Posts Tagged ‘literary criticism’

A long while back, I wrote a short essay called “Writing the city” that I never published, yet the misgivings that went into that essay keep stirring my brain. The main question is this:

In literary criticism of fantasy, why are long descriptions of the natural world and farmland or villages often labeled as boring, but when China Miéville fills page upon page with adjective-laden descriptions of architecture, this passes without comment, or even gets praise?

Picking on Miéville is unfair; it’s a much broader question of why focusing on urban environments and concerns seems to carry more critical weight in fantasy literature than works rooted in descriptions of nature when the quality of the writing itself may not differ. The conversation presents them as more serious, more real – the city as the subject of noteworthy work while nature is less so.

I haven’t had the wherewithal to dig up concrete examples, which is probably why the original essay ended up disappearing with the demise of Windows Live Writer. All I have to go on is a nagging suspicion since I started dipping into SFF blogs and articles that we tend to privilege urban experiences over rural ones.

Of course, urban experiences are more of a norm in western society – more people live in cities, most cultural production takes place in cities, and the same impressions pass on to fantasy that plays at being serious work.

It plays into another experience. When I went to university in Edmonton and Montreal, certain people who grew up or inserted themselves into those cities held themselves as more cultured than I was, dismissed my stories of life in the woods around Whitehorse as of less value than their own, or else expressed disbelief in my stories about growing up here. I hardly consider Whitehorse as some backwater, not when compared to the small communities that dot the Yukon or the people who live far from even those communities. Yet the divide, the sense of alienation is there: your thoughts are less worldly than theirs, your thoughts mean less.

Yet there isn’t anything inherently inferior about stories rooted in these places and experiences, they are just different, in need of a different voice.

Again, these are all impressions, and I open it up to you to tell me if I’m just projecting deep-seated insecurities from my personal life onto the field of genre criticism, or if this is a real problem with the way the SFF world receives stories.

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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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One of the advantages of having an ereader is that I can now easily get books from small presses that were difficult to get my paws on in print. I’ve therefore been on a bit of an anthology binge lately, tearing through three anthologies from three small presses, each of them an interesting collection of stories that show how valuable the sf small press scene really is.


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After reading some truly dire Canadian fiction, I think it’s worth turning my attention to a Canadian author I’ve enjoyed reading. Thomas Wharton is a writer out of Edmonton who I was vaguely aware of during undergrad because he taught creative writing courses at the University of Alberta. I never took a creative writing course, and it was a long time before I got round to pick up one of Wharton’s books. Which is a shame, because based on the two novels of his I’ve read, taking a class with him would have been worth it.


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Three friends discuss “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury, a creepy story about shockingly creepy children and their even more shockingly useless parents.

Plus lions.

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The story itself, as read by Leonard Nemoy

Marie’s Blog

Source of our theme song

A very timely Wired article: “Don’t Blame Social Media if Your Teen Is Unsocial. It’s Your Fault

There’s even a music video! (Also the source of the above illustration)

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This is a long-belated response to John C. Wright’s blog post “Retrophobia”—belated, because I had simply put it out of mind until recent controversies in the SFWA brought it to mind again. So I looked back and noticed James Maliszewski and Tom Simon both gave it their stamp of approval and thought, “hey, maybe I should release some kind of official statement or something?” I know this is considered bad form among bloggers but anyone who follows this blog knows I don’t run on internet time, and that I have a Thing about staying out of ephemeral internet debates because they don’t make for very interesting reading once the storm has passed. But, if anything, waiting has given me time to formulate a proper response.


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Wiesiek Powaga, ed. and tr. The Dedalus Book of Polish Fantasy. New York: Dedalus/Hippocrene Books, 1996.

I’ve talked up Polish fantastika on this blog before, so it was probably only a matter of time before I got around to reviewing The Dedalus Book of Polish Fantasy, translated and edited by Wiesiek Powaga. Being in Canada, it is of course easier to get hold of translations of Polish works rather than the original texts unless we’re talking classics. This, of course, is a welcome book simply because it makes otherwise unknown materials available to an English-speaking audience.


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