the Little Red Reviewer

my fave is problematic

Posted on: June 13, 2020

my faves are problematic.

they are my faves, and they are problematic. even after I write and read and reread this post, they will still be my faves, and they will still be problematic, and I have to be ok with that, because this is  not a fave I’m willing to give up.

I love time travel.  it is my super fave, i don’t plan to ever love it less than a bazillion hearts!!  time travel is super problematic!

Like, it is my favorite trope in the whole world.  travel to the past, travel to the future,  take modern items to the past and bury them to be found later, omg, I can’t get enough time travel!  Cheesy writing can be fixed, just add time travel!  have no plot? add time travel, and I’ll forgive anything!

“what could possibly go wrong?” is the best way to write a story, and with time travel, every possible thing goes wrong, every single time!  the person gets stuck in the past! they accidentally create a paradox! they realize their ancestor was an asshole! they go to the wrong time! the gizmo to get them back to the present gets broken! they are dressed wrong and someone thinks they are a witch!  they hit their head and get rescured by a well meaning local and they have to escape the person’s horrible medical ideas!  EVERYTHING goes wrong in time travel and it is THE BEST.   and then 50 pages before the end of the book,  they are able to come home safely and everyone (including me) cries.

 

I love the Back to the Future movies.  I grew up with them, I was the perfect age when they came out. Michael J Fox is so puppy dog adorable.

 

I don’t remember which Connie Willis book this was in (To Say Nothing of the Dog, maybe?), but a bunch of historians at Oxford are going back in time to all different temporal locations, and it’s suggested that a particular historian go back to a particular time, and the immediate response is “No. he’s black. that era is a 10 for him, it wouldn’t be safe.”.

I’ve thought about that sentence a lot.  Time travel isn’t safe for black people.  That historian couldn’t do his literal job, he wasn’t allowed to do the job he had studied for, because it wasn’t safe for him to go places, so they didn’t let him for his own safety.  Um, that super sucks.

A lot of the first time travel books and time travel movies I saw were white guys doing time travel. it was the 80s, i was limited to the movies my parents took me to, what was on TV, and what is in the youth section at the library.

the first time I read a time travel book where it was a woman who went back in time by herself,  there is an invasion and she and one of her female neighbors are raped.  the next time I read a time travel  book where a woman went back in time by herself, for a while I was wondering “how is she going to protect herself against being raped? is time travel safe for her?”

i love time travel (no shit), so I wonder, would time travel be safe for me?  I am a short woman.   Pretend time travel was real. If i went back in time to the  1700s, would i be safe?  would I be able to defend myself if someone tried to rape me?   A lot of fantasy and historical fiction and time travel novels have taught me that women who are alone are simply put, not safe and shouldn’t expect to be safe. Sure, I guess I could go all protein shake and go to the gym 2 hours a day and turn into a five foot tall forty year old body builder, and then, sure, I could probably, maybe physically defend myself? if the guy was less than 250 lbs?

just like the black guy in that Connie Willis book, what eras and/or decades would be safe for me to go to?    White guys can go back in time with no worries,  but it’s dangerous for women and black people.

that’s problematic.

(and yes, I know plenty of you are saying “Andrea. this isn’t a big deal, why are you worried about it? this is just fiction, why are you making a big deal about it?”  Because when you say “why are you making a big deal?”, what I hear is “why are you wasting my time with something that is unimportant to me”. because my experience in my life is different than yours, that’s why.  because books affect me differently than they affect you, that’s why.  And because sometimes it’s a good thing to ask someone “hey, what do you think about this”, and actually, fucking listen to what they have to say without shutting them down as soon as they say something that is outside your experience)

time travel is still my fave.  Will I read the shit out of time travel books and acknowledge that they are problematic? YEP!

are there books where non-white-men travel in time? There sure are!  will i still watch Back to the Future? sorrynotsorry YES i love those movies!

am i having a shitty couple of weeks right now?  well actually, yes.

 

 

25 Responses to "my fave is problematic"

First of all, thanks for this great reflection. I hadn’t thought of it from this angle. I remember that line as well, but it’s so true. Second, and this is related but no spoilers, have you read Wilson Tucker’s “The Year of the Quiet Sun”? If not, you absolutely must track down a copy. It has problems but I just read it and I can’t stop thinking about it and you’ve got to read it. It’s not on ebook but it’s worth tracking down. I have a review publishing Tuesday.

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ooh, I’ve not read that one! thank you for the recommendation! “not on ebook” makes it instantly more interesting to me! I have three or four bookstores I’m ordering goodies from right now.

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I posted my review of the book. There are major, major plot spoilers in it, though. I wanted to fully discuss this gem. – https://eclectictheist.wordpress.com/2020/06/16/vsf-yqs-tucker/

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*frantically adds book to TBR*. Year of the Quiet Sun looks to be very much my thing! I hadn’t heard of this book before, so thank you for reviewing it!

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This might be a unpopular opinion, but I can’t stand Connie Willis. I don’t want to get into details, because that just brings negative vibes.
But I loved the first 15 lives of Harry August. And several other time travel stories.

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totally OK to not like Connie Willis! 🙂 we all have books and authors that aren’t our cup of tea, but someone else likes them, and vice versa.

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I do think about this stuff in terms of who would have a decent or even survivable life in different eras. Some people with certain disabilities simply couldn’t survive (unless in this time travel they can take their medicine and machines that keep them alive). I often wonder how people with no arms and legs would fare. Are there any fictional heroes with no arms or legs? Or more than 2 missing limbs? The danger of it seems terrifying.
I know there’s a bunch of one armed heroes.

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I guess if someone has a prosthetic leg or arm, they’d be OK? basic prosthetic legs and hands have existed for hundreds of years, I’m guessing. and speaking of medications, how am I supposed to survive without Excedrin?

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Don’t you need enough limb length for prosthetics to be any use? I saw a guy with pretty much no limbs at all give a video talk (he said people beat him up because he was basically defenseless) and I don’t know if he’d be able to use any prosthetics.
He’s a very rare case but it must be tough in any time or place so far.

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I’m the furthest thing ever from being an expert on prosthetics*, so i have no idea about limb length needs.

Anyone who goes after someone because they are defenseless is a grade A asshole.

*I skimmed the Wikipedia page on the history of prosthetic limbs and I love the fantasy adventure manga Fullmetal Alchemist. That is literally all of my knowledge in this area.

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Version Control by Dexter Palmer – talks about race, trauma, motherhood. Best time travel book I’ve ever read.

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I’m sorry to hear you’re having a shitty couple of weeks – I hope things improve for you. But hell yes let’s hear it for stopping and listening to other people, and giving them space to share a different perspective. At the end of it, we may still disagree and that’s okay as long as nobody’s an asshole about it. Not that I’m here to disagree with you about time travel – I don’t love it as much as you do, but it’s definitely up there on the list of tropes that has me rubbing my hands with anticipation. Yes the bootstrap paradox is wildly over-used (and frequently misused), but the pure GLEE when it’s well-executed…

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i hope things get better too. I’m taking it day by day, you know?

that’s something i love about the scifi/fantasy/blogging community. We all have our different tropes we love, we all exist in overlapping Venn diagram circles that probably will never be perfect overlaps of each other. And we all see that as a benefit of our community, even when one of us loves a novel that someone else was just “meh” on. like, we go out of our way to find new tropes and authors and stories!

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Long-time-reader, first-time commenter here ^^ .

I think the issue is less that it’s safe for white men and not safe for women and people of color and more the bias in favor of white men that is the problem here. In a sense, time travel isn’t that different from traveling in general. The further back you go in time-traveling is similar to how the further away from your familiar surroundings you travel, things like culture, language, social norms etc. change. Even though I’m a white guy, if you were to suddenly teleport me to the middle of present-day Mongolia, I wouldn’t feel safe. Not because I imagine every person there to be evil but because I don’t know the language and culture, my survival skills are poor and I’m no threat in a fight. I wouldn’t have a goddamn clue how to get myself back to my home without overcoming a lot of challenges. If a criminal finds me in that state, I would be in danger. Suddenly teleporting to 12th century England would be just the same. (Being a farmer for a feudal lord doesn’t sound that appealing to me.)

But look at stories like Dances With Wolves or James Cameron’s Avatar, even though they aren’t time-travel-stories, because I think that’s the bias that’s going on here. Because with these you get the trope of the white guy becoming a member of a foreign culture, tradition and becoming the BEST at it. That same fantasy goes on when the idea is that there’s no problem with sending a white man back into the past because, well, he’s a white man. Of course, this white guy would immediately master whatever social situation he finds himself in and blend in without trouble. Just because you’re a white guy doesn’t mean you can just stroll into the distant past of, say, Europe and encounter no trouble.

What I mean is: There’s always danger with time-travel. Privilege for white people and men exists but not every white person and/or man in the history of mankind was in a privileged social position. So, white-guy-privilege isn’t some magic wand you can wave around once you’re in the past and suddenly all the dangers accompanying time-travel go away. But the way women and people of color get immediately victimized in these types of stories makes it seem like they’re inherently weak and powerless (like the problem is them and not the bad social norms of the past). It’s a bit weird to act like if a black person goes to the past racists will immediately lynch him and when a woman goes, she will immediately get raped. Meanwhile, you get a white dude who joins some medieval king’s court as a time-traveler, probably will be the best knight ever and oh, coincidentally, some beautiful princess falls in love with him. The assumption is that the white dude enters the past from a position of power and that it will be transferred to the past (somehow). At the same time, with less privileged the whole thing immediately turns into a horror-movie because they don’t have the privilege of deserving good things, so nothing good happens to them after they travel to the past.
___________

The second thing that sounded interesting to me was the historical angle. If the idea is to send historians back into the past to (I assume) witness the past first-hand, then not sending black people is super-racist. Sure, it will be very dangerous but time-travel would allow historians to recover the stories of black slaves that were brought to America, for example. By saying that’s too dangerous for black historians, you’re saying recovering history like that isn’t worth the trouble of time-travelling. But I guess, sending a white guy back who poses as a slaver would be fine by that logic.

I mean, that actually is also an interesting question: How far would you go in the quest of recording history using time-travel? Would you send a time-traveling historian to Auschwitz? Ultimately, though, by denying that black person, it turns time-travel into a matter of privilege instead of historical curiosity.

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thank you for reading and commenting!

“Because with these you get the trope of the white guy becoming a member of a foreign culture, tradition and becoming the BEST at it. ”

And I am sick to death of this trope, and tend to actively avoid it, because sick to death of it.

“At the same time, with less privileged the whole thing immediately turns into a horror-movie because they don’t have the privilege of deserving good things, so nothing good happens to them after they travel to the past.”

Yep.

“The second thing that sounded interesting to me was the historical angle. If the idea is to send historians back into the past to (I assume) witness the past first-hand, then not sending black people is super-racist.”

Yes. in the specific time travel books I was thinking of when I wrote this post, characters are going back to witness history first hand. Sounds like i need to do a better job and be reading time travel books that take place in less white parts of the world. 🙂

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In terms of time-travel-storytelling, I think there’s another trope that’s also problematic. With that I mean the type of time-travel-story that says “Trying to change the past always makes things worse. Lesson: Be happy with what you have.”. I don’t know of a specific example but picture some highschool-drama about some nerd trying to woo a hot girl and he uses time-travel but always makes things worse until he realizes he doesn’t need time-travel to woo her (and in the end, he does do it without time-travel). That’s such a privileged take on time-travel! It essentially assumes that the best of all possible worlds is the original status quo and trying to tinker with it is very bad. That may work when you’re talking about the attitude-problems of a teenager but with pretty much anything else, it really doesn’t work. Imagine a story about racism where you’re saying that doing anything about it makes it worse, so maybe you just need to have a better attitude.

It makes you wonder how much of the idea of “Don’t change the past” in time-travel-stories is linked to the idea of privilege. After all, not changing the past is indirectly saying that we need the present to be in the state that it is. And that things can’t possibly get better than that.

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“be happy with what you have” is a common children’s fiction trope, possibly to get kids to stop asking Santa for ridiculous gifts. One of my favorite examples is the cartoon tv show from about 20 years ago called The Fairly Odd Parents. they’d grant any and every wish the little boy made, and nearly every episode ended with him wishing for everything to go back to the way it had been.

one of my favorite time travel series, and I did a ton of posts about this earlier this year, is Kage Baker’s Company series. I mention her series, because her rule of time travel is “you can’t changed recorded history” (which i guess is analogous to “don’t change the past”). And her characters get up to 10 novels worth and countless short stories of hijinks, adventures, saving things, time jumping hundreds of thousands of years, and having to face awful decisions that other people made. It’s a great series, if you aren’t familiar.

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1. I’m so sorry to read that you’re having a “couple of shitty weeks”. Damn. Is there anything I can do?

2. Generally, time travel stories and novels are a chancy thing for me. Some are good, many are not. I prefer the older stuff, which is less psychological, and more plot and character oriented.

3. Do you consider Anne McCaffrey’s Pern book as time travel books? The dragons and their riders do go back and forward in time.

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1. the only way out is through. i’m taking it one day at a time, and hanging on tight to moments where i smile and laugh, and avoiding things that send me down sad paths.

2. yeah, i get that. for me, i find that time travel novels/stories work a lot better than time travel tv shows/movies, because there’s more space in a book for character development. there is so much cool stuff an author can do with characters, when you throw time travel into the plot!

3. ooh, haven’t read those in ages, and I don’t think I finished the series. I remember something really cool about a moon that drops red stuff (it was bad?) on their planet when the moon gets too close. if riders and dragons are going back and forth in time, then yeah, that would be time travel!

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Sorry you’re having a rough time of it. ❤
I also love time travel and this is something I think about a lot. There are times and places that I and others wouldn't be welcome. Things would be more than just 'fish out of water' – there would be real danger. There was a cheesy time travel tv show recently (blanking on the name) but in it one of the time travelers is Black and they made a point of having to stay back with the TT machine during certain episodes because the ended up in places where they wouldn't be safe. Actually, most of the episodes were like that and it because almost a running joke that was funny but also not funny because….it's not really funny, you know?
Anywho, hope you're feeling better soon.

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Wow, that is a super not-funny running joke in a time travel TV show, that one character doesn’t get any screen time and has to stay behind all the time, because he’s Black.

I need to do more research on international time travel fiction, see what I can find that doesn’t have these issues. lol, wouldn’t it be funny if “traveling back in time, to see what things were really like” is a trope that is unique to America / Canada / UK?

What’s today, Tuesday? I think peak shitty hit Fri/Sat, and today was pretty good, so that’s good. Thank you, I hope I’m back on a good path.

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Yeah, it’s a joke that the character keeps making because it’s a point that keeps coming up and is a legit concern and it does make a point. Still not sure how that’s meant to be funny and it was my coworker (who is Black) that told me about the show and that joke in particular because he was like ‘we can’t have anything lol’ and I was like ‘shit that sucks’. :/

The one time travel thing that made that point in a MUCH better way was Kindred by Octavia Butler which was a book that left a very profound impact on me when I read it as a senior in high school about a million years ago.

Yeah, I’m also really curious about time travel for other countries and cultures–there’s probably different issues to encounter!

Glad you’re feeling a little better!

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I can so relate to this post in many ways. i feel the same way about Time Travel as you do, I love it, despite its implausibilities….but I’ve never thought about how it would be for a person of color to return back in time. Certainly if they went waaaaay back it might be no less dangerous than for a white male, but not to most times. Not to the last several hundred years for certain. And while I feel that it is probably less of a chance of a woman getting raped/assaulted in times past than it would be for a black male or female to experience racism, it is sad to me that stories about time travel…or SFF in general…feel the need for that to be an occurrence that a female character has to have. And if not raped, any female time traveler would certainly not experience the freedom they would want to experience if they went back in time.

So many other works are problematic too. I like work by Lovecraft and Burroughs and Howard and Fleming. Works that have prejudice and sometimes misogyny baked into the cake, these are authors (and there are more) whose works I love. But I’m a white male. I’m not in danger of those books informing the way I feel about women or people of color, as I go into them with eyes wide open, knowing their issues. At the same time, I don’t experience the prejudice and lack of empowerment issues when I read them the way a person of color or women would when reading them.

It is a hard time, examining these feelings, but it is worth it. I cannot say I’m in favor of scrubbing all our history from existence just because parts of it are ugly, traumatic and uncomfortable. At the same time I have no desire to be dismissive of the experience of another person, or persons, simply because of my own feelings and opinions.

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i agree, it’s not easy or fun to examine how i feel about things, but it’s good for me to do it. I still enjoy my problematic time travel. Some days I consume fiction for the purpose of escaping, some days I consume fiction for the purpose of thinking critically about what I’m reading and about myself, and some days it is a little of both.

regarding Lovecraft, you might enjoy The Lovecraft Reread column that used to run on Tor.com
https://www.tor.com/series/the-lovecraft-reread/

Maybe it is still running, I’m not sure. the columnists look at authors who were inspired by Lovecraft, and sometimes those authors do a better job of telling lovecraftian fiction!

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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