As I was looking for a cover image for this slab of cheese, I learned that it was a TV show for a couple of years. There’s no accounting for taste. Anyway, the setting is our contemporaneous world but with magic. The “witches” in the title are not metaphorical. The first couple of chapters power-wash the reader’s brain with estrogen forced through a hose at 10 gallons per second. There are three witches, a mother and her two daughters. The sisters are both friends and rivals (female authors love that story element for some reason). There’s a hapless nice guy and a rough-cut Harley-riding Bad Boy(TM).
Of course, Our Heroine has sex with the nice guy and tells the Bad Boy, “I just think of you as a friend.” Ha, no, just seeing if you’re paying attention.
As usual, I’ll edit for length. Also, “Spoiler Warning,” LOL.
The opening to Chapter 1:
Freya Beauchamp swirled the champagne in her glass… This was supposed to be the happiest day of her life—or at the very least, one of the happiest—but all she felt was agitated.
Immediately I guessed that this was her wedding day and that she has just gotten married to a boring nice guy who is going to have something bad happen to him. Well, not far off: Turns out it’s an engagement party, not a wedding, but everything else falls out how you expect… only more so.
She loved Bran. “Bran”? LOL. Poor bastard. She truly did…. There was something about him that felt exactly like home, like sinking into a down comforter into sleep: safe and secure.
There’s then a little interlude about how all the other females in town are forced to come up to her and congratulate her, through gritted teeth, on the engagement. They’re jealous because “Bran” (LOL) is incredibly wealthy. He attends charity regattas on the weekends, wow!
…she accepted the insincere congratulations from another cadre of female well-wishers… All the eligible ladies of North Hampton, who not so long ago had harbored not-so-subtle dreams of becoming Mrs. Gardiner themselves… had all come to the grand, refurbished mansion to pay grudging homage to the woman who had won the prize…
For a sex that’s not supposed to be obsessed with dominance hierarchies, women sure do spend a lot of time fantasizing about having their intrasexual rivals forced to kiss their asses. Read fiction by men, the supposedly competitive sex. You won’t find a tenth as much of this sort of thing. Also, men like to fuck hot pussy; we really don’t care whether other men are envying us. The point is the pussy, not other men’s opinions about the pussy.
We then get that the main character, Freya, was possessed of an effervescent beauty… Small and petite… She’s small AND petite, mind you. This is also funny because we’ve just been treated to a little homily (which I spared you, dear reader) about how modern beauty standards are too focused on “emaciated” women. In the same paragraph, we get that Our Heroine is “small and petite.” Also, she has cheekbones that models would kill for, a tiny little nose, and as for her tits: No one would ever forget her breasts—in fact, they were all the male population looked at when they looked at Freya.
In general the writing qua writing is not great, as you’ve just seen. The author will manage a couple of paragraphs without perpetrating anything stupid or grammatically incorrect, then she’ll say something like “The tennis courts gleamed in the distance…” What? I grew up in a house that was less than 100 yards from a set of tennis courts. They don’t gleam in the distance. Or we get (in the inevitable Prologue) “Perpetually damp, even during its brilliant summers, its denizens were…” LOL, its denizens were perpetually damp? Come to think of it, maybe the female ones are, if the main character’s hormone-revved behavior is typical. But obviously that’s not what the author meant. (Don’t dangle your participle here; there are children about!)
Freya originally meets Bran – shit, I laugh every time I have to write that. BRAN?! Seriously, fucking BRAN?! She’s named after a sex goddess and he’s named after… a cereal product that’s good for your colon! Anyway, she meets Bran (snerk) by tripping into his arms, literally, because she’s so surprised when a load-bearing element of her dress snaps and her unforgettable tits spill out. It’s stated that she never wears bras or underwear (which Bran should have taken as a warning sign, as we will see).
Read this and guess whether she’s ever going to have sex with Bran:
It was Bran’s acute embarrassment that had endeared him to her… But what most people did not know was that he was kind. When Freya met him, she thought he was the kindest man she had ever met. She felt it—kindness seemed to emanate from him. The way he had been so concerned, his embarrassment, his stammer—and when he had recovered enough, he had bought her a drink and never quite left her side all evening, hovering protectively.
An absolute clinic in What Not To Do.
He radiates niceness, he buys her a drink, and he hovers around her the rest of the evening. He’s combining Too Nice and Possessive Creepy Guy. I haven’t read past the first chapter yet, but I foresee him conveniently having a lethal heart attack or something before their wedding day, before the main character has to have sex with him.
Don’t worry, it gets worse!
Bran Gardiner was not at all charming or erudite or witty or worldly. He was awkward and self-conscious. The first night they met, he hadn’t even asked her out because he was simply too modest to think she would be interested in him. Instead he showed up the next night during her shift at the Inn, and the next night, and every night after that, just staring at her with those big brown eyes of his, with a kind of wistful yearning (GOD!) until she had to ask him out.
Gah! The author is stacking the deck here; she’s not even making it plausible that any female in the multiverse could be attracted to this guy. I’m hoping she has a twist queued up, because otherwise this is about as telegraphed as a punch can get. Especially by contrast with Mr. Sexyman:
The problem was Killian Gardiner. Bran’s younger brother, twenty-four years old, and looking at her as if she were on sale to the highest bidder and he was more than willing to pay the price. When they were introduced, he had looked at her with those startling blue-green eyes of his, and she had felt her entire body tingle. The Tingle! Directly from a woman’s word processor! He was, for lack of a better word, beautiful, with long dark lashes (WTF?) framing those piercing eyes, sharp-featured with an aquiline nose and a square jaw. A clean-limbed fighting man of Barsoom, narrow of waist and broad of shoulder, he wielded his sword with—sorry, I just had an Edgar Rice Burroughs flashback from when I was thirteen. He looked like he was always ready to be photographed: Brooding, sucking on a cigarette, like a matinee idol in a French New Wave film. LOL, fucking what? French New Wave… Melissa de la Cruz, you weirdo! Anyway…
Stop looking at him, she told herself. This is insane, just another of your bad ideas. Um, what is? Not that we can’t guess…
Goddamnit, did he have to be so good-looking? She thought she was immune to that kind of thing. Such a cliché: tall, dark, and handsome. Well, at least she includes the Oxford comma, of which I’m a partisan. So this book is not ALL bad. She hated cocky, arrogant boys who thought women lived to service their voracious sexual appetites. She bangs him within a page. As per the Chateau and Rolo Tomassi (Rational Male), women both love and hate male sexual entitlement. Because they both love and hate it, be prepared for a hella shit test, more like several, if you project this attitude in real life. Note I didn’t say “Don’t do this.” I said, “Be prepared for a hella shit test.” He was the worst offender of the type—screeching up in his Harley, and that ridiculous hair of his—that messy, shaggy, bangs-in-your-eyes kind of thing, with that sexy, come-hither smolder.
Let’s get it over with:
She looked up and found him still staring directly at her. He nodded his head, motioning to a nearby door. Truly? Right here? Right now? In the powder room? Was that not just another cliché that went with the motorcycle and the bad-boy attitude? Was she really going to go into the bathroom with another man—her fiancé’s brother, for god’s sake—at her engagement party?
Now I’m thinking this is too reprehensible for the heroine of a novel. Maybe they don’t have sex; maybe she turns into a magic vampire and sucks the life force out of him or something. They don’t actually show them boinking.
LATER: OK, I’ve read, er, skimmed to the end, and here’s the deal: de la Cruz indeed has some mis-direction queued up here. It is, in fact, an estrogen-drenched mechanism for the author-insert character to have her cake and eat it too. That is, to get fucked by the bad boy in the bathroom at her engagement party and still be a demure, virtuous good girl. How? you ask. Does he cast a spell on her to force her to have sex with him against her will? Is the whole scene just an elaborate fantasy, dream, or magical illusion? Nope. Here is the key surprise of the book, revealed in the last couple of chapters:
Our Heroine, Freya, is actually Freya, the Norse goddess of sex, fertility, and all that stuff. “Bran” is actually Loki, the Norse god of mischief, who had put a spell on her to make her think she was in love with him. And Mr. SexyBadBoy is actually another god named Balder who is her One True Love and Destined Husband. So you see, all along she should have been having sex with Mr. Bad Boy – who is in a truer, deeper sense the Good Guy – and she should have been monumentally dissing “Bran,” who is actually a villain who uses the magical equivalent of a date rape drug on her.
Well, it’s interestingly inventive, the mental acrobatics a chick will go through to justify having no-strings-attached sex with a Harley-riding Bad Boy in the bathroom.
By the way, Freya does have sex with “Bran” one time, but since he actually turns out to be Loki, the god of mischief, the point that chicks don’t want nice guys stands.
Page 18: The main character’s sister is melodramatically described as the “ranking archivist” of the library where she works. LOL. I associate this phrase with rather more dramatic situations, like, “We should destroy the alien spacecraft before it comes any closer to Earth!” “No, I’m the ranking officer here and I say hold your fire!” Not so much “Let’s re-shelve these books now.” “No, I’m the ranking archivist here and I say we’ll re-shelve them after lunch break!” The drama of the language should match the drama of the situation, unless the author is deliberately going for humor.
Page 39: “Natasha Mayles was all wrong for Ross. She swanned into the North Inn with her haughty accent and her bored, quasi-European attitude.” “Quasi-European attitude”? Every now and then de la Cruz will write something that makes you go, “What was she even trying to say there?”
Pages 85-6: The librarian chick – the “ranking archivist” – is about to be asked out by this one dude. She thinks about how to let him down gently, until it turns out that he’s actually soliciting her advice about asking some other chick out. At this point she suddenly becomes jealous and interested in the dude. The power of the neg, right from the horse’s mouth.
Chunks of cheese rating: Hmm. This has a few standard female cheese elements, to wit, the “must choose between two men” cliche, the “must have sex with Bad Boy!” thing, and hypergamy, in that the viewpoint character has sex with actual gods.
If the main character fucking her fiancé’s brother at their engagement party actually turned out to be what it seemed at first, that would be eight or nine out of ten chunks of cheese right there. But since, thank goodness, it’s not what it seems, I award six out of ten chunks of cheese to this book.
C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, notes that many human endeavors start out as a kind of exuberant 50-yard dash, but soon settle into a marathon. There’s a lesson here for supporters of President Trump, when they freak out too readily that he’s cucking out.
We are now past the “Oh thank God!” euphoria and relief of his 2016 victory, which saved us from a civil war with Hillary Clinton as President. We are now in the “settling into the hard work” phase. It’s still joy, but it’s marathon mode.
For those of you who haven’t read The Screwtape Letters, this wonderful little book consists of letters from an older demon, Screwtape, to a younger demon, Wormwood. The subject is tempting humans.
Screwtape mentions the distinction between early euphoric sprint and later steady marathon in the context of Wormwood’s target becoming a newly-enthusiastic Christian. From the demons’ point of view this is a disaster, but Screwtape reassures Wormwood that all is not lost: the renewed enthusiasm of Wormwood’s target (“patient”) won’t last forever; he eventually will have to make the transition to a religious commitment that is calmer and more enduring. If the target had thought that his new euphoria would last forever, that necessary transition affords opportunities for the demons:
Work hard, then on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient… It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of living together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.
We are in power now in the White House (and increasingly in the judiciary as Trump gets his nominees confirmed). That is wonderful! But to exploit this to its fullest potential we can’t let ourselves get too carried away with emotion. We have to create long steady progress.
And it may help to remind oneself occasionally, “Thank God, Hillary Clinton will never be President!” Yes, that was a couple of years ago and we must press on, but it’s a real morale booster to remind oneself that she’d still be President right now if, God forbid, she had gotten into the White House. The fact that she is not in the White House is a continual victory.
Furthermore, anyone who thinks Trump is actually a secret agent for the other side (WTF?) need only remind himself of our enemies’ attitude toward him: Hate, terror, and rage, and an unceasing attempt to remove him from office, long after it ceased to be merely stupid and descended into the realm of the clownish. All the right people hate him.
Yeah, yeah, Trump’s not perfect, but nobody is. And he’s pretty close to perfect for the war that we’re in now. He actually hits back against our enemies! This still freaks them out, they’re so used to that never happening! We got immensely lucky that he stood as a candidate in 2016. He’s pretty much our best-case scenario. What else do you want!?
And he has to work against the preponderance of the nation’s government at the federal, state, and local levels. Were you expecting total victory 12 seconds after he took the oath of office?
Trump should not be immune from criticism— he needs to hear from us when he strays off, to put him back on track— but before criticizing him too readily, remember this:
People out of power can afford to be purists. People in power have to deal with the realities of it.
Watch it up to the 4:00 mark. (After that it’s just a love song/dance, which is fine as far as it goes.)
Whoever wrote this scene knows the concept of amused mastery cold. And the importance of passing shit tests. And negs/being unimpressed, since his changing her hair etc. says, “You need to look more feminine before I’m willing to sex you.” And understands that everyone is happier when natural male-female sexual polarity is respected and honored. Very nicely done; absolutely beautiful.
Danny: Does he make you laugh?
Tess: He doesn’t make me cry, Danny.
Oh, this is just pure pussy bait! (*) When they were together, he made her laugh and he made her cry. So two items here: One is, emotional roller coaster. Chick crack. The other is that he’s an asshole. We don’t know why he made her cry— I’m guessing by cheating on her— but it’s enough that he did. He’s no good! He doesn’t care for her! Her treats her badly! You can just see that one line setting off the Bad Boy Alert for the women in the audience, and having them leaving wet spots on their seats. Very deftly done: Two terse lines of dialogue. That’s all that the chicks in the audience need to get that there’s some sort of soap-opera-y relationship backstory.
* I was going to write “pussy crack,” but that would’ve pulled up the wrong mental image.
(2) Random red pill item: Actor Larry Hagman said he rarely got any female fan mail when he played a nice guy on I Dream of Genie, but got tons when he played the total bastard J.R. on Dallas.
(Those two characters were so different that I never even realized they were the same actor until I read that quote.)
(3) Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, a trilogy I strongly recommend if you like Stephenson. It’s the most “Neal Stephenson” of his works that I’ve read, i.e. stylistically dense but always intelligent and funny.
Page 374 et seq.: In 1683 a “vagabond”— that is, a roaming criminal adventurer— named Jack is wandering around in the chaos of the siege of Vienna. In a Turkish officer’s tent he happens upon a young English woman, Eliza; she’d been captured at sea as a child. After some back and forth:
“You talk like a girl who is in need of a spanking.”
“Books of India,” she said coolly, “have entire chapters about that.”
Jack prefers not to get bogged down with companions unless they can help out in a fight, but eventually agrees to let her travel with him. But he warns her:
“If we make it as far as Paris… and if you’ve given me so much as a blink of trouble—one cross look, one wifely crossing of the arms—cutting thespian-like asides, delivered to an imaginary audience—”
“Have you had many women, Jack?”
“—pretending to be shocked by what’s perfectly normal—calculated moods—slowness to get underway—murky complaints about female trouble—”
“Now that you mention it, Jack, this is my time of the month…”
“Not funny at all. Do I look amused?”
Stephenson provides a good list of some standard shit tests here.
And on page 389, on one-itis:
Eliza seemed impressed. Jack was gratified by this—a bad sign. No man was more comprehensively doomed than him whose chief source of gratification was making favorable impressions on some particular woman.
Later in their adventures Jack gets outrageously beta— like, after Eliza harpoons him to a mast (long story) and he is still in luuuuurv with her— so this is definitely not an unqualified endorsement of Stephenson on women. But he does display flashes of insight here and there.
(4) In Bruce Sterling’s Zeitgeist, some conversation among Leggy Starlitz, his daughter Zeta, and Viktor, a minor criminal. Starlitz is a gray-market hustler who’s always working some semi-legal scam. His daughter Zeta, 11, has been raised by her mother and her mother’s lesbian lover until a crisis forces them to hand Zeta over to Starlitz. She’s been with him about a week, as he drags her around on various pieces of semi-underworld business. In Istanbul one of Starlitz’s contacts is a young Russian man named Viktor. The three of them are at a cafe and Viktor steps away for a moment:
“Dad, is Viktor a nice guy?”
“I knew that,” said Zeta triumphantly. “I just knew it. I mean, I get it about Viktor now. Viktor is the guy that Mom One and Mom Two never wanted me to meet. Right?”
“Right… He’s every mother’s nightmare.”
Gah! Bad move, Starlitz! Should have downplayed Viktor’s Bad Boy cred so that your daughter finds him boring. Don’t confirm the “dangerous bad boy” thing, for fuck’s sake! The correct response is something like, “He tries to be a criminal tough guy, but just can’t swing it. He’s always getting beaten up and outwitted by the real criminals.” Something like that.
Zeta put her elbows on the table. “Dad, can I tell you something? Viktor is just the coolest guy, Dad. Viktor Bilibin is just the coolest, dreamiest, gangster guy. He has such amazing eyes. They look like my pet snake’s.” (LOL.)
Starlitz considered this artless confession. At first glance this was a very alarming development, but she wasn’t his own child for nothing. “You don’t need Viktor,” Starlitz informed her…
Viktor rejoins them. He and Starlitz usually speak in Russian, which Zeta doesn’t know, but she has an uncanny ability to suss out the gist of their conversations. Viktor tells Starlitz in Russian,
“Mehmet Ozbey is dead.”
Starlitz laughed. “I saw Ozbey last night.”
Viktor went pale. “I know he’s dead. I had Ozbey hit,” he insisted. “Nobody could have survived that.”
“Dad,” Zeta said thoughfully, “did Viktor kill somebody?”
“He thinks he killed somebody.”
“There’s a big difference.”
Viktor lifted his right hand with two fingers outstretched and his thumb as a revolver hammer. “I killed somebody,” he told her in English, his voice resonant and spooky. “He wanted to kill me, because I know too much. He put me on his hit list. So, I took revenge on him. I had him liquidated. Boom-boom-bang.”
“Wow,” Zeta marveled, eyes like saucers and goose bumps all over her arms. “That’s so corrupt!”
“It was the naked justice of the steets,” Viktor intoned.
“He’s full of it,” Starlitz said.
Much better response.
(5) This wouldn’t normally be categorized as fiction, but I don’t know where else to put it. I’m flipping through this book that my woman has from college: Women Mystics in Medieval Europe, edited by two chicks. I randomly open it to page 77 and start skimming. On page 78 we get this:
Tactile sensations play an important part in Beatrice’s visions: She feels God’s presence passing through her whole body; the Lord pierces her soul with the fire of His love, as with the point of a flamboyant sword, drawing her heart to His. The blood of Christ’s wounds flows into her soul.
As I’ve noted before, women are always being penetrated by men in female-authored material. Interestingly, this happens a lot more than male explorers thrust themselves forcefully into receptive virgin lands or whatever, in material written by men.
We continue the dissection of a blue-pilled writer’s portrayal of male-female relationships begun in Part 1.
If you’re just joining us: Scott Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves is part of a fantasy series about a master con man. Overall, the series is better than average fantasy fiction, but lordy, the author’s blue-pill notions! Republic’s narrative alternates between two time periods: flashback chapters in which a gang of teen con-artist apprentices learn their trade, and “present day” chapters in which Our Hero has to rig an election. In Part 1, I only presented scenes from the flashback chapters. The first scene in this post is from the “present” action.
Spoiler warning, and I’m going to edit quoted passages for length. Any page numbers are from the hardcover edition.
Locke and his fellow con man Jean have been blackmailed into the following task: The city of Karthain is having an election. Locke and Jean are hired to rig this election. They’ve been engaged by a corrupt organization called the Democratic Par… uh, I mean, the kicker is that Sabetha, Locke’s old flame (and fellow gang member) from years before, has been engaged by the other side to rig the election too. Each side knows the other side has engaged a con artist to rig the election; they allow this for reasons that don’t matter here. Also, both sides know of the romantic history, and have warned Locke and Sabetha not to get into any hanky-panky with each other. They are not forbidden from communicating with each other, though.
Pages 314-27: In Karthain, after not seeing each other for years, Locke and Sabetha are Reunited, and it doesn’t feeeeeeel so gooooood!
“H-hello,” he said.
“Yes. Sabetha. Hello. Uh.”
“Meant to say something grander and wittier, didn’t you?”
Aaaaaaaaaand we’re off. She basically says, “You wanted to impress me.” This is a “You’re hitting on me” shit test, like, “I have a boyfriend” or “Are you hitting on me?” or “I’m not going to have sex with you.” It’s part shit test to assess your poise, part attempt to find out by your reaction whether you actually are hitting on her, and part female status game, an attempt to define herself as the sought-after prize. All in one terse little verbal package. There are aspects of the mating game that women are impressively good at.
“Take my hands,” she said, and he does. Yawn, no. The proper response to that sort of thing was established by Roissy (Chateau v. 1.0) and others more than a decade ago: “No, you might try to take advantage of me,” you say playfully. Or just snort, ignore it, and say what you wanted to say. Women in this kind of situation always try to suck you into their frame. Don’t fall for it. An alpha male, which is what women are looking for, sucks people into his frame, or at least sticks with his own frame.
After more talk Sabetha embraces Locke:
She was so warm and strong, [“strong”? Which one of them is the chick here?] and her scent so instantly familiar… He sighed. “I’d work for free for any chance to be near you. They’re offering a fortune, and I’d throw it in the Amathel [River] for this.” No! “Locke,” she whispered. “Indulge me. Kiss me. My preferred way. From back when we were—”
“Ahhh,” he said, laughing. “Your servant, madam.”
He gently placed his left hand beneath her chin and tilted her head back. Then planted his lips high up the side of her neck… when he felt he’d teased her enough, ran his tongue up and down those same few inches of warm skin.
It turns out that Sabetha has applied a poison to that area of her neck to knock Locke out. Locke notices a weird taste, but thinks it’s her perfume. Then he starts to lose consciousness. To add obnoxiousness to injury, Sabetha gives him a little lecture as he’s passing out:
“You’re not as good as I am, Locke, but you’re too damn good to let you run around fighting fairly. You’ll kill yourself trying to best me, and you can’t expect me to permit that.”
The lesson here should be obvious enough. Sex is the first thing a woman reaches for when she wants to manipulate a man. And a professional con woman, who’s an old flame, and with whom you’re in a competition… Come on, Locke!
He and Jean wake up on a ship far out at sea, LOL.
407-13, flashback scene. The con artist apprentices have been sent to a theater troupe to learn acting by performing in a play. Sabetha is on the roof going over her lines. Locke joins her, supplicatingly asking for the privilege of hanging out with her and paying for her attention with an offering of wine. Literally, he actually asks her, “Can I sit beside you?” The problem with this, of course, is that it should be, “May I sit beside you?” NO! That’s not the problem; the problem is that it’s wussily supplicating.
Also, she in her self-centeredness can’t resist accusing him of trying to get her drunk in order to fuck her. So annoying. He’s just offering you some wine, you silly bitch.
Whatever. She deigns to allow him to sit near her, and the “conversation,” such as it is, begins. Once again, as in the previous post, it’s all meta, conversation about their relationship. I’ll skip over that part. (Which goes on for freaking pages!) Eventually Locke makes a wince-inducing declaration. I don’t have the strength to quote the whole effin’ thing; here are the high, er low points:
“I, uh, I’m tired of talking behind my hands and dropping hints. These are my cards on the table. I think you’re beautiful.”
Sorry to interrupt just when you’re getting rolling, Locke, but: As a rule of thumb, you should not compliment a woman on her looks. The reason is this: In spite of all feminist agitprop to the contrary, females know at a gut level that their physical attractiveness is the most important part of their sexual market value. I’m not talking about a long-term relationship like marriage, where personality enters the picture in a big way. Rather, think of a young woman’s SMV. (Sabetha is 17 in this scene.) It’s more than 50% looks. Yeah, so? Won’t it make her feel good to compliment her looks, then? Yes, and that’s a mistake. You don’t want her to “feel good,” because that means she’ll think she’s too good for you. This is Female Hypergamy 101. Your job, if you want to do some co-ed spelunking, is not to make the girl feel good. It’s to make her feel that your overall SMV is about 2 points higher than hers. That’s enough to make her hypergamous cooch wet for you while you still seem within her reach.
My rule of thumb is this: A woman generally thinks she’s 1 or 2 points better-looking than she really is. And she wants to get a man who is 2 points higher than her if she can. This leads to weird things like a woman who’s objectively an overall 5 not wanting to “settle” for any man who’s less than an overall 9, which flaming lack of realism is one of the reasons the modern dating scene is so fucked up. In more realistic cases, a female 5 will seriously pursue a male 7, rejecting male 5’s and 6’s. Then she ends up as a cat lady. The point is this: As a man, your interest in a girl might spike if she squeezes your biceps and says, “Wow, you’re so muscular!” But a girl’s interest in you does NOT spike if you tell her, “Garsh, you’re so pretty!” She thinks, “Excellent, I’m attractive. And I’m obviously too good for this guy, since he’s impressed by me.”
Short version: If you’re going to compliment a girl, do it like French man: Make it so over-the-top that it seems sarcastic, like you don’t really mean it. (“You look radiant, mademoiselle; I grovel at your feet. And I’ll have an espresso and a latte, no sugar.”) The French are far ahead of us on this stuff, which is why their men are such a bunch of ravening assholes.
(When I wrote the latte thing I envisioned the dude saying it to a barista at a coffee bar. But it would be fuckin hilarious if you just said it to a random chick as if you mistook her for a waitress, LOL. That could be a good neg, though it’s kind of nuclear so you’d have to know what you’re doing to pull it off. She’s guaranteed to squawk like a wet hen. Also, you’d have to be able to say it with a straight face; I’m not sure I could.)
Locke continues: “I feel like I’m an idiot [agreed, you are] with dirt on his face sitting next to someone out of a painting. [gah!] …Frankly, I’d kiss your shadow. [GAH!] I’d kiss dirt that had your heel print in it. [GAAAAAAH!! Make it stop!] I admire everything about you [I admire her ability to not throw him off the rooftop for this ass-kissing announcement], even your temper [huh?] and your moods [what?] and the way you take gods-damned offense when I breathe wrong around you. [Oh HELL no!] I admire the way you’re good at everything you do, even when it makes me feel small enough to drown myself in this wine cup.” Well, do it then, you spineless fuckbag!
Aside from the wussiness, this is also bad seduction technique because (1) it puts way too much attention on the girl – any normal human being, male or female, would feel self-conscious having this blast of oral servicing directed at them – and (2) it doesn’t give her much by way of options. I mean, how is she supposed to respond to this? “Yes, Locke, you’re right, I am quite awesome in every way, and my beauty is matched only by my wonderful moods (LOL, WTF?) and the fact that I’m excellent at everything.”
Plainly that won’t work, which is why PUAs came up with verbal games like Marry-Fuck-Kill and other ways of getting the girl participating in the conversation.
Locke considers his past few statements and concludes that he wasn’t being wussy enough, so it gets worse. Recall from Part 1:
Sabetha to Locke: “Years ago, 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.”
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.
So Locke now says to her, “I’m sorry. If I’ve pushed you aside… if I’ve screwed up anything that you felt was rightfully yours, I apologize.”
Watching this dumpster fire of masochistic groveling makes me feel like Beavis when wuss music comes on MTV: “Butthead, change it! Change it or kill me!”
Locke actually affirms this chick’s right to be treated “as a goddess on earth.” What the fuck!? And he apologizes for – unintentionally – supplanting her. And it makes even less sense than that, because if Sabetha has some right to be treated like a god, then why doesn’t Locke also have a right to be treated like a god? But it gets even stupider, because these kids do not treat each other as gods. They are constantly saying things to each other like, “Suck vinegar out of my ass,” etc. (Actual quote. Scott Lynch is pretty good at thinking up memorable insults, one of the notable stylistic features of this series.)
Page 412-3, the drama rises. Locke recalls out loud the first time he saw her free her gawageous red hair in the sunlight and it glinted with heavenly glittering, or whatever. It makes you flash on those scenes they have in cheesy movies in which the babe whips off her hat and swings her hair around dramatically in slow-mo. Cue the “Ohhhhh, yeeeeeeaaaaah,” voiceover from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Inexplicably, drama queen asshole starts screaming about how Locke only likes her because she’s a redhead. Her freakout is completely disproportionate to what he said and we’re wondering why she’s suddenly gone even more psycho than usual. She tells him to get lost, so he does, briefly. When he and Sabetha are alone again, he actually grows a pair and says to her, “You owe me an explanation. I will not let you push me aside just because you’re pitching a fit!” My God, there actually are some nads in there somewhere!
“I am not pitching a fit!” she says, despite the obvious fact that she’s pitching a fit. By the way, women always know when they’re pitching a fit, and they don’t respect you if you put up with it.
Sabetha continues, “You cannot be so wholly ignorant. Do you know what they pay for red-haired girls in Jerem? Do you know what they do to us if we’re pristine?”
She then describes a horrible practice that some sick fucks do to red-haired girls. I’ll spare you the nasty details, but it boils down to this: It’s thought that men can cure various diseases they might have by gang-raping a red-haired virgin to death.
That is terrible. But it never happened to Sabetha. The worst she can plead to is living in fear. And since it didn’t happen where they grew up (she’d have to be abducted and carried off) and since she dyed her hair brown and kept it tucked under her hat, the risk was very small. Furthermore, since this disgusting practice is only believed to work if the girl in question is a virgin, she could have just gone and fucked some dude as soon as she was old enough, thus eliminating the risk right there.
And Locke didn’t know about this horrific practice. And it’s not like he was planning on raping her to death!
What is actually going on here? In plot terms, the author needs drama here, so that’s the actual reason for this. Within the fictional universe, whether the author realizes this or not, Sabetha is freaking out in order to attention whore, play drama queen, and play damsel in distress. This. Is. A. Shit. Test. What she is testing you for specifically, with this kind of shit test, is whether she can jerk you around by your emotions.
Here’s a question for ya, poochy: Does a girl sleep with a guy she can jerk around? That would be No. I don’t know how I’d handle this, but it certainly wouldn’t be by apologizing. I think I’d offer her a bag of Skittles and tell her to calm the fuck down. Guaranteed to work better than letting her control you by tugging on your heart strings.
On pages 479-81, Locke’s friend Jean loses his virginity to an older woman. Afterwards, Jean:
“Hey, there’s a… sorry, beneath your legs did we…?”
“Ah. My apprentice, allow me to introduce you to the concept of the wet spot.”
“Is that uncomfortable?”
“Well, it’s not what I’d call ideal. Hey, what are you—”
With an enthusiastic excess of groping and giggling, he applied his strength to shifting their positions. In a few moments, he’d pushed her to the dry side of the bed and taken her former place.
“Mmmmm. Jean, you have a gallant streak.”
Psssht. A real man would get a log from the fire, clock her over the head with it, and make her change the sheets. But seriously, why switch places? Someone has to be on the wet spot, and the girl’s going to think you’re a wuss if you pull that move, comments about gallantry notwithstanding. That’s the reality of female psychology.
Well, this dissection of blue-pill butt-fuckery has spanned two posts now. I’d like to draw things to a close, so I’ll just mention, without quoting in detail, some other blue pill stuff in this novel:
505-6: Scott Lynch can’t seem to even imagine a man making a pass at a woman. We are never shown an example of this in the entire three-book series so far. When Locke and Sabetha lose their virginity to each other in a flashback scene, it’s because she enlists a friend to drag Locke to a secret room she found in the hotel where they’re staying, so they can fuck there. Locke is drinking in the hotel bar when his buddy comes and drags him upstairs to the secret compartment where Sabetha is waiting. Then she’s just basically like, “I had him bring you up here so you could do me.” Then she kisses him. This ain’t great. Obviously women often make the first move in the sense of the first expression of interest (college, whoo-hoo!). But it’s a little much if the man doesn’t make the first physical move. Yeah, that can get you accused of “sexual assault” on a college campus in an “affirmative consent” state these days. For fuck’s sake, don’t go to college in an “affirmative consent” state.
468-70: In the present day, Locke and Sabetha are talking about how many people they’ve each boinked in the five years since they’ve seen each other. Locke confesses that he hasn’t screwed one chick in that five years. GAAAH, NOOOOOOOOO!!! Even if that’s true, you can’t tell the girl that; she’ll tag you as a loser. Just lie or just refuse to talk about this subject. Even worse, Sabetha says she’s had sex with several men in that time. This puts their relative notch counts topsy-turvy to what they should be.
So in summary: An above-average fantasy series, if you can stomach the main character’s invertebrate notions about women. Good pacing in plots that revolve around heists/capers, world-building that’s thorough without falling into the trap of being distractingly over-detailed, and amusing dialogue (aside from the wussy stuff). But the author’s blue-pilled notions about women could be used as a freakin’ textbook in What Not To Do. If you like fantasy, try the first one, The Lies of Locke Lamora. The chick is absent from that one, which keeps the blue pill stuff out and allows the main character to act like he actually has a Y chromosome most of the time.
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 your frame 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.
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.