Why fantasy?

June 25th, 2006

Science fiction writers are always laying down the law to fantasy writers.  They tell us in great length what’s wrong, corrupt, lazy, stupid, embarassing, and so on and so forth about genre fantasy.   But readers keep on buying it and loving it despite the word from On High.  In fact, they buy more fantasy than SF, these days, which may be one reason why some (not all, some) SF writers get so angry

I love fantasy myself.  I write it, of course, so that’s one reason to love it.   (I do write SF, too, but obviously I don’t buy the anti-fantasy line.)  What I’m interested in learning is why other people love it, especially readers.   Anyone have opinions on the matter?

88 Responses to “Why fantasy?”

  1. makoiyion 25 Jun 2006 at 6:43 pm

    But. Like everything, ‘things’ are evolving. Nothing stands still. As a ‘writer’ I have as much fun writing sci fi as I do fantasy. Why? Because I can let my imagination soar as much with that as fantasy. I believe the lines are blurring. Given the debates over what to call our efforts these day, I think that’s a clear indication. Do we call it sci fi, fantasy or cross genre?

  2. NeonGraalon 25 Jun 2006 at 6:45 pm

    I’ve often commented on the difference between what draws me to Science Fiction ve what draw me to Fantasy.
    Amongst other things the largest for me is comfort vs challenge.
    And of course this is very generalised, but I find that usually I read Fantasy when I’m wanting comfort, safety, a world view that I know and something that is a little predictable.
    And when I want to read Science Fiction it’s because I’m wanting a challenge, a difference, a world view that needs some effort to understand and/or accept and something that is a bit out-there and unusual.

    Of course there is challenging Fantasy and comfortable Science Fiction, and I’m not sure where to put my love of Urban/Modern Fantasy and Supernatural Fiction in this but hey, it’s my two bits.

  3. Sherwood Smithon 25 Jun 2006 at 6:57 pm

    I enjoy both, but my preference tends to be for fantasy. Science fiction in so many instances is about exciting ideas there is a tendency to furnish the story with stereotypes and one-trait characters, there mostly to serve the extrapolation of the ideas. Not all, I hasten to say. The best science fiction presents ideas, interesting characters and worlds, as well as good prose.

    Good fantasy doesn’t ignore character in preference to ideas. And there are ideas aplenty in the good ones. But while science fiction limits itself more or less rigorously to the plausible (passing quickly past science fantasy such as Star Trek), fantasy is embraces the possible. That sense of ‘anything is possible’ throws open the universe in all its mystery, at least to my view, which can verge on the numinous.

  4. Nonnyon 25 Jun 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Sherwood Smith said: Good fantasy doesn’t ignore character in preference to ideas. And there are ideas aplenty in the good ones. But while science fiction limits itself more or less rigorously to the plausible (passing quickly past science fantasy such as Star Trek), fantasy is embraces the possible. That sense of ‘anything is possible’ throws open the universe in all its mystery, at least to my view, which can verge on the numinous.

    Word.

    The biggest issue I have with SF these days is that most of the books published seem to either be military SF/space opera or hard SF “idea” stories. I don’t personally like either, as a general rule.

    Traditionally, SF has been based on “idea” stories. In this technological age, most of the “ideas” have already been explored, or we’re dealing with them in reality. I don’t see the genre developing — if anything, it’s become stagnant. Not saying that there aren’t good, innovative books out there, because I’m sure there are, but the vast majority of SF that I’ve seen is mosly same old, same old.

    Fantasy, however, doesn’t operate under the same constraints. Anything is possible, as long as it’s consistent within your world setting, and as such, I think it’s a wider playing field for writers.

  5. maschineon 25 Jun 2006 at 7:48 pm

    Well, I guess there are a lot of reasons – for just as much different styles of fantasy. And perhaps this diversity is the main reason for its popularity.
    You can turn nearly every type of story (crime, love, horror or whatever) into a fantasy story and thereby grab readers from a lot of genres.
    But on the other hand – why mix stories that interest many people with fantasy? So there has to be a reason why people love the fantasy aspect.
    I would say the main reason is that they can explore unknown worlds. People were always fascinated by the possibility to discover the world from the comfort of their own homes.
    Before there was fantasy there were adventure novels (Quatermain, Tarzan, The Lost World or, here in Germany, the Karl May novels), novels set in then un- or little known regions of our own world.
    But imagine you wrote an adventure novel set in our time.
    Our hero stumbles through a distant jungle, led by his GPS locator, when he gets a phone call via satellite from his wife asking if everything is allright. Later, using his AK 47, he kills a leopard (which, as we know now, wouldn’t have attacked him anyway) and finally reaches a native village – just in time to watch the Football World Cup on the village tv.
    Somehow the magic is gone, isn’t it?

    But if you build your own world and set your story in this world you lose all these restrictions.
    The reader doesn’t know the world, its flora, fauna, history and so on.
    So he can truly explore this unknown world, can be amazed by its peoples and learn its history.

    At least that is the reason why I love fantasy.
    I can explore new worlds and somehow re-experience the feeling I got when I first read the Greek, Nordic and Germanic legends.
    Btw, is that already escapism?

    maschine
    (no writer, just a reader)

  6. Megan McRaeon 25 Jun 2006 at 9:03 pm

    I love fantasy so much because ever since I learned how to read I’ve been immersed in the fantasy world. I’ve always held a fascination with unicorns and faeries and other such creatures, and I hold to the notion that they existed once despite any rational or scientific evidence that suggests otherwise.

    Good fantasy to me doesn’t need to have those things in it – but the unicorn-type of fantasy is what led me into the more adult and modern type of fantasy. I read that now because it’s not only what I’ve read my whole life but because it’s just so much fun. It’s a wonderful feeling to be immersed in a world of fiction and magic and other great things like that, if only for a few hours a day. I’ve always loved it and I think perhaps I always will.

    I read SF. I read a LOT of SF. Dan Simmons is my favorite SF writer on the entire planet. I have several copies of quite a few of his books, in different formats. I just love him to pieces. But there is a lot of SF that I don’t like, mostly because it’s just too technical. Too scientific. I’m not science-minded, I prefer the imaginary, the fantastical, the completely unreal. I don’t like reading about how big a space station is, I don’t enjoy descriptions of how a specific weapon works to kill your opponent. SF is also much more violent than fantasy, because not only is there normally a war/conflict in which many many people are killed, but often the description of the gore is too much for me to handle.

    Fantasy is, while often still containing conflict and violence, much less real in its violence. You don’t often read about the sword slicing through someone’s neck and the spurts of blood as the head separates from the body. You do read in SF about how the bullets (or whatever ammunition the future world is using) make a sickening noise as they hit skin and tear muscle on their way out the other side, or lodge in a bone, splintering it to pieces, etc. I don’t like that kind of reading.

    There are exceptions of course, your books being filled with war. But you don’t go overboard with your descriptions like a lot of SF writers do. Dan Simmons is very graphic in his descriptions, but I don’t mind his so much since they actually matter in the story. Much of what goes on in SF is unnecessary and it bothers me. Then again, I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I’m a very non-violent person and I have personal issues with gore.

    Anyway, now that my tangent has gone on for so long, I just want to end with the statement that fantasy, for me, is something I can escape to. I can care about the characters and find myself identifying with or hating or rooting for or wishing ill upon characters and situations, and I find myself becoming more and more drawn into the stories the further I read. I get that with SF as well, but fantasy comes much more naturally to me than SF does. I guess it’s because I’ve always had an overactive imagination and a non-science mind. :)

  7. Alesiaon 25 Jun 2006 at 9:04 pm

    I think the division goes waaaaay back to the very beginnings of the modern genres, when there was science fiction (Gernsback, anyone?) and fairy tales, and I doubt the twain ever freely admitted to having met. (What happened late of an evening in the alley behind the club was not public, naturally.)

    Things were simpler back then, of course, as makoiyi has noted. But let’s consider the question reduced to these two extremes, because therein lies the source of the current attitudes of some – as well as the answer to the question posed by the estimable Ms. Kerr.

    The first (and only necessary) operation is to transform the two terms into more generalized ones: “science” and “myth.” Thus, the perceived division between science fiction and fantasy is another facet of a division the entire Western world has been struggling with for centuries now – between what is or can be known, and what can only be felt or believed. (Leaving aside, please, the entire discussion of whether we can truly “know” anything.)

    I suspect those who denigrate fantasy and delight only in science fiction are simply more committed than most to the side of science.

    For myself, I read and write mostly fantasy … but I actually love science. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” as Emerson pointed out.

    More to the point, the Western world is presently quite full of science and certainty and facts. That’s all that most people are surrounded by almost all the time, but not only has it not solved all their problems, it’s spawned legions of new ones! Fantasy provides some relief from that environment, without all the thorny questions and obligations and conflicts that come along with religion. It’s restful, fun, and explores a side of the human condition that generally gets short shrift in everyday life, even though (I believe) it shouldn’t. Science fiction – especially the hard stuff – is committed to the status quo and to the proposition that all is and will be well without bothering with all that belief stuff … which is another topic, so I’ll stop there.

    That’ll be two bits, please.

  8. b. sharpon 25 Jun 2006 at 9:06 pm

    But readers keep on buying it and loving it despite the word from On High. In fact, they buy more fantasy than SF, these days, which may be one reason why some (not all, some) SF writers get so angry

    Perhaps some readers have been increasingly annoyed by the arrogance of a small but vocal minority of the writers and fanboys of the sci-fi genre. And I have a suspicion that some of the people involved in sci-fi publishing, wether writers or editors, may be in deep denial about how the issue of writing and editing quality. I have noticed so many people online who were so much more into sci-fi a decade ago and have now turned to fantasy, and are now currently complaining about the state of sci-fi. But the blame of the decline of readership continues to be blamed on “stupid” and “anti-intellectual” readers. This will not help sells.

  9. b. sharpon 25 Jun 2006 at 9:09 pm

    Sales, I mean.

  10. Katharine Kerron 25 Jun 2006 at 9:32 pm

    These are all great and interesting answers. Let’s hope we get even more!

    The most recent argument I had with an “SF is better” type ended with him repeating, like maybe 3 times, “but fantasy is set in the past” in a tone of voice that implied “that alone would condemn it.” I am always amazed by this attitude, which implies there is nothing to be learned from the past of the entire human race that might help us solve the problems of the present time.

  11. b. sharpon 25 Jun 2006 at 9:40 pm

    The most recent argument I had with an “SF is better” type ended with him repeating, like maybe 3 times, “but fantasy is set in the past”

    Because contemporary urban fantasy doesn’t exist, and no sci-fi story has ever had magic or the occult in the plot or anything…

  12. Alesiaon 25 Jun 2006 at 9:50 pm

    I am always amazed by this attitude, which implies there is nothing to be learned from the past of the entire human race that might help us solve the problems of the present time.

    Now you get to watch the historian crack up and roll on the floor laughing … oh, brother. I wish we *did* learn!

  13. maschineon 25 Jun 2006 at 9:51 pm

    Hm, another thought…
    Did anyone blame TV yet?
    Perhaps people don’t READ so much SF because much more impressing and fun to actually see strange aliens, starships flying through space, shooting with their laser weapons and so on.
    There are so many good, or better say well made, SF serieses and movies (Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, Farscape, etc) that you don’t really have to read SF books to quench your thirst for SF.

    As well there is what Megan said: SF seems to be too scientific, at least to someone who has not read much SF (like myself).
    When I think of SF I think of starships, the far future, tons of technical descriptions and military hierachy (on nearly every ship there is a captain who is at the top). What I don’t think of are people, the human (or vulcan or wookish) side of the characters, all that perishes, at least in the public image, because of the focus on technology.
    Perhaps you can compare SF to cold, grey metal and F to a warm, green forest (I know, that sounds kind of silly)

  14. b. sharpon 25 Jun 2006 at 9:59 pm

    Sci-fi shows, at least the good ones, never seem to survive that long on the airwaves anymore. I can’t afford cable, so I can’t comment on the state of televised fantasy. However, there has been a rise of fantasy films on the silver screen, and that hasn’t necessarily kept people from reading it. In fact, sales have gone up in recent years. Sci-fi films seem to have little affect on that genre’s sales, pobably due to the fact that most of the ones made by Hollywood are action movies. People tend not to go to them for plot. At least, I don’t.

  15. Nicolaion 25 Jun 2006 at 10:05 pm

    Fantasy finds itself constructed in a place where the characterisation and the world are more important. I think this allows for construction of more intricate relationships and expressions of personality than exist in the modern world. I think fantasy allows us to express our dreams of what the world could be like, rather than what it is like.

    Science Fiction is the exploration of a technological idea and although it sometimes leads to the construction of a detailed world, that world is often subjugate to its ideas. That said, there are works that transcend this simple definition. Science Fiction takes the world that is and extends it, usually based on one particular aspect or potential aspect.
    ]
    Science Fiction also tends to deal with society as a whole, albeit through individual characters. Fantasy deals with smaller groups, often as a number of different societies.

    This may be my bias though, as a scientist who predominantly reads good fantasy and very little science fiction.

  16. b. sharpon 25 Jun 2006 at 10:19 pm

    While there are tendencies in both genres, I’ve starting to suspect it probably should be blamed on some of the authors not bothering to read much outside of it. Do we really need yet another Mists of Avalon clone? (Though a history geek might ask if that novel itself was really needed at all in the first place… but I won’t get into that one).

  17. Mary Kayon 25 Jun 2006 at 10:47 pm

    As a number of people in the field have pointed out, SF no longer occupies the special niche it once did. We live in an SF world. The biggest grossing movies of all time are SF. I suggest this may have robbed SF of some of its power to transport and transcend. It will be interesting to see if the success of the HP movies and the LOTR movies work the transformation on fantasy. I don’t think it will because we still live in an SF not fantasy world so that powerful reinforcement will be gone.

    MKK

  18. David Louis Edelmanon 25 Jun 2006 at 11:00 pm

    I wonder if you may be setting up a straw man here, Kit. Yes, I’m sure there are SF writers who habitually denigrate the fantasy genre, but I think what most of them object to is bad fantasy writing. You know, the knock-offs of the Tolkien knock-offs, the ones where the Elf Princess enlists the help of the Grumpy Dwarf and the Gruff Barbarian in order to find the Magic Whatsitcalled to thwart the Dark Lord of Whatever.

    (And yes, before you all start grumbling, there’s plenty of bad SF to go around too. Insert your stereotyped knock-off of a Heinlein knock-off here.)

    I think the key to this debate is the fact that fantasy is selling more than SF these days. Let’s do the math: if x% of both fantasy and SF is crap, and the number of fantasy titles in the marketplace suddenly doubles, then you’ve got twice as much fantasy crap as SF crap. I’m sure if SF becomes the flavor of the month in the next decade, you’ll see an equal amount of exploitative, poorly written SF crap being published.

    For the record, though I’m an SF writer, I probably read slightly more fantasy than SF.

  19. Nick Argallon 26 Jun 2006 at 12:36 am

    I have to disagree, David. A submission of mine to an online writing workshop was given a very strong round of “Why are you wasting your time writing fantasy when you could be doing something worthwhile instead? Have you tried magical realism?”

    That was from a smart guy who could write, and who I respect. Although I disagree with him on a great many issues :D

    I think that Fantasy has a strong connection to the fairy tale. This is something that gives it power and resonance, but which also gives it a bad name among intellectual snobs – the connotation which both have is one of ‘children’s story’. Fantasy is something that one is expected to leave behind after ‘growing out of that magic nonsense’.

    Good Fantasy writers write about dragons and magic and elves and whatnot in a way that lends them a sense of reality. These are things that not only don’t exist but can’t exist. Sci-fi, magical realism, these things are easier to believe in because they ‘could happen someday/could be happening under our noses’. Therefore, fantasy is a more difficult to write. And when something is difficult, it tends to get a reputation for its failures rather than for its successes.

    That is to say that you can get away with poor storytelling in sci-fi if you have a fresh enough idea (for appropriate definitions of ‘poor’ and ‘fresh enough’). But the opportunities to do that in fantasy are far more limited – the focus is far more squarely on storytelling than on anything else. And my firm belief is that storytelling is the most difficult skill for authors (in any medium) to develop.

    (If only I could write stories half as well as I analyse them….)

  20. glenda larkeon 26 Jun 2006 at 1:52 am

    I agree with almost all the reasons given above – in other words, there’s no one reason why fantasy sells better than sf. There are lots of them. (And I do read and love SF too).

    Let me add another reason. With fantasy, it is possible to have the ordinary person triumph over the most horrendous situations. I think that in today’s society, we face a myriad problems which seem insoluable (even to sf writers, and then only by huge intervention of governments and investment of capital) – problems from global warming and the war in Iraq, to whether my office block/tube train is going to be hit by terrorists, to whether there really is going to be a future in which I can clear my college credit card debt, find a decent job in a place I want to live in and bring up my kids to be decent human beings, have enough money for my retirement and health care.

    When people faced with this kind of life buy a book to read, they want to do more than just “get away from it all”. They want to be left with the feeling that an ordinary person can make a difference. Not some genius scientist, or an astronaut, but an office worker from Milton Keynes or a medieval shoemaker from Upper Yikmak. It leaves them feeling better about themselves. It even inspires.

    In a topic like this, I think we should never lose sight of the fact that people who read a site like this – and comment – are a very small minority of sff readers. We are the writers and the fans, the editors and the con goers. The people who buy most in the fantasy and sf genres are just people who want to get away from it all AND be left with a good feeling when they put the book down.

    And, of course, everybody reading this is instantly going to think of twenty exceptions where complex, thought provoking, depressing books hit the best seller lists…

  21. glenda larkeon 26 Jun 2006 at 2:00 am

    Oh dear, I meant unsolvable, not insoluable or (even insoluble)!

  22. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 26 Jun 2006 at 2:07 am

    It depends on what you call SF and what you call fantasy. Military fiction tends to bore me silly, regardless of the genre, but the hup-hup space marines tend to act more like our current military than guys in chainmail do, so I tend to cut fantasy warfare a little more slack, even if it’s not my favorite thing. Likewise the future dystopias have never done much for me, mostly because the seemed like social commentary with a brick rather than any speculation on the future. It’s what I call the Tommorowland problem, where you wander into the one section of Disneyland most desperately in need of constant facelifts, because as I remarked to a friend when I was there, the future was looking an awful lot like 1962. Worse, we decided to go into the “Innoventions” display which was supposed to show us the marvelous futuristic products that would soon be available. As we both remarked, the future technology looked an awful lot like last year’s product display at Fry’s Electronics.

    Which is not to say that it’s all bad. I went up to San Francisco Friday night with some friends to see the benefit showing of Serenity, a dystopian future space opera with a decidedly western flavor, and not only did we greatly enjoy it, but on the way up, Tom showed off his new tech toy, a cell phone with a full video display that could play movies on a screen slightly smaller than a credit card. And it could also surf the web, if not as quickly as we’d like. We agreed that the Dick Tracy wrist TV would be fully functioning and ubiquitous in a couple years.

    I suppose part of the trouble I have with SF is not that I don’t like SF, but I really don’t buy the SF that’s all cool sparkly chrome and not much else. And the SF that gets retro enough–McCaffery’s Dragonriders, for example, or Sherri Tepper’s Necromancer Nine, etc.–are things that some SF fans don’t want to call SF, because while they’re set in the future, their alien beasts and telepathic powers look too much like magic.

    Which is not to say that I haven’t written or sold SF, but I tend to raise an eyebrow at all futures, even dystopias, where people have completely binned all thought of magic, religion, even and especially its use in art and literature.

  23. Sherwood Smithon 26 Jun 2006 at 10:31 am

    Glenda says:

    Let me add another reason. With fantasy, it is possible to have the ordinary person triumph over the most horrendous situations. I think that in today’s society, we face a myriad problems which seem insoluable (even to sf writers, and then only by huge intervention of governments and investment of capital) – problems from global warming and the war in Iraq, to whether my office block/tube train is going to be hit by terrorists, to whether there really is going to be a future in which I can clear my college credit card debt, find a decent job in a place I want to live in and bring up my kids to be decent human beings, have enough money for my retirement and health care.

    I think this is a big factor. Not just in the normal reading population, who often turn to literature to escape the stresses of the day, especially the ones about which one feels utterly helpless. Who needs to be hit by the Message Brick, as Kevin Andrew Murphy says? We’re already hearing grim dystopia on the news.

    I think this is a big reason why kids and teens avoid most SF, especially that aimed at them. Teachers might think it’s good for them to read all these heavy duty message books full of gloom and warnings, but they’re getting it in the news, in science class, in history class, in English, meanwhile they are surrounded by changing tech every day, so the concept of Progress is no longer magical as it was in the thirties-fifties when scientists were out in the desert playing with atom bombs, and the medical field was advising X-rays as a normal part of a physical, and giving kids radium necklaces for everything from adenoids to sore throats.

    In fantasy, the concept of personal competence is still a big factor, and a whole lot of people (including myself) really love the idea of being able to actually do something about all the hovering threats, even if only in our imaginations.

  24. Chris Gardneron 26 Jun 2006 at 11:04 am

    I find myself thinking about what is believable. I know that sounds strange, but I increasingly find SF harder to believe. **I originally typed “believe in.” A Freudian slip?**

    Too many dissapointments. No AI (I want an AI majordomo) , no flying cars, we’re still using keyboards (I want to talk to my majordomo), and the space elevator is not looking good by last reports. Do we have any replacement vehicle for the shuttle? When are we getting back to the Moon. We “need” to live on Mars.

    With fantasy I can believe. Our history is full of swords and sorcery. If then, why not later? Why not elsewhere? The basic good vs. evil, and many other fantasy themes, is easy to understand. You can feel it on a gut level. Simple? Yes. And enjoyable.

    One last thing. I am not as smart as most SF protagonists. I can be any number of Fantasy heros.

  25. Kate Elliotton 26 Jun 2006 at 11:24 am

    Chris Gardner – Ha! I never thought of it that way, and it ties in with Sherwood’s comment about “personal competence,” but I also sometimes (often?) feel that the kinds of competence present in most fantasy are things I can aspire to, while with some SF I just feel too stupid to live in that world.

    Having said that, I read a great deal of SF but almost always it is either near future sf (sociological) or adventure space opera sf which in some ways is indistinguishable from fantasy.

  26. Lois Tiltonon 26 Jun 2006 at 11:49 am

    In my view, it is all fantasy. Science fiction just pretends that it isn’t.

  27. T. Irene Stutzmanon 26 Jun 2006 at 12:17 pm

    For me, the vast difference in most sci-fi and fantasy is the latter is primarily character-driven. The sci-fi I’ve tried in recent years to read just completely failed to engage me as a reader; it was too focused on the tech and such. Fantasy tends to be far more character-oriented and thus is far more likely to provide entertainment for me. There is only one author writing sci-fi these days who can still engage me, and that’s C. J. Cherryh, and I do wonder if the reason for the difference I perceive in her science fiction is that she also writes fantasy. Perhaps that makes her sci-fi more palatable to me; I’m not really sure. But her sci-fi is clearly as character-oriented as her fantasy, and if I can’t feel a strong attachment to the characters, then I can’t be bothered reading a story.

  28. Harry Connollyon 26 Jun 2006 at 12:30 pm

    Ditto what a lot of other people have said, especially that, when you want more readers, telling people their reading selections are proof of an intellectual decline in society is contra-indicated. Also, what Sherwood said about the numinous, what others have said about stories of idea vs. stories about characters, and what folks have said about TV. For casual readers who enjoy the space ships and ray guns, those itches are easily scratched by long-running TV series. (sorry about not going through and attributing everything–I’m a deeply lazy person.)

    A couple additional points: A couple years ago, a semi-famous SF writer at NW Bookfest was unspooling his long anti-fantasy rant, in which he said something telling. He reads science fiction because he wants to live in that sf world. He likes to imagine himself on a space station or exploring distant worlds.

    He assumed that fantasy readers genuinely wanted to live in the pre-industrial worlds they read about. Because of that assumption, he figured fantasy readers were ignorant of how dangerous, difficult and tedious survival in the past was, and he thought that, just as he would love to see our modern world transformed into the super-cool world of the future, fantasy readers wanted to roll back progress until everyone lived under feudal agrarianism.

    I believe the phrase he used was that fantasy readers would create a “bin-Ladin future.” Not only is that a bat-guano insane thing to say, it’s beer-poured-on-your-head stupid.

    Still, it goes a way to explaining sf elitists’ attitude.

    Another strike against sf is how many modern writers don’t seem to like human beings very much. It’s what James Nicoll calls Benderism (after the character on FUTURAMA). It’s the belief that the world/universe would be a lot better off if only there weren’t so many humans in it.

    It’s a very cynical attitude about humans that are unlikely to please the expected readers who, funny enough, also happen to be human.

    Here’s a rant by Scott Lynch on the subject.

  29. Sherwood Smithon 26 Jun 2006 at 12:42 pm

    Excellent points, Harry.

    I also agree with Lois–actually, I feel that all literature is fantasy, but for our purposes I am willing to cop to the marketing distinctions.

  30. L.N. Hammeron 26 Jun 2006 at 1:22 pm

    I like fantasy’s ability to make metaphors literal (and the concrete metaphoric). Talk about a useful tool for exploring character and conflict.

    —L.

  31. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 26 Jun 2006 at 2:41 pm

    I think part of the sour grapes is that SF has been pretty lousy at reading the tea leaves, at least when time schedules are involved. Think of all the “Woohoo! We’re goin’ to the moon!” fiction that sprang up around the moon landing, but now? Where the hell is our damn moon base? And how many of the pop culture groupies want to read hopeful fiction about moonbases we’re not likely to get anytime soon, and by that I mean, in anybody currently living’s lifetime short of intergalactic intervention?

    Unless the Chinese decide to build the moonbase, and wouldn’t that make all the American Libertarian military porn look stupid.

    As for the Message Brick, I knew enough Libertarians in college that I really don’t have much desire to read Libertarians in Space. Then again, I also get fairly tired of reading fantasies where the wise priestesses suddenly reveal themselves as anachronistically modern and forward-thinking neopagan feminists.

    Scott Lynch’s snarking about Benford’s embarrassing rant is also excellent.

    Interestingly enough, at the current moment, if you look at the continuing television series, the majority of those in the genre are science fiction: Stargate, Stargate Atlantis, Battlestar Gallactica, The 4400, Lost, Smallville. Aside from the psychic shows (Medium, Ghost Whisperer, The Dead Zone), which sit on the border of the genres, the only horror/fantasy show to get renewed is Supernatural. That’s a pile of military SF mixed with some superheroes and conspiracy theories.

  32. b. sharpon 26 Jun 2006 at 3:56 pm

    I believe the phrase he used was that fantasy readers would create a “bin-Ladin future.”

    Spider Robinson? I tried looking for the article before, but I couldn’t access it. It may of been paying members only.

    Then again, I also get fairly tired of reading fantasies where the wise priestesses suddenly reveal themselves as anachronistically modern and forward-thinking neopagan feminists.

    Which is why I tend to avoid any fantasy novels about priestesses like the plague.

  33. Carol Bergon 26 Jun 2006 at 4:14 pm

    I grew up reading lots of sf (along with lots of other kinds of fiction), but over time it seemed that the stories didn’t change much from one to the next. Lots of space opera. Humans were modern humans. Everyone else was an alien (or a robot). And it was fun. I thought about how cool it would be to go into space and see all these places. But I rarely identified with the characters – and this is not merely a gender issue, because I never minded reading about guys. Still enjoy it. But when I went looking for something different in sf, I kept finding things that were very heavy and depressing and preachy.

    When I started reading fantasy, I found a huge variety of stories, from wizards and hobbits to shapeshifter detectives to royalty in the desert to societies based on religion to kids sucked into game worlds or whatever. Everything I enjoyed about other genres like mystery or spy thrillers or outdoor adventure or romantic suspense could be found in some fantasy novel. But in looking back, I think what seduced me was that most of these protagonists were human or near enough, but with some capability that was beyond human. Not technology or weapons, but something within themselves to deal with the challenges of the story. This made me think how cool it would be to have that kind of power, or ask myself what would it feel like to have another soul living in my body or walk through a door into another world or into a dream. Yep, I think it is that element of identification, not just as regular old me using cool technology, but as someone who could have this hidden side….

    Grossly generalizing, of course.

    Carol (Yes, Lois, I agree, fantasy IS the uber-genre)

  34. Sherwood Smithon 26 Jun 2006 at 4:27 pm

    b. sharp said:

    Which is why I tend to avoid any fantasy novels about priestesses like the plague.

    Oh yes. ditto, at least for me, the Evial Priests in Red who seem to have nothing to do but lurk around menacing heroes, or sacrificing the occasional child.

    Hammer, hammer, hammer.

  35. Carol Bergon 26 Jun 2006 at 5:50 pm

    I say avoid the neo-pagan feminist priestesses or

    the Evil Priests in Red who seem to have nothing to do but lurk around menacing heroes

    , not necessarily the priestesses or priests.

  36. Harry Connollyon 26 Jun 2006 at 6:21 pm

    Spider Robinson?

    b. sharp, you should change your handle to r. sharp.

    I believe it was published as an editorial in the Globe and Mail. You’d have to pay to read it, but Google has a page of page of reactions to the original article, called “Forward, Into the Past!

  37. Harry Connollyon 26 Jun 2006 at 6:27 pm

    And if I’d just been a little more diligent, I would have found this copy of Robinson’s original article:

    I’m not knocking fantasy…

    Quick poll: Who reads fantasy because they really want to live in a pre-industrial, largely agrarian society?

  38. Katharine Kerron 26 Jun 2006 at 7:01 pm

    One of the things my fantasies do is show how back-breaking hard it is to live in a society/tech level based on the European Dark Ages. Even the kings have it rough when it comes to basic comforts like staying warm and well-fed in winter. One of the problems with the Anti-Fantasy Ranters is they don’t read any actual fantasy. They think they can perform the psychic feat of knowing what’s in a book without actually opening it.

    Dave — Benford is one of the fellows I had in mind for anti-fantasy rants. I’m not setting up “straw men.” Ranters are rampant on the I’net among other places.

    I quite agree with Lois and Sherwood about fantasy as the *uber-genre. Even the most realistic mainstream novel has made-up characters

    In fact, we could be really controversial and call “science fiction” an oxymoron. What does rank speculation and day-dreaming about a future that hasn’t happened yet have to do with science, the ultimate exploration and expression of physical reailty?

    *How does one make an umlaut appear with this software, anyway?)

  39. b. sharpon 26 Jun 2006 at 7:42 pm

    What does rank speculation and day-dreaming about a future that hasn’t happened yet have to do with science, the ultimate exploration and expression of physical reailty?

    I’m still waiting for sexdroids and flying cars like the kind they had in Blade Runner, so I have a feeling most of my daydreaming may not be entirely realistic. On the other hand, I hear the Japanese are making great progress with making robots appear a bit more human…

    And if I’d just been a little more diligent, I would have found this copy of Robinson’s original article:

    I’m not knocking fantasy…

    Just… wow. I’d probably have more interesting things to say here after I’ve sobered up and read that dreck again. When the sci-fi companion of Realms of Fantasy folded (I don’t remember the name of that publication at the moment), I wasn’t that saddened. The quality of much of the stories in there wasn’t that great, and I was in denial about it buying copy after copy of that mag hoping for something better. Not like I’d want to imply that everything coming out of fantasy magazines or anthologies these days is on par of Shakespeare, or anything. I don’t miss it anymore, though I wouldn’t mind seeing more fiction by the guy/girl who wrote “Deep Space Sein”, that was priceless. I think the sci-fi genre would be much better off if people who wrote it didn’t take it so damn seriously.

    Quick poll: Who reads fantasy because they really want to live in a pre-industrial, largely agrarian society?

    No more than I’d want to live in many of the sci-fi distopias that have been written about in the past 100 or so years.

    What does rank speculation and day-dreaming about a future that hasn’t happened yet have to do with science, the ultimate exploration and expression of physical reailty?

    I’m still waiting for the sexdroids and flying cars. Seriously.

  40. Carol Bergon 26 Jun 2006 at 8:00 pm

    One of the problems with the Anti-Fantasy Ranters is they don’t read any actual fantasy. They think they can perform the psychic feat of knowing what’s in a book without actually opening it.

    Of course, that’s the problem with a whole lot of critics nowadays–such as those who lambaste the Harry Potter books as leading children into satanism or decry The DaVinci Code as whatever, while admitting they’ve never read the thing. I automatically ignore anyone’s opinion when they say, “I’ve never actually read [or seen] it, but…”

  41. b. sharpon 26 Jun 2006 at 8:27 pm

    or decry The DaVinci Code as whatever, while admitting they’ve never read the thing.

    Some pagan friends of mine weren’t happy with the way it was written, and thought Foucault’s Pendulum was better. Not like I’m defending the wingnuts, or anything. But the criticisms of it that weren’t from the born again types tended to not be so charitible. And no, I haven’t read it :P. Mostly due to those reviews.

  42. Jellyn Andrewson 26 Jun 2006 at 10:33 pm

    I started off with science fiction around junior high, including a heavy Star Trek obsession. I think it started to change in college. I moved more into fantasy and stopped reading every Trek novel that came out. I don’t really differentiate between science fiction and fantasy now when I’m looking for a book. I go by authors, interesting titles, interesting covers, blurbs that intrigue me. Certainly almost all the science fiction I read is character-oriented, even if it’s not science fantasy. David Feintuch, Lois McMaster Bujold, Tanya Huff, Orson Scott Card..

    When I was younger, I read Clarke and Asimov and many, many short stories. Then, ideas mattered. Now, characters matter. Probably because it’s very hard to give me an idea I haven’t seen or can’t guess the outcome of before I get to the end of the story. Put the idea with an interesting character I’ve never met before, though, and I’ll pay attention again.

  43. Carol Bergon 27 Jun 2006 at 12:16 am

    About The DaVinci Code:

    Some pagan friends of mine weren’t happy with the way it was written, and thought Foucault’s Pendulum was better.

    And that’s just fine. I, too, have lots of gripes about the writing (I thought that if I read one more teaser about “what my grandfather did in the basement” or “what was in the box,” I would scream), and of course there are just so many holes in the “research” it takes hours to list them. People can say it’s lousy or say it’s great – I don’t object to any criticism, as long as it comes from someone who’s read the book!

    Carol

  44. b. sharpon 27 Jun 2006 at 4:24 am

    I don’t object to any criticism, as long as it comes from someone who’s read the book!

    Now if only the people who run Amazon.com used that principle when accepting reviews…

  45. Danion 27 Jun 2006 at 10:57 am

    I tend to raise an eyebrow at all futures, even dystopias, where people have completely binned all thought of magic, religion, even and especially its use in art and literature.

    That’s it, exactly. I used to read reams of hard SF when I was a teenager/young adult. And suddenly they bored me because the “worlds” were flat (culturally speaking). We haven’t given up
    magic & religion despite having nuclear weapons and personal space planes (SpaceShipOne) — in fact I would say a segment of our population cleaves more tightly to their magic/religion because of the
    modern wonders.

    The older I’ve gotten then less I’m interested in pure action stories (which hard SF tends to be), and the more I’m interested in the characters, the world, and action — the “stuff” that makes it three dimensional.

  46. gary gibsonon 27 Jun 2006 at 11:35 am

    For what it’s worth, I sometimes wonder if there’s a parallel argument to all of this – is the stuff being written in both sf and fantasy truly indicative of the tastes of two supposedly separate audiences, or is it the product of a publishing industry that believes it has a better idea of what will and won’t sell than the authors themseles?

    Does this create a false situation where people believe sf or fantasy are one thing or the other, when those identifiable elements of either are the product not of the wishes or desires or tastes of that audience, but rather of marketing departments who play their part in filtering out of existence stories and novels not so clearly delineated in their style and content?

    In terms of the main argument, much of the very best sf contains elements of the magical. Arthur Clarke’s 2001, and Nine Billion Names of God; William Gibson’s first few novels contained elements of voodoo ritual and belief. The whole notion of the technological singularity bears an uneasy resemblance to certain religious viewpoints – but can generate some very entertaining stories. Theres not so much a distinction as you might think – if you know where to look.

  47. Mark Tiedemannon 27 Jun 2006 at 11:58 am

    Just as a point of order, there are many things in science fiction that are sloppy, unbelievable, ill-conceived, etc. We tend to just recognize and discuss them as examples of BAD science fiction.

    I note that when SF readers/(some)writers diss fantasy, they lump the bad and good together as if all of it shared a common disease (and then go on to gripe when a fantasy fan/writer points out what is wrong with a lot of SF by declaring “but that’s only the BAD stuff! No fair!”)

    There is bad fantasy that suffers all the flaws you mention. There is good fantasy that transcends all criticism (at least in my opinion).

    My problem is with those times someone claims that fantasy and SF are “the Same Thing.” To me, they’re quite, quite different–they do different things. They operate by different assumptions about the universe. And that’s fine.

    As for the Bad Fantasy–just as with the Bad SF–they share a common problem–writerly laziness, poverty of imagination, and an implicit suggestion that “nobody takes this stuff seriously anyway.”

    (For the record, Good Fantasy, for me, includes John Crowley, Gene Wolfe, China Mieville, Tim Powers, and a few others in that vein. I don’t think I need do a Bad Fantasy list.)

  48. Kate Elliotton 27 Jun 2006 at 1:19 pm

    I’d like to see a Bad Fantasy list.

  49. Constance Ashon 27 Jun 2006 at 1:34 pm

    Sex droids are already here in limited version.

    The tech gurus do think very sophisticated versions will be arriving on market vsn. I read this in The New York Times.

    Love, C.

  50. b. sharpon 27 Jun 2006 at 3:40 pm

    For what it’s worth, I sometimes wonder if there’s a parallel argument to all of this – is the stuff being written in both sf and fantasy truly indicative of the tastes of two supposedly separate audiences, or is it the product of a publishing industry that believes it has a better idea of what will and won’t sell than the authors themseles?

    Yes and yes.

    -

    After some reflection, I think this has some parallels with some of the humanaties verses the sciences type of bullshit that goes on in academia, but with postmodernists/deconstructionists/luddite types coming up with nearly unreadable bullshit to bash science and technology, and with very poor arguments as well. ‘Course, it is mostly relegated to the English departments these days (at least on part of the west coast where I live, I hear parts of Cali and the east coast are still infested with it), most of the people making these science-bashing stances seem have little if no historical background either. The philosophy departments around here don’t touch that stuff. Anyway, I think this may be a symptom of a disconnect. I’m starting to wonder if the bashing of fantasy might in some way have to do with the rise of postmodernism and deconstructionism on campuses, and helping to helping feed in to some sci-fi writers worst fears about the rise of irrationalism. After reading one particular horribly written essay critiquing science by a pair of of deconstructionists for a philosophy of science class in order to point out what the faults of their arguments were, I can’t say I’d entirely blame them. (Actually, I’ve read more than that-the Gender and Science Reader out by Routledge is truly frightening, but I only read it outside of class. It was like a trainwreck, hard to look away from).

  51. Katharine Kerron 27 Jun 2006 at 6:12 pm

    To be fair to the Anti-Fantasy Crowd, there is indeed one very influential writer who suffered from the longing for the pre-industrial: Tolkien himself. He hated the changes that swept over the British countryside during his lifetime. Of course, he was always part of the middle class — he’d never had to cut hay with a scythe and then carry it an armload at a time into the barn on a hot humid day.

    (Cyrus McCormick did more to benefit humanity than all them fancy wimp engineers of today ever did. :-) )

    Most Anti-Fantasy people assume that all fantasy is just a rerun of Tolkien, an attitude that also arises from their not having read much of the genre. They may also know a bit but not enough about the SCA, whose members are quite aware that they are only taking the “good parts” of the Middle Ages to play with.

    Ergo, they assume that all readers, writers, and admirers of fantastic literature want to go back again. Which is bullshit of the first order.

  52. Katharine Kerron 27 Jun 2006 at 9:40 pm

    Though in all fairness, again, I need to add that the Industrial Revolution in the UK caused a lot of extreme human suffering, especially in the late 1700s and early 1800s. A great many families who had scratched out a subsistence living on small farms were dispossessed. Same was true for families who’d been small craftsmen with their own business. They ended up working in the early versions of factories, which were horrorshops when it came to health and safety conditions.

    Since public assistence was only available to mothers with children under age 5, children as young as 5 were forced into factory work for 10 hour days, 6 days a week, and most of those kids died long before they reached 25. Adults were maimed, killed, etc, as well as forced to live in horrendous poverty, whilst the rising middle class and the rich prospered from their labor.

    Child labor didn’t end in the UK and the US, let us not forget, until around 1910, when the age to start work was set at 13. Men like Tolkien who remembered some of this had something of a legit beef with the IR, therefore. As a motive for reading fantasy fiction, however, this is pretty much dead, I’d say.

  53. Kate Elliotton 28 Jun 2006 at 12:36 am

    And child labor is still with us in many parts of the world, not to mention virtual slave labor even in these United States to this day, via forms of indentured servitude and other forms of coerced labor. Not a huge part of the labor force, fortunately, but both here and throughout the world various forms of slavery are on the rise.

    but – yeah – the idea that if I write about it I must yearn for it is as ridiculous as the idea that any idea that spouts from the mouth of one of my characters must be an idea I hold to be true my very self.

  54. Katharine Kerron 28 Jun 2006 at 5:35 am

    It’s also kind of sad to think that some people are writing and reading SF because they want to live in those worlds. By yearning for another kind of life they’re missing out on the one they already have. There is nothing less real than the future — it hasn’t happened yet. And no, plausibility does not equal reality.

  55. David Louis Edelmanon 28 Jun 2006 at 9:21 am

    Reading through all these comments again… I’m remembering something from back in the days before I had any professional association with the SFF world. (You know, way back two years ago.)

    Before I got “involved,” I really had no idea that there was any kind of ideological split between the SF and fantasy genres. Every bookstore I’ve been to catalogs them both in the same place. It never occurred to me that people might be looking down their noses at the Tolkiens while praising the Heinleins, or vice versa. And so I was quite mystified at all of this enmity I’d found between the two subgenres once I started seriously surfing online.

    So I wonder how much of this argument just goes on among the craftsmen and -women of the trade, but doesn’t percolate down to the audience? Sure, the writers may feel passionate about the distinction — but do the readers care?

  56. Chris Gardneron 28 Jun 2006 at 4:17 pm

    NeonGraal hit it right on the head for me. SF gives me the what if wonder and Fantasy gives me the what was comfort. I never know what’s coming in Vernor Vinge’s Singularity universe and I feel right at home in Kate’s Novaria.

  57. Katharine Kerron 28 Jun 2006 at 5:21 pm

    I’m starting to wonder if the bashing of fantasy might in some way have to do with the rise of postmodernism and deconstructionism on campuses

    That’s an interesting point. I think that Greg Benford teaches (physics), and if my memory of this is right, he’s deeply involved with the campus mentality. What about Spider Robinson? I have no idea what he does with his time.

    Chris, interestingly enough some readers tell me that it’s fantasy that arouses their sense of wonder, not SF any longer. I guess it depends on where you’re coming from.

  58. Carol Bergon 29 Jun 2006 at 10:02 am

    As a fantasy writer, I ask “what if” every day. It’s just not about technology. What if someone could create a physical landscape out of a person’s soul? What if a singer could create visions with his music? What if a soul could be brought to life in another person’s body? These questions could be explored in any kind of setting, of course – contemporary, futuristic, or historical – which is one of the delights of fantasy.

    Carol

  59. Chris Gardneron 29 Jun 2006 at 10:07 am

    Below I have listed words that come into my head when i think of SF and Fantasy. Not topical words like spaceship or magician, but more gut level words. Maybe that will help convey my feelings about the two.

    SF
    quick, deep, long, fast, lonely, new, fascinate, unknown, big, mystery, alone, conquer, fear, awe.

    Fantasy
    strong, wonder, triumph, loss, honor, march, formal, test, slow,
    dark, great, up, question, vigor.

  60. Sherwood Smithon 29 Jun 2006 at 11:24 am

    Well, I think you are waayyy ahead of the guys who used to use words like this when defining the diff between sf and f:

    SF Hard, tight, rigor, logical, drive, rational, . . .

    F soft, fluffy, girly unicorns, illogical, emotional, irrational . . .

  61. Constance Ashon 29 Jun 2006 at 2:12 pm

    Well, singers and musicians and composers do create landscapes with their talents.

    Last night, at Vaquero’s performance, he projected some very strong landscapes with his guitar, voice and words, all at the same time.

    After decades of attending musical performances I have come to expect something like a trance state to take me over, in which what is being performed provokes an equally intense visualization and expansion of all senses, really, on my part. This is more the case of solo shows though, than of large bands, for instance, that are geared, among other goals, to get you dancing.

    Love, C.

  62. Katharine Kerron 29 Jun 2006 at 4:20 pm

    Chris, I’m afraid i can think of a number of examples of your SF words fitting fantasy and your fantasy words fitting SF. Is anyone in genre lonlier than Frodo Baggins, even when he’s surrounded by others, at the end of the trilogy? And others have argued here in this discussion that SF has a greater sense of ‘wonder”. :-)

    My take is that the 2 have different trappings but are basically about the same thing, yearning for something and somewhere that we don’t have.

  63. Katharine Kerron 29 Jun 2006 at 4:25 pm

    Technology — what a lot of SF boosters don’t seem to realize is that technological changes that have had vast repercussions on society are not a thing of the modern and the future. The 3-field system of agriculture, the steel-bitted plow, the stirrup, the spnning wheel, the water-powered mill — all of these changed their societies as much as computers have changed ours.

    People may not “learn from” history, but learning history is very important. Consider amnesia — without memory, a person doesn’t know who they are. Without an understanding of its history, a culture doesn’t know what it is, either, and the people in that culture will make some very poor decisions. In the small scale of these “genre wars,” the anti-fantasy people strike me as having no interesting in or understanding of their past, not even in the history of science, which leads them to dismiss the past and any works that seem to be based on history.

  64. Sherwood Smithon 29 Jun 2006 at 4:37 pm

    Excellent points, Kit. I sometimes think the bottom line on the so-called Golden Age of SF is the repudiation of the Judeo-Christian paradigm–but substituting for worshop of God an unquestioning faith in Progress. “If it’s science, it has to be good, and good for you,” led to a lot of terrible things–every bit as terrible as the Inquisition, etc, if you consider the happy playing about with atom bombs that spread fallout over the entire western U.S. off and on for a decade–the overuse of radium for trivial medical procedures, or even ‘just because’–and of course the flagrant destruction of natural resources in quest of industrial might. It was all based on cool, rational science, not on the murky supersitions of the past, no worth to anyone.

    It wasn’t just the scientists who thought this way. I have a public school history textbook used at the time my parents were in school. An alien reading it would assume that the only people of importance were kings, war leaders, and inventors–superceded only by the Founding Fathers and subsequent Presidents– the other continents were full of savages tht had to be civilized, first by conquest, and then by westernization, that women only existed to cook, clean, make, and breed. The text is certainly silent on any contribution they might have made.

  65. Muneravenon 29 Jun 2006 at 5:37 pm

    A lot of science fiction books sacrifice character development and depth for the BIG, NIFTY IDEA. I like nifty ideas. I read articles about them, blogs, even non-fiction books. But I don’t read novels about big, nifty ideas. I read novels about people.

    Some science fiction writers can pull off writing about interesting people who are involved with a nifty idea, but not very many of them. Holy buckets but there is a lot of bad characterization in science fiction.

    To be fair, some fantasy writers also stick cardboard cut-out characters around a nifty magical idea and try to make a book out of that. And frankly those books are even worse than the bad science fiction books. At least the bad science fiction books have SCIENCE. :-P

  66. Katharine Kerron 29 Jun 2006 at 9:28 pm

    Actually, most bad SF books don’t have science. They have engineering. :-) The science spouted to justify the engineering marvels is usually way off base or just “black boxing”.

    The equivalent in bad fantasy is stupid magic, where a great deal of energy is expended to do something more easily achieved without it, such as spearing an enemy.

  67. Tim Stoopon 30 Jun 2006 at 11:26 am

    I haven’t read all the comments here, but I’d like to express my opinion on the original question: Why do I like fantasy?

    Live is a drag. I know, there are a lot of good things that make life worthwhile and less a drag than those pessimistic existentialist want us to believe. But still, seldom do I meet anything that makes me wonder and really, most of it just makes me a little sad. It’s all about economics, all about power, all about those traits in humans that aren’t very likable, but make us human nontheless.

    Fantasy is more about “what if” and that’s what keeps drawing me in. Honestly, the only writer of this blog that I’ve read work of is Katherine Kerr and she’s actually my favourite writer. (I found this blog while searching for books ‘written like the Deverry series’, so I’ll check out the other writers soon.) The thing I really, really love about Deverry is that it takes our romantic idea of how the Celts lived and instead of them being erradicated, mrs. Kerr builts a future upon their most ideal society. I love that. The whole romantic notion of that old society and their strengths and shortcomings, extrapolated to a possible future.

    It’s the “if’s” that make Fantasy so captivating for me. The ideals that survive in a world of vices, mostly ideals that aren’t very important in current society. Frodo Baggins, who moves on to save the world, even when he’s convinced he won’t be there to witness it. Not just the heroics, but the heroics in spite of the inevitable selfdestruction. Things like “honor”, “justice”, “trustworthy”, all terms that (in my mind) describe a way of life that humanity didn’t choose. Of course there’s strife in the books, but the main characters usually want to achieve the right thing, justice, honor. For me good Fantasy is about a fight for virtues that aren’t really considered useful virtues these days. I need this kind of Fantasy to keep myself honest, honorable, trustworthy, when I’m surrounded by corporate environments where everyone seems to be egotistical. I’m no saint, but at least I’m aware of my vices and the importance of The Values of Old.

    SF is more the other way, it’s about how corrupt civilisations can become, how evil can dominate through (mostly bureaucratic) legal systems. Somehow in SF, “evil” always seems to win the most, in spite of the little victories of the main characters. Think Anakin Skywalker. Of course there are exeptions, but for me, this is the general landscape.

    Fantasy gives me the feeling I get from listening to a good New Age Relaxation CD or watching Bob Ross paint (I used his taped shows for years to help me relax… I think I’ve never seen a finished painting by him, I usually dozed away after a few minutes). When there’s action, you feel it by the emotions of the main characters. SF is like a good action movie (“Mission Impossible”, Bruce Willis, James Bond, anything that contains a lot of armed chases, explosions en cool tech), it makes me want to do sports, bike with my dog, etc.

    The biggest example of this is the difference between the Lord of the Rings movie by Peter Jackson and the Star Trek movies. When I remember the LotR movie, I think about the beautiful, no, stunning landscapes, the scenes where you fly over mountainranges, etc. When I think about Star Trek, I think about a ship that’s usually the same and the technology associated with it. I like both. But I bought the Extended DVD versions of all three LotR movies and I own no Star Trek DVD…

    Just my 2 cents. (Sorry for the long comment.)

  68. b. sharpon 30 Jun 2006 at 7:25 pm

    To get back on topic… Why fantasy?

    I won’t answer it, because I don’t think it is inclusive enough. But I will answer “Why speculative fiction?”.

    I just happen to like fiction that is a tad bit less mundane than most of the other stuff that is out there, with perhaps the exception of historical novels. I like the weirdness, the “what if?”, the wtf?-ness of it. I love weird, strange, wtf, imaginative fiction. That’s it.

  69. RedMollyon 01 Jul 2006 at 1:19 pm

    I knew enough Libertarians in college that I really don’t have much desire to read Libertarians in Space.

    Kevin, I simply had to comment on the hilariousness of this… thanks…

    (Does it conjure up for anyone else visions of Miss Piggy and Ayn Rand hurtling hand-in-hand through the cosmos?)

  70. RedMollyon 01 Jul 2006 at 1:35 pm

    A slightly different take on fantasy:

    I started reading it, not for any sense of comfort or (god forbid) misplaced longing for the pre-antibiotic past, but because of the sense of strangeness about it: the idea that a mundane life could suddenly be intruded upon by the inexplicable, the alien.

    Maybe that’s why I’ve always leaned more toward the “dark” end of fantasy than toward the unicornish side–but it seems to me that the best fantasy does a wonderful job of unsettling and afflicting, lingering after reading and causing one to take a more careful look at the shadows in the corner of the bedroom…

    (N.B. re: unicorns: one of my favorite fantasy short story collections of all time is Theodore Sturgeon’s E Pluribus Unicorn, including the shockingly creepy “The Silken-Swift.”.)

  71. Constance Ashon 02 Jul 2006 at 12:56 pm

    Well, in my own life I don’t need fantasy for sudden intrusions of the alien. Lessee, just in the last 5 years I’ve had 9/11 (Ground Zero right below where I live — I was in the Zone), Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and for the last 6 years, my nation utterly taken over by inexplicable, id-driven, developmentally challenged greedbots whose only joy is destruction — AND they call it God’s Will.

    Love, C.

  72. RedMollyon 02 Jul 2006 at 3:18 pm

    Ah, Constance… if only we could pick up our Magical Widgets of Righteousness and go a-questing to displace the Evil Usurpers and return the Rightful King to his throne…

    (I just saw An Inconvenient Truth last night and now I’m on an Al Gore high.)

  73. Charleson 15 Jul 2006 at 1:24 pm

    I know I’m a little late here, but I just found this topic. (I only discovered this website a little over a week ago.)

    Why Fantasy?

    Well, for me, the first stories I heard and read were fairy tales. Fantasy contains many of the elements of a fairy tale. If you look at some of the major fantasy series, one common element that is a fairy tale element is the young boy or girl growing up not knowing who they really are, and often not even knowing that they don’t know who they really are.

    After reading fairy tales, I graduated to some of the Oz books and then I discovered King Arthur.

    But the catalyst for fantasy becoming an essential part of my life was the day one of my uncle’s came to visit, bearing a gift for my older brother: The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. This was the cool paperback edition where all 3 LOTR covers when placed side-by-side revealed one large painting.

    So, by the time I was 10 I had read and re-read Tolkien a couple of times. From there it was Narnia and then Earthsea and Witch World.

    It was actually reading Andre Norton and Ursula K. Le Guin where I discovered Science Fiction.

    As far as Science Fiction goes, I break it into 3 different styles:

    1) Event driven – Arthur C. Clarke
    2) Character driven – Andre Norton, Le Guin
    3) Military Science Fiction – Weber, Ringo

    What I like most about Andre Norton (she remains my favorite author alongside Tolkien) is even when she used a military science fiction setting, her stories were character driven. While Weber’s Honor Harrington series does have Honor as the main character, I just don’t consider his series to be a character driven series. The military structure dominates the story and setting more so than the character herself.

    Anyway, to get back on topic, I’m a big fan of both Fantasy and Science Fiction. I read and write both.

    I guess for me, between the two, Fantasy does stand higher. One of the reasons I enjoy it more is the freedom and flexibility Fantasy enjoys over Science Fiction.

    To explain, while a Science Fiction character may shoot across the galaxy in hyperspace, he is still confined to the ship he is on and as such, his experiences are limited by his need to be on the ship.

    In Fantasy, a character can often roam across a continent and gets to interact all along the way to getting to where he needs to be to accomplish (or fail) his task. His environment can be constantly in flux, not trapped by the unchanging corridors of a star ship.

  74. Charleson 15 Jul 2006 at 1:46 pm

    And that’s just fine. I, too, have lots of gripes about the writing (I thought that if I read one more teaser about “what my grandfather did in the basement” or “what was in the box,” I would scream), and of course there are just so many holes in the “research” it takes hours to list them. People can say it’s lousy or say it’s great – I don’t object to any criticism, as long as it comes from someone who’s read the book!

    Carol,

    ***First off, for those who have not read or seen Da Vinci Code the following contains Spoilers***

    I have one major gripe about Brown’s Da Vinci Code. While I enjoyed the book — it is a fast read and just about every chapter ended with a cliffhanger — I was disappointed by 3 things:

    1) The password for the smaller cryptex was so obvious from the moment they stood in front of Sir Isaac Newton’s statue that I ended up being annoyed reading through a bunch of pages waiting for people who were supposed to be brilliant thinkers to get it.

    2 and 3) Dan Brown cheated twice. He cheated by not letting us know who the Teacher really was even though the Teacher was sitting right there in the car with the butler. And, he cheated by hiding the fact that Langdon opened up the cryptex to remove the clue even though two other people were standing right there! Brown clearly wanted the tossing of the cryptex to be some big gasping moment for the reader. For me, however, once I realized that he had already removed the clue, I wasn’t relieved, I was pissed off that Brown had, for a second time, deliberately omitted something that, had I been present, I would have known. Both cheats took me right out of the story.

    Overall, though, I enjoyed the book. It was clearly written with an eye towards being filmed so I went along for the ride and treated it as simple fun.

  75. Charleson 15 Jul 2006 at 2:06 pm

    By the way, I came across this little bit about Fantasy and Science Fiction from Ursula K. Le Guin:

    http://www.ursulakleguin.com/PlausibilityRevisited.html

  76. Erin Underwoodon 15 Jul 2006 at 3:37 pm

    Hi Katharine,

    Generally speaking, I think there are probably thousands of excellent answers to this question. Personally, I think it’s because we’re all weaned on fairy tales and fables as small children.

    When the Grimms were writing down all of those folktales (which are so heavily laced with the hallmark characteristics of a good fantasy story), they had no idea a human could jump into his spaceship, jet off to the next star system for a quick military take over of an alien race’s planet, and be home in time for dinner. Perhaps, a hundred years from now, when our grandchildren are reading the neoclassic version of Hansel, Gretel, and the Cyborg Witch from Lunar 2 people we tend more toward SF than Fantasy.

    Cheers,
    Erin

  77. Carol Bergon 16 Jul 2006 at 9:58 am

    For me good Fantasy is about a fight for virtues that aren’t really considered useful virtues these days. I need this kind of Fantasy to keep myself honest, honorable, trustworthy, when I’m surrounded by corporate environments where everyone seems to be egotistical. I’m no saint, but at least I’m aware of my vices and the importance of The Values of Old.

    And one could certainly write a story about people who are no saints, but display these virtues in a modern corporate or political environment, facing the evils that we know exist in our time. But it seems a lot of us here prefer to feed our imagination with landscapes and situations that take us away from all this, while still satisfying the hunger for this kind of story. Rather than challenging our heroes and heroines with the Enron double dealing or Kosovo massacres, we face them with magical power struggles or world-shaking disasters. And then, just to spice it up, we make them share their soul with a demon or lose their memory or be on the run from murderous relatives. My family still wonders where my mean streak comes from:-)

    Carol

  78. Carol Bergon 16 Jul 2006 at 10:08 am

    Dan Brown cheated twice….[spoilers omitted]… I wasn’t relieved, I was pissed off that Brown had, for a second time, deliberately omitted something that, had I been present, I would have known. Both cheats took me right out of the story.

    Overall, though, I enjoyed the book. It was clearly written with an eye towards being filmed so I went along for the ride and treated it as simple fun.

    Charles,

    Exactly so on both points. He cheated over and over, manipulating the reader by omitting details the POV character saw or knew, rather than using his characters to experience the real tension that is a natural part of a puzzle/chase story. But I, too, went along for the ride, yelling at him all the way and ending up with this vaguely unsatisfied feeling at the end. It could have been SO much better.

    Carol

  79. Danet Khuthon 26 Jul 2006 at 2:21 am

    I am a great lover of both fantasy and sci-fi. Both genres take you to different worlds, another time and endless possibilities. In that respect, I think the demarcation between the two is quite artificial. People who read neither often class the two together.

    There is absolutely no reason why they can’t exist side by side or even merge. An excellent example is Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton which I enjoyed immensly. This is essentially a sci-fi novel but contains characters you would normally find in a fantasy (like the Silfen who are basically alien elves). The story takes place many many years into the future where humans have basically obtained immortality and great technological advancement. Yet when humans enter a Silfen alien world (which have no set pathways or existence in space), their technology would be automatically disabled and they would be left at the mercy of the elements of that world. The Silfen elves are just as illusive as they are in fantasy novels. I found the concept interesting because it brings home that no matter how advanced and knowledgeable the human race becomes the universe will continue to throw up concepts and mysteries that will always be beyond our comprehension and perception. It makes you think.

    That’s not to say I want a merger at the expense of either genres. But it’s like asking who of your children do you love better.

  80. Charleson 26 Jul 2006 at 11:40 am

    Danet,

    Another example of a Science Fiction story that blends in Fantasy characters is the Keltiad books by Patricia Kennealy. She has taken Keltic legends and placed them in another part of the galaxy.

    She even retells the Arthur legend in this setting.

    The first trilogy is written in third-person and follows two stories: the Keltia Queen Aeron and people from Earth discovering these Kelts.

    The second trilogy, which actually takes place first, is the retelling of Arthur, in first-person from the character Taliesin.

    If you enjoy such a blending of both genres, then you might like these.

  81. Laurieon 26 Jul 2006 at 2:01 pm

    This is one of the most interesting discussions I’ve seen in a long time.

    My first attempts at reading science fiction put me off it – it was dry, cold, and boring. I couldn’t care less about the way a warp drive works or the minute details of an alien planet, yet I’d see pages and pages of that stuff. My eyes glazed over. I put it down and didn’t go back to it.

    About 5 years ago, my best friend coerced me into reading the Hyperion saga by Dan Simmons, and I fell in love. The setting was neat, but the book wasn’t about the setting. It was about the people who struggled through it and against it. Anyone who doesn’t cry at the end of The Rise of Endymion has a heart of stone, imo.

    If a book is populated by vital, interesting characters in a situation that challenges them and helps them grow, I don’t really care what genre it is. But I feel like science fiction hasn’t quite caught onto that. Tell me about the person who invented the warp drive and the trials and tribulations he went through to get there, not about the drive itself. That’s what science fiction has to do to revitalize itself as a marketable genre.

  82. Khylan Seriphynon 13 Aug 2006 at 5:36 am

    I prefer fantasy to Sci-fi. Yes it’s usually set in a far out world but there is a lot of human elements in a fantasy story that brings it closer to (our) earth. There are perils that everyone can easily relate to regardless if they are into the fantasy genre or not.

    For example the peril with Frodo Baggins (Lord of the Rings) and his hesitation with carrying the ring, to his personal battle of trying to destroy it. The ring can be symbolic for many burdens that we carry, some of which can corrupt a persons sense of self. If we don’t have a Sam around to keep us inline it would be very difficult to overcome them.

    Also, fantasy is a place where you can just chill and step outside your problems. I find that quite difficult with science fiction because it takes me a while to work out were I am.

  83. Kathrynon 24 Aug 2006 at 12:06 pm

    I get in incredibly angry at the kind of shuttered response to Fantasy that makes so many people put it aside as escapist and unimportant in comparison to pretty much everything else. I first came across this at the age of 16 when I tried to use a contemporary fantasy novel and a ‘normal’ novel in a comparison essay; the teacher rejected the fantasy title as ‘just a good story’.

    Why is the tool of fantasy any less potent than sci fi, the novel or other classifications of written communication? It all seems to come back to the Entertainment vs. Depth issue which is already covered in Defining a Story; just like other writing the weight of these may differ author to author and book to book but is not inherent to the tool or genre.

    I started reading it because it was readily available on the parental bookshelves (and had cooler covers than any of the other stuff). I now love fantasy because it can explore the far reaches of human nature, civilisations and much more at the same time as I escape through it. Great Fantasy for me is like a place that I can visit and then return from and in so doing it makes me view the world around me in a different light. Like anyone I can’t always take having my world view altered so I love it also when it simply transports me to a ‘wonderland’ with a story that leaves me feeling something.

    That was an interesting thread that ate away some work hours I should have been doing things in.

  84. heatheron 05 Sep 2006 at 9:15 am

    As a child i became addicted to reading- by my early teens the genre of my choice was romance (which thoroughly warped my perception of what love should be). i expanded from there- all but banning the evil love stories of my youth- and though i read a multitude of author and style- fantasy is definately the choice of my adult psyche. Certainly it is where i choose to set my own writings. The endless possibilities of pure imagination- how could it be so easily dismissed?

  85. R.on 10 May 2007 at 9:06 pm

    [late to the party, as usual -- is there a statute of limitations for responding here?]

    Why fantasy? Heck, why *not* fantasy?

    My introductions to fantastical fiction were the classic fairy tales as they were originally recorded — before they became sanitized, de-sexed, sugar-coated, and dumbed-down by Perrault and Disney — back when they still had some tasty meat on their bones.

    Fairy tales meant a lot to me, and they still do. They were mythic and heroic. Many were about karmic balance, and the quality and integrity of one’s basic character always mattered. The stories were about people and the consequences of their actions [and sometimes of their failures to act], and not about eye-blitzing special effects.

    Good fantasy fiction gets me in the same ways. And the possibilities always seem so much ‘bigger’ in the fantastical.

  86. Maureenon 22 Sep 2009 at 9:34 pm

    I find some sf hard to read because the characters become very stereotypical or as someone else said I simply am not scientifically minded enough to understand what the heck is going on eg Dune (lol thats a little embarassing to admit to) but I think that most of the time sf blends with fantasy anyway so its ridiculous to bash either.

    as for personal reasons as to why i try to steer clear of pure sf- I don’t like the grittiness of the world’s normally. I don’t really know how to describe this but the sf vision of the future is never particularly appealing to me so I don’t want to spend time reading it. This is why, for me, Katherine Kerr’s Polar City Nightmare and the other book she wrote with another author(sorry if i got details wrong, I read them awhile ago) just wasn’t anywhere near as good as her Deverry saga, which I worship at the alter of :)

    It was dark and gritty (which there is nothing wrong with) but frankly I didn’t want to spend time in a world like that because the possibility of the world functioning in such a way was too possible, whereas with the Deverry saga we know that it is a world removed from reality. This is so hard to explain lol. I still like sf and I have read some, but the whole dystopic world thing becomes the same after awhile and I cease to want to know.

    However, Katherine Kerr’s sf novels were ten times better than any other sf book id read because of the combination of politics, mystery, murder and intrigue. The genre blend made it easeir for me to read.

    well I hope that all made sense

  87. Carolon 29 Sep 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Webmaster…someone has been putting dodgy links on here! :-(

  88. bandurgggaon 09 Nov 2009 at 2:56 am

    Все мечтаеш о сексе с одноклассниками?
    Как заняться сексом с одноклассниками расказано здесь

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