Saturday, December 1, 2012

Chat: Deceit

John: So...not quite sure where to begin with this. I suppose we should start with Ace, because really, that’s all anyone remembers about this book. “It introduced the new Ace.” Even then, though, I think this book overcorrects from the “teenage Ace, sidekick to the Doctor” in a way that we’re going to spend the next ten books fixing. As someone coming in cold, what did you think of the new Ace?

Dee: OK, first of all, a little note about how this blog works: We don’t read each other’s reviews before we’ve written our own. Despite the fact that John had his review weeks ago, I didn’t read it until I’d hit publish on mine. So I had NO IDEA even going out of my review that Darvill-Evans had written game books. That said? Ace didn’t come across as just a Mary Sue. She came across as a RPG NPC character Mary Sue that the GM had basically made into zir own PC. The whole book read to me as being just as much a RPG-personal-game-based book as the first DragonLance trilogy, except DragonLance was better written. And Ace’s buffness and luck and whatever was completely in line with minmaxing and rule lawyering.

John: Yeah, I found it both striking that we both independently came to the conclusion that this felt like a dusted-off RPG scenario, even though you had no knowledge of Darvill-Evans’ RPG work. And I know just what you mean...if I’d written a scenario like this, my editor would have killed me. Because ultimately, Captain Defries and Trooper Johannsen are the PCs in this scenario (well, actually those two along with Francis and Elaine, but the party is split up and doesn’t get together until the end. More bad GMing.) And they mostly either stand around or die while the NPCs do all the work. Defries keeps complaining about how she’s stuck watching Ace and Daak do all the cool stuff and she has no real influence; that’s a classic “railroad plot”, and it’s pretty sad that the novel feels like a railroad plot in a medium where that shouldn’t even have meaning.

Dee: And Benny is... well, she’s pretty much an NPC in the role of a PC. She’s the player who gets what’s going early on, realizes the railroading is going on, and kinda checks out. Every so often, there’s a fit of activity which might stun the GM: “But... what do you mean, you sneak out of the room with Lacuna?! You can’t... Oh, fine. Roll at -8. ….. Natural 20. OK, you sneak out...” and then the GM sabotages any attempt to do anything productive. I mean, once Benny sneaks out and finds Ace, she isn’t even really in the book from there. It’s totally a GM punishment thing.

John: So we’ve pretty much established that not only is it a gaming scenario, it’s kind of a failure even at that. This is the kind of gaming scenario you get stuck in at conventions, basically. Beyond that...actually, there’s not a whole lot beyond that, is there? I mean, I commented in my review on how this feels very similar to ‘Timewyrm: Apocalypse’, only padded out with some macho space troopers running around. (And the “macho” is so painfully earnest...I just wanted to pat Defries on the head and say, “Bless.”) Oh, and the sex. You can really see how something like ‘Timewyrm: Genesys’ got published now that you’ve seen this editor’s idea of “adult”, can’t you?

Dee: I want to tell that one character whose name is already gone from my brain because she is otherwise unmemorable “...seriously, go to a munch before you get into a scene. And make sure you negotiate.” And in an attempt to make Ace seem tough and willing to do what needs to be done, we get those awful, creepy, rapey scenes with Daak, which.... look, I know you love engaging with misogynists, but really, anyone who defends this one needs to be on the police watchlist, not on your list of people to yell at. (I won’t say debate, because you can’t convince someone that icky.) They left me feeling unclean, and I imagine they could well be triggery for some people.

John: It was Britta, but I had to look it up. And ugh, yeah. The scene with wasn’t just that he was portrayed as being Rapey McRapester. It wasn’t just that this was being portrayed as kind of okay, because That’s Just His Way, Charmingly Brash and Uncomplicated. It was that Ace’s reaction when he was about to rape her was to sort of shrug and say, “Oh, well. He’s going to have sex with me against my will and I can’t stop him. Whaddya gonna do, right, ladies?” That sequence flew in the face of everything we’d ever seen about Ace as a character, in the service of gender politics that could be politely described as “mace-worthy.” (Yes, that’s the polite description.) Pair that with the creepy lesbian sexual predator, and you wind up really wondering how people like Paul Cornell and Kate Orman got hired.

Dee: I’d just like to say it here, in case somehow it’s never been said before because people are scared to say it or think it’s impolite to say it: This Kind Of Thing Is Not OK, and playing Ace as being OK with it is Also Not OK if you want her to be a “strong woman character” or even a freaking sentient female. The only Remotely OK sexual relationship in the book is Francis and his girlfriend at the beginning, and even that had things about it that bugged me. So, Peter Darvill-Evans? I really hope you meant this to be creepy. And if you didn’t, please examine your life. A LOT. Because This Is Not OK.

Whew. Got that off my chest. And I have to say other than that, I can’t find a lot to talk about. It’s better than the previous book, but only because D-E is a better writer. (I remain convinced that our six-year-old is a better writer. I might try to get some of her stuff to post here to prove it.) If it weren’t for the fact it was preceded by The Pit, this book would be the worst we’ve read so far.

John: Agreed. Beyond the fact that the book was a dull slog, the reintroduction of Ace was mishandled, the gender politics made ‘Sucker Punch’ look like a feminist film, and the whole thing is more or less a deservedly forgotten mess, there’s not really a whole lot to say about ‘Deceit’. Thank goodness the next book is another step up, even if it’s got its own problems. On to ‘Lucifer Rising’!

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