The OF Blog: I'm feeling a bit cantankerous

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I'm feeling a bit cantankerous

I love how that word sounds, full of clashing consonants and almost-schwaed vowels. Fitting, considering that I'm finding myself feeling again a bit out-of-sorts about a few things.

First thing that comes to mind is the use of "fantasy" by certain ill-informed peoples on a few forums and blogs to mean just one tiny subset of a whole spectrum of readings. I recently recall a discussion on the Westeros forums in which a poster there, whose point was mostly civil even if I disagreed strongly with it, argued that he was "thankful" that Michael Moorcock "didn't get his way," because "it would have ruined fantasy."

What in the fucking hell is that shit supposed to mean? "Ruin fantasy?" It's as though there is some standardized format that all authors must follow for something to constitute "fantasy." I suppose the person was thinking of the epic fantasy subtype, but still, there's something just so grating about this presumed "fantasy" uniformity. Whether it be fans on epic fantasy fansite forums or bloggers of various stripes and persuasions, there just seems to be at times this sort of presumptuous belief that "fantasy" is a well-defined and laid out "this is how it is" sort of tale, with little to no time apparently being given to works that might buck this presumption. I cannot help but to wonder if those that use such a label as "fantasy" so cavalierly have even bothered to read beyond a narrow range of works.

Related to this is an ever-more apparent divide between those who read certain subgenres of spec fic and those who choose awards and honors. A week or so ago, it was announced that the Science Fiction Writers of America was going to award a Grandmaster (a sort of Lifetime Achievement Award) to Michael Moorcock. Suspecting there might be some dissension and that there might be a few who are relatively unaware of the genre's past as to fail to recognize his name, I ran a week-long opinion poll both here and on wotmania's Other Fantasy messageboard. The results were worse than I feared:

First are the results from wotmania:

What are your thoughts about Michael Moorcock being selected as being the next SFWA Grandmaster? (97 Votes)

Wonderful - he's been very influential (17.53%)
Good - he's pretty good (10.31%)
OK - decent, but others deserved it more (1.03%)
Meh - not a fan at all of his work (4.12%)
Who the hell is he? (67.01%)

And now for the ones from here (45 votes):

Wonderful - he's been very influential 25 (55%)
Good - he's pretty good 2 (4%)
OK - decent, but others deserved it more 3 (6%)
Meh - not a fan at all of his work 4 (8%)
Who the hell is he? 11 (24%)

The number of those answering "Who the hell is he?", while much lower than that of wotmania's OF section, belies any claims that any moron might make about "fantasy" being a monolithic bit. Seems to me that the entire concept of "fantasy," fracturing as it seems to becoming with each passing decade, seems to be fated to be as much of a vague and sometimes-misleading label as that older, somewhat more respected (but even more fractious) cousin called "religion." Mind you, I'm not making any truth claims on the veracity of any religion (as I've stated before, my own religious beliefs are pretty strong...and personal), but rather that I'm noting the possibility for at least superficial comparisons to how adherents to certain subtypes of both groups might tend to presume that their singular view is the only valid view.

But for now, this is just the beginning (if I deign to explore this more systematically at a later date) of an exploration of how people view this field. Right now, however, I'm a bit exhausted and more inclined to wonder if "fantasy" readers' selection of reading choices is akin to a bunch of inbred people who keep coming back to the family reunions to make their next breeding selections. Limited explorations of options by others just tends to rile me a bit. I guess that's the teacher in me speaking, though.


Lawrence said...


It is such great to see you in a bit of rant mode there, since you express your opinion usually so eloquently - this is equally 'entertaining'. ;)

Larry said...

You should see what I write when I'm strung out on sinus meds, as I once took too much hydrocodone syrup and...well, let's just say this one girl from Buenos Aires won't forget that anytime soon!

Charlie Cornelius said...

Nothing changes. Mike was accused, back in the 60s, of trying to destroy science fiction when he took over and altered the values of 'New Worlds' magazine. All it says to me is that people who make such comments really need to get out more and perhaps try reading a bit more widely as well.

Larry said...

Quite true, as there does seem to be some degree of universality with mal-informed people and their willingness to proclaim absolutes.

Sara J. said...

People do read things similar to what they like a lot of the time. Some of my friends won't buy a book if there's doubt they'll enjoy it because it's a monetary cost. Unfortunately this kind of backs them into a corner for choosing books as you say... Sometimes the best books were ones I thought I'd put down midway through.

It's probably more important to read books you don't like than the ones you're comfortable with in my opinion...

Daniel Ausema said...

I'm actually surprised you didn't get more of the negative votes--it seems that I've run into such anti-fans often enough. (Though I'll tell you that I was one of the 25 here who voted "Wonderful") But that you got so many who didn't even know him...absolutely mind-boggling. I can see someone not having read his work--there are certainly many worthy authors I've yet to read--but I can't imagine how you'd avoid at least being aware of him. Even if you only get books from browsing the bookstore or library and not through online recommendations and such, it seems you'd come across a handful of his books in even the smallest bookstore or library.

Larry said...

It's amazing, but I'm beginning to get the idea that quite a few over at wotmania (and to a lesser extent, its OF section) have barely read any spec fic of any sort, especially that which isn't 80s or 90s epic fantasy.

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