Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Box of Godiva Chocolate - You Never Know...

This is where things get awkward.

In my previous posts we talked about Cobb and Tom, two of the normies swept up into the world of the outsiders.  We talked about poor James, raised by a malicious monster of pure thought, and we talked about that malicious monster.  This time we’re talking about the love interest, Godiva.
Even the name should be corny, a nymph named Godiva.  Come on!  But with four little words, Burnett clams the reader down.  “Yeah, sure, why not.”  Normally, the sly winking asides set off my “Incoming” radar.  Most authors use them as a screen to hide behind.  You get the sense that many authors are embarrassed to admit to the things they like and throw up an ink cloud of irony to assure the reader that they are including something as a bit of campy silliness and that even they don’t take it all that seriously.  Speaking as a reader – screw that – if you can’t admit to enjoying your work, why should I enjoy it?
Burnett throws out that, “Yeah, sure, why not,” as more of a challenge.  It’s a way of telling the reader, you’ve already accepted a young man powered by a supernatural entity shackled to him by a tattoo on his back that can be stopped with a few ancient letters on an index card, you really going to take exception to a name that clearly labels the bearer?  I might have, but that question wasn’t just rhetorical – why not? Indeed.
Of course then it turns out Godiva has a penis and suddenly a name that’s a little “on the nose” doesn’t seem like that big of a leap any more.

What?  Being square doesn't automatically make me mature!
So.  Here’s the thing.  I’m a pretty square guy.  I love my Mom and apple pie and try to watch my language.  I wear a MAGA hat unironically.  I’ve never been to a topless bar.  I teach Sunday school.  (Actually, CCD, Catholics, represent!)  I pretty much married and still love my high school sweetheart.  I mean, I’m so square carpenters have been known to borrow me to make sure their joints are a perfect 90-degree angle.

Normally, when a book drops that kind of missile on me ,* I’m out.

Except that normally, when a book pulls a stunt like that, it feels cheap or preachy.  Having already established that the world of Catskinner includes the aforementioned monsters of thought, hive minds, men with the density of a neutron star, and a host of other strangenesses…Godiva’s reveal just feels like another signpost that Catskinner’s world is nothing like ours.  It’s a natural expression of that weirdness, and it’s really just one more curveball for James (and by extension the reader) to have to learn to accept if they are going to live in this strange new world.

By the time we get Godiva’s really big reveal – that she’s a brain surgeon – we’ve already learned that she’s a half-plant symbiont whose body brews magic potions, has green eyes, and a mouth full of tentacles.  That last bit makes her first interaction with James, when she offered him oral sex in exchange for food, take on a whole new dimension.  Yeee-yikes!
And really, that’s the most interesting thing about Godiva.  It's not the unfortunately placed ovipositor.  It's not the tentacle mouth.  The brain surgeon.  She looks like a bimbo.  She’s clearly a being designed for raw sexuality.  And yet, she’s whip-smart.  James is no slouch, but whenever real brains are called for in the story, Godiva is there to pick up his slack.  She leads the investigation from the first scene they meet.  She usually figures things out well before he does.  She’s also a very vulnerable person, both physically and emotionally, and needs James as much as he needs her.  Those contrasts help to make her a truly well-rounded character.
It’s another case of an author who can write the sort of thing that you don’t like, and make you like it anyway.  Not sure there’s any higher praise I can offer than that.

* Hey, I’m square, but come on.


  1. I'm touched. I wanted Godiva to be a sympathetic character. One thing that I have found is that even people uncomfortable with her biology seem to like her as a person. I've read a lot of authors complain that reviewers complain about characters with an extic sexuality--I've never had anyone who objected to Godiva in a review. So maybe I am doing something right.

    1. I guess it also helps that she did not choose to be what she has become and many times she shows signs of being uncomfortable or ashamed. She is clearly a victim of some sort.

    2. You've hit on another one of the themes that I wanted to explore in this series--the question of consent in life-changing experiences. On the one hand Godiva did choose the symbiote, Dr. Klein made the offer and Godiva accepted. On the other hand, Godiva could not have understood the full extent of the change before she experienced it.

      I play with this theme in the other novels as well. The semi-human characters became what they are as a consequence of their own actions and their own choices. However, can it truly be informed consent when the transformation is opaque to the person making it before going through with it?