Saturday, January 21, 2012

In which I tango with the critical-massing of my dislike for fantasy

There's this writer I have for some time really admired. When I first read this author (maybe a year and a half ago), their writing seemed brilliant. I loved it. I nodded and said, "Now, that is some fantastic fiction," in which 'fantastic' denoted both genre and quality.

However, I recently read some new stories by said author, and was massively under-impressed. I did not like the stories I read at all. I couldn't even finish them. But when I turned a critical eye on this and looked back on the stories I had liked, I saw there was no change in quality, really. Neither had the genre changed. And that was the problem. I threw up my hands and said, "This is too fantasy for me."

I started writing before I started reading. Okay, that's a little 'wrong' to say, but when I started writing, I was only reading philosophy, Buddhist sutras, and non-fiction (usually about wars that confirmed my hypothesis that human beings are insane). When I started writing, my fiction came out 'fantasy-like;' and, since I've always played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons, and since I read "The Wheel of Time" in middle-school, I figured I was a fantasy kind of guy.

In the past year I've struggled - in both reading and writing - to come to grips with the fact that, in general, I hate fantasy. There is fantasy that I do like, but in the same way that I just might happen to like anything else; and I can guarantee you it's not the stuff that Tor, or Lightspeed, or Clarkesworld publishes. As a genre - or, even, as a "movement" - fantasy has got to be the most childish and stultifying product of the human imagination ever conceived (here's some reading on the subject: The Persistent Neoteny of Science Fiction by Athena Andreadis). There was a time when it was probably revolutionary, but that was probably half a century ago. Now, it's a formula.

This is not really an easy thing to tango with, though. On the one hand, I've been writing more surreal, magic-realist, and bizarro fiction these last few months; but how do I find new heroes? This might sound like an all-too-fantastic request, but I won't shirk from the fact that I crave role models who can point out new directions, provide inspiration, and generally show what kind of things can be done with the various tools of the fictioneer.

The other problem: I'm in the middle of writing an extravagantly classic sword-and-sorcery novel right friggin' now. However, this only seems to be a problem. For one, it's a flight of fancy written with deliberate and ironic over-zealousness (flagrant good-evil axis; flagrant manliness; flagrant Anglo-Saxon countrysides); for two, I'm doing it for fun and on the off-chance I get rich; and for three, I'm also writing a magical-realist novel that experiments with at least five different modes of narration, which I figure at least balances out my sins. And, of course, I've always been a big proponent of hypocrisy.

I'm not leaving fantasy completely empty-handed: I've got the VanderMeers, who are, if not pure fantasists, at least relatively rooted in that realm; and, as impure fantasists, have provided much of the inspiration for "getting out." But other than that, I'm looking for new models and new directions. Some promising ideas have already begun to sprout, and I'll certainly blog about them here in the future.

Onwards! To something else!



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. What'll probably happen is that your sword & sorcery tale will be a huge hit, spawning a massive, rabid-at-the-mouth following that will demand unending sequels, and inspiring hordes of otaku fangirls to write yaoi fanfic spinoffs shipping your flagrantly manly characters in every possible combination. Do you have any more words you'd care to eat? ;)

  3. Don't be so coy. Who's the writer?

  4. Well, I don't like Fantasy either - in the sense that I don't like Q on Star Trek, but I love a great Q episode. The idea is ridiculous, the execution can be great.

    Then again, I really, really, really, don't like nobility (def: We're special 'cause we were born [you heard me, wizards]) and feudalism which is where Generic Fantasy Setting takes place. Give me the Renaissance, and I shall move the world!

  5. Love the new blog design by the way. Good work.

  6. @Joe: I hope so. It's been a blast to write so far. I'll have to put up a post soon about my conception of "mythic" fantasy that I'm working with at the moment...

    @Rahul: I'm glad to see that you've come away from this post with a deep empathetic appreciation for the transformational power of my paradigm shift. It's Jodi Picoult.

    @David: Oh boy... you're going to hate this book. I'll send it to you for proof-reading - except I'll need you to write all your comments in Norman French, daubed in the blood of your serfs.

  7. I can do that, just so long as the serfs understand I rule them because I have the biggest sword, not because of who my daddy was.