The red pill aspect of this novel lies in main character Sam Spade’s interactions with women.
This is a very good novel, so SERIOUS SPOILER WARNING. In particular, I’m going to be forced to reveal whodunnit about a murder.
Elisions won’t be indicated with ellipses. I’m not omitting anything important.
The setting: San Francisco, late 1920s.
In the first chapter a Miss Wonderly, a gorgeous redhead, comes to the offices of private investigators Sam Spade and Miles Archer. Wonderly is seeking her sister, who fled from New York City to San Francisco with a man named Thursby, whom Wonderly doesn’t trust. She wants to find her sister and bring her back to NYC. She’s found out Thursby’s general whereabouts on her own, and she gives Spade and Archer enough info for Archer to start tailing Thursby that night. The hope is that Thursby will lead Archer to the sister. By the next morning both Archer and Thursby have been shot dead.
Spade and Wonderly are talking in her apartment. “Wonderly” now says her real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy, and admits that she has no sister. She won’t tell Spade anything about why she really wanted Spade and Archer to tail Thursby.
Spade: “Now what are we going to tell the police?”
“Must they know about me at all?” she asked. “I can’t explain now, but can’t you somehow manage so that you can shield me from them, so I won’t have to answer their questions?”
“Maybe,” he said, “but I’ll have to know what it’s all about.”
She went down on her knees at his knees. She held her face up to him. Her face was wan and fearful over tight-clasped hands.
“I haven’t lived a good life,” she cried. “I’ve been bad–worse than you could know–but I’m not all bad. Look at me, Mr. Spade. You know I’m not all bad, don’t you? Then can’t you trust me a little? Oh, I’m so alone and afraid, and I’ve got nobody to help me if you won’t. I’ve nobody else, Mr. Spade. If I thought anybody else could save me would I be down on my knees like this? You’re strong, you’re resourceful, you’re brave. Help me, Mr. Spade. Help me because I need help so badly. I’ve no right to ask you to help me blindly, but I do ask you. Be generous, Mr. Spade. Help me.”
Spade, who had held his breath through much of this speech, now emptied his lungs with a long exhalation between pursed lips and said: “You won’t need much of anybody’s help. You’re good. You’re very good. It’s chiefly your eyes, I think, and that throb you get into your voice when you say things like ‘Be generous, Mr. Spade.'”
Absolutely unmoved by her histrionics, and doesn’t let himself get, er, distracted by the fact that she’s on her knees before him. In other words, he sees through her attempt to play the sex card.
(Also, of course, you probably don’t want to trust someone who gave you a false name and is somehow involved in two murders.)
The next day Spade and O’Shaughnessy are again at her apartment. Since they’ve last seen each other, one Joel Cairo has hired Spade to recover a statuette of a raptor. This falcon would seem to have nothing to do with O’Shaughnessy… except that Cairo told Spade that Thursby’s murder is connected to the falcon, and we know Thursby has some connection to O’Shaughnessy.
Spade to Brigid O’Shaughnessy:
“I saw Joel Cairo tonight,” he said in the manner of one making polite conversation.
Gaiety went out of her face. There was a long pause before she asked uneasily:
“You–you know him?”
“I saw him tonight.” Spade maintained his light tone.
“Well, what did he say?” she asked with half-playful petulance.
“He offered me five thousand dollars for the black bird.”
She laughed, dropped the cigarette into a tray, and looked at him with clear merry eyes. “And what did you say?”
“Five thousand dollars is a lot of money.”
She smiled, but when he looked gravely at her, her smile vanished. In its place came a hurt, bewildered look. “Surely you’re not really considering it,” she said.
“Why not? Five thousand dollars is a lot of money.”
“But, Mr. Spade, you promised to help me.” Her hands were on his arm. “I trusted you. You can’t–” She broke off.
Spade smiled gently into her troubled eyes. “Don’t let’s try to figure out how much you’ve trusted me,” he said. “You didn’t say anything about any black birds.”
“But you must’ve known or–or you wouldn’t have mentioned it to me. You do know now. You won’t treat me like that.” Her eyes were cobalt-blue prayers.
That last sentence is beautiful writing. It’s made all the more forceful by the fact that O’Shaughnessy is a psychopathic liar.
“Five thousand dollars is,” he said for the third time, “a lot of money.”
She lifted her hands and let them fall in a gesture that accepted defeat. “It is,” she agreed in a small voice. “It is far more than I could ever offer you, if I must bid for your loyalty.”
Spade laughed. “What have you given me besides money? Have you given me any of the truth? Haven’t you tried to buy my loyalty with money and nothing else? Well, if I’m peddling it, why shouldn’t I let it go to the highest bidder?”
“I’ve given you all the money I have.” Tears glistened in her eyes. Her voice was hoarse, vibrant. “I’ve thrown myself on your mercy. What else is there?” She suddenly moved close to him on the settee and cried angrily: “Can I buy you with my body?”
Their faces were a few inches apart. Spade took her face between his hands and he kissed her mouth roughly. Then he sat back and said: “I’ll think it over.” His face was hard and furious.
He stood up and said: “Christ! there’s no sense to this.” He took two steps towards the fireplace and stopped, glowering at the burning logs. He turned to face her. “I don’t give a damn about your honesty,” he told her. “I don’t care what your secrets are, but I’ve got to have something to show that you know what you’re doing.”
Again, not befuddled by her – now overt – offer of sex. Notice that he keeps that door open, though. LOL, pimp.
Later Spade and O’Shaughnessy go to Spade’s apartment to meet with Joel Cairo. Outside Spade’s place Archer’s wife Iva, with whom Spade was/is having an affair, is waiting in a car. Spade continues with Brigid into the lobby and asks her to wait a minute.
Spade went out to the sedan. When he had opened the sedan’s door Iva spoke quickly: “I’ve got to talk to you, Sam. Can’t I come in?” Her face was pale and nervous.
Iva clicked her teeth together and asked sharply: “Who is she?”
“I’ve only a minute, Iva,” Spade said patiently. “What is it?”
“Who is she?” she repeated, nodding at the street-door.
“What is the matter?” he asked. “Has anything happened? You oughtn’t to be here at this time of night.”
In other words, “Keep outta my bidness, woman!” He doesn’t try to placate Iva and he doesn’t give in to her demand for info. He basically just presents a brick wall.
“I’m beginning to believe that,” she complained. “You told me I oughtn’t to come to the office, and now I oughtn’t to come here. Do you mean I oughtn’t to chase after you? If that’s what you mean why don’t you say it right out?”
“Now, Iva, you’ve got no right to take that attitude.”
“I haven’t any rights at all, it seems, where you’re concerned. I thought I did. I thought your pretending to love me gave me–”
Spade said wearily: “This is no time to be arguing about that, precious. What was it you wanted to see me about?”
Notice that he neither confirms nor denies the “love” thing. Saying that he loves her would be retarded, because he obviously doesn’t, and it would give her too much hand. But telling her he doesn’t love her would just make her go into histrionics, and he doesn’t have time for that at the moment.
“I can’t talk to you here, Sam. Can’t I come in?”
“Why can’t I?”
Spade said nothing. [“Keep outta my bidness!”]
She made a thin line of her mouth and started the sedan’s engine, staring angrily ahead.
When the sedan began to move Spade said, “Good night, Iva,” shut the door, and went indoors again.
Brigid O’Shaughnessy rose smiling cheerfully from the bench and they went up to his apartment.
Brigid has good Girl Game. She’s cheerful, both in agreeing to wait in the lobby, and in her demeanor when Spade returns. This makes a sharp contrast with Iva’s clingy and demanding behavior. Just based on this scene, whom would you rather boink? Or, if you’re a chick, which one do you think most men would rather boink?
In Spade’s apartment, O’Shaughnessy and Spade are waiting for Joel Cairo. All we know at this point is that O’Shaughnessy became nervous when Spade told her Cairo is in San Francisco.
She stood in front of him, close. Her eyes were wide and deep. “I don’t have to tell you how utterly at a disadvantage you’ll have me, with him here, if you choose.”
Spade smiled slightly without separating his lips. “No, you don’t have to tell me,” he agreed.
“And you know I’d never have placed myself in this position if I hadn’t trusted you completely.” Her thumb and forefinger twisted a black button on his blue coat.
Spade said, “That again!” with mock resignation.
“But you know it’s so,” she insisted.
“No, I don’t know it.” He patted the hand that was twisting the button. “My asking for reasons why I should trust you brought us here. Don’t let’s confuse things. He’ll be here in a moment. Get your business with him over, and then we’ll see how we’ll stand.”
“And you’ll let me go about it–with him–in my own way?”
She turned her hand under his so that her fingers pressed his. She said softly: “You’re a God-send.”
Spade said: “Don’t overdo it.”
She looked reproachfully at him, though smiling, and returned to the rocker.
He calls out her attempt to butter him up with flattery. This is good because (1) it shows that he’s experienced enough to see through such manipulations, and (2) by rejecting her flattery, he’s showing that he doesn’t care about her approval. As the Chateau would say, he’s not lapping it up eagerly like a thirsty beta.
After Cairo has left, Spade asks Brigid,
“What’s this falcon that everybody’s all steamed up about?”
She asked: “Suppose I wouldn’t tell you? What would you do?”
“I wouldn’t be too surprised,” he told her, grinning so that the edges of his jaw-teeth were visible, “to know what to do next.”
“That’s what I wanted to know: what would you do next?”
He shook his head. “I don’t see what you’ve got to gain by covering up now. It’s coming out bit by bit anyhow, and give me another day, I’ll soon be knowing things about it that you don’t know.”
“I suppose you do now,” she said. “But–oh!–I’m so tired of it, and I do so hate having to talk about it. Wouldn’t it be just as well to wait and let you learn about it as you say you will?”
Spade laughed. “My way of learning is to heave a wild and unpredictable monkey-wrench into the machinery. It’s all right with me, if you’re sure none of the flying pieces will hurt you.”
She moved her bare shoulders uneasily, but said nothing. For several minutes they ate in silence. Then she said in a hushed voice: “I’m afraid of you, and that’s the truth.”
He said: “That’s not the truth.”
“It is,” she insisted in the same low voice. “I know two men I’m afraid of and I’ve seen both of them tonight.”
“I can understand your being afraid of Cairo,” Spade said. “He’s out of your reach.” [Joel Cairo is obviously, flamboyantly, homosexual.]
“And you aren’t?”
“Not that way,” he said and grinned.
Frankly sexual, no shame about male sexuality.
She blushed. She picked up a slice of bread encrusted with liverwurst. She put it down. She wrinkled her white forehead and she said: “It’s a black figure, as you know, of a hawk or falcon, about that high.” She held her hands a foot apart.
“What makes it important?”
She sipped coffee and brandy before she shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. “They’d never tell me…”
She gives Spade a story about her, Cairo, and Thursby, and an attempt to get the falcon from some other guy in Constantinople.
Spade mashed the end of his cigarette in his plate. He spoke casually: “You are a liar.”
She got up and stood at the end of the table, looking down at him with dark abashed eyes. “I am a liar,” she said. “I have always been a liar.”
“Don’t brag about it. It’s childish.” His voice was good-humored. He came out from between table and bench. “Was there any truth at all in that yarn?”
She hung her head. “Not–not very much.”
Spade put a hand under her chin and lifted her head. He laughed into her wet eyes and said: “We’ve got all night. I’ll put some more brandy in some more coffee and we’ll try again.”
Her eyelids drooped. “Oh, I’m so tired,” she said tremulously, “so tired of it all, of lying and thinking up lies, and of not knowing what is a lie and what is the truth. I wish I–”
She put her hands up to Spade’s cheeks, put her open mouth hard against his mouth, her body flat against his body.
Spade’s arms went around her, holding her to him, a hand cradling her head, its fingers half lost among red hair, a hand moving groping fingers over her slim back.
The next morning, while Brigid is still asleep in his bed, Spade finds the key to her apartment in her clothes, slips out, and searches her apartment. LOL!
“Now about the bird?” Spade suggested as they ate.
She put her fork down and looked at him. “You can’t ask me to talk about that this morning of all mornings,” she protested. “I don’t want to and I won’t.”
“It’s a stubborn damned hussy,” he said sadly and put a piece of roll into his mouth.
He doesn’t push her, but he doesn’t act like supplicating wuss either.
Spade and Iva Archer:
Spade: “Where were you the night Miles was shot?”
“Home,” she replied without hesitating.
He shook his head, grinning at her.
“I was,” she insisted.
“No,” he said, “but if that’s your story it’s all right with me.”
“What makes you think I wasn’t home?” she asked slowly.
“Nothing except that I know you weren’t.”
“But I was, I was.” Her lips twisted and anger darkened her eyes. “Effie Perine [Spade’s secretary] told you that,” she said indignantly. “I saw her snooping around. You know she doesn’t like me, Sam. Why do you believe things she tells you?”
“Jesus, you women,” Spade said mildly. [LOL. Notice he doesn’t give her question – which is really just an attempt to start a fight – the dignity of a response.] He looked at the watch on his wrist. “You’ll have to trot along, precious. I’m late for an appointment now.”
“I’m not lying to you, Sam,” she protested.
“Like hell you’re not,” he said and stood up.
She strained on tiptoe to hold her face nearer his. “You don’t believe me?” she whispered.
“I don’t believe you.” He bent his head and kissed her mouth. “That’s all right. Now run along.”
This is pretty good. He calls out her BS but doesn’t stamp his foot about it like a frustrated beta. He basically just says, “LOL bullshit, now scram; I’ve got stuff to do.”
He patted her arms, took them from around his body, and kissed her left wrist. He put his hands on her shoulders, turned her to face the door, and released her with a little push. “Beat it,” he ordered.
He gives her the tender gesture of kissing her wrist to soften the shoving her out the door. After his calling out of her BS the previous night and in this scene, he provides just enough sensitive guy to give her hamster something to chew on. Reading all of this makes me wonder if Hammett was a particular stud hombre, or if our culture was just generally that much more knowledgeable about women circa 1930.
Spade and Effie Perine:
“The whole damned Perine family’s wonderful,” Spade said, “including you and the smudge of soot on your nose.” [CLASSIC NEG! Maybe Mystery has read this novel.]
She bent her head to look at her nose in her vanity-case mirror. “I must’ve got that from the fire.” She scrubbed the smudge with the corner of a handkerchief.
The final meeting with all the main characters: Spade, Cairo, O’Shaughnessy, and two others: Gutman, an all-around slimeball who has been chasing the falcon for seventeen years (and is the canonical “fat man” of detective noir), and Wilmer, a young gunman and associate of Gutman. All these people knew each other before they came to San Francisco and bumped into Spade. They are meeting in Spade’s apartment to wait while the falcon is delivered there, and to discuss matters like who will pay whom how much when.
Gutman: “Business should be transacted in a business-like manner.” He opened the envelope, took out the thousand-dollar bills, counted them, and chuckled. “For instance there are only nine bills here now.” He spread them out on his fat knees and thighs. “There were ten when I handed it to you.”
Spade looked at Brigid O’Shaughnessy and asked: “Well?”
She shook her head. Her face was frightened.
Spade held his hand out to Gutman and the fat man put the money into it. Spade counted the money–nine thousand-dollar bills–and returned it to Gutman. Then Spade stood and picked up the pistols on the table. “I want to know about this. We”–he nodded at the girl–“are going in the bathroom. The door will be open and I’ll be facing it. Unless you want a three-story drop there’s no way out of here except past the bathroom door. Don’t try to make it.”
“Really, sir,” Gutman protested, “it’s not necessary to threaten us in this manner.”
Spade was patient but resolute. “This trick upsets things. I’ve got to find the answer.” He touched the girl’s elbow. “Come on.”
In the bathroom Brigid O’Shaughnessy put her hands flat on Spade’s chest and her face up close to his and whispered: “I did not take that bill, Sam.”
“I don’t think you did,” he said, “but I’ve got to know. Take your clothes off.”
“All right. We’ll go back to the other room and I’ll have them taken off.”
She stepped back. Her eyes were round and horrified. “You would?”
“I will,” he said. “I’ve got to know what happened to that bill and I’m not going to be held up by anybody’s maidenly modesty.”
“Oh, it isn’t that.” She came close to him and put her hands on his chest again. “I’m not ashamed to be naked before you, but–can’t you see?–not like this. Can’t you see that if you make me you’ll–you’ll be killing something?”
He did not raise his voice. “I don’t know anything about that. I’ve got to know what happened to the bill. Take them off.”
Again, not swayed by her earnest blue eyes and all that.
She undresses and he checks out her and her clothes and verifies that the $1,000 bill is not on her, so is able to force Gutman to admit that he has it. A bit later in Spade’s kitchen:
Brigid O’Shaughnessy was filling an aluminum percolator.
“Find everything?” Spade asked.
“Yes,” she replied in a cool voice. Then she set the percolator aside and came to the door. Her eyes were large and chiding. “You shouldn’t have done that to me, Sam,” she said softly.
“I had to find out, angel.” He bent down, kissed her mouth lightly, and returned to the living-room.
As with Iva earlier, he’s been pretty hardcore with her, so he tosses out a little sensitive-guy stuff.
This is where everything comes to a crisis point.
The falcon has been delivered and turned out to be a counterfeit. Everyone but Spade and O’Shaughnessy has left Spade’s apartment. But there’s still a problem for Spade: The local cops dislike him, and there are still the unsolved murders of Miles Archer and Floyd Thursby… and since Spade is banging Archer’s wife the cops might use that to convince a jury that he has a motive to kill Archer. Spade (as he explained to everyone in the previous chapter) has to have a fall guy or he’ll get busted – and possibly hanged – for the murder of Archer, and maybe Thursby.
Spade tricks O’Shaughnessy into admitting that she killed Archer. She was hoping to pin the murder on Thursby to get him arrested.
Spade said tenderly: “I hope to Christ they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck.” He slid his hands up to caress her throat.
In an instant she was out of his arms, back against the table, wild-eyed. She said in a parched voice: “You’re not–” She could get no other words out.
Spade’s face was yellow-white. His mouth smiled and there were smile-wrinkles around his glittering eyes. His voice was soft, gentle. He said: “I’m going to send you over. The chances are you’ll get off with life. That means you’ll be out again in twenty years. You’re an angel. I’ll wait for you.” He cleared his throat. “If they hang you I’ll always remember you.”
The sweet words every girl longs to hear!
She dropped her hands and stood erect. Her face became smooth and untroubled except for the faintest of dubious glints in her eyes. She smiled back at him. “Don’t, Sam, don’t say that even in fun. Oh, you frightened me for a moment!”
Spade laughed. His face was damp with sweat and though he held his smile he could not hold softness in his voice. He croaked: “Don’t be silly. You’re taking the fall. One of us has got to take it.”
She took a long trembling breath. “You’ve been playing with me? You didn’t–care at all? You didn’t–don’t–love me?”
“I think I do,” Spade said. “What of it? I won’t play the sap for you.”
“That is not just,” she cried. Tears came to her eyes. “You know it was not that. You can’t say that.”
“Like hell I can’t,” Spade said. “You came into my bed to stop me asking questions. You led me out yesterday for Gutman with that phoney call for help.”
Brigid O’Shaughnessy blinked her tears away. She took a step towards him. “You’re lying if you say you don’t know down in your heart that, in spite of anything I’ve done, I love you.”
His eyes were becoming bloodshot, but there was no other change in his fixedly smiling face. “Maybe I do,” he said. “What of it? I should trust you? You who knocked off Miles, a man you had nothing against, in cold blood, just like swatting a fly, for the sake of double-crossing Thursby? No, darling. Why should I?”
Her eyes were steady under his and her voice was steady when she replied: “Why should you? If you’ve been playing with me, if you do not love me, there is no answer to that. If you did, no answer would be needed.”
Blood streaked Spade’s eyeballs now and his smile had become a frightful grimace. He said: “Making speeches is no damned good now.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “I don’t care who loves who. I’m not going to play the sap for you. I won’t walk in Thursby’s footsteps. You killed Miles and you’re going over for it. I can’t help you now. And I wouldn’t if I could.”
She put a hand on his hand on her shoulder. “Don’t help me then,” she whispered, “but don’t hurt me. Let me go away now.”
“No,” he said. “I’m sunk if I haven’t got you to hand over to the police when they come. That’s the only thing that can keep me from going down with the others.”
“You won’t do that for me?”
“I won’t play the sap for you. I don’t even like the idea of thinking that there might be one chance in a hundred that you’d played me for a sucker. Now on the other side we’ve got what? All we’ve got is the fact that maybe you love me and maybe I love you.”
“You know,” she whispered, “whether you do or not.”
“I don’t. It’s easy enough to be nuts about you.” He looked hungrily from her hair to her feet and up to her eyes again. “But I don’t know what that amounts to. But suppose I do? Maybe next month I won’t. I’ve been through it before–when it lasted that long. Then I’ll think I played the sap. And if I did it and got sent over then I’d be sure I was the sap. Well, if I send you over I’ll have some rotten nights, but that’ll pass.” He took her by the shoulders. “If that doesn’t mean anything to you forget it and we’ll make it this: I won’t because all of me wants to–wants to say to hell with the consequences and do it–and because–God damn you–you’ve counted on that with me the same as you counted on that with the others.” He took his hands from her shoulders and let them fall to his sides.
She put her face up to his face. Her mouth was slightly open with lips a little thrust out. She whispered: “If you loved me you’d need nothing more on that side.”
Spade set the edges of his teeth together and said through them: “I won’t play the sap for you.”
She put her mouth to his, slowly, her arms around him, and came into his arms. She was in his arms when the door-bell rang.
Spade, left arm around Brigid O’Shaughnessy, opened the corridor-door. Lieutenant Dundy, Detective-sergeant Polhaus, and two other detectives were there.
Someone’s gotta swing, babe, and it’s not going to be me. I don’t care if you turn those big blue eyes on me and whisper tearfully of love. I won’t play the sap for you.
Presumably most men, even blue-pill ones, wouldn’t take the fall for the woman in this scenario – especially when you’re looking at being hanged! – but I think some men would feel a need to make self-justifying speeches. Spade doesn’t do that. Yeah, there are a lot of words, but he basically stays on point: “I won’t play the sap.” Feminine wiles? Sorry, no dice.
By the way, note how good the writing is here. It’s not striking word choice in the sense of “Her eyes were cobalt-blue prayers,” in fact it’s very simple and stripped down. But that’s stylistically perfect for this kind of scene, because it presents with no distractions its inherent drama:
We have a psychopathic, cold-blooded murderess, looking at the gallows, desperately using everything she has in her ruthless Machiavellian toolkit to try to make a man take the fall for her. She throws everything she has at him. He is crazy about her (for some reason), but resists. Watching O’Shaughnessy on offense here, and Spade swatting down her efforts, is enthralling. This is especially true when you read the whole scene – I’ve cut it for length – and when you come to it after having been through the rest of the novel as build-up. This novel is deservedly a classic.
When you read the setup you’ll be convinced that this has a shot at the elusive rating of ten out of ten chunks of cheese, where ten chunks of cheese is the worst rating and zero is the best.
A combat cyborg chick, who is also a spy for the NSA, has to be a bodyguard for a dude.
Who’s a half-elf, half-demon.
And a rock star.
You might have thought that in my Red-Pill Romance, when I had the main stud muffin be a vampire who’s in a band, I was exaggerating. Dude, it’s almost impossible to exaggerate about chicks.
After an accident at a supercollider, there are now five other dimensions accessible from Earth. There’s an elf dimension, a demon dimension, etc.
Our Heroine, Lila Black, is a cyborg, at least 50% machine by weight (though not by volume; contents settle during handling). Her cyborg limbs, weapons, on-board tactical AI, etc. were acquired as a result of a horrible event that’s not revealed at first. We’ll eventually get the details as backstory, I assume (I’m writing up some of these notes as I read).
Here we go. I’m not going to indicate quotes with different typeface unless they’re long ones. And here’s the obligatory SPOILER WARNING.
Lila first meets the demon-elf rock star, Zal, Ch 2:
She was dismayed at how unprepared she was. It wasn’t his looks or his rock star status that made her feel sick with nervous tension. [LOL, bullshit.] It was the sense of his otherness… “Hello, Lila,” Zal said. He didn’t have an ordinary elf voice… this one was smoky rather than bell-like. …his long-ash-blond hair and attenuated, pointy ears were exactly on theme. Lila had never seen an elf with dark eyes before. Zal’s were chestnut-brown with darker rings around the iris. She was staring into them like any fool… She turned aside and felt her face heat. The feeling she was experiencing was startling, and nothing like loathing… I will not be attracted to him… she told herself sternly.
Women crave exceptional men. It’s not enough for him to be an elf; he has to be a unique elf, half-demon… and the singer for the most popular band in the world.
Here’s another thing I’ve noticed in chick fiction: Women have a thing about people giving other people “looks” and intimidating them. Usually it’s the female author transparently fantasizing that she’s the one (via an author-insert character) intimidating people with a glance, but there are variations. In Chapter 3 we get several examples of this:
• “What does she like?” asked the girl DJ, giving Lila a competitive and warning-off stare from under the brim of her battered top hat.
• He’d turned away before she could give him her frosty look.
• Jolene rolled her eyes and gave Lila a thanks-for-nothing stare.
• Zal looked at [Luke] and he went quiet.
Key Game concept: Social proof:
• Music corporation exec to Lila on her first day on the bodyguard job: “Hey, don’t go getting ideas about Zal. You know I have to say it. Every girl comes in here and…”
• “Does Jolene have a thing for Zal?” she asked as she held the door for Poppy.
“Oh, big style,” Poppy said. “Who doesn’t?”
Zal’s sister says to Our Heroine, “You listen to me, Metal Molly. I’ve seen a hundred girls looking for the right angle or minute or chance with him…”
Will Our Heroine beat out those hundred other girls for the attentions of the elf demon rock star? Will she?!?!
Another chick thing:
Male of secondary status wants Our Heroine but can’t have her: Ch 3, when she first meets the rest of Zal’s band:
[Luke, the bass player] gave her a grin and a heavy squeeze on her hand. “Is she like, going everywhere with us?” … He winked at her.
At the Ebony Bar, Luke had tried to hit on her…
Later: This thing with Luke is minor, as it never comes up again. But in lots of female-written fiction this is a significant element. (E.g., Eddie Willers’s hopeless crush on Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged.) A woman LOVES the idea of a man wanting her but unable to have her. Men, being less narcissistic, just want tons of chicks to want them so they can fuck them all.
Women and bad boys, a.k.a. “woman wailing for her demon-lover” (that’s Coleridge, you ignoramus):
Dar is another demon, one of the mysterious group that is trying to kill Zal. By coincidence, he’s the person who tortured Lila (this emerges in backstory) and forced her to become a cyborg to survive. Dar burned her so severely that she lost both eyes and all four of her limbs. Later she injures him as he is trying to kill Zal again, and for contrived reasons I forget, she ends up taking him from Earth to his native elf dimension, where he’ll heal faster. Note it’s not Zal she takes, but her and Zal’s assailant, Dar.
Now what she should do to Dar is torture him to death, what with the permanent maiming by fire he inflicted on her, but she doesn’t. The novel has some bullshit reason for it. The real reason is that Justina Robson is female, and we need this psychotic torture fiend around so that our heroine can have sex with him. (Note to nice guys: Keep trying! Women totally love the “nice” thing!)
Putting this out there explicitly would be too much for Robson, of course, so she contrives a BS excuse for the torture. Dar, Ch 13: “I had to continue your interrogation to convince those with me that I was of their party… If I had had to kill you, I would have, because as their leader they must not doubt me.”
Later Lila spreads her legs for him.
Red pill deniers, place that within the confines of thy pipe, and undertake the smoking thereof.
This next part, in light of the recent “women inviting invaders in” in the Western world, is horridly fascinating. In Ch 15, Lila rescues another elf dude (Tath), who is one of a group of enemies who are hunting her and Dar, and brings him to the hideout where she and Dar are hiding from them.
When Dar realizes what she has done, he’s like, “WHAT THE FUCK, WOMAN?!”
A scuffle ensues and Dar kills Tath. But it’s not over. But a pause before continuing.
This thing about inviting hostile men in, is plainly an evolved feature of female psychology. She puts her male companion’s life at risk. And she does so because, in their bones, women know they are usually prizes of war, not victims of war. That is, they aren’t killed, but are raped by the victors in male-on-male conflict of this sort, and so their offspring bear the genes of men who are more powerful.
The instinct to play “Let’s you and him fight” is deep in the female psyche. Time and again we see it play out, and not only with humans. There’s a species of duck, e.g., that my high school Bio teacher told us about, where the females do this. A female will sidle up to a male and get him to follow her. Then she’ll swim over to the vicinity of another male, so that the two males fight. Then she mates with the victor. This female behavior pattern has an ancient evolutionary history; it goes back even to pre-human animals.
(Editorial: It is indeed a reason that most societies, historically, haven’t let women have a large say in important social decision-making. Because, given that power, women will use it to play a social level of “Let’s you and him fight.” Thus either the men of that society wake up and take control back, or they’re invaded by the men of more realistic societies. The native men might win that fight, but if they don’t address the fundamental problem, it will keep happening until they don’t win.(*) In case you haven’t noticed, the entire Western world is living through this right now.
* Many women act as if a safe home base is an imposition that men unfairly inflict on them so they can’t play “Let’s you and him fight.” It’s almost as if they think they have a right to provoke violent conflict.)
Returning to the novel: Insane cunt Lila has deliberately brought back an enemy to their hideout. The bad guy, Tath, is known to Dar. “This necromancer is more dangerous than twenty other agents,” he tells Lila. But Dar gets the drop on him and kills him.
Lila impulsively leans over the dead man’s face and kisses it, and… Tath’s soul enters her. Yeah, his essence plunges deeply into her… Alright, enough. It’s easy to make Beavis-and-Butthead-level puns, but seriously: She invites a dangerous man into her sanctuary, provoking a fight between two men. Then the invader enters her. There’s no other way to put it. Female psychology up the wazoo.
Our heroine is in fact constantly being penetrated in various ways by male elfs/ demons/ whatnot. Here’s a passage, one of several, that doesn’t literally involve intercourse, but…
[Zal] seized hold of her shoulders, pulled her close against him, and kissed her hard on the mouth… the andalune [his magical elf essence] sweetly invaded her like a trickle of warm water, cell by cell… Lila was suffused with Zal.
• Zal is shot by an arrow that seems to have some magical spell on it. “No,” he says, “I don’t know what the arrow did. And yes, I do care, but I can’t do anything about it.” We never find out WTF about the arrow or the spell.
• Lila is checking out a bad guy car. When she opens the trunk, a shape-shifting magical entity jumps out and escapes her. Later an expert tells her that it may have interacted with her enough to convey some essential information about her to its bad guy bosses (who presumably planted it in their car as a trap). This is supposed to be threatening, I guess, but it never comes up again!
• Also and worst, Zal is supposed to be the focus of a Great Spell that will change the multiverse. Nothing ever comes of this.
It’s possible that I missed the resolutions of some of these things (and there are more like them). But I don’t think I could have missed all the resolutions if they were actually in the novel.
If Robson plans to revisit this stuff later in the series, that’s a cheat on the reader. The first novel is supposed to be a standalone, so that in reading it, the reader is not committing himself (or in this case, more likely herself) to reading an entire series.
There’s a hilariously abrupt rise in the level of graphicness of the sex romance stuff toward the end. Remember, this book is marketed as an SF/F novel that happens to have some guy/girl elements and it mostly lives up to that. But near the end (Ch 25) we get
He gasped as she licked up the length of his erection and then took him into her mouth. [Long fellatio paragraph here.] He came, pulsing strongly against her tongue, repeating her name amid syllables that were both elven and demonic. Lila drank him…
I don’t mind a graphic depiction of a good cock-sucking – far from it – but I pity the poor girl who takes what she thought was an SF/F novel to work and accidentally leaves it open to the page with the explicit description of the heroine gulping down a man’s cum, LOL.
By the way, Lila never manages to extract Tath from her body, so he’s within her experiencing all this too. Which is “icky,” as the kids say these days.
A couple of pages later, they’re ready to go again, and Zal fucks Our Heroine and blasts a stream of metaphysical semen up her spine and through the top of her head. Yes, seriously. But don’t worry; his turbocharged demon cum doesn’t hurt her, due to its supernatural nature.
He looked faintly surprised, gazed deeply into her eyes and then a column of white fire rushed up the length of her alloy and bone spine and out the top of her head. Lila was surprised too, and then she was unconscious.
I don’t want to leave the impression that the novel has no virtues. It does, at least for something of its type.
For one thing, there is some humor:
Ch 12: a hostile phoenix, which in this universe is a bird that is completely made of fire, has enveloped them. But they’re temporarily protected by a shielding spell Zal has created. He says, “That’s interesting. I didn’t know they were fire all the way through. I thought they were hollow, like those disappointing chocolate Easter rabbits.”
First, Ch 5:
He gave her a glance that left her in no doubt that he was mentally undressing her. “So, if the [bad guys] are coming, and I only have sixteen hours left to live, how do you feel about charity?”
“Ask me in fifteen hours and fifty-eight minutes,” Lila said sweetly and walked out…
Then, in Ch 12: Our Heroine is trying to get herself and Zal out of a death trap:
Lila bit her lip and thought. If this was down to who he said it was, no way would they want Zal dead. She decided to take the gamble and quickly stripped off her bike jacket.
“Is this my two-minute charity window?” Zal asked, frowning.
…until recently all elves had had a kind of sameyness for Lila, mostly based on ears (pointy, long), hair (lots of it, long), and expression (aloof, controlled, pole-up-the-ass).
Now we come to the awarding of chunks of cheese. On the Neurotoxin cheese scale, zero chunks of estrogen-infused cheese is best and ten is worst.
First of all, I am sorry to say that I will not be able to award a ten out of ten to this novel. I had high hopes after the first couple of chapters, when it became clear that the basic setup was a cyborg spy chick being a bodyguard for a demon-elf rock star. I was anticipating a score as high as nine, maybe even the elusive ten!
But alas, while it does have a fantastically cheesy estrogen-cranked premise, the de rigeur choice between two desirable males (if she fucks both of them, does it actually count as a “choice”?), one of them such an outrageous bad boy that he actually burned all four of her limbs off (this does not stop her from humping him), etc., the novel also does have some virtues which prevent me from awarding a perfect cheese score.
To wit, in no particular order:
1. A good plot twist or two. One is the surprising removal of the presumptive love interest (Zal) from the scene before things really get going with him. Although he does return eventually. Another is the dead necromancer’s spirit entering Our Heroine. That was completely out of the blue.
2. Characterization which, though it isn’t notably good, isn’t notably bad (slipshod, unbelievable, or internally inconsistent) either.
3. Robson has a sense of humor. She doesn’t strain to be funny constantly, but where a natural amusing take on the situation occurs to her, she includes it. Overall, this is done well.
4. Dialogue which is better than the mean for this type of work. Yes, I know, that’s a pretty fucking low bar, but still. I was never sucked out of the story and filled with a desire to throw the book against the wall for atrocious dialogue. Even though there are elves and demons, etc., they don’t stride around talking about “smiting mine enemies down into Hell,” or whatever. One elf, when he encounters something surprising, says, “Well, fuck me sideways.”
Due to these virtues, I at first anticipated that this novel might only manage 5 out of 10 chunks of cheese. But that was before I encountered two huge asteroid strikes of female sexual psychology. First, having sex with a bad boy who tortured you near to death, and to an extent that caused you to be severely and permanently mutilated, is hella-red-pill and is worth 1.5 cheese chunks by itself. Second, so is inviting a hostile invader into what should be a secure sanctuary and then getting penetrated by him.
You could make a case for nine, actually, but I like to hold something in reserve, so…
All in all, eight out of ten chunks of estrogen-infused cheese.
We spend a lot of time here at Neurotoxin mocking women’s adorable but addle-pated fantasies about men, as revealed in female-authored fiction. That’s a major part of our Red Pill in Fiction series.
However, every now and then there are some silly male fantasies about women that are revealed in male-authored fiction. Even yer humble blog author, Neurotoxin* himself, is not entirely immune to certain fantasies. (* Actually Neurotoxin is the blog, not the proprietor, but I don’t know what else to call myself, so I’m going with that.)
Which takes us to Robert Heinlein’s Friday, a science fiction novel published in 1982.
Friday is a genetically-engineered superwoman, mentally and physically superior to everyone except other “artifical persons” like herself. At one point when the espionage organization she works for is destroyed and she is forced to go job hunting, she describes herself on her resume as a “combat courier.”
So before proceeding, let me just take a moment to say that James Cameron is kind of a wanker. In his movies and TV shows he lifts material profligately from SF written by other people. In the case of Friday, you might be thinking, “Hey! Maxine, the character in Cameron’s series Dark Angel, was described as a genetically engineered combat courier! That bastard Heinlein lifted his idea from that show!” There was lifting, alright, but it went the other way. Look at the publication date again. Friday was 1982. Dark Whassis didn’t air until 2000. The term “articifical person,” which Cameron slipped into the movie Aliens, also comes from Friday. And the phrase “mimetic polyalloy” in Terminator 2 was lifted from an earlier William Gibson work (Neuromancer, IIRC) that used the phrase “mimetic polycarbon.”
Anyway, Friday is an extremely popular character among male SF fans. She’s had kind of an underground run, but more and more, I see male SF readers of a certain age grooving on that novel and its protagonist.
Even Charles Stross, who is not exactly in political alignment with Heinlein, couldn’t resist doing an entire novel that overtly referenced the character. I mean, really overtly, e.g., at one point his character has a hotel reservation under the name F. Baldwin. Friday’s last name is Baldwin.
Why is this character so lusted after admired?
Well, here’s a lead-up to the answer: It’s the equal-and-opposite equivalent of women’s fantasy about a bad boy who really has a heart of gold and will fall for them in the end.
Men love Friday because she’s an attractive young woman with no trace of drama queen in her personality.
In fact, if anything she goes too far in the other direction; she’s too matter-of-fact about life. Now there’s something you don’t see often. As a courier for a secret agency, she is captured by bad guys in the first few chapters, and raped and tortured as part of their attempt to break her down for questioning. She shrugs all this off. In fact, when she’s narrating the account later, she makes disdainful remarks about her tormenters, for being amatuerish in their torture techniques.
There is a major difference between the male and female fantasies: The female fantasy about the jerkboy who secretly has a heart of gold is not what women really want – they just think they want it. If the jerkboy ever actually became loving and attentive and faithful and all that, they’d instantly lose interest. (That does, in fact, happen sometimes; see the posts and comments at your local Game blog.) Whereas, the male fantasy is what men really want. There’s nothing a man would like better, in actual reality, than a hot and horny young woman with no drama queen in her personality.
Of course, a young woman with zero drama queen is as unrealistic as the cheating jerkboy who secretly has a heart of gold.
But it’s fun to fantasize.
Oh yeah, some thoughts on the novel as a novel: As fiction, this is entertaining enough, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. The pacing is ka-pow! but when it’s over you realize not much has happened. Or rather, a lot has happened, but to little effect.
Example: In the opening paragraph Our Heroine kills a man who’s following her. She takes his ID and credit cards and proceeds to a hotel where she doesn’t check in, but uses their lobby computer to do some sleuthing about the dude. She doesn’t find out much, so – this must be an hour or two after she killed him – she leaves the hotel. Later she learns that the hotel had been blown up a few minutes after she left. She dismisses this as a coincidence and proceeds on her merry way. Eventually, of course, we learn that it was not a coincidence. Some very powerful group of people wanted her dead and had enough resources to follow her and arrange a bombing in that small window of time. The novel goes on like this.
There is an emotional journey Friday makes, having to do with her initial insecurity over the fact that she’s genetically engineered. (As if it’s a bad thing to have superior intelligence, speed, and strength, etc.) But a novel needs a coherent external conflict as well as a coherent internal one. All which is a way of saying: Your Mileage May Vary. There is a certain lightness to the novel, but sweet damn, that main character!
Driven, by Kelley Armstong. Estrogen-infused cheese. Basic run-down: Fantasy fiction about werewolves, told in first person from the point of view of a “female alpha.” Intimations of love triangles (quadrangles, pentagons, hexagons) all over the place in the first few pages.
This is a fantasy novel, so we might expect the inevitable Prologue. But Armstrong, not one to do the bare minimum, surpasses the standard requirement with a two-part Prologue, gah!
Here we go.
The narrator wants what she doesn’t want. As is often true with women, the narrator, who is plainly a stand-in for the author, wants to dominate men. She wants to boss them around, have them obey her, etc., ’cause she’s such a fuckin’ tough guy. Of course, she also does NOT want that.
Now an observation on drama as it’s written by non-top-tier female authors: Women have nothing at stake. In anything. And so for them drama is simply a game, a game that one plays to relieve boredom. Unlike men, who will suffer reproductive death if they get into a fight with the wrong other man under the wrong circumstances (because they’ll die or be humiliated, and women don’t mate with humiliated men), there is simply nothing at stake for women. They plainly don’t generally even imagine the idea of there being something at stake. Thus the drama is pointless, it has no internal logic (it doesn’t need to have it, since it is not about anything); it veers from topic to topic at random, it contradicts itself, etc.
An example of this comes when, at the end of Ch 1, the son and daughter of the “female Alpha” (for fuck’s sake) are pressing to have their mother let them meet the Big Bad of the story (Prediction as of end of Chapter 1: Big Bad’s penis will be in the narrator’s vagina by the end of the book). After the kids argue with their mother for a page or so about why they should get to meet the Big Bad, the son says, as an additional argument, “He will also see that we are not intrigued by him.” Dude, you just spent a page avidly arguing to be allowed to meet him.
Why wasn’t the author bothered by the blatant contradiction here? Well, if drama, for females, is zero-stakes distraction from boredom, then there’s no particular reason it has to be internally coherent. “Yes it does!” you’ll say, if you’re a man or a reasonably intelligent woman. After all, how can there be any drama if the situation is utterly senseless? If it even contradicts itself? How can I be on the edge of my seat, how can I experience any emotional tension, if the ostensible tension can’t even decide what it is!?
Well, apparently not all minds see that problem, obvious though it is. The idea is to get your blood pumping with pointless emotional outbursts, not to make some sort of sense. Each moment is disconnected from all other moments, so that if two kids are intrigued by a man at one point in time, it matters not all that five seconds later they’re proclaiming, “We are not intrigued by him.” That’ll show him!
For any women reading this, a note: For men, the analysis of interactions that may involve conflict must actually make sense, since everything is potentially at stake, including one’s life. Strategy, tactics, understanding the enemy’s goals and beliefs to aid in the prediction of their moves… these are all not only a thing; they’re vital.
So the red pill’s presence here is not so much about the content of the scene, as about what it reveals about the female author’s attitude toward pointless posturing and incoherent drama. Here’s the relevant passage, which occurs at the end of Ch 1 (I’ve elided some text for brevity; you’re welcome). The narrator’s 9-year-old son is speaking about the Big Bad, Malcolm. It’s important to note here that the backstory is that Malcolm is a serial killer who’s also a werewolf.
“We want to meet Malcolm–”
A snort from the doorway. Kate [the narrator’s early-teens daughter] walked through, arms crossed almost exactly like her father’s, and the scowl on her face probably an exact mirror of my own. “No,” Kate said. “We don’t want to meet Malcolm. He’s a murdering psychopathic son of a beyotch. We know what Malcolm is. Which is exactly why we need to meet him. Look him in the eye and let him know if he so much as touches us, he’ll regret it.”
This statement is idiotic, and what the fuck is the point of it? First of all, a young teen female is not going to beat up one of the most violent and scary killers in the werewolf world. (Of course, he’s not actually that, since apparently any adult male werewolf can beat him up, as well as Our Heroine, an adult female (we also get this as backstory), but the author tells us he’s a horribly tough “murdering psychopathic” killer, and she plainly wants us to believe that.) In the context of this fictional world, the daughter’s statement is violently insane. It would be like your 10-year-old daughter saying, “I demand to meet Charles Manson so I can tell him that if he messes with me, he’ll regret it!” It’s not just that the statement is blitheringly insane; it’s that it’s so blitheringly insane that even a young, overly cocky kid wouldn’t say it.
Furthermore, maybe she means to convey, “If you mess with me, my Dad will kick your ass!” But there’s no reason for her to arrange a meeting to say that to the Big Bad. Indeed, such a message would be much more convincing if it actually comes from her Dad. Note we are not talking about a kid who accidentally bumps into the Big Bad, and in a surge of fear blurts, “If you mess with me, my Dad will kick your ass!” That would actually make sense. No, we’re talking about someone who is deliberately going out of her way to try to meet someone who can easily kill her, so she can deliver a ridiculous threatening message that might provoke him into attacking her, and which message would be better delivered by someone else anyway. The whole scene Makes. No. Fucking. Sense.
We left off here:
“Look him in the eye and let him know if he so much as touches us, he’ll regret it.”
As if to emphasize the retardation, the conversation continues,
“I think regret might be pushing it,” Logan said.
Wait, what? Is this girl in her early teens (as far as I can figure out) seriously saying she’s going to take down a serial killer? WTF? This would only make sense if the next sentence were, “And that’s when I realized I had to send my daughter into protective custody on the other side of the planet while we tried to find a medication that would cure her radical insanity.” Actually, what we get is this:
“I think regret might be pushing it,” Logan said.
Atalanta [the puppy] growled, as if in agreement.
Oh, so now their cute little puppy-doggy is going to beat up the 200-pound remorseless killer. Armstrong, FOR FUCK’S SAKE!
“The point,” Logan said, “is that by meeting him, we put a face and a scent to his name…
“…and he knows it.”
“He will also see that we are not intrigued by him…” which is why I’m persistently begging to meet him… “Nor are we afraid of him. Which isn’t to say we don’t know exactly how dangerous he is, but he doesn’t scare us.”
Which is why we’re so very desperate to tell him, “You don’t scare us!” Ya big ole meany!
An excellent event here would be if the narrator suddenly realized that her kids are too stupid to live, and killed them both on the spot. The pack shouldn’t waste resources on members who are only going to be a burden. As I said about another potential move in my review of Werlin’s Impossible, this would be great because no reader would be expecting it. And, while no sane human would behave that way, a werewolf might.
In response to her son’s “he doesn’t scare us,” the narrator ruminates,
He should, baby. That’s what I wanted to say, and yet Logan was right, in his oh-so-logical way.
WHAT!? We kids should meet a serial killer unnecessarily, and for no reason, get up in face and provoke him. This is described as “oh-so-logical”! What the fucking fuck!?
Here’s another example of self-contradiction destroying the drama: The author obviously wants us to experience dramatic tension regarding the re-admittance of the Big Bad, Malcom, into the Pack. But she states that her husband (Clay), another pack member (Jeremy), and she herself have all beaten him in a fight in the past!!! God, the fuck-wittery!
So what’s going on? Well, Armstrong wants the reader to be all like “Oh no! Don’t clutch this scary viper to your breast!” But he’ll be re-entering a pack in which three of the members have already kicked his ass! The author can’t resist indulging in a little grrrrrl power fantasy about how she’s so tough she beat up a guy almost everyone else is scared of. FFS, Armstrong. If you chance to read this: You must choose. You simply cannot have it both ways. This is why–painfully blunt criticism coming up–there is no critical praise on the back of the book. It’s because readers notice things like this. And professional reviewers are of course even more likely to notice.
Maybe this will help: A big part of any Art is making choices. You cannot have your heroine–and two others!–beat the snot out of the bad guy, and have the reader worrying about their safety in the bad guy’s presence. I don’t mean you shouldn’t, I mean you can’t. If you refuse to choose one of these, the book falls apart because nothing is believable at any level. We can suspend our disbelief to believe in werewolves. We cannot believe in werewolves who shudder with fear at a guy they’ve whupped before.
You could avoid the problem by getting off your lazy butt and changing the situation. E.g., your heroine beat the Big Bad in a fight five years ago, but since then he has been bitten by a radioactive mixed martial arts fighter and developed super skills. Or whatever. But you must provide a clear reason for the change in the situation.
Page 97: More of thing where women think they want to boss mean around. The narrator and her husband, Clay, are visiting the office of a person, Marsh, whom they don’t know, to ask him some questions about a person they’re trying to find. When Marsh finds out they’re werewolves he’s annoyed.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “We’re housebroken. Now sit.” [Absolutely outrageous. Note the deliberately provocative and RUDE behavior toward someone they’re never met before, and who has done them no wrong.]
“Sit,” I said, pointing to the chair as Clay moved forward.
Oh, bullshit. What man would actually behave that way? What Marsh would actually do is kick them out of his office. And if they didn’t go voluntarily there’d be a fight. I said women don’t want to boss men around, though some think they do. They DO, however, like the idea of their man dominating other men. So that “Clay moved forward” and thus intimidated Marsh is a genuine fantasy: The author is fantasizing that HER man dominates other men.(*) Ugh.
(*) If you think I’m contradicting myself here about what women want/don’t want, see my comments in my post on Werlin’s Impossible: “We must say “No, that’s horseshit, women don’t really want that” about some of the novel’s aspects and “Yes, this is a woman revealing what women actually want” about other aspects. Isn’t this inconsistent? What’s the difference? Simple: Reality itself… We do not use a woman-authored text to figure out what women want (God, no). Rather, we use it to illustrate things we already know about women from observing reality.”
Another example, in Ch 12. A male werewolf they have just joined up with is all entranced with the narrator’s female scent. (They’re all in wolf form at this point.) One of the narrator’s pack roughs up the newbie a little and the newbie waves off. This is doublehuff of ego airplane glue because her packmate is beating down a male from another pack, AND she herself is the cause of the conflict because she’s so astoundingly sexy. Barf. You guys should be glad I read this cheese so that you don’t have to.
One thing I’m not really conveying is the degree to which the outsider males are humiliated in these little scenes. Let me quote extensively from one of them to give the flavor. The setup is this: A member of an outside pack has found two of his relatives, in wolf form, dead in the woods. They were skinned and hung from a tree, so it was obviously murder. Someone is going after werewolves and this young werewolf has no one else to turn to, so he goes to get help from the narrator’s pack. Malcolm, a former outsider who was just brought into the pack in the last 48 hours or so, is brought along on their little investigation. In the presence of the dead, the narrator, and her husband Clay, Malcolm disses the dead, since they’re not members of his pack.
Clay hit him. It happened so fast I didn’t even see it coming. No growl of warning. No Snarl. Not even glare. One second, Clay was standing there, impassively listening. The next Malcolm was on the ground, rubbing his jaw, and Clay’s expression hadn’t changed.
Malcolm leaped up and rushed him. Clay feinted, grabbed him by the back of the jacket and slammed him into a tree, pinning him there.
“I put you down for disrespecting the Alpha,” he said. “This is for fighting back. I know it’s been a while, so here’s a reminder. I’m her enforcer. If I punish you, what do you do?” [The realistic response would be, “Kick your ass,” Malcolm said, as he elbowed Clay in the solar plexus. The actual answer:]
A moment of silence. Then Malcolm ground out between his teeth, “Take it.”
“I take it.”
He threw Malcolm aside.
Ick. It’s not enough that Clay beats Malcolm in a fight. He has to humiliate him in the most grindingly unpleasant way possible. Also, it’s not realistic that this supposedly amoral psychopathic killer would take this kind of treatment, but never mind that. We are well in to the realm of fantasy here, in more ways than one.
By the way, after this scene I reversed my prediction that Malcolm’s penis will be in the narrator’s vagina by the end of the book. Women aren’t attracted to men who are constantly getting dominated, let alone beaten up.
End of Ch 12, start of Ch 13: The same thing happens, but now after Malcolm, defeated, limps away from the victor (Clay), the victor and the narrator have sex. They change back to human form – they’re naked, natch – and she wraps her legs around him, talking about how he beat Malcolm down, then they fuck. In other words, “I’m so turned on that you humiliated that other male! Let’s now have sex!” Ugh! God! I thought I was red-pilled, but this little glimpse into female psychology is unpleasant even for me.
Well, that was all rather nasty, so let’s end on an amusing note.
After a book largely taken up with male-on-male violence in various forms, we get a hilarious blast of 8th-grade-girl chick crap toward the end, in Ch 20. The setup is that the narrator’s friend Vanessa has to make a terrible choice: Deciding whether or not to move in with her boyfriend! Oh no! The narrator and Vanessa debate this little dilemma for 600 pages. No, wait it just seems that long to this male reader. God, women love their trivial little made-up drama thingies. Anyway, here it is, very heavily excerpted (I don’t have the heart to inflict the whole thing on you; it actually does run three entire pages.)
“Nick asked me to move in with him.”
Pause for comparison here. The male version would be, Dude 1: “I’m moving in with that chick I’m banging.” Dude 2: “Okay, tell me the address so I can pick you up when we go to the game tomorrow.” End conversation. The female version…
“Nick asked me to move in with him.”
“And the estate?”
“That’s up to me. I can move in with him or we can get our own place. Adding another dilemma to the pile. [The “pile of dilemmas” now consists of two questions: Should we move in together, and if so where?] I valued my independence more than I valued living with a lover. Nick is different.”
“So you want to move in with him?”
“Hell, yes. Without question. Which scares the shit out of me.” [It’s so DRAMATIC!!!!!!!!]
“I know you’ve been cautious with Nick. He’s never been a model of monogamy.” [Heh. Excellent little social proof bit there.]
“Only because – before me – he never had a monogamous relationship last long enough. [Confirms social proof. Also note the “I’m special!” aside.] Moving in together takes it to a whole other level.”
“The problem is that for you, moving in says, ‘This is it.’ You’re acknowledging how you feel.”
Blah blah. After they dissect the question of whose emotions are what for another 17 pages, they eventually get around to ANOTHER topic of HOORAY, DRAMA!, which is how Nick’s kids will feel about Vanessa moving in with their Dad.
Our Heroine: “Which is the problem. It’s his home. It isn’t that you don’t want to move in. It’s that you feel you shouldn’t. It’s the Sorrentino estate, and it’s Pack territory. You’re fine with it. But will they be fine with having you there?”
She managed a weak smile. “Nailed it. I understand the territorial issue, but it’s more than that. I’m an interloper in every way.” [Thus my very presence there is bound to cause… DRAMA!!!]
Blah blah. This goes on for another ten years. Women’s ability to extract drama, no to CREATE drama out of nothing, never ceases to amaze me. “Should I move in with my boyfriend? Augh, the drama! So many questions! I need to debate this with my girlfriends for ten years first! It’s all so fraught – freighted, weighed down, like a freight train – with potential consequences and emotional thingies of emotionality! How will I react? How will my boyfriend react? How will the people he lives with react? How will the Trilateral Commission react? Will the Cato Institute write a position paper on it?! I sure hope so, because then there’d be more attention, and… DRAMA!!!”
What makes this whole scene especially funny is the fact that it comes after dozens of pages of murders – recall those two hanging werewolf corpses, etc. Who’s moving in together is not a dramatic topic. And the author doesn’t seem to have grasped then when your main characters have just barely escaped violent death, the question of who’s going to move in with whom is not even remotely interesting.
In summary, I give this book 8 out of 10 chunks of cheese.
Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy is an excellent fantasy series set in the modern world.
The series stands apart from the run of the mill because – among other reasons – Grossman actually takes seriously the project of imagining what magic would be like if it existed in our world. This is done surprisingly infrequently in modern fantasy, and rarely done this well. The only other work I can think of that does it so well is Scott Hawkins’s brutal The Library at Mount Char. The red pill isn’t in the Magicians series to a great extent, but there’s a crimson lozenge here and there.
They don’t seem to be there by the author’s design. Grossman’s a hellasmart guy, but I don’t think he’s red-pilled. If he is, then part of his intention for the viewpoint character, Quentin, is to show a guy who’s not red-pilled and how that screws up his romance life. What I think more likely is that Grossman just got a lot of this stuff right either by luck, or because he was drawing upon some of the less happy interactions that he himself has had with the opposite sex.
Anyway: First book, The Magicians, a.k.a. Quentin goes to magic school.
The problem with the relationship between Quentin and Alice – and anyone who has read the book will instantly understand what I mean – is:
Alice is an intermediate- to advanced-level girlfriend.
Quentin is only ready for a beginner-level girlfriend.
What he needs at age ~19 is a girl whose shit tests are normal, not advanced, and are only occasional and not too hard to deal with. In other words, he needs a chick who is not shit testing him most of the time, and when she does shit test him, flings tests that are (1) obvious and (2) standard. Something like suddenly snapping at him, in a bitchy tone of voice, “Don’t do it that way! Do it this way!” with an unspoken addendum of “…you idiot!” In other words, Quentin needs a ~19-year-old girlfriend who will give him standard shit tests of the sort that start in 8th grade and continue through college, for most chicks. That will get him going on the learning process (if he’s willing to learn) that would eventually let him handle a girl like Alice.
The problem is that Alice is at an entirely different level of shit testing. She doesn’t fling particular shit tests at him; rather, her entire personality is one big shit test. She is a shit test. Truly, this is a different kind of shit test; it’s not just the same stuff, but more of it. A woman who is herself a walking, breathing shit test is a different kind of thing to deal with.
It takes a certain kind of man to handle a woman like this intuitively. Otherwise, she can only be handled by a game-aware man who has had a certain amount of practice dealing with women from the perspective of utterly amoral sex war, which is the female sex’s natural perspective on male-female interactions. Either that, or a natural playah who has had so much pussy already, that he doesn’t have to fake a cavalier indifference to any one vagina, because he does, in fact, have a cavalier indifference to any one vagina.
Alice is actually an asshole. If she were a real person… hmm, but if she were a real person she never would have been with Quentin in the first place. (In the third book in the series, The Magician’s Land, Quentin and someone else discuss this puzzle [in Ch 20]. I was glad to see the puzzle of how Quentin and Alice got together explicitly acknowledged in-text.) But if their relationship were a real one – if we ignore the fact that it’s fundamentally implausible – I would (after predicting its imminent death) diagnose it as follows:
Alice is full of rage because she can’t find a man who will stand up to her shit testing. If a woman can’t find a man who will swat down her shit tests, she becomes full of anger because she feels she cannot find a male who is worthy of her (this is an aspect of standard female hypergamy). Alice is brilliant and magically powerful, so with the female hypergamy built into her neural hardware, she’s a walking rage bomb. God, there is so much anger in Alice. It’s weird: it’s like Grossman got that detail right without understanding why.
Then there’s the drama, which Alice carries with her wherever she goes. But again, it’s not so much that she creates dramatic scenes at particular moments – though she does that too – as that she herself is a walking blast of drama. She is constantly wondering why, though she’s an incredibly powerful magician, she was not detected by the Brakebills magic school and invited to enroll. She had to force her way in through their magic wards, upon which event the faculty basically said, “Okay, okay, fine, if you’re that strong, and if it means that much to you.” But the big unanswered question of her existence is what is so wrong with her that she wasn’t invited in the normal way. Later, we learn the answer to this question, which dials up the drama even more.
Anyway, she carries this drama around with her constantly. It is, as with her shit-testing, an entirely higher level of drama from that chick you made out with that one time in 8th grade and then started acting all weird. Quentin is not ready for this, either.
SPOILERZ UP THE ASS BEYOND THIS POINT.
In the first book, Alice turns herself into a powerful demon (with the unlikely name of niffin, which sounds like a kind of cake that English people would have with tea. “Would you like another niffin, dear?” “Yes, thanks so much!”) because this is the only way to defeat the ultra-powerful bad guy that she and her friends are up against.
In the third book, Quentin figures out how to convert her back to human form. After sleeping 20 hours and getting re-accustomed to having a physical body, etc. she goes into full-bore drama mode:
“You robbed me.” She spat it… “I was perfect. I was immortal. I was happy. You took all that away from me. Did you expect me to be grateful? Did you? I didn’t want to be human again, but you dragged me back into this body.”
She held up her hands like they were low-grade meat, a butcher’s discards.
“I lost everything, twice. The first time I gave it up. But the second time you stole it.”
Well! That’s the quite the speech! But there’s one little problem: Alice knows the spell to turn herself into a niffin! That’s how she came to be one in the first place! So if she really wanted to, she could just cast it again. So she’s just being a melodramatic asshole.
Quentin figures out how to deal with this crap eventually, though it’s not how I would have and it’s not particularly red-pilled.
Pulling back for the broad view: Overall, this is a very well conceived and executed fantasy series. Just one caveat: It tends to provoke extreme responses; people mostly love it or hate it. So read enough to decide if it’s your kind of thing before purchasing.
Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl is a superb novel, particularly with respect to characterization. I may return to this novel in depth in the future, but today I simply want to lay out an unsurpassed example of girl game in fiction.
Anne Boleyn as portrayed here is a high-social-intelligence amoral Machiavellian manipulator. She has decided that she is going to marry Henry Percy, a powerful and wealthy English lord. Boleyn is alarmingly adept at manipulation. (It kind of makes one wonder about Philippa Gregory!) She’d defeat Scarlett O’Hara in some sort of “Who can get a certain man to propose to her?” Ultimate Grudge Match. O’Hara, while just as amoral pragmatic as Anne Boleyn, is a little too inclined to let her emotions run away with her (recall that she’s dizzyingly in love with Ashley Wilkes). Boleyn, in contrast, is remorselessly purposeful. She does nothing that’s not thought out.
Anne’s pursuit of Henry Percy begins in the chapter titled Spring 1523 (page 123 in my paperback copy). As told by the novel’s narrator, Anne’s sister Mary (with editing for brevity):
After that I watched Anne with more care. I saw how she played him. Having advanced through all the cold months of the New Year, now, with the coming of the sun, she suddenly retreated. And the more she withdrew from him the more he came on. When he came into a room she looked up and threw him a smile which went like an arrow to the center of the target. She filled her look with invitation, with desire. But then she looked away and she would not look at him again for the whole of the visit.
It was clear that he only had eyes for Anne and she walked past him, danced with anyone but him, returned his poems. She went into the most unswerving of retreats, having been unswervingly in advance, and the young man did not begin to know what he could do to recapture her.
He came to me. “Mistress Carey, have I offended your sister in some way?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
Skipping ahead: Eventually Percy finds Anne in the gardens of the palace and asks her to walk with him. Here I feel the sting of the omissions I’ve had to inflict for brevity. The omissions make this whole episode of Anne ensnaring Henry seem more direct, more blunt, than it is in the novel. In the novel Boleyn masterfully starts the thing at a simmer and brings it to a boil, and I’m not really conveying the smoothness of it here. But let’s continue. From here on the only two people present are Henry and Anne; the narrator is relating what follows as Anne tells it to her later.
He led her away from the bowling green, down the winding path that led to a seat beneath a yew tree.
“I have to know why you have grown so cold to me.”
For a moment she hesitated, then turned a face to him which was grave and lovely.
“I did not mean to be cold,” she said slowly. “I meant to be careful.”
“Why?” he whispered.
She looked down the garden to the river. “I thought it better for me, perhaps better for us both,” she said quietly. “We might become too close in friendship for my comfort.”
“I would never cause you a moment’s uneasiness,” he assured her.
She turned her dark luminous eyes on him. “Could you promise that no one would ever say that we were in love?”
Mutely, he shook his head. Of course he could not promise what a scandal-mad court might or might not say.
“Could you promise that we would never fall in love?”
“Of course I love you, Mistress Anne,” he said. “In the courtly way. In the polite way.”
She smiled as if she were pleased to hear it. “I know it is nothing more than a May game. For me, also. But it is a dangerous game when played between a handsome man and a maid, when there are many people very quick to say that we are perfectly matched.”
“Do they say that?”
“When they see us dance. When they see how you look at me. When they see how I smile at you.”
“What else do they say?” He was quite entranced by this portrait.
“They say that you love me. They say that I love you. They say that we have both been head over heels in love while we thought we were doing nothing but playing.”
“My God,” he said at the revelation. “My God, it is so!”
“Oh my lord! What are you saying?”
“I am saying that I have been a fool. I have been in love with you for months and all the time I thought I was amusing myself and you were teasing me, and that it all meant nothing.”
Her gaze warmed him. “It was not nothing to me,” she whispered.
Her dark eyes held him, the boy was transfixed. “Anne,” he whispered. “My love.”
Her lips curved into a kissable, irresistible smile. “Henry,” she breathed. “My Henry.”
He took a small step toward her, put his hands on her tightly laced waist. He drew her close to him and his mouth found hers for their first kiss.
“Oh, say it,” Anne whispered. “Say it now, this moment, say it, Henry.”
“Marry me,” he said.
Yikes! That’s terrifyingly good girl game. It is even better in the novel, not only because there are no omissions, but because by the time we get to this point Anne Boleyn has been established as the most purposeful and competent manipulator in a court full of purposeful and competent manipulators. One should also keep in mind that at this time, women were constantly plotting to make men marry them, and men were aware of this and constantly careful to avoid being tricked into a match they didn’t want. None of that hinders Gregory’s Anne Boleyn. It’s all just grist for her high-functioning, Machiavellian mill.
One’s first thought is, Whew! I’m glad I’ve never met a woman like that!
One’s second, chilling, thought is, What makes you think you haven’t?
Of course, we all have encountered people (men and women) like this. Statistics guarantees it. But most of them manage to cloak themselves most of the time, devoting a significant fraction of their manipulative social intelligence to hiding their manipulative social intelligence.
I once read, in an article about sharks,
“Beach swimmers would probably find it unnerving if they knew how often sharks cruise underneath them while they swim.”