Sunday, October 8, 2017

Digression...a fantasy world

SYSTEM: None

So I've been wondering why I don't read fantasy much any more. Besides the general oddly-I-don't-read-much-anymore reason, this is what irks me about fantasy right now. (And before I list it, let me point out that (a) this is a personal list, and (b) that I know there are exceptions, but right now I don't have a mechanism for finding the exceptions.

And because I haven't been reading fantasy, I might not even be right about the current state of fantasy. You are free to disagree with my opinions. I might be wrong, and I might change my mind. I'm not saying that these things aren't allowed to exist—they certainly are, but I don't have to read them.

First, personal taste: I like grimdark as a spice, not as a steady diet. So while I enjoy books by Joe Abercrombie, they aren't what I want to read most of the time. If your story is set in a crapsack world, I don't particularly want to read it right now. (A lot of my tastes right now are informed by having cancer: I don't actually want to read something where I have to search hard for the glimmer of hope—I get that in reality, thank you.)

I am tired of D&D with the serial numbers filed off. Various D&D worlds make no sense. I don't mind cod-medieval, but there's so much stuff that comes with it that you either have to justify or explain away.

I am tired of the whole "alpha-beta-gamma" thing happening in the urban fantasy stuff I pick up. I've read some of the original works on animals where they put the idea forward and (a) the representations in fiction and popular culture are nowhere near as nuanced as reality, and (b) I have some trouble applying the popular representation to people because people are a bit more complex than the whole "you're a beta so you're a whimpering coward ha ha ha" thing I see on certain toxic social networks.

I am tired of sloppy worldbuilding. Yes, there's totally a place for something that is primarily symbolic, and I can even accept fridge logic where I won't notice the problem until after I read the book. (Hey, I've read Dan Brown...I can accept fridge logic.) But if the story raises questions to me about the world-building while I'm reading it and I don't catch some hint that this inconsistency will be addressed or even acknowledged later...well, I'm probably not going to read book two in the series, and I might not pick it up again after I put it down. (I don't even mean things like storing energy for weapons, which pretty much everybody gets wrong.)

I am tired of "but the protagonist is special" stories. Well, all protagonists are special by virtue of the fact that it's their story, but they are royalty or nobility, are a mutant, are the Chosen One, or have more midichlorians than anyone else. Yes, that property comes down to us from Ancient Greek drama, where only royalty could star in tragedies.

I am leery of steampunk stories that ignore the classist parts of Victorian society while modelling everything else on Victorian society.

In general, I am leery of Third Artist Syndrome in areas where I'm educated enough to know the difference. (I can't find a good link to explain Third Artist Syndrome; Jo Walton explained it on her LiveJournal once, but she's deleted that account, and the other hit from a Google search is to James Nicoll, who refers to it but doesn't explain it. There might be another name for it.)

(Man, I'm picky.)

So, you know, like my filter that science fiction stories not be "the American Revolution in space," these filters eliminate huge swathes of fantasy.

Ah, somebody quoted Jo Walton's post on their tumblr and now I'm totally going to steal Jo's text, because the original article is deleted:

"The first artist goes out and paints from life. The second artist copies the first artist. The third artist copies the second artist. (I’ve usually seen this analogy applies to fantasy, with Tolkien as the first artist.) The first artist put things in because there were there, or in the case of SF, because they were new cool speculation. The second artist put them in because they were trying to get close to the first. The third artist put them in because heck, that’s what you put in."