Tuesday, November 01, 2005

My Brother's Price is a Ford F150

I put off reading Wen Spencer's A Brother's Price for as long as possible. Finally, after seeing it again in Locus and reading some good reader reviews, I decided to give in.

The book's about a boy about to be married in a world where women rule because live male births are incredibly rare (about one in thirty). I like keeping up with what people are writing about female-dominated societies; I like to know how they work out the world-building around it, how everything works, what things are different, what are the same.

The idea around the story, I read, was that it would be a reversal romance: the passive "heroine" looking for a good marriage would be male, and the sisters he falls for would be the active "heroes."

All this being so, I had a lot of worries about this book, starting with the cover:

Yea. Looks like some serious role reversal there.

My second worry came in paragraph one:

There were a few advantages to being a boy in a society dominated by women. One, Jerin Whistler thought, was that you could throttle your older sister, and everyone would say, "She was one of twenty-eight girls - a middle sister - and a troublemakers, too, and he - he's a boy," and that would be the end of it.

So, even in a female dominated society, men are allowed to beat up on women without penalty because there are so many women?

Yet, I perserved. Why? Because, after the first twenty pages of as-you-know-bob dialogue set up, I really started to like the characters. I really hoped Jerin would get laid with some hot, strong, smart chick, and his sisters were all these really awesome theif/soldier trained women who ran a farm. Despite my reservations about the world they lived in, I liked them. So I was happy to hear that they planned to swap their brother for a husband for themselves. Meaning, they hadn't been laid either.

Getting laid in this society is a little trickier than you might suspect. Spencer works in the importance of a man's virgitiy before marriage by explaining that if a boy gets and STD before his wedding day, the family of sisters buying him off will choke the deal because if he's got something, then the whole family will get it. Same with the women: they pick something up, husband gets it, all the sisters get it. Oddly, this society can measure the sperm count of a man but can't cure syphilis. Go figure. Anyhow, so boys get lots of attention from their sisters. Boys, being so rare, are considered property and kept close by. Women raiding holds for boys isn't an uncommon practice.

In fact, women are so prolific in this society that it's common for women to just toss out their girl children when they have them and "try again" for a boy.

Great! A female-dominated society, and girl babies are still greeted as gutter trash. One royal husband also abuses his wives and brutally rapes one of them. And guess what? Because he's a guy, he goes unpunished.

How does this fulfill the "things can be really different?" school of spec. fic.?

Anyway, with all this worry about disease and all this aching celibacy until marriage, where, you may ask are all the lesbians?

Oh, well there's just the one. The evil river trash villain, of course. Well, one of them. And one of the sisters Jerin ends up with may be bisexual. Whatever her past, she's in love with him, of course.

And therein lies some of the most troubling bits of this book. Jerin is beautiful. All the princesses love him. Whatever you predict will happen after you read the first fifty pages of the book, does. There's not a lot of plot twists. Not much suspense. The scene changes are choppy, like the book was getting too long so transition scenes were cut. I was never worried about Jerin, his sisters, or the princesses dying or having really horrible things happen to them. I was unsurprised when Spencer ended the book with "happily ever after." It's that sort of book.

Nobody you care about is killed, maimed, dismembered, or scarred in any way. And you never believe anything like that will happen to them anyway. The plotting is really cut and dry, easy to follow. The main plot of some missing cannons and another family trying to take over the throne is actually the *sub*plot. The majority of the book is taken up with Jerin accidently getting all the princesses to fall in love with him. This ain't no Game of Thrones.

And yet you really want to watch Jerin get laid and all these women get laid and everybody get in a big bed together.

I could have done with some more explicit sex scenes, I think.

That might have made up for the fact that there weren't any good lesbians in it.

19 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Ide Cyan said...

Badgerbag posted about this in Whileaway:
and on her blog. It'd be interesting to see the two of you compare notes?

BTW, there's a thing called OpenID, which you can use to post on LiveJournal without having an account, and without being shown as an anonymous poster, either:

Posted by Ide Cyan

Kameron Hurley said...

Thanks, Ide. 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

A.R.Yngve said...

I always figured that in a society with a shortage of men, the prime commodity would not be men, but *sperm*.

Picture Jerin being "milked" on a daily basis by his greedy family, who then sell the sperm to women for hard cash. Not as macho as Jerin inseminating all those women himself, but far more practical for everybody else!

Methinks the author of A BROTHER'S PRICE didn't think that far, or didn't dare to. 

Posted by A.R.Yngve

Kameron Hurley said...

Hey Ide, are you going to be at WFC?

And yea, A.R.: something tells me that if they had guys in milking stations, it'd really kill the whole "romance" aspect of the novel :) 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Jeremy said...

I highly recommend checking out the ongoing graphic novel/comic book series, Y--The Last Man if you have not. This is a much better take on the idea-- although it's a slightly different idea, of the last man on Earth. It's played dead seriously and has some awesome lesbians.  

Posted by JeremyT

James Nicoll said...

A VOICE OUT OF RAMA had a disease that killed most males, which had the usual SF consequences: men weren't to be risked on the battlefield and they had managed to grab an enhanced social standing out of the situation (Actually, I think they started with one and just used this situation as a lever).

When the planet was finally visited, the second question that got asked was "so if some of the boys are resistant and all non-resistants die, how come all the boys aren't resistant by now?" There are at least two answers to that: either the factor that makes some live and some die from the disease isn't genetic or the partiarchy is poisoning 90% of the boys to preserve their own position. Guess which one the author chose?

A reproduction pattern I used in an RPG for a species of long range traders who didn't run across their own kind very often was stolen from a fish: the male fertilizes its sisters before birth and then dies. The females are born pregnant but the cycle isn't restarted until certain environmental cues are met. To the humans, it looked like all of the aliens were female. Since the males never got above a few grams before dying, their social status was never really an issue. 

Posted by James Nicoll

Kameron Hurley said...

My roommate actually forward me a free PDF of the first issue of The Last Man. I'm always leery of books that follow the adventures of the one lone 20-something or teen boy left in a world of women (they tend to be oh-so-predictable), but there was some great action in the first one and interesting set-ups, so I wouldn't mind reading more.

I just wish the damn things weren't so expensive. 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

jeff said...

You might try half.com for used copies of Y: The Last Man. Or, you know, put up a wish list somewhere on yer blog and maybe somebody would buy it for ya.

Y has its problems too, but it tries to cover a lot more bases, sketches out the various ways that different women react to the situation of having all of the men dying. It could be used as a feminist primer, actually, in that way, because there are sort of 1st, 2nd and 3rd wave feminists represented (in my opinion) by various groups of women.

But, um, you already know it's good. I'm just sayin'. :) 

Posted by jeffliveshere

Kameron Hurley said...

I think what fascinates me most about all (?) of these female-dominated societies that we create in fiction (oh yea, I'm just as guilty) revolve around killing off all the men or having some kind of disease or genetic mutation that makes it so wildly fewer men are born.

And yet, in our own society(ies), men and women are mostly 50-50, and it's male dominated. Why can't we have a female-dominated society that's 50-50? What would have to happen (besides all the men dying), for that to come about? Obviously, we have some historical examples. Few, but they exist.

I've had some success writing about/creating egalitarian societies with a 50/50 (or so) gender split, but even in God's War, women run the show because all the men go off to war at 16, and most of them don't come back.

What about a Lysistrata-like overthrow where women refused to have children until they got equal rights, and that eventually led to a matriarchy holding dominance? I guess that sort of mass-action doesn't hold water.

At core, I think we, men and women, believe that men are so much more physically powerful than women that even if there were a 1/3 men to women ratio, women would be beaten into submission.

I tend to disagree with that. I think there have to be ways to construct matriarchies that don't involve murdering half your population. Oddly enough, as writers, it seems it's much easier for us to just kill half the population than think through other alternatives.

Hm. This has got me to thinking... 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

betsyl said...

i know _a brother's price_ had a lot of problems but i liked it anyway.

i did notice that their medical system was a touch wacky, but i hadn't noticed the syphilis/sperm count issue.

i think it's not the book i wanted it to be, but it is a little useful, because a lot of people will read it, and it's a different sort of idea that there can be societies with very few men and that they are then sort of a "pet" class, rather than being in charge and having harems. anyhow. i am not sure i'm making sense here, so i'll stop typing. 

Posted by betsy

James Nicoll said...

"I think what fascinates me most about all (?) of these female-dominated societies that we create in fiction (oh yea, I'm just as guilty) revolve around killing off all the men or having some kind of disease or genetic mutation that makes it so wildly fewer men are born."

I'm trying to remember if the UNI in STILL FORMS ON FOXFIELD had fewer men than women or not. I do remember that the UNI society was unimpressed with what they called Westerran civilization, which had had a rather spectacular crash about a century before, and they attributed a lot of the problems the Westerrans had to letting the guys drive.

As I recall, one of the reliable indicators for war is an economic downturn combined with a surplus of single, young men. That's actually not an argument in favour of fewer men but fewer single, young men, just a subset of men (Also, an argument in favour of horrible, horrible prosperity). A quick perusal of the death by injury stats for young people suggests that pubery melts human brains but male brains much more than female, at least in Canada:

Cohort death by injury % male
rate (per 100K)

<1 16.6 53.7
1-4 11.2 60.1
5-9 8.3 58.4
10-14 11.4 68.7
15-19 49.7 77.1

From which I deduce allowing kids to drive at age 16 is just cruel. As near as I can make out, puberty is correlated to an seven fold increase in death by injury in males but only a three fold increase for women. Also, the only age where males and females have the same death by injury rates is the one where they have effectly no autonomy at all.


Posted by James Nicoll

ScottM said...

I assume you've already read LeGuin's "A matter of Seggri"? It seems like a much more thoughtful version of the same setup.

I do like many of Aasaro's books, so I wonder what she saw in it. Since she recommends him generally, rather than this book... maybe that's the explanation. 

Posted by ScottM

Anonymous said...

Geez but that cited bit was goddawful! You really can tell what's in store by the first page or so. If the writing is terrible, it's not bound to get much better. And it makes no sense either. If you can't or won't apply some minimal logic to your world, no one can help you. Not your characters, not the brilliant setting, nor sterling dialog, or even hot sex. (I'm kidding about the hot sex, but not by much). I can't tell you how many people are put off by just hugely unlikely, massively illogical scenarios. Please no more of this dreck. Promote a better class of hackery! This is much needed. Cheers, 'VJ' 

Posted by VJ

Kameron Hurley said...

The thing is, VJ, it's not a bad book. That is, her likeable characters *do* make up for a lot of the hack aspects - shit *I* kept reading!

And to be honest I'd love to be able to write a nice, simple, easy-to-follow plot, myself. Not one that's so predictable, definately, but being able to actually plot is a good skill 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

I found "Y: The Last Man" even worse than those excerpted bits from that story. The reaction of every single feminist-identified female character (that I can remember, at least) when they come across the main character is: "KILL ALL THE MEN EVEN THE LAST ONE EVER." Brilliant.

The writer says he was trying to "fight" the stereotypes about how a world run by women would be like, more empathic or something than a world run by men. So a large amount of the female characters are as psychotically violent as men are supposed to be (sometimes necessarily, general post-apocalyptic stuff, but quite often stupidly: as mentioned above, the writer really does believe that plenty of women would be stupid enough to want to kill off all men ever and kill the human race). The fun part is that women are also less competent at men at everything technological and physical - so not only do they have all the bad traditionally-male qualities, they lack any good traditionally-male qualities.

There are a few tough and intelligent female characters, but I get the impression that they're largely allowed to be like that because they're only fighting/facing other women. They can beat up other chicks, but they can't, y'know, run the world like the men used to do.

Oh, AND there are arguments that things such as liking soap operas are biologically determined. 

Posted by Anonymous

betsyl said...

wen spencer is actually female, scottm. 

Posted by betsy

Tholzel said...

Two excerpts of a new female-centric pornovella can be seen at: http://www.velocitypress.com/pages/Whileaway.php


Posted by Tholzel

Kameron Hurley said...

Don't solicite on my site, please. 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Michael Phillips said...

Hey, one quick thing? Sperm count is immensely easier than curing syphilis. They are down the same tech tree, but sperm count can be done before you have germ theory, while syphilis requires not only germ theory but the discovery of either chemical or biological antibiotics. (I assume that sulfa drugs can treat it.)