know the Sanzas are as crooked as a snake in a clockwork snake-bending machine,” said Locke, “but the Asino brothers [their fake identity] are actors, not cardsharps.”
He convinces the Sanzas that it’s better to stay honest, and to just go back to the village and rustle up some food. When the Sanzas are gone it’s just Locke and Sabetha again, and…
Locke detected a sudden coolness in her demeanor.
“That right there,” she said, “would be one of the obstacles I mentioned.”
“You really didn’t notice?”
“Notice what? What am I meant to realize?”
“Years ago, said Sabetha, “I was the oldest child in a small gang. I was sent away by my master to train in dancing and manners. When I returned, I found that a younger child had taken my place.”
“Calo and Galdo, who once treated me as a goddess on earth, had transferred their allegiance to the newcomer. In time, he got himself a third ally [Jean].”
And now we see what has been bothering her. This entitlement-mentality little twat thinks she has some sort of right to have everyone else worship her. She actually presumes to be angry and resentful that they don’t! Not only that, but the guy to whom their attentions shifted didn’t even cause this on purpose. He just happens to be the best of them, and in any case, she wasn’t even around for a year. God, this chick! She really does believe that she has the right to be the center of the universe. Ugh.
She says, functioning as a mouthpiece for every annoying feminist ever, “Haven’t you ever noticed that suggestions from me are treated as suggestions, while suggestions from you are taken as sacred warrant? Even if those suggestions are identical?”
First of all, no. This line would at least make sense within-universe if Lynch had actually shown an example of it happening, but he never does. Secondly, even if it is true, Sabetha should take it up with the Sanzas and Jean. Their behavior is not Locke’s responsibility.
In other words, she not only thinks she is divinely appointed to be the Queen of the Galaxy, but she actually expects Locke to enforce her status as Galaxy Queen, because she can’t even be arsed to do it herself! This is entitlement of a mind-bending level that I’ve never encountered before. At least dictators from Napoleon to Lenin to Mao realized they had to fight and win a civil war themselves! They didn’t say to someone else, “Hey, you go fight a civil war and then install me as Dictator.” God! The sheer arrogance of this fucking cunt is unbelievable! She not only thinks she should be Empress of the Universe, she expects other people to appoint her Empress, and she whines that she’s put upon because they don’t!
Hey, you! Neurotoxin here. You’re oppressing me by not ordering everyone to obey me and treat me as God of the Universe! Stop oppressing me right now, and go and tell everyone to worship me and obey my every word!
Alright, this is as much as I can stand for now, and probably as much as you can stand too. To be continued.
Index page for my Red Pill in Fiction posts: