This article starts off with this review: Geek Dad Reviews The Land
I enjoyed the land a lot more than he did, but his review hits most of the same complaints that I had with it.
- Needless prompts and redundant information. Some of the later books give you the same information back to back to back.
- Tone jumps. It goes from campy stupidity to extreme violence in a few nanoseconds and careens back and forth between those two tent poles with little rhyme or reason.
- Along with tone jumps, a wildly inconsistent character who bounces between amoral psychopath to village paragon. This is a common theme in the “Hero Without a Flaw” story, though Richter does have some flaws like looking without leaping, (even though that’s often played for gags rather than as a serious shortcoming he needs to overcome.) He also underestimates a female and goes through a penis eating scene.Aleron doesn’t use Richter’s mistakes to make the character grow, he uses them for a laugh or shock value.
- Could use an editorial pass.
- Aleronisms. Jokes that are intended to be funny, but really make you groan.
He misses a few points that irk me about the initial story, that Richter never worries about his family or friends in the real World.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about the latent sexism in the book. I don’t usually discuss this except when it’s more pertinent to something else, which is lazy writing and World-building.
For stories that promote an ideal of racial equality, the enlightenment pretty much stops there, and gender equality (or respect, at least) is nowhere to be seen. Female characters mostly fall into three basic categories: Earth-mother types, bitches, and victims of abuse who need to be rescued. Half of the protagonist’s internalized bon mots are sexualized stereotypes (women are only mollified by shiny objects, for example), and there’s a running gag for multiple characters making derogatory references about ex-girlfriends and ex-wives. It’s puerile writing, and where much of it played for supposed laughs, it just comes across as misogynistic and needlessly rude. — Geek Dad Review
Geek Dad is right about some of this, wrong about some parts. For now, let’s talk about World-building.
First, just because you have an idea in your head doesn’t mean you need to put it into the book. Otherwise, you end up with an encyclopedia of random facts.
However, every element you do choose to put into a book needs to have a place and a reason. This is the same as Chekhov’s gun, which I’ve talked about in other articles.
As a corollary, one of my big sins in several LitRPG/GameLit books is that the outside World makes no sense. So, let’s talk about the outside World and then transfer that to the game World.
In the real World, that is where you currently read this, men and women are vastly different on average in their body size and composition. That’s called “sexual dimorphism”.
The results of sexual dimorphism plays out in a huge variety of ways. Some differences between sexes are completely social constructs, there’s nothing inherently girly about the color pink or wearing skirts. Each society has gender norms, but these gender norms are informed by biological differences, but not because of biological differences.
Some biological differences affect all societies the same. Men are vastly larger than women on average in human populations, have 33% more upper body strength for the same weight, etc. You can look at the difference between men and women’s Olympic records for the same weight class and see a huge difference immediately. Or if you’re curious, have men and women turn around look at their butts. You won’t have a hard time picking out men from women on butts alone.
Men have extrinsic value (we are only valued because we can produce something), whereas women have intrinsic value (valued for looks and beauty). If any woman wishes to be a man, smear feces on your face and walk around. You’re about where the average man finds himself. Not uncoincidentally, less attractive women are more likely to exhibit double standards about people using their attractiveness to gain success. (Men are gender-neutral on this, ugly and handsome alike.)
Why is this? Women are precious resources. It takes a long time to have a single child, it takes a lot of calories, there’s a lot of health risks involved, (particularly if we’re talking about the time prior to modern medicine), women are only fertile for a few days out of a month and only for a few years in their lifetime.
Men are the opposite of precious resources. One ejaculation has enough sperm in it to impregnate every fertile woman in North America. Men contribute mostly nothing to the childbearing process, (we don’t hatch eggs, for example), so all of men’s collective worth is in what they can bring to the table for raising the child and taking care of the mother: Good genes, high social standing, money, power, etc.
Hence men are more likely to be both risk-takers and the grantees of rewards from risk-taking. That means 9 out of 10 people on Humans are Awesome are men, but 9 out of 10 Darwin Awards winners are also men. It also means men are statistically worse drivers than women, because they are more likely to engage in dangerous behavior, (driving while drunk, speed racing, etc.) Men are more likely to be outright violent, women are more likely to engage in more subversive behavior.
If you lack those things as a man, you are worthless. As Harold Bloom put it in the Lucifer Principle, “Men are nature’s toilet paper.” Men die earlier and more violently than women.
We care about women and children in combat, we don’t care about men. If you want to find a place with a lot of women, look for somewhere that had a good war or ethnic cleansing, Rwanda is a great place for example.
This leads to an inherent tension. Women want to be recognized for their external achievements, while many men focus on their inherent worth. This leads to painful comments and commentary on women like Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and what they look like. Since very few men have any inherent worth, they aren’t subject to commentary on their looks. Except that hunky guy at the Olympics.
The way this has played out historically is men are murdered, women are kept as slaves. It’s in the Bible:
5 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. 16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
It’s in Ghengis Khan, we see it with terrorist groups like Boko Haram and ISIS currently, and so forth. Men are more likely to be homeless, women are more likely to engage in survival sex. Death or sex slavery, take your pick.
In short, being a man vs. being a woman is a grab-bag of benefits and downsides, with definitive downsides being more prevalent in certain areas that the “Woker Than Thou” populace rarely deigns to talk about or visit.
The greater the variance in reproductive success for a single sex (one male or female can have many offspring vs. most having no offsprings) and the more parental investment one sex has than the other, the more dimorphic that species will be. That is, if women have more investment in the children, (calories invested, protecting them while they’re young, etc.) and if a single male can breed with most females while most men do not leave any offspring, there will be greater sexual dimorphism.
That’s why male gorillas are so much larger than female gorillas.
Conversely, if the men hatch the eggs, like the jacana, the female will typically be bigger, more brightly colored, and more aggressive.
Before you say anything stupid like “I know men with really great butts,” understand this.
So, armed with this brief introduction to evolutionary biology, why doesn’t this play out well in a role-playing fantasy World?
First, you need to watch Lindsey Ellis’s video on why Bright has lazy Worldbuilding.
Note her point on lazy worldbuilding. In a World with fairies, elves, and the nine races, we still have slavery, the Alamo, and other normal Earth events. They wouldn’t have happened.
If several different alien races suddenly appeared on Earth 2000 years ago, everything would change. There wouldn’t be a single incident in common with the Earth right now. Pretending that everything is the same minus some cosmetic differences is lazy writing. Hence the reason so many Urban Fantasy writers use the “Veil of Ignorance” about the magical World.
In role-playing games, you can pick a male or a female character but they have no differences in any base attributes. In role-playing games, we’re all equals. This would have major ramifications for that World’s history and societal structure.
Now, we turn to The Land. The Land does not set up a sexually dimorphic grouping, male and female Sprites, for example, have the same stats. Chaos Seed stats show no dimorphism. There’s no gender disparity. Any male is equal to any female in capability.
There’s also no sexual dimorphism in rates of magic users to non-magic users. It’s the same.
“Hill Sprites have several marked differences from their woodland cousins. Just as comfortable below ground as above, they have greater strength, but less agility than wood or forest sprites. Underground, they have had to engage in melee combat to a greater extent and are more comfortable with close quarters combat. They are also gifted with a limited darkvision. Hills sprites get three points to distribute per level, and each level gives + 1 to Strength and + 1 to Dexterity.”
Kong, Aleron. The Land: Raiders: A LitRPG Saga (Chaos Seeds Book 6) (Kindle Locations 328-331). Kindle Edition.
This is where authorial intelligence comes in. If you want to have a sexually dimorphic society, you have certain consequences.
Men would need high levels of variable reproductive success to be sexually dimorphic. But there doesn’t appear to be any notion of monogamous attachment in The Land, everyone sleeps with everyone else. What’s the species Reproductive Value model? Short gestation, quick births to lots of offspring or long gestation, few births?
If you don’t have a sexually dimorphic society, you get a different set of consequences. You might say that most people aren’t up to snuff on their evolutionary biology, but that doesn’t hold water. Aleron is a doctor, so surely he knows this. So he does it for the cheap laughs, (one point Geek Dad doesn’t bring up is all the anachronistic references that Richter makes, which makes no sense in the future and even less sense in an alternate Universe) or for cheap emotions, (see the rape scenes in future books) or because he’s too lazy to think up a better Universe.
As for the criticism of shiny objects, it does make sense in World context. The game is based around stats, so giving people shiny things does make sense.
So, is Aleron sexist? Eh. He’s more incompetent. Even when he tries to be woke, like having Richter become bisexual with two incest twins, it comes off more like he’s trying to brag about Richter’s sexual prowess. This ties in with the comments I made where Richter is never given a flaw to overcome, just something to play off for laughs or for shock value. This is why Richter and the book fluctuate wildly in their tone and characterization throughout various parts. The story is bent around Richter and hero-worshipping him, so the story and story elements reflect that, giving the book sudden swerves in tone.
Still, Geek Dad is correct in pointing out that Aleron has engaged in some very lazy world-building in regards to thinking about how a non-dimorphic society would play out. We’d expect to see plenty of men only mollified by shiny objects as well, as well as plenty of women who brag about their sexual conquests of men. Men would spend an equal amount of time preening themselves, wearing bright clothes, lipstick, etc. Men originally wore makeup and earrings, even in our own society. Go through history photos and you can see some fabulously foppish men.
Men would be as likely to act as courtiers and spies for women as vice versa. We’d expect women fighting over men physically or putting on acts of physical prowess to attract mates, like jacunas. Men would be just as likely as women to be held for captivity and sexual favors. In a stat-neutral game World, we would expect women and men to be essentially interchangeable in terms of attitude, dress, behavior, and a similar set of disadvantages.
Aleron built a dude-bro fantasy World without considering the implications for how a dude-bro World comes into being from a societal or biological standpoint. As such, pointing out that he’s engaged in lazy worldbuilding is a fully warranted critique. What you think about the rampant penis references and “What does the fox say?” jokes I leave to you.
Now, in these most Woken of Wokingly Woke times, you can write men and women interchangeably because we live at a time where a headline like this is indistinguishable from a real press release.
However, if you are writing a society that is essentially gender neutral, then it only makes sense to write men and women as interchangeable. Not because current social tastes demand it, but because that’s what the World you built demands.
Anyway, what Geek Dad is missing is that the appeal of the book is that people read it book because they imagine that’s themselves on a grand adventure with a metanarrative commentary on their own awesomeness as they gain powers and influence in a virtual World. It’s essentially as if someone took your Skyrim character and made a story about his/her exploits.
Aleron is playing the role of Three Dog in Fallout 3, telling us how awesome Richter is. He does this with lots of exclamations! It’s a fun fantasy if you always wanted to play a game like The Land.