We know authors portray libertarian societies as monogamous with a side of polygamy and polyamory, but there are other types of long-term relationships. For example the m+n/f LTR, where one woman has multiple husbands (defined as polyandry). How does this all work in a free society? Was Heinlein ahead of his time or a dirty old man?
A libertarian society would see these types of LTRs, which do occur throughout human history and also in the animal kingdom. Let’s talk about a hypothetical future with an emphasis on polyandry, as the main character in Armageddon’s Princess, Lexus, starts out with four husbands while she is the only wife. My world-building research, not simply amusement, contributed to the speculative validity of her (libertarian) marriage.
This is a three-part series:
- Human Sexual Behavior 101
- The Present: Doom, Doom, & More Doom
- A Libertarian Future: Monogamy, Polyamory, Polyandry & Polygamy
To understand how polyandry and other relationships that end in “y” work in humans, let’s define human behaviors outside of gender-relational wishful thinking. In other words, jettison current Western Feminism Dogma for the false-dichotomy it is and deal with facts.
Yeah, I went there.
The Basics of Human Sexuality Without Dogmatic Politically Correct BS
We can divide this discussion right along the sexes: the male imperative and the female imperative.
The Male Imperative
The male imperative is blazingly obvious but modern men and women both attempt to ignore or marginalize it. Sperm is not just cheap, biologically speaking, its way cheap. Sperm is so plentiful a human male will jettison the excess through masturbation.
A human male is good to go when he can find a female willing to engage in intercourse. The more attractive the male is, the more females he can engage to deposit his genetic material into. All men a woman finds attractive can, through the pair-bounding process, create a monogamous relationship where the female is only interested in engaging sex with him despite her feminine imperative.
They call it making love for a reason. A woman attracted to a man gets “high” off a dopamine response. During intercourse, if the man brings the woman to climax, not only will she receive genetic material, she receives an oxytocin punch to her neural response system.
Literally, the male is drugging his mate with love, a one-two punch and the foundation of the pair-bounding process. If backed by cultural reinforcement, the pair-bonding process also creates monogamy and life-time mating.
Why discuss the mechanics of sex specifically impacting women? In the men’s section?
That’s the male imperative. To have sex. We’ll come back to this later.
The Female Imperative
The female imperative is hypergamy.
Hypergamy is the biological feminine drive to mate and secure commitment from a man whose relative attractiveness to her is higher than her own attractiveness. In different words, mate selection is the genetic drive to produce the best offspring she can.
Not only is this feminine imperative, but a duality inherent in all women. They seek sex and commitment. A man can impregnate a woman with little biological commitment. A woman, however, once impregnated, not only consumes more resources than when not, but she is also “spending” her body in a nine month pregnancy followed by, by modern standards, eighteen years of child-raising commitment.
A woman lies on her back, spreads her legs and offers a man her sex: this is a biological offer for a man to ride in the ultimate luxury car. It could be a short ride or the ride of his life, but for a woman sex is an impending biological sacrifice on an epic scale.
This sacrifice is so foundational to a woman’s make up hypergamy is akin to a woman breathing and an undeniable sexual drive rooted in life and death. Without hypergamy a woman could invest her entire life and offspring to a sub-standard male of lower genetic status. Not too long ago, mating with the wrong man meant death.
Many say bad things about hypergamy, but biology doesn’t care. Many also define hypergamy as “marrying up.” That is a simplistic definition of the female imperative.
Hypergamy is the biological force in a woman which dramatically reduces her chance of getting knocked up by a douche-bag who cannot provide for her and her offspring nor keep them safe. She snaps her legs closed. She does not offer the man a ride in her Lexus. She tells him to go pork a Pinto.
Strong as the female imperative is, it is not wishful thinking to recognize the pair-bonding process will dampen a woman’s drive to replace one man with a better one, as long as her current mate remains attractive to her. Making love is a giant, orgasmic sex drug for a woman (and men, but that’s a different story) and can turn her into a slut. She is a monogamous slut only for her man because of her biological drive, as long as she perceives qualities in him which are better than her own. Hypergamy, pervasive that she is, actually sets the conditions for pair-bonding and long-term relationships.
But what hypergamy giveth, hypergamny taketh away. As soon as her mate ceases to be attractive to her, all bets are off. Hypergamy kicks in, and with a vengeance. Remember, the woman is deciding to make a life-altering biological change. Why would she make babies with someone she isn’t attracted to and repulsed by? This directly translates to DON’T HAVE SEX. This DON’T HAVE SEX bit has many names. The Friend Zone. Divorce. Serial Monogamy. I Love You But I Am Not In Love With You™. Whatever you call it, thy name is legion:
Hypergamy. The feminine imperative.
Biology Doesn’t Care
We’ve talked about love but only from a biological standpoint in the pair-bounding process. I didn’t talk about romantic love because biology doesn’t care. Biology doesn’t care about a lot of things and coupled with that factoid this post serves as the foundation for understanding human sexuality. This seems simple and is simple. Humans are highly adaptive. Genetics root this species specific trait in cold-hard reality.
Let’s go over some examples. One classic misunderstood example is birth control.
Mr. and Mrs. Biology Scoff at Your Scientific Advancements
A woman can choose when to get pregnant. This ushered in a sexual revolution, right?
Wrong. Evolutionary biology doesn’t care about birth control, at least not yet. All sex, for a woman’s brain, is make-a-baby-sex. All. If she has sex while ovulating the female brain goes “We’re making a baby! Yeah!” Before ovulation, her brain goes “Wooooo! Give me some of this white stuff because it sticks around for five days!” So-on-and-so-forth.
The emotional response to sex is not the body saying, “Well, this is sex and I’m ovulating, but because I have a diaphragm in, I won’t get pregnant. Let’s not pair-bound, Ms. Body, either, despite the fact I’ve had three orgasms and this guy is hot, because I’m still working on my B.A.”
A woman’s hormonal system will care she is on the pill. Behavior traits based on millions of years of sexuality don’t.
Let’s talk about the other side of the coin, men.
Mr. and Mrs. Biology Don’t Give Rip if You Think Objectification is Bad
Today, many tell men to not objectify women because that’s sexist and ultimately misogynistic. Objectification, they say, is the moral basis for patriarchal systems and everything bad in men.
Despite evidence of evolutionary traits men find attractive, somehow a man must ignore the massive amounts of testosterone in his body (as compared to a woman) and the theory of evolution and not objectify a woman he just met?
Ignoring women also initially objectify men they desire, for men, the pair-bounding process replaces objectivity with idealistic notions of romance and love (much more so for men than women!). Yet somehow initial attraction, wanting (not necessarily doing but simply wanting) sex with nubile Katie without getting to know her is bad.
Biology doesn’t care. Biology doesn’t care about the “unfairness” of Katie’s long legs and big boobs while Sally is an A cup and therefore men should appreciate Sally just as much as Katie. It’s not supposed to be fair. It’s the male imperative. If a woman thinks this is bad, that’s her problem. Not his.
I end this post with a rational examination of sex-attributed behaviors and not a moralistic approach because in the next, we’ll expose all the dirty laundry. My mantra as we look at the current state before moving to a future state of monogamy, polyandry and polygamy roots itself in this notion:
The human brain is a meat computer. Emotions and feelings are tangible things running around a brain like software. Evolutionary biology is the runtime basis defining how the brain runs these programs.
No sacred cow will be safe in the next post of this series. Hold on to yer butts. Despite the looming negativity, keep in mind libertarianism is a positive endeavor in almost all things.
Libertarian Sexuality, Part 1: Human Sexual Behavior 101, first appeared in Who Said Pixies Are Rational Creatures? in April 2013. For more information on Anthony Pacheco and his books, please visit his website.
Armageddon’s Princess is a science fiction murder mystery that stands alone. I spent an enormous amount of time and effort to make sure readers have a complete end-to-end storytelling experience without purchasing the next book in the series.
I gotta tell ya though, book 2, The Wælcyrie Murders, is kicking some serious ass, and here’s Duncan Long’s blog post on the creation of its awesome cover. Click on the cover to go to Duncan’s place and check it out:
In a way he’s absolutely right. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is perfect of itself, vying with The Puppet Masters for my most favorite Heinlein ever, which is to say, vying with Puppet Masters for my favorite book of all time.
Which happened to be to our purpose, nothing. Meaning what Heinlein wrote was perfect for Heinlein and for his Universe, but when I finished Darkship Thieves, both my publisher and I decided it was time to open a can of whoop… er… behind on the Self-Satisfied Good Men of Earth.
Partly this was born of logic. After all, well, once you have that complete control, you are certainly going to be hurting the society that hosts you. Any parasite that grows to large is going to do that and government is always a parasite, in the sense that it creates nothing, and can’t live without its host. (Whether it benefits the host on the other hand, is something we might discuss. I mean, I hear these days that intestinal worms are good for you, they decrease auto-immune disorders. Maybe a small, controlled government decreases incidences of tyranny. I don’t know. Maybe we should have a small government and try it.)
Partly this was born of the fact that my publisher and I are both blood-thirsty broads with a nasty disposition. The Good Men annoyed us, and therefore, the Good Men must come down.
So… I was left to plot revolution. When in this type of situation, I go to Heinlein whose writing can be defined as “teaching young people how to plot revolution.”
Well, I can’t say I’m young, but yes. So I did read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. And I thought “Okay, then, now let’s try it without a supercomputer.” “Let’s try it without a closed system like the moon” and “Let’s try it without the people we’re fighting against being at the bottom of the gravity well.”
The result was, of course, an unholy mess. In fact, it was such a messy mess, I couldn’t contain it under the Darkship Thieves series except very loosely.
The revolution starts with the escape from Never-Never at the end of Darkship Thieves of the disowned son of a Good Man. It starts not because he has high ideals, but because he would like to stay alive. (The high ideals come later.) It will end – because it’s across the whole Earth – twenty some years later, in a battle royale. In between there are many revolutions. The one in A Few Good Men is in the seacity of Olympus and its land-dependencies. The one in Liberte seacity – the next book, Through Fire – goes SERIOUSLY wrong.
And meanwhile Eden, the center of Darkship Thieves and Darkship Renegades is finding the limitations of a society with no written law (which is relevant considering we’ve decided to ignore our written law. Er… I mean, it’s complete science fiction, never mind.)
Darkship Renegades came out in December. A Few Good Men comes out in March. I have contracts in my hands for Through Fire and what might turn into Darkship Vengeance.
A friend told me I was writing Heinlein homage, but I don’t think I am. I’m also not writing Heinlein reboot, because when it comes to writing science fiction, compared to him I am but an egg.
It is just that I grew up IN Heinlein’s books, and as such it’s difficult to escape certain assumptions about how the world works, and how the future will go. Not ALL assumptions, of course, because we’re not the same people. But in general, we seem to be in accord about what matters: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I’m no more doing Heinlein homage than your kid does you homage when his walk is a lot like yours. It’s not that he sat out to imitate you. It’s that he learned to walk while holding your hand.
And in a way that’s what I’m doing – writing space opera, holding daddy’s hand.
There are worse things I could do.
(And because I promised Anthony I’d mention it – I’ve corrupted my entire family with Portuguese Kale soup. This is difficult since we are, of course, on a low carb diet, so the potato base to thicken the water is right out. BUT I make broth from spicy sausage. Then I boil and mash some cauliflower. And then I drop in the julienned Kale. Particularly good on a cold, cold night in Colorado.)
[Admin: Thanks Sarah for stopping by! Links to Sarah's awesome latest and upcoming books are here: The Sporadic, Spasmodic, Self Promo Post]
On one hand, I feel somewhat guilty for having a high-traffic blog post that was, at the core, fluff.
On the other, I now have a good idea what some want to read about. So let’s first talk about libertarian speculative DNA.
Libertarian Science Fiction DNA, Anthony Style
Then there was David Weber and the libertarian themes in the Honor Harrington books, an impressive feat where the main system of government was a monarchy. But the total send up of The People’s Republic of Haven and the Solarian League was a blatant libertarian f-you to their contemporary counterparts.
Then there was, what, really? Oh sure, Baen carried the speculative libertarian fiction torch and I’m sure there is something on my library selves I’ve forgotten, but what followed was a wasteland. The trail blazed went cold. What we were left with was… message-y. A lot.
Enter Michael Z. Williamson in 2003 with Freehold. Freehold is unapologetic anarcho-capitalism libertarian science fiction at its finest, and the related novel, The Weapon, was an orgy of the destruction of statism and all of its evils. For a time. We’ll come back to Williamson.
And finally we come to the supremely 80′s deliciousness of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
Libertarian Science Fiction v2.0
My assertion is Williamson rebooted libertarian science fiction. He drove home the obvious evils of statism in absurd detail, provided a large backdrop centered around anarcho-capitalism and projected the triumph of the individual directly into the reader’s brain. A reader following his science fiction books from Freehold to present receives this delicious Libertarian Science Fiction v2.0 meal.
It’s a delicious meal, but it seems to me that Sarah Hoyt is the most serious about pulling up a chair to this rich and wonderful feast. And many of the chairs around the table are sadly empty.
Let me explain what I mean by v2.0: After embarking on the Williamson Trail of Statist Tears, I don’t even need to define what Libertarian Science Fiction is. Readers get it. Libertarians get it. Science Fiction fans get it, and let’s not be coy: any recent book about an anarcho-capitalist society is pure libertarian culture brilliance and when I say brilliance I mean fucking brilliance.
There is no need to reboot The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
But there is a very clear need to offer a current cultural heartbeat to what the core of libertarian science fiction is. And Williamson meets that need with a sledgehammer . He’s still swinging it today.
Failure to Feed
And here we are. I classified a previous novel I wrote as libertarian gun-nut speculative fiction: a blend of urban fantasy and contemporary thriller. It lives under my bed.
I shoved it under my bed for the simple reason that what I want to write is books that I want to read. And I want to read libertarian science fiction. I really, really do. And I think many other people out there want to do so too.
There’s a lot of science fiction out there that, as a libertarian, drives me up the wall. Most of the science fiction I’ve been reading lately is message fiction with a side of progressive love affair of replacing one socialistic society with a (supposedly) better socialistic society, usually in a dystopian orgy of carnage and destruction.
I don’t want to read that. I want to read speculative fiction that triumphs the trail of liberty sitting before us.
I am convinced there is a want to read this genre in both books for adults and books for young adults. And when was the last time any of us read a young adult libertarian science fiction book?
This is a failure to feed. When a low-detailed blog post about “Red Pill Science Fiction” gathers over ten times my daily traffic, there’s a need going untapped. I decided several years ago to jump into this pool of speculative freedom-loving goodness with both feet and eyes wide open. I have plans. Notice in this essay I do not go into detail of what all these “ism’s” are. I know you know. And now you know I know you know.
How refreshing is that?
The Care and Feeding of Libertarian Word-Building
What do I like to read in libertarian science fiction? I like to read a book where the author has done some serious world-building. And when I mean serious, I mean avoiding pitfalls that seem obvious to me in “mainstream” science fiction while pulling on the strings now present from the Libertarian Science Fiction v2.0 reboot.
Gender Culture and Libertarianism
Science fiction has a serious gender problem. Feminism and libertarianism are diametrically opposed and thus a large swath of science fiction steeped in this feminism is distasteful to the libertarian. But more than that, the relationship between genders often have a genesis in poor analysis. For example, every major war the United States participates in shifts gender relations. Every. Single. One. Yet this area remains largely unexplored in science fiction, but not in libertarian science fiction. Notice in libertarian science fiction men are men and women are women. Libertarian femininity is a biological construct and women conform to evolutionary psychological reactions. It ignores what people have told us women are in order to feed us a brand of dogma which, at its core, is the antithesis of libertarianism.
Yes, I went there. In fact, my Lexus Toulouse mysteries go there hard.
Feminism relies on coercion by the use of force. The use of force for coercion is the core evil of any libertarian speculative book. A libertarian society has a completely different set of cultural norms for gender relations. Completely. So what does it look like?
And how does technology impact women’s relationships to the men? For example, stick a woman in powered armor and you can speculate that she has a significant impact not only on the battlefield, but also into the gathering of resources. And the “so what?” of that is that has a tremendous impact on how men relate to her. Yet this technology also has tremendous (negative) impact to a woman’s psychological ability to cope with a sustained war.
Raise your hand if you’ve read a science fiction book where women deal with the aftermath of war just like men.
Wow. I thought so.
How do men function in a libertarian society? Really. Like, what does it look like when a man isn’t forced to do anything because of, well, anything, really. How does the lack of coercion shape cultural norms? One answer to that is men behave differently when not constantly told they are evil and bad so they better be (nice, submissive, feminine, etc.)
Because, you know, most men aren’t evil and bad. In the lack of a war on boys, what kind of men do boys become?
Now, I did come up with a scenario of a matriarchal libertarian society, and that’s in my Lexus Toulouse mysteries. Think about it.
Kids and Teens
Completely related to gender norms is the largely unexplored realm of what children and teen culture looks like in the future. The teen of today is not the teen of two hundred years from now, but that’s a major assumption present in most science fiction books. In fact, this is a largely unexplored contemporary area, too. Despite all the come-of-age books and movies, what was the real shift from the teen before WWI and the teen after WWII? I know it was significant, but how significant was it?
Libertarianism is the triumph of society through the advancement of the individual without coercion. That impacts children. Deeply and completely.
Corporations and Centralism
Holy freaking glow-in-the-dark cow on a pogo stick. The evil mega-corporation troupe must die. Die, die, die, die, die. Not because it’s a leftist circle-jerk (messy and sad) but because it makes no logical sense. It makes no logical sense because corporatism is a big failure because centralization is a big failure. And the more technology we throw at centralization, the bigger the failure is going to be. And somehow, technology, which, time and time again in the last 100 years, have proven to empower, not reduce, the individual. So we have tech making big things fall hard, and tech making little things jump out of the way.
That’s libertarianism, Baby. It’s almost as if the history of technology in these science fictions books undergoes redefinition and re-purposed to suit some not-so-subtle war on capitalism.
Hmmmm, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The De-Centralization of the Military
Not a libertarian concept per se, but a libertarian society, when faced with an obvious threat, will absolutely re-tool itself to deal with that threat.
There are other considerations. For example, logistics. Why do you need a central logistical supply chain when the logistics guy can make his own stuff for his platoon? What does a command structure look like when a decentralized and distributed society goes to war?
I bet it’s different. I bet it’s way different.
And like the mega-corporation, there are thematics here that need to die, and die hard. The allegory for the Vietnam War is done. We’ve all read the Forever War. Forever War–that’s it. We’re done, okay?
But I digress.
The Author-Reader Bargain
In my series, I do not cram my libertarian genetic code down a reader’s throat and as an aside, neither did anyone else I’ve mentioned thus far. Even Williamson didn’t so much tell, through the wonderfully voiced Kendra, what libertarianism is despite that Freehold is Librarian Science Fiction 101. No, he showed what it is through her child-like eyes. It was a message book devoid of a message, a pretty neat trick and a clear sign of storytelling talent.
In Armageddon’s Princess, I do not preach at you through the Princess. Lexus, as the Princess Concubine spends a considerable amount of time seeking sex and getting laid. And when she isn’t chasing or offering tail, she’s hell-bent on catching bad guys. And when she’s not doing any of those she is trying to simply live with the aftermath of a terrible, terrible war.
That, in a sense, is the apex of my world-building for this series. I believe that if a future libertarian people went to war, that war would be an awful thing. It would be total and it would be complete and when it was over the horror of it would be unfathomable and unbearable.
I may be a rehabilitated hack writer, but, if you’ve come here looking for science fiction swimming around libertarian philosophy, I promise to at least deliver some type of speculative meal. I believe so strongly that there is a desire to read this type of speculative fiction, I have no hesitation in alienating a potential reader that hates my guts with this post simply because I don’t subscribe to the statist cult.
Hello my 27.6 readers!
Happy New Year. I plan on making a year in review post, but I consider this a special category. What new book in 2012 did I feel was the best?
I read a considerable amount this year, despite my terrible Goodreads updates. Most of this goodness was on my Kindle, and the Kindle Paperwhite has accelerated my book reading with its pure design awesomeness. At $119 + cover and some unobtrusive, actually useful ads, this is a reader’s device and I am a reader.
But, I digress.
Out of all the books I read, one stands out as the winner and yes, you can rank books from the best to the worst.
Ken Kiser’s Fifthwind is the clear winner of 2012. From a storytelling standpoint, it’s a throw-back to the Sword and Sorcery days of yor before everything got pretentious, message-y and emo. As epic fantasy, it is a stunning debut. The novel also has great pacing, obviously edited with loving care and delivers across the board on action, world-building and best of all, a refreshingly masculine but not arrogant protagonist. Check out the reviews on Amazon.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’m not too sure what I was expecting when I picked this up for my Kindle when I saw it won the Hugo, but I was really surprised to find a come-of-age young adult novel. Twenty pages into the book I could envision an editor seeing this book for the first time and rubbing her hands with glee. AMONG OTHERS was extremely delicious as a urban fantasy dipped in the love of science fiction in the voice of a fifteen year-old girl.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty close. This book was written for people who love a good story, love science fiction, magic and love come-of-age novels. The heartache of the main character was raw and painful at times. We get glimpses of a terribleness too terrible to describe. But Walton starts the book in the most perfect place–that after tragedy and heartache, there is life.The yearning that comes with reading science fiction can be more than just story, it’s water for the thirsty, color for the blind and a light in the darkness.
Yummers yum yum!
Bonded is out, and I just ordered my hardcover edition because I am a sucker for beautiful prose in a beautiful physical book.
The first story in this novel, Cinders, was unexpectedly flawless, and I’m not surprised to see it snatched up by a publisher and put into a novella collection. I can’t wait to read the other two stories, and it’s all I can do not to order the Kindle edition and read it this weekend.
If you are a lover of prose so good it’s sensual, if you appreciate the bittersweet truth to the human condition and like storytelling that extracts the pure heart of a fairytale, then I also suggest getting Bonded. Cinders was that good, and there is no doubt the others will be right up there in the literary clouds of whipped awesomesauce.
Michelle is an excellent writer but these are the stories that push her into that otherworldly zone of awe.
There are many readers, myself included, whom are not enamored with recent trends in epic fantasy. The long, drawn out series where the editor seems to have taken a backseat to the writer’s ego seems to dominate the genre. Then when you come across creative bit of fantasy goodness, you realize you have, in your hands, message fiction. The author has a bone to pick, and you’re along for the ride.
Where, an epic fantasy reader, wonders, did sword and sorcery go? For years and years it seemed R.A. Salvator was carrying the classic epic fantasy torch.
Where indeed. If ever there was a disconnect between what’s on the traditional bookshelf and what people want to read, epic fantasy was it. I don’t want a twelve book serial where book seven makes no sense. Epic fantasy should rise above pulp but also fulfill the basic yearning of what comes with the fantasy genre. I’ve found a few authors (some in my recommended list) scratching that fantasy itch. Now I’ve found another. If you like epic fantasy and was thinking about or actually writing it, then check out Kin Kiser’s Fifthwind.
Fifthwind, my friends, is classic epic fantasy at its best.
It’s totally obvious, when reading Fifthwind, that Ken Kiser is a classic epic fantasy fan. Take everything you like about epic fantasy: the world-building, the rich characters, the high-stakes plot, an honest protagonist, the epic feel of the setting–these are all present.
Yet, Fifthwind turns out to be original and fresh while at the same time dishing up what makes classic epic fantasy so great. We depart recent fantasy troupe trends with the main character, Ben. Ben is a bad-ass. He starts the book as a bad-ass and simply dials his bad-ass-ery up notches as the novel progresses.
Yes, let’s talk about Ben.
Ben is bad-ass with a slice of awesome toast served with magic butter and jelly made from the tears of lessor fantasy main characters. Normally, I find characters like this annoying, but not Ben. No, Ben is too busy trying to save everyone else and his own ass to grow his ego and arrogance. In the brief moment where there is a pause in the action and Ben becomes reflective, Ben has doubts, but they are proper doubts. Ben doesn’t doubt who he is for a minute, but he doubts his actions because he doesn’t have all the information. And when he gets information that throws him for a loop, his character changes in subtle ways. Ben eventually learns what he doesn’t know can kill him, and instead of focusing on the obvious, he focuses on information gathering. And every piece of information Ben gathers that helps him figure out what is going on, it makes him a right-royal holy terror on the battlefield.
It’s a great piece of careful plotting in which the story moves forward and so does the main character.
Yeah, this is how one should write fantasy characters. It’s familiar: we have the trusted friend, the mentor, the love interest. Kiser doesn’t spend a single moment in the book turning these people into something they are not in the guise of being “original” or “fresh.” Fifthwind is so refreshingly honest, as a fantasy book, it leaves a reader wondering why other novels of its kind are so hard to find.
The plot, as I allude to, has a large mystery and Ben chews away at it and, often, simply refuses to give up because he simply must know. When he becomes a student of a secret society, it’s almost as if his mentor is simply on a crash course to connect the dots for Ben and not preach to the choir. And the scene where Ben learns that his simple view of the world is dead is quite telling. Ben sees that he must harden up. People are going to die, and soon.
And die they do. Fifthwind has the impressive body count, which dives into the highlight of this novel: the action scenes are many and detailed. They make logical sense and they have a certain urgency yet graceful flow about them, which is totally fitting for the martial whirlwind of death that is Ben. This is fantasy action at it’s very best and I am not exaggerating. It’s R.A. Salvatore good. That, dear writers, is so very worth the careful read.
Fithwind is also bittersweet. The story did not end the way I thought it would and I loved every page of the last two chapters, so if you like your epic fantasy served with grim and dark, you’ve come to the right book. You’ve also come to the right book if message fiction and cheap and pretensions thematics causes you to toss a book aside. Fifthwind doesn’t truck in recent trends of literary preaching. It’s an epic story of good vs. evil–monsters and bad guys that simply need killing. Violently.
Highly recommended for both a novelist in the fantasy genre and the reader. I give Fifthwind the coveted five bacon strips out of five.
Well, not really.
For anyone new to Rehabilitated Hack Writer Recommends, I target my book reviews towards novelists (you can find my prior reviews here). I also need to point out that this is a review of the first book of a series, not the series itself.
Before we dive headfirst into the fantasy pool of epic goodness that is Tara Mara’s The Unfinished Song: Initiate, we need to take a step back and formally define what epic fantasy is in the novel landscape of 2012. The classic definition of epic or high fantasy is it’s a sub-genre of fantasy set in invented worlds.
I hate that definition.
To me, epic fantasy needs to be, well, epic. Epic. This is fun, but not epic, fantasy:
A mysterious, sexy pale-skinned sword dancer hires an infamous mercenary to find her kidnapped brother. The mercenary learns there is more to women than bedding them, while the sister learns that if she lets her quest define her life, she becomes defeated before the rescue of her brother ever begins.
Bonus points if you can guess that book, by the way.
Now this, this is epic:
The good peoples, it seemed, never defeated the evil that threatened to consume them all, only delayed the final battle. The dark and vile lord who threaten freedom everywhere wrapped his essence into a ring, and now a band of unlikely heroes must cast the ring into the fiery pit of its creation or see it reunited with its maker. Setting out on their quest with the best intentions, the task soon falls to the smallest and unlikeliest hero while the armies of evil marshal to crush everything in its path. If the hero doesn’t destroy the ring and thus the dark lord in time, there won’t be anything left to save.
Epic fantasy is ambitious. Epic fantasy is grandiose. Epic fantasy is bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s heroic, it’s classic, it’s is all-encompassing and all-consuming fantasy. There are stakes. The stakes are high. You could say that the stakes are (wait for it!) epic.
And Mara’s Unfinished Song: Initiate is an introduction into 21st century epic fantasy. Here’s the teaser:
Dindi can’t do anything right, maybe because she spends more time dancing with pixies than doing her chores. Her clan hopes to marry her off and settle her down, but she dreams of becoming a Tavaedi, one of the powerful warrior-dancers whose secret magics are revealed only to those who pass a mysterious Test during the Initiation ceremony. The problem? No-one in Dindi’s clan has ever passed the Test. Her grandmother died trying. But Dindi has a plan.
Kavio is the most powerful warrior-dancer in Faearth, but when he is exiled from the tribehold for a crime he didn’t commit, he decides to shed his old life. If roving cannibals and hexers don’t kill him first, this is his chance to escape the shadow of his father’s wars and his mother’s curse. But when he rescues a young Initiate girl, he finds himself drawn into as deadly a plot as any he left behind. He must decide whether to walk away or fight for her… assuming she would even accept the help of an exile.
Now I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking, wow, that sounds cool, but um, that doesn’t sound too epic to me.
Oh, my friends, pour a cup of hot tea and wait for it. Don’t let the girly frou-frou cover and character-driven teaser fool you. Behind the rich, detailed world-building lies the heartbeat of an epic fantasy tale that rises above the bounds of mythology and into a coming-of-age novel that will leave the reader yearning for more. Maya clearly dips her plot and characters in several different mythologies, yet the book has a distinctive voice that tugs at your heartstrings.
Let’s deconstruct the goodness going on here.
Maya’s world building kicks ass. It’s unique, it’s ambitious, and it has an undercurrent of femininity that, without the advent of the interweb tubes, the story Maya is trying to tell never would have seen the light of day. It’s so different it is, and I say this with no exaggeration, a high fantasy literary bomb of mass destruction. It is not so much a filled with troupes and familiar themes as it becomes a classic example of the very idea of world-building.
How does she accomplish this? Maya’s neolithic setting latches on the magical undercurrents of the world she envisioned and never lets them go.
For example, stone-aged peoples in the real world were concerned primarily with survival. Gender roles and relations follow a path necessary for the continuation of the individual and the group. There is a reason when an attractive woman smiles at a man she unconscionably puts her hair behind an ear, why rejection impacts men and women differently and why we are creatures of instinct despite our technological advancements.
Yet, toss magic into the fray. Magic, like technology, lends itself to the removal of the disparity of force. Maya takes this one step where few tread: it’s not necessarily what you can wield, but more what you know. Dindi’s quest isn’t so much a classic grab-onto-the-power but an unlocking of a mystery.
That moves us back to the impact of the type of magic Maya puts forth. Women, in her tribal society, have distinct roles but they are far from simple property. Women need to bear children so the society she has shaped takes that into account, but it’s not as if the magic is something that sits around in a feudal or even Victorian society as if it’s a character by itself rather than infused into the setting. It has a distinct feminine vibe without the politically correct bullshit.
This is evident from the ground up. It’s in the way characters talk. You might think ancient peoples would also have a primitive language and culture. But neolithic-era people with magic? Maya nails this. It’s in the way they dress, how they pick their mates, how they relate to other tribes, how they view politics, honor and duty. In a world where magic comes forth from a dance, where pixies, talking bears, and fae abound–Maya uses this magic as the glue to everything: setting, plot and characterization. It is the basis of her world-building and because of the creative and talented way she does it, Initiate comes off as highly original, unique and engrossing.
I’m not exaggerating here. World-building. How To. Tara Maya. Initiate. Read it.
My number one surprise with this book is that this book has guy stuffs in it. I could talk at length how fascinating Dindi is, how she comes across as both vulnerable yet puts aside her fears to do what must be done. How she seems like she is fourteen going on eighteen one moment, and fourteen going on twelve the next. Maya pens her as tenacious and doesn’t shy away from giving her a sexuality. Dindi’s great.
My little fantasy heart, however, belongs to Kavio.
Because Kavio kicks ass.
Kavio, actually, is a tragic figure. Maya gives him nobility and youthful idealism as his moral fiber, and tosses him into situations of conflict where it becomes apparent that Kavio greatest enemy is himself. Kavio is a good guy, but he’s also a weapon of mass destruction. He follows the rules when obviously he could, quite simply, make up the rules himself with his magic. He’s like a Jedi Knight being given a ticket by a traffic cop. Press hard, Kavio, you’re making five copies. The cop has a gun and feels superior, but Kavio could turn him inside out, burn his cruiser, go to the station, and have it swallowed whole by a rent in the earth while blood pixies rip out everyone’s eyeballs through their noses making the police station scene in The Terminator look like a scene from a Jane Austin novel.
Instead, he signs.
Did I mention he’s a bad-ass?
As a writer, Kavio fascinates me mightily. I’m beginning to wonder if someone handed Maya an honorary penis because she hones in on the masculine feel of Kavio with laser-like focus. She nails what I call the Tragic Masculine Paradox: when confronted with an attractive young woman coming-of-age, the man of honor is torn with feelings of protectiveness as a father figure yet desires as a lover. You see this in fiction all the time. Rarely do you see it done with such empathy and understatement. Many writers go overboard with this, giving this a tragic (and pervy) element. Maya, however, simply presents it as-is. Kavio has bigger problems than his youthful naïveté.
Dindi’s feminine, innocent beauty, simply highlights Kavio’s main attraction: Dindi is magically powerful. Without going into the rest of the series, he’s slowly falling in love, and love, my friends, is messy. Dindi is more than a girl and then more than a young woman. She’s the catalyst to…
But I digress. Dindi isn’t the only character in a come-of-age journey in Initiate.
Which leads us to the clever, delicious plotting, and how we come full circle back to our discussion about epic fantasy.
A prevalent, and welcomed trend in speculative fiction is the come-of-age journey set in a fantastic (be it wonderful or dystopian) setting. I am a huge sucker for these types of stories, and in Initiate, Maya plots a literal come-of-age journey as Dindi goes out to become a woman, ready or not (and no, she wasn’t ready).
But epic fantasy has stakes. Big stakes. End-of-the-world (or worse!) type stakes, but unlike much of what is out there today, this book is surprisingly not a coming-of-age novel with an epic plot line to give the character’s punch and excuses to reveal their literary humanity. No, this is a book that provides the foundation for the true story: the battle with the malevolent forces out to crush humanity. It’s not exactly Clan of the Cave Bear meets The Lord of the Rings, but you get the idea.
Dindi is on a personal journey and she yearns to become a magical dancer in the society she was born in. However, if, as a reader, you’re paying attention, you can spot the epic plot that Maya is serving up like drops of water to the thirsty.
And this is where we depart the shackles of traditional publishing. Maya fearlessly has plotted out a twelve book series and each book is building on that plot in a relentless, epic fashion. Let me be very clear, I am not a big fan of many-book fantasy series. Many of them have problems with continuity, editing, and, quite frankly, sometimes as a reader, I feel I’ve been ripped off around book four because I’m being milked rather than being cleverly entertained.
eBooks, and today’s book market, however, has expanded the types of books we can find and buy, and Maya’s greatest accomplishment as a writer is taking full advantage of medium. The twelve book format, based on her world-building, is not only daring but also a little slice of epic fantasy goodness, and her skill at characterization draws the reader right into her world.
It’s epic fantasy by our very definition, and it’s yummy. Give me those twelve books. I’ll gladly ready every one of them. If you love a good fantasy series fix, Maya’s your drug dealer, Baby.
You can tell I’m a fan. Initiate is a wonderful, rich and diverse book and the series thus far is a fantasy reader’s fantasy series. I do have quibbles with it, but they are nits in the larger picture. I’m not a fan of the cover art. I disagree with some of the editorial decisions made and feel Maya’s talent could easily support books of larger word counts, smoothing some of the abruptness of the plot presentation.
Yet these are mere nits because from a storytelling standpoint, it just doesn’t work, it’s a slice of Awesome Toast with Bacon. I tell my non-writer, but reader friends, the Era of the Reader is upon us. Novels like Initiate proves that assertion. If you are a writer, take a step back from all the meta that goes on with writing, look at the bigger picture, and read Initiate. You’ll realize the sum of the book is bigger than its parts, and, at its heart, epic fantasy many readers want to buy, but haven’t really been able to do so.
I give Initiate four bacon strips out of five. And while this is a singular book recommendation, I’ll just drop a teaser that as good as it is, the other books in the series get better.