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Rape and Sexual Assault in Genre Fiction: The Reading (or Not-Reading) List
shadesong wrote in takebackscifi
This list was generated by discussion before the panel, and added to by other WisCon attendees later. This is books-only - please help me create a similar list for other genre media!

Discussion in this community will not stick *only* to these books - this is just to give us a place to start from.

I have not read all of these books, so I can't tell you how I think they handled the topic - I'll list the ones that I can personally vouch for or against first, and then put down the rest of the list. Please add to this list (I know there's stuff I missed!)! Thank you!

Things I Wrote
I can't say for myself whether I handled things well or poorly; I'm fundamentally biased! But I have writted about the aftermath of sexual assault, in my story in Ravens in the Library and in "The Angel of Fremont Street"; the latter, though it's mostly about recovery, does have a bit about the rape itself, so be warned.

Doing it Right
* Mary Doria Russell - The Sparrow
* Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series - the handling of Elena Bothari's parentage, and how both of her parents deal with it.
* I'm almost through Cyteen by CJ Cherryh, and so far, so good.
* The Stepsister Scheme - Jim Hines
* The Rifters series by Peter Watts is appropriately complex; there are parts that are way triggery, but he portrays emotional aftermath well, particularly in Starfish.
* Identity Crisis - my husband disagrees, saying "they raped her and killed her!", but I pointed out that the rape happens years before the murder, and I like the way her friends react; I find that as realistic as you get in a superhero comic.

Doing it Oh So Wrong
* Anything ever by Stephen R. Donaldson.
* Anything ever by John Ringo (OH JOHN RINGO NO.)
* Clan of the Cave Bear - Jean M. Auel
* Red Sonja
* The entire series and concept of Gor
* Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Spike's attempted rape of Buffy is terrible and well-filmed, but - then she goes right back to trusting him fully? Even her friends think thats fucked up. And Buffy's sexual assault of Spike when she's invisible is portrayed as sexy - if the genders had been reversed there, everyone would've called that scene rape. SRSLY.
* The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Alan Moore. Yeah, I like it that the Invisible Man pays for him crimes, but not like that!
* Oh Zeus No!
* The threat of rape in Firefly. He could've threatened any number of things, including blowing up the engine, but he went straight to rape. Lazy writing.

Things I Have Not Read (but got a thumbs-up from the audience
* Iron Kissed - Patricia Briggs
* Poison Sleep - TA Pratt
* DeGrassi: The Next Generation
* The Liveship Traders - Robin Hobb

Things I Have Not Read (but got a thumbs-down from the audience)
* Tender Morsels - Margo Lanagan (17 rapes. Yes, you read that right. And it's YA.)
* Melusine - Sarah Monette
* A Companion to Wolves - Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette. (got a chorus of ugh!s.)
* The Fionavar Tapestry books - Guy Gavriel Kay
* The Cross-Time Engineer series - Leo Frankowski (apparently particularly heinous.)
* Hominids - Robert Sawyer (several people threw this across the room.)
* Peach Girl
* The Pern books by Anne McCaffrey
* Darkland - Liz Williams
* Friday - Heinlein
* Glasshouse - Charles Stross

Mixed or Unknown
* Deerskin - Robin McKinley
* The Deed of Paksenarrion - Elizabeth Moon
* Dollhouse is mixed so far. Everything about Sierra's arc is problematic, and we did not need that many flashbacks, thanks, but I think it made the point of portraying that experience was horrifying and that the rapist's behavior is utterly inexcusable, even by the warped standards of the Dollhouse.
* Omaha the Cat Dancer
* Sheri Tepper's novels
* Hepcats
* Watchmen. The comic is more nuanced than the movie, and you can see more of Sally Jupiter's recovery process. At the same time, this is case in point of "let's show that this character's a bad dude by having him rape someone." At the same time, you see The Comedian's process, too, in how he deals with Laurie. All of this is flattened and made one-note in the movie, unfortunately, and the rape is far more brutal than in the comic.

jimhines has a good post here.

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off the top of my head, both the Heralds of Valdemar and The Last Herald-Mage trilogies by Mercedes Lackey (and, really, pretty much any instance of rape in that series), and Lady Slings The Booze by Spider Robinson. his pseudo-enlightened explanation of rape is actually worse than the use of rape in the story.

Edited at 2009-06-05 11:04 am (UTC)

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And so major it may not need saying, but the entire Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind, especially Faith of the Fallen wherein our noble heroine Kahlan threatens her previously-abused half-sister with rape and this is portrayed as a good thing.

Re: Major thumbs-down


I'd give the Deed of Paksennarion a thumbs up. Yes, there's a rape in there, and it's ugly, but in the end, it's just one more horrible thing done to the character, not defining, not glorified. I also felt that it made the point about about the rape being about control, not sex, and that anybody in her position - male or female, strong or weak - would be subjected to it. It also was necessary to the plot - the character is in a situation (captured and tortured by followers of a dark god who wish to break her) where an absence of rape would not have been believable.

an absence of rape would not have been believable

Hm. Interesting note...

I'll have to read this. I'm pretty sure it's in the stacks somewhere.

The Black Jewels Series. I see it as being well done within the context of the universe. I am looking for words here.... The telling of how the main character Janelle is broken by her experience and how she recovers is (to me) well written.

Others may have a different opinion.

I agree with this. It has a profound and lasting effect on Janelle, but it isn't the end all, be all of her life and she recovers. It also treats the effects of rape culture very graphically and deals well with the effects rape culture has on everyone. There are several men in the series who have been sexually victimized as well and I think the treatment of their responses is realistic withing the world-building.

There's the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey -- specifically the third one, where the heroine spends a good chunk of the book as a sex slave in a sadist's harem. I ... honestly can't say whether that's well-handled or not. It's so pervasive to the story that it's hard to decide.

I don't think it was *gratuitous*, no matter how hard it was to read. And certainly the after effects were explored in the heroine's relationship with her husband, in the last few chapters of the book, and not just brushed away.

Imriel, too, spends much of the next series dealing with the after effects...

This is admittedly an obscure one, but...Alternities, by Michael Kube-McDowell. McDowell writes particularly vivid and emotionally realistic sex scenes, and this book has one between spouses who both know their marriage is falling apart. We get it from his point of view, and then later from hers, and the question of where consent begins is crucial to it. It's profoundly moving (and crucial to the plot, as each of them does things in the rest of their lives because of how they're feeling about that moment).

I mentioned this in the intro thread, but I'm actually not a big fan of how Bujold portrayed rape in the Vorkosigan series. The aftermath was done wonderfully, but the actual rape scene in Shards of Honor is pretty terrible (graphic, "sexy", VERY triggering).

I liked the Pern series when it came out. Then I was horrified, on reread a few years later, to read F'lar's meditation that sex with Lessa, unless the dragons were involved, "was uncomfortably like rape." Uncomfortably like?!?!??!

I have had similar thoughts too.

I feel sometimes that Anne McCaffrey might be attempting to explain the consequences of dragon mating on their riders, that some riders might have experienced contrary emotions. But she have not clearly expressed that "thought" or concept and have left the whole "what-happens-next?" blank. Granted that some of the queen riders are just young girls who then experience dragon mating with older bronze riders and that some of these young girls might not even know what sex is... this later horrified me as well.

(Forgive me if I sound rambly - late over here and I am up too early)

What are people's thoughts on Mists of Avalon?

I found the rape scene with Gwyn and her likely half brother to be not only gratuitous, but almost punative, such that while it was not particularly graphic, particularly as it did not seem remotely necessary to advance the plot (although it may have been part of the original mythos; I'm not as well versed in Arthurian legend as I might be).

I think you are maybe talking about Morgaine and Arthur? and the religious ritual? It is a part of the Arthur mythos that Morganna had her brother's child (Mordred).

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Oh GOD. Anthony has this disturbing fascination with young girls and sex.

In the first book of the Mode series, I think he did..... okay. Not great, but okay. Things get progessively weirder and weirder until the fourth book (whihc I skimmed in a bookstoren but didn't actually want to spend money on or invest time in actually reading it) it is revealed that the reason that the rape fucks her up so much is that as a small child she was molested by a neighbor (or something) and she enjoyed the molestation, so the rape was even worse for her. Or something.

Thumbs up Marq'ssan Cycle by L. Timmel Duchamp which deals intelligently with recovery from rape and also from torture that includes sexual assault.

Short story by Ann Leckie, "The Snake God's Wife," is from the perspective of a male victim of violent sexual mutilation. I think it's done well.

And on the negative side, Ann McCaffrey, whose Pern books have rape victims who like it, positive views of domestic violence, and just mounds of disappointing awfulness.

Edited at 2009-06-05 04:35 pm (UTC)

I'd offer up a mixed-to-wrong on Melissa Marr's Ink Exchange. The teen protagonist is raped by her drug-addicted brother's friends prior to the start of the book; the book itself is meant to be her way forging her healing and survival, of not letting the rape define her. Which is well and good, but: her first, strongest reassertion is to get a tattoo, which ends up linking her to a dark court fairy; this dark court fairy uses the magical effects of her tattoo to seduce her. In a sort of dream state, unable to resist him, she becomes his lover—but sex without awareness and consent isn't love, it's rape. When she "wakes up," she wants to break the bond between them (not because of the seduction and rape, but because she's hurting other mortals); another male character steps up to use his magic to break the bond.

When we see her next, in the epilogue, she's divorced herself from all fairy influence and is a strong, functioning, independent high school student.

So as a story of recovery from rape, it has an odd propensity towards an inactive character, towards more rape, and towards leaning on others (and the guy that helps her also wants to seduce her) to solve problems. The protagonist never gets angry about the fact that she's been drugged and seduced and raped, either. All of these things are not outside of the realm of possibility for a rape survivor, sure. But they don't make for a very healthy story of rape recovery, either, which is how Marr tries to spin it.

My details on this book were fuzzy (were that I had reviewed it!), so corrections and conflicting options would be helpful. But I'd put Ink Exchange on the tentative "errr, no" side of novels about rape.

Oh yeah: other possible sources for reading material for this list (convoluted enough?): FerretBrain's Fantasy Rape Watch (there's scifi in there, too). You'll have to skim/search through some of these reviews for the discussions on rape, but FerrettBrain's writers definitely see some of these same problems—rape as lazy, rape as the only female motivator, victims love their rapists, etc.

The Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop is one that has problematic elements.

However, in the original trilogy it was quite clear that two of the main male characters (Sadi and Lucivar) had undergone rape and sexual abuse at the hands of evil female characters. I've only rarely run across sci-fi/fantasy where male characters had been raped. Also, in my opinion, the original trilogy was describing a rape culture, where the rapes we see happening in the books are the result of imbalances of power and outright fear between the genders in warped societies.

I found that way of looking at it, as a system that could be altered, to be very empowering.

The threat of rape in Firefly. He could've threatened any number of things, including blowing up the engine, but he went straight to rape. Lazy writing.
It's been a while since I watched Firefly, and I don't recognize this. It seems like it's from a particular episode. Could identify the episode, please?

Objects in Space- the final episode on the DVDs.

Peach Girl's manga is by Miwa Ueda.

I have no idea how or if the Stupid Rape Tricks are handled in the anime or the assorted live-action dramas (Peach Girl has multiple localizations).

Oh, and! Dominic Deegan's orc rape sequence! I don't HAVE enough thumbs to down.

It's the first webcomic entry under the TVTropes Rape Is Love definition.

Laurell K Hamilton, Laurell K Hamilton, dear God Laurell K Hamilton. Both of her series are soaking, sopping, dripping with rape, rape fantasy, rape that pretends not to be rape, rape perpetrated by the heroine and treated as not, rape perpetrated by half the cast, half the cast as rape victims and all of it handled with a level of inepitude that I cannot accurately portray.

I don't really like how the present-day issues are dealt with in Melusine/The Mirador/etc, but I really like how she deals with (c)PTSD and its effects. (I mention this since it was on the 'don't know/got a thumbs down' list.)

The Fionavar Tapestry books by Guy Gavriel Kay definitely struck me as particularly avoid-worthy.

Not SF/F, but A Secret Rage by Charlaine Harris does an outstanding job of dealing with rape and its aftermath IMO.

And I'm going to offer a counter-opinion on Hominids by Sawyer. I thought the rape scene was handled well, the after-effects on the victim were extremely realistic, and in the second book we find out that [SPOILER] it wasn't a stranger rape at all -- it was one of her fellow faculty, playing off the "white men are SO discriminated against" myth as an excuse. There's never any hint that she was supposed to enjoy it, or that she deserved it, or that people who care about her think of it as anything but a crime.

Edited at 2011-05-11 07:54 pm (UTC)

Thank you! (Wow, this list needs serious updating! :) )

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