Archive for November, 2011
I love this Locus roundtable about the accessibility or lack thereof of fantasy and science fiction. I love much of what is said in it, but I also love the mere fact that it exists. It’s amazing how much more self-aware and just interested-in-the-state-of-their-genre science fiction and fantasy writers are than literary writers.
It’s hard for me to imagine a similar public conversation nosubhealth.com happening among literary writers. There is a dearth of frank talk in the literary world.
A dearth, I say.
The roundtable as a whole is, like, a cascading concatenation of interesting remarks, but I’ll pull out this exchange (massively butchered for length), which is about why more SF doesn’t break out into the mainstream.
Quoth James Patrick Kelly:
“I think that at least part of the sag in popular acceptance of sf and thus its failure to break out has to do with our perception of the future. It doesn’t look like an adventure anymore, or at least not the shiny adventure that we were hoping for…a literature that purports to live in the future is bound to have some falling-off because of this.”
Whereat N.K. Jemisin said:
“Jim: Only if that literature fails to keep pace with the realism that readers seem to want from it. Again, I point to YA — the dystopian subgenre in YA is selling like hotcakes because it’s harsh and depressing, and because it doesn’t pull any punches with respect to workable economics and the un-shinyness of the future if we don’t change things. Something in that grimness speaks to the teenagers and young people who are growing up in the increasingly craptastic society we’re creating for them. Is it surprising that they need some kind of literary catharsis to deal with this mess? They need a space in which to imagine revolutions and solutions and coping mechanisms. They do not need “welp, no biggie, it’ll all get fixed somehow and in five hundred years we’ll be in spaaace!” handwaving. That’s not sensawunda, that’s naivete and denial, and if SF has nothing more to offer its readers than that then it deserves to fail.”
Which dovetails interestingly with some of the comments on last week’s “What is Fantasy About” post. Is it possible that the zeitgeist is looking at fantasy right now simply because fantasy is the genre that is offering hope?
That’s a bit glib, but you see what I’m saying.
In any case, I think this stuff is important. Fantasy and SF should break out into the mainstream. We shouldn’t just talk to each other. We can’t sit around and blame the mainstream if it doesn’t read us, it is incumbent upon us to talk to the mainstream in a language it can understand. And I truly believe that we can say what needs to be said in that language.
Now a non-update about the Magicians TV show: it’s going really well. I can’t say much of anything about it, but I had a conference call with the writers yesterday and, you know, wow. It’s going really well. TV moves fast — it’s not like movies where things stay in turnaround for years and years. If things keep on going well, there will be more updates, even better than this one, in the months to come.
Let’s get this out of the way: my book was on The Simpsons!
Now I’ve got Patty, I just have to crack Selma … somehow …
Also: if you’re reading this blog, that automatically means you have to vote for my book for a Goodreads award. By Wednesday. It doesn’t matter buy hydrocodone if you’ve already voted, this is the final round, so you have to vote again.
It’s OK. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
I’m writing this from Miami, where I have come for the Miami Book Festival. Book touring brings me through Florida periodically, and I always have an excellent time there. But that has never been enough to erase my tragic associations with the Sunshine State, which stem from the time I came here when I was 8 and threw up on my grandmother’s white couch.
You don’t forget a thing like that.
I usually end up talking a lot about fantasy at events like this. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot, too, mostly in a desperate attempt to catch up with all the stuff I find myself saying about it.
Because I cross the border a lot between “literary fiction” and “fantasy” (just assume infinite recursive scare quotes around every word for the rest of this post) I often find myself having to try to explain fantasy to audiences of non-fantasy readers who have unexpectedly found themselves in a room with a dude who is reading to them about people casting spells. Once the reading is over, and they are given leave to speak, they sometimes ask me: what is the deal, yo, with this stuff you write about people casting spells and shit? I mean, my child/niece/sibling/spouse is into this shit, but I don’t get it.
That is a good question. It’s hard to put into words what the deal is with fantasy – to say, in a coherent way, what all this stuff is about.
Science fiction is different. It’s much easier to theorize, or at any rate it’s been much better-theorized. Science fiction has known preoccupations. With technology for example, and our interactions with it — are we becoming the tools of our tools, sort of thing. With contemporary socio-politico-economic trends, which can be exaggerated to form interesting possible futures. With the future itself, and myths of progress. With the Other, and contact with same.
Something is up with fantasy – I feel like the zeitgeist is taking an interest in it. Like the Great Lidless Eye of Sauron, the zeitgeist has turned away from the big science fiction franchises of the 1990s (Star Wars, Star Trek, The Matrix, The X-Files) and swung towards big fantasy franchises instead (Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Twilight, True Blood, Game of Thrones). [We’re generalizing glibly here, I know there are a lot of counterexamples (cough, Hunger Games, cough), and I do not repeat not want to get in a big wrangle over whether or not Twilight is fantasy — sorry. Just go with it for a bit.]
Sorry about that. I hate that I didn’t blog for a month. This blog is really important to me, but various not-very-exciting things have been happening that resulted in my ignoring it for a month.
For example: I toured Canada for about three weeks. I went to Texas twice. I wrote a bunch of things for Time — the night Steve Jobs died I co-write an entire cover story in four hours — and I’ve been editing Time’s annual Best Inventions issue, which is interesting, and also beloved by advertisers. All good things, but also really time-consuming.
Also my wife’s been working on a novel which is so good that it will render all of my work as dross. I’ve been helping her with that (as she helped me, a lot, with both the Magicians books).
Speaking of which, I’ve also been working on the sequel to The Magician King. Also an as-yet-untitled, unrevealed non-Magicians project that I will try to write concurrently with that sequel, but it may have to wait till after that’s done.
And I’ve taken up writing a weekly books column for Time‘s entertainment blog. I just don’t have space in Time to cover all the books I read, so I’ll take care of the overflow there.
Also it took me like a million tries to beat stage D8 (“Dark Pool”) of TowerDefense. (Two words: splash damage.)
Now the immediate future. I’ll be in Miami on Nov. 19-20 for the Miami Book Fair, where I’ll be doing what should be a really excellent panel with Mat Johnson and Colson Whitehead. Right before that, on November 17 in New York City, I’ll do a reading as part of a PEN American event. Shortly after that, on December 6, I’m co-hosting the annual Housing Works Gin Mingle with Gabrielle Hamilton (whose restaurant Prune has the best bone marrow in New York, if that matters), Téa Obreht, Touré and — wait for it — Colson Whitehead again.
There. That was the blog post that took care of all the boring stuff that I would have said in a month of blog posts. The next blog post, coming soon, will actually be interesting. No — it will be riveting.