The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

15 December 2006

Ripping yarns

But don't call them bodice-ripping. Brenda Coulter reveals that a lot more guys are reading those love stories than you might think:

According to a 2005 study by Romance Writers of America, 22% of romance readers are male. I suspect that number may actually be quite a bit higher, because just as some women won't admit to reading romance because they fear ridicule by their peers, surely not every man will own up to reading the books. On top of that, I'm convinced that some men have read romance without realizing they were dipping into that genre. Case in point: I recently heard from a young man who found my second book on the coffee table at his mother's house. He was bored and wanted something to read. He finished the book and then wrote a very polite e-mail asking if that was a "real" romance novel and if all of the other romance novels were just like it. (Yes, I replied. And no.)

I admit to having read a few of them. (Fewer than thirty, anyway.) And I approach them just about the same way I approach science-fiction stories: I assume that I will be thrust into an environment with which I am wholly unfamiliar. The difference, of course, is that I studied science when I was younger, and mostly enjoyed it.

A reminder from Syaffolee:

Genre is nothing but an arbitrary guideline set by publishers and bookstores trying to organize their product. Look beyond the branding and read a book for the story. Don't mindlessly believe that a book is only read by some make-believe demographic because some marketing executive somewhere decides that the novel should be pitched to that make-believe demographic.

But that said, I think it will be virtually impossible to dissuade people from their genre prejudices. Unless we start a cross-genre trend! I wonder if there is more gender equity in the reader base of sci-fi romance/romantic sci-fi. . . .

Star Wars, you'll remember, was a Western.

Posted at 7:52 AM to Almost Yogurt

Star Wars embodied many cultural influences. Western's as legit as any. Is that your concept, or do you have a link to some "Star Wars was a Western" essay that influenced you?

Because now I'm thinking that Star Wars wasn't a very pure Western. What if there was a pure Western sci-fi epic that stayed close to its roots? Frontier planets (yeah, they sort of had those), bad-news saloons (check), space hookers with a heart of gold (they missed that one), interplanetary prospectors (that's more Outland than Star Wars), high-noon shootouts deciding the fate of the town (kinda, but The Matrix nailed that theme), cattle rustling (hmmm... nope), homesteading (not that I can recall), Deadwood-style dialogue (nope, untapped territory - but forget that PG rating).

Hmm. In fact (he wrote in his stream of consciousness manner), Star Wars misses the central Western theme: The lone hero, usually a sherrif or marshall, out to tame the badlands. Outland owns that meme, but whatever else Luke Skywalker was - he was surely never alone. Yoda knew what he ate for lunch, from several planets away. (Hans Solo wasn't a lone hero, exectly, either, but he certainly was the hired gun. Thing is, he was the focus of about one and a half pictures in a six picture set, so he doesn't exactly set the tone here.)

I've heard it said that Serenity was a space western. Maybe, but I never really got that vibe from it. Serenity was to Star Wars what Batman Begins was to Batman and Robin, I think.

Perhaps there's yet room out there for a "real" space western.

Um, romances. Years ago I dated a woman who did publicity for Avon Books' romance division (I forget what it was called). She wrote a newsletter that was sent to the novels' rabid fans. I mean RABID. Those women lived for this stuff. I felt kind of badly about that, as a man, figuring we just weren't giving women something they deeply craved. On the other hand, in my gender's defense, women have been insisting on SO much equality that I was even scolded once for opening doors for a female companion (which ended THAT brief fling). Women who want their bodices ripped should stop complaining if they refuse to wear one.

Posted by: Mister Snitch! at 11:42 AM on 15 December 2006

I think it works better as an extension of The Magnificent Seven, though George Lucas surely didn't see it that way.

At any rate, it's definitely not a "mythic" Western; it's more a spiritual connection than one rooted in genre.

Posted by: CGHill at 11:56 AM on 15 December 2006

The reason women like "bodice-rippers" isn't because they have secret fantasies about being raped and enjoying it, but because when the hero of the story gets around to ripping the heroine's bodice, it means he's finally been overcome by passion, and most important, he's no longer able to stand back and lecture her the way he's been doing for all the previous pages. She now has complete control over him. It's a power fantasy.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 7:07 PM on 15 December 2006

By Jove, I do believe she's got it.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:19 PM on 15 December 2006

Star Wars is about as Western as The Magnificent Seven.

Posted by: Fred at 9:21 PM on 15 December 2006

Since Star Wars was based rather closely on Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, and The Magnificent Seven was openly based on Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, and both Kurosawa films were influenced by John Ford's westerns, yeah, it's more than fair to say that SW is as western as TMS. :)

As to other space westerns, try out Firefly and the film Serenity. There's also a couple Direct to Video flicks written by Peter David, Oblivion and a sequel (forgot the title). Not great, but not awful either.

I've never actually read a bodice-ripper, but... Catherine Asaro's Skolian Empire novels are a damn good fusion of bodice-ripping tropes with hard SF and space opera. I enjoy her stuff thoroughly.

Posted by: Ian Hamet at 8:48 AM on 20 December 2006