Saturday, December 17, 2005

On Fantasy

Jennifer Snow comments on the difference between science fiction and fantasy. I define science fiction as fantasy that uses scientific concepts. If a character waves a wand and instantly transports to another place, that’s fantasy. If a character waves a boson plasma disruptor and instantly transports to another place, that’s science fiction.

Just because fantasy is the broader concept does not mean it is better or more important. Up until the 1980’s science fiction dominated fantasy so much that the genre was just called science fiction.

The credit (or blame) for the change goes to Terry Brooks. He showed the field that there is money to be made imitating Tolkien. Since then, bookshelves have groaned beneath fat trilogies filled with concepts stolen from Tolkien. Fantasy readers don’t seem to care that writing about dwarves, elves and halflings is derivative.

I could be wrong because I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but I think the two great innovators in epic fantasy are J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. (Must be those double R’s.) Tolkien showed us epic fantasy in the quest story template -- and no one has written a better quest than Lord of the Rings. Martin is in the process of showing us epic fantasy in the family saga story template.

A Game of Thrones was one of the better books I’ve read in a long time. He kept me turning the pages -- a lot of pages. I got about 120 pp. into A Clash of Kings, then grew so bored I put it down. I’ve been told I should forge on because it gets better. I’ll try. I’m getting suspicious about this series, though. It’s so massive, with so many story lines going on that it breaks down the “crow epistemology” (the fact that the human mind’s focus is limited). Will the series have a climax worthy of all the complications and various story lines? Lord of the Rings had a brilliant climax. If Martin’s climax fizzles after thousands of pages, he might have to hire a bodyguard to protect him from angry fans. He can afford it.


Jennifer Snow said...

It's largely true that there are a lot of fantasy story elements stolen from Tolkein, but there are also some authors out there that write original stuff.

I like Terry Pratchett, who takes familiar fantasy elements and turns them on their head in his Discworld series. Then there are authors like David Drake and Mercedes Lackey, who write pretty original stuff. Unfortunately they tend not to vary much between books, so it's almost like they plagarize themselves.

Myrhaf said...

I suppose I'd know that if I read more fantasy...

I plan on looking into the Stephen R. Donaldson and Gene Wolfe series, both of which I hear good things about.

Jennifer Snow said...

I haven't read Gene Wolfe, but I was not thrilled with Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series (the one that starts with Lord Foul's Bane). I do think, however, that Mordant's Need (The Mirror of her Dreams, A Man Rides Through) was excellent, and as a bonus there's only 2 books in that one.

Donaldson has written science fiction as well (The Real Story, Forbidden Knowledge, that series), but he has this weird obsession with battered women and it gets really disgusting in that particular series. I don't recommend it at all unless you have a really strong stomach and feel like a trip through the sewers. Mordant's Need is about as benevolent as his writing gets.

Aenea$ said...

I wish I had waited before starting George R.R. Martin's grand series. He turns out his work at a glacial pace. Barring there being any sort of comprehensive synopses of his 1st several works, I am faced with the choice of plunging onward in his next two final works having forgotten much, or re-reading from the beginning. Yikes.

Donadson's first Chronicles were ok, but his second Chronicles were much more enjoyable. Sadly you'll need to read the first before the second.

Lastly, great blog! It's among many of my daily reads. Thought I'd say so here as I couldn't do so via email.

P.S.(Feel free to throw up any other book recommendations. I know the dilemma in finding anything decent nowadawys)

Best regards.

Myrhaf said...

Thanks, Aenea$. That dollar sign tells me you're not the Trojan who founded Rome.