Let’s talk about sex.
Firstly, there’s an honest review of Nights of Villjamur over at Grasping for the Wind. Some flaws were picked up – and I’m totally fine with that, especially since it was all reasoned. Each to their own, and I certainly don’t expect everyone to like a book wholeheartedly – but I want to flag a paragraph, solely for the interest of debate.
It is fairly easy to get hooked on the story of Nights of Villjamur even before you truly understand what it is. In the first fifty or so pages, there are two skirmishes between armies, a murder, a suicide, and three fairly graphic sex scenes of both the heterosexual and homosexual variety. Though the sex is something I felt the narrative could have done without, or at least left less well-described, it certainly helps keep the reader reading, if only for its appeal to our voyeuristic natures.
Not related to this review at all, but worthy of mentioning: I wrote a few sex scenes in the book, but deliberately made the homosexual scene the mildest – because I was interested in seeing if there were any reader prejudices. I’ve seen on one or two dark corners online where people muttered, “Did we really have to see the gay scene?” To which I would say, if I cared to converse with them, “Yes you did. You didn’t complain about the straight sex, which was far more graphic. Deal with it.”
Sex is something that crops up a bit in criticism of books (some of it for the comedy value, admittedly). I find it an interesting point that we (and by the collective we, I mean a sweeping and inaccurate generalisation of The Reader) must make a point of warning people about sex, or at least flagging it. Yet the violence is something that generates a almost universal “meh”, or at the very least, it has an acceptable “gritty” tag slapped on it. Bloodied, rancid, gory violence is cool – but when that mood music goes on, when you see it going in, that’s a No No, and we must alert our elders. (I’m not singling out this review – I think its criticisms are as valid as any praise the book gets – but I’m speaking generally.)
Won’t somebody please think of the children? It’s probably far more essential to protect our kids from obvious, shallow targets like sex, rather than culturally regressive and damaging gender issues, which are much more difficult to spot. You hear this same concern brought up on YA panels now and then, and it’s apparent that there are a lot of younger readers who also read fantasy and science fiction, so perhaps that is why we (adult readers and reviewers) feel we must make a point of declaring it at the door.
As Nights of Villjamur is about to debut in the States, I’ve been gently warned that the US market might react differently to the sex within the book. After that review was Tweeted, some mentioned that “American reviewers often mention sex and swearing in reviews, whereas UK reviewers pay less attention to them”.
Americans, who know your own market way better than I do: is that true? Does your market need warnings? Is it more conservative? You published Philip Jose Farmer. You published John Norman’s Gor books. I have faith in you people.
I guess satisfaction on this subject will be down to taste and personal ethics. We are all individuals, with our own preferences in literature, and this discussion is never something we can resolve. But it’s the perception that we feel we need to highlight sex and make a point of it, not violence and killing (and the more culturally damaging issues such as gender in Twilight as linked above) that I’m interested in.
Anyway. I’ll leave you with this, a much better version than the original: