Fantasy: Fluff or Social Commentary.


Lots of stuff to say this week. I’m starting a day early offline because of that. Wordy, ain’t I?

My Alter Ego, hereafter referred to as AE, went to a book conference this past weekend. In the new RV which I lovelovelovelove. (Nice queen bed instead of the narrow twins in the old RV, closet space for both of me, Faith and AE, bigger bath with a new, sparkly clean shower, it was wonderful!!! But that is an AE blog, not a blog.) Slaps hand over mouth.

So, back to the conference. Or, Book Festival, I should say. AE’s fans (a couple hundred showed up and it was standing room only in one panel, which was fun) are very different from Faith’s fans. One question that kept coming up was, “Why use two pen names?” I had to get involved with demographics, selling niches, slotted manuscripts, lists and lines, and all that. I tried to keep it simple, but I could tell that a lot of them didn’t understand. Most think that writers just write stuff and it gets published. The idea of having to change your persona and name to get a book published was foreign to them. But they did understand about not wanting to read across genres.

Most mystery/thriller/women’s fiction fans look down their noses at the fantasy genre. You know, all that *magic stuff* (spoken with a derogatory sneer). Which is fine. I don’t read biographies or biker magazines. Nothing wrong with either, but I have no interest in the genres. Personal taste and all that. But sadly, some readers seem blind to the social commentary, humor, character development and amazing storytelling that takes place on every page of a good fantasy novel, a comment that has been made by my co-bloggers on this list.

I think fantasy writers—and forgive me here, but this is not to include romantic fantasy writers who are all about the romance, natch. Rather, urban and epic fantasy writers—have a keen eye on the changes in society historically, on current affairs, and on personal relationships. I think we/they see things quite clearly, perhaps as much like the sifi writers of old. Asimov. Heinlein. Hubbard (when he wrote fantasy, not created a religion). And Herbert to name just a very few. More recently, we have Benford, Weber, and Bujold, all of whom I read. All were/are deeply involved in and wrote/write about the deeper human truths, amid a world that does not exist, science yet to be invented, planets yet to be discovered. Fantasy writers do the same thing, but with a science of energy that is shaped and powered by the mind of magic users.

When a fantasy character kills some not-human-person, defends territory, suffers because he/she/it is different, that is a commentary on society today. The warrior who lives with survivor’s guilt and the deeper guilt of knowing that he pushed a button and killed thousands of noncombatants, is as real on the page as it is in the heart of the old warrior. The long term effect of kidnap, rape, child abuse on a developing character is likewise painful on the page. The ability and desire to fight and survive, grow and evolve is all social commentary.

I just finished reading Patricia Briggs’ Iron Kissed. It was wonderful. So intense that the last 70 pages or so I read several times, over 4 hours, *very* slowly. I laughed and I cried. Deep, dark, urban fantasy. The character development and dialogue were lovely and the social commentary was silently interwoven through the storyline and character development. Not gonna give spoilers here, but OMG. Grand!

Here we go to part two, change of subject, because it is now (for me) the next day, Wednesday. Miz Kim’s debut signing of The Outlaw Demon Wails? Was fab!!!! Whoowhoowhoo! Kim was lovely, elegant, engaging and fun, answering all the questions with aplomb, spending an hour just chatting.

I did not get a book, because the bookstore owner had ordered too few books, and when I left halfway through the signing part, there were only about 9 books left and still maybe 50 people in line. And more coming in. It would have been cruel to take a book and possibly deprive a reader who drove from Pennsylvania to the signing. I read the ARC so I can wait to get the actual hardback, along with Catie’s new book, which I just ordered from my local bookstore. Pooh. I have never been good dealing with delayed gratification. I’m more one of those, *I want it and I want it now,* kinda gal.

Faith Hunter


9 comments to Fantasy: Fluff or Social Commentary.

  • What I find even more hard in fantasy and sci-fi that goes underappreciated by many people, who simply think it’s rubbish, is the worldbuilding. People just snort at imaginery worlds, but then again they do not come that easily. Authors spend a great deal of their time devising these fictious worlds, where the ecosystem and society makes sense and work like one big organism. It’s tremendous efforts that are never really trully appreciated.

  • To explore and reflect on the human condition — to make social comment — is one of the reasons I’ve chosen ‘fantasy’ for most of stories I want [need] to tell.

    By removing the reader from the recognisable and all too distracting everyday world, the reader is forced to look at everything threw ‘new eyes’. A shift in setting inspires a shift in perspective.

  • ARGH.

    That’s supposed to be ‘through’ and not ‘threw’ [man, but that sounds painful].

    Need – more – coffee.

  • Very true, Harry. In fantasy, like sifi, the world is as important as the main character. Shapes the character in ways no character in other genres of fiction is shaped. The world actually becomes a character, to be revealed and developed just as a character is.

  • I always like to point out that mainstream literary writers have it easy. They say something happens in New York City, say, or on the Carolina coast, and everyone reading can immediately picture that, hear the accents, know what kind of houses and clothes and people to expect to see. But we fantasy writers have to start from scratch to make our places that real. Literary fiction is for wimps! (Just kidding — but fantasy isn’t easy…)

  • Yeah, it’s something like that, although literary fiction does have to research for the real place and name real places and so on, I think that our job description is abit more challenging and I agree with David that they have it easy there.

    The world like Faith said is a secondary character and sometimes I am looking for a book that can offer me a new world, just for the kicks and aesthetic purposes. I try to do the same in my work.

  • It’s funny that this topic happened to come up right now, because the Beetle (my son, for those who don’t already know) just started reading LeGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness”. He’s never been afraid to talk to me about what he reads, and this is a pretty heavy novel that explores gender identification and relationships (among other things), so I’ve steeled myself for the eventual questions.

    I’ll keep you posted. 😀

  • I started the book and stopped at page 50, because I simply have no time to read. I really liked her sci-fi and I really have hard time feeling sci-fi the I way I do fantasy and this is a great novel, although I am still in the beginning.