One reason women have given me when I ask why they don't read science fiction or fantasy is that, historically speaking, these genres have consisted primarily of stories that appeal more to men than to women. (Speaking, of course, in sweeping generalities that don’t necessarily apply in individual cases but seem to hold largely true in the macro.) They focus on physical adventure, political intrigue, wars to save the world. Or the universe. Or the multiverse.
These women tell me they lose interest when the story consists mostly of chopping off the heads of orcs in the village, and then in the forest, and then down by the river, and then in the big city, until finally, at long last, the hero saves the world by chopping off the head of the biggest orc of all in the grandest setting in the world.
And apparently, it isn’t more appealing if it’s zapping aliens with laser guns instead of hacking orcs with swords.
Often in these stories, there’s friction between adventurers to spice things up. Sometimes there’s a romance sub-plot. But in these stories the relationships are secondary to the adventure plot. The personal drama functions largely as filler so that something is happening between clashes with evil—it’s what keeps all the fighting from happening at once.
...they lose interest when the story consists mostly of chopping off the heads of orcs in the village, and then in the forest, and then down by the river, and then in the big city, until finally, at long last, the hero saves the world by chopping off the head of the biggest orc of all.
Now, I have enjoyed these stories since I was a wee small thing begging my mother to read me yet another fairy tale. My third grade teacher introduced me to Bilbo Baggins, and the school librarian guided me to the land of Prydain, with its oracular pig and sinister cauldron. From there I found my own way to the thread-threatened land of Pern and the terrifying spice fields of Arrakis.
(It’s also possible that during my adolescence I had a serious crush on a Shannara or two, but I’m not admitting to anything in public.)
Even so, I do see my friends’ point. When the relationships are sacrificed on the altar of adventure, they’re just not as satisfying as they could be.
The best stories, of course, incorporate both exciting adventure and meaningful relationships, but I wonder how much the proportions in which they are present determines the audience to whom the story will appeal?
I'd love to hear what you think in the comments.