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Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

ominous-1901

Kevan Manwaring is trying to define a new movement in fantasy he’s calling “Goldendark”. I can quibble about the name, which honestly ain’t great, but we’re well past due for another paradigm shift in fantasy literature, and Manwaring constructs an attractive and concrete thematic goal authors can aim for.

Mind you, Manwaring is participating in the “against grimdark” conversation that has been going on for years now; that is, a backlash against the perceived uptick of fantasy novels and stories with morally relativistic or amoral characters and settings, that emphasize violence and political machinations over other elements. The discussion around grimdark to this point has largely been dialectical: “old” vs. “new” fantasy, and as a result the periodic conversations tend to bog down in repeated arguments before fizzling out. People are still linking to my own stab at the subject from five years ago, much to my own bafflement. (more…)

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Continent-shifting cataclysms have been a mainstay in fantasy literature since the 1920s, epic fantasy in particular. It’s a curious thread. After all, human history is such a miniscule portion of geological time that while we’ve seen coastlines shifts or islands rise and sink, we haven’t seen significant alterations of any one landmass since the Stone Age. Continental drift will, by necessity, rarely affect a story or the characters except in the broadest sense. Yet massive geological shifts stay simmering in the foundational works of the modern fantasy genre. Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age, while ostensibly set in our prehistory, has a significantly different-looking map of what would become Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

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My last post about young writing projects turned my mind towards thinking about another small obsession of mine: maps. Historical maps, speculative maps, fantasy maps. There’s something about maps that fired my imagination as a child and still does today.

Maps are fascinating artefacts. For all their claims to representing the real world, they’re just as surely artistic endeavours that result from a series of choices made on the part of the cartographer; choices like naming and colour and notation. Like writing, maps embed narratives, can suggest stories. A medieval mappa mundi marries geography and chronology in a weird symbolic system that takes whole scholarly monographs to sort out. The map on an overleaf in a fantasy novel is an enticement and a promise and a one-glance summary. Maps can do all sorts of things.

I doubt my early efforts exploited all of them.

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Growing Weary

I am growing ever more weary from some members of the sf community championing the idea that the chief value of science fiction and fantasy is entertainment above all else, that these genres should not explore deeper aspects of self, society and culture because they overwhelm the story and transform the work into “message fiction” no one wants. Never mind that a good story, a deep story, a worthwhile story does explore the inmost world of the author and the culture surrounding him or her. The books that stay with me are the ones that aren’t merely entertaining, they’re the ones push boundaries of human experience, that let me see outside of our comfortable societal ideas of the norm. These books are fascinating and emotionally resonant because they take advantage of fantastic literature’s chief draw: the ability to articulate worlds different from our own. A book can do this and remain a quick, compulsive read; to include other visions of the human experience outside our immediate context can only help push forward a narrative, not hinder it. To say that sf is solely a vehicle for entertainment devalues the field and dismisses both its readers and writers as people unable to seriously connect, examine, and find meaning (or create it) with the text. It is to say the text has no power. I feel strongly on this point, because writing and reading fantasy has been an important part of my life, to how I ended up negotiating and building my dislocated identity, precisely because it articulates other worlds. Tackling troubling issues in sf does not “ruin” it; rather it expands sf, allows it to touch a wider range of readers, and makes it a legitimate (and vital) form of expression for a broader range of writers.

I can’t accept the premise that trying to find meaning in the narratives you spin is somehow wrong. And I won’t.

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Farewell to 2013

Another year come-and-gone. And an oddly segmented one at that, split between Montreal, Edmonton, and Whitehorse. For major life events, I sold another short story, I finished my Master’s degree in History at McGill University, I acted as best man at my best friends’ wedding, and I finally finished the book presently and finally known as The Sword’s Dominion. The summer term in Montreal was probably the most accomplished time in my life; I had moved to a new apartment much closer to the university and was studying a subject I loved while only a half an hour’s walk from the top of Mont Royal and less than an hour’s walk from the Old Port. I was, for once in my life, exactly where I wanted to be, but time passes and all good things must come to an end. So now I’m back in the Yukon, which has its own charms, and I’m at least back to writing fiction again. And, as you may have noticed, recording podcasts at a greater frequency since I’ve been listening to more and more of them. (more…)

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Swordswomen

I shamelessly admit that I bought Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword solely for the cover. Note to publishers: if you put a lady with a rapier on a novel, I will snatch it off the shelf. Thankfully, the novel delivered woman-with-rapier in spades and I enjoyed myself immensely. I’ve gone back to it three times as a comfort read since then.

More of this, please!

Strangely, there aren’t that many novels out there in the fantasy field about women duelling with rapiers, which is probably why I keep going back to this one. I’ve got a craving for this kind of character.

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I finished reading Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring (1998) a few days ago and am currently working my way through her short story collection Skin Folk (2001), and I’m once again experiencing a Jane Yolen moment where I suddenly need to hunt down and devour anything I can get by Hopkinson because she’s such a fantastic writer. I’m also utterly baffled that I hadn’t read anything by her before; she’s a Canadian sf author and I’m always trying to keep up with my “scene”, but I obviously haven’t been doing a very good job. I mean, Brown Girl in the Ring was a selection for the 2008 CBC Canada Reads thing (it’s like a reality show but about books and on the radio…I’m not exactly the biggest fan) and has blurbs from Tim Powers, C.J. Cherryh and Octavia Butler; for a first novel, that’s damn impressive. Anyway, from what I’ve read so far, Hopkinson might well be the best writer I know of working in Canada, and I’m including Margaret Atwood, Guy Gavriel Kay and Charles de Lint in that group.

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