Side Jobs, by Jim Butcher (Stories from the Dresden Files)

  • TITLE: Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files 
  • AUTHOR: Jim Butcher
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit (UK)
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 14th April 2011 (1st UK paperback ed)

Side Jobs is an awkward title to review, for two reasons: one, I’ve never reviewed an anthology before and two, because the last novella in the book completely crashed the rating for me.

The best way, given how many problems I had with Aftermath, is to tackle that separately, lest it really, really bring down the review of the other stories in the book, which, as is probably obvious by now, were awesome in comparison.

Hereafter I’ll refer to Side Jobs and Aftermath as two separate entities.

Side Jobs was amazing. The stories ranged from serious to silly, and all the while the Dresden charm was there. I especially enjoyed the story from Thomas’ POV, and I’m not ashamed to say it’s because of the massive, massive crush I have on him. Plus, this story exhibited Butcher’s talent as a writer. After thirteen books all with the same strong POV, it must have been hard for him to switch suddenly to Thomas’ viewpoint. It was an excellent little story, and it really sounded like Thomas, not just Harry-but-different.

The other stories showcased more of the werewolves—who are exceedingly cool, so that was a major plus—as well as generally filling in a few of the gaps between books. Molly features a little more and she seems to have grown entirely into her own person—and it really worked. Molly being shown her character like that really made her ready to stand on her own two feet in Ghost Story. She’s brilliant.

The timing of the short stories is explained beforehand, and a little preamble from Butcher is included and it makes for a very cool little addition, really giving a little character to the anthology here and there. I wish there had been a short story from Molly’s viewpoint, because she’s my favourite (because she’s awesome) but given my review of Aftermath to follow, I’m perhaps a little relieved that Butcher didn’t attempt it.

Overall, Side Jobs was excellent, and the anthology as a whole would have been given a full five star rating, if not for…

Aftermath.

I’ve never read such an uncomfortable story before. It wasn’t the plot that was bad. It wasn’t the crafting, the pacing, the anything. It was plain and simply Butcher’s writing. The next time Butcher decides to write from the viewpoint of a female, he should simply not bother.

It was awful.

The constant reference to Men as Martians (Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus) was horrible. It seemed that every other page Butcher had Murphy grunting in Martian and offering a mental translation in English. Never mind the fact that it’s been scientifically proven that men and women do not have different brains and do not come from different planets (hey, guess what? Women are people too!!), it just made Murphy come off as a horribly written and flaky character.

I hated this story. I absolutely hated that he single-handedly went about and ruined the single strongest and best and long-standing female character he has. It didn’t work and it was uncomfortable to read. I’m not a woman and I found the constant demeaning of language and mental monologue awkward and horrible to read. It annoyed me and that ruined any chances Butcher had of offering a story to fill in some of the time between Changes and Ghost story. That time was important and he botched it.

I don’t speak Martian and I’m pretty sure a lot of men don’t either. I’m also sure that Murphy grunts and says very little as a way to keep a façade she (unfairly) feels she needs to front to be taken seriously in her job. But Murphy has experience. She should have a natural confidence. The way Butcher has written her character from the get-go, she should not have had this awful, terrible inner monologue. She should just have been Murphy. It’s as though Butcher got scared when he decided to write from Murphy’s viewpoint, thinking that somehow men and woman are polar opposites. If he thinks, that, then he should perhaps have written the whole story in this fabled Martian language and have done.

It  made me think of this blog post about feminism in the movie The Cabin in the Woods (a blog post I intend to add to my eventual LinkPool of Interesting and Cool Stuff). Honestly? Aftermath felt like a joke and Butcher was sitting there, grinning, as he wrote about, as the poster in the blog puts it: “Women and their funny women’s issues! You funny womens!”. That’s what it felt like; Butcher stumbling through Murphy’s head and not having a damn clue what he was doing.

I actually can’t express politely how much I hated this, and how disappointed I am. I love Karrin Murphy. I think she’s a fantastic character. Almost a year ago, when I started reading the Dresden Files, I heard them referred to as misogynist. Unfortunately, I think I can see where this is coming from, and it makes me feel all ick, because it’s the single thing he does wrong. I wish we’d come across a female character, at one point or another, who isn’t actually good-looking. A girl who Harry doesn’t drop his jaw for.

I thought recently about Harry and his chauvinism, and following a long discussion with my psychology-studying elder brother, about feminism and psychology, and something struck me: I actually hate how Butcher depicts Harry when it comes to women. Why? Because if Harry’s a Nice Guy, surely his opening doors for women, his concern for their well-being, his, Harryness, to women, should really stretch to the whole goddamn population, right? Why does Butcher seem to think all men speak Martian as though it’s mandatory in school? All the people I know, men or women, speak plain old English. No alien languages in need of gender-based deciphering, here.

I’m way off topic here, kind of, because I’m still supposed to be talking about Side Jobs, but Aftermath pushed me to this. His destruction of Murphy was too much and it really brought to light just how different Butcher seems to think men and women are. Frankly, that annoyed me.

Harry’s overtly manly man-ness gets awkward somewhere along the line, and because it’s only small pinpoints in the fabric of the story, it goes largely unnoticed. One of my main problems is his lack of actual and physical concern half the time for his brother. I have a brother. I know what it’s like. There is no wall of manliness between two guys that contrasts so starkly with how a guy acts with a woman.

Sometimes I think it’s not Harry’s wiseass attitude that began to grate, but moreover, his macho attitude. It’s old, it’s outdated, so stop it. Newsflash: you can be a guy without being macho. Guys can shirk away from horror movies whilst their girl-friends sit there un-phased (raising my hand, here). Guys can be upset and cry and do all those things that Butcher always glosses over.

Perhaps the problem with Aftermath is that because Butcher has been flogging the dead horse of Harry’s constantly overt masculinity, that when it came to putting himself in Karrin’s shoes, he found himself completely confused as to how to write her. Harry is a strong man; Karrin is a strong woman. Just because they tote different genitals doesn’t mean that they are aliens from different planets.

A very, very uncomfortable, awkward story to read.

But. Let me stress that for all Aftermath was dreadful, the rest of Side Jobs was fun, fantastic and extremely enjoyable!

3.75/5

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