do 'book snobs' read fantasy?
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The fantasy novel I've written was inspired by Burgess' 'A Clockwork Orange' and takes its own look at good/evil, free will, and the like. But I'm sure nobody will ever accuse it of being literature. Is there any fantasy that you feel can hold its head up with the works of the authors headlining this group?
As I've been reminded by other members of this group, "fantasy" is a broad category, incorporating everything from the elves and trolls of Tolkien and his vast legion of clones, to highbrow efforts by Mervyn Peake. As well, you can factor in folks like China Mieville, Charles De Lint, Jonathan Carroll, Angela Carter...these authors ain't hacks, by any standard.
I detest "high fantasy" almost without reservation...but other sub-genres within the vast rubric of "fantasy" hold much more appeal and are far more aesthetically demanding and intelligent.
I stopped reading fantasy in my 20s because it was all Tolkein redux (and Tolkein isn't that good to begin with), but about 10 years ago I started reading it again and there's some great stuff out there, some of which is even set in faux Medieval England. Authors I have respect for: GRR Martin, Robin Hobb, Lian Hearn, and Susanna Clarke. There's also some great YA stuff by Diana Wynne Jones, Jonathan Stroud, and others.
I fail to see why scifi is respected, but fantasy is not. What's the difference between faux science and faux magic?
1: I wouldn't call A Clockwork Orange fantasy, more "science fiction" or "alternate history."
The fantasy genre is, by and large, utter crap. That said, there's a few writers out there who rise above the usual warmed over JRR Tolkien-as-Mad Libs slurry of unimaginative mediocrity for microcephalic fanboys (and Harry Knowles). The best place to start would be The Prince of Nothing trilogy by R. Scott Bakker It is technically "high fantasy" in the Tolkien vein, but Bakker takes the genre places that are full of extreme violence and complex philosophy (Bakker is working towards his Philosophy PhD, so the philosophical systems underpinning the various schools of magic have an institutional believability)
In the speculative fiction vein, you should check out The Wanting Seed, also by Burgess; Ada, or Ardor by Nabokov (it involves incest and alternate history); Thomas Pynchon's anarchic clockworks; and Cliff would vouch for the works of Iain Banks -- alas, I have not read any work by Mr. Banks, but I hear he's good.
My snark and sarcasm aside, I do enjoy the occasional novel set in the Warhammer 40K universe. A good palate cleanser after reading Bolano and Bernhard and Beckett Ole Sam Beckett's works can be read as speculative fiction, especially in how he plumbs the black depths of mind, soul, and identity. Like Philip K. Dick, a contemporary, although Beckett writes better.
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't recommend the fantasy novels of John Crowley, including the brilliant Little, Big. Crowley writes non-fantasy, as well, and doesn't seem to think "genre" has to be stupid.
I second the recommendation for John Crowley. As for high, or epic, or secondary-world fantasy... there are a handful of good ones but most read like extended RPG campaigns. Last year, I tried to read the first books of a dozen fantasy series, one book per month, as a reading challenge. I made it to June before I gave up.
But... KJ Parker is good, as is RA MacAvoy's Lens of the World trilogy. Richard Morgans The Steel Remains is worth reading. Paul Park's Princess of Roumania quartet is excellent. Lucius Shepard's fantasies - mostly novellas - are very good. M John Harrison's Viriconium stories and novels are also very good. And Ricard Pinto's The Stone Dance of the Chameleon trilogy is also good.
As for high, or epic, or secondary-world fantasy... there are a handful of good ones but most read like extended RPG campaigns
Like the books churned out by the Black Library for Warhammer 40K Then again, these books are published by a company that puts out RPG stuff. I'm not expecting anything more.
On an institutional level, the challenges are these:
1. An undemanding readership. By and large, fantasy fandom don't expect much more than Tolkien re-hashes. There are exceptions, but they remain exceptions.
2. Crass hagiography: Once Heinlein, Asimov, etc. are hoisted on the pedestals and dubbed Grandmasters, it's hard to criticize them or else the fanboys get angry and throw stones at you.
2a. General lack of decent speculative fiction criticism: With a fandom that makes many novels and authors critic-proof (i.e. "they move a lot of units"), it's hard to establish any meaningful examination of the genre. Again, exceptions abound, but criticism boils down to the degree of awesomeness of whatever new Kevin J. Anderson Excreted Product is currently on the shelves.
3. Desperate publishers: Mainly the Big Six Conglomerate and their sci fi / fantasy desks. (Doesn't apply to smaller publishers who seek to stand out from the pack.) But since the publishers are so big and need so much cash simply to meet operating costs, this cultivates an editorial board that is monumentally uninventive and risk-averse. Just churn out "Tolkien Knock-off Template B-107/F" and "Heinlein Clone Template 6B" and watch the units fly off the shelves and into the hands of idiot fanboys.
karl, you're right, mostly. But good stuff does slip through. I'm really glad I gave fantasy a chance again, I found some books I really enjoyed.
A lot of it is better written than the self-indulgent scribbling that gets dubbed "experimental." Some of that stuff rips off scifi and fantasy, but the genrephobes think it's oh-so-original.
There's also quite a bit of magical/realism and fantasy in the so-called "literary" crowd, including Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood, etc. etc. How they manage to miss the genre label is a mystery to me.
Nice call. Ada, or Ardor certainly. A bit of a challenge, the treatise on time being an unnecessary, flubbed Proustian experiment. That part reminded me of The Gift, the biographical essay on Chernyshevsky that Fyodor has written and Nabokov includes to (I'm guessing?) interrupt the narrative. That Charles Kinbote commentary turns into something that feels a lot like fantasy.
It would be neat if someone ever wrote fantasy that snobs could get behind. For some reason, perhaps it was the cover art, I wanted to get into the Burroughs' Martian series and read A Princess of Mars...can't say much, other than if I really, really want a fantasy experience, I think I'll just stick to schlocky hollywood movies and save myself some time.
I was having fun reading the Oz stories, and they felt like fantasy. Some older children's style books I think pass a snob-level scruntiny. But great literature to me, doesn't necessarily need fantastic elements to be breathtaking...
* I read the first book in Doris Lessing's Canopus in Argos: Archives series a while back. It was interesting, not sure why I didn't continue...
8: A lot of it is better written than the self-indulgent scribbling that gets dubbed "experimental." Some of that stuff rips off scifi and fantasy, but the genrephobes think it's oh-so-original
I would grudgingly agree, since the "literary" appellation can occasionally lead to overly wrought pieces of navel-gazing preciousness. That book called Special Topics in Calamity Physics reeks of such twee noodlings.
That said, and this goes for criticism in general, a book should be judged on its merits. I'm not going to judge The Martian Chronicles with the same eye as Portrait of a Lady Still, in either case, occupying a certain genre doesn't give a writer a free pass to write badly.
I recently finished Reservoir Gods, a short novel all about giant catfish and pike who attack campers. A fun romp, but still decently written.
I also detect a whiff of populism in that crack about experimentalism. And populism is usually a decent cover for good ole-fashioned philistinism. It goes both ways, although both camps never acknowledge their own faults, since they are too involved with defending their turf: "Books about space ships and aliens are crap!" "Kathy Acker is a self-indulgent hack!" I see opportunities from both sides. Sci fi tales that can be well-written and literary works that have elements of pulps and pop culture. On both counts, read Thomas Pynchon!
I read Pynchon before you were born, whippersnapper! And I love DFW. But some people lump, for instance, Neal Stephenson, in with those two and it is to laugh, if you ask me.
Call me a populist! hmmmph!
11: I don't care when or for how long you read Pynchon and DFW and others.
But one has to wonder, what is meant by the term "experimental"? At least in terms of mainstream and literary fiction (and the abundant overlap between the two). In experiments, variables are being tested. Does the same thing happen with "experimental fiction"? Or is it, to quote Moe from the Simpsons, "weird for being weird"? Or simply to have your MFA advisor approve your project? Can "experimental literature" be rescued from itself? Literature is like a shark, it has to keep moving and keep eating, or else it will sink and die. The world has moved beyond the overwrought sentences of the School of Gordon Lish and readers demand more than just Warmed Over Victorian-Style Realism. What next?
I think that smaller presses and works in translation hold the key. Writers we've never heard of doing strange things with the instruments of storytelling. Bring it!
Let's see, over the last six months I've read fantasies by Gracq, Faulkner, Melville, Henry James, Dosty, Weissman, and about to pick up another fantasy by Melville.
Who says fantasy isn't literature. Every novel ever written was somebodies fantasy. Just like every novel ever written is Science Fiction.
I read the Tolkien, which I didn't like that much. I found it tedious and boring. The best part of the whole damn thing is Appendix F -- what happened to Samwise Gamgee after the journey. I've read the Gormenghast Trilogy, which I thought was a step up from Tolkien, but what killed me on genre fantasy was after reading the six Thomas Covenant Chronicles, I realized what a colossal waste of my time Fantasy, was. I'm only sorry it took me six frickin' books to figure that out.
> In experiments, variables are being tested. Does the same thing happen with "experimental fiction"?
No. Literary critics sloppily appropriating hard-science jargon is THE WORST. Two words: Sokal Affair.
>Or is it, to quote Moe from the Simpsons, "weird for being weird"?
Probably in some cases. But I don't think it's self evident that that's a bad thing. Plus, it's probably worth noting that there seems to be a pretty wide swath of territory between lit constructed according to the Scientific Method, and Finnegans Wake.
>Or simply to have your MFA advisor approve your project?
These days, I think, experimental work is a surefire way to ensure that your project will *not* be approved in most MFA programs.
>Can "experimental literature" be rescued from itself?
I'm on board with the small presses stuff though. And especially the translations. I'm reading a book of Robert Walser's stories right now and it's the most fun I've had with a book in a while.
I think Pynchon is a little too fatuous to be fantasy. I kind of wish he sustained the fantasy elements, or took them a smidge more seriously for some reason.
Argh. All fiction, or at least all serious fiction, is experimental at some level.
People who go out of their way to call their work "experimental" do so because they recognize the risk inherent in describing yourself with other words, such as "innovative."
Think about it....
#16 IAWTC. Some of the words they don't want associated are "scifi" and "fantasy."
Usually, when people say "experimental" they're talking about style. Stream-of-consiousness, time and POV jumping, sentence structure, stuff like that.
There are ways to experiment that aren't about style. I recently read In a Strange Room, which experimented with the line between fiction and memoir, but in a deliberate way that wasn't about "what can I get away with" like the James Freys of the world. It was very affecting, in many ways because you just dont' know how much is made up, and if it matters.
Writers who call themselves "experimental" wish to be thought of as innovative. They do not call themselves "innovative" because (a) they'd be correctly pegged as arrogant snots, and (b) they'd actually have to innovate.
Stream of consciousness? Old hat. Jumping around in time and point of view? Yawn. Sentence structure? Wake me up when someone finds a genuinely new way to write the English sentence. Fiction vs. memoir? We've been playing around with that for at least fifty years. The number of writers who actually innovate is tiny.
In my view, any serious fiction can be thought of as an experiment, even when it appears to be entirely conventional. (People who think the meaning of "experiment" is restricted to scientific method need to avail themselves of a dictionary.) Writing fiction is, to borrow from Merriam-Webster's definition, "a tentative procedure." "Experiment" shares the same root as "experience"; it is an attempt to learn by doing.
To drag this back on topic, "serious" or "literary" fiction, regardless of its genre, is always an attempt to make something fresh, rather than to rely on the same old, stale methods. And what makes most fantasy and sci fi stand out, or more accurately, utterly fail to stand out, is the hackneyed writing. This is writing that suggests no hint of experiment, no attempt by the writer to transcend the sound and feeling of everyday writing. And of course, the undemanding audience Karl correctly describes actually likes it this way: that stuff is much easier to read.
"This is writing that suggests no hint of experiment, no attempt by the writer to transcend the sound and feeling of everyday writing."
That sounds like style to me. Look there's nothing wrong with experimenting, but it doesn't have to be the only criteria for "good" writing. Sometimes "everyday writing," aka simple prose, can be used to elicit genius.
I really want to find good fantasy to read, but as aj points out, the writing is usually too bland -- for me anyway. I wish there were a new wave of literary sci-fi/fantasy, such as when Zelazny emerged, but again I think aj is correct when he points out most of the audience doesn't want style.
I see this with my friends who like mystery fiction. I try to steer them toward the few mystery writers I know of who can write a line, and they can't even finish the book. They want the traditional, comfortable plot and that's it.
I did read one of Bakker's books, and I liked the overwhelming violence of it. I still read Steven Brust's Jhereg books, about an assassin and his dragon-like familiar, because he writes a good line and he constantly pushes the notion of a fantasy novel -- in one book he stuck his characters in a single room for most of the book, in others he explores Marxism a little... actually he may explore Marxism in all of them, now that I think about it. But I think Brust has a niche following.
I think China Mieville has his moments, but he's so over the map that only some of his works could be classified "fantasy."
True, but everyday, simple prose and hackneyed writing are two very different animals.
Style matters, even where the style makes itself invisible. Style is writing; storytelling is storytelling. The best story ever will be a clunker if every sentence reads like the effort of a high-school student.
A sentence that reads effortlessly without being entirely stale is difficult to write. It may be the most difficult sentence to write of all.
aj, I totally agree with everything you have said in #21.
As for good prose in genre writing, it's out there. You do have to hunt, but that's true for every kind of writing. Lots of what is sold as "literary" seems like utter crap to me.
In the words of Imagist poet and Fascist sympathizer Ezra Pound: "MAKE IT NEW." (And Pound probably used all caps in the original ... back in the 20s, when that was a new thing, not an Internet punchline.)
And one shouldn't confuse genre tropes with cliches. It's all in how a writer uses a trope. And in the words of Nobel Laureate Anglo-Catholic anti-Semite T. S. Eliot: "Good writers borrow, great writers steal."
Despite the vile and repugnant political ideologies of these two literary geniuses, what they has a lot of merit.
Scumbag Publishing Exec: "Yeah, the whole 'Make it new' thing. That probably won't move the units we need to move to break even this quarter. Why don't you write us something with elves and shit. Make it quick, I have a business meeting which will involve me snorting lines of coke off the ass of Donald Trump's ex-girlfriend."
Spineless Editor: "What he said. And say 'mayhap' a lot. Fanboys eat that shit up. Makes the writing look more sophistimacated."
Washed-up Reality Show Has-Been with a Nasty Coke Habit: "Is this Random House? Where do I sign my seven figure advance?"
It's funny cuz it's true.
Hmmm...how about the collection of stories, NOVELTIES AND SOUVENIRS? Good intro to his oeuvre?
I'd say the best John Crowley is Little, Big, but Engine Summer is a nice little scifi novella that would give you an idea of how his mind works.It's an early work, is somewhat dated and his writing improved from there, tho. I haven't read the short stories.
You could also dive into The Solitudes, which is the first book in the Aegypt cycle. It's a bit more accesssible (i.e., less fantastic) than Little, Big but it's the first of 4 long books. No trolls, tho, I promise.
Re: the plethora of fantasy series out there, multi-volume abominations--found this quote from Oscar Wilde that seems very apropos:
"Anyone can write a three-volume novel. It merely requires a complete ignorance of both life and literature."
Bless ye, Oscar.
30: Agreed, the multivolume stuff is off-putting to new readers. But not to publishers, since it is another way to milk a franchise to death. More short, self-contained works are needed.
Thanks for the tips. I'll check these out when the toddler is in daycare and I have some time again. Once I'm caught up on my naps....
Well, I do read Agatha Christie, who has written fantasy under another name. But eevn her Miss Marple books are a kind of fantasy. All those murders in one small village!
#29 I've heard great things about 'engine summer' but it's very hard to get hold of now
"I have a signed first edition of it."
Now, see, I can FEEL that smirk all the way over here in northwest Saskatchewan. And want to kill you.
I'm just enough of a snob to think an "anthology" brings together the work of multiple authors and to suggest that Otherwise is not one - but good stuff all the same.
I too have a signed first edn of Engine Summer - but how does that help poor Mark? I suspect there are paperback copies molding around the house and I'll check tonight & send you a copy if I can dig one up
Ah, now that's quite the act of generosity. Good on you. Now I have to check my little paperback...nope, just the Bantam 1980 edition, with the price I paid (from a used bookstore) written in pencil on the inside cover: $1.95.
And you say this Crowley title's hard to find, eh? A shame, this guy's books should all be in print and readily available. I have a link to his site from my blog, here 'tis:
The last sci fi / fantasy anthology I read literally fell apart on me, although the stories varied from the pretty good to somewhat sub-average.
#44: I couldn't finish Bakker's The Judging Eye. I received it through Early Reviewers and got about halfway through before I gave up. Eventually I'll probably try reading it again, though.
I just read a collection called The Secret History of Fantasy, edited by the superb Peter S Beagle, that deals with just this topic. It's the subject of practically Beagle's entire introduction. I thought he put it very nicely when he argued that, at one point not so long ago, there was no such thing as "fantasy" as a genre, that, in fact, most literature that has stood the test of time has aspect of fantasy. It wasn't until "realism" became so popular that you really saw people discussing fantasy as something other than just literature.
The collection actually introduced me to several authors I had never read because of my preconceptions of them and their work. I don't care for horror so I'd never read anything by Stephen King. His short story "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" was probably the best one in the book. I was enthralled by how melancholic and honest his writing was while managing to make it just sinister enough to give you goosebumps. Neil Gaiman's story "Snow, Glass, Apples" was also amazing. I DEFINITELY recommend this collection if you want to read some extremely well done modern fantasy (there are a few stories that aren't very impressive, but they are a tiny minority).
I am a huge fan of fantasy, but I can barely even get through Lord of the Rings much less the insane score of imitators. The terribly named "low fantasy," however, represents a large portion of the stories that make me happy. Anything by Gregory Maguire, the prose of Neil Gaiman, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and works like Beagle's The Last Unicorn, Sam Savage's Firmin, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, and Ali Shaw's The Girl With the Glass Feet, to mention a few.
edited to fix touchstones
So what is "low fantasy" as opposed to "high"? I gather "high" means "a lot like Tolkien"? I never understood what those terms referred to.
Wikipedia says this is the difference:
High and low fantasy are distinguished as being set, respectively, in an alternative "secondary" world or in the real "primary" world. In many works, the distinction between whether the setting is the primary or secondary world, and therefore whether it is low or high fantasy, can be unclear. The secondary world may take three forms: Gamble defines three characteristics of high fantasy as;
Primary does not exist (e.g. A Song of Ice and Fire)
Entered through a portal from the primary world (e.g. The Chronicles of Narnia)
World-within-a-world (e.g. Harry Potter)
J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is set in Earth's past but the setting, Middle-earth, is sufficiently divergent from the reality to be classed as a secondary world and hence high fantasy.
These stories are generally serious in tone and often epic in scope, dealing with themes of grand struggle against supernatural, evil forces. It is one of the most popular subgenres of fantasy fiction. Some typical characteristics of high fantasy include fantastical elements such as elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, invented languages, quests, coming-of-age themes, and multi-volume narratives.
I don't strictly agree with those dimensions of the subgenres, but they are a decent jumping off point. I think the second description is getting closer to how I view it. The "low fantasy" that appeals to me usually deals with a lot more complex issues of the human exsistance than the "good vs evil" grand sagas can usually get anywhere near.
44, 45: YMMV. I admit, his worldbuilding is intimidating and complex. Then again, I found the disorientation and foreign-ness of page 1 of Neuromancer total catnip. Alas, reading is a subjective venture. Some people like chocolate cake, some people don't. And for those championing hacks like Heinlein and Asimov, what they produce is brown and warm, but it ain't chocolate cake.
"And for those championing hacks like Heinlein and Asimov, what they produce is brown and warm, but it ain't chocolate cake."
Now that's fun-ny!
#49: It wasn't the worldbuilding that I hated, it was his characters and storyline.
49: kswolff - I just didn't like it. It wasn't the worldbuilding. Not the writing style either. Though I'll admit I have a hard time reading stories where there isn't even a single character I can root for. (A Game of Thrones also has this problem. I liked the Stark bastard and one of his sisters, but everyone else could drown, burn or be poisoned dead. I've read only half of the first book.)
51, 52: Thanks for the feedback. It's always nice to know why readers didn't like a certain book. R. Scott Bakker seems to be one of those authors reviewers love anointing as The Savior of INSERT GENRE HERE (see Iain Banks re Space Opera). Suffice to say, some people just don't like his books. This wouldn't be much of a group if we couldn't agree to disagree.
Similarly, my fiancee adores Stranger in a Strange Land, and I'd be disingenuous if I said I didn't enjoy it, but it comes across as stylistically weak. The characters were fun and I enjoyed some of the longer monologues by Jubal Harshaw. In the end, the criticism of organized religious presented by the book came across as weak beer. But that happens since I've read both Nietzsche and DAF Sade first.
I found The Moon is a Harsh Mistress one of the more painful reading experiences of my life. Great premise, great worldbuilding, awful prose. Like a root canal without anesthetic. Job: a comedy of justice fared a little better, but the excessive chattiness of the characters wrecked the pacing.
On the other hand, the precision and shimmer of William Gibson's prose, especially in Neuromancer and Pattern Recognition are something I really like. Gibson could make a mint being a product reviewer for WIRED or some other cutting edge venue. He's like a reincarnation of Walter Benjamin in his attempts to reconcile technocratic modernity with esoteric mysticism.
I would also recommend Sam Beckett's Trilogy The first novel is about a search for a man in a somewhat realistic landscape. The second novel is about an old man dying, who may have been a character in the first novel. The third novel is an internal monologue from an armless, legless being who lives in a jar. (My summaries don't do the works justice. Akin to saying Moby Dick is about a whale and Hamlet has some sword fighting and ghosts.) One could classify the Trilogy as "fantasy," even though the genre classifications aren't really the point, since the novels explore issues of identity, age, reality, and language.
I read fantasy, but for most of it I admit I have to leave my snob hat at the door. There is a lot of forgettable easy to read (for me anyway) stuff, and even more horrid prose. It really annoys me that so many people will buy and read a book just because it has some mandatory ingredients in it, regardless of quality. This encourages publishers to drown us under a tsunami of drivel that should never be allowed to disgrace paper or screen.
But there are some authors who at least know how to write, and don't put the snob in me to shame. Most of those I can think of have been mentioned already: George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville (why is his touchstone not working? Perdido Street Station was unforgettable, his other works less so but still very good), Robin Hobb. Michael Moorcock: I loved the Elric stories when I was a teenager, it had all the angst you might wish but is dreadfully low on humor, unlike The Dancers at the End of Time which is my favorite work of his.
And since William Gibson was mentioned, how about Neal Stephenson? Not fantasy but good stuff. :-)
I read fantasy, but for most of it I admit I have to leave my snob hat at the door. There is a lot of forgettable easy to read (for me anyway) stuff, and even more horrid prose
I leave my snob hat at the door when I read the Warhammer 40K tie-in novels. Since these are novels written to relate to a RPG game, it further degrades my snob creds. I enjoy them as palate cleansers. Guilty pleasures.
The only writer in the 40K paddock with an identifiable style is Dan Abnett, who is hyper-prolific and has written novels for countless geeky franchises (Dr. Who, Justice League, etc.).
The sole exception to 40K's otherwise workmanlike factory prose is Ian Watson He wrote "the Inquisitor Wars" trilogy:
The writing is uncharacteristically baroque and decadent, more akin to JK Huysmans than Tolkien. It was a gateway book to me getting hooked on 40K stuff.
Yes, this literary snob loves sci-fi and fantasy, and is very snooty about making sure he reads only "quality" stuff!
Isn't it funny that we all read fantasy and science fiction but only the good stuff, while disagreeing about constitutes the good stuff, i.e., Neil Gaiman wouldn't be in my good stuff unless it is comics work.
Perhaps the more appropriate title of this thread should be: Should 'books snobs' read fantasy?
60: I'd bet that's not only true of fantasy. We snobs have different standards, probably one set per person. ;-)
60:Gaiman did the script to that CGI Beowulf movie. If one lowered the bar any further with this guy, toddlers would be able to backflip over it.
#64> I enjoy Neil Gaiman's books (and graphic novels). Do I have to hand in my Literary Snob card now? But "Beowulf" is quite unwatchable. I thought it was a bad idea as soon as they said "update" it. Why?? Part of its fascination for me is it's otherworldliness, from being so firmly set in the Dark Ages. Take it out of the Dark Ages, and it's just a hero battling a monster (and its Mum).
65: Not necessarily, any good snob can qualify his or her appreciation of a writer. Gaiman's graphic novels are indeed pretty good. It's the fanboys that bug the hell out of me. Uncritical non-sentient libidos whose idea of socialization is a LAN party and Buffy the Vampire Slayer erotic fanfiction. Contemptible little vermin. All you need is CGI and Angelina Jolie's boobies to appeal to their base instincts and atrophied reptile brains.
Regarding Beowulf, even a live action flick akin to the Clash of the Titans remake would have at least been watchable. Mindless escapist popcorn fare, but even such can be appreciated on its own merits.
I nearly threw the remote at the screen when Jolie appeared and walked towards Beowulf IN HIGH HEELS! There's period inaccuracies and forgivable anachronisms, but high heels! In 6th century Denmark! Gaiman deserves to be defenestrated for such an egregious act of literary rape.
#66> I don't think Gaiman was in charge of the wardrobe choices, somehow. :)
But I cracked up at the heels. How *stupid* they looked!!! We thought it was probably pandering to the fanboys.
I laughed at the chasms in Denmark. Had the film-makers ever been to the country? It's completely flat.
67: And once again we reach the nubbin of this thread: the difference between a fanboy and a snob.
Hey kids! LT Early Reviewers has a bunch of L. Ron Hubbard books up for grabs! Dead volcano space ghosts be praised!
#72> They just have to be newly reissued, really. I've gotten an Edith Wharton book, and a Jerome K. Jerome book, from ER.
I laughed at the L. Ron Hubbard ones, I assumed they were much like Flowers in the Attic's V. C. Andrews, and further books had been written with a ghost writer. But it looks as if these are earlier works, republished. Can't say I'll be putting my hand up for them (even if they did post them to Australia).
73: Not even if you get a chance to write a hatchet job, er, review? Looks like they are all genres too, science fiction, swashbuckling adventure, Lawrence of Arabia shmaltz.
#74> But I'd have to *read* them. And, as I think we discussed elsewhere, at the moment I'm on the side of "life's too short to read bad books".
I read Twilight so I could criticise it. I need to recuperate from that. Give me another five years or so, and my occasional cries of "stalker paedophiliac vampires! glittery! nooooooo!" might cease.
#55 Glad to see Robin hobb mentioned. She's provided the cover quotes for my book :) I find her work to be excellent. The books of hers I found to be best written though proved least popular with her fans...
#41 You're a star! I can send you a copy of Prince of Thorns in the fullness of time but it may prove to be a poor exchange!
just out of interest ... why when I put square brackets around Prince of Thorns doesn't it go blue and turn into a link? Does it work with other titles for me? Consider this a test... Engine Summer Warded Man Gormenghast ... do these work?
Touchstones are a bit...quirky. Sometimes just adding "The" to the title does the job. Give it a try.
Sometimes you just need a "Wrap It Up" box:
Little, Big had better be good, because I have it on order now! I like George R. R. Martin (and, uh, Tolkien...).
I think Dan Simmons might be a good addition to this list. He writes a little of everything, and The Terror, Drood and Black Hills might be classified as fantasy, even though he tried to be as historically accurate as possible. As a person, he probably has more literary snobbery in his left pinkie than most people have in their whole bodies. Read the essays on his website and see for yourself.
Has anyone read any David Gemmell? The stories probably don't have much "snob cred", but the reviews seem uniformly positive.
Oh yes, I read David Gemmel once and never again. Some book about a siege. Reminded me a little of an old movie about the Alamo. The writing was totally devoid of subtlety. There was one woman character that I can remember, and obviously her problem was that she hadn't found a good man to put her to right.
It's been a while since I read it so I'm probably simplifying quite a bit, but frankly I couldn't get what the fuss was all about. Maybe it will appeal more to men. Especially if you're a nostalgic of the John Wayne era. ;-)
Back to add: I checked Gemmel's page on LT, and I think the book I read was Legend. I also had to smile at the first review I read when I followed the touchstone link on Gemmel's name. The beginning sums up my impressions quite nicely:
"No one can accuse Gemmell of being a good writer. His dialogue is clunky, his turns of phrase trite, his descriptions dull, and his cod-philosophising groan-inducing."
The reviewer goes on to say that despite all this, there is something engaging about his books. I'm not sure I would go that far, but after all I did finish the book...
My husband enjoys Gemmel's books, and has read them all repetitively and exhaustively. (He likes re-reading old favourites when he's tired. And he's never tried to argue for their virtue beyond entertaining reads.) I tried one once, might have been Legend, or maybe Waylander. I agree with FlorenceArt, one was enough for my lifetime.
I also like to re-read old favorites when I'm tired or stressed out. Especially romance and fantasy. I've noticed that the ones I re-read are not the books with the most literary value, but the most comforting/less demanding.
Which is why I'm still hesitating to re-read the Ice and Fire series, even though I bought the first one, A Game of Thrones, in e-book yesterday. I loved this first book but it was anything but comforting.
My comfort re-reads are Harry Potter or Thursday Next. And Amelia Peabody will probably be in that category too, but I'm still just on a first read of the series anyway. :)
The difference (for me) between them and Gemmel are the female characters. Instead of cardboard cutouts, we have Hermione, Thursday, and Amelia, all of whom I'm awfully fond of and am very happy to spend time with. These books may not be high art, but they're brilliantly fun reads for me.
True, I will forgive indifferent writing if the characters are good. I'd never thought of it that way but I suppose the female characters are more important to me than the males.
I guess that's why I keep reading Robin Hobb's books, even though her writing gets sloppier each time, but I love her characters.
I haven't read any of the Thursday Next novel, though I've heard a lot about them lately and downloaded an excerpt from Amazon. I should try reading it some day...
Thursday Next is one of my favorite dark/literary humor series. But I HIGHLY suggest, especially for people who lean towards being book snobs, Fforde's newest series started off with Shades of Grey which I thought was spectacular. It's a bit more mature and literary than Thursday Next but it's still amazingly creative with lots of dark humor. I can't wait for the next book to come out.
I distinctly remember Dover Press has some reissues of his stuff.
Here it is on Amazon:
And here it is for free:
Better price in paperback than the last time I looked. I'll keep an eye out...
His big books have been published in Gollancz SF Masterpieces series, copies of which should be available cheaply (even in the colonies). There is also this website which has lots of his stuff that is not available in print editions.
I would highly recommend Hav by Jan Morris. It's a fictional travelogue of a tiny peninsula on the Mediterranean. Beautifully written and wonderfully brief. Plus it's been re-issued by New York Review Books, so it looks good too.
God help me, I read that book. It's as bad as Monsieur Wagner states.
"everyone has sex because, you know, it's a Heinlein novel"
Yes, Don's take on Heinlein's fat books is that he was typing one handed.
And it's so much wish fulfilment, with slightly unattractive older men having their way with all sorts of young, beautiful, willing, nubile, highly intelligent women.
I read a number of his books as a teenager, but can't quite face ever going back to him. Don still re-reads his juvenalia from time to time.
101: Yeah. Heinlein is basically "gary stu" type of writing. At least, the Heinlein I have read - Not much. I read the one called "the cat that did something or other" and that was it for me.
Some cool sounding titles that will be published by Hilobrow Press, most of them pre-Golden Age science fiction:
This snob reads some fantasy, but is, naturally, quite snobbish about what he chooses. The Lord of the Rings is an average and at times very dull novel, IMHO, and it has inspired some serious crimes against literature to appear in its wake.
I used to read quite a bit of fantasy in my teens. I think the reason I stopped was partly the commitment reading multi-volume epics represents, but mainly because I was because I was getting increasingly bored with the similarlities between the worlds most authors created.
In a genre with such potential for diversity and imagination, why do so many writers create a world of kings, magicians, warriors and peasants, with rural and mediaeval technology, where either there are a lot of battles and duels or a small band go on a quest for some valuable artefact? Why do elves, faeries, dwarves, multiple gods and their ilk seem to populate so many of these worlds? Tolkien has a lot to answer for.
A favourite read of recent years was Perdido Street Station by China Miéville, a tale of drugs, art, corrupt politics, elaborate science, organised crime and inter-species sex set in the filthy and crumbling city of New Crobuzon (imagine a deadly serious Ankh-Morpork), a world which appealed to the noir crime writing fan in me. A very different world populated by a wide variety of beings (intelligent walking cacti, anyone?).
If writers looked to the likes of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy for inspiration then I think fantasy would be a much more interesting genre.
Perdido Street Station is pretty great, but as far as sheer imagination goes, The Scar just blows me away. Mieville isn't a perfect writer, but some of the stuff he comes up with is just stunning.
104: In a genre with such potential for diversity and imagination, why do so many writers create a world of kings, magicians, warriors and peasants, with rural and mediaeval technology, where either there are a lot of battles and duels or a small band go on a quest for some valuable artefact? Why do elves, faeries, dwarves, multiple gods and their ilk seem to populate so many of these worlds? Tolkien has a lot to answer for
I think you're putting the blame on the wrong person. Tolkien was the first to incorporate those things you mentioned into the Modern Fantasy Novel, albeit with his dull pedantic writing and making all the heroes really, really white.
The blame should go to two groups: The lazy, half-wit writers who see no further than Tolkien Mad-Libs and the equally lazy, intellectually stunted editorial staffs of major publishers who churn this crap out, because, hey, put a dwarf and an elf on it, then Boom! Big dollars and moving units! (And blame shouldn't avoid the vast hordes of fandom who eat this stuff up without the slightest bit of taste or sense of critical understanding. "Hey, that book with raised font on the cover has a girl elf that looks like Angelina Jolie! Here's $35 for the hardcover! Excelsior!")
A fascinating review of Zone One by Colson Whitehead:
I think we, as snobs, need to champion a better brand of fantasy and sci fi. Enough with the Reverse Snobbery of championing bad writing and the false flame-war-inspiring split between "science fiction vs. literary fiction." Give me the good stuff. Banks and Whitehead uber alles!
Ooooo, you talk about placing literary standards on ANY genre fiction & watch the hackles rise. "We need more quality writing," someone might gently offer.
"Sobs", "elitists", the proles mutter.
And start building a pyre...
108: The proles are too busy watching Fox News, engaging in acts of widespread acts of gay panic, and voting straight-ticket Republican.
It is good to be aesthetically elitist. Anything else is moral cowardice. In the words of A Fish Called Wanda, "Either you're congenitally insane or irretrievably stupid."
I can recall Ian and I suggesting that some of the so-called "Golden Greats" of SF were less than stellar stylists and getting blasted by a good number of folks in LibraryThing's Science Fiction Fans group. The often over-heated reactions among that bunch was one of the reasons I stopped hanging out there.
It could be fairly said that genre fiction is under the jealous control of narrow-minded, solipsistic fans and formulaic hacks...neither demographic anxious to see innovation, both strongly conservative in their tastes and attitudes...
After reading Stranger in a Strange Land, I came to this conclusion:
*It is a groundbreaking work of science fiction that used the genre to critique organized religion, government, etc., providing grist for the mill of both hippie types and Tea Party anti-tax libertarians.
*It is the work of self-indulgent hackery that reads like Heinlein was paid per word.
Is it a classic of the sci fi genre? Is it a piece of bloated hackery written in a rather pedestrial style?
The answer to both is: Yes!
Whether I'm reading a work of so-called "literary fiction" (say, for example, Gilead) or some rock-em-sock-em genre fiction (say, for example, Clear and Present Danger: I only demand one thing ... that it be written well.
Seriously, is this too much to ask?
My take on Iain Banks's Culture novels:
Snobs should read Space Opera, because Banks writes really good ones.
112: Oh good, the link's working.
That's going to be a very nice set of essays when you're done with it. It seems to have a cumulative effect. And I acquired a copy of Excession the last time I was in town and was wondering, so the review-aspect was a bonus. Sounds cool. I'll have to take another look at it.
116: Highly, highly recommended. Alas, the only Culture I've read so far. (I'm contending with my TBR pile with the same professional manner as FEMA with Hurricane Katrina; so it should be small and manageable by around 2035.) Next up: Wraeththu by Storm Constantine. Most epic fantasy I dismiss out of hand, especially the kind Constantine writes -- heavily influenced by New Age-y concepts -- but "Wraeththu" was goddamn awesome.
As far as the essays go, they will be published together and sold as a book. But I'm only getting started on the series ... besides, I'll shill my word-writin' on a more appropriate thread.
If one is a fan of steampunk, I would recommend picking up a volume of Thomas Pynchon Come on, clockwork ducks, the Chums of Chance and their zeppelins, conspiracies, and the nefarious activities of Yoyodyne! Don't be put off by the highbrow reputation and the digressive plotlessness, pick up Pynchon right now!
Someone mentioned Zelazny? :D
Yes, good writing is good writing. Good Fantasy reads very much like Literary Fiction but has some Fantastical elements to it. George R.R. Martin has also been mentioned. I've only read Fevre Dream but am looking forward to reading more of his.
My favourite fiction genres are:
Followed by some interest in Science Fiction and a smattering of various others. The first two are considered high brow, but Fantasy isn't.
No doubt this is because there really is a lot of shall we say, lesser talent shelved with the GOOD Fantasy. However, the more literary Fantasy reads much like the other two in tone and word usage, but go into storylines that stimulate the imagination more than ordinary life situations. One might say that about good Historical Fiction as well, which takes us to worlds we've never experienced, and to at least some of the Classics which bring out the fantastical in possibly real-life situations. See Moby Dick for a good example, but Great Expectations takes us into equally improbable (yet possible) circumstances.
I write Fantasy and Steampunk, but am currently working on a piece of Literary Fiction. I don't see it as a massive jump, although I do notice subtle differences.
So my long-winded answer is yes. A book snob who thrives on Dickens can escape into the mock-medieval worlds of Darkover or Winterfell, or the alternate reality of Amber and still enjoy the indulgence of reading a book that is well-written.
What I wonder is why literary types are never allowed to write fantasy. Someone literary departs from reality and what is it called? Magical realism, a superb fantasia, an ingenious dreamlike narrative, plumbing subconscious tropes, an allegorical alchemical etc. Nobody is willing to call a spade a spade. Fantasy is an enormous genre not limited to swords and dragons, and I've always been puzzled that people still define it by one of its subgenres. And that it receives less respect than science fiction.
121: I think all the Literary Establishment will allow is Magical Realism. The problem isn't fantasy per se, but the stereotypical settings associated with it: vaguely medieval place with white males going on quests. Gets old after a while. (As does the cliche about a literary novel about a New England literature professor committing adultery; which seems like the entire creative output of John Irving and Alexander Theroux)
As far as dreamlike narratives, Nerval is good stuff. There's also Maldoror and Against Nature, more decadent, dark material.
Another problem is that there are few writers out there willing to push the genre into stranger weirder avenues. Where is fantasy's William S. Burroughs? Storm Constantine's Wraeththu comes close. It's a genre, despite its myriad subgenres (high fantasy, sword and sandal -- aka Conan, supernatural romance, etc.) is in serious need for a few "game-changer" level works. Something to get it out of Tolkien Mode. The "game-changers" also need professional and fan support, because, no matter how good it is, people will still read the Same Old Crap.
Another problem is the vast amount of fantasy fiction for young adults. This is a problem because when something creative and well-written surfaces down there, such as His Dark Materials, it's pretty much trapped by its age-group as well as its genre. Pullman was a good influence on young adult fantasy and helped the markets be willing to take chances and traffick in the weird and strange - what influence did it have on adult fantasy? None that I can tell. A pity.
If it's French then of course it can't be fantasy. Perish the thought. It's surrealism. No such horse as fantasy in France since Chrétien de Troyes was writing Arthurian legends.
Does fantasy imply world-building? That might be a reason that so much literary fiction with fantastical elements feels different. Susanna Clarke's England in Strange & Norrell is a good case of fantasy world-building. (So, for that matter, is Jasper Fforde's Endland of the Thursday Next milieu. But then you have, for example, The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break -- a marvelous novel and certainly "fantastic" in that the Minotaur from Greek mythology is a real character in the story. But there is no attempt to explain the parameters of his existence. He just is.
"What I wonder is why literary types are never allowed to write fantasy. Someone literary departs from reality and what is it called? Magical realism, a superb fantasia, an ingenious dreamlike narrative, plumbing subconscious tropes, an allegorical alchemical etc. "
It will be interesting to see how it works in reverse. I'm a Fantasy writer currently working on a Literary Fiction novel.
The AV Club is doing an issue-by-issue discussion of Neil Gaiman's Sandman series:
Or didn't they bother to read the article?
OK, I'll get off your lawn.
130: Did, actually, and it sounds entirely worthy. I've always been curious about Gaiman's Sandman series. I find such dismissive questions as "do 'snobs' read genre X" to be entertainingly limited in scope and my question was entirely ironic in nature.
Genres are slippery. I've just finished reading, for the second time, The Handmaid's Tale, and may never really finish my reading again and again of the Alice books by Lewis Caroll. I'd call each of these a variety of "fantasy." Each is literary, in my estimation.
"Snobs" may disagree. So what?
"Snobs" may disagree. So what?
Entirely my perspective. I really don't give a crud what others may define as "literary" or whatever else. I love reading classics and modern "literature," and I love reading espionage/political thrillers, nearly all horror, comic books/graphic novels, etc & so forth. What I don't read, is poorly written garbage. But I read for myself, and I read (mostly) what I enjoy. Some of it is literary, some of it is pure fun. If anyone has a problem with it or wants to judge my reading, they can kiss my derrière.
If it's written with some degree of competency, I'll call it "literary", otherwise, it's just another price point on a publisher's spreadsheet and a rack at your local Booktopus. "Literary" works can be just as disposable and ephemeral as any pop song or genre pot-boiler -- heck, Cousin Bette was written in the pot-boiler mode to compete with the works of Eugene Sue, yet it stands the test of time and holds a hallowed place in the Western Canon. Sometimes, "literary" works can be so nakedly opportunistic -- "Hey, the hipsters love those Holocaust memoirs and magical realism crap, let's get some Iowa MFA hacks signed up, so they can churn out some stuff for us." - Big 6 Publishing Exec (as he says this, he's drinking a goblet of cognac from an orphan's skull, since, ya know, evil and all). In some cases, "literary" is just a more sophisticated word for "shtick." Another demographic to strip mine by having its preferences co-opted and then regurgitated back at them. Why do all these "literary" titles sound so damn similar? The same reason we got 2 Hollywood blockbusters about meteors that one year.
I find such dismissive questions as "do 'snobs' read genre X" to be entertainingly limited in scope
I also find it utterly condescending, like we're all latte-drinking Prius drivers watching Tarkovsky films (with the subtitled turned off) when we're not reading Schopenauer in the original German. Christ, it creates a stereotype just as offensive as The Big Bang Theory with its penchant for sexist jokes and geek blackface.
The question would be better framed, "What fantasy book should a discerning reader read?" The AV Club's "Gateway to Geekery" takes a much friendlier and less douchey approach to imposing and occasionally giant slabs of pop culture.
A nice brief write-up on A Dance with Dragons by George RRRRRR Martin -- fantasy writers are required to have at least 1 R. in their name (JRR Tolkien, R. Scott Bakker):
Also good, since Pettus is a non-fan of the genre, so his tolerance for certain tropes is far lower than, say, that fantasy genre lover who rereads Wheel of Time on a yearly basis.
That said, I'd recommend R. Scott Bakker's "Three Seas" series, since they are way shorter than The Song of Ice and Fire I'm reading The White-Luck Warrior, which has only 450 pages, unlike Martin's Manhattan phonebook-length individual volumes.
For those who want to read a parody of epic fantasy/sword and sorcery, check out Cerebus by Dave Sim, although the later volumes can be an endurance test, since Sim can go off a 20-page misogynist rant. Still, High Society and Church and State, Volumes 1 and 2, are comic masterpieces. I'd liken the entire Cerebus run to The Cantos: in the beginning it is groundbreaking, but by the end the WTF moments and reader eye-rolls outnumber any goodwill the reader has left. An overall failure, but a triumphant, balls-out failure nonetheless.
Has anyone read any good epic fantasy that doesn't follow the trope of "vaguely medieval Europe full of white people"?
Tomoe Gozen: written by a woman, with an Asian female protagonist.
135: "A triumphant balls-out failure?" Is a triumphant failure possible, and if so is it related to the balls-out aspect of the scenario you posit? "My literary failure is negated by the exposure of my triumphant goolies?" By that reckoning, I may be able to boost my literary career with remarkably little effort on my part and a little forbearance on the part of family and friends.
136: Anna, given that some fantasists want to realistically convey the European Middle Ages, misogyny -- along with a heaping radioactive dose of anti-Semitism -- is par for the course. Like wondering why D-Day movies have all the shooting.
139: By that reckoning, I may be able to boost my literary career with remarkably little effort on my part and a little forbearance on the part of family and friends. If you're too bogged down on what other people think, especially bloodkin and Facebook friends, you may be successful, but you'll be churning out middlebrow pap for the masses. And don't take things so literally. Don't parse my words like a Calvinist. The Big Lebowski bombed at the box office, as did Bladerunner, but both have massive cult followings. No indecent exposure necessary, unless, of course, you're Jim Morrison or Iggy Pop Let me clarify: a triumphant balls out failure would be something you've just finished reading, that not really many people know about, and then you say to yourself, "Holy s--t! That was awesome!"
Yeah they have to be realistic fantasies. With misogyny, rape, dragons and rape.
140: Seems a bit of an overreaction to a wee joke. Didn't mean to offend you.
#140 1) they're not writing historical novels, they're writing fantasies, so realism is a straw man; and b) even if they were, there were plenty of competent and safe women around during the Middle Ages - all that misogyny and rape stuff has come from, well, fantasies allegedly based on the Middle Ages...
Well, "fantasy" covers many things and cuts across all genres of fiction.
I would include Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel as being near the top end of literature. But so is Swift's Gulliver's Travels. I also have a particular love for The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake. The sheer beauty of its prose, particularly in the first two books, is staggering.
In the genre of science fiction/fantasy I'd say Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness is right up there with some of the best of 20th century literature. I'd also recommend Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, a story set within a post-apocalyptic world where people have reverted to a kind of neolithic savagery. The whole book is written in a kind of pidgin English which takes a few pages to get used to. The violence makes William Golding's The Inheritors look like a Sunday School picnic by comparison.
Then there is the genre of magical realism. The Tin Drum inspired Marquez and Rushdie, whose novels Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses are particular favourites.
And it's pretty hard to outdo Dante's Divine Comedy on the scale of the fantastic. I recommend you grab the Longfellow translation with the Gustav Dore illustrations, if you can. But perhaps no-one cares much for Dante anymore.
"But perhaps no-one cares much for Dante anymore."
May that NEVER be the case.
140: One of the hardest things to distinguish in thread posts is the difference between sincerity and sarcasm. That's why I always try and lay my snark on a bit thick. Granted, extreme snark and extreme sincerity have the same intensity, hence the constant misinterpretation on ye olde interwebs.
143: The difference between historical novels and fantasy novels is like the difference between financial investment and gambling.
145: Gosh, I would hope not. But I would wish that the same people that read Robert Jordan and Michael Moorcock also read some Dante, since they keep pumping out new translations of Inferno by all manner of poets, from Robert Pinsky to others.
While I haven't read it -- this is a pretty sizable genre after all -- other people have recommended The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson It was released the same time as LOTR (the Sixties), but its moral landscape is completely different than Tolkien's.
Also, it's good to mention The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad, where Hitler becomes a fantasy writer and writes an epic.
#144 Your point in valid. As I was reminded by someone with the SF group some years back, we have to distinguish between high fantasy (Tolkien, Jordan, Martin) and different gradations (other sub-genres). Jonathan Carroll writes fantasy (of a kind), as does Terry Bisson, even someone as distinguished as Paul Auster.
So, high fantasy sucks (for the most part), but a lot of the other stuff is really, really GOOD.
147: So, high fantasy sucks (for the most part), but a lot of the other stuff is really, really GOOD.
Couldn't that accusation be made against every other genre out there? A few stand-out examples at the top of the pyramid, followed by some middling-to-somewhat-good writers in the middle, and then the dross and the trash at the bottom? The generalization reeks too much of a straw man argument.
Mystery writers: Top tier: Dashiell Hammett, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie
Middling: Mickey Spillane
Bottom rung: James Patterson, Jane Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark, etc.
And casually browsing the high fantasy selections at the local library, there sure is a lot of dross and trash to choose from. Can't expect them all to be the highest of quality, but that's not how publishing and book consumption works. It's a bell curve of quality like anything else. But as taste makers and snobs, it doesn't hurt to push reader expectations in the upward direction. Sorry, Terry Goodkind, take your Ayn Rand-inspired rape-and-torture screeds someplace else.
#141 There is the theory that fantasy appeals to red-blooded men who don't like team sports:
In the good old days if you wanted to compete with your fellow male you cleft him from crown to crutch, raped his women folk and stole all his goods. Nowadays the modern alternative is to watch team sports on a Saturday night which seems overtly symbolic to some. These are the high testosterone men who now spend Saturday nights reading fantasy novels some, who are off the scale with regard to testosterone levels, prefer to take this to the max and play Dungeons and Dragons.
Anyone who uses the term "red-blooded" in reference to their own sexual identity is a complete idiot, and their opinion on anything should be immediately discounted.
The term "good old days" seems overly vague to me. I'd like some dates and citations, please. And the term "red blooded American male" has fast become code for "closet case," especially if one looks at the sexual shenanigans of the Christian Right these days.
These are the high testosterone men who now spend Saturday nights reading fantasy novels some, who are off the scale with regard to testosterone levels, prefer to take this to the max and play Dungeons and Dragons.
Aren't these the same asocial losers who get constantly bullied by "red blooded American males"? If one thing is in evidence, D & D players don't show any surplus of testosterone. Not the ones I've seen.
After this current election cycle, I've had my fill of rape talk, especially when those talking about said rape are old white conservative Republican males showboating their red blooded male cachet to idiot voters. Luckily all the Rape Talkers -- like the windtalkers of WW 2, except, ya know, for rape -- they all lost, giving me some faint glimmer for humanity. Although their conception of how female anatomy works could be considered by most as fantasy.
Well at least Anna gets it. BTW "man cave" is really code for "I am living in my parent's basement" or "my wife has exiled me to the garage".
#151 I can offer no exact chronology but the following quote may help:
For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name),
Disdaining Fortune, with his brandish'd steel,
Which smok'd with bloody execution,
Like Valour's minion, carv'd out his passage,
Till he fac'd the slave;
Which ne'er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
Till he unseam'd him from the nave to th'chops,
And fix'd his head upon our battlements.
#148 "High Fantasy" and "Romance" are the two genres I equate with really bad, derivative writing, little or no redeeming literary value. Is there an original, literate high fantasy writer other than Tolkien? Everyone else who comes after him is a pale imitation. As for Romance writing, sorry, no equivalent name comes to mind.
>156 I equate with really bad, derivative writing, little or no redeeming literary value. Is there an original, literate high fantasy writer other than Tolkien?
I don't disagree that the genre's worst excesses are just about as bad as writing gets (with the possible exception of erotica). But it's also been my experience that when there is a writer who excels in a particular genre, people immediately want to liberate him/her from the genre association. But you can't really say that Ursula Le Guin and Susanna Clarke don't write fantasy. There's castles, elves, magic, ancient kings returning out of the mists of time, cursed objects and people...really, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is just about as high fantasy as it gets.
And yet you will find always find it in the "literary fiction" section of the bookstore.
Delany wrote some high fantasy that makes Anne McCaffrey look like a comic book. (Not an overly difficult task, I know.
156: "High Fantasy" and "Romance" are the two genres I equate with really bad, derivative writing, little or no redeeming literary value. Is there an original, literate high fantasy writer other than Tolkien? Everyone else who comes after him is a pale imitation. As for Romance writing, sorry, no equivalent name comes to mind.
I dunno. I would hardly count Tolkien as either original or literate. Let me explain. Tolkien was a medievalist and an academic -- hence his narcolepsy-inducing appendices. But fantasy, and romance for that matter, have their origins in mythology and legends -- Mort D'Arthur has both epic battles and romance. Originality? Meaning what exactly?
And any genre is only as good as its writers and what its readership demands. A genre only becomes derivative when the tropes become staid and ossified. And both of those genres have it in scads. But both high fantasy and romance are massive genres, with many, many subgenres, some more innovative than others. Throw in the usual structural critiques of the publishing business model and we get the usual accusations. Because, hey, complaining is a lot easier than attempting to fix the problem. If high fantasy novels aren't to your liking, why not just write some that do? The genre itself isn't inherently bad, any more than sharks are inherently evil because of their sharp teeth. And I'm not going to critique romance because it is highly emotional nor high fantasy because there is an abundance of non-"normal"-sounding (at least to white suburbanites) names.
Hmmm...I don't equate JONATHAN STRANGE with high fantasy...it was more like a baroque ghost story to me. Not familiar with Ms. Clarke's work and have only read Le Guin's SF so I'm not qualified to say whether or not they would fit the "high fantasy" I have in mind.
I might also add "Horror" as a genre that possesses little literary value, especially in the past decade. It is a wasteland.
>159 I'm not qualified to say whether or not they would fit the "high fantasy" I have in mind.
Which is kind of my point. The high fantasy you have in mind might not be a fair representation of the genre. It's a little like judging Mexican food on the basis of what you can get at Taco Bell.
"Horror" as a genre that possesses little literary value
I haven't read much recent stuff but Lovecraft rocks. So does early Stephen King.
And now that I think about it, one of my favorite short story collections recently published is something called Bound for Evil -- which is all about cursed and evil books!
It's not the conventions of the genre that make the book bad, its the writing. But that's true of any genre, even "literary fiction."
160: Which is kind of my point. The high fantasy you have in mind might not be a fair representation of the genre. It's a little like judging Mexican food on the basis of what you can get at Taco Bell. But that's Cliff's trademark arguing style. Write off an entire genre based on the most derivative examples. I mean, come on, why bother with this whole "literary genre" anyway? It's mostly fanboys worshiping Irish pervs like Oscar Wilde and James Joyce Not to mention depressing drunks like Eugene O'Neill, Ernest Hemingway, and Dylan Thomas And don't get me started on inept deviants like Marcel Proust and Thomas Mann Ugh, seriously guys, have you ever heard of a run-on sentence? Take a breath and end the damn sentence, ya pretentious chavs! Learn how to write!
See what I did there? With the thing and the other thing. Ah, never mind ...
The World Without End website lists a whole bunch of books as high fantasy being more of a SF guy I haven't read most but it does include Zelazny's Amber series, Le Guin's Earthsea series and T. H. White's Once and Future King.
>162 But that's Cliff's trademark arguing style. Write off an entire genre based on the most derivative examples.
Don't kid yourself. We all have our personal prejudices. I write off "Christian Fiction" faster than Superman can outfly a speeding bullet. I've just got it in my head that such books will ultimately always sacrifice the story for the message, and that they can't be "universal" in the way, say, - The Great Gatsby is (to cite a book I think you hate, but that I think is perfect.)
The point is, I know that I know next to nothing about the genre, but I can be reasonably certain it has progressed past Christy, the last Christian novel I was even remotely aware of.
164: Well, ya nailed me. I do have my prejudices. The only critic without prejudices would probably be CriticBot3000, who currently works the Bestsellers desk at Entertainment Weekly
And I do despise The Great Gatsby Yes, it deserves its place in the American Literary Canon, but yicch. Not my cup of tea.
Although new members to the group will have to possess the discernment to tell the difference between disparaging comments made about fantasy based on a reflexive taste level and those who can pick the wheat from the chaff.
Cracked.com highlights a few oddball romance novel subgenres:
"those who can pick the wheat from the chaff."
Not to mention the thing from the thing.
I agree about Gatsby. I couldn't find a single likable character in that one.
If likable characters were my criteria for great fiction I'd read romance novels. ..or maybe not. ;-)
This one looks good:
"One of their brighter discoveries is Jeff Salyards, a guy who does as much or more in 255 taut pages of Scourge of the Betrayer than a lot of fantasy veterans manage in 500."
Of course, I have read a fair amount of fantasy, and there are few standby guys who produced high quality work.
Gene Wolfe and his Soldier in the Mist Series, wonderful historical fantasy (how is his name not already here?)
R.A Lafferty's short work
Avram Davidson and Harlan Ellison both produced some wonderful fantasy short stories that were not irrelevant.
Even stuff like a a attanasio's Wyvern is decent.
Having said that, most of it is garbage, but great fantasy is much better than hackneyed naturalistic realism, the literature of exhaustion that exhausted itself by the 30s.
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