Jun 17

Appreciating Mercedes Lackey

I’m rereading the Dragonriders books. Yes, I am perfectly aware of the foolishness of this course of action.

They’ve actually aged worse than Mercedes Lackey. I don’t know if it’s that Lackey’s big fetishes (the H/C and the angsty slash and the didactic liberalism) have actually retained their cultural relevance more than McCaffrey’s (the bodice-ripper alpha-male rape-romances and benevolent fascism); or if they’ve just retained their me-relevance better; or if it’s just a matter of the politics.

Because you know something about Lackey? She really does try.

(Assume spoilers for pretty much every single Mercedes Lackey book under here, if that bothers you.)

She does monarchies because, for whatever reason, monarchies seem to be an inextricable part of her preferred genre, but the Good Monarchy is good because its leaders are forced by the Magical Power Of The Land to be fair to everybody. Not because the leaders are prettier and better at fighting and less into gross stuff like bondage than everybody else. (Oh, McCaffrey.) And there are women in positions of real political power, and they tend to marry guys who don’t get a share of it. And sleeping with and even marrying guys who aren’t Their One True Love is fine! And sometimes? Old women get to do stuff! (Learn, Avatar.)

In frigging 2007, J. K. Rowling waited until her series was finished, announced that one dead guy was gay, and then said, “If I had known this would have made you this happy, I would have announced it years ago.” Gosh, you’re brave, lady. Twenty years earlier in her very first book, Lackey was staffing her school of magic with out lesbians. Now, given how hilariously bad her gay guys were in the Vanyel books, I suspect that if I reread them I’d find things horribly wrong there, but she was trying.

There’s a trilogy, Mage Storms, that’s about scientists patiently telling the wizards how to save the world. Science isn’t evil! In the genre in which people who Doubt The Wizards’ Power are usually, like, fascist puppy kicker sexual assailants!*

Her contemporary fantasies tend to be pretty unpleasant, in the sense that little kids get raped and tortured a lot.** But there’s this oddly charming kind of didactiveness to them. Characters stop dead in the middle of the story to talk about what they’re planning to do to help kids. “He decided he’d start carrying around a wallet full of McDonalds gift certificates.” “She knew she was in over her head – she wasn’t trained for this. It was time to give child protective services a call.”

And then there’s a little afterward saying, “Child abuse is a real-world problem, and unfortunately, unicorns and elves are not available to real kids in these situations. If you suspect a child you know is in danger, these resources may be of help to you.” And then there are phone numbers. It’s nearly responsible!

Seriously. Those of us who read Mercedes Lackey as teenagers may groan about her – but we could have done so much worse.

(Some perspective: Race is still a big problem. In the Valdemar books, we’ve got the noble stoical Native American nature-lover stereotypes (two kinds!), the first Big Bad was thinly-veiled Muslims, and I think the third Big Bad ended up being thinly-veiled China. (The second Big Bad was rapists, with which I have no quarrel.))

* This trilogy was really, incredibly bad, but whatever. These are books 10 through 12 in a 24-book series about magic soulbonded horses. No one was going to pick them up unready for the shocking revelation that THIS TIME IT’S MAGIC SOULBONDED CATS! (Not falcons, like last time.) (The cats are all reincarnated caliphs of the past. I don’t think caliphs are supposed to get reincarnated, I actually think they’d probably be against that.)

** I think the presence of child sexual abuse plotlines may correlate directly to books co-written with her husband, Larry Dixon.***

*** No, wait, I just checked – When the Bough Breaks, possibly the most lurid one****, was with Holly Lisle. That’s the one where, at the end, the elves cast the abusive dad into the Rape Dimension.

**** Though Born to Run and Wheels of Fire would both sound crazier if you explained the plots. Oh, and it looks like Dixon didn’t do Wheels of Fire, either; that one was Mark Shephard. All right, Dixon, you’re free to go.

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