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.]