: fantasy monarchies

Jon Noble jon_p_noble at yahoo.com
Tue Feb 4 00:52:56 EST 2003


--- Melissa Proffitt <Melissa at Proffitt.com> wrote:
> On Mon, 3 Feb 2003 14:57:24 -0800 (PST), Jon Noble
> wrote:
> 
> >SF authors have been playing with the
> >conventions of SF for a long time - probably almost
> as
> >long as those conventions have existed, but despite
> >the crossover of readership and authorship this
> hasn't
> >been a feature of fantasy.
> 
> What I think is, everybody who is interested in
> reading unconventional
> fantasy is already doing so.  And the rest of them
> don't want anything
> different.  What I see happening, as far as
> crossover readership goes, is
> that there are three groups now: a smallish one that
> only reads SF, a
> middle-sized one that reads both SF and fantasy, and
> a HUGE one that only
> reads fantasy.  Those people are weighing us down
> and should be jettisoned.
> :)
> 
> Basically, I agree with everything you say, but from
> my point of view, it's
> useless to ask "why is everyone still doing the
> Tolkien thing?" because I
> don't think it's really the authors' fault.  I think
> there are probably a
> lot of would-be authors who are writing exactly what
> I want to read, but who
> can't get published because publishers know that
> they are more likely to
> make a million dollars publishing crappy Tolkien
> knock-offs than taking a
> chance on some weird world where there aren't any
> kings and, I don't know,
> you have to use bones to do magic.  (Anyone wonder
> how Martha Wells ever got
> published?)

I think there may be few influences at work here. The
different readerships are important, but genre SF and
genre fantasy as they exist today have quite different
roots, and this has influenced how they have evolved.
This is odd because really they are the two sides of
one coin, but this coin came from two different mints
(as an aside someone else - I forget who - who used
the two sides of one coin metaphor for SF and fantasy
suggested that reason many genre authors didn't
realise this was that they weren't paid enough to see
many coins - and didn't realise that coins had two
sides). Genre SF rose from the pulps of the 30s and
40s, and magazine editors were brave enough (some at
least) to encourage experimentation, and prepared to
publish at least the occasional story that turned
things on their head. However if SF evolved into a
myriad of diverse form from the primeval slime of the
pulps (Literary Darwinism?)Genre Fantasy arose through
a divine act of Special Creation from the God JRRT,
and the angelic Choirs of publishers and readers have
decreed that things must remain the same, for ever and
ever, Amen. The same sort inertia applies to a genre
like Romance (of the Mills & Boon ilk) where the only
real change has been the invention of sex. The mystery
genre lies somewhere between these extremes - it was
fortunate in its early days to have the Galapagos
Islands of the Atlantic - and developed seperately
through the first half of the twentieth century in
Britain and the US, and recently seemed to have
evolved countless sub-genres (mystery stories
revolving around cats are by no means the most
obscure), but I feel it is not as eager as SF to turn
conventions inside out, upside down and anything else
that can be topologically conceived. I think that some
of the most imaginative fantasy was that published in
the brief run of John W Cambpell's "Unknown" magazine
in the 1940s. 
Having said all that I also think that there
differences in the readership of SF and Fantasy and
that these two are very influential in what gets
published. Magazine SF could only be diverse because
it had a readership that not only accepted but
welcomed that.
But the interia that permeates fantasy need not
prevent change, a well established author like David
Eddings or Raymond Feist could get a book published in
which, say, The Orcish Revolutionalary Democratic
Council stages a revolution against the Long
Established Dynasty or Rightful Kings and actually
make things better. Somehow I can't see either of
those even trying. 
I suspect Tad Williams only got Memory Sorrow and
Thorn published because it looked like a duck and
quacked like a duck, it was only on close examination
that it turned out be actually a Platypus.

Jon

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