Whatever X, Day IV

I’m happy to say that up to this point, the concern in this following archived entry has not been realized.

JULY 15, 2003: Strippers With Swords

All right, I’m officially a science fiction writer (I’ve got the SFWA membership to prove it) so let me just say this: Please God, never let me have a book cover whose images would be equally at home airbrushed onto a van. This fervent prayer came to me while I was looking at this, a cover for the Science Fiction Book Club catalog I got in the mail (not the regular catalog but the one they send to get you to join).

In it, as you can see, strippers from the Kitty Kat bar unsheathe their weapons and do battle with orcs. We know these women are brilliant fighters because while the orcs are all compactly and heavily armored, our gals feel confident wearing flowing, flimsy robes which conveniently ventilate in the ass and breast regions. They are so good, in fact, that they don’t even bother looking at the enemy which they are slaughtering in its vile dozens; instead, their gaze is affixed upon you, as if to say, yes, it’s vitally important that we skewer these vile creatures in order to acquire the Orb of Thangulzon, thereby allowing the anointed King of The Many Globes to return to Gingdor Castle and once again rule all breeds justly and fairly. But what we really want to do is service each other while you watch and then jump your scrawny, pale 14-year-old bones. After all, that is the dream of all strippers-turned-fantasy heroines. They’re just pneumatic with desire.

This is not be read as a slam on Luis Royo, the artist who provided this bit of nonsense to the SFBC. Royo is a fine artist, if you go for this sort of thing; in the genre of “improbably clad people with weaponry,” he’s on the tier with Boris Vallejo. The fact SFBC, in its infinite wisdom, determined that this graphic would be just the thing to suck in new members indicates that someone somewhere thinks this sort of thing is popular, which means that it probably is. I know enough to know that when I was 14, I would have sensed this picture’s ridiculousness, yet at the same time I’d still want to have sex with the brunette one, so there you have it.

Be that as it may, I wouldn’t want this, or something thematically like it to grace the cover of one of my books. Neither I nor writers other than the most very successful have control of these sorts of things. We can make suggestions but the publishers sign off on the artwork, and you have to trust them, because it’s their job to know how to sell these books. But in my dream world, my cover artwork is clean, visually arresting, contextually appropriate, and devoid of random boobies and ass shots. SF/Fantasy is full of fanservice shots; let the geeks go elsewhere for that. Give me something I’m not going to be embarrassed to show to my mother-in-law.

That still leaves a lot of latitude — my mother-in-law is not a prude or anything. But it does leave out strippers with swords. I’m good with that.

30 thoughts on “Whatever X, Day IV

  1. ::snerch::::

    With this–

    “equally at home air-brushed on a van”

    –you just transported me back (momentarily, in my mind) to the SE Lower Michigan of my youth, and I’m lost in the Southern Rock and wearing a roach-clip in my big-banged and feathered hair.

    I wouldn’t have dated the guy with that van, but I would have let him procure me alcohol and drive me around a lot.

  2. I’m torn between being offended that I’m presumed to be so shallow that semi-naked chicks will impell me to pay attention to something I love anyway, and irritated that “Science Fiction” these days appears to mean “80% Swords and Sworcery, 18% X-Files, 2% stuff with spaceships and neat futury ideas”.

    Grump, grizzle. And get a haircut.

  3. Well, remember Scalzi did include the equivalent of a starship-wide orgy in OMW (sort of). I imagine he’s lucky his publishers didn’t latch onto that as a subject of the cover-art.

  4. A related phenomenon can be found in MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, where a set of plate armor that covers a male character head to toe will instantly morph into a stainless steel bra and thong when a female character wears it. (Amazingly, it continues to offer the same armor points value, despite the fact that it now covers no vital organs, and leaves 80% of the female warrior’s body surface unprotected.)

    Also, a breastplate that is completely rigid on a male will actually bounce on a female when she’s running.

    This peculiar set of circumstances leads me to believe that most MMORPGs are either coded by horny teenage boys, or coded for horny teenage boys, or both.

  5. A couple of notes on this subject:

    * I’d so airbrush the cover of Zoe’s Tale on my van, if I were the airbrush a van type.

    * The original comic book appearance of Red Sonja in the Conan comics of the 70’s, drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith, had her in a quite protected chain mail shirt ignoring the fact that chainmail wasn’t invented for thousands of years after the Hyborean age, of course, it was much later that the metal bikini look came in. See this link and scroll down to Issue 24. Her legs are still unprotected, note.

  6. Chris @4: Well, yeah. That’s Arwen and Eowyn outside of Minas Tirith from Heavy Metal presents Paul Verhoeven’s Lord of the Rings 2: Return of the Kink. Remember?

  7. I’m picturing a blue van with with fuzzy white sheep on the side.

    (Quick! someone pull out photoshop!)

  8. I always thought of those women as wearing War Bikinis, which would at least make it a plausible RPG type item, especially if enchanted (you know, War Bikini +2, or somesuch)

  9. “Her legs are still unprotected, note.”

    Well, yeah, but so’s Conan’s, and everyone gets to see all of his breasts.

    I sort of never really “got” Conan, and never bought any when I was a kid or teenager. I was more interested in dinosaurs and monsters, then as now, in my art (though that is sort of changing).

  10. Wow…. you were almost harshly critical of something book related there, John.

    Work yourself up to talking to us about why it’s a disgusting and sexist cover, and part of a trend that really ought to stop for the next step.

  11. You COULD make strippers integral to the plot.

    Hey, look what Victor Gischler did with them. Made them the bulwark against ignorance and cultural decay, just like the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.

  12. Heh, reminds me of a old comic from Dragon magazine:

    A woman sitting in a bar, wearing a chainmail bikini with a bunch of arrows sticking out of it, says to the person next to her, “Luckily they only hit my armor!”

  13. Thankfully, I think that kind of stuff may be on its way out, at least on book covers. Other than Stross’s cover, I haven’t seen a purely gratuitous one in a while, come to think of it, and most of the currently popular artists aren’t in the chainmail bikini vein.

  14. The cover of Charlie Stross’ book actually fits the premise contained therein, and it’s not just gratuitous boobage designed to reel in eyeballs at the bookstore.

  15. This thread is irrelevant without a link to a large desktop size version of that painting so I can evaluate it properly. I’m just saying.

  16. I concur with JerolJ, if only because I’m trying (and failing, at that resolution) to figure out what in dog’s name is wrong with the brunette’s right arm. It looks…wrongly connected…to her body, from what I can see. But I can’t see well, so it’s driving me crazy.

  17. Mrko @ 22 – I’ve head from reliable sources Stross himself loathes the cover.

    Warren Ellis’ “Crooked Little Vein” had more sex than Stross, but didn’t have a lurid cover.

  18. I don’t think many people would touch, let alone buy, a copy of Crooked Little Vein with jubbly illustrations reflecting the actual book itself. And if they did, you would NOT want to meet them at an author signing.

    The thing that always bugs me about this genre of painting is that it breaks the fourth wall. You can practically hear the artist, with all his arrested development, leaning over your shoulder and saying “Is she HOT or what? Huh? Totally badass chick with a sword, I’d SO hit that. You too, right?”

  19. OK, this thread is too far down the line now to get any further reading but I will post this anyway. For those who are interested in a smart babe-with-sword fantasy, I would try Mark Smylie’s graphic novel series Artesia. It’s hard to describe, this is heroic fantasy but with a plot that grows with frightening complexity and a heroine that kicks butt but also has some actual layers. The art isn’t perfect at the beginning – too many characters look alike but he gets better. It’s like something out of Heavy Metal magazine back in its prime but with far less stupidity.

    http://www.artesiaonline.com/

    Here’s a good review of one of the books.

    http://thedailycrosshatch.com/2007/03/14/artesia-afield-by-mark-smylie/

  20. I feel bad for authors who get covers like that. Maybe it sells books, but then the reader is disappointed the book isn’t half-naked woman and swords. Take Patricia Brigg’s When Demons Walk. The cover shows a woman barely dressed, hanging from a rope ladder with a knife in her mouth. That isn’t at all accurate with the character in the book.

  21. Hell, we have a whole series going here:

    Strippers With Swords
    Broads With Bows
    Wenches Wielding War Hammers
    Chicks With Claymores
    Lesbians Lasses With Lances
    Hotties Holding Halberds
    Vixens With Voulges
    Maidens With Morningstars

    Climaxing (if that’s really the word I want) with:

    Pneumatic Bikini Clad Elf Babes In the Valley of Baby Oil

  22. So, fodder for a future Whatever contest?

    Who can come up with the best cover in this style for one of John’s stories?

    I mean, the existence of green-skinned warrior babes is just a short step from big Barsooms…

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