Limyaael

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05:41 pm: Kage Baker, Race, and Gender (contains mild spoilers for the Company series)
It's bothersome. I already bought all ten books in the Company series, and I really do like the style of humor and the narrative drive behind the plot, so you'd think I'd zip right through them. But I'm stuck in the ninth one.



The Company series is SF, set mostly on Earth with a few trips to the Moon and Mars, and mostly in historical periods. (The future in Baker's world only goes up to 2355, after which something unknown and probably awful will happen). The Company is Dr. Zeus, a group of investors and scientists that perfected immortality- but it will only work on children- and time travel- but you can't bring any objects out of their own time forwards. So the Company makes its money by finding orphans, turning them into immortal cyborgs, programming them to want to preserve art treasures, endangered species, and the like, and then having them hide away treasures in safe places so that they can be "rediscovered" at the right time to make Dr. Zeus rich. Since the Company has the Temporal Concordance and knowledge of every historically recorded event up to 2355, and no one can change history, it's extremely hard to fight them. Some of the cyborgs- particularly the main characters, Botanist Mendoza and Facilitator Joseph- try anyway. The series has a lot of adventure, a lot of hopping back and forth in time and between places, and some genuinely affecting drama and emotional moments. (The ending of book four, The Graveyard Game, is my favorite gut punch in the series so far).





I started getting bothered with the colonization issues in book two, Sky Coyote, where Joseph, Mendoza, and several others are assigned to collect a native Californian tribe for Dr. Zeus. The white characters (and nearly all the cyborgs are white) are so damn condescending and exploitative of the natives' legends- Joseph dresses up as Coyote in order to con them, for example- and it isn't really suggested that this is wrong, though the mortal scientists' enslavement of the cyborgs is certainly made a moral issue. But it's only up to book 9, Gods and Pawns, where I am now, that I really saw how disturbing the overall pattern is.

Most of the cyborgs are white, as mentioned. The very few characters of color divide into a) those who are mentioned but never appear on screen, b) stereotypes (a mammy to an all-important white male child, for example) and c) those who seem to be portrayed more equally but have only a secondary role in the plot. Also, there's a tendency to describe the major character of color (a West African woman) as an ebony figurine, etc. Narrative drive and action rests almost exclusively with the white male characters, for both good and evil.

That's another thing. Out of the dozens and dozens of cyborg characters mentioned so far, only about seven of the prominent ones are women. Two of these pine away for love and act only to save the men they love, one plays a prostitute in her most extensive appearance and acts like a bubbly airhead in the other, another is the mammy, a fifth uses sex to manipulate everyone around her, etc. Mendoza is a female character with unique abilities and, at least nominally, the center of the story, but since she's one of those who only acts on behalf of and because of the man she loves, this is less effective than it otherwise might be. Joseph, the white male (of course) Facilitator who recruited her, does three times as much and does not passively resign himself to his fate, as Mendoza has a habit of doing for large portions of the series.



It's too bad, because I really do like the plot in these books. It moves along! It's connected! It's complex and ties back to itself! (I value that all the more because it's one of the qualities I read epic fantasy for, but other qualities inherent to the epic fantasy genre keep me from liking those books now). But the race and gender politics bother me to the point that I haven't felt like picking up Gods and Pawns in a week- and since I'm in the middle of a story where Mendoza and a white male character investigate the secrets of a native Bolivian tribe, I'm not really sure I want to finish.

Comments

From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 24th, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC)
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...wait, wait. Joseph is white?

I'm not arguing with most of your points, though I only read about the first five books before getting frustrated and stopping; they're grimmer than I really like. But I thought Joseph was fairly explicitly brownish. Dark hair, olive-brown skin...

I don't own any of the books, so I can't check. But I'm blinking a lot because my mental image of Joseph was always, well, brown-skinned. Which is strange, now that I think about it, because he did play a Spaniard in the first book. Now I'm wondering why I was so sure he looked that way.
[User Picture]
From:[info]limyaael
Date:February 25th, 2008 12:56 am (UTC)
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As far as I know, Joseph is white. He's described as identical to the modern inhabitants of the Basque area, who are white (as white is defined in Europe, which isn't always identical in looks to WASPS). He also passes without notice in California in the 1920s.

I think he may be very well be a little darker, but it's a long way from "olive skin" to "non-white."
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 26th, 2012 07:12 pm (UTC)

non-whites

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Budu and the enforcers are all not-of-any existing race, and he IS a major character.

Nan d'Araignee is certainly a major character, as are:
Suleyman - African
Latif - African
Sarah (Sarai) - African
Nefer - African
Kiu (Chinese)

Nicholas/Edward/Alec, while 'somewhat' Caucasian are Recombinants made with DNA from 'Homo crewkernensis'

I think more than most science fiction authors, Baker went out of her way to portray many characters of many different types, nationalities, backgrounds, etc.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 24th, 2008 11:41 pm (UTC)
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Just tell yourself "and they lived happily ever after, The End." From what you say here, you really, REALLY don't want to find out what happens to Mendoza (and especially her reaction to it) in the last book. Unless you need material for a rant on gender roles (though Baker's "The Rose Incomparable" (http://www.amazon.com/Wizards-Magical-Masters-Modern-Fantasy/dp/0425215180/) would serve as well for that, and it's a short story).

On race issue, there's good news in seeing that 2 of the 5 novels shortlisted for the Nebula (http://www.sfawardswatch.com/?p=627) are unabashedly non-white.
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From:[info]limyaael
Date:February 25th, 2008 12:57 am (UTC)
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...Ouch. Damn. I was hoping that the ending, if not really happy, at least would do something about Mendoza's passivity.

And thanks for the news! I had been ignoring the Nebulas largely, and hadn't realized the list was up.
From:[info]serpentrose
Date:February 27th, 2008 04:20 am (UTC)

Love your stuff

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You're so special I joined IJ just so I could comment on your blog (I've been reading your rants on LJ for a while, don't remember how I first found them- my daughter claims I found them through her.). Sure I could have done so anonymously, but I don't like doing that- it feels sleazy. Sometime when I get bored I'll add more people to my F-list here, but until then it's just you- hope you don't mind.
From:[info]cyote
Date:March 1st, 2008 06:10 pm (UTC)

Series

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I have the saem problem with book series. The writing is great, the plot moves, it captivates me. Yet, at some point in the series I feel the book owns me rather than me owning the book. I OD and don't want to look at it again.
From:[info]millenium_king
Date:March 4th, 2008 12:07 am (UTC)
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I just don't understand why the whole race/gender thing matters so much to some people.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 15th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)

I just don't understand why the whole race/gender thing matters so much to some people.

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From Nigel Self:

Could it be because you have the priviledge of it not mattering to *you*?
From:[info]millenium_king
Date:May 15th, 2008 04:55 pm (UTC)

Race/Gender

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Ah. Trotting out that old horse again are we?

"You're privileged, so your opinion doesn't count."
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 15th, 2008 05:09 pm (UTC)

Re: Race/Gender

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No, your opinion counts, as does mine as a white man. It is the possibility of your personal experiences influencing your opinion that I am talking about.
From:[info]millenium_king
Date:May 15th, 2008 05:37 pm (UTC)

Re: Race/Gender

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My opinion is: Constantly examining everything (books, TV, movies, elections etc.) through a gender/race lens makes everything a gender/race issue and further serves to compartmentalize the races and the genders by enhancing their differences.
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From:[info]limyaael
Date:May 16th, 2008 09:07 am (UTC)

Re: Race/Gender

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I should have done this long since, but I didn't want to give you the privilege of my notice. You're banned. Good-bye.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 20th, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)

Re: Race/Gender

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Wow. Maybe I've missed something this poster did in some other thread, but otherwise this seems absurdly over-harsh. I have seen him critique your writing, harshly, but never in a way that seemed to be particularly mean-spirited so much as blunt and not sugar-coated. Here, it seems to me, he has disagreed with your contention that people of varied races and genders should always be important protagonists, lest the story become sullied by having too many important white males.

I fail to see why either of these could possibly be bannable offenses. It genuinely strikes me as odd.

PS: I don't have a clue if IJ let's you ban IPs, but in case it does, and you're of a mind to do so to me, please don't. My girlfriend is a huge fan of yours and reads your rants regularly on my computer, so doing so would cause her needless pain. If you feel the urge to ban me, instead please just ask that I never post here again, and I will comply. Thank you.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 29th, 2011 11:01 pm (UTC)

Re: Race/Gender

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I'm going to be a thread necrophiliac just to tell you that you're an idiot. Yay!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 22nd, 2013 09:41 pm (UTC)

Re: Race/Gender

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Wow, you banned someone for pointing out a valid flaw! Wow!

So why is it that every single book/movie/bit of media has to absolutely have some person of crap - err, colour - that is allegedly noble and the female character has to be uber strong and wise? According to your own criticisms, this should be ringing the Mary-Sue bells, but it doesn't. All I see is narcissism typical of feminist circles: rude, condescending, know-it-alls that cannot accept the fact that race and gender do exist and that they do have roles.

Oh, no, whites are intelligent! Stop the presses! Well, after all, whites are responsible for 98% of inventions, and you are a white woman, meaning you are one of the most privileged people on Earth.

The "Company" series seems flawed anyways, considering that there are still primitive tribes on Earth when technology and disease could have destroyed them. And the fact that whites are still the ruling class; no that is just completely unacceptable. In the future, and today, people of crap give nothing to society. None. They lower standards and destroy societies.

For someone who constantly rants on tropes and Mary-Sues, you don't seem to realize that Mary-Sues are the logical conclusion of feminism: they are strong, independent, powerful females that can do whatever they want. Modern "heroines" are not heroines at all, but feminist archetypes that believe they can do whatever they want. It is unrealistic given that women are weaker than men, are 5-6 IQ points lower than men, and are physically unable to perform the tasks that you label as "good". But whenever there are gender norms, oh fucking no, that's not right. It's "bad writing."

I've said this before: don't act like a Nobel Laureate when all you have is the typical liberal mantra.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 28th, 2014 05:32 am (UTC)

Re: Race/Gender

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how does it feel to be so racist and sexist that you're essentially a broken human being?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 15th, 2008 05:06 pm (UTC)

Pedophile Alex-Nicholas-Edward rape Mendoza (spoilers for the Company series)

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I am up to The Machine's Child now and Mendoza's childlike helplessness really sticks out. Most disgusting to me is the paedophelic/rape relationship between she and Alex-Nicolas-Edward. What drives Baker to depict, in a casual, normative way, grown men having sex with a brain damaged 14 year old virgin girl?

Upon rescue Mendoza has no body. After regeneration she has the body of a "fourteen" year old girl, the Captain explaining that "the nanobots reset her" to this age. Our girlie Mendoza has nice "skin...fine and soft as an infant's (93)." Cognitively damaged, she does not remember her past or who she is: she is the stereotypical female without an independent self-identiy. Further, she can barely speak, her vocalizations reduced to "Cando? Onde? That? I? (94)" and baby-talk mimicry of Alex-Nicholas-Edward. "You're my wife," he said..."and you were hurt (95)." "You were. Hurt," she repeated.

In her brain damaged state Mendoza has no ability to think, feel, communicate --and consent-- as an adult. Yet Edward rationalizes that as an immortal Mendoza is "older than Time (93)." Next he "clamped his mouth on the unresisting mouth and kissed desperately (94)." Here Edward's mouth is "his" own, but Mendoza's is "the," an object. Then Mendoza "shuddered to life in his arms" and was "terrified."

Over the course of the next twelve pages Alex-Nicholas-Edward lay on the charm, to which our developmentally disabled girlie Mendoza relents. After Alex suggests that their oyster breakfast is an aphrodisiac (105), virginal Mendoza lets out "a shaky giggle," by which Baker implies that she consents to sex.

Soon all three men give her a good first-time fuck in the stasis gas while time-traveling. "Wasn't that amusing, my dear?" they ask. "Yes," she moaned...We never did *that* before. I'd remember that."

When an adult has sex with a child it is child molestation, and if done with repeated obsession it is pedophilia. When an adult has sex with another adult who lacks the mental capacity to consent, it is statuatory rape. Baker gives us the former and a bit of the latter. Basically, Baker uses Mendoza's dismemberment, rescue, and regeneration as a conceit for a sex fantasy in which three adult men suavely cajole a terrified 14 year old developmentally disabled virgin girl into her first fuck, which of course she loves. This is every pedophiles sick fantasy. Why is it Baker's? Why is she writing this crap?

Nigel Self

my name with an _ between first and last at icogitate dot com
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