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The Goosle by Margo Lanagan
Bella
ellen_datlow
I'm posting this now so you can have a head start. I won't be reading it till I get home tonight (agita is not a good thing while traveling)...comments welcome in the meantime,and I'll catch up tonight or tomorrow morning:

Off on a Tangent

I'm adding an excellent analysis of the actual story vs the review here at
Torque Control

and comments by SF Diplomat, Ben Payne, and Chasing Ray

And Margo Lanagan, who has been offline while traveling (why did I think that might be the case) has this to say --at least until she returns:

[L]et me just say that anyone who thinks ‘The Goosle’ is child pornography has their child-porn radar set way too high; that anyone who thinks Hanny for a moment enjoys being buggered simply hasn’t read the story properly; and anyone who thinks the story was written for shock value or because my ‘idea well ran dry’ has very little sense of how stories happen, or how many ideas are constantly beating at the doors of any writer’s brain. Dave’s review says a whole lot more about Dave than it says about ‘The Goosle’ or about my motivations.
Margo strikes back!

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Wow, talk about misunderstanding a story (and indeed an entire anthology -- most of the other stories are for juveniles?)!
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Really? Is that what he says? I wonder where he got that idea from?
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Not unexpected, since you and Dave have proven over the years to have such different tastes and standards in fiction. For instance, I recall the KJF that set him off for the longest time, when you published it -- before it became an award winner. He was determined the story wasn't sf.

Love, C.
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And helped win it a Nebula :-)
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For me, as an avid reader of short fiction, Margo Lanagan's work has been a real bright spot. "The Goosle" is no exception. I have to agree with Nick that this was also my favorite story in the anthology. Not just the imagery, which would be expected, but the word choice, the sentence structure and the dialogue are all integral to creating this visionary nightmare world. Talk about great worldbuilding, it doesn't get any better than this. The story is so idiosyncratically unique, and I found the tale terrifying as any great horror story, each turn of the plot and image riveting. The fact that Dave would want to cast this as smut is dull witted and gravely insulting to a reader's intelligence. The dark qualities, the sense of unease, the sexuality of the piece, the intense descritpions brought this across to me with the power of a true dream -- the kind with bizzare happenings but totally believable, where you wake with a yelp, gtasping. None of the events described in this story are played as pornography -- I hate to let on, but child abuse of this type happens everyday. The fact that Lanagan has the courage to present these situations as being as damaging, confusing, and frightening to a child as she does, lends the story its honesty and its power. Leave it to Dave to direct your attention to the best work in an anthology or magazine. Whatever he dumps on unfairly and most vigorously is more than likely a masterpiece. You can look for "The Goosle" to be on at least a couple of awards short lists next year. His overall critique of the anthology, the fact that he's seen it all before. Merely ticking off stories and saying, well, I've seen that before, is so reductively lame as a critical approach its laughable. I can't wait for Lanagan's new book.
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I find this passage particularly telling:
"There are those in today's society who believe that anything goes, especially in the artistic community, where moral relativism would seem to be the philosophy of choice, and so the mantra goes something like this: Who is anyone to tell an artist what he or she can't "create," be it a work of fiction, a painting, a sculpture, or a song? They shout "censorship!""

Compared to the 60's and 70's, we are in a comparatively conservative place artistically. The people who tut-tut and demand shame are at an all-time high, despite the fact many of the social taboos they so fear reading about have been explored - and explored to death - in literature decades old. I'm constantly surprised these days how people can be offended by an issue and refuse to take further analytical action because the subject is just too "icky." Ridiculous.

I haven't read the story, and I'll admit the description in that review made me not want to read it, but this discussion has changed that.
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Wow. I don't know where to begin...but an "Amen" to Jeff and Lee's posts, for starters.
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Margo Lanagan's "The Goosle" is storytelling at its finest, and most horrific. How Truesdale arrived at the idea that Hanny eventually learned to enjoy being raped eludes me. What Hanny eventually does come to understand is the insidiousness of Grinnan's exploitative seduction, so typical of most molesters.

But Grinnan met with one more foul than he . . .

I'm grateful for brave writers and brave editors.

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If Dave was the victim of sexual abuse in childhood then I can understand any pain the story might have caused him. But I don't share his interpretation of the Goosel or have any sympathy with the way he used it as a springboard for a general attack on many of the other stories and the anthology in general.

I don't, as a rule, read stories about sexual abuse, though I have written stories involving it. This may seem like hypocrisy but it's how it is. I read the Lanagan story on the flight to Wiscon knowing only that it retold Hansel and Gretel and that it was dark. The damn thing tore me up. I had nightmares. It is powerful and in its treatment of abuse and revenge, The Goosel seems to me real in the way that only great fantasy can be. For me it's the best piece in that book (and I have a story in there). This is the best story I've read this year and if I read a better one 2008 will have been a very great year indeed.

Rick Bowes
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I haven't read this anthology, unfortunately, so I can't contrast the opinions expressed by Truesdale or by folks here with my own. I know that the heated, controversial comments he made are what everyone's going to focus on, but one of the issues touched on in passing is actually of great interest to me: the erroneous assumption that a work is YA or for even younger readers based on the age of the protagonist. I'm curious to hear people's perspective on this, if anybody's interested in talking about it.

I can think, offhand, of quite a few works I've read and enjoyed that featured young protagonists that I would not have said were written for kids or teens. Ender's Game, even though it's marketed to young adults now, is pretty much at the top of that list. Lots of brutality, some fairly sophisticated themes explored, and a protagonist who is too young for the typical definition of YA. (Actually, this describes most early Card novels, no?) A lot of Stephen King novels feature young protagonists and are clearly not written for kids, though mature kids certainly might enjoy them. The Talisman, comes to mind, along with The Regulators and Hearts in Atlantis. I think some of McCaffrey's books also fit the category I'm trying loosely to define here. Parts of Kress's Beggars in Spain, too, IIRC. Steven Gould's Jumper features a teenager but isn't written specifically for young adults. Charles Sheffield's Cold as Ice and The Ganymede Club. I'm sure there are lots more, but those are the ones that came to me just now.

Is it hard to sell stories or novels if there is a perception that they defy easy categorization? I've always heard that the rule of thumb in fiction written for kids and teens is that the protagonist should be two or three years older than the intended reader. If I were trying to sell Ender's Game and *wasn't* an award-winning writer (and if it hadn't been published as a short story first) would people take one look at the protagonist who is seven at the start and conclude that this book has no audience, because adults won't read a book about kids and kids older than five won't read a book about a seven-year-old, and the book is too mature for a five-year-old?

This is a personal issue to me because I'm just wrapping up my first draft of a novel in which the protagonist is thirteen, but it was not written specifically for middle readers. It wouldn't be inappropriate for young adults, but I hear that a thirteen-year-old protagonist is too young for a YA book (and the plot doesn't work if he's older). When I came up with the story, I wasn't thinking about categories, of MR or YA or anything. I was just writing a story that appealed to me. But now, as I close in on the end, I find myself worrying that I've written an unsellable book (at least, unsellable for an unpublished writer) because it doesn't "fit" into a neat category. I fear I've wasted months, and that I should have thought more about marketing concerns like that before I hammered out a whole manuscript.

Anyway, I apologize in advance for the self-interested attempt at a derail. I'll tell you what triggered my musing: it was nick_kaufmann's disagreement with Truesdale's contention that most of the stories are for juveniles, followed by Ms. Datlow's suggestion that it was the preponderance of young protagonists that led Truesdale to that conclusion. I guess my questions, for anybody who's interested in talking about this, are: Does it put you off if a work that is not labeled YA has a kid as a protagonist, Can you think of examples of such books that I've missed, and Do you think it's substantially more difficult to market a book that is not YA when it has a young protagonist.

(If it's tacky to try and start my own discussion on someone else's LJ, I'll apologize and remove it. I'm still relatively new to blogging and much more comfortable with forums.)
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Re: On a tangent . . .

(Anonymous)
Actually the question of the book's audience was one of the first things I noticed in this review as well. I have not read the book and I won't dispute any of Dave's specific thoughts on the stories (with one exception), but unless the publisher is specifically marketing a book as YA or Middle Grade, then you have to assume it is for adult audiences, regardless of the age of the protagonists. I often will review adult books in my YA column at Bookslut because I think they work for teens (I have Liz Bear's "New Amsterdam" and Mike Resnick's alt history Teddy Roosevelt collection in my June column) but in each of those cases the protags are NOT teens - I just think the stories will appeal to them as much as adults. Jim Lynch's wonderful "Higher Tide" originally came out as an adult book but it has a teen protag and after it gained traction in teen bookclubs, Bloomsbury reissued it for YAs; Jim ended up with a book that defied all age assignment and found readers across the board. (He deserved it though.) There are many many examples of teen protags ini books for adults but just looking at more classic literature, consider Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine" and "Something Wicked...", "To Kill a Mockingbird", "Tom Sawyer" and heck - what is "Romeo & Juliet" but the story of a two crazy teenagers? Adults have been reading, enjoying and lionizing books with kid protagonists as adult literature forever and that's fine. As a reviewer though Dave should not be questioning the book's audience - unless the pub says it is for kids/teens then it isn't, and he should know this.

He has a lot of unusual issues in this review though - he weaves his own definitions of SF & Fantasy into nearly every story he reviews, judging if it fits his criteria or not; he states more than once that an author is retreading a familiar plot device when really that itself is not reason to find fault with a story (if it was every doomed love story since "Romeo & Juliet" would be in trouble), and finally, rather than considering Margo Lanagan's long history of writing from the dark side of fairy tales, he drops a huge bomb by using the term "child porn" to describe "Goosle".

That is huge.

I'll be honest, some of Margo's work is too dark for me but I respect her willingness to return fairy tales and mythic literature to the dark place in which they first came. "Hansel and Gretel" is a horrible story of two abandoned children left to die in the forest by those they trusted most who seek shelter from the one adult who befriends them and then she turns out to be a monster. I mean please - this story is about a stranger enticing children with candy; am I the only one who often wondered if there was a pedophile involved in its earlier incarnations? I can understand him mentioning its darkness and horror - I have done that in reviewing her work as a warning to readers who might not want to go there - but to suggest child pornography? Wow. That blows me away. One wonders how many of the old fairy tales he has read and how much incest, rape and other brutal sexual situations lie within them. (I couldn't help but think of "The Armless Maiden" collection here.)

I hope his comments do not harm Margo in any way, or give readers cause to question her impressive talent.

Ellen I have not seen a copy of the book yet but will be getting one - and hopefully reviewing it for Bookslut (but not - of course - in my YA column!)

Colleen Mondor
http://chasingray.com
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I haven't read the story, so it's hard for me to form an intelligent opinion on this. But now I'd sure like to see it. I don't suppose there's any way to reprint that story online, given that this strongly worded review is also published online? That way, the people reading the review could check it against the story. (I could hunt down a copy of the antho, and I might well do that, but I can't do it for at least another week or so.)
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It would devastate me to have a work of mine publicly referred to as child porn. Just . . . ugh.

Definitely not a charge to toss around lightly, or for dramatic effect.

I think sometimes critics (by which I mean all of us, since we all steer the people we know toward the things we like and away from the ones we don't) lose sight of how damaging we can be. Times like this I'm glad I have a low profile, and that the words I casually throw around are unlikely to carry enough weight to be truly damaging to any public figures.

It almost makes me want to go find Terry Goodkind and apologize for trashing him all these years.

Almost. ;)
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You can tell when a book hits a reviewer's nerve by how vociferous his/her response is, and once you identify a reviewer gone mad, you pretty much have to discount the entire review. A prominent review market once blasted one of my YA books for containing "sexual torture of children." It had neither sex nor torture (damn little violence for that matter), and I was disgusted by the accusation, but there is no recourse, so you put it down to "hitting a nerve," and move on.
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I won't point out all the things that Dave missed in his reading of the book, but one egregious one is that "Shira" is an alternate history--I guess he skimmed it so quickly he didn't notice that Jerusalem has been blown up (the little Holocaust of the story). Oy.
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From Dave T

(Anonymous)
To Ellen (and all)--from Dave Truesdale,

Haven’t read any of the posts since last night, but decided to write this first, post it, and then run through any new stuff. Don’t know if these posts have a word count, but I may have to split this into parts.

When Margo Lanagan set out to write “The Goosle” she was staring at a blank screen. She could play God. Every twist, every turn in the story was hers to choose. As were the theme, the characters, and everything else about her story.

Now please consider the following: rape of any kind is a despicable act. Period. Regardless of who commit’s the rape.

There is adult rape by a man against a woman. There is adult rape by a man against a man. There is child rape by a man against a girl. There is child rape by a man against a boy. Four scenarios.

Because of the subject matter of Lanagan’s story, the retelling of the Hansel and Gretel fairytale, her choices (once she decided to go with a rape scenario in the first place), was pretty much limited to the latter pair of choices: man rape against a girl child, or man rape against a boy child. The choice was hers and hers alone. She could have chosen to have the nasty old man rape Gretel, but she didn’t. She chose to have the nasty old man rape Hansel. She, and she alone, chose gay rape of a boy child.

If, as some have offered here, I am homophobic because I objected to gay rape of a child, then what does this say of Lanagan’s choice? It was her choice to portray gay rape of a child as a nasty, horrible, terrible thing, was it not? It certainly was not this reviewer who wrote a homosexual man into the story. It was certainly not this reviewer who wrote into the story that this homosexual would rape a young boy child. It was the author.

If the author, or anyone posting here, is concerned that homosexual rape of a child in this story tars all gay men--or promotes a stereotype in the minds of some--then this is the author’s fault, and not that of a reviewer who declaims against such a scenario.

If anyone promoted (unintentionally, albeit) the stereotype that all homosexuals are male child rapists it was the author. She had other choices, but chose this one. What makes it even worse, is that she chose to include the line where Hansel, even though for a brief moment, questions whether or not he likes what is being done to him. With this in mind, now reverse the roles. Pretend that Gretel is the one being raped and entertains the thought--even for a brief moment--that she might like it. Isn’t this thought what we see in movies and on tv, when the jerk off says to someone (the police), “but I could tell she wanted it”? And we hate the asshole even more for his crime, don’t we? For his barbarian attitude toward women?

End Part One

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In contrast, I'm pleased to notice:

Of blog of the fallen has chosen:
2008 Half-Year Notable Books
June 30th is an appropriate time for many to take stock of what they've read so far and to consider what might be finalists for individual year-end lists. It is no different with me. It was difficult selecting books from the 264 I've read so far this year, but when I decided to narrow it down to 2008 releases (original or reprint in one case), it made my list a bit shorter, although it also excluded quite a few non-genre masterpieces that I have finally read for the first time this year. So far, the quality has been enough that I have divided this into an overall category and 8 specific categories. There is no ranking here, since I like to keep some suspense for the December 31st OF Awards...

Anthologies:

Ellen Datlow (ed.), The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy
Ekaterina Sedia (ed.), Paper Cities
Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (eds.), The New Weird
Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (eds.), Steampunk

So THERE!
http://ofblog.blogspot.com/2008/06/2008-half-year-notable-books.html
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Haha, you're spending several seconds contemplating the opinions of Dave Truesdale!
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I had to at least SKIM his review ;-) Done now.
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The saddest aspect of Truesdale's review is how much it misses, and perverts, what The Goosle says, even the emotions of the child, while fully getting off on the outrage the reviewer feels at the "shock value" content. This review reminds me of the time an anti-porn campaigner (and lucky government reviewer of content and banner of same) came to my college class and unfurled a poster of penises of different species. Although the poster is fascinating in its beautiful depiction of nature's variety of answers to a problem, he only saw what he was looking for in it, and expected us to, too. It's fortunate that there are readers who can judge between what happens in a story and what the story's about. And as for what's suitable for children: 1) This isn't a children's story nor is it nor the antho marketed as such, but 2) even if they were, that's a damn sight more beneficial for kids to read than, for instance, that they're born sinners and that some guy died (in graphic detail) for their sins. As to wine and wafers, blood and bone, rising from the dead . . . Kid's stuff? I only bring this latter up because the Pope's "World Youth Day" has almost descended on Sydney, and even the "Day" is a lie (it's 5, and God's not paying for it - we taxpayers are, even those of us who're going to hell). And (suffer the little children who'll be treated to an "enactment") there's no search for truth here, nor material suitable for children's growing minds. In fact, it is illegal.
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/07/01/2291053.htm
- Anna Tambour
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I've not read the antho yet, so my comments should be taken in that context.

At best Dave misses the chance to flesh out the issue that concerns him and talk about it intelligently. And at worst he commits the exact same sin he accuses Ellen and Del Rey of: including the material for shock value alone.

If it's such an important issue for him then he should be delivering a more reasoned and better argued piece. But he's gone for hyperbole and lost the opportunity to engage sensibly on the issue.

And I'd wager there's a death or two in some of the other stories. Why not a critique of that from Dave and questions about whether the publisher sanctions that too?
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It's a crap review, really. I'm surprised they allowed it to be published in its current form. He starts off yammering on about how he doesn't see the anthology as a proper genre anthology, and then rapidly loses interest in that argument when he fails to come even vaguely close to sustaining it, then lets loose with an ill-argued and repetitive number of paragraphs on the Lanagan story, then wraps it up into a conclusion with no relation to where he began, instead deciding on flimsy evidence that suddenly it's a YA anthology and that Del Ray should hang their heads in shame!

Wtf?

As for his comments on the story; I went back and reread the story last night and it bamboozles me how anybody could read it and believe that the story is romanticising paedophilia or that the portrayal is pornographic in any way whatsoever... it's quite clearly a critique of exploitation and I fail to see how it could be read otherwise... Dave's argument does little to explain his reasoning...he also repeats "shock value" a lot, as though doing so will nullify the fact that he has absolutely zero evidence that the material is included for that reason. I'd say that Hansel's exploitation and ill-treatment, is absolutely central, in fact, it *is* the story... how anybody could argue that it's in any way tangental or unnecessary is beyond me.
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It's not a YA anthology

(Anonymous)
"instead deciding on flimsy evidence that suddenly it's a YA anthology"

Never said that, Ben. Please read what I said again, in context.

Thanks,
Dave
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Whenever I read reviews like this I always recall a quote by Oscar Wilde:

"There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written."

For the artist there are no boundaries within which s/he must stay. But, there is an obligation to handle the subject matter in a meaningful and thoughtful fashion.

Having read Margo's stories in the past I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt that she would not deal with such a provocative subject in a disrespectful way. I will make up my own mind when I get the chance to read the story.
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I'm also intrigued by his comments that the stories don't fit the genre (and his assertion that most Urban Fantasy contains very little fantasy). Where is the line past which something counts as genre? If you have a single character who can teleport or see the future or read minds, or maybe one magical artifact, but absolutely everything else is mundane, is it not fantasy then? Is it something more like paranormal in that case? Is it less about the amount of otherwordly and more about how central it is to the plot? Let's take something like Wonder Woman's lariat: is a story genre if that artifact plays a key role and less so if it's peripheral?

Raymond Feist has some stories set in Midkemia where there is virtually no magical element, IIRC. We know there are magicians and dragons and whatnot, but they're in other books. I think the Talon subseries pretty much just emphasizes action and political intrigue. Is that not really fantasy, but sort of grandfathered in because the rest of the series is, and because it's set in some land that is not Earth?

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor is entirely set in our modern world, only it turns out in the end that the folk magic of the African American family the protagonist is getting to know actually does work. We don't get any inkling of this until the very end, though. Is it fantasy? Is it magical realism? (Where the heck is the line between fantasy and magical realism?)

What about Nym's Island? I haven't read the book, but I saw the movie with my kids last month. The bird--was it a pelican?--really understands humans and is intelligent and all but rescues the father. It's not magical, but it's contrary to reality as we know it. Is it fantasy?
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Dave seems to have some strict rules as to what he considers inside and outside the genre. And judging from some of his reviews, he often misses the elements that make a story science fiction, fantasy, or horror.
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See my cheshire cat grin :)
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Forgive me for being late to the party and possibly reiterating someone else's point (I confess I but skimmed the numerous other comments), but this type of review is a problem in the genre—or rather of the genre: Thou Shalt Stay in the Ghetto. If a story smacks of mainstream fiction, it is reflexively dismissed.
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Bob--I think you've hit the nail on the head. Not specifically regarding "The Goosle" but of some of the stories that do not fit comfortably in strict sf..f...h terms. The anthology was intended (as I said in my intro) to parallel what I did at SCIFICTION--which was mix genres and even occasionally publish something that might fall between cracks of mainstream and genre (Heaven forbid :-) )
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