Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fantasy and Reenactment

Just finished reading a thread on SFFworld, discussing a book series from an author I've not bothered to read because he dosen't write the sort of books I like. And obviously that position is unacceptable. Since the poor guy who started the thread, to say how he didn't like the series (which of course is wildly hailed amongst the blogosphere as being "Good") got jumped on by basically the entire forum trying to deride him for not likeing it. In other words, He's not to be aloud to have an opinion which is at odds with the group think of the forum.

It's no secret that I dislike the current trend in Fantasy. It's almost as if every author has decided they will up the misery and muck quotient and see who can make the nastiest world in which to force their characters to try and survive in. I'm sure it makes it a lot easier to come up with more believable incidents along the way in your plot.. certainly more believable than a random goblin attack or something.. but it sure dosen't make for an "entertaining" read.. at least not for me.

I don't read a lot of "Literature" I simply don't have enough hours in my life to be concerned with some fictional persons Mommy issues, or daddy issues, or erectile dysfunction or whatever it is that "Literature" is written about. I have my own problems, I have tooth ache and back ache and money troubles of my own. And I'm expected as part of a functioning society to care about the troubles of those around me as well. Modern humans are supposed to care about the troubles of others on the other side of globe, I do, but no more than anyone else.

I reject the idea that in order to be good, fiction has to be "Challenging" or "Make you think" when in reality what anyone who parrots those saws back at you means is "Makes you think like I do". You aren't supposed to read a book which is "Challenging" and think about it differently than them. And you certainly aren't supposed to dislike it. If you dislike it, then you are clearly too stupid to understand it. In other words, its dogmatic thinking. Everyone who dosen't like what I like and dosen't understand what I think I understand is an idiot. It's the same Emperor's New Clothes way of thinking which forces people to convince themselves into liking broad red brush strokes on white canvas #6.

Digression over, the point of this was that, in the thread in question. Some one made the comment "You wouldn't like living in the middle ages, Good, neither would I" and It made me think for a minute, surely the middle ages were a bleak period.. though modern research is beginning to cast doubt on the "Lovely muck over here" mindset. This of course is true. None of us alive today would want to live in the middle ages, so why do read books about pseudo middle age societies and not expect them to be just as brutal as the real middle ages were?

On the Society for Creative Anachronism's website they have a paragraph which, for me, explain the situation. Italics added by me.

You will frequently hear SCA participants describe the SCA as recreating the Middle Ages "as they ought to have been." In some ways this is true – we choose to use indoor plumbing, heated halls, and sewing machines. In the dead of winter we have more to eat than King's venison, salt pork and dried tubers. However, a better description is that we selectively recreate the culture, choosing elements of the culture that interest and attract us.

The process of picking and choosing which elements to include, is of course one of the greatest aspects of writing fiction. You can choose to exclude something which rankles your modern sensibilities and ostensibly those of your readers as well. You needn't purposefully include things which you find objectionable if you don't want too. Maybe modern readers really do want all the death and rape and mayhem and destruction. Maybe they do want all the muck and disease and rampaging anti-heroes.. I dunno.. I can't answer for them. Obviously some one wants them.. since there seem to be a lot of them. That or the publishing industry is spending too much time reading blogs and is thus becoming convinced this is what people want because it's what the group-mind of the blogosphere says is good.. thus creating a rather obnoxious loop and allowing some seriously deranged, cynical and nihilistic authors to get published..


Brian Murphy said...

I agree with you to a degree.

Grim and gritty does seem to be in vogue now. I don't mind it as a chance of a pace, and I have enjoyed some of it (for example A Song of Ice and Fire, though I think book 4 of the series was a drop in quality). I like stuff like Bernard Cornwell's Arthurian Warlord Chronicles (which is more in the vein of historical fiction). I think the current grim-and-gritty trend is largely a reaction to series like Terry Brooks' Shannara or David Eddings' Belgeriad or the Dragonlance books--and that's okay, it's the pendulum swinging the other way.

But the problem I have with grim and gritty is when it's written for the sake of being grim and gritty--aka., for shock value. Take Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains, which is projected to be the first of a trilogy. Graphic violence, graphic sex, graphic language ... and it says nothing. Morgan famously plugged it as a book for "adults" instead of us 12-year-olds who enjoy the Lord of the Rings. Which is crap, because his book is a lot of awfulness splashed on the page in bright colors, that, turned sideways, has no depth and will be forgotten.

Grim and gritty is fine, but it does not equate to "adult" and it's certainly not inherently better than traditional fantasy which treats violence and sex either off the page or in a more abstract fashion.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Brian, I totally agree on Morgan's Steel Remains. I've enjoyed some of the grittier stuff published the last years, but that one felt gratuitous to me.

And some people need to learn the meaining of 'tolerance'. I've been through something like that forum discussion myself. "How can you, a woman, like that misogynist stuff Bakker writes?" Well, better than the bitchy high school girls in Wheel of Time, I'm just saying. ;) But I have no problems with readers liking Jordan and it would be nice if they had no problem with me liking Bakker. Not going to happen, though.

Lagomorph Rex said...

I agree entirely, I cannot in good conscience tell some one that a book they read shouldn't be read by them. So while, I can't say I've ever been the slightest bit intrigued to read Bakker.. I won't tell you not too! Thing is, theres such a huge back-catalog of Fantasy at this point theres no reason to complain that what's current isn't what I like. The only thing I've got to complain about is that so much of the 70s/80s/90s stuff is out of Print.. I love to buy second hand books.. but I'd also like it if Elizabeth Boyer were to get paid for me purchasing her Wizard's War series..

Whats odd is, Women as presented by Robert Jordan are the same in the Conan books he wrote as well.. So it makes me wonder if perhaps it wasn't a valve to let off frustrations at Harriet his wife who was also his editor.

I may not like it.. but so long as its not a How-to on paedophilia, murder or rape, I won't call for it to be kept from the printing press or the bookstore shelves.