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November, 2009 : Feature:

Smart Bitches, Guilty Pleasures

Signals 26

Sometimes I say I don't believe in guilty pleasures, but that's only because the culture has changed. Once upon a time, people frowned on everything, so most of what I liked was a guilty pleasure. Then Geek Culture became ascendant (everyone saw the benefits of this, I suppose) and people now know that it's okay to like different things. This is, in my opinion, a Very Good Thing.

But it wasn't so very long ago that I had more guilty pleasures than accepted pleasures. I grew up in a reading household, so books were not a guilty pleasure. Neither was television, since my mother kept it on all day. Or music, although we did argue over whose music was the best (Mom won, but she died before I could tell her).

Within that wide range of acceptable pleasures, however, were some guilty pleasures. Science fiction, for example. No one in my family, except me, read it. Oh, and my sister Sandy, who didn't realize she was reading SF. (Seriously.) My other sister, Peg, doesn't read SF to this day which is why, she tells me, she doesn't read my work. (Of course, I publish in other genres and she doesn't read those books either, so I suspect she has read my work and doesn't like it, and as a good Midwesterner, won't tell me because that would be impolite.)

No one in my family read romance either, but my parents subscribed to the notion that reading was good, in all its forms, which is why the bodice rippers I brought home didn't bother them (although I do think they had troubles when they saw the 10-year-old me pick up Dad's copy of Harold Robbins' The Carpetbaggers and read it from cover to cover [I didn't understand it. I just finished it because I could sense parental distress]).

It wasn't until I got to middle school (then called junior high school) that the concept of guilty pleasures arose. Acceptable literature, acceptable clothing, acceptable friends. Anything that deviated from the acceptable was not acceptable, but I did it all anyway, so I simply spent my teens and twenties feeling guilty.

Occasionally I miss that. Seriously. Sometimes books are better if they're illicit. But nothing is illicit anymore, so I must compensate by finding truly good books.

Which leads me to Oh, the Smart Bitches. They write about romance from the point of view of snarky love. They know that certain romance concepts are stupid. (See the entire entry on Magic Hoo-Hoo.) They know that deep passionate love with a werewolf is bestiality and that deep passionate love with a vampire is not just necrophilia but also probably some form of abuse. But they love the books and the readers of the site love the books and everyone writes about their favorite things as well as their pet peeves.

Disrespect abounds. But disrespect out of love. This site is more Jon Stewart than Andrew Dice Clay. Funny, but touching. Tender, but biting.

Covers are dissed, authors are dissed, tropes are dissed. An entire section of their recently released book, Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels (by Sarah Wendell & Cindy Tan and published by Fireside, just in case you're interested) discusses pirate romances—why they're wrong (really, sleep with a toothless man with no education who hasn't bathed in months????) and why they work (well, of course, the only toothless smelly men in these books are the villains. The rest are aristocrats in disguise—okay, that doesn't always work either, but we can pretend) and why Johnny Depp has made pirate romances okay (I don't have to spell that out for you, do I? And let me add it's not because the next Pirates movie is based on the wonderful Tim Powers' excellent book On Stranger Tides).

I love the Smart Bitches. I read them regularly, but the site is not my guilty pleasure, not even for my romance persona, Kristine Grayson. The Smart Bitches are a guilty pleasure in my imagination only. (No, no, mind out of the gutter here.)

Let me explain.

In my imagination, I run a website called Geeky Women, Trashy Novels. Or Smart Scientists, Bad Science. Oh, hell—it doesn't quite translate, and that seems appropriate, because I occasionally imagine what would happen if the Smart Bitches turned their snarky love on science fiction (and not science fiction romance, which they have already done).

When I imagine this, I giggle a lot. I think of the blogs I would write (in this tone, which is my Kristine Grayson voice, by the way, and has its own measure of snark). I think of the things I would say—like Alternate History, why is that science? And does anyone really read those dry tomes that explain some nifty scientific principle, but forget crucial fictional things like plot and likeable characters? And sex with aliens…oh, wait, that belongs on the real Smart Bitches site.

I giggle as I imagine my made-up site because I know what would happen if someone started an SF-dedicated site like that. A handful of people would love it. But everyone else in the field would shout it down. They would yell: Do you know how long it has taken us to become legitimate? Or they would complain that not enough women are represented on the pages of the blog. Or they would complain that it doesn't have enough diversity. Or that it's also insulting to men. Or that one doesn't snark science, even made-up science 15,000 years in the future.

But I gotta tell you, each time I read SmartBitchesTrashyBooks (once a week at least), my fingers itch to start a corresponding SF site. I won't, though. I'm a bit too cowardly, a bit too well known as a serious writer of serious SF literature (look at those Grayson books! Look at them! Is this woman serious? I think not), and a bit too busy, what with writing and reading and teaching and—

Honestly, I don't have the guts. (Maybe under a pen name. Hmm…A secret pen name. Hmm…A supersecret pen name…)

So I'm posting this here, hoping someone is looking for a blog topic. Move the Smart Bitches concept to SF. Write with love and snark about our favorite genre. The snark is easy—SF has been doing that for years. The love is hard. The affection must show through each and every post.

Please, someone, make my dream a reality. So that I won't have to figure out yet another supersecret pen name or find a twenty-fifth hour in the day so that I'd have time to blog. (And go visit the Smart Bitches. They really are a lot of fun to read—even if they are talking about romance, not SF.)

Copyright © 2009, Kristine Kathryn Rusch. All Rights Reserved.

About Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a Hugo award-winning writer who was, once upon a time, a Hugo award-winning editor. She has published fiction in almost every genre under a variety of names. Her most recent science fiction novel is Diving into the Wreck which Pyr
published in November. Her novella, "Recovering Apollo 8," won last year's Asimov's Readers Choice Award and was nominated for a Hugo. The novella has just been reprinted in Russian. For more information, go to her website at


Nov 8, 00:54 by IROSF
Comment below!
Nov 11, 01:44 by
Oh I'd love to do this. I'm not sure I could pull it off as well as the Smart Bitches, though.
Nov 12, 20:50 by Nancy Beck
I *love* that site. Used to peruse it all the time (laughing my head off). They do things other than snark (as I'm sure Kristine is aware), like when they caught that one romance author plagiarizing an old work (but not too old; it was still under copyright).

In my mind there are no guilty pleasures...just good ol', plain ol' pleasures.

I'd be up to make a site for SF or fantasy...except I'm unemployed at the moment, so the money ain't there at the moment.

Nov 12, 23:31 by Peggy
I'd love a site like that about SF!

I've found that it's harder than it looks to write snarkily and still let the love shine through, though. When I've made snarky posts on my own blog, I get feedback that I'm too harsh or "too serious" and whatnot. Maybe it's my writing style, or maybe it's that some people don't understand that even though I criticize silly science and bad characterization, that's what I've chosen to spend my spare time reading. It's certainly not because blogging pays the big bucks!

Actually, I have some experience both with free blogger blogs and with Wordpress-based blogs, and would be interested in helping put a site like that together if people are seriously interested.
Nov 18, 20:15 by Janine Stinson
Count me in. I've spent the last 6 weeks reading "urban fantasy" novels for an article; Kelley Armstrong, Marjorie Liu, Keri Arthur, Rachel Vincent, C. E. Murphy, etc. Whee! I enjoyed most of them, but it'll be fun to see what SBTB says about them (and I feel fairly certain, without hving visited the site yet, that at least one of them will be mentioned there!).

If we get a foundation group of writers and ask that participants take turns with a regularly scheduled essay/column, then stick a donation button on the site (as the writers of Shadow Unit have done), I bet it'd work. Can you hear me rubbing my hands together in glee at the thought of being blunt about SF books I love that also have clay feet? :)
Nov 20, 22:24 by Joe Prisco
what bl.norman and everyone else said. Seems I can't help but write snarky, so I'd certainly want to contribute. At least, until I win a Hugo award ;)

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