August 7, 2006
Is Our Fantasy Readers Learning?
Charles Stross, "Genre neuroses 101":
"Finally, there is the blasted heath that is fantasy. At least the two decade long post Lord of the Rings hang-over is mostly over, and the post-movie-trilogy bean fest has faded somewhat. There's some really interesting stuff going on there (paging Paul Park, Paul Park to the white courtesy phone — or Steven Brust, at a pinch). But fantasy is, almost by definition, consolatory and escapist literature. Pure fantasy doesn't really tell us anything about the world we live in, and I fail to discern any huge new movements sweeping the field as symptoms of the cultural neuroses of one country or another." (emphasis mine)
Two problems with the sentence in bold.
Second, why is "consolatory" fantasy so obviously inferior to "unsettling" fantasy? I can agree that fantasy that rattles our sensibilities can be excellent. But saying that excellent fantasy must rattle our sensibilities, that's not qualitatively different from saying that all excellent fantasy should Teach Us Something. Ugh. Look, I don't mind if you enjoy attempting to OMG R0X0r OUR W0rldvi3w!!!11one1!!, but please, don't assume that's the end-all be-all goal for fiction.
Oh, and another thing. "Pure fantasy doesn't really tell us anything about the world..." Umm, if this is a reference to fundamentally aphysical nature of fantasy, please do keep in mind that 98% of SF, even "hard SF", is equally aphysical. Those "nanobot/Singularity" stories that are so hip these days? They're as grounded in reality as the latest offering from Laurel K. Hamilton. Not that nanobot stories can't be fun and all, but if you're actually taking them seriously, well, that faint murmuring you're hearing is the sound of a thousand condensed-matter physicists snickering.