Just a brief post. I promise a full scale rant in the near future, probably as a much-threatened sequel to this post (1)

However, whilst out trawling the net (2) I came across this very informative little piece by James Long of Speculative Horizons. Fantasy authors who don’t read fantasy. What is one to think?

Now, as I hope that I’ve made clear by my constant name-dropping, I do, I really do read other fantasy authors. Why should this be taboo? Why should this be something that fantasy authors refuse to admit to?

Well, there may be good reasons out there. For example, Neil Gaiman, by his own admission, doesn’t read anything that might relate to something he’s planning on writing, in case it influences him. Well and good – however after he’s finished a project, he goes right back to the bookshelf and tucks in (3) (4). But, nonetheless, even if dust lies on the bookshelf for years and yet more years, the leaves never cut, perhaps we’ll allow that as a good reason to avoid fantasy: to avoid being influenced. The implication is still that you read it first, which is how you got where you are.

That’s getting towards the end of good reasons. A mediocre reason might be wanting to avoid plagiarism lawsuits. As your legal advisor I can neither confirm nor deny its utility, suffice to say that I’ve obviously waived my entitlement to it.

A genuine ignorance of the genre is possible. If you simply don’t read it, fine. However if you claim that, and then write this, people may ask how come, since you reinvented the wheel, all those spokes, the hub and the rim were just sitting about ready-made in your store-room. There are books that cross into the fantasy genre from outside, because genre boundaries are artificial and (yada yada yada see previous posts tagged fiction) (6). On the other hand, most fantasy books have strong and clear antecedents within the genre. You wouldn’t write a haiku without knowing how many beats to the bar, after all (7). As a good example of this, David Gemmell wasn’t a fantasy reader. However, he was a Westerns reader, another marginalised genre, and one can see the Westerns influence in his work.

So, what else? There is always literary pretensions to consider, which means that the writer is embarassed about writing fantasy, and would far rather win literary prizes for something about [1] being made miserable in 70’s Liverpool [2] making yourself miserable in modern day New York, or [3] making other people miserable in nineteenth century colonial Madagascar, all ideally with a lot of sex, which strangely only serves to increase whatever flavour of misery is being experienced. This isn’t a new thing. Ian Fleming, one of the most enduring writers of last century, was said to have looked down on his spy fiction as barely worth mentioning.

There are two things wrong with this stance, one overt and one covert.

Overtly, what the hell is wrong with writing genre fiction? Yes, there is a slough of bad fantasy out there. So is there a slough of bad anything else, including mainstream misery fiction. The only reason fantasy is marginalised so much is for thevery reason under scruteny – prejudice tarring every book with a brush dipped deep into (name of popular fantasy author deleted pursuant to legal advice), People who actually write the stuff, provided they aren’t (same name deleted) should surely take a more enlightened view of the genre (or else, they surely implicitly say, “I am a literary figure, all you other fantasy hacks are a bunch of wierdos”)

Covertly, then, and this is James Long’s very well made point, if you do down the genre that is, let’s face it, your bread and butter, then you slap your fanbase in the face. You as much as tell them that they’re all the more fool for buying your books and lowering themselves to the level of your writing, and why aren’t they out there ploughing through War and Peace (8) like self-respecting literati. Nobody wins, from that argument.

This was supposed to be a brief post. That presumably means the next one will be enormous.

(1) Actually I may never have threatened that, or at least I may only have threatened that to myself.

(2) And a thousand fishermen throw their hands up in horror. “Trawling the net? Trawling the net? Yarrr, what be he thinkin’ with this outlandish mode o’speech?”

(3) So, for example, once he’d got shot of American Gods (one of those genuine must-read books) he allowed himself to go back to Wotan (John James, and also worth a read if you can find it) (5)

(4) Yes, Neil Gaiman eats books, you heard it here first.

(5) If you’re wondering how I’m such bosom buddies with Mr G, he tells all in Adventures in the Dream Trade.

(6) I’ve never had cause to write “yada” before. It puts me in mind either of a particularly verbose Jedi master or a vocal equivalent of dadaism.

(7) In fact, whilst writing most forms of poetry without any knowledge of the form may yield at least some kind of modernist verse, an uninformed haiku would just be Some Words.

(8) Still haven’t read it. It’s on my “to do” list. And thereby hangs a postscript purely for those who bother with the annotations. Just Because You Read Fantasy Fiction doesn’t mean that it has to be All You Read.

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