Friday, February 25, 2011

Ben hates magic-as-metaphor

Yes, yes I do. So... so much.

You know the type of story I'm talking about: something sad is happening in the protagonist's life, or they've got childhood bogeys that they haven't dealt with, or whatever, and some sort of magical scenario epitomizes the apotheosis of fear/sadness/give me a break already. In short, stories that are not actually fantasy but just overly-metaphorical mainstream/literary fiction posing as fantasy. I think this kind of fiction qualifies as some sort of "urban fantasy" or "magical realism," although a better term might be "realistical magicalism" because, being a compound of two silly words, it typifies the fact that this genre of writing is not a good genre at all and pointedly squares it off from the proud and quality traditions of both urban fantasy and magical realism - which, though I may not be their biggest fans, I can still appreciate.

These stories are always short stories; I don't expect even their biggest fans could stand to read such drivel for the length of a novel. But said short stories are everywhere: they infest and ruin the issues of some of my favourite magazines. Fantasy and Strange Horizons are the biggest perps - click for samples of slit-Ben's-wrists-now fiction - but they are in vogue everywhere. In place of high fantasy or, you know, anything written by someone with an imagination, the standard for modern short fantasy is no longer alterior or breath-taking vision, but rather a very mundane vision distorted with cheap metaphors.

The point is that I utterly fail to see the allure of this sort of writing. Magical creatures and magical effects playing metaphor for emotions is an incredibly cheap way to:

1. Pretend you're writing fantasy.

2. Pretend you're literary.

Either ditch the magical elements to your annoying, whiny, never-got-over-it semi-autobiographical lamefest and (don't be afraid to) write something mainstream/literary (because for the love of the Man Jesus there's more to life than the genres), or make those magical creatures viscerally real - extrusions, in short, of honest and endearing strangeitude - instead of stand-ins for the complex and incredibly difficult job of explaining human emotions.

Ugh. Man. I'm sure there are people who like this stuff (I mean, people are getting paid to write it), and I really hate to rag on other authors (especially those more successful than I am) or editors. But I've held it in too long: this sub-genre, this metastasization, this infection needs to be hunted, trapped and killed.

Okay well have a great Friday!


P.S. Let's all just thank High Holy Heaven for Beneath Ceaseless Skies, where fantasy is still awesome.


  1. FINALLY I know why Fantasy rejects my stuff! Time to write some magic-as-metaphor to be subbed toot-sweet.

  2. I agree so hard it hurts. I've sprained my agreement muscle, which means all I can do for the next three days is disagree. Great!