Cross-posted from the LJ:

Hello there. Before you ask, no, I’m not going to be stopping the BFT3K of A Taste of Magic. Instead, I’ll see if I can get away with alternating between the two and still finish A Taste of Magic within a reasonable timeframe. Yes, I understand that I haven’t had the time and willpower to finish up a BFT3K for some time, but I’m sure I can do it this time round with not one, but two. You believe me, don’t you?

Yeah, you must be thinking I’ve got all the free time in the world.

In any case, today our newly acquired target will be Hawkmistress!. That’s right, complete with an exclamation mark at the end, and written by the Marion Zimmer-Bradley. I’ll admit up front I eschew almost every single one of the big-name authors and series for one reason or the other, but with all the same effect—from Robert Jordan to L. Modesitt Jr, they all make me want to tear my eyes out, for I cannot unsee what there is to be seen. But yes, I am going to be trying to tear up a MZB book, and no doubt there will be someone out there who stops, stares and then passes a quiet note to the people at Sword and Sorceress to immediately reject all of my future submissions for badmouthing the great MZB.

Another reason why I’ve avoided MZB’s books is that she reportedly was as batshit about her brand of feminism as Terry Goodkind is about his Randian philosophies, and didn’t hesistate to use her books as soapboxes in order to preach to the unenlightened masses. Of course, you know I’m against soapboxing on principle, and it doesn’t take too long to put two and two together.

Anyway, here we are. Hawkmistress!:

Our local Crazy Bird Lady assures me that it’s horrendously stupid, but maybe that’s because she’s a falconer herself. I’ll be doing this book blind—I freely admit to not haveing pre-read it before embarking on this quest, and maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Or more likely, not. In any case, this remains to be seen. I will be conferring with Crazy Bird Lady on falconry issues and bird behaviour for the purposes of this sporking, so I don’t think I’ll be making any mistakes on the falconry side of matters.

Do understand I’m reading this from an omnibus edition which also includes Stormqueen!, so the first page is actually page 393 of the book in total.

In any case:

Chapter 1:

We open with a young woman named Romilly in the mews with a hawk. Fair enough. She’s trying to feed the hawk here by cutting strips of meat from a carcass, but apparently she’s a telepath and the emotions of the terrified hawk are flooding her mind and overhelming her senses.

It’s here that we get the first major factual blunder of the book, right on the first page:

Even as Romilly pulled the small sharp knife from her belt, and carefully cut a piece from the carcass placed conveniently near, she was shaking with the effort not to strike out, to pull away in a frenzy from the strap that held her—no, not her, held the hawk—to the falcon-block; merciless leathers, cutting her feet— (Pg. 393)

According to Lenka, you don’t put a hawk on a perch made for a falcon, and vice versa. Well, you could, if you wanted to lame the bird for life. The purpose of any training, no matter how harsh, is not to to cripple the subject being trained. And when properly fitted, jesses don’t hurt the bird, nor do tethers. But of course, the bird has to suffer, because supposedly everything was so terrible back then, even though it frankly doesn’t seem to be the case.

In any case, we’re treated to an immediate backstory of Romilly. Uh, no. I can try to understand this in part—by the time this book was written, MZB was quite popular with a large fanbase, and she could count on people being interested in her books on their faith in her. However, I still hold that any book in a series should be open to new readers (that helps expand your fanbase, from the author’s point of view), something which plenty of authors I consider good such as LeGuin, Brust and Pratchett have done.

In any case, we learn that Romilly is a telepath by birth (what the hell is it with genetic magic?), one of the rarest and most powerful forms of laran (I.E. obfuscation of magic) in the world of Darkover. One of her brothers was apparently called to the Towers, which appear to be places where people with magic are trained in its use, and this has pissed off her EVVVVIL father that he refused to let any more of his children be tested for magic.

As a result, Romilly’s magic, which enables her to get into the mind of any animal (really. People get pissed when they realise they’re being manipulated; you’d imagine animals would at least be terrified.) There’s more exposition on how she managed to get her hands on this particular hawk (one and a half pages total), but the only really important bit is that this hawk is a Verrin hawk, which means it’s SPESHUL:

Verrin hawks, taken full-grown in the wild, were more stubborn than hatchlings reared to handling; a bird caught wild might let itself starve before it would take food from the hand, and better it should fly free to hatch others of the same fine breed, than die of fear and hunger in the mews,untamed. (Pgs. 397-398)

So Romilly had considered letting letting the falcon go free—

Wait, what the FUCK, it’s a falcon now?

Lenka has explained this to me at length when I consulted her for Embers research:

“Falcons and hawks (eagles belong to the same family as hawks) are biologically as closely related as cats and dogs. Or fish and marine mammals. Everything is different – the overall shape of the body, personality, behavior, even the way they poop – yes, really – the only things they have in common are that they are both birds and that both of them have evolved to be the best hunters they can be.”

Complete with pictures and a rather long explanation of how falcons and hawks hunt (which has proven useful in Lenka vs. Valise bird-fights), I can safely say that MZB at the very least, knew shit about falconry when she was writing this, since this is a basic tenet of the hobby.

Anyways, she had considered letting the hawk-falcon-thing go free when suddenly, she looked into the bird’s eyes and magically (yes, quite literally) knew that she could tame it. Which is why she’s here in the mews with the bloody bird. More exposition on how the fever’s come to the castle, and how she hates her lessons and needlework (of course! Being a lady is horrible! Never mind that plenty of fantasy ladies in the hands of competent authors actually manage to do more than the pants-wearers!) In any case, she’s determined that the bird bow to her wishes and insists on breaking it:

But this hawk was hers! Never mind that it sat on its block, angry and sullen, red eyes veiled with rage and terror, bating wildly at the slightest movement near her, the wings exploding in the wild frenzy of flapping and thrashing; it was hers, and soon or late, it would know of the bond between them. (Pg. 399)

To quote Lenka: the birds never forget, not do they forgive. You have one chance, and you’re out. Magic or no, they have too much pride, and mistreating a bird essentially equals “forget it”. And if her magic makes it love and accept her…well, humans using magic to make other humans love them is considered morally wrong. Given how most such “bonds” are supposed to be, what’s the difference between making an animal love you with magic?

And how do you break a hawk or falcon or whatever the fuck this bird is supposed to be? Why, by starving it, of course. By starving it until it does what you want it to:

You don’t leave a hawk at this stage, Davin had told her. Not for a moment. She remembered asking, when she was small, not even to eat? And he had snorted, “if it comes to that, you can go without food and water longer than a hawk can; if you can’t out-wait a hawk you’re taming, you have no business around one.” (Pg. 400)

Aaand there’s more on this later, but for now we’re treated to a standard fantasy princess whine on how she wants to be a falconer with a big, badass bird but of course LADIES have to have small docile birds, yadda yadda, society is stifling me, yadda yadda, I have as strong magic as my male relatives, yadda yadda, so on and so forth, echoing millions of whiny fantasy princesses from The Riven Kingdom to Disney Cartoons, and I roll my eyes and nod my head before backing away slowly.

Rule one of message fantasy: no anvilicious messages. We’re not children. We can make our own decisions. I read novels to be entertained, not to listen to your political beliefs.

But it still goes on and on:

Since Ruyven had gone, Romilly had been sternly turned over to her stepmother, expected to stay indoors, to “behave like a lady.” She was not almost fifteen; her younger sister Mallina had already begun dressing her hair with a woman’s butterfly-clasp, Mallina was content to sit and learn embroidery stiches, to ride ecorously in a lady’s saddle, to play with stupid little lap-dogs instead of the sensible herding-dogs and working-dogs around the pastures and stables. Mallina had grown into a fool, and the dreadful thing was that their father preferred her as a fool and wished audibly that Romilly would emulate her.

Never. I’d rather be dead than stay inside the house all the time and stich like a lady. Mallina used to ride well, and now she’s like Luciella, soft and flabby, she startles away when a horse moves its head near her, she couldn’t ride for half an hour at a good gallop without falling off gasping like a fish in a tree, and now, like Luciella, she simpers and twitters, and the worst thing is, Father likes them that way! (Pg. 402)

Uh-huh. Because it’s utterly wrong to seek power through alternative routes—through sexual manipulation, through influence, through the oft-used court intrigue, through sleeping with a man and knifing him after the deed, to use a facade of weakness to make others underestimate you, to spy on places where a man would be noticed…and all the alternative routes that I’ve seen women in fantasy take instead of riding horses and wearing pants.

But my main beef isn’t with wanting to ride horses and wear pants. You want to do that, fine. My beef is that these alternative methods of gaining power are rubbished and female characters who embrace them are rubbished by the author. I’ve seen similar attitudes espoused by modern-day more extreme feminists—that women who choose to be homemakers and do jobs traditionally perceived as feminine are selling out or deluded by the patriarchy, that they’re weak or outright retarded—exactly mirrored in the excerpt above: “You don’t follow my brand of Scotsmanship; you’re not a true Scotsman!”

In any case, first a man named Ker comes in to bother her, and she sends him away snappishly. Then her own father comes in, and with the usual “this is no place for a LAAADY to be” line sends her out of the mews, but not before this revolting line:

Here is food, come and eat…nausea rushed through her stomach at the smell and sight of the dead meat on the gauntlet. Yes, hawks feed on fresh-caught food, they must be tamed by starvation into feeding on carrion… (Pg. 404)

What. The. FUCK.

So much for your loving and empathic bond. So much for that. Rotting meat will KILL most birds of prey, unless they happen to be buetos, who can scavenge and digest the toxins produced by fouling meat. Again, MZB knows jack SHIT about falconry, still in the first chapter.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that wild birds aren’t tamed? Of course, we get acknowledgement, even from the EVVVIL father, that Romilly is something SPESHUL:

“Zandru’s hells,” the MacAran swore, “If but one of your brothers had your strength and skill, girl! But I’ll not have it said that my daughters must work in mews and stable. Get you inside, Romilly, and not another word from you!”

His face was angry and implacable; the hawk bated again, at his anger, and Romilly felt it surging through her too, an explosion of fury, frustration, anger, terror. She dropped the gauntlet and ran, sobbing with rage, and behind her, her father strode out of the mews and locked it behind him. (Pg. 404-405)

Apparently, this is supposed to be another instance of her father’s wretched misogyny and cruelty, but all I’m seeing is a whiny girl who didn’t bother trying to parley, explain or empathise and instead immediately threw a tantrum when she didn’t get exactly what she wanted. One of the “justifications” I’ve seen on the internet for this so-called hawk “training” is how horrible everything was in this Darkover place, and naturally this training must be horrible, too. Well, Romilly isn’t behaving like a fifteen-year-old who’s grown up in a hard world with an understanding of her responsibilities and duties necessitated by an unsure survival, but instead of a whiny fifteen-year-old Britney Spears wannabe who got transplanted into a faux-medival world.

So Romilly goes back to her room, and a servant brings her bread, warm milk and honey. What a hard life, to have servants looking after you. Then she muses some more on her evvvil family, her evvvil father and stupid sisters and spoilt little brother, and then her thoughts turn to the hawk-falcon-thing still trussed up in the mews. Of course, she worries about the prospect of her evil father beating her, although it’s explicitly mentioned he’s never laid a hand on her in her life before.

Beatings without beatings. Oh, we must make her father look evil and give her something to angst about, but god forbid that she actually be physically imperfect. Really, it’s belittling victims of real abuse by suggesting what Romilly is going through is as bad as REAL abuse people suffer at the hands of other people.

Of course, her father is so evil as to look down on animals, and everyone knows that kicking puppies is bad:

Her father himself had always hold her that a good animal handler never began anything with hawk or hound or horse, that he could not finish; it was not fair to a dumb creature who knew nothing of reason. (Pg. 406)

After working with animals and getting in their minds for most of his life, he thinks this way because…well, he needs to be evil! You must hate him! The great MZB says so!

In any case, after making sure that the whole household is sleeping, Romilly sneaks down to the mews again. Wait, I thought her father had locked it behind him? Then how did she get in there—no, I don’t want to know, and frankly, don’t care except wonder how the great MZB could have made such a basic blunder.

In any case, she cuts off more of the rotting meat and tries to get the bird to feed, all the while using her magic to psyche the bird into subservience, wiping away all traces of guilt by justifying that the torture is for the bird’s own good:

No, she thought, it is not a violation to teach or train an animal, no more than when nurse taught me to eat porridge, even thought I thought it nasty at first and wanted nothing but milk; because if she had fed me upon milk and babies’ pap after my teeth were grown, I would have been sickly and weak, and needed solid food to grow strong. I wear clothes even though, no doubt, I would sooner, then, have been wrapped in my blankets like a swaddled baby! And later I had to learn to cut my meat with a knife and fork instead of gnawing at it with fingers and teeth as an animal would do. And now I am glad to know all these things. (Pg 410)

Number one. Why doesn’t she apply this same train of thought to her parents wanting her to “be a lady”? Number two: the difference in all this is that she was not starved, beaten or treated cruelly, and knew the purpose of such learning. This cannot be said for the way the bird is being treated.

The actual psyching:

She filled her mind with images of soaring free above the trees in sunlight, trying to open her mind to the memory of the last time she had hunted; seeing the bird come spiralling down with its prey, of tearing apart the freshly killed meat, so she could give the bird its share of the kill… (Pg. 410)

But you must eat and grow strong, preciosa, she sent out the thought again and again, feeling the hawk’s hunger, her weakening struggles. Preciosa; that is your name, that is what I will call you, and I want you to eat and grow strong, Preciosa, so we can hunt together, but first you must trust me and eat…I want you to eat because I love you and I want to share this with you, but first you must learn to eat from my hand…eat, Preciosa, my lovely one, my darling, my beauty, won’t you eat this? I don’t want you to die…(Pg. 410)

Can you imagine something like this being broadcasted into your head repeatedly? “You will love me. You will love me. I love you too, and you are only denying it to yourself. Love me and be my minion and I will give you everything.” Equal relationship my ass; this is clearly setting up for a dominant-submissive relationship like so many Animal Companions in fantasy, and it really wouldn’t be a problem IF IT WAS ACKNOWLEDGED AS SUCH AND THE RELATIONSHIP NOT TREATED AS IF THEY WERE BFFs.

Of course, the bird finally breaks. What, did you imagine it wouldn’t? It eats the rotting meat, and by all rights it should sicken and die within days like a REAL raptor would, but of course we know that’s not going to happen. Of course, Romilly is overjoyed that the bird is now her mindless slave, full of love and affection for her, and she goes to where the pigeons are kept, wrings the neck of one and then lets the bird feed on actual food.

When the hawk had fed…she could feel the dulling of hunger, and even her own thirst receded…she set it on the block again, and slipped a hood over Preciosa’s head. Now it would sleep, and wake remembering where its food came from. She must leave orders that food for this hawk must be very fresh; she would have birds or mice killed freshly for it until Preciosa could hunt for herself. It would not be long. It was an intelligent bird, or it would not have struggled so long; Romilly, still lightly in link with the bird, knew that now Preciosa would recognize her as the source of food, and that one day they would hunt together. (Pg. 413)

Or more likely, according to Lenka, it’ll remember you as its tormentor and fly away at the first opportunity, if not outright claw you to bits. Hell, even Danny claws Lenka sometimes when he’s displeased with her. On the chest, or even her face. Anyways, Romilly’s being all pleased with herself when her EVVVIL father bursts in on her and yells at her for her disobedience. Of course Romilly yells back at him, saying he isn’t grateful at all that she’s managed to break the bird, and that if she has her super-speshul magic she’s supposed to use it and that she’ll never be a lady. Naturally, being the designated evil misogynistic prick, her father has no good answer for that, and there’s another beating without an actual beating to show how evvil he is:

And as she slipped past him she could feel that blow he started to give her, then held back—he could not bring himself to strike anything, and she had saved the life of the hawk. But out of his rage of frustration he shouted after her at the top of his lungs, “You haven’t heard the last of this, damn you, Romilly!” (Pg. 414)

Yeeeah, whatever. Chapter end and I don’t care already.

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Comment

  1. Danielle on 31 January 2010, 21:01 said:

    Since Ruyven had gone, Romilly had been sternly turned over to her stepmother, expected to stay indoors, to “behave like a lady.” She was not almost fifteen; her younger sister Mallina had already begun dressing her hair with a woman’s butterfly-clasp, Mallina was content to sit and learn embroidery stiches, to ride ecorously in a lady’s saddle, to play with stupid little lap-dogs instead of the sensible herding-dogs and working-dogs around the pastures and stables. Mallina had grown into a fool, and the dreadful thing was that their father preferred her as a fool and wished audibly that Romilly would emulate her.

    When I entered adolescence, my mom taught me how to “behave like a lady:” how to put on makeup, fix my hair, find cute clothes that looked good on me, how to walk in high heels. She taught me how to act around the opposite sex, how to talk to girls my own age, how to carry on a conversation with adults. I have two lap dogs that I love to play with, and while I like big dogs, I daresay I like little dogs better. Am I a fool?

    If you call me a fool, I’ll laugh and look at you to see if you’re serious. If you are, I’ll laugh again and prove I’m not a fool while muttering insults behind your back. My IQ is 142—higher than average—and I have a brown belt in Shudokan. And yet if I were a woman in a high fantasy novel, I’d be portrayed as a fool, good for nothing but marriage to a rich/ abusive fool of the opposite sex.

    Gah. These authors need a crash course in TRUE feminism.

  2. Nate Winchester on 31 January 2010, 22:51 said:

    Must… resist… teasing… falconempress…

    (The question: “What popped into my head when I read this article’s title?”)

  3. Snow White Queen on 31 January 2010, 23:24 said:

    The Mists of Avalon wasn’t bad, but this book…the sentences were extremely difficult to follow. I’d have thought that such an apparently well-known fantasy author would have done better.

  4. Danielle on 1 February 2010, 13:24 said:

    Hey, how come none of the boring-but-traditionally-male-professions get an exclamation point? Shepherdess! Blacksmith Lady! She-Plumber!

  5. falconempress on 1 February 2010, 15:32 said:

    You better resist it, Winchester. Or I will have Danny claw you in the face instead:P

  6. Anonymous45 on 1 February 2010, 16:58 said:

    Lol @ Danielle

    Construction princess! She that rules the office towers by gracefully balancing concrete beams on her powedered wig!? (she also multitasksb by completely intentionally using that beam to give some lucky coworkers a free chance to experience true flight before their lives tragically end in a human-shaped hole on some bus. Isn’t she a sweetheart!?)

    Garbageman-duchess!

    This whole animal taming thing (by force)reminds me of the veiled nature abuse by the Na’vi of Avatar somehow.

    BTW the song “I’m here for your entertainment” by Adam Lambert can be interpreted as a rather accurate description of this procedure in both this and Avatar. I think I detect a hint of Eragon too.

  7. Nate Winchester on 1 February 2010, 17:07 said:

    You better resist it, Winchester. Or I will have Danny claw you in the face instead:P

    I wonder how hawkmistresses and falconempresses duel. Would mud be involved in any way?

    (sorry, sporks just bring out the juvenile in me)

  8. Chant on 1 February 2010, 17:44 said:

    Exclamation point in the title? Really??

  9. SweetRunningBreeze on 1 February 2010, 19:19 said:

    Baha. Preciosa. Romilly should have named her something a little less girly than that, methinks.

    And at Danielle- I, too, would be the simpering abused woman. That sort of makes me sad.

    It also makes me sad that I have about a dozen first chapters identical to this in my closet from my younger days, when I read Tamora Pierce all day long.

  10. Anonymous45 on 1 February 2010, 19:47 said:

    How does one even pronounce “Preciosa”?

  11. Kyllorac on 1 February 2010, 23:12 said:

    I think pre-she-oh-suh? It strikes me as a name from one of the Romantic languages.

  12. falconempress on 2 February 2010, 03:14 said:

    @Danielle – FTW. that just sounds awesome.

    and I sew. and enjoy things like high heels and nice dresses and such. Into the “useless and only-good-for-marriage-and-abuse-females” I go.

    (heh, it does sound a lot like “Avatar” doesnt it?)

  13. Kyllorac on 2 February 2010, 11:57 said:

    If sewing designates one as a useless-and-only-good-for-marriage-and-abuse-female, what does that make old-time sailors and tailors? :P

  14. Danielle on 2 February 2010, 12:55 said:

    If sewing designates one as a useless-and-only-good-for-marriage-and-abuse-female, what does that make old-time sailors and tailors? :P

    Abusive chauvanists (if male) and BIG STRONG MIGHTY FEMINISTS (if female). :P

  15. Kyllorac on 2 February 2010, 16:52 said:

    Meet Sally: seamstress by day, bane of misogyny by night. Join her as she takes down the patriarchy by the seams of their smallclothes*!**

    *I was going to use panties, but men don’t wear panties. >.>

    **You know you want to write it. :P

  16. Danielle on 2 February 2010, 17:04 said:

    Meet Sally: seamstress by day, bane of misogyny by night. Join her as she takes down the patriarchy by the seams of their smallclothes*!**

    Must…resist…powerful urge to write story about Sally the seamstress who takes down the EVUL ESTABLISHMENT by sewing painful objects into mens’ undergarments!

  17. Kyllorac on 2 February 2010, 17:18 said:

    Pointy poisoned painful objects? Which are invisible to the naked eye? >:D

  18. Danielle on 2 February 2010, 17:27 said:

    And only painful to men? :P

  19. Kyllorac on 2 February 2010, 19:28 said:

    I was thinking more along the lines of causing them explosive diarrhea, thus ensuring their continued custom, thus funding Sally’s efforts. :P

    And, of course, one must also take into consideration those misguided women who support the evul patriarchy. I believe a miracle cure for chronic explosive diarrhea would act as a wonderful incentive to join the ranks of feminist fighters. :P

  20. fffan on 19 February 2010, 21:40 said:

    thankyou so much for writing this. I’m sick to death of everyone telling me OMG OMG OMG what a GREAT book thus is <3 <3 <3

  21. Kytescall on 18 August 2010, 08:09 said:

    As a bio student and a pedant, I have to state for the record that the following statement is wrong:

    “Falcons and hawks (eagles belong to the same family as hawks) are biologically as closely related as cats and dogs. Or fish and marine mammals.”

    I’m referring especially to the second sentence there, although the first sentence is wrong too. I’m sure lccorp2’s friend was just overstating this for dramatic effect, but hawks and falcons are a hell of a lot closer to each other than fish and marine mammals. The sheer wrongness of this remark makes me cringe. Cats and dogs, on the other hand, are considerably closer to each other than falcons and hawks.
    A more accurate comparison would be bears and pangolins. To those of you who don’t know what a “pangolin” is, I’m afraid I couldn’t come up with a more intuitive example off the top of my head that wasn’t wrong. Phylogeny is complex.

  22. Tim on 16 June 2012, 06:58 said:

    Preciosa; that is your name, that is what I will call you, and I want you to eat and grow strong, Preciosa, so we can hunt together, but first you must

    put the lotion in the basket or you will get the hose again.

    I mean god damn, it’s even almost the same name as his dog.

  23. Woofb on 3 July 2012, 17:41 said:

    Don’t be so hard on MZB about the hawk-training bit.

    Having just read T. H. White’s illuminating memoir The Goshawk, I can actually see a reason for this. T. H. White read various medieval/Elizabethan/whatever books on falconry, hired himself a quiet place in the country, and imported a goshawk from Germany. He then set out to stand vigil over the bird as the books told him to. The result nearly turned both him and the hawk psychotic, although he did end up with some measure of control.

    If it didn’t occur to MZB to read modern falconry manuals (or there weren’t many available to her), and she was accustomed to fill in details on a pre-industrial society by researching medieval/etc history and books on life at different times, she could easily have ended up with the impression that vigils were how it was done. It’s only if she made a specific effort to research from modern falconry works and books on animal behaviourism that she’d have found out how to replace that intimately-brutal method with something that works better for falconer and falcon.

  24. Homer on 31 May 2014, 18:50 said:

    I hope you realize how silly it is to spend so much time harping about the intricacies of real world falconry in a fantasy novel.

    Do you also “tear apart” every RPG that allows you to have an animal companion?

  25. swenson on 31 May 2014, 20:22 said:

    Awww, did we hurt somebody’s feelings? I think we did!

  26. Homer on 31 May 2014, 20:29 said:

    You assume much. I’ve never read the book or anything from the author. I just think it’s dumb when people complain about historical or scientific accuracy in fantasy, especially when you realize that the person writing this probably wouldn’t have even noticed it if he wasn’t told about it.

  27. swenson on 31 May 2014, 22:27 said:

  28. Asahel on 31 May 2014, 23:34 said:

    I just think it’s dumb when people complain about historical or scientific accuracy in fantasy, especially when you realize that the person writing this probably wouldn’t have even noticed it if he wasn’t told about it.

    Suppose I write a fantasy story. In it, a normal, everyday, not-magical-in-any-way blacksmith makes a sword for someone. This person is also normal—not super strong or magical—but occasionally uses the sword to cut through stone walls and never has to sharpen it. No one in the story seems to think this is odd—it’s just apparently something that normal, everyday, not-magical-in-any-way swords do. Would that bother you, or would you just shrug and think “meh, it’s fantasy; there’s no need for realism or scientific accuracy in a fantasy story.”?

    Also, it’s largely irrelevant whether the author of the book sees this criticism. If she does, and she learns from it, then excellent; however, the point of the spork is myriad. For one, it’s amusing. But there’s an even more important function that it serves—showing other aspiring authors that read this site mistakes not to make in their writing.

  29. Danielle on 1 June 2014, 00:01 said:

    I hope you realize how silly it is to spend so much time harping about the intricacies of real world falconry in a fantasy novel.

  30. Tim on 1 June 2014, 02:07 said:

    You assume much. I’ve never read the book or anything from the author. I just think it’s dumb when people complain about historical or scientific accuracy in fantasy

    Wouldn’t you find it odd if, in a movie, someone pulled on the handbrake of a car to make it accelerate?

  31. Homer on 1 June 2014, 08:59 said:

    @Tim: That’s something that just defies common knowledge. This is more like getting superpowers from a radioactive spider or getting frozen in a cryogenic chamber and waking up in the year 2099. We no it’s implausible, but we can suspend out disbelief for the sake of the plot. It’s not something that would take most people out of the story.

    If you’re complaining that an animal doesn’t act like how it would in real life, you’ll probably have to put a whole ton of fantasy (or, hell, fiction in general) in the shit pile.

    Also, as far as I’m aware, “Verrin hawks” don’t exist in the real world. It’s like complaining that wargs don’t act like real wolves.

    Suppose I write a fantasy story. In it, a normal, everyday, not-magical-in-any-way blacksmith makes a sword for someone. This person is also normal—not super strong or magical—but occasionally uses the sword to cut through stone walls and never has to sharpen it. No one in the story seems to think this is odd—it’s just apparently something that normal, everyday, not-magical-in-any-way swords do. Would that bother you, or would you just shrug and think “meh, it’s fantasy; there’s no need for realism or scientific accuracy in a fantasy story.”?

    Again, this is an example that’s different from what lccorp complains about, but as long as they don’t explicitly state that it’s the most ordinary sword in the world wielded by the most ordinary person in the world, it wouldn’t bother me as long as it was consistent and they didn’t bring that property out of nowhere as a deus ex machina.

    Also, it’s largely irrelevant whether the author of the book sees this criticism. If she does, and she learns from it, then excellent; however, the point of the spork is myriad. For one, it’s amusing. But there’s an even more important function that it serves—showing other aspiring authors that read this site mistakes not to make in their writing.

    I think you misunderstood me. I wasn’t talking about the author seeing anything. The “writer” I was talking about was the person who wrote the sporking. As in, he wouldn’t notice any of the falconry related issues if he wasn’t told about them before he started reading the book. I’m sure there are a bunch of scientific inaccuracies in other fantasy novels he enjoyed that he never noticed (or if he did, he’d probably excuse it if he liked the book).

    How many people are going to be bothered by the falconry issues? No one who’s not the “hard sci-fi only” physicist equivalent of a falconer. I’ve actually googled this book with “falconry” and this is pretty much the only site where such complaints even come up. Though I did find people talk about how the book made them interested in the hobby.

    Criticism can also be criticized, by the way. At least you two bothered to discuss this instead of just using 4chan nonsense.

  32. Tim on 1 June 2014, 09:17 said:

    This is more like getting superpowers from a radioactive spider or getting frozen in a cryogenic chamber and waking up in the year 2099.

    It’s more like gaining superpowers from being bitten by a completely ordinary spider or getting frozen in a supermarket freezer, really. Hawks are things from real life which obey certain real-life rules. If you don’t want the reader to use their familiarity with a thing, don’t identify it as a thing they’re familiar with.

    Falconry might be a more obscure area of knowledge than which part of a car makes it go, but it’s really the same deal: it’d jar you out of a story if someone started a car with the handbrake even if it was a fictional model, and that “oh, I guess, um, that’s just how this kind of car works” is you having to bs your way around the writer’s mistake.
  33. Homer on 1 June 2014, 10:40 said:

    Again, “Verrin hawk”.

    Also, that means you must hate pretty much every story where people get attacked by wolves, bears, swarms of spiders and bats or persistent sharks that eat everything in their paths. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to think that animals would behave differently in a different environment, anyway. Lot’s of fantasy novels have real world animals that talk. Sorry, but this just seems nitpicky as hell. I mean, pointing out the flaw is fine, but when it’s one of the major focuses of your criticism, then it seems a bit much, even if nitpicking is the point of these things.

    The beauty of fiction, and especially speculative fiction, is that we don’t have to be restricted to real world rules. You just have to make sure that what you do makes sense in your own story. If someone consistently started his car with the handbrake, then you could hand-wave it away by saying that the brake is not really a brake, as long as they don’t show us the actual braking mechanism. A story in which people live in a fortress on top of a giant bird wouldn’t make sense if gravity works as normal otherwise.

  34. Homer on 1 June 2014, 10:42 said:

    Lots*

  35. Tim on 1 June 2014, 11:29 said:

    The beauty of fiction, and especially speculative fiction, is that we don’t have to be restricted to real world rules.

    Yes, but I’d rather get the sense the author has made a conscious choice to break them rather than done so because they couldn’t be bothered to look into the subject matter. None of the errors here are really requirements of the story or add anything to it, never mind that the errors related to how a bird and trainer interact just add up to the lazy fantasy writing issue of a “partner” animal being depicted as a slave.

  36. Tim on 1 June 2014, 11:46 said:

    The other problem is a lot of detail is pit into the training even though all of it is basically wrong; it’s like a police procedural by someone who hasn’t studied police procedure, or a medical drama by someone who can’t tell one end of a syringe from the other.

  37. Homer on 1 June 2014, 11:47 said:

    Gotcha. I can see where you’re coming from even if I don’t completely agree that it should be a big deal.

  38. sanguine on 1 June 2014, 12:46 said:

    I think Homer brings up some good points, but I agree that realism should only be compromised if it improves the story, not if it makes the author’s life easier. Also, respect to you, Homer, for arguing in a mature way.

  39. The Smith of Lie on 1 June 2014, 13:04 said:

    I don’t know first thing about falconry. I wouldn’t know falcon from hawk if it swooped down and scratched out my eyes. So, if I ever read Hawkmistress! I’d be unable to recognize mistakes in that area. Author of the spork has some falconry knowledge/experts to consult and he noticed them. Still, they are smallest of the problems of the book.

    I personally belive that factual mistakes are to be forgiven if they serve to have more interesting story, better characterization or are just minor and/or unimportant enough to give them a pass. And if Rule of Cool or Rule of Funny overrules them. Hawkmistress! has some other problems beside the falconry (at least so it seems, I am disinclined towards reading it to confirm it myself – my last brush with MZB and Mists of Avalon ended up in disappointment). So the gralring (for a person who knows ther falconry) mistakes just exacerbate the flaws,

    Also, on purely technical side – I dislike the argument “but it is fantasy”. Fantastic yes, surreal no. At least unless it is the point. Good fantasy, as I’ve learned over the years, pays attention to details and realism of the parts of the world that are not outright stated to be fantastic. I’ve learned it hard way when after exposure to Sanderson, Martin and Abercombie I revisited my one time favorite – Redemption of Althalus. While book did not suddenly became horrible I now notice how sloppy and arbitrary the world seems at times. Compared to worlds by Sanderson it is as if Eddings had world done by cliches. It is really jarring. Let me employ a simile – reading Stormlight Archive is like watching a move filmed at location, with breathtaking New Zealand landscape just jumping at you; reading Redemption is like watching movie filmed in front of matte painting with the use of cardboard props for the town.

    In case of Hawkmistress! 90%+ of readers won’t notice that hawk is made of paper mache and swung on a string. But the remaining readers will be apalled by how Plan 9 it looks.

  40. Organiclead on 1 June 2014, 13:31 said:

    I don’t like factual nudging unless there’s a good reason. People absorb media and can get a lot of false notions from repeated embellishments which can range from silly mistakes to life threatening misconceptions. I’ve got a lot of examples on the subject, but the first three that pop into my head are the way people think heart attacks feel, the reaction to attempt suck snake venom out of a snake bite and the actual range of explosives compared to what most action movies would show you.

  41. Tim on 1 June 2014, 14:51 said:

    Probably the best example is civilians in real war zones taking the kind of cover that works in movies (because that’s their only frame of reference) and then discovering drywall, car chassis, doors etc have no ability to stop a bullet whatsoever.

  42. Homer on 1 June 2014, 16:34 said:

    But can we really blame the media for that, or those people who are unable to tell fact from fiction (and if they never watched those movies, would they know what to do in such a situation, anyway)?

    It would take a special sort person to think they’re an expert in military tactics from playing a few Call of Duty games or that they know all about forensic science from watching CSI. Even 6-year-olds (in most cases) never needed disclaimers warning them that getting hit with a hammer wouldn’t be like what they saw in Tom & Jerry, or that spinach wouldn’t make them invincible.

    Either way, this is largely irrelevant to this particular book. I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say that 99.99% of the world’s population will get on just fine not knowing squat about training falcons or hawks. And I’m sure most of us have no problem enjoying those blockbuster movies with big ‘splosions if they succeed as entertainment.

    So the gralring (for a person who knows ther falconry) mistakes just exacerbate the flaws

    Well from the 5 minutes I spent looking around the web, I’ve found people with an interest in falconry who didn’t seem to have a problem with it. Just like I know many physics students who love Star Wars. I’m a fan of superhero comics, even though I’ve studied biotechnology and human genetics. I now that some people will be bothered by facts being misrepresented and will easily have their suspension of disbelief shattered, but like the MST3K intro says, “It’s just a show; I should really just relax.”

  43. Tim on 1 June 2014, 16:56 said:

    but like the MST3K intro says, “It’s just a show; I should really just relax.”

    That’s a terribly misused line: in MST3K the details of the setting don’t matter because it’s just a setup for the comedy skits between riffing sections and isn’t supposed to be coherent fiction. In other words, you’re never supposed to regard it as anything more than a show on TV. If you want to create a cohesive world, you automatically want the reader / viewer to consider it as more than just a book / show.

  44. Homer on 1 June 2014, 18:56 said:

    I still think it can apply for of external factors that really shouldn’t affect he quality of the plot or characterization, such as real world science and history. I can agree that it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for all problems with the plot and logic. Though I remember a well respected game designer once said that if someone’s going to be so affected by continuity and plot holes then things such as Star Trek or Star Wars are probably not for him.

    Anyway, I guess this, like most things, all boils down to opinion. There’s no right or wrong answer here. Everyone looks for different things in fiction. A few people people want their fiction to be realistic, others just want to enjoy the ride without much concern if something is actually plausible or not, and there are a few for whom it depends on what kind of fiction they’re dealing with. I, personally, like my fantasy and science fiction to be far from reality while still making sense. I’ll probably never agree with someone who makes realism one of the major focuses of his criticism (which is why I roll my eyes at most hard SF reviews), but I see that realism is really that important for some people. I enjoyed this discussion, but it’s gone on for long enough. Unless I feel I really have to reply to someone or feel I have have something new to bring to the discussion, I’ll leave this page alone for now.

  45. Tim on 1 June 2014, 19:15 said:

    In the end I think the problem is that a lot of people take suspension of disbelief as something they can simply demand of an audience, but it doesn’t really work like that. “I won’t buy it if you don’t sell it to me” is a rule every writer should remember.

  46. Elisabeth on 18 January 2016, 11:19 said:

    According to her children, MZB was cruel, violent, and sexually sadistic, so unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me at all that she’s depicting abuse as a good thing.