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Book Club: The Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee Smith

I’ve spent probably a few thousand words chatting via email with various readers about this book so I knew it would be a great topic for discussion. Because I have a lot of admiration for Smith’s work, I was not hesitant to ask her difficult questions and her candor and forthrightness really impressed me. You may not agree with everything she says but that’s okay. We’re here to discuss the book.  Here’s my review.

One of the reasons I thought this book was so tremendous is how it took to really disparate individuals, the athiest and the zealot, and revealed the weaknesses of both positions.  I’ve re-read this book a couple of times and portions of it several times. I’m going to state outright that I disagree that the book normalizes rape, one of the biggest charges against the book. I think that the world of Meoraq is a screwed up one and if you read to the end, you’ll realize how claylike the religious doctrine of Meoraq’s world really is. And that’s the whole point. How can you have transformation without a starting point?

But let’s see what Smith has to say and then the comments are yours, readers.

Last Hour of Gann R Lee Smith
I can’t answer these questions without riddling my answers with spoilers, so please don’t read this if you haven’t read the book, or at least please don’t fill up the comment section with rage about how I gave away the ending.

1. Let’s ask the biggest question first. What about the rapes? Do you feel like the Last Hour of Gann normalizes rape? Are we supposed to see that as the actions of a heroic individual?

So…let me get this straight. Your first question requires me to defend rape? You don’t play around, do you? But okay, let me begin my rambling answer by pointing out that Meoraq’s experience is not the normal experience of the average dumaq. “Most men were permitted none but their wife’s embrace during their lifetime…” Only those of the warrior’s caste have the right to demand sexual liberties over the women they encounter, and since the women are kept isolated, that’s not saying much. Even those born under the Blade don’t have the right to barge into someone’s house and demand a woman (except for Sheulek, I suppose. They have the right to go anywhere and demand anything, but nowhere does Meoraq indicate he’s ever done this). Rape is not ‘normal,’ even in dumaq society.

Meoraq does have sex with the women who are presented to him after judgments (and with at least some of the women who are sent in to bathe him) and no, not all of these women were willing and no, he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. He believed his god gave him the fire so that he could pass it into a woman, either to sire offspring or to heal her infertility. And if it was Sheul’s will, who would question that? Does that make it all right? Well of course not! We’re talking about a society that routinely settles the legal question of whether Farmer A stole Farmer B’s row of crops by fighting a completely unrelated man to the death!

You ask me if Meoraq’s actions were those of a heroic individual when he tells a frightened virgin in the arena hold that it’s permitted for her to struggle. I can only tell you that Meoraq had to prove himself a heroic character after letting the reader witness that act. Our myths and legends–heck, our history–is filled with stories of men whose heroism is at least in part measured by his sexual conquests. From Hercules to Casanova to James Bond, we applaud and immortalize men who do not overburden themselves with the question of consent and never demonstrate one iota of remorse. They don’t have to change; we just clean up their image for them. In The Last Hour of Gann, my hero rapes women, but ultimately he understands it was wrong and when he understands it, he never tries to justify or excuse those acts. He has remorse and moreover, he has the chance to affect change, not only in his own life but in the law, and those I do say are the actions of a heroic individual.

I have to admit at this point that I had not realized rape was a recurring theme in my books. Someone had to point it out to me. And guess what? It’s not going away anytime soon. I do not consider that I glorify or normalize rape. I do occasionally eroticize it, most notably in Heat. Why? Because whether you as an individual like it or not, rape fantasy is an extremely common fantasy for many women and it’s perfectly okay to explore that within the pages of a book. It doesn’t mean the reader wants to be raped anymore than it means I think it’s okay for women to be raped. I find that suggestion absurd and frankly offensive. Far more often, when I write about rape, it’s not eroticized at all but written as an element of horror. Heat’s rape scenes are eroticized becauses ultimately, Kane comes to feel affection for Raven and a relationship develops, as twisted as some readers may find it. The wizard’s scenes with Taryn are never anything but repugnant. They exist to demonstrate how utterly remorseless, deviant and straight-up evil he is, not to titillate the reader. But do those scenes have to exist at all? Yes, damn it, they do!

When I was beta-reading The Wizard in the Woods, I asked my betas if it felt unrealistic that the wizard forced Taryn to give him oral sex. One of my betas immediately snorted and replied, “What is he going to do, date her?” I have often said when people ask me why I write the books I do that I write what I want to read, and that’s true even in this case. I’m tired of reading books where we have to take the author’s word for it that the bad guy is really bad. I’m tired of seeing evil leer and tap its fingertips together menacingly instead of do something. And yeah, I’m tired of villains that think they have to seduce a woman when she’s already in chains at his damn feet. If you’re going to write evil, commit to evil.

Finally, I’d just like to point out that I think it’s a hell of a thing that I’ve been called before the court about the women being raped in my books and not one person has ever remarked on all the men: The unnamed slave in Heat, Antilles in The Wizard in the Woods, the fauns in The Roads of Taryn MacTavish, Gabriel in The Army of Mab, numerous neophytes and acolytes in The Scholomance, Good Samaritan in Cottonwood (I certainly consider being forced to prostitute himself for food as much a violation as any one rape), Zhuqa and countless male raiders and slaves in The Last Hour of Gann. Is that somehow less offensive because they’re male?

Rape is wrong. Do I actually have to say that? Rape is wrong, but I do not consider that I write about rapes; I write about what comes after. My characters are not victims of sexual violence, but survivors and they do not have to spend the rest of their lives defined by that moment.

2. Why take the route of having the women affected in a way that makes them more subservient and the males more dominant and hostile? In an alien land it seems you could have constructed it in any other fashion than a heavily patrimonial one.

Stuff like this is the whole reason I use beta readers. Sometimes things that seem perfectly obvious to me don’t come across to other people. It helps to have feedback from different people. In this case, five people read the book and not one of them came away with this idea, that all males were dominant and hostile and all women were subservient and submissive. So I was a bit blindsided when I started seeing these comments.

Okay, let’s open our books and flip to the end. “It attacks the hypothalamus, primarily, and through it, the adrenal system. Females have been, ah, depressed and males, stimulated. Rage is essentially an overdose of male sexual hormones, ah, which dominate our aggressive response and…and…hyper-sensitivity to female pheromones.” What Meoraq calls God’s wrath and Lashraq’s generation called Rage was a genetically-engineered virus that was accidentally released into the public. It had near-total and near-instant communicability and within a very short time, everyone on the planet was either dead or infected, and the virus self-replicates. As Lashraq says, “The cloud will be around a hundred years. The virus will be in everyone’s…blood. We’ll all be dead, but the rage goes on…”

I never intended to say that the virus nested in the sexual hormone center of the brain, stimulating testosterone levels in order to make men aggressive and women submissive (wouldn’t that just make women aggressive too?). I was only trying to say that the virus attacked the adrenal system as its point of origin, and that as adreneline ramps up, the virus then affects other systems; in men, this meant flooding the infected person with sexual hormones, which did make them more pheromone receptive and more aggressive, but the keyword there is “overdose”. This was not a virus that made men a little horny and a little testy. This was a virus designed to make its infected malevictims mindlessly and lethally violent. It didn’t make the females subservient, it merely depressed their adrenal response, meaning they don’t succumb to Rage. Instead, the virus attacked the female hormones that affect fertility. Why was the virus designed this way? Because it was a weapon. When deployed, it was meant to send the infected men on homicidal rape-murder sprees, killing off a large chunk of the enemy population and terrorizing the rest of it. The second half of the attack would be the lowered birth rate in the female survivors. That was it. That was what I wanted my virus to do. Could a real virus be gender specific in that way? Hell, I don’t know. It’s futuristic alien technology. It’s also worth pointing out that the virus wasn’t released on purpose, probably precisely because it was too effective.

Why are the women so subservient, then? Because it is a patrimonial society. Why is it a patrimonial society? Because it had to be. Let’s take another look at those first days after the Fall. Every man on the planet was infected with a virus that caused rape-murder sprees either when angered or when triggered by female pheromones. And now let’s look at Meoraq. Soon after meeting him, Mr. Yao directs the human survivors to observe a series of pit-like pores around his mouth which in certain animals, particularly reptiles, are used to detect pheromones. Meoraq talks throughout the book about how Sheul “gives a man the fires” if he happens to see a woman, but what he doesn’t realize he’s really talking about is that virus triggering when he breathes in female pheromones. Flashback to Lashraq and his friends, balanced on the knife-edge of extinction after the Fall. He has to repopulate the planet with men who go on rape-murder sprees in the presence of a woman and women who have trouble conceiving and carrying to term, and every day that he takes to think about it, more people are dying.

Bottom line, he did what he thought was best. He turned women, who had been equals prior to the Fall, into property. He did it so that they could be kept behind walls away from men, and he did it so those who were capable of bearing children could be forced to produce them whether they liked it or not. I’m sure he thought of it as protecting them and preserving his species. I doubt he ever thought those laws would be used to kill women like Lord Saluuk’s daughter, but the harsh reality of writing is that sometimes people read things that we didn’t intend to say.

Besides, of the three books I’ve written about aliens (Heat, Cottonwood and The Last Hour of Gann), this is my only patrician society. The other two were staunchly matrilineal. And I never heard a word about the way males were treated as second-class citizens. How odd.

3. The biggest problem I had with the book was the secondary  characters, particularly the humans. Why was there no other decent surviving human?

*sigh* Because no one else survived? Because I’ve been criticized before for having a “cast of thousands” and the faceless mob was my only way to deal with 40+ extra people? Because “decent” people tend to disapprove quietly while the wrong sort speak up? But mostly because there is a very ugly facet of human nature that wants–needs–to find a scapegoat in the wake of catastrophe and Amber was it.

Although there was a small military presence aboard the Pioneer, most of its passengers and all of its crew were members of the Manifest Destiny Society, which was, as it was during the westward expansion, fueled by a zealous belief that they had been appointed by God to lay claim to new territory by virtue of their own innate superiority. Even Amber thinks of them as a cult. They were not bad people. I don’t think they were even particularly weak people, but they were people whose entire philosophy got slapped out from under them in an instant. They weren’t just people whose ship crashed; they were people who believed God wanted them to go to Plymouth and who instead crashed on Gann. Even more than the average survivor, if there is such a thing as an ‘average’ survivor, they were lost. And Scott took them in.

Scott was a Manifestor. He knew exactly how to talk to those people and he said all the right comforting things while Amber was there telling everyone they were never going home. He took charge–and if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about people in a crisis, they seldom question the guy in charge–and he started immediately rewarding loyalty with extra rations and tents. In short, he gave his supporters the best chance of survival. And if you don’t think his supporters would pick on Amber just because he did, you don’t remember high school.

Scott made it impossible for anyone to disagree with him and stay in the group and I want to make something very clear: No one could have walked away and survived, alone, on that world. There were decent people in that second group of survivors, but they had to choose between going along with stuff they didn’t agree with or walking off into the wilderness and dying for their convictions. I believe that people are mostly good, but I don’t know anyone who would choose the latter. (Edit: My sister insists she would have.)

4. I loved the religious aspect of it and thought you did a great job  of challenging both sides of the faith coin – the atheist and the believer. 
 
I’m glad reader response has been so positive regarding the religious themes in The Last Hour of Gann, because it was the one thing that really worried me. I kind of hate to admit this, but I rarely think about my readers when I’m writing. I rarely think about my friends or family either. My book’s world and the characters who live there sort of squeeze out any other concerns. It’s only afterwards, during the editing phase, that I’ll be reading what I’ve written and suddenly realize, ‘Hang on, this could really honk someone off.’ Although all my books tend to have spiritual undertones, I usually present that spirituality in a fantasy setting, where gods often manifest and prayers are answered more or less immediately and tangibly.

In the case of Gann, religion was always a major aspect, both of the world as a whole and as a facet of Meoraq’s character, but it was vital that it be a religion of faith, rather than a walking, talking god. For most of the book, I was comfortable with these overt religious themes, but the closer I got to the ‘big reveal’, the more nervous it made me. I was horribly afraid readers would think I was dumping on Christianity, so much so that halfway through my first edits, I announced I wasn’t going to publish it. It would go into the folder with the other Dear-God-never-let-this-see-the-light-of-day novels and I’d move on to the next one. My sister talked me out of that, but it was with great reservations that I handed the book over to my beta readers. Encouragingly, they all liked the religious angle (they especially liked the exchanges between Meoraq and Amber whenever the subject of God or atheism came up), but right where I was the most concerned, everyone got really quiet. One of them had an actual crisis of faith, a fact that makes me kind of proud in an appalled sort of way. Once more, the book tottered on the edge of the abyss and once more, my sister talked me down.

It’s funny, isn’t it? After the body-piercing scene in Heat, all the centaur sex in Arcadia, the demons in The Scholomance, forced impregnation in Olivia, and internment camps in Cottonwood, religion was almost too controversial for me.

5.  Most of your books feature a different type of creature/society and  I know you’ve indicated you like to write about monsters. Is there any other reason you choose to write about aliens from lizards to bugs?

I had written about essentially humanoid aliens in Heat and always kind of considered it a cop-out. I initially wanted to make my Jotan more inhuman in appearance, but chickened out because I wanted the sex scenes to work. I also wanted the villain to be able to ‘hunt’ in plain sight, so he couldn’t be that unusual. So when the time came to write more aliens in Cottonwood and The Last Hour of Gann, I wanted to go as far from human as I could. Bugs and lizards are both popular alien tropes and both books were all about me bashing bad sci-fi movie tropes with my version of reality. Originally, the bugs were going to be on Gann, but I changed my mind at the last minute because I thought the exchanges between Sarah and T’aki worked better with a little bug than with a little lizard.

6. Neil deGrasse Tyson says that one of his fears is that alien life  has studied humans and determined that we are too stupid to want to interact with. Any comments?

I’d think so too if studying humans meant I spent any time all monitoring Earth’s entertainment transmissions. In fact, we better hope they just choose not to interact with us intead of pre-emptively destroy us because otherwise Honey Boo Boo is going to bring about the end of all life as we know it.

7. How would you categorize your books? I see some refer to them as  erotic but I don’t find them particularly so. They are certainly romantic in some sense. The relationships between characters are as important as the world that you’ve constructed.

Funny you should ask. I initially thought I was writing horror with a strong sci-fi or fantasy slant. My first e-publisher thought I was writing erotica (and writing it badly). And my readers apparently think I write romances. I’m beginning to think we’re all wrong, but for argument’s sake, let’s look at the industry’s definition of erotica and romance. I believe it was Cherry Adair who said romances include sex scenes as rewards for the characters’ efforts, whereas the sex scenes in erotica must drive the plot forward. In other words, the romance can be written without graphic sex, but erotica can’t. In that sense, I guess I write erotica because I couldn’t write any of my books without those scenes. But I’m the first to admit that the sex is often too weird to be erotic, even when the scenes are otherwise as hot as they come.

8.What books have you been reading? What makes a good book to you?  Or what do you look for when you are reading?

About 90% of what I read is horror and apart from a few tried-and-true authors (King, Koontz, McCammon and Lovecraft), I read indie authors because, frankly, they’re the only ones who go dark enough. Some of my non-horror favorite authors include Peter S. Beagle, Dorothy Sayers, JRR Tolkein (of course), Rudyard Kipling and Neil Gaiman. I like to read books with strong, multi-dimensional characters, heroines that are more than just limp love-interests, and villains that are really and truly villainous. I like supernatural elements, but I hate cliches. And as most of my readers will be able to easily guess, I love a book that I can read all day or even all weekend. If the book holds your interest all the way through, it wasn’t too long and I don’t care how many pages it had.

9. What’s next for R. Lee Smith?

The next novel will be Pool, a snippet of which I included at the end of The Last Hour of Gann. In it, I get back to my B-movie horror roots, so don’t read it looking for a romance. After that, I have The Bull of Minos, my retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur (spoiler: As Taryn MacTavish once said in The Care and Feeding of Griffins, Theseus is a crudhook). In my spare time, I’ve also been noodling around on a novella called The Land of the Beautiful Dead, my take on the zombie apocalypse and there might be a collection of short stories if I can think of a few more to round out the ones I have.

If you’d like to see what I’m up to, you can always drop by my blog at rleesmith.wordpress.com. During November, I am celebrating Nanowrimo with my ABCs of Worldbuilding.

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

32 Comments

  1. Ros
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 10:13:56

    “Finally, I’d just like to point out that I think it’s a hell of a thing that I’ve been called before the court about the women being raped in my books and not one person has ever remarked on all the men”
    Maybe you meant to refer to other discussions here, but Jane’s question is not gendered at all. It was your answer that focussed on women being raped.

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  2. Jill Myles
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 10:38:11

    As everyone probably already knows, I’m a huge huge fan of this book. :) It’s interesting, because I went in expecting to be shocked by CRAZYPANTS LIZARD SEXXING and ended up falling in love with a story about faith – not just in a higher power, but in yourself. I think it’s interesting that Amber’s the heroine and the one we all ‘relate’ to, but I think the story and biggest changes and growth are Meoraq’s. Like he says at one point (and I’m paraphrasing), “I went to bed as Sheul’s holiest warrior and I woke up as a murderer.” That’s a lot to take in, but Meoraq comes out the other side and he does so in a way that makes me, as the reader, happy.

    I was also worried that the end would pull an AIVAS (Anne McCaffrey fans know what I’m talking about) in which the Magic Computer renders the entire existence of an aspect of society useless. Happened in Jovah’s Angel, too. I hated that, and I thought it was handled delicately and super well here.

    tl;dr – I’m a huge, huge fan. If R Lee Smith is reading this thread, I want to know how much she writes a day (because yo, those are some long books), if he/she intends on writing a more ‘romancey’ story in the future despite the projects mentioned, since you’ve found a following in romance readers? And um, please write faster. :)

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  3. Mandi
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 12:24:29

    I read this book because of Jane and Jill Myles and I was blown away. One of my favorite books of 2013. It’s also the first I’ve read by you (although I have plans to read Heat).

    I’m so glad Jane asked and you responded to the rape/weak females and the religion stuff. I wasn’t really bothered by the way Meoraq raped the women early in the book because I had faith that he would come to realize his actions were wrong by the end of the book and I think his transformation was well done. I liked that at the end as you said, he doesn’t try to excuse what he has done. He quietly accepts it and then tries to comprehend the outlook of his new life. I loved how it all unfolds.

    I’m very much not a religious person and yet the way Meoraq and Amber butt heads over destiny was very fascinating to me. The build up to the big reveal was truly suspenseful.

    I still wish there had been stronger women besides Amber.

    Overall I found this book to be so consuming and complex and well done. I realllllllly hope you write another romance focused book in the future :)

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  4. Brunette Librarian
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 13:48:13

    I read The Last Hour b/c of the recommendation on Dear Author. At first I had no idea what to think, but I gotta tell ya, it sucked me in. I don’t know if I would call it a romance but it is a strong story about survival, hope, and the constant struggle to just be. Amber is a fantastic character, strong, hopeful, and ever loving of her family, even to the end.

    A lot of the questions I had were answered in this interview but I would like to know… Will there ever be another maybe epilogue featuring Amber and her husband? I want to see a happy ever after with everyone just happy…not fighting to survive, but just plain happy living life b/c by golly they deserve it!

    Fantastic story and a great interview!!

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  5. Deljah
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 13:50:11

    I read this book and loved it! I cared about the characters and the world in which they lived. It was interesting to see the humans go from a dystopian Earth to a post-apocalyptic Gann.

    From the religious aspect, it was fascinating to see how Meoraq, Amber and Scott (or S’kot, lol) were positioned (or positioned themselves) as saviors throughout the story, how they functioned in those roles and what happened to the people they were trying to save. And then, at the end, when Meoraq and Amber were set to re-write the laws governing Gann and really be saviors for everyone? Fantastic!

    I enjoyed Meoraq’s evolution as character. He started out as a blind adherent to a faith that allowed him to rape women, to scorn women, to kill others for even touching him casually, to think of others at various lower caste levels as worthless beings, and to see death matches as appropriate adjudications of the law, etc, etc. He learned to question and reject those and other beliefs over the course of the book, and it was wonderful and heartbreaking to see. How many people went to the temple and had the doors opened for them, learned the truth but said nothing? How many people in real life never question the things they’ve been taught?

    I loved Amber and wanted to give her a hug (or a slap, lol) so many times. She was a true survivor, and I just swooned over her. She did have a blind faith in humanity and areas of obtuseness, despite her lifelong negative experiences with other people. I never could understand why she didn’t abandon or modify that faith. In that respect, she seemed more rigid to me than Meoraq.

    I didn’t feel that the book normalized rape. When Meoraq did it, I read those scenes with an understanding of the social and religious contexts on Gann that allowed them to happen. However, I still recognized them as rape. Just like today we in the US recognize slavery as a heinous institution, but it was not always so in this country. It was important and reassuring to me that Meoraq came to understand the rape was wrong. If he’d still been okay with it in the end, I’d think less of him as a hero.

    I also liked that the villains in the book were true villains. Snidely Whiplash stopped being threatening a long time ago.

    Tl;dr – I loved the book! There were so many themes to consider. Well worth the time spent reading.

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  6. Sara Thorn
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 15:14:26

    Great interview, Jane! I see you went straight for the hard questions. :-)

    Like many others, I also really loved this book. I never felt it normalized rape either, and I think we get some hints even early on that Meoraq isn’t completely comfortable with them either, even if his culture sees them as acceptable, and even holy. Even before he meets the humans, we see him have qualms about the woman who resisted him after a challenge–the one he basically hunted down and raped, and who later accuses him of being the father of her child.

    One of the things I really liked about the book was that while Meoraq on the surface is a very devoted believer, following the written holy word of his God very literally, he still ends up questioning it all the time and reevaluating it. Strange as it may sound given the rapes and what not, he comes across as one of the most genuinely decent characters I’ve read about in quite a while.

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  7. Erin Satie
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 15:39:21

    I also really liked Gann. More than anything, I loved Amber. While she’s with the other survivors, trying to hard to earn her place and always being told that she’s never good enough–man, I knew exactly what it was like, I felt for her.

    I know Jane thinks the other survivors were really two-dimensional. I wished that we’d seen a little more variation, too–Martha was a good start, and I would have liked to see more of Mr. Yao. But I liked the way that Amber perceived them. THAT very real and authentic to me.

    I guess I thought time should have worn them out a bit. Man, they were indefatigable.

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  8. MinnChica
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 16:17:10

    I was looking forward to this book because I tend to enjoy the same things as Mandi, Jane, and Jill Myles. However, this book went from not so great to even worse for me.

    There were exactly two things I liked in this book: Amber’s never-ending optimism (which even started to annoy me after all the shit she went through), and Meoraq’s enlightenment about life and humanity.

    Other than that, I struggled reading this. The secondary characters (both human and lizard alike) were all rage-inducing. I could not wrap my head around just how horrible and awful the humans were to one another. It made me angry while reading, and still weeks later whenever I think about it, it makes me even more angrier than ever.

    It didn’t help matters that I don’t like reading religion in my books. The constant bickering and arguments between Amber and Meoraq about his beliefs quickly got on my nerves, and I found myself skimming through a lot of those scenes.

    While I thought the writing was strong, I just don’t foresee reading any more books from Smith in the future. I struggled with the way rape was addressed and handled, and many of the underlying themes annoyed me more than anything else.

    I wanted to like this book, and I’m glad I got through it, but it did not work for me. :(

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  9. leftcoaster
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 17:46:06

    I get creating worlds where you can explore themes somewhat removed from the present in a “safer” place. But I don’t understand being defensively flippant or being the misunderstood artiste when people want to talk about things like, oh, making women possessions inevitable in *your* world that *you* created.

    Also, if what you are saying is that if the readers didn’t want to talk about it when it involved males then they can’t talk about it when it involves females, then I’m calling bullshit.

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  10. Jill Sorenson
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 19:05:19

    I wasn’t going to comment because I haven’t read the book, but I see some mixed messages in this interview, and it reminded me of my confusion while reading Heat. I wasn’t sure which scenes were supposed to be erotic and which were supposed to be horrifying. That uncertainty disturbed me. In romance, we often see antiheroes transformed by love. Kane is not transformed–and of course you can argue that Heat is not a romance. His feelings for Raven don’t lead him to treat her with more care. Instead he forces her to perform increasingly degrading acts for his enjoyment. The eroticism doesn’t come from an emotional connection. It’s based on control, pain and degradation. In the end, the message I got wasn’t that brutal rape is bad, but more that it’s HOT.

    Anything wrong with that fantasy? I can’t say there is. The problem, for me, was that the first chapters of Heat set me up to believe the opposite, and then pulled sort of a bait and switch.

    I see a similar theme in the interview. Rape is bad, but *men* who rape are hot:

    “From Hercules to Casanova to James Bond, we applaud and immortalize men who do not overburden themselves with the question of consent and never demonstrate one iota of remorse.”

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding the quote, or interpreting it through the lens of another blog post about monsters being hot. My negative reaction to Heat also colors my perception. I should add that I found the book difficult to put down, even though I didn’t like it. It’s clear from Jane’s and other readers’ reviews that Smith is a powerful storyteller.

    I couldn’t get through the entire interview and I can’t even think about Heat without getting upset, so I understand the strong reactions on both sides.

    Thanks Jane for opening up the conversation.

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  11. Barb
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 20:16:42

    I read Heat and it was strong stuff, but I never felt that Kane was the hero, or what he did was was presented as heroic. There was another alien in that book, the cop who came after Kane (sorry, don’t have my book here to look up names). I just loved his side of the story, from the cat to the endless reruns of Law&Order. Not to mention the trip to the sex toy store… That said, I could have done with a little less of Kane’s evil. It’s a valid point that evil characters should really be evil, but while I admire Smith’s writing, I’m not sure I want to read another novel stuffed with all too vivid depictions of cruelty and perversion. I will try Gann, because there was a lot to like in Heat, but I’m hoping for a little more balance.

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  12. CGirl
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 21:16:55

    Thanks Jane for choosing RL Smith latest book for your book club. The discussion when you reviewed the book and from this interview is lively. I appreciate RL Smith’s honesty and candor in her responses. I think that a good book will incite emotion be it positive or negative. It creates discussion and makes us think about ourselves and our own world. I find her books and the many themes haunt me (in a good way) for days, weeks after I have finished. I’ve read the discussion and debate re the genre for RL Smith books. I haven’t decided what genre RL Smith writes and I don’t think that I can peg only one. And, why do we need to corner her writing. She is a damn fine novelist and I am a fan of RL Smith’s books, all of them.

    ReplyReply

  13. Allison
    Nov 16, 2013 @ 07:59:28

    Jeezy. I got expectation whip-lash from this book. Jane’s preferences typically line up with mine, so I was excited to read this one. But then the rapey stuff (not as big a deal to me, as it did change over the book) and the martyrdom. There’s only so much martyrdom (cough, Amber, cough) I can read before I give up. Yeah, her martyrdom is rewarded at the end, but I still didn’t like it. Pet peeve of mine, apparently.

    With that said, the writing was beautiful. The scene where the ship crashes was breathtaking. I just wished the story worked for me as well as it did for everyone else.

    ReplyReply

  14. Karina Bliss
    Nov 16, 2013 @ 14:49:26

    I also read this on Jane’s recommendation and was blown away by the characters and worldbuilding. I coped with the rape scenes for a couple of reasons. The society was brutal and rape was one of many tools used to subjugate both sexes. And more importantly for me, was how Amber responded. She saw her rapes as acts of impersonal violence by men attempting to break her and that simply wasn’t going to happen. The emotion came with the impact on her relationship with Meoraq but here again Amber took charge. The author wrestled with so many complex issues and never opted for the easy way out. The Last Hour of Gann is on my keeper shelf both as a great read and a reminder to be brave in my own fiction.

    ReplyReply

  15. » Last Hour of Gann: Throwing in the towel Flight into Fantasy
    Nov 16, 2013 @ 16:45:47

    […] peaced out of our readalong. I thought I could persevere, but then I read R Lee Smith’s interview on Dear Author. As I am wont to do, on my first reading, I went, “Huh. Well… sheesh.” Then I thought […]

  16. Stephanie Doyle
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 09:30:42

    I’m sure I’m too late and no one is still following this thread, but I finally decided to pick up this book – despite my issues with rape scenes – and of course I’m loving it. And dreading the moment when this happens now…

    If anyone who read the books sees this comment – can you let me know how long that goes in the story. I mean does it happen and then it’s over, or we talking she gets raped for chapters and chapters?

    And does she ever come out of it. I mean to Moeraq and Amber ever have a normal sexual encounter just between them?

    I hate that I’m loving it so much, because I’m literally now just reading this event.

    ReplyReply

  17. Jane
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 09:35:51

    @Stephanie Doyle: Doesn’t happen until the end. And yes, Meoraq and Amber have many “normal” sexual encounters, both before and after. In fact, one of the funnier love scenes happens after.

    ReplyReply

  18. Stephanie Doyle
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 10:05:48

    Thank you Jane! In 1,000,000 years I would have never thought I would be into a lizard hero… but he’s just absolutely awesome.

    ReplyReply

  19. Brie
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 10:29:17

    After giving it much thought, I decided to finish the book. I know I’m really late to this party, but I wanted to comment on a few topics.

    I agree that neither Amber nor Meoraq disrespect each other’s beliefs, but the text does seem to offer some views on religion (and its artificiality) that I found somewhat problematic. It’s interesting that Meoraq’s is a religion-based culture in which the belief system is used to oppress and to turn what was a technologically-advanced culture into a very primitive one (and I have issues with the word primitive). Is that supposed to be a comment on religion in general or on cultures that value their spiritual world/rituals above all else? Either way, I found the message upsetting. Ultimately, the character who is a religious fanatic is the one who blindly rapes and kills and only becomes decent once he interacts with the character who doesn’t believe in god, so even if both sides of the coin are challenged, it’s clear which one comes on top.

    @Deljah: “He learned to question and reject those and other beliefs over the course of the book, and it was wonderful and heartbreaking to see. How many people went to the temple and had the doors opened for them, learned the truth but said nothing? How many people in real life never question the things they’ve been taught?”

    He doesn’t learn to question or reject anything. He only questions his faith when his whole belief system shatters. Also, are we sure Amber and Meoraq are going to talk about what they learned? There’s a reason why the others who went to the temple didn’t say anything and decided to maintain the status quo.

    Re. the secondary characters: I think in a book as long as this one, there’s no excuse for the lack of character development in some of the human characters. Scott was only there to be evil and it’s a shocking contrast when we compare him to the two lizard villains who show later on in the story. Those two are on page for a fraction of the time, and yet they manage to have more depth, personality and motivations that all the humans combined.

    Finally, there’s a sex scene that takes place when Meoraq rescues Amber and goes berserk, and that pretty much read like rape to me. I know many people said that he never rapes her, but that scene kind of debunks it, IMO. I wonder if anyone else feels that way.

    This comment is already too long, but I must say that as many issues I had with it, it’s also true that this is one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read this year, and even though I didn’t enjoy it, I really liked the discussion it generated.

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  20. Stephanie Doyle
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 13:26:12

    @Brie:

    Well you know I was on the fence because of the rape scene (still dreading it) but I am just so… I don’t know the word… awed maybe…by this book.

    In so many ways it feels like an old school Johanna Lindsey Western. Where the English lady meets the 1/2 breed native American. Mix in a little of Julie Garwood heroine/martyrdom complex and then take that… shake it with BIG ideas like SEX and FAITH and SOCIETAL NORMS and GROUP THINK… POLITICS … and… all of it.

    I’m 1/2 way through and I do have issues with the villains – but the emotional journey they are both going through while at the same time falling in love, while at the same time I’m thinking abut all these underlying themes… that’s just good stuff.

    I truly didn’t have an issue with Moreaq and his first arena conquest or his thoughts of prior rapes. I probably had more of an issue with him beating his classmate to death. But in both cases I can so see where he’s coming from – as in the structure of his society and ways of thinking – not of the act itself – it doesn’t make me instantly hate him.

    But it’s the idea of what the sex act is to him… and how his relationship changes all that… right now it’s compelling and I can’t wait to see where it ends up.

    Oh… and I hope he just kills Scott. Don’t threaten him anymore… just kill him.

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  21. Brie
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 16:11:10

    @Stephanie Doyle: Come back when you finish the book so we can talk about Scott ;-) I will say that he was a very effective villain in that it was really easy to hate him.

    ReplyReply

  22. REVIEW: The Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee Smith | Harlequin Junkie | Blogging Romance Books | Addicted to HEA :)
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 20:08:33

    […] Last week I happened to see a tweet from Dear Author mentioning that The Lizard Man book was DA’s Nov book club read. Jane and I got tweeting and I mentioned how this wasn’t a book I could see myself reading. All […]

  23. romance is by women for women and really feminist, okay | Requires Only That You ಠ益ಠ
    Nov 20, 2013 @ 10:45:24

    […] guys, romance is by women, for women, and really feminist, […]

  24. Deljah
    Nov 21, 2013 @ 09:16:46

    @Brie:

    @Deljah: “He learned to question and reject those and other beliefs over the course of the book, and it was wonderful and heartbreaking to see. How many people went to the temple and had the doors opened for them, learned the truth but said nothing? How many people in real life never question the things they’ve been taught?”

    “He doesn’t learn to question or reject anything. He only questions his faith when his whole belief system shatters.”

    Your comment about Meoraq not learning or rejecting anything before the shattering of his belief system is factually incorrect. He questions and rejects a number of things over the course of the book. Here are some examples that I recalled as I made my original statement. Meoraq set his reality based on the word. Since the word did not tell him about other intelligent life forms, he didn’t know what to think about Amber and the other humans. He then figured that this was some other lesson from Sheul, so he took guardianship of them. Meoraq didn’t know of any real languages outside of the one he spoke, which was what the word dictated, so he was very resistant to communicating with the humans in their language, even though he could. (Remember when Scott “forced” Amber to teach Meoraq to speak?) Meoraq did speak some eventually, on a limited basis.

    His teachings said that women should be quiet and subservient to men, expressing no opinions and being a bit child-like in some ways. Here comes Amber, abrasive, mouthy, pushy, disobedient, very opinionated, human, “ugly” Amber, and he’s deeply attracted to her, falls in love with her and marries her. She is pretty much the opposite of everything he’s been taught about the ideal woman, but he is drawn to her almost irresistibly. Even feeling that love was new for him. Meoraq disdained his father some bc of his father’s emotional attachment to Meoraq’s mother and bc they had relations for pleasure and not just for conception. Meoraq struggled with the idea of recreational sex or sex *at all* with Amber, but he eventually got over it. As the book progressed, Meoraq came to regret how he’d reacted to his father and mother and wished he could apologize, but both were dead at that point.

    Also, Meoraq had started his pilgrimage to the temple bc he didn’t want to go home and take over the leadership role of his dead father. This would’ve required him to get married, which he didn’t want to do. He didn’t want an arranged or negotiated marriage, which was their tradition. As stated, he ends up married to Amber, a forced marriage for her basically. He justifies their marriage by saying Sheul sent her to him, although the idea of Sheul picking someone’s spouse was outrageous in their culture.

    Other examples occur around or after Meoraq helped Amber and some other lizardmen and women escape from the raiders. Meoraq initially didn’t even want to take the other lizardpeople with him and Amber b/c he considered them beneath him. He did it anyway, with Amber’s urging, of course. In those moments, he was dealing with the teachings that the others weren’t even real people or were worthless. A baby, who’d been fathered by one of the raiders, died as soon as they left the compound. Meoraq, a priest, initially refused to help bury the child, bc again it wasn’t a real person or wasn’t under Sheul’s blessings. Strict caste teaching was compelling him toss that child aside like trash. He struggled with those teachings then and was reflecting on the idea of the child being a real baby. He struggled with acquiescing to the child’s mother’s request to bury the child bc she was a prostitute and/or very low in caste, and he didn’t deal with her kind. He ultimately did the burial. The book notes his thoughts and internal struggles on all this and how he knew he was going against teachings.

    He also performs marriages between the slaves who escaped with him, which he ordinarily would not have done.

    With regards to Amber, since she had been raped by the raiders, he ordinarily would no longer have dealt with her at all. B/c of her rape, she’d have been tainted and would have become as nothing to him. He’d no longer have claimed her as his wife. However, he never rejects or denigrates her because of the rape and never expresses any negativity about the very questionable paternity of the child she is carrying. He continues to love her despite what he’d been taught and he claims the child as his.

    In terms of what he’ll do in the end, after Meoraq and Amber leave the temple and he’s recovering, he says explicitly to his colleague or fellow leader that he’s going to re-write the word. The word encompasses all the laws that govern their society and set their social structure. Based on Meoraq’s character as revealed in the book, it seems extremely likely (to me, definite) that this is what he will actually do. Based on Amber’s character, their relationship and her influence on Meoraq, it seems quite clear that she’ll have input as well.

    Yes, there is a reason why other people maintained the status quo after learning the truth, although Meoraq decided not to do so. The book talks a lot about fate, destiny, choices and God. It was implied or could be read (or debated) that it was Meoraq’s destiny/fate to go the temple and learn the truth, tell others and basically free their society. Or perhaps there was a real God somewhere that did draw Meoraq there or had a hand in him being the one present at that final moment. Meoraq had shown an ability to change and set his teachings. At the end, there are masses of lizardpeople gathering to see Meoraq and to hear about what happened. His very high status also gives him a position of authority from which to enact change. He really seemed to be the right “man” in the right place at the right time for this and many situations that happened in the book.

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  25. Bamaclm
    Nov 22, 2013 @ 17:03:16

    Good post, Deljah. You’ve said everything much more eloquently than I ever could.

    I loved the book and Meoraq but I would sure like a sequel. How they changed their world would make a fine story and besides I want to know if it’s a boy or a girl. ;-)

    ReplyReply

  26. Jane
    Nov 23, 2013 @ 07:14:46

    @Ros and @leftcoaster and @Jill Sorenson: : I believe that Smith was referring to other complaints she’s gotten in general and not my comment specifically. And if she was referring to my question, she’d be right. I wasn’t thinking about the male rape in the story when I asked the question at all which was my issue and not hers. I don’t think that the answers were flippant at all.

    I asked tough questions and Smith answered them. Given some of the answers I’ve been provided before, I think these are great answers. I’m not put off by the tenor of them. And I don’t believe that Smith is making light of the rapes in Gann at all, neither of the women or the men because they aren’t treated with lightness in the book. They are heartbreaking scenes, uncomfortable ones, and not at all sexy in any way.

    I also felt that her answer was saying that historically we clean up the images of great men. Look at the idolization of JFK. He was the worst womanizer and probably abused his power in any number of situations as it came to women; yet he is held up as one of the most vaunted figures of our recent past.

    I don’t believe that you three have read the book so it’s easy to be dismissive of the treatment of females and rapes and violence and to state that the book upholds patriarchal values. But having read the book a couple of times, I actually feel like its the exact opposite of that. Amber is the strongest character in the book. She suffers and survives treatment that have turned others evil or caused them to end their own lives. She rescues herself. She rescues Meoraq. She is physically, mentally and emotionally strong. Amber not only has agency in this book; she creates it for herself. To have a character like Amber in a book and then to hold that book up as an indictment against feminism just doesn’t jive for me.

    @Jill Myles: Not reading a lot of SFF, I didn’t realize that technology as a construct for the unknowns of a primitive world was a “thing.” It did somewhat remind me of Sharon Shinn but I liked how instead of ending the world, it was the start of a new one. With all the Catching Fire mania going on, it reminded me of how different the Hunger Games series ended – no hope, only dismay and depression and Smith could have easily gone that route.

    I think the line that you quote about Meoraq’s about going to bed an anointed warrior and waking up a murderer is probably one of the most important verbalized thoughts of Meoraq’s transformation. As @Deljah said, there are dozens of little acts and deeds by Meoraq leading up to that which show his transformation from the acceptance of this ugly, lesser species to actually violating the precepts of his faith in saving Amber. When she’s on death’s door and he ingests the illegal to his religion drug I took that as yet another sign of how much he’s changed. There’s so many little signs of his transformation but the biggest verbalization was at the end. Yes, he could have said “I went to bed an anointed warrior and woke up a rapist and murderer” but I felt that the sentiment was there. That line to me meant I went to bed believing in the word of Sheul and that every deed I did was anointed but then I awoke and realized that every act I’d done in the name of Sheul was a blasphemy.

    @Mandi: The whole book is about Meoraq’s transformation and Amber’s struggle to maintain her humanity in the face of huge odds. Meoraq’s world was fucked up but I felt that was the message. In the beginning, earth is crumpling and I felt like it was pre-whatever lizard planet Meoraq lived on. The patriarchal society of Earth was beginning to rights of women more and more. In the early passages, Amber’s mother rails against the unfair treatment of men and women and Meoraq’s world is like the completion of the Earth’s derailment.

    Technology and then biochemcial warfare enhances the patriarchal society until the females are nothing more than receptacles. It is against this backdrop that the story starts. Into the bleak setting shoots Amber, the mouthiest, most determined, most capable person with the biggest heart. To me, Amber is the ideal that Meoraq strives to be. She’s the embodiement of the Sheul ideal, being a true servant of others by trying to lead them into safety. See that the humans are fed and protected. She’s loving and really has an endless source of patience. So patient and forgiving that we sometimes want to shake her. But that’s the kind of attitude that Meoraq is always praying to have.

    @Brunette Librarian: I really would love to see them trying to rebuild and refashion the society but I don’t see that those are the stories that Smith enjoys telling. We might need some fan fiction. LOL.

    @Deljah: Loved your comments. I’ve been reflecting about Amber some time and as I stated previously, I feel like she was the ideal that Meoraq was striving for and because of that it was easy to see why he would love her in spite of her furred ugliness and why he would forsake all his Gannian laws to have her in his life and why he decided to live instead of throw himself off the cliff at the end of the story like the other priest did when confronted with sheer bullshit of his faith. Without Amber, Meoraq’s story is completely different. Yes, she was rigid in her beliefs but without her strength, I don’t see Meoraq surviving the revelations of his faith.

    @Sara Thorn: Within the context of his society, Meoraq’s biggest sins were arrogance and impatience. He treated women poorly but he had no concept that they should be treated well. The scene where he comes to realize and kind of hate himself for not judging his father’s love for his mother was poignant and important in showing his transformation of seeing females as objects to seeing them as equals and individuals of worth.

    @Erin Satie: I think if we could have seen Scott as more three dimensional it would have helped. My biggest problem was understanding why anyone would follow him. Even after they’d been caged and had vile things done to them, they still listened to Scott. That was where I was really befuddled.

    @MinnChica: The faith issues and the bickering were my favorite parts but I completely understand that this book isn’t for everyone.

    @Barb: I don’t feel like Gann is anything like Heat. There is no Amber in Heat, for one. And Meoraq isn’t running around raping and killing people to harvest dopamine. Most of the story is Meoraq’s journey to the temple and Amber’s attempts at saving humans.

    @CGirl: Yes, I hope that she continues to write for herself and not to her critics (I include myself in the critic group). I might not want to read every book that she writes (and I don’t think I’m likely to read Pool) but her imagination is huge and when she circles back and writes a romantic style like this again, I’ll be ready with my wallet in hand.

    @Allison: I’ve come to accept Amber’s martyrism for reasons previously stated but I appreciate you sharing your thoughts! I’m sorry this one didn’t work out as well for you.

    @Karina Bliss: I feel like the focus on the rapes takes away so much from the story. This isn’t a rape book to me. It was a book about faith and all the things that can happen to crush faith but in the end even the most strong need to believe in something.

    Which brings me to @Brie‘s comments re: the faith issue. I can see where you are coming from but I disagree. In the end, Meoraq and Amber debate the idea of a higher power. Amber essentially says that there must be one because how does a ship travel thousands of miles through space to bring me here to you. I think the story of Gann can be read in many ways and one of those ways is a reaffirmation of the power of faith in a higher being.

    “Can I tell you something?” she asked quietly. “Something I really have known all along. Something that is one hundred percent true. Something…Something I could have built my own shrine on.”
    He didn’t answer, but he didn’t say no.

    “You’re an alien,” she told him. “Or I am. One of us is, at any rate.”

    He sighed and rubbed at his brow-ridges.

    “Our worlds are billions of miles apart. We come from two entirely different evolutionary trees. You have scales, I have hair. We have different skeletons, different organs, different everything, right down to the number of fingers and toes. We are one hundred percent incompatible. The only thing we have in common is a carbon base.”

    “So?” he said wearily.

    “So I’m pregnant,” said Amber, and was amazed at how matter-of-fact she sounded, saying it for the first time. “What the hell do you call that if it isn’t God?”

    He raised his head from his hand and stared at her.

    “You told me once that I was good at seeing evidence and, boy, did it piss me off because this is something that I really did not want to see. But men can only push themselves so far, Meoraq, and men with faith can only push so much further. All the evidence is telling me…there’s something else out there, pulling from the other side. I don’t like it,” said Amber bluntly. “I’m not at peace with it. I sure as hell don’t take comfort in it…but I’m glad you do.”

    He frowned, tried to look away, but Amber caught his snout and turned him back.

    “Because all the things God isn’t for me,” she said, “you are. Because of you, I see Him every day. So start talking, lizardman, but I warn you, you’ve got a hard talk ahead of you if you’re going to convince me there’s no God after He gave you to me.”

    And now I’m exhausted and have to go lie down.

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  27. Deljah
    Nov 23, 2013 @ 10:33:22

    @Jane:

    Great comments, Jane. I agree that we may need fan fiction if we want a HEA epilogue for an R. Lee Smith book, LOL.

    Thanks for that quote of Amber’s conversation with Meoraq. It was so interesting to see her belief in God developing, as his was being challenged and falling apart. I need to re-read this book.

    Hope you feel better soon.

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  28. Brunette Librarian
    Nov 23, 2013 @ 22:30:09

    :) If anyone writes some fanfiction, let me know! :) Thank you Jane for such a well rounded and thoughtful discussion. Love it!

    ReplyReply

  29. Laura
    Nov 29, 2013 @ 13:50:11

    This book blew my mind. Thank you, Jane, for recommending it because it’s not something I would have picked up otherwise. What I most admired is that Smith didn’t take any shortcuts when it came to the differences between the humans and the lizardpeople. Not only do they have different languages, it’s not even possible for them to speak each other’s languages because, duh, humans and lizards have different vocal structures. Approaching this book expecting a romance, which I now understand was far too narrow an approach, I was just waiting to roll my eyes at how conveniently humanoid the hero would turn out to be. But no! He only has three fingers on each hand. He has a snout. He doesn’t have LIPS (omg, how are they going to kiss?). He thinks her boobs are gross. And yet, the friendship and ultimately the romance between them is the most moving one I’ve read in a long time. Smith also doesn’t take shortcuts when it comes to the actual villainy of the villains, as discussed above, so this book also has some very, VERY disturbing scenes of violence and cruelty. But again, I admired it. It’s so refreshing not to be condescended to as a reader. No sleights of hand, no pulling the curtain on unpleasantness, just damn good, almost excruciatingly suspenseful storytelling.

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  30. Jane’s Best of 2013
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 04:02:08

    […] Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee Smith.  This is the only book I gave an A to this past year. I felt that despite some of the issues with […]

  31. Jia’s Best of 2013
    Dec 26, 2013 @ 12:00:07

    […] to read but didn’t get around to this year. Maybe next year. After all the talk about Last Hour of Gann around these parts, I never picked it up. Maybe 2014 will begin with an R. Lee Smith glom. Maybe […]

  32. Jilly: Alpha Lizard + Tough Broad = Must Read | Eight Ladies Writing
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 23:01:53

    […] R Lee Smith’s take on it in an interview at Dear Author (beware spoilers if you follow the link): “I initially thought I was writing horror with a strong […]

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