The OF Blog: The wotmania Files: First part of a Q&A with R. Scott Bakker (Nov. 2004)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The wotmania Files: First part of a Q&A with R. Scott Bakker (Nov. 2004)

This is the first of at least two and maybe three parts of the Q&A Bakker did with wotmania back in November 2004. For the most part, I've tried to preserve questions, silly and serious alike, with the exception of a couple of my own time-specific silly questions on hockey. Since this will be rather lengthy, I'm going to break it up into 2000-2500 word chunks and will try to post the entire thing over the course of the next few days. There ought to be a few matters of discussion for people reading this over four years later, including a comment on Esmenet being a "moral" argument for gender equality.
Since I just dropped my opinion about this in the book discussion below, I am curious. What are your views about gender roles in the world you created, how they are portrayed in the two books (not necessarily the same) and how they relate to our world?

With the recent elections, do you think a woman will ever be elected president of the US? Who would be your choice?

Great questions. Without a doubt I think this is the topic I take the most heat on, something which I see as ironic given that my initial concern was that I was being too overtly feminist!

Epic fantasy worlds are almost exclusively pre-scientific worlds, which is to say they're worlds where traditional authority, rather than public debate or scientific method, tells us what's true or false, right or wrong. What I wanted was an unsanitized epic fantasy world, one that was true to the brutalities and beauties of our own world before the Enlightenment. I thought the most honest way to explore our fascination with these worlds would be to look at them as they would really be. The culture of the Three Seas, as a result, is as misogynistic as western culture once was. Women are often treated as a sexual and reproductive resource. As Kellhus points out in TWP, when men cannot control their desires, they try to control the objects of their desires.

The reason I think I take so much heat on this issue is that some confuse representing such a world with endorsing it - which believe me certainly isn't the case! The idea, rather, is to explore the psychological consequences of such a culture on my female characters. We keep returning to these worlds (as fantasy readers), I think, because they represent something we're missing, but it's a mixed bag - very mixed.

A female US President? It'll take some time, I think, but with the way women are out-performing men in school, we're about to witness an immense gender role reversal. Things are going to look a lot different in 20 years time. And it'll all be blamed on video games.

I think I can see your point. Did you try to move away from the type of women portrayed in early fantasy works? Let's face it, Tolkien portrays women as almost holy in a way. He has a very Victorian attitude. This is not surprising given his time period. However, many people have shown women in the role of objects of desire, but not very bright. Were you concerned that readers would not buy that Esmenet was smarter than the men who used her? Or that we would be offended? Since we started down this path, it seems she does a total reversal by the end of The Warrior Prophet. Is this just another example of how well Kellhus manipulates those around him?

For me, the Kellhus/Esmenet dyad is one of the thematic cornerstones of the book. My big concern, and I think it's been borne out, has been that I'm simply being overly subtle.

One of the questions I'm interested in is, What happens to truths when they become instruments of manipulation? Kellhus enslaves Esmenet by emancipating her, by showing the 'truth' of the misogynistic culture she lives and breathes. In effect, he makes her modern. I have no idea how to answer this question, but it seems to me to be an important one.

If you believe that all values are simply social artifacts (which I don't, because I think this is tantamount to nihilism), then what we call 'women's rights' is simply an expression of changing technological and economic conditions. Given the way that technology increases productivity, the 'base economic units' of society become smaller and smaller. Just a few centuries back it was the village, then it became the extended family, then it became the nuclear family, and now it's becoming the individual. Every society in history rationalizes its economic organization in its belief-system, and our society is no different. So as the possibilities of female economic independence expanded, the more and more 'oppressive' the standing beliefs in the auxilary, familial role of females came to seem, and so the 'women's rights' movement was born. It's not that women are in FACT equal to men and always have been, it's just that their labour has recently become equally useful. There's no moral fact of the matter: just a social system spontaneously adapting its belief-system to better exploit its resources.

I see Esmenet, who is through and through the product of a society that subordinates women to men, as embodying this question. Is there a moral fact of her station, or is it simply the result of an arbitrary, socially grounded belief-system? How do here own decisions feed into this question? And how does the manipulation of Kellhus bear on the whole?

Her native intelligence, I think, is itself a powerful moral argument. It demonstrates her equality in fact.

Enjoy sci-fi?

Or are you solely a fantasy kind of guy?

I'll read anything, so long as it's good. Fantasy just happens to be my fave. My big problem is finding time to read what I want to read. I find that if I like reading something, it always makes me write, which is good for the writing, but bad for the reading.

What was Nietzsche's beef with Wagner?

I'm not sure. Holstein? Texas Longhorn?

Explain the meaning of life.

To stumble about without a bloody clue, convinced that you pretty much know everything you need to know. At least that had BETTER be the meaning of life, otherwise I'm screwed.

Over the course of TDTCB and TWP, we learn that the magic employed by the Schoolmen are based on semantical understandings and that the Chorae unravel these. Will we be learning more about the underpinnings of this conflict in TTT?

Quite a bit actually. I'm overweeningly proud of my world as it is, but I see sorcery as the jewel of Earwa.

I'm still waiting to learn more about the bathing habits of the Scylvendi. Anything to reveal in regards to that?

The memorialists tell harrowing tales of the legendary 'Loincloth of War,' but not much more than that...

Silk or cotton, boxers or briefs, this loincloth?

Rancid wolfskin... As if you didn't already know, Larry!

Ah, so the old and comfortable choice, huh? None of that effeminate silkworm refuse for them, yeah?

By the way, doesn't Rancid Wolfskin sound like a great name for a band?


Hi Scott. I loved TDTCB and I'm looking forward to TWP and future books. I imagine with the success of your books comes change. What has been the biggest change in your life (for better or worse) since you were published? How have you indulged yourself? Fantasy is your favorite genre, do you have any favorite authors? Favorite books? Are you reading any books now? If I think of anything else, I'll ask later. Thanks for taking time to do this and the other things you do like book contests, etc. It's very cool of you, and much appreciated!

Well, I'm still driving my 1991 Golf diesel... The big thing, though, is that I no longer have to work for a living - and after working midnights at a grocery store for 14 years while going to school, that makes me a happy duck indeed! I'm not sure my books are accessible enough to have any hope of making real money.

My favourite fantasy author at the moment has got to be Martin, followed closely by Erikson. My favourite author in general is Cormac McCarthy. Right now I'm reading Mieville's The Scar and Vassanj's The In Between World of Vikram Lall.

What is your name? What is your quest? your favorite brand beer? Any favorite movies? Do you play video games (#1 reason for decreased male average intellect)? Do you play chess? Favorite music/musicians? Any bad habits? Whats the one thing you'd like to change about yourself?

Holy moly, Moncul! Let me see...

My full given name is Richard Scott Bakker, and my 'quest,' if I get your meaning, is to always be a better man than I was yesterday, and to convince the world that they shouldn't be convinced by ANYTHING. Beerwise, I enjoy IPA's, but I'm not fussy - I think warm Bud is just fine. My favourite flick is A LION IN WINTER. Presently, I don't play video games, but only because I'm too broke to buy a computer capable of playing anything interesting. Bad habits? I fart in the morning and scratch my nuts in the afternoon. Those few times I've had a good computer, I've turned into a video game addict. I tend to drink and toke too much, though as it happens, toking is the one thing I'm trying to quit.

Makes me stupid. Drinking likely makes me stupid too, but I feel smarter...

Why does paper beat rock?

Because Rock is a bad boy who just won't listen!

Hey there. Cool of you to do this; we loves our authors, we does.

I'm partway through your first book in the series, and I quite enjoy it, but I won't ask any questions about it because any I would have at this point will surely be answered if only I read on, brave soldier, read on. However, I do have some other questions, which I believe are of some importance in the scheme of things.

1. Which of the four Ninja Turtles do you most identify with?

The one with the shell.

2. What sort of writing schedule are you used to, if indeed there is a schedule?

I try to plunk my ass in front of the computer every morning at 5AM. I try to write as consistently as possible until 5 PM, but...

Let's just say I have a very clean nose.

3. Do you write longhand first drafts, or do you type from the get-go?

I rarely, if ever, write anything in longhand, despite the enormous length of my index fingers.

4. You have twenty-four hours to save the last six living penguins from the attack of a giant killer giraffe who has waded through the ocean to Antarctica. How do you do it?

Hire Karl Rove.

5. Is it just me, or does Larry taste funny?

OBJECTION! The prosecution is leading the witness, your honour. No matter how he answers the question, Larry will be tasted, and the jury will be duly disgusted.

*tries to think of something witty*

*gives up*

What are you reading nowdays?

At the moment I'm reading THE SCAR and THE IN-BETWEEN WORLD OF VIKRAM LALL - loving both of them.

Do you ever find yourself reading something or watching a movie and thinking, "That plot twist should have been handled differently." or "Sloppy exposition."

Sometimes that's ALL I do. It drives my wife bonkers. When you're writing, you always encounter the 'How do I get there from here?' problem. The one thing I've learned is that you can get between any two points in a plausible fashion, so long as your prepared to take the time to think things through. That's what makes me gnash my teeth more than anything else when I encountering a huge plot hole while reading or watching: I know it's more a matter of laziness than anything else.

How's Thousandfold Thought coming along?

Awesome, at the moment, anyway. I'm pretty neurotic when it comes to my writing, which is just another way of saying that I'm not sure it's ME who's writing at all. Half the time it feels like I'm just watching my fingers dance.

What is yourPhD work about? When can I read it? After reading TDTCB, I became vastly interested in whatever you're cooking up. Is Prince of Nothing in any way related to or reflective of your academic work? What's the best IPA and who brews it?

Quit tokin'....still drinking...

Crackpot stuff. I think the various metaphors used to illustrate basic fundamental positions, such as the 'picture' for representationalism, or the 'game' for contextualism, actually play a powerful 'inferential' and explanatory role, and that by simply playing with these metaphors it's possible to develop novel approaches to a large number of philosophical problems.

I have nothing approaching a readable manuscript, I'm afraid, though I'm hellbent on completing the thing as soon as I can scrounge together a few fiction-free months. Are you studying philosophy, Anasurimbor?

Actually, a few things surface here and there. In TTT, one of these 'metaphors' actually finds a prominent place vis a vis sorcery...

Currently, my favourite IPA is 'Keiths,' though as I think I mentioned, I'm not really all that fussy. So long as I have a headache in the morning...

Revision. How much do you tend to revise? How long does it take you? Do you find yourself taking only a bit of what you wrote, and essentially rewriting it, or do you lean more towards doing the work the first time, and just tidying it up later? Finally, being an author. Fun, or not worth the effort? Thanks for dropping by!

Good question. Revision is the heart and soul of writing for me, but I know people who would say the exact opposite. It's different all the time, though I still think one of the most important skills I learned was what we used to call 'killing our babies' on the Online Writers Workshop. You need to be absolutely merciless when it comes to killing words (especially modifiers), phrases, passages, and even entire chapters - anything that isn't pulling it's weight.

To give you an example of just how much I revise, I would bet my next advance that there isn't a single sentence that survived from my initial draft of TDTCB. But then not only did I cut my teeth writing that book, I had tremendous difficulty reworking it to make those infamous first 200 pages more accessible. I think several sentences survived from the TWP, but even then, they know I'm looking, and that sooner or later...

Is writing fun? I love it. I still can't believe it. I still find myself expecting a bus or a dumptruck to take me out at some intersection. I always wanted to be a writer, but I never really pursued it because I thought it was a pipe-dream. Now I find myself feeling guilty for some reason - probably because I started working in the fields when I was ten.

People are supposed to work for a living.


Anonymous said...

Ha! I'd forgotten that Q&A. Funny stuff.

Larry said...

Glad you enjoyed it! Will be posting more shortly.

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