The OF Blog: Dreaming of 'True' Fantasy

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dreaming of 'True' Fantasy

Lately, my love for reading books of the speculative has begun to wane. I just can't seem to find as much enjoyment or originality in much of what I read that's being produced by the genre presses. Perhaps this is due to not knowing where to turn for what I want to read most, or perhaps it's more due to my readings out of genre (and even out of my native language) in recent months. Whatever is the cause, it has been troubling me.

For example, I am just over halfway finished with Brandon Sanderson's Elantris. Over at the OF Board, this book has been praised for being well-written, with interesting characters, intriguing plot, and for having a complete story told in just one single 500 page volume. But as I've been reading it, I've noticed some troubling things. The dialogue is a bit trite and forced in places, the action is contrived (too many coincidental or providential events occur), but most importantly, there isn't a magic in the writing. Don't think of this as an unfair attack on the book, as it indeed is written better than the majority of epic fantasies that I've read, but I guess this is just a case of damning with faint praise.

Now I know there are books written within the genre mood that seem like they will meet my criteria for a truly fantastic read. For example, Jay Tomio has been lauding Catherynne M. Valente's Yume No Hon: The Book of Dreams and Hal Duncan's Vellum to me (and others, of course) for a while now and I am very eager to read these volumes when I have the time/money to purchase them online. But what about the rest of the genre? Is Fantasy in truth just a branded, marketed entity with a focus on secondary worlds, stock characters and situations, with only servicable language, with other visions, other dreams to be relegated to the sidelines? Could there be much truth to the accusations some have made of speculative fiction that it really has lost its connection to the power of language to create the moods necessary for proper wonder/speculation to take place?

I do not have the answers to that, only just this growing suspicion that if I fail to discover more works of wonder, that I will eventually move on, perhaps back to the world of postmodernist fiction, where I used to dwell, lost in fractured time-stops and giddy moments of language explosions, in which differance possibly held a key to the understanding of what I failed to grasp. Hopefully, there are some fantasy/speculative works being written today that can grasp me in such a way. Perhaps some of you reading this can suggest works for me to consider. Perhaps.


Patrick said...

I agree with your thoughts concerning ELANTRIS thus far.

As for being moved by works of fantasy, I guess it all depends on exactly what you are looking for. But the more you read, I think, the more it becomes difficult for one to find books/series that will move them. Because every time we raise the bar a little higher.

A good analogy would be traveling. Having now traveled in 25 different countries, I often wonder why so much has been said about a particular sight when I find it relatively ordinary. Well, after visiting so many similar sights in several other countries, it's understandable for me not to "experience" it the way someone less well-traveled would.

I also believe that it has a lot to do with the way you approach reading. For myself, I consider it in terms of entertainment. I don't really remember when I was last "moved" by a novel. Some works can fill me with awe, just with the scope of the undertaking. Robinson's THE YEARS OF RICE AND SALT and Stephenson's THE BAROQUE CYCLE are perfect examples of that.

But by hoping to be "moved" every time one reads is setting the bat way too high. Like going to the movies and expecting that a Schindler's List will be released every week or so. I guess that this is what makes those novels/films so special. The fact that they are few and far between. . .:-)

Don't know if this makes any sense. But it's late and the Habs are getting their butts kicked around by Vancouver, and I'm going to bed!;-)


Freebird said...

Made plenty of sense to me, Patrick!

Yeah, I tend to view reading not so much as a form of entertainment but as a way of exercising my mind/thoughts. I get bored extremely quickly and boredom affects me in ways different from most, so I really need to have my mind challenged constantly. Add to that the work I've been doing on language acquisition and my previous training on textual deconstructions and I guess sometimes, I just need something really difficult and challenging. Your analogy of the travel/"ordinariness" of sights is a very apt one - thanks for putting this in perspective for me!

Oh, and if worst comes to worst, you can always consider cheering for the Preds! ;)

Legolas said...

I agree with Patrick, really - perhaps the problem lies not so much with speculative fiction, but with you. Perhaps you've just read so much speculative fiction that you feel you've seen it all. It's true that there a lot of unoriginal authors in the field today, but I think that the authors I would see as unoriginal, you wouldn't even consider reading, so probably you're just getting spoiled and picky in your old day. ;)

Freebird said...

Oh, I don't know about that, Paul...

I do think that while I likely have grown somewhat jaded about a lot of issues, there are still certain authors that I have yet to discover that are writing in styles that would appeal a lot to myself and others. That's what I'm curious to discover. The question remains: Who can help me find these authors? Who else wants to search out and discover relatively obscure talents?

But then again, maybe you're right - maybe this is just related to another issue, one a bit more personal than just tastes in reading speculative fiction.

Anonymous said...

Hey Freebirdin Larry,
First, I am sad to say, I cannot point the way to new works for you. You have read so much more than I that I doubt I can be helpful with specific recommendations. I also typically do not read spec fiction at this time of the year, not really sure why. I do have a recommendation. It sounds to me that you you have spent several years reading spec fiction at a very fast rate. Maybe you need to work in other types of fiction and other works in general to help balance you out? This way, you can wait for the gems, like Bakker's new works in the next few years, to come out. Why not try one of David McCullouogh biographies(if you have not already)? Since you love to learn languages, why not also read some travel stories about those countries? Some of the books are hillarious, especially Notes from a Small Island by Bryson. In short, maybe you need to combine other works with your spec fiction so that you have a break. I know you do this to some extent already, but maybe more will help?


Freebird said...

Thanks for the recs, Ned! And yes, I do read a lot more outside of 'true' spec fic than inside it just to keep my sanity level at a high enough level. Interesting recs - travel stories might be of more interest to me, considering how burned out I still am, 9 years later, from history stuff.

And speaking of recs, have you ever read Darnton's The Great Cat Massacre? If not, you might enjoy it, especially the opening chapter which deals with the symbolism of fairy tales and how they related to everyday life in the 17th and 18th centuries in France.

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